Friday, June 14, 2019

A Trip to VA and a Rash of Campers

We got to VA and back to Idaho in one piece and had some fun with counting TC's along the way. Remember the game of finding license plates from all the 50 states when you were a kid? We did that and got them all but for Hawaii. We also kept a running tab on TC's in each state, along with the identities of the maker. Here's what we found:

Idaho wins with 29
WY - 16
NE - 12
MT - 9
UT, SD - 5 (each)
IL - 4
IA, NC - 2
IN, VA, OH, PA - 1
MD, WV - 0

Of course the amount of time spent in each state varied widely, but this ain't no scientific study.

Brands? Well, we tracked hard-sides separately from pop-ups.
Lance - 19
AF - 12
Miscellaneous (couldn't read it) - 11
S&S, Cirrus, Travel Lite, - 3
Bigfoot, Elkhorn, Northern Lite, Wolf Creek - 2
All the rest had one.

Four Wheel, Northstar - 4
Alaskan, Palomino, Outfitter, -2
Misc. - 4
Quite a few more brands with only one.

Of note was a very interesting Earth Roamer built on an undetermined chassis.

We also made a note of the other brands that had ridiculous names, such as
Flair, Reflection, Imagine, and ZInger. But the one that really takes the cake is "Stealth." How can a multi-axle, gi-normous fifth-wheel be called "Stealth?" Talk about oxymorons!

Anyway, the trip was fun even though I ended up with several tick bites, one of which I am now treating for Lyme disease due to the bull's eye rash that developed. When we got back we had 6006 miles on the trip odometer, so an oil change, fuel filter change (bio-diesel can clean things when run for the first time), and a tranny inspection, fluid and filter change. We only burned 3.3 gallons of propane running the fridge during all the driving out and back. Fuel mileage averaged around 12.5 mpg, which is lower than usual. We were running into strong headwinds all the way there and all the way back : ( We were very grateful to miss all the bad weather in NE Kansas on the trip back. All's well that ends well. Now I am gearing up for the rest of the summer camping season.

By the way, those "mountains" in the background are the Black Hills in SD. They're only a couple of hundred feet tall.

While in MD we stopped in to see my sister and her hubby. Suzanne is an amazing seamstress/craftsperson and makes stunning clothes. Pictured is another award winning jacket she churned out.

While in Richmond visiting the "Fishin' Musicians" I managed to revive my old bass catching skills enough to land a few. I even caught two sizeable fish on one Rapala lure! Could probably have gotten a sponsorship out of that...

That about wraps it up. See you out there in our Wolf Creek!!!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Give Me a Brake!

Actually, give me two brakes, and new ones at that! For the past week I have been wrestling with my rear end -- not mine, the truck's! It is getting new rear axle seals and brake assemblies. The bill is horrendous, and that's just for parts. I'm doing the labor.

So this could have hit us during our much anticipated trip back east. It would have been a catastrophic disaster for us, costing a couple of grand. I estimate the total cost will be about 1/4 that of having it done on the road somewhere. I hate breaking down away from home.

The first pic shows the axle with the hub and brakes removed. Rust coats any surfaces that were not being rubbed by the rear seal. I will wire brush, emery paper and paint it.

The second pic is of the rear dust shield. It is rusted through in several spots. This would have led to a brake failure on the road. Not a pleasant outcome.

The third is the new parking brake assembly on the bench. That's the best way to put it together, on the bench.

The last pic is everything put back on the truck. All that is left is bleeding the brakes and adding new lube to the differential. Oh, and finishing the other side! If you do one side, you gotta do the other, or so I'm told. I guess that's why they only sell stuff in pairs (mostly). Turns out both sides were rusting out.

This type of work I detest. But I hate paying someone else to do it poorly even more. Knowing it was done correctly is peace of mind. Hurts my back though. Karren was there today to help. I got more done with her in five hours than I had the whole previous week. But then I like to take my time if I have a garage to work in.

Tune in next time and we might actually have some camping to talk about instead of truck repair...

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Springs Everywhere!

Yes, spring has sprung! The yard is already demanding attention and the grass is so green it almost feels like Virginia. Just the time to get started cleaning up the place and getting it ship shape for the outside season.

The camper had been covered with a custom tarp all winter to keep the snow from infiltrating the vents and A/C. When I removed it I discovered a pretty bad six inch tear at a corner where a large icicle had formed one week. I did not notice it when I broke the offending ice off, but it's going to have to be sewn.

When Karren and I got back from a dump run we were about to load up some old fence when we smelled burning oil. The right rear wheel was smoking! Into the garage the truck went pronto, and I began to look up repairs on the internet. after deciding to put off until tomorrow what I could do today, we ended up taking a trip to get haircuts and had a nice dinner at a local eatery.

Fast forward to today. I went out to the garage rather late in the day to despair over yet another unanticipated truck repair. One thing led to another and the right rear brake assembly is now in pieces and I have determined that I need rear axle hub seals. I have yet to remove the hub to verify but all the signs point to new seals. Here's a few pics;

The above is the top of the parking brake apparatus. That's right, inside the disc brake rotor there is a drum brake that acts independently for parking brakes. Note the spring!

Another shutoff the same including more of the hub.

This is the inside of the rotor. Note the gooey stuff on the lower half. That is gear oil from the axle. It was all over everything inside and outside the rotor. I have cleaned much of it off already.

This is the rear of the hub/brake assembly and it shows how oil has been collecting there and attracting dirt.

I now have to wait until I can get parts for both sides (always do both sides when brakes or tires are involved) and I need a couple of special tools to get the hub off the axle housing. By the time I'm done working on this something else will break.

By the way, we are planning to make a cross-country trip with the camper to Virginia in late May. Stand by for a trip report!

Monday, February 13, 2017

New scope in my life

This is the new mistress in my life. Yes, Karren knows. I had to post this so I had a copy on the web for my astro forums. I'll be back!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Summer's Bliss or Escape the Heat!

Since my last post a lot has transpired. We got well acquainted with our truck camper. Not having experienced an RV before we were pleasantly surprised with the luxury compared to sleeping on foam pads in the back of the pickup. This is living!

Our next weekend getaway consisted of driving about an hour north and west to Massacre Rocks State Park. We figured it would be a good plan to escape the heat of late June by camping in a campground that featured electrical power. This would allow us to bathe in air conditioning during the hottest parts of the day, especially since we have no such amenity at home. Yep, we have no a/c at the homestead.

Karren Chillin' with the view

The State Park had nice campsites with water and power, a two-way dump station, good views of the Snake River, and a visitor center with friendly staff. It also had a rather steep fee schedule -- it cost us around $95 for three nights! Lesson learned, huh? Anyway, the trip was pleasant and we learned more  details about how our camper worked and were able to somewhat disguise the fact we were newbies.

Massacre Rocks is about 30 minutes west of Pocatello, ID right off Interstate 86. Very convenient for travelers who can afford the cost of around $30 per night with hookups.

It was about this time that I began to plan how to integrate the ATV into our camping trips, so I did a shakedown cruise with the camper and trailer combo into the next valley from our house. We took a wonderful ride up to the saddle of Scout Mountain (about 7000 ft) and successfully deployed and retrieved the four wheeler. Ready for the next trip!

By this time July 4th was approaching and we decided to cash in some of my hard earned comp time for a ten day vacation. Where? Anywhere to escape the 90 plus degree temperatures. That meant altitude, and what better place to try than Meadow Lake Campground near Leadore, ID. It must be cool there because it is at 9500 feet! Right?... RIGHT!!! That place had just been plowed open four days prior to our arrival and the first night was 36 degrees! Testing out our heater was not really on my agenda for mid July, but we gave it a go anyway!

We ended up trying our hand at fishing the frigid waters of the lake with our new pontoon boats. While we did catch some beautiful trout (brookies and rainbows) we also found out the wind tunnel characteristics of our boats. "Come back Toto!" Further injury was incurred when we happened to drag our boats past the feeder stream for the lake, where a young teen had discovered he could simply snatch 14 inch brook trout from the riffles with minimal effort. Kind of made us look like complete idiots for struggling all day with the wind machine!

When we had had enough of the sub freezing night temps (26 must be a personal best/least
for July) we decided to break camp for a trip to gold country, the Yankee Fork region near Stanley, ID. Unfortunately there are no photographs of this part of the trip.

Driving north from Leadore to Salmon, ID is a beautiful drive on well maintained two lane highways.  We found Salmon to be a lovely small town with a bustling main street, perfect for a day or two of poking through the shops and restaurants. That would have to wait however, since it was our goal to get to Bayhorse Lakes Campground just past Challis.

Surprise! The steel bridge across the Salmon River was placarded with a warning sign that put the weight limit at 4500 lbs per axle. Being the rule followers that we are, we determined to bypass this bridge and find another locale. We succeeded in turning into the Yankee Fork area, where we proceeded all the way through Bonanza and Custer, old mining ghost towns, to Custer Campground Number 1. This was a fairly unused forest service CG with six sites and a perfectly modern and sanitary pit toilet. This place is a jewel -- rarely used, i.e. empty, and off the dirt road enough to avoid ATV dust, it is also far enough off the creek to harbor few bugs. And you can't beat $5 a night for a nice picnic table, fire ring, level wooded site and spotless toilet.

Anyway, the rest of the trip involves finding a club of friendly gold prospectors that invited us to camp with them. They took us to their dig, showed us how to pan effectively, and even let us eat their food! We were also just in time for "Custer Days!," a celebration of the ghost town's history that included a real live shootout. In this one the sheriff gets whacked! Super fun and nice folks. We spent the rest of the time running the mountain trails with the ATV. Love it!

July 30 After a brief hiatus at work our next trip found us running back to fish the trout at Mormon Bend. Again... Can't get enough of that place. Trout. Cool wading in gin clear current. I have video of Karren catching three fish on three successive casts. Pretty incredible. This is perhaps the nicest campground in the Stanley area. Quiet, paved road, water available, and killer fishing. What more could you want?

Aug 6 It was time to set our sights on somewhere completely different, but still mountains, so we headed out for Lake Cleveland CG about an hour south of Twin Falls, ID. Only two hours or so from our house I wanted to see if this could be a nearby retreat. Well it turns out it is... sort of.

Lake Cleveland is another high alpine campground that can take a night or two to adjust to if you are subject to high altitude problems like headaches or fatigue. Well that's me every time. Meadow Lake just about killed me the first night, but I only had mild symptoms at Cleveland. We were able to luck out and find a great site with only two left, so I was thankful. Turns out this place is a locals hangout and what a noisy bunch they are. No CG host means it is party central and the sites show some severe wear and tear. The scenery is breathtaking. The ATV took us to the fire tower observation area which is nicely paved to the top. There are numerous fire roads that run over the bald peaks but we spent our time trying to fish the lake. We didn't catch much, but what we caught were quality 'bows.

A flower found nowhere else, this is Chris' Paintbrush, just below the fire tower.

This is the more common Indian Paintbrush found almost everywhere else in Idaho

The last night, Saturday, was so noisy we left the following morning like our ass was on fire. Never again! On the way down the mountain we discovered a HUGE CG only a mile away that had just been renovated, had tidy, forested sites with modern pit toilets, and outclassed the run down sites at Lake Cleveland by a country mile. That's the next place to try when we get over that way.

August 21 We took a trip to Boise to get my hand operated on to relieve "Viking's Disease", properly called Dupuytren's Contracture. This meant another ten days off. So...

Sept. 4 Off to the Craters of the Moon Star Party. We love Craters. I don't know exactly why. Perhaps it is just the remoteness and desolation. Well we got there and it began to rain. No problem, we are totally self contained in our new camper. The next morning it rained. Still not a problem. But it was for the National Park Service. They cancelled the event, even though the night before I had abused the few tourists that did show up with facts and trivia about the night sky. At the end I had them eating out of my hand -- er -- at least I think they were. It was dark after all.

So the Park Service told us we could stay the entire weekend even though there was no official camping on the property. After all, it was Labor Day and the pickings would be slim for us to find a good spot at that late date somewhere else. So we ended    up     totally      alone. All the other folks left. It was sooooo peaceful there.

Lava for miles and miles. Imagine trying to drive an ox team and wagon over that stuff!

This brings me to the last adventure with the camper for the season. My sister Suzanne flew in from Maryland to visit and boy, were her arms... never mind. She had wanted to take a trip to Kalispell, Montana to visit a friend, and wanted me to drive us there. Sounded like a fun adventure to me as long as I get to take, wait for it..... THE CAMPER!!! So we set off for the Big Sky country and pulled a one day road trip to the outskirts of Glacier Nat'l Park. Judy and Jerry were gracious hosts but I mystified them by wanting to stay in the camper for the duration of the visit. Different strokes, right? Or just Truck Camper Love.

We did take a side trip to Glacier the last day we were there and drove the hair-raising "Going to the Sun Road." Glad I wasn't driving. Two hours up and two hours down of vertigo and terror. Add in a burgeoning snowstorm. Yuck! Very pretty though.

As far as western Montana being big sky, Idaho is bigger I think. MT has some impressive mountains, no doubt. But there is something about the ones that just seem to leap out of the desert, like Mt. Borah. A return trip included a side trip to the Daly Mansion in Hamilton, MT, a stay at a Darby, MT RV park, and a night at the MacKay BLM campground, which is one of the nicest full featured CG's around, for only $9 a night. We paid half that because Suzanne had some old person's special pass (teehee).

So, the camper is winterized and being put to bed as the snow begins falling on the mountains around our house. Soon I will be plowing the roads dreaming of where we will spend the next summer in Idaho. Or Utah. Or....  The only limit is our imagination!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Sundogs in Stanley

So we packed up the gear in the camper and took off to Stanley, Idaho for the weekend. Last summer we fell in love with the Sawtooth Mountains and I thought it would be a great way to avoid the inevitable cell phone calls from work. Plus, I wanted to test the truck/camper combination on a fairly challenging high pass climb and knew Galena Summit was the highest around at more than 8000 feet. The forecast was calling for cold temps on Saturday night so I thought the crowds would be minimal
 and I was right, except for some crazy Sawtooth footrace.

After a fairly uneventful interstate drive we passed through the Hailey, Ketchum, SunValley area and began the ascent. My truck has had a lot of work done lately. It is a Ford 6.0 diesel and has had a tough time of it recently through no fault of its own. I had some bulletproofing done and there were parts dropped into intakes and pistons beat up -- it gets really ugly so I will spare you the grief. Suffice it to say that it is back in one piece and is in better running condition than ever.

This is the first overlook once you cross over the pass to the Stanley side. Note the snow on the peaks and the clouds. It was a warm day in Twin Falls (85 degrees) but two hours later we were in 65 degree weather. Throw me in the briar patch! Sorry for the obscene amount of pavement included in the shot.

The ride into the upper Salmon River valley is serene and bucolic. It is so green and placid, yet the Sawtooths show a ragged vista that competes for the mood of one's soul.

Having left later than planned we had a camping destination figured out and made tracks for it sans pics. More of those later. On to our rendezvous with Mormon Bend Campground.

This is just one of dozens of U.S. Forest Service campgrounds located along the Salmon. There are others that are much more popular, particularly at the larger lakes like Redfish, Petit, and Altura. Those are breathtakingly beautiful spots but have power boats and tons of huge fifth wheels. The inevitable loud music, boat motors, yelling parents and slamming car doors are also present so we opt to find other, more placid locations.

We found Mormon Bend last year while we were wading for trout. The campground is quiet and features good access to the river, even a nice boat/raft ramp. It is suitable to launch a river dory there. We slayed the trout there and were going to try again. The river had other ideas. There was too much snow melt and it was raging. Perfect for rafting but not good for wading unless you have a death wish.

This required a change in strategy so we found pleasure in spending our first dedicated outing with the new camper getting to know a bit more about her. First up was installing a couple of insect screens over the heater and fridge vents. I had found them on line for about half the price of a typical RV store and was itching to get them installed.

The fridge vents were a no brainer too. I read in the instructions for these appliances where they don't recommend screens like this, but after my many run-ins with mud daubers I opted for protection. With all the recent truck work done I have been crawling around underneath the F350 to verify that work was done to my satisfaction. In one of these forays I found the back side of one of my rear wheels was throwing gear oil. On closer inspection I found gear oil beginning to exit the front of the differential where the drive shaft enters. NOT GOOD! I was dreading the aspect of having to tear down my axles and install new seals. Enter the Ford Enthusiast's website, knowledge base for all things Ford. One of the folks suggested that I verify the axle vent tube was not blocked before jumping off the cliff.

He was right!!! The daubers had plugged up the vent causing the lube to push out past the seals. With the weight of the new camper on a long trip home from Boise it all made sense. Some brake lube to clean it all up and get it dry was all it took to get it into a state where I can watch it closer. So far no leakage. But I digress...

Back to Mormon Bend. See how close this site is too the river? The bank became the location where the Admiral and I watched a dozen or more western tanagers intercepting moths over the rushing water. Fascinating. Also saw mergansers, geese with goslings, and other species of fowl as yet unidentified.

Yes! This is the kind of experience middle aged fat people crave! An excellent camping vehicle, lots of provisions, and a setting that rivals any other travel mecca! I have no more camper envy!

Of course there was still more camper features to explore. Yes, Carl at the RV dealership did go through and explain how to deploy the rear awning but were we listening? NOOO! We were still star struck camper maniacs totally distracted from any practical learning about how things actually work. But we finally did manage to figure out how the awning was intended to work without breaking any of the myriad plastic parts that beg to be destroyed. It is actually a fairly robust feature but could lend itself to some buffoon breaking something if not careful. Like me.

While I don't see us using this awning all the time it will come in handy to cut the heat from intruding into the rear door, not to mention the infrequent rain squall. It seems to be sturdy enough to weather some mild gusts, but I must be careful. This is Idaho after all.

Our one day escape had elapsed and the trip home began after a heavy frost on Sunday morning. I guess the temperature was near 28-32 degrees, so I was paranoid and ran the heat a bit around 3AM. We suffered no ill effects and after a hearty breakfast proceeded to the ranger station at Stanley, where I knew there was a dump station. What!!! Five bucks? It was free last year when we dumped our little porta-pottie! Pretty soon we are going to have to pay the government for the privilege of breathing air. However the view from the dump station is pretty phenomenal. Tetons, eat your heart out... no tourist crowds here... yet.

On our way out of Stanley proper I was instructed, "Quick, pull over! You've got to see this!" I figured there was a tribe of nude hippies bathing in the river but it turned out to be something even better. A sundog! Man, this was one of the brightest and biggest sundogs I've ever seen. Of course the Admiral finds even the rainbows on cereal boxes wonderful so she was really jazzed. It takes a really bright one to show up on an iPhone camera.

You know, there are all kinds of awesome mountain ranges in central Idaho. We chose to exit the Sawtooths to the east and travel down the Magic Valley from Challis to McKay (pronounced mackee). This would take us down the Salmon through its rocky gorge and up into the highlands of some really tall stuff. The highest point in Idaho, Mt. Borah (12,000 feet plus) is easily spied from the roadway and even has its own interpretive sign. These pictures do not do it justice. For those who are motivated, (ahem) younger, and have not lost their elasticity the summit is but a 6 hour hike and is rather easily accessible. Some rock scrambling is involved and it is not for the faint of heart. Just google the name and watch the videos of folks that have done it.

Alas it was time to boogie home and feed the water to the garden. We still immensely enjoy the travel through Arco and out onto the high desert where the antelope and lava rocks play. That journey is a good place for the Admiral to get a nap and for me to breathe in the fresh radioactive air from the Idaho National Labs. There is a tour of an early reactor there that we will have to visit one day, but we never seem to make time. Craters of the Moon or the Sawtooths are too powerful of an attraction.

Hope you enjoyed the travelogue and hope to post another soon. This new TC is just the ticket to get my writing off to a great start. Toodle-ooo!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Inside the Outside Pt. 2

This contraption is high on the driver side wall near the rear corner. It is the vent for the kitchen cooktop hood fan. Yep, we used it last weekend and I was unimpressed. But wait! See the little tab that has been rotated over the flapper to keep it from opening during storage and transport? No wonder the fan didn't suck! We'll need to remember to disable those tabs when we use the camper from now on.

Near the front driver's side corner on the front wall is the plug for the truck wiring . I was not familiar at all with this style plug and was glad I had the pigtail provided. I wouldn't have known which connector to choose or which pin did what.

The usual furnace vents. Ho hum...

The refrigerator vent panel. I haven't got a clue as to what is behind it but I can't find the tool to open it either. Maybe it's in the kit of instructions.

This is the pass-through from under the refrigerator into the truck bed. We use it for extra storage of water and other cargo that is weather proof. It doesn't seal very well and seems to be a weakness in the four season concept. I will need to put some better weather stripping around it. And how about a paint finish that's a bit more resistant to moisture?!! Just because it's the inside of an interior door doesn't mean it won't get wet.

Note the gas line that enters the camper using the same corrugated plastic. I need to seal that hole as well. Mice in the camper would be a crisis of huge proportions.

This is the top view.  Nine penetrations if you count the entire roof rack as one. There is a nice plug for solar just behind the bath skylight. Everything is caulked and sealed. It actually looks like a professional did it and did it well. With my luck it will be the TV antenna (not used ever) that leaks first. There is no justice in this life.

Detail of the front panel/rubber top transition and the rain spout. There is a spout on each corner. Seems like they will be the first casualty if we get too close to a tree branch. They do work very well and I will be mad if anything happens to one. I hope the Admiral is careful when she goes on her trip to see her friend in a month or so.

So that is the outside except for the rear wall. I'll get to that next. There are some places that I feel could use a touch up of sealant so I need to order some -- not sure what product to use yet. I really like the 3M products I use to use when we were boating (4200 and 5200). Until then, keep on truckin'.