There is not much ice around Billings, so we were planning to spend only a day there, just enough time to visit the town. It did not turn out that way… On January 28th, after getting up, we got ready to go visit Billings with the Jeep. Only the Jeep wouldn't start! Eric suspected ignition trouble and spent some time checking things... mmmh, not so sure, ignition seems to work. Maybe a weak coil?

Well, we needed to get this F&%#!@& car to the dealer for parts and/or service. No problem you might say, we can tow it there with the Bus. So we re-attach the tow bar, get the bus ready to move, start the engine, and let it warm up. So far so good. Ready to go, press the clutch, engage first gear… crkcrkcrkcrk… engage first gear… crkcrkcrkcrk… and on, and on. Clutch trouble! Not disengaging! It is even impossible to start the engine after engaging 1st gear and with the clutch pedal to the floor! MEGAF#@K! Two completely independent and unexpected vehicle problems THE SAME MORNING!!!

After having the jeep fixed (turned out to have both a weak ignition coil and a sticky injection damper), we checked the Yellow Pages for bus or truck repair shops and called a few. We finally settled on Interstate Detroit, an official Detroit Diesel (the Bus' engine is a Detroit Diesel) dealer who claimed experience with these busses… We called the insurance company for a tow and an hour later, the tow truck is there (humongous semi-truck with hydraulic wheel lifts). The driver was very professional and efficient. We were only 15 miles from the DD dealer and arrived there just in time to catch their last mechanic.

We spent the night on their parking lot (they offered us water and a 110V extension cord)... so far so good! The next day, the wait began. It soon became clear that their mechanics did not have any experience with these buses... mmmh. After 3 days of pulling the clutch out and having it rebuilt at a local shop, Eric finally got to take the bus for a test drive. Ouch! The clutch is not releasing reliably and is chattering like crazy when starting from a dead stop! Back to the shop...

To cut a VERY long story short (we spent 7 days at the shop), the clutch had rebuilt the discs a good 1/4" larger in diameter than the originals, and in their incompetence, the mechanics did not notice that there was no clearance whatsoever between the OD of those discs and the ID of the clutch housing/flywheel. Four transmission tear-outs later, I decided to get involved, called an expert in Pennsylvania (the famed Luke), inspected all parts of the clutch and pointed out the problem to the shop manager. Out went the discs again, and back to the rebuilding shop to have them turned down. Final reassembly. Test drive. Aaah! Clutch bliss (and $2K down...). Needless to say I am not about to give Interstate Detroit any more business (I have a lot of other complaints about the work they did, which I will kindly spare you).

In all things there is a positive side. Between our frequent and long visits to the shop, we got to discover Billings, which surprisingly has a small but nice "revitalized" downtown area with a couple of nice restaurants, night clubs, pubs, galleries, and last but not least, a great Yoga Center! Not to be missed. If you're ever in Billings, stop by the Yoga Center. The first class is free. You'll have great teachers and meet great people! Both Lucie and I took several classes there, a great way to relax from the tension at the shop!

The Yoga Center and the people who gravitate around it are the exception though; Billings is otherwise very much a conservative town. You can count minorities - and ethnic food restaurants - on the fingers of one hand.

Billings, MT

January-February 2003
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Getting towed from... the Wal Mart parking lot!
 
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Eric wondering how much this all will cost.
 
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Involuntary campsite for 6 days...
 
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Downtown Billings (Montana Ave).
 
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Downtown Billings (Montana Ave).
 
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Only in America!
 
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Finally on the road again!
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