It’s been a while…
My task list of things to do on the bus was big. In reality, a bit too big to get everything done before setting off. Some bits will need to wait to get finished off. At least I managed to get a fair chunk of it done. There’s always more to do, but for now, it’s time to get ready for a European road trip. Its almost time for Hessisch Oldendorf 2022!
This time I’ll be changing my channel crossing route. I’ll be using DFDS on their Dover>Dunkirk crossing as it gets me a little further along my route once I arrive in France. Rather than a crazy early start, I had a cunning plan. There was a 02:00 crossing. So checking in an hour before departure, plus allowing driving time to get to the port of Dover, meant I could set off after 11 pm. This seemed a way better option for me.
The ferry wasn’t too busy so I could grab a quick rest during the 2-hour crossing. I arrived in France at dawn sunrise, and after a brief 20-minute drive up the coast to the town of Dunkirk, I set up for an early morning siesta. Once again, my black-out blinds on the bus come in very handy!
After a couple of hours of shut-eye, it was time for a little breakfast and a walk in the sun along the beach at Dunkirk. Always nice to dip your feet in the sea wherever you are, especially when it was such a beautiful beach as this!
Dunkirk is a place name synonymous with the evacuation of Allied troops in WW2. A place I had only ever seen depicted in war films. There was one last abandoned concrete remnant from its history tucked into the sand dunes. A distant memory from a troubled time.
Today, however, it was nice just to spend a little time walking along the streets and seafront in today’s sunnier reality. It seemed a nice little town with a stunning beach. Glad I choose this as my first brief stop-over!
Hessisch… we have a problem
Today was a mix of highs and lows on the road trip. Despite what Instagram ‘van life influencers’ would have you believe, sometimes it’s not all sunset beaches and standing on the top of your camper looking out over stunning landscapes. Sometimes life throws you a curve ball. Today was one of those days, unfortunately!
It all started so well. The sun was out, the road pretty clear. Great to be travelling in Europe again. The road took me from France seamlessly into Belgium across invisible borders. Singing along like a loon to some of my favourite tunes as I was driving… life was feeling great! Then after a little while, I noticed the dreaded small green oil light on the speedo began to occasionally flicker!
I have a ‘save my bug’ oil temperature gauge linked to my dipstick. It co-uses the speedo oil gauge light as a warning light if the oil temperature begins to get too hot. It was a hot sunny day, so my first thought was it might be this. I was driving pretty much like Jesus on the way to church on a Sunday, so pretty sure I hadn’t been pushing things too hard. The warning flickering became a little more frequent, so I decided to pull over at the next aires service station just to check things out.
HO22 or bust?
When I got out to check, the tailgate, bumper and exhaust had some tell-tale oil spray on the outside. Plus worryingly, there was a small amount of oil on the floor where I had just parked. Normally my bus doesn’t ‘mark its spot’, so this was not a good sign! Temps probably weren’t the problem, this could be an oil leak? I couldn’t see anything obvious, so let things cool down a bit, grabbed a bite to eat, topped up with a little oil, and cautiously set off again. Unfortunately, not long later, the same thing began to start happening again.
Decision time. Do I call my breakdown service, hoping they might be able to find something that could be fixed? It could also mean that I end up getting towed back to the UK and missing Hessisch altogether! That would be absolutely gutting after waiting for the show for five years! Maybe with enough oil top-ups, I could limp the bus to the show, then hopefully find someone who might be able to help? This was not the stress-free start to the road trip I was after!
Phone a friend
I knew a lack of oil is the biggest danger to a VW air-cooled engine, but I was not sure what to do? I was nearly halfway to Hessisch, however, there were still a couple of hundred more miles to drive to get there. I decided to text my mate Caroline who I knew was heading off soon to HO22. She’s a bit of a whizz when it comes to most things air-cooled VW. I described the issue and the direction of suspect issues leading to the passenger side rocker cover as being the potential problem area.
Time to get messy
I’m no mechanic, but there was not much choice here. Time to get under the bus and remove the engine rocker cover. After a couple of messages, Caroline calmly talked me through what I needed to do. Sure, I appreciate this is easy stuff to those that have done it a million times. However, if you have never done something, you tend to feel a little nervous!
So once the rocker cover was removed, you could see that the rocker gasket was kinked and had got a little distorted out of shape. Apparently, this can easily happen when fitting new ones. This is why the oil had been leaking out.
As I didn’t have a replacement to hand, my only option was to try and straighten/flatten the gasket out as best I could. I needed to get it refitted flat and flush into the rocker cover to stop the leaking. Hopefully, this might stem the oil leak until a new gasket could be bought at the show (assuming I could make it that far!). This was not going to be an easy job with an oil-impregnated deformed cork gasket.
Don’t try this at home!
In the ideal scenario, some silicon sealant might have been useful here. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any. The one strange thing I did find in my random selection of tools was some two-pact adhesive? For those of a faint heart or weak disposition now is the time to look away! OK, so I knew it would be way too oily to hold or fix the gasket in position, but it was my best (only) option of trying to get the gasket to stay flat and in place whilst refitting the cover! If it could just keep things still whilst I tried to reshape the kinked area and then refit the rocker cover and gasket back in place, then maybe this might just work. There are a lot of major ifs in this idea!
Adhesive mixed up on a pizza box lid and with a motley assortment of grips and pliers thrown into the mix to hold it in place whilst it set, I gave it 20 mins before giving this idea a try. A classic attempt at a roadside fix if ever there was one. However, would you believe it, the gasket seemed to be holding its shape and position! Time to try refitting the cover and gasket back onto the engine. Now for the moment of truth, would this roadside bodge hold and more importantly work?
Caroline was a real star in helping me out here with all her knowledge and advice. I would not have felt confident enough about doing this on the side of the road without her assistance! If nothing else, I’ve learnt about fixing and replacing stuff on an old VW. I may not have wanted to learn these things at that precise moment in time, but learn them I did!
Note to self for next time. Carry a spare set of gaskets and some silicon sealant in the toolbox!
It was getting a bit late in the day by now and I still had a little way further to go to make tonight’s stopover destination. I topped up the oil once again to try and cover what had been lost and set off with a fair amount of trepidation. This was the first-ever rocker gasket I had attempted to fix. When I say fix, it was not exactly a factory authentic specification way of doing things let’s be clear, this was a bit of a bodge, but hopefully, it might keep me going for a little while longer…
Great news in that the refitted gasket seemed to hold! The green warning light didn’t appear on the short dive to my evening destination. I managed to get to my stop-over destination for the night.
This ladies and gentlemen is what you call a win!
Relax… for now
I had decided to stop over at the Barrage de Gileppe. It’s a great place to visit. So after the stress and uncertainty of yesterday, it was a great place to just unwind and relax for the day. I needed that after the ups and downs of yesterday.
There was a small amount of oil under the car in the morning, but it’s impossible to tell if this was pre or post my refilling? There was bound to be oil residue in a variety of places all over the engine from the leak by now. I decided as there was nothing more I could do at this stage, rather than worry about things I could not change, I’d spend the day relaxing and enjoying my time at Barrage de la Gileppe instead.
In the evening I got chatting to a lovely couple (Martine and Geert) from Belgium who parked up next to me in a nice Westfalia Pop-top T6 VW camper. Beautiful looking vehicle, real luxury on four wheels.
Tomorrow I will try to push on to Hessisch. That will be the real test of how well my bodge repair holds up over a couple of hundred miles more driving. I have to admit, seeing Martine and Geerts Westfalia, did get me thinking about the stress-free alternatives of a modern-day camper compared to my old 1964 camper! But there again, as I saw at a service station earlier, modern vehicles do break down as well!
At least even with my basic level of skills, I was still able to fashion something to keep me going on the road. Not sure I would have been able to do that with something a bit more modern!
Anyway, for now, let’s just see how things go on the drive tomorrow then…