How You Can Turn Dinosaur Mechanics Into A Path for Simpler Living

January started with a bang and then just about fizzled out before we had a chance to say goodbye.

We moved back into our bus after being estranged from it for over six months. Wasting no time we headed out to the desert for a New Years Eve celebration with a junket of rambling friends. Life couldn’t get much better as we kicked off the upcoming year, until of course, we were stopped dead in our tracks.

By the end of January, our one week of boondocking in the desert had turned into an unexpected three week adventure and education. The abrupt change of plans would end up granting us a clearer perspective into the path for simpler living we seek. But we didn’t realize this at that moment. And just like that tall creamy glass of Guinness beer that changed our course last winter, we kissed our well laid plans goodbye once again and cleared room for what was to come.

Plans AND Keys Are for Sissies.

When our engine, without warning, stalled on the day we planned to leave our New Years Eve desert camp in Anza Borrego, we almost fell to defeat. As our friends waved goodbye, we packed up and began to head out. Turning the key, the engine stalled within moments. We tried again and again with the same troublesome outcome.

We feared that our fuel gauge was not accurate and we had used up all our fuel unknowingly and irresponsibly in our hasty drive over. But even after roadside assistance brought us a few gallons of fuel, the problem wasn’t solved.  At this point it was dark so we decided to spend another night at camp Nu.


To our pleasure that evening was top on our list of nights spent stranded– and we’ve had a few. This particular stay was filled with disgusting, horrifying, dangerously entertaining antics by our good friends Charon and Lexi. Sword swallowing, fire eating, and a host of good sharing.

Now, there is only ONE mechanical part in our CAT 3208, just one.  The fuel shut-off solenoid. It didn’t take long to pin point the problem area for a seasoned guru – a wiz mechanic friend who drove out into Borrego to assist. The fuel shut off solenoid was getting extremely hot in a matter of moments – no fire breathing necessary! This was one cause of its shutting down and systematically starving the engine for fuel. With no replacement on hand– just sand and jumping Cholla for miles, we chose to drive to more manageable location.


Simple mechanics start here. With the help of a pro-friend-essional, we pulled out the thirty year old solenoid, taped the hole shut and drove the bus out of the desert. This small work around allowed the bus to get the fuel it needed to run but, it also disabled our ability to turn off the running engine with the key – yikes! Upon arrival to our fix-it destination; 200 miles from camp, we starved the engine manually with a screwdriver. Who needs keys!

The Path In front of Us Appears One Step At A Time (and other esoteric shit).

This changed everything. The simple fix inspired us, but set us over one hundred miles out of the way of our planned next destination. Plus, our new proximity to yet another desert gathering in Quartzsite, tempted us to go with the flow of change. And this whole hot mess started to open us up to something we had no idea that we needed at all.

Let me take a moment and say that this type of realization doesn’t always appear so clearly. It’s usually much more muddy outside interference, and unconsolable crying which makes it difficult to hear the call. Our call said, “Go back, there’s more…” And like the Dude, we abided; 214 miles back to the desert.

Power and The Golden Challis.

We searched for the golden challis, but disappointment set in quickly as it appeared nowhere under the “big tent” in Quartzsite. We looked under heaps of lids and line sheets, not there either. It was in the form of something much less obvious– listening. Our extended week at the “Q” boondocking didn’t yield a golden challis of goods and shiny new things but, it brought with it greater understanding. Time with people, bountiful sharing on bare minimums, and giving a shit about the powerfulness of being right where we needed to be.

After this, our second lengthy off-grid camping, we turned the key once again and once again the engine stalled. All the same symptoms as our last episode, ten days ago. Only now, we had that new solenoid and it tested and worked. This problem shouldn’t be happening?  Instant heart break, confusion, and fear. In other words, we were on the brink of learning something here, and this time we were ready.

Now rewind for a second…

Let us go back a few days, back to our “Q” Bluebird Rally education adventures before we knew our simple problem would persist.

Our Battery Charger Sucks!

In our casual chatting about parts and pieces, upgrades and simpler mechanics, we began to learn that our battery set up was less than efficient- it sucked actually. We harbored an old “battery boiler” as they call it, that charges and charges at full strength until the batteries literally boil over. The outcome of a old “dumb” charger is poor recharging and less battery life.

Isolation. What Is It Good For?

Another hot tip was the simple upgrade the other vintage bird owners had made; a single, isolated ignition starting battery– separate from our ‘house’ batteries. Oh, you know, the simple stuff. At the time we had no idea that these things we’re the solutions to that answers we would soon seek.  Some of you by now are probably having an “AH HA” moment.




Back to real time…

We’re starting the engine and it’s shutting down in same fashion as before. Running for a minute thirty and off, etc. etc. Our ‘bird friend John reminded us that there could only be three things going on to cause this problem on a CAT 3208; the ignition, the oil sending unit and the fuel shut off solenoid. Determined to fix this ourselves, we set out to conquer this nagging problem once and for all.

With enough ingenuity we believe we can figure out about anything on this vintage bus– or so we hope.

We tightened and cleaned the connector on the oil sending unit, no change. The ignition wasn’t over heating, nor was our spankin’ new solenoid. Our intuition pointed to POWER! Turning to the W.O.G., it turns out that low-voltage to the fuel shut off solenoid may cause our exact symptoms. You guessed it… our boiled up batteries after both recent boondocking outings meant that our fuel shut off solenoid wasn’t getting a proper punch of voltage when we were ready to drive away.

BlueBird Wanderlodge Gathering at the Q
BlueBird Wanderlodge Gathering at the Q

Slowing Down, Even If By Lack of Voltage.

Had we not returned to the desert for the second time we would have missed a valuable education. Even more monumental than the knowledge of this fix is the connection with community, confidence of heart, and availability of mind we were granted.

Traveling and living aboard a vintage bus may not sound like a path for simpler living, but it is. It’s a different kind of simple. Yes, the big ol’ bus takes a strong steady grip to drive and lots of research to find parts but, it is a practice. A practice of trusting one’s own intuition and an education in simple mechanics.

Mastering these things will take practice, time and support. Our new Cheddar Yeti is a Forward Control (engine in the front) kinda gal, and she is teaching us a path for simpler living.


One response to “How You Can Turn Dinosaur Mechanics Into A Path for Simpler Living”

  1. Geeky Nomads Avatar

    I’m surprised it turned out to be voltage to the fuel solenoid. I’d think that the alternator would be pushing high voltage regardless of the battery condition once the engine was up and running.

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