Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Seeing A Lot While Spending A Little!

This past summer I got spoiled. Racking up 13,000 miles on my Dodge Caravan, little thought was given to how much fuel was costing me. At +30 mpg, most anyone can afford a lengthy voyage.

Now I've moved up from a small fishing boat to what amounts to a luxury liner. I assure you I'm hardly made of money, so just how do I figure on affording the operating cost of something this large?

Surprisingly this heavy weight diesel monster is as fuel efficient as the SUV, small trailer combination we vacationed in this fall.  I can honestly expect to average about 10 mpg, though I will be burning diesel which is somewhat more expensive than gasoline.

Of course oil changes will be quite a bit pricier.  Your normal car takes about 5 qts. of oil and the average oil filter runs less than $5. At the local Jiffy Lube someone else can do the dirty work for about $35.

Your average GAS powered motor home may have a quart or two more oil, but none the less, materials will cost you around $25.  It may take a little more effort to find an establishment that can do the work for you so move the cost up to maybe $50.

This big diesel pusher, with it's 250 hp Cummins engine measures it's oil capacity in gallons, not quarts.  I believe it holds somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 gallons, plus or minus.  Filters are a whole other subject. I haven't looked too close but there is probably 2 oil filters, 1 or 2 fuel filters, a coolant filter, and don't forget an air filter the size of a garbage can.

I haven't priced out the materials yet, but I expect to pay over $100 just so I can crawl under and do it myself.  Taking it to a truck stop would increase the cost to $250 for a front to back service. I'll be doing the work myself.

Lets talk about fuel. It's almost scary to pull up to the pump with this thing. The manual tells me it has a 100 gallon fuel tank. I added $100 worth right after picking the motorhome up from the dealer. The days of getting a full tank when you purchase are long gone.  After driving 60 miles to where I'm going to store the RV I added another $100 of fuel.

Right now I have just over a 1/2 tank. It will take another $175 or so to top it off next spring when I get ready to travel.

Of course this is all misleading because that 100 gallons will give me a range of 950 miles or so. I can take a pretty good sized trip and never stop to refuel.

OK, we've covered the fact that cruising this thing down the highway days on end will have me bankrupt in no time. Here's the secret to making this whole thing doable.

Pre-planning my route allows me to highlight things like truck stops, Walmarts, Corp of Engineer campgrounds, even some national parks and national forests that offer free or low cost camping.  The next step is to scour the internet for every free or low cost activity, site, or function along the route.  The more things you can find to do in each town the better.

The point is I'm retired... I don't have to be anywhere on a time schedule.  If I only drive 50 miles today, or if I stay put for 2-3 days, I spread out the financial impact of keeping the fuel tank full.  With care that $400 tank of fuel can easily last a month. Next month when the Social Security check arrives, top off the tank.

Hello Walmart!  Kmart, Cabella's, Flying J, and the rest. Any RV friendly retail chain will do. Thanks to the internet you can pinpoint the location of most likely free overnight resting spots. No need to be stealthy about it, they openly make you welcome.

I can chart my course, probably spending multiple nights in any given town by just switching parking lots each day. During the day I can unload the little scooter off my back bumper and go exploring. With permission of course, I plan to park my big rig for a few hours along the perimeter of some large retail store. At 100 mpg the scooter can take me places I couldn't manage with the motorhome.  I knew I bought that thing for a reason.

Traveling long distance in a large motorhome really only becomes expensive when you have to stick to a time frame and must be back to your starting point by a certain day.  Making the trip more or less "One Way" reduces the short term expense considerably.  The longer you're gone combined with making each daily segment as short as possible reduces the rate of spending to the point where a smaller monthly income still allows you to travel and live the RV lifestyle.

The biggest plus to "Just slowing down" is that you have the time to really see the region you're traveling through.  You might be surprised to find that many small town museums offer free admission. That's how they attract travelers to spend money at their restaurants and motels.
Little matter that you have supper in the oven and your bed is turned down in the back. You still have to buy groceries and fuel along the way.

Now comes the tricky part for me. Putting my own advise into practice. I've never been one to slow down enough to smell the roses. Maybe this time I can get it right!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Baby Steps VS Jumping In With Both Feet!

Those who've known me for many years understand I look at many things from a different slant than most people. OK, I'm not over the top daring, willing to take physical risks on a whim. I don't act irresponsibility, not caring the least about what the status of my credit report might be. What I mean is I don't spend years mentally debating the pro's and con's of a life changing choice.

Bob Well's recent article about "Baby Steps" when it comes to breaking the monotonous grip of living for the sake of perpetuating the accepted "Norm" got me thinking. If I had cautiously taken so called baby steps, would I have the memories I've accumulated over the past 60 years. I seriously doubt it.

Bob's assessment that "He who dies with the most memories" is absolutely right on the money. Possessions, "toys", mean nothing, it's what you did with your time on this earth that's important.

I've changed direction in my life so many times I have a serious equilibrium issue.

I think it pretty much started with my securing a job on an iron ore carrier before my last day of high school. The ink on my diploma was hardly dry before I was off sailing the great lakes. Pretty much the first time I'd been away from home for more than
24 hours.

The following fall I signed on for a 4 year hitch in the military, and so started a life of living life in the moment.  If it felt right, I dove in with both feet.

When it came to the idea of becoming full time travelers, the decision to "just do it" took about a week. That year, 1995, was a whirlwind of activity as we sold our house, cars, and assorted toys downsizing to a travel trailer and a pickup truck.  It's amazing how fast you can become debt free when you unload all those loan carrying possessions that
are part of what society considers "The Norm".

Since that time, some almost 20 years ago, we have stayed true to our roots. Mary and I have been partners in this roller coaster ride all this time. We're well matched as it's an open question to see who comes up with the next change of course first.

 What we do know is we like to travel, we like to experience new places. Right now I have more freedom to just go, but in a few years she'll be ready to go too.

Pretty much everything we do between now and then is aimed at finding what works best for us. We don't believe in sitting around playing "what if", we just jump in with both feet and figure it out on the fly.

During that time in '95 we once got to the point where we had a total of $175 to our name. Without jobs, things looked pretty bleak.

No matter, within a few days our luck turned and we both secured jobs. Life went on.

No matter how bleak things may seem, it all works out in the end. That's not to say your original goal or plan may not wash away, but no matter you will get by one way or another. When was the last time you saw a human skeleton laying in the street. I haven't yet, one way or another things always work out.

Now you might understand how it came that we changed our means of travel 5 times this year alone.  Life just keep rolling along!

Bummer!! I'm A Victim Of YAHOO! .....UDATE...PROBLEM SOLVED!!

I spent most of the day redoing the links from the lead-in headers to the articles.  All but 3-4 of the really older posts now work by clicking on a link located in the text. No more clicking on titles, use the link in the text.

Thank you for your patience while I fixed this problem that was either created by Google Blogger, or Yahoo Voices.  Don't know for sure which one created the headache, but it's fixed now.
.Original post:

I've been had... At least temporarily!  It was brought to my attention that access to my older articles has been denied by some snafu within Yahoo.  If you are looking for information regarding building out a full sized Chevy Express van into a mobile dwelling you may find that when you click on the article Yahoo will come back that the link is bad.

Unfortunately there is little I can do about Yahoo's continuing problems. Every since they bought out Associated Content things have been picking up speed in a downhill slide toward total failure.

With the hope that this is a temporary glitch, I can offer a way to get around the issue and still gain access to the articles you are looking for.  This is how:

Once you identify the article you wish to see by scrolling down through the list of older articles,

Right click on the title.

Click on the option:  Copy Link Address

Go to your home search page, I use Google Chrome.

Paste the link address you copied and click search.

The search results will show the article you are looking for as the top choice.  Click on it and the article will come onto your scree.

I know this is a bother, and I sincerely hope that Yahoo get's their act together soon.  If this turns into a permanent problem I will have to go back through ever post and update the link. Obviously a big project since I have articles posted as far back as 4 years.

Please be patient and I promise to monitor the situation. If it means I have to redo the links, I will but it will take a serious amount of time.

Sorry for the inconvenience,

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Upgrading To Total Comfort!!

Our recent week long excursion through Iowa provided us with some excellent sight seeing. I wish I could say the same for comfort level as we slowly churned our way up and down hills, hampering the flow of traffic as we went.

The only thing more depressing than our physical discomfort was the knowledge that our attempt to improve our economy was a total waste of time.

Today's smaller SUV's drop their reasonably good MPG rating down almost into the single digits when asked to tow a trailer with any amount of front surface area. We averaged a mere 11 MPG, about the same fuel consumption as a much larger RV.

We're somewhat spoiled, I admit it. In past years we've owned a number of larger, and more comfortable RV's. It was time to go shopping again.

Years ago I used to deliver all manners of RV's cross country for a living. I have fond memories of driving some very expensive coaches with little thought of ever being able to afford one of my own. Country Coach, American Eagle, and other high dollar rigs float effortlessly down the freeway powered by rear mounted diesel  engines.  Handling more like passenger coaches than weekend recreational vehicles, they can go many years and hundreds of thousands of miles using running gear that is similar in power and longevity to the semi rigs competing for space on the road.

Today I finally joined the ranks of owners cruising the highways in their own luxury motor coach...At a fraction of the cost!   The catch is my luxury coach is 20 years old, not necessarily a bad thing.

My new (to me) 1993 Pace Arrow is powered by an 8.3 Cummins diesel with a 6 speed Allison automatic transmission. Riding on 22" tires, the same size used on many heavy haul trucks. This, dare I say RV, rides like a dream, and can easily keep up with the big boys.  All the while averaging 11 MPG!

Having only 75,000 miles on the odometer, this commercial grade running gear is expected to last up to 500,000 miles with normal wear. It's hardly broken in.  Described as a "tank" by the salesman, at 20 years young there is nary a squeak or a rattle anywhere. This is one solid vehicle.

Hailing from California, my inspection of the underside revealed absolutely no rust. This baby has never seen snow, or more importantly SALT!

Because it was the top of the line back in '93, all the bells and whistles are included, and well cared for. Being owned, and appreciated, by an elderly couple, many things have been upgraded even further. Our biggest complaint with the small travel trailer was lack of a good nights sleep. Problem solved now, the 10" deep memory foam mattress should ease our weary bones.

Where I had to beg Mary to reduce the amount of "stuff" she was trying to take with her for our last trip, now we have more closet space and basement storage than we will ever need. The kitchen even has a coffee maker tucked under the overhead cupboard.

Our comfort will be assured with two roof air conditioners, even in the hottest climates. We can run them anywhere with the 8KW diesel generator that is mounted in the very front of the rig, opposite end of the bedroom so it won't disturb our sleep.

For times when we want to use something 110 AC, there's an inverter large enough to run everything but the air conditioners, so we won't disturb the neighbors.

No doubt about it folks, we'll be stepping in high cotton from here on out.  Rest assured our days of being exhausted after a day's drive are over. We'll arrive rested and well groomed, The bathroom has what I would claim is a "real shower" too.  When we pull into any Walmart parking lot to claim our spot for the night, we'll be able to hold our heads high, "We've Arrived"!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Trail Riding At The Cabin And Taking Life Easy!

There's no place like home...Well actually the cabin's a pretty cool place too! After enough nights of marginal rest, it was good to sleep in a real bed. Our journey had us sleeping mostly in Walmart parking lots. Though their hospitality was gracious at every request, darned if we didn't end up with a semi parked next to us right after dark.

Never fails, settled in for the night and the truck that just set his air brakes fires up it's reefer. Sure he shut off the trucks engine, but the auxiliary power plant he uses is just as bad. Two motors running, with the reefer shutting down and restarting throughout the night ends any hope of a good sleep.  Once we got to the cabin, it was time to unwind and get back to normal.

After sleeping in the next morning it was time for an ATV ride into the woods. We packed a lunch and headed off to see the fall colors just past their peak.

It was just cool enough to be comfortable, and best of all no bugs. All it took was a light jacket to be comfortable.

I even got a bit of a sunburn on my face, or it might have been windburn, either way, it was good to be outside.

We didn't get in much riding time this summer. I'm not one to go out riding alone, and Mary didn't get much opportunity for time off.

It was real nice to finish off this vacation trip with a couple days relaxing at the cabin during what is probably the last of nice weather for the rest of the year.

Knowing that Rapid City SD got buried in snow while we were gone makes this trip all that more important.

Eating our lunch at the boat landing, and making plans to bring the original white Chevy Express Stealth Van back into use was a good way to finish the day.

The 1-ton cargo van will make a much better tow vehicle and will likely get better mileage in the process. Being restricted to no overdrive, and slowing down to the low 40's to pull some hills, just makes using the Jeep impractical.

At least the past week has provided some benefit. The Jeep sure got any carbon cleaned out of it, and it runs better than when we started.

Driving home from the cabin, without a trailer behind us, jumped the fuel mileage to even better than before we started the trip.

And best of all now we can look at new RV's and dream for when the lottery check comes in.

Until next time, happy trails!

Touring the Winnebago Factory!!

After taking Nebraska off our itinerary we replaced it with a stop at Forest City IA to tour where Winnebago motorhomes are built.

We arrived at the visitor center with seconds to spare as the morning tour was just beginning.  After watching a 15 minuted video, we piled onto a bus with about 10 other people.

Of course the first instructions we received were to wear the provided safety glasses, and unfortunately no picture taking was allowed on the manufacturing facility.

It was a very interesting tour that answered a number of questions for me about how construction techniques have improved over the years.

Unlike many other companies, Winnebago goes with a solid one piece roof made of fiberglass instead of the industry standard rubber roof.

This way the possibilities of leaks is much less, plus it just looks better. All RV's utilize a steel cage framework with no wood. Insulation is styrofoam bonded to fiberglass sheets.

That means no plywood to delaminate and cause ugly bubbles in the outer sidewalls.  With no wood in the walls, and no fiberglass insulation to retain water and stay soggy, you have an RV that will remain solid for many years to come.

The rig that most impressed me was the Class B Winnebago ERA. It's the perfect size for one considered to be a Van Dweller.  Roomy, comfortable, and really nice upholstery.  Plus it gets about 17 mpg, that's damn efficient for an RV.  Anyone reading interested in donating $125,000 to me for a diesel model that gets up to 25 mpg?

After having lunch in the parking lot of the visitor's center, it was time to head for the cabin.  We still have a few days left of Mary's vacation and kicking back at the cabin sounds like a good plan.

Iowa 80 Truck Stop... The World's Largest?

Yep, that's what they advertise, The World's Largest Truckstop. I guess I believe them, it's huge and really busy!
We pulled in later in the afternoon and secured a spot for the night that we thought was out of the way.
Seems big trucks don't always know where they belong. After having 2-3 semi's squeeze past our tiny little RV at dangerous speeds, I relocated into the middle of the pack to avoid having our full sized bed made into a twin...While we were asleep in it!

We did the required walk through, noting they stocked all the usual merchandise found at any other large truckstop, plus quite a bit more.

Their chrome shop will make a silk purse out of any sow's ear with ease. Heat radiated from their light display at an intensity that probably heats the whole show room.

Throughout the expansive building are a number of restored vehicles.

Though the Truck Museum was closed, it being Sunday, the fully dressed out truck and trailer on display was impressive.

They even had one semi on a turntable that continued to spin at a slow speed giving full view of all corners.

One of my favorites was this flashy Dodge Power Wagon from way back when I was a kid.

Reminds me of The World's Largest Dodge Power Wagon that some Oil Barron in Abu Dhabi created for lack of better things to do with his money.

It was after a poor nights sleep, 500 trucks idling do make a lot of noise, that we decided to alter our course and travel agenda.

The Jeep was handling the load of the little travel trailer, but because we had to lockout overdrive, the fuel mileage was terrible. We'd dropped down to a mere 10 mpg, and the best we could do for speed was 55 mph. Driving on to Nebraska would have taken up too much time, and would use a heck of a lot of gas.

It was time to angle across Iowa and head north.

The Buffalo Bill Cody Museum

While in Le Claire IA we toured one more interesting site. The Buffalo Bill Museum is located right on the bank of the Mississippi, a good sized structure that leads you to believe they have amassed a large collection of Buffalo Bill memorabilia.

Once again, what's advertised is a bit misleading. The museum, for the most part, is a collection of different parts of local history.  Only one small section is set aside for Buffalo Bill related material.

Sure, it was interesting, but obviously they are capitalizing on the name of one of their native sons. The real star of the museum is the last wooden stern wheeler. to work the Mississippi.

The Lone Star pushed barges up and down the great river for 100 years before being sidelined in 1968 when it failed it's bi-annual Coast Guard inspection. Now it's shored up on timbers and is the main attraction of Le Clair's museum.

Not being a passenger boat, there is only berthing quarters for maybe a half dozen crew members. Lounging room is scarce as the interior of the ship is taken up with the boiler, large steam pistons, and various other mechanical items related to making it go.

Time and dry rot has taken its toll on the boat. I thought back to my days on the ore carrier Lackawanna. It was the last of the coal powered steam ore boats to work the Great Lakes, and was scrapped about the same time. I guess that pretty much makes me a relic of the past too.

The crew cabins were small, but comfy for the era. My ore carrier accommodations were similar in size and equally spartan, but I had to deal with one room holding 3 sets of 3 high steel bunks.

These rooms appeared to give some privacy, at least they were staged to indicate each man had his own space.

As we finished up with the Buffalo Bill Museum, it was off to our next stop. Mary did note that on this trip we're making the effort to see as many sites as we can.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Antique Archaeology...Not What You Would Expect

The GPS Navigator made finding the home of American Pickers a snap, it's only a mile or so off I-80, with easy access. Of course once we actually found it, we drove right past. It's that unnoticeable.

Though the footage on the program gives you the idea that it's more or less out in the country, with lots of space,. In all actuality, it's semi-hidden from view, sort of back in an alley.

Right in the center of town, I believe it's earlier life was as a simple one stall gas station.  Beyond the old Hudson and the building itself, there is only parking for 3 or 4 cars. We stayed out on the street, as the confined parking didn't allow for maneuvering
As for all their fancy picking, forget about it. Most of what they had on display was priced beyond belief. That pretty much matches their ridicules valuations on the show...Go figure!

You can see by the actual size of the place, inventory is of a minor concern. Maybe twenty people were waiting with us for it to open. Even dealing with the crowd, it was hard to spend more than 15 minutes seeing everything.

Mary wanted to buy some small souvenir, but times must be hard for TV stars, baseball caps were $20. A simple key chain was $10 and mouse pads were $15.

I guess those two pretty young ladies that were running the place didn't much want to be bothered ringing up sales. It was pretty clear the place really wasn't much interested in turning a profit.

It did look like they are working toward some sort of future though. A new brick building is going up, taking up what was probably most of their parking area.

Even that structure is only about the size of a 2 bay service station, but then the lot size of this location really limits any further expansion.

It was interesting, they had a few unique items worth looking at. You can forget any notion of seeing either Mike or Frank. No sign of Danielle either.
Mostly it's a good lesson in how the magic of TV can make things appear much grander than they really are.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

First NIGHT Out...Hello Dubuque IA

 It's been a long day. Down through Wisconsin, into Iowa we drove.For the most part at about 55 mph.  OK, I planned on taking a more scenic routes, but after about 10 hours the hum drum of going up one hill and down the other side was getting to us.

We followed the Mississippi River for the most part, which meant the straight and level stretches of road were few and far between.  The Jeep is handling the trailer all right, but I need to keep O/D locked out so it doesn't lug down and lose momentum.

That way it's comfortable with the load, we just keep the speed under 60 and it works out.  The mileage has dropped to about 16 so I think the big van may be a better choice for a tow vehicle.  That's next summer's project.

We set our sights on Dubuque hoping the Walmart there would allow us to spend the night. They welcomed us with open arms asking that we park at the far end of the lot close to the neighboring Lowe's.  Imagine my surprise when it turns out Lowe's has free internet wifi.

We're parked for the night, just finished our supper, and now I can aimlessly surf the net until bed time.

Tomorrow will be a much shorter driving day.  Only about 75 miles to Davenport IA, then 20 miles one way to our first attraction and 20 miles the other way to the truckstop where we  plan on spending the rest of the day and tomorrow night.

When I stopped for gas, about mid-morning, the engine developed a miss when we went to leave.  It cleared up after a minute or so and we moved on.  Again a couple hours later it did the same thing after we had stopped to eat. This time I popped the hood thinking I was going to wiggle the connections for the plug wires.

Foolish me, not a plug wire in sight, just the fuel rail with individual injectors for each cylinder. The plugs must be down below the intake manifold where you can't get to them. I wiggled the connections to each injector and tonight I bought a couple bottles of injector cleaner.

It was running fine when I shut it off for the night and hopefully tomorrow after the cleaner has had a chance to work the problem will be resolved.  Not looking forward to mechanical problems on the road.

That was our first days progress, naturally it rained for most of it.  Way better than the snow they're getting in the Black Hills. Tomorrow's entry should be more exciting, things to do, places to see.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

On The Road Again... Iowa & Nebraska Here We Come!

As I figured on my last trip, we're headed back to Nebraska. The Overpass Museum at Kearney NE just looked too interesting not to go back and have a look see.

This trip will be at a more casual pace. No need to get somewhere by a certain day, the interstate system is for the most part off limits.  We'll be following the Mississippi River down through Wisconsin and Iowa.

Heading southwest from Dubuque IA, we'll stop at Walcott IA to see the world's largest truck stop. The Iowa I-80 Truck Stop is more than just a place to take a break, it's a destination in and of itself.

Having hauled freight cross country in the past, I never happened across this trucking landmark.  Now, with no deadlines to meet, I can see it on my own terms.

While in eastern Iowa, two other sites have been added to our agenda.  Le Claire, IA is home to Antique Archaeology, the business responsible for the American Pickers television program.

As fans of anything old, this is a must see stop that will demand fresh batteries in the camera.

Another anticipated stop will be the Buffalo Bill Museum.  Born in Le Claire IA, the Buffalo Bill Cody Homestead is located in McCausland IA.

Built in 1847 by his father Isaac Cody, they relocated there from an earlier home in Le Claire. The first boyhood home was purchased and moved to Cody Wyoming in 1933.  Go figure, hardly seems worth the effort for an old wood frame farm house.

It's going to be a busy week. Lots to see and do. Walmart is planned to be our stop over for the night most of the way.

Every medium sized community has one, and from what I've heard there's no issue staying in their parking lots.

This time around the Stealth Van stays home. This will be the first long trip in the little travel trailer and Jeep I purchased earlier this summer.

Expecting to have mild temperatures, the new generator I just bought will stay home. I need to build a rack on the tongue of the trailer to mount it.

I put it on a rack on the back but the extra weight made the trailer tend to sway.  With such a small trailer hanging 150 lbs two ft off the rear made more difference than I thought it would.

It's all set, we leave this weekend.  Hope we don't run into any snow, the forecast says Rapid City is going to get hit with up to 8".  Good thing we'll be well south of there.