February 15th, 2007


troubleshooting Sally

fter picking up a load in Neenah, WI bound for California, my dispatcher arranged a load swap with an east bound driver so I could head toward home. It was arranged for us to meet in Rapid City, SD at 2am this morning. Not long after nightfall and crossing into South Dakota, we stopped for fuel and to check Sally's coolant situation. The temprature was falling fast and already well below zero. The night promised only to get colder. I treated the diesel with a strong dose of anti-gel and topped-off the coolant reservoir, stocking the sidebox with an additional four gallons of antifreeze as a precaution.

LARM continued driving and I laid down to get a nap so I could get-up and drive the night shift in a few hours. A hundred miles later, LARM was pulling the truck onto the shouler while Sally complained of not having enough coolant. I bundled-up and went outside to inspect. She was bone dry. I checked the right side of the motor, as that's where I've been seeing the tell-tale signs of a leak for the past two weeks. I didn't expect to see anything which would give me any indication of what the problem was, but I wanted to make sure that there were no blown hoses since she had lost her coolant so quickly.

To my surprise, I saw the leak. It was coming from the 5 inch piece of hose which connects the pipe to the radiator's low side. A small stream was dribbling from beneath the hose, right in front of the clamp. I fetched two gallons of coolant from the sidebox and replenished the reservoir. I considered tightening the clamps but, if there's one thing I've learned about road-side mechanic work, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. I favor a philosophy of doing the least amount possible and getting the truck to a place where I have options: fluids, tools, parts, etc. The last thing I needed in this weather was to break a clamp and leave myself totally screwed. Since I still had an additional two gallons of antifreeze on-board, I figured I'd let LARM continue driving, even if it would only be for another hundred miles before it happened again. By then, it would be about time for me take over dirving anyway, I can finish-off that last two gallons of coolant and get her into a truckstop to tinker with the clamps.

I laid back down to resume my sleep. I was simultaneously happy and pissed. I was happy think I had found the cause of all Sally's coolant problems, but pissed that I'd been going through all the headache for so long over something so simple. Fifteen minutes later, she was out of coolant again. I suddenly had images of us being stranded in this subzero weather and not being able to run the truck for warmth. I imagined someone finally coming to our rescue only to find me dead of exposure to the extreme cold and LARM holding a utility knife and subsisting on Soopageek Jerky. I braved the cold once again and replenished the coolant. I decided also that any chances of getting any more sleep for the night was wrecked and took over the driving duties. Thankfully, there was a truckstop only 3 miles down the highway.

I pulled into the fuel island and got my toolbox. As I pulled open the hood I glanced at the plastic reservoir; completely empty. The nuts on the hose clamp were super loose so I cranked them down at both ends, at least a dozen revolutions each. I bought enough coolant to fill her back up and give myself another two backup gallons. The next truckstop was about 25 miles away, so I would use that as a test distance then stop again and see how she was holding after the clamp tightening. Just then, dispatch sent me a message asking if I minded extending the swap location to Buffalo, Wyoming. In a rare moment of confidence in Sally and my mechanic'n skeelz, I told them no problem.

LARM retired to the bunk for some rest while Sally and I rejoined the interstate and continued westward. The light in her temperature guage is burned-out so I kept an overhead light on so I could monitor it closely while I made the 25 mile trip to the next truckstop. After a few minutes she climbed to normal operating temperature and held, while the heater continued to blow nice and hot. Twenty minutes later I was at the new truckstop and popped the hood to check it out. The reservoir was still full and there were no new signs of leakage anywhere.

And it held. It continued to hold for the brutally cold, 400 mile trip to Buffalo. It has continued to hold, now almost 24 hours later. I don't think everything is perfect, it seems to have slowly lost about a half gallon judging from the level in the reservoir, but it's much improved over what I've been dealing with for the past two weeks. I've got Sally running rather nicely for the moment and despite the problems this time out, we will have covered nearly 13,000 miles by the time we get back home.