Tag Archives: Suncoast Designers (Hudson FL)

2015/12/08 (T) Hudson and Back

The outside air temperature dropped into the 40’s last night.  I closed the roof vents before turning in but we left the windows open a bit.  It was 61 degrees F in the kitchen when I got up at 8 AM so I turned on the Aqua-Hot, turned up all three thermostats, and turned on the front electric toekick heater.  I fed the cats and then made our morning coffee.  Linda got up around 8:20.  After our first cup of coffee we had granola for breakfast.  When the temperature in the coach reached 70 I turned off the thermostats and the electric heater and shut off the Aqua-Hot diesel burner.  (The electric heating element in the Aqua-Hot stays on whenever we are plugged in and living in the coach.)

I called Suncoast Designers and talked to Donna.  She talked to the technician and reported back that the bus window would be ready for pickup at 3 PM.  The office closes at 3:45 PM, so I would need to be there close to 3 to get it and settle the bill.

I found my water usage spreadsheet, which I last updated on April 19 of this year, and edited it to include the dump and fill activity since then.  I had to go back to my blog posts from late April to confirm just what I had done and when I had done it.  I checked my most recent post drafts and discovered that I had not made mention of dumping here at WCRVR.  Linda and I agreed that it was not the day we got here and not the following day so I recorded it as the 3rd.  Since there had been large time gaps in our use of the coach, and I had dumped the fresh water tank and refilled it the day before Thanksgiving, I had to reset the spreadsheet to known starting points.

After entering the missing data I determined that, with two people living in the coach, we continue to use fresh water at the rate of approximately 12 gallons per day and fill the waste tanks at the rate of approximately 12 gallons per day; five for the black tank and seven for the gray tank.  With 120 gallons of fresh water that means we can boondock for about 10 days, during which time we would use up the 120 gallons of fresh water and add roughly the same number of gallons to the two waste tanks, 50 to the 80 gallon black tank, and 70 to the 120 gallon gray tank.  I also determined that we have used about half the capacity of the water softener.

The numbers for the waste tanks are very rough as our tank level monitors do not work and I cannot see the levels in the tanks, even though they are translucent white plastic, as they are hidden behind “beauty panels.”  Still, I think my estimates are reasonable.  Given the 3:4 ratio of fresh:waste tank capacity I am inclined to redo the water bay next spring as a 300 gallon, 2-tank, system replacing the current 330 gallons of combined tank capacity (125 fresh, 125 gray, 80 black).  I could reuse the current 125 gallon fresh tank but I would probably replace it with one of a different shape to make room for the water softener and filters to be built in and to relocate the fresh water pump to the driver side floor at the level of the bottom of the fresh water tank.

At current usage rates a 125 gallon fresh water tank and a single 175 gallon waste tank would, hypothetically, allow us to boondock for 13 days, running out of fresh water just as our waste tank reached capacity.  We might be able to stay out longer if we could reduce fresh water usage and waste generation proportionally.  In practice, however, we would probably not go more than 13 to 14 days and only then if the new tank monitors worked accurately.  Still, that would allow us to stay out two full weeks before we had to dump and fill, which seems like a good amount of time.

The other benefits of reconfiguring the tanks in the utility bay include slightly different tank shapes that would create some space for the water softener and filters and provide access to the tanks for servicing and monitoring.  It would also allow me to install rotating spray heads for the waste tank and drain it through the macerator pump, allowing use to “dump” our tanks at our house or anywhere we could get a garden hose into a waste drain.  We might even gain space, or access to space that is already there, to store drain hoses, and other utilities-related things, in the bay.  I would, for instance, love to have a shorepower reel but I do not think I can create that kind of space without making the tanks too small.

What we would lose in the redo is a separate gray tank that could, hypothetically, be drained onto the ground in some places.  The number of places where that is legal, however, is too small (in my opinion) to justify keeping that capability.  The other main argument for keeping separate black and gray waste water tanks is that the contents of the gray tank can be used to flush the drain hose out after first dumping the contents of the black tank.  Indeed, some bus converters set up their waste tanks with the gray tank above the black tank and plumb them so that the gray tank can be drained into the black tank to help flush it out, or drained directly (which leaves open the option of draining it in on the ground).

We heard another interesting take on water management for boondocking at a seminar in August 2012 at the FMCA national rally in Madison, WI.  The presenter described his system, which involved three tanks, fresh, gray, and black.  His twist on this was that he ran the gray water through a filter (or set of filters) and then used it to flush the toilet.  The advantage is that all of the fresh water becomes available for gray water use, i.e., cooking and cleaning.  As an example, consider a setup (such as we might have in our bus conversion) with a 150 gallon fresh water tank, a 100 gallon gray tank, and a 50 gallon black tank. Since the first 50 gallons that go into the gray tank will potentially end up in the black tank the entire 150 gallons of fresh water can ultimately end up in the 100 gallon gray tank.  With careful management of water usage, that could really extend the amount of time the rig can be used without hookups.  These tanks could be sized differently, larger waste and smaller fresh, if you had a fresh water bladder that could be used to retrieve additional fresh water and refill the tank without moving the RV.  Lot’s of interesting possibilities, all of which involve engineering design tradeoffs.

I opened the box of BCM back issues that arrived yesterday and went through them.  There were two of each issue but I won’t know if they are all there until I can integrate them into the partial sets I brought from home.  Those sets were under the bed and there was a cat on the bed so retrieving them would have to wait until later.  I worked on this post for a while instead and stopped at noon to have lunch.  Linda made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sliced an apple.  Simple but delicious.

I looked through the articles in my BCM “in process” folder and opened the one on tips for taking photographs to see how complete it was.  While not finished, the article was much more than an outline.  I spent about 20 minutes reviewing what I already had and doing some additional editing but did not feel like digging into in it.

I left at 1 PM for Hudson, taking the same route I took yesterday, and arrived at 2:45 PM.  I was 15 minutes early but the window was done.  There was no charge for the repair, which I appreciated, as the seal failed not long after the window was originally fixed in April 2014.  The technician wanted the window to stay horizontal for at least another day, supported by its frame, before being reinstalled in the bus.  Because the back of the car was full and could not be rearranged I moved the passenger seat all the way forward and leaned the seat back as far as it would go.  I used the blanket to plug the gap between the front edge of the seat and dashboard and set the window in place, outside up, with one short edge on the blanket and the other one on the seatback.  It traveled very well that way on the drive home and I decided it was safer to leave it there than setting it out on the picnic table overnight.  I got back to the rig around 5 PM even though I stopped twice, once for popcorn at Rural King, and then at McDonald’s for a diet pop.

Linda made seitan vegan stroganoff for dinner which we enjoyed with a glass of Mimbres Red table wine from St. Clair Winery in Deming, New Mexico.  In retrospect we should have bought more bottles while we were there.  Every wine we bought from them was a red and very much to our liking, especially mine, which is unusual.

We had both spent most of the day sitting on our butts (not our hands) and went for a brisk stroll after dinner.  We watched a few TV programs, went to bed at 10:30, and finished watching Rick Steves’ Europe before turning out the lights.


2015/12/07 (M) Not on Vacation

I set my iPad alarm clock last night for 5:30 AM.  As soon as the alarm went off Jasper got up next to me on the outside edge of my side of the bed, snuggled in by chest, and wanted to be petted at great length.  I obliged him for as long as I could and was rewarded with his loud, resonant purring, which I could feel as much as hear.  I still managed to get out of bed by 5:45, feed the cats, get dressed, and be on my way by 6:08.

It’s only 75 miles from Williston to Suncoast Designers in Hudson, but the first few miles were a slow roll through the RV resort to the front gate followed by the short trip through downtown with a 35 MPH speed limit and several stop lights.  After a short distance on US-41 south I picked up FL-115 heading west.  A few miles past the airport it made a large sweeping turn to the south and continued on that heading for about 17 miles at 60 MPH until it joined up with to US-19.  I continued south on US-19 at 65 MPH for another 20 miles.  At that point it felt like I was making good time but I knew what was ahead as I had driven this route several times when we were here in 2014.

US-19 gets closer to the Gulf of Mexico the farther south you go, and with that closeness comes an increasing presence of people.  The first population center I came to was the charming little “Suncoast” town of Crystal River, followed by Ingless, Homosassa Springs, Weeki Wachi, and then finally Hudson.  These towns all have much lower speed limits and stop lights, and they get larger and closer together the farther south you go.  The side of the road changes from forest and farm to intermittent small businesses, then continuous shall businesses, and then suburban commerce that extends back from the main road until you reach Hudson which is a far northern suburb in the greater Tampa / St. Petersburg metropolitan area.  From Weeki Wachi on south US-19 is six lanes with a median, is lined with commercial properties, and has lots of traffic.

I arrived at Suncoast Designers a little before 8 AM so the trip took about an hour and 45 minutes.  I checked in at the office and they had someone meet me at the factory door to take the window and label it with my name.  We had this thermopane window repaired in April 2014 but the new seal did not hold.  Getting it repaired was one of our reasons for returning to Florida this winter.  Not the main reason, of course, but a factor in our decision.  I was back in my car and on the way home by 8:20 AM.  I will have to come back tomorrow to pick it up.

On the drive down I spotted a Dunkin Donuts about 10 miles north of Hudson on the west side of US-19 so I stopped there on the way back for a large coffee.  I had also seen quite a few filling stations between Crystal River and Hudson, many of them Shell stations, so I picked one that had easy access and regular gasoline (10% Ethanol) for $2.03 per gallon, cash or credit.

I remembered seeing an Office Max and pulled in when I spotted it.  By now it was well after 9 AM and businesses were open.  They had several different weights of expensive color laser photo paper but nothing like that in 8.5×14 (legal) size.  I did not need to have the paper today so I did not buy any.  I really do not want to redo our Holiday Letter for 8.5×11 paper so I will check online and see what I can get.  There was a Rural King at the same mall complex as the Office Max so I bought two bags of Spectracide Fire Ant Killer.  I also got a bag of free popcorn, which is available at all Rural King stores.  More places should do that, I think.

It was going on 11 AM by the time I got back to the coach.  Linda had been up since 7 AM and was ready to set her cross-stitch project aside and go for a walk.  I had been sitting for the better part of five hours so that sounded good to me.  We went for a vigorous stroll through the resort and arrived back at our coach ready for lunch.  Linda heated up a couple of vegan hot dogs and served them on the large whole wheat buns with mustard and relish.

After lunch I installed updates on the FMCA Freethinkers chapter website, the FMCA GLCC chapter website, and our personal website.  I then took snapshots in Adobe Reader CC of the covers of the BCM issues for July through December 2015, post-processed the covers, and uploaded them to the BCM page on our website along with brief descriptions of my articles that appeared in each issue.  I finished inserting photos into the OASIS Combi article I’ve been working on for BCM and will upload it to our Dropbox and e-mail Butch this evening.

It was a gorgeous day so we sat outside for a while and I worked on this post.  That is one of the things I really like about my iPad.  An earlier e-mail from Gary indicated that my package was out for delivery today.  I was about to get in my car and drive to the office when Joe and Teresa from Brighton, Michigan stopped in their golf cart to chat.  When they went on their way I dropped off the recyclables on my way to the office, picked up the box of magazines (which was heavy), and returned to the coach.

I worked some more on this post on my iPad but by 5:30 PM I had been up for 12 hours on too little sleep so I took a nap until 6:15 PM when Linda woke me up to have dinner.  For dinner Linda made a green salad with fresh blueberries and strawberries and made black bean smothered sweet potatoes.  Besides the black beans, the topping had tomatoes, scallions, cumin, and coriander and was finished off with a dollop of vegan sour cream.  Yum, yum, yum.

We watched the PBS NewsHour, another thing we typically never do, but then we do a lot of things differently when we are away from home.  We then watched our usual Monday night TV programs on CBS.  Even when we are away some things don’t change.  We are not “on vacation” after all.  We don’t go on vacation to get bus windows repaired.  In fact, we no longer go on vacation, we simply blend new experiences into our everyday lives.  Such is the nature of retirement as extended-time RVers in a converted bus.


2015/12/06 (N) Multiple Threads

I got out of bed at 8 AM, fed the cats, refreshed their water, and cleaned their litter tray.  I made some hot soapy water for dishes and then measured out and ground our morning coffee beans.  Once I had the coffee brewing I cleaned the grinder, which I had not done in a while.

Linda got up around 8:30 and we both sat with our iPads and enjoyed our first cup of coffee.  I had a reply to the e-mail I sent our son last night and replied back.  I also sent the photo I created on Thursday to him and our daughter.  It is a 3-image panorama looking north out of our passenger side living room window of our motorcoach.

At 9:30 Linda started making pancakes, which has become something of a regular treat for our Sunday breakfast.  I got a call from my sister at 10 letting me know she was heading to the hospital where our dad is in the ICU.  We finished our coffee around 10:30 and got dressed.  Linda settled in to work on her counted cross-stitch project and I checked our fresh water tank.  The level was finally below 1/3 on the monitor so I decided to test the park water.  As I expected, based on our previous time here, the hardness was at the maximum on the test strip so I got the water softener out and connected it to the supply valve.  The quick disconnect, while a nice idea, is made of plastic.  It was finally worn to the point where it would not seal so I unthreaded it from the pressure regulator and put it back in the fresh water tub where it joined a dozen other components that I should throw away.  Someday.

I have read in multiple publications and blogs that the RV sewer hose, and especially the bayonet connectors used on RV sewer hoses, is the weakest component on an RV, both by design and manufacture.  While these components may be in contention for that status, I submit that the garden hose fittings that are universally used for the fresh water connections may actually be the worst.  My fresh water connections always leak even when I tighten them (gently) with a wrench.  My sewer connections do not generally leak.

But I have digressed once again.  When I had the softener connected I tested the output and it appeared to be fully charged so I connected it to the inlet of the coach and refilled the fresh water tank.  In Quartzsite, Arizona this past winter I kept track of the details of when I dumped and filled tanks, including the hardness was of the water coming out of the softener before and after each fill.  This data served two purposes.

One purpose was to compensate for our waste tank level monitors, which do not work.  We were trying to determine the rate at which we were filling them so we could calibrate how long we could reasonably boondock before we had to dump them.  That turned out to be about nine days, conservatively, which is how long we went before hooked up here and dumped.


Because the water softener can only remove a certain number of grains of hardness before it is exhausted the number of gallons it can soften before it has to be recharged depends on the hardness of the water coming in.  At 25 grains of hardness per gallon, which is what we had in Q and what we have here in Williston, the softener, which has a capacity of about 10,000 grains, can process about 400 gallons.  If the hardness is higher than 25 gpg we will not be able to process that many gallons.  400 gallons is about four refills if I refill it when the level is down to 1/6 (20 gallons).  Our usage data from Q indicated that we used about 9 gallons per person per day on average (18 gallons per day) and that I was filling the tank every 5 to 6 days and recharging it every three weeks.

While setting up the water softener I noticed an active nest of red ants.  I saw John drive by and a few minutes later saw him headed back our way and flagged him down.  He did not have the ant poison on his cart but offered to get it and come back, which he did.  He also brought a rake.  It turned out that he buys this product at his own expense and uses it to treat sites before folks check in, so I will buy a bag for ourselves and one to replenish his stock as part of my trip to Hudson tomorrow.

With the refill underway I resumed working on the photos for the BCM article on the International Thermal Research (ITR) OASIS Combi hydronic heating system in Butch and Fonda Willams’ 1987 MCI MC-9 NJT bus conversion.  The hospital tried to reach me at 12:14 PM but the call went directly to my voice mail.  After a few text messages back and forth with my sister and niece I received a phone number for the doctor and was able to get her on the phone.

Brendan texted me at 1 PM to let me know he was headed to our house.  He called when he got there and I called him back on our house phone.  He spent about half an hour searching through brief cases looking for certain papers and telling me what he was finding.  He found the case I needed and took it back to his house where he can go through it more comfortably and ship it to me if needed.

I had resumed working on the BCM article when John and Ali showed up.  We invited them into the coach to see the remodeling work we have done and they stayed long enough to chat awhile and have a small glass of wine.  I opened the bottle of Viva La Rojo from the Heart Of The Desert winery in Alamogordo, New Mexico and we all agreed it was very nice.  It is at such moments that I am left to wonder why we did not buy more than one bottle.

After they left I continued working on the article until I was too tired to concentrate.  It was well into the second half of the afternoon so we both put our projects aside and removed the fogged living room awning style window/frame, wrapped it in a blanket, and put it in the car.  I need to leave early in the morning and drive to Suncoast Designers in Hudson to have the window repaired and did not want to be messing around with it at 6 AM in the morning.

Getting the window out required the step ladder and a small screwdriver to remove two C-clips so it was a bit more involved than it sounds.  Linda put the screen back in place, covered it with a piece of the silvered bubble insulation, and taped it around the edges.  The RV resort is very safe so someone getting into our rig was not our concern.  Rather, the low temperature overnight Monday into Tuesday is forecast to be in the 40’s so we really cannot have an uninsulated opening in the side of the coach.  The chance for rain is low to zero, and we have the awning out over most of that window, so we are hopeful we will not have to seal the outside with plastic.  Our other concern was our cats.  The screens do not fit as tight as we would like and if this one fell out the cats could jump to their “freedom” with potentially dire consequences.

Linda made stuffed Poblano peppers for dinner.  The preparation took a while so I laid down on the sofa and watched Martha Bakes and Ask This Old House on the Create channel from the University of Florida, Gainesville PBS station.  What can I say?  I find TV that teaches me things entertaining, even if I can’t eat anything Martha bakes.  At home Linda would normally cook the peppers on our outdoor or indoor grill but tonight she pan-seared them.  The peppers were stuffed with a mixture of rice, black beans, tomatoes, scallions, vegan cheddar cheese, and vegan sour cream.  The peppers brought just enough heat to the dish and we finished the bottle of Viva La Rojo, which smoothed everything out.  We had a nice salad with sun-dried tomato vinaigrette as a first course.  We had sliced fresh strawberries for dessert.  It was a really good meal.

We watched President Obama’s address to the nation from the Oval Office, an interesting episode of 60 Minutes (which I have not seen in years), and the Sinatra 100 Grammy tribute.  It was an unusual evening of television for us but very enjoyable and a nice conclusion to a day that was broken up into multiple threads.


2015/07/09 (R) Graduation Celebration

My main focus this morning was my dentist appointment at 10:30 AM.  I wanted to leave the house at 9 AM so I had plenty of time to get there and actually left at 9:15.  Once I was on I-96 eastbound and clear of the construction at US-23 I called the South Lyon 2m repeater and Steve (N8AR) came back to my call.  I-96 was very slow as I approached Wixom Road so I exited at Beck Road and dropped down onto Grand River Avenue (GRA).  I got off GRA at M-5 in Farmington Hills and took that to where it ended and rejoined GRA.  I continued to Telegraph Road and headed south.  My QSO with Steve lasted until there by which point there was too much noise and not enough signal for a pleasant conversation.  In spite of the change from my intended route I was still at the dentist’s office by 10:10 AM and they were able to take me in early.

On the way home I called the South Lyon 2m repeater and Mike (W8XH) responded to the call.  As a result of differing weekend plans I decided to head to his QTH and pick up his climbing harness.  While I was there I took a few minutes to look at his reconfigured ham shack and his Canon EOS D7 Mark II DSLR.  To say that I am unhappy about Sony’s failure to release the alpha 99 II FF DSLT would be a gross understatement and I am not alone in the sentiment.

Back at the house we had a light lunch of sourdough pretzel nibblers and roasted red pepper hummus.  I then went to my office to continue working on the custom desk design for our bus.  But first I was taking care of e-mails when Williston Crossings RV Resort called back and said they had a spot for us for December.  We had not heard back from Suncoast Designers regarding an appointment to have a fogged window repaired so I called them.  They said they had replied to my e-mail letting us know that we were scheduled for December 7 but the e-mail had not come through, so I need to check the spam filter.

Linda called back and accepted the spot at Williston starting December 1st.  We will have to leave for one to three days to have the window taken care of and we will depart on the 26th for the Arcadia Bus Rally but the monthly rate will still be cheaper than paying for three weeks at the weekly rate.  Besides, they did not have a two or three week opening.

I did get a couple of hours of work done on the desk design and then had to quit.  A month ago our elder grand-daughter, Katie, missed her high school graduation due to a sudden illness.  Meghan and Chris (Katie’s dad) made reservations at Zingerman’s Roadhouse for 5:45 PM today and we gathered to celebrate this milestone in Katie’s life.  Brendan, Shawna, and Madeline also joined us and we all enjoyed quizzing (and teasing) Katie about her upcoming college experience at Northern Michigan University where she plans to major in Wildlife and Fisheries within the larger biology program.

Linda and I had the black bean burger with fresh, hand-cut fries.  Although it was tasty, and vegan, it did not have any binders and completely fell apart when I tried to assemble it as a sandwich.  We ordered them on sourdough bread as the buns had an egg wash.  Zingerman’s has excellent bread, but it is the rustic style with crusts that are so tough you cannot cut them with a knife (or a chainsaw).  Thus the “burger” was difficult to eat even as an open faced sandwich and was basically a messy pile of “stuff” on my plate.  Linda seemed to enjoy hers but I regretted ordering it even though I ate the whole thing.  I did, however, have a glass of Schramm’s Raspberry Mead made by my friend, and former colleague, Ken Schramm.  It was excellent.  The hand-cut fries were also good and the waitress was delightful, which is always a plus.

Back home I worked for a couple more hours in my office and then worked on this post.  I put my new N.T.I. dental appliance on my lower front teeth just before going to bed.  It obviously felt a little strange but did not keep me from falling asleep.


2014/08/31(N) By Any Other Name

My first task after breakfast was to sand drywall compound and apply the next coat where needed.  I’m down to touch up work in most spots and so I am trying to apply very thin layers with feathered edges that will dry quickly and require minimal sanding.  The old A-C opening in the library, however, is taking many, many overlapping layers.  Fortunately I can finish that at my leisure as Darryll is not working in that location.  Since he just this week installed the two pieces of duct in the lower part of the wall between the garage and the library I am still building up drywall compound to fill the irregular and, in places, large gaps on the garage side.  Unfortunately, the thicker compound takes longer to dry and watching drywall compound dry is worse than watching paint dry as it’s even slower.  The trick is to have something else to do while I wait.  Fortunately, I have lots to do.

I had some e-mail correspondence on Friday with the publisher of Bus Conversion Magazine, Gary Hall, whose name turns out to actually be Gary Hatt.  He had his reasons for not using his real name when he first took over BCM, which he explained and which made good sense.  BCM is running my article on Suncoast Designers in the August 2014 issue and he sent me a Dropbox link to the draft.  It looks like another really good issue, but is again coming out a month late.  Ever since the editor had a minor heart attack in early May they have been a month behind.  It appears that they will be doing an article on spin-on oil filters in the October issue and will also use my article on the Spinner II centrifugal oil cleaner that Joe and I installed a year and half ago.  I only have one other article ready for them to use, so I guess I need to get busy and write some new ones.

When I am not working on the house, the yard, or the bus, there’s always computer work to be done.  I have multiple projects to work on, but I also like to relax on a pleasant day and catch up on reading the blogs and RV magazines that I follow.  It was very pleasant today so we turned off the air-conditioning, opened up the house, and sat on the back deck reading and watching wildlife.  I addition to our resident American Red Squirrel we were treated to a visit by three Sandhill Cranes.  The squirrel has been busy for most of the month harvesting and stockpiling pine cones in what we presume is a midden under a cluster of very large fir trees northwest of the house.  The cranes spent a long time wandering around the back yard foraging.  We sat quietly and watched them and they came closer to the house than usual so we got a very good look at them.  They are large and magnificent.

I finally decided to continue editing the rough drafts of my blog posts for this month and get them ready to upload.  I still need to select photographs to go with some of the posts, or to put in separate gallery posts, but I finally uploaded the tree photos I took on the 21st to our Dropbox and e-mailed the link to Paul at Detroit Tree Recycling.

I spent some time online searching for sources of supply for an ignition coil for our Aqua-Hot diesel-fired hydronic heating system.  I can get one from Darin, but he quoted me MSRP and it is an expensive part.  I wasn’t having much luck so I called Butch mid-evening to discuss the situation.  He suggested that I hold off on getting a new ignition coil until I got the coach to his place and we were able to look at it more carefully.  He said I should have had white smoke and a definite smell from the atomized but unburned diesel fuel.  I didn’t which made him wonder if the problem might be fuel delivery rather than ignition spark.  Good advice, as always.  I don’t know enough about the control circuitry on the Aqua-Hot (it’s actually a Webasto inside) to know how the operation of the spark and fuel solenoid might be intertwined.  I have the manuals, but I have not had time to dig into them.  Besides, I have enough other things to work on right now that I am willing to let this one go for a few more weeks.


2014/04/16 (W) The Emerald Coast

Powell Lake at Grayton Beach SP, FL.

Powell Lake at Grayton Beach SP, FL.

As forecast, it dropped into the upper 30’s overnight.  By the time we got up at 8 AM the temperature had rebounded a bit into the low-mid 40’s.  I switched on the coach chassis batteries to power up the Pressure Pro TPMS and checked the pressures in all of the tires.  They were all 1- 2 PSI lower than the cold pressure readings I took before we left Suncoast Designers in Hudson, even after having Tires Plus in Spring Hill add air to all of the tires.  But the temperature in Hudson was in the 60’s at the time, and in the eight mile drive to Spring Hill the pressures had risen 5 – 8 PSI.  How much air to add to each tire under those conditions was an educated guess at best and I had not guessed as well as I had hoped.

The DS steer tire, in particular, was reading 107 PSI this morning.  My target was 110 PSI.  The forecasted low for early Saturday morning is 53, and it will likely be closer to 60 degrees F by the time we pull out, so the cold tire pressures will be fine for the next leg of our journey.  The issue, and the problem I was trying to solve, was to make sure we had adequate cold pressures for the colder overnight lows we may (will?) encounter as we travel north without having the tires overinflated for where we are currently traveling.  The overnight lows for next week at our home are currently forecasted to be in the low-to-mid 40’s through mid-week then in the mid-to-upper 50’s.  I really need to rig up a way to travel with an air compressor that is adequate for adjusting the pressure in our bus tires.  We are still at the point where bus projects seem to get added to the list faster than they get checked off.

After breakfast Linda was reading, and I was reviewing, the blog posts I had put up last night for the 12th through the 15th.  Between us we found a dozen errors.  The Note app on my iPad2 has an annoying tendency to change words in an attempt to correct my mis-typing and less-than-perfect spelling.  I usually catch the change, but not always.  I also have a tendency to miss little words such as “we” or use “a” instead of “an” or “were” instead of “where” (or vice-a-versa).  I think most of these are typing errors; I actually know when to use which word.  (I even know the difference between “farther” and “further”, a distinction that seems to elude even professional journalists.)  I upload my drafts to my computer and finish them in MS Word where the spelling and grammar checkers find most of these kinds of things, but introduce their own unique set of rules about what words should be used.

I logged into our WordPress site and made the corrections.  I also rearranged the layout of some photos.  The posts looked fine on my computer but resulted in very narrow columns of text next to left- and right-justified photos, so I centered them without text wrapping.  I am still trying to figure out the optimum width for inline photos that can be left- or right-justified with text wrapped around them on an iPad.  I think it is around 400 pixels, but at that size details can be difficult to see.  If I center them without text wrapping, they can be up to 600 pixels wide with the theme I am using.  This is not an issue with gallery posts, if course, where the limitation on the size of photographs is the how large of a data file I want to upload and store.

We left the coach around 10:30 AM.  Photos from today’s outing are in a separate gallery post.  Our itinerary was to head towards Panama City via US-98/Co-30/Co-30A (the Emerald Coast Parkway) and then work our way back as close to the Gulf of Mexico as possible, stopping at several state parks along the way.  Before we got to Panama City we saw the sign for Camp Helen State Park and pulled in.  Formerly a private retreat, and then a private vacation resort for a company in Alabama, it became a Florida State Park in 1997.  Camp Helen was yet another example of the FSP system acquiring formerly private homesteads and roadside attractions and preserving them for the historical, educational, and recreational use of the public now and into the future.

Besides the buildings that survive from the resort days, the park property extends from the Gulf of Mexico through white sand dunes and scrub forest along the west edge of Phillips Inlet to the other side of US-98 were it runs along the southwest edge of Powell Lake.  Powell Lake is a costal dune lake, one of the largest in Florida.  Costal dune lakes are rare, found only along the northwest Gulf coast of Florida and in Australia, New Zealand, and Madagascar.  A large number of different bird species have been recorded here by members of the local Audubon Society and American Bald Eagles and Osprey are often seen.

We hiked the nature trail through part of the dunes and the scrub forest which had a different mix of plant life than we have seen anywhere else.  The forest included Sand Pines, whose range is limited to Florida.  Unlike many other pines, the pine cones of the Sand Pine do not require fire to open and release their seeds.  We did not encounter any other hikers on the trail and this was one of the nicest little hikes we have taken in a Florida State Park.  Camp Helen is a little gem of a park amidst the over development of Florida’s Emerald Coast.

We put the address for St. Andrews SP into the GPS and then continued on towards Panama City Beach.  East of Powell Lake US-98 gets renamed the Panama City Beach Parkway.  We followed the signs to the park which took us past the Naval Support Activity facility and the Navy Diving and Salvage Training Center.  St. Andrew SP is at the tip of a peninsula that forms the south side of the Grand Lagoon.  Just past the tip is the entrance to St. Andrew Bay, which opens into East and West Bays, and forms the southwest edge of Panama City.

There was a costal defense battery installed at the tip during WW II to protect the bays from German submarines and one of the two gun platforms is preserved under an open-sided pavilion.  We hiked along the southwest edge of St. Andrews SP Pond, a short but excellent trail.  The pond, and the island in the middle of it, are home to many different birds as well as alligators, and is an egret rookery.  We did not see any alligators on our hike, but we saw and heard lots of birds.

We left St. Andrews SP and followed Thomas Drive to Front Beach Road (Co-30) and followed this along the Gulf until we were forced back onto US-98 just before Western Lake and Grayton Beach SP.  It was after 4 PM and we were getting a little tired but we pulled in to Grayton Beach SP to check it out because Chris and Cherie of Technomadia had rated it one of their top 10 + places to camp.  The campground was fully booked, but we were able to drive through and agreed that it looked like a charming place to put down the leveling jacks (if only we had some and if only we could have gotten a reservation).  Continuing west on US-98 we spotted the entrance to Deer Lake SP and pulled in.  The entrance road was in bad shape, one of the few times we have encountered this at a Florida State Park.  It led to a small parking lot that was right up against some large fancy housing on the east property boundary.  All of the park lay to the west and was only accessible by hiking.  It was probably lovely, but we were hiked out for the day.  We switched drivers and headed back to our RV park.

We got back to the coach around 5 PM.  I dumped the waste tanks and filled the fresh water tank while Linda got dinner ready.  We had skipped lunch today, so we were hungry.  She made a simple green salad with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing and seasoned couscous to go with the left over Tofurkey roast and steamed green beans.  A glass of moscato and some fresh pineapple chunks for dessert completed the meal.


2014/04/14 (M) Photos And Articles

We were still tired from our 350 mile repositioning to the Florida panhandle yesterday, and the weather forecast for today and tomorrow called for thunderstorms with a high probability of heavy rain, so we did not plan on doing any site-seeing.  I worked at my computer, editing photos for two gallery posts, and then turned my attention to editing photos from our Suncoast Designers visit and putting the finishing touches on my article for Bus Conversion Magazine about our a RV window repair experience.

Our site at Live Oak Landing near Freeport, FL; an RVC Outdoor Destination.

Our site at Live Oak Landing near Freeport, FL; an RVC Outdoor Destination.

We needed groceries and Linda located a Publix on US-98 in South Walton about 10 miles from the RV park.  We decided to take a short drive east on US-98 and then down to the coast.  We drove past Grayton Beach State Park as far as the resort community of Watercolor. We could not figure out if Watercolor is a condo development, a timeshare resort, or just a regular old resort.  It’s an “architectural” place, very attractive and interesting, but planned and intentionally designed.  A bike trail runs along the south side of US-98 and there were lots of cyclists, runners, joggers, and walkers using it.

Live Oak Landing Outdoor Destination borders one of the branches of the Choctawhatchee River on the north side just before it empties into the east end of Choctawhatchee Bay.  This is a very large bay that connects to the Gulf of Mexico on the west end.  The Choctawhatchee River was already above flood stage at Ebro, east of our location, when we arrived on Sunday at 4:00 PM CDT.  We were watching the weather while we were in Hudson, Florida and heavy rains had pushed through this area and up into SE Alabama and southern Georgia early last week.  All of that water eventually flows to the Gulf of Mexico through the Florida panhandle.  From the time we got here my cell phone Weather Channel app issued a steady stream of watches/warnings for strong/severe storms, river flooding, and flash flooding for most of the panhandle, including Freeport.

Another view of Live Oak Landing.  Our coach is at towards the end on the left.

Another view of Live Oak Landing. Our coach is towards the end on the left.

What better time for a thanksgiving dinner?  We bought a Tofurkey brand roast, two yams, and fresh green beans on our trip to Publix and Linda cooked all of that for dinner.  We finished off our box of red wine and had a few dark chocolate covered almonds for dessert.

A strong cold front approaching from the WNW provided the lifting mechanism for a massive fetch of Gulf moisture, resulting in powerful, sustained thunderstorms training northeast over much of the western Florida panhandle, southeast Alabama and southwest Georgia.  Over the course of the day and into the evening the cold front pushed steadily eastward across the region and the rain finally reached us around 9:00 PM accompanied by a spectacular lightning display and booming thunder.

The Choctawhatchee River from Live Oak Landing RV park.

The Choctawhatchee River from Live Oak Landing RV park.

I had finished my article for Bus Conversion Magazine an hour earlier, had Linda proof-read it, and had made final corrections.  I was uploading the article and photos to my Dropbox, and e-mailing the publisher and editor to let them know, when the storms arrived.  I finished those tasks, shut down my computer and unplugged the power supply.  I also turned off the NAS and unplugged both the power and data cables.  I left the WiFi Ranger and the Amped|Wireless router on.  It would be inconvenient to lose them it a lightning strike, but the loss of programs and data would be catastrophic.

We went to bed and tried to sleep but it was pointless.  The coach was a bit stuffy with all the vents and windows closed and the lightning, thunder, and rain were non-stop.  The most intense rain fell at the rate of 3 – 4 inches per hour accompanied by the kind of lightning and thunder that signals the end of the world.  Warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico is the fuel that makes serious weather in this part of the country.  Life in an RV puts you in intimate contact with nature.


2014/04/13 (N) To The Panhandle

I was up early today anticipating getting on the road again.  We had a little juice and took our vitamins, but did not have coffee or breakfast.  I generally do not eat or drink much in the morning on travel days.  The bus was mostly ready to go except for last minute details and around 8 AM we shifted into departure mode.  I opened the passenger-side engine bay door, opened the air supply valve to the engine accessories, unlatched the rear engine cover and raised it, and connected the coach chassis batteries.  Since the engine ran a bit warm on the drive from Williston to Hudson I wanted to visually verify that that radiator fan was spinning.

While I waited for the Pressure Pro TPMS to pick up the pressure readings from all of the tires I closed all of the ceiling vents and the side windows. The driver-side front/steer tire pressure was a little lower than I like, the drive and tag tire pressures were OK.  The passenger-side front/steer tire pressure was a little higher than I normally run, put not excessive and within the maximum cold pressure limits of the tire and wheel.  I wrote down the tire pressures for reference later.

L-to-R Nancy, Bill, and Linda at Suncoast Designers in Hudson, FL.

L-to-R Nancy, Bill, and Linda at Suncoast Designers in Hudson, FL.

While Linda secured the inside I shut off the AC power, disconnected the power cord, stowed it for travel, and closed up the utility bay.  Just before 8:30 AM I fired up the main engine, let the oil pressure build, and put it in high idle.  The radiator fan was spinning as it should and I closed the rear hatch and side door on the engine compartment.  Bill and Nancy were up and Bill guided me out of our parking spot while Linda kept an eye on the rear end of the bus.  I only had to back up once, and only a little bit, to complete the turn.  With the tag axle raised the turning radius of the coach is shortened enough to make a difference in slow, tight turns.

We need to find a large vacant parking lot, set up some cones, and practice maneuvering the bus in and out of tight spaces.  I have driven the coach enough that I generally have a good feel for how it handles but our visit to Suncoast Designers revealed that our individual and team skill sets were incomplete.  We do not have a good understanding of how to back it around into a narrow space starting from a perpendicular position.  In particular we do not have a good feel yet for where the front tires are as the nose swings.

The centerline through the front tires is behind the driver, five feet from the front bumper.  Bill had me pull much farther forward out of our site before turning the wheels hard left than seemed visually reasonable from the driver’s seat.  As the front end came around I completely lost sight of the curb that ran along the far side of the road as it disappeared under the front of the coach.  But Bill could see my tires and knew I was positioned correctly.  He said I could probably have pulled out of the site without backing up, but the passenger-side front tire would have barely missed the curb.  He had me turn the tires hard right and back up slightly, creating the additional space needed to complete the tight left turn out of the site and onto the road.


Nancy gave us a couple of business cards with their contact information and we said our farewells.  I pulled out of Suncoast Designers at 8:45 AM with Linda following in the car.  We got to the Tires Plus store just before 9 AM and got parked parallel to the end of the building.  We checked all of the tire pressures again using the TPMS and recorded them.  The pressure in all of the tires rose about 5 PSI in the eight mile drive.  The technician was ready to go and was very patient as I removed each pressure sensor, checked the tire pressure with my gauge  (that I have previously checked against a known good pressure standard), compared it to the two TPMS readings, determined how much additional pressure to have him add, checked it again, and put the pressure sensor back on.  We thanked him for the service (no charge) and gave him a tip.

The sensors will have to be removed once we get to our destination and the tires have a chance to cool off.  The baseline pressure is determined by the pressure in the tire when the sensor is installed and the warnings are triggered by deviations from the baseline.  The overnight low from Tuesday into Wednesday is forecast to be 38 degrees F, so that will be the time to check and reset.  The Pressure Pro was one of the early TPMS systems and this how it was designed.  Newer systems permit the baseline pressure to be programmed into the receiver by tire position.  Our sensors do not have user replaceable batteries and when they finally need to be replaced we will put that money towards a newer system.

Linda guided me as I backed the bus around behind the service bays.  We hooked the car up for towing and did our light check.  Our left turn signal on the car was not working, but everything else was OK.  One of the sockets in the wiring connector on the car was slightly corroded so I cleaned it using the awl in my Leatherman multi-tool.  That fixed the problem when we left Williston, but not this time.  I examined the connector on the bus, and found that part of one of the pins was missing.  This was almost certainly the left turn signal and there was nothing to be done about it at that moment.  This is a standard 6-pin round RV/trailer connector.  It was a cheap piece of junk the day it was made and did not improve with age.  I will be replacing both connectors and the cable with products from EZ Connector.  Weather sealed, gasketed, and magnetically retained with integrated self-closing covers; primo.

We pulled out onto US-19 northbound.  The road construction workers had the day off and traffic was light so we had an easy run up to Crystal River, picking up the US-98 designation near Homosassa.  Even with light traffic it took a while to get through Crystal River where the speed limit is often 30 – 35 MPH and there are frequent stop lights.  Once we cleared Crystal River we were able to travel 60 MPH, plus or minus, for most of the rest of the trip except through Chiefland.

The Check Engine Light came on soon after we left Suncoast Designers and stayed on for quite a while.  It eventually went off and only occasionally came back on, especially under acceleration or climbing hills.  The engine coolant temperature gauge initially read below 195 degrees F, but morning temperatures were moderate.  The sun was behind us and the coach stayed comfortable without the OTR air-conditioner.  I don’t know how precise the engine temperature gauge is, but it does seem to be accurate.  (Precision is the extent to which it shows the true/correct temperature; accuracy is the degree to which it is consistent or repeatable in terms of its readings.)  The engine oil temperature came up to 186 degrees F on the gauge fairly quickly like it normally does.  The transmission temperature gauge eventually came up to the same temperature but took a lot longer, as it normally does, even with the use of the transmission retarder going through Crystal River and Chiefland.

The GPS wanted us to take I-75 and was very persistent in trying to get us to leave our chosen route.  It became humorous after awhile and we should have counted the number of times it said “recalculating.”  We obviously had the preferences set to “maximize freeways” or something like that.  It finally figured out what we were doing when we got to the US-19 US-98 split at Perry, Florida.  US-98 turns west to WSW and follows the Gulf coast where it becomes a designated scenic drive.  While probably beautiful, it would have been a longer route with lots of shore communities making it a long, slow drive.  US-19 turned NNW and ran up to I-10 east of Tallahassee, Florida, the state Capitol.

The terrain had been essentially flat up to Perry, but part way to I-10 we encountered a hill; up one side and down the other.  It just appeared out of nowhere as if someone had built it there just to get our attention.  But then there was another hill, and another one and …  we were north of “the bend” and officially entering the panhandle which, unbeknownst to us, was not flat like the parts of Florida where we had spent time this winter.

By the time we got to Perry the outside air temperature was in the low 80’s and the engine coolant temperature was indicating 195 or a hair under.  The engine and transmission temperature were staying in the 186 to 190 range.  The pyrometers came up to 700 – 900 degrees F on hills depending the grade and length.  The cruise control ran perfectly all day, as it always has, but the speedometer sat on zero and never budged (accurate, but not precise).

Once on I-10 west we made good time traveling due west across the panhandle.  The road was straight but had lots of ups and downs.  The highest point in Florida is in the northwestern panhandle near the Alabama border.  Just west of Tallahassee we stopped at a Flying J truck stop and travel center to top off our fuel tank.  We continued west on I-10 and crossed into the Central Time Zone before exiting at US-331 and heading south towards the Gulf of Mexico and the towns of Freeport and South Walton.  Fifteen miles from the Interstate we made our last few turns and arrived at Live Oak Landing RV park.  We had traveled 350 miles in 7.5 hours including the fuel stop, but still a little below our usual 50 MPH average.  We were tired when we arrived and Linda fixed a salad and pan grilled our last two tofu hot dogs.


2014/04/12 (S) More Hudson

We stayed at Suncoast Designers until Sunday Morning as planned.  Bill and Nancy, in the Newmar Essex next to us, decided on Friday to also have the large window in their entrance door repaired.  Suncoast was willing to do the work but it would not be completed until sometime next week.  We decided to keep them company while we figured out where we were going next and made the arrangements.  We had struck up a fast friendship with them and enjoyed just sitting and talking.  They are from Ottawa, Ontario but have had a mobile home in Ocala, Florida for 25 years.  They have a customized 1938 Chevy and are active in the National Street Rod Association (NSRA).  They have been RVing in various rigs for a long time, so we had lots to talk about.

Bill and Nancy went out for breakfast to a place nearby that Joe recommended.  Breakfast has become our least favorite meal to eat out, unless we can find a Panera, as our menu choices are typically very limited.  Linda had researched places to stay in the Florida panhandle and identified several possibilities.  None of them were Florida State Parks, as the system was fully booked statewide, and none of them were right on the Gulf, as they were all dreadfully expensive.  We selected Live Oak Landing near Freeport, Florida, an RVC Outdoor Destination park.  Live Oak Landing was 15 miles south of I-10, which would give us access to everything between Tallahassee and Pensacola.  It was 10 miles north of from US-98 which would give us ready access to a stretch of the Gulf Coast from Panama City to the east to Destin to the west.  The website said they had openings but Linda called to confirm that and made the reservation.

I worked most of the day at my computer while Linda worked on her counted cross-stitch project.  I took a break for a couple of hours mid-day to run some errands.  The most important errand was to find the Tires Plus shop in Spring Hill, verify that they could/would fill our bus tires at 9:00 AM Sunday morning, and scope out any access issues.  It’s a good thing I did.

Yes, they would be open at 9, and yes they would be glad to put air in our tires at no charge.  Getting the bus into their parking lot would not be a problem, but getting out might be.  The manager asked me to pull up alongside the end of the building so they could reach the tires with their air pressure hose.  From that position I could then back around behind their service bays and pull out of the lot the way I came in; easy enough as long as the car was not in tow.  The obvious solution was to have Linda drive the car separately and hook it up after the bus was backed around behind the building.

I stopped at the Publix across the street and the dollar store next door where I found a small bottle of Goo-Gone.  Linda called as I was driving back with a short list of items for me to pick up at … Publix.  I continued on and stopped at Walmart instead.

The tape that Suncoast Designers used to secure the openings after the windows were removed left a residual glue line on the body and adjacent windows.  The Suncoast employees were pushing to get customers taken care of so I decided to just take care of this myself.  Linda helped and it gave us something to do in the afternoon.  The windows were easy to clean up with a safety razor blade, but getting the glue off of the paint required a solvent, and Goo-Gone is what they recommended.  It contains petroleum distillates and citrus extracts, so after it removes the glue it has to be cleaned off the paint with soapy water which in turn has to be rinsed off and dried.

I had sent a TXT MSG to Chuck that resulted in a call back.  In the course of the conversation I mentioned that the engine ran a bit warmer than usual on the drive down from Williston.  I thought I recalled him telling me that he had his radiator removed and cleaned or re-cored but that was not the case.  What he had done was wash it with a garden hose from inside the engine bay.  The radiator fan draws (relatively) cool air in from outside, so he figured it made sense to clean it with water sprayed in the opposite direction.  He said that cleaning radiator had helped the engine run cooler.

His logic made sense to me, and Suncoast had very conveniently left a hose with a spray nozzle on a reel behind our coach.  I sprayed the radiator as best I could from inside the bay and then sprayed it through the lovers from the outside.  We would find out tomorrow whether it made any difference.

Early Saturday evening we circled up our chairs again with Bill and Nancy grabbed a cold beverage, and enjoyed a nice chat.  Steve and Kathy stopped by for a while and another couple who had just arrived also stopped to chat.  They were from eastern Ontario and were native French speakers, but their English was excellent.


2014/04/11 (F) Suncoast Designers Photos

Here are the photos from the repair of four of the eight awning-style thermopane windows in our motorcoach.  The work was performed at Suncoast Designers, Inc. in Hudson, Florida.  Great people to work with and they have a correct process for doing this work.

2014/04/11 (F) Primitive Camping

[Photos related to this post and the one from Apr 9 will appear in a separate gallery post.]

Definition of “primitive camping”:  not being parked on a level concrete pad with 50A full hookups.  It’s all relative, of course, and that certainly is not our definition.  We are parked on gravel, which some RVers like better than concrete or asphalt, and we have 50A RV electrical service and fresh water at out “site.”  There is a dump station here and we are only minutes from more places to shop than we could visit in a lifetime, with more things to buy than we could possibly ever need or want.  So, no, this is not primitive camping.  The rigs are parked fairly close together, closer than we typically experience at RV rallies, but this is an RV repair facility after all, not a campground.  There is enough space for adjacent rigs to put out their slides and still be able to walk between them, and the “canyon (Venturi) effect” causes refreshing breezes to flow between the units.  To me, primitive means more (or less) than just not having hookups.  When I think of primitive camping, it conjures up an image of remoteness and wilderness.  In spite of having a background in mathematics, statistics, and research methodology, I guess I’m just a romantic at heart.

Joe finished cleaning and caulking our four windows this morning.  Kevin uncovered the openings and helped Joe reinstall the finished assemblies with assistance from Matt (on the outside) and me (on the inside).  When all of the windows were reinstalled Matt cleaned them inside and out.  Linda took photographs to document the work for the article I am writing for Bus Conversion Magazine.  We left the four repaired windows latched shut but were once again able to open the other four.  It will be nice to finally have windows open in the bedroom again.  Joe (who is a very funny guy and a delight to work with) had us sign off on the work, after which Linda went to office and paid our bill.  She also bought three cans of the Ardex Labs spray glass cleaner for $5 each.  We found it online; $15.99 / can plus shipping.  So much for Internet bargains.

We were pleasantly surprised to see that the cost for the repairs was only 57% of what we had been quoted.  We did not ask why, but we suspect it was because they were able to remove and reinstall the awning frames from the body with the thermopane glass sandwiches in them, and do so fairly quickly.  This allowed them to do most of the work inside.  Another factor may have been the size of the windows; the glass in our awning windows is only about 28″ wide by 17″ tall.  They told us when we made the appointment to expect 3 – 5 days for the work and it took 3.5 days.

The work on our coach was wrapped up by noon and we were free to go but being mid-day Friday we decided to stay.  We have made friends with Bill and Nancy from Ottawa, Ontario Canada, in the Newmar Essex motorhome next to us (Bill is the guy who helped us back in when we arrived.)  They decided yesterday to have the upper window in their door repaired and were going to have to stay until early next week for the work to be finished.  We decided to stick around and keep them company as we have enjoyed talking with them.  Besides, not knowing when the work would be done, we had not made a reservation yet for Sunday in the panhandle and will need to do that early on Saturday.

Our driver-side steer tire was reading about 5 PSI lower than the passenger-side tire when we left Williston on Monday afternoon, but both readings were above the minimum I like to run, so I chose not to deal with it there and then.  Of course, it was 87 degrees F when I checked them.  It’s been noticeably cooler here, especially first thing in the morning, and the driver-side steer tire looks like it could use a little extra air.  One of the nice things about filling the tires in Michigan in Mid-December and then driving to Florida for the winter was that even with a very slow leak the cold pressure goes up along with the morning low temperature.  But now that we are about to start our northward journey I would like to have all of the tire pressures reset enough above my normal cold pressure that they will still be OK when we get home.

I asked Joe if Suncoast had a shop compressor.  He said they did but he did not think it was set to a high enough pressure to inflate our front tires, which normally carry 110 – 115 PSI cold.  I was hoping we might find a mobile tire service like Carter Tire in Elkhart, Indiana but a Google search did not reveal anything promising.  I asked Joe if he could recommend someplace nearby, preferably heading north from here, and he suggested Tires Plus in Spring Hill.  His friend Dave works there and Joe thought it had plenty of room for us to get in and out and high enough air pressure to fill our front tires.  It is also about 10 miles north on our intended route on the northbound side of the road, and is open on Sunday at 9:00 AM.  I plan to drive up there tomorrow to verify the facts, but it sounds like exactly what we need.  If we are there at 9 AM and get our tire pressures taken care of we can make it to the western panhandle by late afternoon.

I had a long list of things I wanted to get done at the computer today, but it was another lovely day and we ended up sitting in shade between our rig and Bill/Nancy’s rig all afternoon enjoying the breeze, and shooting it.  We skipped lunch and were finally driven inside by hunger and the arrival of small, persistent, flying black bugs.

Because we skipped lunch we had an earlier dinner than usual.  Linda improvised a dish made with ingredients she had on hand: quinoa, black beans, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, onions, and olive oil.  The hot peppers were really hot so she used them sparingly, but the dish still had a serious kick.  She has developed a good feel for how to combine these kinds of ingredients without a recipe.  It was delicious and I asked her to capture the recipe on our website/blog.

The coach had warmed up a bit during the day so we set two of our chairs out in front after dinner to enjoy the cooler evening air.  Bill and Nancy brought their chairs over and we enjoyed small glasses of the Barefoot Moscato while they enjoyed a couple of beers.  We talked until it got dark and chilly and decided to call it a night around 8:30 PM.  Sometime later we heard a very strange and loud sound, like an ATV, drive past the front of our coach.  I heard it returning from the back parking lot and managed to get a glimpse as it went by.  It was a pick-up truck with a fogger in the bed.  Presumably they were spraying something for insect control.  I have not seen anyone do that in quite some time.


2014/04/10 (R) Dunedin (FL)

[Photos related to this post will appear in a separate gallery post.]

I confirmed yesterday that our awning windows would not be reinstalled until Friday, which left us free to go do something today.  We made sure the office had my cell phone number and then left around 9:20 AM for Dunedin, Florida about 30 miles south of where we are currently “camped” at Suncoast Designers.  Most of the drive was on US-19 with road construction and moderate-to-heavy traffic the whole way.  US-19 from Weeki Wachee south to St. Petersburg is just not an interesting or pleasant drive.

The destination was worth the drive, however, and we arrived at the eastern edge of Dunedin around 10:30 AM and parked near the Serendipity Café.  Over the next hour we walked through Dunedin’s historic downtown area to the marina on the Gulf of Mexico and back to the car.  Dunedin is the sister city to Stirling, Scotland and the historic downtown area reflects some Scottish heritage; at least the Scottish Heritage Center is there.

It was a gorgeous spring morning for a leisurely stroll with clear skies, bright sunshine, and temperatures around 70 degrees F.  This was the sort of day that shows a town like Dunedin in its best light.  Dunedin had a nice look and vibe to it–a bit upscale yet funky at the same time–with an assortment of unique restaurants (no chains), shops, and art galleries.  It was visually interesting without being pretentious.

We were back at the Serendipity Café a little before 11:30 AM.  We got a table for four and Donna and Michael arrived shortly thereafter.  They had suggested this restaurant because it was approximately midway between our respective locations and it had some vegan items on the menu.  Donna and Michael are members of our FMCA Freethinkers chapter and spent a few nights at Williston Crossings RV Resort in early January where we had a chance to finally meet and get acquainted.  They have been vegans for a very long time, so we also have that interest in common.  We were glad we could arrange another get-together with them before we left Florida.

We lingered over lunch for 90 minutes enjoying good food and good conversation.  I had a “Green Monster” smoothie made with spinach, pineapple, mango, and papaya.  Linda and I split the Asian kale salad which included carrots, red pepper, and roasted pumpkin seeds in a ginger/sesame/tamari dressing.  We then split the Penne Fresco; brown rice penne pasta with tomato, zucchini, kale, capers, white beans, olive oil, and dill.  The ingredients formed a light sauce that tasted like butter.  Served slightly warm, it was pleasant and delicious.  We split a muffin with dried cherries in it for dessert.  It’s always a treat to find a nice little restaurant with vegan choices and even better when we can share it with friends.  BTW: every dish at Serendipity Café is organic and gluten-free.

Donna and Michael had been on the Holistic Holiday At Sea cruise in early March so we compared experiences.  They were on a different/newer ship than the one we sailed on so we could not directly compare notes on that.  They found the educational aspects of the program very informative and decided to drastically reduce the amount of oil they use in their cooking.  They were less impressed with the dining, finding many of the dishes bland compared to how they cook, the serving sizes too small, and the meals generally lacking in an adequate quantity of fresh vegetables.  They ended up supplementing the special vegan dining with vegetables from the regular buffet.  I think that IF you want to go on a cruise, and IF you are a vegan, and IF you would like to take something home from your experience other than a few extra pounds, then the HH@S cruise uniquely meets those requirements.  If you are not really that interested in a cruise and/or gourmet vegan dining then VegFest in Pennsylvania provides the same or better educational experience for a lot less money.

We left the cafe around 1:00 PM and made the 3 mile drive north up the coast to Causeway Blvd, so named because it crosses two bridges on either end of a sand bar to form the causeway that connects Honeymoon Island to the mainland.  We had to wait briefly for the drawbridge to lower to get onto the island, which got its name when someone many, many years ago built 50 cottages there for honeymooners to use.  The first part of the island has some commercial development, but most of the island is Honeymoon Island State Park; the reason for our visit.

We used our annual Florida State Park pass to get in and headed to the nature center to rendezvous with Donna and Michael.  The nature center is elevated, probably as protection against hurricane storm surge, but as a result it provides an unobstructed view of the park and surrounding water from its wrap-around deck.  We got some good tips from the ranger about an active Bald Eagle nest and a Great Horned Owl at the north end of the Osprey Trail.  We also noted the cautions about Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes that inhabit the island in significant numbers.  The largest North American rattlesnake, it is one of the six venomous snakes found in Florida.

We drove to the trailhead, parked, and headed out, but not before changing lenses on my DSLR.  Any chance I had of capturing wildlife images would require my 100-300 mm zoom lens.  The trail out was level, dry, and firm but not hard, with adequate shade. The trees were mostly shorter palms with occasional taller pines, and a light breeze found its way in from the water.  The Osprey Trail was appropriately named.  We saw at least a dozen Osprey nests, most of them occupied with immature birds.  We eventually found the Great Horned Owl roosting high up in a pine tree.  The Bald Eagle nest was at the very end of the trail, by definition, as the park had closed off the entire tip of the island to keep human visitors and their pets from disturbing the birds.  The pair of adult eagles had successfully hatched two eggs and the immature birds were already fledged and out of the nest.  We only saw one adult bird soaring high up and far away, but the nest was impressive enough even without the eagles in it.

We took part of the Pelican Trail on the return hike thinking it might run along the water, but it was separated from the shore by high, thick vegetation.  The trail was sandy and lacking in shade, making for a slightly more difficult hike.  The air temperature was only 77 degrees F, but the sun was very hot, and we were all glad to get back to our cars.  We chatted a while longer in the parking lot, said our farewells, and went our separate ways.  Well, initially we went the same way; we were on an island after all, and there was only one way off.

Causeway Blvd becomes FL-586 which we followed east for about five miles to northbound McMullen Booth Road.  We followed McMullen Booth Road, which became E Lake Road, north for about 10 miles to Trinity Blvd.  Trinity Blvd cut ENE to the southern terminus of Little Road, which we followed north for about 12 miles back to New York Ave.  From there it west just a mile or so back west to Suncoast Designers.

We were surprisingly tired considering that it had been a relatively easy day.  Linda had some Tofurkey brand “fake bacon” made from tempeh so she made vegan BLTs for dinner along with a simple green salad.  We went for a walk after dinner and strolled around the Suncoast property with Bill and Nancy who own the Newmar Essex next to us.  A Country Coach Affinity 770 pulled in after we got back and the owner, Steve, came out and joined the conversation for a while.  As dusk turned to night the air temperature dropped.  We all started to feel the chill and retired to our rigs.


2014/04/09 (W) The Work Begins

[Photographs related to this work will appear in a separate gallery post.]

In contrast to yesterday, we had a beautiful day today weatherwise and otherwise.  Jim, Kevin, and Joe removed our four fogged awning windows with some minor assistance from me.  It turned out that the window frames hang from an open hinge and are attached to the lift mechanism arms on each end by pins with grooves that accept retaining clips.  Once the clips were removed the pins were slid out, releasing the lift arms.  The window frame was then free to swing high enough for the hinge to come free from the mating piece (attached to the bus).  Not only was this relatively easy to do, it will make it much easier for Suncoast Designer’s to remove the thermopane glass sandwich from the frame and reinstall it once it is repaired.  It also means that once the windows are reinstalled in the coach we can leave without further waiting as the adhesive will have already cured.  Kevin covered the openings with pieces of cardboard and plastic secured with what appeared to be green Frog tape.

I went to the office around 11AM to see if/when I could meet with Jeff, the general manager.  While I was there I picked up their informational brochure and discovered that they do a plant tour at 1 PM every day.  Customers are curious about the process and equipment used to repair the windows.  The daily tour allows Suncoast to schedule this into their workday and take care of everyone at once, minimizing disruption to the work in progress.  Fritz was our tour guide and did a good job of explaining the steps in their process and the equipment, tools, and techniques used at each step.  Linda took notes while I took photographs for a possible future article.

As soon as the tour was over I started working on the article draft.  At 3 PM I returned to the office and met with Suncoast general manager Jeff Heyen to get some additional info about the company and the process they have developed for repairing thermopane RV windows.  Jeff also confirmed that they were not going to install the windows back into the coach until Friday.  That allowed us to firm up plans to get together with Michael and Donna tomorrow in Dunedin for lunch at the Serendipity Cafe and a visit to Honeymoon Island State Park.

I finished the article draft before dinner time and had Linda proofread it.  After dinner I offloaded the photos from the camera and spent the rest of the evening selecting and post-processing images for the article.

As I was wrapping up for the night I noticed that I had received a server maintenance notification from Scott at QTH.com.  They had installed patches to fix the Heartbleed bug discovered two days ago in OpenSSL and would be rebooting all of their servers to make sure the patches were applied.  I also received notifications from the recently installed Wordfence plug-in regarding this issue and its possible effect on WordPress sites while assuring their customers that the Wordfence cloud servers had not been compromised.  I shut everything down and went to bed.


2014/04/07 (M) Big Wheels Keep On Turning

The boots may have been made for walking, but the wheels were made for turning and it does not make much sense (to us) to own a motorhome and not use the motor to move the home around at least occasionally.  Checkout time at Williston Crossings RV Resort is nominally 11 AM.  We were planning to leave by then, but a call to Suncoast Designers at 9 AM caused us to push our departure time back.  They suggested we not arrive until about 4 PM to make sure we had a place to park with hookups.  That put our departure time target at 2 PM.  We walked up to the office to make sure this would be OK.  It was; we have been here a long time and been good residents, and no one was scheduled to go in to “our” site today.

Given some extra time we had not planned on, we went for one last, long walk around the RV resort.  How different it looked and felt.  The resort is turning over from long-term winter/seasonal use to short-term summer/vacation use and there were many empty sites.  Eighty-nine rigs left yesterday.  Many were Carriage 5th wheels that were part of the 70 rig Carriage Travel Club rally that was here all last week.  But some were winter seasonal residents who have been dribbling out since April 1st and will continue to do so into May.  We were not the only rig pulling out today.  Our other neighbor, Sharon, is leaving this coming Sunday.  A few rigs were pulling in, of course, but the departures currently exceed the arrivals on any given day.

When we returned from our walk I mixed up a batch of the concoction we use in the waste holding tanks (48 oz PineSol, 48 oz water, 1cup Calgon).  I dumped the black-water tank and back-flushed it, followed by dumping the grey-water waste tank.  I ran additional water through the drain hose and then disconnected the hoses and fittings and stowed them for travel.  I reconnected the water softener and filled the fresh-water tank.  Once that was done Linda helped me disconnect, clean, and stow the fresh water hoses and the water softener.

We tend to forego coffee and breakfast on travel days, but had a little of both this morning as we were not leaving right away.  Because of the delay in our departure we did not have lunch.  To pass the time I continued with travel preparations.  The last time I had the coach batteries connected I noticed that the Pressure Pro TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) was not reading one of the sensors (PS outside drive tire).  We have a repeater for this system that I plan to install in the rear of the coach someday, but for now it gets attached to the rear view mirror of the car.  I took care of that task and then decided to move the car up onto the patio next to passenger side of the coach.  I left the ignition on to power the repeater and connected the coach batteries to power the TPMS receiver.  After a few minutes all of the tire sensors were active and the tire pressures were OK for travel.  I disconnected the coach batteries and put the car back in front of the coach.

At 1:30 PM we started our final travel preparations, clearing off the counters and moving stuff from the cockpit to the sofa, the bed, and the bedroom floor.  At 1:45 PM I shut off the 240/120 VAC electrical power to the coach, disconnected the shoreline, and stowed it in the slide-out tray over the DS drive tires.  I installed the screw-in cover for the utility port hole in the bay floor, and closed/locked the bay.  I then checked the Magnum 4024 to make sure it had switched to inverter mode, which it had.

Once the shore power is cut we seem to develop an increased sense of urgency about leaving.  I think this is due, in part, to the fact that I do not have the ZENA power generator operational yet, so our house batteries do not get charged while we are driving.  That’s OK, up to a point; the battery bank was designed to be large enough to run the inverter and power reasonable loads for a reasonable length of time.  But the sooner we leave, the sooner we arrive, and the sooner we arrive, the sooner we can plug back in to shore power.  We have an auxiliary power plant, of course, so we always have the option of using that if needed.  The other reason we are probably anxious to leave is more psychological.  Once we are completely disconnected (physically) we are become disconnected mentally, although not necessarily emotionally.  We are no longer “tethered” to that spot, and that means it is time to go.

I connected the chassis batteries, fired up the engine, and set the level low system to the driving position.  While Linda moved the car to street I drained the auxiliary air tank using the nice dry air from the main engine air compressor.  With John’s assistance we got the coach out of the site and lined up on the street.  Linda pulled the car up behind the coach and we went through our procedure for hooking it up to the tow bar.  We did our standard light check and found that the turn signals on the car were not working.  A quick check of the connectors on both ends of the cable revealed a socket on the car end of the cable that was corroded.  I used the awl on John’s Swiss Army Knife to clean it up.  A recheck of the lights indicated that everything was working.  After a final “goodbye” with John and Ali we were on our way.

Our departure delay meant we would be traveling SSW into the sun at the hottest part of the day.  The air temperature was 85 degrees F when we left, and the engine ran slightly hotter than usual, indicating just above 195 degrees F on the coolant temperature gauge, so I decided not to run the coach air conditioning.  The drive to Hudson was warm, but not unbearable.  A cold front was approaching the gulf coast of Florida so we had increasing cloud cover as we progressed south and west towards the coast, which helped keep the cockpit from getting too warm.

We had a nice run from Williston to Hudson.  We headed south out of Williston on US-41/US-27/FL-121.  US-27/FL-121 split off to the west a mile south of town, made a sweeping turn to the left and then followed a nice straight line SW for 17 miles to its southern terminus at US-19.  This stretch of FL-121 is straight but hilly.  With the cruise control set the engine is very sensitive to hills.  I always know we are on a grade, however slight, by the reaction of the turbo boost gauge and the pyrometers.

Most of the rest of trip was on US-19 except for the last three miles.  Traffic was light until we got to Crystal River, which had slower speed limits, lots of stop lights, and lots of vehicles on the road.  It opened up a bit after Homosassa Springs, but got congested as we approached Weeki Wachee where FL-50 ends at US-19.  From Weeki Wachee to just north of Hudson traffic remained slow and congested with increasingly dense commercial use on both sides of the road and stop lights every mile.  Just north of Hudson we turned east onto Little Road, which immediately swung south, and followed it for about two miles to New York Avenue, where we turned west and went another mile to Labor Place, the location of Suncoast Designers.

The coach ran fine, although the Check Engine Light came on almost immediately and was on more than it was off for the whole trip.  That did not surprise me as we had not done any work over the last couple of months to fix the fuel temperature sensor voltage problem that is apparently setting a fault code in the DDEC II.  I had hoped that the repairs we made in the dashboard wiring harness would fix the speedometer/odometer problem, but they did not; the gauge sat on zero for the whole trip.  The left pyrometer (exhaust gas temperature) gauge, however, was much more responsive and tracked the right pyrometer gauge much more closely than it ever had before.  It appears that the wires we repaired were for this gauge rather than the speedo/odo.

Once we pulled in to Suncoast Designers we pulled to the side of the road, so as not to block traffic, and unhooked the car.  While Linda parked the car I found the office and checked on parking arrangements.  Suncoast Designers has at least a dozen RV sites with water and 50 A electric hookups.  The only one open was a somewhat tight spot between two other large Class A motorhomes that required me to back in.  The maneuver was made more difficult by the fact that the road in front of the sites had a curb on the far side and was not wide enough to allow me to swing the front end without scrubbing the front tires.  I repositioned the coach so that I was turning in from the driver’s side, but Linda and I could not figure out how to get the coach into the site.  The guy next to us on the driver’s side offered to help.  A former truck driver, he knew exactly what to have me do.  Unlike some RVers, our pride is not injured by not knowing how to do something, and we gladly accepted his help.

I pulled past the site close to the front of his rig and then turned out to the passenger side, putting the coach at an angle to the open site.  He had me back part way into the front of the site at that angle and then turn the steer tires full left to start to bring the coach around.  He had me stop and then turn the steer tires full right and pull forward.  Steer tires full left again and back up some more, then full right and pull forward. We repeated this one more time and finally had the coach lined up straight and centered between the coaches on either side without having hit either one!  Linda was keeping an eye on the back of the coach the whole time (to make sure I did not hit anything) and guided me into our final position.  We then leveled the coach and shut the engine down.

The outside air temperature was only in the upper 70’s, but it was 90 degrees F in the coach and the outside humidity was high.  In spite of having nine windows that open, the three ceiling vent fans are not very effective at cooling down the interior under such circumstances.  In theory we can run all three air conditioners on a “50 A” shore service, but we have tripped breakers before when doing that.  (The issue is that circuit breakers are commonly designed to only carry 80% of their rated current on a continuous basis, so two of our A/C units plus a little bit of miscellaneous load can exceed 40 A on one of the legs.)  Besides, as soon as I plugged in the Magnum 4024 was going to switch to charger mode and start recharging the house batteries.

I got the shore power connected and checked the Magnum 4024.  It went into bulk charging mode and started charging the house batteries at 86 Amps. Since it is a 24 VDC charger, it was drawing ~1/5 that much AC current, or ~17 A, the equivalent of one of our air conditioners.  The front (living room) and center (kitchen) A/C’s are on separate legs of the 240/120 VAC power supply, so we can run them at the same time.  The bedroom A/C is on the same leg as the front A/C and the Magnum is on the other leg.  We ran the front and center A/C’s along with Magnum and let the bedroom stay warm for the time being.

Suncoast Designers provides free WiFi for customers camped at their facility, but the signal we thought was theirs indicated it was “filtered” and we had not obtained the login information from the office before it closed.  We used our Verizon MiFi instead and had a good, strong signal.  I had a chance to ask our neighbor (helpful truck driver guy) later, and he said the open signal was the one they were using.  Although it was a weak (one bar) “g” signal, our WiFi Ranger latched on to it without difficulty.

Linda needed a few grocery items and located a Publix grocery store on Little Road less than three miles from Suncoast Designer’s.  As evening settled in we switched off the front A/C and turned on the bedroom unit.  Linda reheated some of the leftover Sloppy Joe’s from the pot luck dinner the night before, and we had that on the skinny buns we have started using, along with a simple spinach salad and a few Fritos corn chips.

After dinner Linda sent e-mails to several of our new friends from WCRVR while I checked in to RVillage and took care of a few e-mails of my own.  The overnight temperature was forecast to only drop into the upper 60’s with high humidity, and with rain starting before sunrise, so we decided to leave the rig closed up and the kitchen and bedroom A/C’s on all night.  We rarely do this because of the noise and because we prefer fresh air, except when it is too warm and/or too humid.  Considering that we had traveled less than 100 miles and been on the road just under two hours today, we both felt like it had been a very long day.  As much as we enjoyed the social life at WCRVR, it was nice to not have anything to do but go to bed and get some rest.


2014/03/06 (R) A Change of Plans

Our coach has eight awing style windows, four in the living room and four in the bedroom.  Two of the living room windows and two of the bedroom windows are fogged, and one of the living room windows has standing water in it as a result of very heavy rain today.  I finally got around to calling Suncoast Designers in Hudson, Florida this morning.  They manufacture windows and repair/rebuild RV windows.  They have been recommended to us by several different friends as THE place to have our fogged thermopane bus windows fixed.  I had also been told that they might not work on our windows because it is a Prevost.

It took a few minutes on the phone, but they eventually concluded that they could repair our windows due to age of the bus, i.e., it was old enough that they could work on it.  This was one of those rare cases where older was better.  The first available appointment was April 8, so I took it.  I was told to plan for 3 – 5 days to complete the work on the four windows.  We have to arrive on the 7th so they can start first thing the next morning.  They have water/electric hookups and a dump station provided at no (additional) charge for customers having work done.  If I had called in January (like I should have) we could probably have gotten an April 1 appointment; no fooling.

My main focus for today was to wrap up my article for Bus Conversions Magazine on the Cool Cruiser, a 1957 GM PD4106 that belongs to Frank and Phyfi Morrison.  Of course there was a constant flow of e-mail as well as breaks for food and games.  I can focus for a long time on a task if have to (and want to).  One of the nicest things about retirement is that I rarely have to, and I am learning not to want to, at least not all of the time.  But I am enjoying writing for BCM, so for now this is something I want to do. The article I finished yesterday on the Iron Horse was the first one I have written about someone else’s bus.  The one I worked on today was the second.  I have a third one in the queue and several offers out to help other friends.  I also have a dozen articles in process or planned on our various bus projects, places we have been (Harvest Hosts), and things we have done (Habitat For Humanity build).

Hudson, Florida is approximately 2 hours SSW of Williston, so it only made sense for us to stay here until April 7th if possible.  By early afternoon there was a lull in the rain so I went to the Resort office to see if we could extend our stay for six nights through the night of April 6th.  The answer was “yes” and we will be able to stay in our current site.  They charged us the daily rate equivalent of our 3-month rate; about half the normal daily rate.  Williston Crossings RV Resort continues to be a very nice place to stay.

The Cool Cruiser article still needed a lot of work as I had not yet selected, processed, inserted, and captioned the photographs.  I worked on that, off and on, the rest of the day and late into evening, but did not finish the job.  Oh well, tomorrow’s another day.