Harvey's Column

In December of 1984, the Vintage Birds Chapter of the FMCA was chartered for owners of older (Vintage) Blue Bird Wanderlodge coaches. Harvey Lawrence, former technical editor for FMCA magazine, was one of these "Founders". In the following articles Harvey shares his views and wisdom. Email Harvey
Copyright 1999, 2000 & 2001 may only be reprinted with permission of the author.

The Best Kept Secret in Used Motor Homes

The market place is all too often a minefield, and the motor home used vehicle market certainly is not much different. It almost never reveals its best buys easily. If you want to get some kind of feel for what is happening in that market, sit and watch the comings and goings of motor home owners (and trailers too) all winter in a Texas or Florida snow bird campground. You will see all makes and models of well built, fairly well built, and not so well built coaches parade in and out. When asked, most owners will tell you what a fabulous buy they got on a used coach, and how great it is, and go on to name higher prices for them than it would have cost for a good used Blue Bird.

When I purchased a 1979 Blue Bird FC35 ft with over 180,000 miles on it, my wife was aghast. With that many miles things were certain to start going wrong real soon. Before long she noticed the upholstery was in very good shape and even if it was 18 years old! Then she could find no flaws in the wood work and cabinetry. It was then she began to really realize what a Wanderlodge was and how very strong it was built, and she began to relax.

I recently had a couple of truck mechanics do some work on my coach and they marveled at the heavy duty construction. They compared it to a Kenworth or a Peterbuilt and both said it was more heavily made, and pointed out that it was likely to see 500,000 mile if serviced regularly.

The Wanderlodge is a cousin to a top of the line school bus that a school districts fully expect will do daily service delivering 40 to 50 kids to and fro and not breakdown in the process or cost a lot to operate, and for periods of ten to fifteen years. Such service requires top designs and top components to ensure the unit will continue to serve. Well, that is a Blue Bird Wanderlodge!!

The secret I mentioned is that few people buying used coaches really know how well built these units really are. Most, when faced with the decision, will buy a used 1996 whatever on a light truck chassis because it is newer and they only have to pay $70,000. Put 200,000 miles on it and it is ready for the heap. For the same dollars a fairly new Blue Bird will roll 500,000 miles and sit around asking for more. For sure I am, and now my wife is totally convinced we have the best buy around and what is a bonus, she still is a classy lassie! ( the wife too).

So why am I Preaching to the choir?? Why tell a bunch of Blue Bird Owners what most already know?? Because the rest of the world does not know how tough these coaches really are, and they will never know unless you tell them. If you do not, Blue Birds will remain a best kept secret. If the person who you are talking to doubts you, you might point out that the Bird is every bit as well built as an MCI bus and they start converting an ex greyhound at 900,000 miles or more,. Only then does it start its life as a motor home.

Harvey Lawrence VB8

SAFE LIVING TAKES TIME

We travel and live in some pretty sizable machines. In addition, they are uniquely complex with the many systems required to support our lifestyles. But with all this comes some real and serious dangers; ones that could cause a world of hurt, not to mention shattering a lifestyle.
I speak of the dangers involved in the securing, maneuvering, backing , and other normal functions you perform in your motor coach. But with these dangers also comes a set of procedures that can drastically reduce the dangers, if followed religiously. These procedures, however, do take time. That’s what I mean when I say, “Safe living takes time!”
So, let’s take a look at some of these procedures and, then, perhaps you can add even more to the list.

* PREFLIGHT CHECK LIST *

1. Aircraft pilots
use a preflight check list before ever starting an engine. They can’t afford not to, and, if you want all to be safe, neither can you. If you are one of those guys who says, “The older I get the sharper I am,” or, “I can remember everything important that I need to without any old list,” then you should talk to the guy who backed up and severely cut his wife’s leg with an open compartment door and, thus, gave her a much needed rest (from him) in the hospital. No matter how mundane you think the check list item is, add it to the list because, even in your wildest imagination, you cannot foresee the problems that item may have in store for you. Don’t forget the interior check for loose items on that list! You, as the principle operator, should make out the list for your coach because both coaches and procedures are different for nearly all situations.

2. MON BACK
Never back up without your Mon Back, not even five feet!! A Mon Back is a trusted person who positions themselves on the left rear corner of the coach where you can see them. Once there, they wildly swing their arms while hollering “MON BACK , MON BACK.” They are in a position to see things even your trusted camera could not reveal and can keep you from running over your dog, cat, picnic tables, or the neighbor’s Honda. I have the nicest little dent in the right rear corner of my coach because I did not follow my own advice. Did not hurt that tree a bit.

3. CRAFTY, SNEAKY AIR BAGS
If you have a 1979, or earlier, Blue Bird and enjoy crawling around under your coach fixing things, block your wheels and go ahead. If your coach has air bag suspension ride, 1979 or not, then DO NOT get under it until the coach frame has been blocked up. Do not be one of those jerks who says, “Oh, my air will stay up OK, I know!” If something happens to release the air, that coach is coming down on you like an octopus jumping on an innocent fish, in one gulp!

4. PLAN AHEAD
I will not try to tell you how to drive, nor mention the vast array of pitfalls that you must avoid, but I will remind you to plan ahead. Do not start out for somewhere without a clear idea in your mind of how to get there. And, at each turn in the route, be aware of when the next turn is coming up. If you get caught short, pull over and don’t go any further until you have the route worked out. Spending this time sure beats making a fast turn in front of a thundering log truck. Been there, done that!

5. HEADLIGHTS
There’s a good reason why some new cars display bright driving lights when the key is turned on. It’s not so you can see; it’s because your car will be seen by others. This very day I drove North on Route 98 in North Florida toward Panama City . The roads are mostly straight as an arrow with tall trees on either side, and it was sunny all day. What astounded me was the number of cars that I did not see coming at me in the distance. Their color conspired with the tree shade to hide them until they were just a couple blocks away. Had I pulled out to pass, not knowing they were there...... Yet cars coming at me with their lights on could be easily spotted a mile or more away!! I was using my headlights because I wanted to be seen. Many of them were not, and again I emphasize how well hidden they were. Above all, on a two lane highway use your headlights, driving lights or fog lights!!!

Harv
December, 1999

Awning Care

Most everyone takes pretty good care of the mechanical parts of their coach and preventive maintenance is done on a regular schedule. But with some items on the coach, they seem to be always there, and they always work, so therefore they get little attention. This is a fact that was pointed out by Mr. Bob Miller of Zip Dee Awnings during his recent seminar at the 1999 Rally in The Valley. He did quite a good job informing the folks there about the best way to take care of your awning, and the right products to use both to clean it and to lubricate parts. For those of you who did not make the seminar I will repeat some of the information for you.

WHAT YOU NEED

  • A garden hose with a good strong spray nozzle.
  • A soft scrub brush with a long handle
  • A Bucket full of luke warm water with mild soap. ( Lux or Ivory flakes) No Detergents!!
  • A spray can of silicone lubricant ( Not WD40 as it is a petroleum /silicone mixture)
  • Some old t shirts or similar soft rags
  • 7/16 socket and wrench

THE HARDWARE

First pull your awning down but leave it at half mast so you can reach everything. Next tighten all bolts to just a snug tightness. DO NOT OVER TIGHTEN or you may break them off. Using soap and water, wipe off all the arms and other parts you can reach. The telescoping tubes and bars of each arm come apart and may be washed out in that manner. Work on one arm at a time. Working on both arms at the same time can be dangerous because you release the roller spring.

Flush out the insides of the tubes with that pressure nozzle on the end of the water hose, being sure to get all the mud dauber nest, cob webs ,and any other matter that may be in the tubes. It is not necessary to lubricate the arms as you reassemble them, Spray the little spring loaded snaps on each arm well with the Silicone as they do not come apart. Liberally spray the ends of the awning roller and in general all other parts that move with the silicone spray. Flush out the little spring in the rafter arms to clean them and spray them well with silicone.

You may restore the luster to the awning hardware with a good chrome polish if you wish, and then spray it with silicone to keep the luster.

FABRIC

The fabric on your Zip Dee is specially woven non organic acrylic fibers it will not by itself support the growth of mildew. With the proper care, this is good news for you as mildew can permanently stain your awning. But dirt. pollen, leaves and even bird droppings can and will play host to mildew growth. So to maintain your awning fabric all you need do is unroll the awning and rinse it clean with a strong water spray about every month to keep these foreign particles from collecting. About every six months to a year, depending on use, it is a good idea to unroll the awning and wash with Zip Dee wash powder in water, or use a mild soap such as Lux or Ivory Snow, and borateem applied with soft brush. Rinse and apply as needed to washout deposits. Use a gallon of Luke warm water and a 1/4 cup of soap/borateem solution. For stubborn dirt you may add 1/2 cup of bleach. Always be outside when you add bleach in the event you have a chemical reaction. Never use a strong detergent such as 409 or Fantastic as they will remove the chemical that keeps the fabric water resistant. After wetting the awning with soap solution well roll the awning up for ten to fifteen minutes, then unroll it and wash it down well with a strong water spray.

Eventually the water resistance of the fabric may diminish. You may restore it with an application of Scotch Guard , Gard, or Rain Check Seam leaks can be cured by an application of seam sealer usually available at trailer supply houses or canvas dealers.

WEATHER

Generally speaking if you do not want to sit under the awning because of rain or wind the awning should be rolled up for its protection. Do not allow the awning to catch any amount of water if you can possibly avoid it. You can help you awning to survive wind if you drop the arms as low as you can, but that usually causes vehicle entry problems. If you have to roll your awning up wet, this is no problem, but unroll it again as soon as you can to dry it out. With a little care your awning should last you for a long while and retain its bright colors as well. If you have other questions give Zip Dee a call.. They will be more than glad to help.

Harv
February, 2000

CARE AND FEEDING OF THE CAT 3208

Among the Bluebirds produced and still on the road, there are a goodly number still with the 3208 in use and in several versions. They range from the 210 hp naturally aspirated 3208 to the turbo charged 300 hp and a couple of versions in between. The engine was originally designed by Caterpillar for use in medium sized work vehicles such as dump trucks, and busses, and other items like road repair machinery. It is often called the “throw away engine’ because it does not have the piston sleeves larger caterpillars have, and lacking these, if you have engine problems and badly score your piston walls, the engine block may have to be discarded and replaced. The engine can however be successfully overhauled and many hours of service has proven that it really is a tough one! Tough as it is however, the cat 3208 needs tender loving care to be a long performer and to maintain its full power though its service life. Most knowledgeable will quickly tell you that the service life is around 300,000 miles if care is given.

OIL CHANGES

When you refer to the Caterpillar manual to determine recommended intervals for oil and filter changes and it gives you to a chart that considers average speeds versus hours used to determine oil change intervals. Because I personally believe that clean oil is the very best engine insurance you can buy, I change my oil and oil filters every 3000 miles, 300 hours, or 3 months which ever comes first. While it is quite possible I could be wasting good oil, I would rather do that knowing that I can increase the life of my engine. If you have noticed that most diesels will turn motor oil black after a few hours of running. This is from the carbon from fuel combustion that gets in the oil, and it continues to build up and pollute the oil until you change it. I believe I can actually tell from the sound of my engine when the carbon is building heavy in the oil. When I change it, the engine seems to be running quieter. This might be my imagination, but it has happened enough times that it has me believing it.

FUEL FILTERS

Most coaches have both primary and secondary fuel filter systems and the change interval for filters should be as recommended by the Caterpillar manual.. With my coach, some one removed the primary filter so I try to replace the secondary filter when I do oil filters to head off any fuel pollution problems. I also weekly drain a sample of the fuel oil out of the tank petcock into a glass jar to check for water and impurities.

AIR FILTER

Air filters should be checked and cleaned (blown out) when you do oil changes. You should check your air cleaner regularly to insure your engine is getting all the air that it needs. If you live in a dusty or sandy area this is most important . Be sure to check the inside of the air cleaner as well as the outside. I was fooled badly by a clean appearance on the outside while an air cleaner was nearly plugged on the inside, causing severe loss of power. While we are talking about air intakes, the modification of putting a second entrance port in the 3208 air cleaner really showed me remarkable results. I n addition to power increase the engine mileage went from a steady 7.3 to a steady 8.8 with this modification. While we are on the subject of air filters, I must mention the air filter on the intake of your air compressor!! My unit has a small round cup that screws off on the top side of the air compressor and it has a small air filter element in it. This serves to filter the air going into the air compressor and ultimately your brake system. It needs replacing about every 5 to 10 thousand miles.

VALVE LASH

It is very important to have the valve lash set on a 3208 Caterpillar engine every 35 to 40 thousand miles. As the engine runs, the valve lash slowly changes and with it the efficiency level of the engine. My 3208 had not had it done in over 60,000 miles and when I got the coach I took it to EA Martin Caterpillar in Springfield MO and they set the engine up. I can tell you the difference in the performance was awesome! I am also told that if valve lash is not set and is allowed to go long enough it is possible to start popping valve heads off into the pistons and needless to say that means a major overhaul. I am convinced that the 3208 engine is a tough one if it receives the proper care and while it might not be the fastest thing on the road, it will still get you there in grand style!!
Harv
May, 2000

Heat, Your Engines Ever Present Enemy

The very minute you crank your diesel, you begin generating heat through the repeated explosions in your piston chambers. Most engines do a remarkable job of controlling this heat and for the most part, the way this heat control is achieved goes unnoticed by you the user.The largest of the heat generators is the diesel that runs your motor coach. This engine gets cooled during its operation in many ways. First, and perhaps formost is the Radiator (heat exchanger)and the cooling water circulating through the engine & cooling system. Second is by convection, that is by using a large, sometimes eight bladed fan to circulated air first through the radiator cores and then over the surfaces of the engine where it cools engine surfaces. The third way is by cooling engine oil., for example, on the 3208 , 210 HP the oil cooler is an extension off to the side of the engine on the lower left front side, with two oil filters screwed on it. This unit serves to cool engine oil by circulating it through the unit and the two oil filters hanging out there in the breeze where relatively cool air takes heat away. When you pulling a big hill you will note heat gauges begin to rise. This is due not only to the engine working hard, but also the second big heat generator, the transmission. The tranny is also cooled by the engine radiator, which in most instances does both just fine. But should the engine start to heat up, then so does the transmission, and that is not good! Nothing beats good clean oil and oil filters in a transmission and engine to help control heat.

Very often a vehicle starts to overheat for no good or apparent reason. There are no leaks, the engine fan works good, and there does not seem to be any major defects. most of the time an overheating problem comes on gradually . When this happens it usually means the lack of preventative maintenance, but not always. I had a friend whose coach began an over heating problem in the spring (June) and it came on rather suddenly. All seemed well with the system so we pulled the front sheet metal on the coach and much to our surprise found mud doubber (wasp) nests over half the surface of his radiator.

Good preventative maintenance is the key however. After your coolant has been in your radiator for 3 years or so its active ingredient cannot be counted on to protect the radiator any more and if it allows a sludgy built up, this becomes a severe deterrent to the coolant transfering heat to the air that we depend on and severely reduces radiator cooling efficiency. Slipping belts are another bugger. they some times work well at an idle, but slip at higher speeds so full effectiveness of fans are not realized that is why it its important to set belt tensions according to manufacturers specs.

Dirt is a big enemy also, especially when it is mixed with oil. A good layer of this on an engine and especially an oil pan acts as insulation to keep the heat in!! This is true for all other engine and transmission surfaces also.

Radiator core should be well flushed out before putting in new antifreeze, and a strong water hose should be applied from the engine side of the radiator to flush out any dead bugs stuck in the radiator cores.Most engines in BlueBirds, front engine or rear are packed into thier spaces tightly. It is vital to keep the air flowing to the compartment as well as possible Remember the cooler she runs, the longer she runs.
Harv
August, 2000

TIRES WITH AN ATTITUDE

A close friend of mine was really fussing at his coach rather badly one day because he awoke to the discovery that he had a flat on one of his outside Duals. His Wife, ever trying to be helpful pointed out that he should be grateful because the flat was on the outside dual and not the inside, which on top of his upset, did little to soothe him, as a matter of fact it caused him to fuss even harder. Once the man from the tire shop had the tire off and was able to examine the inside of the casing he pointed to a bad interior bruise and broken steel side wall strands that could be seen only on the inside of the tire. The tire mans comment was “Another good tire done gone” He turned to my friend and said “you badly abused that tire and it finally got its revenge. Tires have a memory and the don’t forget abuse” Jim thought back on where he had taken the coach, and remembered the day they were touring that nice little quaint village on the way to someplace and how he had driven the back wheel over the curbing instead of stopping, backing up and swinging wider to miss it. Indeed the tire had “remembered” for six months and today was Jim’s day to pay up. The tires on his coach are 1100-22.5 so the bill was right at $350.00. Seems like a tough price to pay for what one would think as such a small mistake but that’s the way it often is.

A dumb stunt I pulled was to ease off on the shoulder of the road to let faster traffic by me and I wound up with two tires cut to pieces by some six pack of beer bottles some #&@!*&%$ guy threw out as garbage. The cost to me was over $760.00

Tires are like an ugly farmers daughter. They love to be matched up and stay that way and usually when I buy tires I buy two so I can do just that!! I am told you get best service and wear out of them that way especially on duals . Reams have been written about tire sizing and proper inflation and nearly every tire manufacturer publishes a book on the carrying capacity and proper inflation of their truck tires. Whatever you do be certain that before you buy new tires you are aware of the weight being carried by the axle where they will be mounted . The front Axle of my 79 bird weighs around 12,600 pounds. I bought a set of new 14 ply (load range G) tires and wondered why they heated so badly in the summer. When I looked up the carrying capacity of the tires they maxed out at 12,420 pounds or something like that. Very much a borderline situation! I moved them to the duals where they were well within limits and replaced them on the steering axle with 16 ply (load range H) Dunlops which had a capacity of around 13,700 pounds and a good safety margin.

Keeping tires covered when parked for a time keeps the sun and the ozone from drying them out. Motor coach tires seldom ever have to be replaced because of tread wear, instead the side walls age and crack long before the tread wears out. Inspect your tires inside and out often for obvious blemishes or cuts, and be certain to check air pressures every other day or so on the road. Remember, heat is a big enemy of your tires so when you stop in a rest stop just feel the tire treads. If they are to hot to comfortably place your hand on them check closer, something is wrong.

The use of commercial tire dressings will not only make your tires look pretty & black but will sometimes help keep the damage down from the suns rays.

Be good to your tires and they will not get an attitude.

Harv
December, 2000

For First Time Shoppers

I am most pleased to see the number of people visiting the Vintage Birds Home Page and surprised at the number with questions about Blue Birds. Few disagree that the “Bird is the best buy” but they have many questions about the various types and models of Blue Birds.
Every Blue Bird, with the exception of one model, the BMC, is built on a chassis made by Blue Bird, not some other equipment manufacturer. Every chassis is a heavy duty design and will stand a tough long life, they seldom see a tough life but they will withstand it. The Bodies are all steel and rivet construction, galvanized & treated for anti rust, and are also fabricated at the bluebird factory. The interior appointments of a Wanderlodge are mostly manufactured in the Blue Bird cabinet & upholstery shop and a built to weather time and use. The wood work cabinetry and upholstery in both my 1973 and my 1979 Birds was in mint condition after 10 to 20 years because of the material quality chosen in the first place.

I often get the question which is better the forward control or the pusher?? Please do not make the mistake of trying to compare the forward control Wanderlodge with the rear engine models..that is like discussing apples and oranges. Both are fine machines, and your choice should depend on what you think you want and of course what you can afford. You might want to consider doing as I did, that is starting with an older Bird and working your way up if initial cost is a problem.
I purchased a 1984 40' foot PT40 model last January from Bleakley RV in Douglasville, GA and wound up with practically a new coach in mint condition with only 76,000 miles on it, not hardly broke in yet let alone very used. I feel I got a better coach than if I would have purchased a much newer anything else. It amuses me to hear people speculate in a campground over what they think my 17 year old coach is worth especially after we have given them the tour through it.

As Blue Bird built coaches from 1964 until now they have continually improved them. Some year models saw important improvements such in 1980-81 with the advent of the air bag suspension. This was a big improvement for the comfort factor, and also about that time Caterpillar beefed up the 3208 to let it accept a turbo and the horsepower went from 210 to 250. With new motor home diesels running up to 400 horses, that did not seen like much but it did give the CAT more pulling power and pep. But I drove a non turbo 210 HP for 4 years and found that it handled the vehicle rather nicely if it was kept in good operating order. Do not make the mistake of thinking of the performance of these 30,000 pound plus machines in terms of quick snappy passing on the road or fast red light get aways. You just do not get that kind of weight off to a snappy start and if you are a safe driver you do not need to anyway.

If you accept the fact that any motor home is somewhat like a house in that there is almost always something that needs fixing you will find some relief in a Bird as things are of quality and do not need that much coddling. Mind you, I did Not say things never need fixing because that is not true, but you will find unlike some other coaches nearly everything can be fixed and the parts are usually available either through the factory or elsewhere

What is equally important is the support you can receive from the factory by asking them questions, and this is even on a 20 year old coach. Then too you can depend on other owners through the Q&A section of this computer site. Nearly every problem you will have has someone out there that solved it somehow and most are pleased to share the information with you. So you are never alone once you have joined the BlueBird family.

What is most important is to realize the quality of the units are so good that a 1984 BlueBird is a better buy than a 1995 anything else model and it will be a darn site cheaper!! Another plus is that you will find most Bird Owners care enough about even the older coaches to keep them in good repair. As a friend told me, "You will never live long enough to wear this thing out."

Harvey
May 2001

Looking Back In Style

When I took possession of our 1984 PT 40 one of the first things I noticed was that the back up camera, while still working , had dark shadows across the screen and was badly out of focus. I used it this way for nearly 9 months while I was trying to figure out just what to do with it. I had heard that the RCA TC2055CS camera could be rebuilt and that it also could be refitted with a picture tube that would not be adversely effected by the bright sunlight. I found a company called LRC Electronics who said they could repair the RCA, but when I called getting ready to send my unit to them they told me in checking further that they had found out they could no longer buy the videocon picture tube they needed and they also had previously estimated the repair cost to be around $150.00.

On August 1st Henry Pozzuoli put a question on the Q&A asking where he could find a replacement system for his back up camera, and was answered by Bob Dilks a day later telling about a camera he had found which was an Ultrak KC4500MN and a Pentax/Conica wide angle lens for a cost of $450. He said it was a direct bolt in replacement for the RCA 2055C . I later called Bob and talked to him about the camera set up and he indicated that it worked fine except that the image was reversed, and that he had employed a set of relays in front of the monitor to correct that.

I was not still convinced so I went hunting video people in this part of the country and found several that really did not want to bother looking things up to solve my problem until I contacted Tony Melby at "Vision Quest" in Springfield Missouri. He said he could get the Ultrak KC4500MN OK but did not like the idea of the reversed image. He said he would look to see what he could find and call me back. Find it he did! He came up with a substitute for the RCA that was about one quarter as Large, fit right in place of that camera, and did things the RCA never thought of doing!The camera has a imaging reverse switch so it can see the image either way (of course you want it set for looking behind the vehicle) and the lens (purchased separately) can be operated as a telephoto or a wide angle lens, or be adjusted so that your results are half way between the two. After you receive the camera and lens from them it is only a matter of bolting it in place and hooking up the DC line with the correct polarity, and plugging in the video line. If you do not like the picture you get, remove the mounting bolt and pull the camera back far enough to adjust it to please. You should be fore warned that the plug on the lens does not fit the new camera so you will be wise to ask the place you buy it from to wire the lens to the terminals in the back of the camera and test it before they ship it to you. The Camera I selected was as follows:

Camera : Weldex WDDC1200B black and white 12VDC with Imagereverse.$159.00
Fixed lens TOK TCO412AI lens with auto iris 4 MM, $98.00

or a

Tokina 3.3 varefocal VAI lens as I described $116.00 so your cost would be $257 with the regular lens and $275 with the verifocal lens.

I obtained my camera & lens at Vision Quest, 251 South Union Springfield Missouri 65802 (800) 284 4140 or 417 862 1967 ask for Tony

They will also install for those who wish that service.

Harvey Lawrence
Sept. 15, 2001

Talk About Tires

When coach owners gather talk almost always turns toward care of coaches and experiences folks have had. On several occasions I have heard this & that about tires, I suppose because they do represent a significant investment. On one occasion on the Internet I read a message from what was obviously from a beginner asking the question ?what tire should I use?. Unfortunately he was answered by one of those self appointed experts in all things who told him that he needed to buy the very best French made tires at $380 each, and not to buy just two at a time but that he should replace them all at one time. Thats a $2280 expenditure for six tires. When the green horn mentioned that, the ?expert? replied that ?if you are going to own a Blue Bird you have to be ready to spend that kind of money. I suppose there are several Blue Bird owners that could afford to replace all the tires at once, but I sure am not one of them and what I hate to see is some one deliberately discouraging a new comer. That tires have to be replaced is a fact of life and that they cost money is another, but there are ways to make the facts a little more palatable. So instead of joining in the nonsense I have worked out a plan to manage tire replacement and replace only the tires required with a little more affordable tires.
SOME FACTS
1. With very few exceptions RV tires will rot out on the side walls long before the tread wears down. Usually tires are good for 6 to 7 years before they need to be replaced due to sidewall cracks. It doesn?t seem to matter what you paid for the tire, this still happens.
2.There are a number of tires generally thought of as medium tires that will serve every bit as well as the higher priced one will. Just be sure you use the correct load range needed and in the case of steering axles use a tire made for that.
3. Often you will find that the ?domestic brands? will give a better guarantee than some of the classy imports will.
4.All of the tires on the coach do not need to be the same strength. Buy according to the weight needs. For example my front axle on my PT40 weighs 13000 or better requiring 2 tires that will each carry 6500 pounds. This equates to a load range H or a 16 ply tire. The rear drive axle weighs 19940 or four tires carrying 4985 each or a load range G or about a 14 ply. The tag axle carries 7200 LB or 3600 pounds each but I still use load range G or H and I will explain that later.
I decided I would do some checking with a few truckers I knew and find out what they used and was amazed to find out that very few of them used the great French tire, but all were in agreement that the tires they used on the steering axle had to be of better than average quality. And they would use a steering axle tire for a certain time, and then swap those tires to a drive axle in order to keep the newest tires on the front. In every instance they were the less expensive brand domestic tires.
So I developed the plan for my coach to use the newest tires on the front, then when they were beginning to show wear or age, I would buy two tires and move the used front load range H to the tags. The tag axle often gets into a brief situation where it picks up a lot of the rear load from the drive axle and when it does it places a lot of load on the tag axle tires. This happens when you go over a rolly polly bump or back into a driveway where the tags get there first. So it does not hurt to have the heavier load range tires back there. The drive axle duels should be the only tire that should be replace together and being load range G they would be cheaper. If you replace just two of the duels then put the new tires together on the right side according to the experts at BF Goodrich. How ever you want to do it work out a plan so you get the most out of your tires.

Harvey Lawrence
November 18, 2002

Your Engine's Best Friend-Motor Oil

The selection of motor oil that is best for your engine seems to be a subject that is like the never ending story, and it seems to be constantly under discussion among RVers. The idea of which motor oil to use, what grade or weight is best, and decidedly which brand is better has been the subject of spirited conversations around RV folks. Some ideas are fueled by stories passed on from friends, others generated on beliefs expressed by the service mechanic who cares for your vehicle, and some even from industry advertising that stretches oil claims to the limit, often backed up by which NASCAR driver uses which brand. While all of this information makes for a great campfire bull session, it is vitally important that you consider facts, and they are given to you in your vehicle manual telling you what weight and type of oil to use under given operating conditions. These operating facts have been arrived at by extensive testing to determine what is best for your engine. These recommendations should form the actions you take. However the manual leaves it to you to make a determination as to how severe the conditions your engine is working under to determine frequencies of changes. I am of the opinion that no matter if you are using a gas engine or a diesel, pulling a trailer, a fifth wheel or a motor home with a car, your engine is performing just about full out a good share of the time, so I consider the engine as always working under moderately severe conditions and perform oil changes accordingly! Next you need to know that when it all shakes out, engine oil has three basic jobs. First it must protect against wear, second it has a big job of transferring heat away from engine parts and third it must protect against harmful deposits often generated by the engine during the combustion process.

WEAR

Basically your oil protects against wear by keeping a microscopic film of oil between all moving engine parts. To do this the engine oil must maintain the ultimate lubricating viscosity or thickness. Too thick it will not flow to all places needing lubrication. To thin it will not provide the film required to sufficiently protect. Sometimes the engine oil manufacturer will add an anti wear additive to assist this function. Additives can also neutralize combustion byproducts with detergent additives, thus doing away with corrosion. Should your owners manual recommend a certain brand of oil, it will likely be because of the additives in that oil and not because they are trying to sell any brand of oil.

HEAT

Heat transfer or removal is one of the bigger jobs motor oil accomplishes for you. Pistons are constantly exposed to high temperatures of combustion, and they need far more cooling than that provided by the engine cooling system. Much of the cooling comes from motor oil spraying the underside of the pistons and carrying considerable heat off to the engine oil pan where it dissipates to the air. Without this extra oil cooling, the effect of combustion heat on the pistons would cause catastrophic failure of pistons and valves. A good oil has antioxidants that protects the oil from extreme heat while performing this cooling function and extending oil life. In the interest of easy heat transfer, it is usually a good idea to keep your engine's oil sump pan free from outside layers of dirt and caked on oil sludge.

ENGINE DEPOSITS

When combustion takes place in the engine, engine deposits often result as by product, and pollute oil and contaminate it as it carries away the heat. As oil gets more and more contaminated it tends to thicken and deter good lubrication. To help neutralize this, oils will have a blend of dispersants and detergents to fight the problem. It is very important to select oils with adequate and long life detergent additives so that they carry the particles into the oil filters to be trapped there and keep your oil cleaner, longer.

MULTI VISCOSITY OILS

Perhaps one of the greatest inventions concerning motor oils was the blending of multi Viscosity oils . Oils with a label of 10w30 or 20w 50 are oils that can serve you all year around and depending on their selection, serve well. To blend multi viscosity oils the manufacturer must first choose a light base oil (5W,10W,20W) then they add polymers to them to prevent the oil from thinning as it becomes warmer. At cold temps a 10W 30 oil will flow as their lower number indicates because when cold the polymers are wound up in a tighter chemical chain. As the oil warms up their polymers literally unwind into longer chemical chains that prevents the oil from thinning equal to what a 30W normally would. The result is that at 100 degrees C the oil will equal what the higher number indicates. Choice of multi grade oils for an engine differs from engine to engine. That is why I repeat that following the engine manufacturer's recommendations is important.

OIL CHANGE INTERVALS

As previously mentioned, the frequency of oil change recommendations are usual based on how severe the operating conditions are. For this reason I have selected mileage for both my car and my coach to change oil. The mileage I selected are well within and much less than guidelines. I consider this my insurance policy , not a waste of money. Gasoline engine: every 3000 miles with filter, Diesel engine : every 8000 miles with filters.

SYNTHETIC OILS

The more expensive Synthetic oils have excellent lubrication qualities and have the tendency to keep engine bearings very happy for longer oil change intervals because they have superior high temperature oxidation resistance, a higher lubrication film strength, and many other qualities better than standard motor oils, but at a higher cost as well. It must be left up to you to determine if the higher cost is justified for your application. Synthetics can be operated three times as long as petroleum oils without concern. But standard motor oils serve to adequately lubricate and a lesser cost. It is left for you to decide.

OIL ADDITIVES

Oil companies go to a great deal of trouble to blend and test motor oils so that they will perform as specified in you engine. Very often the careful blending and balancing of additives can be easily upset by some well minded individual adding what he or she thinks to be a great oil additive. The result could be that the oil will no longer perform to the designed specification. Simply put, do not use additives in your motor oil! It is a waste of money.

OIL TESTING

Some large truck fleet owners use the oil sample test procedures to determine when oil needs to be changed. This entails visiting your local auto parts store and obtaining an oil sampling kit. You then draw off a sample of motor oil and send it to a laboratory for analysis. The report you receive will tell you of the carbon and pollutant content of the oil sample, and also what kind of metal shavings might be present in the oil. Knowing which bearings in you engine is made out of a certain metal can tell you the extent of bearing wear in your engine. Not only will it tell you when to change oil, but it will also tell you the extent of bearing wear over the course of several samples.

Remember, oil and filter changes are your engines best insurance policy, so do it regularly, and in accordance with your manual!

Harvey Lawrence VB8 F7444
November 07, 2003

This and That About Fuel Consumption

Early on in my ownership of our first motor home (we went through seven before we were through) I noticed something was a little strange about the air flow around my coach when were under way. What gave me my first clue was when I flipped a cigarette butt out the drivers window while I was doing 65 MPH down the road the crazy thing started to go where I flipped it, then suddenly it took off in the same direction the coach was going, and just as suddenly again reversed its direction and zoomed directly up and back. (I do not smoke any more nor do I litter either) I was astounded by that ,so I wadded up a piece of tin foil and tossed it out and low and behold it did the same thing. The coach I was driving was the flat nosed 93 Superior and if I could get it to do over 6 to 61/2 miles per gallon it was great. It was only 23 feet long, not heavy at all, but a gas drinker! I got further evidence of the turbulence around my coach when on my way out of Harlingen, Texas across the desert county to Abilene. Going up Texas 83 through Kerr county and on up through Kimble, Menard and Concho counties, things get a wee bit dusty and dry that time of year. But it was my luck to run into a wind storm driving good old black Texas soil in a dust cloud and then it rained hard too. If you could ever imagine a vehicle completely covered with gooey Texas Mud I had the thing. I had to stop every ten miles , get a bucket of water, wash the windshield and rinse enough mud off to see were I was going. But once again, another strange thing appeared. The whole coach was plastered with this gooey black mud except for the very edge of the two front windshield corners, and the small side windows directly behind each front windshield corner. Severe turbulence again! As I am inclined to do we were sitting around chatting with a group of guys in Washington DC who worked for both NASA and DOT and was expounding on my theories of how severe the wind resistance was on my coach when I was asked if I had seen NASA studies performed on box shaped vehicles published In 1974, and I responded I had not. To be brief I still deeply honor the work of three guys, Ed Saltzman, Bob Meyer Jr., and Dave Lux for the making me realize just what we were up against and just how serious it would be!! I enjoy telling stories and some say that is why I write, but this time it is to seriously tell you what you and your machine is up against. And worst of all you probably sort of already know most of it, but just have not put it together.
NASA took a box shaped vehicle rounded the corners and roof edges, changed the rear panels, and completely covered over the underside of the vehicle and the result was a 61% reduction of wind resistance. Just rounding the front corners and roof line accounted for 54% of this! Your Blue Bird already has this aerodynamic front end. Some newer Birds are better than the older ones but all are in the “acceptable range”. All that means is that the 54% is not a consideration for you and to reach the full 61%, a gain of just another 7% you would have to completely enclose the underside of your coach making it smooth. Although not very practical at all to do .

Speed

Another illustration of the same point was a little test I conducted just last year. I was on a trip from Princeton KY to Corydon IN to visit a friend in my 2005 Mazda tribute with a straight 5 speed transmission. The trip is just 180 miles and all but 10 of it is on easy four lane roads where you can set choose a set speed and go. A careful check last year cruising 65, 70, or even a little better gave me 26.2 miles per gallon up and back. This year I decided that I would do just 60 miles per hour and no more and see what happened so I fueled at the same place, at the same pump to copy last years trip as well as I could, and headed out. The result of the lower speed trip made under conditions as identical as I could do it, resulted in miles per gallon of 29.5 going to Corydon and 29.3 coming back to Princeton. That s an 11% increase in fuel economy! I am not trying to make anyone believe I performed a controlled scientific study because I did not. There may have been all sorts of variables in this comparison but one thing is sure. I take the results any day, because before I traded that car in I tried a similar test again and got nearly the same results. The NASA wind resistance chart indicates a factor increase of 2.16 from 60 to 75 mph. Does the two results agree? I do not know since I am not in any respect, a math student. But both are better results and good enough to say with confidence that if you slow your vehicle to 60 MPH you should realize a significant fuel savings.

Driving Habits

Many of us are pedal mashers from a long way back and no matter what happens we must be quick and nimble moving away from a red light and going up hills. I need not explain what negative effect this has on fuel economy, and the terrific strains this driver puts on drive shafts and transmissions. The exact opposite is the light footer. He thinks if he treats the accelerator peddle with a feather touch and he uses just enough to climb a hill and drives real slow in traffic to conserve. The truth is both will waste fuel with their techniques.
Taking off away from a light should be a slow build up of energy against the drive line and it should be a steady increase and even pull. Driving evenly and smoothly is the secret. Remember you are moving 40,000 pounds better from a standing stop so do it smoothly and use the momentum to your advantage.
Tailgating is a no no because you place your vehicle in a position where the driver aheadOf you controls most of your moves and you have lost your ability to drive smoothly. The incidents of starts, stops, braking to reduce momentum, and slow gradually are gone when you tailgate.

Weight

It does not matter what make or model Blue Bird you are driving, it is heavy for it’s size. That is what makes a Blue Bird such a great coach. It is built heavy and built well. You have little or no control over this, but what you do have control over is what you load into this coach. Think. Do you really have to have 150 gallons of diesel,100 gallons of water, 45 gallons of propane, and a full and complete compliment of mechanics tools just to go to a get together of coaches over the week end 200 miles away?? For that matter do you ever have to travel with full tanks ever?? Unless you are going into the middle of the desert and not coming back for weeks, then I would recommend it. Do a reality check on everything , and I do mean everything ,even the dishes, and makeAa bottom line determinaton of what you really need. A lighter coach burns less fuel!

Engines

You can follow all the suggestions so far offered here and not see good results if you do not keep your engine well tuned up. Your injectors in your engine will not fire at the proper degrees before top dead center for the best combustion results unless you do. There are still ample mechanics around that understand the 3208 Cat engines to keep them well set up but the 6V92 and 8V92 Detroit engines are entirely another picture. First they are two cycle, second they are mechanically controlled not computer controlled. But even worse the number of Detroit service people who REALLY know how to make those engines operate to top efficiency are few and far between now. If you have a good one then whatever you do don't forget to buy him his birthday present! Engine controls and the timing needs to be checked at least a couple times a year. Bon Voyage and God bless!

Harvey Lawrence VB8
December 7, 2007

Horns Horns and More Horns

Horns, Horns and more HornsKathy enjoys taking care of the Vintage Bird web page but like most things there are aspects of the job that are less than what she had hoped for so she does what most clever wives would do and defers the coach questions that come in to me for a response. Like her I don’t mind if I have the answer, but some times I do not, and I have to search out the experts. Such is the case with some of the special products found on every factory built Wanderlodge.

I speak of the musical horns , instrumentation, indoor and outdoor thermometers and the like. Most of those found in a Blue Bird came from PMMI Electronics as they supplied them for a lot of years. So I contacted them down in Houston (at there new location) and spoke with the owner, Roger. He was most helpful and much to my surprise said that he could fix or replace everything clean back to 1979 or 1980 one way or another.This include indoor/outdoor thermometers the ultimate horns, reverse polarity indicators, alarm clocks, holding tank, propane tank level indicators, and waste control instruments.

I Mentioned that on my bird you could not plug it into a camp ground with ground fault protectors on the outlet because they would trip them every time. He said he was well aware of the problem and had a simple fix that was not too expensive if the owner would send him the panel. Our conversation got around to how much it would cost and he said there is a $65 bench fee for all fix jobs, (that is if the item is not all corroded or messed up so bad a lot of parts are needed ) and that goes for everything and of course shipping and handling. A new unit or a lengthy repair procedure would be more.Anyway if you have things in the coach that need repair, contact him by Email at sales@pmmi-electronics.com and he will tell you about what the fix will be. Horns, polarity indicators, all the same price.That’s PMMI electronics , the folks with the applied Imagination.

Harvey F7444, VB#8