Friday, March 11, 2011

A place for everything… and everything, eventually in its place.

I usually try to start my weekends sometime during the day on Fridays but today, I actually forgot it was a Friday and worked right up until time to go pick up Merrily from Truck driver training school.

It has been a very productive day for me. I managed to get a lot of boxes of miscellaneous items sorted and then collated back into the regular storage boxes that already have similar items in them. This is always a work in progress in the RV new items come inside in bags or odd boxes and are set down in convenient places to be dealt with later. 

Maybe there are some RVers that have perfect recall and know exactly where the existing storage box is that has other USB cables or pet items or whatever is similar to what has just been brought in. I am not one of them.  I can put my hands on the box for receipts (most of the time – Middle cabinet, top shelf, left most top-most box), the box with my medicines in it (about 93% of the time – Cabinet behind the open smoked glass door on the far right) and the hair cutting equipment (bright blue plastic box in the middle cabinet, top shelf, far right). if it is not one of these boxes, I am probably going to have to look for it for a bit.

DSC02783Disorganized, you say?  No!  I am organized and have a place for just about everything… .I just can’t remember exactly where it is.  This is a primary reason that I don’t file paperwork. If I do, no one, including moi, will be able to find it later. I am sure it is a defective gene in there as my Father had the same problem. Rolling with this same story a bit farther, I also don’t try to remember things for other people. I will never remember them when I should or when it is needed.  I will remember it in the shower at 1:22am or while going to the bathroom at 4:27am.

These are not convenient times/places for remembering things that are important to anyone but unfortunately, this is typical of when I will remember stuff that should have been recalled on demand at specific times and places.. .usually earlier in the day…. or week.

Another obstacle to storing items in an RV is that there is INSIDE storage and OUTSIDE storage. OUTSIDE storage is any place that is not directly accessible from inside the RV by opening a door or a drawer. The so called Basement storage area is OUTSIDE storage as is any place in the tow vehicle or Towd if one has it. In other words, If I cannot put my hands on it in my underwear, it is OUTSIDE.

Often items new to the RV are best suited to be kept in OUTSIDE storage and that is usually inconvenient to access at the time the item is brought home so it is set aside for future relocation to the correct storage box and location (When I can remember where that is). Today was a day that I chose to deal with a lot of these sorts of things and put them in their correct storage places (I think). I made big progress, too. I actually put stuff away that had been waiting for relocation for nearly a year. I emptied 2 big cardboard boxes, 2 small ones, 2 grocery bags and also, through superior collating skills, managed to empty 3 of the shoe box storage containers that had accumulated a variety of stuff from 3M command strip items to RV related parts removed during other work.


I even found a new location for Katie’s crate. She goes to it to rest, take a nap, hide, chew a bone. Who really knows what a dog thinks it’s for? I put it back of my computer table and was not sure that she would use it. I think she liked it out in the floor where she could hide inside and peek out through the ventilation holes in the side and feel she was in the room with us but still “protected”. Since we never have to lock her into it, I removed the door so she could easily come and go as she pleases. It is ghastly unsightly to have sitting out in the floor and does take up vital square footage but back where I tucked it, is space that is only used when we are traveling and not really visible from the rest of the room. She found it and quietly slipped into it for a nap this evening so I am very pleased.

Now, we can actually enjoy our fireplace, again, which has been quite nice while I am sitting here working on this blog with it in the mid-30s outside. This makes it a bit chilly on the floor and this fireplace does a nice job of keeping my tootsies warm without running the furnaces.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

On a long rainy day…

I am a list maker. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism so I have something to blame when I don’t get things done (“Well, it wasn’t on the list”). However, I think that I am leaning more towards list making as a tool of procrastination.  After all, one should not go off half cocked with only a partial list in hand and this does work quite well, most of the time. 

I can avoid starting a task until the list is complete. Coincidentally, that seems to happen simultaneously with when I feel like actually working on the job instead of the list. I can’t help that. It is just my nature.  Maybe I have watched Charlie Sheen too long and also believe that my brain is bigger, more complex and more capable than most folks. I am certain that there is a lot that goes on in it behind my back so until I get the thumbs up from down deep inside somewhere, starting to actually work on a task before this point has proven it to be doomed work. 

Maybe I have stumbled onto a dark universal secret but I think that there are many men, and even women, that struggle with getting their “doing” ahead of their “thinking”. I just to incorporate that inevitable hesitancy as a part of the planning cycle instead of letting it default to being an actual delay in the execution stage.  It sure works out better this way because, being a guy, I really hate to make a wrong turn and then have to go back.  Likewise, I hate to get started on something, then have to undo what I have done to correct or fix mistakes or omissions.

All of this has been the long way of saying that today was a “planning day” and not an execution day.  I got groceries and a towel hook. I came home, put the groceries away, mounted the towel hook, took Katie for a well deserved long walk between rain showers and then returned to eat lunch, watch a bit of TV (Two and a Half Men, of course), get a tick off of Katie and give her the meds to prevent them and heart worms. All in all it was a totally boring day…. but it was a part of a plan and was well executed and I crossed two things off of one of my lists. I feel it was a productive day. Getting this blog entry posted was just brownie points.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Baby Steps towards Winter

Today I made reservations for the coming winter months at Portobelo Village RV park in Aransas Pass, TX . We have been studying our needs for wintering locations and just can’t find Florida all that appealing. maybe it’s because we grew up in central Florida or maybe we just need to feel like we are really somewhere new for our first winter of full-timing on the road.

While Merrily is attending the 8 week Truck Driver training School, here in Smithfield, NC, we are staying in the Smithfield KOA in a monthly site. People have asked what it is like so I have included some pictures for a little perspective.

The Monthly sites are in an area of the park that was formally for Mobile homes so the lots are quite large, which is very nice to have. I-95 is nearly 1/2 mile to the North of us so whether we hear it or the train on the other side of it, really depends on the direction of the wind.  A few nearby dogs are a lot more perturbing than the transportation noises.

Most days, Merrily comes home for lunch unless she is out on the road in a truck with her instructor and usually, we fix dinner in house but tonight we ate out at Smithfield’s Chicken and BBQ! We split a White combo platter for about $10 with our senior discount so it’s a good satisfying choice.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

PackRat 101

One of the most difficult things I have found in downsizing into an RV is the issue of my hoarding skills.   How the heck can I keep them finely tuned if I have no place to put anything?

Last September, We were forced to move from the RV back into the house. Of course, we had lived in here for 3 years before that so there was a well worked out “packing density” that allowed us to have what we wanted and needed… out of sight.  But once in the house, that was slowly dismantled over the ensuing months as we needed various things in there, like meds, sleep gear, vitamins, Katie stuff, tools, cosmetics, underwear..etc. The initial offloading took 54 trips just to get the stuff that we knew we had to have in the house. That was over a 3 day period (I counted because no one would believe we had that much stuff in here).

Trying to get the RV reloaded in 2 days was impossible without shortcuts and assumptions.  The shortcuts were mostly in the form of piles of things stuffed into grocery bags, boxes and pockets.  I figured that once we were setup here, I would take the time to sort it all out and put it back…. uh… NOT!  Even on my best days, my memory was not up to that task so thus far, the packing density is quite low. There is leftover space over, behind, under and inside of other things which must be compressed if I am to get all of these things back in here. Today, I launched into phase I.  I started with the rear overhead cabinets which hold most of the office and records related items. I had previously found a bunch of shoe box type plastic containers with lids that just exactly fit the space.  I had packed most of these but many were still a mixture before we moved into the house.

Today, I pulled them all out and collated the contents into specific bins for specifically related contents. e.g. program CDs, RV related CD/DVDs, USB related stuff, Audio stuff, Network stuff, Pet stuff (2 containers), etc.


That work eliminated 2 boxes and 3 grocery bags and it is all behind cabinet doors. More important, I can now find my meds on demand.

However, as you can see, there is still a lot more to go through before this will look like a home instead of a pack room.


Merrily had a great day, too and takes her first on the road drive, tomorrow. She has now done all of the current practice field exercises at least once and did quite well on all of them.  I think this is going to work out very well.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

… And so it begins…

Trite title, I know, but it’s true. The circumstances of the past 2 months have closed some doors and opened this window to full timing, big time.  We planned for this day for so long and now, it is really happening.

One of the items on our to-do-to-go list was for Merrily to go to truck driving school.  You have seen the rig we have in other posts. She has wanted to be comfortable driving it under most circumstances and said so several years ago.  I attended the North Carolina Truck Driver Training School at Johnston Community College in the summer of 2004 along with my oldest son. That was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life…. but worth every ounce of sweat and tired.

Now, Merrily is going through the same course to train her skills to work like they should to be safe and confident in all situations.  Down the road, options for workkamping will be a lot more flexible if we both have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) so she is going to get hers, now.  Not that driving an 18 wheeler is in the plans but team drivers can make a serious dent in income in a pinch. More likely we will pick up a few gigs driving shuttle busses or tour busses in places. There is a lot of demand for licensed and certified drivers in places like Alaska, and National Parks.  We will see what develops.

Meanwhile, the first of 8 weeks in class is drawing to a close. Each day is about 3 hours of classroom time and the rest of the 10 hour day is divided between working the field exercises (backing, coupling, serpentine backing, offset alley navigating, Pre-trip inspections, etc. The objectives of the class make it imperative that every learned skill is automatic and tightly tested before certification. This makes a graduate a professional driver.. not just a truck driver.

My son has driven for TransAm trucking out of Kansas since 2004. He loves the work, hates being gone from home so much but now owns his own truck and has nearly 1 million miles under his belt.

Although I have never driven professionally, it is a keen confidence I have when I sit down behind the wheel of our HDT. It Is a more comfortable and natural place to be than behind the wheel of my automobile and that is totally to the credit of this Truck Driver Training Class.  A lot more folks can pass the NC CDL licensing testing than can graduate from this class. The requirements for passing the course are just that much more rigorous than the state examination process, and that is not easy.

I will be working this blog a lot more frequently, now that we have some real movement into full timing in play. Much of the daily work was very non-full-time related so I stopped wasting everyone’s time trying to make it interesting.

BTW, Katie is doing well. She made it to 100 days, as I previously mentioned but then had a couple of seizures a few weeks apart. Now she is back on track and on her 50th day without a seizure.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wahoo! Katie the Poo has reached 100 Days seizure free!!!!!

Katie the poo, the kid of controversy has reached 100 days without a seizure!  This is a momentous benchmark for a little dog that could sometimes barely make it 14 days without having one for the first 3 years of her life.

Her history is elsewhere in the blog site but the persistent care of a great Veterinarian, Dr. Amy Valenzisi, Katie is now holding her own on 100mg of Zonisamide once per day. Though recommended min dosage is twice a day, she has been fine and has no side effects or personality changes on this med. All other meds we have tried have resulted in increased number/severity of the seizures (up to 4 hours off and on) and major changes to her awareness and behaviors. Some made her lethargic, uninterested in anything. Others made her become OCD and she would spawn off into uncontrollable barking bouts for no reason at all.  Most gave her a glazed over staring look that was hard to connect with.



Here, while writing this blog, Katie was sleeping soundly in her bed under the window. I got up to go to the other room where her meds are kept to get the name of her medication and she woke up and jumped down to follow me.

I checked the Rx bottle, came back, started writing and then heard her scrumbling around in Merrily's chair. She was going into a seizure and was fighting it the way she has learned.... just lie still and be as unstimulated as possible.  It did not completely stop it but the whole thing only lasted a few minutes instead of hours and she only had 1 bout of the stiff rigor.

After a minute, I picked her up and sat with her in my lap to help her feel secure and relax. Another few minutes and she wanted to get down and walk.  She has learned that it often helps shorten the overall seizure and after effects if she paces.  I am guessing that the neurological cross-brain patterning that is involved helps to normalize her neurology back into regular patterns.

Once again, this was a case of her being soundly asleep, then suddenly waking and getting really excited.  She also had not been out yet this morning and somehow, that is almost always a present condition. It's  Like having has to evacuate is a condition that enables these seizures. Whether it is from the urgency or perhaps, her own efforts to control it and not just go in the house, I don't know but I suspect it may be part of her attempts to hold it that leads into seizure as many times in the past, she would uncontrollably evacuate during the seizures.

Bummer but still, 3 times a year is much better than 3 times per month and especially when the seizures are much, much shorter and more gentle.

I had planned this for a celebration and it still is, just not quite as joyous as I had thought... yet.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Benchmark Time !

The Smart Car Bed for Clifford is finished!

Wahoo!  It's been a long time coming but definitely worth the wait.  I drove down to the welding shop in the Smart car, loaded it onto the bed by driving up the ramps and then drove home with $PRITE on the bed.

Lots to tell and it will likely take some work before I get it all documented in the way that I would like.

The bed design as previously documented is very simple. I had several points that I wanted to be clearly achieved:

  1. Simple design that could be built by a decent welder and a hands-on owner
  2. Drive on / Drive off system to eliminate complexity and limitations
  3. Full fender protection for all tandem tires to prevent possible car/trailer damage should a tire blow or a big rock get thrown by the tires.
  4. Use the existing commercial hitch with future option of air ride hitch
  5. Good tire traction during loading and unloading of the car
  6. Simple but secure tie down for the car. Make it easy access to lash it down for travel
  7. Bed should have easy access to most of the under-bed truck chassis and parts.
  8. Easy around the rim tie down lip for carrying other "stuff" on the bed.
  9. Aesthetically looks like it fits the truck and is not some hack job adaptation.
  10. Predictable expense to build it.
I am very pleased that we have achieved all of these objectives. Full resolution albums of the bed design and build are located on my photo site.
Below, I will try to provide a little depth to each of these points:

1 Simple Design

  • The bed frame is all built out of 2” x 3/16” steel angle iron with a few 2”x2” reinforcing steel tube stringers for stability. 850814508_VFvAT-Th[1]
  • It sits on 3”x5” Steel tubing rails that sit on top of the truck frame rails with a 1”x3” white oak strips that allow some flex of the frame without damaging the bed. The steel tubing is fastened to the frame rails by 6 U-Bolts and 2 steel flanges are welded to the sides of these tubes to prevent any rotation or side slipping of the bed on the rail in extreme conditions.
  • The loading tracks use the original cat walk sections to both raise the tires and to provide traction and drainage. 621880776_Z796k-Th[1] 859777631_EjWqj-Th[1] Gaps are left at each end to accommodate standard rubber truck tire chocks as end stops during loading and unloading.
  • Tire to fender clearance was set to 1” when the air bags are deflated.
  • Additional flexible mud flaps will be added to the bottom edge of the fenders to reduce throw back from the tires.
  • Most welds are full width of the contact points and done on all sides where contact occurs.

2 Drive on / Drive off system

  • The ramps are rated @ 2000 lbs and designed to be used separately or clamped together to make a single 38” wide ramp for loading/unloading motorcycles and/or ATVs or other “Stuff”. The rungs of the ramps are sharply grooved to provide better traction.
  •  881796575_Q5ZG9-Th[1]881797062_uw2UA-Th[1]881797024_hdsbp-Th[1]881796994_T82ct-Th[1]881796895_aeoz7-Th[1]
  • They are 12’ long with a 12 degree bend at the middle hinge point to reduce the break over angle when the car comes over the edge of the bed and off of the ramps. This has been a big issue with loading/unloading
  • The ramps fold to 6’ each and each weighs about 55 lbs
  • They are supported on the edge of the bed by a one piece flange that is pinned to the deck with drop bolts to prevent any movement or slippage. In this example, I was unloading onto an uneven raised hill so the ramp tangs did not seat in the mounting strips properly but the bolts pinned through the ramp and the mounting flange still kept the ramps solidly in place.  883532252_8K5re-Th[1]883532303_f6pJS-Th[1]
  • Space was designed in so mirror contact of the car and the truck faring would not be a problem regardless of the direction of loading or unloading.
  • Ramps are each 19” wide so there is some room for slight corrections.
  • The ends of the 2”x2” square tubing that borders the tire tracks was left open so that a winch setup could easily be added, if desired.  Some folks want to winch, others don’t but I am sure that there will be times for us that winching will be preferred and if so, that option will be available with a slide in support frame.

3 Full fender protection


3/16” steel plate welded between 2”x3/16” steel angles make these fenders very protective of the car and the trailer should a truck tire separate or road debris get picked up in or between the duals and thrown an any direction. 


The bed is made 102” wide to give more overhang on the sides for the tandems for better protection. 

4 Use Existing commercial hitch

A debate has long raged about using commercial hitches to pull RVs. Evidences exist on both sides proving their position but an air ride hitch is a very significant additional cost to some people and unless it is the right one, may not make any difference in the end.

Pounding of the RV pin box by the hitch is seen as having a very big potential for damage to the RV frame integrity. Some RVs can handle it and many can’t and start to have metal fatigue points in the structure.

My own view is that vertical pounding is only one of the forces at work to do such damage. Probably more damaging is the starting and stopping forces that the RV pin box may get when being controlled by a Heavy Duty Truck (HDT). Good driving techniques are, therefore, more important than hitch design in moderating these forces.

As for the vertical pounding, running tandem axles on the truck with 4 air bags inflated to less than 20lbs/sq in allows some absorption of these types of forces. Also, running duals doubles the tire contact areas thus often spanning potholes and bumps with a parallel tire. The tandem axles span wide road artifacts, like rail road crossings, dips and speed bumps and give more of a “crawling over it” dynamic to it.  This can easily be seen when crossing a speed bump in a parking lot. The front axle bumps up over it and the rear tandems crawl over the same obstacle  with much less vertical displacement thus “softening” the experience.

Another big concern is the single plane of articulation that a typical commercial hitch is limited to. It can tip forward and backward to accommodate vertical changes in truck-trailer angles but it cannot tip side-to-side to handle uneven surfaces, such as in some campgrounds and roadside areas such as entrances to service stations, campgrounds, etc.

There is a certain amount of play in the kingpin-hitch interface and there is a bit of flex in the design of any well built RV. The problem is where does the stress go when the truck and trailer are being “twisted” relative to each other. The truck frame is designed to twist…. some but that is expecting a lot more than the typical 3000 to 5000 lbs of a typical 5th wheel RV pin weight. It is certainly something to be concerned about for the long term integrity of the RV.

Would I like an air ride hitch, sure.. if it has enough throw range and damping to significantly reduce these forces in typical towing… and if I can ever afford one, I will get it. Some feel it is cheap insurance compared to the costs of fixing a cracked RV frame and I don’t disagree.

5 Good tire traction for Smart

The original design was to have the tire tracks in the bed made out of 3/16” diamond plate. Some serious thought was also given to adding expanded mesh over flat plate but each still left me with a problem of buildup of ice or mud or tree trash in these tracks which could cause tire slippage during loading or unloading.

I chose to look at using the catwalk sections from the truck with their very open but aggressive surface design to fit in the bottom of these tracks. 871836280_MSUkR-Th[1] They are 1” thick and help reduce the break over angle at the edge of the bed. Separating them into the sections to fit was not hard and then they were bolted down to the bed frame.

Space was left at each end of the traction sections to drop in a standard rubber wheel chock with a lip to prevent it from getting pushed off of the edge of the bed during loading.872902887_5bJJg-Th[1] 871837162_MAVeb-Th[1] These are already in use for chocking the truck and trailer tires so they are not additional stuff to carry.

6 Secure tie down for the car

Various folks have used various means to keep their smart car in place on the bed. Some have worked better than others and some have just not “failed” yet.

882189733_VunWm-Th[1]883531406_nXwYY-Th[1]   I use webbed tie down belts with strap baskets to insure the belts stay on the tires no matter what. These are the same commercial basket belts that tow trucks use for much bigger and heavier stuff.

883531215_6ZBcy-Th[1]To actually hold the tires under pressure, 4 load binding winches for flat bed semi trailers are used. Instead of being welded to the bed (or under it as in the original design) they are slipped in under tabs that keep them in place but allow some sideways movement during tie down to accommodate where the individual tire may be sitting in the tire track.


 883530720_PJsRT-Th[1]The front and rear tires have different track widths on the Smart and this was a concern for centering the tie downs for maximum security on each tire regardless of the side used to load it onto the Smart bed.   

The webbed tie downs are designed so that they can be secured with an offset to the center of the tire and still not have any risk of coming off.

This lets them align easily with the load binder winches as needed. 883531284_9aFFW-Th[1]Between the sideways adjustability of each load binder, the length of the slot for the strap and the way that the straps tighten up on the tires, a lot of tire offset can be accommodated.

Watching them being removed before unloading gives some perspective about how they hold the smart car down and how they work.

7 Easy access to under bed truck parts

For me, this was a really big item.  I try to do as much wrenching as I can for maintenance and repair.  Most truck beds completely obscure access to what is under them so full access is usually a matter of having a truck lift, a service trench or removing the bed with a hoist or fork lift.  Out on the road, none of these are options without first having a tow to the right shop.

881796767_iTUUx-Th[1] 881796858_sKJBM-Th[1]

Designing the bed to be 2” x 6” wood decking that is retained in place by a flat steel strip on each end, allows easy access to any part under the deck just by loosening or removing 6 bolts and slipping the boards off and out of the way.

For cost, salt treated lumber was used but if I ever find myself where white oak 2” x 6” lumber is cheap, it will replace the decking in a heartbeat.

8 Easy hook bed edge for tie downs of “stuff”

I had envisioned a 1” x 1/4” steel strip to be welded around the bed with spacers to have a convenient edge to hook tie downs to but the 2” x 3/16” steel angle iron that supports the perimeter of the bed eliminated the need for that so this is even simpler.

9 Aesthetically acceptable to look at

881796317_CpeWp-Th[1]Though these are only numbered for reference this item is near the end of my requirements because it takes what it takes to satisfy the requirements of physics and safety and whatever is left available usually does not leave much room for aesthetic adjustment.


881796188_Ln2Aa-Th[1]In this case, it came together with all of it intact and, to my eye, looks very natural. It is subtle but present and integrates nicely with the truck cab and faring. Looks like it could handle a “woody” stake side added, just for looks. 

10 Predictable cost to build.

Actually, not that predictable!  The steel came in at about $1900. The welding work (as estimated by others) was expected to be under 10 hours. In reality, it took about 100 hours but that included not only the steel work but all of the wood work, painting (2 coats of primer and Black glossy epoxy) and “figuring “ that it took to solve some of the issues “in flight”. Up front, Scott was more realistic about the unknown time and effort it would take and just gave me a flat rate/hour. My own expectations of how many hours it should take were in error. The estimate for the steel was obtained prior to my committing the work to be done.

The company, Flores Welding, does steel fabrication over much of the southeast US. Russell, the fabricator that did this work, has been doing this for over 18 years and had some impressive examples of his work. Scott Holland is the lead estimator and did some of the actual work along with solving some of the problems and issues that came up. Together, they made it happen right.

All in all, it totaled about double the cost I was realistically expecting. Prior to this I was unable to get anyone to give me a firm estimate of costs to plan around but in the end, I got exactly what I really wanted, the way I wanted it.

Even though this was a first-off one of a kind, there was no throw-away material and no re-cuts due to errors or unanticipated issues during fabrication. What was cut and welded stayed welded.

I could have shaved some of the costs off by providing some labor myself. I had originally intended to do this but a combination of things including the weather, made this much harder to do that I had hoped. The shop was about 40 minutes away and this is in Central North Carolina going into the summer months and I am just not any good in the heat.

I could also have done some things, like all the unbolting and bolting, some of the drilling and the decking work and painting. When I saw how well Russell worked I just woosed out and let him do his thing and I am very glad I did.

Probably the biggest reason I didn’t work on it at the shop was that everyone there smoked and I am allergic to tobacco smoke, big time.  I would have liked to have hung around during the work a lot more. They were very agreeable to my assisting but there was more than once that my allergies took me out of service for a couple of days after a short visit to take progress pictures.

All in all, would I do it again? Absolutely!  I would just plan on it costing a good bit more on the top end than I had anticipated. I don’t think that I could have gotten a better job anywhere else at any price and I am sure that several of the places that I did attempt to give the job to would not have done anywhere near this quality nor completeness.

Now that these guys have built one they know what it will take in time and materials and I am certain that they can fabricate more of these in less time. They did say they were interested in building more of them and there is a full RV park less than a mile up the road from their shop. While it is not a resort, it is very convenient to the job site and only a couple of miles off of I-40 in Garner, NC should anyone be interested in dropping by and checking out the shop.

I am a happy camper!



Enhanced by Zemanta