A Good Bad Thing

noThe work at HWH is a planned maintenance stop that we had been working toward since we left home.  We allow a week for their repairs and they finish in 3 days plus we get to sight see so all is good.  What happens next is unplanned and unexpected.

We leave Iowa with a leveling system that now wakes up and relevels whether it is warm or cold outside and after a run through the Iowa 80 Truck Wash, a clean RV.  We plan a short 4 hour ride up to the Wisconsin Dells (waterpark capital of the world) for a restful week before moving north to Oshkosh.  About 10 miles from the Country Roads RV Park where we intend to stay, Storm drives the coach through a strip of what looks like a fresh road patch on the side of the pavement.  Apparently it is about 5 minutes fresh as when we hit it the tires dig in like we are plowing through sand and asphalt covered rocks pelt the underside of our RV.  Right then I start to get a sick feeling.

Five miles from the RV park, the engine starts warming up a lot more than usual even on slight inclines. Three miles from the RV park, the engine temp starts to soar and things get warm in the cab as Storm and I heatedly debate the problem.  Storm argues that if I could tell him what that “strange smell is” he could figure out what is happening, while I maintain that the problem is “something else” not just the engine overheating.  Storm notices that we have NO air pressure about the same time that I see a parking space big enough for our rig straight in front of us at the city limit sign for Lake Delton (2 miles from the RV park).  We glide out of the traffic lanes just as the coach emergency brake fully applies and we are stuck (1.999 miles from the RV park).  At least we know why we were overheating – our spring brakes were slowly applying to prevent us from crashing with no air brakes and the coach engine was trying to move us forward against almost full brakes which is apparently harder than climbing Vail Pass. We begin to troubleshoot the air leak.

I frantically put in calls to Good Sam Roadside Assistance, the RV park and a nearby shop that Terry at the park suggests to me.  Storm is laying under the coach looking for the air leak and while under there he discovers that our starter is about to fall off! He tightens the starter bolts, then asks me to turn on the RV and try to build up enough air pressure for him to hear the leak.  Unfortunately the most air pressure I can build is 5 lbs and by the time I cut off the engine and his ears stop ringing from all of the diesel noise, that puff of air has bled out. We need a supplemental air source and one finally arrives courtesy of Good Sam in the form of a grease covered young man in a small white van which appears to be the ill-conceived mating of a used parts store and a full trash bin.  When he opens his door to get tools out spare parts, checks, cigarettes and more cascade into the street.  Oh my…

But he does have an air tank and with some pressure from it we stand a chance of finding the leak. Storm opens the engine compartment to get a better look at the problem and discovers that the muffler to turbocharger pipe on our engine is also about to fall off and is so damaged at the turbo inlet that it can’t be easily reattached.  He ignores that issue for the moment and is able to identify the source of the air leak – a hole that has burned into one of the air lines.  The serviceman miraculously produces a short piece of replacement line and a clamp from his “inventory” and within a few minutes of his arrival (we had to wait an hour while Good Sam searched for the cheapest callout service rate – the part they had to pay) we are able to build up some air, but not enough air to say that our problem is fixed.  I try to build up the normal air pressure of 120 lbs, but can only get about 60 lbs no matter how much I rev the engine.

Storm's temporary exhaust fix

Storm’s temporary exhaust fix

After Storm devises a temporary fix for the exhaust involving a coat hangar tied in a bow, we decide to limp into the park with what is obviously only one air line working.  We make it safely to the RV park followed by the service truck (just in case) and after a stiff drink, a hug from Terrie who guides us to our spot and offers of help from both the park owners and a group of Prevost band tour bus operators, we turn in planning to re-address our problems in the morning.

Friday morning Storm locates the other leaking air line which also has a hole burned into it – easily fixed (with a sleeve from one of the Prevost drivers – THANK YOU!!!) , but we are still perplexed as there is nothing hot near these lines.  Oh well – time to figure out our exhaust problem.  Looks like when the Grand Junction folks replaced our radiator and had to fabricate exhaust clamps to replace the ones they removed, they didn’t bother to be sure everything was aligned and securely clamped so our travels since then have slowly worn off the flange that connected to the turbocharger.  As we pull the exhaust up through the engine compartment, we can see that the bottom of the pipe is covered in black asphalt. Ohhhhh – hot black asphalt covered rocks splashing up and landing on the plastic lines burned the holes in our air lines.  I am relieved that we have a theory for the air leaks as without an explanation I would would have been an uneasy rider when we left the Dells.

A call to Country Coach reveals that the exhaust pipe will not be an easy fix.  Five weeks and they can have a new exhaust pipe built for us.  Storm and I start working the phones like a politician’s staffer the night before an election.  We begin with shops near us and slowly expand our search.  Aliens with a broken spaceship seeking a part for a flux capacitor would have better luck than we do.  We can’t find anyone who will admit that they have a piece of 3-1/2″ OD pipe with a turbo charger flange on one end.  We find a piece of pipe online that will work but it is out of stock.  It can be ordered with a 2 week lead time and a minimum $200 order (the part itself cost less than $20).  We make a last desperate call to a person that I learn on internet Country Coach forums may have purchased the exhaust pipe inventory when CC went out of business. I leave a message asking him to call us back.  By then it is 5:30pm on Friday – everything is closed and it looks like we may be calling Wisconsin home for awhile.

The man in Oregon who bought out the bankrupt CC exhaust inventory calls us back Saturday to let us know that  he thinks he may be able to help and will call back Monday.  In the meantime, we hang out with the other RVer’s here learning that our troubles pale in comparison to some of the adventures that these folks have had.  At least our coach has not yet been wrecked while at a dealer being serviced and then presented to us half destroyed with the claim that it was like that when we brought it in.  We talked to 2 couples recently that experienced service shop crashes like that. In fact while we were at HWH one coach backed into another who was there for service and dinged it up a bit so we already know to be wary of damage at shops.

Monday we are back on the phones and by mid-morning it is clear that this plan is not working.  The guy from Oregon is incommunicado (turns out he left his phone home all day). Storm finally contacts a shop about 40 miles away from us where the owner agrees to at least look at what we have.  We drive south toward Madison and find the small one man truck lube shop tucked in behind a BP station.  Storm is greeted by a man who is buried under an even thicker coat of grease than the young man who came to our aid by the road.  Must be a sign of someone who knows his stuff as he took some measurements, dialed several supply shops from memory on his flip phone and finally found a distributor 35 miles further south who had just the piece of pipe that we need.  The place he called was one of the shops we called Friday that denied any knowledge of this part.  Storm tries to pay the man at the truck lube shop as he has by far provided the most valuable service to us but he will not accept payment.  We head south, pick up the precious part and return to the RV for some filing, cutting and welding.

Sunny holds rebuilt exhaust pipe in place for Storm

Sunny holds rebuilt exhaust pipe in place for Storm

The park owner Terry and his wife Terrie are fabulous at putting Storm in touch with local folks who have the tools and expertise to help Storm build up the pipe.  Once he has the pipe fabricated, I assume my new role as part-time mechanic’s helper and together we get the pipe hooked back up.  Storm then loc-tites the starter bolts, fastens up all the other wires, etc. that the Grand Junction folks left hanging loose.  We vow to make pulling up the bedroom floor and inspecting the engine compartment a monthly item in hopes that we can prevent future catastrophes.

Total Cost for this Adventure

Total Cost-$581.75 and then some!
Roadside Assistance Repairs$127.50
3-1/2" pipe with turbocharger flare$15.75
Gas to drive the Prius 75 miles to retrieve parts$5.00
Cost to get old pipe cut off by Terry's Son-In-Law-0-
Cost to get new pipe welded into place$20.00 (he wanted $10, but Storm insisted on $20)
Savings for finding starter before it fell off-$750
Meeting the wonderful folks at Country Roads RV and making so many wonderful new friendsPriceless

Posted in On the Road | Leave a comment

Quad City Day Visit

After HWH froze our leveling system component, the leveling system performed flawfully as expected (refused to wake up and level, stayed asleep when cold like me).  A new circuit board was required and once installed had to endure a second winter test simulation.  With another day to play we head back to the Quad City Area (Moline, Davenport, Rock Island and Bettendorf). We hope to spend the day riding the $8 per day Channel Cat Boat Ride for an inexpensive visit to all 4 cities and a taste of boating on the Mississippi.  Swollen, sinking dark clouds drop the curtain on that idea.

Museum at Rock Island Arsenal

Museum at Rock Island Arsenal

I thought that Storm might enjoy a visit to the Rock Island Arsenal Museum, but I had no idea how difficult making that happen would be.  The security check to enter the military base where the museum is located turns out to be quite a challenge as it is contractor run and extremely chaotic.  There is a machine to dispense “serving next” numbers – it is empty, confusing instructions on the wall, minimal personnel and a very long line.  After about 45 minutes, we are finally able to prove that we possess the necessary moral fiber to tour a museum and with passes in hand, drive onto base.  At no time during this process are we given a map or any instructions regarding how to proceed on base once through the gate so we just do the best we can and hope to stay out of trouble.

The barge stopped just at the lock entrance and then the bottom fell out!

The barge stopped just at the lock entrance and then the bottom fell out!

The museum contains an enormous collection of weapons that includes many made at the arsenal as well as quite a few collected from enemies in conflicts dating back to the American Revolution.  If you have the stamina to get through security, it is worth a visit.  Also on the base is the Mississippi Visitor Center Locks and Dam #15 Visitor Center.  We are thrilled that as we arrive at the lock so does a huge barge that needs to go through the lock.  Disappointment sets in as a severe thunderstorm crashes our lock party and as soon as I start snapping pictures, a huge voice from the sky that can be heard all over the island bellows “A severe thunderstorm is approaching, seek shelter now!!!”

At home, I am used to being allowed to make my own decisions about sheltering in a storm, but that is not allowed here.  The Army Corps of Engineers ranger on duty at the lock herded all of the visitors into the lower level, locked the outside door and threatened to put us in a more secure area if the thunderstorm changed to a tornado.  While all of this is happening, the barge ties off before entering the lock and decides to wait out the storm.  By the time the storm finishes with us, the visitor center closes and we never do get to see the barge lock through.  Too bad as this visitor center is cantilevered over the lock with windows below your feet so you can see everything that happens in the lock.  I was really looking forward to that show.

Backwater Gamblers

Backwater Gamblers

After so many setbacks, I am determined to find one more cool thing to see in this area.  After a confusing and circuitous drive through the City of Rock Island (thanks crazy GPS) we arrive on the banks of the Rock River to find something that I did not expect in Illinois, the Back Water Gamblers Water Ski Show Team.  Their Wednesday night practice is free to the public and very entertaining!

Posted in Illinois | 4 Comments

In the Middle of Nowhere

On Google Earth, the HWH shop appears to be in a corn field in the middle of nowhere Iowa (ok the corn is not yet planted on the Google Earth picture, but believe me it sprouted up all around that shop).  If you look past the corn though there is cool stuff tucked away all around so while our leveling system was put in a freezer for the winter simulation required to get it to “break,” we took the Prius on a road trip.  First stop, the Truck Museum at the Iowa 80 Truck Stop which we arrived too late to visit on Sunday.  The museum is free and full of restored and soon to be restored vintage trucks.  Even I enjoy it though I will have to admit that I spend a lot of time playing with my camera trying to learn more photographer stuff than I do admiring the cylinder heads and suspensions.

_DSC9582After Storm has his fill of trucks, it is time to let him peruse tractors.  The John Deere Tractor Pavilion in nearby downtown Moline, Illinois seems to be just that he needs.  A short 20 minute drive up the interstate and across the Mississippi has Storm behind the wheel of a giant combine studying the controls in hopes he can get her started up!

A special thanks to my Rex Wellness friends who chipped in for a going away gift for me.  I used it to purchase a hot new camera lens that allows me to take photos in low light without a flash.  Still trying to learn how to get good at it, but I used that new lens to practice on this museum excursion.  Miss you guys and THANK YOU!

Posted in Iowa | 8 Comments

Marking one off Storm’s Bucket List

_DSC9470We have been surprised at the number of low cost beautiful little county and city run RV parks in this part of the country.  We learned by visiting with our camp neighbors in these parks that they are mostly used by folks who live within 10 miles of the campground and who just want to enjoy a weekend outdoors.  Although the sites don’t have full hookups, they do offer electric so with a load of water and empty waste tanks we can stay there a few days. For these stops, I search the internet to find dump stations at rest areas for a free and convenient option to deal with dry camping prep.  Yellow Bank County Park just east of Des Moines is one of these and we enjoyed a restorative night’s stopover and peaceful morning there waiting for rain showers to blow through before following our GPS instructions back to I-80 (we hoped).

_DSC9598Storm has been anticipating a stop at the Iowa 80 Truck Stop as we travel east through Iowa.  Touted as the World’s Largest Truck Stop, he figured it would be worth a visit.  This is a huge truck stop with a trucking museum, a dentist, barber, movie theater, laundry and hundreds of trucks!  We took advantage of their enormous lot for a free night of parking while we waited for the HWH shop nearby to open for our Monday morning appointment.  We were able to entertain ourselves by watching trucks and other RVs park until the lot filled up about 8pm, then we could just watch trucks ride around and around searching for a space.

We arrived too early to attend the Iowa 80 Truckers Jamboree this weekend, but we did get to see some pretty trucks that arrived early for the festivities.

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Traveling in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark

20160706_123809On the first pilgrimage Storm and I made out west we stopped over for one night in a campground on the Missouri river just outside of Yankton, South Dakota.  Without ever discussing it or even remembering the exact name of the campground, we both filed that area away on our bucket list for a revisit.  As we head east, we have our opportunity to travel through southeast South Dakota and stop for a week near Yankton.  Things have gotten considerably more complicated since 15 years ago when we first camped here.  Now sites must be reserved online, preferably 90 days in advance, or if lucky you might catch one of the sites held in reserve for first come first served (after the person on them leaves – they have 14 days to keep the site once they get it).  As I explained in an earlier post, to get one of those you have be online ready to click on it when it changes to “available” at 7am or you will be out of luck for at least another day.

After some online failures or if you prefer “practice,” I reserve a site at the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area.  On July 4th, our big old coach lumbers into the cottonwood seed flurry of this shady green park on the banks of Lewis and Clark Reservoir.  We are just in time to relax in our folding chairs along the shoreline and take in fireworks from several cities around the lake along with the more informal glow of  the lightning bug nighttime airshow surrounding us.

Biking, hiking, swimming, boating or just plain relaxing are some of the things that this park offers.  We also visit the Gavin’s Point Aquarium and Fish Hatchery where we see a snapping turtle who has a sign on his tank proclaiming “this turtle is NOT dead.”  It seems that the turtle has learned exactly where to be to catch the food when feeding time arrives so he stays right there with his mouth open.  The aquarist have even added his favorite live fish treats to the tank to lure him to swim around to gobble them up, but he has decided that it is so much easier to just wait for the free food so he remains immobile waiting for an effortless meal.

20160708_192652One of our favorite stops was the hydroelectric plant at the dam.  Photography is not allowed on the powerplant tour (gotta protect the secret 1950s technology).  This tiled, spotless facility is like a step back in time as it still looks much as it did when it was completed in 1957.  As a special treat at the tour end, the plant supervisor made himself available for questions.  He shared with us the fact that the plant components manufactured in the 1950’s were so well engineered that they most of the original generator parts are still in use.  After Storm grilled him about vibrations in the shafts and lubrication of the bearings, the supervisor wrote a list for us of great sight-seeing tips for the surrounding area.  I dragged Storm out of there, but not before we learned that there is a severe shortage of hydroelectric powerplant operators, an extremely well-paying job for which the Corps of Engineers is willing to train new applicants.  If you are looking for a career change, check out the nearest dam cause this sounds like a sweet gig.  Click here for the Gavin’s Point Powerplant 2016 tour schedule as you really should try to stop here if in the area.

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An Independence Day Quandary

Leisurely rolling our way across the South Dakota plains, we stopped for the night in Presho where we were informed by the campground host that we should not miss the 4th of July celebration in nearby Vivian (population 119).  According to our host and the web, the celebrations were to include: Various games throughout the day including a cake walk, corn hole tournament, chicken catch, greased pig scramble, kids bouncy house, timed rope climb, human foosball and human horse races.

I don’t know about you, but it has been quite a while since I saw a greased pig scramble or a chicken catch and I can’t even imagine what high jinx are involved in human foosball.  We were almost convinced to stay, but our campsite became overrun with flies and in self defense we decided to pull out before the festivities.

Mitchell, SD Cabelas

Mitchell, SD Cabelas

Since we failed to secure same day reservations at our hoped for destination at the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area in Yankton, SD (they were serious that you must be online ready to click at exactly 7AM), Storm brilliantly found a place for the night in the parking lot at Cabelas in Mitchell, SD.  Within walking distance of not only the Cabelas store, but also a short stroll to restaurants and an ice cream store, this turned out to be a delightful free camping space find.  We double checked inside the store to be sure it was OK to stay and they told us to make ourselves at home in their huge RV parking lot located right beside a lovely pond, kennels and walking area.  So I am going to do what I am sure they hoped I would and urge everyone to shop at Cabelas, the nice people who sheltered the Weathers for a night.

20160704_121431Before we left Mitchell, we made sure to visit the Corn Palace and stop in for provisions at the only Grocery Store/Casino/Liquor Store that I had ever visited.  Nice to find that rare one stop shopping place.  We are headed for a week of dry camping with only electric hookup and are proud of ourselves for thinking to fill our water tank and empty the others at a rest stop (yes out here all rest stops have dump and water stations) so we don’t have to stop and do it at the crowded campground when we arrive on July 4th.

Posted in South Dakota | 6 Comments

South Dakota Air and Space Museum

Blast Door Art

Blast Door Art

I lied earlier when I said that Storm and I did not have the commitment needed to visit the underground launch facility at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.  After everyone left to return to NC, Storm and I found an RV site nearer to the visitor center. We got up bright and early and arrived at the center by 6:45am to stand in line for the 8:00am opening and ticket release (6 daily tours, 6 people per tour, 36 total tickets – according to the visitor center folks you gotta be there early). Unbelievably there were already 10 people in line ahead of us!  Procuring our tickets, we thought we would be going down in a missile silo, but instead the tour was of the underground launch facility that controlled the Delta flight’s rockets.  Our ranger tour guide was not born when the door was closed on this site’s operation and she made me feel fossilized when she referred the the 1993 closure as though it was ancient history.

We headed back to Ellsworth AFB where just outside the main gate, the South Dakota Air and Space Museum is located.  We learned that an $8 bus tour was available at this museum that included a ride through the base and a tour of their Missile Man II silo but by the time we got there we had exhausted our missile silo dreams and decided instead to just tour the free museum.  Celebrating South Dakota Aviators, this museum poignantly shares the lives of these pioneers and has displayed outside a beautifully landscaped garden full of retired warbirds.  My favorite display honored a WASP P-51 Mustang pilot named Vi Cowden who parachuted with the Golden Knights on her 89th birthday (my kind of woman!)- checkout her story by clicking here.  After the museum visit we were starving and stumbled onto the Fuji Sake and Sushi Bar in the Rushmore Mall.  From 3-6pm, they have sushi and drink Happy Hour – buy one drink, get one free – BEST sushi bar ever!!

Posted in South Dakota | 1 Comment