Detours and Drivelines

Through the magic of time travel, you can relive our most exciting weekend to date.


I fall asleep while watching the office with Tara. It’s about 8:30 pm. The excitement of the day has been too much to handle and I can’t stay awake. We are boondocking off BL-20 in Odessa, TX. This is our second of at least four nights here. It’s not that we are here because there’s so much to do in the Midland/Odessa area. We are here because they are the closest Allison Transmission service center.

Where did we end up? Is this Texas or the UK?


Earlier that day:

Shortly before the passing train some 300 feet away gets the chance, my alarm wakes me. It’s 7:50 am. I have slept nearly 4 hours. I groggily brush my teeth so I don’t offend the service center reps. I walk in to let them know why there’s an RV in their front lot where they surely didn’t have one yesterday.

The Prior Day:

I’m cruising west on I-10 at around 65 mph in an 80 mph zone. Sweet B suddenly starts slowing down. I use the electronic transmission shifter to go from 6th to 5th gear. Nothing. She’s still slowing. At about 55, I try 4th. The engine revs and I’m able to get her back up to 60. This is about the max she can go in 4th. A downgrade approaches. I shift to 6th and get her up to about 70. Then a hill. Sweet B slows drastically. I’m back in 4th going about 50. I turn her hazards on. I see a parking area in about ¾ mile. I pull over. I let her engine idle for a while.

I know nothing about diesel engines. Well, not nothing. I know they use diesel gas. I also know that the fuel will gel when it’s too cold which is why trucks will leave their engines running. Oh, and I know diesel is more expensive. So maybe I’m not quite the diesel dunce I portrayed. Not knowing what else to do, I shut Sweet B off for a few minutes to let her rest. I check all the wire connections inside and out. OK, maybe I don’t check them all, but I check the ones that run from the shifter into the rat’s nest of wires in the front. I also check the wires in a side compartment. They look important. All connections seem snug. I was hoping something would be disconnected and I would plug it back in and regale you all with what a diesel expert I am.

So…..  Nothing seems out of the ordinary, excepting the lack of acceleration  in 5th and 6th gears. I decide to plug along to the rest stop in 30 miles, our planned stopping point for the night. I know Sweet Behemoth just needs to sleep it off and she will be better in the morning.

I start to pull out of the parking area and onto the merge ramp.  Normally, Sweet B has a fair amount of pickup. If the ramp is straight and of decent length, I’m usually at highway speed by the end. This ramp is both. I floor it out of the gate and by the time I’m at the end of the ramp I’m pushing about 25. Even with flashers on, going less than a third of the speed limit is never a good idea. The shoulder isn’t huge but we can’t stay on the highway at this speed. As I contemplate pulling over, I notice something. Another downgrade! I get Sweet B up to about 60 this time. Then another hill 😦 She drops to about 35. We are able to fluctuate on the hills for a few miles until the next exit.

The Next Exit:

As her engine idles, I pull out my 8 lb case of owner’s manuals. One good thing the prior owner did was keep all the manuals. Too bad they didn’t leave service records. As Tara googles away, I thumb through the manuals. I find a way to display some error codes on the electronic shifter. 1-2-o-L-H. It may as well say PC Load Letter. Turns out, it actually says o-L-H-i-2. Now its clear. It’s trying to tell me the oil level, or fluid, is high, by 2 quarts. Well I know the reservoir shows that it’s right at the low level so this doesn’t make sense. I chalk it up to the fact that Sweet B is on a decline.

At 5:40 pm I wave the white flag and call Good Sam Roadside Assistance. After a 30 minute wait, they call me back and tell me the closest service center is in San Angelo. This will be a 2 hour plus drive to the northeast. They tell me they will call me back when they find someone to tow me. I interrupt, saying I found Rush Trucking in Odessa. This is still a two hour drive, but at least its northwest. It will shorten our drive to Carlsbad Caverns instead of lengthening it. I get a call back from Good Sam saying they talked to Rush Trucking and they can service us. They also found a tow truck but it won’t reach us till 10:30 am the next day. It’s 9:30 pm. This puts us on the side of the highway for about 16 hours in total.

Well, it’s about this time that I remember when we added Sweet B to our car insurance, I also had their roadside assistance added to her.

Which Way Do We Go ?:

Geico extended the roadside coverage for something in the neighborhood of $6 for 6 months. After a quick phone call to them, they place me on hold to check the tow coverage. Turns out they cover to the nearest Camping World, which in our case is 198 miles. Rush Trucking is in the neighborhood of 112 miles. Things are looking good. The Geico CSR tells me they have a tow company available that can be here in about 2 hours! Things are looking better. I call Rush and get their answering service. I ask to talk to an on call tech to make sure they will be able to handle my transmission. He tells me, it will be about a 2 week wait!!! Apparently, they are changing locations and not taking anyone at this time. I guess the Good Sam associate, who we will call the Good Sam Ass for short, didn’t talk to an actual employee and only talked to their answering service. Dejected, I realize we will have to get towed to San Angelo. Things are no longer looking better.

It’s now about 11:15 pm and the tow truck driver shows up in a pickup truck. He has been changing a tire for another RV down the road. We are on his way back to the shop and he wants to check which rig he needs to grab. His shop is 15 minutes away, so he will be back in about 30 minutes. He wants us to back up onto a side road so that he can tow us eastbound without having to turn around. Makes sense to me. While he is gone, Tara spots me (and by spotting I mean she waves a flashlight around erratically as she jumps from one side of the road to the other- but hey it gives me some depth perception), and I back it up on the road so we can head east.

After the near miss with Rush Trucking, I call the San Angelo Freightliner location that the Good Sam Ass has set us up with. Turns out, they don’t service Allison Transmissions. After double checking the Allison website, I find another location in Odessa. I speak to an actual employee from Stewart and Stevenson. They can work on Sweet B. He’s not sure what time, but “it shouldn’t be a problem to get you looked at tomorrow.” That’s good enough for me.

The 4 Day Tow:

When the tow driver comes back, I notify him. He’s cool with it. He just wants me to call Geico to make the change so they will be reimbursed for the whole trip. Things are looking better again. I can relax and sit back and watch this guy hook up our rig.

Taken with my phone around 12:30 am.

I use the front jacks to get the tires off the ground so he can grab them easily. He runs into a stubborn bolt while disconnecting the driveline, but it eventually relents. As we are getting ready to leave, I notice a strap hanging near where he was working under the rear of Sweet B. I ask what it is. “Oh its holding the driveline up, but don’t worry, there are about 5 knots in it and I’ve never lost one in 12 years.”

We follow behind in our CRV. Tara offers to drive, but she wants to listen to her music loud to stay awake. I have no complaints as all I want is to close my eyes. I call the Good Sam Ass to cancel the tow that is still about 10 hours away.

We stop after 50 miles. We need gas. The tow driver needs caffeine. He’s been working since 7 am. I have drifted off while Tara is driving. I wake as we are pulling into the gas station.

Once Every Twelve Years:

We take off from the gas station before the tow truck with Sweet B. About 5 minutes down the road, I get a phone call.  It’s 2:00 am at this point.

Its the tow truck driver, “We have a problem.”

I ask what?

“The driveline fell off. I don’t know if I should keep going on to Odessa or turn around and look for it.”

I have no idea what it looks like or how big it is.

“It’s about 12-18 inches long. I’ll keep going so you have a place to sleep tonight and I’ll go back and look for it later.”

I’m in a state of sleepiness, anger and disbelief. In my SAD state I’m debating if we should turn around and look for the driveline. Tara obviously doesn’t want to. I think we should and I offer to drive. She asks again what I want to do. In my SAD state, I don’t respond. She knows I’m frustrated and I don’t want to snap at her. She has been up longer than me and its just a stressful situation. She drives on. I don’t know that I talk until we pull into the service center. Since I’m still SAD, I stay in the car while the tow driver unhooks.

When I finally get out and start putting the cats back into Sweet B, his first words are “I feel like an ass. First time in 12 years. I’ll go back and look for it in the morning. Maybe I’ll be able to see it in daylight.” What I want to say is “how lucky for us! First time in 12 years! We should play the lotto” Or maybe “isn’t that the same strap I asked you about that you swore would be OK?” I choose not to respond.

When it comes time to sign the paperwork I request something be written about them having lost part of the driveline and that they would be responsible for it. “It’s OK, I’ll go get it and bring it back.” I insist it be in writing. He writes it up, putting all the blame on himself saying they are responsible for it. I sign. He goes to walk away to the cab when I request a copy. “It won’t have any of the totals on it” Geico is paying, what do I care if there are any totals on it. I just want something stating I won’t be paying for his negligence. Before giving me the copy, he puts the total on there. $1381. (note to all RVers out there…. carry some kind of roadside assistance. Though my personal recommendation would be Geico, and not Good Sam.)

Finally, just before 4 am we are able to go to sleep in the parking lot of Stewart and Stevenson.

Friday Morning:

As I walk into the service department I don’t see a receptionist or really any indication of where I should go. I just walk down the hall until I see someone in his office talking to a co-worker. I explain the short story of whats going on. Turns out the guy I want to talk to isn’t in yet. About two minutes go by. The person I want to talk to shows up. I explain whats going on. He says they should be able to get to it in a few hours. I let him know to call or just walk over and knock as we will be sleeping in the RV.

About 10:30 am we get a knock on the door. It’s the service tech. I explain the whole story to him. I go back to the beginning of time. Well, not that far back, but I do mention how we had no issues through the mountains of Oregon and California. Our first issues started coming out of Death Valley. We overheated. Ever since then I have had to shift between 4-6th on even moderate hills to keep this from happening again. Despite these efforts we still overheated another time.

The service tech gets to work. After pulling the codes off the TCM (transmission control module) he tells me that the transmission lost communication with the electronic shifter and the temperature gauge. He thinks that the TCM needs to be replaced, but they have to test drive it to make sure. Well, thanks to the tow truck driver, he can’t. I ask if we will be able to stay on their lot for the weekend because it’s our home. “Oh yeah, that won’t be a problem at all.” He wants the rig pushed in front of one of the bays so he can work on it easier. I go back in and tell Tara we need to push it to one of the bays.

Since we are bad ass boulderers, this should be no problem. I tell her, she will push, I will steer, and he will direct. Unless she wants to drive…..

What really happens is he puts a plate into our tow hitch receiver and pushes with a beefed up forklift while I steer. Luckily I can see him in the rear-view camera so I know when I’m able to let off the brakes.

The tech calls Freightliner to try and order a new piece for the driveline. Since it’s a custom chassis, they don’t have any. It will have to be made. They are able to get someone to come out from the driveline fabrication shop (who even knew that was a thing). He tells them that he can have it ready Monday morning. Gotta love the weekends……

Boondocking…. Odessa Style.

I reconfirm with the service manager that we are able to stay on their lot for the weekend. He’s fine with it and even has them run an electrical cord out to the RV for us. He also spoke with the tow company and said they will pay for the driveline (as if they had a choice in the matter.) They are just going to do two separate invoices.

After it gets replaced, things should go fairly smooth. They have to test drive Sweet B and then swap TCM’s and test drive her again to see that it fixes everything. They think we will be out of here by Tuesday at the latest. I tell them Thursday is the latest we can be here. We have a Spider Cave Tour reserved at Carlsbad Cavern on Friday morning, that we can’t miss….


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