Friday, 10 February 2017

A Rough Relocation

The beast at Bowen

I have, gentle reader, posted about relocations before.

Generally, they're good fun - a cheap way of seeing a bit of country. There's always the exception that proves the rule. I lived it last week.

I bid for a relocation of a six berther from Cairns to Brisbane, and got the booking. My bride was supposed to accompany me, but a family crisis intervened, and she had to stay home, so I was on my own, rattling around in a very large vehicle.
I flew direct to Cairns (Air North) and collected the vehicle. It was a 2010 VW Crafter chassis with a coach built Talvor 6 berth setup. According to the odometer it had covered over 200000 kms, no doubt at the hands of a variety of grey nomads, overseas tourists, and innocent relocators like me. It was, to say the least, looking a bit ratty.

I discovered at the end of the journey that it was being returned to base in Brisbane in preparation for sale. In the light of what followed, probably a very sensible idea.

On the way out of Cairns I stopped at a large shopping centre to stock up with groceries for what was supposed to be a leisurely four day journey south. I planned to take the scenic route, over nighting at beachside parks to catch the sea breezes.

When I returned to the machine with my groceries, it refused to start. It wasn't a cranking over/no engine type refusal - it was sullen silence - not even a click. When I put the key in the ignition, and attempted to turn it, the vehicle locked itself, and went into sulk mode.

I phoned the assist line. The key fob, very conveniently, had the emergency number attached. The operator (in a sub continental accent that took some deciphering) told me to wait and they would call the RACQ. I didn't have much choice about the "wait" part. Call out time was between 90 minutes and two hours. And it was raining on and off. The humidity reminded me of Phouc Tuy during the monsoon.

Whilst sweating it out (I had to stay with the vehicle - couldn't retreat to the air conditioned shops), I idly tried to turn the key. It started. I had already been waiting about an hour, so decided to stay put to wait for the patrolman. When he turned up to find the vehicle idling contentedly, he explained that unless I could get it to fault, he had no hope of diagnosing the problem. 

This was the first of many times I was going to hear that.

I pressed on south, and stayed at Flying Fish Point near Innisfail. Next morning she started up. I swear it was playing games with me. All was good until I tried to book into a caravan park at Bowen that afternoon. After paying for my berth, I jumped in to park it, and the gremlin returned. The thing (all eight metres of it) was now blocking the entrance to the park. The caravan park owner was not pleased.

Flying fish point. My bride's parents met here in the 30s.

After using up all my swearing vocabulary without repeating any given word, I phoned the assist line, got the same character whose communication skills left much to be desired, and after going through the spiel he demanded (booking number; rego; name and address etc) he called the RACQ.

Forty minutes later, I got it going, and phoned them back. There was no point in waiting for the patrolman who was apparently on his way (one hour delay this time) as it was not now "faulting". This was becoming utterly predictable.

By now, I was beginning to hate the bloody thing and would have cheerfully driven it off a cliff. There weren't any cliffs at Bowen. Apart from the starting gremlin, there were numerous other issues. The locker containing the power cable would open only sometimes (chassis was flexing). You needed that cable if you wanted air conditioning, microwave, and lights, so being unable to access the locker it was in was a major issue. Some of the window catches were broken which meant they would work their way open as you drove along. You'd hear it getting noisier and the air conditioning would begin to struggle.

I elected to keep the power cable on the floor of the cabin, and retrieved the other bits and pieces I needed daily from the locker and kept them in the shower/toilet so they were available without swearing.

Next morning at Bowen (day two) I set out to refuel. It faulted on the forecourt of a service station after I filled it with diesel. It was obviously selecting the most disruptive situation in which to throw its tanty. I've taught lots of kids who exhibited this behaviour.

Now this was Bowen where the fishing is good and it was Sunday morning. Every man and his blue heeler were "goin fishin" and they were all lining up at the diesel pump, now blocked by the motorhome which I had the misfortune of driving. They were not happy, especially when they had to back their boat and trailers out to get around. At one point there were three boat/trailer combos backed up.

Stalled at Bowen. Note the witches hats and the sign.

I borrowed some witches hats from the service station and set them up with a sign sticky-taped to the rear of the vehicle. The RACQ patrolman turned up. I thought that this was the goods, as the bloody thing was actually now in a "fault" state and he would be able to diagnose it. Not so. 

He said "It won't start".

I bit my lip, avoiding sarcasm. Skills I'd learned as a Nasho returned to save me. He didn't have the correct diagnostic kit, so set about trying to organise a tow or a tilt truck. This was not straightforward at Bowen on a Sunday morning when the vehicle weighs over three tonnes and is eight metres long.

By the time he'd organised a tow, the thing had sparked up again. I got in and set out for Mackay, resolving not to turn the engine off until I got there. I had relatives in Mackay, and had told them I'd drop in for coffee. The coffee break was pleasant, and I climbed into the beast to head for Rockhampton. It wouldn't start.....

By now, I was well and truly over it. The intermittent fault meant that the whole deal had become a nightmare. I'd been advised to avoid turning it off, and to leave it running with the key in the ignition. Now I have faith in my fellow man, but there are those out there who would see a motorhome idling with the key in the ignition as an invitation.

Buying food, refueling and meeting the call of nature now became very complicated. Starting was a lottery. I've never been much of a gambler. I phoned the assist line and told them I would take this thing no further until it was repaired. This carry-on was not what I had signed up for.

They got the message.

I was told to stay in Mackay and they would book the vehicle into the VW dealer first thing Monday. My rellies and I had a lot of catching up to do. We talked for hours, and went out for an excellent Malaysian meal. They had a car (Subaru Forester) which actually started. I slept in the luxury of air-conditioning. It was an ill wind....

Things were looking up.

At the Rockhampton dealer.

Then I got an early morning call from the assist line to break the bad news that the Mackay workshop was booked out, but they had set up an arrangement with the VW dealer in Rockhampton for Tuesday.  That meant a non-stop journey of 385 kms, hoping that I could get it refueled in Mackay without it stalling. You simply cannot refuel with the engine running. Apart from the fact that a vehicle this large, idling in a forecourt whilst the driver refuels, sticks out like the proverbial, it is not a safe practice.

I left my groceries in my rellies fridge (the gas had run out) and went to refuel. It started, so I returned, retrieved my groceries, and headed for Rockhampton. I made sure I went to the toilet first whilst my rellies watched the idling vehicle.

By now I had developed the technique of phoning ahead to find a caravan park which would let me drive straight into a powered site before turning the engine off. Explaining the reason was always problematical. Some people are suspicious of any deviation from the normal check-in procedure. Explaining what had happened in Bowen, and that I might end up blocking their entrance (not good for business) usually did the trick.

On to Rockhampton - and the dealer. In the meantime I had to negotiate an extra day past my original deadline to return the thing. They came to the party. I guess they didn't have much option. We had something in common. We were all at the mercy of the recalcitrant machine.  

The service manager in Rockhampton (a pleasant Irishman) tried very hard to diagnose, but he eventually (after four hours) reported that there was something wrong with the ignition sensor. Apparently the vehicle was failing (intermittently) to recognise the key. He suspected that it may have had something to do with wear in the ignition barrel caused by the weight of the six different keys for all the lockers and whatnot on the key fob. Over 200000kms of the dangling weight of these keys was not good for the mechanism.

It could not be fixed without new parts which could take days to get there. On to Brisbane...

Now Murphy is also Irish, and one of the mechanics, unaccustomed to the size of the motorhome, had a problem with reversing it and wiped off a heater outlet cover and scratched the panel it was mounted on. I left the dealer to sort this out with the assist line, and they repaired it remarkably quickly. Even so, I was still in Rockhampton at 2 pm.

 My rellies phoned up to see how I was getting on. My uncle (of Chinese heritage) said, when I told him about the mechanic pranging the thing, "You must have killed a Chinaman". Now that was funny. At that moment, any form of light relief was appreciated.

Morning at Childers

By now it was obvious that I wasn't going to make the extended deadline, as under the rules of the relocation, you are not allowed to drive these things at night. A further deadline extension was necessary and negotiated.

I made Childers before the sun went down that evening, and Brisbane and the depot at 10.30 am the next day.

I was never so glad to get out of a vehicle. The moral of the story? Life is full of surprises, but avoid dodgy motorhomes and deadlines.

They are incompatible. 

It hasn't put me off relocations....

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