Lifted from the fantastic blog sickbaydays.com
I have never been able to get Joy to go to Techenders because to her it sounds like a hell on earth. A load of overalled VW blokes in a field in Leicestershire tinkering with their oily, rusty vans by day and getting even more oiled by night. That would sound pretty good to me but in fact there is a lot more to it than that. Techenders has assumed almost spiritual dimensions because it is seen as the last bastion of the VW cooperative, supportive ethos against the increasingly corporate and exploitative world that the scene has become. Last weekend was a record for Techenders with a turnout of 53 vans, and there are good reasons why it is getting so popular. The campsite is owned by a guy called Eddie, a classic VW nut, who loves nothing more than to be surrounded by others of a similar ilk. There are no rides, no stalls, no VW tat for sale – in fact there is nothing for sale. If you need a part and someone has a spare he will probably just give it to you and, crucially, all help and advice is free. It is almost a throwback to a pre-Thatcherite, less self interested, more altruistic era.
The reason why ancient VWs are still on the road in such numbers is because a little industry has grown up to satisfy the demand for obsolete parts. These are supplied by specialists like VW Heritage, Just Kampers, Coolair, etc. Top of the range are the original parts fitted by VW and at the bottom are the cheap, derided reproduction parts often manufactured now in China. You quickly learn never to throw away the ‘faulty’ part on your vehicle – far better, and cheaper, to fix it or adapt it. There are some very good specialist VW garages but they can be a very expensive option. All of these people charge what has become known as a ‘scene tax’. Far better to learn how your VW works, both the engine and the bodywork, and for this you need the help, advice and experience of seasoned veedubbers. You can get a lot from manuals, magazines and from ‘How To’ videos on YouTube. I have even been on the Type2 Detectives boot camp, at a cost of £195 for the day. However, the whole point about Techenders is that you do the work yourself, but with the assurance that if you make a mess of it there are experts on hand who will be able to help you sort it out. Who are these experts? Most are just fellow enthusiasts who have picked up knowledge over the years and are happy, and patient, enough to guide relative newcomers through the various pitfalls entailed in vehicle maintenance and repair.
At Techenders you get three basic types of people – the experts who guide, those who have a go, and those who watch. I normally watch and learn, and help where I can. However this time I had two issues of my own. One was to get a rear indicator working. I had already checked that the bulb was ok and that 12volts was getting to it but that was the extent of my diagnostic skills and I did not have a clue why it wouldn’t flash. A guy who I know only as Skutter Bob explained that it must be a faulty earth and he had the confidence to strip the interior wall covering to find the earth wire and connect it properly. Hey presto, it worked. And the penny finally dropped. For anything to work, electricity needs to be delivered by a positive wire – and taken away via a negative, or earth wire.
But it’s not just the satisfaction you get from finally getting a job done, particularly one that Joy felt to be very important, it’s also that Chris took the trouble to explain what he was doing. One of the most satisfying experiences you will ever get, especially at my age, is the flash of insight that comes when the penny finally drops – and I had a few of these on that day at T.E.
The other issue was our fridge which runs off mains electric if you are in a campsite with a hookup. It can also run off calor gas and it will also work off the van battery whilst you are driving, if you flick a switch to ‘on’. It’s nice to have a fridge that keeps your beer and food chilled while you are travelling – but it’s not crucial is it? Well Joy thinks it is but this had not been available to us for a couple of years. Despite involving an auto-electrician, the fridge suppliers and the van fitters, I had resigned myself to the prospect of never having a cold fridge while we were driving. Until I went to Techenders and asked a guy called Chris for advice about what I should try next. Chris approached it from the angle of a person who knows a lot about electrics but also knows how campers work and how they are set up. So he took the holistic approach and looked at everything. The fridge works fine on mains and gas so that is not the problem. The switch has continuity but there is no power at the positive end. So a fuse has gone? He asked me where the fuse was but I didn’t know. In fact it is behind a button with a sign saying ‘Fridge 15 AMPS’ which is a bit of a giveaway. Checked that and it was ok. So why was there no power getting to the switch? He unscrewed the electrical box behind the fuse and located the wire that leads to the battery. He then went to the battery and found it was connected to the negative terminal when it should go to the positive. Reconnected it and, another Hey Presto and everything works as it should. With the best will in the world, the fridge suppliers would never resolve this because there was nothing wrong with the fridge, and there was nothing wrong with anything else. At some point, probably when the new engine was installed, the wires were reconnected incorrectly and only someone who understands the whole picture would get this. So here’s to you Chris – thanks to you I can toast you with something chilled.
During the day I watched, and occasionally helped, the leading Techenders ‘doer’ as he changed the bearings of his rear wheels. Simon likes to get a rough idea from any available expert and then set to with whatever tools are available and get on with it. Generally a small crowd forms as watching Simon in action is a learning opportunity, often hugely entertaining and always salutatory to see such a robust and positive approach. He is like the comic book hero who gets into a tight scrape and then with one bound is free.
In order to get at the bearings Simon decided to take off the shock absorbers. He then whipped off the drive shafts. In recent years I have had both these parts replaced by a specialist garage at considerable expense. Watching Simon, I realised it is fairly easy and I will never again pay to replace shocks or drive shafts.
Needless to say Simon got the job done, over a fairly constant refrain to slow down a bit, have a cup of tea, put clean gloves on etc. The final act was to install the replacement bearings, a process normally requiring a precision instrument not immediately available. The bearings have to to in straight. Bang went Simon’s hammer and there was a murmur of consternation as we saw they were not straight. OK says Simon, bash them out, try again and bang, in they go. Another perfect job from a guy with, at best, rudimentary mechanical skills but blessed with a hugely positive attitude allied to the support and encouragement of the Techenders cognoscenti.
Later that evening I was sitting round a fire pit listening to a lady who always comes to Techenders because she loves the vibe that has grown up around the mutually supportive atmosphere and, of course, the friendly banter that goes with it. Her young kids love it, (they were busy organising the curry order for the entire campsite), and – get this, the family has a modern T5 so they don’t even need the mechanical support for which Techenders is famous. I only wished that I had videoed her talking in such glowing terms so that I could have shown it to Joy. Still, the next one is in September so maybe by then I’ll be able to convince her that this is a weekend that should never be missed.
Sick Bay Days - Life with an old VW campervan
Two late bays blog - Techenders