Thursday, April 29, 2010

Finally! Something tangible to touch

Last week Clifford went to the welding shop to begin getting his smart bed built and the hitch moved back a bit. Actual work started on Tuesday.  I got a short movie of Clifford being backed into the shop to get started.

I went back on Wednesday with the smart car to triple check the tracking width and placement of the ramps. 

The bed frame and most of the steel parts were already cut and jigged up for fitting.  It was really great to finally see and feel something real after all the many months of just visualizing the bed.


The rest of the pictures are on Smugmug

Friday, April 16, 2010

EarthQuakes – A sign of changes to come

There are a number of things that shake one’s life up. Some big some unnoticeable, at the time, but all contribute to the future and how it winds away from today.

So, Many things have been shaking since I last posted.

1. Clifford is now at a welder’s shop getting fitted for his Smart Car bed.  Work is beginning as I type.

2. Katie the cockapoo went 40 days without a seizure!!!! longest period before this was 18 days and the longest period before that in the past 2 years was 14 days.  Big milestone for her.  We will see if this next gap can beat 40 days.

3. Sister-in-Law has finally admitted to herself that she is not going to be able to live independently and has agreed to go into assisted living until she can prove that she does not need it anymore… but, she is back in the hospital, again, initially from a bad fall, but while there some notice has been made of a “spot” on her heart so we are just waiting for more tests to see what it is.  A search back over her records from a year ago showed that It was there at that time, too but no one bothered to mention it?  We will see what we will see.

4. Daughter-in-Law, Christi has started a new job. Seems to really love it and is certainly well suited for the work, too.

5. Likewise, Daughter Carol has really been enjoying her job at Coke since January and is really blooming in it.

6. The other “kids” are all employed and succeeding and seem to be happy so things in the jobs department have stopped quaking for awhile.

7. Merrily continues with her work. Last fall she moved to a shortened work week (35 hrs) and has stayed with that by choice if we can keep our chins above the debt level in this tank.  It has really made a difference in her attitude and her comfort at home. She does not seem so tired all the time and this has been good given the other stresses of her sister’s predicaments.

8. We have a week vacation planned at Hatteras in May. Clifford is supposed to be ready for the trip according to the welder and Merrily and I are clearly already “ready” to be there.  But with the way things seem to rock and roll around here we will believe it when we are there.

9. City Inspector just came by and claims that someone complained that someone is living in our RV in our back yard.  That’s gonna leave a mark!

Lots of other little tremors but so far nothing to knock us off of our feet… but it does take a lot of paying attention to stay upright.

More later,


Friday, January 15, 2010

Whoops! Where did the time go???

A new year is already in progress and I am still fretting about “catching up” 2009 stuff.  Boy, it is a real burden to make today seem like just today and not  2 weeks ago. I guess an update to this blog is in order but first, a few words about maintaining a blog.

There are a number of very dedicated people that chronicle their daily lives in their blogs. Howard and Linda’s RV-Dreams blog, Nick Russell’s Gypsy Journal  and Mike and Pat McFall’s  Mike and Pat’s Travels.   Like poems, each has its own rhythm and rhyme and I look forward to gleaning the good stuff from each new post.  Nick’s life as a newspaperman has him dedicated to a daily diary that is only 1 among several that he manages to keep up with (Bad Nick’s blog, and several other blogs and sites based in Motorcycles, guns, and other topically interesting info centers). 

But Nick is an exception. I do occasionally read others blogs, some daily, some not, and most are more homebody centric than focused to a particular theme or life interest. The content really is more like a diary than a news story of the day and that is not a criticism, just an observation.  The general impression is that most are interesting to a fault and can consume most of my day just staying “well read” in them.

Maintaining this blog and a few others has me torn between reading and writing..  just not enough time to do both…. regularly.  My original intent with this blog focused on what life is like just trying to get on the road in a transition to living a full time lifestyle.  Its not always about RVs and RVing and often is about seemingly unrelated things.  Those “things”, though, are the nuts and bolts of our lives and when moving to a completely different lifestyle like full time RVing, some of this infrastructure has to be dealt with to make it happen.  Little of it is turnkey, though, and I find that the closer we get the more effort I have to spend just figuring out how to engineer the results we want from today’s starting position.

I mentioned the other blogs because Mike and Pat have started theirs on the other end of the blogging routine. They were publishing once a week but always on Sunday.  Now they update on Sunday and Wednesday due to demands from their readers.  However, Howard and Linda have finally, after 5 years, eased their commitment off from every day to every few days, due to the demands of their own life on the road.  Nick is still doing his daily update and it stumps me how he is able to maintain all that he does and still run rallies, travel and publish an RV centric hardcopy newspaper.  At my age, I can’t get a whole daily blog post done without having to take a potty break and that usually means that I have to do a reread of my writing because the break caused me to lose my train of thought.

From what I have done, tried to do and observed others doing there is no slack time in a full time RVing lifestyle.  It is every bit as busy and consuming as any other way of living.  It just has different choices available but they still have to be considered and executed. I doubt that anyone doing it stays laid back and relaxed for very long. So, until I can get both feet either in the boat or back onto the dock I am going to have to admit that I cannot keep a daily post running at this time.  Maybe in the future I will be able to get back to that level but for now, it will have to be…… intermittent, at best.

Now, what you really came here to read.

The holiday season left us feeling good about our whole family. The kids are all grown and nicely growing into their own family lives. They are all employed (a good thing) and they are all happy (a rarer thing these days). As Merrily and I move closer to being on the road, they are all communicating more amongst themselves and depending more on one another for help and advice than on us.  This is very heartwarming for me to see this growth in them all.

Our return from our vacation to Disney and the shuttle launch in Cape Canaveral resulted in a plan to go to Wilmington, NC over the New Year’s day holiday.  Its only a couple of hours away and we did enjoy it last summer. However, Merrily and I came down with some bug and though she was only down for a few days, I continue to struggle with the respiratory issues so we postponed the Wilmington trip to this weekend for my birthday.  I turn the magic 66 which puts me at that full retirement age according to SOME government agencies. The biggest advantage is that I can now make whatever $$$ without it causing my social security income to suffer. Since I started receiving it when I turned 62 the little amount I get has hinged on a very limited amount of “other income”.

Merrily is still working and sometimes gets discouraged because it is taking so long to get on the road full time.  Intellectually, knows that she is still under the full retirement age and we have to be able to sustain a lifestyle once we leave here.  Emotionally, she is more than ready to take off yesterday.  The 3 weeks on the road and in Florida in November proved that she has the mindset to do it full time.  I think that though it improved the confidence factor that we can do it, it may also have made returning to her job a good bit more difficult in the long term.

The Smart car bed building project is still in process, too. I have found another guy that does this sort of work but his workload has also picked a lot from last year and trying to find the time and energy to tackle my bed project is difficult.

I recently exchanged emails with Red Dog, the folks that drive their Smart up the ramps onto their HDT.  He said that they switched to winching it up.  I suspect that the difficulty of crawling in and out of the passenger side door every time was just too bothersome for his wife. This is another reason why I want to try loading and unloading from the passenger side of the HDT.  It puts the driver’s door to the rear of the truck making it easy to step in and out of the smart.

Beyond that, we finally have a frost free water hookup for the RV so I don’t have to run out and drain 100’ of hoses and water lines every time the temps are going to dip below freezing.  Thank you Emery and Sebastien.

Since the November trip I have been fine tuning the “must haves” for our life. I Just swapped out the toaster oven for one that takes up less counter space and is more convenient. A few other convenience improvements were adding to our X-10 system for remote control of our lighting, Switching all my banking to E-Statements from paper and switching from Microsoft Money to Quicken for our personal financial management program. Microsoft announced that they are discontinuing their Money program and support so I had to switch to something that is still viable.  Quicken is the only real contender these days.

I have also gotten the signup information for switching our residency and registrations to South Dakota.  This will be a bit more convenient for handling our mail as well as less restricting as far as vehicle registrations go. We are ditching the Taurus but still need to hang onto the Aerostar for awhile longer due to the smart car not being suitable for carrying much cargo or people.

The last few trips in Clifford have seen an intermittent FUEL TEMPERATURE SENSOR error pop up on the diagnostic display. That is something I need to attend to when it gets a bit warmer.  I don’t work well in the cold.

I have also had a strange anomaly with my exhaust stack on Clifford.  Ever since the muffler was replaced I find after a long trip that the section above the muffler manages to rotate so that it is blowing directly into the top of the side faring. I have already turned and tightened it twice. I guess we will see if it does it for this weekend’s trip.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Catchup TIme

It has been awhile since I posted here.  I may go back and fill in some period information but so far I am just trying to stay on track.

Once the plans for the Smart bed for Clifford were done enough to start finding fabricators, I found that the fabricators I had previously spoken to about the project, had all gotten a lot busier.  The primary one said that hunting season had just started and his main man was going to be gone until mid December.  Two other fabricators begged off with concerns about liability and too few employees at the moment to tackle it.  Pook!  They were all ready to jump on it 3 months ago without a second thought.

So, Merrily drove Sprite down instead of renting a car.   Since we were simulating a typical full timers traveling style we were not intending to move more than a few hundred miles a day.  This and the cost and trouble of renting something once we were at our destinations, was enough incentive to try it out.   After all, a lot of full timers drive in two vehicles when moving locations so how bad could it be.

In our case, it has been fine. Sure, it would be nice to have my honey by my side but this is working for now and it takes the pressure off to get the Smart bed built too quickly for its own good. It also has the advantage on these short junkets of having the Smart readily available when we want to spontaneously jaunt off track.

Katie loves it, too. She rides with Merrily in the Smart car and does fine.  She was having periods of angst when riding in CLifford.  I think now that it was due to her not being able to see Merrily.  M rides behind Dakotr so Katie can look out the front window and see Dakotr up ahead and goes back to sleep.

We spent a week camped in Disney’s Fort Wilderness campground in site 542.  It was a good site and the whole rig plus $prite fit into it still hooked up. Although we were there for the week we were only in a theme park for 2 days.

The first was the Animal Kingdom which was interesting but not particularly memorable. Part of the difficulty is that so much of it needs daylight to experience the animal aspects so it closes about 5pm and we are not early starters.

We went to Epcot on Merrily’s birthday and she got in for free.  That was nice and saved $80 or so. Katie spent the day in doggie day care at Ft Wilderness and did fine.  We closed the park… in the rain but saw the entire Illuminations light, fireworks and laser show.  It was worth the effort and the drizzle. We were in Epcot the first month it was open in 1982 and again in 1985 but not since then. It has fleshed out a lot more but still the same basic good times everywhere.

We also attended the Cirque Du Soleil – La Nueba show at Downtown Disney on our anniversary, 10/30. Great show. Pricey tickets but worth it for a one time experience. Not sure I would pay that to see it again, though.

Beyond these few specific items, we just enjoyed the Ft WIlderness campground experience.  Sometimes, its more about just being there than doing this or that.

Here at Jetty Maritime Park in Port Canaveral, it is also more about being there than what we are doing.  The intent in coming here was to see a space shuttle launch but this not a bad campground for a beach front campground. Rates are reasonable and there are some trees. Some big rig spaces work out, too.  Its a little light on the power/sewer connections mostly because the 50 amp sites are not sewer prepped.  The weather has been cool, though, with temps in the low to mid 70s and windy. Today was the first non-cloudy day and it was a gorgeous one. 

The shuttle launch is set for 11/16 and we plan to leave 11/17 for St Augustine Beach to visit family for a day or so before starting back to Raleigh.

This 3 weeks of simulated retirement has been  great.  We are both very happy, de-stressed and ready to do this full time.   Just have to get the ducks to walk in a row and wrap up the expense issues before we can take off.


Friday, October 9, 2009

We Have a Plan! … for Clifford and the $PRITE

With a great deal of help from friends and in particular, Mark Shelley, we now have a tangible plan for the Smart car bed and a means to load the car up on there.  Basically, this design lets us just drive it up and tie it down.

I had a few constraints:

  1. The deck needed to be 102” wide
  2. The car should be loadable from either side, driver or curb side of Clifford
  3. It should be a “drive-on” solution so no special mechanical, pneumatic or hydraulic dependencies to get it onboard.
  4. The design of the bed should be for ease of fabrication and only intended to be for carrying the Smart car.
  5. The bed should also allow for full and easy top side access to the truck chassis and parts for maintenance as well as future alterations should they be desired.
  6. The bed should be designed so that construction costs should be as low as possible and within reasonable reach of most HDTers.
  7. There should be ample protection for both the smart car and the trailer from damage caused by the truck’s tires throwing stuff into them or losing pieces of tread.
  8. Tie down of the smart car should be simple and easy to secure and very safe.

A few basics:

Clifford is a 2000 Volvo VNL64T770 with just under 600,000 miles. It has a Detroit S60 Engine and an Eaton 10 speed gen I Autoshift (with clutch pedal). It came from the US Express Fleet and was an owner/operator truck for a short time.

The wheel base is a little longer and I am keeping it tandem but dropping the outer tires on the forward axle. It has a full sliding 5th wheel hitch on it with an extension that allows it to be positioned nearly to the rear end of the square frame of the truck.


Truck Modifications to be made:

Only 1.  The frame will need to be extended to allow the commercial 5th wheel hitch to be positioned far enough back that the forward corners of the towed 5th wheel will not contact the side of the Smart car when it is loaded onboard.

I am considering putting an ET Jr. air ride 5th wheel hitch on it at some time to replace the commercial hitch.

Although I am using the ideas of others to load a Smart car crosswise on the bed of the truck, this design is significantly different than what many of these others have implemented, so far. It has no storage or skirting designed into it but should be fairly easy to add  some lockers in the future, should that be desired. Here are a few pictures of the designs of others that are carrying Smart cars on their trucks.


Bill and Joan - Their solution includes the Ramps I will use .

They also have a minimal transport bed to carry the car. The ramps store under the car in a special compartment built just for them but it was a very tight fit.  

They are the new Big Boy II folding ramps from Discount and are 12’ long with a 12 degree bend in the center to ease the break over angle where they attach to the bed. They are light enough at 54 lbs to be handled easily and strong enough (2000lbs) to handle the weight of the Smart car.




Virgil built a minimal bed, too. He has a movie of loading his Smart. He chose 16’ straight ramps

Each of these folks use a winch to load and unload but some occasionally unload by just driving the car off their truck and down the ramps.

Although when I asked the question, “Why load/unload a smart car from the driver’s side?” I did not get any answers that gave a concrete reason. Some said it was because of winching it up backwards and there is only 1 tow eye attachment in the front of a smart. Others said that if stuck on the side of the road in the truck, anything on the curb side would make offloading to that side impossible.

My thinking has been that the curb side makes more sense because the truck can be positioned in front of a driveway, along a curb or other places without having to be parked on the wrong side of the road. To me, it is also unlikely that in any condition where the truck may be disabled on the side of a road that it would be possible to deploy 12’ to 16’ of ramp out into the roadway to offload the car.

However, it really seems more natural to load and unload the car by driving it on or off of the truck and preferable to be able to do this ambidextrously.  Theoretically, one could drive on from the curb side and then drive forward off of the driver’s side of the truck.  The only difference would be whatever difficulty the location and storage method of the ramps might add to the process.

Driving on from the curb side allows better gearing for the climb up the ramps as well as placing the driver’s side door towards the rear of the truck. This makes it a lot easier to get in and out of the driver’s seat of the Smart.

I am convinced that driving the car on and off of the bed is not as big of an issue and some people think.  I watched Red Dog’s wife, CarolAnne, drive their Smart onto their truck bed with only 105” straight ramps so it has to be a lot easier to do it with 144” ramps with a slight angle at the middle. He solved the problem of the sharp breakover angle at the edge of the bed by lifting the rails the car sits on when loaded, with a triple chamber air bag. Inflated, it allows loading  and unloading without a winch. Once onboard, it is deflated to lower the car flat onto the truck bed and then tied down.




The solution:

The overall view should look like this:

NashVolvoFullBuild NashVolvoFullBuildExploded

The frame is at its current length and will have to be extended to move the hitch back on it.

The actual bed is made of 3 deck sections and 2 tire troughs for the wheels to rest in once loaded and tied down and 2 fender units under the bed.  Each of these segments are independently constructed and then mounted together to form the whole bed.

NashVolvoFullBuildTopViewofDeck  NashVolvoMidDeck 

Each of the decks are constructed by creating a welded frame of 2” x 2” Angle iron. Specs show this as 3/16” stock but it can be upgraded to 1/4” if desired.

The wheel troughs are also made of 2” x 2” angle iron in 3/16” material. These run the length of the trough on each outer edge and are bounded on the outside with a 2” x 2” 3/16” square tubular steel rib. A full length weld is recommended on each of these seams of bonding the angle iron to the square tubing. NashVolvoTroughTopViewNashVolvoTroughBottomView NashVolvoTroughCloseUpView NashVolvoTroughFloorPlate

The floor of the wheel trough is 3/16” diamond plate steel, also full length welded. Althought the actual trough width needs to be 13.3”, 12” wide plate stock is a more common size so it should reduce cost per foot. It rests on the flange of the angle iron trim.  However, a preferable alternative may be rough expanded steel mesh to make the trough bottom. It would drain better and probably have a little more traction. It should be of enough thickness to replace the strength of the diamond plate. 

Some explanation about this plate structure is necessary. The floor of each trough is made of 3  separate pieces.   This provides slots through the floor that accommodates the tie down straps that go up over the tires and are winched down with 3” webbed straps on load binder manual ratchet winches. The cutouts at the outer end of each of the plates at the ends of the trough is where the ramps attach to the edge of the smart bed. The ramps have a tang under the upper end of the ramp which drops down into these slots and then is pinned to keep them from jumping out unexpectedly.

 NashVolvoTroughFloorPlateEdgeCovers3/4” steel tubing is used as a cover to protect the tie down straps from the sharp edges of the trough floor plate, provide a place to hook the free end of the straps and also to stiffen it against the forces of the straps.

The fenders are made of 3/16” steel plate, bent with two 45 degree bends to  extend down behind the tires of the rear axle. They are full length welded to 2” x 2” x 3/16” angle iron along the long edges to reduce vibration and to strengthen them against possible impacts from flailing tread should a tire failure occur. This should adequately protect both the car and the RV being towed. They are fastened to the boxed frames of all of the components of the bed.

All of these components are mounted to two 3” x 5” sq tube 3/16” steel beams that run the length of the bed. They are attached to the truck’s 2 frame members with 6 U bolts. A single piece of 3/4” Oil Soaked Oak (preferably white oak) the width of the beam, separates the beams from the truck chassis frames. This acts as both a shock absorber and allows some gentle movement between these supporting steel structures. This plate is very important to the continued integrity of the bed mounting system to the truck frame.

The Ramps should stow easily between the car and the back of the truck cab but will need to be secured against theft.

I have present pictures of my truck with measurements for planning purposes and quick reference available on my SmugMug area.

There is a lot more information available including more pictures and websites with bed building albums showing the different ways that others have put their smart cars on the back of their RV tow trucks.

This is the way we are intending to do it.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Shifting Gears

No, this is not about mechanical things. It is about how things tend to reach a critical mass which results in a sudden dramatic change.  It seems to be a necessary part of the steps of life to occasionally “shift gears” in order to move along at a better pace or in another direction.

In this case, the critical mass is the contents of Dakotr. What is in here and where it is placed in this 400 square feet of domicile is a combination of what was in hand and where I was when I put it down.  I have already talked about the PIBWIB days (Put It Back Where It Belongs) that must come around occasionally, to restore “in use” items to their proper resting areas. But when loading a place with things for a new lifestyle there are a lot of questions of where “the best place” is for any particular item to be kept.

Obviously, Kitchen stuff should go in the kitchen, bath stuff, in the bathroom, etc. but the combination of limited storage spaces in those areas along with no real experience in this lifestyle there is little sense of how often an item might be used and how “handy” it should be. Early on in our preparations it was clear that there needed to be offline storage areas for things that were not used often enough to keep them close at hand all the time.  For instance, some kitchen items might be for use only at Christmas time so why keep then in the way the rest of the whole year?

We have lived in DakotR for two years so we have gained some experience with our patterns of use of various objects. Some were moved from the house about the time we moved but many were acquired after we discovered a need or an oversight of a future need for them. When brought into Dakotr they were usually put in a seemingly obvious “handy” place but time has shown that they did not need to be that handy and those spaces would be a better spot for things that really did need to be more readily available when needed.

If the use of the whole of the storage spaces in DakotR is looked at as a progression of convenience then each item has a place of specific priority based on its real value in being “handy”.  Each item that is not in its best location for its use is both in the way as well as preventing something else from being “handier” if placed in that spot. Each of these inconveniences adds a tiny bit more energy to the growing mass of disconvenience. At some point, the disconvenience will quietly convert to inconvenience which initiates a wave of functional frustration that carries a conscious element of discomfort. 

it is important to note that until the disconvenience of not quite having items in the perfect spot becomes pure conscious inconvenience, they will still subtly affect the attitudes and comfort factors of life in the RV.

Imagine that one day, for simple and perhaps short sighted reasons, one chooses to “fix” a small inconvenience. This could be as small a thing as cleaning out the proverbial (and ever present) kitchen junk drawer because it is so full things occasionally stick up and prevent the drawer from opening or closing smoothly.  A choice is made to just take out whatever keeps jamming things up and put it somewhere better. Once removed from the drawer there are only two things that can be done with it. It can be thrown away and life will move on as usual or it can be put somewhere else.

If the disconvenience factor has grown sufficiently, the latter choice may initiate a chain reaction of placements and relocations of other items to make space for them. If enough disconvenience has already converted to inconvenience in enough different storage areas, their contents may be removed enmasse to also be relocated to better spaces.

At this point, critical mass has been reached and a “big bang” will quickly take place. The result may look something like this:



I know this was the long way around to point out that things change because we don’t have perfect foresight and it takes us awhile to catch-on that not all is alright. It is easy to quickly find oneself in the middle of reorganizing many items and whole spaces all at one time just to make the kitchen junk drawer close smoothly.

If I had any sense I would just have thrown the offending item away…. but I didn’t.



Thursday, September 24, 2009

Happy Feet

So here I sit at 1 am on a weeknight trying to explain why I am not bothering Merrily and the dog with my snoring.  Tonight (technically, last night but Wednesday night just to be clear) was our weekly dance lesson night. We are in the social dance II class, now, and really starting to get the hang of things. I have mentioned how much I love our dance classes in a few other entries and I always feel “uplifted” after class. Tonight, we reviewed Rhumba, Slow dance and waltz variations. After walking Katie, The Poo,  I really did go to bed but I just could not stop dancing in my head. 

This is something like “inner tennis” I guess and it really seems to cement what I have just learned into my memory but it also causes my body’s muscles to work a bit while I am doing it and that tends to shake the bed (innerspring mattress, but don’t ask). I finally realized this when, for about the 8th time, I did a rotating front/back waltz segment in my head and Merrily again woke with a start and a gasp.

So I did the only thing a considerate husband could do and got up and came out here to work on the computer, shortly followed by Katie, The Poo. Of course, Katie did not go to dance class so she tried to entertain herself for awhile by chewing her nylabone and then tried to engage me in her “fun” by tapping the leash to take her out into the “sultry” southern midnight air. When I would not participate, she just wanted to go back to bed and after a couple of false starts (she wanted me to come, too) she finally gave up and stayed in the bedroom.

So here I sit, listening to my Beegie Adair radio station on Pandora and trying to explain to no one in particular why I am doing thus. If I get too directly involved in computer stuff I will probably be up all night and never really get rest even if I do go to sleep. So, working on this journal and focusing on “artsy” stuff (not that I “look” all that artsy when I am dancing)  lets me unload that part of my brain so it will quit shaking the bed and keeping us all awake …. ( .. yawn… I guess its working, now).



Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Music doth soothe the savage beast.

Throughout my life I have been pulled back and forth between passions for music and science. Each has been a distraction to the other and yet each has reinforced my capabilities to improve my knowledge and functionality in the other.

For example, when I would become very frustrated from focusing on math, computer programming or trouble shooting hardware or software or financial problems I found that enough of the right kind of music and volume would restore my sensibilities about whatever it was that I was fumbling with and give me a second wind, if you will, to start making progress.  I played Trumpet for 6 years during jr. and Sr. high school and tried to head towards a professional music career at one point but my love of electronics and all things mechanical overtook that direction.

At present, I have just gotten the drawings and CAD files for the Smartvolvomasterassydwgjpg Car bed to be built on Clifford.   I have been waiting for years (no lie) to get to this point in our progress to full timing. volvomasterassyjpg Now that we are here I am so stopped up with information, details and pending things to do that I can’t seem to get anything started. Each thing I think of to work on has dependencies that I have to resolve before I can actually begin that specific work.

The CAD drawings are perfect but I have to reinstall my CAD program before I can use them. Unfortunately, my laptop is about 2 Windows platforms (Vista and Windows 7) beyond what it was engineered to run. It has a memory limit of 1.2 Gigabytes which, on Windows XP was a pretty good sized RAM resource. I did have a few other desktop systems that could have held more memory but had weak processing power. Moot point, anyway, since most of them have been cannibalized to solve problems in other family systems. 

So here I am with a powerful program needing to run on a powerful and current operating system (Windows 7) but its not possible to make the hardware resources available to it so that it will perform as well as I need. So this is not unlike sitting down at the computer in Late March to get started on preparing my taxes and discovering that I am getting blue screen errors occasionally.  Sure, it will run but if it crashes at the wrong time it could take out the Hard drive and not only lose my data but be unbootable.

To forge ahead without fixing this problem would just be stupid. I would not be able to stay focused on getting the taxes done because of this distraction and that would cause me to make errors in the process even if the system never crashed.  Its like trying not to flinch when you fire a 45 caliber hand gun the second time.

For the past weeks I have been preparing for this day but have had so much that is unfinished at the moment that I am just stuck trying to get going on any one thing.  Basically, I am mentally constipated and the backup is impacting my body, mind and spirit.

Here is where the music comes in.  I really need to give that part of my brain a little vacation and the only way to do that is to immerse myself in something that will engage and hold my focus in another, more rested part of it.  It seems that music does that for me when I have been ignoring it for awhile. However, I can’t just sit and listen to it. That will just make me antsy to get going on my problem. While listening I have to be physically engaged in something bland that takes no analytical effort but which holds my attention.

Writing this blog tonight is one such activity.  The type of music that I listen to is also very important to this process.  Highly complex music like a symphony, lively jazz and most music with vocals in it will keep agitating the part of my brain that needs the break so simple smoothly soft jazz such as some Bobby Hackett, Beegie Adair or Andre Previn is good brain vacation landscape.   Dave Brubeck, George Shearing or Peter Nero is not helpful no matter how much I like them.Also, there needs to be a minimum of strings and/or saxophone solos. Those are often as agitating as vocals. Using Sirius Satellite Radio or XM Radio gives me some of these genre choices but I have to take what it delivers. I probably listen to XM Escape (channel 28 right now) more than all other channels combined.

However, there is another great source of new music on the website. It is free and there are genres of music already catalogued or I can make my own.  I can setup a channel, like for Beegie Adair, and then it will pick music, some of it hers and some of other artists that fit her general style and makeup.  If it plays something I especially like I can give it a thumbs-up and it will strengthen the preference for that type of sound. If I give something a thumbs-down it will bias Pandora to shy away from other selections that are too similar to that one.

One other thing I have found for those times when I really am too spent to even do mindless stuff like this blog and just want to sit and listen is to play a slideshow of great landscape pictures on the monitor or TV.  I have found that SmugMug has a lot of high quality pictures of great places to soothe my nerves.  I can search for a particular place, like LassenDane > Brokeoff Mountain with Brokeoff Meadows campground | May 23, 2009Lassen National Park, Grand Teton National Park and  other such grand places I love to see and I don’t have to just watch the same tired photos I have already run dozens of times.

This combination of music and visual arts seems to do a great job of disengaging my “working” mind and giving it a break. Writing the blog or other such journaling activity also helps when feel like it.  It keeps my hands busy so I don’t pick at my cuticles or bite my nails (yeah, I have that habit, too, but at least I don’t smoke). 


Friday, September 11, 2009

Clean as a whistle

Finally!  A break in the weather and bugs!  DakotR was washed and waxed less than 6 months ago and now it looks like it has been abandoned in the jungle for 5 years.

Consequently, I have withdrawn my previous judgments about what have appeared to be “over the hill” RVs apparently squatting permanently in some campgrounds. They were probably new less than a year before I saw them.

I don’t really know about how it is in the rest of the U.S. but in the southeast, everything visibly ages about a month per calendar week. It does not take long for everything from RVs to Homes to turn into under attended/over ignored-looking barnyard baggage.

Anyway, I began by pressure washing the outside (as much as I could safely reach from the ground or low ladders). At least that took the main scum off but the fiberglass end caps roll off to the roof over a long arc and that makes everything above about 9.5 feet, just rinseable from the ground or from a 4’ scaffold.

Even a good brush can do very little damage to this mess regardless of the cleaner that is being used so there are no “quick and clean” methods to get this looking nice, again. It’s going to take a lot of elbow grease, for sure.

I turned, next, to the roof.  I am generally against pressure washing an EPDM roof because of the normal cast-off methodology it uses to protect itself from the elements….. but gracious, enough accumulated gunk is enough gunk, period!  DSC01178 I could not stand it anymore! Never mind the mess it makes down the sides and end caps every time it rains. 

It can be seen from ground level when you get back from either end of DakotR and no matter how clean and shiny I make the sides, it still looks like a Carrabbas’ restaurant with the hanging gardens on the roof.

So I did do a “gentle” pressure wash of the whole roof surface giving special attention to seams and seals where time has cracked the Dicor sealant. I will next go up there and check those out to see if any need “refurbishing” by trimming off the old Dicor and recasting sealant on them.

Just as I feared, a lot of loose cast off from the EPDM rubber washed off into the gutters and continuously kept clogging them with the wet whitish powder. That required stopping my washing and flushing the gutters before I could continue.  Eventually, I did get it all done, yesterday.

Now, I need to hand wax/polish the end caps and finish up cleaning the higher-up sides of the RV and put a coat of wax on those as well.

Fortunately, while on the roof I was able to pressure wash about the top 3 feet of the Big slideout awning but reaching out farther than that would likely have turned it into a trampoline for me so I resisted the urge and stopped there.DSC01187 I may tackle the rest of the awning from the ground by closing the slideout and dropping the awning straight down to the ground so I can hit the rest of it squarely from a good stepladder. you can see the “scum line” just this side of the maroon strip.

Also left to do is go over all of the end cap seals and the screw strip covers really well with extra strength Magic Erasers and some Wal-Mart RV wash.DSC01220

Starting from scratch in the first picture, DSC01177DSC01174

I pressure wash (2nd picture). And then finish with the Magic Eraser with the full strength RV wash on it.DSC01173 This has been the most effective combination  for cleaning off these end cap gaskets that I have tried….. and I have tried a lot of stuff and techniques.



We are due in Disney in November and I don’t want to show up there in a 10 year old 5th wheel that looks like it’s that old and was kept behind the barn.

As Mel Brooks said, “work, work, work, work, work”… but this is not like the fun he was talking about in Blazing saddles so I have to meter myself to keep from giving up before its done.

It’s too bad that no one has come up with a pill to do for work what Viagra has done for play… or at least a pill that won’t kill you, too.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Update on Katie the “Poo”

I have had some queries about how Katie is doing with her problems.  The good news is that we seem to be getting better with how we are handling them and some have truly gotten better.DSC00888

This morning, she went in for her final check for her Urinary tract infection that seemed to be ignoring previous treatments.  So far, its looking good but it will take a few days before the culture confirms this.

Her extrahepatic (outside the liver) liver shunt was corrected in January 09 and they said it typically took 6 to 8 months before we could know for sure if it was a permanent fix. Apparently, new shunts can form if there is too much back pressure on the liver from closing a shunt too quickly.  The last tests that were done a month ago indicated that no new shunts had formed but there might still be some leakage through her original shunt.  The procedure they used causes a slow growth of scar tissue that gradually pinches off the flow in the shunt.

Unfortunately, neither the doctors here nor in another location where these have been done regularly, had ever treated such a large shunt and so they did not have any clear idea of how long it would take to completely close it or if it would completely close.

On the seizure front, they have settled in at about one per week but we are getting better at spotting the precursory signs that one might be brewing. We have found that giving her a Keppra when her eyes are getting bloodshot and she is getting a bit “hyper” seems to reset this clock.  It was 16 days since her last one and for the first time she never did go into the full extension rigor that has been a constant trait of these seizures.  That is very good.  They are very hard on her.

Her meds are 1.5ml of Potassium Bromide/day and that is all. Her tests have come back with her measuring within the therapeutic  limits so that is holding and there seems to be no impact to her personality anymore.

She is the same lovable, adorable little minx that we rescued and fell in love with and she returns that many times over in the quality of life she adds to ours.

It looks like for the long term that she will be on the potassium bromide for the rest of her life but that is tolerable.  The occasional use of the keppra may still be required, too.   More and more, it is looking like these seizures are being driven by environmental things. We are suspecting chemicals used on yards to fertilize or control weeds so maybe, once we get on the road and away from residential neighborhood living, they may become more infrequent.


Friday, September 4, 2009

The pony cart tease

When I was very young, somewhere around 5 to 8 years old, we lived in “the country”. Actually, it was a small town in Georgia that , by itself, was “in the country” and we lived about a mile outside of “town”. Our next door neighbor had a couple of kids named Jim and Scott. Both were older than I was and they had an absolutely beautiful pony cart.. and of course, a pony.

Their cart had wicker basket sides, big spoked wheels and a Palomino pony ( I remember because that is what Roy Rogers had). To a 5-8 year old, that was an irresistible rig, hands down.

Now, as I said, we lived in the country so the properties were on the order of 5-10 acres or more.  Our frontage was about 300 feet with them living on our east side next to our driveway. On our west side was the long winding driveway up to my uncle’s house high up on a hill.  The start of his driveway marked the western edge of our property. This is important because I was allowed to play in the yard just about anywhere as long as I did not venture beyond these “boundaries” of the front yard. The yard in front of our house was nearly the size of a football field and mostly flat. Centered on the frontage and out near the road was the world’s oldest and biggest oak tree which just begged to be climbed…just as soon as I grew tall enough to reach those lower branches.

Every so often I would see Scott and Jim hitch up their pony cart for a ride down the road.  They always turned right as they came out of their driveway because they were not allowed to go back towards town, which was the other way.

They would trot down the road in front of our house and I would drool with envy as they slowly traveled that 300 feet to my uncle’s driveway and then disappear around the curve in front of his property.  

I would wait and watch until they eventually came back into view heading back home.  Sometimes, they would go home, turn around and then go back down the road past my uncle’s house and on out of view, again.  Of course, I could do nothing else but watch until they returned home. All the time imagining the great fun and adventures that they surely must be having each time they disappeared around that curve.

I finally figured out about when they would come by and managed to be out at the end of our driveway which was right next to theirs as they would come out of their driveway. As I stood there they would  sometimes wave (in an alpha-kid’s way of silently saying “na-na-na-na-naaaaaa-na” (or “ne-ner---ne-ner” for short) and trot on by.

I would start off at a trot, too, down the grassy edge of the road as they slowed the pony to a walk. I could almost keep up on my short fat legs and not step off of our property as I followed them all the way to my uncle’s driveway. But I could only stand and watch as they continued on down the road, around the curve and on out of sight.

I know this may seem to be boring but you must realize how much I wanted to ride in that pony cart. As soon, they came back, I was waiting there to repeat this tag-a-long trek back the 300 feet to the other edge of our property.

One day, as they turned out onto the road and passed in front of me, I was preparing to follow them back to my uncle’s driveway again, but they stopped the pony and Jim, the older one asked if I would like to ride in the cart!!!!!

“Yes” I said before my mind caught up with my mouth, “But I have to ask my Daddy, first”.  Ok, Jim said and I ran back across the uncut front yard to the house so fast that the tall sparse weeds  stung my legs like a willow switch… but I didn’t care, I was going to get a ride in that coveted pony cart!

When I breathlessly asked for permission to ride, Daddy said that I could ride but not past my uncle’s driveway.

I raced back out the 100 feet to the road from the front porch of the house oblivious that my folks were sitting there in Wicker rockers  watching all of this play out.

In the time it took me to race to the house for permission and then back out to the road Scott and Jim and the mesmerizing pony cart had been slowly walking down the road towards that dreaded edge of my earth, my uncle’s driveway. Even though I was running at Superman speed they were a little over half way there by the time I caught up with them.

I shouted as best as I could with no wind left in my lungs from all the running “Daddy says I can ride!”.

“Ok” said Scott and Jim stopped the cart, “Climb in”.

I ran up behind the cart and reached for the hand rail at its side, but Jim slapped the reins on the pony’s back and it bolted a few feet forward, just out of my reach.

Scott said “Sorry. The pony just spooked. C’mon, Bud, get in” and they both laughed.

I caught up and again, Jim spooked the pony and it snatched the cart just out of my grasp and moved away from me for another 10 feet or so before it stopped with another feigned apology.

Over and over Jim taunted me blaming the horse, the wind and finally me for spooking the pony. Scott finally said that I was just too slow. Each time I missed they laughed and giggled and whispered while I struggled to catch up again.

No matter how many times they cheated me I was not going to give up my dream ride in the pony cart so I kept on trying.

I knew we were getting perilously close to my uncle’s driveway and I ran harder and faster than I ever had before in my life but I was never quite fast enough.  Eventually, my pursuit ended empty at my uncle’s driveway and they continued on down the road.

Apparently, this was great fun for them because they did not disappear out of site but rather turned the pony and cart around only 30 or 40 feet past my stopping point and started back towards their house and me.

They passed me and again, stopped on the road just out of my reach and begged me to get on.  Again I tried to get a grip on the handle and again, it was snatched out of my reach with giggles and laughter.

I was tired, humiliated, bleeding (I had fallen once and had a skinned knee and elbow) and after several more such repetitions I knew they were just being mean to me but I could not stop trying. Tears of frustration, anger, and embarrassment streaked down my face but I would not stop trying and between gasps for air, I was sobbing openly.  I was going to have my pony ride!  It was promised to me and it was “authorized” and one of these times, I was going to get a grip on that handle before they could get it away from me.

We had just about reached the mid point of their trip back to their house when I heard my Father call out to me to come back to the house and stop trying to catch that ride.  I cried harder and I tried harder but still could not get it and would not quit despite the order.

The attempts had taken us to less than 100 feet from their driveway which meant the end of any ride I might have gotten.  Suddenly, from our porch my father’s voice boomed out “Let him get in the cart”.  Scott started to respond with some excuse and Daddy cut him off with “LET HIM RIDE!”.  And then they did let me get in and ride the 20 or 30 feet to the end of our driveway where I had to get out.

I asked when they were going to come back by again and they said “Not today”.  “We have to go, now”.

I longingly watched them disappear down their driveway. Slowly I turned, now crying from the disappointingly short ride and slowly trudged the long walk down our driveway and back to my house.

Daddy was already halfway up the driveway to meet me and when we met he asked me if I was ok.  I said “yes, but I didn’t really get a good ride”. 

He just picked me up, hugged me and said something about my trying so hard and not ever giving up. Years later I realized that he was trying to tell me that sometimes a dogged pursuit of something I wanted could turn into an unreasonable obsession so I should watch out for that and let go before it hurts me.

Years later, when I was in my 20s, he referred to this event and told me that he knew then that I was going to have a very hard life because I could not make a decision to stop doing something that I really wanted to do even though it might not be rational to continue to pursue it.

Through my life I have revisited this scenario and the revelation by my father that I would likely always be prone to struggle obsessively  to solve impossible problems.  I think that his telling me this eventually gave me a point of closure for that episode with the boys next door, but I never liked them, again. 

I finally knew that it was my blind desire to do that singular thing and ride in the pony cart that caused all of my pain, disappointment, humiliation and anger. That was all on me, not on Jim and Scott.  I just laid out the play and they fulfilled their roles with the props that I handed them so I was the architect of my own unhappiness.

It would be another 20 years before I would realize that disappointment can only come from depending too much on the outcome of expectations.  If a person has expectations and does not prepare a way for each of them to close in ways that will not affect them then repeated disappointment will be a predictable part of the rest of their lives.

On the other hand, the work of finding ways to explain possible outcomes will take the emotional content out of the future and replace it with focused acceptance of what IS rather than the disappointment of what isn’t.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Gutter Overflow problems

In 2008, I got tired of having my RV gutters stop up and then run over the side when an ant got caught sideways in one. I had tried some different gutter ends with drip extensions but none addressed the real problem.

The gutters are so small that they cannot handle much water, much less the constant buildup of EPDM roof cast off material, algae and other foreign stuff that seems magnetized to DSC01159lodge in them. Additionally, they are not angled at any sort of useful drainage elevation so what does get into them rarely moves on out very quickly.  Some awning braces actually attach over the gutters with bolts that barely clear the top of the opening and so anything that might try to go down it, like a leaf, twig or a cockroach with his hand up, will catch on the bolt and create a junk jam, again causing overflow.

On my curb side I have a huge awning with the afore mentioned mounting problem. Between the backup in the gutter at the awning attachment bracket and the normal overflow onto the awning covering shield, a great deal of the water runs off right at the edge of the rear slide seal. Over time, a lot of water manages to seep through any seal there and also trickles down and around the bottom of the slide at that place and wicks back into the edge of the flooring causing it to deflake.

Replacing the gutters is a non-option as is climbing up there every week (or less) to flush them out. After much puzzling and cursing over this, along with replacing the floor in the slideout, I decided that the solution was a lot simpler than I was trying to make it.

I figured that if I made some sort of gutter/flashing that did not try to hold the water and trash but just kept it from running on down the sides and slides, then I could direct it wherever and If it did get some trash in it, there would be no sides to it to capture it there and make a trash jam in the flow.

I started off looking for aluminum flashing that I could form but I was unhappy with the look and the work needed to get it like I wanted. Eventually, I found some DuraFlash


at Home Depot that is made of PVC and it seems to be a great solution. Being PVC, it is easy to cut, shape, glue and is virtually indestructible if struck by branches or whatever. Since there is no "edge" to actually capture the water but rather, just direct it, any trash that may get on it just washes off the side or over the end with the running water.

By cutting a piece long enough to carry gutter overflow from above the slideout to behind the rear scare light,


I managed to stop all of the dampness in the carpet and along the slideout seams. I placed it at enough of an angle to insure that the water would really rather go down it than over the edge. The slight drip lip along the outer edge keeps any water that may run over the side from running back under it and down the side of the RV. You can still see the old stains from the original gutter runoff that goes down across the scare light. Notice no stains at the end of the flashing, though.

I shaped the end of it with a little outward flare to direct the runoff away from the side of the RV


and glued it in place with standard PVC cement. Likewise, where there was runoff from the Big awning cover I put an extended piece


there to catch that and direct it back down into this new flange. I won't apologize for the current look as this was just a prototype to see if it worked, how well it worked and to see what modifications I might need to make to it to protect other places that have gutter overflow problems.

As of now, I need to go back to just make a nice looking one to replace the prototype and then make a few more to put in a few other places that have runoff/overflow problems. Just about the only changes I will make is to provide a little longer/larger flange at the ends of the awning shield to better direct really heavy flows back down the flange. At present it takes nearly a hurricane's volume of water to run over it now and even this amount does not run down the end of the slideout..

I will also add one of these across the back of the RV above the triple rear windows to keep them from collecting so much "white" runoff from the roof back there. A nice double angled pair draining to each RV corner should do the trick.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Getting rid of the “Stuff!”…

Nick Russel's Gypsy Journal Blog has been a long favorite of mine. He has a lot of insight and very useful perspective about many diverse things besides just full time Rving.

When He and Terry finally bought a new motor home they had to move everything from their MCI bus conversion into the new vehicle and that meant discovering a lot of things that had been there but forgotten for years. He chronicled this multi-day effort in his blog. He also has a "bad side" that is ruled by Bad Nick. Bad Nick seems to be the one that has more mouth than brain, a shorter fuse than an older cherry bomb and despite strong social fences and tethers, does manage to get out, occasionally and impress his needs on the world around him. You can follow the misadventures of Bad Nick on his own website… But I digress.

The follow is an excerpt from my comments which I posted on the regular Nick's blog when he was grousing about all the stuff that had to be relocated or disposed of to move into the new Winnebago.

Believe me, just because one is living in less than 400 sq ft does not mean that the usual FSF (Flat Surface Fungus) does not thrive just as well as in a 4000 sq ft Stix and Brix home.

It sounds like maybe Bad Nick gets a lot of that stuff and then puts it in unrelated places just to gently hide it from you and Terry. He probably knows exactly where it is and maybe even gets it out to play with it sometimes when you guys are not paying attention.

Personal experience:

We still have the advantage of living in DakotR in the back yard. All of our "stuff" is still in the basement of the house. Every few months, I take a 90 gallon city trash can and drag it into the basement, empty. The goal is to fill it before the next trash pickup on Tuesday. The "left-overs" that I gleaned out of the boxes, drawers and other "high density" hideouts, are left sitting out to be sorted and restored in new places. This adds an urgency factor to dealing with them because whatever flat spaces they now occupy are probably places that I will need to be able to use in a few weeks or months. Places like the table saw bed, workbench, flip top tool box, slack space on the hand tools storage shelves.

That last one is a really good technique because as tools are discovered in various random boxes, bags, buckets, etc. They have to be put on those shelves sooner or later so the boxes, bags, etc. can be pitched into the 90 gallon "liberator!". When that happens there will rarely be anything that is as important as the tool.. Any tool, used or unused for decades will still trump 4 Aces of any other sort of content.

I will admit that this cannot be done in a few weeks. Some lagging content will be able to hold out longer in this competition than John Ratzenberger on Dancing with the Stars. The key is the presence of the 90 gallon mawr that must be fed to full by Tuesday. That insures that every week the liberator is brought into the basement, 90 gallons of volume is released to the natural environment and eventually, you will see the difference.

There is just one rule, If its in the basement I must not be there past monday evening and it must never be put on the curb less than full. Its amazing how well this works for us that are organizationally challenged and sometimes can't seem to make a simple decision between STAY, GO, DONATE. I have found that by the time things have survived the liberator a few times (or many) and have not had their destinies firmly decided, the sheer trouble of having to face them again wears down their staying power and their ability to cling to the edge of my indecision, weakens and starts to slip.

By the time I reach the "Oh crap! I have to handle this again!" point,... it has become translated into crap and that is a no-brainer.

I promise that it only takes a few weeks of gritting your teeth when facing the unfilled Liberator 90 gallon container before that becomes a passion more powerful than all the collected "I am sure I can/will/might use that item someday".

And above all, don't let the ebb-tide side of this catch you by surprise. It is guaranteed that with a week or even a few days after the Tuesday an item left with the liberator, you will see an immediate need for it. That is the way of nature.... ignore it and just ask yourself if you would have recognized this need if you had not just handled that item for the first time in 14 years? The answer must always be NO! because if you had even thought of it you would not have had a clue where it was and would not have been willing to spent the hours of lost time it would have taken to discover that it was not in any of the places that you could have thought of to look in for it.

For those items that are still potentially too useful, valuable or warm and fuzzy to give to the liberator, you can store them on eBay or Craigslist until you need them (never).