Just days after selling my old bus conversion I crashed my new bus conversion! I’m heartbroken and embarrassed.
I’m OK… the accident happened at about 2 miles per hour, and I hardly felt it. I could hear it though, and the sound was awful… it sounded like a waterfall. Waterfalls don’t sound awful you might be thinking, but in this case it was awful, because I had created not a waterfall but an impromptu fountain by snapping off a San Francisco fire hydrant at the base! Water was shooting six feet into the air, and when I stepped outside, I stepped into a mini river of water gushing down 19th Avenue, at Moraga.
I also knocked over and destroyed a traffic light. I am mortified.
I bought my old bus conversion nearly 10 years ago, and I drove it across the United States. I drove it fearlessly all through downtown Manhatten in New York City. I have driven both bus conversions all over San Francisco, in heavy traffic. I consider myself to be an excellent driver. In fact, I’ve never been convicted of a moving violation my entire life. So, what happened today that caused me to cut a corner short? Here is the tragic story:
Buses don’t generally come with fuel gauges. One checks the fuel by sticking a dip stick into the fuel tank. I checked the fuel on my new conversion less than 50 miles prior to my accident today, and I had about a third of a tank. The tank is about 100 gallons, so I had perhaps 30 gallons on board. I knew I needed to get more fuel, but I didn’t think I was close to being stranded. I was wrong.
When I moved the vehicle from its normal parking spot near my house to right in front of my house, I descended the hill about a block from my house. This caused the fuel to shift forward in the tank. Apparently the fuel intake is towards the back of the tank. Just as I was rolling into the parking spot in front of my house, the engine sputtered and then stopped. I had run it out of fuel once before, so I knew how to interpret the sputtering sound.
Since I was legally parked in front of my house, I decided to not call road side assistance for fuel, which is included for free with my insurance. I didn’t want to bother them. That was the wrong decision. I instead went to Kragen and bought a diesel can, having sold my existing diesel can with my old MCI last week. I also bought a siphon pump. I then filled the 5 gallon can at Chevron, took it home in my car and transferred the contents to the bus conversion. For good measure, I returned to Chevron for a second 5 gallons of fuel, and transferred that as well. I thought I had plenty of fuel to be able to drive the RTS to Chevron. I was mistaken, and the results were catastrophic.
I don’t think about hills much, because they are everywhere in San Francisco. So it didn’t worry me that I drove down Moraga Avenue to get to 19th Avenue, where there are a number of filling stations that sell diesel. Unfortunately, Moraga is on a hill sloping downward where it intersects with 19th Avenue. As I was waiting for the light to turn green, the engine started to sputter. This is where my mind played a trick on me. My mind was instantly focussed mostly on not running out of fuel. 19th Avenue is pretty level at Moraga, and my mind knew that if I could just turn right immediately that the engine would not run out of fuel. Since the oncoming traffic in the near lane on 19th Avenue was over half a block away, I initiated a turn, automatically, like I was in a car.
The problem is my conversion is 40 feet long, and generally I would turn into the middle of the 3 lanes on 19th Avenue, and then shift over to the right lane if that was my desire. But the middle lane today was not clear of cars, and I had to get the RTS level in the next few seconds or it would die. I didn’t want the engine to die with me blocking a full lane of one of the busiest streets in San Francisco, so I attempted to turn directly into the near lane. The problem is that caused the rear of my cherished RTS to not clear the curb. Instead, it jumped the curb and clipped the fire hydrant and traffic signal. What a disaster. I did at least get the RTS level, and I never ran out of fuel, but oh, how I wish I just stayed put fully on Moraga, a very lightly used street. It would have inconveninced almost nobody had I parked there for an hour while I waited for roadside assistance. Instead, I blocked a full lane of 19th Avenue for about 2 hours.
I called the emergency telephone number 911 immediately. The dispatcher said someone else had already reported the accident and that the fire department would be there soon. They also said the police may or may not come, since there were no injuries. The police did arrive, perhaps a half hour later. The fire department was there within minutes. Fortunately, that fire hydrant was a normal sized version, and there is a shutoff valve under the pavement accessible to them with a long wrench they had. One of the fireman said if I broke off the jumbo sized hydrant perhaps 20 feet from the one I hit, the gyzer would have been far higher and more powerful, and turning it off would have been more trouble, as there is no valve nearby. He didn’t say so, but I suspect a whole section of the neighborhood would have lost water while they turned it off to repair that jumbo hydrant. The jumbo hydrant inside diameter was about a foot. At a penny a gallon for water, that would have run up a big water bill, perhaps thousands of dollars. I am so glad I didn’t hit the jumbo hydrant!
While I didn’t run out of fuel, I couldn’t move my RTS out of traffic because the hydrant I snapped off was dragged beneath the back wheels, and eventually got jammed under the rear axle such that the rear passenger side wheels lost contact with the pavement. I had no traction, as the differential sent no power to the other rear wheels. I was completely stuck.
I called my insuarance company roadside assistance, and they had a huge tow truck there, suitable for towing a fully loaded 18 wheeler, within 45 minutes. The driver had his rig lift the back of my RTS so the fireman could drag the hydrant from under the rear axle. Once the tow driver lowered my vehicle, I was able to drive home normally. I didn’t want to risk finding fuel, so I went right home and parked, and brought 10 more gallons by car to the vehicle. Then I drove the conversion back to 19th Avenue and bought fuel. What a horrible all day ordeal. I should have just called roadside assistance when I first ran out of fuel. I will the next time this happens, if ever. After the trauma today, however, I won’t let the fuel get below half a tank, I promise.
Fortunately, my insurance deductible is only $250, so I didn’t lose much financially today. I did lose my perfect driving record though, which I was proud of and had hoped to keep unblemished my entire life.
The fire department, police department and water department all descended on the scene, as did a television crew from Channel 4. I begged the cameraman to not put me on the nightly news. He said he couldn’t promise. I don’t have a TV, so I don’t know if I was featured or not. I don’t think it was newsworthy enough. The cameraman said he got word a tour bus had the accident, and I think his enthusiasm declined when he learned it was private motorhome.
All the city workers were exceptionally nice to me. They all assured me not to worry, and that the city would send its bill directly to my insurance company and I didn’t need to take any action. The water department representative said he had snapped off a hydrant himself, and not to feel bad. The policeman took a detailed report, including measurements. He was very polite and didn’t show any hint of being irritated or incensed. A battalion chief from the fire department was on scene for perhaps half an hour. A paramedic was there, and asked me repeatedly if I was hurt. I have to say my impression of the City’s employees was raised by this sad incident. I don’t think any of them could have done a better job, and their helpful and warm attitude was unexpected and really appreciated. They made the situation less stressful for me, and I admire their restraint. After all, I caused them a lot of trouble, and the hydrant will need to be reseated and tested. They said they can reuse the hydrant, and they only need to replace the bottom part that snapped. One of the fireman said the bottom part is made from a softer metal than the rest of the hydrant, and that the bottom part is supposed to give way when hit. He said my vehicle would have stopped right at the hydrant if it had not been designed to snap off. I find that hard to believe given the momentum I had even going 2 miles per hour.
The take away from this sad learning experience is to be on guard for your mind in crisis to ‘take over’ control of your normal behavior. Had I not been worried about running out of fuel and blocking traffic, I would have never clipped that hydrant and traffic signal, as I’m best friends with the 3 mirrors I have on the passenger side of the vehicle.