Running a bus on vegetable oil

31 05 2008

If you´re not up to date on our travels, you should check out Lindsay´s post about our impromptu stop in Iowa city. Now, we´re in St. Louis. We just performed at a community center called CAMP, which is full of really cool adults and children. Currently, there are a dozen eight-year-olds who are trying to hijack our bus.

Thinking about the bus, I finally understand the inspiration for the Millennium Falcon. If it´s not one thing, it´s another.

When last I posted, I was worrying about our filtration system for used vegetable oil that we pump from dumpsters behind restaurants. It turns out that liberal application of heat makes the oil flow really fast. Also, 1/2 micron filters get most of the gross stuff out of the fuel. Thus, time and energy are saved both with filtering and driving later. The fuel filter that the vegetable oil runs through gets gummed up really quick, and

Unfortunately, we messed up our fuel system pretty bad over the last few days. We were accidentally running vegetable oil into our diesel tank (the thing that actually starts and warms up the engine). It´s kind of a wonder we made it this far. Yesterday, the diesel filters started crapping out, which meant that fuel was not making it to the engine. Normally when this happens with the veggie oil, we can just switch to the diesel for a few minutes, to clear the system out, and then switch back. It does not work so well the other way around.

Yesterday, I managed to replace one of the two diesel filters. The second one was too big for my standard-sized wrench. I thought it would be enough, but it was not in any way. We barely made it out of Iowa City. I think we drove for about an hour or two, and pulled over at a truck stop when our grease filter started hiccuping and we couldn´t switch to diesel.

This morning I woke up at about 8 A.M. and rolled under the bus. A nice trucker who was at the truck stop/diner lent me an adjustable wrench of the proper type, which got the other filter off. Then, I found out our battery died overnight, so the engine wouldn´t turn over, no matter how hard we tried.

Another nice guy who lived a mile and a half up the road got his 1967 Ford School Bus (with a mere 87K miles on it), to help us jump the bus. It turned out that our engine was so saturated with vegetable oil that we had to empty the diesel tank, refill it with clean gas, and then try again. It took jumper cables on the starter motor as well to get the thing going.

In the process of fixing the fuel problem, some tension cable loosened somewhere, and the current problem is that we can´t idle. The bus will just stall out completely. I don´t know yet what that will fix it, but right now we have to drive two footed, and reversing has met with little success.

That´s just one story on our grand adventure across the country. I´m still worried about crossing the Rocky Mountains, in both directions. We´ll see how it goes though! Tomorrow is another big day. I´m having a lot of fun, but I´m also more physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted than I´ve been in a long time — even during my Division III. Two weeks of non-stop travel, performing, working, and living with ten other people in a school bus will do that to you, I guess.

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