Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Campervan illness!

The title says it all, we had to take our little campervan to a repair centre in Townsville today (Wednesday 10th July) for an examination and, tomorrow it’s got to have an operation! 

More on that later, but first we’ve left the outback and are back in civilisation, which means big towns with proper supermarkets and mobile internet reception – what luxuries! Yesterday we stayed at a town called Charters Towers (the name sounds like it should be the title of a soap opera series on TV), but it was a pleasant enough place with a main street full of architecturally interesting buildings from early 20th century and a fine lookout, on top of Towers Hill over the town back towards the outback in one direction and the Great Dividing range towards the coast in the other. 

View from Towers Hill
The hill is interesting in its own right, being full of TV and radio masts and dishes now, but with a history from WW2 and also further back to the 1860’s when gold was found in the hill. At that time a big chlorinating plant was erected with gravity fed conveyors for processing the gold out of the ore and there are remains of mine shafts (mind where you walk!) and structures including concrete pits from the old plant. At the start of the pacific WW2 war in 1942 Towers Hill was used to store ammunition, using some of the old mine shafts and fortified bunkers and these can still be inspected now (no ammunition there now, but signs do tell you to be aware in case they missed any). At that time a 55m chimney remained from the old gold mining plant on the hill, but the Americans advised it should be removed as it could be used by any invading Japanese armies as a landmark, so it was blown up, the remains still visible. The other notable uses of the hill are as a seismograph station, erected inside a horizontal mine shaft, forming part of a worldwide network of 120 stations to measure earth motions and also a ‘Magnetic Hut’, one of 6 in Australia that measures changes in the earths magnetic field.

Whilst walking through the town we spotted a second hand shop and wandered in to see if we could buy a couple of things we would really like for the van: an oscillating fan (as we get further north it’s getting hotter and more humid at night) and a toaster, they didn’t provide one with the van so we’ve had to use the grill for our toast in the morning – very inconvenient! It was an amusing encounter, but I’ll leave Jackie to tell the story: Not sure why really, as he’s told most of it! We wandered in and felt we could have bought pretty much anything we wanted, tried to talk to him about a fan, but he was on the phone, talking to someone else, finally got back to us, said he wanted $10 B offered $5, OK. What about the toaster marked at $5 does it work? With that he went to the big bin, ferreted about and came out with half a loaf of bread, he offered us the toast as an extra, but we declined! Breakfast was much easier – after I’d scrubbed it!

Later on I phoned Travellers Autobarn, our campervan hire company to advise them we have now done 5000km (it is a stipulation that we let them know), making the total distance travelled 536,000km! When they asked if everything is OK I replied ‘yes, no problems, I’m checking the oil and coolant water most days, it uses very little oil, but I am having to put in ½ to ¾ litre of water each time I check it and have done since we first got it’. That doesn’t sound very good he said and asked if we could take it into a repairer to get it pressure tested. Townsville is our next destination so he gave me the address of the company they use there and, today we called in (after putting in another ¾ litre of water this morning).

The very nice guys at the garage wanted ½ hour for the engine to cool down before they could look at it, so we wandered off into town to get some lunch. On the way (slight digression here!), we passed a Renold branch office. This will mean nothing to most people, but my ex-colleague, Terry Spencer from my old days at Kinematic (the company we started in 1989) and then Andantex was an ex Renold man (I did think that if you broke him open he would have Renold written through him like a stick of rock!). Being in the Power Transmission business like we were, I couldn’t resist going inside to chat to them, it is stuff I know very well (and have loved in my 35 years in the business). 
I thought Renold had gone out of business, but the very nice guys assured me it is still a trading British company and this is the Australian office, doing very well out of the mining industry in Queensland. After a pleasant 15 minutes of chat they gave me a ‘stubby holder’ and woolly hat to take away – eat your heart out Terry! By the way Terry: the way in was not through a blue door with a step down (that’s a little joke we used to share)!

Anyway, after returning to the repairers we saw our little van up on a vehicle lift being examined by a couple of blokes. “The radiators got a crack in it and needs replacing” he said, ‘you’ve been lucky, it could totally fail anytime and, if too much water had escaped, the engine could have blown up’. Thinks: good job we checked it most days, but think back, we’ve been really remote and a long way from anywhere, also thinks: 220km return trip along 50% unsealed road to the Larks Quarry dinosaur footprint centre! Best say nothing!!

Also, he said, the steering racks worn and a balljoint on one of the wheels needs replacing! These are not urgent he said, but avoid going on unsealed roads as shocks and vibration could cause the balljoint to fail! Thinks: the 220km return trip along 50% unsealed road to Larks quarry! Best say nothing!!

Travellers Autobarn gave them authority to replace the radiator only (and the guy in the repairers did assure us the steering rack and balljoint is nothing to worry about, it’s only got a bit of play!), so tomorrow it’s in at 8:00am and they reckon it will take about 4 hours. I spoke to Liam at Travellers Autobarn and said we’d like to go out for the day and will take a taxi. No problem, he said, keep the receipt and we’ll refund the money. On the advice of the guy on reception at our campsite, we’re going out to the Billabong Sanctuary, which offers close encounters with Australian wildlife (crocodiles, Koalas etc) and the picture in the leaflet shows someone holding a Koala – how happy will Jackie be!). If the campervan people are paying for the cab he said, go there (with a glint in his eye). He reckons it will cost $30 to $40 each way as its about 30km south of where we are. Poor old Travellers Autobarn, but he did say he’d pay for the cab!....

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