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June 22, 2015 | A troublesome start to the middle section of the North American tour

Monday, June 15. The two of us, my colleague Rolf and I, Kay Barton, are sitting in the plane on the way to Houston, where the Editourmobil was parked after the presentation on the booth at the NPE. Our flight includes a stopover in Pittsburgh where we are to visit Agr, our tour sponsor, located some 100 km away in Butler, before continuing our journey the following day. Somewhat exhausted but still highly motivated, we arrive in the late afternoon, pick up the hire car in Butler, check into our hotel and relax over an evening meal in the hotel restaurant. So far so good.

Waking up next morning I was amazed and delighted to discover I was not jet-lagged. Rolf was also in good shape and so we set off in the morning for Agr. David Dineff and his team made us welcome and we had an interesting discussion about the company and its history followed by a tour of the various divisions of the plant. Sadly, we did not have a lot of time to spare, because our flight to Houston via Atlanta was in the late afternoon. Shortly before midnight we arrived at Rocket Parking, the supervised car park where PETplanet Team 1 had left the vehicle. We had pre-booked on the internet a place for the night on a campsite nearby. Our appointment next morning was with Western Container, a bottle and preform producer for Coca-Cola, and we were keen to make an early start to get there promptly. And that’s where our troubles began.

We stowed our luggage in the vehicle and I slid into the driver’s seat, ready to go. Insert key in ignition, turn, ... Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The motor splutters briefly, and then zilch. No ignition.

We look to see whether there is anyone around. Then a couple of guys from the car park office came over and offered to jump start the vehicle. It didn’t work, unfortunately. We needed 24V and it wasn’t available. By now it was well past midnight and there was nothing more to be done. We opted to spend a night in the hotel which means we had no option but to take a taxi to our appointment with Western Container and try to resolve the problem with the Editourmobil later. Done and dusted. A motel near the car park rented us their last two available rooms. A welcome bit of luck.

As planned, we duly arrived on Wednesday morning for our appointment with Western Container. The discussions with General Manager Mike Cox and COO Eric Scott gave us a comprehensive overview on the largest group of bottle and preform producers for Coca-Cola Refreshments. After an impressive tour of the factory amongst Husky and Sidel equipment, we found ourselves again in Rocket Parking where we hoped to enlist the aid of their staff to locate a mobile repair service.

After several unsuccessful attempts, we were finally promised a repair shop and after about an hour’s wait, a service truck complete with two mechanics arrived at the Editourmobil. Day was dawning. The batteries were connected, the starting mechanism adjusted, the air filter cleaned, new batteries were purchased and finally the service truck towed the vehicle to get it going. Finally, after umpteen attempts around the car park, the engine burst into life. Dense smoke belched out from the exhaust and there was a horrible smell of diesel. We let the engine run a while but there was no improvement. The mechanics recommended that we take the vehicle to Freightliner Truck Repair because they suspected there was a serious problem with the fuel injection system, hence the smoke and horrible diesel smell.

With Rolf at the wheel we bade a thankful farewell to Rocket Park. I kept my fingers crossed that we would not be stopped by the police. It was evening, and we had a 20km drive to Freightliner. After 4kms, the satnav got us to the highway. Hardly had we left the slip road when there was one hell of bang from under the bonnet, and with a tremendous rattling noise the engine gave up the ghost. Rolf just managed to coax the vehicle onto the hard shoulder, and there we remained. Engine damage no doubt. We called a towing service, and for what seemed like an eternity, but was actually only an hour, we waited for them to arrive, our hazard warning lights flashing furiously and traffic hurtling past. It seemed an age before we got to Freightliner, but we made it as it approached 11pm. The problem was diagnosed and the necessary repairs agreed. These are unlikely to be completed within the next few weeks at the very least, since a full inspection is likely to take not less than a week to complete. The only thing to do is to leave the Editourmobil in their tender care, retrieve our suitcases and all the important paperwork and take a taxi to the nearest hotel.

It is Thursday and we had more or less got back on track after the events of the previous day. After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and immediately picked up the hire car booked online that morning, to go to the airport. The show must go on, as they say, even without the Editourmobil. Our hire car was a roomy Dodge in which we leave in the direction of our next appointment on Friday at Paragon Packaging in Mansfield, Texas, a distance of approximately 400kms. We had booked a small hotel near to the company and when we arrived in the afternoon, we were able to find time to do some organisational things, such as contacting the office. The weather lends a hand, it's hot and sunny.

Friday finds us in the meeting room of Paragon Packaging, also a manufacturer of bottles, where we had interesting discussions with Sales Manager Dean Martin and Director of Engineering Mike Crayne who explained how the company, which produces more than 90% HDPE bottles, embarked, three years ago, on the production of PET bottles.

After the trials and tribulations of the past few days we enjoyed an afternoon and evening of pure relaxation. The weekend at last. Or was it? Well, we had a few emails to send, and some minor jobs to do before we could really get into weekend mode. Quite apart from that, there was the matter of the tidy distance to be driven between Mansfield and our next meeting on Tuesday at our sponsor R & D in Lenexa in Kansas.

On Sunday, we decided to make a start towards our appointment in Lenexa. Although it’s bad news that we are without the Editourmobil, the good thing is that the car is much quicker and steadier and we got to our destination in half the time. Late on Sunday evening we reached Lenexa and our hotel. I had set aside the whole of Monday to catch up on paperwork, whilst Rolf could enjoy a spot of free time. So I spent 12 hours tied to my desk in the hotel room, despite the beautiful weather outside. Duty is a hard taskmaster!