Sep 17 2012

Day 1255: Land Ahoy

by andrew

Nearly 3 weeks, 1800 miles, descending 5000 feet, climbing 2000 feet, 107 F degree days, 50 F degree nights, twice stranded, 3 unplanned days at a campground, 12unplanned but blessed days with friends,Ā 1 crankshaft position sensor, 2 fuel injection pumps, 4 new tires + alignment, new fuel tank, new fuel sender, new hydrolic brake booster, and 2 new brake lines later… WE MADE IT TO PENNSYLVANIA!!!!

Again, a HUGE THANK YOU to all you brothers and sisters and family in Messiah out there praying for us and following our epic quest. More specific details for the mechanically curious below, but the short version is that – among other things – we needed a new fuel tank and it originally looked like the parts would not get in until this morning. However, they arrived Friday morning ahead of schedule and the shop was able to complete the work by the next morning. So, Matt drove us out there, backtracking west again, on Saturday afternoon and we were reunited with our home after almost two weeks. We had been really curious how all the food and everything would fare. The only casualties were some books that had received the life blood of a couple tomatoes that we left in a fruit basket on top of them, creating the perfect breeding nest for fruit flies. But even the milk in the fridge was still good!

I wish I could adequately recap our time with Matt and Sara and their beautiful family. Their incredible hospitality in our time of need was such a blessing; words cannot quite convey! Throughout the entire time both sets of children kept asking if we could stay longer – a sure sign that new buddies had formed over night. There were a few minor community pressures (what do you expect trying to throw a family of 9 and a family of 8 in the same house, unplanned, for an uncertain duration) but they walked with us through challenges with grace and humility. And quite honestly, it worked remarkably well all things considered. It sounds like the makings for a disaster reality show, but for the most part it was really peaceful and smooth – even with logistics like meals, beds, work, etc. – which is really a testimony to how well things work when there is generosity through genuine, mutual love of Messiah present. How many people would think it’s “normal” for 2 families and 17 total people to share a house and every day life (inconveniences and all) for 12 days and still be really sad when the time was over? THAT is something that only the love of our Heavenly Father can accomplish.

We are now on the property of our wonderful friends in Pennsylvania where we will be taking care of some animals and chores for them while they are traveling. It is beautiful country here, and fascinating to see what has changed and what is exactly the same after a two year absence.

Report: Day 1 on the Farm

  1. Woke up to fog and dew heavy spiderwebs around the yard. Ventured out with the kids to grab the pics above and several others as well as get re-acquainted with one of our very favorite places (after all, it was well after dark when we arrived late last night).
  2. Renee and the kids walked around the property and reviewed all the chores we’ll be making part of our new routine, while I started to get organized with my work for the day including conference calls and whatnot
  3. A big UPS truck and trailer showed up with a few pallets for the shop and our friend’s worker (a very nice Amish gentlemen who is keeping things running and I will from now on refer to as Mr. S.) asked if I could help unload by driving the skid steer (with forklift attachment). So, I jumped into that and figured it out pretty quickly; it all came back to me from the time I used it to move a temporary fridge from the shop to outside the trailer when ours had died a long time ago.
  4. Killed the internet at the house trying to get it to be more stable, and got help from the provider to bring it back up (honestly, what kind of modem wants you to setup the whole connection again just by pulling the power when it’s acting up?) šŸ™‚
  5. Had our first official Never Settle meeting and started to collect our thoughts after travels, honeymoons, and house moves; while the kids had a fun time finding 11 eggs, discovering kittens, riding scooters down the lane hill, and so on.
  6. Ate the eggs for lunch
  7. Drove Mr. S. to one of the rental properties to measure part of the roof for replacement
  8. Looked for a mini trampoline we left here long ago (maybe it’s no longer here, or very cleverly stored) but instead found and dealt with a rogue bag of bad apples in the house basement that were fermenting and squishy and leaking their juice all over the place.
  9. Got some more work done, while Renee was finishing school with the kids and starting supper
  10. Closed the day as a family by sighting the sliver new moon just above the horizon, which – behind a thin veil of clouds – looked like a faint vertical column of light erupting from the earth; and brought in the High Sabbath of the Biblical Yom Teruah (Day of Shouting, Feast of Trumpets) by blowing our shofar (rams horn) and yelling on top of the highest mound in the yard and singing praises to our King for His victory, looking forward to Messiah’s return ON THIS FESTIVAL in some future year, His faithfulness to bring us safely here even in this timing to be able to celebrate the Festival in this place, and all His goodness towards us of which we have written only a fraction.

For the Mechanically Curious:

Describing it somewhat backwards from the order in which everything was finally solved: I knew I had a steering fluid leak. But it went from once a month top-offs to empty between fill-ups in the short time after leaving Colorado. Turns out there was a leaky seal in our hydro booster (I learned that the brake booster increases braking pressure hydrolically using the power steering fluid). New booster busted a rusty break line when they were bleeding the system. Another brake line blew out over night sitting there before we picked it up the next day. So thankful that happened in the shop and not bouncing up and down theĀ Appalachian Mountains the next day.Ā Ok, so for the real kicker; a vacuum had been created in our metal fuel tank and literally sucked it in on itself to the point where it creased in spots and cracked along a rust line. The final sign of the issue was a leak that probably didn’t develop until right around the time we broke down the second time – at least it certainly wasn’t there on our last fuel stop. On top of that, the tube on the fuel sender had been slowly bent and pinched off by the compression. To some extent it was maybe not getting enough fuel. But what’s weird is that it ran strong until right before it died that second time. So maybe the vacuum finally caused the crease, the leak, and bent the sender all at once which starved the pump. The shop owner (Wesley) said he’d never seen anything like it in 31 years. His brother who also works there – never in 40 years.

When I was getting the final run-down from Wesley, he said it should run better than it ever has before. And he was right. We pulled through the mountains along I-80 (admittedly nothing massive, but still) with more power than the other couple times we’ve tackled that same route. It was almost a joy to tow with it. But that was a LONG day. I realized it was only 500 miles from Cincinnati (where we stopped the night before to spend a few albeit way too short hours with dear friends there) to the farm. Before, I was thinking it was 600, but maybe that was from Louisville. Anyway, we made a family-unanimous decision to push through and get here from Cincinnati in one day. The kids especially. And they did great – even voluntarily foregoing run-around stops at rest areas to pull it off. We’re all so glad we did too!

It is so peaceful here and such a wonderful blessing to be back. The only thing that would make it better would be if our friends were here too. But we’re glad that they are having a special family trip and look forward to their return.

Sep 12 2012

Day 1250: Adrift

by andrew

Thank you! – all of you who have been praying for us and carrying us in your hearts and wondering how we are doing. Here’s how I am doing (delayed by about a day from when this all actually unfolded):

During the last couple days as we approached the 1 week mark (longer than anticipated or intended) of staying with our wonderful and gracious friends in Kentucky while trying to navigate a labyrinth of contacts and delays on the truck repairs, I have been growing increasingly restless. I have felt the expanding sensation of floating in a life raft in the middle of the ocean: safe for the moment but powerless to affect my situation with no land in sight. Despite a firm faith in YHWH having distinct purposes for this sequence of events as they began to unfold a week ago, my grip on that trust grew weary especially last night and this morning.

Regardless, His peace has been ever present – even as my own frustrations mounted. Finally this morning in a bit of calm, desperate reflection, a light bulb went on in my spirit, and the switch had been flipped at least partly by the title of this article: what if one of the main reasons Father allowed this breakdown and subsequent extended strandedness was to throw the breaks on my busy-ness so that I would slow down enough (complete stop) to catch up to Him… In my opinion it would have been much cleaner if He had waited until we got to PA to throw the breaks, but He didn’t ask me my opinion and I probably would have easily missed His cues once we got to PA with the busy-ness that would have ensued there anyway.

The truck should be finally getting some attention in the shop today. I am not sure how long or what all it will need for parts, etc. They asked me this morning if I was aware of a fuel leak in the rear. That’s new and I have no idea what that’s about.

But more importantly, once I had some idea of what it would take to regain my bearings this morning, I started to finally let some things go, to slow down, to push less important things aside, and to return focus and attention and time to my King. In that process this article was an amazing reminder and challenge. It articulates areas in which I need so much growth, but it also inspires me to chase that overcoming with renewed perspective and energy.

Sometimes… Often even… The truest answers are the ones to the questions that haven’t been asked and seem completely unrelated to what we think a problem is or where we will find a solution.

Sep 5 2012

Day 1243: UN-Self-Reliance 101

by andrew

Apparently, we need more stretching / training in this area. And/or Father just wants us to spend longer in Kentucky than the quick overnight we had originally planned. And/or maybe these are just mandatory practice runs – like fire drills – of trailer evac with our grab-and-go gear. It’s so funny how the mission (in this case getting to Pennsylvania) can be so quickly reduced (or complicated) into other really important side-quests.

So here we were yesterday, broken down yet again (over something that is probably very trivial as I explain below) at mile marker 83 along I-64 in Indiana:


Again, YHWH had prepared everything ahead of time and we were miraculously provided for and well taken care of, despite the “inconveniences” and emotional battles to guard our peace and trust. In fact, we are feeling extremely blessed right now, even if our truck and trailer are still 70 miles away in another state at the moment with an uncertain resurrection timeline. Our dear friends who also have 7 children (and hence a 12 passenger van) came out and picked us up an hour and 20 minutes away from their home south of Louisville, KY. Even though our roadside assistance wasn’t able to find a provider to come tow us (it was the middle of nowhere) I found a shop – Small Brothers Truck and Auto – 10 miles away in Leavenworth, IN that was able to come out and pick up the trailer and the truck (what would we do without internet and maps on our phones?).

Wesley (the shop owner) was amazing. He came out at the end of a hectic day with one of his guys and pulled our trailer back to the shop while the other drove the flatbed with our suburban on it. He was also gracious enough to let us plug in at the shop to keep our fridge running so that we didn’t have to worry about that (at least for a couple days). Near the end of our trip back to the shop we instantly connected spiritually when I said, “really appreciate everything – you’re a life saver,” and he humbly responded, “well I don’t know about all that,” so I probed further by saying, “well, I believe everything happens for a purpose,” and he responded with something close to: “absolutely, the Good Lord has His reasons for everything.” In the exact same way that all these events are challenging us to maintain peace in the middle of turmoil, it sounds like he’s going through the exact same challenges with his shop business. Please remember Wesley in your prayers as well – that YHWH will give him strength to guard his peace and find favor with and bless him!

So, how did we go from the top of the world with 4 new tires and a fresh alignment (the previous evening and morning adventures) cruising toward our destination with reasonable hope to still see our friends nearĀ LouisvilleĀ andĀ Cincinnati AND still make a Friday landfall in PA; to winding up once again completely dependent on our Creator’s provision and the generous assistance of others? Well, as I try to reconstruct a fraction of the purposes together in my mind so that it makes some kind of coherent picture I’ve stumbled across a few connections whose strands are worth following – at least with some speculative deduction.

But first a quick digression on the new tires adventure. Feeling like I still had plenty of time on our front passenger side tire, although it was wearing badly from being out of alignment for a while now without any rotations, I thought it would suck worse than the expense of new tires to have a blowout and be stranded again or worse. So, we pulled into a Wal-Mart a couple of evenings ago in time to get a new set of 4 right there (the rear ones were close to done anyways too, at least as far as tread goes). I was planning to just put it on our emergency credit card and sort it out with everything else later, but the over-aggressive fraud monitoring blocked the transaction and I would have been totally stuck if it hadn’t been for the generous gifts from some of our friends sitting in our paypal account that I was able to access with our paypal credit/debit card. That’s how the tires got taken care of. Then of course I wanted to get an alignment done right away so as not to chew up the new tires prematurely and found a place across the street that got me in nice and early and on the road in good time yesterday. Back to the reconstruction:

Perhaps part of the purpose for the original breakdown in Seibert, CO was to set the timing for the second breakdown. In my humble opinion, it should have waited another 70 miles, but that certainly would not have been as interesting. Following the trail of fallenĀ dominoesĀ backwards: the new injection pump installed in Colorado came with the PMD (pump mounted driver – basically an electronic circuit box) mounted directly on the pump itself which sits on top of the engine in probably the hottest place possible. This is an idiotic design and one of the reasons the duramax 6.5L earned a questionable reputation. What happens is that the normal heat from engine operation under loads like towing through mountains – even with all gauges in safe ranges, which I am anal about – fries the electronics which control fuel injection and without fuel the truck dies and of course steering and breaks die with it. Super dangerous, and when I felt it starting to die, I slowed way down and prayed for a safe place to pull over because I didn’t see anywhere immediately available. It lasted long enough to cool down a bit, and then I lost brakes and steering at a place that worked out be be safe enough to stop.

The solution to this whole bad engineering induced mess is remarkably easy – replace the PMD with an FSD (Fuel Solenoid Driver) relocated outside the center of the heat and attach it to an adequate heatsink. In fact, this was our exact configuration before the original pump died. Even so, the original pump had nearly 225,000 miles on it which is pretty good (a typical lifespan for those pumps under normal average-to-heavy conditions is 100,000 miles). However, when the first shop put in the new pump, they left our pump-protecting FSD disconnected and just wired in the attached PMD in it’s factory failure prone location for warranty reasons. The new pump supposedly has a 3 year / 36,000 mile warranty. Of course the ironic thing is that because of the design it failed in under 1000 miles of conservative towing.

The maddening thing is that I have the solution sitting right there under my hood – the FSD which should still be OK, since the first shop tested with another FSD connected to the bad pump to eliminate my FSD as the cause of the original issue. To add additional frustration: the wiring connections and the pump itself are buried under the turbo plenum and the intake manifold, on top of which I don’t know for sure whether or not the FSD harness to connect it is still down there since they just used the standard PMD. Well, sitting there on the side of I-64 I got about half-way into the project of pulling it all apart to look for the harness – battery cables disconnected, connectors detached from the turbo plenum, plenum off, upper coolant hose off and a couple liters of coolant dropped, and a couple bolts out of the intake manifold before I came to the following conclusions: 1) there was the possibility that the harness I needed for the FSD wasn’t even still down there ; 2) even if I was successful reconnecting the FSD it wasn’t a 100% fix (although very likely) and regardless would mean sending my family on ahead with our friends and sacrificing that time with them together plus pushing past dark on the side of the interstate with the re-assembly effort.

Matching that against my experience with the time I spent on the failed attempt to fix the last problem with the crankshaft sensor replacement, and admitting to myself that although I could definitely tackle this in my own garage without a deadline, I am not yet the kind of ninja mechanic that could pull it off within the constraints of that scenario, I resigned to get everything put back together, try to start it again, and if that didn’t get us anywhere, call in the support. As you know, the support became the solution. And I’m confident that the priority time staying together with my family and our friends was the right decision whatever the dollar costs end up being.

It’s fascinating to me… basically 3 years of problem-free towing for 50,000 miles and it seems like everything decides to go all at once – of course at the most inopportune time šŸ™‚ Is there a message there? Or are we simply hitting the attrition caps on some of our equipment at the same time? Or is Father weaving a grander story through it all? Definitely that with probably substantial portions of the other reasons mixed in as well.

So, our current condition: massively grateful that we’re with our dear friends who have graciously opened their home wide to us. The kids have a whole new set of buddies, and aside from some enthusiastic (i.e. loud) play going on, they are otherwise the very absolute opposite of bored and I might not even see much of them while we’re here, which is perfect for catching up with Matt and Sara and making progress on some work. To a small family unit, 13 children in 1 house for more than an hour or two at a time might sound like insanity, never mind consecutive sleepovers. But all things considered the chaos is actually quite minimal. In fact, it is extremely peaceful here. And consistent with the entire moral to this part of our story unfolding: True Peace does not depend on external circumstances but internal, unshakable trust in our Deliverer and Redeemer – Yahushua the Son of God. Only He can provide the Peace that surpasses all understanding.