After totally losing second gear we parked our van on Marty and Alex’s driveway again, they listened to our story and made us feel more relaxed about it. We checked if it might be the gear selector rod, or the shifter but after inspecting everything and gaining info from several contacts everything was pointing towards a major gearbox overhaul.
We slept on it for a night before starting to make arrangements. We had two options for a total rebuild, a company in Montreal was suggested and a garage in Toronto. We did not feel good after calling the Montreal option, there was a language barrier and things just did not feel right, so we called our Toronto option. The mechanic answered the phone and quickly gave us a couple of options on what could be wrong, regardless the outcome the gearbox had to come off and needed a rebuild. We told him our story about that we live in the van, so we would stay around the garage. One huge point for me was that I would love to be around the dismantle and rebuild of the gearbox because I want to learn everything there is to learn about my VW. He was not all too positive about this, but we could talk after the weekend when we would come in.
We ended up staying another weekend at Marty and Alex’s place and ended up helping to cut a tree down. More friendly nights were spent on the lake site making fires and playing games, there are way worse places to break down than this amazing spot. We gave Marty, Alex and all the animals a round of hugs again before leaving to Toronto.
We arrived a bit late in Toronto, we drove around the city to end up in between an industrial area and the lake. There is a little beach called Cherry Beach and we drove the van onto the gravel parking. We tried to avoid the biggest put holes filled with water that was coloured a light deep grey because of the new gravel on the parking. The whole scene felt a bit rough, there were strange individuals hanging around the edges of the big parking, a lot of trash and little abandoned camps that seemed to house homeless at some point during the night. It turned out Cherry Beach is since the old days a place where the law is not enforced as strictly as in other parts of the city. Later that evening I talked to some guys that assured me that it was rather safe in this area, and the best thing of all was that the police would not bother us there. In a constant mist of weed smoke some other guys told me they were living in the bushes on the edge of the parking, and that there would be a rave party on the beach that night. This whole scene was half bad, half good but did not have a threatening feeling to it, maybe it is my naivety but I did not feel insecure or unsafe. Desy did not particularly like this whole setting but I could see the charm in it somehow and we stayed the night anyway.
When we woke up most of the ravers had gone, just one car was pumping the last bass over the lake. One campfire was still smouldering and smoking with empty bottles and cans around it while we drove off into Toronto. That following night we spent sleeping in front of the garage to meet the mechanic we talked to over the phone the next morning.
The mechanic’s name was Dave and after a slow Monday morning start-up we got to talk about our gearbox problem. Dave is an old style mechanic who over time has specialised in VW’s and all the problems they bring. Not a lot of people try to make a living on repairing older VW’s anymore but this shop is swarmed every day by VW vans with VW problems. Dave owns the garage called Auto Shop and he runs it in a no nonsense manner, it seemed that he can smell bullshit from far away and he is not afraid to call on it. Somehow this style of mechanics and their shops have grown on me in the last years. This style comes with the older generation mechanics and I have seen them throughout Europe. Trying to describe it best I would say these places are an organised mess collected over time where the mechanic knows his way around all the spare parts. People walk in like they would do at home chatting around about business or any other subject while mechanics keep working on the cars or bikes. Some friends come in for a drink or hang around the break area. This garage had several of those characteristics and I felt right at home.
Later that day after we dismounted the roof rack, ski box, and solar panels we drove the van into the garage and onto the bridge. The van was lifted off the ground and the gearbox was out of there in no time. My proposal to hang around the shop and help out if I could was somehow not accepted nor declined but after sticking my nose under the van and asking a million questions it seemed that I was accepted to do whatever I wanted. We rolled the van out of the shop into the parking for us to camp the coming days. The gearbox was now on the floor in the middle of the garage and it looked terrible, about 30 years of grease and dirt was collected all around it and I was the guy to clean it. Brian is the only mechanic working alongside Dave, he took the box out and told me to spray it with cleaner first before starting to hose it down. I spent about an hour on cleaning the outside of the box, first spraying it with cleaner, than pressure washing it and brushing it with a wire brush. This process was repeated about 3 times before it passed Dave’s approval.
Dave seemed to be able to dismount the gearbox with his eyes closed, he told me he did hundreds of these boxes and even before opening it he narrowed the problem down to two options. He was right, the main shaft bearing was completely turned to dust, and he told me that we were lucky we did not completely trash the ring and pinion because they would take forever to order from Europe (our gearbox ALD with a 5.5 diff is non existing in America so parts are not around). His way of putting it “you have horse shoes up your ass” that these parts are ok. The whole dismantle took the rest of the day and we spent our first night in the parking.
The next morning I was back on cleaning duty, the housing of the gearbox was semi clean from the day before but now the real deep cleaning could start. More hours on brushing the outside with a wire brush followed by cleaning the inside of the housing with cleaner and a brush similar to a round paintbrush with more sturdy plastic “hair” on the end. It took a bit of time but slowly the parts were starting to get clean. Slightly corroded on the outside but shiny clean metal on the inside.
While I was cleaning the housing Dave was cleaning and working on the actual gears, the real damage only shows when the gears and shafts are 100% clean. First and second gear were totally gone, this was expected since first gear had always jumped out since I owned the van and second gear I trashed a couple days before. Third and fourth gear were all right but all the seals bearings and worn parts had to be replaced by new or second-hand parts that Dave collected over the years. Another day flew by working and hanging around the shop. For me time was passing faster than it did for Desy, she had a hard time spending time in the van while I was busy inside the shop.
That evening when we were getting ready for bed we met Alex, she drove around the neighbourhood feeding all the stray cats and we talked for a long time about animals and our love for them. Since a while the number of stray cats was dropping because of people like Alex feeding the cats but also catching them to be castrated or spayed. When the cat is helped the vet snips an ear so it’s obvious for everybody that that cat is helped to avoid catching them again. Desy and Alex got along well and the next day Desy was invited to come have a shower and stay with Alex. Alex is married to Mike, who used to be a mechanic and frequently visit Dave’s Auto Shop and hangs around for a chat. This couple had a lot in common with us, love for animals, travel and motorbikes. The next night we were invited to sleep over and feel comfortable at their home.
Reassembling the gearbox took some time but the next day the gearbox was back in the van. Throughout the whole process I stayed around Dave and Brian and learned a lot about how the gearbox works and goes back together. To be able to do this job a lot of special tools come in to play and I am sure you need to witness a couple more reassembles to really be able to work on gearboxes. I recorded a lot of videos and pictures and will write about the gearbox in a separate blog another time.
We paid for the parts and labour before we set off into the adventure again. That same day we parked at a Walmart to resupply and sleep for the night. We parked next to a Toyota Warrior, we have seen several around and they are a great alternative for a van. It’s the front of a normal old Toyota attached to an old style RV, it looks really cool and there are several varieties to it. Everybody we meet driving one of these Toyotas is really nice and so was Boyer, he was travelling for a couple of weeks now. We talked for a while, and shortly after he walked into the Walmart and he brought us coffee and muffins. The best thing about travelling is meeting these random strangers that totally blow us away with their kindness.
After eating the muffins and enjoying the coffee we were finally hitting the road again, we would drive down to Niagara fall’s. It is a touristic thing to do, but of course we have to see the falls. Boyer told us not just to drive straight down to the falls but go see the big lock system that controls the water level of the lakes. After seeing the locks he told us to drive down Niagara on the lake, a small town on the lake that is situated right at the end of the river that slowly leads up to the falls. He said if you travel this route you will slowly build up to seeing the falls, and it will make the experience much better. So off we went on our way to Niagara.