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March 31, 2006

Traveling Solo

Over the past few months we have met many solo travelers in their RVs. Some roam with a distinct purpose such as work, to avoid the snow, or to visit family. For others the purpose is less clear: they roam for the joy of it, to escape something, to explore. But in common the solo travelers seem very fulfilled, and none have ever seemed lonely.

So for this reason I wanted to try a bit of solo Airstreaming myself. I am not moving around this week, due to being busy with work, but I am alone while Eleanor and Emma are visiting Vermont. I have been interested in finding out how the solo experience feels.

When we were at Manatee State Park a couple of weeks ago, I met a fellow who was in his 50s, retired, gregarious, and yet fairly lonely. He volunteered at the park to fill his time, and chatted up anyone who walked by. He was interested in our travels and said he'd like to travel the country in an RV as well. So I asked him what was stopping him.

"I think I'd be lonely," he admitted. He was afraid that traveling alone would be an isolating experience. I think he pictured himself in remote spots, with no one nearby. But the reality of traveling this way is that you are usually surrounded by people who are sharing the experience. It is a conscious effort to slip away and find those moments of true privacy. Even in vast national parks, we meet new people every day and the opportunities to make friendships come regularly.

Quite often we've met solo travelers along the road who have linked up with others in the same lifestyle. The road is far from a lonely, isolating experience -- it's a broadening experience in which you cannot help but meet people.

That's what I told him. And ever since that conversation, I've wondered what it would be like to travel without my family along, hoping to meet a special someone. Was I too optimistic in my advice?

I don't think so. We've made dozens of great friends through our Airstream travels, and we correspond with them via email and phone regularly, and visit them all over the country. Tonight, here in Tampa, I invited over two such friends, Brett and Barry, to come over for bachelor night at the campground. I would never have met either of these guys if it weren't for Airstreaming, and they are close friends now.

Tampa grilling.jpg

So what better way to celebrate the bonds of brotherhood than with a $4.99 disposable grill and a few cheeseburgers? Brett brought over the ice cream drumsticks, Barry brought his appetite, and then we sat around and talked about the things guys talk about: women, cars, Airstreams, and cheeseburgers. It was a great way to wrap up a busy work week.

While I miss Eleanor and Emma, and talk to them every day on the phone, I can also see the appeal of solo Airstreaming. I have everything to myself, I can keep whatever schedule is convenient, and the efficient space of the Airstream is ideal for one person. If I ever get lonely, there's always someone nearby to talk to -- and if I get bored with my location, I can pack up and move to some place more exciting. It's much more liberating than sitting in an apartment or house somewhere.

If you are single and thinking about taking to the road, but afraid you'll feel cut off, don't be. The world can be your living room. Traveling solo may be the most invigorating thing you'll ever do.

March 30, 2006

Thursday night tweaking

Tonight we are concentrating on lighting. Some of it's just fun stuff, some of it is practical.

Last year we installed some cool blue neon tell-tales in our 1977 Argosy project. They lit up when the outside step light or patio light was on, so we wouldn't forget to shut them off at night. I loved those blue lights. So Brett found some nice little amber LEDs and wired those into the switches of this 2005 Airstream. Cool!

Thursday LED light.jpg

We also changed one of the lights over the bed. Airstream installs a omni-directional light in the ceilings of the new Safaris. When I come to bed late at night and Eleanor is already sleeping, I often use a flashlight to read so I don't disturb her. But for some reason, Airstream installed a very fine directional halogen lamp in Emma's bedroom area. In fact, because Emma's bedroom area has two bunks, she has three. So we swapped one of her unused halogen lamps for my omnidirectional incandescent. Now I can read at night and the light will only hit my book.

In fact it worked so well that Eleanor want us to do the same thing with her bedside lamp. We'll hit that job a bit later. Brett has been so enthused by the success of these little upgrades that he is bubbling over with ideas. We'll have to pick through them to decide what we can do over the next few days.

I've been too busy working the past few days to get out and explore Tampa. But a list is developing, and once Eleanor is back on Monday I hope we have some fun. Not far from here are Ybor City (a historic Cuban district), Big Cat Rescue, all the Clearwater beaches, and lots more. I am hankering for some Cuban food, too.

Discount lawyers.jpg
Sign of the week: Are these the guys you use to sue discount stores?

March 29, 2006

Wednesday Night Tweaking

OK, we're on our way toward a more comfortable trailer! First, we got Eleanor and Emma on the airplane for Vermont, so I 'm on my own for the rest of the week. That makes plenty of room for Brett and I to get into some interesting upgrades on the Tour trailer!

(By the way, Eleanor started feeling much better within 30 minutes of getting in the air -- no pollen at 30,000 feet I guess. She's quite happy to be in Vermont right now, and she's got an appetite for the first time in a week!)

This evening, Brett and I did some shopping, for a 20x16 HEPA furnace filter, some aluminum L-channel (1"), and a screen door spring. Then we rigged up a nifty filtration system for our furnace's cold air return.

Tweak L channel.jpg

As you can see, the original system just had a wide-open mesh. It wouldn't filter out anything smaller than a hampster. But a high efficiency filter will easily filter out pollen, without impeding normal air flow.

Here's how we did it. First, we cut the aluminum L-channel to length and screwed it to the bottom of the cabinet. This provides a secure base to hold our HEPA filter.

Then I cut the 16x20 HEPA filter in half, to make two 10x16 filters. The cut end goes down into the L-channel, so it won't crush.

Tweak installed.jpg

The spring is mounted to the wood and provides tension on the filter so it can't go anywhere. Replacing a filter is easy, and since we get two filters for $9 (by cutting them in half), it's inexpensive.

Now, whenever we are in a place where it is cool at night during pollen season, as in Tampa right now, Eleanor will be more comfortable. When the furnace runs, it will be filtering out pollen rather than blowing it all over us!

March 28, 2006

Getting to Know Tampa

We've been so busy (me working, Eleanor prepping to go to Vermont) the past two days that we've hardly had a chance to explore the area. Since we'll be here two weeks, we really ought to get to know the area we are in, so today I took a break and found out where the post office is, where the grocery is, etc.

It's a funny thing, getting acquainted with an area. When we were traveling through little towns on the California coast last December, it was easy. But big metros like Tampa are a completely different challenge. Every long 4-lane artery looks the same. We rely on our GPS database, the Internet, and local contacts to help us find what we need. Being gregarious helps.

It hasn't all been work, however. Tonight, Emma and I again joined some local friends for .... yes ... bowling. I've done more bowling in the past week than I have in the previous two years. My game remains pitiful, however. Emma nearly beat me. She drops the ball on the runway and it slowly meanders down the lane and knocks over a bunch of pins. I swing the ball dramatically and manage to hit only one, with the gutter bumpers up.

Emma Miata.jpg

I wanted to bring you some photos of us bowling but I was distracted by Eleanor not feeling well again, and so I left the camera at home. Instead, I snapped a shot of Emma by Barry's hot little Miata with my cameraphone. This cameraphone takes what are likely the world's worst pictures.

We are all stressed by Eleanor's continuing allergy problems, and they would prevent us from doing much outside this week. So I am glad she is flying to the land of low pollen count tomorrow morning (Vermont). Hopefully she will return with a better prescription medicine in hand. In the meantime, my bachelor friends are compiling ideas of what we should do while they are gone, and I am compiling lists of fixes and upgrades I want to make to the Tour trailer. The idea of retrofitting a HEPA filter into the A/C has been dropped -- there's no room in there. But I'm still working on other ideas. I'll document the work that gets done this week.

March 27, 2006


We're pretty sure that Eleanor's recent illness has been due to the incredible pollen load here in Florida. The weather report for this area shows "very high" pollen outlook and it has been just monstrous since we arrived in Pensacola a couple of weeks ago. Eleanor has been feeling it again lately, with lots of unpleasant symptoms. Emma's eyes are a bit red too. Even I am feeling itchy eyes at night and I don't have that kind of allergies.

So, we are going to make some modifications to the Airstream. Brett and I spent part of the evening looking at HEPA filters. My idea is to add a HEPA filter to the cold air return for the furnace, and also see if I can retrofit a pair into the Dometic air conditioner. The furnace has no filter at all right now, and the filters that are built into the air conditioner are just for dust.

Eleanor will be seeing her doctor in Vermont later this week about new allergy meds, and while she is gone, I plan to work on the retrofits. I'll also wipe down the interior of the trailer to try to eliminate pollen as much as I can.

My friend and fellow full-timer Rich Charpentier is going through this process as well, since he has horrible allergies that are disrupting his life. He's considering switching from an Airstream Safari to an International CCD or Safari Special just to get away from fabrics and carpeting. You can read about his saga on his daily blog.

If we had no commitments out east, I'd be heading back to the southwest right now. Tucson was great -- we could spend more time there. But since we have things to do here in Florida and South Carolina through the end of April, we'll stick it out and hope Eleanor can get on some better allergy medications. Next year, we'll be better prepared and we might arrange our schedule to be sure to avoid the spring pollen season.

March 26, 2006

Maintenance items

We packed up the roadshow at Fort Wilderness this morning, and pointed the Airstream west on I-4 to return to Tampa. With no particular schedule, we weren't in a hurry to move on, so we stopped off at Camping World to pick up a few items and have lunch in Brett's motorhome.

A couple of months ago, someone asked me about
maintenance items. At the time, I listed a few basic things we do. Since then, I've added a few items to the list and deleted others. This morning as we were preparing to go, I was noting that most of them have to do with lubrication.

For example, the entrance door hinges started squeaking a few weeks ago. I used powdered graphite in a liquid suspension for that -- the same stuff I use on the compartment locks.

One of the stabilizer jacks started squeaking also. I put a dab of "Anti-Seize" compound on the threads of the jack screws and ran them up and down a few times. (A fellow Airstreamer gave me that stuff. You can find it in hardware stores.)

While we were at Camping World, I bought a level for the front of the Airstream. Up to now, we've determined level just by feel. We'll be attaching the new level to the front of the trailer next weekend. Most of the projects I get into on the trailer are like that, little improvements rather than repairs (like our modification of the LCD TV to 12v). We've got a few other tweaks in mind for this week as well.

On Wednesday, Eleanor and Emma are flying home to Vermont for a visit, while I hang back here in Tampa doing "guy stuff" with my friends. This will be the first time we've been separated on this trip. It should be an interesting change for a few days. What might happen? Probably more maintenance!

We're planning to use the interim to do some long-term planning, also. We need to cross the country again, and we want to make the most of every mile. I'll be working out routes and stops from Myrtle Beach to Las Vegas, and then to Salem, Oregon. We need to cover the country in less than two months, which is faster than we'd like. With good planning, we'll be able to take advantage of courtesy parking and see some great parks. As we work out the stops, I'll post them to the Schedule page.

March 25, 2006

MGM Studios and EPCOT

I’m dragging myself to the keyboard tonight but it’s an effort. Brett (a.k.a. Energizer Bunny) led us on another full day of theme park adventures. He keeps going and going when ordinary humans start to fade. It’s 10 pm and by the time I’m done typing this I expect to find Eleanor and Emma already fast asleep. I won’t be far behind.

Disney group.jpg

Barry joined us today, so we had four parents and only one kid, which made childcare easy. But pretty soon it was five kids, and no parents. We started with MGM Studios in the morning (Tower of Terror is great way to wake up – who needs caffeine?), EPCOT in the afternoon, dinner at Marrakesh, and then one last ride before fireworks over the lake. It was a great day.

So here we are, back at the Airstreams in Fort Wilderness, worn out (again) but happy. We’ll sleep well. Too bad it has to wrap up tomorrow. We’ve got a blueberry pancake breakfast planned at Brett’s motorhome, and then we’ll all hitch up and head to Tampa. This has been a flawless Disney weekend, but our fun in Florida is just beginning. I’ll update you on the next set of plans later this week.

March 24, 2006

Magic Kingdom

Wow, what a difference a day makes. Eleanor woke up this morning after 14 hours of sleep, feeling better. She was able to stop taking the heavy-duty pain meds the docs had prescribed for her. At 7 a.m. she was planning to stay in for the day and recuperate. by 7:30 a.m. she was thinking of things to do. By 8 a.m. she was insisting that there was NO WAY she was going to sit around the trailer while we had fun, and by 9 a.m. we were all out the door.

It was a fabulous day today. Florida sunshine, a happy crowd (me, Eleanor, Emma, and Brett), and lots to do. Barry hung back in his Airstream for the day to relax. The rest of us took the shuttle boat across the lake from Ft Wilderness to the Magic Kingdom and spent the day enjoying the rides, shows, parades, and all the other little things that make the park so fun to visit. Emma was, of course, having the time of her life.

Disney Magic.jpg

We made sure Eleanor had plenty of snack breaks since she has hardly eaten in the past four days, and she had to make an effort to spend the day hiking around the park, but it worked out well. I thought she'd bail out by lunchtime but she stayed with us the entire day. I told her this afternoon, "It's nice to have you back."

The Magic Kingdom was, well, as magical as ever. Brett and I may have gotten a bit too engrossed by the Buzz Lightyear ride, however. I don't normally buy the post-ride souvenir photos, but this one was too good to pass up.

Buzz Lightyear.jpg

By dark we were back at the Airstream grilling chicken that Brett had marinated. Everyone piled into our trailer for dinner, since the temperatures here in Florida have dropped due to a cold front. (We're expecting 40s tonight.) I think that the shared experience with our friends, especially little things like cooking and eating together, is the best part of this trip. Camping is what makes it possible.

At 10, Eleanor and Emma crashed in their beds. Barry, Brett, and I had a final treat (triple-chocolate Dove bars) in Brett's motorhome, and called it a night.

Tomorrow will be another fun day, I'm sure. Our schedule includes MGM Studios in the morning, and Epcot Center in the late afternoon and early evening. We won't try to do everything, but just take it easy and pick a few spots that we all really enjoy. With the Airstreams, we know we can come back next week if we want, and spend another night. And it doesn't matter what we do anyway -- being with good friends is the best part.

March 23, 2006

Turning the Corner

Thanks to everyone who expressed concern for Eleanor in the past few days. We were pretty spooked by her persistent and severe migraine, but she is turning the corner now.

Eleanor stayed in the trailer all last evening, taking some heavy-duty medications that had been prescribed for her. I spent some time researching migraines on the Internet, and learned about what to expect and how to help her recover. It's a difficult thing to experience, both as patient and caregiver.

Emma and I got out of the way last night by joining some friends for bowling. Emma loved bowling. We gave her a 6-lb ball and she rolled it slowly down the lane and did fairly well. (The bumpers were up, so she couldn't have a gutter ball.) At one point she was leading against three adults!

This morning Eleanor started to feel a tiny bit better, so we decided to proceed with our plan and head to Ft Wilderness (Disney). We met our friend Brett (with his 1978 Argosy 28 motorhome) and Barry (with his 1973 Overlander) at a local shopping center, and caravanned all the way to Disney World.

Fort Wilderness is a great place. Expensive, but very nice. Even though there are hundreds of campsites, each one feels private thanks to the extensive trees. The on-site activities are terrific (campfire sing-alongs, character visits, huge heated swimming pools, movies at night, games, etc), and of course we are only a short ride via boat or bus from all the Disney theme parks.

Eleanor crashed again this afternoon so Barry, Brett, and I took Emma out for a bike ride and later for the campfire sing-along. We grilled some steaks behind our Airstream this evening, and ate them with caesar salad and cheesecake, while listening to the crickets and talking.

If Eleanor had been with us it would have been better, but I felt good knowing she was recovering in her own bed and that I was close by at all times. We are hoping she will be feeling much better tomorrow, and able to join us at one of the theme parks later in the day. But in any case, this episode has been a reminder to us that you can't take life (and health) for granted. Carpe diem!

March 22, 2006

Emma's trailer

Eleanor's headache has continued unabated, so we made a trip to the local doc. While she was being examined, Emma and I sat on the waiting room floor and practiced reading sight words.

The doctor thinks it's a migraine, but Eleanor has never had one before, so it's still a small mystery. One theory is that allegies triggered it, but nobody really knows. They sent her home with an injection and a prescription and she's in bed now, hoping the pain stops. She may miss out on the Fort Wilderness fun this weekend if things don't clear up. We're worried but hopeful.

So I'm Mr. Mom today. Emma is helping me do the laundry and errands, and in between I try to get a bit of work done. We are coping. It's a bummer to be stalled like this, but on the other hand a migraine for four days would be a bummer no matter where we were.

Emma's trailer.jpg

Emma has made a drawing for you, of her trailer. Drawing is one of her favorite pastimes, and I have been meaning to share some of her artwork with you for a long time. Today seemed the right day to show this five-year-old's view of our home on wheels.

March 21, 2006

St George Island and Manatee Springs SP

As I mentioned in the last blog entry, it has been a challenge lately to keep up with the blog. Both Verizon and Sprint seem to have little cellular service anywhere in the panhandle. When "roaming", we can't get online.

Monday we left Port St Joe and dropped by nearby St George Island, which is a white sand strip of barrier island not far east. St George is a rare thing in Florida these days: a beautiful barrier island that is not sinking under the weight of thousands of condominiums. It seems to have somehow been bypassed by the rabid development that has ruined so many other barrier islands in Florida.

There's still plenty of housing on St George, but large sections of the island have been left relatively undisturbed, and toward the eastern end there is a large state park which we visited. The park is mostly closed due to damage from Hurricane Dennis, so presently you can't camp there. But when the park re-opens (scheduled for October unless another hurricane comes by), it will be well worth a visit. Eight miles of wide open, white sand, protected beach! Herons and pelicans and snowy egrets and much more. The sound of numerous birds singing in the pines, and the views in every direction. We loved it.

St George heron.jpg

We put the Airstream in the overflow lot and walked a short distance to the beach. Kids were playing in the water, surf fishermen were catching red snapper, and the air was filled with salt spray and the roar of waves. We wanted to stay longer but without a campground, we had to make the stay only a couple of hours. After lunch in the Airstream, it was time to continue east.

(This marked the first occasion we had to use the outside shower that came with our trailer. It's handy for washing off sandy feet. )

Around this time it became clear that Eleanor had a case of whatever was affecting Emma the previous few days. Her headache intensified, giving me even more impetus to find us a place to settle down so she could catch up on sleep. Unfortunately, things didn't work out well. Park after park was full, and we eventually ended up once again crashing at a Wal-Mart in Chiefland, FL.

Poor Eleanor. Although our parking spot was quiet, she had a miserable night with a long episode of nausea. In the morning she was still so sick that she couldn't face riding in the car for hours, so we towed six miles over to Manatee Springs State Park and paid $4 for a day pass. There, she was able to nap in the trailer while Emma and I explored the massive spring that bubbles from the ground here.

Manatee Springs.jpg
Mantee Springs

Manatee Springs, like Blue Spring in central Florida, is a first-magnitude freshwater spring. That means over a million gallons of clear 72-degree water per day rises to the surface, forming a tributary to the Suwanee River. The manatees swim here in the winter to stay warm, but there were none in evidence when Emma and I donned our snorkel gear and paddled around in the water for 30 minutes. Still, we saw some mullet, a couple of turtles, and a school of colorful little fish about 1/2" long.

With snorkeling, lunch, a couple of episodes of "Between The Lions" (a PBS reading program), and another walk along the river, Emma and I managed to stay out of Eleanor's way long enough for her to get about a couple hours of sleep, which made all the difference. She awoke feeling somewhat better, so we dumped the tanks at the park's dump station and made the final two hour drive to Tampa.

With the overloaded parks and Eleanor being sick, it has been a real pain getting here. If I hadn't had to get online for work, we would still be back in the panhandle somewhere, waiting out the illness. That's one of the unfortunate aspects of having to work while full-timing -- sometimes we have to move even when we really don't want to. But still the compensations are there. We managed to snatch a few good moments out of a few days that were otherwise full of disappointments, and sometimes that's the best you can do.

Tonight Emma and I left Eleanor alone in the trailer to relax, and we joined our local friends Barry and Brett for dinner out. When we got back, we put Eleanor to bed early. I hope she will wake up tomorrow with this bug behind her.

We'll stay in Tampa a couple of nights, catching up on work and health, and then on Thursday we have reservations to camp at Ft Wilderness (Disney). There will be a caravan of three Airstreams heading there ... unless you would like to join us!

March 20, 2006

Last Night in Mystic Springs

It's been a challenge to update the blog due to the lack of Internet anywhere near Mystic Springs, but nonetheless we are all glad we went. Saturday was a great wrap-up, eventually. It didn't start off well. Emma woke up feeling badly again, and while we were at Panera Bread updating the blog, well, she had a bad moment which certainly didn't do anything for the appetites of the dozen college students tapping away at their computers.

We took her home and put her back in bed, and I went to the past president's luncheon without Eleanor and Emma. A lot of people showed up, so the park was full of Airstreams, which was great to see. By mid-afternoon, Emma was back on track and our home was full of interested passers-by who wanted to chat about what we do and what sort of Airstream, tow vehicle, hitch, and cordless drill we do it with.

Mystic Rich Hensley.jpg
Rich gives an impromptu seminar on Hensley hitches

Dinner was a hotdog campfire with everyone (Emma didn't eat one, which told me she was still not feeling 100%), and we ended up staying up later than we should have. I left a bit early and snuck back to the Airstream to watch "Star Trek: Enterprise" on DVD ... my first three episodes arrived from Netflix and I couldn't wait.

Sunday was more showings, and talking, which meant we couldn't leave early, but we didn't really want to anyway. Finally we managed to get everything packed up by 11, hit the "leftover lunch" for a few minutes, and slowly pull out over the sandy roads and back down Rt 29 to Pensacola.

I will go on record as saying this, at risk of being labeled a curmudgeon: Spring Break has ruined the panhandle of Florida. When I was a student at LSU (Baton Rouge) many years ago, the panhandle was a peaceful place with large sections of wild open beach. I remember a great spring break that I spent living in a shack made of bamboo. So driving east on Rt 98 I had hoped to show Eleanor and Emma the beautiful green water and white sands that make this place so gorgeous.

But it's spring break season, and every campground and state park was full. No chance of getting in, except at one place that was willing to let us in for $70 a night. Panama City is not what I remember, but that's no surprise since it has been 20 years. We tried a few spots, but ultimately nothing was available (or appealing) and we kept heading east. Sometimes, that's how it goes.

We ended up in a tiny harborside campground (Presnell's Bayside Marina) in Port St Joe, which is near Cape San Blas. We arrived in time for a beautiful sunset, but the air was filled with tiny midges which nipped mercilessly at us, and so we spent the evening inside. At least it was quiet and warm all night. By the way, if you want to take your RV to the water and then walk to a fishing charter, this is a great spot to try.

Port St Joe.jpg
Camping in Port St Joe

I'll post more about where we spent most of today, and where we are going, a bit later. Right now, I'm just catching a moment of Internet connectivity on a stop along the road. Cellular coverage along Rt 98 is not great. At the moment, we're in Perry, FL, which is not where we intend to spend the night, and it's time to get back in the saddle.

March 18, 2006

A Busy Day In Mystic Springs

Our minor flooding problem has been dealt with. Even though the floor seemed dry by Thursday night, we left the fans running all night just to be sure. Friday morning we got to replacing the floor while Emma was still sleeping. I worked on the tiles in the front storage compartment while Eleanor did the tricky curved sections in the bedroom closet.

It was blazing hot outside with the sun on me, and not too comfortable for either of us, since we had to squinch ourselves into some spaces not normally occupied by people. At one point someone who walked by to talk, but all she could see of me was my lower half hanging out of the storage compartment, draped partially over the hitch and propane bottle shelf. It got even less comfortable when I had to disconnect the power and the batteries.

Ah, but it was worth it. The new floor looks great. Because the carpet was taller than the new floor, it left a gap in places, but we sealed the gaps with flexible vinyl bathtub caulking bead.

Mystic new compartment.jpg
Dry, clean, and ready for storage!

Note the new Optimas in the photo above also. The other two are in the regular battery compartment. One thing I need to do is get some sort of cover to protect the terminals. Right now I have to take some care to ensure that nothing metallic in the storage compartment is near the batteries, or it might short the batteries.

Mystic new closet.jpg
Almost done. Still needs edging.

We were lucky to be at Mystic Springs when this happened. Many campgrounds would have prohibited us from working on our trailer in the park. We also were lucky that people were willing to keep Emma occupied, and lend us fans. And it was a nice break that the forecasted rain never came, so we could dry things out and get the new floor in place.

By 11:30, we managed to complete the job, take quick showers, get Emma dressed, and be ready to join the rally group for a catfish lunch in town. That was a nice reward after sweating in the sun for hours. Mmmmm…. Southern fried catfish. Love it. We went through a couple of pitchers of iced tea, too.

Hugh Riddenour and Vince Saltaformaggio joined us for lunch at our table. Hugh's daughter follows our blog, I'm told (Hi!). Vince is the guy with the 1959 Airstream Tradewind that he restored last year. It’s a beauty. Vince is a fun guy to visit with, because he is what I regard as the quintessential New Orleanian: jovial, chatty, loves to eat, funny, and full of little vices.

Mystic Vince Saltiformaggio.jpg

After lunch it really got warm, probably mid-80s, so we ran the two Fantastic Vents to see how the trailer did. It wasn’t bad except in the front bedroom where we still have an unpowered vent. That confirms it – I’m going to install a third Fantastic Vent in the bedroom when we get down to Tampa. We don’t like to shut up the trailer to run the A/C unless it’s scorchingly hot, so we rely on the Fantastic Vents to keep things comfortable most of the time.

Eleanor and Emma took the opportunity to make some homemade lemonade …

Mystic Emma lemonade.jpg

… and later Emma got to work with her sidewalk chalk by our neighbor’s trailer. (I’ll have to take a picture of her artwork today.)

After dinner in the clubhouse, I was invited to do a presentation on our trip, so I did the same slideshow that I’d done in NTAC. Everyone was still awake after 160 slides, so I guess I did OK. They even laughed in the right places.

By then it was 9 pm and we were all a bit worn down. Rally days are like that. We are always so busy talking, taking pictures, showing the trailer (people are always interested since they’ve usually never seen a two-bedroom Airstream before, and certainly not one with three people living full-time in it), and meeting new people, that each day flies by.

March 16, 2006


We woke up this morning thinking that today was going to be a quiet day. I had some work to do, but otherwise we had no plans. But when I was putting away my scanner this morning, I noticed the bottom of the carton was water-stained.

If there’s one thing you don’t want to ignore in a travel trailer, it’s unexplained water. Leaks are the enemy, and they are the one thing that surely will kill an Airstream. So I began removing things from the underbed storage area and my bedroom closet, and sure enough, the carpet was wet. Thoroughly soaked, in fact.

There’s no plumbing up there, and we haven’t had any condensation at night, so that eliminated two possibilities. The wetness was confined to the carpet (not the wall), so suggested the leak didn’t come from above. There was only one possible cause: the front storage compartment.

This actually explained a mystery we noticed a week or two ago. Once in a rare while, we’ll step into the trailer and notice a smell of exhaust fumes in the trailer. The theory has been that the front storage compartment gasket sometimes lets in a little exhaust while towing, and then the fumes work their way into the main living area.

The water confirmed our theory. We towed in heavy rain in Kentucky on Monday, the first time we’ve ever towed this trailer in the rain. Wind-driven water must have gotten past the storage compartment seal and then wicked through the carpet into the bedroom.

Mystic outside fan.jpg
Everything came out, and the fan went in

We removed everything from the front storage compartment and confirmed the diagnosis. Better yet, the pattern of the water told us what part of the gasket was leaking (the curbside section), so we have somewhere to start when we go to fix it.

With soaked carpet and pad, we had no choice but to pull up the carpet immediately and get some fans in there. Fortunately the Mystic Springs Airstream park folks pitched in to help. Bill Call eliminated an errand I had to do today, to by taking my propane tank out to be refilled. Herb Spies found us a big window fan to dry things out. And 7-year-old Hope, granddaughter of one of the visitors, befriended Emma and has kept her busy all day. Various grandmothers are watching them.

We ended up cutting out all the carpet in the storage compartment, plus a strip between the master bed and my closet, and all the carpet in my closet. This eliminated all the soaked carpet and pad, making drying out the wood subfloor much easier. We are going to replace those sections of carpet with vinyl tile, which makes more sense in closets and storage compartments anyway. If it leaks again, at least we won’t have to deal with wet carpet.

Mystic inside fan.jpg
Drying out after the carpeting was removed from the closet

So we’ve got a list of things we need (new carpet knife, carpet transition strip, tiles, etc) and we’re heading off to Lowes. As for the ultimate solution, we’ll have to think about why that gasket leaked. There’s no apparent reason I can see. But we’ll bring it to a dealer and have them fix it. It’s still under warranty. In the meantime we’ll just avoid towing in heavy rain.

And we were wondering what we’d do today …

March 15, 2006

Panera Bread, Pensacola FL

It's family night at the Panera Bread ... or so we have decreed. Emma is at my side munching on a roast beef sandwich and pickles, Eleanor is downloading system updates and sending emails, I'm working on our new Airstream Life store (to be launched soon) with a nice chai latte.

It's a nuisance to have to drive 30 miles into Pensacola to get online, but once we have the bulk of the necessary work under control we'll stop doing this and start seeing some local stuff. There's a great aviation museum here, and it's free. We've been there, but it was years before Emma was born, so we may take her. I've also heard they are aircraft carriers here that can be toured sometimes, so we'll ask around about that.

There's also a rally starting tomorrow at Mystic Springs, so we'll be in the thick of that. I doubt there will be any kids for Emma but there certainly should be a LOT of grandparents. I'm looking forward to meeting Vince Saltimaggio, who I interviewed weeks ago for an upcoming article in Airstream Life. He's one of the people who fled Hurricane Katrina in his Airstream. He'll be here in his '59 Tradewind, I hope.

Meanwhile, I'll keep catching up on everything here at Panera Bread. It's my favorite place to get online, other than the Airstream. They don't mind us being here for hours, and the food is great. (Tom from Internet in Motion says, "I really love the 'cobblestone' pastry.") This place is flooded in the evening with students from some nearby college, and they are a riot to watch: cell phone in one hand, laptop in front of them, and multi-tasking like maniacs. There are so many of them that the high-speed Internet connection goes down every evening under the load. But it's fun to hang out and people-watch.

March 14, 2006

Being Cheap?

We've arrived at Mystic Springs Airstream park, about 30 miles north of Pensacola FL. Finally! The long driving spree is over for a while. We'll hang here amongst the moss-draped pine trees through Sunday or so. We need the break.

Mystic site.jpg

Our camping budget has been greatly helped by all the courtesy parking we've been doing lately. Our stay at NTAC was free (because we were the guest of one of the lot owners), as were our four nights in Weathersford. Then we hit Wal-Marts along the way up to Indiana, spent a few days at Airstream of Indiana, and stopped at a Cracker Barrel on the way down to Florida.

The upshot is that in the past 15 nights we have only had to pay for parking twice (at Kickapoo State Park in IL and Mammoth Cave NP). So for two weeks our total camping expenditure has been $32.

Now it's sort of a quest: how long can we go without paying? Eleanor says I've gotten cheap, but I prefer to consider it Yankee frugality, or perhaps just an expansion of the way we travel. Anyway, we just put hundreds of dollars into batteries so we can get along longer without power connections -- let's make use of them! Didn't we buy an Airstream for "real travel independence" as they say in the brochures? But she still says I'm cheap.

We need to make a few more tweaks to be comfortable living "off the grid". I'd like to be able to power our laptops and cell phones off the trailer's 12v system without using an inverter, so I am considering a IGo everywhere universal power adapter. This thing has little power tips to fit all sorts of equipment, so one IGo will power both the laptops and the phones (assuming I buy the right tips to go with it).

On Saturday night I went out to Radio Shack and bought their universal 12v adapter for $5.99. This allows us to run the factory-installed Sharp flat panel TV on the 12v system, bypassing the inverter that came with it. (Formerly it went from 12v to 110v AC power, then plugged into the wall.) So that's one less appliance that needs AC power. Now we can watch DVD movies even while boondocking.

Once we have the 12v adapter for the laptops and phones, everything in the trailer except the laser printer and vacuum cleaner will run off the house batteries. I can recharge the cordless drill, camera batteries, and other misc battery-powered devices using a basic Radio Shack cigarette-lighter inverter, if I really need to.

So, I've dumped the Honda eu1000 generator that we were hauling around. With an SUV, toting a generator means gas fumes in the car, less storage space, and more weight. We're going to see how it goes with just batteries and -- eventually -- a pair of solar panels.

Mystic Springs is a nice spot, but it's in the boonies. Sprint doesn't cover the area, and there's no Internet access to be had anywhere nearby, so I have to drive 30 miles into Pensacola to snarf wifi from Panera Bread or one of the hotels. I already got booted from the Luxury Suites motel by a grumpy matron earlier this evening, so I think from now I'll stick with Panera. At least there you can get a nice cuppa and muffin while you work. While I'm doing that, Eleanor and Emma are going to run errands and find something fun to barbecue -- the park is planning a barbecue night on Thursday. I'm voting for salmon... would a cheapskate do that?

March 13, 2006

Bowling Green, KY and Athens, GA

So nice and quiet last night at the Mammoth Cave campground. It's been so long since we heard bird singing in the morning that it woke Eleanor up early. Morning birdsong has become unfamiliar to us, since we've been parked by highways and in the desert for the last two months.

The Frozen Niagara tour was great. A bit claustrophobic at the beginning, but really terrific. We can highly recommend it if you visit Mammoth Cave.

We didn't stick around the park after the tour, because late last night I reserved a spot for myself to tour the Corvette Assembly Plant in Bowling Green. I had decided I really couldn't leave Kentucky without seeing it. Eleanor graciously volunteered to stay in the trailer with Emma for the entire two hours it would take me to do the tour, so we parked it in a far corner of the factory lot and they hung back to do some homeschooling work.

Corvette factory.jpg

It worked out well, because as soon as we arrived the thunderstorms came crashing down. It wasn't weather I wanted to tow in. But Eleanor and Emma were snug in the trailer and I was having a BLAST checking out the very cool factory tour.

They also make the Cadillac XLR in that factory, but on a separate line. I wish I could show you photos from the tour but they are strict about no cameras, no cell phones, no PDAs, no anything, inside the plant. Trust me, it's worth the $5 for the tour. I left the building wanting a Caddy XLR for my very own, but at $77k apiece I don't see it in my immediate future. But I did get a freebie postcard.

Corvette postcard.jpg

I was tempted to just stay in the parking lot overnight because the thunderstorms were still raging at 3pm when I was back from the tour. But I didn't think they'd appreciate that, especially since we were in the "GM CARS ONLY" lot with our Nissan. (The "non-GM" lot was full.) They seem to take that sort of thing seriously at car factories...

Thunderstorms and traffic and accidents left us far short of our goal tonight. That's the way it goes. We're spending the night at a Cracker Barrel tonight, and we hope to reach Gulf Shores, AL tomorrow. Then we'll slow down for a while. All this driving has us a bit loopy.

March 12, 2006

Mammoth Cave National Park, KY

Last night we had some pretty exciting thunderstorms while we were parked at Airstream of Indiana. But with the stabilizers down, it wasn't bad. We lowered the TV antenna just to avoid being an attractant to lightning. With a dozen other Airstreams and lampposts around, I figured our chances were pretty good of surviving the night.

We said goodbye to the nice folks at the dealership, promised to stay in touch, and packed up our traveling roadshow this morning. While we were packing inside the trailer, a police cruiser took some interest in us. I suppose being parked in the dealership lot on a Sunday (obviously camping, since we were plugged into a lamppost outlet), we looked somewhat unusual. He passed by three times, and appeared to run our license plate on one stop. I was wondering if we were violating some city ordinance and would get a ticket. Finally, on the fourth pass, I was outside talking on the cell phone and he spotted me. I gave him a big friendly wave and he gave me a wave back. I guess he just likes Airstreams ...

I didn't think we'd be able to post today because we are in Mammoth Cave National Park. Last summer we stopped here for two nights and couldn't get online at all, and cell phones were iffy. But it's different now: no leaves on the trees means cell signals can go farther, and with a slightly higher campsite, I can get online easily. Sweeeet!

Tonight will be balmy with lows only in the 60s so we can sleep with the windows open -- yahoo! That's the first time we've been able to do that since Arizona. But tomorrow a major cold front is coming through with thunderstorms and the overnight low tomorrow will be only 34! Time to get outta town. We're going to do the Frozen Niagara tour in the morning and then head south before everything else gets frozen too.

We would visit the Corvette assembly plant in nearby Bowling Green but I checked their website and they say no kids under 7 allowed. Hmm, maybe some elevator shoes and lipstick for Emma?

March 11, 2006

Saturday at the dealership

At last! The sun has arrived and the temperatures have risen in central Indiana. Despite a dismal forecast last night, it has turned out to be a beautiful day.

We've spent the day chatting up Airstreamers (and future Airstreamers), giving tours of our trailer, and checking out the new models to get ideas for ways we might modify our own. Blog reader Lee Benson dropped by, and gave me some tips on using satellite Internet that I'll be able to integrate into my presentation next month.

AOI dealership.jpg

Misc notes:

(1) In response to a request from another blog reader, I've posted an album to Flickr with pictures of two of the new Airstream models, the Base Camp and the Safari 23. Look for the new album called "Airstream of Indiana".

(2) We disconnected the AC power last night so we could exercise the batteries. I was interested to see how much power we used overnight for the furnace (22 amps). The Tri-Metric tells us exactly what we have used, and what we have left, which is very useful. I am not sure at this point but I think we may want to add a couple more batteries just so we don't drain the batteries too much when we are boondocking. The batteries will last much longer if we drain them no more than 25%.

(3) Emma has had a minor relapse with a slight fever. We've tried to keep her low-profile today but she feels good enough to run around and get into everything and meet everyone. Fortunately, she doesn't seem to be contagious.

(4) Finally, the folks at the dealership expressed some regret that there were no leftovers of Eleanor's dessert. Apparently everyone has been checking the blog since we got here!

March 10, 2006

Special Dessert Night

It's one of those occasions when Eleanor is inspired by something she saw in the grocery store. So she came home with some pizzelles (sort of like thin waffles) and some ricotta cheese. She added those ingredients to some mixed berry preserve, with hot fudge sauce and whipped cream in layers, and cocoa powder sprinkled on top.

AOI dessert prep.jpg

The result was a short-lived dessert. That, and a DVD of six Spongebob Squarepants episodes, and you've got a formula for a heck of a family-friendly evening.

AOI dessert.jpg

Base Camp!

Emma is better, thank you. She spent the afternoon in bed and didn't want to eat or even watch a movie, so we knew she was really feeling poorly. On the other hand, it's the only time we can snuggle her for more than a minute or so, and have adult conversations without being interrupted by a puppet show ... There's nothing like a virus to take the edge off a kid!

Now she's back to her usual bouncy self, and off shopping with her mother. I'm left here with a lot full of new Airstreams to check out -- such a tragedy. Today I poked my head into the new Airstream Base Camp. It's a very cool thing, sort of a miniature toy hauler with a little kitchen. It can be pulled by several small SUVs and carry a pair of motorcycles, a four-wheeler, or sleep a few friends. It's a real eye-catcher in red.

AOI basecamp ext.jpg
Cute little toy hauler

AOI basecamp.jpg

Tom and Donna, who are the lead salespeople in this dealership, spent part of the morning chatting with me about Airstreams and showing me some of the new models. They've become Airstreamers themselves, as a result of having this job, which is always a good thing. I think the best dealerships are managed by people who actually use the product themselves.

AOI sales.jpg

I also checked out the new Airstream 23-footer. This is a neat unit, kind of like a Bambi but more usable and with plenty of cool features. I think that one is a winner. In general Airstream has put more emphasis on the shorter trailers lately, and so there are many more floorplans 25 feet and under to choose from than there were just a few years ago.

We'll be here on Saturday but heading south on Sunday, toward Mammoth Cave National Park.

March 09, 2006

Airstream of Indiana (Lafayette, IN)

Well, here's a sign of the week for you ..

AOI sign.jpg

We are in Lafayette, at Airstream of Indiana, right smack up front by the cool new Base Camp they've got. (I'm going to take a peek in it tomorrow morning.) We'll be here through Sunday morning, attending the First Anniversary event in the hopes of meeting some of you blog readers in person!

This is a nice dealership. They've got a couple of Airstreams in a glass showroom, a pile of silver trailers in the front lot, a new A-39 motorhome, a Base Camp, and a bunch of B-vans too. I really like the cool motor scooters they have in the showroom, too. If I could figure out how to bring them along with us I'd definitely want one!

Poor Emma woke up early this morning with a fever and nausea -- the usual kid thing. She is recuperating now. If you come by on Friday, she might be in the trailer taking it easy, but I'd bet she'll be running around feeling fine. Even if she is still under the weather, Eleanor and I will be around to answer questions as much as possible.

March 08, 2006

Kickapoo State Park, Oakwood, IL

It is a good thing we don't travel like this normally, because I would have a mutiny on my hands months ago. We have covered hundreds of miles each day, in the stereotypical "family road trip" style, visiting roadside eateries and gas stations and convenience stores ... and not much else.

People ask us how we can tolerate being "on the road" all the time. They think we do nothing but drive every day. What a life that would be! I often find myself explaining the difference between traveling and driving, and all the while I'm thinking, "You poor person. You've never really traveled at all."

Fortunately, our driving episode is coming to an end soon. We are only about 90 minutes from Lafayette IN. Emma has tolerated the long car rides fairly well but I think we'll all be glad to get out tomorrow and set up at Airstream of Indiana for a couple of nights.

We haven't done this sort of stop since last November. It's fun, like a rally or a party. We get to talk aluminum with fellow Airstreamers (and Airstream wannabees) all day long, show pictures of our travels, check out the new units on the lot, and kick back for a couple of days.

In the meantime, I am thrilled with our new battery bank and the Tri-Metric readout that David Tidmore installed. We have twice as much reserve power as before, and the Tri-Metric tells us exactly how much we are using, how much we need to charge up, and the exact status of our batteries. It's going to be even cooler when we get the solar panels on top.

March 07, 2006


We are doing fairly well on our race northeast to Indiana. The Hensley hitch certainly got a good trial. I didn't realize as we were heading north on I-35 that we had a strong tailwind, until we opened the Nissan doors and practically had them yanked out of our hands! It was the kind of wind that makes the truck and trailer rock while parked. We picked up an extra 2 MPG just from the push it gave us!

The tailwind turned into a crosswind when we picked up I-44 heading east. We got buffeted and shoved constantly. Normally I'd have to slow down quite a bit to keep the rig on track, but I found with the Hensley that we could maintain a decent speed. That was impressive. So far, so good.

At one point the wind was so fierce that it blew one of the bikes out of position in the roof rack. We had to stop and re-assemble part of the rack to make it tighter. Opening the door of the Airstream was a challenge too -- it took two hands and a firm grip to keep it from flying back and slamming into the trailer's side.

But even with the wind, we managed to get as far as Springfield MO, where we are once again Wal-Marting it. If I'd had time to do some research in advance we might have had courtesy parking, but we've been flying without much of a plan lately.

Springfield is a town well known to us, because last year it was the site of the International Rally. It's strange how it feels familiar. This was the first place we went after we sold our house and became full-timers last June. It's best known for Lambert's restaurant (home of the "throwed rolls") and things like Fantastic Cave and the gigantic Bass Pro Shop. Not a bad place, but we won't be spending any time on this visit. Tomorrow is another day to head east, and since we are expecting some rain along the way, I think we'll make fewer miles.

The Long Push North Begins

Monday was hectic. We didn't complete the list of repairs and upgrades that we wanted to, but plenty was accomplished. It was just too much work for one day. David and Denver managed to finalize the installation of our four new Optima batteries, run the cabling and install modules for our future solar system, replace the bathroom faucet (Eleanor helped on that one), and explain to me how all the new technology works.

Eleanor plumbing.jpg
Eleanor helps David with the bathroom faucet installation

We also had visitors. Scott and Michelle Birdwell dropped by. They are the owners of a very cool customized 34 foot Airstream with a "cowboy" interior. They are just now starting to take weekends in it with their kids, and loving it. (They have six kids and #7 is coming!) I shot photos of their trailer's interior a week ago. It will be appearing in the magazine.

Birdwell boys.jpg
A few of the Birdwell boys with their father

Joe and Vivian Hornor came over to consult on some custom cabinetry we are designing to hold our miscellaneous stuff that doesn't currently have a permanent home. The new cabinets will hold the laser printer, office supplies, two small file drawers, books, magazines, Zip-Dee chairs, and other stuff. It will replace the two big soft chairs that came with the Safari 30 and actually yield more open space. We expect to install the new furniture in May when we come back through this area.

Blog reader and new friend (from the Cleburne rally last weekend) Paul Mayeux dropped by and we looked at photos of his ongoing Airstream Cruiser restoration. Since Paul is doing the same sort of job (total overhaul) on the same model of Airstream as our "Vintage Lightning" project, I was very interested in his progress. His daughters are the ones that adopted Emma at the Cleburne rally.

I forgot to mention earlier that another blog reader found us on Saturday. Dorothy and Michael dropped by to check out the Airstreams and we ended up chatting. After a couple of minutes, Dorothy asked if I had an Airstream. I said, "Sure, that's mine right there in the service bay." She did a double-take, and then exclaimed, "You're the Airstream people! I've been following you on the Internet!"

Apparently Dorothy had wanted to meet us in Cleburne but couldn't make it. So it was a bonus for her (and us) to meet her by chance at the dealership. She and her husband are planning to buy an Airstream and do some work camping up in Alaska -- sounds like a great idea to me!

With all of the activity on Monday, we didn't get to a few items on our "to do" list but we are certainly much better off than when we arrived. We'll deal with the other minor items later. By Monday night at 6 pm, everyone was beat, the trailer was a disaster area (all of our stuff tossed in the bedroom to make space for the work, sawdust everywhere), and we needed to hit the road toward our scheduled stop in Indiana.

We packed up quickly, cleaned up a bit, and then David took me for a few spins around the block to test the Hensley hitch and adjust the brake controller. By 7:30 we were loading the bikes and heading out for about 80 miles just to get a jump on our travels.

So here we are, Wal-Marting it for the first time in quite a while. As soon as Emma wakes up we will hit the road again. We've got 900 miles to cover by Thursday evening, which is a lot for us.

The long-range weather forecast for Friday and Saturday in Lafayette Indiana looks amazingly good! Right now the prediction is for about 60 degrees Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. We are hoping a lot of blog readers will come say hi at Airstream of Indiana, where we will be through Sunday morning. This is the only northern stop we have planned, until July. We'll see you there!

March 06, 2006

A Quick Peek at Ft Worth

With the trailer not ready to go and the dealership closed on Sunday, we had a day free to go wander. Unfortunately we had not had a chance to do any planning, and Weathersford is a small town without a lot to do in it. On David's advice we tried the Fort Worth water gardens but they were closed for renovations. Ugh.

So we went downtown to the Sundance Square area. Sundance Square has some very interesting architecture that is worth seeing. But in addition, they've dressed up a few buildings with trompe l'oeil paintings, to make them match the elaborate designs of the buildings around them.

Ft Worth trompe.jpg
Everything but the windows in the building on the left is painted on

We spotted two great examples. I believe there are more also, but we didn't explore the area thoroughly. Spotting trompe l'oeil was interesting for Eleanor and I, but not so much for Emma. She had trouble distinguishing real from fake.

Ft Worth trompe 2.jpg
Which side is real and which is not?
Well, a few errands needed to be done anyway. So we had lunch out, washed the truck, and then headed off to the mall to pick up a few things. I bought a new DeWalt 18v cordless drill because my 9.6v Makita is not strong enough to operate certain parts of the Hensley hitch that must be tensioned when we hitch up.

We also finally broke down and bought one of those rear seat portable DVD players so Emma can watch a movie in the car during the long days of driving ahead. It is our hope that we can get from 5-6 hours per day to 8 hours once in a while when we absolutely must make time. It is MY hope that such occasions are rare, because I don't think touring the country should be about driving all the time. It hasn't been so far. Slower is better.

We also sampled the Weathersford flea market, which was about what you'd expect, plus lots of sheet-metal artwork depicting various symbols of Texas. Not a fascinating day there, either. I started to feel like this flea market was merely a trompe l'oeil version of others I have seen in other states. It was all rather two-dimensional somehow.

Not every day can be a wild adventure, and Sunday certainly proved it. But we are ready for Monday and our trip to Indiana. That's good enough!

March 05, 2006


Saturday was a work day for us. We got towed by the forklift into the service bay on Saturday morning. General Manager David Tidmore and Service Tech "Denver" (I don't know his last name yet), got busy working on things in and out of the trailer, while Eleanor and I took care of few minor things as well.

At first, Eleanor and I took turns keeping Emma occupied, but as the day warmed up Emma adopted a few people who happened by. First it was Gunny and his black labrador puppy, later it was the Service Manager and his wife from the car dealership next door, and later still it was anyone who walked into the dealership to look at the Airstreams.

I removed and replaced the caulk around the kitchen countertop and stove, which had loosened up. We also removed the opening portion of the bathroom window, applied frosted window film to it, and raised the bathroom blinds. This allows us to more easily operate the window knob without having to reach through the blinds, while still retaining privacy. If you have a later-model Safari you'll know what I mean.

Weatherford modified blind.jpg

I finally got a chance to repair the damage we picked up in California to the rear skid plates (under the rear storage compartment). That was a matter of grinding off the old paint and rust that had formed since the plates were bent, and re-painting them.

We are also replacing and extending our battery bank, from two Interstate group 24 "wet" batteries to four Optima blue-top AGM (absorbed glass matt) batteries. Two will go in the existing battery box, and two will go into the front storage compartment. Since they don't vent hydrogen and can't spill, they are safe to have inside the trailer. This is preparatory to installing a full solar system, which we will do later. In the meantime, we'll have double the battery capacity we had before -- very useful when boondocking.

David also has a theory about our water heater that doesn't stay on reliably. We've had that serviced in Jackson Center, and again at an Airstream dealer in Iowa. But both times the problem has recurred. David, being an electrical engineer by training, has zeroed in on the problem and I think he might have it nailed. Amazingly, the problem may come down to a dirty contact!

And there's more ... we added a Fantastic Vent to the rear bedroom (Emma's area). This trailer has three roof vents, but only one had a powered fan. Now two of the three vents are powered, which will be a huge improvement in air circulation when the hot weather comes in.

Finally, we are making a big upgrade to a Hensley Arrow hitch. While we have been happy with the Reese hitch to date, David and the Hensley people have convinced us to try the Arrow. Having a relatively short wheelbase SUV towing a long trailer, they believe the new hitch will improve our handling and overall safety. I am really looking forward to trying it out next week. We'll have some long days driving to Indiana.

Weatherford hensley.jpg

On Monday, we still have a few more things to do. We want to replace the two-handle faucet in the bath with a single-handle one. We've already found one at the local Lowe's. The toilet seal is leaking, so that will get replaced. We'll finish adjusting the new hitch and Eleanor & I will get a "Hensley 101" course from David.

We are also going to modify our flat-panel LCD screen to run on 12v so we can watch movies when boondocking. That's an easy job since the TV already runs natively on 12v. Right now it goes to a power converter which plugs into the 110v power. By removing the converter box and connecting it to 12v, we can run the TV off the new Optima battery bank.

Our long term goal is to get everything except the laser printer, vacuum cleaner, and coffee pot running on the 12v system. This will save us a pile of money because we won't need to buy an inverter. I'm going to search for 12v adapters for the laptops and cell phones.

One problem we still haven't solved in the bicycle rack. We're going to struggle on with our wobbly roof system and keep researching options. It has lasted 13,000 miles so far -- I guess it can go a bit further.

Today we are off to Ft Worth to see some interesting water gardens and the downtown district. We've been told it's worth the trip. I'll take pictures for you.

March 04, 2006

Want a Vintage Trailer of Your Own?

I missed a day of blogging only because I've been hunkered down working on the Spring magazine. Well, in addition, we are doing mundane things right now. We are actually parked in the back lot of Roger Williams Airstream in Weatherford, TX, awaiting service on a few things. Our friend Gunny is here as well, so it's like a mini-rally. Gunny just bought a new Safari 25 Special Edition with the cool front & rear wrap windows, leather couch, and all the other options. He's having a few other tweaks done to it before he takes it home, including disc brakes.

So while there's not much going on, I wanted to let you know of something interesting. Airstream Life magazine will be launching a major Airstream restoration project in the next month. We will be taking the 1952 Airstream Cruiser that we found in North Carolina last month from "as found" condition, and turning it into a beautiful custom trailer. It will be professionally refurbished, modernized, polished and outfitted to a world-class condition. The project will be documented in Airstream Life magazine and on a weblog.

We'd like to run this project a bit like "This Old House" where we have a client involved in the project from the very beginning. The client would be able to direct many of the customizations, and then be able to buy the completed trailer at the end of the project.

If you or someone you know wants to own this cool trailer, now's your chance. The ideal client would be willing to participate in the project by providing their input from time to time (via email or phone is fine), and be financially qualified. It's a unique opportunity for the right person.

We expect that the final cost to the client will be approximately $60-80k depending on the level of options they select. This is well below what an equivalent custom trailer would cost, because we will obtain sponsor donations and/or wholesale parts for the project from supportive companies, ranging from Airstream to Zip-Dee.

The 1952 Cruiser is a very special Airstream. Our is the only Airstream Cruiser known to exist with two axles. All other Cruisers were single-axle trailers. We believe this modification was made by the Airstream factory in California.

Photos of similar Cruisers (but with single axles) are available online by clicking here.

The length is 25 feet, a popular size, and this trailer can be configured in a number of ways. At this time we are leaning toward an arrangement with front and rear bedrooms that quickly convert into private living spaces, but that is subject to the client's wishes.

Time is short, so if you are interested or want to refer someone, get in touch with me ASAP using our Contact form (link in left column).

March 02, 2006

Be a Pepper

Apparently it's a rule that you can't come to this part of the country and not visit the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, TX. So being good visitors, we took the afternoon to drive 30 miles down I-35 and check it out.

The Dr Pepper Museum is a must-see for people who love vintage Americana. It's also a fun stroll through the past if you remember some Dr Pepper commercials from the 50s and 60s (primarily), and interesting for the person who likes factory tours. The museum is not actually part of any Dr Pepper facility today, but it is located in the first Dr Pepper plant in downtown Waco, and they have a nice collection of antique syrup-making and mixing equipment.

Dr Pepper museum ext.jpg

But the museum is rather small. A $5 admission brings you through two levels of exhibits that you can skim in about 30-45 minutes, or browse in-depth for maybe an hour or more if you stretch it. We spent nearly as much time in the restored soda fountain shop, trying the "original" recipe for Dr Pepper which uses Imperial Cane Sugar rather than corn syrup.

Dr Pepper Emma.jpg
Does it taste better? You decide!

Along the way north on I-35, you'll pass Exit 353, where there is an abundance of Czech bakeries. It's one of those little ethnic settlements that can be found in unlikely places in Texas. We dropped into "Little Czech Bakery", and came out 30 minutes later with a pile of boxes filled with interesting things to eat: buns stuffed with various meats and cheeses; pastries variously filled with poppyseed, cream cheese, and cherry. That, plus a little of Eleanor's leftover Mexican corn salad (added to tomato soup), made up dinner -- easy and delicious!

Today, regretfully, we are departing NTAC. The people here have really rolled out the red carpet for us, giving us dinner, courtesy parking, high-speed Internet, local information, and little gifts. For example, I returned to the trailer yesterday to find this rock on our doorstep:

NTAC rock.jpg

... so of course I turned it over. Who can refuse a rock that is so polite?

NTAC rock 2.jpg
Sign of the week!

March 01, 2006

Securing the Trailer

A reader of this blog writes:

"How do you protect your trailer from theft when you park it in places other than an RV park, i.e. Walmart, or a courtesy park? I often find myself wanting to unhitch our towing vehicle to drive around town, etc. I ordered a Guardian hitch lock, but still feel uncomfortable about leaving our 2005 28' International CCD behind."

That's a good question. We've been lucky enough that most of the time we have been able to park in safe places, but of course that may not always be the case.

When we are outside a state park or RV park, we generally don't unhitch. Definitely not at Wal-Mart -- it's considered bad etiquette since you are only supposed to stay one night, and certainly would be risky. You might also get a ticket that way. For overnight enroute stops we try to arrive around sunset and leave as early as possible.

Courtesy parking is usually safe, but again we don't usually unhitch when we are in a friend's driveway or on the street. If we need to unhitch, we look for a spot that is safe in the sense of having plenty of neighbors around, someone home to watch, or obstacles that would make it difficult to take the trailer. Blocking the trailer in with a car is enough to discourage thieves.

Here at NTAC, the entire complex is gated and the residents are very aware of who comes and goes. Everyone we have talked to has commented on how safe they feel here. So courtesy parking here is an example of one of the better security situations available.

Similarly, when we are in state or national parks, or attending rallies, we consider ourselves to be fairly secure. It's a "safety in numbers" situation.

All of the trailer thefts I hear of are from unattended storage lots. This suggests that best thing you can do to protect your Airstream is to use it a lot! If you must store it off-site between trips, I would definitely look for a gated lot with security and use a good hitch lock (not just a regular padlock that can be easily cut off).

In addition to a hitch lock, consider a set of Rotochoks. These can be padlocked for a bit of additional protection. The trailer won't move with these babies installed!

But having the whole trailer stolen is fairly rare. I think a more practical concern is the contents of your trailer. Most of us travel with a laptop computer or two, plus cameras and other items that would be attractive to a "smash & grab" type of thief.

I have seen many vintage trailers with obvious prybar marks on the door. It's fairly stupid to try to open a vintage Airstream door with a prybar when there are far easier ways of doing it (which I won't mention here), but then whoever said the average thief was smart? If you have a vintage trailer, get a deadbolt installed.

We take several precautions against break-ins. We have a deadbolt and we use it every time we leave the trailer. We also put desirable items in obscure places where they won't be easily found. (Good luck finding my laptop if you break in!) I keep backups of my critical data on a separate hard drive, and I mail home DVD backups periodically. We close the curtains when we are gone. And we often get to know the people around us, so they will notice if someone else comes to mess with our trailer while we are gone.

Scherkenbach .jpg

See what Terry and Mike have done with their trailer? Those are custom vinyl letters, inexpensive and hard to remove. Similarly, our trailer is very distinguishable by its custom vinyl graphics. You might think about adding something to your trailer to make it easier to identify. Yes, such graphics can be removed with a hair dryer, a scraper, and about 30 minutes, but the mere fact of their existence might make a thief more likely to go elsewhere. I'm sure a thief wouldn't want to be towing a "hot" trailer across town with an obvious personalization on it.