“You may delay, but time will not.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
This is part 4 in a 4-part series of the Land Cruiser renovation project we did in La Paz, Bolivia, in 2010. It was the biggest and hardest overhaul of the 4 we have done in our 16 years on the road. As to why I am sharing this story now, only after 9 years, please check out the introduction in part 1.
And to follow the full sequence, check out parts 2 and 3 as well.
The Land Cruiser Restoration in Bolivia – part 4 – Our Home on Wheels Back
The restoration steadily progressed but adrenaline was being replaced by Rennies (heartburn tablets). By waving the fine, I hoped to end the project on a positive note. Don Edwin had other ideas.
(Captions by Coen)
Finally I started feeling a bit of a dynamic in the workplace, including the hope that we’d actually be getting our home on wheels back. Hard work was being done by Esteban and Simon, good mechanic welders who worked meticulously.
We did have to keep an eye on Alex, the third guy who now regularly helped, who broke more in the process than he accomplished. For example, he covered a whole side panel with the stuff that needs to harden before it can be sanded but he had forgotten to put the hardener in it. Half a day of work for nothing, a can of that stuff wasted and half a day needed to scratch the horrible stuff off again.
But there was another side of Alex, the kind and considerate side. When I was cleaning a piece of wood with a blunt Stanley knife he handed me his chisel, still warm because he had sharpened it for me. How kind was that?
But then, he might suddenly have gone home without saying goodbye. Hard to measure, for sure.
I had finished cleaning everything that stood in the depot and was helping with the sanding of parts. It was Saturday and, as usual, the guys worked until noon. Just before they were going home, Marco, a department head, instructed them to work overtime and stay for the afternoon. Don Edwin had just called from Cochabamba with that instruction, he said.
“Really? By phone and at such last minute?” we asked.
“Edwin had to go to Cochabamba urgently,” Marco responded.
However, we already knew on Wednesday that he was going away for the weekend and this is just another minor example that shows how things were done in this place. Unplanned, unorganized, without respect to workers.
Ceasar didn’t show up at all anymore even though he still needed to finish the engine cleanup job (we talked about this in part 2). We were left with Esteban and Simon. And generally, when it was just the four of us the atmosphere was at its most relaxed. Apart from all the hassles we had during the overhaul, we did have a good share of laughs with them as well. On an afternoon like this, we actually felt a kind of companionship.
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Enjoying the Work
We were all doing our own jobs and got along well with the sanding jobs. Coen reassembled the chassis, which had been repainted (without it being properly cleaned beforehand because the equipment lacked) and Coen installed all the lines and wiring again. He was also busy putting the suspension and the gearbox in place.
At such afternoons Coen was at his happiest, toiling away, figuring out the ins and outs of our home on wheels. It was a joy to watch. I think that was a big difference in our experience of this overhaul: Coen had the advantage of enjoying working on the technical part of the Land Cruiser and learning as he did.
I didn’t hate the work, on the contrary as it was satisfying to see the Land Cruiser becoming whole again, but I can’t get actually excited about the workings of a leaf spring, a suspension, or whatever is under the hood of the Land Cruiser.
Hope in a Rotten Atmosphere
Upon arrival two days later, my heart started beating a bit faster. I saw something that started looking like our home on wheels again. We had reinstalled the side panels, which is a story in itself. The side panels on the right side had been easy. The rubbers between those panels was gone and we hadn’t been able to score new originals so I bought a weatherstrip that came close.
We added a layer of Sikaflex to get a similar thickness as before, which we let to dry before putting the higher part back in place.
The left side panel, however, had in been such bad condition and had undergone so much welding that it was no longer straight by any means. Those two side panels weren’t going to fit on top of each other anymore. We tried, for measurement, and the guys used all the force they had, including hammers.
“Wait, we first have to put Sikaflex,” I remarked.
“Neah, we’ll do it like this.”
They were in a hurry.
“No, we need Sikaflex first,” I insisted.
So the higher panel was taken off and we put Sikaflex on the upper edge of the lower panel. It was time for lunch and we went to our regular lunch place around the corner. Coming back early afternoon we saw the guys had already installed that higher panel back on. Without having the Sikaflex allow to dry!
We were livid. The side panels had been hammered into place, onto half wet Sikaflex. Never, ever could we get those panels separated again (and until today they have remained the worst part, where rust is a continuous issue).
Esteban was busy with getting the rear doors in place. Meanwhile, Simon had mounted the mudguards and was installing the frame of the headlights. Simon painted all parts in the beautiful Sahara yellow color.
“I had forgotten that we had a yellow car,” I remarked to Simon. “In recent years the Land Cruiser had been more red from dust and sand than yellow. It’s gorgeous.”
I talked to Esteban for a while. “I agreed with Don Edwin that because you are doing extra work, the contract date has been postponed to May 15. I do not understand why you are stressing like this now. I will only pay if the work is delivered properly.”
It often took a while to find out what the real issue was: if I enforced the fine, Don Edwin was going to take it off Esteban’s salary!
We were gaining momentum. The only real pressure we had was the fine and I regularly rubbed it in, “If the Land Cruiser is not finished on time, I will not pay the last 1000 dollars.” (more about the contract and fine clause in part 2)
It was a horrible argument and I hated using it. In my surroundings, however, I found support from acquaintances and Coen’s family who lived here.
“You have to. That’s the way it is here. Otherwise it just won’t work.”
Jaap, Coen’s cousin, suggested once more sending a lawyer to Don Edwin to remind him of the contract. I didn’t want to go that far (yet).
The time of relaxation had long passed.
So had politeness.
I was constantly pushing Don Edwin to keep the workers on the floor and forever defending Coen. Don Edwin continued blamed Coen for everything. Yes, Coen was demanding. Yes, Coen is a nitpicker. However, we paid a considerable amount for promises that were gradually being pushed off the agenda.
We had to continue fighting over every detail and every penny.
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“No, the roof isn’t budgeted.”
“No, the bumper is aluminum. I didn’t budget fixing it.”
“No, we don’t take the tires off the rim. We only paint what we see. I didn’t budget anything else.”
The last remark came from Don Edwin’s brother and this time it was Coen who exploded.
“I don’t care. The rims will be properly painted. I’ll pay another 200 bolivianos if need be.”
On and on it went.
I asked when Simon was going to paint the interior.
“We never do,” Don Edwin responded.
“I don’t care,” I retorted. “It was like that when we brought the Land Cruiser, you could see the painted panels inside and should have made it part of your budget.”
Coen wanted a dark-brown top edge instead of yellow. Don Edwin said this would cost more because he bought the yellow paint in large quantities.
“Fine. I’ll buy it myself,” Coen said.
The paint cost the equivalent of 10 dollars – over a budget of 3000 dollars, Don Edwin again fell over a mere amount of 10 dollars.
“Did you also buy turpentine?” Esteban later asked
This was the level of nitpicking we had on EVERY SINGLE issue, EVERY day, months on end. We were exhausted.
From Adrenaline to Rennies
The speed went up yet another notch. Well, for Coen and me at least. We worked day and night, living on chicken and fries from the cafeteria. No time to cook. We had been living on adrenaline for weeks. It ran out last Friday and we now lived on Rennies (heartburn tablets).
The completely rusted roof edge had still not been taken care off, but, of course, Don Edwin knew the right guy for the job. The agreed 3 days grew into 6.
Of course, Don Edwin blamed Coen.
“You could have picked up that roof on Saturday,” Don Edwin argued.
I exploded – again (emotions had run out of control by now).
“The five of us stayed here on Saturday waiting for that part to be returned so Esteban could paint it. You were the one saying, only late afternoon by the way, that the shop was closed and the part couldn’t be picked up.”
On it went. Day in, day out.
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Day 97 (May 15 ) – The Date of Delivery
The original estimated 60 days turned into 97, but the chapista’s job was done.
We were going to leave the workshop.
I asked Don Edwin if it was true Esteban hadn’t been paid his full salary. Don Edwin replied that the project cost him 200 dollars more than budgeted and that somebody had to pay it. I told him the project cost me 2000 dollars more than budgeted and I was not making him pay half of that, was I? But he was right, it was not my business and I let it go.
The job was done, I dropped the fine. I wanted to part on good terms.
It was a decision that I have regretted to this day.
Seconds after I paid the last 1000 dollars, Don Edwin presented me with a bill of 200 bolivianos (20 euros) for painting those damned rims (about which Coen had had a conflict with Don Edwin’s brother).
I had just waved a 1000-dollar fine and he now requested me to pay the equivalent of another 20 euros?!
“Forget it. You settle that bill with Coen,” I stuttered and got up to leave. In retrospect, I should have grabbed my dollars that the administrator was still in the process of putting away. I guess I was too dumbfounded to act.
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Forever threatening with that fine, the ugly discussions I had with Don Edwin and the words I’ve thrown at him are not something I’m proud of. If I had known how to have handled it in a kinder way, I would have. Me being a person to ALWAYS search for the fault within, I constantly questioned what Coen and I could do differently, better, and made more concessions each time.
Every morning we walked into that workshop not knowing what set back we’d face that day, what insult would be thrown our way, what we’d be accused of.
Every morning we walked into that workshop wondering if any work was going to get done that day.
Every day we were searching for a balance, keeping up the spirits, working together vs. playing the tough guys only because, frankly, otherwise no work was ever going to get done.
Getting that bill of 200 bolivianos after I had waved the 1000-dollar fine was a slap in the face. As I returned to the Land Cruiser I realized that all I had tried to accomplish in terms of companionship had been futile. Handing me that bill of 200 bolivianos had been a gesture of contempt, which hit me hard and I fought back tears of frustration and disillusion.
Coen had left the workshop to get some last welding done. I started packing. The administrator walked up to me with the request for those 200 bolivianos. In half an hour the workshop would close and he needed to finish his work. I responded that I had to wait six weeks longer than agreed upon for my Land Cruiser to be ready and couldn’t care whether he had to wait a bit for Coen to return.
Next Don Edwin sent a head mechanic I never worked with who also demanded that money. He got the same answer. Subsequently, Esteban showed up, sending Don Edwin’s message.
“You have to pack. Esta molestando,” he says – “You’re in the way.”
I had paid the bill and all the civilities were gone. It demonstrated that despite all concessions we had done, I had been right in sticking to the gut feeling to keep those 1000 dollars in my pocket until the work had been completed.
Had I paid earlier, I now believe the situation would have grown much, much uglier and probably ended up in a lawsuit.
The pressure was on and Murphy’s law was hard at work.
After weeks of drought, it was raining cats and dogs. And that with a roof still not having been sealed with Sikaflex yet, this was untimely, to say the least.
When I started to worry about Coen, he finally returned up with his piece of welded work.
“Un ratito,” they had said, but the welding had taken more than two hours.
Would we ever learn?
Instead of a triumphant farewell with photos of the entire team with our super shine home on wheels, we only shook hands with Esteban and Simon. We sincerely thanked them for their work. They had done their very best within all the power plays, and limitations and requirements set by Don Edwin. Despite all set backs they had done an amazing job and for that we were immensely grateful. Alex never showed up and Don Edwin stayed hidden in his office.
The Land Cruiser didn’t want to start and the workshop filled with black smoke from the exhaust. More tinkering. The engine started. In the pouring rain and with faces like thunder we drove away. The clutch didn’t work properly and the brakes failed; it was a precarious, nerve-racking trip to our apartment through a city characterized by steep slopes.
The Job isn’t Done Yet
Back at our apartment we threw our stuff into the car and drove to Hotel Oberland, where the Land Cruiser would stay during our stay in the Netherlands. On our return we would spend another number of weeks in that parking lot to rebuild the interior.
On the road to Hotel Oberland, Coen smelled something burning and we stopped at a gas station. Water was streaming onto the ground from under the hood. As we filled up the radiator (thank goodness we carried water with us), the gas station owner yelled at us for being parked at his gas station and spilling water on his station’s floor.
No, the problems weren’t over yet.
Our home on heels was fixed, more or less. The most important aspects, such as the welding of the rusted parts, the reinforcement of shock absorbers and rubbers, and the sagging in the rear had been addressed.
However, after a couple of weeks on the road we would have to weld a window stile that broke on day one on the road, have had to add more Sikaflex around the roof to stop it from leaking (to this day, leakage is a problem we never got fixed).
At odd times the front doors fell open, and water and dust continued to enter through the rear doors where the new rubbers didn’t fit properly. A couple of months later one of the glow plugs exploded, which was the result of that engine testing mentioned earlier in the story.
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Our Home on Wheels Back on the Road!
But, we were driving again. Back on the road in our home on wheels to explore the fabulous continent of South America. And that felt fantastic!
Read More: Remodeling the Land Cruiser in Suriname
A Final Flashback – Statistics on the Land Cruiser Restoration
Just when I was finishing this story, I found the statistics that I had kept during the Land Cruiser restoration. I had forgotten about them. Who worked when, how many hours, etc.
This gives an interesting insight into budget vs. reality.
- 8 weeks x 40 hours x 2 people (mechanic + Coen) = 640 hours.
- 14 weeks, totaling 1941 hours.
- Based on 8-hour workdays (otherwise it got too complicated; in reality we worked more hours on many days):
- Coen 606 hours (31%)
- KM 413 hours (21%)
- Mechanics 922 hours (48%, of which Esteban 468 hours)
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