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Archive for July, 2006

Cherry Creek SP, Aurora CO

I’m so sick of the word “torque” that I’m going to try avoid the word for a while. Suffice to say, our wheels are still attached, and we are now parked for a few days of rest in this suburb of Denver. (We were here last October, and you can read about it in the blog archives.)

Not long as we arrived, I got an email from The Health Chic asking where we were. Turns out they were at a cybercafe in Denver catching up on email. I told them where we were and about an hour later they showed up for a night of camping in the next space! This is the third time we’ve crossed paths since last month. Are they stalking us? 😉

After work, Bill and I took Emma out for a quick bike ride and Eleanor and Wendimere sat in their trailer gabbing … for hours. I think Eleanor and I are still decompressing from the events of the past few days, and having someone else to talk to has been nice this evening.

This week will be busy. I’ve got to run all over town to get my new cell phone, get my laptop fixed, and meet with people. Eleanor plans on running her errands too, so we’re going to have to negotiate “car time”.

I have neglected to mention our recent experience with the solar system. It has exceeded our expectations. At this time of year, we can go indefinitely without plugging in. When we reached Victor ID, we had been unplugged for eight days straight — and our batteries were still at 95%. The only reason we bother to plug in now is for A/C. Everything else we have runs on the batteries and solar panels.

I’m going to be interested to see how well the system performs this fall and winter. Obviously it won’t be quite so good, but I still expect we will not feel the need for a generator at any time, which makes me happy.

Cherokee State Wildlife Area, Colorado

Perhaps we are turning the corner on luck. Our drive along I-80 in Wyoming was uneventful, which lately is unusual for us. We stopped and checked those darn lug nuts at 10, 20, 30, 50, 70, 100, 150, and 200 miles. At the first few stops, 2 or 3 of the new ones I installed would move a tiny bit, but eventually they all seated and stopped moving. That’s normal, according to everyone I talked to.

So hey ““ I fixed my own trailer and I got 200 miles without a problem. And now I know exactly what to do if this problem ever recurs. That’s a great feeling!

The only bad luck today was at the last lug nut check. After I checked them, the new torque wrench fell apart in my hands. Apparently one of two screws that holds the assembly together vibrated out during travel. It has disappeared. The other fell out roadside and the next thing I knew, little springs and cogs were sprinkling down by my feet. We gathered all the pieces for re-assembly, but I may buy a better quality torque wrench instead.

If that’s the worst thing that happens, I’ll be grateful. Hopefully I can turn this blog back to the enjoyable part of traveling. (Although I must admit there’s a unique satisfaction in having rescued oneself, by doing a repair on your own trailer with your own hands “¦as long as the opportunity doesn’t present itself too often!)

I-80 in Wyoming is a vast arid landscape dotted with gas tanks and other signs of the petrochemical industry. The Green River Valley area is the hub of oil shale in this country, and we saw plenty of action out there. Further east, there’s a refinery in Sinclair, and all along the Interstate there are yellow Union Pacific diesel-electric locomotives running east-west with long trains behind them.

I suppose some people would call this landscape boring, but I liked it. I guess today I would have liked any landscape that we were not broken down in.

The camping options along I-80 are horrible. Most of the campgrounds are desolate gravel parking lots right next to the highway, with the requisite noise all night long, and sites so jam-packed you can reach out and touch your neighbor. For a view, choose from Interstate highway or oil tanks.

We were flying without a plan today, because we honestly didn’t know how far we’d get. By 4 pm we were in Laramie and I decided to follow Garminita’s advice to take Rt 287 south from there into Colorado. It looked like a nice scenic and quiet roadway, which might present interesting boondocking possibilities.

That was a great decision, if I do say so myself. Take Rt 287 south from Wyoming sometime. Once the road crosses into Colorado, you enter the most marvelous landscape of layered and eroded rocks, stacked like pancakes among the evergreen landscape. It is beautiful, open, and unpopulated. I kept thinking, “Why isn’t there a state or national park here?” It’s that nice.

About 20-30 miles into Colorado, somewhere between Virginia Dale and Livermore, we passed a white sign that said, “Cherokee Park.” WHOA. I hit the brakes, made a U-turn, and down the red dirt Cherokee Park Road we went.

I was hoping we’d make another “find” like we did last October in Iowa when we found a little county park way out in the farmlands, and had one of the most lovely nights of boondocking we’ve ever enjoyed. We had no information on this Cherokee Park other than the sign: no idea where to find it, how far down the road it would be, whether we could park there overnight, or even if we’d be able to turn around. But if you want to find the places “off the beaten path” you’ve got to be willing to take a chance on the unknown.

The red road twists among the fantastic rock formations, and climbs briefly at what I would guess is about a 10-12% grade. We had to switch to 4WD mode to keep the rear wheels from slipping. About 6-8 miles along, Cherokee Park Road descends and brings you by a dirt parking area with a set of signs that identifies the Cherokee State Wildlife Area, Lower Unit.

Cherokee site.jpg

Parking in the lot is OK for up to 14 days, according to the signs. You can leave your rig unattended for 48 hours to go exploring. This is horse country, but an ATV would work well too. The scenery is fantastic. The spot is quiet and isolated. It’s great boondocking, and if we had more time I am certain the hiking would be superb as well.

One caveat: you are supposed to have a “Habitat” sticker to use this area. We’ll buy one, to atone for our minor sin of parking here without one. I think buying a sticker which supports the preservation and access to such beautiful lands is a small price to pay.

Cherokee site 2.jpg

There’s only analog cell phone service here (and not much of that), so this blog entry will be posted in the morning as we head to Aurora CO. Other than running some backups on the computer and typing up this entry, I’m taking a night off. After all the stress of the past few days, I need a little break before the work week begins. This seems like a nice place to relax.


I’ve replaced all six studs and lug nuts on the offending aluminum wheel. The parts store did not have enough lug nuts for the other (steel) wheel on that side, so we are going cautiously proceed without replacing the lugs on that one for now. I’ll be checking torque very often.

Colin Hyde was on the phone this morning with some helpful advice also. It gets detailed, but the gist of it was to be sure the lugnuts were tightened evenly and absolutely on center. I’ve done that.

I did loosen and re-tighten the lugnuts on the steel wheel and found them to be VERY tight. They are now re-torqued to the proper amount. I also checked the other wheels on the driver’s side, which have not been touched by mechanics with air wrenches. All good.

More later if I can get online!

When will it stop??

There’s a force in the universe that is out to get us, but we aren’t going to let it win!

Today started out fine. We went to Fossil Butte National Monument, which is a fairly obscure national park outside Kemmerer. That made a good addition to our national parks Passport book. Emma really seemed to get into the cool fossils they have in the new Visitor Center.

Fossil Butte pledge.jpg
Emma takes the pledge for another Jr Ranger badge

Then we headed to downtown Kemmerer to hit the public library. I updated the blog and Eleanor and Emma read stories in the kids’ room.

Then we drove about 80 miles to Green River, WY, which is along I-80. It’s pretty lonely country, so I decided to stop in Green River for lunch around 2 pm. That gave another chance to check the lugnuts…

… and one of them twisted right off.

The stud had broken right in the middle.

Well, you can imagine my reaction to that. I’ll skip the gory details, but after about two tense hours and several phone calls, we ascertained the following:

1) Both of the wheels on the entry door side of the Airstream had been tightened by mechanics using air impact wrenches. After tightening the nuts, they followed up with a torque wrench to assure 110 ft-lbs of torque.

2) NEVER NEVER NEVER let anyone tighten the lug nuts on your Airstream with an air impact wrench unless they are using the wrench only to spin the nuts on loosely. The air impact wrench will overtighten them. Torquing them after that is utterly pointless — they’re already overtorqued.

3) All 12 of the studs and lugnuts on the two right side wheels of our Airstream need to be replaced, as a precaution.

4) Nobody in Green River, WY could possibly get us into their shop for at least a few days.

This put us in a tight spot. Driving the Airstream with a known problem like this (and one stud already failed) would be asking for another wheel separation like yesterday. But staying here to wait for service wasn’t much of an option either.

We had two basic choices:

1) Deflate the known bad tire by 10-15 lbs to lessen its load, and proceed SLOWLY to the nearest campground, about six miles away, then wait several days for service.

2) Fix it ourselves.

I got mad about the lackluster interest I received from the RV repair shop, the local tire shop, and two other repair shops I called. When I get mad, I get busy. So we towed the Airstream less than a mile to the NAPA Auto Parts and got busy.

First, I called David Tidmore again, and Brett, and got advice. Then we bought 15 replacement studs at the NAPA store and backed the Airstream into a spot next to the store. I broke out my tools and made sure I had what was needed to do the job: a hammer, a torque wrench with extension, socket for the lugnuts, some blocks to pull the Airstream up on (so I could remove the wheel), a sacrificial nut, and mental gumption.

Green River repair.jpg
Rich exercises his non-existent handyman skills

The process of removing a stud and replacing it is fairly straightforward. You bang the old stud out with the hammer, and then slip in the new one. The sacrificial nut is used to pull the stud through until it is seated properly. We pulled the emergency brake cable on the disc brake system to lock the wheels in place during this operation (that’s OK to do with disc brakes, it won’t burn out).

At 4 pm, the NAPA store owner closed up, but he came by to make sure we were OK before he left. He said we could stay overnight if we needed to, and he’d be back at 9 a.m. tomorrow. Unfortunately, I let him get away before remembering to buy the replacement lug nuts. I tried to recycle the old ones, but two of them were in terrible condition and I decided to suspend work for tonight. I’ll buy a completely new set tomorrow and finish the job.

Green River bad parts.jpg
Studs I removed. Note the broken one at top right, with the matching nut at left.

So now it is 6:40 pm and we are parked on concrete next to NAPA and a drive-through liquor store. Fortunately, the liquor store is closed too. It is not all that bad here — I’ve been in worse campgrounds — and except for the heat we are doing fine. As I’ve told people, when you have a problem in your Airstream, you’re still home with all the conveniences, so how bad can it be?

OK, there was a moment when Eleanor said, “I want a hotel room with air conditioning and a pool!” And as tempting as that is (it is 98 degrees in the trailer at this moment), I think we will resist the urge. After all, this is home, and I wouldn’t feel right abandoning my home just because it had a little problem.

So we’ve opened up the vents and windows and are cooling things down now. I’ve got a cold Jarritos Toronja (grapefruit soda), Emma is doing homeschooling (but she doesn’t know it), Eleanor is avidly reading something trashy by Eric Lustbader, and pretty soon I’ll plug in the iPod to listen to some music.

In other words, we are going to make lemonade out of this and not let this incredible streak of mishaps drive us to insanity. We’re going to fix the trailer once and for all, and get on with the business of having fun.

One other thing: thanks to my friends David, Brett, Terry, and Rich C for their support on the phone the past few days. Thanks to Carol, Marc, Terrie, and everyone else who wrote in with supportive comments. Without you guys I’d probably be a lot more stressed about this stuff. And thanks to whoever in this strip mall left their wi-fi network open, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to get online tonight to post all this!

The bad luck streak continues!

Our streak of bad luck has continued, but we are learning to focus on the bright side.

This morning, we packed up and departed from this week’s home in Victor ID. We chose a gentler route than we’d come in, which took us over the low Pine Creek Pass and southward. Ascending the pass was easy, and we were winding down the other side at a leisurely 35 MPH when we heard a tinny noise and saw in the right side mirror, almost simultaneously, a black-and-silver object go flying off into the weeds.

For a moment I was confused, thinking it looked and sounded like the little disposable charcoal grill we had packed in the rear compartment. Had the compartment come open? I quickly pulled over and walked back to the trailer.

As I was walking, a discussion I’d had with my friend Doug Dukane in Tampa flashed through my mind. Doug had the unfortunate experience of having two wheels come off his 34-foot Airstream, leaving him and his family stranded by the roadside in Ohio. The cause was a mechanic who didn’t tighten the lug nuts properly on the wheels. The damage to his trailer was extensive ““ when the wheels depart an Airstream, they usually take some of the aluminum side sheet with them.

So when I got to the passenger side of the trailer, I wasn’t surprised by what I saw. The forward wheel was gone. It had left us for a ravine about 200 feet up the road.

A motorcyclist pulled up. “Something came off your trailer!” Yeah, I know. He left, and a man in a pickup truck stopped by. He blocked traffic for us, while I went up the hill to retrieve the missing wheel.

Driggs body damage.jpg

The damage showed what happened. One lug nut apparently came off its stud. The remaining studs were unable to take the strain, and snapped off cleanly at their bases. The wheel flopped around for a moment during this process and then bounced out, damaging the Airstream’s body as it left.

Driggs disc brake.jpg
Note five studs snapped off, one stud left

The strange thing was that the wheel that left us wasn’t the one we’d had worked on last week. I would have sworn that if a wheel was to come off, it would be the last one that had been removed. But it was the wheel forward of that one instead.

This was one of those “It can’t be happening” moments. Sure, I’d seen many trailers where a tire had blown out or shredded, leaving carnage in its wake. But our lug nuts were well-seated, having been worn in over many thousands of miles of travel. They had been re-torqued when we installed the disc brakes in May. All the nuts were present when we left the campground (I checked as part of my routine pre-departure walkaround). How could a nut have come off completely in just seven miles?

We weren’t in the right place to be doing forensic analysis, I realized. We were parked blocking most of one lane of a winding mountain road, far out of reach of cell phone service, AAA, or any other service that might rescue us. Our spare was already in use (we haven’t had a chance to replace it since the drywall screw of last week).

Now, in my opinion, the most critical thing about an emergency situation is how you and your group react to it. Regardless of how serious a situation is, you probably can make it better with the right response, and with the wrong response you can make any situation much worse.

There is a process involved here. Step One is to calm down. Don’t yell at anyone, since that usually makes things worse. Step Two is to mentally step away from the situation, as if you’d had a night to sleep on it, and then look at it again from a big perspective. I try to defocus my attention on the proximate issues that tend to make me react emotionally, whatever those issues might be: someone bleeding, bent metal, unhelpful bystanders, etc.

In this case, the guy with the truck who was blocking traffic for us started saying, “That disc is red hot! There’s something wrong with your brakes. That’s what made the wheel come off!” I felt the disc, and while it was hot, it wasn’t “red hot.” It was as hot as you’d expect a disc to be after descending a 5% grade for two miles in 85+ degree temperatures. (Later analysis showed the disc brake to be operating normally.)

I also try to avoid being pressured to do something that might make the situation worse. For example, if someone is shouting, “Get it off the road, you’re blocking traffic!” you might hastily jump in the truck and pull your trailer further and make things much worse. My feeling is that traffic can wait a minute while I figure out what’s going on.

When I ran through that mental process, I realized that I needed to assess the damage to ensure the trailer was towable. A quick check in the wheelwell assured me it was. Nothing was dragging, and the hydraulic lines to the disc brakes were intact. Once I knew the trailer was OK, and I could tow it with three wheels, I felt better. All we needed to do was get it to a tire shop and they could fix it. Fortunately, an Airstream can be driven with one wheel off, as long as you go slowly.

It occurred to me that if we lost another tire for any reason, we would be completely stuck by the side of a road and in a situation where we could not even be able to stay in the trailer due to the tilt of the road. So, what to do to ensure this wouldn’t happen?

Three things: 1) I could drive slowly. Sure, traffic would pile up behind us and the drive would be akin to water torture, but I’d rather have a few annoyed drivers behind us than be sitting by the road with another tire gone.

2) The load each tire can take is dependent on air pressure. Since three tires now have to do the work of four, it’s a good idea to make sure the tires are inflated to their maximum pressure, which is usually 65 psi. Read the side of your tire to be sure. I already had 60 lbs in each one but in retrospect I could have added a little insurance by putting the additional air in.

3) I checked the torque on the remaining three wheels ““ and it’s a good thing I did. All of the lugnuts on the wheel that had been removed last week were loose too! That’s not uncommon when a wheel is removed. I should have checked the torque before we left Victor, since that was about 50 miles after the wheel service was done.

Continuing in the same direction was out of the question. We were headed for Swan Valley, a town of 200 people and very little else. We drove another ½ mile down the road to the first turnout and executed a very slow, tight 180 degree turn. Then we drove at the sedate pace of 25 MPH all the way back up the pass, down the other side, past our campground in Victor, and another eight miles to Driggs, where we pulled into Kaufman’s OK Tire.

Driggs Kaufmans.jpg

Eleanor and I, although completely stressed out, tried to relax and think during the long slow drive back to Driggs. I tried not to get anxious about things I could not control, like the probable cost of repairing the body damage. Focusing on the good things in life helps avoid “catastrophizing” (obsessing on what’s gone wrong). So I counted our blessings: everyone was fine, we were going to be able to get it all fixed, there was a tire store only 14 miles away, and it was another gorgeous sunny day.

When we arrived at Kaufman’s OK Tire, both Eleanor and I had our plan. I explained to the tire shop owner what had happened and outlined the repairs we’d need. Eleanor took Emma into the trailer and made a special lunch for us ““ comfort lunch.

And of course, everything turned out fine. We spent the afternoon walking the streets of Driggs, which is something we’d wanted to do all week anyway. It was a bonus, really. We dropped in on the rock shop and Emma entertained some grandparents while we were there. It was over 90 degrees, so we dropped in on the old-fashioned soda fountain and got some great cold treats: Bumbleberry ice cream for Eleanor, Oreo cookie shake for Emma, and a frosty Lime Cooler for me.

Driggs soda fountain.jpg

I made a trip to the local auto parts store to get a torque wrench. I’m going to check the torque on those nuts EVERY trip from now on! And then I spent about an hour with the very friendly service tech David, who explained to me in detail everything he was doing, in his classic Mexican accent.

Driggs David working.jpg

The wheel did a lot of damage, and yet we were lucky. As it wobbled off, the wheel’s stud holes were destroyed, making the entire rim into expensive aluminum trash. It also knocked off the dust cap that covers the wheel bearings, and we never did find the hubcap in the tall weeds. Five of the six studs were snapped clean off, and the one remaining was badly mangled. The stud ripped a large hole in the tire, too. Finally, the wheel bent the aluminum trim piece that surrounds the wheel well, and bent the side of the trailer too.

Driggs ripped tire.jpg
The stud ripped a hole in the tire as it came off

Driggs damaged wheel holes.jpg
Stripped out and enlarged in all six holes. This $300 wheel is trash.

So why were we lucky? Well, the damage to the Airstream could have been worse. Blown tires often shred before they come off, ripping apart the wheelwell area and even destroying dump valves and parts of the belly pan. Our body damage was limited to a bit of bent metal and a piece of trim. This may be fixable without replacing the aluminum side of the trailer.

The bill at the tire shop was $264, for two tires (I got a replacement for the spare, even though we don’t have a rim for it at the moment), bearing re-pack, valve stems, wheel balance, seal, studs, lug nuts, dustcap, and disposal of two tires. We’re riding on the steel spare rim at the moment. I called David Tidmore at Roger Williams Airstream and asked him to bring a replacement aluminum rim and hubcap to the Rocky Mountain Vintage Rally, where we will meet him in two weeks.

So our string of bad luck has continued, but I prefer to look at it as a karmic balancing. We’ve had a charmed life in the past year, with very little going wrong. As my good friend Adam said, “Even if you stayed home, the water heater would have broken or something.” In other words, stuff happens no matter where you are. Our house has given us very little trouble over the past few months, and I guess we have to expect a little grief once in a while.

The work at the tire shop was completed by 4:45, and we decided to do a little driving this evening. I stopped every 25-35 miles to check the torque on the wheels with my new torque wrench. It’s now 10 pm, and we are parked behind a gas station in the town of Kemmerer, WY, about 150 miles from Driggs. This town is known as the birthplace of JC Penney, and the “mother store” is still here in town. Tomorrow night we may drop in for a peek before we get out on the road again.

Last Day In Victor

Sorry for the shortage of pictures lately. It has been hectic this week, with work, equipment trouble, and having to commute back and forth to the Public Library. Sometimes the Internet works at the campground, but mostly it doesn’t, or it drops out at inconvenient times. And I’ve had to concentrate on the Fall magazine most of the week. So I haven’t had much opportunity to take out the camera and document this town. Mostly I’m working.

Emma has been completely occupied the past two days with the girls from next door, Rebecca and Susannah. Their parents (David and Laura) invited us over for dinner last night and we took the opportunity to cook up that giant salmon that Eleanor and Susan bought back in Montana. David and Laura chipped in shrimp and ice cream.

Once again we stayed up late yakking and comparing great places to go. Yup, we’ve made another set of new friends. That’s one of the best things about being “on the road”. We’ll stay in touch via email and probably see them again when we get to Florida in December.

Today is the fourth day of catching up on stuff I thought would only take two days. I’m still behind where I’d like to be, but regardless, we need to get over to Denver and we are leaving tomorrow morning. I’ll have to find some time next week in either Estes Park or Aurora (the two places we expect to land while we are in northern Colorado).

We’re certainly not tired of Victor. There are still cafes to explore, the drive-in movie theater, and a lot of interesting back roads to drive. I love the dry climate. I can see why we keep running into people who are settling here, after years of being seasonal residents. And Emma will never get tired of the swimming pool.

Tomorrrow’s route should be scenic, from here to I-80. Thereafter I don’t expect much. We’re hoping to get somewhere east of Rock Springs, WY by Friday night. Blog reader Roger wrote in to say the Rock Springs was only memorable because he lost an window on his Airstream there. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen to us –we’re already using enough spare equipment as it is!

A little help from our friends …

A lot of people wrote to me today to offer advice on the phone problem. Brett suggested I get a refurb phone for less than the new price, so I’d still be able to upgrade to a nicer phone in September.

Dennis suggested a second phone on a different network, for redundancy. (We already have a Sprint phone for that exact reason, and I’ve been using it lately.)

Janine suggested finding one on eBay. Clarke suggested trying *228 to reprogram the phone.

These are all good suggestions. We did try *228 and it didn’t help, but it was certainly important to try it before giving up on the phone. I wish I’d thought of the eBay or refurb ideas last night but, being in a tizzy about the impending failure of the phone, I ordered a new one online. I’ll pick it up at The UPS Store in Aurora CO next week.

Terry also called to suggest we put a tube in the damaged tire, and keep it as a spare. We’ll be looking into that possibility, which could save us $100 or so.

Thanks to all of your for your concern and assistance. It really means a lot to us to know so many people are looking out for us!

Teton Pass downhill.jpg

Today, Rich C and I took one more drive over the Teton Pass to Jackson to pick up another mail package I had requested be sent to General Delivery. The pass is still an interesting ride each time! Today there were a bunch of cyclists working their way up the 10% grade. A few people we’ve met here in Victor commute over the pass every day, all year long.

I am still getting a lot of paper mail despite trying to get everyone on electronic delivery. Sprint keeps sending me paper statements even though I enrolled in their online system, but hopefully this is the last one. The health plan people can’t seem to wrap their heads around the concept of electronic delivery at all. Fidelity is still sending me statements on my retirement investments, so I’ll log on there today and try to put a stop to that. USAA sends me everything electronically except life insurance renewals, so there’s another website to visit today. And, about half of the advertisers in the magazine still prefer sending paper checks even though we accept all credit cards and PayPal.

It would be a fine day if I received my mail and there were nothing in the package except Netflix! But I’ve come to realize that day is probably never going to come. Paper ain’t dead yet — a good thing, considering that my job is publishing a print magazine.

Victor Emma playing.jpg

Emma has found friends at this campground. They were also homeschooled for the first few years of their education. We stayed up till 11 last night talking with their parents in their motorhome, and Eleanor has picked up some very useful information about homeshooling as a result.

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