Photo taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

Monday, August 14, 2017

Installations Done and Meeting More New Friends in Salt Lake City

At the Salt Lake City KOA...

Consistent with hiccups that often happen in the service world, our new microwave oven was delivered to the KOA office here, but the delivery guys didn't know they were supposed to install it, and promptly drove away. After some less-than-genteel conversations with Home Depot's customer service (obviously an oxymoron in my case), an installation was rescheduled to take place in a couple of days. 
*     *     *
So, it's a couple of days later.  Whoops! The installation guys took one look at the old microwave oven and informed us this would require custom work that was beyond their capability. I think they were spooked by the motorhome; this was obviously the first time they had been inside one. The installation clearly didn't require any custom work; it was a standard microwave and a standard opening. I think these guys just didn't want to tackle anything that was a bit outside the ordinary. It made me wonder exactly what they were good at--metabolizing? Motor functions? I suppose I'll never know. But I do know that they did not represent Home Depot well. I decided to cancel that installation and add it to the list when Access RV installs the new air conditioner.

Meanwhile, we're still finding creative ways to heat up and defrost food items. Have we become so spoiled that we forgot microwave ovens haven't always been around? Did people really heat food on a stove in some ancient time?  Heck, I can remember when I saw my first microwave oven--I was about 14 years old. Let's see...that was more than 50 years ago, wasn't it? 

A quick look at Wikipedia reveals that the microwave oven was invented in 1947 and patented by Raytheon under the RadarRange brand. The first commercial model weighed 750 pounds and cost  $27,000 in today's dollars. The smaller residential versions didn't see wide use until the 1970s.

The microwave oven in Phannie is a combination microwave/convection oven, so it took us a while to find one of these that would fit the bill. The one we bought, a Kitchen Aid, is ever so much nicer than the original Panasonic model that has cratered on us.

We had the good fortune to gain a new neighbor in the site adjacent to us. The very nice Discovery motorhome pulled in, and I went over to greet the couple and say welcome to the neighborhood. I learned that Allen and Carrol were not only fellow Texans, but former residents of east Texas, as is yours truly. Here's their photo:

Instantly feeling almost like kinfolks, we were privileged to accompany them downtown to watch a rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The choir and orchestra were, of course, magnificent, and we enjoyed the experience again, having seen them here a couple of years ago:

We also accompanied Allen and Carrol to dinner the next evening, and we really enjoyed the fellowship and laughter. Here's hoping we cross paths again one of these days.

*        *        *

So, it's a couple of days later, and the new A/C and microwave oven are installed and ready to go. We really like the new microwave; now we have to learn how the controls work:

The installation work was done by Access RV here in Salt Lake City. I thought their work was excellent, and the price seemed very fair. I think I'll include them in my list of favorite service providers, linked in the far right column of this blog.

While I'm on the subject of links, I am still adding new parks to the "Best of the Best RV Parks" linked at the same location. An alert reader notified me the other day that I had included the wrong link for one of the RV parks, which I promptly corrected. Thank you for your help!

Also remember that you can get a 15 percent discount on any product you buy from Strongback Chairs by including the coupon "PhannieandMae15." This will save you about 15 bucks on the Elite model (and no, I don't get any kickback from them).

We will be here in Salt Lake for the better part of two more weeks, then off to Provo and St. George, Utah.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.

I had rather own little and see the world than to own the world and see little of it.  

-- Alexander Sattler


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

This is Turning Out to be an Expensive Trip

At the Salt Lake City KOA...

It started in Memphis, when Phannie's big slide wouldn't retract. I had to call a mobile tech who replaced a shear bolt that I hadn't discovered. It cost me the better part of $100 to find out that tidbit of information.

In Detroit, Mae developed a problem with her throttle body for the second time. This cost $500 after having the same thing repaired in Tupelo for $700 a few months ago. A week or so after we left Detroit, Mae's throttle body (I still have no idea what that is) failed for the third time in Middleburg, Indiana. Three strikes--poor Mae was out; rest in peace, old girl, and long live the new Mae! 

The new car was doing fine, except for my tire fiascoes in Elkhart and Butte that I described in earlier posts. (It wasn't the tires at all, but a leaking tire pressure sensor.) That cost about $500 for no reason other than my non-working brain.

It was in Kalispell that Phannie's bedroom air conditioner began to give trouble. The fan motor sometimes won't start and, when it does, it makes an expensive sound like a bearing that's about to swarm.

I think it was in Island Park, Idaho that the microwave stopped working. We didn't realize how much we missed that thing until it cratered on us.  

So, here we are in Salt Lake City, where we have appointments to have a new microwave and a new air conditioner installed. But that's okay; we like it here, as we've finally found an RV park where we can get a spot for more than two or three days. To make things even better, we got an email from fellow blogger and local resident Ray of Ray and Cindy's RV Travels who invited us to have lunch with them which, of course, we eagerly accepted. We met at the Spaghetti Factory at Trolley Square in Salt Lake and enjoyed a fine lunch as we chatted about our respective adventures. They are a delightful couple--RV 'most-timers' who have a winter home in Arizona. Since we're going to be in that area next winter, we hope to meet up with them again! 

Thank you again, Ray and Cindy, for contacting us; we really enjoyed meeting you. And, of course, we will add them to our link, "RV Bloggers We Have Met." 

And while I'm talking about links, you should know that I have added several more new RV parks to our popular list, "Best of the Best RV Parks." These are identifiable with a red triangle beside each new listing.

There are some places of interest here in the area that we didn't get to see on our last trip through Salt Lake City, so we'll undoubtedly seek them out while we're waiting on our service appointments.

If you're new to RVing and you're wondering if it is normal for things to break like this, the answer is probably yes and no. An RV--especially a motorhome--is a mechanically complex part-house and part-bus whose potential for something going wrong is exacerbated by the constant beating it takes on the road. On the other hand, we count ourselves lucky because we have had few problems with Phannie and Mae up until this point. Things are going to break from time to time, however, so we try to be prepared to take them on and get them resolved. We do this by 1) keeping Phannie and Mae serviced faithfully; 2) subscribing to a roadside service (CoachNet); 3) doing frequent walkarounds, checking tires and using a tire monitoring system; 4) driving carefully and sensibly; and 5) keeping a maintenance account well funded. (We don't like extended warranties after being ripped off a few years ago.)

I'm hoping this will be the end of this string of bad luck and that everything will get back to normal. More later from Salt Lake City...

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.

I had rather see the world and own little than to own the world and see little of it.  
--Alexander Sattler

Friday, August 4, 2017

Rafting for Geezers on the Snake River

At KOA Campground, Salt Lake City, Utah...

After leaving the Yellowstone area, we made a brief stop at Jackson, Wyoming to fulfill (sort of) another bucket list item: Rafting on the Snake River. Our relatively short drive to Jackson was beautiful, of course--there were so many scenic turnouts where you could view sights like this one of the Palisades Reservoir on highway 26:

 Like almost everywhere else we've been since we began this trip out west, we couldn't find an RV space for more than a couple of nights so, being allowed only two nights at Jackson, we had only one day to do the raft trip. Our discounted nightly fee at the Virginian Lodge RV Park was over a hundred bucks a night, so we nearly choked on that. With that in mind, I'm not exactly unhappy that they kicked us out after two nights. Of course, Jackson is a beautiful and popular tourist destination, and they need to make their money during the short summer season, I guess. Everything here, including restaurant meals, was very expensive. Speaking of that, the Thai Plate restaurant in Jackson was very good but pricey!

We had basically two choices in terms of the kind of rafting we could do: The scenic raft tour with almost no rapids or the whitewater version where, of course, one comes close to drowning! Mindful of our age and physical limitations, we chose the scenic "geezer" trip, as the title of this post indicates. We met the raft guide, Arvin, a pleasant but uneffusive young fellow, at Moose Village, about 12 miles north of Jackson. We boarded the raft along with eight other folks, including a family with three kids who were quite entertaining during the trip. Here's the raft being backed into the river:

I guess this is my Indiana Jones impression, sitting here with a "PFD" (a personal flotation device, as the guide called it) installed. I wasn't sure why he couldn't have just called it a life jacket.

Arvin, our guide, skillfully navigated the river which, at this point, had almost no rapids although the water was surprisingly swift:

Under way, we were immediately engaged by the glorious Grand Tetons passing by in the distance. The skies were clear, except from some haze from forest fires, and the temperature on the water was in the high seventies. Just about perfect conditions, we thought.

While we certainly enjoyed the scenic two-hour, ten-mile ride down the river, we found the water a bit more tame than we expected. I can see that the whitewater experience would be a great deal more exciting, and I would recommend that over this geezer trip unless you're too young or too old and clumsy, the latter of which describes us most closely. 

Rafting is easily the most popular attraction at Jackson. There are rafting companies everywhere, and we thought this was a cute display on the roof of one of those businesses. 

Next stop--Salt Lake City; stick around!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.

I would rather own little and see the world than to own the world and see little of it.  
--Alexander Sattler

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


At Valley View RV Park, Island Park, Idaho...

Yes, I know, I know. I said I would never go back to Yellowstone during the summer when the kids are out of school. When we visited there two years ago, the crowds and the traffic were terrible. Our frustration caused us to leave without seeing most of the sights in the park. So what changed? Practicality; since we were this close, we might as well...(how many times have you said that? Plenty, I'm guessing.) 

I'm kinda glad we did. Although the place was crowded, it seemed a little less so this time, so we decided to take two days and see most of the major sites we had previously missed. 

We wanted to maximize those two days, so I stumbled upon this tour-guide app named Gypsy Guide, for $4.99. Since I respond to technie stuff like a moth to a flame, I downloaded it to my iPad and took it with us in the car:

Perhaps some of you may have used this, but we hadn't heard of it before and, I must say, we found it amazing in its usefulness to maximize our trip through the park, advising us as we went, recommending things to see and those that were not so compelling, including turn-by-turn directions to get there. It knew exactly where we were at all times, and gave us all the guidance we needed when we needed it. The narrator proved to be a wealth of information, and we found this doggone thing almost human. I think we may even have tried to talk to it. It's not hard to use--just open the app, and it does the rest, with visual and audio cues. I don't think we'll ever be without one of these in the places for which it is offered.

We also watched Old Faithful again, just for auld lang sine. Sure enough, the geyser was still faithful, tossing out its hot water and steam about every 75 minutes:

Here are some more sights from the park, which has half the world's active geysers--150 in all.

There are many, many steam vents (called fumaroles) like this all around the park.
Here's a hot spring in a wooded area of the park.

I find these clear and colorful hot springs fascinating.
This was my favorite. Look how clearly visible are the walls of the hot spring below the water's surface.
Wildlife is everywhere in the park. This doe and her fawn were trying to drink from one of the mineral-laced hot springs. Not sure what they were thinking; looks like it burned mom's tongue.
This big guy was just ambling along beside the road as we passed. They often decide to walk in the highway, blocking traffic sometimes for miles.

The beautiful and wild Yellowstone River flows mightily through the park.

This is the iconic view of the Yellowstone River as it falls into the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
As if there weren't enough other things to see, the surrounding mountains are also there for the viewing.
And so we say goodbye to beautiful and unique Yellowstone. We think we won't need to come back for a while. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the area is how large and close to the surface the magma chamber is beneath the area and how large the volcanic eruption was that formed Yellowstone. The hundreds of boiling hot geysers, springs and fumaroles throughout the park give a stark reminder that the hellish eruption that formed the area some 650,000 years ago will someday happen again. And how often does this happen, you may ask?  Around every 650,000 years. The bad news is that time is up!

On our last evening in the area, I decided to pay a surprise visit to a longtime blogger/traveler friend from Oregon who I learned was coincidentally traveling in the area and camped only about three miles from us. He had no idea we were even in this part of the country. Sandy and I knocked on the door of his cabin and Gordon answered the door, displaying astonishment so total that he had to sit down on the bed. His dear wife, Juanita, was pretty surprised, too, but she held her composure a bit better. It was the perfect prank, but the only bad thing is that there will likely be payback. Here's a photo of Gordon and Juanita and their--not spoiled, I'm sure--beagles, Abby and Luna:

Gordon is an accomplished drone pilot/photographer and posts occasionally to his blog, Gordon's Geezer Grumblings. Thanks, guys, for being good sports; we enjoyed your visit very much.

From here, we're headed to Jackson, Wyoming. Stay tuned!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.

I had rather own little and see the world than to own the world and see little of it. -- Alexander Sattler

Friday, July 28, 2017

Glacier National Park

At Glacier Pines RV Resort, Kalispell, Montana...

This was our first time to visit Glacier National Park, a bucket list item for sure. We drove Mae, not Phannie, as vehicles longer than 21 feet are not allowed. There is a good reason; Phannie would still be up there, wedged in one of the hairpin curves on the two-lane Going to the Sun Road. This was no place for a big RV, for sure.

Since we weren't able to drive the Beartooth Highway last week--allegedly the most scenic in the U. S.--due to bad visibility from forest fires--this was certainly a worthy contender. The Going to the Sun Road, constructed between 1921 and 1932, traverses the park for 50 miles west to east. From this road, there are many turnouts where you can view a million acres of one of the most scenic areas of the northern Rockies. I'll let these photos speak for themselves:

We feel very blessed to be able to witness such beautiful surroundings in perfect weather here in northern Montana while our beloved Texas bakes in the July and August blast furnace. We could get used to this!

While we have certainly enjoyed this trip, we have not enjoyed the struggle to find RV parks with vacancies. We first noticed the problem two years ago when we had similar experiences on a much smaller scale. Since then, RVing seems to have mushroomed in popularity, the price of gasoline is low, and few new RV parks are being built. That has created quite an undersupply of RV parking spaces, and I have to expend many hours on the telephone searching for a parking spot everywhere we go. We can usually find a space for a night or two after much calling, but forget about longer periods than that. And we are at a point in our RVing that we don't like to do one- or two-nighters, in favor of spending several days at most locations. We also don't do boondocking, so that increases the pressure to find an RV park every night.

The problem has become so acute that we are abandoning our plans to travel farther west. We're going to make our way slowly down to Colorado to see if we can find some longer-stay places down there. We'll keep you posted on where we are, but we always have a good time, wherever that is!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.

I would rather own little and see the world than to own the world and see little of it. --Alexander Sattler

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Tire Saga Continues (I probably shouldn't admit to this.)

At Glacier Pines RV Resort, Kalispell, Montana...

You may recall my recent post about a tire problem on the new Mae. I recounted the experience in detail as to how I changed the tire myself (unheard of) and purchased a new tire from Discount Tire in Elkhart. (I found out later that the tire they installed was not the one I ordered, so I have a bit of a beef with them when we run across another of their stores.)

After getting back on the road leaving Elkhart, I was surprised to notice that the new tire also was leaking, but very slowly this time. We were in the middle of nowhere, so I kept going, keeping my eye on the tire pressure and airing it up as needed. In Butte, Montana, I had the new tire removed and checked, and the tire shop there couldn't find anything wrong with it. Assuming that I had yet another defective tire, I had another new tire installed in its place, thinking that getting two defective tires in a row was just an unbelievable coincidence. I returned to the RV park and hooked up to Phannie, and we drove off. Soon after I pulled away, the pressure alarm went off again on the second new tire. Imagine my surprise and angst after having unhooked and hooked Mae about four times in dealing with this tire! 

When the alarm went off this time, it was definitely an "Aha!" moment. In a sudden fit of lucidity, I realized that the problem had not been with the tires! Wouldn't it have been handy if I had thought of this earlier? I decided to do some troubleshooting and removed the screw-on pressure sensor from the leaking tire's valve stem. Then I waited the better part of an hour and rechecked the tire pressure; it was right where it was when I removed the pressure sensor! The problem never had been the tires; it was the pressure sensor that was leaking! It never crossed my mind until now that such a thing could happen. Luckily, I happened to have a spare pressure sensor, so I installed it and have had no more problems. 

This leads me to ponder a couple of things: 1) Should I have admitted publicly to being so dense, and 2) Since the pressure sensor remained on the tires when they were changed, why didn't the tire shop techs think of the pressure sensor as a potential problem, since they know a lot more about tires than I do? I guess I'll never know.

Does anyone need a couple of almost new tires?

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.

I had rather own little and see the world than to own the world and see little of it. --Alexander Sattler

Monday, July 24, 2017

Smoke Gets In Your (Our) Eyes

At the KOA Journey RV Park, Butte, Montana...

As near as I can tell, we seem to be heading toward the Pacific Northwest. I suppose our thinking is that a number of bucket list items remain in the western U. S., many of which we didn't fulfill on our last sampling of the area a couple of years ago. So, regarding this list, we've 1) expertly toured Hannibal, Missouri, thanks to friends Ed and Marilyn, 2) toured the Ford Museum and assembly plant in Michigan, 3) toured the Amish areas and RV manufacturing mecca in northern Indiana, then we headed for 4) Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills, so those things are certainly checked off. 

Then, we thought, since we're already this close, why not head toward Montana and check off some more items? First on the list in that area was to travel the Beartooth Highway toward Yellowstone. We have visited the park itself (not adequately), but had never driven what is supposed to be "the most scenic highway in the U. S." So, off we went, ending up a couple of days later in Billings, not far from the scenic route that begins at Red Lodge, Montana.  We had a nice, shady (and expensive) spot at the Yellowstone River RV Park, and our Internet TV streaming came in handy, as the satellite antenna was useless underneath the trees:

Alas, our experience on the Beartooth Highway was not to be. On the appointed day, we noticed that visibility was not very good in Billings, but we drove to Red Lodge anyway, hoping things would clear up. They didn't. We were told that the smoke from forest fires in Canada had drifted into this area, and the visibility was truly terrible. It didn't improve after three days, so we reluctantly returned to Billings, pulled in Phannie's slides and set out for Glacier National Park, hoping things would look better there.

This is not the first time our traveling plan had been thwarted by forest fires. We passed up Glacier in 2015 because of the fires there, so we're a bit apprehensive this time, too. 

We can't help but be grateful for the life we have in retirement wherein we can travel wherever our whims take us, but knowing that this freedom of opportunity is only temporary. Meanwhile, we intend to make good use of this blessing, so stick around; we can't wait to see what we do next. 

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.

I would rather own little and see the world than to own the world and see little of it. --Alexander Sattler

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and the Black Hills

At Heartland RV Park, Hermosa, South Dakota...

For many years, I wasn't one hundred percent sure that Mount Rushmore and its environs was a 'must-see' for me, and Sandy felt the same. In fact, I'm not sure that we would have stopped here this time had we not been traveling sort of in the vicinity. Our reluctance was probably due to the vast amount of information, both written and pictorial, that already exists and is accessible with a few computer keystrokes.

I'm thinking differently now. I would offer that there is no substitute for being there and seeing with one's own eyes. It's not that the photos and the writings aren't a worthy substitute; they certainly are for those who aren't able to visit in person. But a photo cannot convey what it's like to view an American icon like Rushmore while watching an eagle fly by or seeing the waving of a nearby flag or the rush of a fresh-scented breeze through the pine forest. 

Rushmore is such a place. And so is the Crazy Horse monument and the Black Hills region in general.

Viewing the mountain from the visitor center is a treat. It is awesome, without question. A photo hardly does it justice:

I won't go into the genius and the effort of Gutzon Borglum in bringing these giant sculptures to life under such impossible odds, but the story is told quite well here via exhibits and videos. If you happen to be headed here, you will also find that a visit to the Borglum Museum in Keystone to be quite worthwhile.

Having our traveling friends John and Bobbie Jo with us was an extra treat, and we've enjoyed a lot of merriment along with the good sightseeing:

We also visited the Crazy Horse Memorial worksite nearby, and we're glad we did. This sculpture almost defies the imagination; It consists of Chief Crazy Horse mounted on a horse, and the entire sculpture is many times larger than the faces on Mt. Rushmore. It has been under construction since 1948 under the supervision of Korczak Ziolkowsky and is far from completed. Ziolkowsky's descendants are continuing the project after his death, and the effort is receiving no government funding. The rather large visitor center provides a steady flow of funds toward the effort, but it is a shame that most older folks today will not live to see its completion. Here is what the finished sculpture will look like:

And here is the project as it stands today. Take a look at the large cranes, barely visible at the top of what will be Crazy Horse's arm to get some perspective of its size:

We also enjoyed a scenic drive around highway 87 through the 'needles,' an area of vertical rock spires that inspired the name:

I'm afraid Phannie's hips and roof would be left behind if we tried to take her through this tunnel; John's pickup would barely fit:

So, we say goodbye to the Black Hills, glad to have had an opportunity to visit this beautiful area. 

Stay tuned; we'll know where we're going next when we get there!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.

I had rather own little and see the world than to own the world and see little of it. --Alexander Sattler

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Miles and Miles of Miles

At Heartland RV Park, Hermosa, South Dakota...

After the challenging first day of our trek westward from Indiana, things settled down, and the next two days proved totally uneventful. We were making close to 400 miles a day, purposely doubling our usual 200-mile daily travel limit in order to hasten our journey through mostly nondescript Iowa and South Dakota. (Sorry, residents thereof; I'm sure these are wonderful places to live.)  We had never driven through either state, and we found that we hadn't missed much except maybe a billion green cornstalks that were beginning to show their tassels nicely.

On the positive side, I-90 gets the award for the smoothest and most pristeen U. S. Interstate highway we have traveled. I suppose its need for repair is low because of the paucity of traffic that uses it. Here is a photo of I-90 in South Dakota taken through Phannie's windshield:

I can't remember the last time I saw an interstate highway with so little traffic on it.

Owing to the unchanging flat topography around us, these long driving legs would have proved incredibly boring, had it not been for our heaven-sent Sirius XM radio. Fortunately, I rarely get tired when driving Phannie. The big bus just floats along, silent except for a little wind noise. (The rear engine can be heard only faintly from the cockpit.) The plush captain's chairs provide plenty of legroom, allowing a seated posture much like an easy chair in one's den. There is none of the torture of sitting with my long legs stretched out horizontally in front of me. With all the creature comforts accessible, like a bathroom, fridge and unlimited snacks, I can drive some pretty long legs in Phannie without very much physical impact at all.

We arrived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with enough daylight left to do a little exploring, so we checked out the falls on the Big Sioux river, from which the city of Sioux Falls, of course, gets his name. It was a very pretty location where the falls looked great flowing over the pink quartzsite:

As we neared Rapid City on I-90, we began to see more and more signs advertising Wall Drug, a place I had heard of for decades but never visited. I knew I would likely not get another chance to see what is the big deal, so we exited I-90 and drove the few blocks into downtown Wall, a rather small little burg bustling with hordes of tourists. There was ample parking available, even for Phannie and Mae; so, after parking, we strode over to Main Street and stared at the block-long complex that is Wall Drug:

I'm not sure what we were expecting, but it wasn't exactly this. The original drugstore has obviously expanded and taken in several other stores beside it, having now grown to a monstrous 76,000- square-foot, western-themed, mall-like affair, selling everything imaginable that might appeal to a tourist. There are also restaurants and a soda fountain and, oh yes, a pharmacy. The place was packed with people, so we went out back to the kids' area, where I snapped this pic of Sandy in a mid-1800s version, I guess, of Phannie:

We didn't buy anything at Wall drug, but at least we can say we have been there. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the place is the history of how it came to be:

In 1931, a pharmacist named Ted Hustead bought the drugstore and tried to make a living from it in Wall, a tiny town of 231 people in South Dakota. Things weren't going all that well until his wife came up with the idea of giving free ice water to travelers heading down the nearby highway toward Mt. Rushmore. This freebie proved to be a hit with thirsty travelers, and Hustead began advertising heavily on billboards in South Dakota and surrounding states hundreds of miles distant. Due to its almost cultish following, some visitors have taken it upon themselves to erect signs in many different parts of the world displaying the mileage to Wall Drug. 

The drugstore, huge as it is today, is still a single business entity, and they still give free ice water and sell coffee for five cents a cup. It is one of the largest tourist attractions in the northern U. S., hosting some two million visitors a year from many different nations. 

I'm not sure why.

After our brief stop at Wall Drug, we quickly covered the 71 miles to the Heartland RV Park, our destination near Rapid City, where we met up with Bobbie Jo and John, RVing pals from Texas. More adventures to follow!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.

I had rather own little and see the world than to own the world and see little of it. --Alexander Sattler

Monday, July 17, 2017

Sometimes Things Don't Go So Well

At Sioux Falls KOA, Sioux Falls, South Dakota...

For any readers who don't have an RV but are thinking of acquiring one, you're probably looking at that prospect with great expectation and excitement, and you may not have given much thought to any difficulties that may come your way. That was how I thought back then, so count my voice as one of experience. While this life will be wonderful, it is undeniable that there will be days when nothing goes right. This was to be one of those days.

We pulled out of Shipshewana at the crack of dawn (for us)--about ten a.m.--congratulating ourselves on our early departure. I was a little nervous about Mae, our new toad, not having towed a CR-X before and having a couple more hoops to jump through than the HHR in order to tow her correctly. Like the pilot I am, I prepared a checklist to make sure that I had followed the manufacturer's instructions, especially since there are some frightful warnings in the owner's manual about ruining the car's transmission if one doesn't follow the steps exactly. Furthermore, I couldn't imagine how the drive train of an all-wheel-drive car could be designed so as to be towable anyway. 

As I put Phannie in gear and released the parking brake with a whoosh from the air brakes, I looked intently at the visage of the little car in Phannie's rear video monitor to see that all was well. I'm not sure what I was expecting to see, but I've found that if I expect the worst, then anything better than that is a win! Thankfully, the CR-V remained intact as I nudged the accelerator and felt a slight reassuring bump as the towbars reached their full extension and locked. At that point, being one with Phannie, Mae followed obediently and perfectly as we picked up speed through the Amish farmland. I guess my expectation was that the car would simply fall apart in a pile at the first tug on its bumper and, when everything seemed to go well, I smiled and gave a nod to Dan's Service Center in Elkhart where the tow package was installed. They must know what they're doing, I thought.

We hadn't gone ten miles until I heard a beep from the tire pressure monitor and saw the red warning light flashing. It showed that the pressure in Mae's right rear tire had gone below the 27 psi low threshold limit. I watched it a few more miles and noticed that it had dropped to 25, so at least I knew it wasn't a fast leak. I remembered a travel plaza located about 15 miles ahead on Interstate 80, so I decided to go for it. In about five more miles, the pressure had dropped to 24, and by the time I reached the turnoff, it had dropped to 23. Getting out and taking a look at the tire, I saw that it had begun to develop a belly, so I knew it had to be changed. Back in Phannie's cockpit, I gave a quick call to CoachNet, who informed me they couldn't help me because I had only signed up for the basic plan when I renewed a few months ago, so the tow car wouldn't be covered. The young girl on the phone said that she noticed that I had had their premium plan for many years and wondered why I had not continued that with the last renewal. I told her that it had been an oversight and offered to pay the extra on the spot. She said I would have to get my account upgraded with customer service on a business day. This didn't make me particularly happy, and I may have have had some impure thoughts at this point. It would have been nice if someone at CoachNet would have told me about this when I renewed over the phone; I suppose I had forgotten that they have a premium plan for covering coach and car, but if they had mentioned that when I renewed, I would have caught my error and purchased the plan I usually get. They need to make an allowance for elderly clients.

At this point, I had two choices: 1) Call around myself and try to find a mobile roadside service provider or 2) change the tire myself and drive into Elkhart to have it repaired or replaced. Since time was rushing by, and we had a very long leg to travel, I elected to change the tire. 

Now tire changing is not something to which I am accustomed; in fact, I haven't changed a tire on anything in about 50 years or so. Being mostly in management positions throughout my career, I usually had 'people' to do things I didn't want to do. But there I was, poring over the CR-V's owner's manual, trying to find out some basic information--like where to find the spare tire. This education took about 30 minutes as I opened the car's compartments in a sort of scavenger hunt to find the spare tire, jack and lug wrench and trying to glean from the manual's diagrams where to place the jack underneath the frame. (I never did figure that out; it just wasn't clear in the manual; fortunately, the location I chose was apparently okay.)

After much groaning, creaking of joints, huffing and puffing and (horrors) perspiration, I finally got the lugnuts loose and changed the tire, after which we drove to Discount Tire in Mishawaka, not too far from where we were. They had the Bridgestone tires in stock, but that they couldn't get to it for an hour and a half. I bought a new tire, not wanting to trust the old one any longer.

So, the delays keep piling up and, by then, I was worried about our reservation that night in Iowa City. I didn't see how it would be possible to make it before dark, but I was willing to try.

It was not to be. The traffic on I-80 was bottled up in Chicago, and we spent an hour there to go 2.5 miles. I had to call and tell the destination park what had happened, and they were very nice about it.

As the sun was setting, I decided it was time to stop driving, so we picked a park near the Interstate short of our destination. Unknown to me, it was located at the end of the dustiest dirt road I have ever seen. By the time we reached the park, Phannie's rear cap was covered with dust, and Mae was so dusty that I couldn't remember what color she was. When we got to our site--the last one available in the park--we found that it was not satellite-friendly. But this was fine, as we were really too tired to watch TV; we just went to bed. The lot was also grossly unlevel--so much so that Phannie's levelers didn't have enough travel to correct it, so we spent the night thinking we were on a ski slope.

I decided to take Phannie and Mae to get them both washed in the morning, as they were dirty enough to be embarrassing. The next truck wash on Interstate 80 was in Altoona, so we headed there, enduring the smirks and glances from one driver after another as they passed us, probably thinking that we had been off-roading or something. So, I spent about 50 dollars, with tip included, at the truck wash for the mistake of picking the wrong RV park, which wouldn't have happened at all had the day gone the way we had planned it. 

Now I don't know if you counted all the things that went wrong on this departure day, but there were many, many of them. Fortunately, days like this are rare indeed, but they do happen. It's how well we handle the problems and our reaction to them that makes something positive of the experience. Oh yes, and Xanax would help, if you have any.

One more thing: This is the second time we have caught a leaking tire before damage was done to Mae, thanks to our monitoring system. If you don't have one of these, you might want to give that some more thought. 

The next leg takes us to Sioux Falls, South Dakota on our way to Rapid City. Stick around and see what we do next. We're not even sure ourselves. 

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.

I had rather own little and see the world than to own the world and see little of it. --Alexander Sattler

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Studebaker Museum and Oliver Mansion in South Bend

At the Shipshewana RV Campground, Shipshewana, Indiana...

(Before we get started, I might mention that the "Best of the Best RV Parks" page has been updated with several new listings. There is a link to it in the right hand column of this blog. Be sure and let me know if you find a park that should be included.)

While we were waiting for our appointment to get the new tow package installed on the new Mae, we spent some time touring the Studebaker museum and the Oliver mansion in South Bend. These were very interesting, and they took us back to our youth (Studebakers were still being built when we were kids; the last one was built in 1966), and our tour of the Oliver mansion gave us a glimpse of the lives of the wealthy around 1900. I've always enjoyed the historical period of the mid 19th century to the mid-20th, so I'm always ready to go on tours like these.

I think Sandy looked good in this 1950 Studebaker convertible; don't you?

We gained an appreciation for the industriousness of the Studebaker family (they changed their name from Studebecher when they immigrated to the U. S. from Germany) and their ability to transform a wagon-making business into an industrial giant that turned out 500,000 cars a year in 1950.

Studebaker built horse-drawn carriages in addition to wagons and one of the more interesting displays was that of carriages that served four presidents: Grant, Harrison, McKinley and Lincoln:

On a sad note, two of the carriages were the very ones in which presidents Lincoln and McKinley took their last ride on the occasions of their assassinations.  Here is Lincoln's carriage:

And here is McKinley's carriage:

Below is another Studebaker that I hadn't heard of--a child's hearse. According to information in the museum, it was not uncommon in the early 1900s for funeral homes to have white hearses for children's funerals. The white color was to symbolize the innocence of the children, and we found this quite sad, having lived through the loss of a child ourselves. Of course, advances in medicine within the rest of the 20th century resulted in a dramatic decline in childhood fatal diseases, and these hearses eventually disappeared:

This was my favorite of all the Studebaker cars--the 1950 Commander Starlight. I still think it was a unique and interesting design for 1950:

The car below was the very last Studebaker car built, having been assembled in Canada on March 17, 1966. The company didn't go out of business, however; they were well diversified by then and did a significant amount of manufacturing for the government. The company's divisions were ultimately absorbed by other firms, however, and the Studebaker name disappeared from the business world in 1969.

One of the historic homes we viewed in South Bend was Tippecanoe, the residence of Clement Studebaker. We didn't have time for a tour, but we did manage to get this photo of the 30,000 square foot house:

We were able to get a tour of the Oliver Mansion next door to the Studebaker Museum. It was a glorious architectural wonder:

J. D. Oliver, who built the house in the late 1800s, was the son of the inventor of a process to manufacture cast iron plows that had the durability and performance of much more expensive steel plows. Plow sales mushroomed in the fast-developing country and the company eventually diversified into manufacturing tractors and other farm implements. With no income tax then in place, the family accumulated great wealth, and J. D. built this house as a place to raise his four children. Building the house took almost three years, and the family moved in on January 1, 1897. 

The home has 38 rooms occupying 12,000 square feet and was the first house in South Bend to be wired for electricity. The only problem was that electricity was very unreliable in 1897, so Oliver built a power plant to serve the house, his factory and other homes of family members; any excess electricity produced he sold to the city. The house was very high-tech for its day, having an intercom, forced-air heat and a central vacuum. 

The Olivers and the Studebakers lived on the same street, and some members of the families intermarried and worked in the others' respective companies. Here are some more photos of the house:

The house style is listed as "Queen Anne Romanesque," because of the turrets and stonework

The house felt very warm  and inviting for such a large residence.

The Olivers dined very formally; a button to summon the butler was imbedded in the floor beneath the dining table.

The piano is a 1930 Steinway concert grand. I would have loved to play it.
One of the reasons I was eager to tour the Oliver house was because of the manner in which it was bequeathed to the historical society. The heirs donated not only the residence but all of the furnishings as well, including the spices in the cupboards and even undergarments in the chests of drawers. The docent giving the tour told us that it took two years for the society to catalog the thousands of artifacts.

With this post, we'll be saying goodbye to northern Indiana for now. It was a very pleasant two-week stay, and there are still things we didn't see, so we will hope to return. That seems the way it is most everywhere we go; there is so much to see and so little time. I think this quotation from Alexander Sattler best describes what motivates us in our current fulltime, nomadic lifestyle: I had rather own little and see the world than to own the world and see little of it. I like this quotation so much that I'm going begin using it as an additional tag line in every post underneath the short prayer of appreciation that you find there.

We will always remember this as the place where we said goodbye to our original tow car, Mae I. So long, little red car; you have served us well, and we hope you find a good home. We are heading west from here, meeting friends in South Dakota. From there, who knows?

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.

I had rather own little and see the world than to own the world and see little of it. --Alexander Sattler