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The Truck Broke Down in Hoover, Alabama

Travel Stage: After Montgomery, heading north
Date Range: March 7-11, 2016
Summary: We make it to our friend Wanda’s house in Hoover, Alabama to find a serious oil leak coming from the truck’s engine. We spend the better part of the week nervously getting it fixed, and manage to have a bit of fun in the Birmingham area as we waited.

We pull our home with a 2010 Dodge Ram 3500 Dually. It’s a big diesel truck with a 6.7L Cummins engine. Tom constantly obsesses about it. Hardly a day goes by without him popping the hood, checking fluids, crawling underneath it, or running tests. All for very good reason – his preventative DIY maintenance has already saved us thousands of dollars. I just love how handy he is!

That being said, we knew we had a minor oil leak when we left Destin just two days earlier. A drop or two of oil was found under the truck at the Cracker Barrel we stayed at, but nothing alarming. The plan was to keep an eye on it, and when we got to our friend Wanda’s place in Hoover, AL and had a few days to do a more thorough investigation we would diagnose the problem. ​

We left the Open Pond Rec Area with the same small presence of oil as in Destin. But when we reached Wanda’s driveway and a small puddle formed within minutes of our arrival, we knew the situation had escalated. Oil covered the underside of the truck from our drive, and we had to get out the grease busters to clean up the spot we made on Wanda’s concrete drive.  ​

We don’t trust dealers (in previous experiences they really didn’t know how to work with the Cummins diesel engine), so we got our Dodge Ram 3500 into a Truck and Trailer Repair Shop that primarily worked on big semis and work trucks. Truck and Trailer Repair, Bessemer, AL

Cherry Blossoms Time Crunch

​After 2 days in the shop, we news that put us even more in a frenzy. We were working our way north to see the Cherry Blossoms in Washington, D.C. The peak bloom is normally expected for the first or second week in April, and it only really lasts for a few days depending on weather conditions. We were planning to still have about 4 weeks to make our way from Alabama to Washington, D.C. ​Well, the forecast was updated on March 8th, our second day in Hoover.

They now predicted the peak bloom to happen between March 18 – March 26. That meant we would have to turn our 4 weeks of travel into 2 weeks if we were going to make it! And we still didn’t know the verdict on the truck – how long it was going to take to fix, or if it could be fixed at all! ​Needless to say, we were pretty strung out. Thankfully, we had a wonderful, generous hostess who fed us, housed us, and let us borrow her car for the numerous trips back and forth to the repair shop. Thank you, Wanda! ​Watch the video for the full story:


For all you truck nerds out there, here’s the written breakdown of what happened:

 The leak was determined to be coming from the oil pan. To get at the oil pan, the engine had to be lifted out of the truck. Once the oil pan was off, they found that there was a defect in the edge that someone had attempted to quick fix previous to our ownership (we bought it used) with silicone. The shop ground down the defect grooves for us instead of getting a new one (which would have cost $2000 on its own!).   ​Once all back together, we drove it home only to have it leak some more. The shop got us back in right away and this time it was the rear main seal blown. To fix the rear main seal, they had to drop the transmission. Upon further investigation of the root cause, they determined that pressure had been building up in the system. The oil pan and rear main seal gaskets are not designed to hold pressure – just normal atmospheric pressure. They traced the pressure build up back to the crack case filter, which was fully clogged. They replaced the filter for us (~$200 part). 

  ​So all was well, even though it did set us back $1600, which is about a month’s worth of expenses for us. Our travel plans all got expedited and we got back on the road with our fingers crossed having only been delayed two days longer than planned.

Birmingham & Hoover

  ​While the truck was in the shop, we got to spend some extra time getting to know Birmingham, aka the “Magic City” because it grew so quickly from 1871 to 1900 due to it’s abundance of raw materials. The area where the city grew is unique because it contains coal, iron ore and limestone, the raw materials for making iron and steel. ​ This photo is of a geological map of the Birmingham area, showing the different layers of raw materials that were found beneath the city. VULCAN PARK

  Made infamous by the huge statue of a burly, bearded, bare-bottomed man that towers over Birmingham’s entire population that is fondly referred to the “Naked Man” by the locals, Vulcan Park memorializes Birmingham’s  iron origins–and the ever-present spark of its “indomitable spirit.” It was made for the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904. It is of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and forge, and he proved to be a very popular exhibit and won the Grand Prize. He was moved back to Birmingham where he watches over the city. ​

We toured the museum and rode the elevator up the tower to get a better look at this bare-bottomed man! We had quite a view of the city too.


  This blast furnace was one of several that made up the Little Pittsburg of the South and produced iron for nearly 90 years from 1882 to 1971, which gave rise to the city of Birmingham, AL. This one was saved from the scrap heap thanks to many years of indecision, and finally in 1981 it became a National Historic Landmark.   

  The self-guided tour is free, takes you through the web of pipes and tall smokestacks, and offers a glimpse into the great industrial past of the South and our nation as the steel went on to shape the industrial revolution from skyscrapers to bridges.   

  ​During the stifling summer months, temperatures throughout the plant would reach more than 120 degrees.  Lack of sleep, the heat, and low visibility made working the furnace literally a “living hell” and only the poorest of workers, desperate for employment, would work it. Here is the video of all our Birmingham and Hoover adventuring:

On The Road Again

​In the end, it all worked out. We had fun exploring the area, and we got our truck all fixed. The next two weeks were a bit frantic though as we motored our way up to the Cherry Blossoms!

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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