« September 2006 | | November 2006 »

October 31, 2006

Vintage trailer restorations

After work on Monday, we walked over to the beach at sunset and helped Emma build a little sand castle while the clouds turned pink and deep blue. The temperature was about 70 degrees, there was a warm breeze off the water, and hardly a soul out there except us.

So we decided to stay one more night. This place is just too beautiful right now. I want to get out there tonight and see if I can capture some of it with my camera. And Emma wants a beach day today.

Here's a panoramic shot of the St Augustine harbor from Sunday, showing (from left to right): the Santa Maria restaurant; cranes dismantling the old Bridge of Lions; the temporary bridge in the background with steel-framed drawbridge; sections of the old bridge still to be removed, to the right; and a sailboat motoring majestically in to pass under the drawvbridge and head out to the Atlantic.

St Augustine harbor pano.jpg
Click for much larger image!

A few days ago I talked about my classification system for vintage trailer projects. Today I want to follow up with some thoughts on buying "restored" trailers. Here's how I classify them:

"Polished Turd" restoration: These are really common on eBay. Typically the body has been polished, and some easy items like propane tanks may have been upgraded. The hallmark of these trailers is that many cosmetic repairs have been done, such as replacement floor covering (black-and-white vinyl peel-and-stick tiles are popular with eBay sellers).

Coca-Cola memorabilia, new curtains, upholstery, and countertops are common upgrades in these trailers -- it makes them look good for the photos. But typically floor rot has not been appropriately fixed (many don't know the right method, which is as bad as not fixing it at all!), household appliances have been substituted (especially electric refrigerators), non-period accessories and hardware are used, etc. Running gear is sometimes serviced, but not always. Serious structural problems may remain.

Polished turds go for big bucks on eBay, usually sold to people who don't know what holds an Airstream together, or are who are buying their first vintage trailer. I hate to see this happen and I often get emails or calls from the regretful buyers, asking for help. Of course by then, it's too late. eBay really means it when they say Caveat emptor.

"Amateur" restoration: Many people do their own restorations and learn as they go. This doesn't make them bad but it does make it essential to review the work carefully. Many parts are typically replaced, including appliances, countertops, axles, upholstery, glass, subfloor, floor covering, windows, locks, propane bottles and regulator, brakes, etc. These restorations range from great bargains because the seller essentially is giving away his time and has done a good job -- to great disasters, because the seller has done lousy work throughout and fixing everything the right way would cost more than just starting fresh with a new project.

If you are considering an amateur-restored trailer, get a second opinion from someone who knows vintage trailers, before you buy! Photos are not enough.

"Pro" restoration: A reputable professional shop has thoroughly refurbished the trailer. Typically such a restoration starts around $30k and goes up rapidly from there. If you are considering one of these, talk to the shop that did the work and find out what was done.

Reputable Airstream shops are not known by their pretty websites, but rather by their reputation in the community. Everyone knows the name of the owner(s) because the owner is proud of their reputation and is a public figure in the vintage trailer community. Examples include Craig Dorsey, Colin Hyde, Eric Drugge, Dave & Martha Makel, Ron & Linda Amme, and others. If they do good work, you'll have no trouble finding plenty of people who have used the shop and recommend it. If the shop can't point to a dozen satisfied past customers who you can readily interview, you have reason to be suspicious.

I've received plenty of emails about certain hacks out there who claim to be good trailer restorers but have a terrible reputation. All I can say is, ask around before you hire a restorer, or buy a trailer that was "professionally" restored.

"Show quality": Once in a while a restoration goes over-the-top and comes out absolutely spectacular. No detail is overlooked. All components are original or much better than new. The trailer has not even a blemish. Special upgrades are often hidden in the original design, such as wi-fi, satellite TV, hidden A/C, extra refrigerators, etc. Such trailers typically cost in the six figures if professionally restored, and they don't come up for sale often.

I'm putting all this forth in the hope that fewer people will get ripped off buying lousy trailers. If you've got a friend who is considering buying something without a proper inspection, tell 'em to read this blog entry before they blow their cash on what could be a nightmare.

October 30, 2006

Halloween parade

It's Monday for me too. There's a pile of stuff to be done today, mostly related to the Spring 2007 issue of the magazine. Yes, we are already well into the Spring issue, and a lot more besides. I only mention this because I want you to know that if you are stuck behind a computer today, I can relate. The major difference is that my computer is sitting on my lap in the bedroom of a 2005 Airstream Safari 30, in a park in Florida. That helps me face a long day of administrative work.

St Augustine church.jpg

Yesterday we explored downtown St Augustine. We've never walked the residential part of the "Old Spanish Quarter" before, and it was really beautiful. Most tourists never go there, which is a real loss for sure. It has the history and architecture of New Orleans's French Quarter and Garden District, without the grime, sleaze, and criminality.

St Augustine pastry.jpg

We broke two guidelines of our trip (diet and budget) by stopping into a French pastry shop on a narrow side street, and having pastry for lunch. But we also abided by another important guideline: be spontaneous and enjoy the little things. It was a good choice. I had a French cheesecake, Emma had an eclair, and Eleanor had a little almond pastry.

St Augustine pastry shop.jpg
The Denoel Pastry Shop, recommended!

Thus sugared up, we met up with a few nice ghouls and rode the free St Augustine shuttle over to the other side of town, where a kids' Halloween parade was getting geared up. They marched through St George street (the merchants' row) and the parade culminated with a costume contest.

St Augustine ghoul.jpg

When I get on broadband next, I'll upload a bunch of other St Augustine photos. It's a very photogenic city.

While we were awaiting the costume judging, I spotted this "sign of the week" on someone's t-shirt.

St Augustine t-shirt.jpg
No One Cares About Your Blog

St. Augustine has a nice little community downtown and some very cool real estate in the Spanish Quarter, but nothing we could afford, so we'll keep looking. We'll be here two more days, and I'll try to break away from the computer

October 29, 2006

Anastasia Beach

St. Augustine is a fascinating little old city. There are several historic sites worth visiting, an architecturally interesting and diverse downtown, great beaches, a lighthouse, a stone fortification, and much more. The famous "Bridge of Lions" is just one of the many unique things about this town, but it is currently being dismantled and rebuilt. We haven't walked the town yet on this visit, but we may today.

Anastasia beach walk.jpg

Saturday afternoon we hit the beach. As I expected, it was nearly deserted. Floridians seem to think that the beach is too cold this time of year. For us northerners, an air temperature of 75 and even higher water temperature is summertime.

The beach at St. Augustine is shallow and hard-packed with sand so firm that you can ride a bicycle on it, or drive on it. Driving is not allowed along the state park seashore where we are, but it is a few miles down Rt A1A, and we took the opportunity to go a couple of miles in the Nissan along the one-way (southbound) "road" marked by cones on the beach.

Last time we were here, with our Argosy, we were very tempted to tow the Argosy along the beach road just to get some photos. We didn't do it, but I think it would have been fine, given a 4-wheel drive tow vehicle for the soft spots. I wouldn't attempt that with the Safari 30 we have now. It weighs nearly twice as much as the Argosy and distributes that weight over the same four wheels. The sand would have be very firm to avoid getting stuck. Perhaps someday after an exceptionally high tide packs the beach just right ...

Anastasia beach.jpg

In the evening we took Emma to the state park's Haunted Hayride. This was a real hoot. A local community group staged terrifying little scenes in the forest and got more than a few authentic screams from our wagon of kids and adults. Emma LOVED it. (In fact, Eleanor and I did too.) There's nothing spookier than a dark forest with mangrove and oak draped with Spanish moss ... a perfect setting for a creepies to come out waving machetes. Happy Halloween.

October 28, 2006

Anastasia State Park, St. Augustine, FL

Ahhhh.... Florida warmth. We zipped down I-95 yesterday and made superb time, arriving in St. Augustine early enough to buy a few necessary supplies at Camping World before arriving at the state park.

Florida greeted us the best way possible: with a warm front. In South Carolina and even half of Georgia, it was running about 66 degrees outside. But the frontal boundary was draped along Florida's border, so as soon as we arrived the temperature became a balmy 80 degrees and the skies were clear blue. As Emma first stepped out of the car she inhaled deeply and said, "It smells like Florida!" And it felt like summer all over again.

Off with the blue jeans and on with the shorts! Tuck the shoes into the cubby and break out the sandals! Hide that fleece! We're in Florida now! Let the weekend commence!

But first that stop at Camping World. Maybe you're wondering what we bought. I bought a new sewer hose with a new fitting. The old one was beginning to leak a tiny bit at the fitting and my philosophy of sewer hoses is that you don't mess around with marginal ones. Not worth it. I also bought another roll-up white water hose, 50 feet in length, because we've been courtesy parking so much lately. We've found that 35 feet of hose is not nearly enough to reach most people's hose outlets.

We also got a new in-line water filter for the hose, since we accidentally left the last one in Jackson Center last August at the Terra Port. And, we shopped for a new shower head but didn't find what we wanted. Our current shower head is plugging up due to hard water deposits in the jets and we have not been able to get it cleaned out despite several attempts.

Anastasia camping.jpg

Anastasia State Park is a really nice spot right along St Augustine Beach. The sand is white and the beach is broad and beautiful. (We were last here with our Argosy in March 2005.) The campsites are nicely secluded in among oak, palmetto, and mangrove, and very shady. No solar power here, but every state park in Florida has water and 30-amp electric at a minimum.

We were warned that the park was likely to be full this weekend. After all, this is peak camping season in Florida. But still we didn't bother calling ahead for a reservation. There are multiple commercial campgrounds along Rt A1A that would have been suitable, and we're happy to wing it. Sure enough, when we pulled in there was a prominent sign saying "CAMPGROUND IS FULL".

We've learned not to take those signs entirely seriously. A big smile for the park ranger will often open up a site that was "taken". This time, there had been a cancellation only a few minutes before we arrived, so we got that. Our record in this regard is just about perfect -- I can't recall a time we've been turned away from a full campground.

October 27, 2006

Washing the trailer

As we were leaving Virginia Beach I was tempted once again by a local "RV/Truck Wash" place, and once again I regretted even trying it.

Towing in urban areas and down Interstate highways eventually results in a brownish oily film on the Airstream which will not rinse off in the rain. When it gets to the point that we don't even want to touch the trailer, it's time for a wash.

But not just any wash. There are only two good ways I've found to get an Airstream clean: (1) Hand wash with sponges (we use a microfiber towel to wipe it down after the sponge); (2) Take it to a Blue Beacon truck wash.

The local do-it-yourself washes have never worked for us, and we've tried many of them. If you use the brushes they supply, you will put small scratches in the clearcoat that look horrible in the sunshine. (Don't ask me how I know that, it's too painful. But I can tell you that wax minimizes the damage.) If you don't use the brushes, the trailer comes out approximately as dirty as it went in no matter how many times you hit it with the high-pressure soap wand.

The other thing that annoys me about the do-it-yourself washes is that they never seem to have the proper clearance in the parking area for a big trailer like ours. So the end result of about 30 minutes and $15 in quarters at the RV/Truck wash yesterday was a dirty trailer and a few gray hairs from trying to shoehorn the trailer into the "truck" bay and then get it out again. Very disappointing.

Never again. Blue Beacon is $36 for the truck and trailer, but it's the only wash we'll use in the future, unless we do it ourselves. They are easy to access, they use only the wands when I ask them (not brushes), the staff have always been immensely polite, and they tolerate me standing around taking pictures and asking dumb questions. I guess they use a better grease-cutting soap than the local car washes because the trailer always comes out beautifully shiny.

Blue Beacon.jpg

We keep a little fold-up paper directory of Blue Beacon locations in our truck, and visit them about every 3-4 months. No, they didn't pay me to give this endorsement, I just really like their service and the job they do. (But hey, if Blue Beacon management is watching, I sure wouldn't mind a few coupons or something ...)

Yesterday we managed to avoid the dozens of exhortations by "Pedro" to visit South of the Border, and scuttled right down to Florence, SC, where we are overnighting at the Cracker Barrel. The Blue Beacon was about the pinnacle of excitement all day, but we did manage to meet some other Airstreamers in the parking lot of the Food Lion grocery in Emporia VA in the morning. They'd come over from Washington state a month ago in their 2005 Airstream International CCD Bambi 19. We gave each other quick tours of our trailers before heading down I-95. It's always fun to randomly meet people with whom we have things in common.

October 26, 2006

Vintage trailer projects

Since I wrote that I was buying the 1953 Flying Cloud, I've received a number of comments from friends about the wisdom of my choice. A few samples:

Tim Shephard of The Vintage Airstream Podcast: Well, you have blown all hope that you were my *level headed* AS buddy.

J. Rick Cipot, contributor to Airstream Life: That is awsome! What a fantastic find. Do you get to keep all the clutter too? It looks like everything is there. This is museum quality stuff. I hate you!

Dicky Riegel, group VP of Thor: Cool trailer, and I always love seeing the California trailers with the vertical front and rear. So different from my trailer, yet still the same lineage.

Fred Coldwell, vintage Airstream historian: ...check closely around both wheel wells even if you have to move a bunch of junk to see back there .... and check the frame outriggers at each end of each wheel well for rust and some disintegration. Good luck!

You get the idea. Everyone has a different perspective on it, but in the end we are all Airstream nuts.

Evaluating this trailer's condition made me think about the classes of vintage trailer projects that we commonly see. Normally, people either look at trailers as "poor, fair, good, very good, excellent," or they just look at the polish and figure it must be good if it's shiny. I have come up with the following classification system to better rate vintage projects:

Parts trailer: Less than 30% of the trailer remains in restorable condition. A few random parts are usable. Body is heavily damaged. Appliances, furniture, running gear and accessories mostly damaged beyond economic repair or missing. OR, body severely damaged (as in an accident) and only interior parts remain.

Shell: Like the parts trailer, the parts are gone. But the body is very good. Use it as the basis for a custom trailer project (as in Project Vintage Lightning). Plan on expending serious money, since you're building a new trailer with this type of project.

Refurbishment trailer: Body is lightly to moderately damaged, but 30-70% of the major components need replacement. Floor rot is present. This is the most common vintage project trailer I see, ideal for the "makeover" type of refurbishment, where the interior modified with modern parts and/or new floorplan.

Restoration trailer: Light damage is acceptable to all components, but less than 30% is destroyed, missing, heavily modified, or in need of replacement. There may be limited floor rot but leaks have not severely damaged the furniture. These trailers are fairly rare, especially in the 1950s and early 60s, since few have managed to last through the decades without major accidents or leaks. These are great candidates to be brought back to original condition.

Survivor: The rarest type of trailer. These need less than 20% of their parts refurbished. Few owner modifications have been done. Nearly all of the components are in good condition and need only light clean-up or maintenance. These are excellent candidates for museum pieces, but usually only can be found when the trailer has been stored out of the weather for many years, or in a dry climate.


The 1953 Flying Cloud I bought falls somewhere in the upper end of the "restoration trailer" category. It's about 90% original but one piece of furniture is missing and it has known floor rot. All of the appliances are there but all need clean-up and maintenance. The body has several owner modifications which need to be un-done, and there are several body panels which require replacement.

The classification system above refers only to trailers in "as found" condition. Trailers that have been "restored" by a modern owner need their own classification system, because there are a wide range of restorations going on. I'll talk about those tomorrow.

Today we are heading out to I-95 for what may be a dull day of driving. But we're in search of warmer weather, and no doubt some small adventures will come our way today!

October 25, 2006

Virginia Beach, VA

VA Beach camp.jpg

We've made a change in plans. While it's very pretty here in the state park, and the beach is nice, we are well past the beach season. So instead of taking the coastal route down the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and slowly exploring the seaside, we are going to head for Florida.

Rushing ahead to Florida means a couple of days in the car, which we wanted to avoid. But the cold, windy, and occasionally rainy weather we are expecting in the next few days makes even the prospect of a couple of days on I-95 somewhat appealing. We'll have a longer stay in Florida than we had planned, instead.

Our scammer has written back to Ayres. He didn't comment on the check having a bad routing number, but he promised to send another check in the next week. It's obvious now that as long as he thinks he can steal $1800 from a dumb American, he's going to keep pursuing this scam. Any gullible person who falls into the clutches of one of these people will be robbed, without the slightest remorse.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel

Well, not quite as much progress as I expected yesterday, but in keeping with our new "go slower" philosophy, that's OK.

Before we even left Onley I got a couple of calls with urgent business that mandated me finding an Internet connection right away. Sprint had no coverage at the house, so we pulled out and started war-driving. That means Eleanor had the laptop open while I drove, and when we spotted a likely location for open wi-fi, I slowed down while she monitored signal strengths.

Eventually we settled at the clam shack (mentioned in my previous post). Unfortunately, there were programming problems on some of our new back-office software and other delays that kept me there for hours, working with our programmer in California. Eleanor said she didn't mind and Emma stayed busy, so I sat until I got as much done as I could, and then we headed out again. At that point it was nearly 4 pm, so our plan to drive to Kitty Hawk NC yesterday was blown.

We decided to just cross the bay and then camp in Virginia Beach at First Landing State Park, where we are now. This shorter trip gave us time to enjoy the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, which is really amazing. Driving it with an Airstream is no big deal, except that the winds were blowing fiercely today. Our rig handles very well with a cross wind, fortunately. I have to give the Hensley hitch most of the credit for that.

The route goes like this: bridge - natural island - bridge - tunnel - bridge - tunnel -bridge. It's about 17.6 miles in total.

Chesapeake islands.jpg
Looking from one island to the next. Between is one of the two tunnels.

We stopped on one of the man-made islands that connect the tunnels and bridges for a few photos, but the wind was unbelievable. The Airstream was getting hit broadside and rocking like the top car on a Ferris wheel. I would have been tempted to park overnight with stabilizers down, just for the experience, but parking is limited to 7 a.m. -7 p.m.

Chesapeake parking.jpg
The trailer got coated with salt spray even this far from the water!

I've got business calls all day today, so we'll be parked here in the state park two nights. We are waaaay behind the schedule I thought we'd keep, but so what? Our only real deadline is to be in St Augustine FL for Halloween (so Emma has a place to trick-or-treat) and Orlando by Nov 2. Eleanor and Emma will explore the beach.

Solar-wise, we didn't do very well yesterday. It was partly cloudy all day, and combined with the low sun angle this time of year, and my hours of work on the laptop, we netted only about 25 amp-hours in the batteries. That would be fine to extend us a bit, but not sustainable over more than a few days. It doesn't matter today because the state park has electric, but in the future it seems we need to get our furnace use under control.

I'm thinking we will need to install a catalytic heater, which uses no electricity. I've owned two of them (in our Caravel and in Vintage Thunder) and they are great. The only problem is finding the right place to mount it.

Finally, a shameless promotion. Check out this video on, entitled " 'Dog' Sledding". It comes from my brother's company that makes the Hammerhead sled. (I co-founded the company with him in 2003.)

The sled has been picked up by Hammacher-Schlemmer, LL Bean, REI, and many others but still nobody seems to know about it. So he made a video of the Hammerhead in action, which is pretty fun to watch. Check it out if you've got broadband. We'd like to sell more sleds this Christmas!

Ayres goes to the hospital

He's not giving up yet! "Richard" has taken over for "Dr. Lilian" but otherwise everything seems the same:

>From: richard williams
>Subject: Re: FW: Fwd: ATTENTION PLS!!!
>Date: Sun, 22 Oct 2006 08:35:00 -0700 (PDT)
> i seem not to understand what you are doing anymore,u said you cant use western union which is the faster and most comfortable way to send money and that the only way velecia can get the money and come for the car,i have given you much time,if you can take the money to western union and send it then you should be able to do it online,just take cash to western union and write down the information i gave you and take it to western union and tell them you are to send the money to the information thats all, then after that you send me the information used to send the money like the MTCN number,full name and address of sender and the exact amount sent.i will be expecting your reply as soon as possible.
> richard williams

Ayres has written back:
Thx for the call. I had a dr appt today and he palpated my vulkem and said it was sticky which means I have to go to the hospital for bauxitus. Its not too serious I think but I will be out a few days and off email. Went to the bank also and they said the check has the wrong # of digits in the routing number so they cant cash it. They said your accountant must of made a mistake. So while I am in the hospital can you send a new check and when Im out on Friday Ill bring it to the bank rigth away and send you the money the way you want it. Let me know.

October 24, 2006

Onley, VA

From the congested and complex highways surrounding our nation’s capitol, the road has given way gradually to the smooth and quiet Route 13, which beelines down the Delmarva peninsula. Escaping the frantic and seemingly endless suburbia of the Baltimore-Washington corridor has also yielded other benefits: the road is more scenic, we are less tense about driving, and gas prices are lower. Yesterday we filled up for $1.98, the lowest price we’ve paid since we started our Tour in October 2005.

In short, while we’ve all loved the visiting we’ve done over the past weeks, it’s nice to be out in the more rural areas on our own again. Now the little things feel like adventures: the long toll bridge to the eastern shore of Maryland ($7.50 with our Airstream), passing through the small towns (every one of which has an “historic downtown”), even the indescribable stink of the Tyson and Perdue chicken processing plants further down the peninsula.

Last night we enjoyed one of those most sublime boondocking situations. We are parked behind a very old empty house in a rural part of town, bordering nothing except open fields and forests. It is wonderfully quiet here, with not a sound except the breeze in the trees and a few birds talking about the coming winter. Because the house and trees completely hide the Airstream, no one knows we are here except the owner, who lives in New Jersey, and a hunter who happened to be parked on the land when we arrived.

Onley VA.jpg

We are here to check out an Airstream, a rather old one that I am going to buy. It’s a 1953 Flying Cloud. The 80-year-old owner has had it stored here for 20 years, and it has not moved in at least seven or eight years. This means two things: it is still in remarkably original condition, and it is definitely going to be a challenge to get on the road again.

When we arrived I spent the last two hours of the daylight carefully photographing the trailer inside and out. It has been unfortunately modified with modern clearance lights on the outside, meaning a few holes will have to be filled with rivets later, and there is a partially crumpled rear dome, and some deep gouges along the curbside affecting the door. Other than that, the body is very nice.

Inside, it is amazingly original, including the floor, cabinetry, and kitchen. The ceiling has been repainted white (over the original Zolatone “splatter” paint), but that’s not unusual. The layout is a very unusual rear bedroom with a narrow side bath & shower arrangement that I’ve never seen before. The bath and shower are separate and only about 2 feet wide, placed longitudinally along the streetside, one in front of the other. They are separated from the bed only by curtains. The front is the typical Flying Cloud layout with a center table that folds down to create a wide-open living area.

The trailer has been used to store things, so the interior is cluttered to the point that I can barely stand inside to take photos. Every closet and cabinet is packed to the brim, making close inspection difficult. But from what I can see, the trailer is in good condition – for 53 years old! It will need considerable renovation to be useable, but I can see the potential.

Being the first night we haven’t been able to plug into house power in many weeks, we are now testing our solar electric system under Fall/Winter conditions. Last night we were flagrant with the power use, watching three movies (Emma watched Disney’s “Return of Jafar” and Eleanor & I used a laptop to watch “Double Indemnity,” the classic film noir directed and co-written by Billy Wilder, then after Emma was in bed we stayed up late to watch “The Fifth Element”), using lights and water pump extensively, and running the furnace to chase off the 50-degree temperatures outside.

As a result, at 8:30 a.m. the Tri-Metric shows we have consumed an incredible 83.7 amp-hours! That’s about 1/3 of our total capacity with four batteries, and about half of our maximum useful capacity. I doubt we will be able to recover that amount of power in one day. This time of year, in the east, there are more clouds than sun. I will be satisfied with regaining about 40 amp-hours today, and even that will be a challenge.

Part of the reason is that I expect to be underground part of the day. We are only about 30 miles from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, one of the most fascinating pieces of engineering in the world. We’ll drive through that, and then come down through Virginia along a scenic parkway, and stop for a seafood dinner or lunch. With luck, we’ll end up tonight on the Outer Banks of North Carolina near Kitty Hawk. Today will be a really fun driving day.


VA clamshack.jpg

This blog entry is posted courtesy of The Great Machipongo Clam Shack, right along Rt 13 in Nassawadox VA (26 miles north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel). Colin Hyde tipped me off to this place. Free wi-fi in the parking lot, plenty of RV parking, and great food! I had the "lump crab cake sandwich," Emma had steamed shrimp with apple sauce and a granola bar, and Eleanor had flounder stuffed with shrimp and crab on a sandwich roll. We also got a corn and shrimp chowder with roasted red peppers and spicy seasoning, to share. Mmmmmmm.... we're planning to order some seafood frozen for later, too.

October 22, 2006

Museum of Natural History

We took the morning slowly, to catch up with things before heading out to be tourists again. I caught up on some work items, Eleanor did the laundry, and Emma slept in until 10 a.m. At noon, we met up with Bobby, Danine, and Elisa for another trip into Washington DC. This time our goal was the Museum of Natural History, located on The Mall.

Wash DC Smithsonian.jpg
The Smithsonian visitor center

The Museum of Natural History is filled with things kids like: animals, dinosaurs, insects, colorful stones, and skeletons. So we had no trouble keeping the two girls entertained for hours.

Wash DC Natural History.jpg

This is our last day in the area. Tomorrow we're heading down to Cape Charles, south of the eastern shore of Maryland. We had one last dinner with our new friends and said goodbye. But I'm sure we'll be seeing them again, hopefully in their own Airstream next year!

October 21, 2006

Smithsonian National Zoo

Our trailer has been invaded by little girls lately.

Falls Church girls.jpg

These are all local girls playing with Emma in her bedroom area in the Airstream. They seem to really like the cozy little space in the back, with all of Emma's toys, white board, the bunk bed, and her various collections. After school on Friday they all showed up and piled in. It's interesting to see how readily kids take to the trailer. I've never seen a kid who didn't love it.

I think Emma would say that a day at the zoo with another six-year-old girl is the best way to go.
It was pretty fun for us adults too. The National Zoo is, like all Smithsonian museums, free. It's pretty good, with an extensive new exhibit area called the Asian Trail, and enough creatures to see and learn about to absorb most of a day.

Falls Church metro girls.jpg

For Emma, a big part of the fun was riding the Metro rail system. She doesn't have a lot of experience with subways, since we usually avoid major cities when we travel.

National Zoo red panda.jpg

The red pandas were only one of the many beautiful animals living in the zoo. I'll be posting a new album on Flickr with many more pictures, as soon as I can get access to broadband Internet. I haven't been able to find any wifi from the houses in this cul-de-sac! ;-)

National Zoo kids.jpg

The only sour note of the Zoo is the food ... I guess they make up the free admission with the food markup. A soda from the machine is $2.50. A hamburger (lacking lettuce, pickles, condiments, cheese, etc.) is $3.25. Movie theater prices.

National Zoo food.jpg

A talk with the scammer

Big things happening on the scam front today. Our scammer started calling Rob around noon. Unfortunately for the scammer, Rob was unreachable until about 6 pm, so the scammer wasted the afternoon calling again and again ... eight times in total! No caller ID was available, and we think he may have been using a VoIP (Internet) phone.

Our scammer is a man with a strong foreign accent. He is quite perturbed that he hasn't received the money yet. Acting as Ayres, Rob told him he was unwilling to send the money via Western Union because he had a police record. Then he said he had lost the transmittal information, and asked him to re-send it.

Then he said the car had been wrecked and asked if the scammer still wanted it. The scammer did assure "Ayres" that he wanted the car. (Let's keep in mind that we are talking about a 15-year old Honda Prelude with 145,000 miles, which failed inspection due to rust perforation, and now has been reportedly "wrecked.")

He also didn't explain how he got "Ayres" phone number. We sent it via email to the "shipping clerk" and somehow "Richard Williams" got the number. Gee, you'd think they were one person!

All told, the conversation took about 10 minutes, and I don't think our scammer was very happy about it! But the hook is still set deep, and I think we have a shot at occupying his attention for another week or more. So far we've wasted nearly four weeks of his time. This started back on September 25.

"Ayres" also mentioned that he was still sick. We think the next step is for him to enter the hospital, before he gets a chance to visit Western Union. Ayres mother, or perhaps his Aunt Abe, will pick up the conversation on Ayres' behalf.

A new alias

Our scammer is apparently going to emerge in yet a new persona, "Richard Williams", the husband of "Dr. Lilian Williams". At 5:31 pm he/she wrote:


Nine minutes later, we heard from the shipping clerk:




And at 10:31 pm last, well past deadline, Ayres got this from Richard Williams:

i am still waiting for the information used to send the money.

Oops, missed the deadline. I guess Ayres can be expecting a call soon. I'd be really impressed if the scammer called up and tried to bluff Ayres further by pretending to be the police, but more likely he'll call as Richard Williams. Rob will let us know as soon as he gets the call. He's all ready with excuses for why he hasn't sent it (he's worried that the FBI will think he's a terrorist because he knows they watch money orders, etc.).

Today we are heading into Washington DC with Bobby, Danine, and the girls, to see either the National Zoo or a museum.

October 20, 2006


Once in a while we meet up with people through the blog or in person, and they give us neat things to take along on our trip. I have been remiss in acknowledging them lately, so I'll catch up today.

Back in August, I met fellow Airstreamer Robert Stephan (of California) and commented on his cool Airstream belt. I'd never seen one before. Turns out he makes them himself -- they aren't available in stores. A few weeks later, I found in my mail a custom-made Airstream Life belt! Thanks, Robert! What a cool thing to do.

A few weeks ago I heard from blog reader Justin Belmont. He works for a company called Gnu Foods that has come out with a line of fiber bars. Justin sent us a package of these bars, and we all sampled them while driving down from New Jersey to Maryland last week. (It was the most interesting part of the entire trip!)

I'm sure Justin would like me to mention that Gnu Foods' Flavor and Fiber Bars have about half your daily requirement of fiber, etc. But what the heck -- they just taste good. I liked the cinnamon raisin, and Eleanor and Emma liked the chocolate. We'll probably pick up some more next time we drive by Whole Foods, because they are a very good car snack.

Falls Church popcorn.jpg

Yesterday, when we met Bobby & Danine, the deal was that we were going to have lunch and they would pick our brains about traveling full-time, Airstreams, etc. We didn't expect them to repay us in any way for this, because we just like helping other people get started on their travel dreams. But they brought a few small gifts that were very well suited to Airstream life: homemade sugar popcorn, kid's stories on CD, and homemade sugared pecans. More great car munchies!

What impressed me was that even though they weren't yet Airstream owners, they immediately appreciated what we can and can't use. See, being in a small space we can't store much. So portable, lightweight consumables (especially homemade treats!) are really nice gifts for that Airstreamer in your life. I haven't met the Airstream owner yet who didn't like to eat.

Today we are all working or schooling, but in a couple of hours we'll all regroup for some evening fun. Last night we had dinner at Bobby & Danine's house and it was great. The girls gave us a fashion show right before dinner, which was an amusing bonus. Tonight I have no idea what's on the agenda but there's no doubt we'll have a wonderful time. Perhaps we'll do some planning for this weekend's activities.

Rob Baker volunteers

This morning I got an early email from Rob Baker (co-host of the Vintage Airstream Podcast) offering to take the call from our scammer Valecia, AKA Dr. Lilian Williams AKA Alvaro Mendoza.

So Ayres wrote back to the "shipping clerk":

OK I have a lot of questions so call me at 703 ***-*****. I don't like Western Union, maybe we can work something out. I still have the check too because I didn't get to the bank yet, and I still have a bad case of aluminitus and the doctor says it could get worse and become bauxitis.

And Ayres wrote back to "Dr Lilian" too:

I didnt deposit the check yet so dont worry. Dont call the cops because my unckle is a cop and he will kill me. Im already in trouble with him because of the car accident. He had to hide the police report again for me. Still sick but I will get to the bank soon. I email your shipper today too.

Meanwhile, Rob and I have been collaborating on things to say during the phone call. I am hoping he'll be able to record it. If so, I'll either type up a transcript or provide an MP3 file for downloading.

October 19, 2006

A change in plans

We left Jane's house this morning with the intention of meeting some Airstreamers-in-the-making along the way, and then proceeding to Cape Charles, VA. But fortune intervened. We met Bobby, Danine, and their 6-year-old daughter Elise in the parking lot of the Annapolis Mall and found we had a tremendous amount in common.

Annapolis visitors 1.jpg

They are planning to sell their house next year and go out on a 10-month voyage around America. They are considering buying a Airstream Safari 30, just like ours. Being readers of this blog, they are considering the Nissan Armada or Titan as a tow vehicle. They are planning to homeschool Elise. So we had a lot to talk about ...

Annapolis visitors 2.jpg

By the end of lunch, they had convinced us to stay in the area a few days longer and courtesy park at their in-laws' house. We'll take the girls to the DC-area sights over the weekend. I know Emma will like the Museum of Natural History, since she's into rocks and creatures. So we are now in Falls Church VA parked in a tree-lined suburban cul-de-sac. We'll resume our originally scheduled route on Sunday or Monday.

We are getting no solar power lately. Everywhere we park we are under trees, and today has been very cloudy. Fortunately, our courtesy parking hosts have been allowing us to plug in, so it has not been a problem at all.

By the way, our water heater, which absolutely refused to do anything yesterday, is now working perfectly. I have no idea why.

Our scammer is getting bold. Today he started to threaten Ayres!

i got a message from my mover that you cant use western union,what do you mean by that,i am beginning to think this is a whole else of ****,if they dont get the money today via western union,i will invite the appropriate authorities.

Talk about cajones. A person who writes phony checks drawn on non-existent banks, uses four different aliases, and commits fraud is threatening to call in the authorities?

The "shipping company" wrote in too:




Does anyone want to take "Velecia's" phone call? Talk about an opportunity for fun! I'll start the bidding at $1. ;-)

October 18, 2006

Columbia, MD

Jane says for me to tell all of you that this was the best stop ever. It certainly has been good to see our old friends/co-workers. I was very closely aligned with our friends here, through business, for about nine years. We traveled everywhere together: Orlando, Las Vegas, Tel Aviv, Italy, London, etc... and so even though they aren't Airstreamers (yet!) we have a common bond in many other ways.

Columbia group photo.jpg

We all went out for dinner this evening at a local Italian place. Seafood pizza? Mmmmm... only in Maryland.

Columbia HS and Emma.jpg

Herschel gave Emma a short ride on his shoulders after dinner. He took me for a 2.5 mile walk, roundtrip, today. Can you believe this is a guy who is currently undergoing chemotherapy for cancer? His powerfully optimistic outlook is absolutely amazing.

We have had a system failure today: our water heater won't go on. It worked the day before yesterday. So we'll need to make a stop at an RV dealer, or an Airstream dealer if we want it covered under warranty.

Scammer getting desperate

She's back to upper case. I think desperation is setting in:


Ayres wrote back tonight in his own fractured English:

Sorry had a wreck with the car. It has bent fender and in police inpound. Do you want to buy anyway? I can knock off $50 and come by with cash tomorrow. Why don't you take cash? This is America after all.

Parking fiasco

Our trip down through Pennsylvania yesterday was just no fun. Two construction zones where we had to park on highway for half an hour, two accidents which blocked the road, and lots of traffic slowdowns. The 200 mile drive took about six hours ... but at least the roads were fairly decent.

We are now parked in a nice suburban neighborhood at the home of a friend who I used to work with in the days before I became an itinerant magazine publisher living in a trailer. We are going to meet up with some other friends from the business today, and go out for pizza tonight.

I forgot to mention our newest trailer accoutrement: a custom-made laundry bag courtesy of our friend J. Rick Cipot. Rick is one of those amazingly handy guys who can handle anything from a sewing machine to an F-14. I spotted his laundry bag at the rally two weeks ago and asked him for one -- and he whipped one up for us last Sunday, complete with zipper. It's amazing that we've gone the last year full-timing without one.

I also forgot to mention that on Monday we had an interesting challenge trying to get out of our courtesy parking spot in Connecticut. The way the driveway and turnaround were constructed, we had a comfortably large radius for backing into our space. But pulling out was another story. The radius in that direction was much smaller, and we couldn't get out.

The alternative was to pull out in the other direction and back out all the way down the driveway. But the driveway was full of S-turns, tricky even to navigate going forward, and the slightest error would have resulted in us hitting a tree. So we yanked the trailer back and forth, gradually maneuvering it toward the garage and increasing our effective radius a small amount.

At one point it seemed hopeless. The driveway was bordered closely by trees and low stone walls, which I managed to scrape a few times with the Armada's lower air dam. As a last-ditch effort, prepared to unhitch the truck, move it to another angle and re-hitch, then repeat the procedure a few times. This would have worked but it would have taken a long time.

Then we finally got a break and managed to juuuuuust barely scrape by the turn. The front wheels of the Armada were dragging against the stone wall and the entry step of the Airstream clipped a stone wall on the opposite side, but we made it. It had taken nearly an hour.

I'm always cautious about courtesy parking for exactly this reason. We've had to maneuver our 31-foot tube very carefully to get it in and out of tight spots before, but this was definitely the most challenging spot -- even harder than in Santa Cruz! When we pulled into this spot in Connecticut, I was so enthused at the ease of parking that I neglected to consider what we'd have to do to get out going in the opposite direction. Lesson learned!

October 17, 2006

Ayres offers cash

A quick scam update tonight. Our scammer has switched to lower case, and is wondering why Ayres didn't wire $1800 on Monday. Ayres received two emails. The first was from the "doctor":

have u sent the money?i am expecting the mtcn number as soon as possible.
dr.lilian williams

And the second email to Ayres came from the "shipping clerk", in response to his promise to send money on Monday:

okay,get back to our client with the mtcn number as soon as you send it out.
velecia farmer.

Boy, don't those emails seem similar. And of course I got one too:

whats going on whats going on?why havent you sent the money./
dr.lilian williams

So Ayres, being an upstanding fellow, has made the following offer:

Hey I live near Hampton where you are. Instead of sending money Western Union can I just come by your office with cash? Give me an address and I'll come by with cash. Been busy this week and don't like Western Union. They always give me a hard time since I don't have a drivers license for ID anymore. Lost it when I rammed a police car with my car few months ago.

Somehow, I doubt Velecia Farmer will want Ayres to come by with his pile of cash. And I wonder if Velecia will be concerned that the car being sold seems to have been in an accident recently?

Great Meadows, NJ

As I had dreaded, the drive down I-95, I-287, and I-80 was pretty awful. Northeast road conditions can be challenging for anyone with the constant heavy traffic, and when you add to that a series of S-curves and teeth-jarring bumps, it turns into a trailer-punishing rock-n-roll adventure.

Bert & Janie had the same experience on their route down I-84 to I-87 and 287: pictures flying off the walls, upset storage bins, heart-stopping moments when the trailer bounced crazily over a frost heave ... not fun. We all had to spend some time cleaning up later, but fortunately nothing broke and despite the sensations all of our tires remained attached and inflated.

Last night we courtesy parked with Bert & Janie at Janie's daughter's house here in Great Meadows. There are three great kids here, who adopted Emma for the evening while the adults spontaneously began an unintentional "Bert Gildart Roast". Between us, Janie, Janie's daughter Katie and Katie's husband Keith, there were plenty of common experiences to share about travels with Bert.

Apparently everyone who goes hiking, kayaking, bicycle riding, etc., with Bert ends up with a story to tell. There was the time that Bert took us on an "easy" hike through Glacier National Park last summer (and it ended up being 12 miles up and down at 7000 feet elevation); the time Bert took Janie kayaking in the Bay of Fundy and they ended up getting caught in the mud flats at low tide; the time Bert put a 20-lb rock in his sister-in-law's backpack during a hike; the time he and Janie were watching icebergs "calving" and the polar bears showed up, etc. We were laughing hysterically when all the stories kept coming.

Great Meadows.jpg
Our trailer parked with the Gildarts' trailer

It has turned gray and rainy here and we are facing a long day driving down to Maryland. The good news is that our route will take us through Pennsylvania, so we will have somewhat more pleasant driving. Most PA highways are not exactly parkways, but they are much nicer than I-95.

Our approximate parking spot last night. (You need Google Earth to view this.)

October 16, 2006

New England Sunday in Fall

I've said it before ... the best thing about traveling like this is the great friendships we develop along the way. Don and Amanda have been superb hosts during our visit, and instant friends since the moment we met them at the rally in Townshend VT. Coming here to spend the weekend has felt like visiting old friends we've known for years.

Yesterday Don shuttled me all over the area looking for a few hardware items on our list, like an extra 3/4" socket for the torque wrench, and a few things he needed to round out his toolkit. Being male, we both hated spending three hours driving around for shopping, but on the other hand, being male, we liked driving around with the top down on Don's BMW in the crisp fall weather.

I spent the day repaying the favor by helping Don re-adjust and lube his Reese hitch for better handling, and showing him how to winterize Vintage Thunder. Meanwhile, Emma and Donal were rolling down the grassy hill in what appeared to be a race, and getting covered with leaves in the process. Between chasing each other, carting around the extraordinarily patient cats, playing games, and imagining things, they had as full a day as six-year-olds can have.

It was classic Fall from start to finish: Eleanor cooked a pot roast for dinner with vegetables, rice, homemade gravy and Caesar salad, and our other new friends Rick, Sandi, and Sara (also met at the rally last weekend) came over for dinner. I am sorry I didn't capture any pictures but I was definitely on vacation. Amanda and Rick did snap a few, however, and eventually I'll get copies of those and post them here.

This afternoon we'll be continuing our southward trek, to meet Bert & Janie in New Jersey.

October 15, 2006

The shipping clerk

I had to post another blog entry tonight because this is just too good. Our scammer has written back, twice. The first email goes as follows:

Sent : Monday, October 16, 2006 12:09 AM
To : ******






I particularly like the fact that the email timestamp was Monday at midnight and I received it hours earlier in Eastern time. Hmmm ... coming from Nigeria perhaps?

At the same time, this email was sent:

From : richard williams
Sent : Monday, October 16, 2006 12:09 AM
To : *******>
Subject : Re: FW: Fwd: ATTENTION PLS!!!



Ayres has replied to the cargo shipping clerk: "I will send the money on Monday." But in fact he won't get to it until Tuesday, because Ayres is a lazy sort of person. ;-)

Besides, we'll be driving to New Jersey on Monday and I won't have a chance to get online until evening, when we'll be visiting with Bert & Janie. Our friend in Nigeria (and his associate in Virginia) will have to wait a bit longer for their payday.

Easton, CT

Bwater Emma raking.jpg

Since we stayed with Mike and Bonnie a few days, we tried to do a few things to repay our hosts. Thursday night I helped Mike get his DVD recorder working, and also taught him how to burn CDs on his elderly PC (but it's not obsolete, according to Mike, since it still does everything he wants it to do!) Emma pitched in with a little morning raking and then we headed down I-95 through Rhode Island and Connecticut.

One "gotcha" with repeated courtesy parking is finding a dump station. In the northeast this can be tricky, especially this time of year when state parks are closing. Our nearest state park was Massasoit, but it was closed to camping. We couldn't find another spot so we arrived at Don & Amanda's with holding tanks half full. Fortunately, we have access to their septic system, which solves the problem.

Easton VT.jpg

We are parked right by our former trailer, Vintage Thunder. The trailer still looks fabulous. The paint is really holding up beautifully. Not a nick on it that I could see. The more I see that blue-green color, the more it grows on me, especially in bright sunlight.

Once again we've got a nice level spot in the driveway with fall foliage raining down all around us. Easton is a rural town outside of Bridgeport, in southern Connecticut -- not much to do, but quiet and pretty. Emma and Donal immediately latched onto each other, and we hung out with Don and Amanda, and everyone was happy. In the evening Eleanor and Emma went for take-out Indian food and we spread it all over their enormous dining room table and had a feast.

Easton pano.jpg
Click for larger

October 14, 2006

Last morning in Bridgewater

Friday was a completely wasted day, in the sense that it was beautiful outside and I spent then entire day locked in front of my computer dealing with a million and one little problems. I ended up at 6 pm with a stiff neck, eyes that would no longer focus, and a poor outlook on life. I've got to remember to get up once in a while and take a break ...

Bwater Airstream.jpg
Courtesy parked in Bridgewater MA

Eleanor and Emma spent the day visiting a friend and the local IKEA store. Among other things, Eleanor scored some stackable ceramic coffee mugs for $0.50 each (clearance price). She is tired of the oh-so-cool stainless or aluminum travel mugs that don't stack in the kitchen cabinet. They may be great looking, but they take up too much space. We'll see if the ceramic ones hold up.

Inspired by an essay I read on the Scambuster website, I've decided to play our scammer a bit longer. The next message from Ayres will be his claim that $1800 was sent via Western Union. Of course we won't really send a penny. That should cause our scammer some further consternation and delay as he/she tries to collect the money.

Then Ayres will probably die in one of the horrible manners suggested by our readers on yesterday's blog entry (see comments), and legal action against Velecia Farmer/Alvaro Mendoza/Dr. Lilian Williams/Larry Inc will be threatened. Ayres may even have an uncle ("Avion") who is a private detective, to seek out the wrongdoers and hopefully put some fear into them.

Today we are going to pack up and tow about 130 miles down to Connecticut to stay with Don and Amanda, who we just met last weekend. They are the new owners of Vintage Thunder. We'll spend the weekend with them and Emma will get to play with Donal (Jr.), who is five years old.

Bert Gildart called yesterday. He and Janie have finally emerged from Canada, and will be in Massachusetts this weekend. We are trying to cross paths in the next few days, so we can yak about our travels and they can give us a pile of Canadian generic Zyrtec that they bought for us. We may meet them in New Jersey on Monday, if all goes well.

By the way, Bert has been doing some wonderful writing and photography in Canada, and it's on his blog. If you haven't read it, I can really recommend it. He is doing a superb job telling stories of the Maritimes.

Colin Hyde called yesterday too, from a rally in New Hope, PA. He says it's much warmer down there, which makes me VERY happy. I like fall but a few more days in the 70s would feel good too.

My final office task yesterday was to do some trip planning. We've now got an itinerary worked out all the way down to South Carolina. After that we've got about a week to just wing it until we arrive in Orlando. It's a great itinerary. So I guess Friday wasn't a total waste after all -- at least I have nailed down some cool stuff to look forward to.

October 13, 2006

Chili Head

In the morning yesterday Emma practiced some reading. She's coming right along, which is exciting. We challenge her with things to read, and she says she can't do it ... and then she's always amazed that she can.

Most of the day was lost in intense work but I did manage to get out and refill our propane. I also had to pick up a pair of quicklinks for the trailer's safety chains. Installing the Hensley hitch meant we had to add a link to each chain to accommodate the extra few inches the hitch requires. As it turns out, we should have added two links. I noticed yesterday that one of the welded chain attach points was bent, no doubt due to the chain being too short in a sharp turn. It's still secure, but I'm going to have that spot bent back and re-welded anyway. In the meantime, an extra link has been added to each chain so it won't bind again.

Last night Emma was feeling a bit out of sorts when they got back from errands yesterday. It seemed like she might be coming down with something, so she and Eleanor stayed in while Mike, Bonnie, and I went to the local BBQ place, the "Chili Head".

Bwater chili head.jpg

Today it turns out that our suspicions were correct: Emma seems to have a cold. The cold & flu season has begun. Time to head south a bit more! We'll be leaving tonight or tomorrow morning.

Our scammer has not given up. I've got to give him points for persistence, at least. I sent a message from "Ayres" using a Hotmail account. Ayres wrote that the check was not certified and so he needed to wait seven days before sending the Western Union payment. I figured this would end the deal, but it didn't. Last night Ayres T Reem received this message:


Our scammer is starting to parrot himself. Geez, what do I have to do to end this, kill poor Ayres? Brett has already suggested he die in an industrial accident. I'd like him to go out in some ironic fashion. I'm open to suggestions.

And here's a sign of the week for you:

Bwater sign.jpg

October 12, 2006

A walk in Boston

The lecture yesterday went well. None of the students fell asleep while I was yammering, anyway.

Bwater Rich lecture.jpg

So I celebrated by riding the MBTA train into Boston's South Station, and looking up Adam at the Gather office in the financial district. He took me for a great street hike, through all the neighborhoods of downtown Boston. We hiked from the towering glass monoliths of the Financial District to the tony shopping of the Back Bay.

Boston graves.jpg
Paul Revere is buried in this Back Bay graveyard.

Then through the brick townhomes of the South End, Boston's South Side (being converted from industrial to residential slowly), the elegant waterfront hotels, and finally the Italian-dominated North End with its endless wonderful food.

Boston world shaving.jpg
"World Shaving Headquarters" -- Gillette's downtown offices

Boston is a great city for walking. When we lived in the suburbs I loved coming into the city for a day of hiking all around, seeing the architecture and sampling the edible treats at cafes. The walk was a good way for Adam and I to catch up and regain our personal perspectives on everything, so by the time we ended up back at Gather around 4 pm, we were in a fine mood to sit and chat with Susan for another hour.

Eleanor and Emma spent the day visiting people north of Boston, so they had a nice day too. We're having a great time on the road again, and I only hope we can keep the fun going. This weekend certainly looks good, since we will be meeting some recently-found friends in Connecticut. With a little luck, we might even cross paths with Bert and Janie.

Budget update: We have been cautious about our spending lately because we got whacked with expenses in August and September, including the expensive 30,000 mile service on the Armada and the new tires. I'm trying to get the budget back under control. Fortunately, we've had tremendous success at courtesy parking, mostly thanks to having mooched six weeks from friends, family, and neighbors. Our total expenditure for camping since mid-August has been a measly $100 (which was three nights at the rally last weekend).

Our fuel cost has been a fraction of what it was before as well. Lower gas prices have helped -- we're paying $2.15 per gallon now versus a high of $3.96 when were on the west coast in June! But the biggest relief is coming from traveling more slowly. Our total mileage towing in the past week has been less than 400 miles, and we'll stretch the remaining 1100 miles to Florida over three weeks time.

October 11, 2006

Bridgewater MA

As I mentioned, we are parked at a friend's house in southeastern Massachusetts. We're here to visit friends not just in Bridgewater but also in Boston and Rhode Island, and I've got a fair amount of work to do, so we decided to stay through Friday.

The courtesy parking here is great, thanks to our friends Mike and Bonnie. We've been friends since 1991 or so, when Mike put me through for an Instrument Rating. He's now an professor at Bridgewater State College, in the Aviation school, and once a year he invites me to present a guest lecture to his poor students on some topic of business or entrepreneurship. Today I'll be talking to them about "virtual companies" like the one I run (Airstream Life magazine).

Virtual companies have been a passion of mine since the mid-90s when the Internet really started to take off. A company with no central office, lower overhead, self-contained employees working when and where they are comfortable, and constant collaboration via the Internet can be incredibly efficient in terms of both money and time.

People often ask how I can run my business entirely from an Airstream. My feeling is that if I couldn't run it from an Airstream, I would be doing it wrong. A magazine is a "knowledge business", where the primary product is information. Such businesses do not need retail storefronts, local business ties, or physical plants. The requirements to put a knowledge business on the road are identical to those needed to increase efficiency in today's virtual business world.

For example, to take Airstream Life magazine on the road, I needed to:

-- use the Internet to communicate and collaborate with subcontractors, employees, and freelancers
-- slim down physical assets to the bare minimum (mostly files and office hardware)
-- learn to select and motivate team members, long-distance
-- take advantage of e-business solutions (like eFax, PayPal, e-commerce)
-- use the Internet to market my product and support my customers
-- personally learn to work more flexibly (at odd hours, through interruptions etc)
-- outsource work to the best providers I can find, on a global scale

Those are the same things I needed to do to run the organization efficiently enough to survive through its first year. The efficiencies offered by modern technology -- and conversely, by avoiding the obsolete business structures and technology of yesterday -- don't just enable more efficient businesses. They create opportunities for new businesses which otherwise couldn't exist, such as mine.

So perhaps it would be a good test for small "knowledge businesses" to see if their business can efficiently be run from an Airstream. Some business book writer will probably pick up this concept in the next few years, calling it the "Airstream virtual business test" or some such thing.

Yesterday Eleanor and Emma headed off to Rhode Island to visit with Chef Martin, a former co-worker of Eleanor's when she was doing an "externship" at The Federal Reserve restaurant in Providence. I wish I could have gone just to watch Chef Martin cook. Like a lot of professional chefs, he has a marvelous ability to whip up something amazingly delicious in about 5 minutes, using any food product that happens to lying around. He did it for me one late late night in Providence, after the kitchen had closed, and I still remember how amazed I was at his skill. Real-life pro chefs are a treat to watch when they are in action.

Today they are off to the 'burbs north of Boston to visit another old friend. I'll be doing my lecture here at B'water this morning. I may head into Boston on the train to visit Susan and Adam this afternoon, at their office in the Financial District.

Solar update: We had to plug in, despite brilliant fall sunshine. Our parking spot is shaded by trees all day. I was working in the trailer most of the day and between a night of furnace and a day of laptop we managed to use about 60 amp-hours.

Scam update: I wrote back yesterday to report bad news from my "cousin" Ayres:

Hi Dr Williams

My cousin Ayres received the check yesterday. I just heard from my aunt Abe that he is sick with aluminitus and won't be able to get to Western Union for a few days. But I'm sure he will deposit it soon.

One question: the price of the car is $500 but you said to only forward $1800. What about the extra $200?

... and received this reply not long after:


[same contact as before]




Today I think I'll end this charade. The check they sent me is so bad, even to the point of being check #1001 and not certified as promised, that I think this scammer is not worth the effort. I have trouble believing anyone would have fallen for this one. Just look at all the names I've gotten from this person:

Email address:
Claimed name: Dr. Lilian Williams
UPS package return address: Larry Inc
Name on check: Alvaro Mendoza
Name of funds recipient: Velecia Farmer

Perhaps Ayres will die from his case of "aluminitus" tomorrow. I've never heard of it being fatal, though. Or perhaps I'll just tell the scammer that since the check isn't certified, I need to wait for it to clear. That oughta do it.

October 10, 2006

Scam update

The check has arrived! See below:

Nigerian check.jpg

I was a little disappointed that this wasn't an attempt at a bank check. Instead, it looks like they just ran an ordinary business check through a laser printer. I guess I'm not dealing with one of the better scammers.

As you can see, the address on the check is shown as Alvaro Mendoza of 25 N Belcher Rd #F-60, Clearwater FL 33765. As before, the name used is a phony. The real Alvaro Mendoza is a marketing consultant in St Petersburg. A quick Google search reveals that the address is at Coral Cove apartments.

According to my "cousin" in Virginia who received the package with this fake check, the return address on the inside envelope is "Larry Inc, 9734 Dove Hollow Lane, Glen Allen VA 23060". This is a residential adddress, but again, probably phony. The UPS tracking number shows that the envelope was shipped from Hampton VA.

Meanwhile, I received several anxious messages from the "buyer", as follows:

October 7

Name:Velecia Farmer
City: Hampton,
Zip code:23663

Amount to send $1800 and please get back to me as soon as you receive this message to know when you're sending the money so that my mover can arrange time to pick the item up from you
thanks very much .

Notice; Once you sent out the money you're to send me the Mtcn# and the exact amount sent with the sender name and address thanks.


Notice that the scammer got the math wrong in his/her excitement. The car was supposed to cost $500 with a $2000 overpayment to be refunded, but now the request is for only $1800. Wow, a $200 windfall for lucky Ayres T Ream!

And then this email came two days later:



Now the fun begins. The scammer will want us to immediately deposit the check so that he can get his Western Union money transfer before we discover it is a phony. But I suspect Ayres is going to have some minor delays crop up. Poor Ayres ... he's going to have a rough few days. ;-)

October 09, 2006

Townshend VT youth rally

Sorry we've been out of touch for a few days. We've been attending a Youth Rally in Townshend, VT, and the campground was in a valley where cell phones don't work and wi-fi doesn't seem to exist. So, I took a few days off ...

Townsend kids.jpg
Kids awaiting judging of their pumpkins. Everybody won!

The rally was spectacular. Fabulous fall weather, colorful foliage, and real fun for the kids, who were numerous. We had kid-themed dinners, a hayride and ghost stories, bonfires every night, a pumpkin-carving contest, and just plain great fun with great people. I have to acknowledge the efforts of Doug and Jamie (a blog reader!) and Robin & Richard, who co-hosted the event. Nice job, guys!

Townsend judges.jpg
Our three pumpkin judges: Pamela, Elaine, and Michelle

We saw a few old friends there, and made a few new ones. Donal and Amanda showed up in Vintage Thunder, the blue/green Argosy trailer that we used to own. I checked the trailer out and she seems to be in fine shape. Her new owners are very happy with their purchase. We'll be courtesy-parking with them in a few days.

Gail Buck.jpg
Gail Buck and her pink-themed Airstream

We also met J. Rick Cipot and his future bride, Sandi. Rick will be contributing to a future issue of the magazine. He's a former photographer for National Geographic and a high-grade Airstream nut, like the rest of us.

Rick Cipot.jpg
J. Rick Cipot gets a kiss from Gail's dogs

I've posted many more pictures on our photo album. By the way, our Google Earth location for this past weekend can be downloaded here.

Tonight we are in Bridgewater, MA, courtesy parked at Mike & Bonnie's house. They've got a nice paved and flat driveway with plenty of room for our little traveling circus. We last stayed here two years ago, in the Argosy. We've got plenty to do in the area, so we may be here for three nights or more.

October 06, 2006

A night at Pizza Putt

Imagine six adults all piling in the minivan to drive 25 miles to go to a place called Pizza Putt, to play arcade games all evening. Bizarre? Yes, but when you add in just one grandchild, suddenly it all seems perfectly normal.

Pizza Putt Emma playing.jpg

Last night Emma and her support team of six otherwise sane adults took in the action at that kid-oriented place -- and of course, ate pizza. We played indoor mini-golf, whacked spiders, captured little flying bees, pulled the plungers and spun the wheels, all in pursuit of a bunch of orange tickets which Emma later traded in for a small stuffed leopard.

Pizza Putt Emma prizes.jpg

I have to say the pizza wasn't bad and Steve and I liked the batting cages and Skee-ball. It was a decent way to spend the final evening with our family in Vermont. Today we have to finish packing and our goal is to be on the road by 2 pm.

At this point I doubt we'll make it, but I would like to get to the rally as soon as we can, since there are many people who I would like to see there. We've got a lot of Airstream friends from the various northeast regions of the club, plus the new owners of Vintage Thunder, and a new contributor to the magazine who I haven't met yet.

By the way, I added some foliage photos to our Flickr album.

October 05, 2006

Starting the checklist

While scanning some old documents and photos that we found in storage, I came across this picture:
scaled.Rich and Mary Halvey bicycle photo.JPG

That's me, circa 1993, when I was busy leading bicycle tours all over eastern Massachusetts for the Boston Ski and Sports Club. My friend Mary Halvey is posing with me. It's funny the forgotten times that resurface when you dig through the old boxes.

Brett has returned home, reluctantly. I think he enjoyed his little leaf-peeping trip here. Eleanor and I are in the frantic final days of preparing to head out for another 6-8 months of life in the Airstream. Last night we went to storage and met people who wanted furniture. We sold two pieces, and gave two others away. That was enough for us to easily consolidate the remaining things in ONE unit -- so we've finally accomplished our goal there. We'll resume work on culling down our stuff next summer.

There are many things to do before we go, so we'll both be working on our list all day today and tomorrow. Today we'll be cleaning the trailer, packing the last few items we are leaving behind, re-organizing, getting a new driver's license at the DMV, and checking all the trailer systems (since it has been parked for a month). I'll try to list some of the trailer-specific things as we do them since I know many of you are interested in the checklist.

October 04, 2006

Foliage drive

I wanted Brett to get a chance to really see the Vermont foliage, since we are near peak in the valley now and a small amount past peak in the upper elevations. That's where we drove, up through the town of Bristol, stopping at a bridge on Rt 116 to take some photos.

Bristol foliage.jpg
This photo was taken here (requires Google Earth to view).

From Bristol we drove up through the tiny town of Lincoln to the Lincoln Gap (elev 2400 ft). The gap is
here, right before the road begins to descend steeply to Route 100. The Lincoln Gap road is most definitely not a road for RVs of any type! The grades often exceed 12% and much of the road is bumpy dirt. It is closed in the winter.

Rt 100, on the other hand, is a good drive for anyone. It is known as probably the best scenic drive in Vermont, running north to south through almost then entire state. We drove about 10 miles of it, and stopped in at our local Mac store in Waitsfield to get some equipment for Brett.

Last night it turned balmy (for Vermont in October, which means upper 60s) and so we had a few people over for another cookout on the beach. We've got to grab every opportunity now, since the season is really over. I also had another box and a half of paper to burn. At 10 pm Brett & I were the only ones left, stoking the fire and talking. I doubt we'll get another chance to do this until next summer.

October 03, 2006

GSM Vehicles

Brett and I drove over to Plattsburgh yesterday. Our route took us across Lake Champlain on the ferry, so we broke out the cameras and hunted for good foliage shots along the way. The pickings were slim, due to a persistent overcast (and a cold wind on the lake that kept us in the car most of the time). Still, here's a picture of the quaint hamlet of Essex NY from the water.

Essex foliage.jpg

Colin Hyde and Susanne Brown of GSM Vehicles met us in Plattsburgh to discuss the Vintage Lightning project, a 1952 Airstream Cruiser. Colin is the project manager, and Susanne is the interior designer. Colin is also into a lot of other types of vehicles, including this old school bus that he plans to turn into a custom Airstream tow vehicle.

Plattsburgh Colin bus.jpg

GSM works on a lot more than just Airstream trailers. Lately he's picked up a few 1940s Vagabonds, and below is a Spartan trailer that a client brought in for a new frame and floor.

Plattsburgh Colin spartan.jpg

The interior of Project Vintage Lightning is being mocked up for the client right now. All of this is subject to change, of course, but the temporary structures inside gave us a good feel for the interior space. It's excellent -- plenty of room for living, lots of storage, and a comfortable bath and bedroom.

Plattsburgh VL.jpg

It is distinctly October weather now ... gray, windy, cool. The last few days haven't broken 60. I'm starting to feel ready to start heading south. Some areas around here have already had freezes overnight.

October 02, 2006

Countdown: five days to launch

We're in the home stretch now ... only a few days before we have to hit the road again, and the list of things to be done is still daunting. I've got three things to do at the DMV, which is half a day shot right there. We've still got boxes to sort through, things to retrieve from our eBay agents, final cleanup at the storage unit, trailer prep, and much more.

But today Brett and I are going to head up to GSM Vehicles in Plattsburgh NY for a few hours with Colin Hyde. We'll take some photos of Project Vintage Lightning, the 1952 Cruiser we're remaking for Matthew McConaughey. With luck the skies will clear enough to see some foliage along the way too, since our drive will take us through the Adirondack Mountains.

October 01, 2006

Nearly done downsizing

The downsizing ordeal is almost over. Yesterday Eleanor and I combined the two units into one and found that we have successfully reduced our volume of stuff by more than half. But we've still got a few things to sell, so I posted a list on the local Freecycle bulletin board and added a few things to craiglist. Both of those are great ways to get rid of stuff locally.


While we were working, Chris and Ruth Koehn popped by. They are fellow full-time Airstreamers, traveling and working with their two sons and occasionally blogging the experience. Yes, it really can be done -- we're not the only ones!

Right now the Koehns are housesitting in the Burlington area for a little while, but they'll be back on the road again soon. We are hoping to cross paths in Mississippi in December. Chris wants some shrimp, and I want a softshelled crab po-boy. He owes me lunch, because I gave his son Ansel my unicycle when they came back today.

Unicycle riding.jpg

Brett flew in last night for a visit. He'll be with us a few days, and I plan to get him out for some foliage viewing and trip over to GSM Vehicles this week. Today he went over to storage with me and helped hand out stuff to people who came by, while Eleanor stayed home to sort through a few more boxes. Brett also took the above photo of me riding my unicycle one last time, in the rain today!