Monthly Archives: June 2013

2013_06_30 (Sun) Happy Birthday

Sunrise over Boxelder RV Park, CAM-PLEX, Gillette, WY

Sunrise over Boxelder RV Park, Gillette WY CAM-PLEX

Linda was up early this morning and went for a sunrise walk.  Perhaps she was too excited to sleep because it was her birthday, but this is the 53rd Escapade and the 35th anniversary of the founding of the Escapees RV Club, so it could have been that.  When she got back I brewed up some Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee (from Irene’s Beans in Milford, MI) and she opened her birthday present.  Linda now has her first “cowgirl” shirt!  She liked it so much that she made blueberry pancakes for breakfast with real, fresh blueberries and real Michigan maple syrup.  (If you are thinking that I should have prepared breakfast for her, let me state that in the past I would have, and could have, done this but she is the resident WFPB culinary expert, and I have basically stayed out of the kitchen, and out of her way, since we started down this path two years ago.)

We got a call from our son who was checking on our house.  Linda had asked him the day before to check our answering machine because it wouldn’t pick up when we called.  It turned out that we didn’t have a dial tone, but our Internet connection appeared to be OK.  He said there had been a lot of rain this past week, so that may be the reason.  Our phone and data service come over the same wire, so I’m not sure that is the problem.  We decided to wait a few days and see if it clears up.  If not we will have to contact AT&T.

We had more coffee at 9 AM at the WiFi Cafe and more conversation with Charles Martin.  We returned the defective Camco hose and got a replacement.  Their analysis was that the metal sleeve had not been swaged properly which is why the barbed fitting did not stay in.  While we were there we looked at the Camco Genturi genset exhaust stack.  This is an auxiliary exhaust stack that fits on the end of the generator tailpipe and carries the generator exhaust up past the roof line of the RV.  It’s made of 3” PVC in 4 foot sections, so it can be taken apart and stored.  A tailpipe extension curves up into the base of the 3” pipe with room to draw in cooler air around it and creating a Venturi effect, thus the name of the product.  This is a fairly easily duplicated design; the main reason to buy it is that you don’t have to source all the materials and make it yourself.  The vertical pipe has to be supported somehow, and suction cups are one of the options.  The vendor suggested getting large ones from Harbor Freight that are normally used for handling windshields and other large pieces of glass.  If/when I build one of these, I would like to be able to hook it onto the gutter rail where the roof starts, but the large suction cups are an interesting idea, although I am not too keen on that idea with the new paint on the coach.  Our Aqua-Hot exhaust exits out under the driver side of the coach right next to the generator exhaust, and I have considered building a double stack that hooks to both of these.  In both cases, however, I have to be careful not to restrict the exhaust flow and create back pressure.

We walked through the vendor area again and talked to Sean at WiFi Ranger about the factory default reset we got when we turned the power off and back on.  I also bought a roof mounting bracket for our WiFi Ranger Mobile.  Linda bought a silicone cooking sheet for use in the microwave from RV SpaceSavers.  We stopped and talked briefly to Nick & Terry Russell of The Gypsy Journal and gave Nick a copy of the February 2013 issue of Bus Conversion Magazine.  Until a few years ago, Nick and Terry lived in an MCI bus that Terry had converted.  (Nick is famous for not knowing how to use tools.)  We talked to a vendor who provides mobile black/grey tank cleaning service, but deferred signing up.  We also chatted with a satellite TV vendor who felt strongly that Direct TV was a far superior choice to Dish Network, especially if we were also going to use it at home.  She confirmed that Moto-Sat had gone out of business and that RF Mogul was started by former Moto-Sat employees.  We discussed the possibility of using a fully-automatic open style multiple-satellite dish on a tripod or other mount rather than having it attached to the roof.  She seemed skeptical, but did not see any fundamental reason that it wouldn’t work.  (In fact we have seen a lot of open style satellite TV dishes mounted on tripods or sitting on the ground, although most of them are manual dishes, not automatic.)

After our jaunt through the vendor area, we visited “The Row” to get our “bingo” sheet filled in but ended up talking to many of the chapter and C-BOF representatives.  We finally met Steven Gullette from the HFH BOF, with whom we had exchanged many e-mails in the last few months.  He will be one of the co-leaders on the build in Sheridan in a couple of weeks.  We chatted with Lou Petkus, K9LU, and signed up for the newly formed SKP Photographers BOF (no charge).  We also talked to the Elks BOF and found out that we can join the Gillette lodge while attending Escapade, so we took some information and an application form.  The initiation is Friday evening.

We got back to the coach around 12:45 PM and grabbed a quick lunch before running some errands.  We went back to the Boot Barn to exchange Linda’s new shirt for a different size, and had to join their “loyalty program” in order to do the exchange.  The manager had to approve the exchange and was a bit surly.  We will not be shopping there ever again.  We also mailed an anniversary card to our son & daughter-in-law.  Linda received a birthday call from her sister and a video birthday greeting from our son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter.  In many respects, RV life is just like regular life.

We attended the opening / welcome ceremony at 3 PM and were delighted to see and hear from Kay Peterson, SKP #1.  Dinner was leftover risotto with the rest of the Lawrence Elk black currant wine from Prairie Berry Winery, and both were excellent.  I was sorry that they were both gone, but there’s more where they came from.

We went over to the Wyoming Center at 7 PM for the Door prize drawings followed by the Rivoli Review for the evening entertainment.  They do a good show, with lots of energy and humor, although the patriotism was laid on fairly thick, and there were moments that were just plain jingoistic and inappropriate.  Although many of the attendees were enthusiastic about their show, there were plenty of folks sitting on their hands who were clearly not so pleased.


2013_06_29 (Sat) Anticipation, Registration, and Relaxation

I got up a little before 5 AM and watched the sun rise.  There were low clouds to the NE that provided color, and the orb broke the horizon at ~5:25 AM.  But I wasn’t the first person up in the campground; someone was walking two dogs as the sun rose.  RVers seem to come in two basic types: 1) up before the sun, and 2) party into the night, although type 1 seems to be much more common at large RV rallies.

Escapade registration opened at 9:00 AM today along with the SKP (pronounce each letter “Es” “Kay” “Pees” and you get “Escapees”) store.  We were there at 9 AM as we wanted to shop for SKP/Escapade shirts and were told yesterday that they tend to sell out fast.  (These are event specific shirts.)  They did not have any shirts with pockets (apparently they had to be pre-ordered), and they did not have any men’s medium size.  I bought a men’s large and Linda got a women’s medium.  (Apparently RVers only come in two sizes, large and small.  We had the same problem with clothing at the FMCA store.)  We got some free coffee and sat in the “WiFi Cafe” area to look at the program and other materials we received in our registration bag.  Charles and Connie Martin showed up about 20 minutes later and the men’s shirts were already sold out.  Rick showed up shortly after that and joined us.  While I can understand the Club not wanting to be stuck with unsold event-specific merchandise, the lack of available inventory was simply baffling.  They were sold out in the first 30 minutes, and there would still be people arriving today and tomorrow!  The other baffling thing is that they did not have generic Escapees RV Club shirts for sale.  ???

By the time we got back to the coach it was pushing noon.  We gathered up a load of laundry and supplies, and then took a minute to have a light lunch before heading out.  We drove to “Surf-N-Suds”, Linda’s laundromat of choice in Gillette.  Linda stayed to do the laundry while I ran some errands.  I got back as she was finishing up and helped her fold the laundry.

When we got back to our coach John & Cheryl were sitting outside under their patio awning, so we brought our chairs over and joined them, the first chance we’d had to do this. The couple behind us (he is the FMCA INTO area treasurer) joined the conversation, and we all had a good, long chat.  Both couples are full-timers, and there is always something to learn in such conversations.

Eventually we broke for dinner, after which we went for our usual evening walk.  This time we chose a route that avoided RVs as much as possible (so we could actually go for a walk).  SKPs are very friendly, and passing anywhere near their rigs usually leads to a conversation.  We enjoy these interactions, but they interfere with walking, so we have to be conscious of our intent.

When we got back to the coach we sat outside for a while and had a nice chat with Rick.  As I have mentioned before, it cools off quickly here in the evening and this was no exception.  A little quiet time and a glass of Lawrence Elk Black Currant wine from Prairie Berry Winery, and it was off to bed.


2013_06_28 (Fri) Eagle Butte Coal Mine

Even though we had registered to arrive yesterday, today was actually the first early arrival date for Escapade.  Yesterday was supposed to just be for volunteer arrivals, but someone had made a mistake when creating the registration page/form on the website.  Not that it mattered to us; we were already here and parked.

We had reservations for a 9:00 AM tour of the Eagle Butte Mine, an open pit mining operation north of Gillette, Wyoming owned by Alpha West Mining.  The tour is two hours long and there are no restrooms available during that time, so breakfast did not include our usual coffee.  (It’s good to skip morning coffee occasionally, if only to prove to one’s self that you are not addicted to it and can function just fine without it.  The result, however, usually establishes just the opposite.)

Us standing in a an overburden shovel bucket.

Us standing in a an overburden shovel bucket.

We arrived at the visitor information center (at the Flying J on Hwy 59) in Gillette about 20 minutes early and checked in.  The tour was by small bus–the kind used by car rental companies as airport shuttles–and was free!  Reservations were required, however, and Linda had made ours on Wednesday.  Our tour guide / driver was Danielle.  Her normal day job is teaching 7th grade physical education, but she had worked production at the Eagle Butte mine in past summers.  Her professional teaching skills were evident as she was very knowledgeable regarding the whole mining operation and was able to clearly explain what we were seeing with a strong voice that everyone could here.

A coal train pulling out of Eagle Butte Mine.

A coal train pulling out of Eagle Butte Mine.

What you see on any tour of a functioning production operation is always a bit by chance based on what is going on at the time you are there.  Your chances were pretty good with this tour, however, as the mining operation is 24/7/52 and the tour bus, which is owned by the mine, actually drives through the mine property and stops at various vantage points and a viewing platform.  We were lucky today as there were shovels and trucks (dirt/overburden, coal, and water) operating, along with smaller equipment.  There was also a train being loaded, and we got to see the loading process from a very close up vantage point.  The trains, with 110 -140 coal cars, move through the loading area at a very slow but steady 0.6 MPH, up a slight grade, even as the mass of the train changes as each car is loaded.  I presume that the locomotives are computer controlled, but I was not able to confirm that.

Coal shovel, Eagle Butte Coal Mine

Coal shovel, Eagle Butte Coal Mine

Eagle Butte is a relatively small mine compared to most in the region, but the scope of the operation and the size of the equipment were still quite impressive.  Eagle Butte is in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin (PRB) where the coal lies in a horizontal layer 100 -120 feet thick below 200 – 250 feet of overburden.  The reclamation process is continuous and very strict, with the overburden being used to back fill once the coal is removed.  The land is returned to its former condition (as much as possible), including the exact replacement of native flora and fauna.

After the tour we returned some items to Wal-Mart, bought some replacement items, and then went to the HealthStyles Market.  Rick still had his 20% off coupon from his FMCA welcome bag and gave it to us yesterday.  We, in turn, gave him some coupons for food items we would not be able to use.

It was warm again this afternoon, but it was not uncomfortable due to the low humidity (34%).  Linda went for a walk and encountered Nick & Terry Russell.  She also met Charles & Connie Martin, who invited us to go out to dinner, which she accepted.  We have not dined out on this trip much as the available restaurant/menu choices are limited to non-existent, especially here in Gillette.  Linda had found the one and only Italian restaurant in town and suggested we go there.  Italian restaurants usually have a few pasta dishes that work for us, and there is always the “pizza without cheese” option, although this has proven to be a hit-or-miss proposition.

We had a quiet afternoon and visited with Rick next door for a while.  The Martins picked us up at 6:00 PM and we went to Adriano’s.  The food was underwhelming, but the conversation was great.  Linda enjoys planning and preparing our meals, and I enjoy eating them, but she also appreciates a break now and then.  Charles & Connie have an MCI 102C3 conversion.  Charles was very familiar with Bus Conversions Magazine (BCM) and its founder, but was not aware that Gary Hall now owns and publishes it, so I gave him a copy of the February 2013 issue, which features our coach.

We got back from dinner at 8:00 PM and decided to go for a walk while it was still light, and before it got too cool.  We walked a portion if the Boxelder RV Park to see who else had shown up and met some very nice dogs (and their owners).  I spotted a motorhome with a very tall flag pole attached to the rear, but no flags.  The owners were outside and I asked if it was a flagpole or a ham radio antenna?  “Yes” was the answer, so we stopped to chat with them.  They have been full-timers for a while but only recently started traveling.  This was their first Escapade.  By the time we made it back to the coach it was dark and cool.  We had a few sweet cherries for dessert and it was off to bed.


2013_06_27 (Thu) Cowgirl Barrel Racing

Today was the first early entry date for the Escapade, and RVs started rolling into Boxelder RV Park at 8 AM.  The parking crews were ready and waiting and directed the rigs to their assigned areas and got them parked with great efficiency.  Lynn & Linda Laymon were working the area near where we are parked, and I recognized their names from the roster for the Habitat For Humanity build we will be doing in Sheridan in July.  We had a nice get-acquainted chat that Linda joined when she returned from her morning walk.  (We have been walking together after dinner each evening, but Linda likes to do a 4 – 5 mile power walk in the morning, and I figure that’s an opportunity for each of us to have a little “me” time.  We are, after all, living in a 300 sq. ft. condo on wheels with a really big “yard”.)  In the course of the conversation we realized that the shift from FMCA to SKP had occurred and we got out our SKP name tags and pinned them on.

We enjoy being members of both FMCA and The Escapees RV Club, but they are different.  FMCA is larger and has an extensive volunteer governance and management structure, as well as a paid staff.  Membership is restricted to motorhomes, but it has a fair number of members and chapters focused on bus conversions, so it’s a good fit for us.  The Escapee RV Club is smaller, and is actually a privately owned family business.  There are no restrictions on what kind of RV you own, and there is a much stronger focus on full-time RVing.  The club was founded by Kay and Joe Peterson as a support group for full-time RVers.  They were living in a trailer and raising a family at a time when that was not “fashionable” as Joe was an itinerant electrician.  I have heard it said more than once that “You belong to FMCA, but you are an Escapee.”  Based on our limited experience, that rings true.

I was reminded this morning that “someone” has a birthday on the 30th of this month and that they would like to be taken out to dinner, “or something.”  I accepted the “heads up” as a friendly but necessary reminder as I do get preoccupied at times and forget things, even important things like “someone’s” birthday.  Plus, the 30th is the opening day of the Escapade, so the activity level will ratchet up quite a bit and I could certainly be distracted by that.  An online search of local restaurant menus, however, failed to reveal anything other than a deli with a couple of vegetarian sandwiches that could be made vegan by leaving off cheese, mayo, and any other animal products that might normally be included.  Not exactly a gourmet birthday meal, but at least “someone” wouldn’t have to prepare it.

We were on tap for another warm day, but decided to leave the windows open and the vent fans on as long as possible.  Although we have a good 50 A electrical connection here at the CAM-PLEX, we like fresh air, and the house air-conditioners are rather noisy so we prefer not to use them if possible.

We spent the late morning and most of the afternoon working at our computers.  I worked on my draft blog posts while Linda worked on our personal accounting.  We had the vent fans going and some small fans to move air around, and I was surprisingly comfortable in spite of the interior temperature climbing past 88 degrees F.  Linda usually tolerates (likes) heat much better than I do, but wasn’t feeling 100%, so mid-afternoon we finally turned the air-conditioners on and brought the temperature back into the mid-70s.  (BTW:  Because of the surface area to volume ratio of the bus and the amount/quality of insulation in the ceiling and walls, we can only maintain a 15 – 20 degree differential between inside and outside.  However, even a 10 degree differential makes a big difference.)

Linda made a wonderful dish for dinner with farro (an ancient Italian grain), garlic, onions, mushrooms, and asparagus.  The dish was fragrant, earthy, nutty, slightly creamy, and with just enough chew to have a great mouth feel.  She paired it with a simple green salad and we opened the bottle of Lawrence Elk black currant wine we bought at the Prairie Berry Winery in Hill, South Dakota.  Being from Michigan, we have ready access to wines based on fruits other than grapes, especially cherry and pear.  The black currant wine was unique and very much to our liking, and I wish we had bought more than one bottle.  (I guess we will have to go back.)

We were wrapping up dinner and preparing for our evening walk when Cheryl stopped by to let us know that there was a cowgirl barrel racing event going on over by the Morningside Park grandstand.  We walked over to the small horse arena and joined them to watch cowgirl barrel racing, junior calf lassoing, and age 7-10 girls and boys goat tying.  Finally, the real west.  I snapped a few pictures and sent one to our two children.

When we felt we had been sufficiently westernized (and seen enough baby goats tossed to the ground and tied up to last us a lifetime) we continued our walk and found Charles and Connie Martin’s MCI bus conversion, which they had moved from Windmill RV Park to one of the generator only (24 hr.) lots.  We stopped to chat for a while and got lots of good tips regarding travel directories and resources.  It turned into a longer visit than we intended, but it was nice to spend time with fellow FMCA GLCC members.  By the time we left their bus the sun had set and the temperature had dropped, so we had a chilly walk back to our coach.  The coach was still closed up with the ACs on, but the compressors had disengaged and it was a pleasant 78 degrees F inside.  We opened the rig up for the evening and had some fresh sweet cherries (Rainer’s) for a dessert snack.  It was then off to bed as we are scheduled for a tour of the local coal mine tomorrow at 9 AM.


2013_06_26 (Wed) Devil’s Tower N. M.

We had decided last night that we would switch to tourist mode today and drive over to Devil’s Tower National Monument.  I had been there twice before; first with my parents when I was about 10 years old, and then with our son when he was the same age (25 years ago).  It was Linda’s first visit, however, and we were both excited to be going there.

Devil's Tower N. M.

Devil’s Tower N. M.

It is only 61 miles from Gillette to the monument, and we had a nice morning for a drive.  We headed out around 9:00 AM and were there by 10:30 AM.  We stamped our NPS “passport” and then hiked the 1.3 mile trail around the tower at the base of the boulder field.  This is a paved trail with some up and down.  It is mostly shaded by the pine forest that surrounds the tower, but there are sunny stretches as well.  The base of the tower is actually higher in elevation than the surrounding Belle Fourche river valley, and the trail afforded a number of nice vistas.  There are resting spots with benches and a couple of spotting tubes as well.  The weather was nice for hiking and photography, with blue skies and wonderful clouds.  We finished our hike around noon, and left the monument headed for Hewlett to the north.

A view of Devil's Tower from the trail around the base.

A view of Devil’s Tower from the trail around the base.

Hewlett is a very picturesque little town with an “old west” look to it.  We were there because we had a tourist map that showed a number of different loop drives in the area.  One of them appeared to use a road from Hewlett south to Sundance, but the map must have printed incorrectly as the road did not exist as near as we could tell.  Instead continuing on to Aladdin, whose main (only) attraction is the general store, we decided to back track past the monument to Sundance.  It’s always interesting driving a road in the opposite direction as the views are different, and we had some very good ones of the tower.

The Crook Co. Museum is in the basement of the county courthouse in Sundance.  A fellow RVer had been there early last week and recommended it.  It’s free, which is always a bonus.  Some of the exhibits have to do with Harry Longabough, AKA “The Sundance Kid”, who was tried and sentenced to 18 months in jail in the Crook County court.  This was the kind of small/local museum that Nick & Terry Russell often visit and write about in The Gypsy Journal, their RV travel newspaper.  The old high school building is being refurbished to serve as the new home of the museum.  It should be very nice when finished, and worth a return visit if/when we are back in the area.

We headed back to Gillette and decided to take a quick auto tour of the main downtown area.  In so doing, we came acres the Rockpile Museum, so named because of the large, natural rock formation at its entrance which served as a landmark for a nearby lake in earlier cattle-drive days.  This museum told the story of the settling of Campbell County, of which Gillette is the county seat.  It was yet another instance of a nice small/local museum with free admission.

On the drive back to Gillette I studied the official Wyoming state highway map (Linda is doing the tourist driving) and pondered how we would get from Sheridan to Wapiti (Waa pity) on July 21st.  The most direct route is US-14, but our neighbor John said they had been told to avoid US-14 and take US-16 out of Buffalo instead.  Both routes cross the Bighorn Mountains, and US-16 has the slightly higher pass (9,665 ft vs. 9,033 ft), but when it comes to mountain roads altitude isn’t everything.  We got online and searched for information and found the RVCruiser website, which had a detailed discussion of the various routes around and through the Bighorn Mountains.  The information there confirmed what John had been told; the grades on US-16 are long/gradual, the turns moderate, and there are areas to pull off and admire the scenery while the engine or brakes cool off.  Not so on US-14, which has hairpin turns, steeper grades, and few if any pull outs.  After US-16, the alternatives were end-arounds (very long detours) to the north or south.

While researching this route we also saw a reference to “three tunnels” as you head west on US-20 from Cody towards the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park.  Tunnels?  Yikes!  Again we went online looking for information on width and height restrictions but had trouble finding anything official.  I checked the website for the Green Creek Inn & RV Park where we will be staying, and it mentioned the tunnels as well.  A quick call to them confirmed that we would be able to clear the tunnels without difficulty.  With our minds put at ease, we turned in for the night.


2013_06_25 (Tue) Another Short Move

We knew we would be changing RV parks within the CAM-PLEX this morning, so right after breakfast I dealt with sewer, water, and electric hookups while Linda secured the inside for our short but potentially bumpy trip.  Bob Pinner came by around 8:00 AM to check on us, and came back around 8:30 AM to lead us to the appropriate area in Boxelder RV Park.  We had our choice of spots and picked one that was level and dry, indicating relatively good drainage, with a good stretch of road in front of it.  We chose site D-67 and pulled through into the site from the west so we would be parked facing east.  For the nine previous prior days we have been parked facing west such that the hot afternoon sun streams in our large expanse of windshield, making it difficult to keep the front of the coach cool.  It has been dropping into the 50’s at night, so the coach is cool by early morning and the morning sun on the windshield is welcome.

For some reason known only to Jasper (our 9 year old male mackerel tabby cat) our preparations to move the coach spooked him and he managed to get under the passenger-side built-in furniture (again).  We finally figured out that he was gaining access through a loose heat exchanger screen.  He also managed to get to a spot where we could not get to him to pull him out, so he stayed there while we moved to our new site and set up.  He decided to hunker down and sleep for a while, but we eventually coaxed him out of the spot to a place where we could get him out.  He had disappeared under this furniture once before.  Now that we knew his method of entry Linda secured the heat exchanger screens.  We think/hope we are finally done with this.

Before we were settled in to the new site, John & Cheryl pulled in next to us on the driver side in their Tiffin Allegro Bus.  They were also at Windmill RV Park yesterday and had also agreed to move to Boxelder RV Park today.  They were packed and ready to go when they saw us pull out, so they started up and followed us over.  Rick, our driver-side neighbor at Windmill, was almost ready to leave when we pulled out, and not long after John & Cheryl pulled in, Rick pulled his Foretravel U295 into the site on our passenger side.

As we were all getting set up in our sites and chatting, I was reminded of the degree to which RVers tend to be sociable and make friends quickly and easily.  This is not universally true, of course, but it is more often than not the case.  I suppose the obvious reason for this is the commonalities of the lifestyle, specifically the traveling experiences, destinations, and technology.  We also tend to be “people of a certain age”, retired with grown children and grandchildren.  Although we come from many walks of life, and are probably more different than we are similar, the moirés of the RV sub-culture emphasize and leverage the commonalities.

Based on the weather forecast we had originally planned to go to Devil’s Tower National Monument today.  Although we were set up in our new site by 10:15 AM, we decided to “stay home”, work on some small projects, and relax.  Our new 10 foot Camco water hose turned out to be defective, when the hose came loose from the barbed push-fitting (again).  Although I could probably fix it with a hose clamp, we decided to take it out of service and wait to see if the Camco vendor we bought it from at the FMCA rally would also be at Escapade and try to return or exchange it.  It’s a matter of principal.

After lunch we deployed the patio awning to shade the bus as the passenger side now faces due south.  I then went on an errand run to Home Depot, where I bought a hose clamp (just in case), a 10″ carbon filter element, a folding 2-step mini-stool (to make it easier to deploy/store the awnings), and some small plumbing parts I needed for a project in our shower.  I also found Eastside RV and purchased a 10′ fresh water hose so I could reconnect our water softener.  Cherie Ve Ard of Technomadia is big on the idea of serendipity, and I had a small dose of that today, although technically it was more of a “silver lining” experience.  Since the water softener has a sediment filter on the input side, I decided to replace the sediment filter in the coach’s incoming water line with a carbon element.

Our new water softener with pre-filter

Our new water softener with pre-filter

Imagine my surprise when I unscrewed the housing and discovered that there was no filter element inside!  If not for the failed Camco hose, I might not have discovered this for quite some time.

I purchased an Oxygenics shower spray a while back to install as a replacement for both our shower head and body spray, neither of which worked very well.  The Oxygenics is really a hand held sprayer that comes with a holder that threads on where the shower head normally goes, allowing it to serve a dual purpose.  It is also designed to draw in air and mix it with the water (thus the name) which is supposed to give a more invigorating shower experience while using less water.  I capped off the other connection where the original body spray hose was attached.  The installation appeared to be successful; the water only comes out where/when it is supposed to.

Late in the afternoon we drove to the local Wal-Mart to buy some new work clothes (jeans and T-shirts) and pick up some grocery items.  We had a simple but delicious dinner of lentil loaf and fresh steamed asparagus, and then went for a walk.  I played some more with the front OTA TV antenna and picked up several more channels.  I also decided that the position scheme I deciphered for the rear antenna was almost certainly not correct for, and therefore not applicable to, the correctly functioning front one.  I came to this conclusion based on the fact that we can see (with our eyes) seven TV towers from our site, so we know exactly which direction the antenna needs to point in order to pick up their signals.  I will eventually have to remove the front antenna top cover to physically verify how it works, but with warm, sunny weather forecast for the rest of this week, that task will wait for more agreeable conditions.


2013_06_24 (Mon) The Time Between The Rallies

Today was laundry day, so after breakfast we gathered up clothes and linens.  During the morning Peter & Sybil pulled out of the spot on our passenger side and shortly thereafter Ed & Rosemary pulled in (50A, full hookup).  Linda left to do laundry, post office, and grocery store errands while I stayed with the coach and cats.  Charles & Connie Martin, another couple from our FMCA GLCC chapter, pulled in across from us with their MCI 102C3 bus conversion.  They were apparently given a hard time about parking at Windmill RV Park and were told they had to be on the west side of the paved road, which is only 30A & water (no sewer hookup).  When we made arrangements with the CAM-PLEX to stay between the rallies they clearly told us we could move to Windmill anytime after 10 AM on Sunday and that 50A full-hookup sites where first come, first served.  They even gave us a parking sign to put on our dash.  It became apparent that there was some confusion as to who was supposed to park where.

I got on my computer (not literally, of course), went into the WiFi Ranger control panel, and reduced the power from “high” (the default) to “medium.”  According to the manual (available online), the connection can sometimes be improved by using less power.  I still had full/excellent signal strength in the bedroom, so I was not sure which radio this setting controls, or if it controls both, or if there are even two radios.  I will probably try low power to see how that works, and talk to the WiFi Ranger folks about it when next we meet.

I worked on finishing my draft blog post for the previous day, and then went to work on hooking up the rear OTA TV antenna/rotator and TV set.  My technological luck of the previous day ran out when the antenna failed its internal calibration process, and would not rotate.  I went ahead and set up the TV, another 22″ Westinghouse LD-2240 (LCD/LED flat panel monitor) requiring an ATSC channel scan activation code.  (Really, what’s up with that?)   I was able to find and view most of the same channels we had up font, but the reception was not as good on some, probably because the antenna was not pointed in the right/best direction.  A double check of the inside wiring confirmed that the RF & control cables were connected correctly, so the problem was either the roof unit wiring or the roof unit itself.

It was also possible that the problem was the rotator controller.  I tested that possibility using the known-good front unit, but the rear antenna still wouldn’t calibrate.  Soooo, back up on the roof to check the wiring to the antenna.  The connections are on the rear underside of the housing, which is mounted on top of two brackets that place the underside about 8″ above the lower rear roof tray and just above the main roof.  If you are short (I am) and flexible (not as much) there is just enough room to lie down, reach under, and use a short screwdriver.  All of the wires were connected to the correct terminals, but I loosened and re-tightened them anyway, including the coax.  I climbed down and retested the system, and this time it not only failed to calibrate, it displayed “Er” on the LCD.  That’s what I call “negative progress!”

The installation and operation instructions indicated that the problem could be: 1) that the black wire was not connected (it was, on both ends), or 2) that something was blocking the rotor.  In the later case that “something” would have to be inside the sealed antenna enclosure.  However, warnings elsewhere in the instructions tell you, emphatically and in no uncertain terms, that the insides of the system are dangerous (high voltage) and that it should not be opened as there are no user serviceable parts inside.  Huh?  So how do I unblock the rotor?

(BTW:  these are HD View 360 antennas from AntennaCrafters.  There was an older model of this antenna on the coach when we bought it.  It was designed primarily for the old VHF/analog TV signals and not optimized for the new UHF/digital ones.  The rotation feature also no longer worked, but we liked the sealed, “flying saucer” design in which the rotating antenna parts are in a flat, weather-sealed enclosure that is fairly aerodynamic going down the road.  I believe the antenna is an “active” design and provides some amplification of the signal it receives, but I am not absolutely sure of that.  The new model has a controller with an RF remote and is designed to pick up the newer digital signals as well as the legacy analog stations that are still operating in some areas.  Even though I was putting these two antennas in service for the first time, they were way out of warranty (90 days) as I had purchased them back in 2012 when we were having the roof redone and the coach repainted.  Based on my sample of two, it appears that AntennaCrafters has a 50% failure rate on this model.  I also have the problem that I bought these antennas from two different sources at two different times, and I don’t which one is which.)

At this point I will probably open up the rear antenna case.  After all, with electrical engineering degrees and amateur radio licenses, I figure I’m qualified to do this without endangering my life.  But with a storm approaching, that wasn’t going to happen right away.  We closed up the coach and turned on the two front air-conditioners to try to keep the interior comfortable as the forecast high was 91 degrees F.  The temperature outside was only 82 degrees F, but the sun was intense and the inside temperature was headed for 90.

We sat outside for awhile as it was cooler than inside, and watched a large thunderstorm develop northwest of Gillette.  It was drifting to the northeast, but also expanding in size.  As the southeast edge neared our location, and the winds picked up, we decided to put all of the awnings up and put the fold-up camp chairs away, not wanting to risk getting caught with them out should the storm change course and get cranked up.  We stood outside and talked to Ed and Rosemary while we watched the storm develop all around us.  It eventually started to sprinkle where we were so we went inside and soon had a heavy downpour that lasted for 15 -20 minutes.  The winds were not overly strong, and our skylight leak (slow drip) did not reappear.  The storm eventually moved on to the east.  Besides the drama and beauty, the upside of the storm was that it blocked the sun and brought cooler air, both of which helped keep the outside temperature down and the coach more comfortable.

I have loved western thunderstorms since I first encountered them as a boy traveling with my parents.  The combination of isolated development and unobstructed views to expansive horizons allows you to watch them develop for a long time as they move across a considerable distance.  This is rarely the case back in Michigan where storms develop along frontal boundaries and are often embedded and obscured from view.  Also, except in some flatter/cleared agricultural areas, views are not as expansive as in the west due to the extensive tree cover.

After dinner, and with the storm moved off to the east, I went back up on the roof to work on the rear antenna.  The enclosure is held together by 8 screws inserted from underneath, but it is high enough above the roof to allow for a 4″ long screwdriver to be used.  I had disassembled our old one when it was removed from the coach, so I had some idea of what to expect inside.  The physical design hasn’t changed much, but the rotor was definitely binding.  With nothing to lose, I moved it by hand and got it freed up, although I have no idea what, if anything, I may have broken in the process.  I had Linda apply power to the controller, being careful not to come in contact with any of the deadly voltages I had been warned about in the instructions.  It completed the calibration process this time and gave a direction number on the LCD.  Success!  (Maybe?)  I had her cycle it several times, and it calibrated successfully each time, but the rotor was not consistent as to its position.  I then had her slowly step through the 16 positions, up and down, several times.  Based on what I saw, it appeared that position 1 is just to the driver side of the front of the bus.  As the numbers increase the rotor turns counterclockwise, with position 16 just to the passenger side of the front of the bus.  So positions 1 -4 appear to be port side bow quadrant, 5 – 8 port side stern quadrant, 9 – 12 starboard side stern quadrant, and 13 – 16 starboard side bow quadrant.  This is, of course, with the double-headed arrow on the enclosure pointing towards the front (bow) of the coach.  Both antennas are mounted this way, but since I moved the rear rotor by hand, its position may not be correct.  It was also not as repeatable in its positioning as it should be, especially around positions 7 – 10, so the front one may not orient the same way.  Since the instructions are absolutely silent regarding how the pointing direction corresponds to the number on the controller display, I will ultimately have to take the front enclosure apart and visually determine how it works.  That would be easier, of course, if it wasn’t 8 inches above the roof and 13 feet off the ground at the time.

While I was on the roof, Bob Pinner stopped by.  Bob and Molly are the Escapade Directors for The Escapees RV Club.  He confirmed rumors we had heard earlier in the day relative to parking issues.  It turned out that the Escapade had lost the use of three RV parks at the CAM-PLEX due to the damage done by the motorhomes departing the FMCA rally.  The SKP’s had not planned on using Windmill RV Park, but now needed it for their staff and volunteers as well 30 A electric (only) registrants.  It was obvious that Bob was trying to re-plan a lot of things at the last minute so we agreed to move our coach the next day.  The decision was to move us back to the Boxelder RV Park, where we would have full hookups, and a good chance of 50 A power.  We figured the sooner we moved the better site selection we would have, so we agreed to move first thing the next morning (8 AMish).

In spite of the issue with the rear TV antenna, we were able to use the rear TV and simultaneously watched different TV programs for the first time in quite a while as we do not currently have OTA, cable, or satellite TV at home and we do not have satellite TV in the coach.  Gillette has PBS and Create, so this was the first time it felt a little bit more like living in the coach and a little bit less like being on vacation.  The fact that we are between rallies with no pressing need to be anyplace specific, or do anything in particular, also contributed to this feeling.

2013_06_23 (Sun) FMCA Comes To A Close

As usual, the exodus from the FMCA 50th Anniversary rally started early, with some motorhomes pulling out as early as 6:00 AM.  It is always an interesting experience to watch the departure process from a major RV rally.  Unlike the arrival process, which is highly organized and managed by the organization running the rally, the departure process is completely asynchronous and self-managed.  It is not, however, chaotic; to the contrary, it is quite orderly.  People leave when they need to and are ready to go, and that just seems to work out well.  They are attentive and considerate, and there’s never any congestion; just a random but steady flow of RVs.

We had considerable rain the past few days, and some of the parking areas developed minor flooding and very muddy soil.  Inevitably, some motorhomes were stuck and had to be pulled out.  We have been in that situation on two previous occasions, but our site this past week was high with good drainage and well-graveled roads.  Except for a few soft spots, notably where people cut corners too tight at intersections, there were no serious problems in Boxelder RV Park.

We had already arranged with the CAM-PLEX office to move to the Windmill RV Park this morning, so after breakfast we drove the car over to scout out a level, 50A full-hookup site.  We left the car there to “hold” a spot, which were first-come, first-served, and walked back to the coach.  We did our usual departure thing of unhooking the utilities, putting up the awnings, and otherwise preparing for the short, slow move.  We had no problems pulling out, and took paved roads over to our new site.  Once we were parked we did our arrival thing and leveled, hooked up, and settled in for the next few days.

We are staying at the CAM-PLEX while we wait for our early entry date on the 27th for The Escapees RV Club Escapade rally, which will also be at the CAM-PLEX June 30 – July 5.  We will extend our stay here until July 7 and then move to Sheridan, Wyoming for two weeks to work on a Habitat For Humanity build.  It appears that we will have to move again on the 27th to a different RV Park here at the CAM-PLEX as the Escapade is not using this one.  But for now we have 50A power, which will allow us to run our air-conditioners.  With some hot days forecast, that’s a good thing.

We decided to deploy our new Zip Dee Awnings, both to shade the coach and to let them dry out.  Much to or surprise, we discovered that we could fully deploy the large patio awning following the directions we had.  (We left our directions at home.  The ones we had came from the Zip Dee booth and did not match our hardware exactly.)  With the upper rafter arms hooked onto the roller tube shaft we could not get the latch pins on the rafter arms to engage.  Our analysis of the problem was that that the fabric was either 2″ too short or the upper rafter support arms were 2″ too long.  I wrote an e-mail to Zip Dee, but fortunately it never got sent.  Further study of the rafter arm revealed that the hook on the free end was attached to a spring-loaded inner tube that was free to slide inside the outer tube.  The available travel was just enough that the hook could be placed over the roller tube shaft AND the latch pin could be engaged.

Perhaps it is part of still being new to extended-time RVing, but the awning episode was yet another example of the emotional roller-coaster that sometimes comes with this lifestyle.  First comes the surprise and then the disappointment of discovering (yet another) problem.  This is followed by the frustration and annoyance of not being able to figure out what’s wrong and/or fix it.  Then a certain sense of helplessness arises at not being able to get assistance or parts (things always seem to break on Sunday, so it’s rarely a “day of rest”).  Next is the dread brought on by considering the possible dire consequences of continuing the journey with the problem unresolved.  A sense of resignation settles over you as you accept that the problem will remain unfixed for the time being and will probably require a change of plans and added expense somewhere down the road.  Then the “ah-ha” that comes from food, release from anxiety, and time for further thought.  And finally, the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that comes from having figured it out and fixed it, even if only temporarily.

Along the same line, we were discussing our broken searchlight over lunch and decided that it would be better to seal it up with Rescue Tape and not use it than try to repair it.  The wires inside the base go through a hole in the roof that is not sealed.  Removing the base opens up the possibility of water getting in through that hole if I am not able to get it resealed.  As we rarely need/use the searchlight, that was too big a risk for too little benefit.

As we were finishing up our encampment routine, we had motorhomes pull in on either side of us; Peter & Sybil on the passenger side and Rick on the driver side.  Peter & Sybil had purchased a Progressive Industries portable 50A EMS from Lawrence RV Accessories during the FMCA rally.  It had been working fine, even through the big storm, but quit working when they moved to Windmill RV Park and hooked up.  I looked at the unit and noticed moisture in the LCD display (where it should not be).

I shook the unit and thought heard a sloshing sound, indicating that water had probably gotten in to the unit and shorted something out.  I checked the outlet with my multi-meter to make sure the power supply was properly wired and providing the correct voltages so they could at least plug in and have power.  Sybil called Daryl Lawrence and he answered the phone even though it was Sunday!  They were still at the CAM-PLEX and came right over.  Daryl examined the unit, came to the same conclusion I had, and swapped it out for a new one.  The PI EMS units are generally very reliable, and the company stands behind them and the vendors who sell them.  Peter & Sybil were leaving the next day for North Dakota, so this was truly great service for a great product from a great RV vendor.  (We got our Progressive Industries EMS-50 from Daryl a year or so ago and rely on it to protect our coach’s electrical systems from problems arising outside the coach.)

As long as I am on the subject of PI EMS units, when we changed campsites and plugged in I followed the maintenance recommendation I received a few days earlier from the owner regarding the buzzing coming from the unit.  Immediately after applying power, during the 2′ 16″ time delay before power switches through, I quickly cycled the contactor by moving the override switch back and forth.  Sure enough, the buzz disappeared.  (Technical note:  Although the unit is sealed, it is designed to have the cover removed so wiring connections can be made.  Dust can and will build up on the contactor contacts which results in a degraded electrical connection and the resultant buzzing.  The contacts arc slightly when they close and open, and cycling them quickly and repeatedly cleans them.)

Fixing the "ET" searchlight

Fixing the “ET” searchlight in Windmill RV Park

In the afternoon we got the Little Giant ladder out and configured it as a 14′ extension ladder.  I climbed up and attached the searchlight head to the base using some of the rescue tape we bought from a vendor at FMCA.  The light can still be turned on and tilted up/down, but cannot be turned side-to-side.  This is a temporary fix until we can get the bus inside at Phoenix Paint and do a proper repair with Michele Henry’s help.  This will probably be in conjunction with the GLAMARAMA rally in Goshen, IN September 18 -22.  What is unknown at this point is how well it will hold up to travel at highway speeds.  That test comes in a couple of weeks.

While I was on the roof I inspected the skylights and vent fan domes for damage from the recent hail storm, but they all appeared to be fine.  I then made a temporary installation of the WiFi Ranger Mobile Titanium (WFR-MT) by zip-tying it to the weatherhead cable entrance on the front roof.  I fed the cable through the weatherhead while Linda pulled it into the former ceiling mounted TV cabinet directly below.  (This cabinet originally housed a 19″ CRT TV.  That TV was removed and a door made by Jaral Beatty of Logansport, Indiana to cover the opening.  The door is walnut veneered plywood with solid walnut edging and Jaral managed to match the existing wood finish very well.  Because this was a former TV cabinet, AC power was already available inside.

With power to the WFR-MT, we were able to connect to the local/secure network and reconfigure it.  We were then able to select one of the public/open WiFi signals that were still available at the CAM-PLEX and connect through to the Internet.  The signals were very strong and the connection steady and reasonably fast.

After dinner we went for a walk and watched another beautiful sunset.  As dusk turned to night we witnessed the rising of a “super moon”, which appeared 14% larger than normal due to a slightly closer lunar orbit.  (The 14% is something Linda read online, we did not measure it.)

When we got back to the coach, Linda decided to watch Inspector Lewis on her iPad via our free WiFi connection.  We were able to stream the entire episode without hesitations due to frame-buffering.  That’s a pretty good WiFi connection!  A lot of RVs had left the CAM-PLEX by this time, so competition for the bandwidth was obviously less than during the FMCA rally, but it was still impressive.

Since we appeared to be on a technological roll, I decided to (finally) hookup the front over-the-air (OTA) TV Antenna, rotor controller, and TV set (monitor).  What’s this about going online to get an Access Code to enable ATSC scanning on the TV set???  Yup, our Westinghouse 22″ LCD/LED TVs require an activation code that can be obtained online, by text message, or by phone.  Fortunately, we had all three methods available to us so we got the code, entered it into the set, and away it went.  Ta-da; we have PBS and Create!  Now it feels like home.  🙂


2013_06_22 (Sat) FMCA Day 4

If it rained overnight we were unaware of it.  We awoke to gray, overcast skies, our 3rd day in a row of such conditions.  As patches of blue started to appear it also started to rain lightly, and the darker gray clouds moving in from the west seemed to suggest more to come.  Blue skies and rain seem to be another one of those “western” things we don’t see too often in Michigan.

Before we went to sleep last night we studied the program offerings for today and did not see much of interest to us.  Nicer weather might have led to some work on the coach, but we decided to take one more stroll through the inside vendors and just hang out waiting for Marty Stuart’s evening concert.

We picked up another LED spotlight bulb from Jirah for the other bedroom reading light.  These are the first bulbs we have found with necks that are long enough to fit in the aircraft-style swivel down lights.  We were given two “Bonus Bucks” coupons by someone at the FMCA booth each good for $5 off the price of anything for sale in the vendor area.  Linda found an FMCA T-shirt for $12 and bought it for $2.  We picked up three roles of Rescue Tape, a non-adhesive tape that can be used to make temporary repairs on almost anything, including fuel lines, hydraulic lines, air lines, and electrical connections.  We also bought a bottle of RV Digest-It from Unique Products, as we were running out of the Thetford Eco-Smart enzyme product.  Their natural formulation products are available nationwide and their product line includes products for treating septic systems.

We also had a good discussion with the factory representative from Winegard antenna.  We had been looking at Winegard’s ANSER and CARRYOUT portable antennas as well as the ViewCube and Tailgater (Dish Network) but decided to defer any decisions until we get home as we need to set up satellite TV there too.

While perusing the vendors we ran into Pat & Vickie Lintner again (from our GLCC chapter) and had a nice long chat.  They have used Direct TV for years, both at home and in their RV, and are quite satisfied with it.  We are leaning towards Dish Network as they appear to be more RV friendly, at least in terms of how they package/price their system, but this is not the prevailing opinion of the RVers we have talked to.

We also stopped at C & C Marketing to talk to Chris Yust about an insurance quote.  At the fall 2010 Gypsy Journal Rally in Celina, OH she was not able to write policies for Michigan residents, but expanded their market to include Michigan in 2011.  We are currently insured with National Interstate of Hawaii (which we are not happy about after Nick & Terry Russell’s very negative experience with them) through Miller Insurance (Cheryl Howarth) out of Oregon (with whom we are quite pleased).  Our insurance renews in September, so it was a good time to get a quote from Chris.

Done with our RV shopping, we decided to go to the grocery store.  Our GPS brought up a list and we selected a nearby Albertson’s, a western chain that we do not have in the Great Lakes region.  As we were leaving the store we noticed a long N-S line of very ominous (not to be confused with omnibus) looking dark clouds.  By the time we got back to our coach it had started raining.  Shortly thereafter the storm blew in full force with 60 MPH winds, torrential horizontal rain, and pea size hail.  We scrambled to close and latch all of the windows, but had two awnings out that we could not put in until the storm let up.  Fortunately they were a small and medium window awing, and not the large patio awning.  I waited until the storm let up a bit, and then went out in the wind, rain, and hail and put the two awnings up.  Hey, it’s all part of the full/extended-time RV experience.  When the weather turns suddenly bad, there is often no place to hide, and no time to get there even if there is.  Linda checked the weather on her smartphone, which revealed a line of very strong storms moving through northeast Wyoming.  We had obviously been hit by one of the severe thunderstorm cells.  We were also under a tornado watch for three hours.

We knew we still had some minor leaks in the coach around windshields and windows.  Most of them reappeared but were manageable.  We also discovered a small drip at the outside front corner of the passenger side front skylight.  We have had a drip there before, and thought it was taken care of when we replaced the dome on the Fan-tastic vent fan, which was crazed and cracked.  I recalled that when replacing the dome it did not seal around the edges of the housing like I thought it should, so it’s possible that water was pooling &/or splashing up under the lip. But that is all speculation until we can inspect it and figure out what’s going on.

Once the storm let up we went looking for our two cats.  Juniper emerged rather quickly, but Jasper was nowhere to be seen.  He likes to hide when he’s uncomfortable with a situation, and his favorite spot in the coach is under the dinette, although it is not a particularly good place for him to be.  We thought we had that area sealed off, but when Juniper started sniffing intently around there we figured that was where he hid.  And sure enough, he had!  At this point we have no idea how he got in there, as we thought we had all points of entry sealed.

The rain and wind eventually quit and I went out to check for damage.  The bus is parked facing due west and the storm came from that direction.  The windshields and front cap were undamaged, and the head of the searchlight was still attached to the base.  Inspection for roof damage would have to wait for safer conditions.

Although we did not do much this afternoon, it was not a relaxing one.  BTW: With the passage of the storm, the temperature at 5:00 PM had dropped to 46 degrees F!

After dinner we went over to the Central Pavilion (indoors) for the Marty Stuart concert, which was moved there from the Morningside Park grandstand (outside) due to the weather.  Because the grounds had become quite muddy we finally used the trams.  In spite of a number of coaches leaving early, and the generally disagreeable weather, the concert was well attended and appreciated by the audience, to the point that the band came back to do an encore and stuck around to sell CDs and sign autographs.  Although we are not fans of country music, Marty and his group were very good, with a high level of musicianship.  They did a range of music from bluegrass to traditional county, contemporary country, and gospel.  They did a mix of vocals with tight harmonies, and intricate instrumentals. Marty performed years ago with Johnny Cash, and has a similar “sound.”  They put a lot of energy into their show and they seemed to genuinely enjoy what they were doing, which was then reflected by the crowd.

BTW: The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) Field Day event started at 2 PM EDT today, and runs for 24 hours.  We did not bring our HF equipment, and we have been too preoccupied to even turn on the 2 M handi-talkie.  I did wear my 2011 ARRL Field Day shirt, however, in recognition of event.

Yesterday was also my dad’s birthday but I didn’t have a chance to call him, so I did that today.  He turned 88.


2013_06_21 (Fri) FMCA Day 3

We went to bed last night with a 20% chance of rain in the overnight weather forecast.  We are not sure when the rain started, but around 5:00 AM the skies opened up and it rained hard for an hour.  We are camped on somewhat higher ground with good grass sites and red rock roads, so the water drained away and we did not have flooding or muddy site/road issues.  This was not the case in other CAM-PLEX RV parks, as I discovered while walking to the 9:45 AM International Area (INTO) meeting.  My timing was bad, and I walked the 3/4 mile to the Wyoming Center in a downpour that included pea-size hail.  My raincoat and small umbrella were no match for the rain, and there was not a golf cart or shuttle (school) bus to be found anywhere.  In the end it was just water, and clothes eventually dry out.  Always looking for the learning experience in any situation, I resolved that we would purchase serious wet weather gear when we had the chance.

Linda remained in the coach to make sandwiches for lunch as we planned to meet up with Louise Stuart and Craig Davis after the 11:30 seminars.  We went to the Nostalgic Look Back at the Early Coaches of FMCA, moderated by Mike Middaugh, F3456.  Mike is yet another member of the Great Lakes Converted Coaches chapter that we also belong to.  Mike was joined by several other vintage converted coach owners who shared photographs of buses from the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s, some of them buses they had owned.

We then walked over to Louise and Craig’s motorhome, a very nice 38′ Monaco Dynasty.  We had our respective lunches and a great chat as we got to know fellow members of our FMCA Freethinkers Associate Chapter.  The service tech from HWH showed up around 2 PM to fix their slideout, so we took that as our cue to return to the vendor area in search of more knowledge and solutions to problems.

After some further discussion with the folks from A-1 Water Treatment we decided to purchase one of their water softeners with attached pre-filter.  It was both heavy enough and bulky enough that we arranged to have them deliver it to our coach after the vendor area closed today.

We then stopped at the WiFiRanger booth and purchased a WiFi Ranger Mobile Titanium (WFR-MT) and optional AC power supply.  (The Titanium version is identical in functionality to the standard version except for a metal case in place of a plastic one, and a 5-year warranty instead of a 1-year warranty.)  The WFR-M/MT device mounts outside the coach and combines a WiFi “booster” (transceiver) and a WiFi router.  The booster communicates with available Wi-Fi signals that can serve as on-ramps to the Internet.  These signals originate somewhere beyond our coach and are paid for, and controlled by, someone other than us. These can be public/open (unsecured) or private/closed (secured).  Use of a secured signal requires the correct authorization (password).  Public/open networks are, by definition, free to use as you do not need a password to connect to them.  Secured networks may be free, such as at some businesses, or there may be a charge, as in airports, and some hotels and campgrounds.  There is an extensive system of public/open WiFi access points available at the CAM-PLEX, sponsored by WiFiRanger.  It has been very good around the Wyoming Center, but varies out in the Boxelder RV Park.  The booster allows us to receive this weak signal, use it, and send a suitably strong signal back.  It does not, however, guarantee on-demand, robust access, as this is also a function of how many other stations are trying to access the system at the same time.

The router section of the WFR-MT generates a secure, local network that we control.  Although it is generated on the outside of the bus, it should be strong enough inside and around the coach to allow us to use our devices wherever we want around our campsite (within reason).  We won’t know this for sure until we hook it up, of course, but the device has been used and well reviewed by other travelers, including Technomadia.  Being a full-fledged router, it not only allows multiple WiFi devices to securely connect to the Internet (via the external WiFi source), but should allow them to securely communicate with each other.  (BTW:  Technomadia has the definitive book on mobile connectivity.  http://www.technomadia.comor

I plan to mount the WFR to the cable entrance weatherhead with zip ties if it will work.  The device has an Ethernet cable that plugs into a POE (Power Over Ethernet) power supply.  The front cable entrance weatherhead opens into the cabinet behind/above the drivers head where a 19″ CRT TV was once housed.  It comes with a DC power adapter, but we purchased the AC power adapter as there is already AC power in this cabinet that is supplied from the inverter subpanel.

Our Verizon 4G/LTE MiFi 5510L Jetpack device does essentially the same thing as the WiFi-M, except it communicates with Verizon cell phone towers instead of external WiFi sources.  We will be using the Wi-Fi Ranger when possible, and the Verizon 5510L otherwise (assuming it has a usable signal).  This means we could have two different WiFi networks running simultaneously.  The upside to this is that we could have multiple devices accessing the Internet through different pipelines, resulting in faster data transfer.  The downside to this is that devices on one network can’t communicate with devices on the other one.  (We could solve that problem with a WiFi Ranger GO.)  Although interference between the networks is possible, it is unlikely.

We needed an additional length of hose to hook up the new water softener when it arrived, so Linda picked up a 10′ long food grade hose from the Camco booth.  She then returned to the coach to straighten it up for a visit later from Louise & Craig while I went off to the Great Lakes Area Motorcoach Association (GLAMA) gathering at 3:15 PM.

I attended the Great Lakes Area Motorcoach Association (area) meeting in the late afternoon.  The main items of interest at the GLAMA meeting were the upcoming GLAMARAMA in mid-September 2013 and the 2014 GLAMARAMA planned for next June.  Both rallies will be at the Elkhart County Fairgrounds in Goshen, IN.  After that the intention is to move it around through Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Ontario (Canada), perhaps doing two consecutive years in each state/province.

On the walk back to the coach I had a long, technical conversation with Michele Henry of Phoenix Paint in Edwardsburg, Michigan regarding how to remove and reinstall the broken searchlight on the front roof while minimizing damage to the paint.  Michele’s shop did the roof repair and repaint on our coach, and she always has a good sense about how to approach something like this.  She talked me through the best way to approach it, and after considering the process carefully, I decided to defer an actual repair until we can get the coach back to her shop.

Louise & Craig came by around 5:30 PM and we continued our conversation over snacks and some Red Ass Wine from the Prairie Berry Winery in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  The new water softener got delivered just as they showed up, so hookup was deferred until later.  We put out the Blue Diamond Wasabi Soy almonds, and I think they caught Louise by surprise.  (Sorry Louise.  We really should warn folks about these.  If you like almonds, and you like spicy, you will find these addictive.)


2013_06_20 (Thu) FMCA Day 2

Again today there were no early morning seminars that caught our eyes.  The indoor vendors opened at 9:00 AM, so we headed over to scope them out and buy a few small things we knew we needed.  Jirah LEDs appeared to have a bulb with an elongated neck that might work in our aircraft style swivel downlights, so I bought one to try for $15.  I also picked up some nylon straps from Coil-N-Wrap that are used to separate the shore power cord from an adapter or extension cord.  Linda picked up an onion keeper, tomato keeper, and a set of stacking measuring spoons held together with magnets from RV SpaceSavers.  Where would we be in this world without magnets?

We stopped at Lawrence RV Accessories and talked to Tom, the owner/president of Progressive Industries (PI).  We have a PI EMS-50 that I installed last year.  It works very well but has developed a buzz.  Tom suggested using the bypass switch to clean the contactor contacts by switching it on and off quickly several times before the 2-minute time delay expires.  If that doesn’t clear it up, he said they would replace it.  PI is well known for their excellent products and warranty policy; they basically stand behind their products for as long as you own them.  Our unit has a remote display that is installed in the bay near the unit.  I purchased a kit with a second remote and switch.  The switch will go in the bay and the 2nd remote will go in the house panel.

We stopped by the Zip Dee Awnings booth and had a good chat with the owner/president.  We got some personal instruction on how to deploy our patio awning in full and caravan (partial) positions and he also gave us printed instructions to take with us.  A stop at the nearby Magnum booth allowed me to clarify a few things about our inverter and they suggested dialing the charge rate back to 80% if it is currently set higher.

We also had a good chat with the guy from the Aqua-Hot factory.  He confirmed what Lloyd Degerald told us yesterday; fuel is the issue and annual maintenance is the key, especially the fuel filter, which needs to be 10 micron, and the nozzle replacement.  I described our Parker Fuel Polishing Module (FPM) installation, which caused him some concern; specifically that it not apply pressure to the pump or restrict the return flow.  I assured him that the FPM, as installed, doesn’t do either of those things.  He confirmed that our older model 100-S unit can use regular coolant and requires ~ 16 gallons, plus whatever is needed to fill all the lines and heat exchangers.  He also confirmed that on this unit there will be bleeder valves at the heat exchangers as these are usually high points, and that bleeding the loops is best done there if they are accessible.  (They often are not very accessible, and our coach is no exception).  The system can be bled by applying air pressure to the tank (through the radiator cap), but that is not the preferred method.  We learned in the seminar the day before that the unit has a mixing valve that should regulate the outlet temperature at ~110 degrees F.  The mixing valve is adjustable, but is under the unit and very difficult to access.  Finally, the expansion tank for our unit should be 5 quarts.  I do not know the exact size of ours, but I am sure it is much smaller than 5 quarts.  Making space for a larger one will require the water pump to be relocated, but that is something I am considering doing anyway.  We also found out that all of the manuals are available online at their website for no charge.

We stopped briefly at the WiFiRanger booth, but decided to come back as the owner (Kelly Hogan, Mr. WiFiRanger) was doing a seminar at 11:00 AM on RV Internet Connectivity.  We went to the seminar and it was excellent.  It was not specifically about WiFiRanger products, although they obviously sell products designed to address the topic.  We returned to the booth and chatted with one of the employees (Evan), but ended up going to Kelly’s trailer (man cave) later for a more personal consultation and demonstration.  He also had a variety of free beer.

At this point, we may just buy the WiFiRanger Mobile (WFR-M) and forego the WiFiRanger Go (WFR-GO).  The WFR-M mounts outside the coach with a cable going inside the rig for power (and data in some configurations).  It communicates with an external Wi-Fi station and regenerates a local/private WiFi network while providing router functionality.  The WFR-GO is also a wireless router but it also has wired ports, a special port for the WFR-M, and a USB port for tethering a cellular device, such as our Verizon 4G/LTE MiFi Jetpack 5510L.  The WRF-GO allows you to seamlessly integrate these devices, but effectively replaces the router functionality of both the WFR-M and the MiFi device.  This means you have paid for three routers but are only using one of them.  The penalty for not have the WFR-GO is that you have to switch your devices (phones, tablets, computers, etc.) to whichever WiFi network you are using.  We can probably live with that.

While wandering the CAM-PLEX grounds we found Jr. Showman’s bus conversion and had a nice, long chat with him.  We gave him a copy of the February 2013 issue of Bus Conversion Magazine, which features our coach.  We then walked over to check out the Windmill RV Park, where we will be staying between the rallies.

After dinner we headed over to the Morningside Park grandstand for the opening ceremonies and concert by The Birminghams.  I swore I had never heard of this group, but many of their songs were quite familiar to me from my youth, and they gave a very nice concert.  Three of the five musicians were original group members.  We finally made contact with Louise &Craig from our FMCA Freethinkers Associate Chapter.  They sat with us, and we had a nice long chat afterwards.  We agreed to meet for lunch the next day.

On the walk back to our coach we watched a thunderstorm develop off in the distance.  The storm to the southeast was particularly impressive; one of those iconic western thunderstorms that is isolated in an otherwise clear sky and thus completely visible.  The light really is different in the West, and the views are expansive.  The prevailing winds at our site suggested that it was moving southeast, away from us, and the overnight forecast was for a 20% chance of rain.


2013_06_19 (Wed) FMCA Day 1

A Flxible bus conversion, the original Family Motor Coach

A Flxible bus conversion, the original Family Motor Coach

The FMCA 50th Anniversary Rally (Family Reunion & Motorhome Showcase) kicked off with seminars starting at 8:00 AM.  We attended a seminar at 11:45 AM on the Aqua-Hot hydronic heating system.  The speaker was supposed to be from the factory, but didn’t make it, so a tech out of Arkansas stepped up and winged it.  Lloyd Degerald did a good job, and we now have a better understanding of what factory recommended annual preventative maintenance should include, and why it should be done annually.

Basically, it has to do with the properties of diesel fuel, which require that filters be changed and the burner nozzle replaced on a regular basis.  The filters were obvious but the nozzle wasn’t.  The nozzle has a very small orifice that atomizes the fuel under pressure and spays it into the combustion chamber.  It is subject to clogging and wear, both of which alter its ability to properly atomize the fuel.  This can happen both from overuse and underuse.  Besides changing parts, the best preventative maintenance appears to be regular, but not excessive, use of the unit.

We then attended a seminar by Mike Wendlend on “Sharing Your Travels On The Internet.”  Mike was a long-time reporter for the NBC TV affiliate in Detroit, Michigan, so we were familiar with his work.  He retired recently, and now travels with his wife in a RoadTrek Class B and reports on their travels.  He is FMCA’s official traveling reporter and does a monthly column for FMC Magazine.  He also does a weekly segment that is fed to all of the NBC TV affiliates.  But most of his time/effort seems to go into his online presence.  He uses a lot of technology tools, but we were particularly interested in his self-hosted use of WordPress with his own domain name, as this is what we are setting up.  He did not go into much detail about the workings of WordPress, but there are lots of videos available on YouTube for that purpose.

Although warm today (it reached the upper 80’s) it was pleasant outside due to the 25+ MPH winds out of the ESE.    We hung around the coach, keeping the cats company, until 5:30 PM, when we headed over to the new coach display area for the Motorhome Preview.  We ran into Pat & Vicky Lintner again, who told us that Jon Walker had won election as National VP at the Governing Board meeting that afternoon. (Charlie Addcock was elected National President).  Jon is another long-time member of the Great Lakes Converted Coaches chapter and was our national director before becoming the Great Lakes Area Vice-President, and President of the Great Lakes Area Motorcoach Association (GLAMA, which is still part of the FMCA structure).

Upon returning to our coach we discovered that the head of our “ET” light (roof-mounted remote-controlled searchlight) had come loose from the base and was laying on the roof behind it.  We have no idea when this happened.  The winds here have been strong, but not as strong as driving 65 MPH on the highway.  We got the Little Giant ladder out, opened it to full extension configuration, and I went up to investigate.  Not good.  There are cables inside the base that go through the roof and the holes are not sealed.  There is a retaining ring inside the base that attaches to the head (from inside) with 4 screws.  All of the screws had come loose and were lying in the bottom of the base, with the head unit only being retained by the wiring.  To reattach the head to the base you have to remove the base from the roof.  That’s really not good.  The base is retained by three screws and (hopefully) sealant/adhesive.  How much?  Who knows?  Also, the coach was repainted with the whole thing in place, so the paint is continuous from roof to base.  I set the head back on the base and wrapped the joint with green Frog Tape until I could figure out how to remove the base and fix it properly.


2013_06_18 (Tue) Early Arrival

Upon our arrival at the CAM-PLEX in Gillette, Wyoming yesterday we quickly discovered that we did not have a usable WiFi signal so Linda Googled coffee shops and we found one with free WiFi.  This morning we headed off early to City Brew for some coffee, bagels, and Internet connectivity.  Alas, no bagels, so I had Raspberry strudel sticks (which were probably not vegan).  We couldn’t connect to City Brew’s WiFi, but the adjacent Qdoba restaurant had a strong signal and no customers as they were not open yet.  We mentioned that we were not able to connect and when City Brew reset their wireless router it worked fine.  Linda caught up on our banking and entered receipts into Quicken while I updated Passwords Plus.  I then tried to log in to our website (The Phase Place =, which is a WordPress installation running on iPage servers, and discovered that I had not specifically recorded the username and password in Passwords Plus.  I also realized that I had probably not updated the contact e-mail address with iPage since was shut down in May.  Soooo…. I logged in to the iPage control panel and opened a new support ticket to get these issue resolved.

Our neighborhood - Boxelder, Lot 2, 7th St.

Our neighborhood – Boxelder, Lot 2, 7th St.

With our online business taken care of for the moment, we headed down the street to the HealthStyles Market to get some Daiya cheese for our dinner “cheeseburgers”.  We received a 20% off coupon in our FMCA welcome bag, but didn’t have it with us, so we deferred other shopping for later in the week.  What a nice surprise to find an organic market, with some of the vegan products we like, here in the heart of cattle country.  The FMCA materials don’t even list grocery stores; instead they list “meat markets”.  Yikes!

Because we both have personal and business need for Internet access, we stopped at the local Cellular Plus (Verizon retailer) outlet and purchased a Novatel Jetpack MiFi 5510L 4G/LTE Mobile WiFi hotspot device and added it to our existing  Verizon “share everything” plan.  This device creates a secure (private) relatively short-range WiFi network which will allow us to connect any/all of our WiFi capable devices together and to the Internet via our Verizon data service, as long as we have a usable Verizon signal.  It’s a 4G/LTE device that is backwards compatible to 3G/EVDO, and supports IPv6 addressing in addition to IPv4.  Many of its functions are accessible throughout the small device screen and buttons, but the full functionality is easily accessed through a web interface via a connected device.

By the time we returned to the coach it was lunchtime.  After a light lunch we decided to deploy the large patio awning.  We apparently failed to put the manual for the new Zip Dee Awnings on board, but still had the manual for the old ones.  Design changes have been minor in the last 20+ years, and I was familiar with the changes, so though we could figure it out.  We weren’t able to open it very far due to the close spacing of RVs in the campground and the fact that our neighbors had slide-outs (as most of the RVs here do).  The manual indicated that partial deployment was possible and acceptable, but we could not get the rafter (upper) arms to latch onto the roller tube.  Our new Zip Dee awnings are very nice, with a translucent fabric that allows some light through so the interior doesn’t get too dark.  They are manual awnings, however, and deploying/retracting the patio awning requires a step ladder because our coach is so tall and the latches are out of reach.

We left the patio awning in what we felt was a secure position and walked over to the CAM-PLEX offices to take care of our camping arrangements for the 4 nights between the two rallies.  On the way we stopped and visited with the owners of four vintage Flxible bus conversions that were on display in front of the Wyoming Center.  Three of the owners were Great Lakes Converted Coaches members, and the 4th one was the son of a member.  Bruce brought sample copies of the February 2013 issue of Bus Conversion Magazine, and said he would bring some over for the owners.

The folks at the CAM-PLEX office were very helpful and gave us our parking placard for the Windmill RV Park.  This park is smaller than Boxelder.  Most of the sites are 30 A electric, but some are 50 A FU.  We were told we could move there on Sunday morning the 23rd at 10 AM as specific sites were first come, first served.

By the time we got back to our coach a predicted storm was building to the west and moving our way.  With 50+ MPH wind gusts expected, we decided to retract all of our awnings and close up the windows and roof vents.  Thick clouds, a cool air mass, and strong winds kept temperatures inside very comfortable.  I went for stroll around the campground to take photographs of the clouds.  I then came inside and preceded to nap through storm!

After dinner we finally turned on our new MiFi device and connected our phones, tablets, and computers.  We spent quite a while trying to set up the computers on the network so they could see each other and share files, and appeared to have it working, only to have it not work and not be able to get back to where they did.  It was not essential that we be able to do this, so we let it go for now.  Since we now had functioning Internet access I checked the iPage support ticket and found that they had responded.  I followed their directions and once again have administrative access to my WordPress installation and have updated my contact e-mails for iPage.


2013_06_17 (Mon) On The Way To FMCA

We were up early for breakfast and prepped ourselves for travel with showers and a shave (Bruce).  I looked through my e-mail for our FMCA Rally registration confirmation but couldn’t find it.  Linda called the FMCA headquarters to see if we needed it (we didn’t) and inquire about any specific arrival instructions (there weren’t any).  We then went through our departure routine.  We dumped the waste tanks, topped off the fresh water tank, disconnected/stowed the hoses, hooked up the car, and straightened up interior.  We filled out our FMCA toad hang tag and emergency locator card and placed our entrance placard in the lower outside corner of the lower DS window.  The last thing we disconnect and stow is the electrical power shoreline.

We pulled out of our site at the 3 Flags RV Park at 9:35 AM.  We had estimated a 2.5 hour drive to the CAM-PLEX in Gillette, Wyoming, and pulled up to the entrance at 11:55 AM.  Access to the facility was easy from the I-90 exit for Garner Lake Road and a short drive to the west entrance.  We were surprised by the lack of FMCA specific signage, which we have seen at past rallies, but it wasn’t really necessary at the CAM-PLEX.  The parking crew was well organized and got us directly to the holding area and in line for the “Family 50 Amp” parking area.  We quickly had enough coaches and were led to our camping area by a golf cart.  We got to the Boxelder RV Park area and were able to pull through into our site with the car still attached.  We then had to quickly unhook and move the car as other RVs would soon be backing into the spots behind us.  We ended up in site F-20 with full hookups and 50 A power!  FMCA always designates parking areas at rallies by Lot and Street numbers.  We were on 7th Street in FMCA Lot 2.

We then went through our arrival routine.  While Linda set up the interior, I plugged in the electric & reset the “AC in” parameter on the Magnum 4024 inverter/charger to 30A (the default setting) to take full advantage of the available 50A service.  I turned on all needed circuit breakers and then connected water and sewer lines.  We then opened all of the awnings except for the patio awning, for which it appeared we might not have sufficient room.  Our campsite made ready, we met and chatted with adjacent motorhome owners.  Not knowing where it was, we snagged a golf cart ride to the nearest info booth, dropped off our emergency locator card.  The booth wasn’t that far away so we walked back to our coach.  I took a photo with my phone and e-mailed (or texted) it to our kids.  By then it was mid-afternoon and a bit warm, so we (me, at least) took naps.  We then went for a walk, found Pat & Vicky Lintner’s coach, and visited for a while.  Pat and Vicky are fellow members of the Great Lakes Converted Coaches Chapter and Pat is our National Director, representing us at Governing Board meetings.  (Linda is the treasurer of this chapter.)  We then walked over to the buildings to scope out the route and location.  Upon return to the coach we had dinner.  We then drove to Home Depot to get a small fan and some reflective insulation for the skylights as it was expected to be hot here the next two days.  The overnight lows, however, were forecast for the 50’s most nights.

2013_06_16 (Sun) The Geographic Center Of The Country

We were not due in Gillette, Wyoming until the next day, so we had another day to play tourist in Wyoming.  Today we did the area northwest of Rapid City, SD.  We drove from Black Hawk, SD to Sturgis, SD via I-90, where we walked up and down the main street of Sturgis, which was very empty on a Sunday morning.  The place appeared to be mostly bars and T-shirt shops with architecture that was not that quaint or interesting.  We met a shopkeeper who was straightening up the T-shirts on sidewalk tables outside her shop.  She said that the three main businesses in Sturgis are bars, clothing shops, and banks.  We talked with her a bit about the famous motorcycle rally, which takes place in early August every year.  We speculated that it must be quite a place to be with 20,000 to 30,000 motorcycles.  She vey politely corrected our naïve misunderstanding, and told us to for the week the Sturgis rally is going on, and a bit before and after, there are 400,000 to 600,000 motorcycles in the 100 mile radius surrounding Sturgis!  She also offered that many of those motorcycles never even come to Sturgis itself; that groups come year after year, stay at favorite campgrounds, and never leave except perhaps to ride around the countryside.

The Geographic Center of the U. S.

The Geographic Center of the U. S.

We then drove from Sturgis to Belle Fourche, SD (pronounced “Bell Foosh”) to see the Monument for the Geographic Center of the (50) United States of America.  The center shifted here (actually a point 20 miles north of town in a privately owned field) from a point in Kansas after Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the union.  We met an excellent volunteer at the visitor center who tipped us off to the Aladdin, WY General Store, 17 miles to the west.  That wasn’t on our itinerary for the day, but we might visit it as part of our Devil’s Tower sightseeing day.  He also asked us where we were headed this summer and when we mentioned that we would be headed for home by way of I-94 through Montana and North Dakota, he asked if we already had reservations at RV parks and campgrounds?  We told him that we did not, and he suggested that we make them.  There is apparently a major oil boom going on in eastern Montana and western North Dakota, and the workers have taken up residence in every RV park, campground, and motel in the area.  We thanked him for sharing that information, and find that folks along our way are often very helpful.

D. C. Booth Historic Fish Hatchery under water viewing window

D. C. Booth Historic Fish Hatchery under water viewing window

From Belle Fourche we traveled south to Spearfish, SD.  Expecting only to pass through to get to a scenic drive through the Black Hills, we stopped to see the D. C. Booth historic fish hatchery and ended up staying quite a while.  The hatchery is a wonderful site adjacent to a lovely city park and across the street from a city owned RV campground.  Here again, we met a volunteer at the museum who was a full-time RVer.  He and his wife were both volunteers at the hatchery and were staying in the RV park across the street.  He had lots of information to share about our intended destinations in Wyoming, and did so quite freely.

We decide to scout out lunch before continuing our trek and found the Green Bean Coffeehouse, and organic café with vegetarian and vegan choices.  We had the Woodstock wrap consisting of hummus, cashews, and veggies, and it was excellent.

We left Spearfish and drove US-14A through Spearfish Canyon, and the towns of Lead, and Deadhorse before returning to I-90 E to Exit 52 (Black Hawk) and 3 Flags RV Park.  Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are two of the more famous people buried here, but we did not stop as it was getting late in the day and we were getting tired.  Deadhorse definitely had the look of the old west, but it was hard to tell how much of it was authentic/restored and how much was re-created.  It was also mobbed and it looked like finding a place to park might be difficult, with quite a walk back to the main part of town.  Maybe some other time.

BTW:  Linda has done all of the sight-seeing driving in the Honda Element, which gives me a chance to study maps and look at scenery that I don’t get when driving the coach.  When driving on/near I-90, as well as when we are at our coach (watching the traffic on I-90), we have observed a steadily increasing flow of west-bound motorhomes, many presumably headed to Gillette, WY for the upcoming FMCA Family Reunion and Motorhome Showcase (rally/convention).  We will be headed that way ourselves tomorrow so we cleaned the outside of all the windows on the coach.  We are due to arrive at the CAM-PLEX in Gillette on 6-17-13 in the PM.  We figured it would be 2.5 hour drive and discussed hooking up the car before bed this evening so we could just disconnect the utilities and leave.  We decided against it for emergency/safety reasons.  (Should we need to leave in a hurry for some reason, the delay involved in unhooking the car could make the difference between a good and bad outcome.)  We planned to pull out at approximately 9:30 AM, which gave us plenty of time to make ready for travel in the morning.


2013_06_15 (Sat) The Black Hills Of South Dakota

Today was another major tourist day for us.  Our focus was on the central Black Hills area of South Dakota.  The weather was very agreeable, and just driving around would have been sufficient activity, but there were places to go and things we wanted to see.

Pactola Reservoir

Pactola Reservoir

The first thing we encountered was Pactola Reservoir.  It was very picturesque, so we took a lot of pictures.  There was a nice visitor’s center that provided the usual explanations of the history of the area and the construction of the dam.  We stamped our “passport.”

Our first major destination was Mt. Rushmore National Park, and we wanted to get there while the morning light was still on the mountain.  On our way there on US-385, we came across the Prairie Berry Winery.  We had seen signs for their Red Ass Rhubarb Wine on billboards driving across I-90 and wanted to visit the winery anyway, so we stopped.  (The label features a redish colored donkey.)

Prairie Berry Winery

Prairie Berry Winery

They didn’t open until 10 AM, but when a tour bus pulled up at 9:45 they opened the doors.  Given the hour, and the amount of mountain driving in front of us, we decided to buy without tasting.  This is usually not a good idea, but seemed like the prudent thing to do in this case.  We purchased a bottle of the Red Ass Rhubarb and a bottle of their Lawrence Elk Black Currant wine.  Linda likes red (grape) wines, but I am not a big fan of them.  I find most of them too dry and they create an unpleasant sensation in my mouth, as if it had been stuffed full of cotton balls by a dentist.  I like my wines on the sweet side, and beyond Rieslings and a few reds, like the 2009 Egri Merlot (from Hungary), I tend to like non-grape fruit wines such as pear or cherry port (excellent examples of both of which come from the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsula region of NW lower Michigan).  The wines at Prairie Berry were not inexpensive, and they had won lots of awards (of course, what wine hasn’t).  I will report on whether or not these were good purchases in some future post after we have consumed them.

1st glimpse of Mt. Rushmore

1st glimpse of Mt. Rushmore

When we got to Mt. Rushmore N. P, our Senior Access pass got us in for no charge.  The parking, however, was not covered by the Senior Access pass and was not free.  It was also not suitable for tall vehicles, although they did have a lot with spots for RVs.  Our Element is not any taller than any other SUV, except when we have the Diamond SG-7900 dual band ham radio antenna on the roof, in which case we are over 10 ft to the tip of the antenna.  Fortunately traffic coming in to the parking structures was bumper-to-bumper (stopped), and I was able to hop out and quickly unscrew the antenna from its mount and put it in the back of the car before we had to enter the garage.  We got our passport stamped as soon as we were parked and had walked through the front entrance arrived (we always try to remember to do that first).

Four Presidents

Four Presidents

Mt. Rushmore N. P. is a truly iconic American destination.  If you think it is going to be corny, all I can tell you is that it is not.  There were a lot of people there, but it didn’t feel crowded, and we had no problem viewing the mountain from many vantage points.  The place makes you thoughtful, and you could spend a long time there just looking at the mountain and thinking about what it represents and what it took to create.  There is quite a bit of hiking available, but we opted for a short hike to the sculptors’ studio where the working model of the carving is housed along with other explanatory exhibits.  You can hike up close to the carving, but they warn you that it is steep, strenuous hike.  We had not allotted time for that, and were not wearing our hiking boots, so that experience will wait for some future visit.

There are two “drives” through the Black Hills around Mr. Rushmore that are almost as iconic as the mountain itself; the Iron Mountain Highway and the Needles Highway.  We took the Iron Mountain route from Mt. Rushmore to get to Custer State Park.  This road is narrow and winding.  Instead of switchbacks it has “pigtails” in several places.  These are places where the road makes a 270 degree turn while climbing (or descending) to cross back over (under) itself.  There were also several tunnels, some of which were only 8-9 feet wide and 10 feet tall.  This is definitely not a road for oversized vehicles!  Along the way we discovered the Spokane Creek Cabins & Campground (24631 Iron Mtn. Rd.)  It’s a wonderful little place by a creek at a bend in the road at the bottom of a hill.  It was lunch time, and they had a small restaurant, so we stopped for lunch.  We had a couple of simple side salads and had them make us a vegan pizza.  This is always an iffy proposition, and often does not turn out well, but the one they made was excellent.  The woman running the kitchen was assisted by her 10 year old daughter (my best guess) who brought us our food and checked on us periodically.  She was very attentive, and absolutely delightful.

Bison at French Creek, Custer S.P.

Bison at French Creek, Custer S.P.

From there we went on to Custer State Park and took Wildlife loop.  This is a very large, very nice State Park.  Besides wonderful scenery, it has about 1,500 resident Bison (American Buffalo).  They are not all in one herd, but at French Creek we encountered a sizable group (hundreds of animals) with many near or on the road.  Traffic was at a complete stop for 20 minutes while Bison wandered across or along the road, or just stopped and starred at all of us in cars.  One of them walked up to the first car in line coming the other direction and used the front and hood as a scratching post while the front seat passenger clicked away with her camera through the windshield.  We were eventually first in line going the other direction when a large animal decided to walk up our lane.  So we followed him (it was definitely a him.)  He would stop every 10 feet and look over his shoulder at us, and then keep on walking.  Eventually he left the pavement and we were able to continue on our way, but we were at this location for about 30 minutes and got a long, close up, view of these very large animals.

When we complete our drive through Custer State Park, we drove the Needles Highway en-route to the Chief Crazy Horse Monument.  The road itself was not as dramatic as the Iron Mountain Highway, but the views and rock formations were stunning, especially as the good weather continued for us.  The Needles is an actual mountain and it here that finally saw Bighorn Sheep (a mom and two young) on a very steep distant slope.  A trio of motorcyclists stopped and one of them had good binoculars and first spotted the sheep.  He let everyone there have a turn using them, which was very gracious.  We had seen these guys off and on all day and asked where they were from.  Boston.  They were all riding “Harley’s”, but they weren’t what you think of as “bikers.”  We saw a lot of folks on motorcycles in the Black Hills, and if you’ve driven the roads, you understand why.

Crazy Horse Monument Statue and Carving

Our final tourist destination for the day was the Chief Crazy Horse Monument.  This is a private project on private land and there is a $20 entrance fee per vehicle.  Having driven all that way, we paid and went in, only to find out that you cannot get very close to the mountain/carving.  However, for another $4/person you can ride the bus up to a viewing point.  We decided the views from the visitor center were good enough.  My reaction to this place was mixed.  First, that it was both appropriate and necessary that such a monument should be created.  Second, however, was that it is a very, even overly, ambitious project.  It was very incomplete at this point in time in spite of decades of work, and it seemed unlikely to be finished in our grand-daughter’s lifetime (she was only 26 weeks old on this date), or perhaps even in her children’s lifetime.  The plans included much more than the mountain carving, including a hospital, university, airport, museum, and many other developments.  Whether such a project can be sustained with private funding and ever completed seemed to be a huge question mark for me, and the thought of it not ever being finished was sad.  Our Native American (first peoples) deserve this monument in its completed form, and I hope they get it someday.

By the time we were done at the Chief Crazy Horse Monument it had been a long day.  We still had a bit of drive to get back to our coach, and headed for “home” having taken hundreds of photographs (digital makes is sooo easy!).


2013_06_14 (Fri) Being A Tourist

We did not stop at Wall Drug or the Badlands National Park on our drive across South Dakota yesterday, so today we back-tracked 50 miles to the east in the car to visit these iconic places.  While there we also discovered the Minuteman National Monument, but only had time to visit the headquarters trailer.  Tours of the missile silo and launch control center will have to wait for another visit to the area.

Wall Drug, Wall, SD

Wall Drug, Wall, SD

Wall Drug, in Wall, South Dakota, is one of the iconic shopping experiences in the USA.  I saw it as a pre-teen on a trip to Yellowstone with my family, and again 25 years ago when traveling to Washington with our son for my best friend’s wedding, but it was Linda’s first visit.  This completed the trifecta of American shopping, having already been to the Mall of the Americas in Minneapolis / St. Paul and the Iowa 80 Truck Stop.  (5th Avenue in New York and Rodeo Drive in California have nothing on these places.)

After seeing Wall Drug, we walked around town and discovered the Headquarters and Visitor Center of the U. S. National Grasslands.  There are nine (9) of these grasslands across the USA, but the headquarters, and only visitor center, for all of them is in Wall, South Dakota.  Who knew?  We certainly didn’t.

U. S. National Grasslands HQ & Visitor Center

U. S. National Grasslands HQ & Visitor Center

The staff was very friendly and helpful, and we got maps and a lot of good information about the surrounding area, including Badlands N. P.  We also bought a National Parks passport and got it stamped; our first of what we hope will be many such endorsements.

Wall is near the west entrance to Badlands N. P.  Like Wall Drug, I visited the park as a boy and again 25 years ago with our son.  We camped there in a tent, and had to seek shelter in the bathhouse building due to a tornado.  No one was injured, and none of our equipment was damaged, but it made for some exciting moments, and we made a lot of quick friends while hunkered down.

A sleeper coach! at Badlands N.P.

A sleeper coach! at Badlands N.P.

When entering Badlands N. P. we used our Senior Access pass for the first time.  It’s a $10 lifetime pass for “people of a certain age.”  The Badlands are a strangely beautiful place.  Like most tourists, we drove through on the main road and stopped at most of the scenic pull-outs to gaze and take pictures.  At one spot we hiked out on a trail for a half mile or so and then back.  Any farther than that and we would have needed more equipment and adequate water.

Badlands National Park

We exited the park at the east entrance, and that is where we discovered the headquarters of the Minuteman N. M.  It is a relatively new national monument and the headquarters is housed in a trailer.  Even then, it has that distinctive National Park Service look and feel; a look and feel that I have always liked.

The monument consists of a missile silo and a Launch Control Center, both of which are located near the headquarters, but not right there.  The missile silo permits self-guided tours, but the launch control center is a guided tour by reservation only.  They actually take you down the elevator to the control room, and can only accommodate six (6) people per tour, which I think they run on the hour.  If you want to see the launch control center, arrive early to sign up for a tour time that day or the next.  There is no charge for the tour.

2013_06_13 (Thu) The Open Plains

We got up early so I could work on soundproofing the entrance door window.  After studying the assembly, and considering my available materials and tools, I decided to apply self-stick foam tape to the window seals on the operable window panel rather than the fixed frame.  This ensured that the foam tape would be lined up with the seals when closed.

We left the Wal-Mart in Sioux Falls, SD around 8:00 AM CDT for Rapid City, SD via I-29 N to I-90 W.  The weather-stripping on the window seemed to help a lot with the wind noise.  We stopped in Mitchell, SD to see the Corn Palace.  We were there mid-morning, so there was adequate parking for large RVs.  The streets in and out of town, however, had some trees with branches that were not trimmed high enough.

Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD

Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD

The drive across South Dakota was very pretty.  The farther west we drove to fewer trees we had, giving.  They had had a lot of rain, and the grasses were green, long, and waving.  We re-fueled at a Flying-J at exit 61 east of Rapid City in tropical storm force winds of 39+ MPH.  Exit 52, just NW of Rapid City (in Black Hawk) was our access to 3 Flags RV, a Coast-to-Coast Good Neighbor Park (GNP).

We thought we had reserved a 50 Amp (A) full hookup (FU) site, but ended up with a 30 A FU site instead.  This happened because of a misunderstanding on our part due to our inexperience; this was our first use of our Coast-to-Coast membership outside our home park.  3 Flags RV Park wasn’t anything special (it was located next to I-90), but it was clean, the utilities all worked, the laundry room was clean and functioning, and it positioned us well for visiting the Black Hills and surrounding area.  And it was only $15/night (15,000 C2C points).

The 30 A hookup was initially a problem because our house batteries needed charging after running the refrigerator all day via the inverter.  If the batteries are down sufficiently to trigger a bulk charge, the charger portion of the Magnum 4024 can and will draw up to 30 A of 120V AC current.  That is sufficient to blow a weak 30 A service breaker, even if there are no other loads turned on in the coach.  The amount of current drawn by the charger can be limited using the Magnum ARC-50 remote panel, but we had to find the manual and figure out how to do this before plugging in the coach.  We did, I set the limit to 15 A, and everything was fine.

The other reason we prefer a “50 A” power connection when we can get it is that we can run all of electrical loads, including our three house air-conditioners if needed.  Each A/C draws about 10 A at 120 VAC, more when the compressor first engages, so on a “30 A” service we typically only run one, leaving room for other electrical loads (refrigerator, air compressor, microwave, lights, etc.  Hey, it’s a house on wheels and it doesn’t use propane).

Technical note:  A 50 A service actually provides over 3 times as much current (power) as a 30 A service.  I know that doesn’t sound right, but it’s true.  The reason is that a 30 A service is ONE circuit with a 30 A maximum current capacity at 120 VAC, (~ 3600 watts) whereas a 50 A service is a 240 VAC service with a 50 A maximum current capacity  (~ 12,000 watts) that generally functions as TWO 120 VAC, 50 A circuits (still ~ 12,000 watts).  In practice it acts like a 120 VAC “100 A” service.  If it were called that, it would be obvious that it is more than 3 times the available power of a 30 A service.  That’s assuming the service breaker (where you plug in) isn’t worn out and weak.  We have been in RV parks where we tripped the “50 A” service breaker while drawing less than 40 A on each of the two legs (circuits).


2013_06_12 (Wed) A Long Travel Day And Wally World

We ran the genset while we ate breakfast to bring the house batteries up to near full charge.  We were not in a hurry to leave as we did not want to get to our next destination too early.  We topped off the fuel tank and departed the Iowa 80 Truck Stop for Sioux Falls, SD around 10:00 AM CDT.  Most of our travel was in Iowa via I-80, I-680, and I-29, only crossing over into South Dakota towards the end of the drive.  We took exit 77 (41st street) east to the first major cross street and turned left (N) to the Wal-Mart.

Boondocking at Wally World

Boondocking at Wally World

We had called ahead to verify that it was OK to spend the night at this particular “Wal-Mart”, but we still checked in with the Customer Service desk when we arrived.  This was our second boondock and our first at a “Wally World” (as Wal-Marts are known among RVers).  Wal-Mart permits overnight parking (but not “camping”) as a matter of corporate policy, although this is sometimes superseded by local ordinances.  Companies like Wal-Mart that permit this use of their parking lots provide a great service to RVers who just need a place to park for the night while traveling along with convenient shopping if they need it.

The big RV clubs, including The Escapees RV Club, the Family Motor Coach Association, and The Good Sam Club (all of which we belong to), have all signed on to a good neighbor policy regarding boondocking on private property.  Among other things, it says: one night only, ask permission, and no “camping”.  This later point means many things, such as: don’t put your slides out, your awnings out, your leveling jacks down, get out your lawn chairs and grill out, or crank up the outside TV set.  We often see this policy violated, even when just driving by a Wal-Mart in our car, and it is very discouraging.  Widespread violation of this policy will ultimately cost all of us the ability to use this resource.  There is never a charge to stay, although you inevitably end up buying a few “things” that you need, and this stop was no exception.  This particular Wal-Mart was in a more suburban/commercial setting than we expected, but egress was OK, and it was a pleasant place to spend the night.  (Note:  Had we used Google Maps aerial view to check this store ahead of time, we would not have been surprised by its setting.)

The two days travel from Twelve Mile, IN to Sioux Falls, SD had been very windy and the bus cockpit had considerable wind noise, including a loud whistle by the entrance door.  Linda determined that the operable window was the biggest problem, so I bought several weather-stripping materials at Wal-Mart that might fix it, at least temporarily.


2013_06_11 (Tue) On The Road Again…

Butch charged the middle (kitchen) A/C and topped off the rear (bedroom) unit.  The front unit probably also needed refrigerant, but was difficult to access through the bay below the driver’ seat, so we let it go for now.

The Iowa 80 Truck Stop

The Iowa 80 Truck Stop

We departed on our westward trek shortly after 10:00 AM EDT taking IN-16 E to US-31 S to Gallahan’s truck stop at US-24 where we topped off the tank.  We have used this truck stop a lot when visiting Twelve Mile or traveling through the area.  It has a specific lane for RVs and wide loads, and a free RV dump station with good access.  We then took US-24 W to Illinois where we picked up I-39 N to I-80 W to Iowa.  Our destination was the Iowa 80 Truck Stop, and it is definitely a destination.

The truck stop itself was fascinating.  It’s a 24/7/52 operation, and trucks came and went constantly.  It has room for 800+ tractor-trailers, and by night fall it was filling up.  We found the variety of products being moved to be particularly interesting.  One truck, which was moving a vertical tower section of a wind turbine, had 50 tires on the ground and was oversized in length, width, and height.

A 50-wheeler behind our coach!

A 50-wheeler behind our coach!

We walked through the truck accessory store, which has more truck accessories than any other retail store on the planet.  If you need bling for you truck (or RV), this is THE place to shop.  We didn’t buy any bling, but we did buy a Rand-McNally Truckers Atlas and a copy of The Next Exit, both of which provide relevant information for anyone traveling in a large vehicle.  Our coach is 13 ft tall, 8.5 ft. wide (not including the mirrors and awnings) and 40 ft. long, with three axles (steer, drive, tag).  The Honda Element and tow bar add about 20 feet to the length, making a 60 foot long, articulated vehicle. The coach weighs about 41,000 pounds with full fuel and fresh water, and car adds another 4,000 pounds.  You don’t take a vehicle like that just anywhere.  Safe travel begins with good travel resources and continues with attention t

o road signs.

We had run our refrigerator all day on the house battery using the inverter, and would be doing so again during the overnight, so we ran the genset to recharge them while we had dinner.  We spent the night parked amidst the big rigs, our first overnight at a truck stop and our first boondocking experience in the coach.  We did not sleep well due to bright lights and idling engines, but it was still an interesting experience and now we know we can overnight at truck stops if/when we the need arises.

Today was our daughter’s birthday, and we exchanged Happy Birthday text messages with her.  (We are very “with it” for being in our 60’s.)


2013_06_10 (Mon) Working On The Bus In Twelve Mile

Linda worked all day on the accounting for Service Motors.  Butch and I drove to Logansport first thing in the morning to get various parts for the bus projects.  When we got back, Butch welded unions on either end of the bendable exhaust while I worked on the water pump issue.  On the genset end, one part of the union was welded to a cut-off pipe nipple and then threaded into the outlet from the GenSet turbocharger.  The mating part for the other end was already installed in the floor of the generator bay.  We secured the pipe with the unions on each end and ran the genset to check for leaks.  Seeing none, we bent the pipe into its initial/open position.  I them wrapped it in 2” wide fiberglass header heat wrap, using a 50% overlap, and secured it with hose clamps.  We tested it again and say no evidence of leaks, so we slide the genset back into the bay and coaxed the pipe into its final/closed position.  It now works well and looks nice.

Genset exhaust union

Genset exhaust union and bendable pipe

The fresh water pump is connected to the coach plumbing by 30” long hoses whose purpose,

beyond allowing the connections to be made, is to isolate the plumbing from the vibration of the pump.  We disconnected the pump outlet hose from the plumbing and checked the pump flow by pumping the discharge into a bucket.  The flow was not good.  We then attached the hoses so we could draw water out of the bucket and pump it into the fresh water tank, thus back flushing the supply (suction) line.  That seemed to improve the flow a bit.  We also drew from the bucket to test the outgoing lines to house and that flow was also quite restricted.

One of the problems with bus conversions is that they are essentially one-of-a-kind vehicles built to the requirements of specific original buyers.  To that extent they are custom built more than they are engineered, and that really shows up in the systems that are hidden from view.  Our fresh water system was built with two supply lines from the fresh water tank to the water pump.  These lines leave the fresh water tank on the driver side near the floor of the bay and are routed up and over

the fresh water tank to the other side of the bay and back down to a compartment about 18 inches above the bay floor.  This is definitely not a good design as water pumps like the Shur-Flo 4048 are not designed to draw very hard on the vacuum side.  We back-flushed the other supply line and them plumbed the two lines together using additional short hose sections, plastic pipe nipples, and black iron pipe connectors.  The flow was improved a bit, and we decided it was as good as we were going to make it for now.

Long term the better solution will be to relocate the water pump to the driver side of the bay and mount it at floor level near where the water exits the fresh water tank, which will eliminate the draw on the vacuum side.  I will then attach the outlet of the pump to a new, larger supply line and route it to the other side of the bay and then redo the plumbing in that compartment to eliminate as many

of the right angle fittings, T-fittings, and valves as possible.

In the midst of all this work we also discovered that the middle (kitchen) air-conditioner was not producing any cooling.  Butch, among many other things, is an HVAC guy, and suggested we take a look at the three house AC units before we left the next morning.  Knowing that we would be spending much of the summer in the high plains and mountains of the west, that sounded like a good idea to us.

While it was not our intent to work on the Zena power generator, I was able to pick up some welding cable and crimp on terminal lugs and make the battery connection cables using Butch’s press.  They did not get installed, however, as I still need to locate and mount a fuse holder for a Class-T fuse.

A good day’s work done, we headed to Logansport for dinner at Pizza Hut.  Pizza hut serves various pasta dishes, but they all involve meat sauce and/or cheese.  We had a thin-crust pizza with no cheese, and it was OK.  They also have a salad bar, and that was OK too.


2013_06_09 (Sun) GO!

Ready or not, our first long journey began today.  We finished loading last minute items, including some refrigerator items and the two cats.  The bus started right up, I backed it into the street, and we hooked up the car.  We were aiming to be underway by 9:00 AM, and actually pulled away from our home in S. E. Michigan at 9:25 AM.  Not bad.  Our destination was Twelve Mile, Indiana via M-59, I-96, I-69, US-12, M-217 (Michiana Hwy), US-20, US-31, and IN-16.  The weather was good and the drive went smoothly.  The over-the-road (OTR) air-conditioning even worked well, although we continued to get an occasional “low pressure” warning light for the system.  We stopped at Gallahan’s, a truck stop at US-24 and US-31 not far from Twelve Mile, and topped off the tank.  We arrived at Service Motors, Butch and Fonda Williams business in Twelve Mile, around 3:30 PM.

After a quick “hello”, Linda went to work with Fonda on their business records (Linda is a retired CPA) while Butch and I began working on the genset exhaust and fresh water pump low-flow problems, as these seemed to be the ones most likely to adversely impact our summer travels if not resolved.

Butch and I decided that the only reasonable solution to the genset exhaust pipe problem was to use unions on both ends.  This in turn would require parts and welding.  We discovered that the attachment that goes through the floor of the bay already had a union, but the exhaust outlet from the turbocharger did not.  The problem with the water pump appeared to be bad plumbing design; the lines are undersized PEX and there are too many right-angle and T-fittings that are further constricted in diameter.  That wasn’t a problem we would be able to solve in the day or so we had to work, but we had some ideas of a few other things to check out the next day.

We only worked for a few hours and then drove into Logansport to have dinner at one of the Mexican restaurants.  We stopped at the Home Depot first to get parts, but they had just closed.  Since Linda and I follow a “whole-foods, plant-based” (WFPB) way of eating, our choices of restaurants and restaurant menu items are usually quite limited.  Many Mexican restaurants have “veggie fajitas” on the menu, and these work well for us.  (BTW: the story of the naming of Twelve Mile, IN is that is 12 miles NE of Logansport, 12 miles S of Rochester, and 12 miles NW of Peru.  Most of our runs, however, are to Logansport.)


2013_06_08 (Sat) Set…

Reorganizing the front bay

Reorganizing the front bay

As a result of the work I had been doing on the coach since the previous July, the storage bays had become somewhat disorganized.  We decided to empty the front bay into the driveway and also moved much of the RV related stuff in the garage out into the driveway.  (“Stuff” is a technical RVing term, sometimes spelled “stuf” when used as a “4-letter” word.)  We then selected and repacked items for travel, reloaded the front bay in an organized fashion, and put everything else back in the garage in as organized a way as we could given our time constraints.  Although simple to describe, this took a good portion of the day to accomplish.

We then filled the fresh water tank with filtered/softened water (but not Reverse Osmosis, or RO) and de-winterized the plumbing by flushing the potable antifreeze from all of the lines.  We did this using both shoreline water and water pumped from the fresh water tank using the on-board water pump to make sure the anti-freeze was out of all of the lines.  This was the first time the new pump had been used and the water flow was still surprisingly poor, not what we had expected.  I e-mailed Butch Williams, a fellow busnut, to give him a heads up, as their house/business in Indiana was our first planned stop, hoping that he might be able to help me figure out what was wrong, and, more importantly, what to do to try to fix it.

By the end of the day we were 98% ready to go, but with a number of question marks hanging over our heads.


2013_06_07 (Fri) Ready…

Welcome to our blog.  I (Bruce) will be the primary person posting here, but Linda may contribute something from time-to-time.

We purchased our converted coach in September 2009.  It is a Prevost H3-40 that was built as a shell in August 1990 and sent directly to Royale Coach (Monaco) for conversion, so it was never in commercial service.  Monaco finished it in October 1991 and titled it as a 1992 vehicle.  The conversion was 18 years old when we bought it with the shell being about one year older.  It is now four years later.  Since it’s titled as a 1992, the state considers it to be 21 years old.  At age 25 I think it will qualify as a historic vehicle.  The license plate is OMNIBUS, from the French phrase meaning “every man’s conveyance.”  The term “bus” was ultimately derived from this word.

As best we can tell we are the 4th owners.  The coach had been sitting (outside) in a northern climate for at least a couple of years before we bought it.  We were still a few years from retirement at that point and wanted some time to fix it up while we were still gainfully employed.  We have been fixing it up ever since, while using it primarily to attend nearby RV rallies.  I have been submitting articles to Bus Conversions Magazine describing some of this work.  The first article was in the February 2013 issue, where our coach was featured on the cover.

I (Bruce) retired June 1st 2012, and Linda retired April 1st, 2013 (no fooling).  We have been pushing hard to prepare for our first extended travels.  We planned to leave on June 1st, but could not pull everything together in time.  We finally set our deadline as June 9th, ready or not.  On the date of this post (2 days prior to departure) I tried to finish up work on several bus projects as best I could, which is to say, they were not really finished.

One of my projects was the installation of a Zena power generator system for charging the house batteries while driving the coach.  The physical components were all installed, and the wires were all run but not completely hooked up and thus not yet operational.  This is a complicated system that needs to be installed correctly, so it was unlikely that I would finish this project while on the road.  This was not absolutely necessary for travel, however, and finishing the project could wait.

I had also installed a Parker Fuel Polishing Module (FPM) and had to redo some of the fuel lines due to leaks.  The re-worked lines still had a small leak in the return line from the Aqua-Hot.  The leak is either where the hose fitting threads into the check valve or between the two halve of the check valve body itself.  The purpose of the FPM is to circulate and clean the diesel fuel when the coach is parked/stored long-term, so it was also not necessary for travel.  The leak is only present when running the FPM; operation of the Aqua-Hot was unaffected, so it was usable while traveling.

Another project I was trying to wrap up was replacing the leaking flexible exhaust pipe in the generator bay.  I discovered that I was unable to get the new bendable exhaust pipe end-fittings to fit on either the powerplant exhaust or the fitting going through the bay floor so that they would not leak.  This, in turn, prevented me from wrapping the pipe in exhaust header insulation.  Without a leak-free, heat-insulated genset exhaust we would be unable to use the genset, and that would be a problem for travel.

Finally, I had replaced two older Aqua-Jet fresh water pumps with a single Shur-Flo 4048 water pump.  The pump was installed and connected, but yet to be tested as we had not yet filled the fresh water tank.  All-in-all it was a pretty discouraging start to a long trip.

While I was wrapping this stuff up Linda started cleaning and organizing the interior of the coach to make it ready for travel.  We spent the evening trying to get the house ready for us to be away for a while.