Day one on the Alcan proved to be unlucky, with intermittent sputtering and a piece of road debris hitting the muffler, only a few miles outside of Dawson Creek BC. Although the road debris rearranged the position of the muffler causing it to protrude far out of the back end of the bus and increased its volume significantly I began the day feeling optimistic. Surely yesterday’s bad luck couldn’t continue into today, and it certainly seemed like it wouldn’t. The sun came out, the temperature was warm enough to drive without a heavy jacket on and scenery was full of animals waiting to have their pictures taken.
The roadside past Toad River and near Muncho Lake was probably some of the prettiest I had encountered all drive. Stone sheep are common here and got to see two of them run straight up a cliffside in probably the most athletic way possible. As you leave the Muncho Lake area a huge sign tells you to “be careful Bison on road” and it isn’t kidding. There were Bison all over the side of the road and they could care less about the vehicles whizzing past them at 60 miles per hour. After a full day of driving I was feeling pretty good about things. I had gotten on the road relatively early, driven lots of miles and witnessed some incredible wildlife. The sun was still shining although it wouldn’t be for too much longer and I was only about 150 miles from Whitehorse, my goal for today’s drive. The road was growing more and more desolate; fewer cars were driving on it, distance between towns was farther, and it was obvious that I was getting further and further into the beautiful wilderness.
Just as I was starting to feel pretty good about the bus and myself, I see the generator light turn on. My blood turns to ice, I kill the engine, and coast to a stop on the
shoulder. I’m not the greatest mechanic, but I know the correct protocol when the generator light turns on is to kill the engine and pull over immediately because it could mean the fan belt has broken. No fan turning means you’ll quickly overheat and burn up your engine. Of course the problem could be something else, but you at least need to pull over and look immediately.
Opening up the engine bay confirmed that it was not the fan belt, which was a relief, because even though I did have another one, I wasn’t confident it would fit. My mind immediately began to run through what work I had done on the electrical system and what I may have done a shotty enough job on for it to have worn out. Of course the connection from Perko switch to the voltage regulator came to mind right away. My attempt to solder a spade connector to a lug style connector was probably the bad judgment and poor skills that put me in this predicament. I reached into the back of the engine bay, and removed my abomination of a cable from the voltage regulator. It was still attached, but didn’t look great so I figured it must be my problem and I should make the connection better so that the generator light would turn off and the batteries would begin to charge again.
Fixing my poor workmanship would prove harder than I expected. I chained Charlie to the bus so that I could get in and out of the slider with out him running into the road. He glared at me with very little understanding of why he should be tied up when we were in the wilderness, but groaned as he accepted his assignment and laid himself down on the pavement. I rummaged around under the backseat and found my blow torch, opened the rooftop box , got the big tool kit out and got to work. After several attempts to improve my soldering job I was in far worse shape than before. Of course it’s harder to connect the spade to the lug on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere than it is when you’re at home in your own driveway. Curse my bad judgment!
The sun was beginning to drop to the horizon and darkness would make everything worse. If I couldn’t get this fixed in the light I wasn’t going to have much luck in the dark. Even worse, I knew driving in the dark would greatly reduce the distance I could go. This connection is critical if the generator is to charge the batteries, run the headlights, and send electricity for the spark plugs to create sparks to combust fuel to run the engine and turn the wheels. After failing multiple times, my soldering skills exposed their true level of proficiency as being the definition of zero and I had to think of something else. I dragged my hand through my giant plastic bin of tools and parts with despair trying to come up with another idea that didn’t require some special skill. My hand brushed against a role of 24 gauge electrical wire and, as if it was connected to powerful circuit, a jolt of current went through me and I got an idea. I pulled out the roll, gabbed my wire strippers and got to work removing the rubber from the copper. Tedious work, but I was now invigorated by my divine inspiration and the urgency of the situation.
After stripping feet of wire, I returned to my spade and lug that had up to now defied my blow torch and solder fueled orders to stay stuck to one another. I pushed the two parts together and began wrapping my newly stripped wire around them. Layer after layer of wire in an x pattern and to my astonishment they stayed together. I couldn’t believe it, this was even less professional than my last attempt but seemed far better. I wrapped a little electrical tape on it to insulate it and stuck it back to the voltage regulator. Happy with my roadside ingenuity, I got back in the drivers seat started her up and looked down to the generator light so I could collect my reward of its absence. But there it was staring up at me just as bright as before and scoffing at all of my roadside hard work. Fail
I was back to square one and decided to consult my Muir Guide to Air-Cooled VWs as I should have right when the trouble began. Step 1 after confirming that the trouble isn’t the fan belt; Check the generator brushes. With vehicle on, carefully reach into slits of generator, and apply pressure to brushes to make sure they are making contact. Check to see if generator light has turned off. Of course this 60-second procedure confirmed that the brushes were worn and would need to be replaced soon, but I could continue on. I got back on the road; now with the generator light off, embarrassed by my utter waste of time, and with a new rule, “check with book before I do anything”
As the sun slipped behind the horizon and darkness began to creep across the vast Yukon Territory, the light in my dash that had been so disheartening to me that afternoon began to glow again. This time I knew the problem was my brush and I wasn’t going to Whitehorse tonight. I was going to spend the night in Teslin, which was only a few miles ahead, and regroup.