Oct 29, 2007

TVA Norris Dam

October 29, 2007 -- York, SC

One thing we never have to worry about when visiting our good friends Tim & Chris is going hungry. Tim is an amazing chef and throws together, with little apparent effort, the most wonderful meals. I'm going to have to pace myself or I'll gain weight for sure during our visit. We do have a few work projects on the docket that may burn up a few pounds so it may balance out in the end.

While we were in the Knoxville area a few days ago we took an afternoon and drove up to one of the TVA dams to learn and recreate a little. The Tennessee Valley Authority, or TVA, is a federally owned corporation created by congress in 1933. It's goal was, and is, to provide electric power, flood control, navigation, and economic development in the watershed of the Tennessee River -- an area comprising most of Tennessee and parts of Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia. It has 29 dams on the Tennessee or it's tributaries that produce electric power and another 20 non-electric producing dams that work together to provide electricity to over 8.5 million people today. The pools of water backed up behind the dams are long narrow lakes that are great for recreation and waterfront vacation/retirement homes.

By any measure, the Tennessee Valley area was in sad shape in the early thirties. The depression only worsened things. By some accounts as many as 30% of the population suffered from malaria. Incomes were only about $600 per year with many families existing on far less. The land had been farmed too hard leading to depleted soils, erosion, and declining crop yields. Even the best timber had already been logged off. There was little industry due to the remoteness and difficult terrain. Things were tough.

The TVA played a huge part in reviving the area. It provided many jobs during construction of the dams. The electrification of the area brought all the benefits of a cheap clean power source. Industries, and resulting jobs, were attracted by cheap power. The TVA taught farmers how to improve crop yields and manage the soil. They introduced fertilizers. They replanted forests. It was, and is, a tremendous success story.

The dam we visited was Norris Dam. It was the first dam in the TVA system. Completed in 1936, it took 3 years to build. It is 265 feet high and 1,860 feel long. It holds back a pool of water 129 miles long. Although not the largest dam in the system, it's still impressive. Nearby campgrounds, hiking trails, boat launches, and park-like picnic areas were also developed as part of the projects.

We hiked on some trails near the dam and ran into two deer -- a doe and her fawn. They were so unconcerned about us that we could close, maybe only 40 or 50 feet from them. I even had enough time to get a few pictures; here's one... the deer is laying down right in the middle of the picture:

We enjoyed the time at Norris Dam. It reminded me that, once upon a time, the government was successful at something.


Oct 28, 2007

250 Miles to York, SC

October 27, 2007 -- York, SC

What a great day for a drive in the country! Our trip from the Knoxville area to rural York, SC, in the Charlotte metro area, took us through the Appalachians on I-40. It was one of the most spectacular drives in a long time... the fall colors were in full bloom, the sun was bright, the air clear, the traffic relatively light... some pictures were taken but they just don't do justice to reality. Wow.

This was the first real mountain test for the bus and I was anxious to see how it performed. I was pleased. On the way up the Cummins motor had power to spare despite pulling about 36,000 pounds. On the way down, the potentially most dangerous segment, the strong exhaust brake provided more than enough energy to control our descent with only nominal use of the regular brakes. The grade was as much as 6% and we had no problems at all. With this knowledge, we're ready for any mountain around.

Our typical "moving" day sees us getting started about 10 or 11 in the morning -- there's normally no rush to get started. Once we've been driving for a couple hours, hunger sets in and we've fallen into the routine of stopping at highway rest stops along the way. For example, yesterday, the rest stop on I-40 had picnic tables and was we'll taken care of -- very clean. If leftovers need to be heated up, we fire up the generator and use the microwave. I've grown to prefer making our own lunches instead of eating in restaurants all the time.

Some of the roads leading to Tim and Chris's house were a little narrow and challenging, but we arrived without incident about 4pm. They have a large lot with much of it wooded. A long driveway leads to their house, which can't be seen from the road. Off that driveway, about a quarter of the way down, is an open area that Tim's always called "the meadow". It's nicely sized for something like our bus, but getting into it might be tight and I wasn't sure we could do it. Prior to our arrival, Tim worked at pruning and trimming trees in order to provide a turning radius for us... and it worked like a charm. I was able to back in with only a couple of mid-course corrections. For a few days, I've got a picture of the bus parked in the meadow on the front page of our website.


Oct 26, 2007

Visiting Friends; Tennessee Karaoke

October 26, 2007 -- Heiskell, TN near Knoxville

The Excapees Raccoon Valley RV park was nearly full when we checked in here on Wednesday. We had to take a spot with no hookups. But yesterday, Thursday, a full hookup site opened up and we moved. Even though we can exist without hookups for a week or so, it's nice to at least have some electricity and water, which was our limiting item this time as we only had a nominal amount in the tank.

This is the first time we're staying at an Escapees park. It's an organization we joined a few months ago that promotes safe and responsible RV'ing and stays on top of changes in laws affecting the lifestyle. They have a number of RV parks around the country and offer deep discounts to members. This is the oldest park in the system and while it has a charm to it, it's old and was designed with much smaller RV's in mind. Thus, sites are small and maneuvering can be a challenge at time. On a positive note, the people are wonderful. We've met too many people to remember. Last night, the park had their regular Thursday night music jam session -- an ever-changing number of musicians from the area show up and just play. Anything goes, but mostly country and bluegrass music (after all, it is Tennessee!). It's truly not a concert or performance... just a jam session. People from the park sit around in chairs and, if they're so moved, join in. If someone plays an instrument, they can jam along. Ditto if you sing. I can best describe it as "Tennessee Karaoke". We had a blast and the clubhouse was full of campers who felt the same way.

Earlier in the day we drove into Knoxville. Something we just had to do this trip was to meet with some old friends from my days in the fastener business. We were invited to Gene & Becky's club for lunch and then went over to their house to visit for a couple hours. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit with them and promised to stop more often as we come through in the future. Thanks Gene and Becky for a wonderful time, and thanks Butch, for putting this together on such short notice.

We're going to do a little touring of the area near here today. We're about 10 miles north of Knoxville and there's large lake nearby -- part of the TVA system of dams, rivers, and waterways. Tennessee and the Carolinas have been on our radar screen as a possible place to settle in the future, so we're going to get started on our review of the area today.


Oct 23, 2007

Just a great day!

October 23, 2007 -- Nashville, TN

Due to the hour, this post will be neither long nor particularly witty.

We just got back from seeing the Tuesday Night Opry at the Grand Ole Opry House near Opryland... and we had a great time. The show is also broadcast live on WSM radio in Nashville. The Saturday night version of the show is supposed to be the oldest continuous radio program in the U.S., having been aired weekly on WSM since 1925. After experiencing the show tonight, I'm convinced that Garrison Keillors' "A Prairie Home Companion" is a parody of it... right down to the similarity of sponsors -- Grand Ole Opry's Martha White Biscuits and Prairie Home Companion's Powder Milk Biscuits. I've been in the audience of both and they feel very similar. And that's a good thing. I like 'em both.

The show we saw tonight included Jeannie Seely, Bill Anderson, Little Jimmy Dickens, Dierks Bentley, Alan Jackson, Mel McDaniel, Rebecca Lynn Howard, and the bluegrass group The Grascals. It was a contrast of the very old veterans and the relatively young newcomers. Little Jimmy Dickens, for example, is 87 years old and still performing... and telling the funniest jokes I've heard lately. Rebecca Lynn Howard is still in her 20's and has a string of song writing and performing accomplishments behinds her... and what a voice! They were all just great and we thoroughly enjoyed the two hours.

Prior to the show, we walked over to the Opryland Hotel and had drinks and dinner. It was a tad expensive but we rationalized it on the basis of, well, "we don't do this very often and we deserve it". In other words, "just because". Dar has fallen in love with this hotel and would leave me in a minute if someone offered her a job taking care of the plants and gardens in the conservatory.

Earlier in the day we drove over to The Hermitage -- the home of the 7th president of the U.S., Andrew Jackson. This 1000 acre estate was a cotton plantation and self-sustaining farm during it's day. We toured the grounds and the mansion, learned about life at that time, and the personal nuances and eccentricities of the man Jackson. He was a character with charisma, a natural leader. The experience prompted the purchase of a couple books that'll keep me busy for a few weeks.

The rain has been nearly constant the last two days. Parts of Tennessee west of here have gotten upward of 6 inches of rain... badly needed rain. We haven't been able to do much of anything outdoors, but what we did do was extremely satisfying. I don't think either of us would have changed a thing we did the past two days.

Here's the plan for tomorrow: get up early, quick breakfast, and get the bus transformed into travel mode. Then, get the wheels turning by no later than 10am. We're heading for the Knoxville TN area for the next few nights.

Good night all.


Oct 22, 2007

Grand Ole Nashville

October 22, 2007 -- Nashville, TN

After our overnight in Bowling Green we bid 'adieu' to Ginnie and Kevin and got rolling for Nashville about 1pm. It wasn't the most pleasant drive as we were headed almost directly south and directly into the glare of a bright, hot sun. The truck traffic was also heavy and the winds were gusting out of the Southeast. We did stop for fuel near the Tennessee state line and filled for less than $3/gal -- something to write home about these days. The short drive today felt longer than it was and we were happy to park and get set-up for a couple days here at Two Rivers Campground near the Grand Ole Opry House and the Opryland Hotel.

Almost all of Kentucky and Tennessee are part of the extreme drought that's plagued much of the southeast this year. Nashville is 16 inches below the average rainfall for the year. The reservoirs are drying up. There's talk of rationing water in some areas. Considering all this, I'll put up with a few rainy days the forecast is calling for this week. Today, we're not planning much... perhaps a drive to a couple Corps of Engineers campgrounds nearby that we've heard are very nice, just to check them out.

After we got set up yesterday we went over to the Opryland Hotel. I stayed here a few years ago for a convention and thought Dar would really enjoy it... and she did! It's a massive place, on the scale of new hotels in Las Vegas, with thousands of rooms. All the huge open areas between the various wings of the place are covered so one can walk around in air-conditioned comfort while visiting an ersatz town-center complete with stores (of course), restaurants, waterfalls, fountains, and a "river" complete with tour boats. One phase of this hotel is called the conservatory. Hundreds of feet long and almost as wide, it's a collection of tropical plants from all over, marvelously displayed among different levels of walkways and paths, waterfalls and fake-rock walls. I thought the plants might be plastic, but Dar insists they're all real. We enjoyed the experience once we got there. The only thing that irked me was they want $12 to park near the hotel, something I just refused to do while I've got two legs that work. I found a place to park at a nearby shopping mall and the walk to the hotel turned out to be certainly more enjoyable that the pleasure of bagging a close-in parking place.

That's all I can come up with to write today. It's raining, we're being lazy, and enjoyin' every minute of it.


Oct 20, 2007

Almost 400 miles

October 20, 2007 -- Bowling Green, KY

It's midnight, so this is going to be a very short posting.

By the time we got the bus ready and the toad hooked up this morning it was 10am. So, for us, a comparatively early start. Considerable quartering headwind for much of the day cut into bus performance and mileage, but we still managed to do better than 7mpg as reported by the bus's onboard computer. I thought making it to Louisville would be good for the day, but with Dar sharing the helm today, we managed to make it painlessly to Bowling Green -- about 380 miles for the day, a new record. Dar has a good friend in Bowling Green and today she tested that friendship by calling her only two hours before we would be in town! (Talk about the dreaded "drop in"!) But Ginnie and Kevin rose to the challenge and not only invited us over for dinner... they let us park in their driveway. Both the food and conversation were great. Thanks, you guys, for a wonderful time!

It's only a short jaunt to the Nashville area tomorrow. If we get started by noon or so, we'll be in good shape and in a campsite early. We think we'll spend a few days in Nashville before heading toward Knoxville and then on to Tim & Chris's place near Charlotte.


Oct 19, 2007

2.2 miles

October 19, 2007 -- Nappanee, IN

That was it... just 2.2 miles! That's how far we were from the tornado that touched town on the east side of Nappanee last night at about 10:30pm... and, let me tell you, riding the storm out in the bus was like the old "E" ticket rides at Disney.

We were aware that heavy thunderstorms and tornadoes were a possibility last night... we even watched one line of storms come through. That first line kind-of split, with some of it going west and north, and the rest of it going east and north. When I went to bed about 9 or 9:30pm, there was another line of storms coming, but it looked weaker and like it too might split around us. Unfortunately, I was wrong and it built to much more.

About 10:15pm, I was awakened by the heaviest rain we've experienced since living in the camper -- an absolute deluge. The heavy rain was accompanied by high gusty winds too. The camper was a'rockin and a'rollin and I was starting to get a little concerned. The intensity built even more and then, vaguely, through the din of the storm, I heard the yowl of the city warning siren. I thought, oh sh**, I hope Dar didn't hear that... but she did. And her eyes were as big as baby-moon wheel covers on a '57 Chevy. "What do we do?" "Where do we go?" "It's too late, we'll just have to ride it out here." There's a little space between the closet and the bed on Dar's side, and she slid out of bed and filled that space. She was wedging herself in so when the storm picked us up and tossed us around, she'd have some chance at surviving. I, on the other hand, became very philosophic and fatalistic... if my number's up, it's up! If it's not, it's not! So why worry too much about it. Besides, what's the chance that a real tornado will actually touch down right here in Nappanee, especially in October when we have almost no tornadoes, ever? Right? Right? After just a few minutes at peak intensity, you could feel the storm subside. Dar, who has ESWP (extra sensory weather perception), said "It's over".

I didn't sleep much for the next hour or two. The storm did subside, but emergency vehicles with sirens screaming were going up and down the highway. And then the power went out. I know when the power goes out because my time/temp projection thing doesn't project when the power's not on, and I have to try to find my glasses each time I get up in the middle of the night so I can see what time it is. Morning approached slowly and in the dark.

Our wake-up alarm went off at 5am. Everything around us was dark. The power was still out. This isn't a good sign that we'll be able to get the last items on our list resolved and get this visit with Newmar wrapped up before the end of the day. But we had to get up and be ready. The power could come back on at any moment and they could be here for the bus right at 6am as scheduled. We just didn't know.

At about 6:15am, our service tech pulls up and we invite him in. It was then that we learned the extent of the damage in Nappanee caused by the storm last night. Because the power was out, they sent anyone who made it to work home. The city and county had declared a state of emergency and asked all businesses to cancel operations for the day. But we lucked out as the small paint repair we needed done was actually done in the next small town to the west, Bremen. They were taking the bus there for painting and should have it back just after noon.

After a small breakfast we drove as close as we could get to the damaged area of town, then walked the rest of the way. It may have been an average tornado as tornadoes go, but the devastation is something to see. There were three RV or Mobile Home plants owned by Fairmont Homes that were heavily damaged or destroyed. A bunch of their finished inventory... brand-spanking new travel trailers... were picked up and tossed about. (There are pictures on our online photo collection.) In addition, a number of homes in a nearby subdivision were heavily damaged. I did get pictures of a small apartment building that was torn apart. Many peoples lives were jumbled up that day... but no one was killed or seriously hurt.

Our camper was finished about 1pm. We signed off on the work, went out to a celebratory lunch, and then drove to Elkhart to kill the afternoon.

What a day. Glad it's over.

We head south tomorrow.


Oct 18, 2007

Small-town charm

October 18, 2007 -- Nappanee, IN

Day 2 of our Newmar repair visit. Despite heavy rain most of the night our service tech was here right at 6am to pick up the camper and drive it off to the service bay. Did I mention that it's still dark here at 6am? We headed right downtown to our favorite breakfast spot, the Corner Cafe, and had another wonderful hot breakfast. Today, Dar was curious about an item on the menu called "fried mush". We got there so early, about 6:10am, that the mush was still cookin' and wasn't available for order yet. But after we finished our more conventional breakfast, and after the mush was ready, our waitress brought Dar a sample. I'm sure you're wondering what it could be, as I did. The best way to describe it is "northern deep fried grits" -- it's made out of cornmeal and cooked, boiled, in a pot until any flavor the corn once had is gone. I'm not sure about this part, but I think they add some fiberglass for consistency, let it cool a little, cut it into small squares, and drop it in the deep fryer until golden brown. The little golden-brown square is then plopped on a plate and delivered, pipping hot, to your table along with a big bottle of maple-flavored syrup. The procedure is to dowse the fried mush in maple syrup, and dig in... yuuuummm, yuuummm. Dar loved it. My contention is most people would eat their two-day old socks if they were deep fried and dowsed with syrup. But we can now say we've had Indiana fried mush.

We left the restuarant about 7:30am... did I mention that it's still dark here at 7:30am?... especially on an overcast rainy day? Down the street from the restaurant we found a great hardware store that's got 3 floors chock full of stuff that you either need or will need someday. I could spend hours, no, days!, in a place like this. Now it's 7:30am (and still dark) and they're open! We had some key-blanks from Newmar that needed to be cut so we had a few extra keys for the front door... and figured this place could do it. In we went and ran into the friendliest bunch of guys and had an absolutely great time. By the end of our over hour visit, our three keys were cut, Dar was wandering around all three floors looking for things we "needed", and I was sitting on a stool talking with the guys about everything and nothing. We went in looking to have three keys cut, for which they charged us $1 each. We left with $85.07 of stuff, and felt like it was worth that in entertainment value alone. I love small towns.

One of the things we learned from one of the guys at the hardware store is that Wakarusa, another little town a few miles north, just finished their "pumpkin tree" and the light pole decorating contest was in full swing. By 8:30 or 9am, the sun was finally up and there was a break in the rain so we drove the 4 miles north to Wakarusa. Who wouldn't? And this turned out to be the highlight of the day!

Wakarusa is a very small town of about 1600 people. The downtown is the intersection of two county roads and is exactly two blocks long in both directions. Right in the middle of the main intersection was the pumpkin tree in all it's glory. My friends, you may not believe this, but there were 205 large pumpkins that made up the tree, and it was 52 feet high! Something we'll likely tell our grandchildren about. But if I may be a little more serious for a moment, it did give me a warm "community" feeling -- something I think is not very common these days. Despite the small size of the town, they got enough businesses together for a competition to make the best streetlight decoration, as voted on by those who decide to vote. The decorations were wonderful and creative. Coming from the "big city" the thing that surprised me the most was that there was no vandalism of the decorations. None at all, that I could detect. No gang symbols spray-painted on them, no theft of parts or figures or mums or corn stalks. They were as perfect as the day they were done. I hope to get some pictures tomorrow and get them on the website. I understand that some people in the town weren't happy because the big pumpkin tree in the middle of the intersection made it necessary to prohibit left-hand turns for two weeks. Now there's a small town problem for ya'.

Newmar is pretty much done with our issues list and only has a small area to re-paint on the exterior tomorrow morning. At this point, I don't see anything getting in the way of our leaving on Saturday.


Oct 17, 2007

In for repairs

October 17 -- Nappanee, IN.

You know you've been in Nappanee for enough time when you've learned how to spell it... some letters are double, some not... it's all very confusing. But I've got it down. There are a lot of towns around here with unusual and, for me, hard to spell names. Take Wakarusa, or Mishiwaka, or Shipshewana, all of these are real names of real places within about 40 miles of where I'm sitting tonight. It's enough to keep those spelling-challenged people among us busy for a while. Then there's a place called Vistula. Vistula? To me it sounds like a medical condition, but why would they name a town after a medical condition? One of those deep mysteries that may never be answered.

Anyway, Nappanee is the hometown of Newmar -- the builder of our camper. We drove down (or would "over" be a better term?) here from Illinois yesterday, the 16th. Since we're passing through the birthplace of the bus, we wanted to take advantage of some no-charge warranty work on a few small items that needed some attention. We arrived at the plant about 4pm, Eastern Time, and the place was locked up, except for the other 30 or 40 Newmar RV owners that had the same idea. Newmar provides parking spots at no charge for any Newmar owner who's in for service or warranty work, or just passing through. In fact, we stayed here one night on our way to Michigan in early July. It's hard to beat free camping. Well, all these people are milling around, collecting together in small groups, and talking about this and that. There are so many RVs here that parking is at a premium, but a number of people pitched in to help us find a spot where we could plug in and at least have power. I'm told this is the peak season for getting things repaired on the old camper since many people are headed south for the next few months... like us.

Well, looking at all this... all these motorhomes and campers... all these people... how could Newmar possibly get to everyone in a day? One fellow I talked to had been here two weeks, another two months (!!). I was told our issues could take two days to resolve, but I now feared I may have gotten us into a black hole that we might not soon get out of. I was told by others to be ready at 6am the next morning... the day of our appointment. But we didn't get here in time to register our arrival with the authorities, so they may not know we're even here! We were told to put the big sticker that you got in the mail from Newmar in your windshield and they'll call when their ready -- probably good advice except for the fact that I didn't get a big sticker. Our appointment was put together so fast that it was probably still in the mail. Well then, we heard, just write your last name in big letters on a sheet of paper, and include the date of your appointment, and tape it on your windshield -- that should do it. I hoped. But I didn't sleep well that night. I dreamed about black holes.

We have one of those digital remote thermometer/clock things that project the temp and time on the ceiling of the bedroom so old guys like me don't have to fumble around in the darkness looking for our glasses in order to figure out what time it is so we know how long it's been since the last time we had to pee. After a short doze-off, I awoke to the sound of clip-clop-clip-clop-clip-clop going down the road outside our parking spot. It was, and there are a lot of these around here, an Amish horse and buggy... someone was commuting 19th century style. I glanced at the clock on the ceiling... it was 3:50am... jeesh, what time do these people go to bed?? Then I checked the temp... 66.6. 66.6 degrees. But 666 is the sign of the devil, satan himself... and I'm at Newmar and they don't know were here and we don't have a sticker and I'm never going to get out, I can never leave... Newmar might be hell!

The alarm went off at 5am, and I'm talkin' Eastern Time Zone! I wasn't sleeping anyway so I crawled into the shower and made some coffee. By 5am the streets around the plant are bustling with activity. Semi-trucks are backing into docks with that incessant beep-beep-beep; fork-trucks are running around all over like go-carts; people are coming and going; the plants are lit up. It's time to get to work around Nappanee. By 6am, almost every one of the 30 or 40 RV's had been taken into a service bay and was being worked on. Almost every one... not ours. I was convinced that at the very best they couldn't start working on ours until tomorrow... Thursday. So we waited.

About 6:30am, there's a knock at the door. A personable young man named Tom (I liked him immediately) came in and started to run down the issues we had, one by one, and get more information and detail. I was beginning to be impressed. After about 20 minutes, he had the bus on it's way to a service bay... something was going to get done today... oh happy day!. Dar and I took off for a hot breakfast downtown.

By 2pm when we arrived back at the plant, our bus was parked neatly in our space and about half the issues had been professionally and efficiently handled. Now that I've had the benefit of a few hours of time, a 4 mile vigorous walk along the Elkhart River (done to kill time today), and having sustained myself with little but caffeine and sugar, and very little sleep last night... now I am clear-headed. Now I see that I was just over-reacting yesterday. Now I know we'll be out of here by the weekend. I think I'll sleep better tonight.

P.S. Now don't get the wrong idea about Newmar. They're a quality company and they produce a quality product. But these complicated machines get beat-up on the highways of our good country, and parts fail, things happen. The 30 or 40 units here are but a tiny percentage of the units they've built over the past few years. We love our camper. It's performed extremely well for us during our 3 month shake-down "cruise". I just thought the above story might be entertaining.


Oct 12, 2007

On the Move

We left Beaver Dam on Thursday, yesterday, and are now moving south through Illinois and Indiana on our way to an appointment with Newmar -- the people that built our coach. We won't be back through Indiana for more than a year in all likelihood, and there are a couple small items that need attention under warranty.

Both Dar and I grew up in Beaver Dam and our parents and other family members are still there, so we had a wonderful 3 weeks visiting and putting some extra deposits in the "hug-bank" for later withdrawals as we're traveling the South this winter. We left with mixed emotions -- an emptiness from knowing we won't see these good people for 8 or 10 months, but excitement to get on with our journey.

As is typical in this part of the country, the weather made a dramatic change the last few days from upper 80's and high dew points to more normal high temps in the 50's and low 60's and much lower humidity. But the winds that brought the change were incessant for almost three days and calmed down a little yesterday which helped make our drive a little easier.

Speaking of driving, Dar drove one leg of our trip yesterday -- about 30 miles. Unfortunately, there were a number of construction areas with narrow and shifted lanes. Driving the bus demands your attention most of the time, but when the traffic lane is only 10 feet wide and the bus is almost 9 feet wide and there's only 6 inches on either side and you're going 50 mpg... it get's very exciting for even the most experienced. For a new driver it's nearly "panics-ville". But she survived the experience and can now tell her grandchildren about what it was like "back in the old days" when she'd drive the bus through places no one would believe. It did take a few minutes to get my fingers unwrapped from the armrest of my seat when we stopped. I, too, will survive.


Oct 6, 2007

Summer in October

The weather's been unusually warm and summer-like here in south-central Wisconsin. The last few days -- and the next few too -- feel more like summer than October. The "normal" high and low are around 60F and 40F; today is going to be well into the 80's. Of course, we all know the bottom will drop out any day and it'll be instant winter before long. With some luck we should be heading south before that happens.

It isn't all romance and adventure... this living in a motorhome thing. On a "per square foot" basis, there's more maintenance and upkeep than our previous "normal" home. Most people don't wash the exterior of their home more than every few years, if at all. But the bus has to be washed every month or two or it really starts to look like hell -- not unlike a car. Waxing the exterior makes it easier to clean but that's a big project itself. What we've been doing is waxing an additional chunk after most wash jobs. It helped that this time Mom and Dad Hoch came out and did some of the waxing.

Cleaning the interior can be easier with a method I pioneered for my garage a few years ago... using a leaf-blower. It's a beautiful thing. Just start at a point furthest from the main door, working the blower in a side-to-side and top-to-bottom fashion, and all the dirt and clutter is liberated to the outdoors -- back to where it came from. Ok, while I haven't actually used a leaf-blower to clean the camper yet, I have been mentally refining the system so I'm ready when Dar drops her steadfast resistance to this innovation.

In farm country, October is harvest time. Yesterday, the soybean field next to where we're parked was being harvested by a neighbor, Dan White, with a big International combine. These amazing machines can chew-up a bean field at the rate of 10 or 15 acres per hour. Dan saw me taking pictures of the process and asked me along for a lap around the field. Due to the warm weather and lack of a killing frost, the soybean stalks are still green but the bean pods are dry and ready to harvest. The green stalks made the combine groan and it was necessary to move slower than normal, but the crop looked good.

Something that happens as you age is your increased awareness of change. When I was a kid, we didn't have cranes around here... I'm talking about the big bird known as a crane. I'm sure their numbers have been increasing recently, but I didn't realize to what extent they're now part of our environment. Every morning here at the Soldner Farm we wake to the sounds of Sandhill Cranes -- a loud call that's unmistakable and can't be ignored. The Sandhill Crane has the longest fossil history of any bird around today with a 10 million year old specimen having been found whose structure is identical to the modern Sandhill. They're very skittish and it's hard to get close, but we were able to get a few pictures with a 300mm telephoto lens. They stand about 3 ft. high and have a wingspan of more than 5 ft.

Here's a bunch taking off...

... and in full flight. They are a sight to see.

So that's the post for today, disjointed as it is.


Beyond Branson; Pondering Future Travel

This past Tuesday, we moved from Branson to a very nice Corps of Engineer’s Park on Wappapello Lake.  We’re in the Redman Creek CG. This fac...