Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Clonk.clonk who's there?

With a solid bat and a hard ball there are lots of clonks when you play Pickle Ball.

We decided to take the beginner's class in the afternoon once it warmed up a little. Daytime highs have only been in the 50's and it's been below freezing for several nights.
Kathy the instructor had all the equipment ready and showed us the basics of serving the ball, short shots and volleys then had us practice each. Finally she and another student joined Barbara and I in a game of doubles.
We really enjoyed this and before we knew it Kathy called a halt as we'd been playing for 1 1/2 hours!
Scoring and the way the serves swap from partner to partner still eludes us, but we'll pick that up as we get further into it. It's obviously popular as there were something like 12 other people playing on other courts.

While we were there our new British acquaintance Alan told us I need to be at the "Hang Out" tomorrow at 4pm for darts! They don't allow steel tipped darts, which are what I have, but  they have some loaner plastic tip ones I'll be able to use. 

Beer apparently isn't compulsory but he recommended bringing some, and snacks to last a couple of hours. 

Alan is the gentleman who is a work camper, he was saying he came to the resort for 2 weeks in October last year and didn't leave until April!! We hear this a lot and it reflects so well on the resort. He and his wife are typical of the people we've met daily here. Open friendly and enthusiastic.

Darts was fun!
Around 30 players showed up and we numbered off to get a count then selected cards to determine teams. With 5 dart boards there was plenty of room for everyone.
Ladies and Gentlemen of all ages and abilities were soon throwing darts at electronic dartboards that did all the math. The game was 501 and no doubles required to start and finish (for the real dart players this lets beginners score and play). 
Bill, Bev, Sherrie and I soon had a lead and held on to it thru the match to win 5 games to 1. But plenty of friendly banter accompanied the whole event, helped by a couple of bottles of my favorite Negra Modello beers.

Everyone had so much fun we're going to do it again on New Years Day.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Where the heck is Casa Grande?

Why we chose Casa Grande as a destination this trip is a little convoluted. We joined Escapees and they own several Coop Campgrounds around the country. They also have rallies where lots of members get together and share the full timer lifestyle, eat, shop and have fun. (Sounds tough doesn't it?).
The next big rally is in March 2015 in Tucson AZ.

We bought the rig in Yuma Arizona and we've been back there several times. we wanted to try out one of the Escapees parks to see if we liked them (Plus you can camp there for $5 a night if you dry camp and still enjoy all the facilities).

We wanted to explore some of the Tucson/Phoenix area as we've never spent more than a day at either of them and that was at a motorcycle rally so we didn't see much of the scenery. We dug into the Escapee park system and found they had a park in Casa Grande which is about halfway between Tucson and Phoenix.

Only problem was that they don't accept reservations and we were planning the trip for Christmas/New Years and didn't want to risk not having a place to stay in what was both a Holiday and also the Snowbird season, so we searched the Camping Guides we had and looked up the choices on RV Park Review. The highest rated park was Sundance 1 Resort.

Unfortunately the website showed a rule that rigs over 10 years old were not permitted. I called them and they were very pleasant, they explained that they had the rule to keep the standard of the units using the resort high, but if we sent them a current picture of our rig they were sure we'd be OK. 
I sent then the picture and they were happy to accept our reservation. Some people get upset by these park rules, but we're happy enough with them, our rig is clean and well maintained but we've camped next to some that looked more suited to the junk yard than a campground so we appreciate standards being enforced.
Hillbilly Engineering Inc.

We got a weekly rate for most of the stay which worked out to about $22 a night. We think this very reasonably considering the huge amount of activities available and the very high quality of everything in the park.
We also got to sample another facet of the RV lifestyle, a full featured RV Resort.

This is a FULL feature resort with indoor/outdoor heated pool, spa, card room, sewing room, ceramics rooms, woodworking/craft center. A huge social gathering room with a stage for bands etc. Sports facilities, the list is seemingly endless. There are organized quilting groups, wood carvers. So much stuff that one BIG wall of the activities office is lined with row after row of sign up sheets for all the things to do.
There is no excuse for being bored at this park and everyone we've met has been more than willing to talk about their experiences here. Most of them seem to have come here like us for a couple of weeks and liked it so much they stayed. I can see why.

To get us out and exploring we visited the Arizona Tourist Board office in Casa Grande. The town of Casa Grande is fairly rural, they are working on bringing the historical main street area back as an attraction. Meanwhile the area outside the center has plenty of stores and there is a big mall closer to Interstate 10. Casa Grande is where Interstates 8 and 10 join so there is plenty of passing trade for them.

We decided to drive towards Phoenix and visit a Market/Swap Meet in Mesa then go over to the Commemorative Air Force Museum which is fairly close to the Swap Meet. It's about 1 1/2 hrs from Casa Grande on I10 mainly.
The swap meet is HUGE! The flyer said they have 1 1/2 miles of aisles and they didn't exaggerate. It's all covered and there is lots of free parking. There's no admission charge either so this is a great place to browse, which we did in full. We had lunch in a central area where they had a country band playing and tables to sit at. Good food and very reasonably priced.

Next was my treat, the Commemorative Air Force Museum.
I'm not ashamed to say that I've been an airplane nut since I was tiny. I vaguely remember going to an airshow when I was 5 or 6. I was in the Air Cadets in UK and flew a glider solo when I was 16. I'm definitely what could be described as an enthusiast.

Barbara? Not so much, but she puts up with my passion and ignores me yakking about the specifications of each airplane when she's not really interested!

This facility at Falcon Field in Mesa has some British history too. It was one of the facilities used in WW2 to train UK aircrew for the RAF. There is a small graveyard for those that perished during that training.

The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) used to be known as the Confederate Air Force. They were founded in Texas in the 60's to collect and preserve in flying condition, aircraft that flew during WW2. Back then such aircraft were considered fit for scrap but thru their efforts many unique aircraft have survived and still fly. Many people in the preservation world would like to see these aircraft permanently grounded as they consider the risk of accidents during flight too great. 
To me an aircraft in the sky is the ultimate experience. One stuck in a hanger is less than half the beast. Without the sound of the engines and the sight of it swiftly dashing thru the sky an aircraft is just a collection of parts stacked in a pleasing pile.
Fly them and be damned!!
Not that I'm a airplane nut or anything...

The Arizona Wing of the CAF operates one of the prettiest B17's in the world. Kind of strange to call a machine designed to drop bombs on people "Pretty" but this one is. From the flowing lines of the airplane to the polished surface and on to the fantastic nose art of Betty Grable in a swim suit, this aircraft pushes all the buttons for me.

Sentimental Journey
(By sheer chance I met the pilot of this very airplane 3 years later at a fly-in in Casa Grande!)

With several other aircraft in the collection and the chance to see the restoration workshop close up I was in heaven. 

And Barbara, well she put up with me.

Continuing to explore Casa Grande we discovered that Casa Grande is named for the Casa Grande (Who'd a thunk it?).

The town was named Terminus when it was the end of the railroad track, but when they extended the railroad past here they picked a new name.

There are ruins of a Native American settlement here (actually about 30 miles away from here) that include what was a 4 story building that the Spanish missionaries named "Great House" or "Casa Grande" in Spanish.

It's a National Historic Monument and was in fact the very first Architectural Historic Monument in the nation, set up in 1914.

These places are bread and butter for Barbara and I, we both love history. Finding off the beaten track places and learning about them makes a trip memorable.

Casa Grande

A protective shield was built to protect the main ruin in the 30's as the structure is built from local clay which although like concrete when dried will suffer from erosion over the years. The walls in the foreground were approximately 7 feet tall originally. The floors in the main building were logs brought from over 60 miles away covered in the stiff ribs from inside the cactus and topped by more dried clay.
Holes for the logs show the line of a floor

The area includes several adjoining settlements and a "Ball Court", which is an oval banked stadium in the center of the community. 

Water was brought by man made canals over 16 miles in length from the Gila River and allowed the dwellers to grow corn and other crops. Shells from the Gulf of Baja have been found here and were used for jewelry and trade.

I found this to be a hauntingly beautiful place, I expect it will be appearing in some of my paintings before too long.

Into the unknown

The time just flies here at Sundance 1. We had a good time at the Christmas Eve chilli/soup event and met some really nice people. Then Christmas Pot Luck was excellent too and we found the people next to us on the adjoining table were Brits too and camp hosts. More people to ask questions of.

By Saturday I was getting better at relaxing, and Barbara relaxed enough to think about exploring. 
We always start out at odds with each other. I work from home and crave company as a result. Barbara works with students all day and gets home late every evening so she wants to sleep late, read a book and chill out.
This means for the first couple of days of a trip I'm chomping at the bit to meet people and go places and I get impatient with her. She's busy avoiding doing the very things I want to do so it can be tense sometimes.

We both know that we do it and we've always been open about our feelings so we calm down and in a day or so we really get comfortable again and things are great for the rest of the trip. It's going to be so good to not have to "Go Home" one of these days and just continue being in the "Groove".

Barbara is feeling much more comfortable with the Trike/Bicycle we bought for her. Having never learned to ride a bike as a kid she didn't want to try 2 wheels so I found an almost new tricycle on Craigslist. Persuading her to ride it has been a task but now she's getting the hang of it and she seems much more relaxed. As this is a big resort she's seeing the benefit of it now.

We took the opportunity to ride over to the recreation area area and what an area it is! There is a huge field adjoining the resort dedicated to the various activities. There are about 6 top class shuffleboard courts, 6 horseshoe pits, 6 or 8 pickle ball courts and a dedicated black top RC car race track and a fenced dog walk. There is enough clear space next to these facilities to build 3 times as much again and everything is brand new, well maintained and top of the line. We are both very impressed with the whole resort.
We signed out a couple of pickle ball rackets to see if we like playing. 

While we were doing that we started talking to the nice lady behind the activity center desk. Turned out she and her husband are work campers here and love it. Her husband came over to see her and the 4 of us got on well as they had lived and worked in Maryland and DC very close to where we worked and lived. 

Sunday afternoon the courts were deserted and we could have a knock around to get the feel for the game.
Barbara played tennis in high school and I enjoyed belting a ball around at the local park when I was a kid. We had considered trying tennis again but the 2 of us are not that physically fit and the though of running around didn't appeal that much.
Pickle ball for the uninitiated is played with solid rackets and a wiffle ball on a much smaller court than tennis. It took us a few minutes to get used to the dynamics of the ball. There is much less bounce than a tennis ball and it slows down very quickly. The result is that you aren't sprinting around trying to cut the ball off to return a volley. half an hour passed quickly and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We felt so much better after the exercise and we weren't winded, aching or frustrated. They have beginner classes on Mondays. I think we're getting bitten by the bug, we're doing the afternoon session!!

Laundry and housework raised their ugly heads as they tend to do so we tried the laundry facilities. Again the place is extremely well equipped and the washers and dryers top notch. The laundry is better than the rec halls in some campgrounds we've been to. There is a lounge area with TV, magazine racks, puzzles, vending machines. The place is air-conditioned and spotlessly clean.
There is a noticeboard in there with listings of park unit for sale or rent and the prices we thought were pretty reasonable. We have the urge to find out more, we'll probably drop by the sales office and find out about owners fees, property taxes etc. before we leave as this might be somewhere we might think about should we come to a point where we would like a more permanent home base.

We wish you a Merry Christmas

The plan was drive to Casa Grande and stay at the Sundance 1 RV Resort. 
Originally we were going to stay at the Escapee's park in Casa Grande to see what their parks looked like ( but they don't take reservations and we wanted to be certain that we got a spot for such a busy time of year. We searched on which is a great resource if you're going to an area you've never been to before. One of the best reviews was for Sundance 1 their website looked good with lots of activities and we both liked the idea of experiencing a big organized resort type campground for the first time.
Our previous blog "Joseph Lucas Prince of Darkness" described the trials and tribulations of the trip to Casa Grande, here's the rest of the story.
When we got here we were told at the gate to park at the office and there would be a camp host who would help us get sorted out. A very friendly gentleman Glen drove up in a golf cart and together we got the paperwork taken care of and he led us over to site 692 which was a full hookup site kind of half gravel and half asphalt in an "island" between 2 of the park's roads and conveniently within short walk of the activities center. Everything was very clean and tidy and the hookups took no time at all. 
We sat back and relaxed and started reading the 2 sheets describing all the activities going on. One sheet was the calender for the month and every day was full with activities from coffee in the morning to Radio Controlled car racing!! The other was stuff that was happening this week on top of all the rest! Like chili and soup supper Christmas Eve, Pot Luck Dinner Christmas Day, New Years Eve party with a band. If we did all the activities we'd be exhausted in no time.
Just to play it safe we sat back and opened a bottle of wine!
We made out a shopping list and drove into Casa Grande to explore a little and find the grocery store for some essentials (More beer and wine)(and a few things for the Pot Luck). There seemed to be plenty of stores around and we checked a few out before we went back to the resort. 
A bike ride around the resort let us see the activities and where the shuffleboard, horse shoe, pickle ball and RC race track were. 

Pickle Ball Courts
RC Car Race Track

All were immaculately maintained and lots of them, we watched some people play pickle ball and they gladly answered our questions.
If you've never heard of pickle ball before then join the club! Turns out it's like tennis but played with a wooden paddle and a wiffle ball on a smaller court than tennis. It's a good game to get some exercise without having to run around like a teenager. It's a fast growing game in the RV world where most people are "Mature".
Apparently we can get paddles at the activity office so we may give that a go sometime.
I logged in to a website where you can post your location and it shows who else is in the park. As soon as I posted our location a message arrived that another couple were in the park and would like to meet us. Paul and Karen came over just before the Chili and Soup event and filled us in on the details of that then we joined them and some of their friends there. This is a good way to meet people and get the scoop on the local area. Thanks Paul and Karen!
Christmas Day we spent relaxing, sending Facebook messages wishing everyone Happy Christmas and sipping wine until it was time for the Pot Luck dinner. I'm not a "Buffet" kind of guy and neither is Barbara, most commercial buffet restaurants remind me of mess hall food, but when a community puts on a Pot Luck meal everyone brings their favorite dishes and the result is spectacular. Having dinner with 200 people means there are over 100 different dishes to sample! The resort provided hams and turkey, the rest was up to us. Bring your own beverage is the rule here so we made do with another bottle of wine!!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Baby Steps

I somehow got this first post lost in the back pages of the blog. I dragged it up here so it would be easier to find. It's a little out of step with the timeline sorry.

We bought a used 1999 Rexhall motorhome 36.5ft long with a big slide. It was advertised on Craigslist in San Francisco, don't ask me how I stumbled on it when I was searching for one in San Diego! 

Somehow this one popped up and I really wasn't interested but the ad had no pictures and a poor description. It ticked me off that someone would expect to sell a rig with so little information in the add so I called the guy just to ding him up a little. It turned out it was his mother's rig and she asked him to post it but had no pictures etc. and she insisted he put it on Craigslist so he did. The rig was in Yuma and we were planning to start our RV search in Yuma because in March there are ton's of used rigs for sale by Snowbirder's who are leaving to go back home. We called the lady just for the heck of it and planned on a whole weekend of RV shopping for private deals and at dealers.

What can I say about shopping for a rig in Yuma? WOW!!! There was so much choice from, E-bay ads, craigslist, dealer lots both new, used and consignment, local newspaper ads and a concept I've never seen before "Park and Sell" lots where you pay the lot owner a weekly fee to park the rig with lots of others and you sell it yourself.

This was our first "shopping for real" trip for us. we live in San Diego so Yuma is less than 200 miles from home. We took a hotel room and started looking.  We'd made an appointment to see the rig the lady had for sale and went there first.

We'd spent a LONG time looking at rigs in RV shows and deciding what we liked and didn't like about the various floor plans. We both agreed that we didn't like the TV over the driver area, we didn't like the usual dinette/bench layout, we didn't want twin beds or bunks. We did like L shaped couches, slide outs, free standing dining table with real chairs and a TV where you could see it.
Amazingly the Rexhall had all the things we liked and none of the things we didn't!! The lady and her husband had owned it from new. He passed away a few years previously but she drove it from San Francisco and back each winter and she's 75! They had it custom built by Rexhall new in 1999 with a big rear window in the back and they had bought every conceivable add on and improvement over the years. All maintenance was done exactly on time and was detailed with receipts down to the last light bulb! The tires were 3 years old and she was about to get it smogged and renew the registration and that would be included in the asking price which was reasonable. 

We liked it and felt completely happy with the seller. But it was the first one we looked at and everyone tells you: "don't buy the first one you look at". We swapped contact information and said we'd get back to her and set up inspections and road testing if we wanted to go ahead.

Next we drove a 40' Diesel Pusher (DP) at a consignment lot but although it had low miles it needed new tires badly and the steering shook. Still it was the first time I ever DROVE a big RV so it was educating. 

We wandered around a few dealer lots but they were out of our price range. We discovered the Park and Sell scene and wandered around several of them. a couple of rigs looked good but didn't have the features we wanted. 

We left Yuma full of enthusiasm, we'd taken pictures of rigs we liked so we could remember them later, that was a habit we developed going to RV shows, We'd get home and couldn't remember what rig had what features and where it was we'd seen it. I made up a sheet with the basics of size, make, model, features, location and space for a picture. That was one of the best things we did. It made reviewing rigs we'd seen so much easier. We passed that idea on to our friends from RV Boot Camp for their shopping trips.

We began to haunt Craigslist for rigs in our price range and size requirements. We decided 35' was the smallest we'd go if we were serious about full timing. We looked at dozens of rigs in San Diego. Private sales and dealers. Some that looked great in a photograph were poor when seen up close. Some were overpriced, the owners naturally loved them and wanted top dollar. One couple got the blue book value and added on the price of all the repairs they'd done to the rig over the years and expected somebody would pay that! 

We must have looked at 40 of them. There was a 2000 40' DP on consignment at a local dealer, the owner had been living in it on a local military base campground for several years but he passed away. The family didn't want it and it sat unused for a couple of years until the family had it towed to the dealer for sale. We liked it because it had most of our wants. It did have the TV over the drivers seat. It didn't have a slide. They couldn't get it started for a while, dead batteries. When I lifted up the door to the generator/battery area the batteries were covered in green corrosion. Not just on the terminals but all over the compartment. Eventually they got it going and we drove it around. It ran pretty good, the tires were about 2 years old but there was a propane leak around the stove and we hadn't tried all the components as there was no shore power, the propane tank was empty and the batteries were dead. It was fully equipped just as the original owner left it. I felt confident that we could get it for a steal. I have enough mechanical skills that I was confident in my ability to get everything up to scratch if the dealer demonstrated the components operated. I was ready to make an offer. Plus we'd measured our driveway and it was 40' long, so was the rig!!

I was ready to make an offer. Barbara was a little wary of the thing having sat so long and not being able to see things work. We left without making an offer but with an agreement that if we were ready to do a deal the dealer would get all the systems running and ready for an independent inspection.

At home we thought about it some more and looked at the review sheets we'd made of the rigs we'd seen. I liked the big DP but we'd have to put a lot of time and money into it. We were stumped, we'd spent a couple of months shopping (which really isn't long and we weren't in a hurry) we were almost at the point of calling about the DP when Barbara said "You know we still haven't seen one we liked better that the first one we looked at!". And it struck me she was right, it was the best one. 

We dug out the owners phone number and gave her a call. She was delighted to hear from us, she'd had one other offer but she didn't like the guy and swore she wouldn't sell it to him even if he offered her a million dollars. We chatted for a while and we made her a tentative offer, with a little haggling we were in our price range and we agreed we'd drive to Yuma the next weekend, have lunch with her and test drive the rig and all it's systems.
The next Saturday morning we were playing with the systems which all worked perfectly, driving it around and reading all the documents that were with it. De the owner made lunch and Barbara asked what kind of crockery De found worked best for the RV.

De said we obviously didn't understand - the rig would be complete and ready to go with crockery, cutlery, accessories, outdoor mats, bedding even guide books and maps! That made our mind up and we agreed on the price. De said she had to get her personal stuff to San Francisco but a U-Haul would be too expensive and the smog and registration (CA tags so less cost to register for us) needed to be done before the sale so she would drive it to SF and meet us up somewhere between SF and SD. 

Well if a 75 year old lady had no problem driving that rig to SF and back then she was obviously sure of it's reliability. 

We all agreed to meet up in Indio CA in a couple of weeks. We'd rent a car and drop it at Palm Springs Airport, we'd provide her an airline ticket to SF and she'd stay in a hotel Saturday night while we boondocked at a casino for our first stay in the rig, then drive it home from there Sunday. 

And that's what we did. De didn't like the hotel she had booked so we treated her to a room at the Holiday Inn, she had dinner with some friends in Palm Springs and we ate in a truck stop. Next day we dropped her off at the airport and drove home. I'd planned driving down the east side of the Salton Sea to I8 then take I8 west to SD. That way there wouldn't be too many challenging roads to drive on for my "Maiden Voyage". 

Unfortunately we bought a new RV GPS a week before the trip and I blindly followed it thru a wild twisting turning mountain road that dropped us on I15 near Temecula CA. Talk about a "Baptism by Fire". However I was proud not to have clipped a curb, brushed a tree or got a tire off the pavement the whole way AND we didn't have a big tailback of traffic behind us.

So now we had a rig.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Joseph Lucas Prince of Darkness

If you ever owned a British car or motorcycle you've heard all the "Joe Lucas" jokes. British auto electrical systems bore the brunt of a lot of bad press and to be honest I owned LOTS of British bikes and cars and never suffered from problems.

The problems I experienced were inflicted by previous owners who suffered more from dim WITS than dim lights.
Like what you ask?
I briefly owned a wreck of an MGB. Got it for nothing because it wouldn't run for more than 5 seconds. Had a new battery, all kinds of stuff but just wouldn't stay running. 

Dim witted owner. Decided to replace the fuel pump, cut off the connectors that came from the factory and wired it back up BACKWARDS. It sucked from the carburetor and blew bubbles into the gas tank. Fine of you are fond of bubbles. Not so much if you want to drive somewhere.
So what has this got to do with the price of hay??

Dim wits.
We had a plan. We liked the plan. We had anticipated the plan for several months. The plan failed.
Dim wits.

Here was the plan. We were going to get the sofa and dining chairs in our rig re-upholstered in Yuma. We spent a weekend visiting Wayne and Rhonda then dropped the rig in Yuma and drove home in the toad. (You read all my previous blogs so your familiar with the terminology right?) (If not go back and do your homework!!).

2 weeks later we were going to drive to Yuma, pick up the re-upholstered rig and camp that night in Walmart then next morning drive the 200'ish miles to Casa Grande and spend Christmas and New Years there. We called ahead and they said the sofa was ready, they even sent a picture and it DID look good. I asked if they'd done the dining table chairs too, which we'd paid for. From the tone of the reply I guessed they'd forgotten but give them their due they got them done.

Saturday we arrive at the place and go out to the rig, the sofa and chairs looked GREAT!
We paid them, jumped in the rig, turned the ignition.

Nada. Not even a click, 
Dead chassis battery. 

Never mind I flipped the switch that allows you to start the engine from the coach batteries. 
Nothing, they were dead too.

Now part of the thing that attracted us to this shop is they have hookups for multiple rugs at their shop and they promised us they would hook ours up.

They didn't.

I kind of knew that the rig had a problem with the chassis electrical system, when we bought it Dee mentioned that the battery had died and she'd replaced it but it went dead again. An RV electrical guy had decided that the dimmer switch for the dash lights was draining the battery even with the ignition and chassis isolation switch off. 
If you turned the dimmer off no problem. We'd had no problem in 9 months of ownership, but when we went to hang out with Wayne and Rhonda we were driving in the dark and I turned the dimmer up high. And forgot about it.

So my bad for the chassis battery.

The coach batteries I have to put down to them, The batteries were isolated when we brought it in but apparently they had to work very late to get the dining chairs done. That's when I suspect that the coach batteries got drained.

The owner of the company was very apologetic and said they had a charger, they'd put it on charge for a couple of hours and we could come back and get it started.
When we got back some of their "Technicians" had the chassis battery on one of those big "Fast Charge/Jump Start" rigs. Worse they were taking the negative cable on and off with it still powered up. There were some serious sparks being generated. They got it going and left, then we tried to back it out of the spot to get on the road.
It died. 

The owner came at it with the charger again but I managed to get it turned off before he tried to attach the clamps again. He offered to let us dry camp at his place so we could get a charge in the battery with the charger to start it, then put it on the 30 amp hook up overnight to build up the charge
We started it after an hour on 10 amp, moved it over to the hookup, plugged in and went to bed.

Next morning full of confidence we had breakfast and slipped the key in the ignition. 

I was pretty convinced it was a bad battery and we found the receipt for it, it was only 9 months old with a 3 year warranty from Sears. We pulled the battery, loaded it into the Fiesta and drove to Sears.
In order to test it they had to charge it for an hour on their computer controlled charger. We wandered around the stores and came back an hour later.

"Perfect" was their statement, in fact it was now fully charged.
Back to the rig to throw the battery in. Engine started right up.
Hit the road.

Heading east towards Tuscon on I8, I noticed the battery light was on, indicating a no charge condition. Nowhere to turn around but 150 miles to go, maybe we could make it on the charge in the battery. I started up the generator thinking that it would put some power into the battery as we drove, maybe making it last longer.

58 miles down the road 1 mile BEFORE an exit, the engine died. 

I tried the house batteries, not enough to turn the engine over. We called Gieco who we are insured with and who also offered towing coverage when we took out the policy.
Yes they would get a tow truck to us BUT it would be Monday! (This being Sunday).
We unhooked the Fiesta (Ain't toads wonderful??) and drove the mile to Dateland AZ where there was a gas station and a campground. But no mechanic, no tow truck and no battery charger.

Gila Bend was 10 miles closer than Yuma at that point so we pulled the battery out again and drove there. We located a towing company that was closed for the day, but the owner's friend was a Brit Car nut and had pity on us, letting us put the battery on their super dooper computer controlled charger. 
We talked Brit cars and bikes for an hour and the charger "Dinged" ready to go. I gave him some cash for a holiday 12 pack and we drove the 40 miles back to rig, (doing an illegal U turn thru the median). Battery in and it fired right up, we drove the mile to the off ramp and checked into the campground.

The friendly guy at the towing company had agreed with my diagnosis of failed alternator caused by putting the battery charger clamps on with the power still on. Those sparks were indicating a big no no.

Monday morning I got on the computer and found NAPA Auto Parts and O Reilly's Auto Parts stores in Yuma. O'Reilly's very nice lady said they had 3 alternators in stock that would do the job. We drove the 50 miles BACK to Yuma and went straight to O'Reilly's. The guy on the desk looked it up. "No don't have one 5 to 7 business days to get one"

I was not happy. 

The lady I talked to at 7 am had no problem finding one listed, she said there were 2 different power outputs 90 amp and 130 amp, one was 5 1/8" diameter the other was 5 5/8" one was $149 the other $175. She sounded very competent and very convinced that there were 3 alternators in the store.
I pressed the counterman and wouldn't take no for an answer. Finally he stumbled on a link to F450 alternators which would be the same as mine (I had it with me, having taken an hour to remove it as soon as it was light enough to work on the rig),
So we got the new one side by side with the old one and it was identical. It was 130 watt, and it was $175. Just for reassurance that the old one was the actual problem I had them test it. It was dead as a door nail.

We shopped for groceries, bought a heater for the rig (More on this another time) filled up the Fiesta and drove the 50 miles bask to Dateland.

An hour later the rig was up and running and charging. We decided to stay were we were for that evening and continue our trip first thing Tuesday.

So Joe Lucas at work??
No just the Dim Wits with the charger who fried the voltage regulator in the alternator.

And me, the Dim Witt who forgot to turn the dimmer switch off.

Scratch it where it itches

In the motorcycle world it's called PMS.
When winter comes and the weather is too nasty to ride, the motorcyclists start to get restless. 
PMS or Parked Motorcycle Syndrome. 
When spring comes around and the snow melts every motorcycle owner has the bike polished, serviced and ready to go.

Being Newbies in the RV world we hadn't heard of the RV equivalent. 
Just as unpleasant and incurable as PMS, Hitch Itch strikes all year round.

Barbara and I have it bad.

We dropped our rig off in Yuma a week ago for re-upholstering of the sofa and dining chairs which have seen better times. We won't get it back until this coming Saturday and when we pick it up we'll be heading straight on to Casa Grande for Christmas and New Years.

Meanwhile we're selling stuff off and planning Yard Sales so we can get the house sold and hit the road permanently. 
It's driving us crazy. 

Everyone we invite over to pick thru some stuff wants to know the why, how, when of our adventure. We've just sent out our Christmas cards with a "News Flash" describing our plans and the fact that we'll be doing all our mailings by e-mail next year.
Last Saturday we went to the Antique Motorcycle Club Christmas Party and announced that we were having a Giant Motorcycle Yard Sale in January.

Every time  we explain it to somebody they tell us how brave/crazy/doomed we are. We'll never be able to do it, we should keep the house. Their friends did it and soon gave up.
But all the time Barbara and I are thinking "4 months to go, what else can we sell?".

Weekend trips can't scratch the itch enough to satisfy it.

They used to, but now the addiction is worse. We HATE packing up to go home. I always used to get depressed packing up the tent at the end of a motorcycle camping weekend. I once figured out that we went back to the same places each year for specific events. If we left a tent set up there we could just move back in the next time we went and I wouldn't be so depressed in the end.

Now even 1 week isn't enough. We just did a week and a half and I was depressed leaving.

We're so wound up about the Christmas trip we would leave tonight if we could.

Hitch Itch. That about sums it up. And it doesn't matter how much you scratch it it doesn't go away. It just dies down a little. Wayne and Rhonda still get it and they've been on the road for 1 1/2 years!

If there IS a cure I don't want to know what it is. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

There's no turning back now

My love of motorcycles goes back to 1966 when my good friend Ken let me ride his BSA Bantam and I was HOOKED!

Barbara and I have ridden pretty much ever since, although I took several years off when the kids came along. We've ridden all over Europe, the US, a little of Canada and a tiny bit of Mexico.

Most of our long term friends we met on motorcycle trips.

So what's so big that there's no going back?

I'm infamous for having piles of old motorcycles and motorcycle parts. At one point I was selling Honda parts, for older bikes, to a Honda dealer when he couldn't get them thru the Honda system!
At one point before we left Maryland I had 15 motorcycles and a 10ft x 10ft shed that was 5 FEET deep in parts.

I'm nowhere near as bad as that now. I only have 8 motorcycles and the 2 car garage is only a foot or two deep in parts.

And tonight I put out e-mails to the 4 motorcycle clubs I belong to announcing that I'm selling EVERYTHING!

That's going to be a wrench as even when I left Maryland I took 2 complete motorcycles and one project bike with me to California.

I'm even selling the saddlebags that I've had from new in 1975 and that have been on 9 or 10 different motorcycles thru the years. They are covered in Rally stickers and country flags commemorating trips we've enjoyed. It'll be like losing a leg when they go, but go they must if I'm determined to go full timing in our RV.

All I'll have left will be photographs like these:

1967 my old sidecar and old friends (that's Ken on the right)

 1968 Liege Belgium, our first ride into Europe

1982 our daughter Sally tried my new Kawasaki 

Monday, December 8, 2014

That Internet thing

Since Al Gore invented the internet it's caught on quite well.
Most people get their internet thru their Cable TV providers but using this connection when you're on the road would mean having a very long piece of coax cable!

So what do you do about that?

First let me show you some of the devices we have in our rig.
Here's the TV in the console and some other stuff around it, like the DVD player upper right, antenna switcher upper left and some boxes below I'll explain later.

Cell Phone. Most of us have one of those right? This one is an AT&T iPhone 5

A tablet. This one is an LG 7" and uses the AT&T 4G wireless system to pick up internet

This thing is actually an amplified TV antenna

This device lets you watch TV and Movies over the internet

This is a Cell Phone signal amplifier (Booster)

Here's the phone in the "Booster"

This is a wifi router. PepWave SOHO

We also use our Kindles a lot

We used this Jet Pack for several months with Millenicom until Verizon pulled the plug on their service
Next we need to consider what we want out of our electronics and where we will be when we want to use them.

Watching TV is a nice way to spend a cold evening. We've had cable, Dish Network, Direct TV and AT&T U-Verse in the past. The one thing they all have in common is monthly bills close to $200 and nights where there is nothing worth watching on any of the channels. We got really tired of each of them and made a big decision to go back to good old over the air TV with an antenna.

Having decided to go full time in the RV we chose to set up at hone the same way we would be on the road. If we find out that we can't live without some form of cable or satellite TV we'll do it with a system we can transplant into the rig. So far we haven't had any cravings.

The antenna we bought is a square plastic sheet with a coax coming out of it and it uses a USB power source for the amplifier. We find that at home it pulls in most of the local channels and a bunch of Mexican channels! enough for our requirements. If we get really bored with it we have a special control built into the TV. It's called the "OFF" switch and when you operate it you can read a book!

The antenna may need to be moved around to get the best signal. So far in the rig throwing it on the passenger seat up front seems to be about the best! At home we hang it in the window but we can't move it around like we can in the rig so we get more stations in the rig parked in the drive than we do in the house!

Be aware that since 2007 Over the Air TV has been broadcast in digital format and TV's made before that date won't pick the signal up without a separate digital/analog converter.

And yes our rig has a TV antenna but the previous owner had a water leak at the base of it and filled the thing with caulk to stop the leak. The rig also has a satellite dish on the roof that we don't use so moving to one of the satellite systems wouldn't be too difficult.

Second on the agenda for us would be a cell phone with e-mail capabilities. Reception in remote locations varies between the various providers with Verizon then AT&T being judged the best by most online sources.

Of course cell phones today have far more capabilities than phone and e-mail and internet access on a cell in easy. Some can act as an Internet "Hot Spot" which is in effect a wifi network that your cell phone hosts as the modem and router. This is GOOD! A small disadvantage if that when one of you leaves with the cell phone to go somewhere the Hot Spot goes with them.

We were until recently using a "Jet Pack" which is a stand alone wifi hot spot that works on the cell phone system. The advantage with that is that it can be left in place in the rig so you don't lose connectivity when the phone leaves the building. We  used one happily for several months until Verizon closed down the service we were using. Then we shopped around and got a sweet deal from AT&T that gave us 2 iPhones and a tablet for about the same as the Verizon flip phones and the Jet Pack was costing but with 50% more data. The tablet is cell phone based and can act as a Hot Spot on it's own so that solves the vanishing phone problem too.

Disadvantages of the cell based internet way of doing things is that generally you are tied into a 2 year contract and it will cost big bucks to break the contract. Also if you can't get a good cell phone signal you won't have any internet either.

But in our experience it's still the only way to go. There are campground WiFi systems in some campgrounds. In general they are slow and you may have to pay a daily fee to use them. They aren't very secure either.

There will be places where we can't get a signal or only a very weak signal. For that we have the cell signal booster. There is an antenna on the roof of the rig that is connected to the booster. The height of the antenna and it's design let it pick up weak signals much better than the antenna in the phone. Then there is an amplifier in the cradle which increases the signal strength when the phone is in the cradle. There is also a way to put the Jet Pack or Tablet in the cradle. Boosting the cell signal strength also boosts the chance of picking up a 4G internet connection in marginal conditions. 4G is the best but a 3G signal is OK but much slower. No miracles tho, if you can't get a signal you can't get a signal.

When camping in Agua Caliente in California, in the desert, there is NOTHING out there. No wireless, TV or cell. Our AT&T iPhone would occasionally show a weak signal but if you tried to make a call it would drop out completely. I put the phone in the cradle and got 2 bars! Enough to make a call I had to make but not enough for internet.

So what if you have a good internet/cell signal but no TV signal? What if the local channels suck or you want to rent a movie and there's no Redbox booth handy? Enter Roku or one of the other internet TV/Movie "Streaming" devices. This little gadget plugs into the HDMI port on your TV and uses your wifi Hot Spot to pick up a rental movie or a TV show and display it on your TV. 

Wonderful! And they tell you you get free TV shows and Movies. Well in our experience (Very limited as we've only had it a couple of weeks) most services require you to pay a monthly subscription and the cable channels like A&E and History Channel will only let you stream if you have a cable or satellite contract that includes those channels. Still there are a couple of places you can go and watch a show or movie free.

So say you are in a great spot for cell signal and there is also a free campground internet system that is pretty good too? Well you can set your phones, tablets, Roku etc etc to pick up the free wifi and enter the password into each one separately, but at the next campground you'll have to do it all over again.

That's where the PepWave SOHO comes in. It is a router will pick up all those external wifi signals and even your cell/tablet signal. With a Jet Pack you can plug it straight into the SOHO using a USB cable which improves performance a little. 

What's the advantage? Well when you set up the SOHO it becomes a wifi network. It picks up all the other sources and re-transmits them thru itself so all your devices see one source and keep the same password to access it. When you move to another campground you plug the SOHO into the laptop, search for any other signals, set the passwords up for them and it does the rest. It will even jump from one wifi signal to another if the signal drops on the first one.

If we have wifi we have access to for books and videos on our Kindles. If we think we are going to be out of range soon we can download books onto the Kindles and access them without an internet connection. Of course the tablet we have can act as a Kindle too!

Sounds like a winner right? Well it can be. All this streaming and downloading comes at a price. When you buy a contract from your favorite provider you select a "Data Plan" which gives you a set amount of data (Gigs) per month. Go over that and you pay BIG. Just like the old Roaming charges in the early cell phone days.
So how much data is enough??

When we had the Jet Pack we had 20 Gig a month but the counter was always a couple of days behind the actual usage. The good thing was that when you went over the limit they sent you an e-mail then cut you off! That let us see that 20 Gig was pretty good for what we were using then but I occasionally ran out of data a couple of days before the end of the month. We now have the Roku and streaming TV or Movies uses a LOT of data. Luckily when we changed to AT&T we got 30 Gig and a much better usage counter that updates instantly and lets you set an alarm when it gets low. I have mine set for 20 Gig right now.

What if it's halfway thru the month and you're almost out of data? Well if you are on a wifi network that's not going thru your phone (Say Starbucks or McDonalds), then you don't use your data. So if you get low or want to stretch your data further when you find a local wifi signal do some of your internet stuff on it, but remember not to do financial stuff on those public networks as they are not secure. I work from home and get sent big files for my engineering job. When I get an e-mail with a large attachment I ride down to the local Starbucks and download the files on their network while I sip a coffee. Saves me running out of data halfway thru the month.

We try and make sure we have a 110v and a 12v charger for each device so we can run them all on the coach batteries if we are camping somewhere with no 110v supply (boondocking). Unfortunately the TV we have only works on 110v so we'd have to use the generator if we wanted to watch on it (But we could watch on the tablet if we were desperate). 12v TV's are available but we already have the TV's in the rig, we could also set up an inverter that changes 12v DC to 110v AC but that seems too much like work right now.

The other devices in the very top picture are an antenna switching box and a DVD player. The antenna switch lets us play the DVD or watch TV thru the antenna on either the living area TV or the bedroom TV.

The DVD player is pretty obvious, we keep a reasonably small amount of our favorite movies in the rig for when everything else is out of range.

Lastly we have a few paperbacks for when even the DVD player isn't working.

Oh! We just found out that the Rand McNally GPS unit we use in the rig is also capable of working with a wifi signal to get weather and traffic information and to automatically reroute around problem areas. It also looks for the cheapest gas along the route. We can tie that to the tablet Hot Spot and keep the tablet charged thru the 12v charger as we go. Cool.....

UPDATE 6/13/18
What has 3 years of fulltiming taught us about our connections and devices?
We got it right!
We still use most of the devices shown. The one we have not used was the Soho router. We get such good service from the ATT phones and tablet and most RV park Wifi is so poor that we haven't plugged it in once in the last 3 years.
We've changed phones after the iPhones died and we both have Androids now and the Roku we still have but we bought a "Android Box" for TV but it's so complicated that we rarely use it.
We tried "DirectTV Now" on a special offer from ATT that would allow us to watch 30 channels and not use any data. We were tempted only because we love Formula 1 car racing and ESPN 2 was the only channel showing it. Unfortunately it was very unreliable and the "Customer Service" sucked big time so we got rid of it.
We also decided last winter to splash out and replace the roof antenna that didn't work. $500 later and we find the square plastic antenna we throw on the dash still picks up more channels than the roof antenna does!!
When we winter in Arizona we get cable TV for $16 a month and we found that the coach has a connection in the back to connect to cable. Using the switching box connected to the plastic antenna and the cable lets us flip from one to the other which suits us because we can get better PBS channels on the antenna.

When blogs collide

When we arrived at Aqua Caliente I jumped out of the rig and went up to the window of the Ranger Station. A very pleasant lady greeted me and I looked at her name tag. It was Rhonda!

She checked our site allocation and told us the best place to unhook the toad was right there at the entrance so we uncoupled and found the site. It was our first time trying to back into a spot in the dark and soon another flashlight appeared to help. Wayne!

As were only going to be here 2 nights and it was already well dark we just hooked up power and water for the night and didn't bother with jacks and the slide. Another lesson for us. Plan to arrive when it's light.

We sorted a few things out and headed over towards Wayne and Rhonda's site across from us where Wayne had his fire already going. A voice in the darkness said "back in a minute got to walk the dog" and Rhonda went by with Lilly.
Wayne and Rhonda's rig

I felt immediately at home with these guys and we launched straight away into places we'd been and trips we wanted to make. I introduced them to COSTCO tequila while Wayne generously grilled up some nice sausages over the fire to save us having to go work on some supper.
Before we knew it it was 11pm and we broke up the party for the evening.

Next morning we slept late and did some serious relaxing in the warm desert sun. Due mainly to a guilty conscience we took a short walk around the campground after lunch. Rhonda and Lilly dropped by followed by Wayne as the went off to work. 
Even the bathroom;s are scenic at Agua Caliente

Eventually the sun went behind the mountains and we went inside as the temperature dropped rapidly. Wayne and Rhonda finished work at 6 and we sauntered over to join them they invited to meet Jim and Linda who they knew from working with Jim at the campground.  Turned out that Jim and Linda are fellow Escapees and have just bought into the Escapees Jo-Joba CA Co-op not too far of home. 

A warm fire and a few libations soon had a great conversation going about RVing and travel, electronics and our histories with the developing technologies in the 60s, 70s and 80s. I tried to take some pictures of the group but my camera batteries were dead so Wayne kindly took some for me.

And suddenly it was time for bed and we all drifted off back to our nice warm rigs.

We had to get to the upholsterer's in Yuma on Sunday and then drive back to San Diego in the Fiesta, an early start was needed. The alarm was set, promises made. And we actually were ready to go at our target time of 9am. We stopped by to see Wayne and Rhonda before we left and discovered we were all going to be in Yuma January 2/3. On the spot we arranged to hook up again for a couple of days, wonderful. It suddenly occurred to me that we'd made brand new old friends! HUH?? We've only met Wayne and Rhonda this one time but already they feel like long term friends because of the things we have in common. Then we just met Jim and Linda and they fit the same way. 
We hate to say goodbye and could have stayed another month.

This makes full timing even more attractive, meeting new friends and sharing new experiences is so much fun.

So our goodbyes lasted longer than we planned but still it was only 9.30 when we drove down to a flat area to hook up the toad. Where another camper came to watch the show and discuss how it was we could tow the Fiesta 4 down and share some experiences. The Jim appeared and we said some more farewells! 

And right on time at 10.15 we left for the 120 miles to Yuma.

We filled up in Yuma before we dropped the rig at the upholstery shop. That way when we pick it up we'll be ready to go straight away. The rig got locked in the shop's compound and we'll call a couple of days before we pick it up to check everything is good and we'll call as we exit the freeway to give them time to get to the store for the pickup.

Talking of filling up we finally got a tank to tank fuel consumption check and we're getting slightly under 8 mpg towing the Fiesta up and over the mountains from Yuma to San Diego twice so it's in our expected range. And at 50 cents a gallon cheaper in Yuma than San Diego we saved enough for a dinner out. So when we got back home we went to Mountain Mike's Pizza for dinner and a pitcher of "Fat Tire" beer.
Good Pizza , Good Beer, Around the corner from our house. It doesn't get much better than that!!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

It's a gas

We had black and gray water, fresh water, electricity that's got to be it then??
Well no. RV's use propane gas for a few things too. Propane is that stuff in the gray bottle under your barbecue that cooks the steak until it's black and crunchy and even the dog won't eat it.

Propane is a gas. A flammable gas. An explosive gas. An asphyxiating gas. Pretty dangerous stuff if you let it be. Propane when burned as a fuel gives out Carbon Monoxide, an odorless asphyxiating gas. So please make sure your rig has a propane leak detector and a carbon monoxide detector as well as at least one smoke detector and that the batteries in all these devices are changed regularly. Your birthday or a holiday would be a good time to change the batteries every year. That way you might remember to change them.

Back to the gas.

Our rig has a 30'ish gallon propane storage tank underneath on the right side. 
The propane tank under the rig
When we want to fill it we go to a station that has a big propane storage facility and a loading station for RV's. 

The technician brings out a hose and couples it to the rig then fills up the tank. 

We have found that a fill will last all year the way we have been camping but that will probably change when we get full timing.

There is a valve on the tank controlled by a solenoid. When the solenoid is open propane goes out to the rig. If the leak detector senses a leak it will close the solenoid. If the coach battery is off the valve closes. I like that, I think it's safer.

Propane in the rig is used for several things. The obvious one is the stove/oven. Less obvious is the heating system and the water heater. Not at all obvious is the refrigerator.

How can burning propane make something cooler?? Well RV refrigerators together with boat refrigerators and refrigerators for use where there is no electricity (Amish communities and parts of Mexico), don't use the same system as electric refrigerators to cool your beer. 
Want me to explain the refrigeration cycle? 
I didn't think so but I'm going to anyway!! When a material changes state from say a liquid to a gas or a gas to a liquid a large amount of energy is used to make the change. We supply the energy to compress freon gas (Or some similar material) which when cooled turns to a liquid. If we let the liquid expand it absorbs a large amount of energy as it turns back from a liquid to a gas. That expansion is used to absorb the heat inside a refrigerator. 
RV refrigerators use a different material usually ammonia and use heat to boil the ammonia which turns it into a gas, (it's similar to boiling water and watching it turn to steam). When the gas cools it turns back into a liquid and absorbs heat as it does so. We use that to cool our RV fridges.

Lecture over. 

But there are some disadvantages to using ammonia as a refrigerant. The one that affects RV'ers most is the need for the fridge to be pretty level when it's working. The reason for that is that the liquid refrigerant flows back to the "Boiler" at the bottom of the fridge by gravity, down sloping pipes. If the fridge is very out of level then the liquid doesn't flow down to the boiler and the boiler burns up thru being empty. Big deal? If you ever have to buy a new propane fridge then you'll suddenly realize that it IS as big deal. A couple of thousand dollars worth of big.

The heating system is rightly called a hot air heating system in that the propane heats the air and a fan distributes it thru the rig. Nothing big there but ensure the outlets and the return grille aren't obstructed or you might shorten it's life.

The water heater is pretty easy, the most important thing is to replace the anode in it once every year or so. The anode is a metal rod that rots out slowly and sacrifices itself to save the water heater tank from rotting out. If you never check and replace the anode then when it's rotted completely away the water heater rots next and you get a nice big bill for that instead of a small one for an anode.

I won't say much about the stove/oven not much to go wrong there.

Maybe you have one of these? 
A Coleman Road Trip grille

They run on these...
1 lb Propane Bottle

They cost a lot for what little gas they hold but what else can you do? If you want to, you can buy a hose and adapter that will let you run on a big bottle like this.

Another thing you can do is buy an adapter that lets you refill the small bottles from the bigger one. Sounds interesting? Well if you want to get a useful amount of propane in the small bottle you need to put it in the freezer for a couple of hours first. When it's good and cold screw the adapter onto the big bottle (It's a left handed thread). Screw the cold bottle onto the other end of the adapter, INVERT the big bottle and turn on the valve. Let it fill for 1 minute, turn the valve off on the big bottle and unscrew the small bottle. I've discovered that if you then re-freeze the small bottle you can get a big charge in it the second time you fill it. I'm not sure why but it works for me. It works best if the big bottle is nearly full. Best of all instead of $5 for a full bottle in the camping store it's costing around $1 to fill from the large bottle. I have about 6 small bottles that I rotate from the garge to the rig.


Now you are a propane system expert.
Take notes there may be a test later.