There is a paucity of free camp spots around the Barossa and Clare Valley regions, so we had chosen to spend a night at the Auburn Caravan Park – a somewhat grand name for a few power poles under trees at the recreation ground. As we were leaving on Sunday morning, on our way to church, one of the other campers mentioned Mintaro as a lovely historical town in which even new buildings need to be built so they look old. It sounded interesting, so we plotted our course for Clare, via Mintaro, and then across towards the Yorke Peninsula.
As we slowly turned back towards the main road, after stopping up a side street in Mintaro, there was a clacking sound coming from the van. The suspension often squeaks, but a clack was new. The navigator jumped out and went to listen for where the sound was coming from. It didn’t seem to be the wheels, or the springs. Driver and navigator swapped positions and after a few more metres of driving the wheels and springs were ruled out.
‘Oh no!’ (Long time readers of our blog may recognise this expression as being associated with broken gear boxes, diffs, wheel bearings and other such episodes.) ‘What?’ ‘A cracked chassis.’ ‘Oh no.’
Now, we had been discussing and debating the idea of a new caravan over the past few months, and only the day before had come to the conclusion that we didn’t want something bigger and wider than the GT (the Grand Tourer – yes it is grand, even if it is only 13½ feet long). So now what? Were we being forced into a new van?
We had just been talking to a local and he had mentioned about an area behind the local park that was council land, which wasn’t officially designated for camping, but was occasionally used by travellers. Could we make it around the corner without splitting the van in half? Gingerly we crept metre by metre, praying all the way until we were safely off the road, and then it was straight online to look for options.
With nothing else to be done, the photographer decided to take a walk around the town. The neighbour to our paddock was out in his yard. Since we had the generator running, and it wasn’t really a camp spot, a conversation was struck up in order to explain our situation so as not to cause unnecessary angst regarding the gypsies camping behind the tennis courts. It turns out that the friendly neighbour used to be a caravan engineer, that he knew exactly what the problem was, and that there was an engineering company 14kms down the road that would be able to fix it.
When the photographer returned (with no photos, due to this fortuitous news getting him sidetracked - hence the lack of photos of Mintaro for the blog) he was greeted with relief. There were no second hand caravans in the whole of South Australia that appealed, and only one place advertising chassis repairs had been found, and that was in Adelaide.
Next morning it was off to the engineering company to see if they could come back and weld our little abode back together. After coming to look at it and hopefully brace it for the trip back to the workshop, the boss decided it couldn’t be braced and would have to be driven as it was. We unloaded as much weight as we could, some of it into our car, some into his ute, and emptied the water tank. The 14kms to Farrell Flat was the longest, most prayer-filled 14kms of our lives! (Actually it was reminiscent of the trip up the steep mountain road from Mann River with the car on the tow truck and the caravan being pulled behind.) The van was straight into the workshop and the guy was under it in a flash.
As we were talking to the boss we asked about the idea of putting the leaf springs on top of the axles, instead of below, to gain extra clearance. He said that wouldn’t take them long. We clarified that we were only asking ‘in principle’ about the idea and the effect it might have on handling and stability. Again, he said it would be no problem – they were manufacturing and fixing all kinds of farm equipment, some leaf-over and some leaf-under. We decided to go for it, as the clearance has caused problems for us a few times in the past.
That left us with half a day to explore the Clare Valley, so we set off to amuse ourselves driving a circuit around some small towns. We had a most pleasant afternoon and wandered back to the shed around 4pm.
The wheels were off the van still as the guy was just changing one of the bearings as he’d noticed it was quite loose. As we stood chatting he developed a perplexed look. The new bearing was tight as it slid into the housing, but once it reached the bottom it was loose. He asked if we’d ever had a collapsed bearing – which we’d had in Tasmania. Apparently the collapsed bearing had worn a small race in the drum, which probably should have been replaced back then.
Being late in the day we knew there was no chance of getting the part up from Adelaide until the next day, so we busied ourselves calling RACQ to arrange free accommodation and packing our pyjamas while the boss organised the part. We were treated to the most beautiful sunset as we drove back over to Clare to the motel. Staying in a motel should have been a nice treat, and having an inside shower was certainly appreciated, but we missed our own bed!
So now we have gone up in the world. Four inches to be precise. Our view is that little bit better, and going up and down gullies into that perfect camp spot has become that little bit easier. Oh, and we had the chassis repaired, so hopefully the GT will survive for a few more adventures yet.