We've done quite a bit of work on the van and finished one very exciting (for us) project in the camper. Today's article will take you through our radiator fan project, and tell you a little about the areas we stayed in when we did the work.
Our story begins in Oklahoma
Lake Park in Elk City was a happening place the late February weekend we were there! It’s a large park, and the camping area is tucked away from the entrance and amphitheater. Free camping with water and electric - wahoo! When we got there, we only had one neighbor: a colorful bus advertising free food.
It was the Stockpot Kitchen! These folks are all about food sovereignty; they travel around serving meals cooked in the back of Bellybutton (their bus). We'll vouch that they are quiet and polite neighbors; one of the ladies came to warn us they'd be doing some celebrating that evening and might get noisy. We hardly heard them; whatever celebration they enjoyed was confined to the bus and not at all disruptive.
Mountain bike wheels, keep on turnin'
When we arrived we noticed a rough track roped off around the lake. We didn’t have long to wonder what was happening; campers and trailers and vehicles all equipped with loaded bike racks started coming in. Soon the five-site camping area was full and the parking lot was being utilized. Upon investigation, we learned that Elk City hosts the Western Okie Mountain Bike Classic, part of the OK Tour de Dirt.
Cool! We had some entertainment while we were working. (Perhaps the racers did, too. *wink*)
This particular adjustment has been on Dennis’s desire list for a while. Our ’91 Chevy Astro van has a 4.3L V6 engine cooled by a 2-core, 20 inch radiator. This is fine unless you’re pulling the Casita up long grades in the mountains. It would be a major plus to have two radiator fans running at a constant high speed instead of one fan which slows down when the engine does. To that end, we acquired 2 universal 10-inch 12V fans and have just been waiting for a chance to get them installed.
Here we go! Hood's up, the toolboxes are out, and the top shroud is off.
The grill comes off, revealing the radiator. That transmission fluid cooler will also be removed so we can access the radiator fins.
Ooh, those fins are tight. The radiator tubes are off-set, and the plastic push/pull fasteners are cheap and very bendy. We need a very special tool to start the fasteners: thin, sturdy, and sophisticated....
Bam! Wire coat hanger to the rescue. (Hey, two out of three ain't bad.)
The view from below:
This was my view! I got to hold the fans in place while Dennis fed the fasteners through. (They had to be offset a little to fit just right.)
In the process of wiring it all up:
Dennis connected the fans to a switch under the driver's side dash. The fans are wired to come on when the ignition key is turned on, but this switch allows us to cut the fans while the engine is warming up in cold weather. Yay! this means the heater can come on sooner.
You're not finished until you're finished
When Dennis was researching the fan installation, everybody online was talking about fan shrouds. What's with all the hype about a fan shroud? Surely two fans, running at a constant speed, should make enough of a difference that the engine will stay cool when climbing mountains. Right?
A couple weeks after the initial installation we had one spell of the van overheating. We installed a numbered temperature guage to keep an eye on things. Had no problems during our time in New Mexico (subject of a future post). A week or so later, though, we really put the van to the test. We were headed to a dispersed camping area (9200 feet of elevation) outside of Woodland Park, CO when the engine overheated. Major bummer.
We let things cool off then coasted back down to Colorado Springs (elevation about 6000 feet) for the night. A fan shroud turned out to be a must-have. Allllllrighty, then!
Another day, another state, another project
The next morning we drove north through Colorado to Cheyenne, then west to Saratoga.
As we've mentioned other places, being a backyard mechanic as well as a full-time RVer comes with its own set of challenges:
Weather is a factor when there's no garage. With possible rain in the forecast, Dennis was pressed to get this done. When you're working on your vehicle, sometimes it's best to park at parts store. However, Saratoga is a small town (pop. 1671), and their hardware stores have street parking only. Looks like this will be a campsite build, then.
That means that once we take the fans off, we either use what we have on hand, or. . . . Hmm, town is 8 miles away. That's a pretty long walk. We'll use what we have on hand.
We already had purchased aluminum sheeting (a 3'x3' square). We have no bending tools, and that sheet is awfully thin, so we also bought aluminum angle to form the sides. Dennis inventoried our nuts, bolts, and washers and we'd stocked up with what we thought we'd need, plus five. (There's no riveting gun in our "toolshed" so nuts and bolts it is!) As far as we could tell, we were ready!
This time, the grill didn't need to come off.
The electric fans were removed (Dennis was able to keep them wired together throughout the project), and he got an idea of the room he had and what needed to be done.
The basic components: two fans, aluminum sheet, and angle.
Again using his trusty Ryobi angle grinder, Dennis cut sheeting and and angle to size.
A few nuts and bolts later, and it was time for a trial fitting. This view is looking from the passenger side down into the engine compartment at the back of the radiator. Feel free to play Where's Dennis? in this picture:
We encountered a slight hiccup at this point: we didn't have enough angle to make the sides airtight. There's a slight gap which needs filled for the shroud to work.
What do we have on hand? Some thin pieces of wood in the barbecue fuel box. They used to make cars out of wood, right?
Yep, they did.
We won't build an entire machine out of it, but we will use it on a stationary component of our vehicle.
This won't be near extreme heat. We're safe, if unconventional.
So many nuts and bolts and washers!
That Ryobi 5.5amp angle grinder came through again, cutting the fan holes. It can be a little difficult to control, especially when using it on thin aluminum:
Funny truth: the other day we needed a piece from the leftover aluminum. Dennis picked up the newly-sharpened camp scissors, and snip! snip! snip! We had our section. Oh, hindsight's a funny thing.
Wahoo! We used the original shroud pieces to connect this to the body. The new setup has been tested with miles and altitude and worked well. I don't think we've seen the temperature guage hit 200degF since the build, and we've driven all these roads from Saratoga to Island Park, ID pulling the camper.
A companion post to this one will be coming soon; I must share the sights of Saratoga and Encampment with you. Perhaps when you cover so many miles, you get to observe and experience a more diverse slice of everyday life. We are privileged to glimpse both the beautiful and the quirky, the mundane and the unusual. We enjoy sharing it with you!
Stay safe, stay free. Till next time!