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Archive for October, 2005

Simple pleasures in Council Bluffs, IA

Plans are always fluid when you are mixing business and pleasure. We didn’t find the Frank Lloyd Wright house I had heard about — I think we missed it in the dark the night before. That’s a drag but we will be back in the spring, I think, so we’ll try harder to get it into the schedule.

Rather than double back for the house tour, we pressed on to Council Bluffs to try to get some work done for a couple of days. I’ve been working every day when I get a chance, but really that’s not enough and it’s time to sit still and catch up. So now we are camped in Lake Minawa SP, which is a nice spot near everything but isolated by a pretty little lake. Hardly anyone here, either, despite wonderful temperatures and great fall foliage. Business requires that we stop in at the local Airstream dealer (a pleasure, really), and while we are here we need to take care of some maintenance on the Nissan Armada.

The process of settling into a site for more than one night is complex but with each time we find it easier. The GPS tells us where to find the local post office, grocery, and other necessities. The campground hosts are usually helpful with other hints, such as nice places to visit and eat. Setting up the trailer for a stop takes no more than 15 minutes (and that’s if we go to the extra step of setting the stabilizers). It’s amazing how simple things please us. A full tank of propane and a place to plug in, and we are happy.

We have also discovered that Indiana and Iowa also make it easy on RV’ers by having dump stations at every highway rest area. They never seem to have lines, either. This is a huge improvement over the northeast, where dump stations are hard to find except at campgrounds, and they usually cost money to use. The highway stops are free! Who would have thought I’d get excited about something like that?

There’s a bike trail right next to this campground. Tomorrow, since we are expecting unseasonably warm temperatures (low 80s) we will try to break away for a couple of hours to try it out. Emma will be ready to ditch her training wheels in a few months if we can keep getting opportunities to practice. Another simple pleasure …

Goeldner County Park, IA

It was a beautiful night, quiet, peaceful, and cool. I got up just after dawn and shot a few photos of our private little spot. We didn’t hear a sound all night except for the night wildlife in the trees.

Goeldner Cty Park.jpg

Madison County, IA

This is “Bridges of Madison County” country. Failing to find a convenient place to park overnight, I took a page from George & Tioga’s book and just took a random turn off I-80 to find a quiet spot. We queried the Garmin GPS for a local park and it came up with a County Park just five miles away. A dark bumpy ride down dusty gravel roads later, we pulled into a beautiful and private county park where no one else is, and the nearest house is a couple of cornfields away.

What a reward! The night is balmy, the moon is full, there are no bugs and the forest is filled with interesting night creatures calling to each other. We are utterly alone. I can’t even see a house or combine running from here. (They are harvesting corn all night long at some of the farms.)

That’s just the sort of day it’s been. Let me back up to this morning. After Emma woke up, we met our Airstream neighbors at the Cracker Barrel, and they turned out to be faithful subscribers to Airstream Life. They had also just finished the Golden Caravan through Eastern Canada in the company of our last host, Dr. C — a funny coincidence.

Driving through western Illinois and Iowa on I-80 is an unremarkable experience, but we started off right, with a visit to Starved Rock State Park in Utica, IL. This is a great hiking park, with terrific canyons and views of the Illinois River everywhere. Highly recommended.

Starved Rock SP.jpg

This weekend was a scheduled foliage event, so the park was mobbed and the campground was full, but since Emma had a cold we only wanted to stay long enough to hike a couple of miles and fill our water tank. We’ll have to go again sometime and hike the other 11 miles of trails!

The only remarkable thing about driving I-80 is the unusually low price for 89 octane (“Plus”) fuel. They put 10% Ethanol in that blend, and the Ethanol is subsidized, with the result that you can buy 89 octane for ten cents less than 87 octane. Some gas stations don’t even bother with 87 — why buy it? The price for 89 octane was just $2.35 per gallon, the cheapest we’ve seen since we left home.

So here we are, alone in a gorgeous spot, with all the comforts of home, and everyone is happy. Emma is watching classic Popeye cartoons on DVD, I’m catching up on email & blog, and Eleanor is puttering around. We’ll have a nice night and try to go see a Frank Lloyd Wright house tomorrow.


I think yesterday should count as our first official day of the Tour of America. We headed out from South Bend in the morning and (after a harrowing ride through Chicago on I-90), stopped in Rolling Meadows IL to visit with a few folks. Tom King and Joyce Cutsforth of Internet-in-Motion dropped in to see our trailer and catch up a bit. Tom has some great ideas for a mobile webcam that we may integrate into the upcoming Tour website.

Brad Cornelius also dropped in. He designed the great graphics you see on the exterior of the trailer. (Brad also painted the Fall 2005 cover of Airstream Life, which should be in the mail to you in about a week.)

While we were giving these tours, we happened to be parked at a Wal-Mart. People kept coming by and taking photos of the trailer, so we invited a few in. We met some nice guys from Holland who have a “mobile bakery” that they run out of an Airstream there. They were excited to see the Tour trailer and promised to email photos of theirs as soon as they get back home.

Tour family2.jpg

After that visit we hit a local IKEA to shop for some trailer accessories. Eleanor found a fine aluminum wine rack that we plan to mount on the wall. It looks like it belongs there. This is an accessory every Airstream should have, if only because it looks so right.

Our next stop was 90 minutes west, somewhere along I-80 in the plains of Illinois. We hit a Cracker Barrel for dinner (our friend Gary was right, you CAN eat every meal at Cracker Barrel if you stick to the highways), and then parked overnight. Our neighbors happen to be in an Airstream Classic with the WBCCI # 5883. We haven’t seen them yet but perhaps we will before we go.

There’s an axiom I was taught by the fellow who sold us our first Airstream: The propane always runs out in the middle of the night. For some reason I was up at 4:30 this morning when I heard the furnace cycle on and off a bit too quickly. Sure enough, we’d just run out of gas. That’s why we have two bottles and an auto-switching regulator, but of course I forgot to open the second bottle, and so I had to get out there in my bare feet in the dark to flip the switch. At least it wasn’t too cold…

Speaking of which, poor Emma is really down with a cold. She’s a trouper about it but there’s no question it has taken her down a peg. I expect she’ll sleep late and so it will be hard to reach our next goal today. But that’s the nice thing about traveling this way. She can stay in bed while we catch up on work and phone calls, have breakfast, etc. When she wakes up, we’ll be all set to go.

When in Elkhart …

Our philosophy is that you take advantage of what each local area offers. So today we headed off to meet our friends Henry and Danean for a tour of the RV industry — past and present.

Elkhart is the center of the RV universe, and it’s only about 15 miles down the Indiana tollway from South Bend. Our first stop was the factory that Henry works at, which makes RV parts. Riding around in a golf cart, we got a great tour from Henry of robotic welding machines and manufacturing processes. Even Emma was interested. And at the end of the tour, everyone got a company baseball cap!

Next stop was the RV/MH Heritage Museum in downtown Elkhart. This place is basically a collection of really special antique RVs from the 1920s through 1970s. You can walk right into most of the units, and they are mostly in superb condition. The only Airstream in the collection is a early 60s Bambi. My 1968 Caravel and 1963 Serro Scotty would have fit right in.

In the front hall is the Hall of Fame. Wally Byam is there, of course. If you’ve ever wondered what Theodore Bargman (manufacturer of the infamous Bargman locks and lights) looked like, or Art Costello (Airstream’s president of the Los Angeles factory in the 1960s), you’ll find them too.

Then we headed off to Henry and Danean’s house. Henry has an interesting race car, which happens to be more or less street legal. It’s a 1978 Chevrolet Monte Carlo with a 454 engine. So we took it out for a spin around the block. When I was putting the five-point seat belts on, I started to sense that this might be a mistake, but it was too late to back out. Sure enough, Henry demonstrated the car’s ability to run the quarter-mile. Uh, 110 MPH in 12 seconds. A bit better than the Nissan Armada/Airstream combo I’m driving these days.

Emma got a chance to drive, too, but not the race car. She steered a golf cart while Danean worked the pedals and Eleanor hung on for her life. It made for an interesting ride around their front yard. The dog raced around in circles while Emma careened around, narrowly missing shrubs and ditches. She wants to tow the Airstream now, but I sense she’s not quite ready.

The day started with a little spin in one of Dr. C’s collector cars, a 1950s Mercedes 190. He took me for a top-down ride through the quiet cornfields and suburbs of West South Bend. A very pleasant touring car, that Mercedes, and as the doctor told me this morning, “It’s great for picking up chicks.”


That’s Elkhart/South Bend for us. Tomorrow morning, we head over to the northern Chicago suburbs to meet more friends.

Decals on!

We’ve got the graphics on! Man, it looks great. This picture doesn’t show the other side, but I’ll get one of those up soon. Already as we drive around, I see people giving us long looks. I think that’s a good thing.


Tour Trailer getting dressed!

Two developments today:

1) Episode 3 of The VAP is available for download at If you have iTunes and you’ve previously subscribed to it, just launch it and choose “Update podcast”. It features the second part of an interview with me.

2) We are heading off to get our cool new “Tour of America” decals put on today. I’ll post a picture tonight of the result.

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