26 March, 2009

Oh yeah, I have a blog :/

Let's take a look at my blogging activity, shall we? Yep, it was 8 December, 2008 when I posted the last blog. My computer's power supply failed and toasted the hard drive and I lost everything. Including the bookmark to this blog. I guess you might say that I simply forgot about it until now, which is true. I have a lot to write about if you can stand reading a long post. Let's start with the work-related stuff.

Winter at the shop was as expected. Lots and lots of "my truck (circle all that apply): gelled up, won't start, has no power, is stuck, won't build air" service calls. We had some long days in the early part of January and I think my longest day was sixteen hours of constant work. Mostly service calls. I had to climb on top of trailers at the scale, change more fuel filters than I can count, bypass air dryers and other similar crap. I was colder than I have ever been during one of those long days. The coldest day we had showed some of the inefficiency of our shop. The shop's owner doesn't like to give up on a truck with gelled fuel. One of my coworkers spent seven hours on one service call! I'm not sure if I've talked about this before, but I'll describe the fix for a truck with gelling fuel. First of all, diesel fuel has paraffin in it. That's right, the wax. When temperatures get low enough, that paraffin starts to solidify and, of course, solid fuel doesn't flow very well. The first thing that happens is the fuel filter/s clog and the engine loses power. Smart drivers get off the road as soon as possible and try to keep the engine running because even if the engine isn't producing enough power to pull the rig, as long as it's running, it's creating heat. The lucky guys have fuel heaters in the tanks, which is nothing more than a loop of pipe inside the tank which is connected to the cooling system. They work very well, but not all trucks have them. Regardless of whether or not the truck has fuel heaters in the tanks, the fuel is always circulating in a loop. There's more fuel going to the engine than the engine actually needs and whatever doesn't get used returns to the fuel tanks. Now, having been circulated through the engine, the fuel returning to the tanks is warmer than the fuel being drawn from the tanks. This warm fuel helps prevent gelling. So, if the driver can keep the engine running, he stands a greater chance of having fewer problems for a mechanic to solve. When diesel gets cold enough to start causing problems it will become cloudy. You can duplicate the look of cloudy fuel by pouring a beer into a glass (Budweiser, Miller etc. are good diesel fuel colored brews to use) and let it go flat. Once the bubbles are gone put a splash of milk into the glass and stir it up. That's what cloudy diesel fuel looks like. Beyond this cloudy state, the fuel will, quite literally, turn into a gel. Once it's in gel form, don't call a mechanic. Call for a tow truck. Anyway, back to my coworker's adventure. He showed up at the motor lodge where the customer was staying and found a truck that was shut off the night before and the block heater hadn't been plugged in. The driver had put an anti-gel additive in his fuel at the last fill up, and this prevented his fuel from gelling. The fuel, however, was very cloudy. My coworker started "the process" that all of us in the shop know so very well. Fire up the generator, air compressor and run to extension cords to the truck. Pull out the battery charger and hook it up to the truck. Take the extension cords, plug one into the block heater and the other to the battery charger, turn the charger on. Next, put one gallon of "911" fuel liquifier into each tank. Disconnect the fuel supply line from the first fuel filter and stick the blow gun into the line. Blow air into the line, which mixes the 911 and diesel fuel. Reconnect the fuel line, remove the fuel filter/s, fill the new filter/s with straight 911 and then install them. Remove the air filter and stand by with a can of ether (starting fluid. We call it "liquid choke"). If there's enough power in the batteries at this time, the driver cranks the engine and the mechanic sprays a good shot of ether into the intake system. If you're lucky, and the driver hasn't stopped cranking the engine, you'll get the engine to sputter a bit. If it does, a series of short, continuous shots of ether get sprayed into the intake until it starts. If/when the engine starts, the driver holds the accelerator to the floor until the engine starts running smoothly. A cold engine will smoke like a motherfucker until it warms up, but God help me, I love the smell of burned ether and 911. It smells like success! Occasionally we get a stubborn son of a bitch that requires more work to get it running. Sometimes we have to put on another set of fuel filters because the first set got clogged with paraffin. It's not uncommon to change filters again. My coworker did everything I have just described and got the engine running. Barely running. It wouldn't accelerate so he put more additive into the fuel tanks, mixed it up and put on another fuel filter. Then another filter, and another, and another. After six hours of fuckin' around, we towed it back to the shop. Sometimes the only way to get a truck going is to put it inside and warm the whole thing up. My coworker spent the seventh hour of this service call dropping the driveshaft for our tow truck operator. Can you spot the inefficiency yet? If you haven't, I'll point it out. The way all of us mechanics in our shop see it, if the situation goes beyond a second set of fuel filters, the truck needs to be towed to the shop. By the time the second set of filters get put on we're averaging about three to four hours on that service call. Wasting more time by continually changing fuel filters is no better than banging one's head against a wall. Not to mention it's a waste of the customer's money. The service call I just described lasted seven hours and STILL ended up with a tow. That's just stupid. At the busiest part of that day, every mechanic was out on the road and we had eighteen(!) additional service calls lined up. My coworker wanted this truck towed after the second set of filters, but the shop's owner told him to stay there and keep spinning filters on until it ran properly. Think of all the service calls that my coworker could have done if this truck had just been towed when it was suggested. Once this truck was in our shop, it had to sit inside overnight before it would start and run properly. Normally they only have to sit inside for about four hours. It's madness I tell ya! But that's winter for a diesel mechanic. That whole week was rough, but we made it through and made a whole bunch of money.

Since I've rambled on and on about gelling fuel, I'll save the other events of the past months for other posts. I have to hit the sack.