Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Aug 28 - Alone... And I don't like it

On Sunday we pulled up stakes at the farm in Beaver Dam and, despite a steady slow rain, headed off for Kalamazoo. My distaste for driving in the rain (the toad becomes a filthy mud-ball) is exceeded only by my aversion to all things Big City (traffic congestion, haste, hustle, and way too many people)... and this trip was going to be done on Sunday come hell or high water. Getting to Kzoo requires driving through the Chicago Metroplex, and I really prefer enduring that gauntlet on a Sunday morning when traffic is marginally lighter than the usual gridlock. So the attraction of a sunny travel day on Monday had no effect on us in this case.

We left at 8am CDT and made our destination about 4pm EDT with 362 miles on the GPS. For us, this is a long day. We set up camp at our usual place in Kzoo, Markin Glen County Park, and enjoyed an evening with Dar's Sister and BIL.

Monday morning we spent a few hours in Dar's Sister's basement... starting to go through the much larger than remembered pile of stuff we left behind 5 years ago. What a job this is going to be. About Noon I was able to escape... to take the bus-house over to Spartan Chassis in Charlotte Michigan.

Spartan is just an hour away from Kzoo, so by 2:30p I was there and parked.  By 3:30p I had the paperwork wrapped up with the Service Manager, and it was time to set up a chair in the shade, open an "arrival ale", and get my nose in a book. Kinda nice, really.

But the solitude and personal time grew old as the afternoon lapsed to evening. I was missing my travel partner. I've had this thought before, but I think I'd have a real problem adjusting to solo travel if I ever lost my partner. Shared experience is a key element of our Sabbatical project.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Maintenance, Warranties, and A Drive in the Country

As I write this we're still parked at The Farm in Beaver Dam. But the calendar is advancing... the days are flipping by... and we're busily getting ready for our next "drive in the country". Sunday we're hookin' up the toad and heading out... through the Chicago Metroplex, around the southern shore of Lake Michigan, and over to Kalamazoo Michigan. We plan to be in the K-zoo area through the Labor Day weekend, visiting with Dar's sister and BIL and going through the mountain of stuff we left there when we sold the house in Illinois and hit the road in the RV. After 5 years, the value (to us) of much of that stuff has declined dramatically and we're hoping that by the time we leave the pile will be much smaller. My dream is that what's left will be easily UPS-able to wherever we decide to settle someday. Nahh... that ain't gonna happen. But a guy can dream, can't he?

During our stay near K-zoo, I'm also taking the bus-house over to Spartan Chassis in Charlotte Michigan for some service and maintenance... some things I'm not capable or willing to tackle. Like most people we run across in this lifestyle, we like the peace-of-mind that comes from having a well-maintained chassis. Our tires are also nearing the end of their comfortable life and are starting to show signs of age. Before we leave the Midwest in October, we'll have six new tires under the bus-house... another element of the peace-of-mind thing.

Since the bus-house is now over 5 years old, we have no warranty protection on anything... with the possible exception of, I'm thinking, another year on an extended warranty we bought in a weak moment for the fridge. I am not a fan of extended warranties and prefer to self-insure against calamity in most cases. Companies that write extended warranty policies are in the business to make a profit... and the only way they can do that is to pay out less in claims than they take in in premiums. Sure, here and there folks come out ahead on the deal... just like some gamblers hit a jackpot once in a while. But they don't build those big Casinos without leaving a long trail of losers, and the same can be said of extended warranty companies. Over the years I can only think of two extended warranties I've ever purchased (including the one on the fridge), and I've never collected a dime on either one. But even including those I'm sure we're way ahead of the game by not buying extended warranties.

We've made the decision to take advantage of a wider horizon and some big open spaces to do something different this coming Winter. Instead of spending three months parked at an RV Park along the Texas coast we're going to wander and explore throughout the Southwest. We've found, over the years, that we're not very good at parking (or "sitting" as I've called it in the past). Boredom sets in after a short time and we find ourselves obsessing about when we can leave and where we'll go when we do. This is especially true when we've been at the same RV Park for consecutive years, and have pretty much explored the surrounding country. There just isn't that much to do. While we do like the Coastal Bend of Texas and have developed some good friendships with the Winter Texans at Sandollar Resort in Rockport, this year we're going to mix it up a bit... try something different.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Really Steamed

Pretty much bouncing from project to project around here lately. On the bus-house, I've changed the oil and filter on our Cummins diesel, lubed the chassis, and did an oil and filter change on our Onan generator. In the process, we found the generator has a coolant leak... no clue where or why, as a big sound-deadening shroud covers the whole thing and I haven't spent any time figuring our how to get inside to check it out. Of course I'm hoping it's just a loose fitting or a leaky hose... not a more serious issue. I've just added that to the list of to-do's.

And we're helping out with repair and maintenance projects on our Moms' and Dads' homes. A little cleaning here and there, repairing a screen door, replacing a garage door, felling and removing a large sick tree, and other odds and ends that all seem to add up to a bucket full of satisfaction when they're done. We're glad we can help out when we're in town... gives us an additional sense of purpose.

We're also enjoying the now cooler, more normal, summer weather. The earlier drought and high temps have abated and some recent rains have propped up some pretty weary looking crops... so, agriculturally, things look a little better than they did a few weeks ago. We're still in line to be on the receiving end of some warmer temps (I mean, it's still August!!), but there's a clear trend toward more cooler days between the warm spells. And the hottest days lately seem to be a good 10 degrees or so less than what we experienced a few weeks ago.

Last Saturday I accompanied Dar's Dad and one of her Uncles to the local Antique Power Show. A much larger event than I envisioned, an antique steam and power show is a great place to see old tractors, old implements, and the methods used to harvest crops in the not-so-distant past. Functioning threshing machines (similar to today's combines) running with antique power were busy separating wheat from stalk and chaff... just as they did nearly a hundred years ago.

My main interest in going to the show was to see a large steam powered generator used by a local manufacturing plant during the 1920s and 30s. My Grandfather worked as a fireman and mechanic at this plant (Monarch Range Company) during that time and it's a good assumption that he operated and worked on it during the course of his duties. The local steam club purchased the boiler, generator, and steam engine when they tore down the plant some years ago, and spent many more years building a home for it on the club grounds. Now protected from the elements, they run it a few times each year... during these shows and to keep it in operating condition. Here's a link to more information on the Monarch Steam Generator.

Until the plant was electrified by the power utility in the late 1920's, this machine produced all the power the plant needed... running at precisely 150 rpm and making 245KW of electricity... day after day... year after year. For it's time it was a marvel of engineering... a miracle of the industrial revolution.

I watched as the operator opened valves and adjusted levers to get the thing started... the 10,000 pound flywheel quietly spinning faster and faster. It was easy for me to picture my Grandfather at the controls, adjusting and tweaking it to peak efficiency... a rare opportunity to connect with my family's past.

(I'll add a few photos to this post at a later time.)