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I showered and was asleep before my head hit the pillow. Zonk. I was completely oblivious to anything until I smelled breakfast. Long distance riding, and the Texas hill-country quiet and fresh air are apparently good for sleep and the appetite.
Si had a huge pile of scrambled eggs, a frying pan full of homemade venison/pork smoked sausage, a stack of buttered toast, and several varieties of homemade jams ready and waiting. James and I provided ourselves with our requisite morning caffeine fix with the Diet Cokes we had (with remarkable foresight) grabbed at our last gas stop the night before. We devoured it all in short order, thanked Si profusely for his hospitality, and prepared to pull out.
An unrecognized but fortunate premonition caused me to pull on my favorite riding jeans. These jeans are a pair of heavy denim jeans that happen to fit me best out of all that I currently own. See, I have been seriously dieting (yet eating bunches of foods like described above) and have lost a lot of weight. As a result most of my pants no longer fit, being several sizes too large. What a problem to have. Anyway my current favorite jeans were the ones that fit the best, and were also not so coincidentally the oil-soaked pair that I had ridden in yesterday.
We pulled out of Si’s place and stopped at the nearby convenience store to grab another Diet Coke and to top off the gas. Neither James nor I is worth much in the morning until we get our minimum dose of caffeine. For me it is usually delivered via iced tea, but Diet Coke can suffice in a pinch. For James it is Diet Coke. No substitutions allowed.
I also checked my oil and given the mess, was not surprised to find it low. There was no new oil on my boot, and none dripping off the bike, so I was confident that the plug had fixed the problem. The oil level in most machines is checked via a sight glass located low in the crankcase. Mine is no exception. I purchased a couple quarts and began to top it off. At first I could clearly see the oil running by the glass, and added a quart. I thought the oil had still not reached the line so I added another one. When I poured the third one in I knew something was wrong, The bike only holds about 4 quarts. Out comes the flashlight, and we determined that in my willingness to believe I had lost a lot of oil, I had overfilled it--probably by about two quarts. This is not wise, but I am familiar with the workings of this engine and knew that it would not do any harm. I admit it only because I know that every other motorcyclist has done the same at one time or another. Don’t bother denying it.
We left Kerrville via Texas 173 headed south. This road kind of hooks around San Antonio and then connects with Texas 16 again. We wound through several back roads, finding our way through the town of “Free” and also drove through “San Diego”. Hmmm. When did California become part of Texas? One sign of note somewhere along this route read “Fried Chicken Maps Available”. I wanted one of those maps.
During this ride I became aware that oil was again streaming off the front of my engine and all over my left boot and leg. It was now apparent that the leak was only evident either at high Rpm’s or when the bike was hot. It was also much worse than it had been. I motioned to James and we stopped for a break. Again, I could not find the source of the oil. I could only figure that it had to be the gasket between the jugs and the crankcase. It could not possibly be pressure oil, as it would leak much more rapidly, and be very visible. A check of the oil lines that are on the back of the engine confirmed that they were intact, and there was no evidence of leakage around them.
I was still overfull of oil, so I rationalized that it must be a gasket as we had conjectured earlier, and that the overfilling had just exaggerated the leak. It would return to its earlier volume as the oil got closer to its normal level. Nothing to do about it here anyway. Time to press on.
Our purpose for meandering around the several backroads was to again reach US 281 south of where it splits back off of Interstate 37. US 281 is one of only a couple of routes to Brownsville. We reached US 281 at Alice, and looked around for somewhere to eat some lunch. Nothing obvious presented itself (we apparently blinked and completely missed Alice), and we had enough gas to make the town of Falfurruas (another 25 miles), so we headed there.
About halfway there, a state trooper went by fast in the other direction. In my mirror I caught a glimpse of him scattering dust and gravel turning around in the median (dangerous to other traffic and illegal). We were not really speeding . . . something around 73-75 in a 70 zone, but state troopers are famous for driving at high speeds and coming up behind unsuspecting drivers. They would also write their own mother a ticket for 2 miles over the limit, so it is well to be wary of them. I was unsure if James had seen the trooper turn around or not, so I pulled up beside him and motioned to “take it easy”. He waved me into the lead, and we pulled into Falfurruas a few minutes later. The trooper was not seen again. Maybe he got stuck in the median. One can only hope.
We were low on fuel, but I needed a break more than gas so I pulled off into the shade of a tree in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen on the outskirts of town. Before I had even gotten my helmet off, James pointed down. Oil was streaming off my bike in large quantities. The pipes were beginning to smoke. At the same instant I had that uniquely male . . . well . . . feeling that the oil had seeped up my legs (by now it was all over both legs) far enough to reach a somewhat . . . sensitive . . . area. This was bad. Castroil 20W50 is not suitable body oil. Oil was also all over James’ windshield, just from that short stint of my leading. Something had to be done.
The bike was really still too hot to examine, so after checking the oil (amazingly it was still not low, although it was now in the normal range) we elected to cruise into town and find a restaurant where we could get a good meal. We would eat, the bike would cool enough for a thorough examination, and we could then decide what to do, depending on what exactly the problem was.
As we drove through town it was obvious that whatever it was, it had really cut loose now. Oil was running off the engine and onto the pipes in great quantities. Crap. I started to worry about bursting into flames, as motorcycle pipes get quite hot. It is mildly embarrassing to sit at a stoplight engulfed in a cloud of your own smoke. Only Harley riders ever get used to it (ducking for cover!)
We pulled into a restaurant/hotel combination at the south end of town.
“Drinks?” the waitress asked.
“Diet Coke” we both said.
“Pepsi O.K.?” she asked sweetly. Uh Oh. The Pepsi Conspiracy starts.
“No. Thank you. No. Uh. No.
“Tea for me please.” I said, feeling pretty safe. In Texas you are legally allowed to burn down any restaurant that serves bad iced tea. James ordered the same. He has to be truly desperate to drink Diet Pepsi. It really is rank stuff.
We then proceeded to have the worst chicken fried steak in the state of Texas. I kept taking another bite, incredulous that it could be that bad and expecting it to get better. I finished the entire thing in that manner. I did not think it was possible to get a bad chicken-fried in Texas. I mean, all you have to do is deep fry some miscellaneous cut of meat and douse it in gravy. How can you screw that up? Last I heard it was still a hanging offense. Texans can expertly fry a chicken-fried, BBQ, and make good iced tea just minutes out of their mother’s womb. This can be somewhat disconcerting to the many soon-to-be mothers that have moved here from another state and are giving birth to their first Texan. Having your newborn demand a deep-fryer and BBQ pit instead of crying when the doctor gives them that first “whack” generally causes at least a lifted eyebrow to a non-Texan.
The owner or manager loudly argued and berated the staff the entire time we were in there, resulting in a very unpleasant meal. This on top of my mood induced by being doused in several quarts of hot Castroil, as well as the uncertainty of our situation made for an ugly mood. In silence I paid the check and we walked out to the bikes.
I checked the oil and it was off the sight glass. I had lost at least a quart on the short jaunt through town. I added the quart I had in reserve in my saddle-bag (a little premonition again). I then started the engine, and watched while it pumped the quart of oil out in a matter of about 1-minute.
This was infuriating! I still could not see exactly where it was coming from! It was pooling on the front of the engine, along the fin just below where the cylinder jugs meet the crankcase. Best as I could tell it was leaking from there. Time was running out too, Five o’clock was approaching and we could tell that most of the town would roll up shortly.
I was envisioning having to summon a trailer from Dallas, several hundred miles away. I could see my vacation ruined . . . and James’ along with it, and was formulating plans to somehow get hold of another bike and get back to the rally before the weekend when the bulk of activities occurred. Sheesh, we already had rooms paid for in Brownsville. This would be a tight, hard, few days—with getting my bike back to Dallas and somehow getting back to Brownsville. The idea of abandoning “Well Oiled Machine” entirely even presented itself.
I have a rule with vehicles. If they strand you, they are history, unless the breakdown is the result of your own bumbling or incompetence. By my rule, they are allowed to breakdown or have problems, but they must get you home, or be repairable on the road with what you can scrounge on hand. “Well Oiled Machine” had already stranded me once in rather spectacular fashion and thus earned her name. (see “Well Oiled” ) I forgave her that incident as she was new to me and I was still fixing things that the former owner had screwed up. That breakdown was the direct result of the former owner’s messing about.
Another stranding looked imminent, and that would mean she would have to go. Machines all have personalities, and if yours strands you, it does not like you. Get rid of it. This was beginning to sadden me, as this bike is nimble, comfortable, and powerful and I really enjoy riding her. She can run circles around most other machines, and looks good doing it.
“We may have to rename her ‘The Exxon Valdez’.” said James with a grin.
I chuckled. “Yeah. At least we won’t get lost.” I said as I waved at the trail of oil leading out of the parking lot and up the street. We could probably follow it home.
My mood dropped again. Shit. I didn’t want to abandon my bike. Neither did I want to spend the night here, and possibly have to endure a breakfast at this place.
I spoke to James, “Go find an auto parts store and get some oil, and maybe some JB weld.” I was still thinking gasket, and if I could find it, I could plug it. Oil on the front of the engine could NOT be pressure oil. If this did not work, I would be stuck here. We would not get another chance today, it was getting late and the town was about to close down. THAT would bode ill for “Well Oiled Machine”. I was staring intently at her, and my mood was black.
A barely audible feminine voice intruded into my thoughts, “Wait . . .” said ‘Well Oiled Machine’ quietly. She had gone too far and was starting to realize it.
James was gearing up to go on the oil run. Anything I needed, I had to know about NOW.
I spoke to ‘Well Oiled Machine’ clearly and deliberately. Those that know me do not find this the least bit unusual, “Listen carefully. If you strand me, you are history. I'll haul your ass back to Dallas and sell you piece by piece on Ebay.” As if that was not enough I carefully added, “Then I’ll buy a Harley.”
That did it. “Try again” she said quietly. There was a certain amount of contriteness. Just enough. Barely. I am a guy, she is a gal. That was all I was going to get.
“Hang on James. Let me check her again.”
I started her up and watched intently as a truly massive amount of oil streamed off the front of the engine. At least a quart in 30 seconds. I shut her down and crossed my arms. Sheesh.
“What do you think?” asked James, knowing full well I would have the answer shortly. I am good with machines, and he probably overhead the comment about Ebay and Harley.
I looked again at the pressure oil lines on the back of the engine. They are braided stainless, Teflon lined premium line. They should easily outlast the bike. They and their terminating fittings were clearly visible, and very little oil was present anywhere back there. That was remarkable in itself given the state of the rest of the bike, and certainly indicated that there could not be a leak here.
I rounded on James. “Man this HAS to be pressure oil. There is no damn way that much oil could leak from a small breach in a return path. If this were a gasket, we would find it sticking out of the engine! Shit, I should be able to stick my finger in a hole that could leak that much.”
James nodded. He is used to being my sounding board, and would take no offense at either language or tone. “Gotta be the lines then.”
“Yep.” I agreed. “But I can’t see it . . . let me have your Leatherman’s tool.”
For those that do not know, a Leatherman’s tool is a wonderful stainless gadget that is combination screw-driver, knife, pliers, and about 60 other tools. You could do heart surgery with only that if the need arose. In the movie “Six Days, Seven Nights” Ann Heche says to Harrison Ford “You’re one of those GUY guys aren’t you . . . you know . . . one of those guys that could go out into the wilderness with nothing but a Q-tip and build a shopping mall?” Harrison Ford has to answer “no” . . . but if he had a Leatherman’s tool . . .
Anyway, James passed me the tool. I extended the needle-nose portion and reached in under the tank to push on the top fitting of the oil line. It moved!
“Well damn!” says I. “The fitting is loose. The oil must be wicking along a cooling fin or something to the front of the engine.” I did not think that would have been possible with that volume of oil, but there it was.
“Cool. Pull your seat and tank and let’s get it fixed.”
“Yeah. Go for the oil though. We’re going to need it.” I said while rapidly thinking. “Grab a roll of those blue paper shop towels and a can of engine degreaser too.”
“Anything else?” he said with a raised eyebrow.
“Yeah . . . a Diet Coke!”
About this time the restaurant owner walked by. “One of those is losing some oil.”
Because of my ultra supreme self-control, I resisted a smart-assed comment and basically told him we knew what the problem was and would be out of the way shortly.
“Sorry about the mess” I said as I waved at the ever expanding and impressively large puddle of oil.
“No problem!” he said. “I don’t care what you do. I just sold this place and the Hotel too!”
Hmmm. Maybe that explains the bad chicken-fried.
By the time James got back from the supply run, I had moved the bike into the shade of a tree across the parking lot, spread out the tool kit, and had the bags, seat, and tank off. An unfortunate fact of motorcycles is that you usually have to take practically the entire thing apart to work on any given part of it. Step one to change a headlight is probably to remove the rear tire.
I had a good news, bad news, good news kind of thing. The good news was that it definitely was the fitting leaking. The bad news was that it was not loose, it was broken. The good news was that we had a few minutes left before 5pm. We had to move fast.
“Go back to the store and get me a 17 and 18 millimeter wrench. I cannot get this fitting loose with the Crescent wrench.” Damn thing just wouldn’t quite grab it. “Find out who makes hydraulic lines!” There is always a shop that makes hydraulic lines in a small town (if it is big enough to have an auto-parts store). I set to work on removing the other end of the line from the oil cooler. I would have to take the entire line to the shop and have a new fitting crimped on.
James returned with the wrenches, and I removed the broken fitting in about 30 seconds. The right tools can really make a difference. I already had the rest of the line off. He tossed me his bike keys as he relayed the good news “Napa about two blocks up and on the left makes the lines. Hurry, they close in a few minutes.”
I headed for the Napa. Good news, bad news again. Yes they make hydraulic lines, but they have never seen a banjo fitting that size before.
“Help me out guys . . . there has to be something . . .” Texans do not give up easily.
“Go see the autoworks guy out by Bob’s old dairy. He is a pretty good welder. Maybe he can braise it” suggested the older guy.
“Thanks. I will. But I don’t know where the old dairy is.”
“Oh, that’s over where the big red barn used to be” chimed in the other clerk helpfully.
Finally they realized I was not from there. “North two lights, then left. On the left past the water-tower, just outside of town,” said the older guy.
“Great! Thanks!” I yelled as I was already out the door. It was 4:58pm.
The welder looked skeptical. “Might not work, might damage the line from the heat.”
“Well I am already stranded, you can’t make it worse. The line is Teflon, so it will not melt if we work fast.”
He nodded, then proceeded to expertly and quickly braise the fitting back together. He then pressure tested it and pronounced it as good as it could be. “Probably better than when it was new . . . the tubing part is copper . . . you never use copper tubing on something that vibrates as much as a motorcycle, vibration work hardens it until it gets brittle.”
Good enough. I’ll rip the entire thing off and replace it when I get back to Dallas.
The bill was five bucks. As I drove away he said “Come back if you still have trouble, I’ll be here!”
It took about 5 minutes to put the oil line back on, then another 20 minutes to install the tank, seat, soft saddle-bags, and the two seat bags I was carrying. I pulled the bike around to the back of the hotel and drenched it with two full cans of engine degreaser. After sitting for about 5 minutes, I hosed it off using the hotel’s water hose. The degreaser pretty thoroughly cleaned most of the bike, although it did not even touch the baked on gook on the pipes. I stooped down and tried to scratch some of the stuff off with a fingernail. Not a chance.
I looked up at James and raised an eyebrow.
“Yuck” he said.
“I’ll never get this crap off right now. Let’s ride.”
A quick stop for gas, and we were gone. Wish I could say the same for the chicken-fried steak. It was with me for another 100 miles.
It was good to be on the road again. “Well Oiled Machine” was running smooth, and not leaking so much as a trace of oil. The tunes were good, and my mood immediately lightened. The speeds climbed as we headed south.
I have to say, this stretch of US 281 is nearly the most boring road I have ever driven. Straight, flat and level as far as the eye can see. Only some scrub Mesquite trees and plains grasses barely hang on here. It got so bad that we were intentionally getting as close to the plentiful “road gators” as we could without hitting them (well . . . mostly) just to have something to do. If you locked your throttle, put your feet up on the handlebars, and went to sleep you would stand an even chance of reaching your destination. There is nothing out here. I know from experience that the only road worse, is US 77 running between Kingsville and Brownsville. These are basically the only two roads in this part of Texas that go this way.
Now dark, we pressed on. Now we really had something to do, spotting the “road gators” in time to swerve around them. In Edinburg we hit Texas 107 and headed to Harlingen. We got to drive through such towns as La Blanca (She’s white? White Girl?), Elsa, and James’ favorite--Ed Couch.
We reached Harlingen, checked in at the Bikefest (at the dog racing track), and headed for our accommodations in Brownsville.
After we checked in at the hotel, we wanted nothing more than to sleep. Briefly thought about it, but it turns out both our stomachs were making demands. We were hungry. Make that HUNGRY. Apparently our bellies were insisting that we cover up that bad chicken-fried with something. Maybe anything.
We decided that after we both showered and donned clean clothes we would find something to eat. In my room, it got interesting when I had to cut my left boot off with a pocketknife. Even though the uppers were leather, the oil had sought out and found parts of the tongue, lacing and lacing reinforcement that were synthetic and chemically welded them all together. I dumped the oil out of my boot, and was still thinking I could save them, when I noticed the serious rash and swelling on the front part of my ankle and the top of my foot. A less obvious but much itchier rash was all over the rest of my leg and up to some sensitive areas. I upended the boot again and even more oil dripped out. I tossed the boots, socks, and underwear in the trash. I do not recommend Castroil as a skin-oil.
A long hot shower, and a complete bar of hotel soap and bottle of hotel shampoo later I had all the oil off of me. I felt alive again. I bagged the jeans so they would not drip oil on the hotel furnishings and went to find James. It was dinnertime.
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