and better than ever?... A few calls while waiting on the tow proved there were very few options around in terms of vw experts. Luckily, the one that is nearby seems to be well known and highly recommended from everyone I call. We have the truck drive us to Latenight Aircooled in Chico as we try to navigate the hurdles of AAA on the phone.
Jen mentions that she's always wanted to visit chico and I remind her that sabotaging the bus is a bit of an extreme way to do so. She's not yet laughing, but our spirits are amazingly high considering our home on wheels just died. We pull into Latenight and Bryan (easy enough name to remember) is waiting for us and has a spot already cleared in the back of the shop.
We describe the issues over the last few days, he takes a guess and then as the boys fire E up in the back he's certain it's a broken rod. He takes the time to lead us into the "engine room" for a bit of a show and tell about what likely happened, but more than the visuals it was his diagnosis that finalized things. As he put it...it's "heart transplant" time.
So there it is. E's actually dead. We walk back into entrance and he points out a few rebuilt (not just refurbished) long blocks he has on the shelf. The good news is, that part is ready and waiting if we decide to use it.
We begin weighing all of our options. We can tow the bus back to portland for what i'm sure is a hefty sum and find a new engine, or better yet try to rebuild it ourselves in order to learn. This is what i had hoped or planned we would have the option of doing...but in all reality i already feel swamped with the number of fun projects awaiting us back home and who knows when i would even get started on such an endeavor. The idea of an engine-less bus sitting in a garage somewhere in portland long-term is the opposite of what we're after.
We also discuss at depth engine size. I had already been talking with a few mechanics about swapping out our 1776 with dual (very problematic) carbs for a stock 1600 with a single carb, but want to make sure we are making the best possible choice. Bryan is extremely patient with our questions and coaches us through the possibilities. We like this guy already. He's not just a guy with a great name and a great haircut.
Then there's scheduling. In our minds we just added a week to our arrival to portland, which we were eagerly discussing and planning for tomorrow. On top of that is the break in period for a new engine. Bryan suggests that he could find mechanics he trusts along our route home who could perform the needed break-in service...making home closer to reach.
It doesn't take us long to decide on returning to the stock 1600 engine and we give Bryan the green light. He's even agreed we can sleep in the bus whatever nights we're here to save on hotel fare. Instead of room and board, we'll settle for room and wrenching. Bryan looks around for a vehicle for us to borrow and tosses us the keys to the thing sitting out front (yes, for those of you not into the VW world...that's a vehicle).
We drive away, drop off another customer/new bus owner at her house and realize that we have huge smiles on our faces. Maybe it's because work is already underway on the bus and maybe it's because you can't drive a thing without a smile... It's like driving a cross between a vw bus and a go cart...so fun!!
Back at the shop, our engine is already out and being dismantled piece by piece. The hope is to use as much as we can from our old engine to save money on the new one. The guys scrub, clean and inspect each part as it comes off; and after the new block is chosen and mounted to the wall pieces start getting added on in reverse order. I'm watching over shoulders trying to take it all in. Much of it makes sense and are things we've already dealt with, some are new lessons in VeeDubbery and some simply get lost as i dart back and forth between shoulders. They are working at impossible speed and it seems like we're watching a time lapse video.
We are trying to wait patiently but also wishing we were still on our way north towards home. Towards family and friends that it seems like we haven't seen in a year. Jen sits in the sun reading a magazine and when i check in she merely says "it could be worse". I chuckle as she explains "remember that bad movie was saw in mexico, where the kids got stuck in the chairlift, one jumps out and breaks both legs and then gets eaten alive by a pack of wolves?". Always hard to argue with Jen's logic and as usual, she's right. It could be worse...
By the time to sun starts to set, the puzzle of pieces scattered on the floor that once proved we came in with an engine are almost gone and the one clamped on the opposite wall is almost complete. It's not as pristine, clean and attractive as it was in the front room because they keep mounting all our old parts on it, but they assure us that running is far better than pretty.
The sun sets and the guys are still hard at it. The "late night" part of Latenight Aircooled apparently isn't just a naming convention. The new engine is now on the floor and resting on a cart that looks like something quasimodo would have proud of. A few last checks and they flip the switch and the engine turns over. Once the inside is lubricated and has pressure they flip the switch again, breath life into the beast and it rumbles to a start and maintains. A magical thing really. Oddly, it already sounds better than our old engine has most of the last 5 years.
We can finally shut the door to the shop, glorious as the temps outside have plummeted with the sun. They keep working for a few more hours tweaking the carb, searching for leaks and the engine continues to level out and purr a softer and softer tone. Eventually we mount it back in the bus and things seem almost normal again. So much different than moments ago when we were pushing a light and hollow shell of our vehicle around.
Bryan takes E out for a spin and comes back to report we're in good shape. We certainly aren't ready for the road, but all the new parts seem to be getting along harmoniously and E is officially off the operating table.
Jen and i are both in awe...we both kind of just assumed a week minimum to get to this point, and these guys have somehow created an engine and have the bus running within 12 hours of our dropping the bus off the tow truck. Unbelievable!
Now that today's work is done, Bryan actually takes the time to take us out in his tiki bus (did i mention we love this guy) and show us around Chico a bit, introduces us to his favorite burrito joint. We chat for a bit and get to know him under the stars, and eventually head back to the shop to crash in the bus/garage. For people who should be dejected and broken down on the highway, we're feeling pretty good about things.
At least we aren't being eaten alive by wolves.