Last time we had the old Vauxhall Midi (more Isuzu than Vauxhall) minibus to tow the trailer, and while quite reliable it was slow, especially on hills with a load. This time we had our new (actually nearly a year old by the time we sailed) van with a much better power to weight ratio, so looked forward to a quicker and easier drive. We stayed overnight at our nieces place in Dartmouth, and arrived at Plymouth at 7.45am in torrential rain but mercifully no wind. Loading was fairly quick, and we were backing out of Plymouth on time.
After sailing, we had a decent breakfast and settled down to life on board. The crossing was quiet and although we had a bit of rocking and rolling, it was nowhere near as bad as the last trip in 1997. We got into Santander at about 09.15am the following morning, and set off in the half-familiar streets of Santander to find the motorway south. Actually there isn't a motoroway south from that part of the country, so we did the next best thing and went due south to Valladollid. The drive was a lot better with the new van, and we had no problems with hills and overtaking that we did with the Midi. We made such good time, that we ended up in Valladollid much earlier than expected, and decided to go on to Salamanca. The next part was mainly dual-carriageway/motorway type driving, and we arrived in Salamanca by 13.30pm.
Not having been here before, we had a quick look around, found the local Pryca hypermarket (which featured a lot in our previous trip) and as we came out of their car park we found the sign to the campsite, just a kilometre away on the same road. There is nothing to attract a lot of tourism to this area, being mainly agricultural, so the sites are few and far between and tend to be smaller than usual. The site was in the middle of a refurbishment, but we were made welcome and got the tents pitched without problems.
On the way to the campsite we found a local breakers yard specialising in tractors with a DC-3 aircraft parked over the stock ! We did enquire about engines, but they only dealt with tractor stuff. We spent a couple of days in Salamanca, with freezing nights and nice days. A number of day-trips out to surrounding areas including northern Portugal gave us a good picture of the locale, but nothing in the way of engines ! We decided to move on further south and headed for Evora in mid-Portugal.
We did find another Diter engine before we left Salamanca, and although incomplete it was the same basic engine as we already had at home, so we took details and promised ourselves to return on the way back home.
The weather had turned a bit dull and wet, and as we travelled further south it got wetter but warmer, so we were at least more comfortable at night. The border crossing was reached and crossed with no formalities, as we entered the toll route to Lisbon. Evora was reached after about 5 hours driving, and we located the Orbitur site quickly, it being signposted from the outskirts of the town. The site was busy and noisy at night, being located alongside a local route out of town with a cobbled surface, so the night-time noise levels were a bit high, but it wasn't too bad as a stop for a couple of days.
Once we were able to establish that Robert was OK, we decided to move on further south again, and make for the Algarve. The weather had been warmer and yet still wetter, so we were hoping for better things in the southermost region of the country. The drive down to the south was generally pretty good, with little traffic problems or incidents. The van and trailer were both running well and the weather had stayed bright and warm. Rita and my sister, Barbara were keeping lookout for overtaking, and generally we found the trip went well.
On arrival in the Algarve we headed for another Orbitur site at Quartiera to see if it was going to be as noisy as the one in Evora, but although it was about 1/3 full, it was relatively peaceful, at least until darkness fell ! We set up camp and were to remain here for the rest of the holiday. Although we had intended to go even further south in Spain events were to prevent that.
CAMP SITE ANIMALS
Once back at the campsite we had our evening meal and went out for a drive in the locality. It was to be much of the pattern of the trip that we drove around a lot, looking for engines, obviously, but also looking at the countryside and people. Portugal is not as mechanised as Spain, and has a quieter, simpler life. The trip in the morning was to be to a couple of local farms who had indicated that they would be prepared to sell their old Lister engines, so we were quite looking forward to seeing these old machines and the pumps and water handling bucket-chains that they drove.
The night suddenly broke loose with a dozen or so dogs all barking at each other ! This went on for an hour or so, followed by neighbouring mutts all joining in. We decided that this was not going to be the happiest stay of the trip, although this one night was the worst we experienced. The ringleader was a mangy mutt who we called 'Mutley', and he scrounged around the tents and caravans for food and drink. A set of five cats was also roaming the site, some half-wild, and we managed to keep a reasonably happy relationship going with all of them while staying there.
BREAKDOWN No 1
As we set out the next morning, we were to have the first of two breakdowns with the van. They were both unexpected and unwelcome, especially as we had arranged for the visit to the farms this particular morning. As we travelled into Faro for the meetings, we lost power and had to pull over to the side of the road. A quick check of the camshaft through the oil filler cap showed that it wasn't turning as we cranked the engine over on the starter. A look underneath through a gap in the timing belt cover showed the belt had lost some teeth. The van wasn't due to have its belt changed for another 50,000 km or 30,000 miles, so we were a bit peed off to say the least. As the van was under warranty we went through the process of getting help, which enabled a visit to a local farm to explain where we were to the breakdown assistance people.
To be fair to everyone, we were treated pretty well. The breakdown truck took us all to the local Opel dealer in Faro, we had a spare cam belt with us as insurance which was just as well as the dealership had only just received its first Movano van the previous week, and were astounded to see that we had 'already' covered over 90,000 kms. A hire car was organised while the van was sorted out, and that was a new experience, driving a LHD car on the right hand side of the road with a gearlever on the wrong side of the seat!
The car was brand new, so we were a bit cautious as we hit the rush hour traffic back to the camp site.
Next day we went to the engineering company that we had arranged to visit the day before, made our apologies and then we went off to look at some engines. As most of the area is agricultural, the engines were mainly used for irrrigation, working a low-speed bucket chain sort of thing, most of which had been superceded by electric motors as soon as mains electricity was widely available. We looked at three engines, a Lister 3/1, a Lister VA (air-cooled version of the 8/1) and a couple of Lister CD's. They were all available for sale, but the prices were a bit high compared with what we would have paid in the UK, but we needed to establish a position with everyone for future visits, and they were probably OK for general restoration back home, so we agreed to purchase the 3/1 and the VA. The CD's were both in the same farm and almost in the same room, but the owners were asking silly money and we didn't want to encourage a situation where we were seen as cash cows for the local farmers.
Nothing older than the 1950's showed up, although we heard of an engine in the west of the area which was a couple of hours drive away, but we gave that up after sitting in a jam on the coast road for an hour or so.
The van was ready by now, so we collected it from the dealer and took the car back to Hertz. Due to a bit of confusion we ended up at the Hertz office after they closed, so went back to the Opel dealer and left it there. It was good to be behind a familiar steering wheel after two and a half days in the car, so we arranged to have a trip away the next day to see the grave of the 'Man Who never was' in a town called Huelva, just across the border in Spain.
VISIT TO HUELVA.
The grave is connected with the true story of a plot in WW2 to fool the Germans into thinking the allies were going to attack in a different place to what was expected, to take the enemy away from landings in Sicily. The body of a man was dressed up as an officer with faked documents and identity. There is a good film about it, called "The Man Who never Was" which is worth watching. The body was duly buried with full honours in the graveyard in Huelva, and we wanted to go there and lay some flowers. The true details of the man had been added over the years, but it was part of the War and espionage at the time.
Finding the graveyard was not easy, but a call to a local supermarket brought food for the day and a map. The graveyard is quite large, with multi-tiered mausoleums which are added to every year. Finding the bit where William Martin was buried took a while as I only had the picture in my memory from the film. Evbentually we came across it by following the dating, and once there we put some flowers on the grave and took some photographs. The name of the buried man is now on the gravestones, whereas in the film is was said that it was promised to the man's family that his name would not be revealed.
The grave is obviously looked after, probably by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which also looks after my own father's grave in south London.
Once we had some mobility with the van, we set of to collect some engines, taking a couple of guys from the engineering company to assist us with the heavy stuff and with liaison with the engine owners. The 3/1 was first, and was dug out of a fallen down engine house and onto the trailer. The VA was a bit more difficult as the access was very small, but we used the ratchet hoist to drag it across the floor and through the doorway. Once on the trailer we tied it all down and returned to the campsite.
The episode with the cam belt had lost us a fair bit of time, as we had to stay locally while it was fixed, so we started to make plans for the return journey back to catch the ferry. We were in the southernmost part of Portugal, with the whole of Spain to cross to reach Santander where we would catch the ferry home. We decided to head back to Logrono where we had stayed on the first trip, saty there for a day to do some shopping and then head for the ferry on the morning of the last day. We wanted to call at Zafra where the Diter engine factory was located on the way, and we reckoned about 15 hours of driving in total.
We went to see our friends at the engineering company in Faro to settle our bill with them. They had provided labour to help with removing the engines, and also the owner's daughter had spent a lot of time on our behalf, talking to local farms etc trying to sort out some engines for us. A suitable figure was agreed, and we took them all a bottle of nice wine each as an additional thank you. They showed us a nearly new Petter AV1 diesel which they had forgotton about, and we bought that as a third engine to bring home with us. We were sad to say goodbye as we had made good friends with them all, and promised to come back again.
Next morning we set off up the motorway and after about an hour, we suddenly lost power after changing down while going up a hill. As we slowed down, the engine was making pretty awful noises but still running, so I switched off and pulled onto the hard shoulder. Water and oil was coming out of the block at the front, behind the injection pump, and a quick run revealed that one cylinder was very sick indeed. As we knew the ropes, a call to the breakdown service elicited cries of disbelief, especially from our local dealer in Luton. Fortunately we were able to get into Vauxhall Customer Care and raise hell with them, so a breakdown was despatched to pull us back to the nearest town, which was Miranda. We got booked into a hotel and had a shower and a meal, not having had chance to do so since the previous night. Both the girls were bursting to go to the toilet and we were all ready for a bit of a break.
It was obvious that the van wasn't going anywhere under its own power, and a call to the ferry company revealed that it would have to be drained of oil and water before it would be allowed onto the ship. The dealer did that for us, and also arranged for a cab to take us to the hotel which was a mile or so into town. Barbara and Rita went out that evening for a walk, but I was pretty down after the additional problems and stayed in the hotel. We did find a good hardware shop across the road from the hotel, and bought a couple of water buckets for the horses, cheaper than back home!
That afternoon, we hired a taxi for the 100km trip to Burgos, to do the shopping we had promised ourselves the previous day. The taxi driver was a bit hair-raising but we got there OK and spent a couple of hours buying a load of things to take back, including some spirits and a couple of lifting straps. The taxi fare was quite reasonable, and without it we would have come back with no pressies etc. Collapsed into bed, tomorrow we had to be on the ferry.
Last day saw us getting up early, taxi was arranged to take us up to the garage, the hotel bill had been taken care of by Vauxhall as was the taxi - nice touch. The breakdown truck arrived in good time and we helped load the van onto the truck and hitched up the trailer with the engines on it to the truck. It took about four hours for the journey, the Vauxhall people called me on the mobile phone to confirm that all was going to plan, and apart from a big traffic jam around Bilbao due to it being a national holiday, we got to the ferry in good time. We unloaded the van and got it ready for the ferry, gave the breakdown truck driver a good tip and our thanks and then waited for the ferry to come in. Turned out it was some hours late and we finished up about five hours late in departure. We were the last on, towed onto the ferry by one of the truck/trailer shunters.
We had driven about 2800 miles, and would have done about another 800 or so if the van had been under its own power. The breakdown services had worked very well for us, although had we not had a mobile phone and contacts in Vauxhall and our local dealership in Luton (where Vauxhall are based) it may not have been quite so easy. nevertheless, we were back home and had no real complaints about the way the breakdown was handled. The engine was a complete write-off, one exhaust valve head had broken off the stem and had wedged itself into the exhaust port edge-on. This had chopped the piston crown up and the pieces had eventually picked up the piston in the bore and broke the con-rod. When we saw the remains the following week, it was a real mess, and a complete exchange engine had to be fitted, including injection pump, turbocharger and radiator.
The engines are in the engine tent at home now, and we have looked at the pictures again to remind ourselves of the trip.