K-Nine: Our engine has quit!

Houston we have a problem!

The 25th of July was a fine sight-seeing day. We had wild camped the night before within sight of the Jiayaguan Fortress. In the morning we visited the fortress and then moved on a few kilometers to what is claimed to be the western-most bit of the Great Wall (in reality a reproduction wall built by students in 1987, presumably on the site of the original).

Next we visited the nearby Wei and Jin Dynasty Tombs. These you enter down a long corridor about 15 meters deep, then you crawled through three short low tunnels into three small rooms, each with many large painted bricks showing scenes from the life of the "lord and lady". Unlike much in China these are original paintings (over 1300 years old), in clear reds and blacks with delicate brush-strokes. Very beautiful.

To round off a good day we planned to drive 50km into the desert and then wild camp. But first we opted to fill up with fuel. The fuel station we chose had 12 pumps of which 4 were diesel.

Naturally fuel pumps in China say "petrol" or "diesel" on them in Chinese. Luckily they also usually have a number and hash sign. Pumps with #93 and #95 are petrol (benzine) and the number indicates the octane of the fuel, pumps with 0# or -10#, or -15# are diesel and the number indicates the lowest temperature that the fuel can be used at. All five vans filled up with diesel.

About 300 meters down the road K-Nine pulled in and Ann came on the CB radio to say "our engine has quit". Attempts to re-start K-Nine worked for about 30 seconds. White smoke was produced. By luck on the opposite side of the road was an abandoned fuel station, with shade and enough level concrete parking for all five vans. With Mog and tow rope at the ready K-Nine just made it across the road and then died again.

Immediate suspicion fell on the fuel that K-Nine had just filled with. So Kon-Tiki and Bigfoot returned to the fuel station to check out the pump K-Nine had used.

There was no doubt about it. It was diesel!

For an hour the group tried to re-start K-Nine to no avail. Eventually Clive and Patrick (our Chinese guide) returned to Jiayaguan in Womble to look for a suitable garage. They returned an hour later (20:00) with three uniformed Chinese mechanics equipped with half dozen spanners.

After an hour of crawling in and under K-Nine the "foreman" announced that they could fix the problem in one hour at a cost of 500 Yuan. Clive negotiated this down to 400 Yuan (about $50USA) with the proviso that nothing was paid until a 15km test drive was completed. This was agreed and within 30 minutes K-Nine was running again.

The test drive was completed and the mechanics paid. Even then they refused to say what they had done, claiming it was a "secret".

Clive and Ann made it back from town to our abandoned fuel station at about 23:00. K-Nine has run perfectly ever since.

Other mechanical problems that the group has had so far in China include:

  • Mog: Slowing down due to clogged fuel lines and filters.
  • Kon-Tiki: Alternator mounting bracket broken, leaking fuel tank, puncture.
  • Womble: Body panel detached (20mm gap between wall and floor!).
  • Bigfoot: CB radio faulty (then you realize how valuable they are).
Stephen Stewart.

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