Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Some time last spring one of my brake cylinders failed. I jacked up the bus, pulled the drums and gave her a brake job with new cylinders and shoes on all four. Bleeding brakes, you start with the wheel farthest from the master cylinder, which is the right-rear, then the left-rear, then right-front and finally the left-front. Working alone, bleeding your brakes can be a bit of a chore and my ass was dragging by the time I got to the left-front. Turns out, I didn't do a very good job of it and ended up with a bubble of air in the front braking circuit.

It wasn't a major problem. The bus would still stop okay and I kept putting off fixing it. then I got sick. Then I got sicker and in June, 2008 I was diagnosed as having Multiple Myeloma, an incurable form of cancer. Incurable but treatable. I underwent radiation therapy then began a regime of chemotherapy.

Our house is about 300 feet from the road. Each week we haul our trash down to the road-side using the VW bus. Until the bus decided it didn't want to start. It took only a couple of minutes to isolate the problem to the starter, most likely in the solenoid. The repair is straight-forward: jack up the bus, remove the starter, repair or replace the starter and reassemble.

Unfortunately, thanks to the cancer I had lost nearly fifty pounds. I could barely lift a Volkswagen starter and any thought of doing the repair was ludicrous. It would have to wait until I was stronger. But that meant my wife would have to haul the trash in her cute little Mercury 'Tracer,' often having to make two trips.

Then I got a message.

CWO4 Darrell Daniels owns a couple of Volkswagens and lives about 20 freeway minutes from my house. Could he lend me a hand?

Boy! Could he!

Today -- Wednesday the 8th of October 2008, Darrell and his son Nick drove up to my place about noon. I had just about enough steam left in me to point my cane at the bus but that's all it took. Darrell jacked it up, braced it with jack-stands and had the starter out in less than half an hour.

Did I mention the temperature was ninety-six? I didn't, huh. Well, maybe that's good. Because the temperature was nearly a hundred! (I didn't mention that to Darrell either.)

I had a spare starter but it was in pretty sad shape. Since the problem appeared to be in the solenoid Darrell whipped out a VOM and checked them, comparing the bad starter to the replacement. The solenoid on the replacement checked out okay but the one he'd just removed from the bus was toast. He suggested re-using the old starter after swapping solenoids, so that's what we did.

To re-install the starter you have to get the nut onto the upper-right engine-mount bolt, which is concealed behind the blower housing. This is best done by someone with an extra elbow. With Darrell underneath the bus, Nick dove into the engine compartment, found the invisible bolt and ran-up the nut entirely by touch.

Nice Job! Of course, it wouldn't start. Having sat there for a couple of months, the bus' battery was down to eleven volts, dropping to about 6V when you tried to start it.

Jumper cables.


The whole job had taken Darrell and Nick just over an hour.

Was there anything else they could help me with?

Well.... there is this little brake problem...

With Nick to pump and Darrell to wrench, they chased the bubbles out of the front braking circuit. Step on the pedal, it feels like it's embedded in concrete.

So I'm back in the Trash Delivery business :-) My wife will probably have to help me load -- I'm still as weak as a kitten -- but the old bus is ready to roll, thanks to Chief Warrant Officer Daniels and his son Nick.