Monthly Archives: September 2013

2013_09_28-30 (S,N,M) Gone Fish’in

No, I have not given up my WFPB way of eating, but one of the things I did on Sunday was to run a new network cable from our main Internet gateway (in the kitchen) to my office (in the basement).  I had to pull the cable above a suspended ceiling and then “fish” it up through the floor boards into a wall cavity.  There is a special tool called a “fish tape” that is made for this purpose.  It’s a thin but stiff piece of metal that is coiled up inside a housing with a small hook on the free end.  Because it is relatively stiff, you can push through holes and into wall cavities and other such places until it emerges somewhere, hopefully where you need it to emerge.  I have a fish tape (of course) but I can’t find it (naturally) because the garage/workshop will be the last part of our move to get organized.  So I improvised, and after several false starts ended using a scrap piece of 3-conductor sheathed electrical cable that was long enough, small enough, and stiff enough to get the job done.  But I have gotten way ahead of myself.

As usual, Linda and I went to our South Lyon Area Amateur Radio Club (SLAARC) breakfast on Saturday morning.  Well, almost as usual; we took two cars this time as Linda was headed to Ann Arbor to babysit munchkin Madeline after breakfast, and I was headed in the opposite direction to do ham radio stuff.

Madeline’s domestic servants (our son and his wife) wanted to attend a wedding on Sunday in Madison, Wisconsin and thought the three days required to drive there, celebrate, and drive back might work out better for all involved if their daughter did not make the trip.  They also figured that Madeline would do better in their absence if she was in her own home.  Madeline approved of these plans and gave them the requested 3-day pass.  Although Madeline’s aunt (our daughter) provides child care one day a week, a 3-day stint, over the weekend, in a house without television would mean no college or professional football, and would have been heroic beyond necessity.  This was clearly a job for GRANDMA, who doesn’t have functioning television in her new house anyway, so she wouldn’t miss it.  Besides, when sitting the baby, there’s no time to watch TV (or do much of anything else).

Mike (W8XH) and I had plans to work on the new SLAARC website, but first he had to help Bruce (W8RA) set up his new LP-PAN and integrate it into his ham radio station.  Working on Bruce’s ham shack is no small undertaking.  I’ve never been in the Space Shuttle simulator, but I’ve seen pictures, and sitting at Bruce’s ham station is a pretty good facsimile.  It took Mike a couple of hours, but he got it all working.  We then headed to his QTH to do the website stuff.

Mike and I are building the new SLAARC website using WordPress with the help of fellow SLAARC member Larry (K8UT), who is a bonafide expert in such matters.  A couple of weeks ago we decided to create the new website as a subdomain of the existing website, which is hosted by GoDaddy, and that was an experience in itself.  This would make it very easy, however, to later change some DNS entries and have the original domain name point to the new website.  Larry did the WordPress installation manually rather than using the automatic WordPress installer that most web-hosting companies have available (including GoDaddy).  As a result it has taken longer to get the new site functional, but Mike and I now have a much better understanding of subdomains and an appreciation for some of the complexity that is “under the hood” when using WordPress.  One more call to Larry resulted in some magic on his end, and we were finally up and running.  We then spent several hours installing, activating, and exploring themes.  We haven’t made any final decisions, but we are starting to figure out what questions to ask.  While Mike and I are anxious to move this along, we are not under any external pressure to have it ready by a certain date and want to take our time on the front end.  While it is relatively easy to change WordPress themes even after a website is populated with content, there is a point beyond which that is still going to involve a lot of work.  I like projects, but I don’t like doing projects over (and over, and over …).

I was still in WordPress mode when I got home, so I did some work on our personal website.  I created a tab (main menu item) for “Ham Radio” and created a sub-menu item for “SLAARC”.  These are just placeholders for now, but will eventually have content.  I have also fleshed out the WFPB tab as I start to build out the main menu structure.

Mike lent me an AmpedWireless dual-band WiFi repeater that he wasn’t using and I spent some time Saturday evening and Sunday morning playing with it.  It is a very cool device.  In WiFi repeater mode it will pick up a 2.4GHz and/or a 5.0GHz WiFi network and rebroadcast it.  What’s really cool, however, is that it will pick up a 2.4GHz WiFi network and rebroadcast it as 5.0GHz WiFi network.  I have been looking for a device that will do this for quite some time.  Our iPads and smartphones are all 5.0GHz capable, so using them with a 5.0GHz WiFi signal offloads that traffic from the 2.4GHz network, leaving it for 2.4GHz only devices.  The 5.0GHz band also has a lot more bandwidth than the 2.4GHz band with very few devices using it, so there is less interference and more reliable network connections.  Unfortunately, the device did not work well at our house as it appeared to be in conflict with our WiFi thermostat.

Wireless repeaters, access points, bridges, etc. are all designed so that they can be setup and configured wirelessly through a web-browser.  In order to accomplish this they map a specific URL to a specific IP address in the range.  In this case,  Unfortunately, I think the WiFi thermostat also uses that IP address.  There may be a way to work around this, but I did not have time to pursue that today.  The AmpedWireless device is actually configurable in five different modes.  WiFi repeater is the default, but it can be a Wireless Access Point or a Wireless Bridge, or two other things.

As a result of playing with this device, I think I finally understand the difference between various networking technologies.  A Network Switch (NS) is a device that allows multiple devices to be connected together using network cables, with one cable going back to the router (where the IP addresses are controlled through DHCP).  A Wireless Repeater (WR) is just that; it picks up a WiFi signal and rebroadcasts it (repeats it), usually on the same frequency and channel, but with a different SSID; no cables required.  (The Amped Wireless WiFi Repeater can rebroadcast it on a different frequency and/or channel, very nice.)  A Wireless Access Point (WAP) generates a WiFi network and is connected to the main router through a network cable.  We have a Linksys WAP running now.  A Wireless Bridge (WB) is the mirror image of a WAP.  It allows multiple devices to be connected to it using cables (sounds like it’s a NS) and then communicates using WiFi with a wireless router or WAP.  This allows lots of equipment to be located remotely from the main Internet gateway/router without running a cable between the two locations.

While Linda continued her marathon munchkin duty on Sunday, I worked around the house trying to check things off my “to-do” list faster than they got added.  I didn’t succeed, but I did get a lot done.  My main focus was my office, which had become the place where stuff was getting piled so we could feel like we had put other parts of the house in reasonably good order.  I either needed to get it organized or close it off for the open house.  Some of our fellow hams are coming to the open house and will want to see the ham shack (which is also my office), so closing it off from public view wasn’t really an option.

Monday was odds-n-ends day.  I continued to try to clean up and organize my office and the basement, installed two new door closers on the front screen/storm door, and installed new hardware (tracks) for the pair of bi-fold doors on the kitchen pantry.  It doesn’t sound like much, but it takes all day.  I snagged some replacement toilet flappers from Lowe’s, a nice shelving unit for the bedroom from Staples, and a large quantity of ICE Sparkling Water from Walmart.  (It’s not my favorite place to shop, but Meijer’s doesn’t carry this product.)

Mid-afternoon there was a knock at the door.  It was a representative from a company that is subcontracting with Consumer’s Energy to possibly run a natural gas main down our street.  I walked our property with the guy and explained the rather complicated situation that has led to us having two propane tanks and what they implications of that were for us switching to natural gas.  I went ahead and signed up after making sure we could back out if we decided this really wasn’t what we wanted to do.  As of now, however, we are definitely interested in switching to natural gas.  Consumer’s Energy estimates the equivalent cost for a gallon of propane, which is currently $2.00 + or – $0.40, at $0.77.  At that ratio, our infrastructure payback would be about 3 years.  There is also the added benefit of having a constant supply of fuel without a truck having to come and fill a tank.  Value?  Priceless.

In the late afternoon I had a nice chat with Joe from EZ*Connector.  EZ*Connector is a small company in California that has designed, and manufactures, a keyed, magnetically retained, sealed electrical connector.  It comes in 7 and 14 pin configurations for non-military use and is an ideal solution to the problem of connecting a tow vehicle (bus) to a towed vehicle (car).  Our current setup requires two separate electrical cables with mechanical or friction latches.  The EZ*Connector will provide a much easier and yet superior connection.  They are just now bringing a new 14 conductor cable to market and suggested I wait until early November to order.

Linda called to say she would be home around 7 PM.  I put water on to boil to make angel hair pasta with red sauce, and she picked up a salad on the way home.  She made the sauce last week, and it was fabulous.  (I am not normally a fan of marinara sauce, but this sauce has me rethinking that position.)  A glass of 2009 Egri Merlot to wash it down, and fresh plums for dessert made a fine conclusion to a long day.


2013_09_23-27 (M-F) Getting Ready

There is always lots to do around the house when we return from an RV rally, more so since we are still getting moved in to our new (to us) house and trying to get it ready for an open house / house warming.  We decided about a month ago to have the house warming as a way to “force” us to accelerate the moving-in process and so far that seems to be working.

Arriving home yesterday we were able to pull in to our pull-through driveway with the car attached, which was very nice.  With the added “fines” (sandy silt) material mixed in with the 21aa road gravel, the driveway is now packing together very tightly and easily supporting the weight of the bus.  The planned driveway geometry has worked out well allowing us to pull in and out with the car attached.  That means we cook hook/unhook the car in the driveway rather than in the street.

Linda babysat for Madeline on Monday while I worked around the house, unloaded the clothes and bedding from the bus, and started doing laundry; not very interesting, perhaps, but satisfying work in its own way.  We both spent a fair amount of time on our computers this week, Linda with household accounting chores and RV park research and me with some CEPI work, our website/blog, and websites for several other organizations.  Using WordPress to create/manage websites and blogs has really grabbed my interest.  I’m not very proficient yet, but I’m leaning.

We hung the last few pieces of artwork for now and spent part of the week opening and moving boxes.  Linda was looking for papers we could take to a shredding company and managed to accumulate quite a few boxes of them.  At this point we’ve run out of time to open boxes and sort through the contents, so we turned our attention to finding places to “hide” them until after the open house.  We’re not there yet, but we are comfortable that the house will be presentable enough by the time it needs to be.

We decided to harvest some of the apples from our apple tree and discovered that a large branch (3-4” diameter) had peeled loose in three places, probably due to the copious amount of fruit on it, the age of the tree, and the fact that it had not been pruned properly (or at all) for years.  We don’t know much about fruit trees, but we know that this is not the time of year to prune them.  With the tree obviously damaged, however, we decided to cut the branch off and let nature take its course.  We took it off in three pieces to make sure we could handle them.  The branches of an apple tree tend to get intertwined, especially if it isn’t pruned, so we really had to pull to get the pieces down.  That brought lots of apples to the ground besides the ones on the damaged branch.  We left the branches and their apples on the ground for the deer and other animals that frequent our backyard.

We collected a large bag of apples and Linda spent time during the rest of the week peeling them, dipping them in lemon, and freezing them.  She also made apple sauce and apple bread (both of which were outstanding).  She commented at one point that “I am starting to understand why farm wives never got out of the kitchen.”  Cooking real food with real ingredients (whole-food, plant-based) is a lot of work.  Linda finds the work satisfying, however, now that she has the time to do it, and I certainly find the results satisfying as well.  Yummy.

Ed and Betty Burns arrived on Thursday afternoon in their Tiffin Phaeton motorhome and stayed until late Friday morning.  This was their second visit in about a month and we really enjoyed having them here again.  They have been working at the Middleton Berry Farm and finished their tour of duty on Thursday.  I moved our motorhome out of the pull-through driveway so they could pull in and park in a level spot with power.

They got here in time for dinner and Linda put out a nice meal.  She served a nice Waldorf style green salad using some of our fresh-picked apples with homemade apple bread.  The main course was a lentil loaf with a baked potato and homemade applesauce on the side.  I chose the Blueberry Wine from Forestedge Winery in LaPorte, Minnesota to go with the meal.  (It only occurred to us later than we had an apple wine from the same winery, which would have really completed our apple-themed meal.)  Forestedge Winery is owned by Paul and Sharon Shuster, who are members of our FMCA Freethinkers associate chapter as are Ed and Betty.

Linda made apple crisp for dessert, but none of us had room, so we saved it for breakfast the next day.  In addition to the apple crisp, breakfast included Linda’s homemade granola cereal with fresh blueberries, fresh banana slices, and raspberries that we had personally picked at the Middleton Berry Farm a few weeks ago and frozen.  A little orange juice and a 50/50 blend of Ethiopian Yirga Cheffe and Kona coffee rounded out the meal.

We decided earlier in the week that we would try Florida for our first snowbird experience.  (Snowbird is a term used to describe folks who live in northern climates where it snows and head south for the winter to get away from same.  If there is a corresponding term for folks who live in the south and travel north in the summer to avoid heat and humidity, I don’t know what it is, other than perhaps Bridwons.  Think about it.)  Our decision was motivated by the desire to attend a large converted bus rally in Arcadia, Florida that is held each year from December 26 to January 1st.  (The actual rally is Dec 29, 30, 31, but you can arrive as early as the 26th and departure is the 1st.)  The rally was started by Jack and Paula Conrad, who ran it for the first ten years.

Ed and Betty used to live in Florida so we were eager to draw on their knowledge and experience before trying to book a place or places to stay.  Earlier in the week we called the Low-Key Hideaway RV Park and Motel in Cedar Key, but they were not able to accommodate us.  We knew about Low-Key Hideaway Cherie Ve Ard’s Technomadia blog postings, and it appears that the place has developed quite a clientele, perhaps in part as a result of Technomadia’s publicity.

At the last two GLCC rallies we had talked at length with Pat and Vicky, who winter in Florida.  I also had an in-depth conversation this week with two other fellow RVers (Ed and Al) who winter in Florida and got their thoughts, suggestions, and recommendations.  Our friends and fellow H3-40 owners, Chuck and Barbara, have spent the last seven winters in Florida and the last several at Pelican Lake Motorcoach Resort in Naples, Florida.  We delayed our return home following the Holistic Holiday At Sea cruise in March so we could drive over from Ft. Lauderdale to see the resort and have dinner with them.  It was very nice, as you would expect.

We learned a number of things as a result of this quick “research”.  Some of it was stuff we knew, or assumed as a form of common sense, but some of it we did not:

  1. The cost per day generally goes down the longer you stay in one place.  The usual breakpoints are week, month, 2-month, 3-month, 4-month, 6-month, and year.  (You can also purchase lots, but probably don’t want to calculate the per day cost for that.)
  2. The farther south you go, the more expensive it gets.
  3. The reason for the previous point is the average daily temperate range.  In northern Florida it is not unusual for temperatures to drop into the upper 30’s at night, and record lows have been recorded in the teens.  That doesn’t happen in Key West, and money tends to follow the pleasant climate.
  4. The closer you are to one of the coasts, the more expensive it gets.  You pay a price for beaches and sunrises/sunsets.
  5. No-See-Ums, however, can be a real problem near the coasts, and some folks have very bad reactions to their bites.
  6. If the RV park has “resort” in the name, it will be more expensive, with “motorcoach resort” costing even more, and “luxury motorcoach resort” costing even more than that.
  7. Most of Florida is swampy; being inland or staying at a “luxury” resort does not guarantee that you are not camped in or next to a swamp.  Think bugs, snakes, and alligators.
  8. You can almost always rent a deeded site at a higher-end park directly from the owners much cheaper than you can rent it through the park management office.  Check the classifieds in the back of FMC Magazine.
  9. Moving every week is expensive and tiring, but gets you access to more of the state.
  10. Staying more than one month at the same place can get a bit boring, but that’s a personal thing.
  11. Some parks are in dense urban areas, others are near small towns, and some are in the middle of nowhere.  It’s a shopping convenience versus solitude thing.  You can end up having to drive 20 miles or more for groceries if you are not paying attention when you choose an RV park.
  12. Not all parks are “big rig friendly” (even though they will claim they are).
  13. Most parks have punitive refunds polices, so be sure before you know what they are before you book.
  14. Make sure your park of choice is located near things you want to do (hike, bike, kayak, fish, watch sunrises and/or sunsets, or have access to highways so you can visit natural and historic sites in your car, etc.)  Tallahassee is not a good base camp for visiting Key West.
  15. Many RV parks are adjacent to a major freeway, railroad track, or airport; sometimes all three.  If you don’t think the noise will bother you, you’re wrong.
  16. Some RV parks are gated (if you care).
  17. Whether the residents in a park or nice or not seems to have little to due with the physical appearance and amenities of the place.
  18. There are a lot of older parks with mixed use, i.e., year-round “Park Models” in addition to sites for vacationers and snowbirds.
  19. Check the type/quality of the interior roads and parking pads (concrete, gravel, grass, hard dirt, or sand), it might matter with a big, heavy coach.
  20. The spacing of the sites varies greatly; some parks have sites that are small and close together (but they will tell you they are very spacious).
  21. Find out whether there is any landscaping, especially shade trees around the sites.
  22. Find out whether the roads and sites have trees trimmed up and back sufficiently to not scratch your RV.
  23. Check to see if “lakes” on the property actually have water in them (seriously).
  24. Check on the availability and cleanliness of onsite bath/shower facilities and Laundromats.
  25. Check the availability of onsite activities (which could be a plus or a minus) and facilities such as swimming pools, tennis courts, etc.  If you don’t want them, why pay for them?
  26. Find out if the park has pet restrictions, and if so, what they are.
  27. Some parks are 55+ operations, others allow/encourage/cater to families with children.  Know which type you are signing up for and make sure it’s what you want.
  28. The photos on the website always look beautiful, but somehow manage to avoid showing you views of the parking sites from a vantage point that allows you to assess all of the factors mentioned above.
  29. Google Earth and other satellite image websites/apps are your best friend and ultimate research tool.

Our goal was to book a park or parks for January and February by the end of the day Friday, but we didn’t make it; too much to ponder and no time to make phone calls.  We will get back to it early next week as Tuesday is October 1st, and January 1st will only be three months away.

Tom and Tom from TOMTEK HVAC were back on Friday afternoon to finish up repairs on our hydronic heating system.  They did not have one of the parts they were going to replace but it didn’t matter as they discovered some additional issues that will require a return visit.

The first thing they discovered was that the propane shut off valve didn’t shut off the propane.  We had to turn off the supply at the tank so they could replace the valve before doing anything else.  When they removed the propane diffuser cone to clean it and replace the gasket they discovered that the end of the cone had large holes in it.  These holes were preventing the propane from burning as efficiently as it should, and if they got bigger could prevent the furnace from working at all.  Parts like this for a Weil-McLain GV Gold Series hydronic heating system are not common, i.e., they don’t carry them on their truck or even stock them at their office, so they had to special order it.

As long as they had the combustion chamber open, they went ahead and vacuumed it out.  They had me look at it, and it had what appeared to be a couple of inches of rusty debris lying in the bottom, the result of a lack of proper (professional) service over a very long period of time (or perhaps any service at all).  They put it all back together and will replace the diffuser cone, gasket, and igniter (along with the part they forgot to bring) when they return next week.

I don’t know if this qualifies as serendipity in the usual sense, but we are lucky that we decided to have the system “serviced” in advance of the start of the heating season.  If not, we would not have discovered defects that could have led to a wintertime failure of the furnace with serious consequences for the house.

As I was working at my computer Friday evening an e-mail showed up with the PDF version of the October 2013 issue of Bus Conversions Magazine.  The article I wrote on the mid-August Back-To-The-Bricks rally in Clio, Michigan was the cover/centerfold article, the fifth one I have had published in BCM.  (See the BCM page of the website for the complete list and information about Bus Conversions Magazine.)  That was a nice end to nice week.


2013_09_22 (Sun) Until We Meet Again

Yesterday was actually the last day of the rally, but with entertainment, door prizes, etc. not concluding until 10 PM no one left until today.  There are no activities on departure day, and everyone is expected to vacate the venue by noon.  The fairgrounds had another rally scheduled for the coming week, and that groups’ advance crew was due in starting at noon today.

I have described the rally departure experience before, and it was no different this time.  The biggest variable is the weather.  Sunday morning dawned cool but partly cloudy and the forecast indicated we would have a nice morning for exiting and traveling.  Departure morning is often a strange time for us, and our friends have indicated the same.  This was no exception.  Logistically it was consistent with our previous experience at area and national rallies.  Unlike the arrival process, which was highly organized and controlled, the departure process was completely asynchronous, but incredibly smooth and low-key.  One-by-one people just broke camp, hooked up their toads, said their farewells, started up their rigs, and drove away; yet there was never a traffic jam or safety issue.  We did not even have to wait for a dump station on the way out.

While the arrival at a rally is always filled with anticipation and a certain intensity of compact activity that is a bit exciting, the departure is, well, I’m not sure what it is.  It’s not exactly sad or depressing—those emotions would be too strong for the occasion—but it is a time of saying “goodbye for now” to friends that you don’t necessarily see very often and with whom you have just shared an experience.  There is a sense of having been there long enough yet not wanting it to be over quite yet.  And depending on where you are headed next, especially if it is back to a fixed house and a job or business, perhaps a small bit of dread at all of the work and responsibilities awaiting you upon your return.  But that is nature of RVing.

We stood around for quite a while in the morning visiting with our fellow GLCC members, all of whom were avoiding the inevitable departure and getting in one last visit, at least for now.  We finally rolled out around 11:15 AM and headed over to the dump stations.  The Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds has nine dump stations arranged in parallel and configured so RVs can pull in from either direction and dump from either side.  There was only one other motorhome there when we arrived and we pulled right in.  Another rig pulled in while we were taking care of business and we decided to go ahead and hook up the toad rather than pull out, stop on the exit road, and do it there.

Using our Rand-McNally GPS we followed a series of county roads and Indiana state highways, eventually getting back to US-20 and then to I-69, I-96, and home.  It was a pleasant and uneventful drive; the best kind.


2013_09_21 (Sat) Autumnal Equinox

Today was the autumnal equinox.  The weather today was chilly early and stayed cool as the cloud cover shifted back and forth between overcast and partly sunny.  We had occasional drizzles early and blustery, fall like conditions later.  So often it seems the autumnal equinox occurs during an Indian summer; but not today.  I have always liked fall.

We signed up earlier in the week to drive golf cart shuttles on the early shift this morning from 7:30 to 10:30 AM.  That meant we would miss the pancake breakfast, which ran from 8:00 to 9:30 AM, but that was OK as we would not choose to eat what they were serving anyway (buttermilk pancakes and breakfast sausage.)  We both bundled up against the chill and zoomed around the fairgrounds for three hours giving rides to folks.  We saw lots of people walking this week, which was nice, but the golf carts were there for those who wanted/needed to ride.  We were glad to volunteer for this duty as we get to meet a lot of people in a short time, and folks are always appreciative of the service.

The pancake breakfast has to serve a lot of pancakes to a lot of people in relatively small time window.  To accomplish this, they hired a company who brought in two conveyor/depositor systems.  I got the following photographs from Vicky Lintner:

The pancake depositor at work.  That’s a lot of pancakes!

The pancake depositor at work. That’s a lot of pancakes!

A happy customer.

A happy customer.

Two pancake machines in action.

Two pancake machines in action.

A “smokin’ hot short stack.

A “smokin’ hot short stack.

Flippin’ ‘n’ catchin’.

Flippin’ ‘n’ catchin’.

The rest of the fixins’.

The rest of the fixins’.

A nice place to sit with friends and eat breakfast.

A nice place to sit with friends and eat breakfast.

The GLCC chapter area.

The GLCC chapter area.

We chose not to eat breakfast before our shuttle shift, so we had a late breakfast / early lunch in our coach around 11 AM.  We planned to attend the noon tour of the ABC Bus repair facility in Nappanee, and needed to be on the road by 11:30 AM.  We were a few minutes late leaving, and the trip took a few minutes longer than our mapping software said it would, so we did not get to the ABC facility until 12:08 PM.  The entrance wasn’t obvious to us, and although we eventually spotted cars that we recognized, they were behind closed gates that we did not see how to get through or around.  We drove around for a half hour looking for an entrance before we ended up back where we started only to discover that the gates were now open.

The ABC Bus Nappanee facility.

The ABC Bus Nappanee facility.

But all’s well that ends well, I suppose.  When plant manager Mike Papp finished the initial tour (with almost 60 people) he took Linda and I and one other guy (who had been following us in his SUV) through the facility.  We probably got a shorter tour, but we did not have to compete with other people to ask our questions.


The ABC Bus Nappanee “Van Hool” operation.

The ABC Bus Nappanee “Van Hool” operation.

ABC Bus operates two different programs at this Nappanee location, a former Gulfstream RV facility.  The operation they are best known for is re-manufacturing of Greyhound buses.  This work takes place it its own building and is a very tight, exclusive relationship with Greyhound.  We did not get to tour that building, but the work they are doing is very similar for both programs.

The ABC Bus Nappanee Greyhound operation.

The ABC Bus Nappanee Greyhound operation.

I think they are just finishing a run of some 800 MCI 102D3 or 102DL3 buses for Greyhound.  They are replacing the original engines and transmissions with Detroit Diesel Series 60s and Allison automatics.  This requires all new wiring harnesses and a rebuilt dashboard.  They are also rebuilding the entire underside of the bus (suspension, brakes, and axles if they are needed).  They are gutting the interiors and putting in new seating with 3-point restraints and updated electronics.  Finally, they are repainting the exterior a dark blue color with the iconic Greyhound logo down the side.  We were told that if you see a Greyhound bus painted this color, it came from the ABC refurbishing program.

Van Hool operations manager Mike Papp talking to Linda and another FMCAer.

Van Hool operations manager Mike Papp talking to Linda and another FMCAer.

The operation we toured was basically doing the same kind of work as the Greyhound operation, only for Van Hool and other buses.  ABC Bus is the exclusive North American dealer for Van Hool.  They have sold a lot them and they have taken a lot of them back in on trade.  A primary function of this second operation is to rebuild these “stock” coaches for resale.  They are also doing this work, however, for coaches that are already owned and they are looking to expand into doing motorhome work; hence the tour.  They had several MCIs there, and Mike Papp, the Operations Manager, told us they can/will work on Prevost coaches as well.  Basically, if you own a bus, they will work on it, whatever it needs.

A DD Series 60 engine and Allison transmission.  Sweet.

A DD Series 60 engine and Allison transmission. Sweet.

Note: I presume they are looking to work on diesel pushers, but they may be willing to work on anything.  Anyone interested in their services should contact Mike Papp, Operations Manager, at 574.773.4277 Ext 103 or 407.340.0108 (cell) to discuss their needs.

The business end of a bus being reworked.  (Linda wondering if that would fit in our coach.)

The business end of a bus being reworked. (Linda wondering if that would fit in our coach.)

I’ve been thinking about pulling the radiator on our coach and having it cleaned or re-cored and replacing all of the coolant lines with new, high-temperature silicon ones.  I asked if they could do that work and the answer was “yes, we can do that.”  They also have access to an alignment shop in South Bend that does all-wheel alignments on buses.  Apparently they were expecting a handful of people, so they were a bit surprise, but pleased, when 60 of us showed up to see the place.


It’s not just an engine, it’s industrial art, and has a beauty all its own.

It’s not just an engine, it’s industrial art, and has a beauty all its own.

(BTW:  The cost to pull an engine and transmission and replace it with a brand new DD Series 60 and Allison automatic, including the wiring and dashboard work, is $60K – $75K depending on the bus.  Depending on what kind of conversion project someone wants to take on, ABC Bus has lots of used buses for sale in the $50K range.  That means someone could have a 45 foot coach with a brand new engine and tranny for $110K – $120K as the starting point for a conversion project.

More buses being worked on.

More buses being worked on.

Mike told us that he has approximately 500 daily person-hours that he can assign to projects.  Hypothetically (but not practically) he could assign them all one bus for a day.  Ignoring the fact that the workers would be inefficiently getting in each others’ way, an enormous amount of work could be accomplish in a very short time.  He did not mention their labor rate, but that would probably be a $50,000 day for that coach.

DD Series 60 engines all in a row.

DD Series 60 engines all in a row.

Because ABC is purchasing in volume from Detroit Diesel Allison, and because they want to be able to turn around buses somewhat quickly, they keep a lot of DD Series 60 engines and Allison transmissions in stock.

When we got back from the ABC Bus tour we went to a seminar on Places To Take Your Grandchildren RVing.  The presenter had a nice slide show that highlighted places children might enjoy, but did not differentiate places and activities by age range, which would have been helpful.  The presenter was also the vendor for SkyMed, so we ended up sitting through a presentation on that as well.

SkyMed is an insurance program that will cover the cost of medical transportation by ground or air for a variety of situations.  Like all insurance, it is more expensive than you would like for something you hope you never have to use, but if you ever need the kind of coverage they provide, you will wish you had it.  (A typical helicopter med-i-vac flight runs about $25,000 and probably isn’t covered by your existing health, auto, or RV insurance.)  There are many nice features to SkyMed, including a Global plan, which I won’t mention here other than this one: you do not have to call SkyMed first.  First you call 9-1-1, then you call SkyMed, and as part of your coverage, they will handle almost everything from there.  We’ve listened to SkyMed presentations before.  We didn’t sign up, but we always leaving thinking about it seriously.

After the seminar we went back to the vendor building to purchase a windshield mounted camera/DVR device, but got there after the vendor area had closed.  This seems to happen to us a lot; we delay making a decision to buy something until it is too late.  But hey, it’s an effective way to stay within budget.  This device will record up to 10 hours of video on a 32 GB memory card.  It can be pointed out the window while driving, or at the cabin while parked and away from the coach, to provide video evidence of events that may occur (such as an accident or break-in).

Saturday evening Dane Bailey (The Singing Auctioneer) did a warm-up performance followed by the Harbor Lights focal quintet.  Harbor Lights is an a cappella group that specializes in “doo-wop”.  They sang for almost an hour and a half without an intermission.  Many of their songs were authentic doo-wop toons, and some were doo-wop rearrangements of songs from the 1950’s and 60’s.  The members of Harbor Lights are local to north central and northwest Indiana.  They brought a lot of energy to their show, and it was a trip down memory lane for many of us.  Some of us noticed that they seemed to have trouble holding pitch on the tight doo-wop harmonies, which detracted from an otherwise good show.  I suspect it was due to an inadequate monitor speaker system or the lack of wireless headphones, making it difficult for them to really hear each other.

We walked back to our coach under an almost full autumnal equinox moon.  Rving is a good life.


2013_09_20 (Fri) Techs and Trains

The Frustrated Maestros perform each day at breakfast.

The Frustrated Maestros perform each day at breakfast.

I was up early again working on blog posts and finally uploaded several pertaining to early last week.  By the time Linda got up it was time to walk over and get some coffee.  We tried to catch Michael Canode before his 9:00 AM seminar on digital photograph, but did not get there in time.  I missed his seminar yesterday on designing and publishing website, but he offered to bring a copy of the handouts to today’s seminar.

Breakfast was coffee and donuts (rear) with “concert” and table seating.

Breakfast was coffee and donuts (rear) with “concert” and table seating.

We headed back to the vendor area, found Lloyd De Gerald, and paid him for the annual maintenance he did on our Aqua-Hot yesterday.  We also bought a replacement nozzle to keep on hand.  Lloyd suggested that we have the spare nozzle installed at our next annual service and buy another one to replace it at that time.  His experience has been that nozzles that sit unused for too long often do work well when they are finally installed.

The morning was overcast and a bit dreary, so there were not a lot of folks talking to the outside vendors.  We took the opportunity to chat with Lloyd about our interior remodeling plans and asked him what issues we should anticipate in moving the heat exchangers.  He said that the coolant loops can be difficult to prime if they get drained and suggested that once we had re-plumbed everything it might be best for us to have him refill and start the system.

He also indicated that we could have up to three heat exchangers on each of the three zones (bedroom, bathroom, and living room / kitchen.)  We have one heat exchanger in the bedroom, one in the bathroom, and two in the living room.  We also have radiators in the water bay and the front storage bay.  Lloyd indicated that the water bay was probably plumbed in with the bathroom and the front bay was probably plumbed in with the LR/kitchen, but that was not guaranteed.  It should be easy enough to determine this by turning on the Aqua-Hot and then activating one zone at a time and checking for heat; I just haven’t bothered to do this yet.  He suggested that we add heat exchangers to have three per loop, and that we replace the radiators in the bays with heat exchangers (which have fans).  He also said the newer heat exchangers are smaller and much quieter than the ones that are probably in our bus conversion, and that we should probably replace those as well when we remodel the passenger side of the kitchen/LR area.

We needed to kill some time before Michael’s seminar ended, so we strolled through the inside vendor building again.  The FMCA booth had shirts on sale, and they were even cheaper with our “rally bucks” coupons, so we bought a matching pair of plum pocket Ts.  (The matching clothes phenomenon gets a double whammy due to age and RVing sub-culture.)  We caught up with Michael at the end of his photography seminar.  Someone had taken the handout he brought so he e-mailed the PowerPoint file to me.  We ran into Butch and Fonda.  Butch and I decided to wander over to Ron & Meredith Walker’s coach to see if we could fix the new door latch.  The part arrived yesterday from Prevost and Ron had installed it, but it wasn’t working quite right.  Butch saw what was wrong right away and corrected it.  We then returned to our buses where Linda and I had leftover pizza for lunch and I took a nap.  (That’s the problem with getting up really, really early; not that I consider taking a nap a problem.)

The Blue Ox technician showed up mid-afternoon to service our Avanti II tow bar and brought my nap to an end.  The tow bar is showing signs of stretching in the latch pin holes and will apparently need to be replaced sooner rather than later; but not today.  He completely disassembled the tow bar, cleaned it thoroughly, added new rub plates (washer), lubricated it, and reassembled it.  I thought that was a pretty good deal for $25.  Since I was now awake again, I did more work on blog postings and we had more leftover pizza for dinner.

I have been remiss in not saying more about the trains going past the fairgrounds. The trains have been so constant here that I am hardly aware of them anymore and keep forgetting to mention them.  The tracks run along the southern edge of the fairgrounds and the trains seem to be almost constant at times.  Linda read online that a train passes through Goshen approximately every 6 minutes, presumably headed to or from the Chicago area to points east and south of here.  These are often medium length trains traveling fairly fast in both directions and the sound their horns long and loud at every crossing, of which there appear to be a very large number.

Linda talking with Alma Baker (L) and George and Sue Myers (R) at the reception for officers and vendors.

Linda talking with Alma Baker (L) and George and Sue Myers (R) at the reception for officers and vendors.

We went to a 4:15 PM reception for officers and vendors.  This was a “ticketed” event, and we got to attend because Linda is the Treasurer of the Great Lakes Converted Coaches, which is organized under GLAMA, and I am the VP/Secretary of the Freethinkers Associate Chapter, which is organized under the International Area (INTO).  This was another new feature at this rally, and was another example of how FMCA and its area associations are trying to recognize those who serve and make FMCA function.

Officers reception in the food hall, hor d’oeuvres and beverages on the left, seating on the right.

Officers reception in the food hall, hor d’oeuvres and beverages on the left, seating on the right.

FMCA has 11 areas and almost 500 chapters, but many of the members do not belong to a chapter and/or have never been to a rally.  Not that chapters and rallies are for everyone, but FMCA is very much aware that members who do not get involved in a chapter and/or attend an occasional rally often do not remain long-term members.  And why should they?  If you don’t engage with the people that are the organization, the benefit of membership boils down to a monthly magazine.  This is essentially our relationship with the Good Sam Club up to this point.  Our Good Sam membership is paid through 2017, but I don’t know if we will renew it at that time.  We have, however, met several people over the last few months that recently attended Good Sam rallies and said they were excellent and that they had a great time.  Of course, endorsements are like movie reviews, not very meaningful unless/until you can calibrate your taste with that of the reviewer.

The last light of the day.

The last light of the day.

The reception provided enough food for our dinner and we returned to our coach to relax before going to the evening entertainment.  The last light of the day turned dramatic as we were preparing to leave.  The featured performer for the evening entertainment was Sarah Getto, assisted by her father, who drives her motorhome, sets up the equipment, and runs the sound board.  He is also a guitarist and adds guitar and vocals to some of her songs.  Blind from birth and born with a cleft palette and lip, she is now an attractive, talented, 29 year old singer/songwriter with a music education degree that included training as an opera singer  Her preferred vocal style, however, tends to lean towards country, although she does a very good impersonation of Karen Carpenter.  She has much richer sound on stage than you would expect from a solo keyboard, as she prerecords richly layered sound tracks and then performs along with them.  All of the vocal and instrumental work on these sound tracks is done by her, and her dad was very transparent about the process Sarah uses to create her shows.  We enjoyed her performance along with the rest of the audience.

The evening concluded with a 50/50 drawing and door prizes.  We didn’t win anything, but that was OK.


2013_09_18 (Wed) Under A Harvest Moon

I was up early this morning to check e-mail and work on my backlog of blog posts.  The WiFi at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds is excellent; our WiFi Ranger is picking up nine open fairground signals, with five of them quite strong.  Even so, WiFi always works better when fewer devices are trying to use it.

A 1948 Spartan and aour1990 Prevost.

A 1948 Spartan and aour1990 Prevost.

Linda was up in time to go to the registration building at 8:00 AM with the intent of reserving one of the pavilions adjacent to where the GLCC chapter is parked.  Alas, they were both taken.  She and Vicky scouted out the ones that were still available, selected one, and reserved it for our Thursday evening pizza social and business meeting.  We will be meeting at the Elkhart Noon Optimists building, 603 Locust St, by the big blue Fish Fry sign.  While they were taking care of this I brewed a pot of coffee using two parts Ethiopian Yirga Cheffe to one part Columbian decaf, a very nice blend that cuts down a little on the amount of caffeine.  When Linda returned we had a light breakfast of her very yummy homemade granola and fresh orange slices.

Don and Sandy Moyer’s restored 1948 Spartan bus conversion.

Don and Sandy Moyer’s restored 1948 Spartan bus conversion.

Mid-morning Linda, Fonda, and Vicky drove to the Shipshewana flea market, which is only open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  I took that as an opportunity to wander the fairgrounds and photograph the arrival and parking activities.  Today was the official beginning of the 2013 GLAMARAMA and motorhomes arrived all through the day.  The arrival and parking process appeared to go quite smoothly, which makes for a good start to a large RV rally.  The all-volunteer parking crew put in long hours, but were patient and cheerful throughout.

Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds.

Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds.

While I was wandering around I found Ron and Meredith Walker’s Prevost XL-45.   They just joined our GLCC chapter this past summer, but are not camped with us at this rally.  Ron is the conductor of the Frustrated Maestros, who are doing several scheduled performances during the rally, so the FM chapter is their primary focus while they are here.

A motorhome approaching the fairgrounds entrance from the east on IN-34 / Monroe St.

A motorhome approaching the fairgrounds entrance from the east on IN-34 / Monroe St.

They were home but rather busy.  A muralist was air-brushing a mural on their rear cap and their front entrance door was partially disassembled.  Meredith had me check out the mural and then Ron filled me in on the door situation.  The main door handle had failed that morning while he was outside talking to someone, as a result of which he was locked out and she was locked in.  They managed to find a technician who was able/willing to climb in a bedroom window and disassemble the door enough to get it open.  I looked at the mechanism to see if there was anything I could do to fix it.  There wasn’t, of course, but I told them I knew someone who might be willing/able to help.

Welcome to GLAMARAMA at the Gate 5 entrance.

Welcome to GLAMARAMA at the Gate 5 entrance.

I returned to the GLCC camp to see if Butch would be willing to lend some assistance to fellow GLCC members.  He was, of course; RVers tend to be helpful to other RVers when they can, but converted bus owners really tend to look out for one another.  We went back over to the Walker’s coach and Butch determined that a weld had failed.  While he couldn’t fix the latch on the spot we realized that the whole mechanism could be unbolted and moved out of the way so it couldn’t engage the latch pin on the door frame.  Ron did the work, and that temporarily removed the lockout problem until they could get a new latch assembly from Prevost.  In the meantime they could lock/unlock the door from inside or outside using only the deadbolt.

The staging area where towed vehicles get unhooked.

The staging area where towed vehicles get unhooked.

When the ladies got back from Shipshewana we pulled our camp chairs into a circle by Butch and Fonda’s MC-9 and spent a relaxing afternoon visiting with our fellow GLCCers.  While we were sitting there, Frank and Sandy Griswold arrived in their Prevost H3-45 Vantare conversion along with Dean and Cindy Chipman in their Holiday Rambler Endeavor motorhome.  A bit later Scott and Tammy Bruner arrived in their MCI MC-12 conversion.  This completed our set of nine GLCC rigs that would be camping together for the duration of the rally.  Our chapter had originally requested 8 spots, but the parking crew did a great job of getting nine coaches parked.

The holding area where RVs are queued for entry and escorted to their sites.

The holding area where RVs are queued for entry and escorted to their sites.

During the afternoon conversation someone asked how long we had owned our coach.  That’s when we realized it was our 4th anniversary; we purchased our Prevost H3-40 on September 18, 2009.  We met the owner at a restaurant in western Pennsylvania, gave him a certified check and got the title.  The coach was at Creative Mobile Interiors (CMI) just south of Columbus, Ohio where it had been sitting for about two years.  The owner had taken it there for service and then decided to sell it instead of fix it.  CMI allowed him to leave it there while they advertised it on their website and tried to find a buyer.  I described some of this story in the cover/centerfold article of the February 2013 issue of Bus Conversions Magazine.

A caravan being assembled for entry.  They will be parked together.

A caravan being assembled for entry. They will be parked together.

We eventually broke for dinner and a little quiet time before heading over to the opening ceremonies.  Linda made a simple green salad and a bow-tie pasta dish with olive oil, garlic, onions, mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes.  The Arcturos Late Harvest Riesling from Black Star Farms in Michigan’s Leelanau peninsula was the perfect accompaniment.  Their late harvest Riesling and pear wines are two of our all-time favorites.

A different kind of motorhome, called a Class D, with a fancy paint job.

A different kind of motorhome, called a Class D, with a fancy paint job.

A group of us from GLCC walked over to the evening activities building around 7:00 PM and were greeted with handshakes and hugs by Jon and Sondra Walker, Charlie Addcock, and Jane Roush.  That may not sound like a big deal, but it was.  Hugs are an Escapees RV Club tradition, not something we had ever seen before at an FMCA rally.  When Charlie and Jon were elected to national office they promised a new tone and new direction for FMCA, and it appears they are putting themselves behind that in a very personal way.

The Frustrated Maestros performed from 6:45 to 7:30 PM.  The opening ceremonies began at 7:30 PM with Dane Bailey, The Singing Auctioneer, as the master of ceremonies, a role he will be performing for the duration of the rally.  We had the usual opening consisting of an invocation, Canadian national Anthem, and U.S. national anthem, the posting of the colors by the local VFW color guard, and the chapter parade.  There were 12 chapters officially in attendance.  Notably by their absence were the Michigan Knights of the Highway, who formerly ran the GLASS rally.  Dane then introduced Jon Walker, the FMCA Senior National Vice-President, who welcomed everyone.  Jon was the GLAMA president and FMCA area vice-president until this past July when he was elected to the senior national vice-president office.  He and Sondra are well-liked and well-respected within the Great Lakes area, and remained as the co-rally hosts for this event along with Jane Roush.  (Jon and Sondra are also members of our GLCC chapter and Jon was our National Director for a while.)  Jon announced that we had 469 coaches in attendance, although Vicky told us that one more had arrived.  (Pat and Vicky were the official coach counters.)

FMCA National President Charlie Adcock was introduced next and said a few words.  Charlie is a very enthusiastic, upbeat guy, as is Jon.  Charlie administered the oath of office to Jane Roush, who was elected as the GLAMA president when Jon resigned to take his new national office.  Charlie acknowledged the long list of VIP attendees, which certainly helped the rally coach count.  The rally was budgeted for a break-even point of 400 coaches, so everyone involved in the planning and execution was very pleased with the turnout.  I suspect that many of the VIPs were here as a show of support for this first ever attempt by GLAMA to organize its own rally.

With the opening ceremonies concluded Sgt. Daniel Clark, The Singing Trooper, was introduced.  Dan is a former U. S. Marine and retired Massachusetts State Trooper, but has been singing since he was a child.  He was clearly a trained opera singer and mentioned that he spent time at Tanglewood.  He did a very tightly constructed and energetic show of patriotic and sentimental American favorites, ending with a medley of U. S. armed services theme songs, including the one for the U. S. Merchant Marines.  The evening’s activities concluded, we had a leisurely walk back to our coach under a harvest moon.

And that is part of why we go RVing.


2013_09_17 (Tue) To Goshen We Go

We awoke this morning to temperatures in the mid 40’s.  As we had no reason to rush we stayed under the covers a bit longer than usual.  Lazy mornings are always a source of consternation for our cats who, in spite of the obvious presence of food in their bowls, expect us to get up at the first sign we are awake and attend to their perceived need for fresh(er) food.

I turned on the electric toe-kick heater in the bathroom to take the chill out of the air, but then decided to fire up the Aqua-Hot instead to warm up the entire coach and preheat the main engine.  At a seminar in Gillette, Wyoming this past summer we learned that the Aqua-Hot needs to run with some regularity in order to run well, so this was an opportunity to do that and to check my work from yesterday for leaks.  The Aqua-Hot ran quite well, but as I feared there was a small leak at the gasket between the two halves of the check valve.  I will try one more time to get a couple of wrenches on this part and tighten it, but if that is not successful I will have to install the new check valve, which would take another entire day.  Ugh.  I like doing projects, but I don’t care so much for doing them more than once.

We had oatmeal for breakfast, which is always nice on a chilly morning and has a certain staying power for days when lunch is uncertain.  After breakfast we got our coach ready for travel while Butch and Fonda did the same with theirs’.  We departed Twelve Mile, Indiana a little before noon with Butch and Fonda in the lead and headed for Goshen, Indiana to attend the Great Lakes Area Motorcoach Association (GLAMA) 2013 area rally (GLAMARAMA13).

Our route was IN-16 (Co Rd 700 N) westbound to N Co Rd 600 E northbound to IN-25 northbound to US-31 northbound to US-6 eastbound to IN-15 where we stopped for a stretch break.  We moved into the lead and continued northbound on IN-15 to Goshen with Linda navigating based on directions provided by the rally organizers.  We had been advised by FMCA to follow the directions they provided in order to avoid a bridge that was out on the main road to the fairgrounds from the west.

We tend to travel on Intestate and US highways, but have also found State highways to generally be good for travel.  Even county roads are OK if we know in advance we will not encounter weight, height, or width restrictions.  This is where it is helpful to have local information from folks familiar with the roads.  It also helps that our Rand-McNally RVND7710 GPS is configured to know the parameters of our rig, so we are able to travel with some confidence that we will not encounter unexpected obstructions.  As an added feature it also provides real-time traffic information, especially near larger metropolitan areas.

The trip up IN-15 brought us quickly into the outskirts of Goshen with heavy, slow traffic.  This presented a challenge for us as the buses do not accelerate that quickly and the lights do not stay green for that long.  It was important that I not lose Butch at a light as Linda had the detailed directions for getting to the fairgrounds.  As we came to downtown Goshen there was construction with lanes closed and traffic rerouted through barrel lined jiggy-jogs.  We pressed ahead none-the-less as we needed to go east on IN-4, just three short blocks beyond the construction.  We made it through but it was the kind of situation that adds a bit of stress to the usual pleasure of driving the coach.

We continued east on IN-4 looking for Co Rd 29 southbound.  Along the way we spotted an official looking sign that said “RV Rally and Fairgrounds” with an arrow pointing down a nicely paved road to the south.  I slowed down and considered taking this road—even though the turn looked a bit tight—until I noticed the “NO TRUCKS” sign on the adjacent pole.  We are never sure whether or not we are a “truck” so we generally decide one way of the other depending on what is to our advantage.  In this case I took a “pass” and continued on down IN-4 to CR-29.  We headed south on CR-29 until it ended at CR-34 where we turned westbound back towards the fairgrounds.  Our directions said to enter at Gate 3, but as we approached the northeast corner of the fairgrounds an orange-vested parking crew member motioned us to turn in.  I hesitated again, but decided to follow his directions.  The parking procedures are usually well thought out and the crews usually know what they are doing.  The whole arrival/parking experience generally goes much more smoothly if you simply follow their directions.

(It is worth noting, however, that as with a boat or airplane the driver of an RV bears the ultimate responsibility for it’s operation and is the ultimate decision authority with respect to that operation.  If the driver is unclear or uncomfortable with what parking crew are asking them to do, the correct response is to STOP, ask for clarification, and not move until they are certain they understand where they supposed to go and are comfortable (willing and able) going there.  Arguing with parking crew, however, is counterproductive, and ignoring them and moving the RV is potentially dangerous.  Parking crew are there to move large numbers of RVs efficiently and safely to planned parking areas and drivers should always give them their full cooperation but never surrender their ultimate decision authority.)

We arrived at the rally venue a little before 2 PM.  The usual procedure is to unhook a towed vehicle and drive it, separate from the motorhome, to the site or a designated parking area.  And so it was today.  They had changed the entrance gate to channel us into an area where there was more room to unhook our towed vehicles.  With the cars unhooked, we proceeded to the holding area where we queued up and waited to be escorted to our site.  For this rally parking areas had been reserved for chapters so they could park together without having to arrive together (caravaan style).  We were part of the reservation for the Great Lakes Converted Coaches chapter (GLCC).  The parking crew was friendly and efficient and we “wheels down” (an aviation term) in our site by 2:30 PM with the coach set up and ready to use by 3:00 PM.

The reserved parking was an unusual feature of this rally, and an attempt by GLAMA to be as accommodating as possible in spite of the added complexity of this arrangement.  If you have not been to an RV rally, you won’t fully appreciate how nice it was to be able to park with “our group” without having to coordinate our arrival with everyone else.  Generally if RVs want to park together at a rally they have to arrive together in a caravaan.  The only aspect of their parking that is usually pre-arranged is the area of the facility they will be in based on the hookups (electricity, water, sewer, generator use) they have paid for as part of their pre-registration.  Even with a small number of RVs caravaning can be a challenge.  Wile some rallies provide an arrival area where RVers can meet up and form their caravan, many rallies do not have the space for this.  In that case, the RVers first have to find a place to rendezvous.  (Walmart is a popular choice, especially if folks are staying overnight there anyway.)  They then have to make their way to the rally site while trying to keep the group together at stop lights (which isn’t possible with more than two rigs).  GLAMA is to be applauded for trying this new approach.

Goshen is the county seat for Elkhart County, Indiana and the home of the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds.  We had been to this facility once before for The Escapees RV Club Escapade in September 2010 and it is a nice facility for an RV rally.  Access to the fairgrounds is good, and the interior roads are more than adequate for large motorhomes (and converted buses).  The campgrounds can provide 30 Amp power and water for a large number of rigs (800+), and there are also some full hookup, 50 A sites.  There are many buildings and covered outdoor areas available for entertainment, vendors, seminars, and meetings.  And yet all of this is neatly contained in a surprisingly compact space that makes the venue very walkable while the paved roads make for good driving of toads and courtesy transportation golf carts.

This is the first Great Lakes Area Motorcoach Association (GLAMA) rally being organized by the officers and volunteers of GLAMA.  For many, many years the Great Lakes Area Spring Spree (GLASS) rally had served this purpose.  Held at the Berrien Springs, Michigan youth fairgrounds, GLASS was a nice rally at a nice venue held over Memorial Day weekend and consistently drew 800+ motorhomes until the last few years.  Unlike most FMCA area rallies, however, the GLASS rally was organized by the Michigan Knights of the Highway, the 4th FMCA chapter ever formed, and the oldest FMCA chapter still in existence.  MKH handled the registration process, and any financial benefit (or loss) went to them, not GLAMA.

GLAMA takes in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario Canada, so obviously it does not include all of the states that border on the Great Lakes.  Even so, it covers a large geographic area with lots of FMCA members.  GLAMARAMA 2014 is also slated for the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds in Goshen, but the intent is to then rotate it to each state and Ontario for two years each.  That will entail more work for GLAMA organizers, but will open up the chance for more people to attend and build a stronger sense of ownership across the association.

Today was early entry day, so there were no official activities beyond arrival and registration/check-in.  Pat and Vicky Lintner were already parked at the GLCC area as Pat is the GLAMA VP for Indiana and part of the rally organizing committee responsible for all of the rally specific signage.  We pulled in next to Pat and Vicky, followed by Butch and Fonda.  Mike and Laurie Minnick pulled in shortly thereafter in their 1968 MCI MC-7 bus conversion.  Don and Sandy Moyer then arrived in their 1948 Spartan bus conversion.

[Note: The Spartan bus was built for three years, post World War II, in Sturgis, Michigan.  The owner/president of the company was the chief test pilot for the B-25 bomber.  All of the engineers and craftsmen came from the aircraft industry and the bus was designed/built much more like an airplane than a motor vehicle.  Only 57 Spartan buses were built and most of them ended up being used outside the U. S., including some used to make a 12 hour daily run from Damascus, Syria to Baghdad, Iraq and a 12 hour run back, making it the fastest bus line in the world at the time.  The Moyer’s bus was the last one built, a 28 foot model.  It was destined for a bus company in Wisconsin but they never took delivery.  It left the factory as a seated coach, was driven out of the factory, and the front tires came off the ground because it was too heavy in the rear end.  Within two years someone had purchased it, taken out the seats, and had it converted to a motorhome.  Many of the details suggest that it was “professionally” done, but the Moyer’s have not been able to track down who did the conversion.  It was eventually parked and left to rot for 35 years until Don and Sandy rescued it.  Based on their research there are no more than 12 of the original 57 buses still in existence and theirs’ is almost certainly the only motorhome.  Don worked 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 18 months to put it back in usable condition.  It is a truly unique RV.]

GLCC reserved space for eight motorhomes and the other three planned to arrive tomorrow. The chapter will have more members/rigs in attendance than that, but they will be parked elsewhere.  George and Sue Myers are parked within close sight of our group, but are located for their convenience in running the golf cart courtesy transportation service.  Don and Kathy Crawford from Ontario are in the VIP row as Don is a past president of GLAMA, which also entailed being the national vice-president representing the Great Lakes Area.  Ditto for Jon and Sondra Walker, who was the GLASS National Director until he moved on to become GLAMA President.  Jon was elected the FMCA Senior National Vice-President this past summer at the FMCA national convention in Gillette, Wyoming, so the number two national FMCA officer is a GLCC guy.  Ron and Meredith Walker, who just joined our chapter, are also here but are parked with the Frustrated Maestros.  Ron is a retired K-12 music teacher and is the conductor of the FMs.

Linda made something new for dinner: firm tofu slices pan fried with onions and Bar-B-Que sauce.  She served it on a sesame seed bun with a side of sweet corn on the cob and some Sam Adams Cherry Wheat beer to wash it down.  Sometimes simple is best.


2013_09_16 (Mon) Home Away From Home

Buses at Service Motors in Twelve Mile, Indiana.

Buses at Service Motors in Twelve Mile, Indiana.

Service Motors in Twelve Mile, Indiana has become something of a home away from home for our motorcoach, having spent quite a bit of time there since we bought it.  As I have mentioned previously, Butch is very handy and has lots of tools, including a machine shop where he can custom fabricate things if needed.  He has been very generous with his time, talent, and facilities, giving me a good place to work on our bus and helping me with it when I need it (which is most of the time).  We often stop there enroute to other places, especially rallies that Butch and Fonda are also attending.  Once again, we spent the day camped there.

Service Motors is Butch and Fonda Williams’ Crosley automobile parts business.  They are the only full-line parts supplier for these wonderful little cars, last made in the early 1950’s, and have an active customer base.  They rarely close their business, but decided they would for the week while we attended the FMCA GLAMARAMA13 rally in Goshen, Indiana.  (Butch and Fonda are basically the same ages as us and were married one day before we were.  They have run Service Motors for 20 years and would like to retire and move in to their 1989 MCI MC-9 NJT bus conversion, which they have done themselves from scratch.  The business and facility are for sale.)

Linda worked with Fonda on some accounting issues while Butch attended to various bus and business tasks.  I spent the day repairing a leaky fitting on the fuel return line from the Aqua-Hot to the fuel tank.  This fitting had been leaking since I installed it as part of the fuel polishing pump project.  It looked like a simple enough project, which meant it would take me most of the day; and so it did.

The fitting in question was on the lower end of a check valve (back flow preventer) at the back of a small compartment, which made access difficult.  (I mentioned this project in a blog post in early June 2013, and have an article about the Parker Fuel Polishing Module queued up to run in some future issue of Bus Conversions Magazine.)  The compartment was covered by a beauty panel with a door, so the actual access opening was even smaller.  “Luxury” motorcoaches often conceal functional systems behind “beauty” panels so that the bays look impressively sleek and shiny when the doors are opened.  What I see, however, is something that blocks my access to systems that I need to work on so I decided to remove the panel, permanently.  This is why simply projects take all day.

The panel was held in place by four “L” brackets concealed on the inside (of course).  I borrowed an angle drive from Butch which allowed me to remove the screws fairly easily.  However, when I installed the electrical feed and switch for the fuel polishing pump back in June, I drilled a hole through this panel, ran a wire through it to the pump, and mounted the switch on the outside of it.  I dismounted the switch and removed the ring terminal from one of the wires as it would not fit through the hole otherwise.  With the switch and wires out of the way I was able to remove the panel after cutting loose some old rubber caulk along the bottom edge.  This is why simple projects take all day.

The “compartment” in question is just the extra bay space at the business end of the Aqua-Hot.  In addition to the fuel polishing pump it houses the coolant expansion reservoir and fuel filter / water separator for the Aqua-Hot as well as the fresh water pump for the domestic water system.  Fortunately the cover on that end of the Aqua-Hot slides off easily after removing only three easily accessible screws (it happens occasionally).  This made access to the leaky fitting much better.

The fitting was NPT male on one end, for threading into the bottom of the check valve, and barbed on the other end for attaching the fuel return line from the Aqua-Hot.  Barbed fittings are designed for a one time, press on installation of a rubber line, i.e., once the line is pushed on it does not leak and it does not pull off.  To remove it I had to cut it just below the fitting.  I was then able to unscrew the fitting from the check valve.  I was fairly certain that this junction was the major source of the leak.  The threads still showed remnants of Teflon thread tape, but not much.

The other potential leakage point was the seal between the two halves of the check valve itself.  The check valve is a two-piece body with internal parts, and there is a gasket between the two pieces of the body.  I had inadvertently loosened this joint when installing the fuel polishing pump and had not been able to re-tighten it in place because of the limited access.  Although I had a spare check valve, I decided to try and tighten the one that was already installed as replacing it meant cutting additional tubing and un-threading/re-threading additional joints.

Butch’s brother John came over in the morning to help Butch (and me) with anything that needed to be done.  Butch had him change out the element on his main engine fuel filter / water separator while he worked on other bus and business issues.  Fonda split her time between business things and loading their stuff on their bus.  Even when they are closed, there is business to attend to.  By the time I finished my little project it was well into the afternoon.  Butch and Fonda worked a while longer and then we headed off to Rochester for dinner at Alejandra’s Mexican-American restaurant.  It was 9 PM by the time we got back to the coach and we headed off to bed.


2013_09_15 (Sun) A Re-tired Travel Day

We were up early today anticipating our departure, but also still having some things to do before we pulled out.  I switched the outside faucets to provide treated water (filtered and softened) and 125 gallons of fresh water on board.  I also checked and adjusted all of the tire pressures on the bus and the car while Linda finished loading food, coats, and toiletries.  In the past we have pulled the bus into the street and then hooked up the car for towing.  With the new pull-through driveway finally working as intended, we decided to hook the car up before pulling out.  This allowed us to do our light check before bringing the cats out and starting the engine.  (The cats do not like it when the engine is running or the coach is moving, so we wait as long as possible to put them on board.)

Ready or not, you reach a point where it’s time to go.  We’ve done this enough that we now accept that we will forget something and hope it is something small that we can do without or easily replace on the road.  The cats do not fall into that category, of course, so we put them on board, started the engine, and pulled out around 10:40 AM.  The driveway worked as planned and the bus made it out with the car attached with plenty of clearance.

We headed out our street to Hacker Road and headed south to pick up I-96 westbound from Grand River Avenue in Brighton.  (We would normally take M-59 westbound to I-96 westbound, but M-59 is under construction and traffic flow is not good.)  The trip to Twelve Mile, Indiana is about 250 miles and normally takes us about 5 hours including a stop for fuel somewhere along the way.  We decided to stop at the Mobil truck stop at M-52 and I-96, only 22 miles up the road, to top off the tank.  This ensured we would have more than enough fuel for the round trip and also operate our Aqua-Hot hydronic heating system and/or our genset if needed.

The weather was overcast with occasional light rain, but made for good traveling.  We prefer driving on partly cloudy days as it is easier on the eyes.  Being Sunday morning, traffic was light, which also made for good travel.  Sunday morning is a preferred travel time when we can do it, especially if we have to go through a major metropolitan area.  The drive was uneventful and we arrived in Twelve Mile around 3:45 PM.  We got the car unhooked and backed into our space next to Butch and Fonda Williams’ MCI MC-9 NJT bus conversion.  (NJT stands for New Jersey Transit.  These buses have a special front cap with a destination sign above the windshields.  They were specially built for the New Jersey Transit Authority and used as commuter coaches throughout the state.)  Butch and Fonda have a large paved area where they keep their bus with room for two more if needed.  A year or so ago I helped Butch wire up a pair of “50 Amp” RV electrical outlet boxes, so we have a nice electrical service when we are there.

Fonda returned home with Bell as we were arriving, and Butch returned from a gun show not long after while we were still setting up.  Butch and Fonda understand RVing etiquette, and left us along until we had “made camp.”  As soon as we were parked and the engine was off the cats reappeared from their travel spot under the passenger seat and were up looking out the windows.  They don’t seem to mind living in the RV, they just don’t like it when we move it around.

Linda and I had not met Bell before and the three women sat and visited while Butch and I did the same.  Bell went to fetch Bill and we met up with them for dinner at the Hibachi Grill Chinese buffet in Logansport.  It sounds like it was an easy enough day, but by 9 PM we were tired.  I was reminded that retired means re-tired, as in, “I was tired, and now I’m tired again.”  But it’s a good kind of tired; different from that associated with working a full-time, stressful job.


2013_09_14 (Sat) Ready, Set, No Go

We were up early Saturday morning to attend the standing breakfast gathering of the South Lyon Area Amateur Radio Club at the Senate Coney Island in South Lyon.  I was discussing our cell phone signal situation with Scott, AC8IL, and he suggested I try a passive booster system before putting money into an active repeater.  The idea behind the passive booster system is to connect two antennas (of the same characteristic impedance) together with a co-axial cable (of the same characteristic impedance).  One antenna goes outside and the other goes inside.  The inside antenna will generally be omnidirectional, since you could be anywhere in the house/building with your phone, but the outside antenna will likely be directional since it can be pointed at the most favorable cell tower.  Highly directional antennas have “gain” compared to omnidirectional antennas, which is to say, they provide a strong signal at their co-ax connector than an omnidirectional antenna placed in the same location.  This signal will be transmitted down the matched co-ax cable to the other antenna where it will tend to radiate back into space.  It works in the other direction as well.  The nice thing about this potential solution is that if I purchase antennas and coax cables that will also work with an active booster (repeater) then I only have to buy the active booster if the antennas alone are not adequate.

When we got home we continued working on preparations for our trip and the open house by hanging the last piece of wall art, at least for now.  When going to rallies Linda often prepares dinner meals ahead of time and freezes them.  This simplifies our evening meals and leaves open the possibility of going out to dinner, which RVers do a lot (at least at rallies).  Between food, clothes, toiletries, and miscellaneous other things there was a lot of “stuff” to put on board even for a short outing.  I helped pull stuff together and get it on board while attending to the updating of our Rand McNally RVND7710 GPS unit.  The map update said it would take 14+ hours to download.  It ran for about 8 hours and was indicating that it had 1 hour and 29 minutes left to go when it hung up and quit downloading.  🙁

Our AT&T High Speed Internet / Digital Subscriber Line (HSI/DSL) service is a bad joke when it comes to speed and may be at the point where I need to file a service request/complaint.  It’s only real benefit is the 150 Gb monthly data allowance.  But the service seems to be so slow that I’m not sure I could transfer 150 Gb of data in a month if uploaded and downloaded 24/7.

[A note about RV “stuff”:  The truth is that full-time RVers also have “stuff”, but it is limited by their available space and does get loaded and unloaded before and after each “trip”.  (Full-timers don’t go on trips; they just move they home around the country.)  They also have “spring cleaning”, although it can occur at any time of the year.  For many this is an annual ritual of completely emptying the RV, examining all of the “stuff”, deciding what not to put back, and re-configuring the storage of the rest.]


2013_09_13 (Fri) Bakery Business, WordPress, And Gutters

Linda left early to drive to the bakery where she put in a long day.  I worked on the CEPI ATR project for a while in the morning.  The mail came around noon and contained the written proposal package for the bus barn from Morton Buildings.  We also received a box from Bus Conversions Magazine containing multiple copies of the issues in which I have had articles published this year (Feb, Mar, May, and July).  We have been distributing sample copies to potential subscribers as we travel to try and help the magazine build its subscriber base.

At 1 PM I met with Mike (W8XH) from SLAARC to work on a new website prototype using WordPress.  On Monday we had been unable to complete the installation of WordPress at Larry’s for lack of the necessary login information, but Mike had obtained that from another club member during the week.  Finishing the installation was more complicated than we anticipated and we ended up on the phone with Larry (K8UT) most of the time.  Our original goal was to investigate themes and plugins but we worked on installation and configuration instead, including figuring out how to set up subdomains through GoDaddy; first things first, after all.

By mid-late afternoon I was back home, the weather was pleasant, and I finally had time to investigate the gutters.  It came as no surprise that the downspouts were all completely clogged.  What did surprise me was the amount of fine gravel in the gutters.  This was material that had washed loose from the surface of the shingles over time and accumulated along the bottom of the gutters to a depth of 1/4 to 1/2 inch in places.  I got out the 8 foot step ladder and the long hose and spray head, switched the outside faucets to direct well water (unfiltered and untreated) and spent a couple of hours on the roof hosing out the gutters and downspouts.

This was only the second time I had been on the roof, and the first time I had inspected the entire surface.  The inspector had dubbed the roof “serviceable” during the purchase inspection, meaning that it probably did not need to be replaced immediately.  My assessment was “marginally serviceable”, meaning that it will probably have to be re-shingled next summer.  It is a relatively low pitch roof, roughly 4-in-12, so I may redo it myself.  I’ve done this work before, and although I was much younger then, I am actually in better shape now.  The key will be getting the shingles delivered to the roof rather that to the driveway.  The bonus to being on the roof was that the views were nice and I had a much better Verizon 4G/LTE signal than I do in the house, so there is still the possibility that I can get a usable signal into the house using some sort of signal booster system.

By the time Linda fought her way home through Friday evening rush hour traffic she was tired and did not feel like cooking.  It was also obvious that we would not be ready to leave for Twelve Mile, Indiana by noon the next day.  We quickly decided to delay our departure until Sunday and, relieved of that pressure, headed off to LaMarsa in Brighton for dinner.  The LaMarsa in Farmington Hills was a favorite of ours before we moved, and the one in Brighton is equally good.  Our favorite dish is Koshary, an Egyptian street food made with rice, legumes, two different pastas, fried onions, pickled beets, and a spicy sauce.  It comes with a salad with a lovely Middle Eastern vinaigrette dressing.  Dinner always comes with fresh pocket pita breads and garlic spread and the whole meal is vegan, served in a nice setting by wonderful wait staff.


2013_09_12 (Thu) A Crowning Achievement

Thursday we worked around the house and started getting the bus ready for our upcoming outing.  One of the problems with not blogging every day is that the details of older events get overwritten by the details of more recent ones.  The problem with blog posts that cover more than one day is that the either get very long or end up very sketchy.  In reviewing my appointment calendar while writing this post, I was reminded that I had a new crown installed that morning.  You would think that would be easy to remember, but it was a short and uneventful visit and the crown fits very nicely and works quite well, so I am already unaware of it being there.  I also put some additional time into the CEPI ATR project.


2013_09_11 (Wed) Fresh Water Systems

On Wednesday we had a new water treatment system installed by Brian and Matt from Adams Well Drilling & Water Treatment.  When Brian was out the week before he determined that our old Water Boss water softener was not working very well.  This came as no surprise to us based on the house purchase inspection, but we had hoped it might last a bit longer than it did.  Alas, he also determined (confirmed) that we had sulphur-reducing bacteria and probably iron bacteria as well.  The water has always had a slight rotten egg smell (hydrogen sulfide) but had gotten worse recently.  The inside of the toilet tanks had also become a nursery of sorts (iron bacteria), so something clearly needed to be done.  They removed the old Water Boss water softener along with the old sediment pre-filter and carbon post-filter.  We also had them remove a Culligan Reverse Osmosis (RO) system.  The only thing that remained from the old system, other than pipes and tubing, was the Well-X-Trol storage/surge tank (and the well pump, of course).

With the old stuff out of the way, they first installed a new large capacity, dual porosity sediment pre-filter.  The replaceable filter element is 50 microns on the outer portion and 5 microns on the inner portion.  Although 5 microns is relatively small, the element has enough surface area to pass many gallons of water per minute.  They reconfigured some of the pipes and fittings and then installed a Water Right water softener with a large brine tank, and a Water Right carbon filtration unit with a chlorine pellet tank for the unit’s self cleansing feature.  The softener will treat about 800 gallons of water before needing to regenerate the media and has a controller that tracks the usage.  (By comparison our Water Boss regenerated every 300 gallons.)  It will also learn over time what our water usage pattern is and adjust the regen cycle accordingly.  For this reason it would be in our best interest to standardize when we do things like laundry and running the dishwasher.  To date, however, our life in retirement has lacked that degree of routine.

Their last task was to install an RO system to replace the Culligan system they took out.  The new system has a pressure boost pump on the input, a pre-filter, RO membrane, post-filter, large storage tank, delivery pump, and finally an Arsenic 3 filter.  They replaced the Culligan faucet at the main kitchen sink.  They also ran a line to the bar sink in the basement where they removed the old Insta-Hot and installed an RO faucet.  Since Adams also drills and services wells (and probably installed the one in our house many years ago) we now have one local vendor responsible for our entire fresh water system, with the exception of the hot water heater, from well to faucet.  The water heater is part of the hydronic heating system and is serviced by TOMTEK HVAC.

Wednesday was also our Door-To-Door Organics delivery.  Linda has a standing order for the “bitty fruit” as it is an appropriate size for us and the fruit is usually quite good.  She has found that she does better buying vegetables on a more frequent, as needed basis, and gets what she can from the Howell Farmers Market on Sunday mornings if we are around.


2013_09_10 (Tue) Wall Art and Bus Barns

As part of getting the house ready for an October Open House / House Warming we continued hanging wall art today.  Getting the artwork up on the walls has had the double effect of making the house look a lot more like a home (or art museum, depending who you ask) and de-cluttering the library where most of the artwork has been stored.  This in turn has had the secondary effect of getting stuff off the floor and on to the previously blocked empty bottom bookcase shelves.

A couple of weeks ago we discovered water pooled around the base of the library bookcases closest to the rear doorwalls following a heavy (3”) rain, but were unable at that time to determine where the water came from.  It continued to be a mystery until early this past week when we had another heavy downpour, only this time we were on the scene and discovered the entry point.  Water was overflowing a gutter at an end that was tucked under a soffit against the rear wall of the library above the last doorwall panel.  The water was flowing down the outside of the glass and found its way in at the bottom under the sill plate.  Once inside it was running across the tile to the low spot.  It was sheer coincidence that when this happened the first time there wasn’t anything sitting on the floor in the path of the water; if there had been, it would have been obvious where the water was coming from.

On Tuesday morning we met with Dave from Morton Buildings to discuss our bus barn/garage project.  We walked the proposed site and then sat down to discuss our “requirements.”  Dave took good notes and said her would try to have the written proposal package to us by the end of the week.  Morton is a vertically integrated company that builds high quality timber-framed post-beam structures (pole barns) with metal siding and roofing.  They usually handle the whole job from permits to final inspection, but will work with a home or business owner to get them what they want.  Their buildings are expensive, but come with excellent warranties, so it is something we are going to have to think about seriously.

Tuesday afternoon I had a phone conversation with Paul from CEPI regarding the About This Report (ATR) online help system for which I am developing some of the content.  Late afternoon we drove to a funeral home on the far east side of the Detroit area for a visitation.  The owner of the bakery where Linda was the controller for the last 10 years lost his mother over the weekend at the age of 92.  He lost his father over the summer while we were out west, so it was particularly important that we make it to the visitation.


2013_09_09 (M) More WordPress Please

Today was babysitting Monday for Linda and WordPress day for me.  Mike (W8XH), the current president of the South Lyon Area Amateur Radio Club (SLAARC), wants to create a new website for the club and I have offered to help.  We settled fairly quickly on using WordPress to do the work, based in part on the recommendation of Larry (K8UT), and in part on the fact that I am already using it for our website and this blog.  Larry offered to help us learn how to build and maintain the site, but did have the personal capacity to actually do the work as he is already the webmaster for a large number of websites.

Today was our first in-depth technical session.  We worked for over two hours and left with our heads spinning a bit, but that was OK.  Our main focus was a lot of the “back end” stuff.  We walked through some basic domain and web-host management issues including the use of subdomains, downloading and installing WordPress, configuring the site for easy/safe backup and new version development/testing, selecting an appropriate theme and navigation structure, selecting/installing plug-ins to add functions such as subscription, member login, and a member directory, and issues related to managing images.  We left with “homework” to complete before we meet with Larry again.

Not only do I want to help create a more responsive, attractive, and useful web presence for our ham radio club, I would like to improve our website/blog and have offered to do something similar for two other organizations related to our RVing interests.  The functionality I need to incorporate into those two websites will be very similar to what we need to do with our SLAARC website, so this was a very relevant learning opportunity for me.  I am also the current vice-president of the SLAARC, and as we all know, VPs don’t usually do much, so this was an opportunity for me to do more than just be prepared to fill in for Mike if needed.


2013_09_08 (Sun) All Ham, All Day

No, we have not given up our WFBP way of eating in favor of “pigging out.”  Today was almost entirely about ham (amateur) radio for me, and partly so or Linda.

One of the things that some hams like to do is attend “hamfests”, also known as swaps or swap meets, although mostly stuff is bought and sold rather than traded.  Like any hobby, amateur radio has many aspects, and hamfests are one of them.  Today was the Findlay, Ohio hamfest, which has been held each September for many years.  Six of us from the South Lyon Area Amateur Radio Club (SLAARC) car-pooled, and another member followed with his family (dad and both kids are hams).  Steve (N8AR) drove and picked me (K8BRF) up at an agreed rendezvous point at 5:50 AM.  We met the other four passengers (Russ, N8EEA; Chris, K8VJ; Jim, N8HAM; and Marty, KB8JIU) at a ‘park-n-ride’ on US-23 at 6:10 AM and headed on to Findlay, arriving around 8:00 AM.

Public service and emergency communications are two of the reasons amateur radio exists at all.  Goodwill is another; ham radio is a worldwide activity and many hams simply enjoy making friendly “contacts” with other hams using nothing but the radio waves they are able to generate and receive.  Some hams make contacts in pursuit of specific awards offered by various organizations.  The American Radio Relay League (ARRL), for instance, offers the DXCC award for making verified contact with hams in 100 different countries (technically “entities”) as internationally recognized.  (DX is ham shorthand for “distant” and CC stands for “Century Club”.).  Some hams are into “contesting” where they compete with other hams to try and make the most contacts during a specific date/time window using particular methods on specified frequency bands.

Other hams are into making “QRP” contacts (low power of not more than 5 watts and often quite a bit less).  They typically use CW (Morse code) or other “digital modes”.  QRPers often design/build their own equipment, and this ability to experiment is another reason ham radio continues to exist.  Amateur radio has been around for over 100 years, and has made significant contributions to the art and science of wireless communications.  Rebuilding ham radio equipment and related gear, like shortwave receivers, is another aspect of the hobby and rebuilding/using vintage equipment is a specialized aspect of that branch of the hobby.

This brings me back to hamfests and swap meets.  Much of what is available at these events is used equipment, parts, and materials, and they tend to draw hams involved in repairing, rebuilding, and experimenting in addition to those looking for deals on used radios or components for their ham shack.  The older radios were all tube based, for instance, and there are always folks with large assortments of tubes for sale.  There is usually a fair amount of computer and network technology as well, albeit prior generation stuff.  Today I picked up 100 foot lengths of both category 6 and category 7 network cable, with connectors, for very little cost ($10 each), and a 35 foot length of 50 ohm “superflex” co-axial cable with “N” connectors on each end for less than $1/ft, a “super” good deal compared to retail.

We left the Findlay hamfest around 12:30 PM and were back at the Park-n-Ride by 2:30 PM.  Linda had gone to the Tanger outlet mall at the west end of Howell, but didn’t find the things she was looking for.  She had taken some additional photos of the front of the house in better light than the ones we had and we settled on one to use in the invitation for an open house/warming we planned to have.

To complete our ham radio day, we attended the SLAARC monthly meeting after dinner.  For the program portion of the evening Russ (N8EEA) showed photos from the summer the trip he and Emily (his XYL) made to the  Yukon and Alaska.  The main purpose of their trip was to attend the 50th wedding anniversary of a close friend and fellow ham, but they also took an HF transceiver and antenna and made contacts with members of the club along the way at scheduled times.  Following the slide presentation there was a discussion of the technical aspects of these “scheds” and how this concept might be improved should any club members make similar trips in the future.  For some reason a number of members thought this might be particularly applicable to members who had bus conversions RVs.

2013_09_07 (Sat) Wi-Fi & Wall Art

Our day started with the surprise discovery that we did not have our usual domestic hot water.  The HVAC guys were here yesterday working on the hydronic heating system, which includes the water heater, and I had a moment of concern (and annoyance, I admit).  I knew the “boiler” was working because they tested some of the heating loops yesterday before they left.  I also knew it was a zoned system with five loops and more than a dozen valves, so it was possible a valve was left in the wrong position.  Sure enough, the valves for the Florida room (library) loop and the domestic hot water loop were both closed.  I opened them, but unfortunately the hot water tank did not return to its normal temperature in time for either of us to get the hot showers we had planned on taking when we got up.  But we left for our usual Saturday morning ham radio breakfast in South Lyon knowing that we would have our usual hot water when we returned.

There was a good turnout for breakfast and we chatted for a couple of hours.  (BTW: the extended group breakfast chat is one of the hallmarks of retirement, and often occurs on a workday.  It just so happens that Saturdays work best for the members who like to attend the SLAARC breakfast.)

Following breakfast we headed to the recycling center in Howell.  We do not have curbside recycling, so we have to take our recyclables to Recycle Livingston on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  Recycle Livingston runs a very efficient operation and always seems to have lots of workers.  We presume are (mostly) volunteers.  Besides our normal recyclables, we have been accumulating corrugated cardboard as we continue to unpack moving boxes.

When we got back to the house we set up the Wi-Fi enabled main thermostat, a Honeywell Focus Pro TH6320WF that TOMTEK installed yesterday.  This thermostat is located at the start of the main floor hallway and controls the heating loop for the living room / dining room / kitchen zone and the air-conditioning for the whole main floor.  When properly configured it allows us to monitor and control these two parts of the HVAC system.

The TH6320WF was fairly easy to set up, in part because it is a very clever device, and in part because the directions are very clearly written.  When power was first applied it came up in Wi-Fi Setup mode and behaved like a wireless host (router or access point), broadcasting its own name/ SSID .  When I opened my iPad2 and scanned for available Wi-Fi networks it was on the list and I selected it.  I then opened my browser (Safari) and pointed it to the thermostat’s home page.  From there, I activated the thermostat’s wireless client mode and connected it to our primary home wireless network.  At that point the thermostat had an IP address from the AT&T gateway and was able to communicate with a website whose purpose is remote monitoring and control of this type of equipment.  Before that could happen, however, I had to create an account on the website.  The account creation process sent us an e-mail.  Following the instructions in the e-mail we completed the registration and activation process.  We are now able to remotely monitor and control this thermostat using a smartphone, iPad, or computer.

The rest of the afternoon was spent selecting and hanging wall art.  While the hanging part can be tedious, deciding what to hang and where to hang it takes time, judgment, and patience.  It was heavily overcast and starting to rain by the time we got started.  The living room tends to be a bit dark on this kind of day so we decided to hang photographs in the recreation room.  We hung 40 objects in the last three days and have at least two dozen more to install.  Getting the “objects d’art” on the “walls d’house” has dramatically transformed the look and feel of the interior and made a significant dent in the “clutter d’move”.

By 6:00 PM we were tired and a bit hungry.  Since Linda had not had time to prepare our evening meal we decided to try the El Patron Mexican restaurant in Howell.  The vegetarian fajitas worked well for us, they had Dos Equis amber on draft, the wait staff was pleasant and efficient, and our waiter had a subtle sense of humor.  Nuf said.


2013_09_06 (Fri) House Systems

I have often commented here about the “house” systems in our converted coach; the water (fresh and sewage) and electrical (lights, appliances) systems and their components that make a large motorized vehicle behave like a stationary house.  Those components include things that are found in any stationary dwelling (water and sewage pipes, plumbing fixtures, electrical wires, circuit breakers, switches, light fixtures, appliances, etc.), things that are found in some stationary dwellings (sewage tanks, macerator pumps, well pumps, fresh water pressure tanks, reverse osmosis systems, power generators and transfer switches), and things that are not commonly found in stationary homes (yet) (various gauges, batteries, inverters & chargers, power protection devices, solar panels, and even wind turbines.)  RVs do not have geothermal or low-head hydro systems.

Today, however, was about actual house systems, that is to say, systems for our actual (stationary) house.  We have had a “rotten egg” smell in our domestic fresh water system since we bought the house and finally called Adams Well Drilling and Water Treatment, a local Howell-based company, to come out and take a look at our current equipment.  Brian arrived as scheduled at 9 AM and we walked him through the complete fresh water system.  He took some water samples directly from the well (before any filtering, softening, or other treatment).  The good news was that our dissolved iron was at 1.2 ppm (mg/L), which is a treatable level, but above the 0.3 ppm at which iron starts to become a problem in the water.  The less good news came from two directions: 1) that our Water Boss water softener wasn’t doing a very good job and 2) we appeared to have iron bacteria, which a regular water softener doesn’t treat very well (or at all) even with the special “iron out” salt.

We discussed a range of options but Brian’s recommendation, which we accepted, was a new water softener and a “carbon unit”.  The carbon unit is self cleaning using special chlorine crystals, and is very effective in dealing with iron bacteria.  We will also have new sediment and taste filter housing installed as part of the installation.  There may be other issues with the water system in this house, which was built in 1977, but the water treatment equipment was probably due to be replaced regardless of what else we do.  The following website from the Illinois Department of Public Health gives a nice synopsis of iron in drinking water: .

The other fresh water issue we have, based on the testing that was done as part of the purchase inspection, is Arsenic.  The level that came back from the lab was 34 ppb (ug/L).  The old “safe” level was 50 ppb, but the current “safe” level is 10 ppb.  Zero ppb would be ideal, of course, but is not achievable at a reasonable cost. To further complicate matters, there are two kinds of Arsenic found in well water: Arsenic 5 and Arsenic 3.  The prior water testing did not test for these separately, but the sample Brian took today is going to a private lab that can/will test for each separately.  We were told previously that Arsenic 5 is the more typical and is mostly removed by Reverse Osmosis (RO) but that Arsenic 3 is not removed by RO.  The house has a Culligan RO system installed that supplies water to the refrigerator and a special faucet in the kitchen sink.  It was in the house when we bought it and we decided to continue renting it until we could determine our true needs and consider our options.  Not knowing if we had Arsenic 3 in our water, we purchased a special Arsenic 3 filter from Culligan which installs in the manifold after the RO membrane.  We made a call to Culligan to check on our contract and got a call back from our rep (Jeff) who has been a good guy to work with.  Long term it makes no sense to rent the unit, so we are exploring purchasing it or removing it and having Adams install a similar system.

While Brian was doing his thing, Darryl showed up from DMC HVAC.  Darryl did the HVAC installation for our office/library/garage addition/renovation at the old house and did a great job.  When it comes to contractors I like to use local people when I can but I also like to stick with people we have worked with before.  Darryl is not local to our new place, but he is a known quantity whose work we respect.  Although we have a loop from the hydronic hot water heating system in the Florida room/library, it has some issues.

The major issue is that the supply and return lines run through the ceiling and into the wall which adjoins the garage.  We think this house originally had a detached garage with a concrete patio between the garage and the end of the house.  Sometime later a roof was added connecting the house and the garage and the two open sides were closed in with 16 feet of doorwall and fixed glass panels.  The only practical way to extend the heating systems was to run the pipes overhead.

The other issue is that this space does not have air-conditioning.  (There is a small window mount unit in the garage wall.  Yup, it exhausts heat into the garage.)  We have space in a corner of the garage by this room to install a small forced-air furnace/air-conditioner and get the air to/from the room easily along the garage ceiling.  We would also like a ceiling mounted forced-air furnace in the garage so we can store paints and other things that we want to be able to keep above freezing, or bump the temperature up a bit and have a comfortable place to work.  Darryl installed one of these at our old house, and it was a very nice feature.

In anticipation of this work, we had a second propane tank installed next to the garage when the whole house backup generator was installed back in May.  I told AmeriGas at the time what we planned to do so they did a temporary installation of the tank and ran a line directly to the generator.  One of the thinks Darryl will need to do is mount a permanent pressure regulator on the side of the garage and then run pipe to get the propane over to the two new furnaces.

As Darryl was finishing up, Tom and Tom showed up from TOMTEK HVAC.  TOMTEK is a Howell-based company that we decided to have service our hydronic heating system.  It’s an old Weil-McLain Gold unit with some corroded parts.  It was also filled with water.  When we looked at the house originally the heating loop to the Florida room was shut off.  It turned out that something had failed while the owners were away during the winter and that loop had frozen and ruptured.  They repaired it prior to closing, but I never did understand why the system didn’t have an appropriate anti-freeze in it instead of water.  As of today, it does.

One of the nice things about hydronic heat is that it is easily zoned.  Our system has four zones, each with its own thermostat.  One of those thermostats also controls the air-conditioning for the main floor of the house.  That may seem odd, but it is a consequence of the A/C unit probably being added sometime after the house was built.  As a result, the air handler is in the attic and all of the air ducting is too.  It’s a single system controlled from a single point, and is completely separate from the hydronic heating system except for this one shared thermostat.  It was the failure of this particular thermostat that prompted us to go ahead and contact TOMTEK and have them out to service the system and install four new thermostats.  The one that controls the living/dining rooms and kitchen, as well as the air-conditioning, is a Wi-Fi enabled device that will allow us to monitor the temperature in the hallway, which is the most central point in the house, and control the main heating loop and the air-conditioner remotely if we so desire.  Pretty cool; literally.  The “boiler” needed some additional service for which TOMTEK had to order parts, so they will be back another day to finish up the maintenance on the unit.

Overlapping contractors made for a somewhat intense day.  Fortunately there were two of us available to interact with them, and they all got the attention they needed from us, when they needed it.  As soon as Brian was done I called Adams Well Drilling and Water Treatment and scheduled him to come back on the 11th to install the new water treatment equipment.


2013_09_05 (Thu) A Picture Perfect Day

Today was a picture perfect day in more ways than one.  We are in the middle of one of those weather spells that makes Michigan the perfect place to be; highs approaching 70, lows around 50, light breezes, and clear, blue skies.  It was also the day we decided to start putting paintings and photographs back up on the walls of our new-to-us house.  It’s an easy job to put off because it is slightly tedious work requiring careful measuring, trips up and down ladders, putting pencil marks on walls we paid someone to patch and paint just 7 months ago, poking holes in them with screws and nails, getting the piece actually hung, and hoping it ended up were you intended for it to be.  We got 13 paintings hung, and a number of others positioned where we think they are going to hang.  Not only does it make the house start to feel a lot more like home, it finally started clearing the art clutter out of the library, opening up the possibility of finishing other unpacking and shelving projects that the stacked artwork was blocking.

Today was also a day for delving a little deeper into digital image processing software.  Although our website only has a few pages, and I have only been doing this blog since early June (2013), I was surprised to find out from Scott at that our WordPress installation had already expanded to 1 Gb of disk space.  While I don’t necessarily consider 1 Gb to be a lot of data, web-hosting companies do keep an eye how much resource you use, and will put caps on it and/or raise the monthly price.  Any company that tells you they will give you unlimited everything for $2 /month is probably practicing the virtual reality version of bait-and-switch.  Getting to that level in only 2 months seemed to indicate that I needed to do something different going forward, besides simply paying for more disk space.

The culprit, of course, was all of the photographs I have uploaded as part of the blog entries.  I tend to shoot high resolution JPEGs, as they are usable for a variety of things just as they come from the camera.  The images are 3,872 x 2,592 pixels (10 Mpixel sensor) and roughly 10 Mb files in raw mode.  The JPEG files are typically between 2.5 – 3.5 Mb each.  That’s a substantial compression compared to raw format, but 300 of those and you’ve got yourself a gigabyte of photo data.  Hmmm, that sounds familiar.  While 300 photos may sound like a lot, it’s only five per day for two months.  I haven’t gone back to check, but I would not be surprised if that is what I have averaged.

What I find interesting is that WordPress sizes these images to 300 x 200 pixels when I insert them into a blog.  That’s a reduction factor of approximately 167, suggesting a file size of approximately 20 Kb.  Kate de Fuccio, who I mentioned in a recent blog post, told me that she can click on the images in the blog and get the full resolution photos.  But if my intent is to only make them big enough to view in the blog, it doesn’t serve any purpose to have the hi-res files available.  So, what to do?  Resize before uploading, of course.  The two default Microsoft programs for manipulating images on a Windows XP Pro / Office 2007 platform are Microsoft Image Composer and Paint.  They can do a lot of things, but resizing images easily (or at all) is not one of them.

Lou Petkus, K9LU, of the SKP Photographers BOF had mentioned at a BOF meeting back in July that he generally shoots in raw mode and uses a couple of different free programs for a variety of post-processing tasks.  We are attending a SKP Photographers BOF photography workshop/rally in October, organized by Lou, and the schedule of events indicates that there will be a session on post-processing software for digital images.  I contacted Lou to find out what programs he will be discussing and to ask about re-sizing my photos prior to uploading them to WordPress.  The programs he will be discussing are Faststone Image Viewer and Photoscape.  He suggested I use Faststone to re-size and then sharpen the images (in that order) before uploading them.  I downloaded the programs successfully and have explored Faststone Image Viewer a little bit.  I will see how well it works the next time I post images.


2013_09_01-04 Driveway Success, Raspberries, And Old Friends

Sunday September 1st found us at our son and daughter-in-law’s house for a Labor Day family pot luck along with our daughter, son-in-law, and step-grand-daughter.  Grand-daughter Madeline handled the crowd pretty well, but still was still wary of Grandpa Bruce, so I had to be content with mutual admiration from a distance.  She is starting to crawl and pull herself up to a standing position, and is fascinated by books, especially ones she can try to eat.

We awoke Monday morning (Labor Day) to overcast skies and the threat of rain.  We had planned to drive to Middleton Berry Farm near Ortonville to pick raspberries and decided to go in spite of the weather.  Ed and Betty, our RV friends, were working/staying there and we had said we would try to stop by.  The rain never materialized and the overcast skies made the picking experience more pleasant.

Neither of us had ever picked raspberries, or anything else other than apples, pumpkins, and Christmas trees.  We enjoyed the experience, collecting 12 pints of fruit between us.  At $4.00/pint it seemed expensive until we checked raspberry prices at the grocery store and Door-to-Door Organics and saw them ranging from $5 – $6 for 6 ounces.  We didn’t weigh our pints, but Linda estimated that it would take three of the 6 ounce contains to match one of our pints.

It seemed appropriate that we were laboring on Labor Day, even though this is the one day of the year that labor typically doesn’t labor, but rather relaxes and celebrates importance those who labor and the work they do.  Although we have been sourcing fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers markets when we can, it was very satisfying to personally harvest even a small portion of our own food from a living plant.  It also gave us an appreciation for those who do this kind of work for a living.  As we were checking out we also bought a fresh pepper and tomato.

When we got back to the house Linda washed, dried, and froze all put three of the pints of raspberries.  With that task initiated, we turned our attention to the pull-through driveway.  It had not rained for the past several days, and it was time for the BIG TEST.  We unplugged the electrical power from the bus, pulled the chocks, fired it up, and backed it out of the driveway and down the street, positioning it to drive in to the pull-through driveway.  Linda watched the tires as I drove in, and seeing nothing more than tread marks I brought in, across the pad, and out the other side, back on to the concrete driveway.  Success!!!

We inspected the pull-through driveway.  In some places there was no evidence that the bus had just been there, in others only tread marks, and in a few spots a slight channel of not more than 0.5 inches.  Phil had told me previously that compaction of up to 1 inch might be possible but would indicate that the driveway was finally locking together, so we were very pleased with the result.  I pulled the bus out and around again, but this time I tried to go back and forth over slightly different paths on the approach and then again on the parking pad area.  I did not pull the bus all the way this time, but got it lined up on the pad with Linda’s help and parked it with the entrance door opposite the front door of the house.

I e-mailed Phil Jarrell (Precision Grading) to give him the good news.  Phil has been an absolutely outstanding guy to work with, standing behind his work, and doing what was needed to fix what turned out to be a problem with the load of 21AA road gravel used in the project.  Besides building this pull-through driveway for us, he dug up and repaired our septic tanks and regarded an area in the back yard to help move water away from the area outside out basement doorwall.  We plan to eventually put up a bus barn to house the motorhome, and we plan to have Phil do the site prep, driveway(s), and final grading.

Linda spent Tuesday baby-sitting Madeline while I worked around the house, trying to clean up and arrange the ham shack/office and get all of the technology hooked up and working.  I made good progress, but I didn’t get it done.  It’s never done.  I took time out to have a long chat with my best friend from high school.  J. C. has lived in Olympia, Washington for years with his wife, Julie and their three girls, but we have managed to stay in touch.  He was my best man at our wedding and I was his best man at theirs.  In the early years we corresponded by letter with an occasional phone call, but that was in the days before cell phones and “unlimited local and long distance” plans.  Eventually it was by e-mail.  We tried instant messaging, but it doesn’t work well for me.  We’ve even Skyped once or twice, but it requires broadband to work well, and we don’t have that at the new house.  We’ve even had an occasional but all-too-rare face-to-face visit.  I drove to Ypsilanti to meet up with Linda and our good friend Kate de Fuccio for dinner.  Kate is a former colleague from my educational service agency days, the graphics designer for the agency and a very talented photographer.  She is also a kindred spirit traveler, excellent researcher, and perhaps the most considerate person I know.  We don’t see her enough.

Kate had suggested Nirmal Indian Cuisine in Ypsilanti and Linda had checked out their menu online, which has become standard practice for us.  Nirmal has several vegan dishes, and others that can be made vegan, so we agreed to give it a try.  They also serve chicken, but their specialty appears to be goat.  They place is a bit “preachy” about the health benefits of Indian food, but the way they do it is kind of innocently cute and we enjoyed that aspect of the place; it’s true after all, and we are sympathetic to the sentiment.  Most importantly, the food was excellent, and the staff was very attentive.  We had a leisurely dinner which was fine with us as it gave us lots of time to talk.  We adjourned to the Starbucks just up the street and continued our conversation.

Wednesday was errand day for us.  We picked out stain and paint colors for the rear deck, which Jim Pipoly is going to redo later this month.  Jim did all of the painting on our old house and new house.  He’s the only guy we use, and friends and family use him too.  When you find a good contractor you stick with them.  We dropped off old prescription and over-the-counter drugs at the Livingston County jail, where they have a special “no questions asked” collection barrel.  The Howell Recycling Center is only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays, so we stopped there.  We don’t have curbside recycling like we did in Farmington Hills.  We’ve been recycling for so long that it doesn’t feel right to throw things in the trash that can be recycled so we gladly paid the $22 annual membership fee.  We picked up some drawer cabinets for the office, a free-standing cabinet for the basement bathroom (which has no other storage), and unpacked the wine refrigerator and plugged it in.  We always seem to have just enough bottles of wine that they can’t all go in the regular refrigerator so they end up in the pantry where they take up space we need for other things.  They are not cooled, which is bad for storage, but even worse in terms of limiting our choices when we decide we want to open a bottle.  It’s one of those things I’ve always wanted and it just wasn’t that expensive.  I am now trying to figure out where the popcorn machine will go in the basement rec room.  After dinner Linda continued to work on finding an RV park/campground where we can meet up with her brother and his wife in October and I worked on configuring our e-mail SpamExperts and updating this blog.