After we walked Carlsbad Caverns we picked Finn up from the kennels and headed out to Roswell. The idea was that we’d make it there in the early afternoon (it’s only about 1.5-2 hours away) and have plenty of time to find a place to park, eat dinner, and see some aliens.
On the way from Carlsbad to Roswell you drive through a small called Artesia. 8.5 miles outside of Artesia we broke down. Like everything stopped-working-broke-down.
We had been braking a little hard to get into a rest area (that was on the opposite side of the highway-this is a foreign concept to me, most of the roads that I’ve driven on up to this point have rest areas on both sides to prevent people from crossing the median and oncoming traffic) and as we got into the median to cross the bus shut down.
Luckily the brakes continued to function and we had just managed to get the butt of the bus totally in the median and out of the way of traffic. My very first car was a 1987 Chevy El Camino (I loved that car, I still dream about it) and I ran out of gas once…on my way to the gas station- 17 year old me had no concept of how far I could take an empty tank- and everything shut down including the brakes and steering so I had to throw on the emergency brake to stop myself from hitting a tree as I threw all of my weight onto the steering wheel to pull off into a neighborhood. I would not want to repeat that experience with the bus.
We start going through the list of potential problems. Are we out of fuel? No, still good. Did something happen to the brakes or the air tank? Didn’t think so, the brakes were functioning which meant that we had air pressure (we have air brakes). Did we overheat? Maybe, the temperature had spiked as we had stopped but not a drastic amount and the engine wasn’t smoking or anything. Did the battery die? Maybe, we had being having some issues where it seemed weak, maybe it finally gave out but it seemed odd that would happen mid-drive but the bus wouldn’t start.
I start making phone calls, we are miles way from anything, and the 2 truck repair shops in Artesia don’t answer their phones. Cool. So at this point we don’t have a Good Sam membership (it’s on the list) but I do have AAA. So I call and once I get someone in the New Mexico office they dispatch someone from Santa Fe…call me crazy but that seems odd. Sure enough, that guy calls me and tells me that we’re too far and hangs up on me (I think that bothered me more than anything else). I call AAA again and now they don’t cover RVs but they can ask one of their affiliated mechanic shops that’s “right around the corner” to come out and we’ll just have to pay a $75 fee. Awesome. Let’s do that. He calls and is in Roswell (about 75 miles away) and will be there in a couple hours. No problem. We’ve got time.
By this time the engine has cooled down enough that we can open it up and see what’s going on. Annnnnd we are out of oil and coolant. So the bus overheated. We didn’t have any extra oil or coolant on us but at least we know what happened. It managed to coincidentally overheat at the moment that we were braking and getting out of the flow of traffic which is probably the best way to overheat.
While we were waiting SO MANY people stopped to check on us. And they were so friendly. One guy, Joel, was a mechanic and tow truck driver who knew the mechanic that was on his way. He poked around, gave us what oil he on hand, and called our en route mechanic to let him know what was going on and what he needed to bring with him. Another guy, Eric, stopped to offer his assistance and even offered to put us up for the night if we got stranded in Artesia (unprecedented levels of friendliness right there), and tons of other people stopped.
Finn was completely chill about the whole situation as long as both Mike and I were close by. I tried to take him to the rest area where it was a little safer and he had a fit once he couldn’t see Mike anymore and we already know that he hates seeing me walk away from him. Both if we were close to him he just laid down on the pavement and went right to sleep.
One guy thought we had hit a dog and that’s why he stopped. Thanks for checking but no! He’s our crazy dog.
We were able to watch a huge storm (lots of lightening, thunder, huge dark clouds) move across the horizon. It wasn’t near to us but because it’s so flat out there you can see for miles and miles. That was pretty cool.
Once our mechanic, Rick (he was so nice, a very no nonsense guy from Georgia), got there we added oil and coolant and he checked the bus out for us. We have a leak in the oil pan, a leak in the coolant tank, and our air filter desperately needs to be replaced. But otherwise, the bus got a clean bill of health and those problems are not severe enough to prohibit us taking the bus out with proper attention to fluid levels.
Apparently, our engine (NaviStar/International t444e) monitors a lot of different things (air pressure, oil pressure, coolant levels, etc) and if it senses it is beginning to overheat it will shut down to prevent damage to the engine (unlike the El Camino which would just go until it began smoking and you either stopped or it caught on fire…I assume). That’s what happened to us. Everything came together to start to overheat the engine.
All in all our breakdown cost us a few hours and $137 which is not not bad! We were on our way again and got to Roswell at dusk. We ended up sleeping in a Walmart parking lot. Where Rick saw us, thought we had broken down again, and came over to check up on us. He gave a lot of information and different resources to try to get the parts that we needed for the bus or where to get maintenance done. Which we will need since we stopped at a Love’s that had mechanic shop for trucks attached and they can no longer easily get our parts. A few years ago it wouldn’t have been a problem but as the bus gets older the harder it will be to get what we need for routine maintenance.