Musings of An Old Man

by Brian K. Moore

Burn up Motorhome

This story is listed in the category of “Dumb things I have done.” I also have a category entitled “Unusual or Innovative things I have done.” Sometimes these categories get paired, usually when I have done a dumb thing and then have to do an unusual or innovative thing to get out of the mess that I got myself into. This time was different. This time the unusual or innovative thing precipitated the dumb thing and enabled its happening.

When we moved from Ricaree to the Brewster house we parked the motor home by the soon to be constructed storage area right across the lake from the Ferarrese’s. It stayed there 12 years. After all this time I decided to move it and get it out of their view, so we cleaned up a sort of junk yard over by the windmill and had Gary Grant come in and grade a nice pad and turn around area and spread it with gravel so that we had a real nice place to keep it.

The motorhome was old. It was built before fuel injection was common and it had an automatic choke to help it make cold starts. This feature caused the carburetor to deliver a rich (in gasoline) mixture for a while after the engine was first started.

The automatic choke was very difficult to get to and very hard to adjust. It would usually deliver the rich mixture too long as the engine was warning up causing the engine to go bloop-bloop-bloop and die. Very irritating.

I decided “I’ll fix this thing once and for all.” So I attached a bead chain to the choke lever and ran it through a piece of copper tubing, through the firewall and through a keyhole shaped opening at the bottom of the instrument panel. Then when the mixture started to get too rich, I could adjust the mixture by pulling the chain a bead at a time and dropping it into the slot of the keyhole shaped opening, and it would hold the choke open just the right amount to make the mixture right. When the engine warmed up I was supposed to release the bead chain and let the choke lever return to its normal position to be ready for the next cold start.

Sometimes I would forget to release it. This would result in too lean a mix (of gasoline) on the next start, causing the engine to backfire, and blowing flames out of the carburetor. Of course when this happened, I would immediately release the bead chain and it would be ok.
When the pad was done, Kenny and I went to move the motorhome. We found a gas leak in a deteriorated piece of rubber tubing between the gas tank and the fuel pump which we repaired.
We started the motorhome using the bead chain procedure. And drove it to its new home and leveled it up. Before we shut the engine off we noticed gasoline dripping down from the engine and concluded that there must be another piece of deteriorated rubber tubing up near the carburetor which we must fix. That fix never happened.

Two or three weeks later I was out near the motorhome and I thought “I should run the engine a bit to get the oil circulated, etc.” I got in and tried to start it. It cranked but wouldn’t start. Then it made 2 or 3 big loud backfires. I knew what was happening and I released the beadchain and cranked the engine and it started.

Then I looked through the windshield. I saw black smoke pouring out from under the hood. This is where the dumb comes in. First: I had started the engine without repairing the fuel hose that I knew was leaking. Second: I went out and opened the hood and saw a small fire on top of the engine and I dropped the hood and jumped on my electric scooter, grabbed my cell phone and called Kenny. He answered. I said, “grab a bucket and come running. The motorhome is on fire.” I did this instead of grabbing one of the two fire extinguishers that I, myself, had installed in the motorhome; although, because of their age, the fire extinguishers may not have been good. Third dumb thing: when I dropped the hood, it didn’t fully lock down but the safety catch caught. Ordinarily this would not have been a problem, but when Kenny got there with a bucket of water, the hood was too hot to touch to free the safety catch. I told Kenny “Take off your T shirt and use it to protect your hands.” He did this but it didn’t work. It was just too hot. About then both of us looked up and saw fire coming up behind the windshield.

We knew that it was too late to save the motorhome. Now we had to concentrate on getting the fire out before it burned through the thin aluminum roof and got into the pine trees above and was driven by the wind to the Ferarrese’s house and perhaps burned it down.

Fortunately Don and Betty Ferarrese had heard the loud backfires and had come out to see what was going on. When they saw the situation they ran back to their house and Betty called the fire department and Don grabbed two fire extinguishers and came running back. Fortunately Betty had the fire truck come to their driveway, not ours, as I probably would have done. This gave the fire truck much better access.

With the aid of Fererrarese’s fire extinguishers and a long hose that Kenny had rigged at panic speed, we, mostly Kenny, had the fire under control and almost out by the time the Fire Department got there. They nevertheless just saturated the whole thing with water to make sure that it was completely out.

The demise of the motorhome was no great financial loss. It was nearly thirty years old when it burned and its market value was next to nothing.

Since it had been sitting in the same place for twelve years it was obvious that we were through using it, but with it went memories of many great trips in the over 114,000 miles that we had put on it. It was sad to see it go through the gate behind the tow truck.

In Kiwanis I put in five dollars. One sad dollar that I had burned the motorhome and four happy dollars that we had got the fire out before it went through the roof on its way to Ferarrese’s