Uh Oh Big Tow'er & Hasta Luego Port Lavaca
November 30, 2018: As we traveled to Pennsylvania and enjoyed the Thanksgiving Holiday with family, it was always in the back of our minds that the Big Tow’er was sitting in a truck repair shop in Victoria, TX with a somewhat serious diagnosis. So let me back up a bit and explain. As we approached the end of our time in Port Lavaca we had always planned on taking the Big Tow’er in for a scheduled preventative maintenance (PM). Trucks like the Big Tow’er are built to drive and this guy had been sitting pretty much in the same spot for 12 months now. So a trip to a shop to replace fluids and filters, and pretty much get an overall checkup seemed like a good idea. Since the Big Tow’er is an unusual combination of a Volvo truck and a Cummins engine, we have taken him to both Volvo shops, Cummins shops and independent garages. All with varying degrees of success. A quick Google search identified a Cummins certified repair shop in Victoria, TX about 30 minutes away. Performance Truck had mostly positive reviews and, after driving by it several times on our grocery shopping trips, looked like it would satisfy our PM needs.
We scheduled an appointment for mid-October that coincided with our work schedule, leaving plenty of time before our planned departure from Port Lavaca in mid-November. When I walked to the back of the campground to start and warm up the Big Tow’er he turned over on the first try. Having had problems with the starter in the past, it’s always a good thing to hear the big Cummins turn over on the first attempt. While waiting for the truck to air up I noticed a “Check engine at next stop” message on the display. Not an immediate concern having seen this message before, resulting in minor adjustments. As I crept through the park at the required 7 mph the truck slowly came to life, albeit still showing the same “Check engine” message. When I turned out of the park onto Henry Barber Way the truck didn’t shift out of 3rd gear. Now for some background information, the Big Tow’er has a 10 speed semi-automatic transmission that also has a clutch pedal. The clutch pedal is only utilized when starting out from a dead stop or coming to a complete stop. Other than that the truck shifts on its own just like any other automatic transmission. Also, the truck is set to start in 3rd gear from a stop, with 1st and 2nd gear acting as low gears, or “Granny” gears. Ok, just a little more technical stuff. When I turned out of the park the RPM’s would not get high enough to shift out of third gear. The shift point is around 1,700 RPM’s and the truck would not go above 1,500 RPM’s. I utilized a manual shift button on the gear shift to get on the road, hoping that it just needed to warm up and wake up from it’s extended time sitting. Once on the highway the truck rolled along at 65 mph, and we arrived at Performance Truck 30 minutes later.
After explaining to the service tech what PM work I wanted done, and describing the details of our trip from Port Lavaca, I was assured they would take a look at everything and give me a call in a couple of days. A little over a week later, I got a call from Performance Truck informing me that the PM work was completed, however, the “Check Engine” message was a little more serious. The engine fault code was giving them a message that the #3 injector was bad. They explained this message could mean the actual injector was bad or that the electrical connection to the injector was the problem. Listening to their advice that the problem is normally the injector itself, I gave the ok to replace it. The injector was in stock and they could have it completed in a couple of days.
So on our next available day off of work, Betsy and I arranged for her to drop me off at Performance Truck and she would continue on to her dentist appointment in Victoria. Betsy headed off to the dentist, I paid the bill, got the keys and started back towards Port Lavaca. Oh, not so quickly my friend! I barely made it out of the parking lot before I noticed the truck was still not shifting, it was running really rough, still had a “Check Engine” message and was putting white smoke off the engine. I promptly parked it along the road, about 100 yards from the shop and walked back.
After some more trouble shooting by their technician, it was determined that the problem was more involved. The problem was now either the main engine wiring harness or the engine control module (ECM). Both fairly major repairs, and several thousand more dollars than we had budgeted to spend. When I got back to the car, Betsy was intently staring at her phone watching a YouTube video, when she looked up and said, “It’s the ECM.” She caught me a little off guard, and I said, “Yea, that’s one of the things they’re looking at.” She repeated, “Well, it’s the ECM.” She had found some very informative videos on YouTube by a gentleman, Terry Chron, who owned a company called N14 parts.com. You see, the Big Tow’er has a Cummins N14 engine, and Terry, located in Michigan, specialized in N14 parts. The next day, after speaking to Terry on the phone about my truck problems, I ordered a replacement engine wiring harness and ECM from him, having them shipped to Performance Truck for installation. We were on the right track to getting the Big Tow’er healthy, but not in time to leave Port Lavaca and drive to Dallas in time to fly to Philadelphia for Thanksgiving. So the truck stayed behind and got healthy as we headed north for the Holiday.
We returned from Pennsylvania to find the Big Tow’er healthy, happy and ready to resume his duties of safely moving Charlie from city to city. The bill from Performance Truck and N14 parts.com was steep, but we really did not have many other options when it came to safely moving our home to our ultimate next stop, Albuquerque, NM. The drive back to Port Lavaca was without incident and truck and trailer were reunited on Site #24, ready for our planned departure on December 1st. We even stopped for the Big Tow’er to get a long overdue bath. He had developed a slight green hue from the humid summer days in Texas.
After twelve months in one location, we were definitely beyond ready to move on to a new experience. We really enjoyed and truly appreciated the opportunity to work at Texas Lakeside RV Resort, but we’re here to tell you that “Hitch Itch” is real. As much as we love establishing a routine in an area, the desire to see something new is always sitting on the other shoulder. We’ll definitely miss; “our” Starbucks in Victoria, the H-E-B and H-E-B Plus, the Port Lavaca Library, the Magnolia and Matagorda Beaches, the proximity to several unique Texas cities and the residents and co-workers at Texas Lakeside RV Resort; but more exciting things lie down the road. Eager anticipation definitely outweighed sadness as we hitched up Charlie to the Big Tow’er and headed towards our first stop in the Texas Hill Country in Kerville, TX. Hasta luego Port Lavaca, until we meet again.