Friday, 28 November 2008
Althea Comes Home
Yes folks that's right she's home!!
On Saturday morning last week I filled myself up with paracetamol and throat sweets and took the train to Bridgend then a taxi to the garage where Althea had been having her brakes and king pins fixed. I borrowed some tools and fixed the indicators and wipers and the man gave me an MOT certificate. I took this and the insurance documents (which I had nearly forgotten) down to the village post office and watched with delight as the lady filled in "nil" as the amount paid, confirming Althea's tax exempt status.
After seven months, three engines, two tow trucks, two bikers, five trips to South Wales, one broken down car, £1500 plus and umpteen hours on the phone and internet. I was ready to bring her home.
I thanked the guys at the garage and jumped in. I drove her about 300 yards to The Bus and Truck Company where I bought another battery and some replacement mirrors. I attached the power supply for my sat-nav to the new spare battery and was somewhat surprised to find that in this case red was negative. This was confirmed by the little wisp of blue smoke coming from the back. So without sat-nav or a map I trusted to the British road sign system and my memory (neither of which I would bank on normally) and set off with the intention to fill up at the first service station I reached.
About 10 minutes and less than a mile later I was standing on the verge at Junction 37 of the M4 calling the police. Althea was doing her best not to completely block the road. Diesel engines aren't like petrol engines when they run dry. They need to be primed which is easy when you know how. But I didn't know how. A couple of young coppers in a van took me to get fuel but it didn't help. Another policeman arrived and stayed with me until the tow truck came. There was a whole episode involving 5 AA telephone people and a supervisor over the fact that I was being forced to pay a company the AA use for towing me when I have full AA cover and the comapany they had called had got lost. Another short lesson in reason, logic and customer relations was called for and did the trick.
Althea was hoisted onto the back of the tow truck and we were dropped off at Sarn Services (see photos) About 40 minutes and one burger later an AA repair man came along and had her started within minutes. I filled her up and headed out of the services.
It soon became apparent that though capable of much higher speeds, at anything above about 65 mph she becomes very hard to handle. I couldn't be sure about these speeds but later when I tested it with my GPS my guesses were right. We'd done about 150 miles when I found the dip switch for the headlights. We'd almost reached Maidstone before I was certain we were heading the wrong way. I stopped a few times to stretch my legs, get the ringing out of my ears and top up the fuel. The steering wheel and driver's seat need to be changed. At the moment my left leg is wedged between the wheel and the engine cover and the seat is extremely uncomfortable. There's no heater so it's cold in the cab. The sound proofing is largely missing so it's very noisy in there too. Every time I stop someone will ask about her. On the motorway cars and trucks were slowing as the passed to have a look. She has so many different sounds and "ways" about her I felt like DR Who with my very own Tardis.
Exactly 12 hours after leaving home I arrived back.
Althea hadn't faltered once apart from running out of fuel at the start and that was my fault not hers. I was confident enough to take her out again the next day on another long trip. So after topping up the water and giving her a good clean out I set off again. This time with an inverter converting the spare battery to mains so I could run my sat nav and with my GPS for a speedometer.
I filled her up with fuel at a nearby petrol station and leaving the fuel cap on the pump I drove to Norfolk. When I arrived at my destination in the middle of nowhere (near Little Snoring Airfield) it started snowing very heavily. I picked up the stuff I was collecting and set off home stopping briefly to take the photo. The sat-nav though working, had no idea where we were and kept telling me to "take a sharp left" into a field. My phone had died and it occurred to me that if Althea gave up I would be in serious trouble. Even though we were very close to where Donna is parked and where my oldest friend Ed and his family live I decided to head straight home. It was freezing and the snow was piling up and I was lost in a 40 year old ambulance with no heating and no phone. I was glad I had made a flask of tea.
Once again Althea was unshakable. She almost seemed to be enjoying the snow. I think the slippy surface making the steering easier made it feel smoother. The snow ended and the roads became less icy in no time at all. Being cold and fibreglass the snow stuck to her all the way home. When I stopped to fill up a woman asked me where I'd been. It did look a bit odd having three inches of snow on this battered old ambulance while all the other vehicles were new and dry and shiny. I should have looked bewildered and hinted at being abducted by aliens in the 60s but of course I only think of these things after the event.
It was here I realised I had no fuel filler cap and had to buy an emergency one which was too small, and gaffer tape it on. I had almost run dry again. I do apologise to anyone who may have slipped on my spilled diesel.
250 Miles and 8 hours later, still covered in snow I pulled into the petrol station where I'd left my filler cap and retrieved it, much to the delight of a woman filling up her car.
Posted by Mike at 15:05