Our Odyssey

History, 2001-2002

We purchased Odyssey in April of 2001, after having looked at several other Neoplan Spaceliners. We had already decided we wanted a Spaceliner, for a couple key reasons: First, the driver area is completely below the living area, which means a bit more space for the living area, plus no unsightly steering wheel and dashboard in the living room. Second, and perhaps more important, was the fact that these coaches generally have very tall luggage bays -- tall enough, we thought, for a pair of decent motorcycles. (Odyssey's bays are 45" tall.) No other coach has this combination of features.

After having flown around the country looking at Spaceliners, we had developed a good sense of what we wanted. The other Spaceliners we looked at, for instance, had midships entry doors/stairs, with either no access or very limited access between the driver area and the upstairs. We knew we wanted one with a front entry, so the stairs came down to the driver area. We also wanted three axles, at least one full-width luggage bay open for our motorcycles, and preferably a Detroit engine with Allison automatic transmission (most Spaceliners, having been built in Germany, were built with Deutz or Mercedes engines and ZF manual transmissions).

When Odyssey came on the market, it appeared to be just what we were looking for. It had three axles, a full-width bay, was already fully converted to a motorhome, and, best of all, had only 26,000 miles on a Detroit engine with Allison transmission. We negotiated quickly to take the coach off the market.

Odyssey was located in Irvine, CA when we bought it. In May, we returned to Irvine to close the transaction and pick up our new home. That's when the trouble began...

We had barely made it 100 miles before a large explosion rocked our very small world. We were just south of Valencia, heading north on I-5, when the right inner dual exploded. Unfortunately, we were also in the number-1 lane (out of 5 northbound lanes). A few long blasts on the air horn parted the sea of cars (shards of tire tread coming off the coach probably helped a good deal too) and we made it safely to the right shoulder. Louise, who was upstairs at the time (just about right above the tire) came downstairs white-faced, and we both took a few minutes to catch our breath.

Upon inspection, the right side of the coach was completely down onto its suspension stops. In fact, we were not yet sure of the source of the explosion, and this suggested that the main air bag on the right side of the drive axle exploded. Without being able to get under the coach for further inspection, we rolled the coach forward enough to test the brakes, and determine that no hard parts of the chassis were dragging on the ground. At that point, we decided the safest course of action was to drive very slowly, on the shoulder, to the next freeway exit, which we could see was only a few hundred yards ahead. We found a relatively safe spot to park in front of a Hampton Inn, and immediately began making phone calls to try to get help with the problem.

Over the next several hours, we were able to get the blown tire replaced, and determine that the air lines running to the right main air bag were severed. Unfortunately, the damage was too severe for a roadside repair, even by the well-equipped professional that was looking at it (at about 2am, after working all night on a truck stuck somewhere else). We settled back in at the Hampton Inn, and, in the morning, drove several miles to the nearest truck shop, Castaic Garage (whence came the aforementioned professional). Since we had no suspension, we had to keep the speed down to 15 or less, which meant the freeway was out. Of course, that's the short way. In any event, we found a back way to Castaic, only had to cross one 10-ton-limit bridge (Odyssey weighs 22 tons) and did the eleven miles or so in an hour and change.

We left Odyssey at Castaic Garage, grabbed a Supershuttle to Burbank and flew back to San Jose, very dissappointed.

As it turns out, the person who sold us Odyssey had gone to the expense of putting new tires on only the six wheels visible from the outside. The two inners were original rubber, probably 12 years old, if not 15. While it was at Castaic, Benny the Tire Guy put two brand new tires on the inners, generously crediting us for the used tire he had to put on when the coach was sitting in front of the Hampton Inn.

Castaic had the coach for a full month. The problems were relatively minor, but getting parts from Neoplan proved to be somewhat challenging. Very few mechanics have ever seen a Neoplan, and its German origin means metric parts -- definitely not standard in the heavy truck industry here in the US. It turned out that, in addition to the suspension lines being severed, the air cylinder that "locks" the steerable rear axle in the straight-ahead position (when backing up or at speeds above 30mph) was also destroyed and needed to be replaced.

In June we flew back down to Burbank, shuttled our way back to Castaic, and picked the coach up. The trip back to San Jose from there was relatively uneventful, and we arrived home that same night. The only item of any concern was that the retarder quit retarding once or twice, and the "check transmission" light came on intermittently toward the end of the long trip. On the way, we also stopped off at a scale to find out what this behemoth really weighed -- 44,000 lbs, give or take.

The very next day we trundled our new prized possession over to Louise's church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, so that her fellow UU's could see what she had been ruminating over for the past couple months.

That's when Sean got Odyssey stuck in the driveway. Yes, indeed, on our second (real) day of ownership, we found out the hard way just how little ground clearance this coach has. We're sorry we don't have any pictures of this, as it was really quite amusing in hindsight. There we were, half in the driveway, and half out in Charleston road, blocking a full traffic lane (out of two in that direction, fortunately), with the drive wheels spinning uselessly in the gutter. We were there for five hours while we waited for a tow truck big enough to pull us out. The Palo Alto police arrived and put cones around us, and seemingly four hundred church-ladies toured through the coach while it was stuck firmly in the asphalt. After springing $300 for a tow, all of 20 feet or so, we were liberated and on our way, really no worse for wear other than Sean's newly besmirched bus-driving record.

While we were waiting for the tow truck, being engineers, we naturally tried many things to un-stick the coach by ourselves, aided by a phalanx of engineering-type Unitarians, enough of whom lived close enough to retrieve bottle jacks, 4-by-12s, and other sundry items we used in these endeavors. During the course of this, not one, but two different bus mechanics who happened to be driving down Charleston road stopped to help. (Odyssey is weird enough, as buses go, that even long-time bus people admit to some curiosity about it.) While we all poked around under the rear axles trying to get the suspension to reinflate (deflation of the air bags was why the 4-by-12s were no help), we learned an awful lot about bus suspension in general, and Neoplan suspension in particular -- lessons which would prove valuable later on.

We both had full time jobs at that time, and so Odyssey went next to a 40' storage space in Gilroy while we contemplated our next move. We made an appointment with the local Detroit/Allison shop, Stewart and Stevenson in San Leandro, to have the engine and transmission checked out, find out why the check light was coming on, and have oil samples taken for analysis, and we dropped the coach off there in mid-July.

By August, Sean's employer went out of business, and suddenly there was time aplenty to work on our coach plans. Stewart & Stevenson, though, were taking their sweet time getting to our coach. It turns out that, as the only major DD/Allison authorized repair facility in the bay area, Odyssey took a back seat to what seems like every fire truck, transit bus, and commercial truck in the nine-county area. In short, they kept the coach for several months to complete only a few hours' work. The good news being that we were busy remodeling a house anyway, and this saved us a bundle on storage fees we would have had to pay anyhow.

>From S&S we moved Odyssey almost directly to Royal Coach in San Jose to have all the suspension air bags checked, and, if need be, replaced, as well as a good look at the rest of the air system, brakes, and suspension. After the experience with the blown tire, we were being extra cautious about the other rubber items, and our suspicion from the stuck-in-the-driveway experience was that the air bags were not staying up as they should. Royal put six new air bags on, and we kept the best two (one of each type) of those removed as emergency spares. They also tightened up or replaced a bunch of fittings, and generally brought the various air leaks under control. Our goal in this exercise was to get the coach road-worthy enough for a cross-country expedition to Neoplan USA's major service facility in Honeybrook, Pennsylvania.

During all this time, we had been compiling a list of everything wrong with Odyssey from a chassis perspective (those parts of the coach that were built or installed by Neoplan, as opposed to the House side, produced by Pegasus). The list became quite extensive, and we made arrangements with Neoplan USA to address the items in a major overhaul visit. While Neoplan USA did have shops in Lamar Colorado, the Honeybrook, Pennsylvania facility, being the parts center for the entire country, had the more extensive inventory, as well as the personnel more familiar with the German models. Aside from that, they had empty service bays and were hurting for business.

We spent several days fiddling with the various house systems to get them ready for a cross-country trip. This thing was already a fully-equipped motorhome, and we were damned if we weren't going to sleep in it en-route! That's when the fresh water pump began leaking, and we discovered the air-operated dump valves to be frozen shut. Also, a good deal of very brown water flushed through the freshwater tank before it started coming out clear. We swapped in a new fresh water pump, coaxed the valves to open with plenty of WD40 and a crowbar (really), and vowed not to drink the water until we could replace the tanks and plumbing.

At the beginning of March, 2002, almost a full year after we made our purchase decision, we left San Jose for Honeybrook.

The Honeybrook trip almost ended on the very first day when, coming out of a driveway (you can see this coming) in Needles, CA after a dinner stop, we bottomed-out the rear end on the driveway lip, separating the left-side air bag on the drive axle. To get a picture of this, imagine a very small tubeless tire, say the kind on a golf cart. For the tire to hold air, it needs to "bead" or seal against the rim. This usually requires a high-volume blast of compressed air to achieve. The air bags are very much like golf cart tires (they've been mistaken for same) -- they have large round openings on the top and bottom that seal against semi-conical cylinders attached to the coach frame and axle, respectively. If the seal should break loose, it's very hard to re-seat it because the suspension air system can not deliver a high enough volume of air quickly enough to do so.

Fortunately, we are enrolled in a roadside service plan (sort of like AAA for motorhomes), and they dispatched a technician in a truck well equipped with compressors, jacks, crowbars, and other necessary paraphenalia. The service guy had never seen a Neoplan, and spent a good deal of time scratching his head. Two things saved our bacon: 1. we knew all about this problem, how it happened, and how to fix it from our earlier driveway experience (although, that time, the bag re-seated itself) and 2. we had a spare air bag with us from the replacement exercise, so we could show the guy exactly what it looked like inside. After that, he said "oh, I get it," stuck a crowbar under the lower bag support, and, with me inside blasting on the HWH "leveling" control, managed to get the bag to seat. We wiped our foreheads, having dodged a bullet, and made our first "camp" for the night in a freeway rest area just over the Arizona border, swearing off driveways forever.

En-route to Honeybrook, we began to understand the extent of the problems with the house systems. The fresh water system was leaking someplace we could not see, the cantankerous air-operated dump valves continued to give us headaches, the toilet seemed to drain into a very shallow tank that appeared full at every stop, and the HVAC system had problems too numerous to list. Tracing any part of the electrical systems in the maze of wires and relays was all but impossible. Things worked well enough for the coach to be "livable," but just barely so. By the time we reached Honeybrook, we began to understand that we were in for a much bigger renovation project than we first anticipated.

Odyssey's past, pre-April 2001.

Our continuing journey...a work in progress