Tuesday 23rd May – Still in Hanksville, Everything Smells Like Petrol

I woke super early thanks to the super early sunrise and only rolled around a few minutes before getting up, finding a sneaky bathroom spot behind the servo and making breakfast. Not surprisingly, I was starving since the beer had been my only real sustenance the previous night. I also didni’t want to hang around in bed too long in case Dave showed up early. We’d talked the day before about me borroing his jack stands to make life easier while dropping the tank. While making breakfast, a white Explorer van that looked EXACTLY like the Presidential Lounge rocked up at the servo. I stared at it a good long time, thinking there was no way it could be and sadly, I was right. Some old guy got out and filled it up. That really would have been something (hint, hint, Dan!)

That fantasy over, I ate my breakfast and read what my Haines manual said about removing the fuel tank. Thank you General Motors for not thinking of putting an access hole in the floor to prevent the removal of the tank, I can’t believe I worked for you assholes! Still no Dave by the time I finished so I figured I’d get started anyway.

I set up my workshop, jacking up the rear left corner of the car and putting my Thai mat down underneath before doing anything. First step was to detach a bunch of hoses from the top of the tank. I started with the filler hose and cursed the last person who tightened the hose clamp, placing the head at a stupid hard-to-get-to position. After a big wrestle with the huge hose, I got it off and moved on to the breather and supply hoses that sit on top of the tank, right in the middle of the car. After loosening off the hose clamps, I had big wrestles with each hose, using my vice grips to wriggle the things off. I was happy I managed to only spill a little fuel onto myself and the ground in the process. With everything detached from the tank, I could drop it to the floor. This was going to be the hardest bit, especially when it was half full of petrol.

I took a while to think about this because I was very aware that I could do a lot of damage if I fucked this up. In the end, with only one more jack to use, I planned to use the scissor jack and a piece of MDF to lower the tank, balancing the thing on top of one jack and use a pair of milk crates on either side to drop it onto initially. This would allow me to adjust the jack up and down until I had the perfect balance point to lower it down to the ground.


I undid the four bolts that hold the straps to the tank, letting the tank sit down on the milk crates. In the process I managed to whack the shit out of all the fingers on my right hand while undoing one of the longest bolts in the world and so, walked away for a minute. Needing a break, I also needed shade so I set my tarp up to make myself a little shelter. It worked beautifully well, I was much more comfortable now. Fingers still hurt though.

I carried on getting the straps off and the tank was free. According to my Haines manual, I would need to disconnect the electrical connector at the top of the pump before letting the tank touch the ground so I had to do it bit by bit. I fiddled around with the scissor jack, moving it around inch by inch to get it in a position where the tank would balance. I had it soon enough and could start lowering it down, but it was a wonky mess so I needed to sit it on something lower than the milk crates while I got to the connector. I racked my brain for what I had in the car and settled on the various tins of vegetables. Miraculously, I had eight, which gave me enough to make four stacks of two, one for each corner of the tank. Realising how ridiculous this looked, I remove the milk crates and lowered the tank onto the tins. It was a very unsteady process and I spilt a bit of fuel, but I got her down. I still couldn’t see the connector, but I think I could feel it. There was no way I was getting it off though, I couldn’t feel a single tab or hint of how to get it off and when I looked at the cable leading to the connector, it looked like it had enough length to get the tank to the ground.

Next step, lower the tank onto a single set of tins. This was a bit harder, the tank was more unstable the further out of the car frame it got. Lying on my side, I had one hand on the top of the tank, steadying it from rocking too much and the other was operating the jack and flicking the tins out of the way. I nearly had a catastrophic failure during this process, but finally managed to set the tank down onto my sturdy towers. Now for the main event, getting the thing on the ground. It all came unstuck as I neared the ground so I ended up putting one end down, then bashing the tins out the way and letting it fall to the ground. No sparks, no explosions, just petrol everywhere. Could have been worse.

I wrestled with the tank, pulling it along the ground to get it out from underneath the car. I hit a snag when I got to the side rail. The car wasn’t up high enough to get the tank out. I jacked it up a bit more, but reached the limit of the jack. Only a minor setback, I nestled the tank back under the car, let the car off the jack, then went around the back of the servo to find an old piece of wood to add to the piece I was already using. Jacked on the rear axle this time, she was high enough (just) for me to pull the tank out. I won!

As I was fiddling with the connector, trying to get it off, a guy that had been filling up at the servo came and joined me under my shade to see if he could offer any assistance in the form of tools or expertise. He wasn’t very helpful, but when he told me he was going to Capitol Reef and I said I’d just been there, he asked for suggestions. I told him all about Burro Wash and he was excited at the recommendation. He’d got more out of that interaction than I had!

I soon gave up on the connector having tried with all my might to get it off and started working on getting the pump out instead. To avoid explosions from spark, the Haines manual suggested the use of a brass punch instead of a screwdriver to remove the locking ring. Needless to say, I didn’t heed the advice and bashed away until the pump came free. I gingerly removed it from the tank, careful not to get the floaty thing caught and it was out. Looked perfectly ok to me but obviously the internals were fucked. I lay the pump by the tank, sealed the top of the tank with a couple of rags and clocked out for the morning since there was no more I could do without the replacement part. I was surprised not to have seen Dave since he proposed to be with me in the morning, but I worked under the assumption that he was still going to collect the part for me. Time to relax.

I walked over to the restaurant I’d eaten at last night and sat on an outside picnic table to get some Wifi and get in touch with key people to inform them of my progress. Shortly after, it was hunger time so I went back to the van, put it back down on the ground for the sake of having it level and heated up some leftovers for lunch. I set myself up in the shade and listened to Elon’s story while I ate. Once I was done eating, I carried on just sitting there and listening to my book, watching the world go by. Hanksville is a hub for all sorts of travellers. I saw motorcycle gangs, tour groups, campers, SUVers, everything.

After a couple of hours of relaxing, I saw Dave’s familiar red truck show up at the servo. He had two parts in hand, both in shiny boxes, a new pump and a new in-tank filter. He was impressed that I’d already dumped the tank and was on the same page as me, we’d need to drain it to get it back in. It was alright letting it down to the ground half full but fighting gravity was another story. Dave had a neat little pump and three jerry cans that meant we could empty the tank easily. I’d already been thinking about the scenario of using a big funnel and two people to pour the petrol out into some lucky person’s empty tank, but there was no need since Dave was so well equipped! While that was going on, I removed the shit pump and installed the new one.

With the tank empty, I could see the dirt that had fallen into the tank during the pump removal process, so I got a rag and dipped at the bottom to get as much out as I could. The cuts on my fingers shouted in protest, the fuel stinging away. I’m sure all the moisture has been sucked out of my skin forever. I put the new pump back into the tank and we were ready for the hardest bit, putting the bloody thing back in. I was happy to have help now, it would have been a mission had Dave not been there. I don’t think even my tinned food would have helped. We started out by putting the straps on the wrong way. Turns out they’re not the same, there’s a front and a back. We only struggled a while with the rear strap before we figured it out and swapped them. Using my trusty milk crates as stands, we rested our arms while we swapped the straps and started again. It was plenty easy this time!

I maintained an attitude of scepticism throughout this whole process, thinking about what we would do when the car didn’t start, but Dave had some optimism. I was grateful he was on the driver’s side and reconnected the hoses since that had been such a prick of a job to get them off. With two people, everything was back together within half an hour. Dave started filling the tank out of one of the jerry cans while I reconnected the battery (I’d disconnected it when I was fiddling with the pump connector for fear of explosion). Five gallons in, we were ready.

I turned the power on and off a few times to let the fuel pump fill the system with fuel and on Dave’s suggestion I had a listen o the pump through the filler pipe so I could notice the difference between a working one and a not working one. There was a resounding difference but it didn’t help my scepticism. Finally, it was time to turn the key.

She started first go.

BUT, she was idling really high and staying there. I pulled all the shit out of the passenger seat and got the access tunnel out while Dave put the rest of my fuel in. When we could see through to the throttle body again we looked around for a spring we could have knocked loose or something. We could see the butterfly valves in the throttle body weren’t closing properly because something was pulling the throttle cable in the wrong direction. After a bit of poking, we found that the hook that connects the cable to the cruise control module wasn’t fully on. Dave had a go getting it back on but in the end, my skinny fingers prevailed and using his Leatherman, we were able to get it back on. Now she purred like the Astro I’ve known for so long. It was done, I couldn’t believe it. Such a simple problem that resulted in so much pain.

We packed everything away and got talking about money. It was about $100 for the parts and when Dave contemplated how much time he’d spent, I offered $200 and he was happy. I feel like it had been time well spent together and still felt in debt to him for his help in root causing. I wrote my credit card details on a sheet for him and that was that. We swapped details so we could stay in touch and shook hands to say goodbye. What an amazing result to a breakdown.

I didn’t down tools but carried on putting the van back together for living in again. I’m super well versed at that so it didn’t take me too long. It also gave me a chance to give the pantry a good clean out since I’d emptied the food out of my milk crates before using them as stands. I was in the zone, it was a warm afternoon and I was piecing things back together, little bit by little bit.

By the time I was done, the van looked liveable again. I went across the road for a shower and on Dave’s suggestion took my Thai mat which had copped a load of petrol and smelt like it. I washed it in the shower with me but I still think it smells. After showering I still think I smell. All I smell is petrol. Everywhere.

In the shower, I decided I wasn’t going anywhere tonight, except for back to the restaurant. I sat myself down at the back of the place where I’d learned the Wifi was reliable and got in touch with everyone to tell them everything was sorted. I thoroughly enjoyed a beer and a burger, limiting myself to just one brew so I didn’t feel so drunk like last night.

I wandered back across the road to my familiar camp but since I had a working car now, I moved it a few meters away from the bins and next to a tree. I probably had the worst sleep of my whole trip thanks to some noises coming from the servo I couldn’t tune out to and pondering a decision to head to Mexico instead of the east coast. I was up all night tossing and turning.

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