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Archive for November, 2006

Bowling in Tampa

Emma loves to go bowling … and the last time went was the last time we were in Tampa, back in March. So we were overdue. We grilled dinner here (Cajun shrimp this time, blue-cheese burgers, and salad) with Barry and then met Brett at the University Lanes.

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Emma demonstrates her “drop” technique for bowling

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Dad demonstrates his body English. Photo by Emma

A couple of readers have said to me that the 12v dimmer we are planning to install won’t save us any electrical energy. For example, Jim wrote:

Some light dimmers don’t reduce consumption, only output at the light bulbs. Switch consumes the other energy. I don’t know about 12vdc. We are in process of switching out some of the 43 10 watt bulbs to 5 watt. Then judiciously selecting which ones to use will extend our battery capacity.

I’ll verify if this is correct in our case, after we get the switch installed. The Trimetric amp-hour meter will tell us exactly what’s going on. Even if we don’t save power, we will like the added flexibility in lighting options.

Last night, a cold front came through with heavy rain all night. I am always nervous when it rains, because I’ve owned so many vintage trailers that have leaked. But as usual, the Safari had no problems. Still, the huge crashes of lightning all around and frequent downpours woke up us several times. It was a night of fireworks, sultry with humidity.

We used neither heat nor air conditioning last night, as the temperatures have hung around 72-74, but today “winter” is expected to arrive, plunging temperatures into the upper 60s for a week. I can live with that.


Being parked for a while gives us an opportunity to concentrate on maintenance items. I know some readers are interested in what it takes to keep our ship afloat, so here’s what we’ve been doing lately on the trailer.

A few days ago Eleanor disassembled the bathroom sink drain plumbing, to resolve a slow drain. Having two females with long hair means this has to be done every few months. But Eleanor has gotten pretty quick with this job. She was half done with it before I even noticed she was in there.

The wallpaper border in our bathroom has never been to our liking, and lately it has started peeling, so Eleanor removed it. Months ago she bought a replacement border, which is a little more colorful. But before installing it, she needed to re-caulk the edge of the bathroom vanity today. She also took the opportunity to get under the vanity and tighten some screws which hold the vanity to the wall. Tomorrow, when the caulk is fully set, she’ll glue up the new wallpaper border.

I’ve been planning a preventative maintenance stop in Texas in early January. I want to get the entire propane system checked, re-pack the wheel bearings, and basically give every system of the trailer a good safety check. We plan to visit David Tidmore at Roger Williams Airstream to get this service done, but I’ll participate so I can learn more about how things work on our rolling home.

I also want to get a powered fan installed in the refrigerator’s vent, so our fridge will work better in high ambient temperatures. Several times last summer (Weatherford TX, Death Valley and Salem, Oregon) we encountered temperatures over 100 degrees and the refrigerator compartment hit 60 inside, causing some food to spoil.

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Sign of the week!

A few details

Our little counter upgrade seems to have struck a nerve with our blog readers. Yesterday morning I received half a dozen emails asking questions about it.

One person asked if I have a photo of the area before the counter went in. I went through my archives and couldn’t find a single decent shot of it! Sorry …

Blog reader Dirk asked:

Will this be your corner office now? By the way, after a year on the road what parts and pieces have you found worked best with your Mac for internet connectivity? Many reading the blog may be interested in the specifics for when they run away from home!

No, the space is a little tight still for working. I’ll continue to use the dinette and the master bedroom for work. I can spread out a bit more in those places. The new counter is really just temporary space, and a mechanism to mount under-counter storage, which is coming soon.

I’ve talked about Internet a few times in the blog and you can read my thoughts on it from last year here. This year there are more options for people to get online, especially more wifi hotspots, and cheaper cellular data cards. A lot of people are going with Verizon or Sprint cellular data cards, which work well and are often free with a 2-year contract. Unlimited access is between $59.99 and $79.99 per month.

I still use a few things to give myself an edge, including:

1) Linksys WRE54G wireless range extender (for use in campgrounds). This amplifies and re-broadcasts wireless signals so they easily penetrate the Airstream’s aluminum skin.

2) Verizon data cable to connect my Mac to my Verizon phone, as a backup method of getting online. (Rarely used.)

3) An Ethernet cable for occasions when I spot an open Ethernet tap at someone’s home or office.

4) The free “Airport Radar” widget (available only for Macs running Tiger 10.4.1 or above)

These days the only places we have trouble getting online now are the remote spots of the west — and the numerous campgrounds that offer “free wifi” but don’t deliver. As I’ve said before, it’s more about knowing where to look than anything. Public libraries, strip malls, cafes, motels, etc. are all easy spots to get online.

“TMI” Department:

You might also be wondering about how we manage to dump the Airstream’s holding tanks while we are courtesy parking for extended periods. Usually we’re gone in a few days so we just find a place along the road (a rest area or campground). But since we are comfortable here at Barry’s and don’t feel like moving, we had to come up with something else.

(Warning: if you weren’t wondering about this subject, you may want to skip to the next blog entry, because this gets mildly graphic, although I’ll spare you the worst details.)

Barry has a septic system into which he pumps the contents of his holding tank using a macerator. A macerator is sort of a blender/pump, but it sure doesn’t make daquiris. It attaches to the holding tank and chops up the effluent from the tank and pumps it through a garden hose. With this, he’s able to pump his tanks 50 feet to the sewer inlet. It’s a lot neater than using a blue tank.

Being a clever sort of fellow, Barry saved money by buying a marine macerator pump and making a custom attachment to connect it to his 1973 Airstream’s Thetford dump valve. The problem is, newer Airstreams use Valterra dump valves, and the two are not compatible. An adapter was available through Camping World, but apparently no longer. So off we went to Home Depot to manufacture something that would do the job.

Tampa macerator.jpg

Inspired by Rube Goldberg, our custom connector uses a piece from a Shop-Vac, some silicone waterproofing tape, a hose clamp and a section of 1.5″ clear plastic tubing. The clear tubing puts you up close and personal with whatever you ate in the previous week, but it has the distinct benefit of letting you know when the job is done, and when the tank has been well flushed with fresh water. Let me assure you, we tested the gizmo on some gray water (to confirm it wouldn’t suddenly and catastrophically fail) before pulling the black tank handle.

It worked, but the experience reminded me of the things I don’t like about macerators. At least we have a solution for the duration of our stay here at Chez Barry. This effort was way above what we normally need to do when courtesy parking, so don’t get the idea that this is a normal part of traveling … I doubt we’ll ever have to go to such lengths again.

New countertop!

Our first upgrade has been installed: a countertop on the curbside of the trailer.

This is the beginning of something we’ve been thinking about for months. The credenza and two chairs provided in the Safari 30 aren’t very useful relative to the space they take up. We have been traveling with only one of the chairs, but the open area near the door has been underutilized. Junk tends to pile up there, and we have no place for the laundry and other miscellaneous items.

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Barry test-fitting the melamine sheet before cutting

Our first plan, last winter, was an elaborate new set of cabinetry to replace what was there. When we got a $4000 estimate, we dropped the idea. Then we gradually scaled back on our grandiose expectations until we talked to Barry about it this week. He suggested a simple extended countertop, with off-the-shelf wire drawers mounted below. Perfect!

Tampa Barry cutting.jpg

So we took a trip to Home Depot for $26.99 worth of plywood with white melamine laminated to it, a few screws, and some angle brackets. Barry already had the edge strips from his days as a cabinet maker.

A few hours later, and here’s the result:

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The credenza is still in place and still usable. The extra width of the counter is about the same as the width of the wheel well enclosure below, so the chair is still usable. But we are planning to replace the chair with something that folds up and can be put away. This will give us more flexibility.

The extended counter is wide enough in the corner area to allow us to install a microwave oven now, something we’ve never had in this trailer. I don’t know if we are going to do it yet, but it’s nice to have the option. It also gives me a convenient spot to put my laser printer.

I think the next upgrade will be an open wire drawer system mounted below the overhang of the counter. This will give us flexible space for laundry, shoes, anything! The frame of the drawer system will also provide support for the overhang. And because the wire drawers are see-through, they won’t appear to block the sight lines as much as solid cabinetry would have. We’ll be considering exactly what to mount there, over the next week.

Scam: A blog reader reports

I heard from someone about our scammer:

we also got scammed by this velecia farmer person from hampton va. there are other names involved; fred johnson of freegate delivery in hampton va., janet collar – the original emailer, and bill crush – janets landlord. they also threatened us with contacting the fbi.

also to let you and your readers know we were using a web site called we were trying to sell a boat motor. we have reported this to numorous authorities and we are hoping something is going to be done. the scammers are still emailing us but we are not replying because that is what the attorney generals office suggested. if you have any ideas they are welcome.
thank you for your attention.

The only suggestion I can make is to either ignore the email scams, as the Attorney General’s office suggested, or waste the scammer’s time and money by accepting their check and then just throwing it away. If enough people did that, perhaps the scammers would be discouraged.

Coquina Beach, Bradenton FL

November and March are super months to be in Florida. The weather is great and the beaches are uncrowded. So we decided to skip the crowds at “Ribfest” and go for a daytrip down to Bradenton, or more specifically, Anna Maria Island, which is about an hour drive from our parking spot in Tampa. There’s a nice stretch of beach on the south end of the island called Coquina Beach. The water is shallow and warm (70s this time of year), and you can walk for miles along the powdery soft, pure white sand.

While we were at the beach, we heard from Bobby and Danine. They were driving back from Michigan to their home in Virginia. You might remember we courtesy parked with them a few weeks ago. Well, they are now the proud owners of a new Airstream Safari 30 bunk, like ours. Congratulations! Bobby, Danine, and Elise are now one step closer to their great full-timing adventure next year. We are very much looking forward to seeing them on the road.

No photos today, sorry. It was a vacation day. (But here’s our Google Earth location that day.) We just chilled out all afternoon, walking, splashing in the water, and having a picnic lunch. We stayed until sunset. Hardly anyone was there all day, which continues to amaze me. We could have brought the Airstream after all — the parking lots were mostly empty. Florida in November is a great deal for beach lovers.

Shrimp and Grits

Last April we stopped in on our friends Renee and Fred in Charleston SC for a couple of days, and they introduced us to a local specialty, “Shrimp and Grits”. Ever since then, Eleanor has been wanting to try making it, and I’ve been wanting to eat it again.

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Since the local Sweet Bay grocery has great giant prawns, and Barry and Susan were coming over for dinner, last night became the night. It was a bit of work, but the results were terrific. (Barry and I grilled the prawns outside.) Eleanor actually combined several recipes she found online into a custom recipe of her own. We all had seconds, and even though she made a huge pot, there were no leftovers.

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Earlier on Friday we headed into Tampa to do an errand and go see Rich C, who is parked up at Bay Bayou. We’ll be relocating up there (about 30 minutes northwest through Tampa traffic) to be closer to Brett’s, on the 18th. That will make it easier to coordinate projects and Thanksgiving preparations.

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Catching up with Rich C

Speaking of Thanksgiving, we are planning an all-Airstream event. It turns out that everyone who will be attending our dinner is currently living in an Airstream — except Brett, who is supplying the apartment. That includes us, Barry, and hopefully Bert & Janie, if they can get down here soon enough. Last I heard they were exploring American history at Harper’s Ferry.

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