Tag Archives: I-40 (AR)

20150411-15 (S-W) NM, TX, OK, AR, MO

[Note: There are no photos for the five days covered in this post.]

2015/04/11 (S) Relaxing Chores

We like to get up and go do things, but we also like not having to get up and do things.  Today we got up when we were ready to.  I used up the last four scoops of coffee beans from our first three pounds and opened the next/last three pounds; one each of Sweet Seattle Dreams, Cafe Europe, and Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.  Each of these is a half regular, half decaffeinated custom blend that Jeff at Teeko’s Coffee and Tea in Howell, MI makes for us.  Linda installed iOS 8.3 on her iPad while I made the coffee.

We had toast and jam for breakfast using some more of the English toasting bread we bought at Smith’s the other day.  After breakfast Linda played several of her word games, including Words with Friends, online with Karen.  I installed iOS 8.3 on my iPad and then worked on yesterday’s blog post and e-mailed it to myself.  (It is still the easiest way for me to get it from my iPad to my laptop, which somehow just does not seem right.)

Mid-morning Linda started cleaning the coach.  We have been in dusty environments for a lot of the winter, especially the last few weeks, and the coach needed a good vacuuming.  We don’t vacuum as often as we would if we did not have the cats with us as the vacuum is rather loud and they are afraid of it.  They do not like the vacuum cleaner at home either but they can get a lot farther away from it and have a lot more places to hide in the house than they do in the bus.

While Linda worked on the interior of the bus I got out the water softener, pre-filter, and hoses.  I first connected everything so I could run water through the pre-filter to remove any sediment and then backwards through the softener to back flush the resin bed.  I then connected the hoses in the normal forward flow direction and added 26 ounces of non-iodized table salt to the captive filter housing on the inlet side of the softener tank.  I no longer use this housing for a filter.  Its sole purpose is to hold salt for regenerating the softener.  That way I do not have handle a wet filter while trying to keep it clean so I can reinstall it.

The regeneration procedure was the same ordeal it has been all winter, taking a few minutes of my time spread out over several hours.  Most of that time I worked on blog posts and photos, but my work was interrupted every 20 to 30 minutes to attend to the softener.  I did, however, manage to get the water coming out of the softener to finally test at 1.5 gpg TH.  That should be enough softening capacity to get us home without having to regenerate the water softener again.

For dinner Linda made a barley, split pea, and lentil dish with sautéed vegetables and a hint of soy sauce.  It was very tasty.  We had the TV on the local PBS station and I finished my consolidated blog post and image gallery post for the week of the Escapade rally and uploaded them to our website/blog.

2015/04/12 (N) Edgewood, NM to Amarillo, TX

Today was a travel day and we normally skip breakfast and coffee on such days, but not today.  I was up a little after 7 AM and we did not plan to leave until 9 AM so we had time to make, consume, and digest some coffee and toast.  I turned off the electric heating element for the Aqua-Hot and turned on the diesel burner and engine pre-heat coolant circulating pump.

When we were done with breakfast we got the Dewalt air compressor out of the car and checked all of the tires on the bus and the toad.  It turned out that all of the pressures were slightly higher than where I normally set them, due in part to our altitude of 6,700 feet ASL, and that was want I wanted.  In driving from the Route 66 RV Park in Edgewood, New Mexico to the Overnite RV Park in Amarillo, Texas we will drop just over 3,000 feet in elevation.  That, in turn, will cause the cold pressures in the tires to drop.  The current cold pressures in the tires should be sufficient to allow for that, but I will check the TireTraker monitor in the morning to be sure.

By the time I finished checking the tires Linda had the interior ready for travel.  We hooked up the car, set the car to be towed, switched on the bus chassis batteries and engine accessories air supply, checked the lights, turned off the Aqua-Hot burner and engine pre-heat coolant circulating pump, started the bus engine, and switched the Level Low system to drive mode.  A few minutes later the chassis air system was fully pressurized and the coach suspension was at ride height.  We exited our site easily, pulled out of the RV Park onto Historic Route 66 westbound, and a mile later made two right turns and accelerated onto I-40 eastbound.

Once we were underway Linda called the Overnight RV Park in Amarillo, Texas to make sure they had open sites.  They did, but not many so she gave them our name to hold a pull-through site that would accommodate our bus with the car attached.  Since we are just staying one night we do not plan to not unhook the car.

We knew from our maps and what we could not see to the east that we were done with the Rocky Mountains.  We were now in the Great Plains and would be from here all the way through Oklahoma.  Not that the terrain was flat; eastern New Mexico was rolling terrain, occasionally steep, with mesas.  Not surprisingly the terrain did not change abruptly as we crossed into Texas, although the road surface and time zone did.  For lack of a better, or more official, line of demarcation I consider the central time zone as the boundary of the middle-west.

While not as dramatic as the mountain west the Great Plains are a place where grasses and low brush dominate a natural landscape that is largely devoid of trees and that have a beauty all their own.  The other thing we noticed as we moved east was the thickening cloud cover and occasional storm clouds and virga.  Linda had checked the weather forecast so we knew there was a low, but non-zero, chance we would encounter rain while driving and/or after we got parked for the evening.  We did, in fact, drive through a couple of miles of very light rain somewhere near the New Mexico / Texas border.

We only stopped once for a bathroom/stretch break and made very good time.  The posted (maximum) speed limit for most of I-40 in both states is 75 MPH.  Back east I typically limit my speed to 62 MPH or less if the speed limit is lower.  What I have discovered out west is that the bus really likes to travel at 68 MPH turning just under 2,000 RPM and so do I, at least out here in the wide open spaces.

Linda had selected the Overnight RV Park in Amarillo for several reasons.  For one, the name and description strongly suggested that this park was set up to accommodate overnight visitors passing through the area in their RVs and looking for a place to spend the night.  For another, it was on the east edge of Amarillo, so we will not have to drive through town in the morning when we pull out.  Finally, it was right across the street from a Pilot Truck Stop, so we did not have to make a separate stop for fuel.

We pulled of I-40 at exit 75 around 2:30 PM CDT and pulled in to the truck stop.  The place was crowded with trucks but we got lucky and pulled in behind a semi that was done fueling and pulled out shortly thereafter.  There was some confusion regarding the pump number so it took a bit longer than usual to top off the tank, but we were not pressed for time as our RV park for the night was right across the street.  Linda settled the charge and we followed several tractor-trailers to the exit, back to the main road, and then turned north and drove the short distance up to the entrance to the RV Park.  We turned in and stopped by the office where Linda got us registered.  As is the case in most RV Parks we got a map of the campground with our site and entrance path marked, the login for the Wi-Fi, and the combination lock for the bathrooms.  We also received information about where to go and what to do in the event of violent weather.  Welcome to the Midwest and Tornado Alley.

Overnight RV Park is an older park with a lot of long-term residents, but it was not run down and had some nice, mature trees and plants.  I was momentarily concerned about low overhanging branches and tight turns when we pulled in but the gravel interior roads were wide enough, and the trees trimmed enough, to make access to our assigned pull-through site very easy.  I did, however, lift the tag axle to allow for the tighter turns.

We went through our normal arrival routine, got connected to the Internet, and started looking at our RV park options in the greater Oklahoma City area.  We plan to stay two nights and take part of our one full day to visit my Uncle Bob and Aunt Helen who live in Norman just south of OKC.  I had not contacted them, however, as our travel plans have been very fluid.  Now that we were a day’s drive away I called to let them know we would be in the area.  I was a bit surprised that Helen answered the phone and even more surprised to learn that Bob was in “rehab” although Helen did not say why.  She did say that we could visit him so we arranged to go to their house on Tuesday morning at 10 AM, get the address/directions to the rehab facility, and possibly take Helen with us to go visit him.

I texted my sister and niece to let them know that Friday from lunchtime to dinnertime would work well for us and accommodate their availability.  Linda texted our children to let them know we had landed safely in Amarillo and then texted Marilyn to share the same information.  Marilyn called back a bit later and Linda filled in the details.

The RV Park options around OKC were limited, which seems to be typical of urban areas including St. Louis, Missouri.  The options also seemed to be less than ideal based on reviews and expensive by our standards.  In the end we decided to try the Cleveland County Fairgrounds in Norman.  We sent a message via RVillage to someone who is currently there in a 42′ motorhome and inquired about the place.  They wrote back and said it was fine but was near full, does not take reservations, and only has 30A electrical service.  All of that was fine by us.  The pluses are that it is only a few minutes from my Aunt and Uncle’s house and it is only $20 per night, so we are going to leave early tomorrow and see if we can snag a spot.

inda re-heated some leftovers for dinner, after which we went for a stroll around the RV park.  We had just exited our coach and got into a conversation with our neighbors to the north.  They were working on errands so after a good chat we left them to their work and went on our walk.  Getting out and moving around in the cool, fresh air was just what we needed after a long day of sitting and driving and invigorated us enough to stay up until 9 PM.

2015/04/13 (M) Amarillo, TX to Norman, OK

The weather forecast did not favor travel during any particular part of the day; it was going to be rainy and windy regardless of when we left.  Getting a spot at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds, however, might depend on getting there early.  We targeted an 8 AM departure for our 4.5 hour, 270 mile trip.  We were up at 7 AM and each had a cup of tea and a banana.  We did not unhook the car last night, so all we had to do was run it through the towing procedure and it was ready to go.  We pulled out of our site at 8:20 AM.

Our route today was I-40 east to I-35 south to US-77 south to East Robinson Street.  All but the last 20 miles was on I-40 which mostly ran east to northeast.  Winds were 15 – 20 MPH and gusty out of the northeast the whole way.  That meant I almost always had a headwind component and often had a crosswind component.  The headwind requires the engine to work harder so I set the cruise control at 64 MPH instead of the 68 MPH I ran most of yesterday.  The crosswind component meant I had to actively work the steering and the lower speed made that more comfortable as well.

Most of the trip was through rural countryside with good road surface and light traffic.  We encountered a few construction zones but there was no work being done due to the weather.  As we approached the Oklahoma City metropolitan area traffic became much heavier, as expected, but the highways had more lanes and everything seemed to move along just fine.  In particular I-40 and I-35 always had at least three lanes allowing me to stay in the center, away from entering traffic, and move to the left or right as needed for an exit ramp.  The whole drive would have been easier without the rain and constant fiddling with windshield wipers, but I was always able to see well enough to maneuver safely, it was just more work and bit more stressful than normal.  I seem to handle urban road systems OK; it’s just not my favorite thing to do.

The Cleveland County Fairgrounds was easy to find and easy to access.  As soon as we pulled in we could see where the RVs were parked.  I pulled up out of the way while Linda called the Fairgrounds office.  She was told to go ahead a find a place to park and then register at the kiosk or in Building G.  I pulled up into the gravel parking area that had the RVs backed along two sides, like an “L.”  One leg of the L was paved and the other was grass/gravel.  We noticed one empty site in the paved area so I pulled around in front of it (so no one else could take it) while we unhooked the car.  (When camping in a no-reservations, first come, first served campground you have to stake your claim to an empty site.)  Linda moved the car out of the way and then spotted the rear end of the bus while I repositioned it and then backed it into site #9.  We have been towed out of two fairgrounds at the end of rallies where it rained so we were glad to get this paved site.

The sites here are all full hookup with 30 A electric and include usable Wi-Fi for $20/night.  That is a much better deal than anything else we could find in the OKC area, and is also the closest place to where my aunt and uncle live, so it was a great find.  We probably won’t use the fresh water or sewer connections and the 30 A service will be OK.  Apparently there are also some 50 A sites but we did not need that much power and did not want to take the time to see if one of them was open.  Given forecasted high temperatures that will barely reach 60 degrees F we will not need our air-conditioners.  As for heat, we will use our Aqua-Hot in diesel-fired mode for domestic hot water and space heating, if needed.

Once we had the power connected and got settled in I made a pot of coffee while Linda made roll-up sandwiches for lunch.  She then checked us in to the Fairgrounds on RVillage and made our reservation for the Red Barn Rendezvous RV Park near Edwardsville, Illinois starting on Thursday.  We will be in the St. Louis, Missouri area for four or five nights visiting family before pushing on to Twelve Mile, Indiana.  She then researched places to stay near Joplin and Springfield, Missouri for Wednesday evening.

While Linda was doing all of that I finished up yesterday’s blog post and started working on this one.  I then logged-in to RVillage.  There are three other RVillagers checked in to the CCFG so I posted to the home feed and to the park feed to see if I could make contact with any of them.  One of them (Hollywood Bob) is also a member of the SKP Photographers BOF which Linda and I help run.  (I am the owner/leader of the RVillage Group.)  I sent him a friend request and then a personal message.

The rain let up not long after we arrived at the Fairgrounds but the wind continued, with gusts occasionally rocking the bus.  The bus is fairly massive but also has a lot of surface area and sits on air springs.  We do not have leveling jacks, so strong/gusty winds can, and do, rock the bus.

Hollywood Bob and his girlfriend Barb walked by so I went outside to chat with them briefly and we arranged to walk over to a local coffee shop at 8 AM tomorrow.  I then spent the late afternoon and early evening editing the text for my March 13th blog post on our visit to the Sonoran Desert Museum west of Tucson and then worked on selecting photos for the post.  Somewhere in there we took a break and went for walk around the Fairgrounds.  It is not a large facility but has nice buildings and grounds.

Linda heated up the last of the barley and vegetable leftovers and steamed some halved Brussels sprouts and finished them with a White Peach Balsamic Vinegar Glaze from the Queen Creek Olive Mill near Arizona City, Arizona.  Yum.  After dinner we turned on the front TV and tuned in PBS to watch Antiques Roadshow.  I finished selecting and processing photos for the March 13th post around 11:30 PM but did not upload it

2015/04/14 (T) Bob and Helen

I was up at 6:30 AM and uploaded my blog post for March 13th.  We had spent that day at the Sonoran Desert Museum west of Tucson, Arizona and photographed the sunset from nearby Gates Pass.  The post was brief (by my standards) but I put over 30 photos in an image gallery.

At 8 AM we walked over to Hollywood Bob and Barb’s rigs, met up with them, and then walked the short distance to the Dora Marie Bakery and Coffee Shop just across Porter Avenue from the Cleveland County Fairgrounds.  We sat there conversing over coffee until 9:45 AM, mostly about RVs and RVing as that is generally the first and easiest conversation to have with new friends.  I already knew from a brief chat with Bob yesterday that both of them are members of the Escapees RV Club and that Bob is a member of the SKP Photographers BOF.  Bob is also a Freethinker and knew that we were as well from our RVillage Profile.  We found out over coffee that they are both members of the WINs (Wandering Individuals Network) and LoWs (Loners on Wheels) which are independent groups for single RVers.  As we were walking back to our rigs we agreed to get together for SKP happy hour at 4 PM.

Our main reason for being in Norman, Oklahoma was to visit my Uncle Bob and Aunt Helen.  Uncle Bob earned a Ph.D. in micropaleontology over 60 years ago when Ph.Ds. were less common than they are now.  He moved to Oklahoma after finishing his degree and did extensive work on the Arbuckle Mountains.  A Google search on “Robert O. Fay” produced a lot of hits referencing his published work.  He was attached to the University of Oklahoma at one time and that is what brought them to Norman.

Bob just turned 88.  He and Helen have been married for 49 years but never had children.  Helen had one son, Scott, from a previous marriage.  Scott married Linda and they had two children, Tiffany and Philip.  Scott passed away a while back but Linda still lives in Norman and teaches in OKC.  Tiffany and Philip and their families also still live in Norman.

I last saw Bob and Helen four years ago on the drive back to Michigan from Livingston, Texas where I had picked up our Honda Element from Dennis and Carol Hill.  Helen was having problems with her back at the time but Bob was as sharp as I remembered the last time I saw him 26 years earlier while returning from a trip out west with Brendan.  All of our memories of that visit were a bit vague but my recollection is that Meghan and my sister, Patty, met us there so Patty must have driven Meghan to OKC from St. Louis, Missouri.

When I called on Sunday to let Bob and Helen know we would be in the area I talked to Helen and found out that my uncle was in a rehabilitation facility not far from the house but she did not say why.  When we arrived at their house at 10 AM this morning we were greeted by Tiffany, Brandy (Philip’s wife), and Helen who was up walking around and sharp as ever.  We visited briefly and then followed Tiffany and Helen over to the rehab facility.

Uncle Bob is in the facility recovering from a persistent pneumonia, which was treated with an antibiotic to which he was allergic, but he also has Parkinson’s.  He is still coherent but the decline in both his physical and mental condition was striking.  I was not shocked by that, however, and only briefly surprised by virtue of not being fully prepared.  We had a conversation nonetheless, and Bob asked, and talked, about family and genealogy which became his research passion along with geology.  Tiffany took a cell phone picture of Linda and me with Bob.  She had to get back to work so she took Helen home while Linda and I stayed a bit longer to chat with my uncle.

Bob was tired, dozing on and off, and it was getting close to lunchtime.  Staff also needed to check on Bob so we took our leave.  Although we will be back this way in future years I had the strong sense that Uncle Bob is not going to improve going forward and this may be the last time I get to see him.  It was not quite the meeting I had envisioned, but I was glad for what we had.  My dad will be 90 in June and cannot travel very far from his home so I don’t see any way he and his brother will ever meet again.  There is always a final everything but it is usually only clear in retrospect.  Such is life.

Before Tiffany and Helen left Tiffany called her mom (Linda) to see if she could be available to get together after work this evening.  Linda said she could rearrange some things with her brother and would love to meet for dinner.  We discussed meeting at the house and going out to dinner from there.

Tiffany invited us to stop by her school, which is just down the street from the Fairgrounds, so we did that right after lunch, which consisted of a couple of tofu hotdogs wrapped up in soft tortillas with mustard and relish.  Not WFPB but definitely vegan and definitely tasty.  Tiffany gave us a tour of her school and we got to meet Cody, her significant other, who also works at the school.  She had talked to her mom (Linda) and Helen and they decided that we would all be more comfortable and better able to converse at the house.  We explained how we eat and Tiffany said she and Brandi (Philip’s wife) would take care of bringing in food and make sure there were items for us.

I spent most of the afternoon working on blog posts but took time out to check the pressures of the two front bus tires.  I thought I would have to adjust all of them now that we have descended to 1,200 feet ASL, but the front tires were still close to one another and above the minimum required pressure, so I did not get out the compressor.  By 3 PM I was feeling the need for a nap and snoozed for an hour.

We walked over to Barb and Hollywood Bob’s rigs at 4:30 PM.  We were going to do SKP happy hour at 4 PM but we were not sure we could carry glasses of wine around the Fairgrounds so we went empty handed.  The Farmers Market opened at 4 PM so Bob, Linda, and I walked over to check it out while Barb started preparing their dinner.  They had to be at a dance event at 6 PM and we needed to be at Uncle Bob and Aunt Helen’s house around the same time.

Brandi has been Uncle Bob’s primary caregiver when he is at home and she brought him from the rehab facility to the house for the evening.  There was a houseful of people with laughter and energy and it was nice to see Uncle Bob and Aunt Helen surrounded by so many people who obviously love them and care about them.  Dinner was salad greens, vegetables, fresh fruit, sandwich fixings, and deserts and there was plenty for us to choose from.  Here’s how the family fits together:

  • Bob is my father’s younger/only brother (by two years).
  • Helen had one son, Scott Pelton, from a previous marriage.
  • Scott married Linda and they had two children; Tiffany and Philip.
  • (Scott passed away some years ago.)
  • Tiffany has three girls (young ladies); Alexis, Brianna, and Caitlin.
  • Brianna has a son, Liam, who is Bob and Helen’s great-great-grandson.
  • Philip married Brandi and they have three children; Cassidy, Cheyenne, and Danika.

We stayed until almost 9:30 PM and had a great visit that ended with a discussion about Linda and her three grand-daughters coming to Michigan for a visit sometime.  Tiffany texted me the cellphone photo she took of Linda, me, and Uncle Bob at the rehab facility this morning.  Caitlin set up a camera and took photos of the entire group.  When we got back to our rig I replied to text messages and provided our e-mail address and home phone number to Helen and Tiffany.

2015/04/15 (W) Norman, OK to Carthage, MO

There is always way more to do in any given area than there is time to do it, and the greater Oklahoma City area, including Norman, is no exception to that.  But our presence here proved to be the catalyst for a large gathering of people to whom we are related by marriage through Helen, my only Aunt, and only by virtue of her being married to my only uncle, Bob.  While it would have been nice to visit longer after last night’s gathering it would have been anti-climactic.

Through the serendipity that RVillage makes possible we also made the acquaintance of Barb and Hollywood Bob at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds.  As much as we would have liked to have coffee with them again this morning, we don’t usually have our morning coffee on travel days and wanted to be on the road by 9 AM.

Linda had been checking the weight restrictions on the roads in our home county and noted yesterday that they will be lifted on the 16th.  That means we have a green light to return to our house whenever we want to.  We already have plans to spend four nights near St. Louis, Missouri and visit family, and at least a couple of nights in Twelve Mile, Indiana visiting Butch and Fonda with whom we started this southwestern adventure on November 30th, 2014.  We will spend our final night at the Camp Turkeyville RV Park so we can dump our holding tanks before arriving home.

All of which is to say we had over 600 miles to travel from Norman to St. Louis, which is two day trip for us, with a reservation at an RV Park in Edwardsville, Illinois starting Thursday afternoon and arrangements to visit with family on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  Linda researched possible intermediate locations to split the distance roughly in half and found the Coachlight RV Park on I-49 one mile north of I-40 near Carthage, Missouri.

We did not take the time to buy an Oklahoma Turnpike pass and decided not to take I-44 northeast out of OKC.  From the CCFG we headed west on Robinson Street back to US-77 north, merged onto I-35 north, and then exited onto I-240 east.  Somewhere east of OKC I-240 ended and merged into I-40.  As urban highways go it was an easy exit from the greater OKC area.  We stopped at a rest area just before crossing the Oklahoma/Arkansas border and took a short lunch break, having vegan cold cut rollup sandwiches.

We continued east on I-40 to Fort Smith, Arkansas and then headed north on I-540, which has been re-signed I-49, through the Boston Mountains toward Fayetteville and Bentonville, the corporate home of Wal-Mart.  I-49 did not continue all the way into Missouri and became US-77 as it passed through a narrow valley and small towns.  A few miles into Missouri the road became I-49 again.  We stayed with I-49 up to where it joins with I-44 east near Joplin, Missouri.  About 10 miles later I-49/US-77 split off to the north and one mile later we exited, crossed over the Interstate, and pulled into the Coachlight RV Park.

The weather was overcast with occasional drizzle for the entire trip but it was a beautiful drive nonetheless.  Eastern Oklahoma is green and rolling and northwest Arkansas adds small mountains to that topography.  The bus ran well all day including the steepest grades.

The Coachlight RV Park is located behind the Coachlight RV Dealership with very easy access.  Linda got us registered but then we had to wait quite a while for someone to move the motorhome in front of us.  Again, we were given instructions on where to go and what to do in the event of extreme/violent weather.  The Park is built into a north-facing slope with wide paved roads behind an RV dealership of the same same.  The RV dealership was the emergency shelter.  Most of the sites are pull-through except along the two outside edges.  All of the sites are wide, long, and level gravel with full hookups including cable TV and Wi-Fi.  The Park has its own well with a water softener so the water at the sites is very soft.  The Park allows customers to wash their rigs so we got out the hose, spray nozzle, and long-handled soft brush and rinsed off the car and the bus as best we could.

We went for a walk around the Park to stretch our legs and stopped by the office to check out the meeting room.  There is a small RV rally here and we got to see the meeting room which was very nice.  For dinner Linda made a macaroni and mushroom dish with onions, garlic, and kale followed by red grapes.  Very tasty.  We watched a few TV shows and called it a day.


2014/12/05-08 (F-M) On To Texas

2014/12/05 (F) Parting Company (for now)

A set of standing jokes with us involves our answers to the question “what time is it?”  The most common response is the day of the week, such as “Friday” (if we know what day it is) or perhaps “I think it’s Friday” (if we are less sure).  Variations include “daytime” or “nighttime” both of which only restate the obvious but at least we are usually correct, or perhaps “morning,” “afternoon,” or “evening” if we are trying to be more precise.  More globally we might answer “eastern” or “central” referencing the time zone we (think) we are in.

I was awake and ready to get up at 5:30 AM (technically the morning but still dark as night).  I checked the house batteries and they were down to 66% SOC (State Of Charge).  The coach had been running on the batteries/inverter since 9 PM last night, so 8.5 hours.  At 3.6 percentage points per hour I expected a 31 percentage point drop to around 60% SOC, so this charge level seemed reasonable, except that we had very few things running last night.  The refrigerator and auxiliary air-compressor were on, of course, although the air-compressor only runs for a few minutes every couple of hours and the fridge runs around 20-24 minutes per hour.  The Aqua-Hot was turned on but I did not hear the fans come.  I had the thermostats set to 15 (Celsius, 59 Fahrenheit) before we went to bed and the temperature in the coach this morning was in the upper 60s, so I don’t think any of the zone pumps or heat exchanger fans came on overnight.  In other words, it seemed to me that we had used more charge from the batteries than we should have.  Although I installed the 24 VDC battery bank and the new Magnum inverter/charger two years ago, we have not done very much boondocking (dry camping, no hookups) so we are still figuring out the finer points of this system.

I started the GenSet and the charger came on in bulk charge mode delivering 89 Amps to the battery bank at 29.1 VDC.  It switched to absorption mode fairly quickly and by 7:30 AM it was delivering 34 Amps at 28.3 VDC and the SOC was up to 86%.  The battery bank has a 400 A-Hr capacity (at “24” VDC, which is actually 25.4 VDC when fully charged) so 10% of that is 40 A-Hr and the generator had returned approximately 80 A-Hrs of charge at 24VDC to the battery bank.  (“A-Hr” stands for Ampere-Hours and is actually a measure of energy, specifically electrical charge, which technically should be stated in Coulombs.)  “40 A-Hr” means a steady flow of current at a 40 Amp rate for one hour.  Note, however, that this also depends on the voltage.  40 A-Hr for a nominal 24 VDC system is twice the energy of 40 A-Hr for a nominal 12 VDC system.  Most RVs are set up with a nominal 12 VDC house battery system.  Our house battery bank is thus equivalent to an 800 A-Hr, 12 VDC system.)

The downside to all of this is that conventional lead-acid batteries, including our AGM batteries, do not tolerate very well being repeatedly discharged below 50% SOC, so the effective/useable capacity is about 1/2 of the stated capacity.  The more deeply the batteries are drained the fewer times they can be brought back up to full charge. Whereas shallow discharging allows for more cycles, and more total energy in and out, but requires a larger battery system to provide power for a reasonable amount of time.  Batteries are heavy and bulky, so you cannot just take as many as you would like.  For lead-acid batteries 50% discharge seems to be the optimal compromise for battery life, useful run time, and size/weight.

We were up early enough to have a light breakfast and a cup of coffee and have time to digest our meal before we started driving.  I powered on our Verizon MiFi and my computer and downloaded e-mails while Linda used her iPad to preview the truck stop options at the interchange just this side of Little a Rock, Arkansas.  She also pulled up the satellite image of the Wal-Mart in Texarkana, Texas where we planned to spend the night.  Cellular access to the Internet, mapping programs, and satellite imagery, along with GPS receivers have changed the nature of motor vehicle travel in general and RVing in particular.  There are certain things where the element of surprise associated with discovery is a good thing, such as an unexpected view when hiking, but when it comes to maneuvering a 40 foot motorcoach with a 20 foot car/towbar attached to its rear end surprises are usually not a good thing.

Around 8 AM we stepped outside and saw Fonda outside with their two dogs (Rascal and Daffy) so we walked back to their bus.  Butch was on the phone with U. S. Coach in New Jersey discussing the main engine air-compressor situation.  They confirmed that the unloader valve(s) are a common failure point and that the replacement parts were inexpensive and available.  He ordered four sets for delivery to Amarillo, Texas where they will be visiting someone while we are in Alvarado, Texas.  Two sets are for them and two sets are for us.  The parts may not make it to Amarillo until Wednesday, so we will be as flexible in our travel planning as we can.  If Donn will let us stay at his place in Alvarado, Texas we may just sit there, unhook the car, and go explore the area.

By 8:30 AM the house battery charger was showing zero (0) Amps at 25.3 VDC, indicating that the batteries were fully charged.  The Magnum Battery Monitor Kit (BMK), however, was showing the SOC as 88%.  I am inclined to believe that in this case the BMK is not showing the correct SOC, but I will keep a close eye on this.  When we get to Donn’s place we will be plugged into a “50 Amp” RV electrical service for at least 40 hours and see what that does to the readings.

While Butch and Fonda had breakfast we went for a stroll around the Wal-Mart parking lot to stretch our legs and scoped out the best egress route.  Around 9 AM we started preparing the interior for travel and by 9:45 I had the car prepared for towing and the main engine running.  We pulled out at just before 10 AM and took the lead.  I drove the first 80 miles at 55 MPH due to light to moderate rain and greatly reduced visibilities.  We took exit 161 just east of Little Rock, Arkansas and pulled into a Love’s Truck Stop.  Butch picked a better lane than I did and we ended up leaving and driving to the Pilot Truck Stop on the other side of the highway.  But before we left Linda walked over to let them know what we were doing and say “so long, see you down the road.”  Two miles after we got back on the highway we stayed left for I-430 around the south side of Little Rock while Butch and Fonda stayed on I-40 around the north side of the city.  We were headed to I-30 and then southwest towards Dallas while they were headed west towards Amarillo.  We will meet up with them next week, perhaps in Midland, Texas or on down the road in New Mexico.

Most of the rest of our drive was through rain but otherwise uneventful.  In spite of the weather the drive was very pretty.  I-30 west of Little Rock climbs through rolling hills with extensive woodlands on both sides of the highway.  We finally drove out from under the rain about 30 miles from Texarkana and finished the trip with bright sun and an ambient temperature of 74 degrees F.

It was easy enough getting off I-30 onto the southbound connector but a bit trickier getting over to make a right turn in the short distance we had.  But we did, and turned onto the road that runs in front of the Walmart and down to the far entrance, as planned.  I started my left turn into the parking lot road when a guy pulled up to make a left turn coming out of the parking lot.  I had tried to swing wide but he realized he needed to back up or risk damage to his truck, so he did.  I could not make the first left into the actual parking lot so I went down to the next entrance by the store.

I barely made a 180 degree turn into the first row, causing a women sitting in her car to just stare at us as I missed her by inches (apparently it did not occur to her to back up).  I had to straighten out before completing the turn to prevent scraping the driver’s side of the car on a huge boulder at the inside corner of the turn that I somehow did not see before I started the turn but caught sight of in my rearview mirror.  Considering that I just completed a drive through less than ideal conditions, which was probably more stressful than I acknowledged, this was not the way I wanted to end our driving for the day.  Like with airplanes, however, the takeoffs and landings are usually the trickiest parts.

We pulled into our selected parking spot at the back (east) end of the parking lot, in parallel with several tractor-trailer rigs, at 2:40 PM.  I went through our arrival procedure with one glitch; I could not raise or lower the front end of the coach using the Level Low system.  It worked fine yesterday so something had obviously changed.  I leveled the coach by adjusting the rear tires instead.  Once the coach was set I checked the house battery bank SOC.  It was 71% but the inverter/charger readout said the battery bank was at 25.0 VDC and the charger was delivering zero (0) Amps.  Since no loads were being powered I presumed the voltage was probably a good indication of the battery state.  A “12 volt” battery is fully charged at a resting (no load) voltage of 12.6 volts (2.1 volts per cell times six cells).  Double that for a “24 volt” battery bank and the full charge resting voltage is 25.2 volts, so our batteries being at 25.0 volts indicated they were probably near full charge.

I decided to wait and turn the generator on later when it was time to cook dinner and let it bring the batteries up to full charge.  At this point, however, I am suspicious of the reading I am getting from the Magnum BMK.  The data suggests that I do not have the ZENA power generating system tied in to the battery/charger/inverter system in such a way that the BMK can correctly account for the charge the ZENA is providing, but that seems unlikely.  Still, I will have to check when we get settled in Quartzsite (or back home in the spring) and/or see if there is a way to reset the 100% SOC level on the BMK.  We will be plugged in to a 50 Amp RV service tomorrow at Donn’s so I will see if the SOC rises to that level after being on shorepower for almost 48 hours.

Linda opened a few windows so the cats could have some fresh air.  We then walked over to the store for some exercise and fresh air ourselves.  I found a case for my Samsung Galaxy S III phone as a tab on my old holder has broken and it no longer holds the phone securely.  When we got back a pickup truck towing a 5th wheel trailer had pulled up next to us on the driver’s side.  It was parked such that our generator exhaust would blow in their entrance door.  I introduced myself to Gary and explained that we would be starting the GenSet in a little while.  He appreciated the heads up and elected to back up to where he was clear of our exhaust.

By the time I got back inside Linda was on the phone with Butch.  They were at a Wal-Mart in Checotah, Oklahoma just off I-40 about 60 miles west of the Arkansas border.  They also ran through rain the rest of the day and it was still raining there when he called.  The temporary air-pressure solution had continued to work well all day.

We ran on batteries/inverter until 5:30 PM and then started the generator so Linda could prepare dinner.  She needed to cook two baking potatoes in the microwave and sauté some onions, mushrooms, and broccoli using the induction cooker.  The microwave kept clicking and I noticed the current drop on that leg each time.  The other leg wasn’t drawing much current so I had her keep using the induction cooker and turned on the Aqua-Hot electric heating element.  That brought the current draw on each leg roughly into balance and the microwave behaved fine after that.  The charger was also drawing a few amps but not the much.

The microwave is wired through the inverter sub-panel.  With the generator running, each leg of the AC power is simply passed through the inverter to the sub-panel along with the neutral. I recall that the inverter relays are designed to carry 30 Amps on each leg, but we were only drawing about 20 Amps when the problem occurred so that should not be the source of the problem.  It appears that the genset may not tolerate 20 Amps on one leg and zero on the other, or perhaps a differential current draw of 20 Amps.  If that’s the case it is either an unfortunate design limitation or an indication that the generator is developing a problem.

In discussing this with Butch he said that gensets wired to produce 240VAC are usually set up to regulated that voltage but the 120VAC from L1 and L2 to Neutral can vary widely.  If the voltage on the microwave leg is dropping too low it will cause problems for the unit.  It is possible to rewire the genset to produce 120VAC and regulate that voltage, although it might require a new voltage regulator.  We would lose the use of our Gaggenau 2-burner cooktop but could live with that limitation.  Of more concern to me is the currents from L1 and L2 would now add in the Neutral wire rather than cancel, meaning the current in the Neutral conductor(s) could exceed their design specifications.

I got a TXT message from Chuck inquiring about our trip so I provided a few details.  I decided to check the bay under the driver’s seat to see if there was anything obviously wrong with the pneumatic solenoid valves that control the Level Low system.  There are red plastic fittings that screw into each solenoid and the fitting on the top one was unscrewed quite a bit.  The others were in tight so I screwed the top one back in.  I won’t know until tomorrow if that made a difference, but I decided to call Chuck and consult with him as I recalled him mentioning having had problems with these pilot valves on his H3-40.

Chuck did not think the plastic fittings were the problem but offered other salient advice about coils, ‘C’ clips, valves, and rubber ‘O’ rings.  If Donn will let us hang around for an extra day I will probably unhook the car and drive to the Prevost service facility near the Dallas Ft. Worth airport and pick up some new solenoid valves and perhaps a couple of Norgren valves and a windshield wiper motor.

We ended up with tractor-trailers pulling in and out around us well into the evening.  One in particular parked one spot over from us on the passenger side and let his engine idle for hours.  It felt like we were in a truck stop instead of a Wal-Mart parking lot, but given the price we had no basis to complain.  Still, if we wanted to stay at a truck stop we would have stayed at a truck stop.  Hopefully we can get a decent night’s sleep as I would like to be on the road at sunrise, which is 7:15 AM.

At 8 PM we went for a stroll around the store and the parking lot.  Wal-Mart parking lots are well lit as a rule and being 24/7/52 stores, there are always lots of people around making it a comfortable enough environment for an evening walk.  As we were getting ready to go to sleep I got a TXT message from Donn, with turn-by-turn directions for getting to his house and a couple of questions, which turned into a short TXT message conversation.  While I was texting with Donn our male cat, Jasper, came up by our pillows to look out the window and have a long back-stroking and chin-scratching session with Linda.  Traveling is stressful for the cats, especially at first, and they seek the comfort of our attention quite a bit (when they are not sleeping).  Squared away on tomorrow’s travel arrangements we drifted off to sleep to the gentle hum (rattle?) of large diesel engines.

Donn Barnes' place in Alvarado, Texas.  Yee Haw!

Donn Barnes’ place in Alvarado, Texas. Yee Haw!

2014/12/06 (S) Alvarado, Texas

I was awake at 5 AM and got up shortly thereafter.  The house batteries were showing 58% SOC and 24.3 volts with no current draw.  I thought about not recharging the batteries and seeing how the ZENA system did on the drive today, but decided I did not want to risk depleting them below 50% SOC.  I turned on the generator and the Aqua-Hot electric heating element to balance the load and make hot water for our use this morning.  The charger went into Bulk Charging mode putting 88 Amps into the battery bank at 27.4 volts, so the batteries definitely needed recharging after running the coach for 8 hours.

We have and older, 22 cubic foot, residential (AC compressor) refrigerator that I presume accounts for most of the battery use overnight.  For each Ampere of current the inverter produces at 120 VAC it would draw 5 Amps from the “24 volt” batteries if it was 100% efficient, which it is not.  If I assume the SOC actually dropped from 88% last night at 9 PM (when I shut the generator off) to 58% at 5 AM this morning, the 30 percentage point drop would represent 120 A-Hrs of charge removed from the batteries (30% of 400) which equates to an average continuous draw of 15 Amps per hour at “24” volts.  Divide that by 6 (to account for inverter inefficiency) and you get 2.5 Amps per hour at 120 VAC, not that much, really.

It’s a bit more complicated than that, of course, as the refrigerator draws more current when it starts and has an electric heating element around the edge of the doors as well as an automatic defrost feature.  Those last two features are nice when connected to shorepower, but are not battery friendly, and I need to rig up a switch that allows me to turn these “features” off when we are dry-camping.  We also have an auxiliary air-compressor that supplies pressurized air to operate the toilet and other air-powered accessories.  It doesn’t run often but it draws a fair amount of current (at 120 VAC) when it does.  We also have small miscellaneous AC and DC loads that are on all the time, but collectively they add up.

By 6:30 AM the charger had shifted to Absorb Mode at 27.9 VDC and was putting 63 Amps into the batteries.  Between the charger, the refrigerator, and the electric heating element we were drawing 14 Amps on both legs.  I was hoping to be on the road this morning by 7:30 AM.  The batteries will not be fully charged by then, so this may be the first real test of the ZENA systems ability to maintain and recharge them while we drive.  My ultimate goal is to adjust the ZENA system so it can power the Magnum inverter/charger while we are driving at a level that is sufficient to run the refrigerator and fully, or almost fully, recharge the house battery bank.  That will apparently require some tweaking and additional testing which I am not going to do while parked at a Wal-Mart or other dry-camping location.

As we were getting ready to pull out I noted that the batteries were at 83% SOC and shut off the generator.  The drive from Texarkana to Alvarado was easy with dry conditions and sunny skies. Traffic was mostly light and we enjoyed the east-central Texas countryside.  Traffic got a lot denser as we neared Dallas but once we exited I-30 onto I-635 south it thinned out again.  It thickened again as we approached the exit for US-67 south and then thinned out and stayed that way for the rest of the trip to Alvarado.  We turned back north on I-35W and pulled in to Donn’s place a few miles north of Alvarado proper around 11:30.  I stopped in his driveway, exited the coach, was met by Donn, and we discussed where he wanted me to park.

The desired parking arrangement required us to unhook our car so we did that.  With Linda’s assistance I made a four-point turn to get the bus parked.  I pulled it up somewhat parallel to Donn’s Bluebird, backed up between the end of a building and a tree, swung forward into the driveway, and then backed around close to, and parallel to, the building.  I leveled the coach and this time the front adjustment of the Level Low system worked just fine.

Donn had a 50 Amp RV extension cord available to plug into conveniently located near our utilities bay.  By the time I got our coach plugged in it was noon.  I checked the meters for the house batteries and they indicated 76% SOC with the charger in Absorb Mode putting 56 Amps into the batteries.  For the 4.5 hours we were operating on batteries the expected drop would have been 13.5 to 16.2 percentage points at 3.0 to 3.6 percentage points per hour for a SOC of approximately 70 to 67, so 76 seemed OK, suggesting that the Zena system was doing something.

Linda got things squared away inside the coach and then we sat outside and chatted with Donn for a while.  He suggested we get lunch at Spiral, a vegan restaurant in the Ft. Worth medical district.  He drove since this is his home turf and he knows his way around.  Donn had quesadillas, Linda had a Philly cheesesteak, and I had a patty melt.  The food was very, very good.

After lunch Donn took us to Central Market.  The Market was not as refined as Whole Foods but had an amazing selection of fresh organic produce and specialty items, such as the tahini Linda needed to make her mock beef stroganoff tomorrow.  Our shopping done, Donn took us to meet his friend Jeanine, whose age (85) and health (not the best) prevent her from getting out much.  In spite of her issues we had a thoroughly delightful visit, after which we worked our way back to Donn’s place.

Linda checked on the cats and then drew three glasses of Shiner Bock draft beer.  Yes, Donn has beer on tap at all times; two taps, actually, but both had Shiner Bock.  We sat inside and had a long chat while enjoying our brews.  Neither of us had ever heard of bock style beer or the Shiner Company but it was good.  Donn was involved in raising mules, building wagons, and participated in a wagon trip around the state of Texas in 1986.  At 7 PM Donn started assembling a vegan pasta salad using quinoa pasta, bell pepper, and grape tomatoes.  Donn is an excellent cook but was very gracious about accommodating our vegan dietary preferences.

By 8:45 PM we were tired so we said “good night” and returned to our coach for the evening.  We read and wrote for a little while.  Butch called t let us know they had made it all the way to Amarillo in one day and were safely in the mobile home park where their friend lives.  The earliest they will be leaving is Tuesday morning, which may coincide with our travel plans.

Linda coming back from Donn's laundry room.  Elvis is following her and Lucy is farther back to the right.

Linda coming back from Donn’s laundry room. Elvis is following her and Lucy is farther back to the right.

2014/12/07 (N) A Day Of Rest

We slept in this morning, which meant I was awake at 6:30 AM, were up/dressed by 7:30, and enjoying our morning coffee (yeah) by 8:00.  It was in the mid-40s outside with dense fog, and 62 in the coach; perfect conditions for sleeping but a bit cool for sitting around.  The toilet would not flush and I suspected immediately that I had shut the wrong air valve last night.  In the excitement of our arrival yesterday, and finally being able to plug in to shore power for the first time since we left Indiana, I had forgotten to switch off the chassis batteries and close the unneeded air valves.  I did all of that using a flashlight right before going to bed and once again closed the wrong valve (I have made this mistake before).  Opening it this morning fixed the problem, so at least it was an easily corrected operator error and not something that was actually broken and needed to be repaired.

Donn, who is part Comanche, leant us a book by historian T. R. Fehrenback on their history and Linda started reading it this morning.  I scanned for WiFi networks with our WiFi Ranger (WFR) and found eight, including two that were “open.”  Open networks are not encrypted, so we prefer not to use them, but they may still require a password to gain access.  As a general rule we do not “borrow” open WiFi connections from unknown sources.  Our Verizon cellular signal here is a very strong 4G/LTE with five bars, but we prefer to use WiFi when available and save our limited cellular data for situations where it’s our only way to get online.  I suspected that one of the WiFi signals was Donn’s but could not tell which one it was.

We had oatmeal for breakfast, a nice treat on a cool morning.  Linda usually makes oatmeal from scratch these days, but she brought Quaker Instant Raisins, Dates, and Walnuts, which is my favorite.  It’s creamy without being mushy, and I just like the way it tastes.

We finally met up with Donn after breakfast and asked him about the available WiFi.  He was kind enough to give us the password to his wireless network.  He also gave us some Green Tomato Relish he had made and it was spectacular.  I mean, this guy can cook.  He put on some more coffee and we got back into a long morning discussion on a wide range of topics, so playing with our communications technology had to wait until later.

By 12:30 PM we were all getting hungry and Donn suggested the Mellow Mushroom in the TCU (Texas Christian University?) district of Ft. Worth.  We took the long way to get there so we could see the route we would follow when leaving the area and continuing our westward journey on I-20.  Our route took us down Camp Bowie Road, past the zoo, and a lovely adjacent neighborhood.  While not a vegan restaurant like Spiral, Mellow Mushroom had good vegan pizza options including Daiya non-dairy (non-animal) cheese.  We had a thin crust pizza with an olive oil and garlic base, with cheese, mushrooms, onions, and sun-dried tomatoes.  Yum.

After lunch we headed back to Alvarado but stopped first at Donn’s next door neighbor’s house so he could get his hair cut.  Back at his place we continued our conversation.  When it became clear that we were all a bit tired we went back to our coach to give Donn some personal space and downtime.  We agreed to meet back in his house between 7:00 and 7:30 PM for dinner.  Donn is slightly allergic to cats, so we did not visit or dine in our coach.

With the WiFi network key Donn had provided earlier I was able to connect our WFR to one of the available WiFi signals and upgrade its firmware.  I was then able to connect our Amped Wireless Access Point (AWAP) to the WFR, and connect our devices, including the NAS device, to the AWAP.  This was our standard setup this past winter in Florida.  We used this setup again at the Escapade in May and the GLAMARAMA in June but had not set it up yet on this trip.  The advantage of this setup is that the AWAP creates a secure wired/wireless network to which we connect all of our devices and can share data between them.  When we cannot connect the WFR to an external WiFi network we turn our Verizon MiFi on and connect the WFR to its WiFi signal instead while all of our devices remain connected to the AWAP.  It’s a pretty slick setup that has worked well for us and I was glad it was still working as we appeared to have issues with the WFR while in Twelve Mile, Indiana.

Linda checked online and most of the museums we thought about visiting tomorrow turned out to be closed on Mondays.  I was checking e-mail and had a announcement/confirmation for the FMCA National Education Committee worksession tomorrow at 3:00 PM CST.  If we do not leave until Wednesday morning we may try to go to a couple museums in Ft. worth on Tuesday while Donn is at work.

A little after 6 PM Linda started preparing her Seitan Mushroom Stroganoff.  This is a dish she has made and served at home to our non-vegan friends with great success.  Although Donn is a dedicated omnivore, he has other friends who are vegans and has been very thoughtful in the foods he has prepared for us and his selection of restaurants.

Linda used our Gaggenau electric cooktop to cook the dish.  She finished it at 7:25 PM and we took it over to the house.  We would normally have wine with this dish, but Donn has Shiner Bock beer on tap at the moment and, although I am not a big fan of beer, I found this one to be very much to my taste.  It also went well with the dish.  We talked for a while after dinner and retired to our coach at 10:45 PM as Donn had to be up early to drive into the office in Dallas.

Our male cat, Jasper, resting on the front couch.  He's fine as long as the bus isn't moving.

Our male cat, Jasper, resting on the front couch. He’s fine as long as the bus isn’t moving.

2014/12/08 (M) Lucy, I’m Home!

Donn left for his office in Dallas long before we got up at 7:30 AM.  Granola with fresh bananas, grapefruit juice, and coffee made for a fine breakfast.  Donn left us access to the house so we could use the bathroom, which we greatly appreciated.  Yes, we have a bathroom onboard, but the less of our stored fresh water we use, and the less we put into our holding tanks, the longer we can go without stopping at a full-hookup RV park.  We left home on Sunday, November 30, so this is our 9th day on the road, and we are still above 2/3rds on our fresh-water tank, and probably below 1/3rd on each of our two holding tanks (black- and gray-water).  I say “probably” because the level sensors for those two tanks are not very accurate.

We left in our car at 9:30 AM and drove to the Fort Worth Prevost Car Inc. Parts and Service Center just south of the Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) airport in search of some spare parts for our Level Low system and lower windshield wipers.  The CatView program on my laptop showed a “641055 Manifold Valve / w/4 Solenoid” on drawing “H4-1640-00 Level-Low – Control Panel & Valves” but I knew I did not want this entire assembly.  Art, in the parts department, helped figure out the parts I was looking for, which turned out to be a “641928” for $41.28 and a “641929” for $35.60.  One is the solenoid coil and the other is the pneumatic valve, but I’m not sure which is which.

I was also looking for an “800304 Motor Wiper Assembly / 24V / Nidec” as shown on the “H4-2305-05 Lower Windshield Wiper – Installation” drawing.  CatView indicated that it had been superseded by “Kit #300506.”  That was correct and the cost was $200.03, but they saved me from spending the money as they did not have one in stock.  I was also thinking about getting a “641057 Valve, 5 Ways, 3 Positions” (Norgren K41EA00) and a “641056 Valve, 3 Ways, 2 Positions” (Norgren K910058).  They were $150.91 and $143.80 respectively so I did not even ask if they were in stock.  My diagram also showed a “562353 Diode / 1 Amp” but I decided not to ask about it at this time.  I can get most parts delivered in 2 – 3 days via UPS by ordering through their Elgin, Illinois center, but I am trying to stock a set of replacement parts that might be needed for a roadside repair.

Parts in hand we headed back south on TX-360 towards Six Flags to see if we could find the home stadiums of the Dallas Cowboys (AT&T Stadium) and Texas Rangers (Globe Life Park).  They were located just west of Six Flags and south of I-30, part of an amazing sports/entertainment complex euphemistically known as “Jerry World” after the owner of the Cowboys.

We got on I-30 westbound, exiting some 14 miles later at Montgomery Street, and followed the signs to the Fort Worth Cultural District.  We knew that most of the museums were closed today but we still wanted to see them from the outside.  Even if they had been open we did not have time today to go in as I had an FMCA National Education Committee meeting (telephone conference call) at 3 PM CST.  We did, however, have time to find Central Market again.

We walked up and down every isle and realized we had seen less than half of the store when we were here on Saturday.  Central Market may be the most amazing market we have ever been in.  As much as we like Whole Foods, it simply does not rise to the level of Central Market when it comes to fresh/organic items.  We picked up some additional fresh and packaged items, including a mix for white bean chili with jalapeños to make for dinner.

When we got back to our coach Linda started the chili.  We then took advantage of Donn’s hospitality to do a load of laundry only to discover his dryer was out of commission.  No problem; we just hung the laundry outside to dry in the late afternoon Texas sun and let it dry the old fashioned way.

Shortly before 3 PM CST I dialed in to the FMCA National Education Committee meeting and participated in the hour long work session.  There were good ideas put forward and it looks like I will have some specific things to do over the next several months.

While the chili cooked we both took a shower, again avoiding using our onboard water and waste tanks.  Donn is in the process of getting rid of lots of books and invited us to peruse them and take anything that looked interesting.  Linda found a half dozen titles, mostly paperback mysteries, that she will enjoy reading and then leaving in an RV park “library” someone down the road.  For never having met prior to noon on Saturday, Donn has treated us like old friends; a most considerate host.

Donn got home from work at 6:15 PM and I let him know that Linda had prepared the chili for dinner.  We waited 15 minutes for him to change clothes and tend to his dogs (Elvis and Lucy) and then brought the chili and some crackers to the house.  He provided the bowls, spoons, glasses, and draft beer.  I don’t think I will give up wine in favor of beer but the Shiner Bock that Donn keeps on draft was easy to drink and very tasty.  I detected a subtle hint of sweet citrus in the finish, but no one else did.

Butch called as I was finishing my first bowl of chili.  He reminded me that the SKP Dreamcatcher RV park is in Deming, NM just a few miles farther on past Las Cruces, NM and we discussed possibly meeting up there and staying the night.  He indicated that he had looked at the unloader valves on their main engine air-compressor and they may not be the problem.  Since the parts won’t make it to Amarillo until Wednesday or Thursday they are not going to stick around and planned to head out in the morning.  Linda got online to check distances and potential stopping points and found that it was 720 miles from here to Deming, NM and 313 miles to a convenient Wal-Mart in Midland, TX.  We let Donn know that we would probably leave in the morning and said our “farewells until next time” and thanked him for his generous hospitality.  If our future travels take us anywhere near Dallas Ft. Worth we will definitely stop and spend time with Donn.  Heck, we would travel here just to visit with him.


2014/12/01-04 (m-r) Westward Ho!

2014/12/01 (M) Back in Twelve Mile IN

As I indicated in yesterday’s post we are back in Twelve Mile, Indiana for a couple of days before heading on towards the southwest United States.  Butch and Fonda are scrambling to get ready and although there isn’t much we can do to help, we have made ourselves available.  If nothing else we can cheer them on.

We went to bed early last night, tired from our final departure preparations and 270 miles of travel yesterday, and slept in this morning.  Once we were up we had our usual granola with fresh fruit for breakfast and then walked over to Small Town Brew for coffee and conversation with owner Lisa Paul and whoever else happened in while we were there.

Well caffeinated, and pushing 9:30 AM, we checked in on Butch and Fonda.  There wasn’t anything we could help with so we both set up our computers and got online.  Linda paid bills while I updated the spreadsheet I use to track cross-purchase costs.  I hooked up their small Canon iP90 inkjet printer and printed out a copy for Butch and wrote him a check for the balance we owed them.  I showed Linda the MFJ-998 full legal limit antenna tuner that Butch wanted to sell and decided to buy it, resulting in a second check.  We plan to (eventually) use this in our base station, but it was a good enough deal that it was worth buying now and transporting to Arizona and back.  Buying it now also helped out our friends.  I logged in to RVillage and updated our location while Linda walked down to the Post Office two buildings to the west.  (Twelve Mile is a pretty small, compact town.)

Bill and Butch finished repairing Brittiny’s car this past week and she and Rock showed up mid-morning to pick it up.  We visited with them for a while and then Rock headed back while Brittiny visited with her mom.  While they were talking someone stopped across the street and off-loaded a camel.  They had three on the trailer but I’m not sure where they put the other two.  The three wise men, however, were nowhere to be seen.

Although the air temperature was in the upper 20’s it was sunny most of the day, which kept the front of the bus comfortable and well lit.  Given those conditions I decided to work on some projects in the center cockpit area.

First up was (finally) mounting the inclinometer, which turned out to be quite the little project.  I had to remove the mounting bracket from the case in order to attach it to my mounting blocks on the center windshield pillar.  That, in turn, required me to take the case apart and remove the mechanism so I could get to the ‘C’ clips that prevented the bracket retaining screws from coming all the way out of the body.  But I got it apart, mounted, and reassembled, minus the retaining clips.  Really, why would I put them back in?

Linda split the one remaining Tofurkey brand Italian sausage and served it on a couple of hotdog buns for lunch along with a couple of Clementine oranges.  A quick and simple but tasty lunch.

The inclinometer and the compass both have light bulbs in them and needed to be wired up to 12VDC accessory plugs.  The inclinometer already had a power cord but the compass did not, so I got some scrap wire from Butch and fashioned a 2-conductor power cable.  I only have four accessory outlets and three of them were already in use so I attached both power cables to a single plug using wire nuts.  I then dressed all of the wires to make for a neater looking installation that would keep them out of the way and prevent snagging and/or tripping problems.  All of this was a long-term temporary solution; I plan to eventually install a 12 VDC PowerPole distribution system for all of these accessories and hide the wiring to the extent possible or enclose it split cable loom.

I removed the four screws that hold the panel with the 12 VDC house system switches so I could get to the back side of them.  It took a while but I eventually puzzled out how the three air-conditioner switches were wired.  I removed the wire that feeds +12 VDC to the Rear A-C switch and checked for voltage at the loose end of the wire.  There wasn’t any, as expected, so I put a 2 Amp blade fuse in the 12 VDC distribution panel and checked again.  This time I had +13.2 VDC, so everything was good down to that point.  I removed the line and load wires from each switch in turn and checked to make sure the contacts opened and closed the way they should.  They did, so I checked each pin to ground to see if any of them were somehow shorted to ground.  They were not, so the problem was probably downstream from there.  I did not, however, specifically check the bulb circuit for each switch, so I don’t know if there’s a problem there or not.  The bulbs, however, get their power from the load side of each switch, so in the next paragraph the tests I did included the bulbs in parallel with whatever other loads existed.

I tested each load wire for continuity to ground and was surprised that they each appeared as a short.  I did this test with the DC- lead to ground and the DC+ lead to the wire.  When I reversed the leads each wire tested as open.  That suggested there was a diode, or something, acting as a one way current check valve.  I switched the VOM to measure resistance and rechecked each wire.  Where I had previously seen short circuits I saw 0 ohms; where I saw open circuits I now saw about 630 ohms.  Those readings might be a problem, but I don’t yet understand them well enough to know.

The bulbs are incandescent, so their resistance should measure the same in either direction.  If they are 0.6 W they would draw ~0.047 A and have a resistance of ~265 ohms (when illuminated), not the 630 ohms I saw with the red test lead grounded.  Regardless of the exact value, if a bulb was shorted I would see 0 ohms whichever way the test leads were connected.  With the black test lead to ground the 0 ohm readings were, therefore, presumably through the load wires not the bulbs.  If the relay coils were very low resistance (and protected by diodes) they would determine the meter reading in the forward direction, but I would have expected something more than a zero reading.  It seems very odd to me that all three of these loads tested as short circuits in one direction.

I had a weak Verizon 4G/LTE signal at the front of the bus so I tried calling Donn Barnes in Alvarado, Texas.  I got his voice mail and left a message indicating he could TXT message me back.  He did later and I replied that I would call him from Logansport a bit later.  Butch needed a 1/2″ x 1-1/2″ NPT male nipple so Linda and I drove to Logansport to buy one at Home Depot.  While we were there I called Donn and confirmed that he would be home this weekend and that we were still welcomed to visit and spend Saturday and Sunday at his place.  The timing looks like it will work out well as he has to work on Friday and Monday, so we will take our leave on Monday morning.

When we got back to the coach we had some pita chips with hummus while Linda prepared a green salad and started heating some lentil soup.  While we enjoyed the soup she reheated some pita bread and the leftover Koshary.  A small glass of Moscato went nicely with the meal.  After dinner we went in the house to visit with Butch and Fonda for a while and transfer some PDF files onto a flash drive for Butch.  We returned to our coach for the evening at 9 PM.  It was certainly an easier day for us than for Butch and Fonda, but we were tired nonetheless.

We were sitting quietly, reading and writing, when things suddenly got exciting.  Juniper made a sudden movement near the food bowls and I immediately glanced in her direction to see that she had caught a mouse.  We knew at least one was probably still living in the bus because yesterday we found a partially shredded blue paper shop towel in the tray where we store the shore power cords, along with two nuts that had been chewed open.

Juniper is a very skillful huntress but I was surprised that the mouse attempted to get to the cats’ food bowls, which are not in a really safe place for a mouse, with two cats on board.  Juniper is very protective of her catches, so she headed off towards the bedroom, trying to find someplace where we could not try to take it away from her.  We wanted to get it from her and remove it from the coach but our main concern was that she not kill it and try to eat it.

I got a container to try to capture it and Linda managed to get hold of the scruff of Juniper’s neck which caused her to drop the mouse.  It immediately ran further under the bed, a direction from which there did not appear to be an escape path, but we could find no sign of it save a few stool pellets.  I would have needed a much deeper container, like the trash can, to capture it.  Our best guess is that it disappeared into the OTR HVAC duct on Linda’s side of the bed.  Once in there it could travel the length of the bus with impunity, including moving from side to side and between the house and the bay’s.  With any luck it took the hint and moved outside.

Juniper took up her post by the rear corner of the dinette, where she originally caught the mouse, to wait for its reappearance.  A black cat sitting quietly on black tile at night is a pretty effective camouflage.  The problem for the mouse is that it needs to eat and even in its natural (outdoor) environment constantly takes risks to obtain food.

2014/12/02 (T) Tire(d) Pressures

Some nights we sleep better than others.  Last night was not one of our better nights.  The cats were still wound up because of the mouse and I suspect we were anticipating its return as well.  Because neither of us slept well, we slept in this morning.  By the time we were up and dressed it was 8:30 AM.  Linda was pretty sure she had left her gloves and knit hat at the coffee shop yesterday so we decided to go have coffee at Small Town Brew before we ate breakfast.

Linda’s things were there waiting for her to claim them.  We had a nice long chat with proprietor Lisa Paul and invited her to stop over after she closed the coffee shop for the day and get an inside tour of both buses.  We also inquired as to whether she had any post cards of Twelve Mile.  She did not but thought it would be nice to have a few available.  She has a friend, Derinda, who is an artist and thought she would ask her to make a few.  We were interested in one we could mail to our grand-daughter, Madeline, who will be two years old in less than three weeks.

Breakfast was raisin toast and grapefruit, simple but yummy.  We were both dressed to work and went in search of Butch and Fonda to see if we could be of any assistance.  Linda took her computer in the house to transfer some PDF manuals to Butch and then take care of some bakery-related issues.  I used Butch’s MFJ-269 SWR Analyzer to check the VSWR on his 2 meter ham antenna and his (11 meter) CB antenna.  Both antennas are glass mount.  The 2m ham antenna was tuned fairly well, showing a VSWR of 2.1 at the low end of the band (144.000 MHz) and 1.8 across most of the band (up 148.000 MHz).  That is certainly a usable range.

The CB antenna did not test nearly as well.  The CB band is channelized, with channel 1 just below 27.000 MHz and channel 40 just above 27.400 MHz.  At 27.0 MHz the VSWR was greater than 6.0.  It declined steadily as I went up in frequency but was only down to 2.9 by the time I got to Channel 40.  A reading greater than 2.0 (a ratio greater than 2:1) becomes problematic for a transmitter and readings greater than 3.0 are generally unusable.  Both of Butch’s antennas are tunable but we did not take the time to adjust them today.  Butch is taking the analyzer so we can work on the antennas while we are in Quartzsite.

Their bus is parked in between our bus and their house as a consequence of which our WiFi Ranger is not able to pick up their WiFi network signal which is already weak outside the house.  I am having a problem with the unit that has me concerned, but I won’t be able to sort it out until I can get it connected to a working Internet connection.  The problem is that the WFR finds their network and tries to connect to it, requests an IP address, and while it is waiting for a response disconnects from my iPad, which serves as its control panel.  This annoying at best since the WFR and the iPad are only 10 feet apart.

We had lunch at 1:30 PM.  Linda heated up a couple of Thai Kitchen brand hot and sour rice noodle soup bowls.  It had been cold, damp, and dreary all day and we were both feeling a bit chilled so the soup was very soothing in addition to being very tasty.  By 2 PM it was obvious we were not going to get the mid-to-upper 30’s temperatures that had been forecast and there was no advantage to waiting any longer to check/set the tire pressures.  I bundled up, put on my mechanic’s gloves, and set about the business at hand.

Butch turned the auto shop compressor on and I pulled the air hose out and connected it to our hose.  I removed the Pressure Pro sensors from all 12 tires and then worked my way around both vehicles in the same order.  When the sensors have been off for a minimum of one minute putting them back on resets the baseline pressure, which determines the pressures at which you get over- and under-pressure warnings.  I set the bus tires as follows:  front tires to 115 PSI, drive tires to 95 PSI, and tag tires to 85 PSI.  I set the car front tires to 32 PSI and the rear tires to 34 PSI.  I noted that the ambient temperature was 30 degrees F.  I then plugged in the Pressure Pro receiver and repeater and checked the pressures they were reporting.  The four car tire readings were essentially identical to the known pressures in the tires, but the sensors on the eight bus tires all registered low, in one case by 6 lbs.  As I indicated in a previous post I think the batteries are just about drained and are giving tire(d) pressure readings.  I know that I am tired of the discrepancies as I count on these readings to tell me it’s OK to drive or I need to add air to certain tires.

Bill and Bell showed up in his custom car hauler while I was working on the tires.  Bill and Butch worked on some stuff and Bell helped Fonda load food and sundries onto the bus.  Lisa Paul showed up for a brief visit and tour of both buses.  See also brought a postcard that her friend Derinda made.  It featured the building that houses Lisa’s Small Town Brew coffee shop.  Linda is going to post it to Madeline in the morning so it has a Twelve Mile, Indiana postmark.  It will be the first of what we hope are many such postcards from far away exotic places.  Being almost two years old we hope these mementos will provide a tangible connection to us while we are traveling.  I know her parents will use them as learning opportunities.

Linda and I took showers in the house to minimize the use of our stored water and waste tank capacity.  The six of us then drove down to The Old Mill restaurant just west of town for an earlier than normal dinner.  The restaurant also allowed us to use their dumpster to dispose of our accumulated household trash.  That was nice because Butch and Fonda had already suspended their dumpster service for the winter.

When we got back from dinner we got online and checked the weather forecast and road conditions along our planned route.  Bill had recently driven I-70 west of Indianapolis and strongly advised us to avoid going that way.  Our check of the INDOT website confirmed that we were well advised to avoid Indianapolis altogether.  We settled on SR-16 east to US-31 south to US-24 west to I-57 in Illinois.  From there we will take I-57 south to Mt. Vernon, Illinois where we will overnight at Wally World (Walmart).

Bill and Bell said they would be back in the morning to see us off (“watch this thing launch” is how Bill put it) and took their leave.  We hung out a while longer trying to be useful but mostly providing moral support and comic relief until it was time to winterize the plumbing.  Butch hooked up a line from his big shop air compressor, ran it through a pressure regulator, and attached it to the main plumbing line at the surge tank and pump.  Just like an RV he used air pressure to drain both water heaters and then had us open each fixture in turn and let the air blow the water out and down the drain.  We then filled the traps and toilet tanks with potable RV antifreeze.  The reason for using potable antifreeze is that it will eventually end up in the septic tank and drain field.

We finally retired to our coach leaving them to finish up some last minute things before retiring to their coach for the night.  We had some very tasty red grapes for dessert (and a couple of cookies) while we studied maps for our next few days of travel.  We had not really looked at them carefully before now and were surprised to find that we will not be in either Kentucky or Tennessee.  We had presumed that we would be, but I-57 runs into the extreme southwest corner of Illinois and then crosses the Mississippi River into Missouri, ending at I-55 in Sikeston.  From there we will continue south into Arkansas on I-55, which stays on the west side of the Mississippi river, until we intersect I-40 west of Memphis and head west towards Little Rock.  Thus we will never enter Kentucky or Tennessee and we will not drive through Memphis; at least not on purpose.

Fonda has to run to Logansport first thing tomorrow and while she is gone we will prep our bus for travel, hitch up our car, and give Butch whatever assistance we can.  We plan to be on the road by 10 AM and safely parked at the Walmart in Mt. Vernon, Illinois well before dark.

2014/12/03 (W) Finally On Our Way

We were up around 7:45 this morning anticipating a 9 AM departure even though we knew that was unlikely.  I turned on the Aqua-Hot engine pre-heat pump to start warming the engine.  There was a dusting of snow on the ground and on our car; a sure sign that our departure had been delayed long enough.

Bill and Bell arrived a little after 8 AM so we invited them into the coach and chatted for over an hour while Butch and Fonda got their morning organized.  Fonda left for her run to Logansport at 9:15 AM followed by Bill and Bell at 9:25 AM when they decided they needed to go to Logansport to get breakfast.  Fonda returned at 9:50 AM and we started making our final departure preparations.  We had hoped to leave by 10 AM but suspected that was optimistic.  It’s Butch and Fonda’s first extended use of their converted coach and they have had a lot to do to get ready to leave.

We straightened up the interior for travel as soon as Bill and Bell left so all that remained for us to do was unhook the shorepower cord and store it, start up the main engine, move the bus across the street, and hookup the car for towing.  We can do all of that in 15-20 minutes if absolutely necessary, especially in warmer weather, but it typically takes a half hour.  We do not like to rush this process; it’s important that we do it correctly each and every time.  It is also a commonly understood etiquette among RVers that you do not try to chit-chat with, or otherwise disturb, fellow road warriors while they are hitching something up.

Butch & Fonda's MC-9 getting ready to depart Twelve Mile, IN.

Butch & Fonda’s MC-9 getting ready to depart Twelve Mile, IN.

We were idling and ready to go by 10:25 AM but Butch had to make some final adjustments to his toad towing/braking setup.  Bill and Bell were back in time for Bill to help and Bell to take pictures and give us a good send off.  We pulled out a little after 11 AM and headed east on SR-16 with Butch in the lead but only got to the edge of town before Butch pulled off the road.  We pulled off behind him and Bill pulled off the on the other side.  We had noticed that their bus was smoking but they realized something was wrong before we could even call them on our 2m ham radio.  It wasn’t the engine; the brakes on the toad were partially engaged and he could feel the drag.  He readjusted it and we were on our way again, this time for good.

The trip to Mt. Vernon, Illinois was an easy and uneventful run.  From SR-16 we turned south on US-31 and picked up US-24 westbound.  We took this same route in June 2013 when we left Twelve Mile headed to the state of Wyoming so we knew it was a good route for us.  We had to slow down going through small towns, but that gave us a chance to catch a glimpse of these quaint little places.  A couple of larger towns had stop lights, but mostly we were able to keep rolling.

We stopped at a Pilot Truck Stop just west of I-65 for a quick walk-around and so Fonda could take the dogs out.  We continued west on US-24 into Illinois and eventually got to I-57 where we headed south.  We saw occasional construction signs but very little construction and did not incur any delays.  Butch lead most of the day and we just followed along with generally light traffic.

We stopped at the rest area just north of I-70 and took a stretch break, after which we took the lead.  A few miles later we got to the construction on the short stretch where I-57 and I-70 run together.  We had to drive 45 MPH but rolled right through.  After the construction zone we took the center lane knowing that I-57 would split to the left from I-70 and continue southbound.  Slow traffic is often worse than fast traffic as the cars end up bumper-to-bumper leaving no space for larger vehicles to change lanes.

Following the directions on our GPS we took exit 95 for Mt. Vernon, Illinois, drove a quarter mile, and turned left onto a road that ran down the west side of the Wal-Mart property.  Linda had called ahead and been told it was OK for us to spend the night in their parking lot.  The first two access drives, however, had crossbars at 12 feet so we could not turn in. The third driveway was for delivery trucks so we turned in there and headed back towards the north end of the lot by Ryan’s as Linda had been instructed on the phone.  There were signs posted prohibiting semi-truck parking so we parked temporarily while Linda went in to check on the situation.

A women at customer service confirmed that we could spend the night and asked that we stay near the periphery of their parking lot away from the main doors.  No problem.  The lot we had pulled into was not the Wal-Mart lot and was a little tight but were able to extricate both coaches without unhooking our toads and moved them to the northeast corner of the adjacent/connected Wal-Mart parking lot.  I leveled up as best I could, shut the engine off, and then closed the various air valves and switched the chassis batteries off.

The house batteries were at an 89% state of charge (SOC) when we arrived.  We locked the bus and went for a walk around the east end of the building to scout out an exit route.  We stopped in the store and bought a bag of Fritos and some popcorn oil.  When we got back to the coach I started the diesel genset and turned on two of the electric toekick heaters while Linda used the induction cooker to prepare vegan burgers for dinner.

After we had eaten Linda and I sent TXT messages to several people.  We then went over to visit briefly with Butch and Fonda and look at maps for tomorrow’s leg of the trip.  When we returned to our coach we noticed that the generator had stopped running.  Not good.  I was able to restart it but each time it shut down, so I got Butch to come look at it.

There’s a solenoid that holds a fuel valve open and we thought that might be the problem, but it wasn’t.  We checked the level of the oil but it was OK.  I started it again and Butch noticed that the squirrel cage fresh air blower was not turning so I shut the engine off.  Linda had been watching the gauges inside and said the water temperature was very high (off the end of the scale).  Butch checked the blower to make sure it wasn’t stuck. I traced the wiring back to a panel with a couple of circuit breakers and one of them was popped.  I reset it and restarted the engine and the blower came on.  Linda reported that the water temperature immediately dropped.  We suspected, but did not confirm, that the same breaker controlled the power to the large squirrel cage blower for the radiator, which is located in the inverter bay on the other side of the bus.  I let it run for another hour and brought the house batteries up to 95%.  It ran fine with normal water temperature and oil pressure so I think we found the problem and fixed it.

Linda read while I changed most of the clocks to Central Standard Time.  I turned off the electric heating element in the Aqua-Hot to unload the GenSet and then shut it down for the night.  I dialed the three Aqua-Hot thermostats back to 15 degrees C (59 degrees F) and turned on the Diesel burner.  It is only supposed to get down to 32 degrees Fahrenheit overnight but Linda put an extra blanket on the bed since we will not be using the electric heating pads as they would draw too much energy from the batteries.

It was a long day but largely uneventful except for the beginning and the end.  But all’s well that ends well, and this day did.

2014/12/04 (R) Roadside Repair

I was awake at 4:30 AM and got up to check on the SOC of the house batteries and turn on the Aqua-Hot engine pre-heat pump.  The batteries were at 68 SOC.  They were at 95% when I shut the generator off around 9 PM last night, so they had dropped 27% percentage points in 7.5 hours, a rate of 3.6 percentage points per hour or 10 percentage points every 2 hours and 45 minutes.  We did not go out of our way to minimize loads, leaving some night lights on (DC), the Aqua-Hot (DC), and the main inverter loads (refrigerator, auxiliary air-compressor, microwave clock, outlets with chargers, etc.). At that rate it would take just under 14 hours for the batteries to drop to a 50% SOC, starting from 100%.  I was satisfied with the performance of the system and went back to bed.

It started to rain off and on around 5:30 AM, the first sign of a wet day.  I got up to stay at 7:15 AM and got dressed.  I checked the SOC of the house batteries and it was 58%, so it had dropped another 10% in 2 and 3/4 hours, consistent with the 4:30 AM data.  I started the generator to provide power for hot water, lights, and additional engine pre-heating.  It would also start to bring the SOC of the house batteries back up before we started driving for the day, although the Zena power generating system on the main engine should be capable of recharging them in a couple of hours while we are driving.

Since we were not leaving until at least 9 AM we decided to have a light breakfast of raisin bread and grapefruit.  After breakfast I powered up our Verizon Mi-Fi device, got my laptop connected to it, e-mailed yesterday’s blog post to myself (from my iPad), and then checked my e-mail (on my computer).

We had the coach straightened up and ready to go well ahead of our departure.  Around 8:45 Butch indicated that they would be ready to go in 15 minutes.  That was all the time I needed to get the car ready to tow, switch the coach batteries on, open the various air valves, shut off the Aqua-Hot pre-heat loop, and start the main engine.  With the main engine running I turned off all of the loads on the generator, let it run unloaded for a few minutes to cool down, and then shut it off.

We pulled out at 9 AM and worked our way around behind the store and back out the unblocked entrance we came in yesterday.  Instead of turning on Broadway to go back to the Interstate we crossed over and pulled into the Pilot Truck Stop so Butch could top off their fuel tank.  We did not need fuel yet but I pulled in right behind him so we were positioned to pull out together.

We were back on I-57 headed south by 9:25 AM with Butch in the lead.  We ran at 60 MPH through light rain and fog with overcast skies all the way to the end of I-57 at I-55 near Sikeston, Missouri, where we continued south towards Memphis, Tennessee.  We eventually crossed into Arkansas and out of the rain, although the cloudy skies continued.  About 25 miles north of the junction with I-40 Butch called on the radio to let us know that he needed to get off the road at the first safe place I could find.  His air pressure had dropped to 60 PSI and was not building.  A couple of miles later I pulled off onto the shoulder of an entrance ramp and he pulled off behind me.  The brakes and suspension most highway buses are air-powered.  Without proper air-pressure the bus cannot be driven.

The pressure in the system was holding which indicated a supply issue rather than a leak.  The usual suspect in this situation is the “governor” (or less likely the unloader valves) on the main engine air-compressor.  Butch had a spare governor in his parts kit but we were not in an ideal spot for changing it.  He decided instead to hook up his portable air-compressor to his air system auxiliary fill connector.  He put the portable air-compressor in the bedroom at the rear of the bus and had Fonda run the air hose out the passenger side window were I took it and zip tied it to the side radiator grill.  Butch then ran it through a small access door by the passenger side rear lights and connected it to the fill valve.  The portable air-compressor is an AC powered device, so Butch had to start their generator to power it.  It gradually built the pressure to 100 PSI.  The pressure was holding so Butch dial it up to 110 PSI.  He left the portable air-compressor on for the rest of the trip and allowed us to get back on the road, making this a very clever emergency roadside fix.

After a 20 minute delay we pulled back onto I-55 and finished the run to I-40 with heavier traffic.  We exited onto westbound I-40 in West Memphis, Arkansas and completed the 38 miles to Forest City, Arkansas without difficulty.  We negotiated a tight turn onto the street where the Wal-Mart was located but had an easy time getting in at the far west entrance.  From there we pulled up parallel to a north-south curb that ran the length of the west edge of the parking lot.  We leveled up the coach (using the air springs), shut down the engine, and went through our usual dry-camping arrival routine.

As soon as we were set up Butch was back looking at his main engine air-compressor and then on the phone with Luke at U. S. Coach in New Jersey.  He decided to change the governor as it couldn’t do any harm.  I helped him (as best I could) but once the new governor was installed the compressor still would not build air pressure.  The unloader valves were the next most likely (easiest to fix) culprits, but neither of us had the parts.  There was an O’Reilly’s Auto Store across the main road from the Wal-Mart so we walked over there.  They did not stock them either, but at least we got some exercise.

The house batteries were at 78% SOC when we arrived which disappointed me as I expected them to be at least at 88% like they were yesterday at the end of our drive.  We were on the inverter from the time we started up at 9 AM until I turned the generator on at about 3:30 PM.  At our normal rate of 3.6 percentage points per hour we would have been at ~72% SOC without any charging from the ZENA system, so 78% did not seem very good to me.  It appears that I am going to have to adjust the charge voltage up somewhat on the ZENA power generating system as it should be supply enough current to run any AC loads while traveling (mostly the refrigerator) and fully recharge the house batteries.  I let the generator run through dinner until bedtime.  It brought the SOC back up to 91% with the charger in float mode supplying 10 Amps of current at 26.3 VDC.  Once the charger is in float mode it can take a surprisingly long time to finishing bringing the batteries to full charge.

Some weeks back Butch bought a grandfathered Verizon unlimited data plan on Ebay using the Assumption Of Liability (AOL) process.  He also picked up a used phone and a used Jetpack MiFi device.  Both devices can use the SIM card, but he had not had a chance to connect the MiFi through to the Internet.  We removed the card from the phone, installed it in the MiFi and powered it up.  It found a strong Verizon 4G/LTE signal right away.  The menu gave us the password and we were able to connect his laptop computer and my iPad.  He started searching the web while I downloaded e-mails.

Linda and Fonda had walked to the store to buy a few things.  When they got back we chatted for a bit and then went back to our coach.  Linda made popcorn for me (she wasn’t hungry) and we relaxed for a while before going to bed.