Sunday, July 29, 2012

Look... up in the sky...

Been a little uppity lately... uppity on the roof, that is. It's been a while, maybe a year, since I've really cleaned the top of the RV -- something they say should be done every 6 months. Out'a sight... out'a mind... it doesn't get done. So the other day, Dar and I got up early to get the job done before the sun interfered. Nice to see a clean white roof again. In my opinion it now looks as good as it ever did... even after 5 years.

When finished with that, other roof-top jobs started sticking their sharp thorns into the comfort-seeking part of my mind. You'd think a roof is just a roof... something to simply shed water and to keep us dry. But there's a lot of gear up there, and seals and sealant... which all are exposed to the extremes of UV, hot and cold temps, rain, snow and ice (yes, once in a while), tree sap, dirt and sand driven by high winds (remember, this thing does go down the road). No sir... this roof isn't anything like the roof of a car.

So I've been even more uppity the past couple days... checking and re-doing sealant, servicing the two Fantastic Fans, the A/C units, cleaning out the refrigerator "chimney", replacing a couple vent caps for the plumbing system, and lubing up the TV antenna. These RV things are amazing freedom machines but they do require some time and energy to keep 'em running right.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Checking In

We've been in Beaver Dam a little over a week now. No post to the Journal would be complete without some mention of the extraordinarily hot and dry summer this portion of Wisconsin has endured so far this year. Most farmers and growers seem to reference 1988 as the last memorable hot dry year... but this one is far worse according to experts who watch these things.

It seems once an area gets into one of these patterns it's tough to get out. Unsettling as it is, we've repeatedly watched approaching storms... seemingly aimed right at us... dissipate completely as they move closer. One local farmer told me they now consider the corn crop a failure and will begin chopping it up and feeding it to their cows... to help stretch the hay crop a little further in the next few months. Hay is suffering too.

Other parts of the Central USA are experiencing similar conditions... we're not alone in this. But for the farmers, growers, and consumers of food (pretty much everybody), the sooner this pattern changes the better.

Other than that, we've been visiting family, enjoying our "down time", and working on various chores. In the next week the big tasks will be the annual oil change and filter for the bus-house diesel (and the genny too) and a lube job of it's chassis. If we can come up with a good cloudy day we're also ready to give the bus-house a good scrubbin'... top to bottom.

Monday, July 16, 2012

July 16 - On Wisconsin

We're back at our "home base" near Beaver Dam WI and the rough plan for the next few months is to be in the Midwest long enough to enjoy Fall... our favorite season of the year. We both grew up in the Beaver Dam area and have great memories of Falls past... harvest time, cool days and cooler nights, the explosion of reds and oranges and yellows and shades of brown, the crunch of dried leaves underfoot, the preparations for Winter. Good memories that we'll try to re-live come October.

My last post, a full week ago, had us arriving in the Twin Cities to see our good friends Jim and Sue. It's time to bring the record up-to-date... so here goes.

We arrived at Lebanon Hills Campground in the TC suburb of Apple Valley on Sunday the 8th. This is one of our regular stops when coming/going between Wisconsin and Washington and we always enjoy our time with these friends. The visit usually involves a boat excursion... this year we launched at Fort Snelling (the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers) and explored mostly the Mississippi... upriver as far as the Ford Dam and downriver through downtown St. Paul and another few miles beyond. We stopped at a marina diner for lunch and a beer... a nice break from exploring on a hot day. The rivers were full of water and the current was running faster than normal for this time of year. While it's been abnormally dry in much of the Midwest, a series of storms dumped tons of water across the northern Midwest... keeping the rivers high, muddy, and flowing. Thanks Jim & Sue for all your hospitality and making us feel so at home.

On Wednesday (let's see... I think that'd be the 11th) we made a short 60 mile move to Lake City on the shores of famous Lake Pepin. Lake Pepin is a natural long wide lake along the course of the Mississippi River... caused by a large natural sandbar/dam where the Chippewa River dumps it's load of sand and silt as it flows into the big river.

Our stop here was to see good friends Doug and Kay. I've written about them before, but let me just say they're experienced explorers and alternate living style experts, having made their home for extended periods of time on everything from a sailboat, to a motorhome, to a pop-up tent camper, and just about everything in between. They've just gotten back into another motorhome and are busy getting it into shape for a Winter in the Southwest. A lot of our conversation revolves around the compromises and comparisons of nomadic lifestyle choices and the rigs that go along with them. Despite the warmer than normal temps, we did have a campfire one night, and enjoyed a twilight cruise on Lake Pepin aboard their son's sailboat... the Screamin' O. Thanks Doug and Kay for a great visit.

If you're looking for excitement and like battling superstition... there's a lot to be said for traveling with a big old haunted motorhome on Friday the 13th. And that's exactly what we did when we moved from Lake City MN to Beaver Dam WI. We had no notable problems other than a jam-packed I-90/94 from Tomah to Portage. Fridays have always been busy summer travel days in Wisconsin as folks from the big cities in the south (Milwaukee, Madison, Chicago area) drive to their family cabins in the north woods for the weekend. By the time their done mowing the lawn, fixin' this, painting that... it's Sunday and time to head home again.

During our stay in the Midwest I'm going back to my now normal, about once per week blog posting pattern. Tune in when you can.

Monday, July 9, 2012

July 9 - Small Town to Big City

Granite Falls is a community of about 2,900 people. Like many towns in the upper Midwest, it's neat-as-a-pin clean and emits a feeling of community that I don't often get in other parts of the country. People were out on this warm Saturday in July doing odd jobs around the yard, working in the garden, hosing down the driveway... things like that. Unlike so many small towns we see elsewhere in the country there's virtually no trash laying around, no dead rusting cars in the yard, no piles of unidentifiable junk wherever you look... none of that. It's a community that reeks of pride... by people who apparently like living here. It shows.

Just a few miles down the road is the community airport. A local contractor and businessman, Ron Fagan, has a budding aircraft museum in a couple hangers out there. I wasn't expecting too much... but it turns out I should have. They have a great and nearly irreplaceable collection of some of the finest WWII fighter and trainer planes we've seen. P-38, two flyable copies of the P-51 Mustang, a P-40, and various other trainer craft... all restored to better-than-new condition by his own group of aircraft restorers. The facilities are top-notch and other WWII period vehicles, weapons, and displays really rounded out the visit. The main hanger is brand new and supposedly tornado-proof... a good thing in this part of the country. The museum is really just getting started and there's still much work to be done... but it's a stop I'm glad we made. If anyone is going to EAA in Oshkosh this year, watch for their P-51 Mustang named Twilight Tear... it's a crowd-pleaser for sure.

Downtown Granite Falls was like the rest of the town... neat and clean, but there was very little activity for a Saturday afternoon. Like most other small towns around the country, they've lost their commercial core to larger stores in larger towns.

We also stopped at the Yellow Medicine County Historical Museum and perused their collection of documents and artifacts. One of the more notable periods in it's history is the Sioux Uprising or The Dakota War of 1862, which began near here along the banks of the Minnesota River.


Yesterday, Sunday July 8, we broke camp at Granite Falls and headed east on US-212... a very agreeable drive with about 15 small towns along the hundred mile route. Nearing the Twin Cities, traffic and busyness increased but was manageable. We stay at Lebanon Hills Campground in Apple Valley when in town (this is our 4th visit in 5 years) as it's close to our friends Jim and Sue and is a pleasant cross between a campground and an RV park. It's a county park with distinct areas for any kind of camping... from tents all the way up to big rigs. We'll be here until Wednesday.

(I'll add more photos to this post later... check back.)

Friday, July 6, 2012

July 6 - Hot Midwest Summers

Hot Midwest Summers

too hot to be out
too hot to be in
unless you've got a tonic and gin
we sit by the fan while the a/c's on high
cruising the net and watching the sky,
for signs the heat wave will soon abate.

well listen to me
as you sweat off your bacon
in a few short weeks we'll be shiverin and shakin
as a stiff north wind brings a cold fall zest
then we'll look back on these days as the best,
when we were warm and snug... lazy and sedate.

and watch out what you wish for
'cause you're sure to get it.
what goes 'round comes 'round
don't you forget it.
we need the extremes
to appreciate the means.

Reiley Bud Rhiemer

Thursday, July 5, 2012

July 5 - Dash Across the Dakotas

Camp at Aberdeen Fairgrounds
Yesterday morning, July 4, we broke camp near Bismarck and headed east, then south, then east again... and before long we found ourselves in Aberdeen SD. We'd gotten wind of a good place to camp for a night or two... at the local county fairgrounds. On the north side of town, the fairgrounds turned out to be a perfectly fine spot to park, with hundreds of electric/water sites, a few more with the full trifecta (electric, water, and sewer), and they only charge $15/night. On a hot day, staying cool is worth 15 bucks to me.

The bonus, as far as Dar was concerned, is that we were only a mile away from where the city of Aberdeen sets off it's collection of fireworks on Independence Day. So about sunset (9:39pm in these parts) we got in our seats on the lawn in front of the bus-house, an adult beverage in one hand, a mitt-full of popcorn in the other... and waited for the show to start. In the meantime, we enjoyed the shows of other nearby communities and private displays in a wide arc along the horizon.  Some of the private displays... and I'm not kidding here... almost out-did the official community displays.

Although the best word to simply describe the day was HOT, it did cool off enough for us to shut off the A/C, open the windows, and get a great night's sleep. Our plan was to spend two nights in Aberdeen and travel further east on Friday. But the weather guys were now predicting T-storms and rain for Friday... so we we called an audible and decided to make the next run a day early. By 10:30am we were rolling out of the fairgrounds (we'd give it a "fair" rating...) and aimed the bus-house toward Minnesota.

Aberdeen SD is right on old historic US-12 (notice a theme with this trip??). And today we continued along that route, also dubbed the Yellowstone Trail by some, for another 100 miles or so before reaching the Minnesota border between Big Stone City SD and Ortonville MN.

The distance between Big Stone City and Ortonville is only a little over a mile. In the middle of that mile is a bridge that goes over the Minnesota River. When we got to the bridge it was closed... totally and completely closed. Construction!  Hmmm. The driver of the bus-house, ahh... how shall I put this?... misinterpreted the big orange sign back in downtown Big Stone City as "Bridge Closed 5 Miles Ahead". What it actually read, my navigator (who was on the phone and too busy to navigate at the time!!) tells me was "Bridge Closed .5 Miles Ahead".  Do you see what happened?  For want of a dot the toad had to be disconnected.

Since toads are pulled by motorhomes in one direction only... and that direction is never backward (really bad things can happen to toad, towbar, and the driver's head). If a bus-house driver gets the rig into a position where it's necessary to backup, to go in reverse for even a very short distance, the only smart thing to do is to park, unhook the toad, perform your maneuver, re-hook the toad, and continue on your merry way.

In five years of fulltiming, we've only had to do this one time before today... and that was just a week or so ago in T Roosevelt National Park. I don't count that one as a full screw-up however, as we were close to our destination and just drove the toad and bus-house separately for the last mile.

But this one was the full-monty... unhook, maneuver, re-hook, and go.  And then we "discussed" how important it is to read all the words (even the little tiny dots) on big orange signs as I sank a little lower in my seat for a while.

To make a too long story marginally shorter, we eventually made it to Prairie View RV Park just south of Granite Falls MN where we are tonight. Associated with a casino of the same name, it's a good place to spend a few days where we can plug in (think stay cool), get some chores done (think laundry and bus-house front-end bug removal), and explore an area we've not been to before. The plan is to be here until Sunday morning when we'll head into the big city.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

July 3 - Progress Across the Prairie

Crossing the Missouri River at Bismarck
Allow me to bring the record up-to-date. After spending a few days touring the T. Roosevelt National Park, historic Medora, and the Chateau deMores, we took a couple days off to relax, catch up on work, and keep our activity level low to help deal with the high heat. We've had temps in the mid to high 90s every day since we've been here.

In a campground like Cottonwood, with no hookups, we're totally independent and self contained. If it's hot outside, it's hot or hotter inside. For the most part, we managed without discomfort, and actually grew to thrive as we adjusted and acclimatized to the conditions. We ran the generator (and A/Cs) for a couple hours on two of the worst days, which helped, and it did cool off enough at night to make for good sleeping. It really wasn't so bad.

This morning we broke camp and headed east... destination Bismarck. I had a little trouble snagging a full hookup campsite considering the warm weather and the busy holiday week... but eventually got one at the Bismarck KOA. This is the first time since starting the Sabbatical some 5 years ago that we stayed at a KOA, which have the reputation for being expensive and more oriented to families with kids. But we needed hookups for laundry and to give the bus-house a good cool-down while we hustled off for our Capitol visit, so I was able to get the KOA to take pity on us and give us the last site they had for tonight.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, we'll be moving again. We'd like to get back on old US-12 and think we might end up near Aberdeen SD for a night or two. Friday we have reservations (remember, it's still a holiday weekend) at a Casino RV Park near Granite Falls MN.  Sunday, we'll roll into the Twin Cities for our visit with good friends Sue and Jim.

July 3 - North Dakota State Capitol

There's a lot to be said for North Dakota these days. Contrary to the miserable financial condition of most States in the Union, North Dakota is in great shape money-wise. As a result of all the drilling and production activity in the booming Bakken Oil Field in the western part of the State, they've got money coming out of their ears. There's a huge and growing rainy day fund into which they keep pouring money. And although recently rejected by the voters, the fact that some group could actually propose the abolishment of all property taxes says a lot about how well-heeled North Dakota actually is these days.

If nothing else, North Dakota is an example of fiscal restraint... of only spending the money they have and no more. The legislature meets for only 80 days every other year. During that time they hammer out a few hundred pieces of legislation and balance the budget... and then they go back to their normal lives (which for some, means full-time fund-raising for their next election.) Granted, with the recent inflows of oil money the job of balancing the budget has grown immensely easier. Regardless, the budget is balanced.

But this fiscal restraint is one of the reasons North Dakota is well down the list of State Capitols when it comes to traditional stateliness, soaring classical architecture, and grandeur. Here's a quick version of the story:

In 1930, on the 28th of December, the original State Capitol caught fire... and the building along with almost all of the contents was a total loss. In one night, they were left without a center of State Government.

Consider the time... 1930. The nation was a full year into the Great Depression. There was much uncertainty about the future of American affluence, the American Dream, and the ability of the system to "right itself" after the systemic collapse. There wasn't much money to be had... much less the consideration of what the people would think if the Government can build a gilded temple while common people have trouble feeding their families.

At the same time, the use of steel in the structure of tall buildings was becoming common and "fashionable" by the use of relatively cheap steel skeletons covered with a facade of stone.  The famous Chrysler Building (1930)  and the Empire State Building (1931) were popular in the minds of a public yearning for innovation and grasping for symbols of hope for the future. If your goal was to produce the most office space for the least amount of money, high-rise construction was the way to go.

So by August of 1932 plans had been drawn up and construction started on a 19 story skyscraper with a wing attached for the two legislative chambers. When completed in 1936 it was, and still remains, the tallest building in North Dakota. The budget was locked at $2 million dollars... a modest amount compared to the capitols of surrounding States. In fact, portions of the original Capitol grounds were sold off to help finance the project.

An additional wing for the Judicial Branch was completed in 1981, and other buildings on the 160 acre Government Campus are used by other agencies and departments.

My knee-jerk reaction when researching the building prior to our visit was mostly negative. I've been hard on other high-rise Capitol designs (Nebraska, Louisiana, Florida) in that they're really more a functional office building than a formal symbolic seat of Government, museum, and art gallery honoring the efforts of the people who brought the State into the Union as well as a celebration of the power of the people to govern themselves. Of note, North Dakota's, Nebraska's, and Louisiana's Capitols, all high-rise designs, were all built in the early 1930's.

But this visit made me appreciate the period, the need, and the available resources... and I was more impressed with what they did than I thought I'd be. The building is tastefully decorated, with key symbolic elements in the soaring 40 foot high Memorial Hall, which takes the place of the Rotunda in most traditional domed Capitols. The Ground Level contains portraits of North Dakota's Hall of Fame... about 40 or 50 people from the State who have made a significant contribution.

House Chamber in North Dakota State Capitol
 We did enjoy our visit to the North Dakota State Capitol and, significantly, I believe it gave me a new appreciation for considering the external factors that go into decisions about symbolic buildings like this.

However, I still can't bring myself to forgive Florida for building that "Insurance Company Office Building" they call a Capitol in the 1970s. Some things just can't be forgiven.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

July 1 - Hotter Than Hell?

It was a blistering Sunday. The air temperature was already into the 90s by the start of the 10am church service, and a barely detectable breeze just toyed with the congregation...almost made matters worse. The little church had no air conditioning, only a few windows that opened, and even fewer electric fans. It was going to be a long hour.

The congregation along with a few visitors were fanning themselves with the weekly church bulletin as the pastor entered. When ritual called for them to stand as services began, some remained seated, fearing they were close to loosing consciousness and it might be better to be closer to the ground if they keeled over.

The pastor, a caring man, was concerned about his flock... concerned that he might loose a few during the course of the service. He upped the pace a bit, not noticeably rushing, but moving along a bit faster than normal. He was also prepared... never letting an opportunity to make a point, to teach a lesson, slip by.

When the time came for the sermon, we walked to the pulpit, and gave the shortest talk of his career.

"It's a very warm Sunday today. Some people say it's hotter than hell... But it's not."