Monday, July 29, 2013

Playing Tourist When The Tall Ships Come To Town

Monday morning, the Tall Ship Festival is over, it took place over the weekend.  Did we miss out?  Not hardly.  Now, as they get ready to move on, is when the smart people go down to the harbor to take a look see.

Last Thursday, when the big grand parade of ships took place, the weather was rainy and not all that nice. Today's a different story, blue skies and bright sunshine.  Instead of paying the $10 parking and $6 a head to walk down the pier, today it was 50 cents in the meter and open access for free.  That's the way I do business!  The only thing better than cheap is FREE!

Last weekend you were faced with long lines and big crowds.  Today, only a handful of people. Taking clear shots of the whole ship wasn't an issue. I casually milled about, snapping pictures one after another.

My timing was perfect. Some of the ships were out in the lake giving last minute rides, before packing it up to head off to their next port of call.

Just as this one passed under the lift bridge and came in front of me, it fired off it's cannon.  Startled everyone, including me.  Being only about 50' from the muzzle, the pressure concussion was pretty strong.  It did add the perfect touch, proving that by not going to the arrival parade I didn't miss a thing.

There were a number of small boats running around. This pontoon boat is used to take seniors out on the water to provide them with some local entertainment.   I thought that was pretty cool.

Most of them probably grew up around here, so getting a chance to relive earlier times is pretty special.  The local rowing club was out with their 4-man sculls too when I arrived, but by the time I got in position for a picture they had made it across the harbor and were out of sight.

One boat caught my eye over the others.  The Peacemaker was built in 1989.  The original owner couldn't find wood that met his specifications, so he  bought up a large chunk of forest in Brazil and hand picked the trees off his own property for it's construction.  Talk about insisting on the best quality.

I was amazed at the amount of rigging supporting the three masts.  There were a number of crew members aloft tending to the sails, in preparation for departing.

 It had to be 100' to the top, and they were completely at ease shimmying around, with nothing but a few ropes to keep them in place.

This ship had an interesting layout.  The rear of the ship was a concrete slab that was hinged, and laid down to form a platform off the back.

Behind the barn doors, that were concealed when the slab was retracted, were a couple small boats.  Runabouts that can be slid out the back.

I imagine the primary purpose of this heavy piece of cement is counterweight.  With the large amount of sail surface, it must take quiet a bit of ballast to keep the right side above the waves.

You might think the crew spends all their time in cramped quarters on board the ship, oh contraire my friends. Following behind, on land of course, is the Peacemaker bus.

I saw this thing from the far side of the slip, and had to have a picture of it.

It looked to be rigged with sleeping accommodations for a sizable group. I can only imagine that when in port many of the crew stay ashore, so the boat can be displayed to the public.

It was a good morning playing tourist.  I can't stand the crowds down by the lift bridge when there's an event going on, but it was fun to wander with a smaller group.  I over heard one couple complimenting staff about our city at the head of the Great Lakes as they mentioned coming from New Hampshire.  Funny how I was out their way just a few months ago.

Now to let you know how long I've been around these parts.  This building is the DeWitt-Seitz building.  Today it's a multi-story collection of high end gift shops and offices.

It's located right in the center of the Canal Park area, tourist central for Duluth MN.  Back in 1968, the fall after I graduated from Duluth Central High School, I worked on the second or third floor installing grommets on kindergarten school sleeping mats.

This used to be the Sanomade Mattress Company.  The upper stories of the building were the local Sears warehouse.  This prime tourist area was a run down industrial area back then.  No lake front high rise hotels, and trendy store fronts. I also worked at a construction and logging equipment dealership down the block from this store and there was a large tow truck company just down the street.  Duluth Spring manufactured auto and truck suspension parts, and we used to eat lunch at the small cafe that was attached to the  Club Saratoga, a local strip club.  Tuesday was pasty day at the cafe.  That's pasty (food), not pastie (strippers accessorie).

My how the times have changed.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Finally...A New Campground!

It was our annual trip to the Grand Casino RV Resort.  Of course it rained, but then how many campgrounds have cable TV and internet included in their site charge?

The rates had increased from last year, and included with our receipt and gate pass key was notification that next year it was even going to be more pricey.

The buffet was great, we ate way more than we should.  For our efforts I suffered from acid reflux all night long and my morning blood sugar was 199.  This isn't the kind of weekends I need, and hardly worth the total of $94 spent.  You can see by the picture your nearest neighbor is but a few feet from you, and though they weren't boisterous their late night outdoor conversation could be transcribed word for word.

We departed this morning with two things on our mind.  First, this is likely the last visit, equally due to the increasing price  as it is due to the negative impact on our health.

The second issue we wanted to resolve was investigating the State Forest Campground that we passed shortly after turning west at Danbury WI.  I was aware of a small campground in the area, but in three years hadn't taken the time to check it out.

Following the sign from hwy 48, we turned north.  Expecting the park entrance to be fairly close, it seemed like it took quite a few miles till we found a very small sign in the ditch indicating the campground was down a narrow dirt road to the right.

Again, we proceeded slowly and cautiously not knowing the condition of the road ahead.  Finally, we arrived to find a very secluded and well wooded campground of about 12-15 sites.  More geared for smaller RV's or tents, but we still found sites large enough to squeeze in our 30' motorhome.

There was a lake, boat launch, and wells with hand pumps for water.  Newer modern outhouses were provided, but most important it was a very quiet, almost empty, little piece of back woods paradise.

It met all my requirements.  Within 20 miles of the cabin, no huge outlay of cash for gas to get there.  Private sites with a goodly amount of woods between each site.  You couldn't even see your neighbor.  Not so popular you would have trouble securing a site.  Though Saturday was rainy, this is prime camping time in these parts.  If it's quiet now, you have no fear of over population.

The last requirement is one of safety.  It's far enough off the main highway that it's unlikely local rowdies would bother to take the time to drive all the way in just to hassle those looking to enjoy some peace and quiet.  Danbury, the nearest town is but an intersection.  Shouldn't be too many hoodlums there.

I think it will be the perfect spot to take our new smaller travel trailer.  $12 for an overnight stay with about $5 of gas for travel, this is much closer to what I consider a cost effective weekend.  Plus I get to rely on my own cooking.  I like it much better that way.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Home Grown Basil Deserves Fresh Pesto Pasta

My strawberries did great this year.  It was a real treat picking fresh berries and immediately slicing them on top of a bowl of ice cream.  The tomatoes are coming along pretty well.  They're still green, but it won't be long before I'll be salting and eating them right off the vine.

Since I started growing vegetables in my garden I also started an herb garden in the kitchen.  We've had fresh basil on a couple pizza's earlier in the summer but haven't done much since.  The end result is my basil plants are loaded with big leaves ready to make something good.

When it comes to pasta we usually enjoy it with a tomato based sauce or an Alfredo cheese sauce.  All bottled goods bought at the supermarket.  Today I decided to try something from scratch using all that lovely green basil.

First I made a bowl of Fresh Pesto using this recipe off the internet.  Planning to use this pasta dish as the main course I added shrimp scampi to fill it out.  I boiled up a pot of fettuccine draining it and putting it in a big bowl.  I added a little butter to the noodles before adding the bowl of pesto.

While the noodles were cooking I sauteed a package of raw shrimp.  Never buy the precooked shrimp, they have no flavor when compared to raw that you cook and immediately serve.  I added garlic, butter, and parsley to the skillet first, as the shrimp cook up in a matter of a few minutes.

The final step was to add the cooked shrimp to the bowl of pasta and toss it like a salad.  Serving with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Sometimes it's good to expand your horizons.  This being my first venture beyond Marinara and Alfredo, I've got to tell you, this was fantastic.  Easy and quick to make, and loaded with flavor.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Another Good Plan...Or So I Thought!

Have you ever gotten a brilliant idea, did everything you could think of to make sure it would work, only to have the results be less than stellar?  Well that pretty much sums up my past week.

Sure I have a motorhome that costs a fortune to drive around the block.  And yes I also have a 1 ton cargo van that's better, but not great on gas.  Don't forget my mini-van that squeezes the fuel droplets pretty well, but is only comfortable for one person to live out of on the road.

My problem was this. Mary and I like weekend camping together, but taking the motorhome anywhere required a minimum investment of $100 or more to go pretty much anywhere.  Believe me when I say that $100 minimum runs out not too far from home.

Last weekend was a disaster.  Combine hot humid weather with unlivable quantities of mosquito's made for some extremely uncomfortable and testy campers.  Combine that with the expense, and the overall effort would have been much better spent just staying home in bed.

Some people get addicted to car lots.  It could be argued that I'm still a victim of that disease.  My affliction carries on into the RV industry just as well.  Like the smell of a new car, recreational vehicles also carry an intoxicating odor.

Innocent me, I just wanted to take a peek at something small, and lightweight that I could pull behind my Dodge Caravan that would be comfortable for two people.  Nothing fancy, just stand up height inside, and maybe a few amenities.

Left over 2012, they just wanted it off their lot, price reduced by 33%.  Yes, it was a good deal.  A little bigger than I was looking for, but it had everything.  Bathroom, shower, microwave, A/C, even a TV antenna.  Full kitchen and everything was squeezed into a mere 13'.

According to the sticker inside the door it only weighed 2,300 lbs. empty.  My Dodge is rated to tow up to 3,600 lbs.  No problem, it should tow like a dream and still get decent mileage.  We made the deal and I went home to rig the minivan for the new trailer.

The trip home told me it was going to be a handful for the Dodge Caravan.  It handled it, but you really knew it was behind you.  We loaded only modest supplies and headed down to the cabin for the night.   By the time we got there the Dodge was down to 18.5 mpg (The dashboard information screen tells you what your mpg is while you drive).  It was doing the job, but it wasn't happy about it.

Wanting a setup that could go long distance, that 50 mile trip told me this wasn't going to be the combination for heading out across the country.

Plan B:  OK, I've got it.  How to make the best of the situation.  Out comes the original Stealth Van.  It hasn't seen much use for the past year.  We hitched up and headed out for a one night stay at a little campground right on Lake Superior.

One thing about Lake Superior.  Hot and summer are too words that don't often go together when you're right down by the lake.  If it's not hot, there are no mosquito's.  We had a fabulous clear blue sky day, cool crisp evening, and nary a single bug to bother us throughout the night.  We could even sit out and enjoy the campfire, something that was impossible last weekend.  Towing this somewhat chopped off travel trailer was comfortable, almost relaxing for both me and the van.  Really, it didn't even know it was towing a trailer.

We had all the amenities, a perfect campsite, and beautiful weather.  Like Mary said, "Last weekend didn't really happen, this will be our first outing of the year".  

So, things didn't work out quite the way I was hoping.  I can still travel cross country alone cheaply in the minivan.  We can go for weekends more cost effectively now, and even get into smaller places with this rig. And when we feel like  spending a bunch of money, we've still got the motorhome.  Can't say we're not versatile.

That's an ore carrier headed to Duluth on the far side of the lake.  It's some 20 miles across to the Minnesota side from where we are on the South Shore in Herbster Wisconsin.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Today's Cars Don't Tolerate Electronic Add On's!

Forget the cell phone, it's the smoke that matters.  Yesterday I attempted to install an electronic brake controller in my 2013 Dodge Caravan.  You guessed it... Smoke is what I got.
I've run into all sorts of headaches in my attempt to rig my van to tow a small camping trailer.  First it was the
trailer lights that caused issues.

I expected to need some sort of electronic adapter to convert from the car's separate brake/turn signal lights to the trailer's single light system.  $11 wasted, the converter didn't do the job.

I have to purchase a complete wiring harness that removes the draw of the trailer lights from the van's electrical system.  The van is engineered right down to the last amp and can't handle the extra load.

OK, that's not such a big deal.  +$50 to Ebay and I'll be good to go when it gets here.  Next was the brake controller.  The only place it adds a draw to the van is when you splice into the brake light switch wiring.

I didn't give it any real thought and hooked it up as I've done dozens of times over the years.  My test drive lasted about 50'.  Smoke came rolling out from under the dashboard and I quickly shut everything down.

I was lucky.  My quick actions limited the damage to a single wire coming from the brake switch under the dash.  I fried that skinny little conductor like it was a fuse.  It burned the insulation off the van's original wiring back into the harness about 3 ".  

As hard as it was for this old arthritic ex-mechanic to wiggle under the steering column, I was able to follow the wiring beyond the damage and replace the bad wire.  I was darn lucky, this could have easily been the end of the New and Improved Stealth Van.

The solution to this dilemma was a little outside the box engineering.   My van is set up with a second battery, a house battery if you will.  The only load it applies to the van's wiring harness is a very light duty load to energize the isolating solenoid.  The charge wire is fused at 40 amps directly to the van's battery, but the solenoid operates through a 25 amp 12V socket that's only energized when the van is running.

Now my brake controller is wired to that second battery, with a push button switch mounted within easy reach on the dashboard to replace what should have been wired to the brake switch on the pedal.  

It's enough to be legal, and takes all risk of damage away from the van's wiring.  Another benefit is the switch, and controller are mounted with velcro and along with the second battery can easily be removed when not being used.  No tools necessary.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sullivan Lake Campground... We Surrender! The Mosquito's Won!

Sullivan Lake campground, about 30 miles north of Two Harbors Minnesota, is a small Corp. of Engineer's campground with only 11 sites.

The last time I was there, 1992 or 93, I had a new 25' Winnebago Class A motorhome.  I remembered the place to be rustic and minimalistic, but also secluded, scenic, and quiet.

All qualities that surprisingly still exist today, some 20 years later.

Knowing the road in was narrow, the campsites were small, I decided that if I got in before with a 25' motorhome, I should be able to do it with a 30' one.

This isn't the place you want to go if timid about scratching the sides of your $200,000 rig.  It's tight quarters, no getting around it.  Site #4, though intended for a much smaller RV did the trick for us.  Though a narrow drive-through, I was able to wiggle back and forth a few times and get turned around, exiting the way we came in.

There are only a couple sites with lake access, I think we got the best one.  This view out the door of our RV looked down the short trail and out onto the lake.  By all accounts we should have been comfortable and content for our 3 day weekend.  Things didn't quite work out that way.

We arrived at dusk.  In short order, as the light of day disappeared, our options disappeared.  No matter what, we were spending the night.  It was warm and muggy, not all that unexpected.  Being Minnesotan's, the expected coolness of darkness just didn't materialize.  It was going to be uncomfortable all night.

The Minnesota state bird, the Mosquito, was out in force.  With 2 little dogs requiring at least a little outdoor time, the RV door was only opened a couple times.  We took refuge inside and spent the next 2 hours trying to kill off the predatory insects with only modest success.

Giving up and going to bed only made it worse.  They knew where we were, there was no escaping!  No sleep was to be had that night, we just gave up hope and spent the night slapping bugs and scratching welts.

At dawn's earliest of lights we headed out, giving up on our rustic weekend.  Heading south, all we wanted was the cool lake air from Lake Superior.  Back to Two Harbors, we decided on making breakfast in the parking lot of their scenic harbor, light house, and iron ore docks.

  We salvaged the remainder of our 3 day weekend by heading to the cabin.  At least there we can sit with the big room fan creating a breeze during the day.  Watch TV and even enjoy a bonfire, during the time of day when the bugs are less.

We had plenty of good food, and now a comfortable kitchen to prepare it.  Best of all, a good nights sleep is always guaranteed with the air conditioner running in the bedroom.

Sullivan Lake is a beautiful spot, but at this point in our lives roughing it means we can't receive one or two local TV stations.  Beyond that, No Thanks!

Maybe when the cool nights of fall return, the leaves start to fall, and danger of a few snow flakes falling, we might go back.  For now, the fact that only two other vehicles were camping in such a nice, well maintained place should be viewed as a warning.  There's good reason to not venture into the wilderness in the heat of summer.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Going It Alone Ain't So Bad When You Make Special Meals!

Once again I find myself heading to the cabin, with only my dog Max for company.  This trip is to brush the cobwebs off the motorhome, and bring it back to town.  Mary is taking a 4 day weekend, and we're heading out with the motorhome for the first time in 3 years.

BBQ Baby Back Ribs and fresh summer squash sauteed with butter and onions.  When I go to the cabin alone I make a point of fixing meals that I wouldn't be likely to make at home.

Mary only eats chicken and turkey so if I want the other white meat or beef, I make it at the cabin.

This fantastic meal cost me a total of $2.50.  A rack of ribs, reduced in priced because their shelf life was expiring, and a fresh squash.  Sadly the squash isn't from my garden, the first one to take form is only the size of a small cigar butt.

I finished my meal with a small bowl of ice cream supplemented with lots of fresh blue berries and strawberries.  Yes, the strawberries are from my garden, and the blue berries were on sale.  I harvested another nice bowl of strawberries right after arriving.  They just keep coming, this makes close to a gallon of nice plump berries so far this season.

It was a busy couple days.  The grass needed mowing and the garden needed weeding.  To make matters worse, with the recent rain the mosquito's

were a constant bother.  Thank goodness for Deep Woods Off with 40% deet.

The veggies are coming along nicely.  Comparing to other gardens I pass driving to the cabin, mine seem to be right on track.

Next on my to do list was checking over the motorhome.  Remember the damage from the cabin break in a couple months ago?  Five minutes with a sandpaper block erased most of it.  No more red and green paint and the small nicks in the fiberglass will be taken care of later.  At least now it looks

good from 10' away.

I had to vacuum rust particles out of the propane burner for the refrigerator after it failed to stay operating twice.  I've had that happen before a couple years back, it's only a ten minute fix.

Another $50 of gas (I put $100 in it a month ago) to make sure there's enough for our little jaunt, and tomorrow evening off we go.

One last ride to the back of the property on my ATV, just to look out over our marsh, and my latest solitary cabin visit was over.

Mary and I have talked on how we feel about the current expansion in our solitary time.  After 20 years of being together..."all the time", we both have found enjoyment in time apart.

I tend to be outdoor minded, and need regular physical activity to maintain control of my blood sugar.  I'm a country boy at heart.  Being confined to an in town residence for my retirement just isn't going to work.  I'll go nuts in short order.

Mary, on the other hand likes to read....and read, and read!   A dreary rainy day with a comfy recliner and a good book is her vision of heaven.  Me, not so much.  I'm like a caged animal on rainy days.

We're both very happy with our lives that now let us be together and also be apart.  It just works, and I'm not going to knock it.