When a Bus Breaks Down...

“My boss said, ‘yeah, I told them no. I threw away the ticket.’ I told him, ‘We have to at least try.’” Our mechanic, Theo, explains as he changes the fuel pump in our bus. Theo is the 3rd mechanic that we had tried to get to look at the bus.

At 1 AM the night before, the engine stopped as we were exiting the interstate. Roadside assistance arranged for us to be towed. They wanted to tow us to a Wal-mart parking lot until morning, but we convinced them to take us to a truck stop. With a diesel mechanic on site, we at least had a chance of getting a repair. We had a limited amount of time to get to our next location. 

The reality is, that no mechanic wants to look at an old bus. The repairs are straightforward, but the parts are hard to come by. Mechanics prefer to spend their time on fleet vehicles with a guaranteed payment and a computer that tells you exactly which part to change.

Theo warns us that if the fuel pump does not fix the problem, then we would need a large, lengthy repair. That means getting towed to a dealer who can handle the issue. We try to come up with a back-up plan. How can we get the van to us? Where can the kids and I stay? The van is about 90 minutes from us, just too far to take a taxi or public transportation. Renting a vehicle that seats 8 is a bit tricky as well. 

We try to rest, hoping Theo can get us up and running. If we can get on the road by afternoon, we can still make it to our destination on time.

Unfortunately, Theo brings bad news. We need a new blower. We need a backup plan. Panic starts to set in, but once again, Theo saves the day. He says that his co-worker’s wife is a courier and that she can drive us to the van for a small fee. He recommends a tow company and gives us the number to a Detroit Diesel Dealership. 

We are happy that there is a solution and I start making phone calls. The driver arrives in 10 minutes and Michael leaves. I stay with the bus and give the kids instructions to pack 4 days worth of clothes in their backpacks. We move quickly because it is already evening. The tow truck arrives, but even with the axle already pulled, it takes him an hour to hook us up. We drive in 5:00 traffic to the shop. Michael meets us at shop and we wait to be disconnected. We start tossing music gear in the back of the van. By the time we get on the road it is after 7 PM. 

We arrive in St. Louis around midnight. I unload the kids into a borrowed vehicle and drive to my mom’s house. Michael picks up the band members and continues to Kentucky in the van.

The kids and I enjoy some “grandma time” while the bus is in the shop, but Michael keeps working. It is a great reminder of why we decided to travel together as a family. The time apart is hard. 

What was said to be a 4 day repair, takes 4 days before they even order the part. It is clear that the mechanic have placed us at the bottom of the priority list again. A full 3 weeks passes before the bus is ready to drive! 

We want the bus to be in tip-top order.  When when we get back home, we try to get it looked over, just to be sure. However, our experience with mechanics is repeated. No one really wants to deal with it. And so, we’re left with the option that has served us well time and time again…  Do it yourself.  

Michael has spent many hours reading manuals and watching youtube videos. Although his degree is in Theology, and his job is in music, these days he’s studying diesel engines.  He has no interest in rebuilding an engine, but it is valuable to be able to talk to mechanics and fix simple problems on the road. The more he understands about the engine, the better his chance at trouble-shooting when something inevitably goes wrong on the road. This has already some in handy a couple of times. Hopefully, we will need it less and less as we work out all the quirks and bugs on the bus.