Category Archives: People-Events

BP20160321-23-m-w-v1-webster-cape-canaveral-jetty-park-recovery

2016/03/21 (M) Webster to Cape Canaveral

I was up sometime before 8 AM after a less than completely restful night’s sleep.  Yesterday was our last full day at Florida Grande Motor Coach Resort (FGMCR) in Webster, Florida and today was departure day.  I am always a bit anxious when the time comes to move the bus after sitting for a while, and even though we have only been here for two weeks it has been a lovely, comfortable place to base camp.  Although we only had about 100 miles to travel today, I was more anxious than usual because of a combination of factors.

At the top of the list was the tag axle brake issue.  While I was hopeful that Joe had taken care of it, at least for now, we would not know for sure until we moved the bus.  Another big factor was that Linda has been very ill for the last few days and was still not well this morning.  That meant I would have to do more of the work of preparing the bus for travel.  I didn’t mind, of course, I just did not want to overlook something that was normally part of her portion of the departure routine.  The third, forth, and fifth factors were:  3) using our new SunPass transponder for the first time; 4) taking the bus on the Florida Turnpike and Toll Road system for the first time, and; 5) traveling a route that came into the Orlando area from the northwest and swung around the southern edge before heading straight east towards the Atlantic ocean.  The sixth and last factor was our destination, which was not a motorcoach resort with wide, straight roads and big sites, but rather a county park with narrow, twisty roads, closer sites, and lots of trees.  Charming, but not necessarily “big rig” friendly.  I knew, because I had visited Pat and Vickie Lintner here two years ago.

We had a reservation at Jetty Park Campground on Cape Canaveral where our GLCC friends, Pat and Vickie Lintner, have been since mid-February.  We had reservations starting today and running through the 28th, with departure on the 29th unless we decide to extend our stay and there was a site available.  Check-in time was 2 PM and our mapping app indicated 104 miles and a little over two hours for our preferred route.  Based on that we wanted to pull out of FGMCR sometime between 11 AM and noon.  That gave us most of the morning to prepare the bus for travel, and that was comfortable even with Linda being ill and not able to do as much as usual.

I did not have coffee this morning—I never do on travel days—and we just had a couple of pieces of toast early for breakfast.  In spite of not feeling well Linda got most of the inside of the bus ready to travel and even swept the floor.  I packed up our computers and iPads and then prepared the outside stuff.

The biggest, most time consuming job, and my least favorite, is checking and adjusting tire pressures.  I had plugged in the TireTrakker TPMS repeater last night and I turned on the receiver/monitor this morning after letting it recharge overnight.  It eventually acquired temperatures and pressures from all 13 tires.  The temperatures were all in the 60’s so I knew the pressure readings were current rather than left over from our previous trip.  The sensors are not accurate enough, however (in my opinion), so I checked all of the tires with my tire gauge except the mini-spare in the car.  The passenger side steer tire on the bus needed an extra 2 PSI, but all four tires on the car were low and needed to be increased.  So did the car spare, but I was not about to empty out the back of the car to get to it.  I should have taken care of this sometime during the last two weeks as the pressure was low enough to keep triggering an alarm on the monitor, and was not at the correct pressure for use should we need it.

By 10:30 AM we were ready to go except for disconnecting the shorepower and hooking up the car.  I was going to reposition the coach so we could hookup the car at the site and then exit to the left but a landscaping crew showed up, parked along the other side of the road to our left, and unhooked their trailer.  I was not going to ask them to move, and I doubt that they would have even if I did.  It was easier to just exit to the right anyway and hook up the car at the staging area by the clubhouse where we unhooked when we came in, so that’s what we decided to do.

At 11:20 AM I disconnected the shorepower and stowed the cord.  Chassis batteries ON; engine accessory air supply ON; inverter operating; main engine start; no problem.  I let the suspension and brakes air up on low idle as Joe had suggested and then pulled up the tag axle.  Linda moved the car to the empty pad across the street to the right and watched as I pulled out.  Once I cleared the turn I put the tag axle back down and Linda followed me counterclockwise around the front “pond” to the staging area where I shut off the engine and she pulled the car up behind the bus.  Many (most) RV parks have “no engine idle” rules.  There isn’t one posted here, and the staging area is far enough from the clubhouse and the closest sites that our engine would not have bothered anyone, but since we would be hooking up the car directly behind the engine we did not want to listen to it while working.

No less than three people stopped to chat with us while we were hooking up the car for towing.  That actually violates good RVing manners (unwritten rules) but they were just curious, being friendly, and/or wishing us safe travels.  The problem is that you are engaged in a critical process and anything that distracts you can result in overlooking something with potentially serious, even disastrous, consequences.  We are experienced enough at this point, however, to double check everything before we drive away, especially if we have been interrupted.  This time we backed the car up until the tow bar arms locked in place and then secured the air line and electrical cables so they would not pull loose.  Linda remained outside to do the light check while I started the bus engine and operated the controls.  Everything checked out and once Linda was back on board we were ready to go.  She had entered our destination into the GPS unit before we pulled out of our site.

Pat & Vickie Lintner’s site at the Jetty Park Campground, Cape Canaveral, FL.

As I pulled around to the exit gate the gatehouse attendants saw or heard us and opened it.  We got big smiles, waves, and “safe travels” from them as we left.  It was 11:50 AM.

The GPS routed us the same way we had determined using our iPad mapping apps.  We turned left out of the resort onto CR-478 headed east.  The road curved around to the north about four miles later and ran up to the town of Center Hill where we picked up CR-48 eastbound.  A half mile later the road turned northeast and a couple miles up the road the GPS told us to turn onto CR-704 (FL-?).  I had just started the turn when I saw the weight restriction sign; nothing over 28,000 pounds GVWR permitted! What the?!!!

I stopped soon enough that I was able to turn back onto CR-48 without having to back up, after traffic cleared, so we caught a break there but were both a bit unnerved by the failure of our Rand-McNally TripMaker RVND 7710 GPS to route us correctly.  It then occurred to me that the very small update I Installed last night might have reset the vehicle configuration as I vaguely recalled this happening once before.  Why R-M would design their GPS unit so it loses configuration data as a result of an update is beyond me, but there are several things about this unit that defy common sense.

Linda used her cell phone to try to figure out where we were now headed and determined that we could still get to where we needed to be.  She then opened the preferences screen on the GPS unit and found the configuration screens.  Sure enough, it thought we only weighed 20,000 pounds (we are closer to 42,000) and were only 12’6″ tall (we are probably 13’1″).  I really fault R-M for this as it creates a potentially dangerous situation.  Anytime the settings are changed, certainly if they are reset as part of an update, the unit should display a message to that effect and not allow the unit to be used until it is acknowledged.  Better yet, I don’t understand why the configuration should be changed as part of the update process.

At some point we turned left onto US-33, which seemed wrong, but Linda verified it was correct.  We ended going south on US-27 all the way back to Clermont and then getting on the Florida Turnpike (FL-91) headed south towards Miami.  We made it through the first Toll Plaza with an “OK to Proceed” sign, so we knew that the new transponder was working, which was a big relief.  The lane guidance feature of the GPS unit worked well and we did not have any difficulty negotiating the interchanges.  Linda kept an eye on the tire sensors throughout the trip.  All of the tires indicated temperatures in the 60’s except the driver side tag, which was 90 to 102.  It was definitely elevated, but not enough to be an immediate problem.  This was not unexpected as I knew that the new pads were dragging more than on the passenger side.  Interestingly, the pressure in that tire had not risen disproportionately higher than any of the other tires, indicating to me that it was probably the valve stem that was warmer due to its direct contact with the wheel, rather than the rubber of the tire, which was getting plenty of cool air blowing around it.

We arrived at Jetty Park at 2:15 PM, only 10 minutes later than our original ETA before we had to detour around the weight-restricted road.  Our name was not on the list (sigh) at the entrance gate but we were given the gate code and directed to the campground.  I found a place to pull up and shut off the engine while I went in to register us, as Linda had effectively lost her voice.  We were not on the list (double sigh) there either (same list, I suspect) but they found us in the computer.  I had confirmation e-mails, if needed, but had not brought them in with me.  We unhooked the car and parked it at the office.  We drove the bus around through the narrow, curvy gravel roads but I was able to make all the turns, even with cars parked near the edges, so the road system here is laid out better than it appears.

Jetty Park is a county-owned and operated public park and beach with a campground that has been turned over to the Cape Canaveral Port Authority to manage.  It is in a premium location in Cape Canaveral, Florida just north of Cocoa Beach and just south of the Kennedy Spaceflight Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  It is on the south side of the shipping channel that connects Port Canaveral to the Atlantic Ocean.  Cargo ships use this port/channel, but the main attractions are the Disney and other cruise ships and the U.S. Navy Trident submarines.  In addition to all of its other charms, it is one of the best places from which to watch rocket launches, and there is one scheduled for tomorrow night!  I think this is the first time we have stayed in a county park with the motorcoach.  It is more like a state park than the private RV parks and resorts where we usually stay.  It’s probably closest in appearance and feeling to a nice KOA.

Pat and Vickie saw us drive by and walked down to watch while Linda helped me back into site #343, a full hookup, 50 Amp site with nice trees around it.  I could not back far enough into the site to get the front tires onto the concrete pad due to low branches at the rear of the site.  As a result we were slightly low in front.  That would not normally be a problem but the Level Low system would not adjust the front end.  I have a spare air leveling solenoid and might have to work on this while we are here.  Ugh.  I took a picture on my phone and e-mailed it to our son and daughter.

Site #343, our first (of many) sites at JPCG (on right, beyond the trailer. Cape Canaveral, FL.]

I did not plug in the shorepower cord as I wanted to let the house batteries discharge to 24 VDC (50% SOC).  Linda and Vickie searched online for medical clinics.  Linda selected one about three miles away in Cocoa Beach and I drove her there.  It took about two hours from the time we arrived until she had her prescriptions.  We went to the CVS Pharmacy across the street to have them filled.  They would not be ready for 2 to 2.5 hours so we went back to the campground so Linda could rest as comfortably as possible.

Back at our rig I got our Wi-Fi Ranger connected to the park’s public Wi-Fi system and got our iPads and my computer online.  I did not set up Linda’s computer as it will likely be a few days before she is in the humor to use it.  I checked e-mail and the throughput appeared to be usable, if somewhat slow.  I suspect it will be better between midnight and 8 AM, but that is not when I tend to be up.  If we have updates, however, or I need to upload or download are files to/from BCM, I might adjust my schedule.  The RV life requires agility.

I left at 6:30 PM and drove back to Cocoa Beach to pick up Linda’s prescription medications.  I stopped at a Publix supermarket first and bought various groceries before going to the CVS Pharmacy.  On the way back I stopped at a Dunkin Donuts for a coffee for me and finally got back to our coach at 7:45 PM.  Linda helped get the groceries inside and then took her first dose of meds.

I turned the front TV antenna towards Orlando and rescanned for channels.  The TV found at least 60, including CBS and two different PBS affiliates.  I pointed the rear antenna in the same direction and rescanned the rear/bedroom TV but the scan would not compete successfully.  I tried it a couple of times with the same result each time.  Arrrgh.  When in doubt, do a power-off power-on reset, right?  I unplugged the power from the antenna controller and the TV set, waited long enough for any power capacitors to bleed down, and plugged them back in.  I pointed the antenna again and then scanned for channels.  Eureka, this time they were all there!  I should have tried that while we were at FGMCR.  Doh!

We watched our usual Monday night TV shows on CBS plus a few minutes of news and weather and then went to bed.  Given how Linda felt and was still coughing I figured neither of us was going to get a good night’s sleep, but we were both tired and there wasn’t anything else to do except try.  An overnight low of about 50 degrees F was expected so I had closed the roof vents and left the windows open just a crack.  We were still operating off the house batteries and inverter so I did not turn on the usual night lights.

2016/03/22 (T) Jetty Park Atlas

Linda had a really bad night last night, maybe the worst yet since she took ill, with persistent extended episodes of painful coughing.  She was obviously uncomfortable, and no doubt also frustrated, as she was finally able to start taking medication last night at 8 PM.  She was already wrung out and very tired, and I was a bit spent myself after the day we had yesterday, but neither of us got a good night’s sleep.  Today will need to be an easy day, of necessity, and we will need to rest so we can be up and alert late this evening for the rocket launch.  An Atlas V (5) launch is scheduled from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 11:05 PM this evening.  It is a resupply mission for the International Space Station.

I got out of bed at 7:15 AM and fed the cats.  I was not well-rested, and would like to have gotten back under the nice warm covers, but I was also uncomfortable and had spent as much time supine as I cared to for one night.  The outside air temperature overnight got down to 51 degrees F but we closed the roof vents, and only left the windows open a crack, before going to bed last night so the inside temperature only dropped to 65.  I did not plug in the shorepower cord when we got here yesterday so I could not use the electric heater pad on the bed, but we had plenty of covers (and cats) to keep us warm and I did not need the extra heat.  I put on my sweats this morning, and was very comfortable.

Linda got up around 7:45 AM to take her medications.  She needed to heat a cup of water to make a salt water gargle mixture but the house batteries were down to 24.0 VDC.  That is roughly a 50% SOC (State Of Charge).  Lead acid batteries, including AGMs, can be discharged a bit more than that but it shortens the number of times they can be cycled so I do not like to let them go much below that level.  I took a few minutes to plug in the shorepower cord and soon enough we had 240/120 VAC power to the coach.  After Linda prepared her gargle mixture I rearranged the kitchen counter and then made coffee and got our vitamins and juice ready.

Linda tried to play a few games on her iPad while I worked on the drafts of my blog posts for the last two days and started the one for today.  Pat and Vickie were out walking and stopped by to see how Linda was doing.  I walked over to the office at 11 to register/pay for the next 7 nights of camping and walked past site #352 on the way.  It was still occupied, but the current occupants were clearly in the final stages of vacating the site.  I walked past the site again on my way back from the office and the current occupants were just pulling out.  When I got back to our coach I let Linda know it was time to move.

We walked over to the new site to scope out where to put the car and how to approach getting the coach backed in and then walked back to our current site.  Linda closed the front windows and secured a few loose items, but mostly left everything sitting right where it was as we were only going for a short, easy ride.  I turned off the Aqua-Hot electric heating element and then took care of the outside stuff.  I shut off the shorepower, disconnected the cord, and stowed it away, once again wishing that I had a cord reel.  I turned on the chassis batteries and engine accessory air supply, and started the engine.  While the engine idled and the chassis aired up Linda drove the car to the new site, parked it, and awaited my arrival.

Moving the coach from site #343 to site #352 was a simple matter of driving counterclockwise almost all the way around Red Knot Circle, the easternmost loop of the campground, and pulling into Siskin Drive headed east.  The location of trees and a light pole made for a tricky spot to get into.  The guy in the site to our east (driver’s side) offered to move his truck but I determined that it was not really in the way.

I lifted the tag axle to shorten the turning radius of the bus while maneuvering through the campground.  The drive was easy but it took a little bit of back and forth for Linda to get me backed in and centered on the concrete pad.  The trees at the back of the site were trimmed up high enough that I could back the coach in far enough to just get the steer tires onto the pad.  That was important as the pad was level enough that I did not need to adjust the leveling of the coach, which was a good thing because yesterday the front end portion of the Level Low system would not work.  I got out of the coach a couple of times to check the location of the tires and tree limbs and was pleased to see that the tag axle tires were actually off the ground.

I shut the engine down and we went through a modified arrival routine.  As usual, I shut off the chassis batteries, closed the air supply valve for the engine accessories, plugged in the shorepower cord, and put power to the coach.  The Magnum 4024 inverter/charger worked fine yesterday and it worked fine again today.  I do not know what caused the fault on the drive up from Arcadia to Webster, but resetting the unit seems to have restored it to proper operation.

The beach at Jetty Park & Campground looking south at Cocoa Beach, FL.

Linda got out the door mat, patio mat, our two bag chairs, and our plastic side table.  She also got the tire covers out of the car and put them on the bus.  I got out the windshield covers and the Little Giant step/extension ladder and set it up.  I retrieved the rivets to hold the lower windshield wipers off the glass and then Linda handed me the windshield wiper covers.  I wanted to put these on first to protect the windshield cover from getting snagged on the metal edges of the arms and wiper blade inserts.

This was the first time we have put the new windshield covers on since we got them two weeks ago so we had to figure out the easiest way to do it, or at least a way that worked. We positioned the large one-piece windshield cover behind the lower wipers and above their drive shafts.  That supported the fabric while I pulled it up under the upper wipers and attached the upper center snap and the lower driver side corner snap.  I repositioned the ladder to the driver side front corner of the bus, pulled the fabric up, and attached the driver side upper corner snap.  I moved the ladder to the passenger side front corner of the bus, pulled the fabric up, attached the upper corner snap, and then the lower corner snap.  I had to stretch to reach the upper snaps, so next time I will make the step ladder a little taller.

There are three covers for the passenger side: one for the door, one for the window above the door, and one for the window behind the door.  These are all small enough that there was no particular difficulty attaching them.  The trick was to start at the top and attach as many snaps as possible before climbing down and repositioning the ladder.  For the one large driver side cover I started with the upper center snap, then attached the upper rear snap.  I moved the ladder forward and attached the upper front snap and then did the three bottom snaps. When we were done with that we were finally free to relax.  Vickie and Linda discussed walking the park and Linda suggested starting between 3 and 3:30 PM.  I gathered she was finally feeling a little better, or was just sick and tired of being sick and tired.

At 2 PM Linda asked me get her some more tissues and sore throat spray.  I headed for the CVS pharmacy but ended up at the Publix supermarket, which is closer by a mile or so.  Besides liking Publix, that meant less traffic to deal with.  Somewhat like the Florida Keys, but not as extreme, we are on a long, skinny island with one main road running along its spine.  Unlike the Keys, there are more side roads and an occasional causeway that goes over to Merritt Island and on to the mainland.  I found what I needed at Publix and was back at the park in due course.

At 3:30 PM we went for a stroll around the campground and park with Vickie as tour guide.  After our stroll Linda was hungry and heated up some Amy’s Tomato Bisque Soup (vegan).  I was really tired and laid down in bed to take a nap that lasted over two hours.  When I got up I had the rest of the soup and a large green salad.  We then watched out usual Tuesday evening CBS TV programs but did not get to see the last 15 minutes of Limitless as Vickie texted to jet me know they were on their way over to fetch us and walk to the shipping channel to watch the rocket launch.

The Atlas V resupply mission for the International Space Station lifted off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station right on schedule at 11:05 PM.  The launch pad was much farther away from our position than the one used for the military satellite launch two years ago, but was illuminated by multiple light sources producing beams and shadows projecting up and highlighted by the clouds.  For all the launches Pat and Vickie have seen from this park, this was the first time they recalled seeing these lights.

Even though the Atlas V was a much larger rocket than one I saw two years ago, it was not as loud or as visually impressive as the other one.  There were scattered clouds at liftoff, which made for interesting viewing, but the rocket was fairly quickly above them and then disappeared from sight.  I tried to take a few photos, but I did not bother bringing the tripod or spend any time ahead of time figuring out appropriate camera settings.  I did, however, spend a few minutes playing with manual adjustment of the ISO setting.

A man sitting next to me was monitoring mission control on a radio so we knew what was going on before, during, and after the launch.  Only minutes after liftoff the rocket had burned enough fuel to reduce its weight by 75%, was 120 miles above the surface of the earth, was 338 miles downrange, and was traveling just under 10,000 miles per hour!  It’s time to orbit was projected to be 21 minutes and I believe the orbital velocity would be approximately 18,000 MPH.  (The actual orbital velocity would obviously be a very exact number.)

When it was all over we carried our chairs back to our rig and then walked to Pat and Vickie’s coach so she could drop her’s off.  Pat went in for the evening but the three of us went for a leisurely midnight stroll around the entire campground.  In spite of the event that had just occurred the campground was quiet.  There is some general purpose street lighting here, but not too much.  It’s a nice campground and I could see why Pat and Vickie like to come here.

Back at our coach Linda decided to sleep in the living room.  More specifically, she decided to sleep in the two captain’s chairs by locking them in position facing one another, reclining the backs, and putting the hassock between them.  She thought she might sleep better in a partially upright position.  I finished a few e-mails and retired to the bedroom where I was joined by the cats.  I was too tired to write but too awake to go right to sleep so I turned on the TV.  After flipping through the channels I settled on an old movie, The Battle of Britain.  By 2 AM it was still on, owing to too much time for commercials and not enough time for the movie, so I turned it off and went to sleep.

The “Jetty” and pier at Jetty Park. Cape Canaveral, FL.

2016/03/23 (W) On The Road To Recovery

Linda slept seven hours last night with very little coughing, at least that I heard.  She slept in the living room (her choice) and left the bedroom to me.  I had a long early evening nap and did not fall asleep until 2 AM.  Even then I did not sleep that well and got up at 8 AM.  Linda was still asleep but woke up not long after.  She wanted coffee so rather than grind up beans and deal with the whole do-it-yourself process we walked up to the campground office with our two Tervis mugs/caps and filled them there.  Free coffee all day, every day, is a nice campground amenity and not one we have found anywhere else.

Pat and Vickie decided to go to Epcot Center at Disney World today for the annual flower and garden show.  Vickie texted me to see how Linda was doing and if we wanted to go.  Linda was definitely not well enough yet to go anywhere or do anything, so we stayed behind and had an easy day at our home on wheels, starting with toast and jam for our breakfast.  Linda read a little and checked our banking.  I talked to my sister about our dad for a bit, but spent most of the morning completing draft blog posts for the last three days.  We both got showers, which brought our fresh water level down to ~1/6th tank (20 gallons).

I copied the photos I’ve taken during the last week, including the rocket launch last night, to my computer.  I selected one of the rocket launch for this week’s post card, processed it, and e-mailed it to Linda’s iPad.  While she created a post card for grand-daughter Madeline, I connected the fresh water hose and water softener, tested the harness of the water supply, (7 to 10 gpg), filled the fresh water tank (100 gallons), and connected the waste water drain hose.

With my outside chores done I selected two photos from my article on replacing the bearings in a Webasto diesel burner and e-mailed the image numbers to Gary and Jorge at BCM.  They will be used on the “Coming in June” page of the May issue, one for my articles and one for Lloyd DeGerald’s multi-step maintenance list.

The nighttime launch of a rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as seen from Jetty Park. Note: This was a long-exposure handheld shot. I was braced against a sign to take it.

I heated a can of Amy’s Golden Lentil “Indian Dal” soup and washed some black grapes for our lunch.  There was a cool breeze outside but a bit of heat gain in the coach so we sat outside, doodled on our iPads, and dozed in our folding bag chairs.  A little before 5 PM Linda decided she wanted to go for a walk on the beach.  The wind was strong out of the east with 3 to 4 foot waves breaking just off shore, but the late afternoon sun was warm enough to make for a pleasant stroll south towards Cocoa Beach.  As the sun dropped lower in the sky and was filtered by thin clouds it turned slightly chilly so we turned around and headed back to Jetty Park.  We continued our walk through the picnic and playground area and walked along the channel to the boat ramps and then to the campground office.  We got a couple of cups of coffee and sat down to watch the news but the TV was tuned to FOX News, so we left and walked back to our site, noting that Pat and Vickie’s car was back at their site.

We discussed what to do for dinner and decided on cooking the vegan Italian sausage and using it to top a salad.  I texted Vickie to ask how the garden and flower show was, and let her know that Linda was feeling slightly better.  We gave the cats their monthly dose of Cheristin flea medication, which they were due for yesterday.

Vickie came over at 7:15 PM with her iPad and we looked at all of the pictures she took at the Epcot Center Flower and Garden show.  It was clearly a spectacular exhibition and since we could not attend we were glad to see it through Vickie’s photographs.  By the time Vickie returned to her coach it was almost 9 PM so Linda suggested that we just have granola for dinner.  That sounded quick and easy to me, besides which I love her granola, so I did not need any convincing.

On Wednesday evenings we like to watch nature, science, and technology programs on PBS.  We have two PBS stations potentially available to us here at Jetty Park Campground but neither of them have 100% reliable signals.  I experimented with a range of antenna directions and selected the one that seemed to offer the most reliable signal for the 24.n channels.  NOVA was on the recreation of Noah’s Ark and Secrets of the Dead was on the discovery of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in Ninevah, 250 miles north of Babylon and built by King Sennacherib.

Linda once again set up the captain’s chairs as a bed so she could sleep sitting up.  I could not tune in channel 24 in the bedroom so I finished watching the show in the living room.  At 11 PM I tuned off the lights in the front of the coach and left Linda to sleep while I retired to the bedroom to write, play a few games, and watch a little more TV before going to sleep.

 

2016/03/08 Custom Window Covers for the Bus

Bill and Brenda Phelan, of RV Windshield Covers of Florida, operate a mobile business based out of Lakeland, Florida.  This is a photo gallery of the 1-day process they went through to make and install a set of five mesh covers for the windshield and front side windows of our 1991/92 Prevost H3-40 VIP Royale Coach (Monaco) converted coach.  We were at Florida Grande Motor Coach Resort near Webster, Florida, at the time.  Their mobile workshop is a converted EMS truck and is also an RV suitable for business trips of up to three weeks.  The photos are not captioned.  Click on any image to open the gallery view.

2016/03/03 (R) Edison Ford Estates

Our plan for today was to visit two places in southwest Florida that we had not gotten to yet; the Edison Ford Estates in Fort Myers, and Sanibel/Captiva Islands.  As usual when we plan to leave early and be away from the coach for the day we did not make coffee or eat breakfast.  Linda walked down to Mara’s motorhome to tend to her cats while I took care of ours.  I then loaded the camera gear and a few other things in the car and drove down to Mara’s rig to pick up Linda.  We stopped at the local Bank of America ATM and then at Dunkin Donuts for coffee and a bagel for Linda.  (I had my vegan apricot bearclaw pastries from Publix.)  Suitably provisioned we headed down FL-31 to Fort Myers.

Linda stands by one of the many magnificent trees at the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Estates.  Fort Myers, FL.

Linda stands by one of the many magnificent trees at the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Estates. Fort Myers, FL.

The southern terminus of FL-31 is at FL-80.  From there it was about five miles (west) to the city limit of Ft. Myers.  We continued on FL-80 through downtown, which is an attractive and very upscale part of the city, to where it ends and turns into McGregor Boulevard.  Shortly after turning onto McGregor we pulled into the parking lot for the Edison Ford Estates complex at 9:30 AM.

The Edison & Ford Estates abound in botanical delights.  Fort Myers, FL.

The Edison & Ford Estates abound in botanical delights. Fort Myers, FL.

The Edison Ford Estates is a historical complex that preserves the winter estates of Thomas Alva Edison and Henry Ford on the east bank of the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers, Florida.  The Edison estate was named Seminole and the adjacent Ford Estate was named The Mangoes.  There are two identical houses on the Edison Estate and a more modest house on the Ford Estate.  Other buildings and structures include caretaker quarters, garages, a small office for Edison, a swimming pool, a cistern and water system, gardens, and lots of exotic trees.  When it was originally developed the Edison Estate included a pier that extended 1,500 feet out into the Caloosahatchee River.  It had trains and transport cars and was initially used to bring in all of the materials to build and landscape the Estate as these had to get to the site by ship.

Both men were workaholics and although they only used these estates for a few weeks in the winter they worked as well as socialized while here.  Indeed, Edison had a lab on the property where extensive work was done on trying to find a plant source of latex, the key material needed to make rubber, which could be quickly and easily grown in the U.S.  Edison and Ford, along with Harvey Firestone, formed a biological research company to finance this research, and presumably profit from any positive outcome.  Some 17,000 plants were tested and the one that emerged as most viable was Goldenrod.  Ford and Edison had almost 1,300 patents between them, and Edison is still the only person to have been awarded at least one U.S. patent every year for 65 contiguous years.  His greatest invention, however, could not be patented; the modern research and development laboratory.

Bruce poses by one of the large trees at the Edison Ford Estates.  Linda used this image for one of the weekly postcards she made and had sent to grand-daughter Madeline.  Fort Myers, FL.

Bruce poses by one of the large trees at the Edison Ford Estates. Linda used this image for one of the weekly postcards she made and had sent to grand-daughter Madeline. Fort Myers, FL.

We wrapped up our visit to the Edison and Ford winter estates at 2 PM and headed on down McGregor Boulevard, the boulevard of Royal Palms, towards Sanibel Island.  Our initial destination on the island was an organic vegan cafe named Sanibel Sprouts.  We did not have any trouble getting onto the island or getting to the restaurant but the traffic backed up to exit the island reminded us of our recent experience in the Florida Keys and was more than a bit concerning.

For lunch we split the Mexican salad.  The salad used a base of arugula, a dark leafy green with its own unique, slightly peppery taste that was very well suited to the dish.  A vegan “taco meat” mixed with ground walnuts added depth and texture, and a dressing with cumin tied it all together.  We then split an order of waffles which consisted of two waffles topped with strawberries and bananas and served with real maple syrup.  Both dishes were excellent and I asked the cook how the waffles were made.  She indicated that they used the King Arthur brand gluten-free general purpose baking flour (rice flour based), Earth Balance soy-based vegan butter substitute (5 scoops), almond milk, and vanilla flavored Stevia sweetener.  They were fluffy, light, crispy on the outside, and very tasty.  Yum.

The two Edison winter homes are mirror images of each other and joined by a covered walkway.  Edison Ford Estates, Fort Myers, FL.

The two Edison winter homes are mirror images of each other and joined by a covered walkway. Edison Ford Estates, Fort Myers, FL.

After lunch we continued deeper into Sanibel Island.  We saw a sign for the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center and pulled in.  There was a one-way road through a section of the Refuge but it was a “U. S. Fee Area” ($6 per car).  We checked to see if Linda’s Golden Access Pass was valid for entry.  It was, so we went in.  Although the skies had become overcast the drive through the Refuge was an unplanned event and an unanticipated treat.  We got see a variety of birds but the highlight included two different opportunities to see White Pelicans, one of which also included Roseate Spoonbills and other birds.  White Pelicans are the second largest bird in the continental U. S. (Behind the California Condor) with a wingspan of nine (9) feet.  We also saw a couple of alligators which surprised us as the water here is connected to the Gulf of Mexico.  Indeed, the tide was coming in while we were there.

The Edison-Ford-Firestone partnership maintained an active, working laboratory on the Fort Myers estate that had year-round staff.  Edison and Ford only spent a few weeks each year at their winter homes, but worked whenever they were here.  Fort Myers, FL.

The Edison-Ford-Firestone partnership maintained an active, working laboratory on the Fort Myers estate that had year-round staff. Edison and Ford only spent a few weeks each year at their winter homes, but worked whenever they were here. Fort Myers, FL.

From the end of the drive through the NWR we continued on to the north end of Sanibel Island and drove over the short bridge to Captiva Island.  We drove to the end of the road, turned around, and drove back.  There is a lot of “island commerce” on Sanibel Island.  Captiva Island, by comparison, is mostly residential, vacation rental, and resort properties.  Many of the homes were massive, elaborately landscaped costal properties.  I estimated that houses of 3,000 to 4,000 square feet were common, 5,000 to 6,000 square feet were numerous, and some of them had to be 10,000 to 15,000 square feet.  We tend to think of the really expensive real estate in Florida being in places like Naples, Marco Island, Miami Beach, and West Palm Beach, but it’s hard to imagine that any of them are more expensive than the island mansions we saw on Captiva Island.

Rare White Pelicans at the J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary on Sanibel Island in Florida.  The White Pelicans are the second largest birds in North America, and the largest members of the pelican family.  This photograph does not do justice to their size, which includes a nine foot wingspan.  The pink birds (lower right) are Roseate Spoonbills.

Rare White Pelicans at the J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary on Sanibel Island in Florida. The White Pelicans are the second largest birds in North America, and the largest members of the pelican family. This photograph does not do justice to their size, which includes a nine foot wingspan. The pink birds (lower right) are Roseate Spoonbills.

The drive back down Captiva and Sanibel was smooth and flowed right along as far as the restaurant.  At that point we encountered the traffic backup we had seen coming in.  Traffic was not moving at all and people were pulling out of line and turning around.  Our map showed that there was an alternate way to get back to the causeway.  We suspected that the turn-arounds were locals who were headed that way so we decided to do that as well.  The traffic could not be worse and we would get to see a different part of the island.

That proved to be the case and we were only in a stop-and-go back up for about 10 minutes instead of the one-to-two hours I figured it would take if we stayed on Periwinkle Way.  We were off the island by 6:45 PM and headed back to the mainland on FL-867.  Fairly quickly we were on FL-865 headed more easterly but on a faster road.  We eventually got to US-41 (the Tamiami Trail) and headed north.  Not too far along I spotted a Panera and we stopped to get coffee.  We continued north as far as Colonial where we headed east to I-75.  From there it was five miles north to FL-80, three miles east to FL-31, and 36 miles north to our RV resort in Arcadia.

An alligator just shows its head (left center).  J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary, Sanibel Island, FL

An alligator just shows its head (left center). J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary, Sanibel Island, FL

We got back to our coach at 8:10 PM.  Linda grabbed a flashlight and the keys for Mara’s rig and walked down to take care of her cats.  I unloaded the car and then took care of our cats.  I planned to check my e-mail and then settle in to watch our usual Thursday evening TV programs, but my computer and the scheduled programs altered my plan.

This Ibis was a little farther behind this alligator than the photos makes it appear, but not that much.  Being behind an alligator is not necessarily any safer than being in front of one.  J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary, Sanibel Island, FL.

This Ibis was a little farther behind this alligator than the photos makes it appear, but not that much. Being behind an alligator is not necessarily any safer than being in front of one. J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary, Sanibel Island, FL.

Our e-mail servers were not responding so I shut down my computer and all of our network/comm equipment and restarted everything in a specific order.  Disaster!  My computer would not log in and claimed to have missing authentication components.  This is the second time my ASUS laptop has crapped out since I upgraded it to Windows 10, and I was pretty unhappy about it.  At this point I do not have any confidence its stability, especially its update process, and think it was clearly not ready for release.  Unfortunately not upgrading really wasn’t an option.

I watched Charlie Rose on PBS followed by Tavis Smiley and a program on Black artists.  That was followed by This Old House and Ask TOH.  I think I restarted my computer several times before it finally “healed” itself and allowed me to log in.  With all of those TV programs as background I finished most of this post, off-loaded photos, and backed them up to the NAS.  I tried my e-mail again and was finally able to access it.  It was 2 AM when I finally went to bed, which had not been my plan when I got up this morning.

 

2016/02/25-29 (R – M) Sand Castle Stallions Port

2016/02/25 (R) Siesta Key

We were up at 6:30 AM this morning and did not have coffee or breakfast.  We picked up Mara and Michael at 7 AM and headed west on FL-70 towards Bradenton.  Our destination was an endodontic office in Lakewood Ranch were Mara had an 8 AM appointment for a root canal procedure.  As we were coming into town Michael spotted a Dunkin Donuts.  Location duly noted.  I pulled up to the office building at 7:55 and we all went in.

The endodontist said the procedure would take about an hour.  Michael stayed to wait for Mara while Linda and I drove back to the DD for coffee and something to eat.  The DD was in a small shopping plaza next to a Shell station so I topped off the car’s fuel tank before we topped off ours’.  I bought regular gasoline (10% Ethanol) for $1.56 per gallon.  We were getting ready to leave DD when Mara texted Linda that she would be longer than originally thought.  The tooth needed a filling and the dental practice next door just had a cancellation and could take her right away.  That was fortunate for Mara as she and Michael are leaving on Saturday for a week long cruise.  She also wasn’t sure she could get in to see her dentist before July, which was much too long of a time to rely on the temporary filling the endodontist had put in place.

With Mara’s dental needs taken care of we headed west on FL-70 to I-75 south to Exit 207 and then west to US-41.  A short jog to the right (north) and back to the left and we were on Siesta Key Drive headed west to the island of Siesta Key.  We drove through the town, which was very quaint (upscale trendy, actually) and found a place to park with public access to the beach.  The Siesta Key beach is very fine white sands, reputed to be the finest and whitest of any beach in Florida.  We walked quite a ways south from our entry point past the main public entrance and numerous lifeguard stands, all of which were staffed.  The wind was strong and the waves were high and I took a few photos.

A group of Royal Terns face into the wind on Siesta Key Beach.  Siesta Key, FL.

A group of Royal Terns face into the wind on Siesta Key Beach. Siesta Key, FL.

When we got back to the car we exited the island via the southern bridge and drove down US-41 to Venice.  We found a parking spot, which is not easy in Venice, and walked around the historic downtown area, which is now a mix of quaint and upscale shopping and lots of places to eat.  It is a very attractive area but there were a lot of people there.

We were just window shopping when we walked past the TableTop store.  As the name suggests, they sell a wide variety of products used to set a dining table.  We looked around to see if they had plastic wine glasses but did not see any.  We were just about to leave when we spotted one.  It was smaller than we wanted so we asked if they had others.  They did, we just did not see them!  They were not plastic, however, but were made of polycarbonate.  That’s the same material used for contact lens blanks and motorcycle visors.  It felt heavy duty and had a slight bluish cast.  The sales associate assured us that they could be cleaned in a dishwasher and would not discolor, craze, or crack, and will not break even if dropped on concrete (although we do not intend to test that claim).  We bought four of them at $15 each.

Mara and Linda play in the fountain in Venice, FL.

Mara and Linda play in the fountain in Venice, FL.

When we had seen enough of Venice we returned to the car and drove a short distance to Cafe Evergreen in Nokomis for linner.  I had the veggie (vegan) burger and Linda had the vegan beet Rueben.  Mara had the stir-fry noodle dish, which both of us have had before, and Michael had the Chana Masala.  Our waiter, by his own admission, was having an off day but the food was good and we took our time enjoying it.

When we were done with our meal we were also done exploring for the day and I drove us back to Arcadia.  On the drive back we discussed plans for tomorrow, which included Solomon’s Castle in the late morning, Hermann’s Royal Lipizzaner Stallions in the mid-afternoon, some before and after errands, and a picnic lunch.  Back at the RV Resort we dropped Michael and Mara at her RV and then returned to ours.  We watched our Thursday night CBS TV programs and had some popcorn later in the evening.  We headed to bed at 11 PM, watched a few minutes of Charlie Rose, and then went to sleep.

2016/02/26 (F) Castle Stallions

Our two main attractions today were Solomon’s Castle, near Ono, Florida and Hermann’s Royal Lipizzaner Stallions near Myakka City, Florida.  Both locations were within 25 miles of Arcadia and each other, so we did not have to endure an excessive amount of car travel.

We picked up Mara and Michael at 10:15 AM, stopped at the local Wells Fargo bank branch, and then headed west out of town.  At the edge of town we headed north on FL-661 towards Ono.  We turned onto CR-665 and five miles later turned off onto Salomon Road to the parking lot of Solomon’s Castle.  We had the address in the GPS, but there were occasional old hand-painted signs confirming the route.  We arrived just before 11 AM, when the “castle” opens for tours, but the parking lot was already crowded.  We bought our tickets for the 11:30 tour and then strolled around the part of the grounds between the parking lot and the castle while we waited.  Horse Creek runs through the property, much of which was wet.

Michael and Mara by the horse statute near the entrance to Solomon’s Castle.  Ono, FL.

Michael and Mara by the horse statute near the entrance to Solomon’s Castle. Ono, FL.

Solomon’s Castle was built by, and is still the home of, Henry Solomon and his wife.  Henry, who is about to turn 81, is an artist who has been creating art objects for 76 years.  Much of the main floor of the castle is an art museum, although the walking tour includes the living room and kitchen.  Other living spaces are on the second floor and were not part of the tour.  There is also a guest bedroom available to rent for $125 per night but I do not recall if an overnight stay included breakfast.  There is, however, a scale “replica” of the Santa Maria that houses part of the onsite cafe and is run by Solomon’s daughter and her husband, who live in a separate house on the property.

Solomon’s Castle and his art are quirky.  Although we did not get to meet him, we came away with an image of his sense of humor, and caught a glimpse of him in his workshop while we were walking the grounds after the tour.  Solomon works in a variety of materials but mostly metal and wood, and mostly with discarded scrap materials including food cans, beer cans, and parts/pieces of automobiles.  I took quite a few photos while we were there.  I don’t know what our son’s professional opinion of Solomon’s corpus would be, but some of his pieces were interesting and we had to respect the sheer quantity of work he has produced.  He seemed to have a particular interest in Picasso, copying several of the master’s works in wood montage.

Mara, Michael, and Linda on the grounds of Solomon’s Castle.  Ono, FL.

Mara, Michael, and Linda on the grounds of Solomon’s Castle. Ono, FL.

From the castle we continued north on CR-665 up to FL-64, the Florida Cracker Trail, and then west about five miles to Wauchula Road where we headed south to Myakka City.  At FL-70 in Myakka City we headed east about 1/2 mile and pulled in to a local park on the north side of the road that affronted the west bank of the Myakka River.  The picnic tables were all bolted to the concrete slabs that served as the floors of the open-sided shelters so we ate our lunch in the shade.  The air temperature was in the mid-60’s, and there was a breeze, so we ate with our jackets on.

After lunch we headed west on FL-70 to the other side of Myakka City were we turned south on Singletary Road.  About seven miles down we found the entrance to the Hermann’s Royal Lipizzaner Stallions and Spanish American Riding School complex.  Hermann’s is the home of a group of Lipizzaner horses that tour North America.  The original horses were part of the 500 Austrian Royal Lipizzaner horses rescued by General George Patton at the end of World War II.  Gabby Hermann is the matriarch of the current operation and the original horses were brought to the USA by her father.  The Lipizzaner horse was first bred in Austria in 1565 from Arabian and Andalusian stock.  Six lines were produced and new Arabian and Andalusian stock have been included in the breeding since that time to avoid the negative effects of inbreeding.

Gabby Herman exercises one of the Royal Lipizzaner Stallions in training.  Myakka City, FL.

Gabby Herman exercises one of the Royal Lipizzaner Stallions in training. Myakka City, FL.

Hermann’s has open rehearsals (performances) every Thursday and Friday at 3 PM and Saturday at 10 AM when they are not touring, weather permitting.  These are not “dress rehearsals” as the houses and riders are not fully costumed the way they would be for a show while on tour.  They do, however, put the horses through all of their maneuvers.  The rehearsals take place in an open air arena connected to the nearby stables with a pair of gated fences.  There are bleachers on the two long sides of the arena and visitors also bring lawn chairs and set them up on three sides of the arena.  We arrived around 2:15 PM and there were already people there.  Admission was a $5 “donation” per person, but it was not optional.  It was well worth the price, however, and we made an extra contribution at the end of the show.

We secured good seats in the last row of the one of the bleachers at the top of the stairs with our backs to the sun.  That allowed us an unobstructed view for photography with light from a good direction.  It was a good thing we got there early.  Six fully-loaded tour buses showed up after we got there along with lots of passenger cars.  The bleachers were packed and the lawn chairs were at least two deep around the fence.  After the show we walked over to see the 17 day old colt and walk through the stables.  I took photos and also snapped a few shots of the tour buses after chatting with the driver of a 2016 Prevost H3-45 with a beautiful deep purple paint scheme.  I would sure like to have one of those to convert.

Five stallions work in formation at Hermann’s Royal Lipizzaner Stallions and Spanish American Riding School.  Myakka City, FL.

Five stallions work in formation at Hermann’s Royal Lipizzaner Stallions and Spanish American Riding School. Myakka City, FL.

When we were done at Hermann’s we drove back to Arcadia and stopped at Walgreens before returning to Big Tree Carefree RV Resort.  We spent a little time at Mara’s motorhome so she could walk Linda through the various cat and RV chores that needed to be taken care off during the next week.  With that done we stopped at the mail room.  We had a slip in our mail slot that there was a package for us in the office but it was after 5 PM and the office was closed.  We figured it was the shipment of Nutpods vegan coffee creamer but we would not be able to pick it up until Monday as we would not be around during office hours on Saturday and the office is closed on Sundays.

For dinner Linda made lentil potato burritos using various leftover ingredients that we wanted/needed to use up.  I opened the bottle of Barefoot Moscato wine, using the cork puller that Mara gave us the other night, and we had some for dessert.  We were both tired so we watched some TV, including the first of three episodes of a new Masterpiece Mystery series named Silk about barristers in England.  We did not watch the second episode as we had to be up early in the morning and it was going to end too late.

2016/02/27 (S) Port Miami

We were up at 6:30 AM and left at 7 AM for Dunkin Donuts where we got something to eat and a couple of large half-caffe coffees.  As planned, we were back at Mara’s motorhome at 7:30 AM.  By 7:45 we had Michael, Mara, and their luggage onboard and were on our way to the cruise ship terminals at the Port of Miami some three plus hours distant.

The GPS wanted us to go south on FL-31 but we had already decided we would take FL-70 east to US-27 and then take that south/southeast as far as I-75.  We stopped at a Marathon station in South Bay to use the restrooms and let Mara and Michael get some coffee.  We headed east on I-75 to its end point at MM 0 and then followed whatever roads the GPS told us to use to get to Port Miami.  When we were almost to the Port we deviated from the GPS and took the tunnel under the water to get to the cruise ship terminals rather than exit the highway and use the bridge.  There was some temporary confusion, and minor tension, surrounding this but soon enough we ended up at Terminal F where the MSC Divina was docked.

Traffic was heavy and chaotic, but we found a spot at the curb and got them unloaded.  A quick handshake and a hug and we were on our way.  I never cease to be appalled at the incredibly pour traffic engineering we encounter at major transportation terminals.  We did get a stunning view of the skyscrapers that dominate the downtown Miami skyline, but after a bit of driving around we managed to escape the island via the bridge and I was glad to be clear of the area.

Linda had researched vegan friendly eateries last night and selected one called The Kitchen.  It was near Miami International Airport, not too far from Port Miami, and basically in the direction we needed to travel to return to Arcadia.  She put the address in the GPS and we enjoyed a slow, late Saturday morning, drive through downtown Miami.  We arrived around 11:30 and there were only a couple of other diners there.  As is often the case, it was a slightly funky little place, but it had an entirely vegan menu with lots of interesting options.

The Kitchen is, in fact, the prep facility for a chain of local eateries, and plenty of other customers showed up while we were there.  We had the tacos, which included plantains, and the nachos.  The tacos were good, especially the plantains, but the nachos were outstanding.  Both were made with vegan chorizo sausage.  The nachos had a base of blue corn chips with beans, tomatoes, salsa, and cashew cream.  It was also a big serving.  For dessert we each had a coconut date ball and a gobi berry chocolate brownie.  Yum.  The Kitchen was a bit pricey but most of the ingredients were organic and the food was fresh and very tasty so we felt it was good value for the money.

We left at 12:30 PM and I turned the wrong way leaving the parking lot.  It turned out we were on US-27 headed north so we stayed with that choice.  The GPS wanted to put us on the Interstate/Tollroads but we knew that eventually it would put us back on US-27.  There was a lot of traffic and frequent traffic signals, but we eventually got clear of the developed urban area.  Not too far out we stopped at a roadside park with an airboat operation and switched drivers.  Linda told me later that I napped for about an hour but my experience of the situation was that I nodded off and woke up repeatedly because of neck discomfort.

We got back to our RV resort around 3:45 PM and stopped at the mail room on the way in where I retrieved a box of magazines from BCM.  The 3 PM Mardi Gras parade had just ended but some of the decorated golf carts and masked participants were still hanging around the activity building.  I made a mental note that the Mardi Gras dinner started at 7:30 PM and we returned to our rig.

We turned on our Verizon Mi-Fi and got our local network online.  I opened the box of magazines to see what was inside and e-mailed Gary to let him know what I received.  Linda needed to attend to Mara’s cats, Maui and Sabra, and we both had several updates pending on our iPads and smartphones.  We packed up the iPads and walked to the activity building where I set up our technology in the library while Linda went on to Mara’s Bounder to tend to her cats.

I got both iPads and both smartphones connected to the Internet via the resort Wi-Fi system, which can only be picked up at/near the activity building (which includes the office, lanai, library, dining room/kitchen, card room, and laundry room).  The best reception is outside in front of the building, as the antenna is on the peak of the roof ridge at the front gable, but the reception in the lanai and library is very usable.  There was one other person there using the Wi-Fi but she left shortly after I arrived.

The updates for our iPads took 500 MB and the smartphone updates took at least another 250 MB, so it was at least a 0.75 GB update session.  Our 12 GB monthly Verizon data plan works out to about 0.4 GB per day, on average, so we are trying to do our updates using the park Wi-Fi and save our data plan for web searches, document/photo uploads/downloads, and other work we want and/or need to do from our motorcoach.

While I was updating our devices Linda got a text message from Mara and I was able to watch the latest OK Go video and play a few games.  Kate sent me the link a week ago and I was waiting for a chance to use the resort Wi-Fi when there were few, if any, other users.  I also downloaded the latest issue of The Gypsy Journal digital edition.

When I was done I packed up and walked over to Mara’s rig.  Linda exchanged text messages with Mara.  She and Michael are on the Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise for the first time.  They had finished the opening session with Jessica Porter and Neal Barnhard, M.D. and enjoyed it very much.  They had just sat down to dinner and we’re excited about that too.  We enjoyed their enthusiasm and recalled what it was like for us the first time we went on this cruise.  Linda packed up a few things to bring back to our coach.  Mara made Broccoli salad last night and there was a lot left over that she wanted us to eat.

It cooled off quickly after the sun set and the overnight low was forecast to be 42 degrees F.  We closed up the coach and then had some of Mara’s broccoli salad along with vegan Italian “sausage” for dinner.  We finished the Barefoot Moscato wine, had a few grapes for dessert, and settled in to watch some TV programs on the local PBS channels before going to bed.  We had spent 7 hours driving/riding in the car today and we were tired.

2016/02/28 (N) Cat Care

It was cool in the coach this morning and I stayed in bed, under the covers, with the electric heating pad on, until after 7:30 AM.  The cats were persistent, however, and I finally got up and took care of their needs.  I turned on the Aqua-Hot diesel burner and the zone control thermostats for the bathroom and the kitchen/living area and the electric toe-kick heater for the front of the bus.  Linda got up at 8 AM as I was making coffee.

We had granola for breakfast, after which Linda packed up her laptop computer and gathered up papers related to work she needed to do.  She took the car and drove to Mara’s motorhome to tend to the cats and then work there.  She did not need to be online and figured the cats would appreciate the company, or at least get more accepting her presence and attention if she spent some quiet, extended time there.  I stayed at our rig to catch up on draft blog posts and attend to our cats.

Last week I downloaded the free version of an app called “OfficeSuite (Free) Mobile + PDF” and have been using it to write the drafts of my recent blog posts.  It works at least as well as the native iPad Notes app, better in my opinion (so far), and creates a native docx format Word document.  It also works with various cloud services.  Hypothetically that should save me the steps of e-mailing it to myself, selecting/copying the text from the e-mail, pasting it into a blank Word doc, and then cleaning up all of the junk caused by the Note app, which is considerable (numerous calendar hyperlinks).  I say hypothetically because I have not yet set up or tested the cloud sync feature.  That was on my “to do” list for today.

Around 11:30 AM it was getting warm in the coach under mostly sunny skies.  I opened windows and roof vents and then put out all of the awnings. I continued working on my blog posts from the last four days and was finally ready to upload one of them via a cloud service.  We have a Dropbox account but we also have OneDrive accounts as part of the Windows 10 OS on our notebook computers.  I don’t normally use OneDrive but I thought this would be a good opportunity to try it.

I set up the credentials to allow the app to connect to the OneDrive account attached to my OS login.  I then tried to move or copy the Word docx file for Wednesday’s blog post from “current files” to the OneDrive under Network locations but the OfficeSuites app would not give me the OneDrive account as an option.  I checked the Help screens for information to assist me but could not find anything pertaining to this specific problem.  The app has Pro and Premium upgrades available ($ and $$) but the feature chart indicated that interfacing to all five of the different cloud services was included in the Free version.  Rather than waste time on this I called David Aungier to let him know there was an updated version of his featured bus article in a folder in my Dropbox and then kept working on draft blog posts.

At 1 PM I was getting ready to walk over to Mara’s rig to get the shower supplies from Linda when she returned in the car.  We have been able to avoid removing the cats’ litter box from our shower by using the showers at the building by the swimming pool.  That also keeps the shower water out of our grey water tank, allowing us to go more days between dumps.  I got my towel and the soap from Linda and walked over to the shower house.

When I got back from my shower I trimmed my beard and shaved.  It had probably been at least a month since my last beard trim and I was starting to look a bit scruffy.  All cleaned up and feeling refreshed I dealt with a couple of e-mails and then returned to the issue of getting the OfficeSuites app to sync with one of my cloud services.  It appeared that Dropbox might be the best choice so I established the connection to that account.  Voilà!  I was finally able to copy a local Word file to the folder I had previously set up in my Dropbox for blog post documents.

I proceeded to finish each post in turn and copied it to the Dropbox folder which immediately uploaded it to the cloud server.  I checked my ASUS notebook computer to make sure the document had made it to the local hard drive.  It had, which meant I could move it to where I keep the draft posts and start editing it directly.  This was a big deal for me as I expect it to streamline the blogging process.

As I was working on all of this I realized that I had told Gary at BCM that I would review and comment on an article he had received from Lloyd DeGerald and would try to get it back to him by Sunday evening.  Lloyd is a highly experienced, factory-trained, Webasto / Aqua-Hot service and repair technician and has worked on our Aqua-Hot in the past.  His article was basically a terse service procedure consisting of a numbered list of steps.  There were some things that I was not clear about so I added comments and highlighted them in yellow.  I got the document e-mailed back to Gary, with answers to several questions he had asked, just as Linda was putting dinner on the table.

Dinner was an improvised dish of red beans and rice with onions, garlic, tomatoes, turmeric, and kale.  I added a little extra Tabasco hot sauce to mine and it was a very good dish.  After dinner Linda did the dishes and then we walked over to Mara’s motorhome, by way of the garbage trailer, to tend to the evening cat and rig chores.  Maui stayed out long enough to get up on the hassock and show some interest in me.  I let her smell my hand but when I tried to pet her head she swatted at me.  Too much, too soon.  She played with a cat toy that Linda shook around, ate her dinner, and disappeared into the bedroom.  Sabra stayed out the whole time we were there, ate her dinner, and chased feathers that Linda moved around.

We walked back to our rig before 8 PM and watched a special about the Manners of Downton Abby on PBS.  The overnight low was forecast at 54 degrees F so we closed the roof vents but did not close the coach windows all the way before turning in for the night.

2016/02/29 (M) Bonus Day

Last night was the Academy Awards but we did not watch the show.  We had not seen any of the films and were more interested in a pair of specials on the Manners of Downton Abby about the role of the show’s historical consultant whose job it has been to make sure all of the actors were as authentic as possible in their speech and mannerisms.

We got up this morning between 7:30 and 8 AM, which seems to have become our norm of late unless we have an outing planned that requires an early departure.  We had our usual coffee followed by granola with blueberries for breakfast.  We doodled on our iPads for a bit and I finished my blog post for yesterday and uploaded it to our Dropbox.  Linda noted that today was February 29th.  In a month that is usually two to three days shorter than all the others it was like having a bonus day.  I also enjoy the relative rarity of the event.

At 9:30 AM Linda packed up her computer and papers and walked over to Mara’s motorhome to tend to the cats.  She planned to stay and work a while and was expecting a call from Dave at the bakery around 10 AM.  I finished my coffee, got dressed, and settled in to work at my computer.

When Linda returned we walked to Walmart for a few grocery items before it got too warm outside.  When we got back and had the groceries put away, we reconfigured the back of the car.  After Mara’s arrival, but prior Michael’s arrival, we had reconfigured the back of the car.  We had removed one of the rear seats and put the other rear seat down so Mara could go places with us.  Most of the stuff went back in the car but in order to store the removed seat in the front bay of the bus and make room for some of the stuff from the car we had moved the air compressor and two of the four chassis stands to the passenger side engine bay.

Just prior to Michael’s arrival we reconfigured the back of the car again as we now needed four seats.  To keep our stuff out of sight and protect it from the weather we bought a small tent, set it up behind the bus, and put everything in it.

When Mara and Michael return from the Holistic Holiday at Sea Cruise on Saturday Michael is going to rent a car to and get them back to Arcadia from Miami.  He will be sticking around for another four weeks and they will need a car for most of that time as we are leaving Big Tree Carefree RV Resort a week from today.  So today we put both rear seats back up, emptied out the storage tent, reloaded the car, and repacked the front bay of the bus.

As long as we were working outside I stripped out the bad silicone caulk between the new passenger side lower windshield and the gasket.  I found a different product in one of our parts and supplies tubs and got it out.  I did not apply it, however, as I wanted to let the rubber gasket relax and hopefully reform to the glass.  In retrospect, it is painfully obvious that the Safelite installers did not know what they were doing.

It was a sunny day and by early afternoon the air temperature was 80 degrees F, so we put on our swimming suits and walked over to the pool.  We stopped at the office to retrieve our package of Nutpods non-dairy coffee creamer and put it in the mail room until later.  After a nice soak and vitamin D treatment we showered, changed into dry clothes, and walked back to the mail room to retrieve our Nutpods package and other mail.  Being the last day of the month our electric bill was there along with an invitation to the Michigan reunion lunch scheduled for July 14 in Concord, Michigan.  The Resort does have a strong sense of community, and people take that back to their home states/provinces when the leave.

I had a text message from Kerry Fear requesting payment for snowplowing services for February.  Linda wrote a check and got it ready to mail.

For dinner Linda made stuffed poblano peppers and pan-grilled them.  (We do not travel with an outdoor grill, either propane or charcoal.)  The stuffing was rice, black beans, tomatoes, scallions, vegan sour cream, cumin seeds, and Daiya vegan cheddar cheese.  So good.  We had some Barefoot Riesling wine after dinner and fresh mixed fruit salad (bananas, strawberries, and blueberries) for dessert.  I really like the way we eat.

After dinner we watched our usual PBS news programs followed by our usual CBS entertainment shows.  I stayed up to watch Charlie Rose’s interview with Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, Inc.  I was getting ready for bed and turned on the fresh water pump.  It normally runs briefly to build up pressure and then shuts off.  This time it just kept running.  That meant one of two things: either there was an opening in the system (faucet or leak), or the demand pressure sensor was not working.  I shut it off, put my sweats and Crocs back on, grabbed a flashlight, and went outside to investigate.

It was almost midnight but there was plenty of light from the resort street lamps.  I checked both sides of the utility bay and did not see any sign of a leak other than the small drip from the fill valve packing nut.  I turned on the shore water supply and opened the valves to allow it to flow through the softener to the coach.  Once the lines and softener were filled and pressurized I did not hear any further water flow, so I was somewhat confident that we did not have a leak in the system.  I left the outside water turned on so we could flush the toilet and run water to wash our hands.

Back inside I wrote a sticky note not to turn on the water pump and stuck it on the toilet seat.  Linda woke up right after I finally got to bed so I was able to tell her in person, but the note was still a good reminder.  I watched Tavis Smiley’s interview with Tom Waters of Pink Floyd and then went to sleep. February 2016 had been a very busy, but very satisfying month for us.

 

2016/02/21 (N) Punta Gorda

Our destination today was Punta Gorda.  We arranged last night to pick up Mara and Michael at 9 AM and stop at Dunkin Donuts for coffee and something to eat.  As a result we slept in a bit and did not make coffee or have breakfast.  I stopped at the Shell Station to top off the fuel tank and then pulled into the DD next door.  Coffee and food in hand we headed to downtown Arcadia on FL-70 and then headed south on US-17 to Punta Gorda.

Michael, Mara, and Linda at the historic 1928 train station in Punta Gorda, FL.

Michael, Mara, and Linda at the historic 1928 train station in Punta Gorda, FL.

Mara had researched things to see and do and entered them into the “Map My Plans” app on her iPad.  The app can arrange them in the best order (shortest driving distance) to visit.  Our first stop was an historic train station from 1928 that is now a local history museum.  It was closed on Sunday’s, but we got to see the outside.  Our next stop was an open air arts and crafts market near the Convention Center.  We saw this market last month, when we visited the Woodcarvers Expo at the Convention Center, and it was there again today so we stopped.  Mara bought some earrings and Linda bought an apron.  There was also a husband-wife guitar group playing some very interesting original music that seemed to be of derivative Spanish influence.  They were selling CDs, and I am always tempted to buy one from groups like this as I would likely never find them anywhere else again.  But I didn’t.

This is the front of the historic 1928 train station.  Punta Gorda, FL.

This is the front of the historic 1928 train station. Punta Gorda, FL.

From the arts and crafts market we drove to the farmers’ market.  We also visited this market in January and really liked it.  The same vendors were there so we were able to buy some more Miatake mushrooms and some Sweet Hot pickles.  Linda also bought a selection of fruits and vegetables.

Linda looks over the fruits and vegetables at the Punta Gorda farmers market.

Linda looks over the fruits and vegetables at the Punta Gorda farmers market.

From the farmers market we drove to Ponce de Leon Park and visited the Peace River Wildlife Refuge.  This was also our second visit to this facility, which has an interesting collection of injured birds who are at least living out their lives in comfort and safety.

The front end of a vintage Lincoln at the Muscle Car Museum in Punta Gorda, FL.  Most of the cars were General Motors products.

The front end of a vintage Lincoln at the Muscle Car Museum in Punta Gorda, FL. Most of the cars were General Motors products.

After our visit to the refuge we drove to an alligator preserve but it was closed.  We back-tracked a short distance to the Muscle Car Museum.  Though not free, we paid the nominal admission charge and spent a couple hours examining a very large and very nice collection of Chevy cars and trucks.  Among others they had a couple of 1957 Belairs and a couple of 1967 Cameros.

 

 

 Bruce standing by a red 1957 Chevy Belair.  He had one very similar to this when he was in high school.  Muscle Car Museum, Punta Gorda, FL.

Bruce standing by a red 1957 Chevy Belair. He had one very similar to this when he was in high school. Muscle Car Museum, Punta Gorda, FL.

Neither of us are particularly nostalgic about our youth, or any other part of our past for that matter, but I had a 1957 Belair my last three years in high school (in the late 60s) that I customized.  It was not a muscle car but it was candy apple red and it was mine.  Linda’s first car after she graduated from high school and started working was a 1967 Camero.  It was a white convertible with a red interior and a 327 cubic inch V8 under the hood.  It had an automatic transmission, and was not a muscle car, but it was powerful and we took it to from St. Louis, Missouri to Colorado and back on our two-week camping honeymoon right after we got married.

Linda standing by a white 1967 Chevy Camero.  It was similar to the one she owned except that hers was a convertible and had a red interior.  Muscle Car Museum, Punta Gorda, FL.

Linda standing by a white 1967 Chevy Camero. It was similar to the one she owned except that hers was a convertible and had a red interior. Muscle Car Museum, Punta Gorda, FL.

We discussed finding a restaurant in Punta Gorda for linner but Mara and Linda did not turn up anything promising.  I set the GPS and started back to our RV resort.  In less than an hour we were back and dropped Mara and Michael at her rig before returning to ours.

Back at the coach we turned on our Verizon Mi-Fi and checked our e-mail.  Gary had sent the first draft of the April 2016 issue of Bus Conversion Magazine for me to proofread.  I went through my featured bus article on Ronnie and Diann Mewbourn’s 1969 Model 07 Eagle conversion and started annotating corrections.  I will need to go through it again with the original open for comparison but I was too tired to do that today.

For dinner Linda sautéed the Miatake mushrooms in EVOO with garlic, onion, and Egri Merlot.  She also cooked a spaghetti squash, set out some black grapes, and poured out the remainder of the Merlot, which was left over from last night’s dinner.  This was only the second time we have had Miatake mushrooms and it is difficult to describe in words how exquisitely good they are in terms of taste, texture, sight, and smell.  We agreed that they were the best mushrooms we have ever had.

After dinner I connected the Sony a99v-DSLT to my computer and off-loaded the 105 pictures I took today.  I looked through them quickly but did not see anything that I thought would make a good postcard for Madeline.  My computer seemed to be working again so I backed up photos, blog posts, BCM files, and other files to our NAS.  I tried to access the Backup and Security components in Windows 10 and it appeared they had been restored to proper operation.  I checked for updates and the system said it was up-to-date.  ES|ET Smart Security is still telling me I have 17 updates and most of them appear to be drivers related to the computer hardware and low level system functions.  I need to contact ES|ET and ask them about what this actually means and how to resolve it.

We were going to walk over after dinner and visit with Mara and Michael but all four of us were tired and took a pass.  We watched Father Brown on PBS, the Simpsons and something else on FOX, and then Downton Abbey on PBS.  Linda headed off to bed after Downton Abbey and I watched the end of CSI: Cyber.

 

2016/02/11 (R) Key West and Back

We were up at 7 AM, showered, dressed, and went down to breakfast, which consisted of fruit and potatoes.  We went back to our room and gathered up the stuff we would need for the day.  We loaded the car and headed south on the Florida Toll Road to its terminus at US-1.  We headed south on US-1 and stopped at the Shell station to top off the tank before continuing our trip to the Florida Keys.  We stopped at the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center on the north end of Key Largo where we got a map of the Florida Keys and a few suggestions on what to see and do.  We continued south and found ourselves in a massive traffic jam.  The problem turned out to be construction work on the drawbridge.  Most of US-1 is a 2-lane road from the mainland all the way to Key West, and there are a few drawbridges along the way.  Anything that impedes traffic, be it a drawbridge, construction, or traffic accidents, can create huge traffic jams.

We stopped on Big Pine Key and found the National Key Deer Refugee Visitor Center.  We drove down Key Deer Lane and stopped at a small lake where we talked to a volunteer naturalist but did see any deer.  We decided to return to this spot on our way back north in the late afternoon and then drive out to No Name Key in the hope of seeing some of the small, unique deer.

We eventually got through the traffic congestion, continued south, and finally reached Key West, albeit a bit later than we had planned.  We drove along S. Roosevelt to the southernmost point in the Continental United States.  There was a long line of people waiting to go to the actual point, and no obvious place to park so we kept driving.  We finally found free street parking on Turner Avenue near the Catholic Church.

A rare photo of me taken by Linda.  Even rarer is that I am smiling.  But then, why not?  I’m at The Cafe in Key West, Florida with my bride of almost 45 years about to enjoy a wonderful vegan meal.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

A rare photo of me taken by Linda. Even rarer is that I am smiling. But then, why not? I’m at The Cafe in Key West, Florida with my bride of almost 45 years about to enjoy a wonderful vegan meal. It doesn’t get much better than that.

We walked part of Duval Street, found Southard St., went the wrong way, turned around, and walked the other way, and finally found The Café restaurant.  Linda had located The Café when looking for vegan dining options on Happy Cow.   Linda had the Udon noodle bowl and I had the Kung Pao Tofu.  Both were excellent vegan fare and the servings were huge.

We spent a couple more hours walking the historic part of town, walking past the Hemingway house, the lighthouse, and the Truman Community that includes The Little White House.  We did not pay admission fees and go in anything as we did not have enough time to really see them.

Linda at The Café in Key West, Florida right after our meals had come to the table.  The Café has the Key West look and feel, but was nicer than most of the vegan restaurants we find.  Vegan eateries tend to be near colleges and universities and cater to that clientele, so they do not waste a lot of money on fancy decor.

Linda at The Café in Key West, Florida right after our meals had come to the table. The Café has the Key West look and feel, but was nicer than most of the vegan restaurants we find. Vegan eateries tend to be near colleges and universities and cater to that clientele, so they do not waste a lot of money on fancy decor.

We were back in our car around 4 PM planning to return to Big Pine Key to see the Key Deer.  Traffic was very heavy getting out of Key West and did not get any better once we were headed north on US-1.  It turned out that there was an accident on US-1 about five miles before our turn on Big Key, which was 18 miles from where we first encountered stopped traffic.  It took us two hours to finally clear the reported accident location and be able to resume driving at posted speeds.

By the time we reached the Key Deer Habitat it was too dark to see anything and we kept on driving.  We stopped at a filling station in Florida City before returning to the hotel just before 9 PM.  Our round trip today put about 260 miles on the car.  It was a hard day, but we were glad we made the trip.  Even on our brief drive-through visit we found the Keys to be attractive and charming and someplace we would probably enjoy spending the month of January or February some year.  It is a very expensive place to stay, with nicer (not luxurious) RV parks running $100 per day, but the Keys are a unique place with unique things to see and do, and a very agreeable climate in January.  We will save our pennies and perhaps plan a month in the Keys into our winter 2017-18 travels.  As of now we plan to return to the southwest U. S. for winter 2016-17.

 

2016/01/16 (S) – 2016/01/20 (W) A Capitol Experience

2016/01/16 (S) Fort Myers Beach Marilyn

I got up at 8:15 AM, cleaned the cats’ food bowls, fed them, and then made coffee.  I replied to an e-mail from BCM publisher Gary Hatt regarding which article he planned to run in March and which one in April.  I then downloaded my photos from the last two days from my camera to my computer.  Linda slept in and did not get up until 9:10.  We both felt like we have had too much less-than-ideal food to eat the last few days and split a grapefruit for breakfast.

Our plans for the day revolved around meeting Linda’s sister, Sr. Marilyn, at noon at the Diamond Head Beach Resort and Spa in Fort Myers Beach where she is attending an educational conference and taking CPE courses to maintain her counseling license.  The conference was being put on by her religious community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Corondelet.  Marilyn told us the resort parking was outside but the entrance had a relatively low bar over it so I took the ham radio antenna off of our car before we left at 10 AM for the drive to Fort Myers Beach.

Two hours should have been plenty of time to get there but we finally discovered the downstate traffic congestion that many fellow RV/snowbirds have mentioned to us.  The trip down FL-31 south was an easy, pleasant drive through citrus groves and ranches.  It ended at FL-80 where we headed west towards Ft. Myers.  We had the GPS set for “shortest route” so it took us through town instead of putting us on I-75 but it was an interesting route and we got to see different parts of the city including downtown and McGreger Avenue, which is lined with large Royal Palms.  It was also the location of the adjacent Henry Ford and Thomas Edison estates.  In spite of the traffic we will probably venture back there at some point to see the estates.

Apparently everyone was headed to Ft. Myers Beach today as the last few miles to get onto the island took one hour.  It was the worst traffic I seen in years.  There is only one bridge connecting the north end of the island to the mainland and there are two lanes of traffic that funnel down into one.  The lanes have a divider between them and are controlled by separate stop lights.  We had never seen anything like it before.  Linda texted Marilyn with a revised ETA.

Marilyn and Linda at the Diamond Head Beach Resort & Spa, Ft. Myers Beach, FL.

Marilyn and Linda at the Diamond Head Beach Resort & Spa, Ft. Myers Beach, FL.

When we finally pulled into the parking lot of the hotel at 12:30 PM Marilyn was waiting for us.  We paid for parking ($10), parked the car, and went directly to Cabana’s, the hotel’s beachfront bar/restaurant.  Linda had a margarita and I had a frozen strawberry daiquiri.  What can I say?  I like fruit drinks.

For lunch Linda and I both had veggie burgers and Marilyn had the Portobello mushroom burger.  The veggie burgers were mushy, as they often are, but the French fries were coated with something before being fried, probably flour, and were excellent.  After we were done eating Linda and Marilyn walked out onto the beach where Linda took her shoes off and walked in the ocean.  Our $10 parking fee got us a voucher for the same amount which we applied to the lunch bill.

We spent the next 90 minutes strolling a portion of Estero Boulevard, the main/only street that runs the length of the island.  I took a few photographs and we wandered into a few shops but did not buy anything.  We also walked out on the pier where we got a close up look at two Pelicans and a great view of the very crowded beach to the north and south.  This place definitely had that upscale but slightly funky, seaside resort, winter getaway vibe that is one of the reasons people flock to such places.

The Beach at Ft. Myers Beach, FL.

The Beach at Ft. Myers Beach, FL.

We were back at the hotel at 3:30 PM.  Marilyn had something to do at 4 PM so we took our leave and got back into the bumper-to-bumper traffic that was now moving slowly towards the bridge and off the island.  But at least it was moving, and once we cleared the bridge traffic moved along much better.  I changed the GPS to “fastest route” and it took us over different roads to I-75 and then north five miles to FL-80 where we retraced our earlier route (in reverse) to get back to Arcadia.  At the intersection of FL-80 and FL-31 we stopped at a Publix supermarket and bought a couple of bottled drinks.

It had been a long day and I did not feel like working at my computer.  We tuned in a program on PBS at 8 PM and doodled on our iPads.  Linda was checking the weather and the forecast for overnight was starting to look ominous.  When the program ended at 9:30 we went outside to retract our awnings and put our folding chairs and table away.  We stowed the big patio awning last and it started to rain lightly as we completed that task.  We left the TV on and watched the weather situation closely.  I finally went to bed at midnight knowing that we would not got a full, restful night’s sleep.

2016/01/17 (N) Bad Weather

The cold front that swept across the Florida peninsula overnight was draped off of an intense low pressure system that moved from Texas along the Gulf coast shore into the Florida panhandle and eventually along the Florida/Georgia border and off into the Atlantic.  The front, combined with a low level jetstream, raced across the area at 50 to 60 miles per hour triggering numerous thunderstorms and spawning a few tornados.

We had followed the development of the system closely before going to bed at midnight as both channel 11 and 20 had continuous storm team coverage.  At 4:30 AM we received severe weather alerts on our phones.  Linda’s phone has a loud klaxon warning sound associated with these alerts and we were instantly wide awake.  We put on our sweats, so that we would at least be dressed in case we had to leave the rig, and turned on the TV.

Arcadia, including our Big Tree Carefree RV Resort, was in the northeast corner of a tornado warning box.  It had started raining, off and on, well before midnight but as the storm front moved into our area thunderstorms came with it, one with Doppler radar indicated rotation.  There was lightning and thunder, of course, and the rain became steady and very heavy.  The wind really picked up but never became tornadic.  We stayed up until 5:30 AM by which time the main storm front had passed.  There were a few lingering cells behind it but the meteorologists gave the “all clear” for our area and we went back to bed.

The temperature was in the upper 60’s when we got up at 8:30 AM, rose slightly to about 70, and then dropped throughout the day as the front that triggered the storms raced off into the Atlantic opening the door for much colder air to flow in behind it, courtesy of the Polar Vortex that was plunging most of the Eastern U. S. and Canada into a deep freeze.

The rest of the day was uneventful with pleasant weather.  My focus was selecting and processing photos from the recent Arcadia Rally 2016 for the bonus content section of the digital edition of the March 2016 issue of Bus Conversion Magazine.  Linda worked on her counted cross-stitch project and went for several walks.  I joined her for brief strolls after lunch and dinner.  For dinner Linda made vegan chili from scratch.  It was very good.  We watched Downton Abbey on PBS after which Linda went to bed while I continued to work on photos.

2016/01/18 (M) The Capitol Steps

The air mass behind the cold front that swept out of the Gulf of Mexico, across Florida, and out into the Atlantic Ocean yesterday was noticeably colder and drier than normal for southwest Florida.  The temperature overnight dropped to 47 degrees, so we slept well and woke to clear skies and crisp air.

Our day revolved around the 3 PM performance at the Venice Theater of the political comedy musical group The Capitol Steps.  Venice is over an hour’s drive from Arcadia so we arranged with Steve and Karen Limkemann to make a day of it that would include lunch, photography at the Venice Rookery, the show, and dinner.

We skipped breakfast, showered, and dressed up enough to be presentable for the theater.  We gathered up several layers of outerwear and I put the 100-300 mm zoom lens on the Sony a99v.  We left at 10 AM and stopped at the Shell station in Arcadia to top up the fuel tank. Dunkin Donuts was right next door so we each got coffee and a blueberry bagel to split.  I got a frozen coffee drink made with almond milk and mocha.  I had never had one of these from DD and it was pretty good.

I had the GPS set for fastest route.  It took us out FL-72 towards Myakka State Park, which I expected, but then took us south on County Road 769.  Along the way we saw the usual assortment of citrus groves, ranches, and birds but also saw a Bald Eagle.  CR-769 turned southwest and eventually intersected I-75 where we headed “north.”  Although it was another 25 miles to the Nokomis exit, I-75 ran mostly east-west for this stretch so this route actually made a lot of sense.  It was only a couple of miles from the exit to Steve and Karen’s place and there was a Publix supermarket along the way, so we stopped and bought them a bag of M&M’s to replace ones we had eaten on our last visit and were going to eat on this one.  Not vegan, but a small indulgence.

We got to Steve and Karen’s place at Bay Lake Estates at 11:30 AM.  At 11:45 we walked to Cafe Evergreen about 1.5 miles away, an easy walk on a sidewalk without having to cross any major streets.  Cafe Evergreen is a small, all organic, restaurant with a good selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes.  We both had salads for lunch and they were very good.  Everything we have had to eat here has been excellent and the service has always been on a par with the quality of the food.

We walked back to Steve and Karen’s and visited until we left at 2:15 PM to drive to the Venice Theatre.  Parking can be a problem in downtown Venice but Steve found a parking space on a side street near the theatre.  We have enjoyed The Capitol Steps every time we have seen them and this show was as good as any.  Laughter really is the best medicine.

Herons and Egrets at the Venice Rookery, Venice, FL.

Herons and Egrets at the Venice Rookery, Venice, FL.

The show was done around 5 PM.  By the time we made our way to the restrooms and out of the theatre it was 5:15 PM.  Steve drove us to the Venice Rookery where we bundled up against the chilly air and Steve and I got out our cameras.  The sky was clear except for some thin clouds to the west and I took quite a few photos in the quickly changing light.  Sunset was just before 6 PM and we stayed until 6:30 to watch bats emerge from their purpose-built houses atop tall, slender poles.  We headed back to Cafe Evergreen where we had 7 PM dinner reservations.

Linda, Karen, and I drank lots of coffee, which was smooth and warm.  Linda and I had stir-fried kelp noodles with vegetables served over a bed of couscous with an Asian style sauce.  It was delicious and had a wonderful texture.  We each had a vegan indulgence for dessert; cranberry pecan for me and chocolate peanut butter for Linda.  It was a very satisfying meal.

We got back to Steve and Karen’s at 8:45 PM and decided to head for home.  We reversed our earlier route and were back at our coach before 10 PM.  We watched NCIS Los Angeles and went to bed, tired from a long, but very satisfying day.

2016/01/19 (T) VZW Data Usage

We left the windows open about inch yesterday, along with the kitchen ceiling vent (but no fan), so it would not get too warm inside from the sun while we were away.  It was cool inside when we got home at 10 PM and we closed up the coach in anticipation of the outside temperature overnight dropping into the low 40’s.  Last night was another cool one, literally.

Herons and Cranes at the Venice Rookery, Venice, FL.

Herons and Cranes at the Venice Rookery, Venice, FL.

There are only a few hot dishes that Linda makes for breakfast and most of them are a lot of work.  The one dish that is relatively easy is oatmeal, and it is a great choice for a cool/cold morning.  It stays warm long enough to eat it before it gets cold, is a hearty (and heart healthy) dish, and stays with you for quite a while.

Linda stopped at the resort office yesterday to see if they could cut the grass around our site while we were gone for the day.  The awnings were up and our chairs/table were still put away from the weekend storms, so the site was clear.  The office said they probably would not get to it on Monday as the ground and grass was too wet but when we finally left the coach today we saw that they had, in fact, mowed the area.

We have been on the go more than sitting still for the last week and needed some time at the coach to do things.  I needed to wrap up work on two articles for BCM and settled in today to do that.  Today (the 19th of the month) is also the end of our Verizon Wireless billing cycle.  We do not have park Wi-Fi at our site in Big Tree Carefree RV Resort and have been leaving our Verizon Mi-Fi on continuously.  We managed to use almost all of our 11 GB of data during the current billing cycle so I wanted to spend today working on photos for the articles and defer uploading them until tomorrow.

Before getting back into my BCM rally article I copied all of the photos that I took yesterday at the Venice Rookery from the camera to my computer.  Linda tries to create a new postcard for Madeline every Tuesday and wanted a picture from the Rookery.  My best photos were of individual birds or small groups but she wanted something that would give Madeline a better visual understanding of just what a rookery is.

 

I finally selected a photo with lots of different birds in lots of different positions, including some in flight.  Linda logged into the PhotoCardApp on her iPad and determined that the post cards the company creates and mails out are 8.25″ by 5.5″, which is a 3:2 aspect ratio.  That is also the native format of my Sony SLT-a99v.  Using Faststone Image Viewer (FIV) I was able to resize the image to the exact size of the postcard.  I then e-mailed it to Linda’s Gmail account which, in spite of our local area network in the bus, is the easy (only?) way to get it from my computer to her iPad.

While I was processing the image Linda looked up the term “rookery” and discovered that its meaning is more specific than we thought.  While it is, indeed, a place where birds roost and build nests (typically in trees) it is actually specific to rooks, which are a crow-like bird.  It has, however, become the generic term for a place where one or more species of bird roost, breed, nest, and raise their young.

Besides the main post card photo the PhotoCardApp allows you to create your own stamps.  Creating a stamp costs two credits but once it’s created you can use it over and over for just the cost of the postage.  (You get 30 credits for $25 and each card costs 2 credits to create, produce, and mail.)  We do not have a lot of photos of the two of us together as one of us (usually me) is typically behind the camera.  We have a nice head and shoulders photo that our son took that I use at the end of my BCM articles.  I e-mailed that to Linda and she used it to create a personalized stamp.  I found a second photo of us that someone took at the 2014 GLAMARAMA Rally so I processed it and e-mailed it to Linda to use for a second stamp if she wanted.  We are both wearing our bright yellow GLCC dress shirts, so it is very RV specific.

We tried Facetiming with Brendan, Shawna, and Madeline Sunday evening but the connection was too slow so we talked on the phone.  They were in Washington D. C. for a conference related to Shawna’s research and Madeline got to visit the Natural History Museum and see dinosaur skeletons.  The PhotoCardApp also has a large collection of “stickers” that can be added to a post card, so Linda added an electronic dinosaur “sticker” to the one she was working on.

A Great Blue Heron at the Venice Rookery, Venice, FL.

A Great Blue Heron at the Venice Rookery, Venice, FL.

The last couple of days there was some confusion between BCM owner/publisher Gary Hatt, the layout person (Jorge Escobar, in Columbia), and myself regarding which article they were running in the March 2016 issue.  Gary cleared that up in favor of my article on the Arcadia Rally 2016.  That, in turn, allowed me to move ahead with finishing that article today, which I finally did around dinner time.  My only breaks were to eat lunch and go for short walks.

Linda worked on her counted cross-stitch project but took time out to go on several longer walks, including one to the local Winn-Dixie supermarket.  She planned to make a bean soup for dinner and needed a few ingredients.  The soup was based on a package of mixed beans and lentils she bought at a health food store in Frankenmuth, Michigan back in October.  She added water, tomato sauce, garlic, onion, greens, chili powder, and turmeric.  By the time we sat down to dinner the sun had set and the temperature was dropping so the hot soup was not only delicious but really hit the spot.

We walked over to the mail room after dinner.  My new driver’s license had arrived.  The registrations and tabs for the bus and car arrived a few days ago so as of now we are not expecting any more mail.

Back at the coach I turned on the electric toe-kick heaters and plugged in the Broan portable cube heater rather than run the Aqua-Hot.  We put on our Tuesday evening TV programs but I was in a groove and turned my attention to selecting and processing photos to go with blog posts.  I got through my images for November and December and the first few days of January by 11 PM when the last show ended and Linda headed off to bed.

We still had 1.5 GB of data left in our current billing cycle, which ended at midnight, although I was not sure in what time zone.  I knew the data for my BCM Arcadia rally article was not more than 0.5 GB so I uploaded it before our data allocation reset.  It’s expensive to exceed our allocation but there is also a “cost” associated with not using what we have paid for.

I turned the thermostats on the toe-kick heaters back and turned off the Broan cube heater.  I turned on the electric heating pad on my side of the bed, set it to 4, and activated the pre-heat function.  I finally got to bed around 12:30 AM and snuggled in under the blankets.

2016/01/20 (W) Cellular Options

I don’t know if the outside temperature got into the upper 30’s last night but even with the coach closed up the temperature inside dropped to 59 degrees F.  Linda got up first this morning and turned up the thermostats on the electric toe-kick heaters.  I got up a few minutes later and turned on the Aqua-Hot diesel burner and the three thermostats that control the zone pumps and fans on the heat exchangers in the house portion of the bus.

We had slept in a bit and were sitting around in our sweats while the coach warmed up when we realized at 7:55 that the Wednesday coffee was starting in five minutes.  We did not feel like going over in our sweats or changing clothes so I made coffee in our coach like I do almost every morning.  The problems (for us) with the Wednesday morning coffee, based on having been one time, is that there is no opportunity to socialize and it takes too long.  It was well attended the one time we went so it apparently serves the needs of the resort management and most of the residents.

Linda used her iPad2 to check in on the world and I used mine to finish up my blog posts for the last few days.  We eventually had granola with blueberries and bananas for breakfast, which is always a treat.  Linda walked our kitchen trash over to the dumpster and then continued walking the park for her first walk of the day.

My original objective for today was to upload image and document files for my Arcadia Rally 2016 article to my BCM Dropbox folder, but I got that done before I went to bed last night.  Although I have a lot work to do on several websites, including ours, I wanted to put the finishing touches on my featured bus article about Ronnie and Diann Mewbourn’s 1969 Model 07 Eagle bus conversion and move two technical articles from “proofreading” to “ready” status.  Gary has not had Kathy proofread/edit any of them yet so that had to wait for another day.  I also wanted to continue selecting/processing photos for my January blog posts but got distracted with system updates for my ASUS laptop computer.

I ran the CCleaner program and then ran the Windows 8.1 disk check utility.  I ran it because MS Outlook keeps “encountering a problem and has to close” or stops responding.  The check disk utility did not find any errors so I downloaded a new version of Defraggler and started it.  I probably should have run it overnight as it ran all day and through the evening.  I think I could have worked while it was running but I have always preferred to let disk defragmenters run without anything else tasking the system.

With my computer tied up and my blog post drafts up-to-date I had a little time on my hands.  Linda is always up for another walk so we walked over to the CellularSales store, an Authorized Verizon Retailer located on an out lot of the Walmart shopping center.  The shopping center is on the other side of Highway 70 so we used the crosswalk at the traffic signal for the shopping center entrance.  This stoplight also serves the entrance to the 55+ community immediately to the east of our RV resort and is where we make our U-turn when headed east to head back west to the entrance to our resort.

The reason for our visit was that we became eligible for device upgrades back in April and wanted to check out what was available in smartphones and data plans.  We were also looking for a new Mi-Fi device that Chris and Cherie (Technomadia) reported on in their Mobile Internet Aficionados (MIA) site.  We usually work with Verizon corporate stores but there isn’t one in Arcadia.  The store was large, spacious, very nice, and not busy so Toby was able to spend some relaxed time answering our questions.

The Mi-Fi device we wanted to see was the new Netgear AC791L but CellularSales did not have one and Toby was not familiar with it.  They did not even have the Novatel 6620L and were still selling the Novatel 5510L which is what we have now and want to replace.  We got our 5510L in June 2013 from a Verizon retailer in Gillette, Wyoming and our friends at the RV Mobile Internet Resource Center (MIA) consider it obsolete and no longer even report on it.

We also looked at new phones and learned that the Samsung Note 4 and Note 5, along with the Galaxy VI smartphone, do not have removable batteries.  Toby viewed that as a negative and we agreed.  The Galaxy V smartphone, which does have a removable battery, would still be an upgrade over our Galaxy III phones.  It has a larger screen but not as large as the Note devices, which are almost too large to hold up to your ear.  Toby also showed us the new LG phone which was very nice but again did not have a removable battery.  It’s the newest competitor to the Samsung Galaxy S VI.  We will do more research before deciding what, if anything, to do.  The AC791L, in particular, appears to be available online without a contract and at a better price than in a retail outlet.

As long as we were on the other side of the highway we stopped at Walmart and bought a loaf of Italian bread to go with our soup for dinner.  When we got back to our coach the disk defragmenter on my computer was still only part way through the disk and indicating the time remaining as “> 1 day.”  The temperature outside was near perfect, not too warm or cool, so Linda got out one of our chairs and sat outside reading while I stayed inside and took a nap.

I got up a couple of hours later and wiled away what was left of the afternoon.  We have been keeping an eye on our male cat, Jasper, who has lost little patches of fur from several spots on his back, and finally decided that we should get him in to see a vet.  The closest one is on FL-31 less than a mile from our RV resort and is the one that folks in the resort recommended.  Linda was looking for reviews online but could not find the clinic so she drove over in the car to get the name and phone number.  It turned out that she had found the veterinarian’s name but he used to work out of his house at a different location.  We plan to drive out towards Lake Okeechobee tomorrow but will call the veterinary clinic first and make an appointment for Friday.

The Venice Rookery at sunset, Venice, FL.

The Venice Rookery at sunset, Venice, FL.

As the sun sank in the western sky the temperature cooled off quickly and we closed up the coach.  Linda heated the rest of the soup she made yesterday and we sat down at 7 PM to a simple but delicious dinner of soup and bread.  We turned on the TV after dinner, watched Jeopardy, and then switched to PBS to watch the Wednesday night nature/science programs.

The last 10 days have been very busy and somewhat intense for us.  We had been to the woodcarvers expo in Punta Gorda, visited with Steve and Karen, met Ron and Mary at Myakka State Park, visited with them again at our RV resort, attended the Tampa RV Supershow in conjunction with strong weather, visited Marilyn in Fort Myers Beach, dealt with severe weather again, followed by a long day of working on photos for my BCM rally article, had a long day visiting Steve and Karen in Nokomis again and seeing The Capitol Steps at the Venice Theatre, eating at Cafe Evergreen twice and then visiting the Venice Rookery to take photographs before returning home, had finally had another really long day yesterday selecting/processing photos and placing them in my BCM article.  Looking back at all of that we were probably due for an easy, low activity day, and one of the nice things about retirement is that we can usually have “do nothing” days whenever we want.

When I checked my computer it was still showing 17 hours to complete the defragmentation so I went to bed.

 

2016/01/11 (M) – 15 (F) Family and Friends

2016/01/11 (M) Jack and Paula

Linda was up at 7:30 AM and read quietly.  I got up at 8:15 AM and made coffee.  We had granola for breakfast with fresh strawberries which finished the current batch of cereal.  Linda got another batch out of the freezer to thaw.  We have five batches remaining.

Linda was checking e-mail and noticed that we had been billed yesterday for almost $500 by iPage for web-hosting services.  I originally signed up with iPage in January 2013 for three years.  I transferred everything over to QTH in August 2013 but did not cancel the iPage account.  I did not realize that the account was set up for automatic renewal.  I logged in to see if I could close the account and cancel the transaction or initiate a refund but the website just gave me a number to call.  I did and finally got to talk to Scott in billing.  He was obviously a native English speaker and was able to take care of everything quickly and efficiently and provide a confirmation number.  If iPage’s technical/customer support had been that good I might never have switched to a different web-hosting service.  I am, none-the-less, very glad that three of the four websites I work with are on QTH.com‘s web-servers and wish that all four of them were.  The technical and customer support there is second-to-none.

Linda wanted to send another postcard to grand-daughter Madeline so I downloaded the photos I took yesterday and selected one of a heron to use.  I post-processed it at several different sizes and copied it to the NAS.  She needed it on her iPad, however, so I e-mailed it to her.  Even though our iPads (and phones) can connect to our secure Wi-Fi network they are not able to access the network resources such as the NAS and printer.  I really should take the time to figure out if there is a way to do that.

On the drive home last night the Honda Element started displaying a message to “Check Gas Cap.”  I pulled off the road and checked but it was on tight.  The message, however, did not clear.  When we got home Linda Googled the message and found several sites that indicated it was a periodic system check and would clear the next time around, assuming the cap was not, in fact, loose.  That could take days, however, depending on how much we drove the car.  The answer for most of this week will be “not much.”

Linda went for a late morning walk.  The Element needed fuel so I drove to the Shell station on FL-70 to fill up the tank.  Linda had walked to Winn-Dixie and was just returning as I was pulling out so she rode along to the filling station.  She ran into Claudine Elbisser at the produce market and found out that she and Paul were still at Jack and Paula Conrad’s place south of town.  Jack and Paula started the Arcadia Bussin Rally and ran it for the first 10 years before turning it over to Bill and Brenda Phelan.

Back at the coach Linda heated some Amy’s vegan chili for lunch.  She opened a new (sealed) pack of saltine crackers as we like to crumble them in our chili and have a few on the side with vegan butter spread.  They did not taste quite right but we were not sure just why.  They were not spoiled but it seemed as if they were slightly stale (not crisp) and the flavor was also “off.”  They were Publix branded and all of the grocery items we have ever gotten from there have been good quality but we decided to throw the crackers away.

A Green Heron at Myakka State Park, FL.

A Green Heron at Myakka State Park, FL.

We went for a walk after lunch during which Linda got a call from her sister-in-law, Mary.  They agreed that we might do something together tomorrow if Spence and Nancy had not made other plans for them.  It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon but cool with highs in the upper 60’s.  Rather than sit around the coach I called Jack to see if we could stop by for a visit.  He and Paula did not have anything specific going on so we drove to their place about 10 miles south of Arcadia.

When we arrived we were greeted by Jack and Paula but found out that Paul and Claudine had pulled out this morning, so we did not get to visit with them.  We then realized that when Claudine told Linda she had to run “because Paul was waiting for her at Walmart” he was waiting in the bus.  John and Lois Vickrey were there, however, and the six of us had a nice visit.  There were two other converted buses at the Conrad’s but the owners were not around.  We did not recognize their names but both coaches were at the Arcadia Rally 2016 and we would probably have recognized them on sight.

By 4:45 PM the sun was low in the sky and the temperature had dropped into the low 60’s.  We were getting cold so we excused ourselves and left.  We stopped at Walmart on the way back to our RV resort for a box of angel hair pasta and a box of Nabisco saltine crackers.  Back at our coach I closed the two roof vents and we closed all of the windows.  I checked e-mail and Linda started working on dinner.

She started with a nice salad of baby kale, scallions, olives, and pumpkin seeds dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.  The main course was angel hair pasta with a vegan mushroom cream sauce.  She used the Miatake mushrooms we bought yesterday at the Farmers Market in Punta Gorda.  It was outstanding and we really liked the taste and texture of the mushrooms, which were a new culinary experience for us.

We went for our usual after-dinner stroll around the resort and stopped by the activity building where lots of residents were playing bingo and smaller groups were playing cards and games.  In another building a dozen men were playing pool.  It was a beautiful clear night with the constellation Orion rising in the eastern sky.  Although the air temperature was crisp folks were out walking, just like us.

Back at our coach we settled in to watch our usual Monday night TV programs (CBS).  They were all re-runs, which we thought was odd, but we watched them anyway.  We were off to bed at 11 PM and straight away to sleep.  I turned on the electric heater pad and set it on 3.  Toasty.

2016/01/12 (T) Myakka River State Park (FL)

The overnight low temperature was 47 degrees F; not cold enough to warrant turning the heat on in the coach but cold enough to cool off the interior by morning.  We pulled up the blankets when we went to bed and I turned on the electric heater pad on my side of the bed; a more efficient use of energy than heating the whole coach.  As a bonus, the cooler the coach the less the refrigerator runs, although the new one is much more efficient than the old one.  When it gets cool enough in the coach Juniper (the cat) gets under the covers between us and puts her head between our pillows.  She is such a princess.

A pair of alligators in the Myakka River, Myakka SP, FL.

A pair of alligators in the Myakka River, Myakka SP, FL.

We finally got out of bed at 8:15 AM and slipped into out sweats.  I made coffee while Linda talked to Kathi at the bakery back in Michigan.  We doodled on our iPads while we drank our coffee and let the coach warm up.  By 9:30 it was 72 inside.  I turned off the heaters and we sat down to a breakfast of homemade granola with blueberries and bananas and a small glass of orange juice.  We doodled for another half hour after breakfast and then got dressed.  In preparation for meeting Linda’s brother, Ron, and his wife, Mary, at Myakka State Park at 11 AM Linda made a picnic lunch and I got the camera gear ready to go.

We had planned to be on the road by 10:30 AM but actually left at 10:39.  The 29 miles to the park entrance was not all 60 MPH, so we did not get to the visitor center until 11:20 AM.  Ron and Mary were already there waiting for us.  We looked at maps and discussed what we wanted to do.  Ron and Mary wanted to see alligators in the wild, so they had come to the right place.  The main park road crosses the Myakka River about a mile into the park from the entrance / visitor center with parking at both ends of the bridge.  We knew from our visit two years ago that this was an excellent place to see alligators, as well as a variety of birds and so it was again today.  After spending some time on the bridge we walked along the south/east bank of the river and found two more alligators sunning themselves on the opposite bank.

A little farther down the road was the parking area for the Canopy Walk and Nature Trail.  We climbed the tower, walked across the suspension bridge, and then climbed to observation deck at the top of the second tower.  The suspension bridge goes through the forest canopy about 35 feet in the air and affords a view of the forest that most of us rarely see.  At 76.1 feet AGL the observation level put us well above the top of the trees with a commanding 360 degree view of the park and beyond.  I shot a nine frame panorama from west through north to east.

By the time we got back to our cars we were all ready for lunch so we drove to the developed area on the south shore of Upper Myakka Lake.  This area has one of the two campgrounds, a boat ramp, air boat tour concession, restaurant, restrooms, picnic tables, and a trail that leads out to a platform where the lake flows out and becomes the river.  We found a picnic table in the sun near the shore and had our PB&J sandwiches, oranges, pretzels, and water.  After lunch we walked out to the platform and were rewarded with more views of wildlife.

Ron, Linda, & Mary atop the 76.1 foot observation tower, Myakka SP, FL.

Ron, Linda, & Mary atop the 76.1 foot observation tower, Myakka SP, FL.

Our next stop was the “Birdwalk,” an elevated boardwalk near the northeast corner of the lake that goes out into an open harsh and gets people close to the shore.  There was lots of wildlife out there but most of it was some distance away.  A sign indicated that the donation box was to raise money to build an observation tower at end of the boardwalk above the existing viewing platform.

Our final stop for the day was the parking area for a trailhead in the northeast corner of the park.  The main trail led to primitive campsites as much as 10 miles away.  We did a loop of about 2.5 miles (by my estimate).  Although the entire trail (park) was level terrain the footing was rough or soggy in places.  Portions of our hike were through the forest and the rest was through prairie.  It was our most vigorous hike of the day and I did not take any photos even though I carried the camera along.

By the time we got back to our cars it was 4:45 PM.  The sun was low in the sky and the temperature had dropped.  We discussed our plans for Thursday and then headed our separate ways.  We had just left the park entrance and headed east on FL-72 when I spotted a group of 6 to 8 feral hogs on the north side of the road by a stream about 100 feet from the road.  Linda did not spot them in time so I turned around and went back.  As I slowed down they took off but Linda got to see them.  I turned around again and headed towards Arcadia.  Less than a mile down the road I saw four more in the ditch just off the north side of road.  They were very large adult animals.

We were back at our coach by 6 PM and had left over Asian salad for dinner.   It had been a slightly more physical day than normal so after dinner we settled in to watch our Tuesday evening TV programs on CBS.

2016/01/13 (W) Coffee Clutch

Today was our second Wednesday at Big Tree RV Resort.  The only significance to that factoid is that Wednesday morning is the weekly resort coffee.  As new arrivals in the resort we received a coupon for free coffee but forgot to go last week so we made a point of getting up and going this morning.  The coffee starts at 8 AM but we had been “advised” by folks to arrive early if we wanted a seat.  We got there around 7:50 AM and the place was packed.  We got in line to get our coffee and found out that today’s gathering was sponsored by an insurance agency and was free of charge. We found seats and made the acquaintance of the people sitting near us.

Ron, Mary and Me atop the 76.1 foot observation tower, Myakka SP, FL. (Photo by Linda)

Ron, Mary and Me atop the 76.1 foot observation tower, Myakka SP, FL. (Photo by Linda)

This was not a coffee clutch where folks stand around, mingle, and chat.  There are somewhere between 700 and 800 people in this park and I estimated that at least 400 of them were present at the coffee.  Everyone was seated on both sides of long tables for the entire duration of the coffee, which lasted until 9:15 AM.  It was very organized and consisted of introductions, lots of announcements, lots of door prizes, and a 50/50 drawing.  For the seasonal and permanent residents the information is probably useful, but it was not that interesting or useful to us.  We might go one more time just to take advantage of our free coffee coupon but the nature of the gathering won’t afford us any opportunity to meet people and talk to them over coffee so we probably won’t make a priority of going.

Today was laundry day for us.  Linda needed a few things from Winn-Dixie, including a few Powerball lottery tickets, and walked down to get them.  I gathered up the laundry, sorted it by color and temperature into three batches, and drove over to the laundry room in the activity building.  The washing machines only took about 25 minutes so I stuck around until they were done.  After getting those loads into dryers I went back and got the bedding, returned to the laundry room, and put it in a washing machine.  I took my iPad with me but ended up in a conversation with a few folks.  By the time I was done with the laundry and back at our coach it was 2 PM.

A flock of birds takes flight at the north end of Upper Myakka Lake, Myakka SP, FL.

A flock of birds takes flight at the north end of Upper Myakka Lake, Myakka SP, FL.

I took a long a long nap during which Linda went for a long walk, prepared ingredients for tomorrow’s lunch, and worked on her counted cross-stitch project.  I finally got up just in time for dinner.  After dinner we watched a fascinating documentary titled “Autism in Love” as a result of which we did not watch Nature.  We did, however, watch NOVA. It was also a fascinating program exploring new discoveries and understandings about the role and relationship of minerals in the origin and evolution of life on earth.

I watched some of the evening news on channel 11-1 and also checked the weather on channel 11-2.  A strong low pressure system was moving east from New Orleans across the Florida panhandle with strong storms coming ashore in that area.  A long, comma-shaped cold front extended from the low far down into the Gulf and was advancing on the peninsula.  It was forecast to come ashore starting north of Cedar Key after midnight and then progressively affect all of the shore communities south to Marco Island with strong thunderstorms along the front and a low possibility that some of them might become severe.  Rain, possibly heavy, was due in Arcadia starting around 4 AM and getting heavy by 5 AM.  Knowing this obviously doesn’t change whatever is going to happen, but knowing what is expected allows us configure the coach properly and to be prepared and react appropriately to events as they unfold if needed.

2016/02/14 (R) Ron and Mary

We were up by 7:30 AM this morning, had showers, got dressed, and had breakfast.  Linda finished food preparations for lunch today and then straightened up the inside of the coach while I dumped the holding tanks and filled the fresh water tank.

I was outside a little later in the morning and learned from a neighbor that the sewer line that services row K (where we are parked) had developed a blockage and sewage had “backed up into a couple of rigs.”  No one, however, was able/willing to be more specific than that.  A plumber was called and I chatted with him briefly when he arrived.  He confirmed that the sewer line ran from our end of row K south towards the front of the park by Hwy 70.  He determined quickly that there was indeed a blockage and I learned from him later that it extended along a considerable length of the sewer pipe.  This was not the first time he was called to deal with this and was able to get the drain line opened up.

Piecing together the available information I figured it was entirely possible that the sewage that backed up was from our tanks but that the blockage was not something we caused.  Linda, however, was of the opinion that the plumber had been summoned before I dumped.  Regardless, I’m sure it was unpleasant for those who were affected and I hope we do not have a repeat of this situation while we are here.  While in no way our fault, we would hate to have contributed to the situation in any way, however inadvertently.

My reasoning was that we are the second rig from the far end of the drain line and the tops of our waste tanks are almost 4 to 5 feet above ground level.  The tanks are large and if they were near full would release a considerable volume of effluent with a significant head pressure.  If the drain line was mostly constricted (reducing its  available volume), and the blockage was not very far down stream (also reducing its available volume), the weight of the contents of our waste tanks could cause the drain line to quickly fill and then force the effluent up through any available path, such as another rig’s dump hose.  This would continue until the levels reached equilibrium.

In a trailer with its floor not that far off the ground sewage could, hypothetically, back up into waste tank(s) and then into the toilet and/or sinks. None of that would happen, of course, unless the dump valves on the other RV(s) had been left open.  We have always been told that leaving the dump valves open on an RV is a very bad idea but the reason is that getting a good, thorough, dump requires a nearly full tank.  Today’s events have given us additional reason to keep the valves closed except to dump.

 Now that’s what I’m talking about!  We have got to get one of these.  A 4-wheel drive, Sprinter-based Class B conversion from Sportsmobile as seen at the Tampa RV Supershow, Tampa State Fairgrounds, Tampa, FL.

Now that’s what I’m talking about! We have got to get one of these. A 4-wheel drive, Sprinter-based Class B conversion from Sportsmobile as seen at the Tampa RV Supershow, Tampa State Fairgrounds, Tampa, FL.

Ron and Mary arrived a little after 11 AM.  We gave them a tour of the interior remodeling work we have done and then sat and visited.  Eventually we were hungry and spread the tablecloth on the outside picnic table and had lunch out there.

After lunch Ron drove us to Joshua Citrus a couple of miles south of our resort where we bought a variety of citrus fruit.  We then drove to downtown, parked, and walked around poking our heads into some of the antique shops.  Mary was looking for a pair of clear glass lamp chimneys with a 2″ diameter base.  The closest she came was a pair with a 2-1/4″ base.  Apparently 3” diameter bases are common, 2” diameter bases, not so much.

We returned to the coach for a while and then took two cars and went to El Pirata for dinner.  It was our first time there although friends had told us it was OK and it was the #4 rated restaurant in Arcadia.  Linda did not care for her margarita and also did not care for the veggie fajitas or any of the sides that came with the dish.  I had Dos Equis Amber in a bottle, so it was fine.  I thought the food was OK; not outstanding but not disagreeable, so perhaps she just wasn’t in the mood for Mexican food tonight.

The restaurant wasn’t full so we lingered and chatted for quite a while but eventually it was time to leave.  We were only a few minutes from home but Ron and Mary had an hour’s drive to get back to Spence and Nancy’s place.  Back at our coach we settled in to watch our usual Thursday evening CBS TV programs and then headed off to bed as we planned an early departure tomorrow morning to get to the Tampa RV Supershow.

2016/01/15 (F) Tampa RV Supershow

As forecast, the rain started around 4 AM and by 5 AM was fairly heavy.  I was not, however, aware of any lightning, thunder, or strong winds.  We got up at 7:30 AM, got dressed, and had some of the Honeybelle tangelos we bought yesterday.  Honeybelles are only available for about a month starting this time of year and are highly touted so we bought a quarter-Bushnell bag.  We were, however, quite disappointed in their taste and texture.  We will eat them anyway, of course, but they will not be the treat we were counting on.

We planned to leave at 8:30 AM to drive to the Florida State Fairgrounds for the Tampa RV Supershow.  It was still raining and was forecast to continue through the morning.  I took the vertical grip off of the Sony SLT-a99v to lighten it and make it easier to carry in the Cotton Carrier camera harness/holster.  I packed a couple of extra batteries, we took our raincoats, and headed out.

We encountered very heavy rain between Arcadia and Tampa, especially along FL-70 between Arcadia and I-75.  We arrived at the fairgrounds around 10:15 AM, got our tickets, and made it into the Expo hall just as another heavy band of rain moved through.

A Prevost H3-45 VIP conversion shell on display at the Tampa RV Supershow.  The driver side of the coach is elevated on ramps and mirrors on the floor allow show attendees to see the underside of the bus.

A Prevost H3-45 VIP conversion shell on display at the Tampa RV Supershow. The driver side of the coach is elevated on ramps and mirrors on the floor allow show attendees to see the underside of the bus.

Just inside the door to the right was the major display of Prevost bus conversions and to the left was a major display of Airstream trailers and Class B motorhomes.  We crossed paths with Steve Zigler, Prevost Sales Manager for conversion shells and chatted briefly.  We met Giesle from the home office in St. Claire, Quebec and also met Melanie from Millennium Coach.  We found out from Melanie that Millennium is now the primary corporate support for the Royale Coach Club.  Apparently Liberty Coach took over sponsorship when Royale Coach folded around 2005 and Millennium took over from Liberty some time more recently.  We were members at one time but have not paid dues in several years.

The Prevost coaches were one of the main things we came to see and meeting people from the company was a bonus.  Our other objective was to check out all of the parts and accessories vendors, of which there were many, and RV Parks and Resorts, of which there where an equal number.  We mostly picked up literature until we found Bill and Brenda Phelan’s booth.  One of their products is tire covers made from heavy nylon mesh material.  It blocks most of the sunlight while allowing moisture to escape.  We have meant to get tire covers for years but never have so we ordered six in a dark brown material.  They are a significant purchase, but not compared to the tires they are designed to protect.  They will make the covers based on our tire size and ship them to us.  They also make nylon mesh windshield wiper covers but I need to measure the length of our lower wiper blades and send Brenda the measurement.  Another product of theirs are windshield and side window covers.  These, however, are custom made on site.

 The interior of the Prevost H3-45 VIP motorcoach conversion shell. This coach was actually in the process of being converted by Millennium for a customer.  Note the interior layout marked out on the floor.

The interior of the Prevost H3-45 VIP motorcoach conversion shell. This coach was actually in the process of being converted by Millennium for a customer. Note the interior layout marked out on the floor.

In the other vendor building we stopped at the booth for Williston Crossings and Belle Parc RV Resorts.  Alan, who is the managing partner for both properties, was staffing the booth so we chatted with him briefly.  We also stopped at the booth for Florida Grande Motorcoach Resort in Webster, Florida.  This was the other RV Resort that our friend, Ed Roelle, suggested we check out two years ago.  Unlike Williston Crossings, where we ended up, the lots in Florida Grande are all for sale as deeded properties with a fractional ownership in the common grounds and structures.  At least that was our understanding.

The sites at Florida Grande sell for about $48K and a coach house can be added for about $31K.  HOA fees currently run about $550 per quarter but we did not inquire about how the level is set or what limits might exist on them being raised.  Lots can be placed in a rental pool when unused but we did not ask if owners can arrange their own sublets.  We heard from someone later than only about half the lots are sold.  That means lots are still available for purchase, but also makes such a purchase potentially risky.  It means plenty of unsold lots are available to rent and if the rest of the lots do not eventually sell in a reasonable amount of time the future of the whole development would be in doubt.

We are not planning on purchasing a lot anytime soon, in Florida or elsewhere, but it is an idea that interests us longer-term.  We might drive up in the car to check it out or, more likely, stop there for a few days in the bus when we finally leave Big Tree RV Resort in March.

We eventually found our friend, Al Hesselbart, manning his Antique RV booth at the far end of the fairgrounds.  He was asked by the RV Show organizers to put together an antique RV display but relegated him to a remote corner of the show.  He had commitments from the owners of eight antique RVs, plus his own 1978 Newell, but four of them backed out at the last minute and the other four simply did not show up.  Whatever their reasons it was disappointing and inconsiderate.  Al had a large TV monitor with a slide show of about 500 images running automatically in a loop.  He had them in a shelter to protect them, and him, from the worst of the rain.

It was almost 5 PM by the time we got back to our car.  We discussed calling Ed and Betty Burns, who live near Bradenton, to see if they were up for a visit but we were at least an hour away and decided it was too short a notice, too late in the day, and we were too tired.  We fought our way through Friday rush hour traffic across US-301 to I-75 and headed south to exit 217, which is FL-70 to Bradenton (west) and Arcadia (east).  We stopped at the Speedway for gasoline and bought two coffees to scare away the cobwebs.  It had been a long day.

As we continued east on FL-70 Linda got a call from her sister, Marilyn, to finalize plans for tomorrow.  We got back to our coach around 6:45 PM and had a light dinner of garbanzo bean salad sandwiches and a small glass of wine.  We then watched a program about Agatha Christy on PBS/Create followed by two episodes of Miss Marple.  Linda headed off to bed before the second episode was over while I remained up to continue working on my blog posts from today and the previous two days.

I stayed up to watch the WINK evening news (channel 11-1).  They reported that the storms this morning included a confirmed EF-1 tornado in south Fort Meyers and wind damaged property in Lehigh Acres.  The meteorologists made it clear that the January tornados from today and last weekend would normally be quite rare for this time of year but were not unusual in an El Niño year like this one.  We are headed to Fort Meyers tomorrow for the first time to visit with Marilyn and the weather forecast looks fine if a bit cool.  Another round of strong storms is forecast for Sunday morning in connection with the passage of yet another cold front trailing from a strong low pressure center moving east across the Florida panhandle.  We plan to stay home Sunday but Marilyn is flying back to St. Louis, Missouri, weather permitting.

 

2016/01/01 (F) – 2016/01/05 (T)

2016/01/01 (F) A Short Move

We got to back to our coach around 1 AM last night but I did not go to sleep until almost 2 AM so we slept in a bit longer than usual this morning.  The rally ended at midnight so there was no breakfast or organized activities this morning.  I wandered around the rally venue taking pictures of buses as they pulled out or were now easier to photograph because adjacent buses had moved out of the way.  The departure of rigs from a rally is always interesting.  It is an asynchronous, unmanaged event that is none-the-less generally very orderly.  There is never a rush for the exit as RVs leave one-by-one except for occasional groups that are traveling together.

 Linda strolls along one of the rows of converted buses at the Arcadia Rally 2016.

Linda strolls along one of the rows of converted buses at the Arcadia Rally 2016.

My wandering eventually took me to the north end of the venue where Dave Aungier’s 1977 MCI MC-5C bus conversion was parked.  As I had expected the local NAPA store was not open today so David was unable to get the new oil pressure gauge he needed.  He did not plan on sticking around until tomorrow to get the part and was basically ready to leave as soon as I photographed his coach.  After a brief discussion we agreed that he would pull it out onto the main exit road facing south so I could photograph it in good light and without a lot of clutter around it.  I went back to my coach to get my wide angle lens and additional batteries while he moved the bus.  After shooting the exterior, bays, and interior we exchanged contact information and Dave was on his way back to his home RV park in Zephyrhills, Florida.

Departure day at the Arcadia Rally 2016.

Departure day at the Arcadia Rally 2016.

After I was done with Dave’s bus I captured a few exterior images of Ronnie and Diann Mewbourn’s 1969 Model 07 Eagle that I was not able to get yesterday.  I sat and chatted with them for a bit and gave them my contact information.  Although they were not leaving until tomorrow they were getting ready to go explore the area and check out several options for where to camp next.  At this point I had taken all of the rally photos I was going to take and went back to our coach to help Linda prepare it for our departure.

A late 1940’s GMC bus, with some of its original Greyhound markings, preparing to leave the Arcadia Rally 2016.

A late 1940’s GMC bus, with some of its original Greyhound markings, preparing to leave the Arcadia Rally 2016.

After having a light lunch we finished prepping our coach to travel and pulled out at 1 PM for the short trip to Big Tree Carefree RV Resort (BTCRVR) in Arcadia.  Linda drove the car and followed me over.  Once we were in the resort she went ahead of me to find the office and get us registered.  While she was doing that two guys showed up in a golf cart.  They made a phone call and then had me follow them to the office.  From there they escorted me to site #K-2 and got me parked.  It was a somewhat narrow back-in site but they got me positioned just right.

Linda went back to the office to finish our registration and extended our stay until March 7th.  The Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise returns to the Port of Miami on March 5th and we have to pick up Michael and Mara and then get him back to the Tampa airport and get her back to the resort.  We will have the 6th to visit with Mara and then be on the move.

While Linda was taking care of our registration I leveled the bus and shut it down.  I got the shorepower connected but was surprised that the no load voltage on L1 was only 115 VAC and that L2 was even lower at 111 VAC.  It was warm and humid but running our air-conditioners with those voltages might be a problem as our Progressive Industries EMS might cut off the shorepower if it dropped any lower.

When Linda got back we deployed all of the awnings.  A frog dropped from the driver side forward awning onto the grass when we opened it.  It was unharmed and hopped off somewhere.  While we were setting up we met Ron and Vera, who have the site just south of ours, as they were out washing their trailer.

With the voltage at our site lower than I liked I decided not to run the air conditioners.  We opened all the windows and roof vents and turned on all three exhaust fans plus an inside fan.  We endured a rather warm/humid afternoon with just the natural ventilation, helped a little by a southwesterly breeze coming in the driver side windows.  Our coach is parked facing southwest, so we are getting the afternoon sun.

Lots of residents walked or rode their bikes past our site.  Most waved and/or said “hello” and a few stopped to chat.  Conrad and Bonnie visited for quite a while and shared a lot of information with us about the resort and especially its activities, which are apparently numerous.  Big Tree RV Resort is a Carefree Resorts property and promotes itself as an active adult community.  Early evidence suggested that this might, indeed, be the case.

By late afternoon I was tired and uncomfortable so I took a nap.  Once the sun dropped below the trees it cooled off enough that we took a leisurely stroll around the resort to get a sense of the layout and the people.  We almost always do this when we arrive at any new campground, even if we are only going to be there for one night.  Lots of folks were out walking or riding their bicycles.  More than a few had strong French accents and we noticed quite a few license plates from Quebec Province in Canada.

Back at our rig Linda made vegan pancakes for dinner and served them with fresh blueberries and real maple syrup.  We had pineapple later for dessert and a small glass of wine while we watched the first episode of the new season of Sherlock on PBS.  Linda went to bed as soon as the program was over.  Since I took a nap earlier I stayed up for a while, checked us into the resort on RVillage, and tried to fill in missing information for my blog posts from December 30th and 31st.  Eventually I was unable to keep my eyes open and went to sleep.

2016/02/02 (S) Big Tree Carefree RV Resort

It was very foggy last night by the time I went to bed but had dissipated somewhat by dawn.  We slept in and got up at 8:30 AM.  Linda got a shower while I made coffee and then I got my shower and trimmed my beard shorter than usual.  We had coffee, juice, and granola with blueberries for breakfast and split a banana.

After breakfast we drove to downtown Arcadia to visit the farmers market.  Although rain was not forecast for today it was misting when we left so we took our rain coats.  It was a good thing that we did as the mist got heavier as we got to downtown.  There were only a few vendors in the square and none of them were selling fresh produce so we did not buy anything.  There was a vendor with lots of pickled products that looked interesting so we may buy something from him at the next farmers market in two weeks.  We walked around the block and back to our car and then drove back to the resort on the east edge of town about two miles from downtown.

We lost a decorative lug nut cover off of the passenger side of the coach yesterday just after I turned onto eastbound FL-70.  Linda looked for it as we drove by but did not spot it.

Back at the coach Linda vacuumed the interior, wet mopped the floor, and then went for a walk.  I decided to get a short article written about the Arcadia Rally 2016 for Bus Conversion Magazine while it was still fresh in my mind and before we got busy exploring this part of Florida.  First, I transferred my photos from the last few days to my computer and organized them.  Next, I set up the folder and sub-folders for the article, opened my article template (Word), and wrote a page of text.  I then started selecting and processing photographs and, except for a few breaks, that is what I did for most of the day.

When Linda returned from her walk she made a grocery list and then took the car to Walmart.  The Walmart is directly opposite the entrance to the resort on the south side of FL-70, which is the main east-west highway through Arcadia.  FL-70 is a divided road at this point so to get to the Walmart we have turn right and go west on FL-70 and then make a U-turn, which is legal here, or make a left onto southbound US-31 and then go in the west entrance.  To get back to the resort we can exit the Walmart at a traffic light and turn left onto westbound FL-70 and then immediately turn right into the resort entrance.  If we are coming east from west of the resort entrance we must make a U-turn at the traffic light in front of the Walmart of a little farther to the east.  The traffic signal also serves a much larger residential development just east of the resort and there is a crosswalk, so we can walk to Walmart if we do not expect to have a lot to carry back.

When Linda got back and had the groceries put away we had chickpea salad on greens for lunch.  During the afternoon I took a break from working on my article to hook up the water softener.  Back inside I wanted to back up my most recent photos but my computer could not “see” the NAS.  I ended up shutting down everything and restarting it a particular order: WFR, A|W router, NAS, and lastly computer.  That reset the connections (IP addresses) and I was able to get back to work.

I had been sitting most of the day so we went for an evening stroll before dinner.  Back at the coach Linda made a zoodles “pasta” with mushrooms, onions, garlic, broccoli, turmeric, and flax seed.  After dinner we decided to do our laundry so we gathered up clothes and bedding, loaded the laundry into the car, and drove it to the resort laundromat, which is located in the same building as the office, library, and activities/meeting room.  We loaded four washers and then four dryers.  We took our iPads with us and doodled while we waited.  There was a good, free Wi-Fi signal at the building so we may take advantage of that while we are here.

After the laundry was done, folded, and hung up we watched America Reframed: A Will To The Woods on PBS/2.  It was a program about the “green burial” movement and one man’s determination to have a green burial if/when he succumbed to non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  He did and got his wish.  It was a well done documentary.

2016/01/03 (N) Another Article

A cold front drifted southeast through our location yesterday afternoon bringing with it cooler temperatures and an increased probability of rain.  We left the windows open just an inch but I closed all three roof vents before we went to bed.  We slept in this morning because we did not have any pressing reason to get up.  When we did arise I made coffee and Linda eventually fixed toast and grapefruit for our breakfast.

Linda needed something that she forgot to buy at Walmart yesterday so she walked there to get it.  When she got back she headed out to continue her walk in the resort but the rain finally came and she quickly returned to our coach.  Once it started it was persistent and heavy at times.  We eventually discovered that the skylight in the hallway was leaking which did not make either of us very happy.

I settled in early and spent the whole day working on projects related to the Arcadia Rally.  I processed all of the photos of Dave Aungier’s 1977 MCI MC-5C bus conversion and inserted a few of them into a Word doc to serve as an example.  I uploaded the photos and the Word document to a folder in my Dropbox and e-mailed Dave the read-only link.  I selected and processed a few photos for rally organizers Bill and Brenda Phelan, uploaded those to another Dropbox folder, and e-mailed them the read-only link.  I then focused on my article about the rally for Bus Conversion Magazine (BCM), finishing the draft of the print version around 9 PM.  I uploaded it to the BCM folder in my Dropbox and e-mailed the publisher, editor, and layout technician.  I still need to upload cover and centerfold photos and then select, process, and upload photos for the bonus content section of the digital edition.

During the course of the day I took breaks for lunch and dinner.  Lunch was a really tasty cannelloni bean salad with capers, olives, lemon zest, raw garlic, and other tasty ingredients.  Dinner was a salad of power greens with couscous, cooked beets, blueberries, and orange segments.

I also e-mailed Pat Lintner and texted Chuck Spera to see if they had arrived at the Florida destinations.  Linda was playing online word games with her sister (Sr. Marilyn) and with Karen Limkemann, and thereby learned that Karen and Steve had arrived at their new place near Venice, Florida where they were busy assembling furniture they just purchased at IKEA.  She also exchanged text messages with both of our children regarding our mailing address while we are at Big Tree Carefree RV Resort (BTCRVR) and a few items we needed them to forward on to us.  When we checked out the mail room yesterday we discovered that every site at the resort has a cubby and management had already placed a tag on ours with our last name on it.  That was a nice touch and made us feel just that much more welcome even though we will only be here for a little over two months.

After dinner we turned on the TV and tuned in Part 1 of Ken Burns’ film on Prohibition on PBS/World.  We switched to PBS/main and watched the first episode of the sixth and final season of Downton Abby.  At the conclusion of the episode we switched back to Prohibition.  There was still a chance for rain through tonight, and overnight low temperatures were forecast to drop to around 50 degrees F for the next few nights, so we left the roof vents closed and the windows barely open and went to bed.

2016/01/04 (M) Unblocked

The overnight low dropped into the upper 40’s last night and made for nice sleeping conditions.  As sometimes happens with me when I do not have a clock-regulated schedule to keep, my awake/sleep cycle slowly shifts as I stay up a little later each night and get up a little later each morning.  I did not go to sleep last night until after 1 AM and we both got up this morning between 8:30 and 9 to pleasantly cool temperatures in the coach and bright, sunny skies outside.

As we were getting dressed we discovered that an old leak in the bedroom was still leaking.  The wall just below the front corner of the passenger side window was wet.  Linda’s house slippers were stored on top of the OTR HVAC duct cover and also got wet.  That’s how we discovered that we still have a problem.  Like the other leaks around windows I am convinced that the problem is the way the awnings were originally installed by Royale Coach.  They were mounted to the hinged body panels that hold the windows and I think the gaskets for these panels were damaged in the process.  Whatever the reason it is very discouraging that we still have leaks in the coach.  The other possibility was that the water was getting in around the Fan-Tastic roof vent/fan and then running through the ceiling to the side wall and down.

I got our Verizon Mi-Fi/WiFi-Ranger combo online and then made coffee while Linda cooked oatmeal for our breakfast.  We doodled on our iPads for a while and I renewed my subscription to the RFinder World Wide Repeater Directory.  It was only $9.99/year and they had a holiday renewal special extending it to 18 months.  I have this app on my Android-based Samsung Galaxy III Smartphone.

My focus for today was to work on the FMCA Freethinkers Chapter website and then unlock the public pages.  I received an e-mail from chapter president Bob Pelc recently that prompted me to take care of this and it took most of the day except for beaks to eat and go for a couple of walks, one after lunch and one after dinner.

It was a beautiful, sunny day with lower humidity, a light breeze, and a high of 69 degrees F.  While walking, we met Gary and Pat a few sites down from us.  They came in yesterday and have a house back in Michigan about three miles from ours.  It’s a small world.

We stopped in the office so I could see it and Pat greeted me by name.  Since we had never met that caught me by surprise.  She recognized/remembered Linda from when she registered us and made the assumption about who I was.  She and her husband, Jim, manage the park.  Jim was one of the two guys who led me to the site and got us parked.  Pat said she wanted to see our bus and we invited her to stop by anytime.  We have overheard a couple of comments and had a few conversations that suggest folks are curious about our bus and word of its presence has spread through the resort.

Lunch was hummus and dark leafy greens sandwiches with oranges and grapes.  Dinner was pan-seared tofu slices on a bed of dark leafy greens with Asian peanut sauce and apple slices.  Both meals were very tasty.

I got an unexpected call from Kathy Dewsbury-White, executive director of the Michigan Assessment Consortium.  We had not spoken it quite some time so it was a pleasant surprise.  After our evening walk we settled in to watch our usual Monday evening TV programs.  Having worked all day at my computer I was not in the humor to even doodle on my iPad.  We watched the 11 PM news long enough to known the world is falling apart, and switched to the local weather channel (same station) which forecast sunny days ahead.  There wasn’t anything on any of the PBS channels we wanted to see so we were in bed and asleep by 11:30 PM.

2016/01/05 (T) 1969 Model 07 Eagle

We were up at 7:30 AM this morning.  The temperature overnight fell into the upper 40’s and it was 64 degrees F in the coach so we put on our sweats.  I made coffee and turned on the Aqua-Hot long enough to raise the temperature to 69 degrees and take the chill off of the interior.  We had granola, blueberries, and a banana for breakfast, along with juice, and then doodled on our iPads while we finished our coffee.  I renewed my subscription the RFinder World Wide Repeater Directory yesterday and reset my password this morning so I could use the website and Android app on my phone.  I searched for repeaters within 20 miles of our location.  There appeared to be two in Arcadia but many more west and south of us in Punta Gorda, Murdock, Venice, and Port Charlotte.  At 10 AM we took showers, got dressed, and then got to work.

Our bus in its winter 2016 home on site K2 at Big Tree Carefree RV Resort in Arcadia, FL.

Our bus in its winter 2016 home on site K2 at Big Tree Carefree RV Resort in Arcadia, FL.

Linda was checking e-mail and noticed that the PayPal receipt for the RFinder annual subscription had been processed as a monthly payment.  It’s only $9.99, but yikes! just the same.  I e-mailed the folks at RFinder (Suffolk Systems) and also filed a complaint with PayPal.  I knew the folks at RFinder would straighten it out but my complaint was really with PayPal.  Their e-mail had instructions for dealing with this that did not correspond to their website.  Not helpful.

The first order of business for me was dumping the holding tanks and filling the fresh water tank.  Once that was done my main focus today was roughing out a featured bus article for Bus Conversions Magazine on Ronnie and Diann Mewbourn’s 1969 Model 07 Eagle bus conversion.  They had their bus at the Arcadia Rally last week and I was able to interview them and photograph it.  They were there two years ago but I was not able to do an article on their bus at that time.

“K” row at Big Tree Carefree RV Resort, Arcadia, FL.

“K” row at Big Tree Carefree RV Resort, Arcadia, FL.

Linda took her exercise walk in the morning.  When she got back we had mock deli sandwiches for lunch and then went for a stroll around the resort.  After our stroll we drove to the Joshua Citrus Company location a couple of miles south of the RV resort.  We bought a few things for ourselves and picked up a brochure describing the assortments of fruit they package and ship.  We want to ship some fresh citrus fruit to our family members back in Michigan while we are here.

While we were at Joshua Citrus I got a call from Bob Greenberg, W2CYK, at RFinder regarding my e-mail and PayPal complaint.  He explained what I needed to do to correct the error.  When we got back to our rig I canceled the PayPal complaint and then cancelled the subscription (recurring payment).  RFinder will e-mail me in June 2017 to remind me that I need to renew.  I can set up an annual subscription at that time if I want to.

Self-portrait in a wide angle traffic mirror.  (Big Tree RV Resort, Arcadia, FL)

Self-portrait in a wide angle traffic mirror. (Big Tree RV Resort, Arcadia, FL)

For dinner Linda made black-eyed peas with celery, bell pepper, onion, garlic, and hot pepper flakes.  She served it with open-faced Boca “burgers” (vegan) and corn.  We went for another stroll after dinner.  The high temperature today only reached the lower 70’s, and cooled off quickly after the sun set, so we each bundled up a bit (me more than her) to avoid getting chilled.  When we got back to our rig I was done with computer-based work for the day and settled in to watch our Tuesday evening TV programs.  After catching a little bit of the local news and weather we both went to sleep.

 

2015/12/31 (R) Arcadia Rally Day 3

Today was the third and final day of the converted bus rally in Arcadia, Florida.  Like the last two mornings we walked over to the activities building at the Turner Agri-Civic Center for bagels and coffee.  We went over at 7:30 AM so we would have time to eat and visit and still get back to our coach before 8:30 AM.  We arranged yesterday for Hotties Detailing to wash our coach and polish the Alcoa aluminum wheels this morning.  They expected to be on site around 8:30 AM and were actually a few minutes early.

Not a bus conversion, but certainly a very nice Airstream trailer.

Not a bus conversion, but certainly a very nice Airstream trailer (Arcadia Bus Rally, Arcadia, FL).

I stayed around the coach to get them started and then wandered off with my camera to take photos of all the rigs in the east row.  Most of them were backed in facing east so I wanted to take advantage of the morning light.  We had fog again overnight and into the morning but it dissipated by 9 AM.  I returned to our coach before Hotties finished to check on the work.  They did a nice job at a fair price.

I went to Ronnie and Diann Mewbourn’s coach to interview them for a featured bus article in Bus Conversion Magazine about their 1969 Model 07 Eagle conversion.  By the time I was done with the interview it was time for their lunch so I returned to our coach.  I went back in the afternoon and photographed the interior and bays of their bus.

The east-facing row looking north from the south end.  (Arcadia Bus Rally)

The east-facing row looking north from the south end. (Arcadia Bus Rally, Arcadia, FL)

As it was last night, dinner was served at 5 PM.  The food for everyone else was different from the night before but included bread and baked potatoes so we were able to have that in addition to our salads.

Starting at 7 PM Master of Ceremonies John Vickery handled the door prizes with help from rally organizers/hosts Bill and Brenda Phelan.  The recipient of the third boxed set of Bus Conversion Magazines was Dan and Sandy Cerrato.  I was getting their information after the door prizes concluded and they invited me back to see their converted bus, a 1953 GM PD4104 that they have had for 37 years.  I got the grand tour and had a long chat with both of them.

The east-facing row looking south from the north end.  (Arcadia Bus Rally, Arcadia, FL)

The east-facing row looking south from the north end. (Arcadia Bus Rally, Arcadia, FL)

This was Dan and Sandy’s first rally of any kind ever and I got the feeling that they really enjoyed it.  They are very proud of their bus, and obviously still very fond of it after all those years.  They had started subscribing to BCM in early 2015 and Dan had read all of my 2015 articles.  BCM was also where they found out about the Arcadia rally.  They live near Ocala, Florida, so it was an easy trip for them.  Dan was interested in writing an article for BCM about their bus and their experiences with it, so we talked about that at length and I offered to assist him if he wanted.

Buses in the infield, including some from the later 1940’s. (Arcadia Bus Rally, Arcadia, FL)

Buses in the infield, including some from the later 1940’s. (Arcadia Bus Rally, Arcadia, FL)

The entertainment for New Year’s Eve was Kenny Flint and the Rough Diamond Band.  We sat with Paul/Claudine Elbisser and Dan/Kathy Rory and their son James.  James is a young man with Down’s Syndrome but he had the time of his life dancing with the ladies.  Kenny even let him sing/play with the band for a couple of songs.  We had snacks and a little bit to drink, but not much, and stayed until midnight to welcome in the New Year.  We did not have champagne this year, the first time I can remember that we skipped that part of the New Year’s celebration.  With the playing/singing of Auld Lang Syne at midnight the band wrapped up the entertainment for the evening and the small crowd drifted out and headed back to their rigs.

The west-facing row looking north from the south end.  The nose of our coach is just visible, 4th from the right.  (Arcadia Bus Rally, Arcadia, FL)

The west-facing row looking north from the south end. The nose of our coach is just visible, 4th from the right. (Arcadia Bus Rally, Arcadia, FL)

On the way back to our coach we stopped at Dan and Sandy’s bus and sat around a small campfire for a while.  Scott Crosby was there and David Evans joined us for a while.  Although it was not cool enough to require, or even justify, a campfire everyone enjoyed it.  It’s just not camping without a campfire.  Both Scott and David have GM Silverside buses from the late 1940’s.  Scott does video production and some still photography professionally and owns/operates the BusGreaseMonkey.com website/forum.  He mounted his small camera on a tripod and made time exposure “light paintings” of several buses, including ours, which he e-mailed to me.

By 1 AM we were tired, thanked Dan and Sandy for the campfire, and headed home.  Linda was to bed and asleep right away but it took me until 1:45 AM to finally turn out the lights and go to sleep.

 

2015/12/30 (W) Arcadia Rally (Day 2 of 3)

Although I went to bed late last night I was awake at 7 AM this morning and got up at 7:30 to find the rally venue shrouded in dense fog.  Linda was still sleeping at 8 AM so I put some of my non-dairy soy coffee creamer in one of our FMCA insulated flip top travel mugs and walked over to the activities building. There are 82 rigs at the rally with close to 160 people and I estimated that 50 of them were at breakfast when I arrived.  Some folks had probably been there at 7 AM when breakfast started and left before I got there.  Others, including Linda, showed up after me but before breakfast ended at 9 AM.  Breakfast was a simple, self-serve, affair at this rally:  donuts, bagels, cream cheese, orange juice, and coffee, both regular and decaf.  Coffee and a toasted bagel, dry, works for us.

We chatted with Frank Noehl and Jim Seagraves, both members of our FMCA GLCC chapter, and were eventually joined by Jerry and Rose Mary Campbell.  Jerry and his parents (Jack and ?) have MCI 102C3 motorcoaches that they converted to Detroit Diesel Series 50 engines from the 2-cycle engines that were original to them.  There are two other MCI coaches here with the same engine conversion, and Jack was the driving force behind all four of these repowers.  The four buses are parked together and I was interested in hearing more about this process.

The DD Series 50 is basically the same engine as the Series 60 but with four inline cylinders rather than six.  I chatted with Jerry yesterday and had a look at his engine bay at that time.  It’s a nice installation; a bit tight in spots but it fits.  The 50 Series engine was used in transit buses and local delivery trucks but not in long-haul trucks or motorcoaches.  Jerry’s engine is rated at 350 HP and 1200 lb-ft of torque.  That’s essentially the same torque we get from our DD 8v92TA but 100 less horsepower.  I seriously doubt that this would be an adequate engine for our Prevost H3-40 VIP conversion, but it is an intriguing idea should we ever need to replace our 8v92.  The Series 50 and Series 60 engines are 4-cycle, inline configurations and develop their torque at lower RPMs than the 2-cycle 92 Series engines and cruise at highway speeds at lower RPMs.  They are also designed to work with the newer Allison “World” transmissions.

We were back at our coach by 9:30 AM.  The temperature was still in the 70s, if not by much, and there was a stiff breeze so it was actually pleasant sitting in the shade under our patio awning.  We had PB&J sandwiches for lunch with Halo orange segments and Snyder Sourdough Pretzel Nibblers.  The day eventually heated up, however, and I went inside to work at my computer while Linda went for a walk.  I edited the blog posts for September 26 through 30, 2015, turned on our Verizon Mi-Fi, and uploaded them to our WordPress site.  Linda got back and stayed inside to read while I took the camera and went out to photograph the buses and other RVs at the rally.

Even with partly cloudy skies the sun was very hot and many of the rigs were not in good light.  And even though they were parked with a generous amount of space between them they were still close enough together to make good photos a challenge.  Folks also tend to have their toads parked in front of their rigs, making good photo vantage points just that much more difficult to find.

As I was photographing I was approached by someone who introduced himself as Dave Aungier.  He said he had read all of my BCM articles and enjoyed them and wanted to write one about his bus but needed help with the photos.  That is a much easier situation for me than actually writing an article about someone else’s bus.  His 1977 MCI MC-5C was parked between two open-sided buildings where I could not get good exterior photos.  Like most of the attendees he plans to leave Friday but will not be in a hurry to do so and is willing to pull his bus out into the open grassy boondock area so I can photograph it.  With any luck this will be an easy collaboration.

I got pictures of most of the rigs except the back/east row.  On my way over there I stopped to chat with Jimmy Clay and his brother-in-law Ronnie Mewbourn and Ronnie’s wife Diann.  They were here two years ago when I photographed Jimmy and Sadie’s Iron Horse Eagle conversion, which ran as the featured bus in the April 2014 issue.  After chatting a while we agreed that I would come back tomorrow with a notepad to get Ronnie and Diann’s “story” and possibly some interior photos of their 1968 Model 07 Eagle conversion.  They also plan to leave on Friday but will not be in a hurry to pull out and agreed to move their bus out into the grassy boondock area if needed so I can photograph it.

By the time I got to the eastern most row of buses, most of which are facing east, it was almost 4 PM and the sun was behind them and in my face eliminating the possibility of good photos.  I will try to shot them early tomorrow morning, weather permitting.

Dinner was at 5 PM.  Bill and Brenda included a mini salad bar as I had suggested so we were able to have a large plate of shredded lettuce with sliced cucumbers, shredded carrots, cherry tomatoes, and garbanzo beans.  They also had a bottle of balsamic vinaigrette dressing just for us.

Master of Ceremonies John Vickery handed out the door prizes and the recipient of the second set of Bus Conversion Magazines was Ken Siems.  The entertainment for the evening was the karaoke trio, Shake, Rattle, and Soul, doing oldies.  They were OK and given the typical age of the rally attendees, which was older than us, those who stuck around knew the tunes and enjoyed hearing them again.  They performed from 8 to 11 PM and I presume they were much less expensive than an actual live band.

As of this evening no one had stepped forward to take over the rally from Bill and Brenda.  It occurred to me that not only is it a lot of work to organize a rally, there is financial risk involved.  Live entertainment, or even a DJ, require non-refundable commitments far in advance, especially for dates like New Year’s Eve.  You also have to book a venue and put a deposit on it, and you have to incur these expenses without knowing how many people, if any, will actually show up.  Most bus nut are not in a position to incur that kind of financial risk, and the upside potential is small to non-existent.  Nick and Terry Russell, of The Gypsy Journal, are very savvy business people but gave up doing The Gypsy Journal Rallies because they were losing money on them even with the assistance of a small army of dedicated volunteers.  Sad, but true.

Although they are not the same kind of experience, one of the things that is emerging in place of these larger, organized, fee-based, rallies are “non-rally rallies.”  RVillage calls them “Get-Togethers.”  Someone picks a time and place and sends out word.  Everyone is responsible for their own camping fees, if any, and there are no planned meals, entertainment, or seminars.  Entertainment and seminars, if any, are strictly impromptu participant-driven events.  There might be some “pot-luck” (carry-in) community meals, but not necessarily, and they are typically not prearranged.  Basically, the event is not really hosted or sponsored by anyone, there’s no organizing that takes place, and there is no group, couple, or individual that has any liability for what happens.

 

2015/11/26 (R) Thanksgiving (T-1 Days)

I got up before 7:30 AM, took some Ibuprofen, and sat on the sofa with the heater pad on my back.  Linda got up at 7:45, took a shower, and made tea for us.  She checked the weather forecasts and it looked like it would start to rain around 9 AM, and become steady by 10, so she decided to load the food bags and other things onto the bus that she had ready.  The Ibuprofen and heat were doing their job so I put on some work clothes and helped load things.

We had a lot of stuff on board by 9:30 so we took a break.  Linda cut my hair and beard after which I shaved and took a shower.  I got dressed for Thanksgiving and then gathered up the towels and last few laundry items and loaded them into the washer.  I then selected all of the clothes I wanted and Linda picked out a couple more items.  We moved them to the bus and got them put away in closets and drawers.  We then stored magazines and camera gear under the bed.  Finally we decided what coats to take.  Except for shoes, manuals, music CDs, computing equipment, and a few miscellaneous things we were done loading the bus.  It felt good to be at this point but we vowed to plan better and allow a little more time next time.

The laundry took longer than the initial 42 minutes on the display so we used the time to load the Thanksgiving stuff into the car and check e-mail.  I finally transferred the laundry to the dryer at 11:20 AM and we were on our way to our daughter and son-in-law’s house at 11:28.  We had planned to be there at noon but generally allow an hour to get there.  We pulled up to the house at 12:10 PM, so apparently it’s a 45 minute trip.

Like mother, like daughter; Shawna takes care of some work tasks on her laptop while Madeline shows equal attention to detail on the iPad.

Like mother, like daughter; Shawna takes care of some work tasks on her laptop while Madeline shows equal attention to detail on the iPad.

Our son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter showed up around 1 PM and our step-granddaughter showed up around 2 PM.  Our daughter’s house has a wonderful open floor plan with a large central island in the kitchen that allows many people to stand or sit and be part of a conversation while food is being prepared.

We ate at 4:30 PM and it was quite a meal.  Everything was vegan except for a real turkey with gravy (we had Tofurkey) and the dinner rolls, which had an egg wash.  Everything was made from scratch and all of it was good.  We had a nice long visit and everyone left at 7 PM.  We stopped to top of the tank in Linda’s car and got home around 8:15.

Thanksgiving dinner at Chris and Meghan’s house.  L-to-R: Katie, Meghan, Brendan, Chris, Linda, and Madeline in Shawna’s arms.

Thanksgiving dinner at Chris and Meghan’s house. L-to-R: Katie, Meghan, Brendan, Chris, Linda, and Madeline in Shawna’s arms.

When we got home I made sure some of the (important?) files on my laptop were backed up to the old NAS unit.  Rather than take the time to transfer those files to the newer NAS unit I decided to bring the newer one with us.  I then shut down all of the computers in my office and brought the NAS device and my computer upstairs.  We put them onboard along with Linda’s computer, our iPads, and the cameras.  I selected the bus manuals I wanted to take, moved them to the bus, and put them under the bed.  We decided what music CDs we wanted to take and put those on board as well.

Our final preparation tasks were to shut off the well, close the main water valve, unplug the water softener and sanitizer, and remove the batteries.  We added potable antifreeze to all of the waste traps and opened all of the cabinets that had plumbing in them, including the sump pump closet.  I shut off the natural gas to all of the appliances except the furnace and Linda drew all of the vertical blinds and checked the light timers.

When we were finally done loading things on board and buttoning up the house we put the cats in their carriers, put them on the bus, and locked up the house.  It was 10 PM.  I tried to tune in a couple of TV stations, one from Detroit and one from Lansing, but could not hold the digital signals.  Our Wi-Fi Ranger was connected to our AT&T gateway so we used our iPads for a while and I put the finishing touches on this post.  I had to make a few quick trips back inside for last minute things we forgot.

The forecast for overnight is for a low of 51 degrees F with steady rain moving into the area by early tomorrow.  The probability of rain in Berea, Kentucky, however, is only 10%.  We hope to be on the road sometime between first light and sunrise, which is 7:39 AM, and get ahead of the rain.  We also do not expect to see freezing temperatures again this winter.

 

2015/07/07 (T) Field Day Photos

We did not sleep well last night, were slow to get up this morning, and slower to get going.  A cold front was pushing in from the northwest with the promise of cooler temperatures and sunny, blue skies, but first we were in for a day of overcast conditions and rain, which started around 8:30 AM.  It was a perfect morning to sit quietly in the living room, reading, writing, and drinking our coffee but too warm to turn on the gas fireplace logs.

Yesterday Linda started researching RV parks in southern Florida for this coming winter and we spent some time this morning looking at them online.  There was one in particular, Riverside RV Resort and Campground, which caught our attention.  Located on the Peace River near Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda, it is a short distance southwest of Arcadia where the annual Buss’in rally is held.  We went to the rally two years ago and had a great time so we will go again this year if we decide to winter in Florida, which is our current inclination.

One of the reasons for us to winter in Florida, at least occasionally, is our many contacts there.  Our friends, Steve and Karen, bought a mobile home near Venice; our friends, Chuck and Barbara, bought a lot at Pelican Lake in Naples; our ham radio friends, Bruce and Linda, bought a house on 25 acres near Brooksville; our GLCC fiends, Ed and Janet, bought a place that I think is near Sarasota; our FMCA Freethinker friends, John and Marian, bought a place in Dunnellon; and our other FMCA Freethinker friends, Ed and Betty, bought a place in Bradenton.  In addition to all of those folks quite a few of our RV friends, like Pat and Vicki, spend the winter in Florida, and the state has a lot of things to see and do, including one of the best state park systems in the nation.

Linda left for her appointment with the dermatologist and I got to work at my desk.  I continued to deal with e-mails related to the SLAARC domain transfer and an ongoing conversation with BCM publisher Gary Hatt.  I got a Dropbox link to some Field Day photos from Steve (N8AR) a few days ago and downloaded them.  Last night I got a similar e-mail from Mike (KE8AGY) with a Google Drive link and today I got one from Jim (N8HAM) so I downloaded all of those photos.  I spent most of the rest of the day selecting and processing the photos I took and then processed all of the ones I got from other people.

I took a break to chat with Linda when she got back from her appointment.  I then removed the defective Morgan M-302N VHF/UHF Lightning Arrestor from the cable entry box and boxed it up to ship back to Morgan.  I took another short break for dinner, which was an excellent Farro and kale dish, and then worked until 8:30 PM when we had agreed to watch a movie.  This evening’s choice was The Imitation Game, a film about Alan Touring and the concepts he invented that allowed the British to build a machine that broke the coded messages generated by the German Enigma machine during WWII.  I spent another hour at my desk after the movie before going to bed and finishing this post.  Tomorrow morning I plan to finally upload some blog posts and then get back to work on the design of the custom desk for the bus.

 

2015/07/05 (N) Return to HFM

Madeline helps Grandma Linda mix the batter for vegan blueberry pancakes.

Madeline helps Grandma Linda mix the batter for vegan blueberry pancakes.

The day started with Grandma Linda’s fabulous, made from scratch, blueberry vegan pancakes for breakfast, which Madeline helped make!  After breakfast we took Madeline to the Howell Farmers Market (HFM).  She had been to this market with us once before and it was a beautiful Michigan summer morning for a return visit.  On the drive over we discussed why it is that you cannot buy a farmer at a farmers market and you cannot buy a garage at a garage sale.  English can be a funny/strange language.

We walked the entire market, which is not really that big, and Linda bought some fresh strawberries.  A couple of the regular vendors were missing.  In particular we wanted to buy some more soap from Marjorie but she was not there.  Madeline enjoyed checking out the child and doll sized wooden furniture that one vendor had for sale.  We kept an eye out for someone selling jelly beans but did not see any so we stopped at the CVS on the way home and got a small bag of them.

We had just gotten home and I was unlocking the front door when Brendan and Shawna arrived.  We had a nice visit and they stayed for a light lunch.  By the end of lunch Madeline was showing signs of being ready for her nap so Brendan transferred the car seat and stroller from Linda’s car to their car, gathered up all of Madeline’s things, and loaded their car.  Madeline left with her parents at 12:30 PM and Linda laid down for a nap shortly thereafter.

I looked at the SLAARC WordPress website on my iPad to make sure it was working.  I checked most of the pages except for the Member Only Area, which requires a login, and they appeared to be OK.  I then went to my office to deal with things that needed to be dealt with from there.

Madeline tries on a child sized rocking chair at the Howell Farmers Market.

Madeline tries on a child sized rocking chair at the Howell Farmers Market.

My first task was to update the roster and financial records for our FMCA Freethinkers Associate Chapter.  I sent e-mails to new members, uploaded the updated roster to our Dropbox, and e-mailed everyone that they were available.  I had received the draft copy of the June 2015 issue of Bus Conversion Magazine on Friday.  I proofread part 3 of my 4-part article on the exterior renovation of our motorcoach and sent corrections to the editor.  I then settled in to edit blog posts.

I took a break for dinner.  Linda cooked Brussels sprouts and heated some vegan riblets.  The barbecue sauce on these riblets is very tasty.  We had vegan chocolate cupcakes for dessert and they were very tasty too.  I then went back to my office and continued editing blog posts.

I took a break just before 8 PM to join the South Lyon 2m Information Net using our new Yaesu FTM-400DR/DE RADIO but I did not hear anything except noise.  I left the radio on for a while and then turned it off.  I switched the coax to the Icom IC-7000 and turned it on but did not hear anything there either.  I turned the IC-7000 off, switched the coax back to the FTM-400, turned it back on, and went back to work at my desk.  Around 8:30 PM the squelch started opening and I heard very faint voices way down in the noise.  After listening carefully I was able to determine that it was Steve (N8AR) running the net but I could not understand most of what was being said.

It was the first time in a long time that I had tried to participate in the net and I was disappointed that the new installation of the antenna on the tower and coax cables to the radios in the basement was not working adequately.  They were working OK when I tested them with Mike (W8XH) so it could have been an unusual band condition but Steve was obviously getting in from farther to the west than our QTH.  I enjoy operating and am looking forward to finally having our larger tower up and some HF antennas in operation but for now I need to concentrate on getting the VHF/UHF stuff working reliably (correctly and consistently).

I exchanged some e-mails with Gary at BCM regarding the magazine and then continued editing blog posts.  I got through the end of June by 11 PM and quit for the night.

2015/07/04 (S) Another Fourth

Linda was up at 7 AM and grabbed a shower as Madeline is usually awake by 7:15 and up between 7:30 and 7:45.  Madeline tends to wake up hungry so Linda likes to have breakfast ready to go.  I was up by 7:20 and also grabbed a quick shower.  When Madeline was finally ready to get up she let Grandma Linda carry her into the living room and hold her in her arms for a while.  When she was ready to sit up Linda brushed her hair and then Madeline returned the brush to the master bathroom.  Linda got her changed into her day clothes and then we all had breakfast.  Linda and I had our usual coffee, orange juice, and granola with fresh berries plus some vegan sausage links.  Madeline also had the sausage links and berries but her main course was toaster waffles with a little bit of real maple syrup.  Yum.

One of the swans at the Brighton Mill Pond.

One of the swans at the Brighton Mill Pond.

After breakfast Madeline wanted to go look for chickens so she and Grandma Linda went for a walk.  When they got back I learned that they saw three chickens, a duck, some bunnies, and a chipmunk (ground squirrel).  We then read a couple of stories and built a fort in the living room.  We talked about going to the Mill Pond in Brighton to see/feed the ducks but there was some sort of running event this morning, a parade at 10 AM, and then a rubber ducky race at the Mill Pond following the parade.  It is the 4th of July, after all, and most communities have celebratory events going on all day and into the evening, ending with fireworks displays.  That sounded like a crowd to me, with the attendant parking hassle, but we figured the crowd might have thinned sufficiently by 10:30 AM to make the experience a good one and decided to chance a visit.  Linda made PB&J sandwiches and packed some grapes and cookies.

Madeline sitting at a picnic table at the Brighton Mill Pond playscape.

Madeline sitting at a picnic table at the Brighton Mill Pond playscape.

We parked in the lot behind the La Marsa restaurant, which is far away from the Main Street part of the Mill Pond, and walked down the boardwalk to the playscape.  There were a lot of people gathered around the Pond for the rubber ducky race and quite a few children at the playscape with their adult chaperones.  Madeline explored the entire playscape with great enthusiasm.  By the time she was done it was 11:30 AM and she was hungry so we had lunch at one of the picnic tables under the shade of a big tree.

After lunch Grandma Linda stood in line with Madeline to use the bathroom.  We then walked around the Mill Pond and paused to cover our ears while the emergency sirens were tested, this bring the first Saturday of the month.  We had a leisurely stroll back to the car and I had a nice chat with a fellow photographer along the way.  He is a local artist/writer with a deep interest in the Mill Pond and the wildlife that calls it home.  He wrote down his website URL for me: http://Words4It.com.  I checked it out when we got home and it is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the flora and fauna of the Brighton Mill Pond.

The various shades of green with a few orange flowers caught my eye while strolling the boardwalk at the Brighton Mill Pond.

The various shades of green with a few orange flowers caught my eye while strolling the boardwalk at the Brighton Mill Pond.

Back at the house Madeline had some soy yogurt and fresh berries before taking her nap.  I don’t know if she fell asleep and woke up or never completely fell asleep but around 2 PM I heard her fussing.  When I checked on her she said she needed to go to the bathroom.  Linda had fallen asleep but that is a duty she takes care of so I woke her up.  Madeline took care of her business, laid back down, and fell asleep.  Linda stayed awake.

With Madeline asleep I took the opportunity to go to my office and check e-mail.  There was one from Scott at QTH.com indicating that the SLAARC website had been copied to the QTH web servers and was ready for testing.  I think that meant the GoDaddy DNS had been changed to point to the QTH installation but I don’t think the domain name registration had been moved yet.  I will need to clarify that with Scott on Monday.  I also had an e-mail from Gary at Bus Conversion Magazine with the draft of the June 2015 issue attached.  This issue has part 3 of my 4-part article on the 2011-12 exterior renovation of our Prevost H3-40 motorcoach.  I replied that I would proofread it and submit corrections before I go to bed tomorrow night.

Madeline takes the high road and Linda takes the low road on the Brighton Mill Pond boardwalk.

Madeline takes the high road and Linda takes the low road on the Brighton Mill Pond boardwalk.

Although Linda is much more physically active with Madeline than I am I was feeling the need for a nap and laid down at 3 PM.  I heard Madeline get up around 4 PM and I finally got up at 4:15.  Linda enlisted Madeline’s help preparing dinner while I took pictures.  The first task was shucking the whole ears of corn.  Next, Linda let her put them in a large pot of water, add a little bit of sugar, and stir.  While the pot started to heat up on the stove Madeline helped prepare the strawberries by washing them.  Linda then got the vegan burgers ready to grill (inside on our stove top griddle) and prepared the garnishes.  Madeline does not get to help with things that are sharp or hot.  Soon enough it was time for dinner and we all enjoyed our corn-on-the-cob and vegan cheeseburgers. For dessert we had some more of the chocolate cake that we made yesterday with fresh strawberries.

We spotted this young bunny along the boardwalk at the Brighton Mill Pond.

We spotted this young bunny along the boardwalk at the Brighton Mill Pond.

After dinner I cleaned up the dishes and we went out on the deck to sit in the chairs and enjoy a near perfect Michigan summer evening while we watched the bunnies eating grass.  Around 7:15 PM we watched another Sesame Workshop DVD.  This one was on Shapes and Colors.  It was over by 8 PM and Madeline started getting ready for bed which was a very jovial affair.  First the potty, then jammies, then tooth brushing followed by finding blankies, “bebes” (pacifiers), and stuffed animals, all the while laughing and giggling.  Linda finally got her to sit quietly and read her a story which calmed her down enough to go to bed.  If her thoughts drift to her mommy and daddy she will get weepy—it’s part of being two and a half—but we have been successful on this visit keeping her engaged enough to avoid anything more than some occasional brief tears.

Madeline washes the strawberries.

Madeline washes the strawberries.

We split the remainder of a bottle of Leelanau Cellars Winter White wine we had opened some time ago but had vacuum sealed and it was still fine.  Linda finished the dishes and loaded the dishwasher while I filled in the day’s details on this blog post.  Both cats came out of hiding and sought our attention.

We have been hearing fireworks, and/or gunfire, for many weeks now and today was no exception.  Two nights ago someone in the neighborhood was firing off, or shooting, something until well after midnight.  There were more fireworks tonight, as expected, and the activity intensified after 9 PM as dusk gave way to night.  The cats were not completely relaxed about the noise but seemed to tolerate it.  As far as we know Madeline slept through all of it as she is a very sound sleeper.

 

SLAARC Field Day 2015

Here are 45 photos from the South Lyon Area Amateur Radio Club’s participation in the 2015 American Radio Relay League (ARRL) Field Day 24-hour operating event.

2015/06/27 (S) ARRL Field Day

At 5 AM I was vaguely aware of the sound of rain.  The cats were chasing each other through the house so I got up to make sure nothing was amiss, such as another mouse.  They were just having a bout of morning friskiness.  I added a little food up to their bowls, which drew their attention, and went back to bed.

My Amateur Radio vanity license plate.  There were a LOT of these in the parking lot at the SLAARC Field Day site.

My Amateur Radio vanity license plate. There were a LOT of these in the parking lot at the SLAARC Field Day site.

I finally woke up and got up about 8:15 AM and got dressed in a suitable manner for today’s American Radio Relay League (ARRL) Field Day event.  The temperature was in the mid-50s, overcast and raining with blustery winds; not exactly the nice summer day we were all hoping for.  Some of the members of the South Lyon Area Amateur Radio Club (SLAARC) were gathering for breakfast at the usual place (Senate Coney Island) at the usual time (8 AM) but we obviously did not join them today.

I went to my office to retrieve my Sony DSLR and decided to turn on our Icom IC-7000 ham radio.  I had it tuned to the SLAARC (K8VJ) repeater in South Lyon when Keith, KD8YYJ, announced his presence.  He was driving from the west side of Howell to Wixom and seeing what repeaters he could hit.  We chatted for 10 to 15 minutes and I invited him to stop by the SLAARC Field Day site at the South Lyon Township James F. Atchison Memorial Park.

I worked all day yesterday as part of the SLAARC Field Day setup crew.  There was more setup to do starting at 9 AM this morning but the setup mostly involved radios, computers, Wi-Fi networking, and power.  I was not in any humor to rush off into the clammy weather conditions, and Linda was up by this point, so we had breakfast.  She found some Silk brand ‘yogurt’ at Meijer’s last week so we had that.  It was OK.  It is a creamy style yogurt, which is not my preference, but it was tasty enough.  Bananas, cinnamon raisin bread, and juice rounded out the meal.  Linda even made the coffee.  I turned on the natural gas fireplace to ward off the chill in the living room where we lingered and enjoyed our morning brew.

The SLAARC Field Day operating stations use wirelessly networked computers (left) running N1MM Logger+ to record the contacts that are made.  HF transceiver to the right.

The SLAARC Field Day operating stations use wirelessly networked computers (left) running N1MM Logger+ to record the contacts that are made. HF transceiver to the right.

I finally left for the Field Day site around 11 AM.  The operating event started at 2 PM but the first of four meals was lunch today at noon and I wanted to capture photos of the rest of the setup and the lunch event.  It was raining lightly when I arrived and continued to rain until I left at 2:15 PM.  In between arrival and departure I took some photos and helped out a little bit, but there were plenty of people there taking care of what needed to be done.

Mike (W8XH) brought his Icom IC-2820H dual band mobile radio and several lengths of 50 ohm coax and we transferred those to my car.  He then walked me through the various menus and functions his new Yaesu FTM-400DR/DE radio, a dual band (VHF/UHF) 50 Watt rig with digital voice capability and a color touch screen display.  A group of SLAARC members recently purchased a Yaesu DR-1X repeater that works with the new Yaesu digital voice and data modes in addition to the traditional FM mode and are testing it as a replacement for the current, and very old, K8VJ repeater.

Mike’s IC-2820H is available for $350 but the FTM-400DR has a $100 rebate through the end of June, bringing the price down to $500.  As much as I would like to have a VHF/UHF radio in my car I am looking at one of these radios to install in the cockpit of the bus so we can use it going down the road.  The long-term plan is to put the Icom IC-7000 HF/VHF/UHF radio in our towed vehicle and get the Hi-Q 80-6 antenna mounted and operational in addition to the Diamond SG-7900 VHF/UHF antenna that is already on the Honda Element.

For base station use I would like to get an Elecraft K3s or Flex SDR rig.  The K3s has become the rig of choice among the members of the SLAARC who are serious about working HF and contesting.  Either of those are radios that could be fairly easily moved from the house to the bus when we travel.  Antenna options in the bus could include running coax to the Hi-Q on the toad and/or a “flagpole” HF vertical that is mounted using the towbar receiver or a base stand that goes under one of the tires.  An antenna switch would allow the use of the VHF/UHF antenna that was already installed for the cockpit radio.  All of these “base station” options would obviously be for stationary use only.

[Photo 3 – HC]

The ARRL FIeld Day event showcases the ability of amateur radio operators to set up equipment in the field on short notice and keep it on the air for 24 hours, no matter what.  The weather turned bad for the event.  The portable generator is under the tent in the right foreground.

The ARRL FIeld Day event showcases the ability of amateur radio operators to set up equipment in the field on short notice and keep it on the air for 24 hours, no matter what. The weather turned bad for the event. The portable generator is under the tent in the right foreground.

I uncoiled the coax cables that Mike lent me to see how long they were.  There was a 5 foot piece that was too short for what I needed, and a piece that was approximately 40 feet, which was longer than I needed.  The third piece was at least as long as the 40 footer.  I “tagged” his coax with small white cable ties so I could identify them later and return them to him.

I did not want to mess around switching coax cables in the rain so I unboxed Mike’s Icom 2820 and got it set up to use with my existing antenna and transmission lines.  I spent a little time with the manual and then powered it up.  It was already configured from when Mike used it in his ham shack so I did not need to do any setup to use it.  I monitored both the South Lyon 2m and Novi 440 MHz repeaters and was able to “hear” both of them, although the South Lyon signal was much better (stronger, quieter, clearer) than the Novi.  A couple of SLAARC members were on the South Lyon repeater taking care of Field Day business.  I waited a suitable amount of time after they were done and called for Mike (W8XH) and he came back right away.

We repeated the testing we had done last night.  The performance with the 2m South Lyon repeater seemed to be much better but the performance on the 70cm Novi repeater was the same or worse with a fading component to the noise.  I think we were on the air 15 to 20 minutes.  Based on the test results from last night and this afternoon I think I have two separate issues that are probably interacting; the IC-7000 needs to be grounded and the 25 feet of coax from the cable entry box (CEB) to the radio (Go Box) needs to be shorter and much higher quality.  I need to install the ground bar on the wall behind the ham radio desks and then purchase a suitable length of ground wire and run it from the CEB to the copper ground bar.  I will also need to get a 15 foot length of 50 ohm LMR-400 coax from Scott (AC8IL) with an N-male connector on one end and a PL-259 connector on the other end.

Linda prepared our dinner at 5 PM.  She made corn-on-the-cob and “cowgirl steaks,” a new (to us) vegetable protein product she found at Meijer’s.  After dinner we drove back to the SLAARC Field Day site to socialize with club members at dinnertime.  The weather at our house was still rainy with light-to-moderate winds and occasional stronger gusts.  We arrived at the Field Day site to find a flurry of activity and strong, steady winds out of the north with continued sporadic rain.

Jim (KC8WMW) stays dry as he works the GOTA (Get On The Air) station in one of the tents.

Jim (KC8WMW) stays dry as he works the GOTA (Get On The Air) station in one of the tents.

The small red tent that was originally supposed to be the VHF tent was nowhere to be seen and at least eight people were engaged in trying to control and fold up the large canopy that the club purchased yesterday at Costco to serve as the combined VHF and GOTA tent.  We quickly learned that the small tent, which was not being used, had collapsed and the large tent, which was unoccupied but full of radios and computers, had come unstaked and blown over in the wind.  Those who were not helping with the equipment canopy were gathered in the food canopy.  I pitched in on the equipment canopy rescue and Linda took the camera and joined the folks in the food tent.

After gathering up all of the pieces of the canopy and getting them back in the trailer some of the team added extra ropes and stakes to the windward end of the food canopy and both the 20m and 40m tents.  Another part of the team, including me, got Marty’s (KB8JIU) satellite tracking equipment out of the screen room, which had been draped with solid plastic tarps to keep the rain out, and then took the room down, disassembled the legs, folded it up, and stuffed it in the trailer.  The red tent was stuffed under a picnic table that was in the screen room so I grabbed that and put it in the trailer.  The support pole for one end of our off-center-fed dipoles was bending over to the south more than we liked.  Steve, N8AR, tied a rope around the existing rope, which was inline with the antenna and being used to keep it taught.  He slid the second rope up the first one as far as he could get it to go and then pulled it out to the northwest (the antenna was oriented east-west with the tension rope running east off of the east end).  He pulled it out until the support pole was reasonably vertical and I staked it down.

The winds really howled out of the north driving the rain before them.  This shelter (from Costco) did not survive along with another tent and a screen room.

The winds really howled out of the north driving the rain before them. This shelter (from Costco) did not survive along with another tent and a screen room.

So the bad news was that some of our Field Day setup had not survived the weather which had not even reached severe conditions.  The good news was that our generator was still producing power, all of our towers and antennas were intact and functional, we had our two key stations on the air, and our food canopy was full of people and hot food.  Not the Field Day everyone had hoped for, but a great opportunity for teamwork and camaraderie and a learning experience to be sure, even if it was not the kind of lesson we wanted to learn.

We left around 7:30 PM and went to the New Hudson Lowe’s, which was very close to our Field Day site, where I bought 18 feet of AWG 6 stranded copper wire with a green sheath.  As soon as the weather improves I plan to run this from the CEB to the ham shack and use it to connect the ground bar in the shack to the copper backplane (ground plane) in the CEB.  I will then connect the ground on our Go Box (Icom IC-7000) to the ground bar and see if it helps with my noise issue.

Back at the house Linda wanted to watch an episode of NCIS Los Angeles, which we can now do thanks to our new OTA TV antenna.  We then watched an episode of Christina Cooks, Christina Perillo’s vegan cooking show from a decade ago.  These are still relevant and useful episodes and we especially enjoy them having seen and met her and her husband Robert on our two Taste of Health Holistic Holiday at Sea vegan cruises.  Linda read and I wrote for a while before lights out and off to sleep.

 

2015/06/26 (F) Field Day Setup

I was up at 7 AM and ready to leave for breakfast with the other SLAARC members who would be setting up our temporary field site for the ARRL Field Day event.  I called the SLAARC repeater and Steve (N8AR) came back and wanted to know if I had the site use permit from the township?  No, I did not.  Paul, N8BHT, got on the air and said he gave it to Linda so I went back home.  Linda was up but had no recollection of receiving it.  We looked through the materials she got from Paul but could not find it.  I left again for breakfast but after more radio QSO went back a second time to retrieve all of the records and bring them with me to the field day site.  (Our best guess is that he gave the permits to the other Linda (NF8C) who is the club secretary.

SLAARC's Field Day setup begins in earnest when Steve's equipment trailer arrives.

SLAARC’s Field Day setup begins in earnest when Steve’s equipment trailer arrives.

By this time it was too late to make it to breakfast so I stopped for coffee and fueled my car.  Mike (W8XH) also did not go to breakfast with the group in South Lyon so we were the first to arrive at the site.  Another 10 guys showed up shortly thereafter.  John’s Sanitation then arrived and dropped off our rented porta-potty.

We had 12 people for most of the day and 14 total who were there for at least part of the day.  It was a good group and just the right size for the task.  We worked steadily from 9 AM until almost 5 PM except for an early afternoon lunch break.  By the end of the day we had erected two towers and set up six antennas (20m beam and 6m beam co-located on the taller tower, two off-center fed dipoles from the taller tower, a 40m crossed dipole from the shorter tower, and a 40m 1/4 wave vertical with four elevated counterpoise wires).  We also put up three radio tents, a screen room, and the big food tent.

Larry (K8UT) holds the 6m beam while Steve (N8AR) and others attach the 20m beam to the mast of the taller tower.

Larry (K8UT) holds the 6m beam while Steve (N8AR) and others attach the 20m beam to the mast of the taller tower.

The weather was cloudy and dull and not the best for taking photographs but I took pictures anyway.  I had to be deliberate in my shot selections, however, as both of my memory cards were almost full.  All of the work that needed to be done today was finished by 4:30 PM and most of us took off.  Our Field Day chairman, Paul (KD8SNZ), and a new member, Ron, setup their tents as they would be spending the night and keeping an eye on the site.  Steve (N8AR) and Eric (K8ERS) stayed a bit longer to test the antennas using the mobile radio in Steve’s SUV.

Back home I took a nap for an hour before dinner.  Linda grilled Portobello mushrooms and corn on the cob and cut up some fresh strawberries and cantaloupe.  After dinner I went to my office and transferred all of our recent photographs from the Sony alpha 100 DSLR to my computer and then to our older NAS device which we had with us this past winter.  I then started backing up all of the photographs we had taken since December 2014 from the old NAS unit to the new one.  This involved a significant number of images, a lot of gigabytes of data, and took a bit of time.

Rather than sit around waiting for file transfers to finish I decided to turn on the Icom IC-7000 ham radio and see if I could figure out why I could not hear the Novi 440 repeater on Wednesday when we tested the antenna and coax installation.  I checked the Nifty guide for the Icom IC-7000 and, as Mike had suspected, I did not have the Tone Squelch frequency set correctly for the Novi repeater.  I changed the mode on the 440 MHz band from ‘Tone’ to ‘TSQL’ and then caIled Mike (W8XH) on the phone to see if he could help me do a radio check.  We spent about an hour going back and forth between the Novi and South Lyon repeaters.

With the correct settings I was able to work both repeaters although I had a lot of background noise (static).  I played with the noise reduction (NR) and pre-amplifier functions and both seemed to help.  Mike tried various combinations of power and simplex operation and we determined that the basic problem seemed to be a weak signal in both directions.  I am still suspicious of the fact that I do not have the Go Box grounded as I vaguely recall from three years ago having noise problems with this setup until I grounded the box, which is tied to the radio ground.

Field Day is an "all hands on deck (antenna)" event for our SLAARC group.

Field Day is an “all hands on deck (antenna)” event for our SLAARC group.

Mike was suspicious of the coax I used to go from the lightning arrestor to the radio but looked up the specifications on my Diamond X-50N antenna and suggested that an antenna with more gain might be in order.  We also discussed the location where I placed the antenna on the tower.  Although most of the antenna is above the tower it is on the northwest leg.  The two repeaters lie to the southeast so the tower may be ‘blocking’ some of the signal although that does not seem likely to me.  Of more concern to me is that I mounted the base of the antenna so that two of the three counterpoise (ground plane) rods are even with, and parallel to, two of the three topmost crossbars.  If anything is being blocked it is likely those as the crossbars are between the rods and the repeater locations.

Ed (KD8OSM) jumped in briefly to let us know that I also had a ‘hum’ that sounded like the 60 Hz power line frequency only higher pitched.  I have a small fan installed in the back of the Go Box so I hummed the same pitch as it was producing into the microphone and both Ed and Mike confirmed that this was the tone they were hearing.  The fan is audible, but not that loud, and was two feet behind the microphone so I would be surprised if it was picking up the fan noise.  It is possible that the fan is inducing the hum electrically, but I believe it is a DC fan, so that seems unlikely.  I do not have an AC line filter installed on the fan, or anywhere in the box, so that may be a next step.

The larger of the two towers is up and secured.  It has a 6m beam antenna on top of 20m beam antenna on a common mast with a rotator.  We also attached one end of an off-center-fed dipole to this tower.

At the SLAARC Field Day site atop the Lyon Township Atchison Memorial Park the larger of the two towers is up and secured. It has a 6m beam antenna on top of 20m beam antenna on a common mast with a rotator. We also attached one end of an off-center-fed dipole to this tower.  Tents are being erected to house the various operating stations.  The weather was overcast and forecast to get much worse before Field Day as over on Sunday.

Mike and I wrapped up our QSO and I shut the radio off.  I checked my e-mail and saw that the May 2015 issue of Bus Conversion Magazine was available.  I logged in to the website and downloaded both the standard and high definition versions of the April and May digital editions.  By the time I got to bed it was well after 11PM.  I finished up yesterday’s blog post draft and outlined as much of today’s post as I could before I lost the sequence and details of the day’s events.

 

2015/06/24 (W) Up The Tower

Today was the day to finally climb the tower to remove an old TV antenna, reposition an amateur radio antenna, and install two new antennas, one for OTA TV and the other for a cellular booster system.  But there were other things to do before I was ready to climb.

I was up at 7 AM and on my way to Lowe’s in Howell by 7:20 AM in search of a solution to the problem of how to mount the outdoor cellular booster antenna.  I ended up buying two 2-1/2 inch U-bolts.  Although the tower legs are 1-5/8″ in diameter the angle bracket attached to the bottom of the antenna is 2-1/4 inches wide.  Thus I needed the 2-1/2 inch spacing for the threaded ends of the U-bolt to clear the bracket.

Back at the house Linda was up and had the coffee made.  We had a quick breakfast of homemade granola.  I removed the tire pressure sensors and GPS from my car and headed to Brighton Honda to drop it off for its 100,000 mile service appointment.  Linda arrived at the dealership about 10 minutes later.  We then headed to Adams Electronics in Wixom.  While Adams Electronics primarily serves the public and business communications markets owner Scott Adams, AC8IL, is a long-time ham and a member of the South Lyon Area Amateur Radio Club and Novi Amateur Radio Club.  Well known in the local amateur radio community, Scotty is the local go-to guy for certain kinds of equipment.  I ordered two coaxial cables from him the other day and we were here to pick them up.

We left to return home at 10 AM so I called Mike (W8XH) to let him know we were running a little behind.  So was he, but thought he could be at our house by 11 AM.  That gave me time to drill a hole in each of the two U-bolt retaining plates and cut a short piece of 1″ square aluminum tube to use as a spacer.  That was the last fabricating I needed to do and we got busy staging all of the materials we were going to need to get the tower work done efficiently.

Setting up the tools and parts outside the "drop zone" of the 40-foot tower on the east end of the house.

Mike (W8XH) setting up the tools and parts outside the “drop zone” of the 40-foot tower on the east end of the house.  (Photo by Linda)

Linda set out a sheet near the tower but not in the “drop zone.”  We spread out materials and tools on the sheet and used it to make sure we could find things quickly and keep them from getting lost in the grass.  I also brought all of my tool boxes to the tower area.  With everything assembled it was time to climb.  I set up our 7 foot step ladder on the east end of our rear deck to provide access to the roof near the tower.  Mike helped me into his climbing harness and got it adjusted.  Once on the roof I took the harness off temporarily as my first task was to remove the 2m/70cm base station antenna.  After clipping the plastic cable ties I lowered it down to Mike while Linda took photographs.  (She helped with many aspects of the work today but was the only photographer.)

Starting up the tower from the roof of the house.  (Photo by Linda)

Starting up the tower from the roof of the house. (Photo by Linda)

I put the harness back on and Mike tossed me one of the 100 foot ropes which would eventually be used to haul materials and tools up and down the tower.  I secured the haul rope to one of the unused seat clip rings and Mike instructed me on how to secure the harness while climbing.  I put the waist strap around the tower and clipped it in.  I then put one of the two fall cables, attached to the ring at my upper back, around one of the legs above one of the cross bars above my head and clipped it into the ring at my chest.  The tower is adjacent to the east end of the house and is attached to it by two pipe assemblies just below the soffit (the house has hip roofs) so it was easy to step onto it.  After that things got tougher.

The horizontal trussing on the tower is two feet apart vertically.  That spacing was right at the limit of how high I could lift my right foot and required me to pull myself up part way until I could push with my right leg.  Once up on the next rung I attached the other fall cable, moved the first one higher, and slide the waist strap up to position myself for the next step.  I repeated this pattern with the two fall cables and the waist strap as I worked my way slowly up the tower, clipping old plastic cable (zip) ties as I went.  The tower definitely had some give but I was quickly acclimated to the amount of sway and found it to be acceptable so we decided not to guy the tower with the other three ropes, which would have slowed my ascent even more.

When I finally reached the top of the tower I untied the haul rope, looped it over one of the southeast facing horizontal bars and hauled it up allowing the free end to lower down to the ground.  Mike then tied the rope to the standoff pulley I had fabricated and hauled it up to me.  I already had cable ties, a diagonal cutter, and a pair of slip pliers with me.  I set the threaded rod on the northeast and southeast cross bars, inside and against the two legs that were parallel to the side of the house, and secured it with cable ties.  This was a three-handed job that I had to do with two hands but I got it done while only dropping one cable tie.  With the pulley rod secured I undid the rope and then undid the knot tying the two loose ends together.  I fed one end through the pulley and retied it to the other end.  We now had a way to haul materials and tools (in a bucket) up to me at any needed height while keeping it 18 inches away from the tower.

Three-quarters of the way up ad working with the haul rope.  (Photo by Linda)

Three-quarters of the way up ad working with the haul rope. (Photo by Linda)

The next task at the top of the tower was to remove the old TV antenna, mast, and rotor.  When I finally had a close up view of these old components it became apparent that my best course of action was to try and unclamp the base of the mast from the rotator, lift it off of the rotator, and toss it to the ground.

The mast clamp parts were all very rusty so Linda got the WD-40 and Mike sent it up in the bucket.  I sprayed the nuts on the mast mounts and also the rotator leg clamps.  I tried undoing the mast clamps with a slip pliers but it was no good, so Mike sent up three open/closed end wrenches.  One of them was the right size and to my surprise the rusted nuts broke loose and started backing off.  One of them did not want to come off but unscrewed the entire bolt instead.  Fine.  The bolt had a screwdriver slot in the top and was threaded into the rotor housing and I did not care how it came out as long as it did.  I got the mast clamps loose enough that I could work the bottom of the mast free from the top of the rotor.  There was a lot of rust there too.  After clipping some coax cables, rotor control wires, and plastic cable clamps I repositioned myself up one rung on the tower so I could get enough leverage to the lift the mast clear of the rotator collar and control it well enough to make sure the antenna fell to the ENE away from the house and my helpers down below.  And that is exactly what happened.

The first antenna to get mounted was the outdoor antenna for the cellular booster system.  Mike sent the antenna up in the bucket along with the various pieces I needed to secure it to the short top/center mast support tube so the entire antenna, which is omnidirectional, was above all parts of the tower.  What would have been an awkward assembly on the ground took on added difficulty 40 feet in the air but I got it secured with good access to the N-female connector on the bottom.

At the top with the pulley in place and using it to haul up a bucket with tools and parts.  Mike is controlling the haul rope on the ground.  (Photo by Linda)

At the top with the pulley in place and using it to haul up a bucket with tools and parts. Mike is controlling the haul rope on the ground. (Photo by Linda)

We decided to run the coax on the outside of one of the tower legs rather than down the inside of the tower.  Mike tied the LMR-400 coax to the rope and hauled it up to me.  In addition to the haul rope Mike tied a second control line to the bucket to keep it from swinging all over the place.  I connected the coax to the antenna feed point and then wrapped the connection with coax seal tape.  I then routed the coax down the east leg of the tower and zip tied it to take the weight off of the antenna connection.

Next up was the 2m/70cm amateur radio base station antenna, often referred to as a 2m/440 dual band antenna.  (In this nomenclature the “2m” refers to a range of wavelengths for one of the VHF ham bands and the “440” refers to a range of frequencies for one of the UHF ham radio bands, so it is a mixed units designation.). The antenna is about five feet long with three short counterpoise (ground plane) rods near the base.  It had an LMR-400 style cable connected to it but with PL-259 male connectors on each end.  The antenna feed point is an N-female connector so I had an adapter installed to make everything compatible.  Mike removed the coax and the adapter, zip tied the antenna to the haul cable at three points, put the 10mm wrench in the bucket, and hauled it up to me.

The ham radio antenna was also tricky to get mounted.  I installed it at the top of the northwest leg so that most of the antenna was above the tower and two of the three short counterpoise were parallel to the west (N-S) and northeast (NW-SE) crossbars.  The antenna by itself is light in weight but it is five feet long and mounts at the bottom nine inches, so most if it was above me with a tendency to wave around in mid-air.  With the coax connected, however, it weighed quite a bit more.  I temporarily zip tied the coax to take the weight.  I then had to hold the antenna with its base against the northwest post at my head level, push a U-bolt through the mounting bracket and past the tower leg, slip the mating clamp over the two ends of the U-bolt, and then get a small lock washer and nut on each threaded bolt end.  I then had to repeat this for the second U-bolt.  Again, a three-handed job that I had to do with only two hands.

The old OTA TV antenna and mast on the ground.  It came down by the gravity method.  (Photo by Linda)

The old OTA TV antenna and mast on the ground. It came down by the gravity method. (Photo by Linda)

The bonus to this work at the top of the tower was a commanding view of the surrounding countryside, which was mostly trees in every direction.  I even saw two towers far to the north and was kept company by a soaring vulture just to the NNE.  I was also able to determine that the tops of the large white pine trees behind the east end of our house are about 10 feet higher than the top of our tower, putting their overall height at about 55 feet as their bases are lower than the base of the tower.  We plan to put the 70 foot tower at a spot that is surrounded by these trees on three sides (W, S, and E) so the top of the tower, and any antennas mounted there, will be well above the tree tops.  That is especially important as we plan to eventually put an HF beam antenna up there on a mast attached to a rotator and it will need to be able to rotate freely for 360 degrees.

The final antenna was the hardest.  The Antennas Direct DB8e OTA UHF/digital TV antenna was very large and heavy by comparison to the other two.  In this case ‘heavy’ meant a few pounds.  It is actually two UHF antennas mounted at the end of a dual support arm structure.  The support arm mounts to a vertical pole, such as a tower leg, at its midpoint and there is a combiner box located there as part of the mount.  A short length of RG-59 (75 ohm) coax connects each antenna to the combiner box and the main coax connects there as well.

How tall the tower appears (and feels) depends on where you are standing.  (Photo by Linda)

How tall the tower appears (and feels) depends on where you are standing.  Pulley and haul rope in the upper right.  Lots of coaxial cables to be dressed (secured) on the way down.  (Photo by Linda)

RG-59 is a different kind of coaxial cable from the LMR-400 used for the first two antennas.  LMR-400 has a 50 ohm characteristic impedance and is used for receiving and transmitting RF energy with considerable power if needed.  RG-59 is much smaller in diameter, more flexible, has a 75 ohm characteristic impedance, and uses F-connectors that are the standard for OTA TV, video, and satellite cables.  But I have gotten ahead of myself.  I had to come down a few feet on the tower to install the TV antenna but before doing that I had to start securing the transmission lines to the tower legs with cable ties.

Mike rigged up the haul rope in a ‘Y’ to lift the antenna from its center of gravity while actually attaching the rope to its ends.  That allowed the haul rope to both support the weight of the antenna and keep it oriented correctly while I positioned and clamped it to the southwest tower leg with the dual support arms pointing in an east-west direction.  Because of where I had the pulley mounted, and the length of the ‘Y’ in the support rope, I had to mount the antenna a few feet lower on the tower.  Fortunately the slightly lower height was not going to affect its performance.

Like the ham radio antenna, the OTA TV antenna mounted to the tower leg at two points.  The upper assembly was a U-bolt with a retaining bracket on the back side.  The lower assembly was a pair of straight bolts that went through the combiner box past the tower leg and had a retaining bracket on the back side.  The antenna came with wing nuts instead of washers and regular nuts, which helped a little, but I really needed three hands to get the antenna into position and tighten the mounting brackets.

Mike ties off the DB8e OTA TV antenna with an inverted "Y" so it will haul up in the proper orientation.  (Photo by Linda)

Mike ties off the DB8e OTA TV antenna with an inverted “Y” so it will haul up in the proper orientation. (Photo by Linda)

Once I had the antenna sufficiently attached to the tower I was able to position the support arm close to the southeast facing side of the tower.  I then pointed the antenna on the east end of the arm ESE towards the Detroit area TV towers and tightened the two nuts on the mounting studs.  (The horizontal dual support arms are about 3 feet long so I was able to reach through the tower to get to the mounting studs and nuts.) I left the antenna on the west end of the support beam loose and turned it out of my way so I could complete other tasks.

Mike attached the end of the main RG-59 coax to the haul rope, put the amplifier and a 2-foot length of RG-59 coax in the bucket along with lots of zip ties, and pulled them up to me.  The amplifier is about 3″ wide by 2″ high and 1.5″ thick including the concave plastic backplate.  The backplate accepts two zip ties for mounting to a pole.  I positioned the amplifier about 8 inches below the antenna combiner box and cinched up the two zip ties.  I then connected the short coax to the combiner box output and put the combiner back it its protective, weather-gasketed plastic box.  I connected the other end of the short coax to the amplifier input and wrapped the connection with coax seal weatherproofing tape.

Installing the DB8e OTA TV antenna required three hands.  Note that I am installing it at the highest point possible when suspended from the pulley with the haul rope in an inverted "Y" attachment.  (Photo by Linda)

Installing the DB8e OTA TV antenna required three hands. Note that I am installing it at the highest point possible when it is suspended from the pulley with the haul rope in an inverted “Y” attachment. The yellow waist strap allowed me to lean back and work while the two red security straps would catch me if something broke. (Photo by Linda)

I attached the main RG-59 coax to the output of the amplifier, which is also the DC power input, and wrapped the connection in coax weather seal tape.  I then dressed the cable and secured it to the tower leg.  I aimed the antenna on the west end of the support arm WNW towards the East Lansing TV towers and tightened the nuts to lock it in position.

At this point I was finally done working on the antennas but had three coaxial transmission line running down the outside of the tower, one by each leg.  As I descended the tower, reversing the protocol I used going up, I secured all three cables every few feet.  I finally had my feet back on the roof at 2:20 PM, almost exactly 2 hours and 30 minutes from when I started climbing.  Projects usually take me twice as long as I think they will but this was about half as long as I thought it would take, so we were all pleased that the work had gone smoothly and relatively quickly.  My main objective was to get the old TV antenna down and the three antennas up but my secondary objective was to only climb and descend the tower once.  Mission accomplished, at least for now.

By now we were all hungry and thirsty so Linda made chickpea salad sandwiches and set out fresh sweet peppers, sliced apples, baby carrots, and cold water.  After a suitable lunch break we returned to the next phase of the work which was routing the coax cables into the cable entry box (CEB) and making the connections.

We started with the RG-59 coax from the OTA TV antenna.  I coiled the extra cable and hung it on the tower (with zip ties, of course), routed it into the CEB and connected it to the power inserter / lightning arrestor.  We purchased this cable from a Radio Shack store in Florida two winters ago to hook up our bus to the RV resort cable TV system.  Besides the coax it had a separate ground wire.  The amplifier and the power inserter both had connections for a separate ground wire so I connected it on both ends.

Routing coaxial cable into the cable entry box from the tower and the basement and making the connections.  (Photo by Linda)

Routing coaxial cable into the cable entry box from the tower and the basement and making the connections. (Photo by Linda)

We had already routed a 75 ohm video cable from our bedroom TV to the sump pump room in the basement.  I selected a suitable length of this same type of cable from our existing inventory, connected it to the other side of the power inserter, and routed it through the back of the CEB into the sump pump room where Linda guided it.  Conveniently, I had a double-ended F-female barrel connector designed to connect together two cables with F-male connectors.  I plugged in the AC power adapter for the power inserter, which was already in the sump pump room, and we went upstairs to see if we were receiving any TV stations.

We set the ‘Source’ on the TV to ‘Antenna’ and did an ‘Auto Scan’ for digital channels only.  There are very few analog TV signals still in use and the ones that are reside in the old VHF TV spectrum which our new antenna cannot even receive.  The scan found 58 signals, which obviously included the sub-channels.  Besides the main Detroit stations and the East Lansing PBS station we got other Lansing area stations and even a station from Flint.  The nice thing about digital TV is that if you get a picture at all it is very good.

There is a large TV tower at I-96 and US-127 on the southeast corner of Lansing so we were probably picking it up.  There are several TV towers SSW of Lansing about 35 miles that serve Battle Creek and may serve Lansing and Kalamazoo.  They are 50+ miles from us and I did not have the west antenna pointed in exactly that direction but it may have been close enough to pick them up.  Flint is at least 35 miles away straight north off the sides of both antennas so theoretically we should not have received any stations from that direction.  We will have to check the AntennaPoint.com website and confirm by station identifier what stations we are actually receiving.

Feeling good about our success so far we routed the coax for the cellular booster across one of the support arms that brace the tower to the house just under the east soffit.  We dropped it down next to the wall and brought it into the bottom of the CEB, replacing the hole plug with a rubber grommet.  Routing it this way kept it out of the way of future foot traffic, or lawn and garden work, in the space around/between the tower and the CEB.  I connected the cable to the lightning arrestor and coaxed it unto position inside the CEB.  LMR-400 is stiff and bending it sharply will damage it.

I connected one end of the 15-foot LMR-400 cable to the other side of the antenna arrestor and routed it into the sump pump room where Linda guided it into position.  I secured it to the ceiling, brought it down the opposite wall, put a large 180 degree bend in it, and attached it to the connector on the bottom of the cellular booster.  I turned it on and watched the lights blink for a while.  All three of us then started checking signal strength throughout both floors of the house.  All five of the ‘Alert’ lights went from blinking yellow, which means the unit is adjusting the gain on that band, to solid yellow, which is not described in the manual.  Since we had not yet registered the device with Verizon Wireless I turned off the booster.

Back out at the CEB I removed one of the hole plugs directly below the input of the Morgan VHF lightning arrestor.  We routed the coax for the 2m/440 ham antenna across the tower brace, down the wall, and around through the bottom of the box where I attached it to the lightning arrestor input.  I had an old piece of 50 ohm coax with an N-male connector on one end and a PL-259 (male) connector on the other end.  I attached the N-connector to the output of the VHF lightning arrestor and fed the other end through one of the 2″ conduits into the sump pump room where Linda routed it out into the ham shack.

We set our “Go Box” on the desk, plugged the PL-259 into the SO-239 socket on the back of the case, plugged it in to AC power, turned on the power supply, and turned on the radio.  The radio, an Icom IC-7000, came up tuned to the South Lyon (K8VJ) repeater.  I transmitted and successfully triggered the repeater, which is currently at a secondary site about 20 miles from our tower.  Mike went out to his car and used his mobile radio to verify that we could transmit to and receive from the repeater.  I had a lot of background static (white noise) so Mike switched modes and transmitted directly to our antenna.  The signal was full scale and full quieting.  I have a ground lug in the Go Box but did not have it connected.  I vaguely recalled that I had to ground the box at the previous house to eliminate a noise issue.  (The radio and power supply are grounded to the box.)

I switched the radio to UHF and it was set for the Novi repeater.  I listened but did not hear anyone transmitting so I transmitted, giving my call sign and a brief message, and then listened.  I did not get a reply even though Mike was also monitoring the Novi repeater so I switched back to the South Lyon repeater.  Mike indicated that I had, indeed, triggered the repeater and that a couple of other hams acknowledged hearing me in addition to him.  It thus appeared that I did not have something set up correctly on the receive side of the radio for the Novi repeater but the system (radio, cables, arrestor, antenna) was clearly working.

That was enough work for one day so we gathered up all of the tools and unused materials and put them away.  We offered to take Mike to dinner as a ‘Thank You’ for his assistance.  It was more than helpful to have someone on the ground who was familiar with tower operations.  We considered several dining options but opted for Olga’s in Brighton.  Linda and I had small salads, sans the Feta cheese, veggie Olga’s that were excellent, and curly fries without Tabasco sauce for the ketchup.  Warning:  As inconceivable as it may sound, Olga’s does not have any kind of hot sauce in its restaurants.  Mike had a dish with chicken in that he said was very good.

Mike headed home from the restaurant as did we.  We were tired but very pleased with what we had accomplished in the course of the day.  We celebrated our accomplishments by watching several programs on Detroit PBS, something we have not been able to do for more than two years.

 

2015/04/07-09 (T-R) North by Northwest

2015/04/07 (T) Space Nuts

Our friend and Alamogordo tour guide Bell Moore, points to her Gulf War service brick at the Alamogordo, NM Chamber of Commerce.

Our friend and Alamogordo tour guide Bell Moore, points to her Gulf War service brick at the Alamogordo, NM Chamber of Commerce.

We have always been intrigued by outer space and the human desire to go there and learn about the universe so in that sense we probably qualify as “space nuts.”  Indeed our first destination this morning, after picking up Bell at her house, was the New Mexico Space History Museum near the New Mexico State University Alamogordo campus at the northeast corner of town.

The museum sits on high ground at the base of much higher mountains and offered a commanding view of Alamogordo and the Tularosa Basin.  The white sands of White Sands National Monument were clearly visible, including airborne gypsum sand blown into the air by the strong southwesterly winds.  We examined the outside static displays which included remnants of a WWII German V-2 that was test-fired at the White Sands Proving Grounds after WWII, went off course, and crashed just southeast of the location of the present day museum.  Alamogordo was much less developed then than it is now, but it was still very lucky that it did not land in a populated area.

Admission to the museum was $6 per person (senior rate) which was a fair price.  We took the elevator to the 4th floor and then worked our way down using the ramps that connect the floors.  As you might expect, the museum places special emphasis on the role of New Mexico in the development of missile technology and space flight, in particular Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Test Range (formerly White Sands Proving Grounds).  The museum had an excellent collection of space and missile related artifacts with excellent explanatory signage.  As with most good museums it would have taken a long day, or several shorter visits, to actually read everything.

A view towards Alamogordo from the outside display area at the New Mexico Space History Museum.

A view towards Alamogordo from the outside display area at the New Mexico Space History Museum.

Even with the white gypsum sand blowing in the wind you can see great distances.  It was thus odd to contemplate that the Trinity Site, which lies some 60 miles NW of the museum, might be visible from where we were standing.  This is the place where the first nuclear bomb was exploded and the flash, followed by the mushroom cloud, must have been visible here in Alamogordo, and the sound surely must have been heard.

From the museum we headed north on US-54 towards Tularosa and stopped at the Eagle Ranch aka Heart of the Desert pistachio farm, processing facility, vineyard, and winery.  We tasted a variety of pistachios and sampled five wines.  Two of the wines appealed to us so we bought a couple of bottles of each.  We also bought several bags of the green chile pistachio nut meats.  We drove next door to check out McGinn’s Pistachio Farm and Winery and sampled more nuts, including some pecans.  We only had a few minutes so we did not buy anything and headed back to Eagle Ranch for the 1:30 PM tour.  The tour lasted 45 minutes and we gained some insight into how pistachios are pollinized, harvested, processed, and packaged.  Pistachio trees are not pollinated by bees or insects but rather by the wind.  Because of that pistachio plantations intersperse a mail (pollen producing) tree after every 8th female (nut bearing) tree.  The location of the male trees is offset in each subsequent row so the pollen as the maximum opportunity to find its way to all of the female trees.

The exhaust nozzle of a Saturn V rocket engine.  It is more than wide enough for a person to stand up in it.

The exhaust nozzle of a Saturn V rocket engine. It is more than wide enough for a person to stand up in it.

After the tour we finished the trip into Tularosa to have lunch at the Tulie Cafe.  It turned out to be closed on Tuesdays, so we headed back to Casa de Suenos.  Bell had a cheeseburger and we both had taco salads with beans instead of animal protein.  Bell enjoyed her cheeseburger and the salads were good.  The red and green salsas that came with the warm tortilla chips were excellent.

On the drive back we stopped at the Alamogordo Chamber of Commerce where there is a display recognizing all of the military personnel from the Alamogordo area who served in Desert Storm.  Each person has a brick with their name and rank at the time of their service.  Bell showed us her brick and I photographed it and took a picture of her pointing to it.  We then spent a little time in the small museum before driving Bell back to her house.  Considering that she did not know us very well when we arrived on Wednesday she was a gracious tour guide and enthusiastic ambassador for her home town.

An Army tactical missile and launcher at the New Mexico Space History Museum.

An Army tactical missile and launcher at the New Mexico Space History Museum.

Back at our coach Linda called the Route 66 RV Park in Edgewood, New Mexico to verify that they were open and had spaces available.  The answers were ‘yes’ and ‘yes’ so that is where we are headed tomorrow.  Linda checked the weather forecast and there is a high wind warning out starting tomorrow afternoon and running into the overnight hours.  In light of that information we decided we would leave first thing in the morning and try to get to our destination before the winds really kicked up.  With that in mind we went ahead and hooked up the car.  I then dumped the holding tanks and cleaned the bus windshields while Linda did a small load of laundry.

Although not fancy, Desert Paradise RV Park was an excellent place to stay and we would certainly stay here again.  It is right off the main highway, but tucked behind some commercial buildings and very quiet.  It is convenient to Alamogordo, Holloman AFB, White Sands National Monument, the White Sands Missile Test Range, and destinations in the mountains to the east that we did not visit.  The RV sites are large with easy access, the clubhouse facilities are very nice, and the Wi-Fi was the fastest and most solid we have experienced all winter.

2015/04/08 (W) Moving North and West

Today was a travel day for us which meant we skipped breakfast and coffee.  We only had a little over 220 miles to travel and would normally have targeted a 9 AM departure time.  The weather forecast, however, was for very strong and gusty winds with a high wind warning starting at noon for the area where we would be traveling.  The jet stream was responsible for the wind, having dipped far south over North America and dropped in altitude.  We got up a little after 7 AM and pulled out of our site at the Desert Paradise RV Park at 8:14 AM.

The remains of a WWII German V2 rocket that was test-fired at White Sands Proving Grounds just after the war ended.

The remains of a WWII German V2 rocket that was test-fired at White Sands Proving Grounds just after the war ended.

We took the US-54/US-70 Relief Route that bypasses most of Alamogordo just west of the city.  The drive up US-54 through Carrizozo and on to Vaughn was scenic and uneventful, even with the occasional construction zone.  We were traveling north to northeast so the winds out of the southwest were mostly on our tail and helped push us along.  It also made for a much quieter ride than usual by reducing the net wind speed at our windshields.

Around 11 AM we picked up US-60/NM-285 in Vaughn and turned west.  That is when we got the full brunt of the wind which seemed to be out of the west.  Linda checked the weather for the area and it was showing sustained winds of 34 MPH out of WSW with gust higher.  Driving the bus at 60 MPH into a 30+ MPH headwind is the same, in terms of wind resistance, as driving it 90 MPH through still air.  The bus only has so much horsepower and was not able to sustain 70 MPH into this wind, not that I wanted to go that fast anyway.  I found that both the bus and I did better if I left the transmission in 4th gear and set the cruise control at 55 MPH.  Even with that configuration it was producing more power and higher exhaust gas temperatures than it would have without the headwind.

The view to the west from the 4th floor of the New Mexico Space History Museum.  The "white sands" are visible on the horizon and blowing into the air.

The view to the west from the 4th floor of the New Mexico Space History Museum. The “white sands” are visible on the horizon and blowing into the air.

NM-285 split from US-60 in Encino and headed northwest while US-60 headed southwest.  Our northwesterly track meant we had a strong crosswind component and some headwind.  We continued to climb and the terrain became more steeply rolling hills.  I was able to travel 63 MPH through this stretch of the trip, which was fast enough, and maintain at least 55 MPH on the steeper hills by getting on the accelerator coming down to low points, staying on it up the other side, and dropping the transmission into 4th gear as the speed and RPMs started to drop.

When we reached Clines Corners and entered I-40 westbound we once again had the wind mostly in our face and I decided to run at 55 MPH in 4th gear.  These were the strongest winds of the drive and had also become very gusty which, combined with Interstate highway traffic, made this the most challenging and stressful park of the trip.

Linda poses with the world's largest pistachio.  Note the wind-blown hair.

Linda poses with the world’s largest pistachio. Note the wind-blown hair.

Most of the drive was also a gradual but steady climb which meant the engine was again usually producing more power than it does on level terrain.  We were at an elevation of 4,341 feet ASL in Alamogordo but by the middle of the drive had topped out at over 7,200 feet ASL and never dropped below 6,000 feet ASL the rest of the trip.  That, combined with the wind resistance, meant the engine ran a bit hotter than normal for most of the drive.  Although the engine coolant temperature never rose above 195 degrees F the pyrometers indicated closer to 700 degrees F, climbing to 850 to 900 degrees F on steeper/longer grades and dropping to 300 degrees F (or less) on down slopes. The pyrometers normally run 500 to 550 degrees on level terrain.  The turbo boost also ran a few PSI higher than it normally does on level terrain and often climbed above 12 (on the new gauge) and several times peaked at 15 on the steepest grades.  I rarely see turbo boost readings on the new gauge above 15 and the maximum I have ever seen is 16-17.

Google Earth Pro indicated that we would encounter up and down grades on this route near 6.0% but an average of only 0.9% upgrade overall.  There were many hills on NM-285 that were 4% and several that were probably 6%, but they were short climbs and the bus handled them well.  Indeed, the coach ran very well all day including how it handled the wind.  It was a lot of work for me, but it was doable.

We went on a free tour and bought wine and green chili seasoned pistachios at the Eagle Ranch

We went on a free tour and bought wine and green chili seasoned pistachios at the Eagle Ranch

We took exit 187 off of I-40, looped back to the east on Old Route 66, and a mile later pulled into the Route 66 RV Park in Edgewood, New Mexico.  As we entered the RV Park there was a sign with a phone number to call so Linda called it.  The owners were away from the park but gave us directions on the phone to get into site # 12.  The park is built on a north-facing slope with a sweeping view in that direction and all of the sites are cut from the hillside.  Site #12 had full hookups with 50 A electric and easy pull through access.  It was also very wide so we did not have to squeeze the bus in and could park our car next to the bus instead of behind it.  The site was not perfectly level but it was close enough that we were able to level the coach using the built-in air-suspension leveling system.

The owners returned while I was hooking up the shorepower and Linda was arranging the interior.  She got us registered and then we unhooked the car.  With our arrival chores completed Linda sautéed onions, red bell peppers, and kale and heated up two Tofurkey brand vegan Italian sausages.

Route 66 RV Park has two Wi-Fi signals so I used the Wi-Fi Analyzer app on my smartphone to see how the 2.4 GHz band looked.  As usual there were lots of signals trying to use Channel 6 (in the center of the band), and a few signals at lower Channels, but the park’s second access point was on Channel 11 all by itself, so I connected our WiFiRanger Mobile-Ti to the second access point.  We then got our computers out, powered them up, and got them connected to the Internet.

A close up view of Bell's Gulf War commemorative brick.

A close up view of Bell’s Gulf War commemorative brick.

The wind continued to blow and the gusts increased in strength.  We were both tired and had slight headaches, perhaps from the higher altitude, the stress of driving in the wind, the lack of our morning coffee, or some combination of the three.  Whatever the cause we both drank some water and then took naps.  When we finally got up Linda sautéed some fresh green beans and reheated the last of the seitan mock stroganoff and served them with quartered apples.

After dinner we experimented with different directions for our TV antennas and found one that captured a lot of stations, including the local PBS affiliate.  Given the winds we appreciated the advantage of having OTA TV antennas that are contained in low profile, aerodynamic housings.  We would not have been able to deploy a conventional crank-up antenna under these conditions.

The door of the early 18th century mission church in Old Town Albuquerque, NM.

The door of the early 18th century mission church in Old Town Albuquerque, NM.

I checked the fresh water tank gauge as Linda was doing the dishes and it was below the 1/3rd level.  I got the water softener and separate pre-filter out of the front bay and hooked everything together.  Once I turned on the water I could see that the level in the tank was ~1/4.  It took about 35 minutes to fill the tank and the water softener was depleted by the time it was full.  That means I will have to regenerate the softener, a task I have come to dislike with our present equipment.  Once the tank was full I disconnected everything and returned the equipment to the front bay.  The low temperature for this evening is forecast to be 36 degrees F so I did not want to leave the water filters, softener, and hoses outside with water in them.

Linda read and watched TV while I processed photos from our drive to/from Bouse, AZ back on March 2nd.  We drove through a very strong storm on that drive and captured a few interesting pictures.  I looked at my draft blog posts for early March and decided to consolidate the posts for March 1 – 3.  I got the compilation done but was too tired to upload it to WordPress, integrate the photos, and generate all of the tags, so I went to bed.  The wind continued to blow and gust strongly but I eventually fell asleep to the gentle (sic?) rocking of the coach.

2015/04/09 (R) Albuquerque, New Mexico

The forecast low for last night here in Edgewood, New Mexico was 36 degrees F.  The actual low turned out to be 28 degrees F, so I was glad that I disconnected the fresh water equipment last night and stowed it back in the front bay.  Linda was up before me this morning and when I got up the temperature in the coach had only dropped to 66 degrees.  We were very comfortable in our sweat pants/shirts but I turned on the electric heaters briefly to warm it up a few degrees.  We have not used space heating in quite some time.

One of the many little seculded plazas in Old Town Albuquerque, NM.

One of the many little seculded plazas in Old Town Albuquerque, NM.

I made a pot of coffee and it occurred to me that our mild headaches yesterday may also have been influenced by the lack of our usual morning brew.  Not that we consume a lot of caffeine in the morning.  I usually make 6 – 8 cups of coffee and it is always half decaffeinated beans, so we each get 1.5 – 2 cups of caffeinated coffee.  Not a lot, really, but probably enough that our bodies don’t like it if we skip a day.  Linda made oatmeal for breakfast, after which I uploaded my blog posts for March 1, 2, and 3 (2015).

Linda spent a little time looking at recommendations on RVillage for what to see and do in and around Albuquerque and Santa Fe and did some additional research online.  We decided to head for “Old Town” Albuquerque by way of Historic Route 66.  That turned out to be especially easy as our RV Park is on Old Route 66 which is Central Avenue in Albuquerque and runs right across the southern edge of Old Town.

One of the many very old doors in Old Town Albuquerque, NM.  I think doors make interesting subjects for photographs.

One of the many very old doors in Old Town Albuquerque, NM. I think doors make interesting subjects for photographs.

We left Edgewood around 9:45 AM and drove the 20 miles to Albuquerque on Route 66 which is closely paralleled by I-40.  Route 66 has lower speed limits than I-40, and once we hit Albuquerque we had a lot of stoplights, so it took about an hour to get to Old Town but we got a good look at that part of Albuquerque.  Most of the available parking around Old Town is in pay lots and, not knowing anything about the area and what else might be available, we went into one of the first ones we came to.  We also did not know how extensive the area was or how long it would take to see it so we paid for all day parking.

Our first stop was a plaza with public restrooms.  The visitor information center was in the same plaza and a very nice lady helped us with maps, brochures, and advice based on personal experiences.  Old Town dates from the early 1700’s.  It features a lot of low, (faux) adobe style buildings, but very are historically old.  Most of the shops sold art and jewelry but there were a few were T-shirt shops and places to eat.

SONY DSC

An interesting fireplace under a Ramada in Old Town Albuquerque, NM

We went in one t-shirt shop and saw several things that we really liked.  Just down the street we struck up a conversation with a Native American gentleman, David Ramirez, who had some wonderful paintings that were part of a large scale, long-term project he is working on.  He was from the Chippewa Tribe in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan and attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor years ago to study art.  We were very tempted to buy something but we were just at the beginning of our stroll through Old Town and did not want to carry merchandise, so we got his business card with his contact information and decided to ponder whether we wanted to make such a purchase.

From Old Town we continued west on Central Avenue looking for Coors Blvd. NW and then Atrisco Dr. NW and Western Ave. NW which finally brought us to Unser Blvd. NW and the entrance to the Petroglyphs National Monument Visitor Center.  After checking in and stamping our NPS Passport we had to drive another two miles north on Unser Blvd. NW to an area of the Monument where there is a short loop road to stops at two parking lots and provides access to three hikes.  One of the hikes involved a rough path that climbed a couple of hundred feet up a steep hill, but it was worth the effort.  We took our time and saw lots of petroglyphs as well as sweeping views of the Albuquerque metropolitan area far below us to the east.  Indeed, one of the trail markers informed us that we were exactly 5,280 feet above mean sea level.

Some pretty flowers along the trail at Petroglyph National Monument, NM.

A cactus in bloom along the trail at Petroglyph National Monument, NM.

From the Monument we worked our way east over the Rio Grande (river), north on 2nd Street to NM-556 (Roy Ave. NE) which crossed I-25 and became Tramway Road NE.  Tramway took us east along the north edge of Albuquerque towards the Sandia Mountains and then turned south to run along their western base.  Tramway eventually intersected I-40 which we got on going east for the 20 mile drive back to the Route 66 RV Park in Edgewood.  Tramway is so named because of the cable car that operates from a base at the northeast corner and takes passengers up to the top of the Sandia Mountains.  The tram was closed for service but we would not have gone anyway regardless of the price.  Linda does not do Ferris wheels, ski lifts, and cable cars.

When we got back to our coach Linda reconstituted one of the dried Hatch chiles we bought at Hatch Chile Sales in Hatch, New Mexico and used it to season a southwestern style beans and rice dish.  After dinner I worked with the consolidated draft blog posts for the days of the Escapade RV rally but did not have the time to select a few photos from the 3,000+ that I took during the event.  We planned to leave early tomorrow for Santa Fe and Bandolier National Monument and I needed to get to bed.

 

2015/03/14-16 (S-M) Escapade to RVillage

2015/03/14 (S) Wrapping Up; Signing Up

I spent most of the day and evening processing photos, although I took time to dump the holding tanks and fill the fresh water tank.  Linda and Val did Laundry and then went grocery shopping after which Linda started preparing the inside of our coach for travel.  It was a long, busy, productive day but it was mostly chores and work, so not much to write about.  We did, however, sign up to be staff at the July 2016 Escapade in Essex Junction, Vermont.  I signed up to be the assistant staff photographer again while Linda signed up for any job that was in a quiet environment so she can hear.  We really do enjoy the Escapade rallies.

Sunset as viewed from our campsite at the Pima County Fairgrounds near Tucson, AZ.

Sunset as viewed from our campsite at the Pima County Fairgrounds near Tucson, AZ.

2015/03/15 (N) Back to RVillage WHQ

Today was our scheduled departure date but we did not need to vacate the Pima County Fairgrounds until noon.  We would be caravanning a relatively short distance with Lou and Val and targeted 11 AM for our departure.

The more time we spend in our bus the less anxious we are the night before we are going to move to a new location, but there is still a certain anticipation about it.  Moving the bus is not like getting in a car to go to work.  It’s a big, complicated, machine and there are many details to attend to before we can move it.  It also rarely travels the same route twice so we spend time researching and planning travel routes.  Fortunately, we enjoy these aspects of the RV lifestyle and had most everything in order by the time we went to bed last night.  We both slept well enough having worked and played fairly hard all week.

We had a leisurely morning and took care of the final preparations for travel.  As it was getting to be 10 AM we had to ask someone to move a car so we could pull out.  Paul Evert’s RV dealership had moved some of the rigs they had sold during the rally to the full hookup area where we were camped all week and had folks pull there trade-in units there so they could transfer their belongings.  As a result the area was getting crowded and obstructed with cars parked wherever it was convenient (for the owner).  The RV Driving School was also busy in one of the parking lots near us teaching people how to turn, back up, and park, including teaching the “spotter” (co-pilot/navigator) how to give hand signals to the driver.  (This is actually the more difficult job requiring judgement, proper positioning, and clear/timely signals.)  As long as the driver can see the spotter all they have to do is follow directions.  Many of the Escapade staff were still at the fairgrounds and attendees who signed up for HOPs (Head Out Programs) were still camped there as well.  The HOPs are organized outings that sometimes involve a tour bus for transportation, a tour leader/guide, admission to one or more venues, and possibly food.

We pulled out roughly on time with Lou and Val right behind us.  We headed out of the fairgrounds and then north on Houghton Road to I-10 where we headed west.  They needed fuel so we took an exit on the west side of Tucson where there was supposed to be a truck stop, but it wasn’t there.  Lou pulled into a station where we could not get in/out so we found a spot a little farther down the road where we could turn around and waited for them to pull out of the station.

We followed them back on to the highway and then retook the lead.  We exited at Eloy where there were both Pilot and Flying J truck stops.  We topped up our diesel tank while Lou filled their propane tank.  We got back on I-10 for another eight miles and then exited at Sunland Gin Road and headed south into Arizona City.  A few miles, and a bunch more minutes, later we pulled into the rental property that currently serves as Curtis Coleman’s residence and headquarters for the RVillage social network.  Good things are happening for RVillage and it was good to be back here to spend a little more time with Curtis and his adorable dog Augie, a Bevar (sp? may be Biewer) Yorkshire Terrier.

A panoramic view looking west from the deck of RVillage World Headquarters.  It was very peaceful here.

A panoramic view looking west from the deck of RVillage World Headquarters. It was very peaceful here.

We got settled in and then visited a bit.  We eventually went to Duffer’s Restaurant at the golf course and then went back to the house for movie night.  The film for this evening was “The Social Network” about the founding of Facebook; a most appropriate choice given where we are boondocked.

2015/03/16 (M) Florence, AZ

Someone at the Escapade told Lou about a road that runs between Florence and Kelvin Arizona.  They said it was mostly good gravel and very scenic and Lou was determined that we find it, drive it, and photograph it.  Linda and Val packed a picnic lunch while Lou and I prepared our photography gear.  I grabbed the Garmin GPS out of our car (just in case) and we took off, leaving Curtis some peace and quiet to attend to RVillage.

I managed to navigate us to Florence where we decided it would be prudent for Lou to top off the fuel tank in his truck.  We pulled into a Circle K (Kangaroo?) and took care of that.  When Lou tried to start the truck the starter would not engage.  It would turn but made a really bad grinding sound.  Sometimes the throw-out gear binds and we tried tapping on the starter with a long stick and hammer but it did not help.  The starter had just been replaced a month ago in Mesa, Arizona and had a 60 day towing policy in addition to the parts and labor warranty.

Val, Lou, and Linda having lunch by the fuel pump island at the Circle K in Florence, AZ.

Val, Lou, and Linda having lunch by the fuel pump island at the Circle K in Florence, AZ.

Lou called the repair shop and they dispatched a tow truck.  I then called Curtis to see if he could fetch Val, Linda, and me from the Circle K and he graciously agreed to come get us.  We let the station attendants know what was going on and they were cool with the whole thing even though we were blocking one of the pumps.  It took a while for the tow truck to arrive so we ate our lunch standing in the shade at the end of the fuel island.  We must have made an interesting sight to passersby.  The tow truck eventually arrived, pulled the pickup truck up onto the flatbed, and drove off with Lou riding shotgun.  A little while later Curtis arrived.  We loaded our picnic supplies and camera gear into the back of his SUV and he drove us back to his place.

Lou photographs their pickup truck being loaded onto the flatbed hauler at the Circle K in Florence, AZ.

Lou photographs their pickup truck being loaded onto the flatbed hauler at the Circle K in Florence, AZ.

I expected to get a call from Lou letting me know that I needed to drive to Mesa to pick him up.  What we got instead was a call that the truck was repaired and he was on his way back.  The problem was that the starter mounting bolts had not been torqued tight enough and had backed out about 1/4 inch.  As a result the throw-out gear was pushing the starter back rather than engaging with the gear teeth on the flywheel.  As we thought about it we were realized we were very lucky this did not happen on the road from Florence to Kelvin.

Bonnie was also staying at the RVillage compound and joined us for dinner last night.  This evening we did a pot luck thing and dined at the outside table by the lake.

 

2015/03/06-12 Escapade Images

Here is a gallery of additional images from the 2015 Escapees RV Club Escapade.  Most of them are of our friends, old and new.

2015/03/06-12 (F-R) Escapade 2015

2015/03/06 (F) SKP Escapade Arrival

Linda sitting with Val Petkus at the opening staff meeting.

Linda sitting with Val Petkus at the opening staff meeting.

We unhooked our car last night so we could go grocery shopping and left it disconnected as the Escapade prefers that folks arrive with their toads unhooked if possible.  We only had a 28 mile drive to the Pima County Fairgrounds so driving two vehicles was not an inconvenience.  There is, in fact, an advantage to having the car follow the bus as it can create space for lane changes in dense traffic.

Lou and Val drove over from their RV Park on the other side of I-10, turned their rig around, and positioned it so we could follow them onto the highway.  We pulled out at 9:15 AM.

Kay Peterson, SKP#1, is recognized at the opening staff meeting.

Kay Peterson, SKP#1, is recognized at the opening staff meeting.

We had arranged to rendezvous in Tucson so we could park together, which requires us to arrive together, or so we thought.  It turned out that staff parking was pre-assigned and since Lou was the head photographer and I was the assistant photographer we were assigned parking in different areas.  Our location was not that far from Lou and Val’s and actually afforded us more privacy, a better view, and 50 A electrical service, so we had nothing to complain about.  We were a bit less convenient to the activity buildings, but the Pima County Fairgrounds was compact and very walkable.  Besides, we were parked next to Travis and Melanie Carr, who were next to Cathie and Bud Carr.  Cathie is the president of the Escapees RV Club and Travis is Bud and Cathie’s son.

 

Linda puts a pin on the map to mark our home town.

Linda puts a pin on the map to mark our home town.

And walk we did.  Even though the Escapade did not start until Sunday afternoon, and regular participant arrival was scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, the fairgrounds was already abuzz with activity.  Besides the staff arrivals, which were spread out over several days, the vendors were arriving and setting up, seminar rooms and hospitality areas were being prepared, and there were two pre-rallies taking place.  One was the Escapees RV Boot Camp and the other was the Geeks On Tour Camp Re-Boot.  And the job of the staff photographers was to capture all of this activity.

Things quieted down by dinnertime.  A bit later Brendan (our son) called to update us on his interview at Eastern Michigan University where he is a finalist for an art history professorship.  He is also a candidate for a curatorial position at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor Art Museum so we are excited at the possibility of him securing one of these jobs.

2015/03/07 (S) Escapade Setup

I was up and dressed before 7 AM and slipped out of the coach while Linda was still asleep.  Today was the final day for the RVers Boot Camp.  Their day started with breakfast from 7 – 8 AM and I wanted to take a few photos of their meal.  As long as I was up I wandered around the fairgrounds taking pictures of the facilities and RVs and occasionally a person or group of people.  The parking crew was in position and started parking rigs at 8 AM.  The parking process went on until 2 PM but most of the arrivals were solo rigs that dribbled in.  I was told that 300 rigs were scheduled to arrive tomorrow and they expected it to be a bit crazy, so I will look for photo ops of groups of arriving rigs tomorrow.

I went to Old Pueblo Hall to get some free coffee and wandered around to see if any more vendors, chapters, or BoFs were setting up but there was not a lot of activity.  I talked to Wanda Lewis about our missing event shirts.  Lots of folks were apparently aware of the situation and several of them had looked through the “specials” packaging but ours were nowhere to be found.

SKP Chapter 6 displays their banner on "the row."  We have been members of this chapter since the 2010 Escapade but have yet to make it to a rally.

SKP Chapter 6 displays their banner on “the row.” We have been members of this chapter since the 2010 Escapade but have yet to make it to a rally.

I went back to our rig and had breakfast.  I then resumed my photo rounds, still looking for shots of RVs arriving and being parked.  I ended up back at Old Pueblo Hall by which time the participant registration desk was open and there were very long lines.  The Escapees Mail desk was also open along with the Store and other specialized SKP functions.  Teresa Moore, the COO of the Escapees RV Club, was in the Store so I talked to her about our missing shirts event shirts.  They had shirts for sale and I suggested that she give me our pair before they were gone.  She agreed, albeit a bit reluctantly.  We won’t wear them while they continue to look for the rest of our order, but my guess is that this was not really a priority for anyone and I doubted that they would find them because I don’t think the shirts ever got ordered even though we were billed for them.  They would have refunded the cost of the two shirts but we really wanted the shirts, that’s why we ordered them in the first place.

Bill McGrath and Stephen Pinn from the SKP Photographers BoF contacted Lou Petkus, the head photographer, and Lou arranged for all of us to meet briefly with Lora Newby, the Escapade coordinator under whom Photography falls.  I ended up having a long chat with Steve afterwards about mobile communications.  He also let me use his 18% neutral gray screen and color checker squares to shoot a series of exposure compensation test shots.  When looking through some of the images I had shot over the last 24 hours I noticed that a lot of them had the highlights blown out, especially when using the on-camera flash.

We stayed at the RoVers Roost SKP CO-OP on our way to Quartzsite for the winter.

We stayed at the RoVers Roost SKP CO-OP on our way to Quartzsite for the winter.

I copied photos to my computer and worked with the color checker and gray scale images.  Many of my photos from the last 24 hours seemed to be overexposed and I was using the color checker and gray scale images to determine if I needed to make an exposure compensation under bright sunlight, shadow, or indoor flash settings.  I was using Lou’s older Canon 50D, so I had no prior experience with how the exposures might need to be tweaked.  I did not arrive at a definitive conclusion other than deciding that I should figure out how to enable automatic exposure bracketing, which Lou eventually showed me how to do.

2015/03/08 (N) The 55th Escapade Begins

Our motorcoach, parked in an out-of-the-way place with Cathie & Bud Carrs motorhome, Travis & Melanie Carr's Airstream, and the Rivolli Review's motorhome.

Our motorcoach, parked in an out-of-the-way place with Cathie & Bud Carrs motorhome, Travis & Melanie Carr’s Airstream, and the Rivolli Review’s motorhome.

Although the Escapees RV Club Escapade officially began at 3:00 PM (MST) today the event is really multi-faceted and aspects of it have been taking place since Thursday with the Escapees Boot Camp followed by the Geeks On Tour Camp Re-Boot.  Some of the staff have been here for weeks, but most of us arrived on Wed, Thu, or Fri.  The staff appreciation dinner was Friday and the Vendor appreciation dinner was Saturday.  Early arrival for attendees started Friday and continued Saturday with regular arrivals starting at 8 AM this morning.  The registration desk opened at 10 AM on Saturday and the vendor area opened at 9 AM this morning.  The “first timers” meeting was held at 2 PM.  The opening ceremonies commenced at 3:00 PM and lasted a little over an hour.  We had time for dinner and then headed back to Thurber Hall for the evening slide show, door prizes, and entertainment.  The Rivolli Review, a husband and wife team, was the evening entertainment.  Their motorhome is parked right next to our bus but we have not seen much of them, or had any conversation with them so far, as all of us are usually busy away from our rigs.

L-2-R:  Chris Guld (Geeks On Tour), Cathie Carr (SKP President), and Linda chatting at the informal Xscapers launch party.

L-2-R: Chris Guld (Geeks On Tour), Cathie Carr (SKP President), and Linda chatting at the informal Xscapers launch party.

2015/03/09 (M) Seminars & Socials

Today was the first full day of the Escapade.  That meant a full schedule of seminars during the day and a full slate of social gatherings in the late afternoon.  The vendors were open for business and “the row” was open to greet attendees and explain the joys and benefits of SKP CO-OP Parks, Chapters, and BOFs (Birds Of a Feather, a SKP special interest group).

Linda with Howie & Nora Glover, fellow SKPs and RVillage Vegan RVers.

Linda with Howie & Nora Glover, fellow SKPs and RVillage Vegan RVers.

I spent most of the day capturing images of the event.  We then attended the Xscapers launch party at Technomadia’s bus where I got some additional photos.  We wandered over to Thurber Hall around 6:30 PM to catch the pre-entertainment slide show, much of which was built using photos I shot the prior few days.  The door prize drawings started at 7 PM.  We did not win anything.  Once the drawings were done The Mentalist was introduced and kicked off his performance.  We stayed long enough for me to take a few photos and then went back to our rig.  I off-loaded photos onto my computer and backed them up on our NAS, post-processed the ones I considered usable, and loaded them onto a thumb drive to give to Lou.  It doesn’t sound like much, but it was a long, full day.

2015/03/10 (T) More Escapade

L-2-R:  Val Petkus, Lora Newby, and Linda.  Have you noticed that Linda always seems to be having a good time at the Escapade?

L-2-R: Val Petkus, Lora Newby, and Linda. Have you noticed that Linda always seems to be having a good time at the Escapade?

Today started with “Donuts for CARE.”  CARE (Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees) is the Escapees RV Club subsidiary that provides assisted care for club members at Rainbow’s End in Livingston, Texas.  One morning during each Escapade donuts are made available for a donation rather than a fixed price.  Up until today the largest amount donated for a donut was $500 but this morning someone (a vendor) presented the Executive Director of CARE with a check for $2,000!

The rest of the day followed the same pattern as yesterday with the five seminar rooms busy every session, the Ladies Luncheon, line dancing, music jamming, vendors selling, socials, and entertainment.  We attended the SKP Freethinker BOF social at the rig of fellow photographer Bill McGrath and his wife Anna.  It was a smaller gathering than the previous day and we missed the Boomers social, which apparently had 150 people in attendance.  As with so much in life, it was just a matter of timing.

L-w-R:  Melanie Carr, Marianne Edwards and Randy Sturrock ( of Boondockers Welcome), and Linda.

L-w-R: Melanie Carr, Marianne Edwards and Randy Sturrock ( of Boondockers Welcome), and Linda.

There was no entertainment this evening so I took pictures of the cards and games activity and the music jam.  Big RV rallies, including Escapades, are exciting but intense experiences.  An evening without major activities gives attendees an opportunity to go out to dinner or just relax with a few friends.

2015/03/11 (W) Free Day

Today was “free” day at the Escapade.  Not for me, of course, I had to work harder than ever.  No, today was “free public admission” day, and the public came in droves.  By one count 700 people took advantage of the opportunity to check out what was going on at the Pima County Fairgrounds.

For the photographers it meant more crowded venues but also the opportunity to get more photos of crowds of people.  Otherwise it was business as usual except for the “row party.”  From 10 AM to 1 PM all of the Chapters, BOFs, and CO-OPs put extra effort into staffing their tables and talking to attendees about their group.

The attendees at the Xscapers Social (except me, of course).

The attendees at the Xscapers Social (except me, of course).

4:30 PM brought another round of socials, including one for the new Xscapers club-within-the-club.  It was well attended and I got lots of nice photos including one of the entire group of about 100 attendees.

The evening entertainment was the Ham-O-Rama, the amateur talent show that has been a feature of Escapade for many years.  With 851 rigs and 1,400 people staying at the fairgrounds, plus additional attendees staying at other venues, there is always plenty of talent to form a show.  Lou covered the event photographically and I went back to our rig to process my photos from the day.

Chris Guld (Geeks On Tour) and Linda with big smiles for the camera.  Escapades tend to make people happy :-)

Chris Guld (Geeks On Tour) and Linda with big smiles for the camera. Escapades tend to make people happy 🙂

2015/03/12 (R) RVillage Birthday

Today was the last day of the Escapade, sort of.  Closing ceremonies were at 3 PM but there was still a lot going on before and after that, some of which had to be photographed.  I spent much of the morning, however, processing photos.

The big daytime event was the Chili Cook-off.  There were at least 18 entries including a vegan chili (yum) and a chocolate chili (which everyone claimed was incredibly good).  Some were hot/spicy and some were not; something for every taste.  Attendees got a small sample of any chili they wanted to try (until it ran out) and voted for their favorite(s) by putting money in a jar at each table.  The jar with the most money was declared the winner, and all of the money raised went to the CARE program (Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees).

Some of the attendees from the Xscapers Social gather for a sunset photo.

Some of the attendees from the Xscapers Social gather for a sunset photo.

The closing ceremonies are always fun and touching.  Attendees, volunteers, and staff (especially staff) are tired, but it’s a good kind of tired.  It’s been an exciting, intense week and folks are ready to move on and slow down, but always with a bit of reluctance at parting company with old and new friends.  Those who have worked to make the event happen get recognized, which is always appreciated.

After the closing ceremonies there were more socials.  RVillage launched one year ago today and founder Curtis Coleman scheduled an RVillage get-together / Escapade social for 4:30 PM.  We went to that one.  It was well attended and he announced that the beta status had been removed from the website at midnight, a significant accomplishment for only one year of being online.

Some of the Xscapers looking to new horizons and the future of a new generation of full-time and extended-time RVers.

Some of the Xscapers looking to new horizons and the future of a new generation of full-time and extended-time RVers.

There was bingo and a farewell party at 7 PM (two separate events) and I photographed both activities.  I spent the rest of the evening post-processing photos but turned in earlier than normal as Lou had planned a SKP Photographers BOF photo outing for tomorrow.

A panorama of the sunset.  This is what we saw out the windshields of our bus.

A panorama of the sunset. This is what we saw out the windshields of our bus.