Saturday, September 26, 2020

Back to South Dakota


Worlds Largest Pheasant in Huron SD

We enjoyed it so much we went back to get another night but it was Friday and the whole campground was reserved by the gamblers for the weekend so we rapidly filled the water tank, dumped the other tanks and headed West for South Dakota.

We enjoy running around South Dakota. Much of the western side is taken up with the Black Hills, famous for Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, Spearfish and the Crazy Horse Monument. All of which we have visited.

The Eastern and Central part is for the most part farmland with miles and miles of corn, sunflowers, soy beans, cattle and horses. The Lakota tribal land are there also.

This area was what were called “The Prairies” when the settlers came thru. Thousands of square miles of grassland on which vast herds of Buffalo grazed and on which the Native Americans depended.

Plains Indian Head Dress

Laura Ingals Wilding wrote the famous books upon which the TV series “Little House on the Prairie” was based. Our first stop once back in South Dakota was to a small town, De Smet.

No luxury houses on the Prairies

The barns were pretty fancy though

And the barn dwellers.

This is one of the several places where the Ingals family lived as they apparently moved fairly often, which accounts for the several “Ingalls Homesteads” we have seen around the area.

De Smet is the home of the Laura Ingalls Wilding Pageant so I suppose they lead the field in Homesteads!

You get to tour the area in a covered wagon

And with a little help you can drive the wagon,

Of course none of the buildings at the homestead are original as the farm changed hands over the years. They are “representational” and offer a peek into the life of a prairie farm in the 1850’s. Today it is a quaint place to visit but back then it must have been a tough place in the middle of the harsh winter.

The church was moved here complete

There is even a garage

Some campgrounds belong to the US Government. National Parks, Forestry Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Army Corps of Engineers (COE). They can be found using the website and reservations are made there too. We like them because we have the Senior Pass for getting into all National Parks free. A bonus is 50% off the cost of camping in their campgrounds.

So near Fort Thompson SD for $9 a night we got 50 amp electricity, a faucet for water (Which we were not allowed to stay attached too except for filling our tank) and a dump station on the way out.

Left Tailrace Campground near Fort Thompson SD

Like most COE parks this was adjacent to a dam, the Big Bend Dam in this case. It was very well kept and extremely peaceful.

St Josephs Indian School

Exploring the local area we stumbled across the Akta Lacota Museum and St Josephs Indian School. We spent a morning wandering around the school museum, tribal cultural center, medicine garden and the nearby town of Chamberlain.

In the Museum

The Medicinal Garden

Heading West we decided to just pound down I90. Yes we actually drove 200 miles on Interstates! Forgive us. We have explored this stretch of the state in the past and to be honest there isn’t too much to see, just rolling farmlands with immense fields of corn. So Interstate it was to Rapid City and the Elks Lodge we like so much.

Sheri had mentioned that she loves reading the blog and seeing how we bump into people we know just here there and everywhere. Right here in Rapid City we saw that Ralph and Crystal who we know from our Motorcycle days in San Diego and who have just celebrated their 2nd anniversary of full timing where in town. Naturally a meet up was planned.

Then there was a message from Bob and Carol who we know from Sundance in Casa Grande. They were going to be in Rapid City too. How good was that?

And suddenly we were 6 for dinner at the Lodge and it was Prime Rib night. Everyone just got along great and the evening just flew by.

When we first started our full time adventures we had dreamed of sitting talking to fellow full timers and our dreams came true right here at this Lodge. How apt then to be back after 5 years and have a repeat performance! We met a very nice couple Austin and Leigh who are Full Timers, Escapees and Bloggers. and we spent a great evening swapping places to go and campgrounds to stay at.

Our reason for being back in Rapid City of course was to renew our drivers licenses which expired earlier this year. South Dakota kindly extended them a year but we hope to be in UK next year when they will be due for renewal.

Anyway our appointment finally came around and in about 10 minutes we both had shiny new licenses in hand,

Immediately the dreaded “Hitch Itch” kicked in and we both wanted to move on. We squeezed in a visit with Ralph and Crystal, with a dinner out, then sketched in a route back to Casa Grande.

We are on the road again, as the old song goes.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

West again

 David and Sheri had a full calendar for us with trips to a local horse event, dinners and lunches out, a visit to a historic bar/hotel in East Troy (Which was haunted by at least 2 spirits). The planned 2 weeks got extended to 3!

To make sure we weren’t bored David and Sheri also took us to a few “Gigs” that David’s band were playing. David is a very good Country singer with a deep bass voice and very popular in the area.

Atmospheric lighting at one of the gigs
One of the Gigs was at a bar called Ducks Crossing where “Duck” has a great facility with darts, pool, a softball diamond, volleyball courts, horse shoe pits and cornhole. If that’s not enough he had the annual Duck Fest organized for the Labor Day weekend.

David (Left) singing

The town had canceled it’s July 4th event due to Covid and that meant no fireworks show. They rescheduled it for the Labor Day weekend so Duck got both a band and fireworks, We had a lot of fun.

Next to Ducks place is this beautiful Catholic Church with attached asylum.
Many spooky stories were told about his place.

As all good things must come to an end and we have an appointment in Rapid City so we decided to leave on Labor Day, our thinking was that the campgrounds would be empty.

Then plans changed again as a cold front and severe thunderstorms came rolling in on the Sunday. The forecast even showing snow in Montana and South Dakota! This after it being so hot a week ago that we were running the AC! Now it might get down into the 40’s overnight and we will be running the heater instead.

Sitting looking at the forecast we decided it would be smarter to stay until Wednesday if that was OK with David and Sheri. We would still have 15 days to cover about 900 miles.

We sat tight as wind and rain swept thru the area, and then headed West on a drizzly, miserable day.

Naturally this was the day that the windshield wiper decided that it would pack up! For some reason the driver side wiper arm suddenly shot off to the left and hung itself over the side mirror, a little inconvenient but luckily we were on a smaller road and being high up, the windshield wasn’t collecting a lot of road spray.

Investigation revealed that the arm was held in place by a Nyloc locknut which had somehow loosened up. Tightening it up again let us continue for another hour or so until it happened again.

Fortunately the rain stopped and our planned overnight at the Walmart in Winona MN had us parked right next to not only Walmart but also Minard’s which is a HUGE store that sells literally everything. More fortunately that they have a full aisle of hardware, nuts, bolts, screws in every thread form imaginable because this American built coach had metric threads on the wipers! 90 cents later we were good to go.

Our “Kinda” plan (Because we don’t really plan just Kinda) had us on backroads (Naturally!) thru Minnesota and we had kinda decided to boondock for most of the trip.

Boondocking is where you stay out of campgrounds, staying at opportune free camping spots. Truck stops, Walmarts, Cabella Stores, Cracker Barrel restaurants. They all allow you to stay overnight with permission from the store manager.

To do this you need water, battery power and a generator. All of which we had when we left Sheri and David’s place.

BUT when we arrived at the first Walmart the water pump had stopped working! I investigated but frustratingly the pump was working fine. It took me a second to realize that the tank was empty! There is a drain valve on the tank that is cunningly placed so that if the hoses in the same bay move around they can push the valve slightly open. Hence empty tank.

Hence a change of plan in the middle of nowhere.

Looking into our favorite app “RV Parky” we found a casino with a campground 30 miles north of our next planned stop in New Ulm MN, To our delight we discovered a gem. Beautifully groomed, concrete parking spaces, 50 amp, free cable TV and $30 a night during the week with their Players Club membership that was free to join!

The casino was almost empty on Thursday
We soon discovered that it was a quiet casino and everyone was wearing masks and staying socially distant. Happy hour was 4pm to 7pm and their cocktail special was only $3. A happy hour soon followed!

The $3 happy hour cocktail was pretty but POTENT!
We enjoyed it so much we went back to get another night but it was friday and the whole campground was reserved by the gamblers for the weekend so we rapidly filled the water tank, dumped the other tanks and headed West for South Dakota.

Monday, August 31, 2020

How to use a portable waste water "Tote" tank

Using a portable tote tank.

First off what is a “Tote Tank” and why would you need one?

A Tote Tank or "Blue Boy"

Our Monaco motor home has a fancy electronic push button toilet. Unlike regular RV toilets it isn’t connected directly to the black tank but has a macerator built in that breaks up “Solids” then pumps that thru a smaller hose to the tank. The toilet sets how much water it uses to do this and we have found that despite adjusting how much water it uses, it still fills the black tank in about 3 days if we don’t take care.

If we are “Boondocking” (camping without full hookups) then we are severely limited to how long we can stay before we have to pack everything up and go looking for a dump station.

This is not very convenient.

Searching on my favorite Craigslist I found somebody selling a used “Tote Tank”.

This is also known as a “Blue Boy”, obviously because of the color, they come in different colors from different manufacturers.

To use this device first check it over. There is a connection on top with a cap and bayonet type lugs, a small screwed cap at the other end and finally a regular dump valve on the side.

The fill connection on top with cap in place

The dump valve on the side

The vent connection on top with cap in place

There are wheels on the bottom and a pull handle connected to the front wheels.

The handle pulls it and does the steering

Our particular tote holds about 25 gallons and one thing to be aware of is that water weighs about 8 pounds per gallon, so 25 gallons is going to come to around 200 pounds! That’s a lot of weight to be pulling so if you get the choice set up so you are on a fairly flat spot with an easy route to the place you are going to dump.

So where are you going to dump?

Many campgrounds that have water and electric only at the sites have a stand-alone dump station for grey and black water that you normally drive the RV to. You can also pull your tote over there and empty it, but if its uphill or a good distance away that could be stressful.

Look at the pull handle. See the loop for pulling it? That also slips over a tow ball like you may have on the back of your towed vehicle. If you don’t go charging over there at high speed then you can pull the tote to the dump station with a car.

This ring on the tow handle slips over the ball on your tow hitch
We currently are camping at a friends farm. They are on a septic system so we can easily pull the tote to the septic tank and by raising the manhole lid we can hang the hose in and dump.

The septic tank manhole held open with a 4 x 4 and the hose hanging in.

DON'T, PLEASE DON'T dump into ditches, ponds or fields. Obviously black water (Sewage) is going to stink but it can also attract flies, critters and get into well water. BE RESPONSIBLE, dump in a proper place. Yes that means grey water too which contains grease and food scraps from the kitchen.

So how do I go about using this thing?

I start by getting into my coveralls and putting on gloves then clearing a spot close to where my dump valves are in the rig. You don’t want to be trying to drag the 200 pounds over your water hose or electrical cord.

Next I check that the dump valve on the tote is closed. If you don’t know the history of a used unit, like ours, its a good idea to half fill it with clean water first to make sure the seals on the dump valve are tight. You don’t want to have 25 gallons of sewage leaking out with no way to stop it.

Our particular tote had plastic wheels. After a couple of uses the wheels broke due to age and we replaced them with steel wheels from the local Farm Supply store. You might want to check your for signs of cracking if its and older unit. About a $15 fix.

The steel wheels replaced the broken plastic ones 

For my first attempt I chose to dump the grey tank first because I reasoned that if something disastrous happened I’d rather be covered in soapy water than sewage. Luckily things went well!

If you have problems thinking about raw sewage or coming in contact with it then you may not be a candidate for owning a tote tank!!

Back to the task.

If you look at the dump valve on your RV and the sewer hose you will see that the dump valve has “Male” lugs and one end of the hose has “Female” a one. The other end of a regular hose has a Male lug. Now look at the fill connection on the top of the tote, it has male lugs also, so the hose can’t couple directly to the fill connection. The dump valve on the tote also has male lugs.

A typical sewer hose with male end right and female end left

This requires either a special hose with female lugs at both ends, which you can buy from a camping store, or a different approach.

On my rig I use a 90 degree elbow fitting to connect to the campground drain. The end of this will slip into the fill connection on the tote BUT it won’t lock in place so BEWARE! If you don’t hold that elbow when you pull the handle on the black tank drain the force of the “Effluence” coming down the hose will make the hose jump out of the fill connection and you will have it flowing every where. 

The 90 degree clear elbow used at campground drain connections

The elbow fits the filler but doesn't lock in BEWARE

Don’t say I didn’t warn you! The best thing is to have that special hose.

If you have a long hose make sure it is sitting on top of the tote before you start draining otherwise you will have a full tote and a hose full of sewage and not enough room in the tote for the contents of the hose. Worse still that full hose will empty as soon as you disconnect it from the tote.

Set up ready, hose sits on top to stop it filling with waste water, vent cap is off.

I find it best to use clear elbow at the tote filler so I can see how full its getting and allow room for the contents of the hose after I shut the black or grey tank drain valve.

Now to start emptying the black tank on the RV.

At this point you might think about having a garden hose close by for washing down spillages and/or yourself. You probably shouldn’t be wearing clothes you like a lot either! My rig has the outside shower connection right at the dump valves.

The wet bay on my rig with outdoor shower on left,

Ensure the tote drain valve is closed. Remove the filler cap AND THE VENT CAP, that’s the smaller screw cap on the top of the tote. The reason for this is that the water filling the tote will push air out as it fills. If you don’t have the vent open that air will force its way back out of the FILLER and spray the contents of the hose everywhere.

Vent cap off.

Connect the sewer hose to the RV dump valve and the other end to the tote. SLOWLY open the dump valve on the RV, I like to open and close it again repeatedly until I am sure everything is connected properly and there are no leaks at any of the connections. I would recommend not just pulling the valve fully opening and stepping away. Let it drain slowly and watch how the tank fills. If you set up like me with the elbow, put your foot on the elbow as you open the dump valve. Keep your hand on the valve ready to close it instantly if things go wrong. Watch the vent connection too because if the tank overflows then its going to come shooting out of the vent hole first.

I like to only fill the tank about ¾ full for several reasons. First that hose still contains several gallons of waste water, second that tote is heavy when it’s full and third I don’t want that "waste" water shooting out of the vent.

When the tote is as full as you like it, close the drain valve on the RV. Now you have to get the hose emptied. The good news is that water flows down hill, so if you carefully lift the end close to the RV drain valve above the level of the filler the water should flow to the tote. DONT just take the hose off the tote or the drain valve before emptying the hose or it will be all over the ground and your feet. You should hear the water running around in the hose so work the hose a couple of times to get it as empty as you can.

I then take the hose off the RV drain valve because ON MY RIG that connection is higher than the fill connection on the tote. I keep the open end of the hose as high as I can then lift it up vertically so the hose empties completely before taking it off the tote.

Now I put the fill connection cap and the vent cap back on the tote before I move it.

The routine I have at the farm uses 2 sewer hoses, one at the rig and one at the septic tank. That way I don’t have to keep moving the hose when I move the tank.

At the tank I lever up the manhole cover and prop it open with a piece of wood. I run the end of the hose over the lip of the manhole and position the tote so that it is a straight shot from the drain valve to the manhole and the tote is above the lip of the manhole to ensure complete draining of the tote.

Ready to empty the tote. Hose in manhole, vent cap off.

When I’m ready to drain I remove the vent cap off the tote, attach the hose to the dump valve on the tote then slowly open the dump valve and let it empty. If the vent cap is still on the tank it won't drain.

I close the dump valve and raise the hose closest to the dump valve to empty the hose before disconnection the hose. I put the vent cap back on and pull the empty tote back to the RV.

Our RV tank is about 50 gallons so depending how full it was it may take 2 or 3 trips backwards and forwards to empty it.

I like to start this routine with full black AND GREY tanks, here is why.

After the RV black tank is empty you have to deal with cleaning the tank and the hoses. If you have a full grey water tank you can empty that into the tote and take that to the dump station too. The grey water will wash out the tote and hoses so after 2 or 3 trips they will only need a minimum of rinsing with the hose at the dump station.

My Blue Boy doesn’t get a lot of use but when we occasionally need it its much better than having to pack up the RV, pull in the slides, raise the jacks, put away the hoses and cables and drive to the dump station IN MY OPINION.

No doubt there are more experienced people than me who can suggest better ways of doing this, please feel free to comment on this post so we can all benefit from your knowledge.

Friday, August 28, 2020

As far East as we will get this year.

We headed East again out of South Dakota. We will hopefully be back this way in September to finally get our drivers licenses taken care of.

The Corn Palace in Mitchel South Dakota
All the decoration is made with corn cobs!

East brings us to Minnesota, which when I was a kid in UK, I imagined was on the East Coast! It is of course just about smack in the center of the US. We were heading for a small town North West of the “Twin Cities”.

Our UK readers are probably scratching their heads. The Twin Cities are Minneapolis and St Paul which form a single urban area split by the Mississippi River. Due to Covid and civil disorder we would be staying clear of the cities and instead staying in Cambridge at the county fairground, which turned out to be very enjoyable.

Barbara, George and Sheri

Our reason for picking this place was because friends from Sundance in Casa Grande stay here during the summer, George and Sheri O’Brien. We were quickly enjoying dinners out and visits with them, having a good old time!

Neat old building in Princeton now an antique store

The fairground camp ground was nice and spacious, large grassy sites with 50amp and water and a convenient dump station on the grounds. We even found a sports bar with dart boards to do some practicing on.

We crossed the Mississippi into Wisconsin after saying “See you back in Arizona” and followed the river down back roads to La Crosse Wisconsin. It turned out that the campground was actually back on the west side of the river. Over the next 3 days we crossed the river about 10 times!

The La Crosse Campground had a beach!

One La Crosse oddity is the Blue Baby

One interesting side trip was to Winona MN. I saw a PBS show about rt61 and it’s history in which there was a segment on Winona. What a neat place! Once the third largest city in the state, it was obviously a wealthy place and had a big Polish population. The churches were spectacular as were many of the stores and business buildings.

Another La Crosse oddity "Worlds Largest 6 Pack"

Mississippi Barges

Winona Churches

We also called in at the Elks Lodge to see if they had any pins to add to our collection. We have over 100 now.
Janesville Elks, simple camping.
A few days in Janesville camping at the Elks Lodge there, and then to our friends David and Sheri’s little farm near Beloit, where we were again welcomed with open arms.

Our favorite characters, Festus left and Newly right

Their little farm now has a selection of animals with sheep, horses, cows and our two favorite characters Festus and Newley. These guys were just puppies last time we visited. They might be 2 years older now but they are just as silly as ever. Naturally we had to spoil them some more!

Where's the carrots?
Fancy Pants likes apples too

In short order we had the horses eating apples and carrots from our hands, and the cute little calves would let us pet them. The sheep were pretty indifferent, probably because we had nothing they wanted to eat!


David and Sheri had a full calendar for us with trips to a local horse event, dinners and lunches out, a visit to a historic bar/hotel in East Troy (Which was haunted by at least 2 spirits). The planned 2 weeks got extended to 3!

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Around South Dakota


We were doubly lucky in that it lasted only about 20 minutes at that strength and the really great news – the new slide seals and the work we had done at D&R RV before we left have cured the couple of slight leaks we had in the past.

Our objective for the first part of this trip has been to reach Rapid City and renew our drivers licenses, so it came as a shock to find that we couldn’t do that without going online and setting an appointment. Doubly shocking was that the soonest appointment was in August almost 4 weeks away. We didn’t intend on hanging around that long so we decided to push the renewals to September and come back for them after exploring elsewhere.

We had friends of friends who were members of a campground near Rapid City called Hart Ranch. They recommended we visit there and get the 3 day special which included 3 nights camping for $60 if you took their sales tour.

We called the sales office and where soon settled in a very nice camping spot. The sales tour lasted all of 30 minutes, but we aren’t willing to get tied down to a resort that we probably will never return to, A nice place though, especially if you have a young family. We got together with Marita and Kevin who are also Sundance winter residents, for a happy hour over at their site.

Kevin and Marita

When we came here 5 years ago we stayed first at the Tee Pee CG then the Elks Lodge, we moved to the Elks as soon as we left Hart Ranch. A grueling 12 mile drive!!

The Lodge is a welcoming as it was back then and we discovered they had a nice Brown Ale on tap. They also had a dartboard so we were in heaven.

We sorted out grocery shopping and even found enough time to buy a used electronic dartboard for when we get back to Arizona. A few breweries were also sampled!

We revisited the old center of town and found a few new places. We really like Rapid City which has a very cozy feeling.

I know some people don’t like Facebook for various reasons but we find it a great tool for keeping in touch with people.

 While scrolling thru the news we saw that a friend and former colleague from San Diego - Carlos Fletes, his wife Isobel and their family were in Keystone SD, about 30 miles down the road. We arranged to meet them that evening.

We guessed that they might be staying at the Ramada Inn and, by sheer coincidence, as we drove down the Main Street outside the hotel we stopped at a pedestrian crosswalk.

Carlos and Isobel

Crossing the street RIGHT THERE was Carlos and his family!

We had a great couple of hours catching up on each others news and enjoying their account of the road trip they were on. How different it is fitting in travel and work! We are so glad we gave up work!!

And it didn’t stop there, for within 24 hours we learned that Carol and Matt, also friends from San Diego, were heading this way from Wisconsin. Naturally we hooked up with them next and we all celebrated their 1st year of fulltiming and simultaneously our 5th!! 

That’s right it was 5 years on July 27th since we left San Diego.

What fun to sit with Matt and Carol and compare experiences over dinner. We found a nice place, The Silver Spoon, where the ingredients were fresh and tasty. They had some decent beer to wash it down with too. Just 5 years ago we were having our wishes come true, and here we are in the same place living the dream. I often wonder how we have been chosen to be this lucky.

After several days we started heading East again and stopped in Pierre (Pronounced PEER for you non South Dakotans). Pierre is the capital of South Dakota but strangely smaller than many towns. It’s location slap in the middle of the state explains why it was chosen as the capital. A fun little town which we have visited before, it’s right on the banks of the Missouri River, so you could put your canoe in the water here and paddle all the way to New Orleans if you had the mind. We didn’t, so we found a few places to play darts then moved on again to Sioux Falls.

At this point things suddenly started to break. I don’t know why they all go at once but that often seems the way it happens.

 The handle snapped off my coffee cup and soaked me in coffee, Barbara’s decided it would get it the act and broke too. Our sewer hose suddenly sprang small leaks along its length, then the water hose started leaking at the filler.

 I fixed the water hose and we got a new sewer hose, which immediately started leaking at the tank end! A new gasket fixed that but then the water filter housing mysteriously shattered so we had to bypass that! 

I was breathing a sigh of relief that we were leaving when the entry step decided it was going to stop working too! I finally got everything working again then the Miata engine warning light came on. I carry a code reader and cleared the codes which were nothing at all.

The Royal Air Force has  always sworn that Gremlins (fabled creatures that like to break things) are real, I think we’ve got one onboard lately.

We hopefully corralled all those Gremlins, fixed our problems and headed East again out of South Dakota. We will hopefully be back this was in September to finally get our drivers licenses taken care of.