Phannie

Phannie
Photo taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

Friday, May 11, 2018

Something's Flapping in the Wind Again; More RV Stuff I Like and a Cute Story

At Gallagher Acres RV Park, Benbrook, Texas...

Well, it is obviously going to the year for awnings and toppers. We were cruising happily down I-44, barely across the Missouri/Oklahoma state line when, suddenly, Phannie's door awning popped fully open in the slipstream, making, of course, a loud flapping noise. I slowed down immediately and took an exit that was close ahead, stopping soon thereafter to see what had happened. At first, I thought Sandy might have bumped the awning extend switch but, being clearly out of her reach (and snoozing to boot), that proved not to be the case. I tried retracting the motorized awning several times, to no avail.  

Across the freeway was an abandoned gas station, so I pulled in there and got out my ladder to assess the situation. The canopy was clearly not going to retract electrically, and it was held at full extension by folding arms that were heavily spring-loaded toward the extend position. I could force it, with great resistance, to retract, but the lock that is supposed to hold it in place was not working either. There was no way I could continue at any kind of speed with this thing fully extended, so I began to think how I might secure the awning closer to the side of the bus. Then it dawned on me: Bungee cords! I keep several sizes of bungee cords in the belly compartment, and I was able to use a couple of these to retract the awning closer to the side of the bus, although not quite fully. It would be enough, I thought, to get to a repair shop, so we left our parking spot and got back on the freeway. The awning was still flapping in the breeze a bit, not not nearly as much as when it was fully open.

I drove 50 mph for about an hour until I spotted a large T/A travel center and pulled into the service/tire shop in the rear of the facility. I asked if they could just remove the entire canopy and its housing from the bus. After looking at it carefully, the mechanic determined that its attachment to the coach would not permit the device's removal without compromising the structure around it. So, I asked him merely to secure the canopy housing to its base using some long tapping screws, which he did. The awning's not operable like that, of course, but it is a low-use item, and it will be fine until we go back to Red Bay in a few months to get it replaced. I suppose I could have done this myself but, at this stage of life, I try to stay off tall ladders as much as possible. I've had too many older friends who have had nasty falls doing that sort of thing, so paying a young squirt a little cash to do that doesn't bother me at all.

I meant to take a photo of the placement of the bungee cords in partially retracting the awning but, in all the excitement, I forgot. Here's a photo of my collection of bungee cords; I find a real need for these things from time to time, and I wouldn't be without them:



The point here is that a variety of bungee cords is something every RV owner should have. In this case, they made the difference between getting back on the road and being marooned!  Here's a photo of the door awning after securing it with the screws:



As we left the T/A shop after the mechanic finished, I thought of the wind gust that dislodged our slide topper a couple of weeks ago near Memphis. What are the chances that such a similar but unrelated event would happen so soon afterward? 

I always try to mention my little discoveries of stuff that might interest other RVers.  In this case, I'm going to talk about water pressure regulators--you know, the things you attach to your hose to reduce excessive water pressure that might damage RV plumbing. While many higher-end RVs have on-board regulators (as Phannie does) as a preventive measure, I use a regulator at the hose bib to prevent a hose rupture and as additional protection for the coach, just in case. The problem is that most regulators have the pressure set too low. There are some others that have an adjustable pressure feature, but I have not had good luck with these. The ones I tried seemed poorly designed, difficult to operate or of low quality, and most did not allow pressure of 60-65 psi, which is optimum for my use. I recommend this one above all others:




It is a JR Products 04-62425 Deluxe High Flow Water Regulator, available at Amazon, but it's a trifle pricey at over 40 bucks. It is, however, of very high quality and delivers the perfect pressure. Accept no substitute, in my view.


I've mentioned in an earlier post the iPad I have mounted in Phannie's cockpit and the favorite apps I use for trip planning, navigating and cruising the highways (as well as email, messages and everything else you can imagine): 



In that post, I didn't mention the app, "Trucker Path," which I like better than Gas Buddy for finding good fuel prices (and a lot more), as it focuses only on stations that can accommodate big rigs. Below are some screen shots of a Trucker Path display showing two different stations with 18-wheeler access within six miles of each other on I-35 just north of Ardmore, Oklahoma. The highway is shown on the left side of the screen; when you click on the "T" an information box opens with all sorts of data displayed. The first shot shows a price of $2.73 a gallon at an independent station and the second, a Flying J, shows a price of $3.09. The decision was easy; I saved about twenty bucks by fueling at the first stop:




Best of all, Trucker Path is free!


Looks like good weather is going to stay awhile, so it's high time for Phannie to get a bath. Here is James, of Rec-RV Wash, hard at work sprucing up the old gal: 



I keep adding listings to the "Best of the Best RV Parks" page linked on the right side of this blog. The new ones added this calendar year are identified by this 🔺 icon. Some of these have been listed as a result of reader input (thank you, Steve and Jackie) that I always appreciate! This list has proven to be a very popular resource with several thousand hits already. If you know of a park that should be listed, please leave me a comment, and I will be happy to take a look.

Here's a neat story for Mother's Day:

While shopping at Trader Joe's today in Fort Worth, Sandy discovered in her grocery cart a set of car keys that had been left behind by the previous user. She immediately took them to the manager's office, where the distraught lady who lost them happened to be standing. According to the manager, the lady and store employees had been looking everywhere trying to find them, to no avail. The lady was very relieved and thanked Sandy profusely. After she had left, the store manager walked up to Sandy with the bouquet of flowers pictured below and expressed her appreciation on behalf of Trader Joe's. 

Well, impish opportunist that I am, I quickly grabbed the flowers from the manager and handed them to Sandy, saying, "Happy Mother's Day, honey!"  

The manager, suddenly scowling, just as quickly grabbed them back, saying to me, "Not so fast, buddy; you don't get off this easily." Then Sandy took the flowers, and both ladies high-fived each other. Shameless hussies, I thought.

Okay, maybe it wasn't my finest moment of chivalry, but you have to give me credit for helping affirm the age-old belief among all women that deep-down, every guy has the potential to be a jerk. (That was my goal, of course; and to my male friends--you needn't say anything; I know I'm your hero.)



This little good-natured exchange was all a lot of fun, and you just gotta love Trader Joe's, right?


Mary Lou and Harvey
The best part of the day was a fun-filled lunch with good friends Mary Lou and Harvey at Abuelo's, where we talked about our upcoming Hawaiian cruise with mutual friends Bubba and LouAnn.

We had a very short stop here in Fort Worth for a doctor visit, then it's on to central Texas to visit friends and relatives.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it as I should each day.

You don't stop playing when you get old; you get old when you stop playing.





Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Fun Times in Branson

At Treasure Lake RV Resort, Branson, Missouri...

It has been so much fun showing Steve and Jackie around during their first visit to Branson. They seem to have enjoyed themselves immensely, and we were equally happy to be their tour guides, giving them the benefit of our many visits here.



By now, we are pretty much old hands at finding the best entertainment and places to eat, and they seem to have confirmed that our experience was very helpful. I don't think they really knew what to expect and, if they didn't have a good time, then they fooled us completely.

We've seen some really good shows featuring all kinds of music, and they seemed impressed with the quality of the performances. I guess our personal favorites were those featuring 50s and 60s tunes that we loved during our teen years when music was all important. But there's' something for every taste here, and it is all very well done.




Not only is this totally clean entertainment, but there is almost no crime here, and the many attractions like Silver Dollar City are a mecca for kids. You also won't find a more patriotic place than Branson, where every show includes a salute to veterans. And where else but Branson would you find a sign like this in a business's parking lot:



This is so refreshing after the vitriol against the military we see on TV every day.

Our last event was a tour of Table Rock Lake on the Branson Belle, a huge showboat built here on the lake. We enjoyed a lively dinner show in the theater in addition to the views from the various outside decks:



The boat was propelled by a real paddle wheel:


While the girls went shopping near the end of our time together, Steve and I took in a war museum and an antique car and farm equipment museum, both of which were very interesting. In this photo, Steve is standing beside a 1909 steam-powered tractor. He seemed to know a good deal about it, so I asked him how old he was when it was invented. I don't think he found my question very amusing, for some reason.



At the car museum, I really wanted this 1956 Cadillac Eldorado for a tow car, but I couldn't swing the $178,000 price tag. I was surprised to find here three rare and quite pristine Eldorados, a '56, a '57 and a '58, all for sale for around the same price.  Sigh.


We also spent some time at Big Cedar, the resort complex on Table Rock Lake owned by Bass Pro Shops. It has to be one of the most picturesque places around, and we took a number of photos:





Oh, the dangers I face when trying to get the best photo. I had to ford this raging stream to get in position to take the photo of the chapel above. It's a wonder I didn't drown:


We had plenty of good eats, too. I can't list them all, but below is a photo of our gang eating catfish at the Flat Creek Cafe near West Branson. (Yes, it was good enough to be listed on our favorites page.)





Perhaps even better than the catfish were the homemade fried pies. We left no evidence in the bowl, however:




When we weren't going to shows and restaurants and the like, we spent a good deal of time just sitting around, enjoying the near perfect weather. Here's a photo of Sandy, bringing her overstuffed glass of iced tea to a 'happy hour' outside Steve and Jackie's coach. (Those who know Sandy understand that she likes a little tea with her ice. No, I don't get it either but, if she's going to have a vice, this one is pretty tame, I guess.)



From here, we fondly but sadly said goodbye to Steve and Jackie, who are northbound to Minnesota, taking their time along the way to see some new sights. We will soon be making our way back to Texas, where we will see friends and relatives, attend a rally and prepare for our Hawaiian cruise that begins in about five weeks.

I hope our enjoyment of this stage of our lives is evident to readers, especially those contemplating fulltime RVing. We are still pinching ourselves at our good fortune in experiencing the freedom of stress free and obligation free living, all the while traveling to, well, wherever we wish and staying as long as we want. Add to this the many wonderful friends we've made whose paths we cross from time to time, and it is almost too good to be true. 


Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should each day.

You don't stop playing when you get old; you get old when you stop playing.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Sprucing up Phannie, Meeting new Friends and a Return to Branson

At Treasure Lake RV Park, Branson, Missouri...

While we were waiting at Bay Diesel in Red Bay for some troubleshooting to our car (see the previous post), a pleasant man engaged me in conversation while I was standing near Phannie. He pointed to one of the maintenance bays where another 2006 Phaeton was getting serviced, identifying it as his. As he hadn't owned his rig for long, he was asking about certain modifications we had had done to Phannie over the years, information I happily supplied. He was soon joined by his wife and introduced themselves as Larry and Kay from Kentucky. After a few minutes, my attention was needed by the mechanic, so we continued our visit at the customer lounge, where Sandy joined us for a four-way conversation.

Kay and Larry were a very likable couple with whom we had a great deal in common, and our conversation with them lasted long after Bay Diesel was finished with their coach. As often happens, we found them to be people we would like to know better, so we exchanged contact information and expressed our hope we would run into them again. I meant to take a photo but, in my approaching dementia, I forgot to do so. Now having a photo of our friends, especially new ones, is important, so I asked them to send me one of theirs, so we could have their visages saved for posterity. 


Kay and Larry
It never ceases to amaze me how many wonderful folks we meet during our travels. We may just have to drop in on Kay and Larry sometime in Kentucky, who knows?

After our unexpected return to Red Bay for the topper problem, we had an uneventful journey back to Searcy, Arkansas and on to Branson. We stopped in Searcy to visit with some more newish friends, Larry and Carolyn, and enjoyed seeing their hometown for the first time. We've made tentative plans with them for some more meetups later on in the year.

Since we had a good deal of downtime in Red Bay, we took the opportunity to do a little modification to Phannie that we had been wanting to do for a long time, and that was to replace the dated mirrored backsplash in the kitchen. Sandy has hated that mirrored surface for years, as it is almost impossible to keep clean from the inevitable splash and spatter marks that happen in that area. So, we pushed the limits of our very sparse abilities and pried off the old backsplash, replacing it with some stick-on faux tile pieces. It wasn't all that difficult, thankfully, and we like the look a lot better. Here's the before and after:




Here in Branson, we're awaiting the arrival of Texas friends Steve and Jackie, who will be visiting here for the first time. We're delighted to be able to show them around one of our favorite places. After that, we'll be heading back to Texas and another rally, visiting friends and relatives along the way. We've really enjoyed our time at Treasure Lake RV Resort here in Branson where, because of our Thousand Trails membership, we pay only $19 a night.


Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it as I should each day.

You don't stop playing when you get old; you get old when you stop playing.



Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Unexpected Incidents Reveal Why We Come to Red Bay for Service

At Downtown Red Bay RV Park, Red Bay, Alabama...

With Phannie's emergence from Bay Diesel's annual checkup and service with no issues noted on their comprehensive checklist (an option we always choose wherein the experienced mechanics look at every possible wear point and replace or lubricate as needed), we had concluded our service agenda for this visit to Red Bay. Because we have had our annual service done here for several years, Bay Diesel has a record of when required items were accomplished--whether they be annual, biennial or triennial, so I really don't have to keep up with it too closely (although I keep a complete file of everything done to Phannie in case there's a question).


Phannie, all finished at Bay Diesel with a good report.

The next day, we headed out for Searcy, Arkansas and an overnight stop to visit friends Larry and Carolyn, whom we recently met in Branson. Having bumped our way through Memphis (they really need to do something about their deteriorating roadways), we turned onto highway 64, a very busy two-lane road with lots of construction and non-stop eighteen-wheelers going both directions. 

A cold front was approaching the area, preceded by thunderstorms and a tornado watch, and we were hoping to get to Searcy before having to contend with that. As often happens ahead of a strong cold front, a very gusty south wind was blowing where we were on highway 64, blasting against Phannie's huge left side and causing her to lurch to the right with each heavy gust. To make driving even more difficult, the big trucks heading toward us in the opposite direction amplified the wind gusts with their passing a few feet away on the two-lane road. At a closing speed of perhaps more than 120 mph, each truck we met was like a concussion blast of sorts.

It was during one of the heaviest wind gusts that a speeding 18-wheeler met us with the heaviest concussion we had felt. At the same time, we heard a loud snap followed by a fluttering sound on Phannie's left side. I found a place to pull off the road and walked around to the driver's side, where it was obvious that the forward slide topper roller was loose, causing the new slide topper material to loosen around the roller, which was the source of the flapping noise.

Since we had just had the slide toppers replaced at MS RV Solutions in Red Bay, I leaped to the conclusion that their installation had somehow been faulty. With this in mind, I turned Phannie around and headed back to Red Bay, giving Carl, one of the owners of MS RV Solutions, a call to tell him what had happened. This was on a Friday afternoon, and he asked me to come directly to the shop, and he would take a look at it. I told him it would be around six o'clock, and he said it didn't matter what time I got there; he and his partner, Daniel, would meet us.  

Since we were now traveling the opposite direction back toward Memphis, the south wind was now on our right side, and there were no trucks on that shoulder side of the road, so the loose topper seemed stable enough to continue back to Red Bay, and off we went. Sure enough, Carl and Daniel were standing in the shop's driveway, looking down the road, awaiting Phannie's appearance. They motioned us directly into one of the bays and began to survey the topper.

MS RV Solutions in Golden, Mississippi
What was immediately evident was that a part of the roller support mechanism had broken and the roller brake had torn away and was missing. This means that the massive gust of wind, exacerbated by the simultaneous blast of the passing truck, had blown the rolled-up topper upward at a force beyond the support's design strength, causing it to fail. It was most certainly not due to any error by Carl or Daniel, but a coincidence that the failure occurred immediately after their installation of the topper.


New roller support and brake that replaced the one that failed in wind gust

After this discovery, the guys immediately began to repair the topper support bracket. They didn't have a new brake mechanism in stock but, after a short absence by Daniel, he appeared back at the shop with one in hand, shaking his head as to how hard it was to locate one at this hour. I didn't ask where he got it; I didn't want to know. 

After about an hour, all was good as new, and I pulled out my wallet to pay for the work. Carl shook his head and waved away my gesture, saying that there would be no charge, even though the failure of the topper support was clearly not due to any error on his part. When I began to insist, he said, 

     "I can't accept your money because we touched this topper just before this happened to you. I'm sure we had nothing to do with the bracket failure, as we handled only the topper material; but I cannot afford for our reputation to be even slightly questioned." 

I don't think I've ever been more impressed.

Unfortunately, our bad luck was not quite over. As we were preparing for departure from Red Bay the next day, I hooked up Mae behind Phannie and tested the operation of the car's brake and turn signals. The left signal was not working! Thinking the problem may be the power cord that runs between the coach and the car, I switched to a new one that I keep on hand. Same problem! I knew  the bulbs were okay, as they are LEDs, two bulbs on each side, and they worked okay when illuminated with the taillights.

Well, this would not do, as it would not only be illegal to drive this way, but I always want my signals evident to anyone following our little wagon train. Not knowing what to do, I drove Phannie out to Bay Diesel, followed by Sandy in Mae, and talked to Chris, the owner to get some ideas. Now bear in mind that Bay Diesel is a very busy shop that doesn't usually perform work on automobiles and never without an appointment. I suppose Chris could sense my exasperation, so he said, "Why don't you hang around, Mike, and I'll see if we can work you in." I thanked him profusely, of course, and Sandy and I went to the customer lounge. 

After a wait of a couple of hours, a mechanic began working on Mae, dismantling the taillight fixture and inspecting the wiring all the way to the front of the car. Finding no problems with the fixture or wiring, he took apart the receptacle into which the power cord is plugged when towing. As soon as he removed it, a splash of rust-colored water poured out on the ground. The receptacle housing had filled with water that had blown back from Phannie when we had driven on a rainy highway. Well, I knew that water and electricity don't mix, and it was clear that one of the contacts had shorted out. The receptacle anterior and the wires it contained were wet, rusted and corroded, so it had to be replaced and, to my astonishment, Chris had one in stock! He added silicone sealer to ensure it would stay dry in the future.

New receptacle is ready to go!
I had to marvel at the attention given to me, even though I showed up out of the blue, with no appointment, asking for help with a problem that Bay Diesel doesn't normally deal with. I don't know how Chris was able to pull a mechanic off the line to help me with my penny-ante broken light, but he obviously knew that I was a repeat customer, and I suppose my business must be important to him. I would say it was a very good way to ensure my doing business with him for life.

Perhaps this gives you an illustration of why we find ourselves returning year after year to the backwater little town of Red Bay to get service for Phannie. It is a place that time has forgotten--where its citizens all seem somehow to have kept intact the values of honesty, integrity, fairness, helpfulness and hard work that were exemplified to us by our parents back in the fifties when we were growing up. I've never seen anything like it.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should each day.

You don't stop playing when you get old; you get old when you stop playing.


Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Visit to Red Bay and Caring for an Aging Motorhome

At Downtown RV Park, Red Bay, Alabama...

We knew that our early visit to Branson in mid-March would make us a little vulnerable here in the latter part of winter weather, and we were right. Old Man Winter did not let go of his grip on the area and still has not loosened it as I'm writing this post here in northern Alabama in mid-April. It will be freezing here this weekend, and I'm not sure we will again be venturing this far northward in the early spring next year. The cold, rainy weather has not diminished our enjoyment of the trip, however; we haven't regretted it for even a moment. 

Adding to the annoyance of the bad weather is the fact that we are currently in the midst of suffering our annual cold virus episodes. Until now, I have been holding my breath, sanitizing my hands and thinking we may be spared winter colds this year but, alas, it was not to be. Subjecting ourselves to the crowds at the concert and shows seems to have done the trick. So, we have been snorting and sniffling for several days, wondering why it is that the common cold has defied a cure or a vaccine since time began?  Oh, well, at least it's not the flu and, for that, we are very grateful.

Since the trip from Branson to Red Bay was nearly 500 miles, I planned an overnight stop at Craighead Forest Park in Jonesboro, Arkansas. This is a large municipal park not far from downtown that is extremely well kept with all paved roads and RV sites. At 15 bucks a night, it is a real bargain, although there are no sewer hookups at the sites; a dump station is available, however. The park is very heavily wooded, so satellite reception is difficult.


Trees still bare at Craighead Forest Park in Jonesboro, Arkansas
The next day, we had an uneventful trip and parked in the driveway of MS RV Solutions, a highly recommended shop just outside Red Bay. We would spend the next two nights there, as we had a two-day appointment for Phannie. Although we were not having any obvious problems with leaks, I knew that it was time to have her roof resealed. After 12 years, the caulking around the multitude of roof-penetrating devices had become brittle, and it was only a matter of time before a leak would surely develop. 

Carl and Daniel, the owners of MS Solutions, have built a solid reputation for excellence in RV repairs due to their small-town southern upbringing that inculcated within them the values of honest hard work done with fairness and quality. For example, while many outfits doing a roof recondition would simply apply new caulk over the old, these guys remove all the old material before recaulking. In all, this job required 30 tubes of caulk, so I'm pretty sure we're good for the next ten years or so.

With the roof reconditioned, it was time to repair one of Phannie's interior ceiling panels that had been subjected to a condensation leak from one of the roof air conditioners. This caused the panel to wrinkle and pull away from its seams and, since this was the only blemish on the coach's interior appearance, we wanted to get it repaired, which Carl and Daniel did, expertly. 


New overhead panel looks like new.
It was also time to replace the slide toppers--vinyl sheeting atop the four slides that unrolls and rolls as they are deployed, covering the slides and aiding in repelling rain and tree leaves. The old toppers had decomposed to the extent they had small holes appearing in them, so Carl and Daniel installed a much better quality of canvas to replace the old ones:

  
I also had them add an extra 110V plug in the kitchen area that would be wired into its own circuit that would add to our capability to use multiple high-draw appliances at the same time.

For now, we're parked at the Red Bay Downtown RV Park, which stays full most of the time during spring and fall when the snowbirds drop in for Tiffin factory maintenance during their north and southbound migrations. This is actually one of four local reliever parks for the factory campground, whose 100 spaces are almost always full.


Next week, we will take Phannie for her annual engine and chassis service at Bay Diesel here in Red Bay. Based here in the same town as the Tiffin factory, Bay Diesel has serviced thousands of Tiffin motorhomes over the years, and they have a solid reputation for quality work, much like most of the outside vendors here. I'll have a report on that later.

For those who deliberate on the pros and cons of keeping a motorhome for a long time versus trading for a newer one every few years, the money to be saved by keeping your rig and maintaining it well is rather lopsided in favor of hanging on to it. Of course, for those lucky folks for whom cost is not an issue, by all means, they should take advantage of all the luxuries that a new coach has to offer. For the rest of us, being diligent in taking care of the rig we have will make it last and look good for a long time. 

In that regard, a motorhome is much like an airplane. It has a very high initial cost and, if carefully cared for and maintained properly, it will last for a very long time. There are plenty of airplanes flying today that have been around for more than 50 years, and RVs more than 25 years old are quite common. As a pilot and former FAA inspector, I am quite mindful of the rules that force all aircraft operators to perform periodic inspections and maintenance, sometimes replacing critical parts at certain time intervals rather than waiting until they fail. Using the same philosophy, I insist that  Phannie is regularly inspected and that fluids and filters and things like thermostats and belts are changed on Phannie at or before the intervals  recommended by Freightliner and Caterpillar. The same was true for the roof sealing job and the replacement of the slide toppers just finished. Neither of these had failed, but getting repairs done after a failure could be much more expensive and inconvenient than having their repair planned in advance of failure. 

I'm glad that Phannie has the highly-reliable Caterpillar C7 engine, one of more than 1.6 million over-the-road engines built by the legendary company over the years. It is expected to accumulate 450-500,000 miles before an anticipated failure--even better than the also-legendary Cummins diesels, whose expected failure threshold is 350,000 miles. These mileage levels will probably not ever be seen by most RVs, so I'm not terribly worried about having to replace Phannie's engine while we have her, as we average only around 7,000 miles per year. And there's the DEF thing--the need to add diesel exhaust fluid, at extra cost, to the fuel of newer diesel engines due to EPA regulations--Phannie doesn't have to bother with that, thankfully.

Over the seven years we've owned Phannie, her average yearly cost for maintenance--of all systems, including the "house" part of the rig--has averaged about $2,400 per year. That does not include new tires and the cost of some optional upgrades we've done. Considering that the cost of trading "up" to a newer used coach could be at least $100,000 or more, it's easy to see which is more cost-effective. Of course, the price tag on a new Phaeton is around $400,000, so that would, of course, be for those who don't care about cost-effectiveness, as it simply flies out the window.

Stay tuned for Phannie's "well-woman" check report from Bay Diesel. I know you can't wait to find out! 

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should each day.

I had rather own little and see the world than to own the whole world and see little of it.  
--Alexander Sattler





Saturday, March 24, 2018

Branson Again and Another Blast From the Past

At Treasure Lake RV Resort, Branson, Missouri...

We love Branson. It's one of the last places where you can find such a concentration of good, clean family entertainment. Nestled in the Ozarks near beautiful Table Rock Lake, it has something for every season:  In the summer, there are all sorts of water activities, including the compelling Silver Dollar City amusement park. In the spring and fall, the temperatures are mild with plenty of first-rate shows to see and, in the winter, there are wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas events with stunning decorations.

This is the first time we have stayed at Treasure Lake RV Resort, and it is probably the nicest one in Branson. It is a membership-only park, to which we get access because of our Thousand Trails membership:




Our main attraction this time was to meet up with friends Bubba and LouAnn and Harvey and Mary Lou for PraiseFest, a southern gospel music event held at the Mansion theater. It was a sellout, and we enjoyed the three-day run immensely.

We had the additional good fortune to be joined by Brittany,  daughter of Bubba and LouAnn, and her husband, Tyler, and their two boys, Carter and Davis. One of the shows we saw together was "Samson," at the Sight and Sound theater. It was quite an epic show, and we enjoyed it a great deal. Here's a photo of our group taken in the theater lobby:



Another favorite show was "#1 Hits of the 60s and 50s" which, of course, was the best music ever. Don't think so? Well, they may have been a little silly, but at least they had a melody, unlike what's out there today! Anyway, the show was very well done, with lots of talented musicians. 

While we were parked at Treasure Lake, I noticed that parked nearby was a Phaeton motorhome like ours, except for the color. We struck up a conversation with its owners, Larry and Carolyn, and found out that their coach was a year newer than Phannie, but that wasn't evident to the eye:



We discovered we had a great deal in common, and we were soon on the receiving end of an invitation to accompany them to a show at the Grand Country Jubilee. We happily accepted and enjoyed their company immensely; it was almost as though we had known them for a long time. It never ceases to amaze me how many great people we meet in the RV world. We have a wealth of friends with this common interest, and we love it when our paths cross from time to time, as they usually do. We are even making plans with Larry and Carolyn to meet at a common destination in a few months! That'll be great!

We have some more shows to see in Branson before we head to Red Bay, and we'll keep you updated.

I've gotten some good feedback from the last 'Blast From the Past' that I included here, so I thought I would include another one. Following is an excerpt from a post back in 2005--our first year of RVing--when we were exploring the Texas Hill Country.  I make no apology for my pride in my native state, and this excerpt expresses that sentiment pretty well:

The Texas hill country has its own unique identity that's not easy to describe, because part of its charm is in the feeling one has about it, especially among native Texans, I think. Not to diminish the connection that non-natives can develop for the state, but most Texans by birth seem to exhibit a love for this immense state that is not unlike a love of country or love of the family farm. 

The hill country is like a bauble on a grand dame, joining other jewels like the piney woods of east Texas, the sawgrass of the gulf coast and the rugged crags of the Big Bend to make up her whole persona. It's as much of an air, or feeling, as it is an appealing landscape. 


Traveling through the rocky hills reveals not the majestic grandeur of the Rockies but the almost audible heartbeat of a land of legend and mystique, both wild and winsome at the same time. The undulating change in dimension between land and sky creates a different visual treat with the rounding of a curve or the crossing of a crystal stream.  




Surveyed from the top of a ridge, the hills seem to stretch without end, passing under cottonlike clouds at the edge of the impossibly blue sky. 



At day's end, the sun brushes gilded clouds onto a pink and purple canvas, as it reluctantly leaves to shine on lesser lands. Marveling at God's handiwork, I can't help but get a lump in my throat and think that it is all so very Texan.








Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should each day.

I had rather own little and see the world than to own the whole world and see little of it. 
--Alexander Sattler

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Mixed Bag: Kneeling Pads, Fan Belts, Salsa, BBQ and Nostalgia

At Lufkin KOA, Lufkin, Texas...

Finally! The stitches have been removed from my overhauled knee, just as the redbuds come into full bloom here in southeast Texas. I feel a stirring from within as the trees timidly issue little feelers of green sprouts, obviously fearful of the dreaded Easter cold spell that the ancients always talk about as inevitable.

So, what is this stirring that I'm starting to feel inside as I view the ever-so-nascent tiptoeing into spring? No, it's not that; don't be silly; I'm a septuagenarian. It's hitch itch, of course! 

With visions of bringing the long-idle diesel to life and driving away soon, I make the trek around Phannie's six wheels and check the tire pressures, which I expect to have dropped a bit after several weeks immobile in the cold weather. Now, if you were paying attention, you will remember that I mentioned above that I just had the stitches removed after my knee surgery, and you may be wondering how I could kneel, in my delicate condition, at each tire to check the air pressure? The answer is that I can't yet--that is, on the left knee--it's still a little tender. Why not bend over, you say? Oh please; you must be kidding! 

Well, that's a perfect setup to show you the cool kneeling pad I bought that has proved to be worth every penny:  



(While you're looking at it, take note of the water filter cartridge in the foreground; I'll be talking about that a little later.)

It's a ProFlex 380 foam kneeling pad, available from Amazon. Although it's called a foam pad, this is not foam in the usual sense, but a quite rigid pad that will provide protection from rocks and gravel while providing a degree of softness to the knees. It folds in two and can easily be tucked away with a very narrow footprint in a storage bay. I especially like the large size of the pad when unfolded. Sometimes it is necessary to spend quite a while kneeling or even sitting on the ground beside the coach while I'm tending to something and, if the ground surface is rock or gravel, it can be murder on my kneecaps or gluteus maximus, of which I have more than ample. But hey, no problem with pad, as it covers plenty of ground to sit and even spread out tools if I like.



Now, you may be a little underwhelmed by this discovery, especially since it will run you north of thirty bucks. Well, I get that, but you should know that it is one of a few really important and helpful things that I use almost every day, and I wouldn't want to be without it, no sir.  

Now, back to the water filter pictured above. You can see that this sucker is dirty, I mean, really dirty. I had sort of forgotten to change it for a while (out of sight, out of mind), and it was choked with sand and no telling what else. It finally dawned on me as to the problem when the faucet pressure inside the coach began to get weak enough to be noticeable.  I was appalled to realize how much gunk we had picked up over the last several months. I now have a reminder set for filter changeout every quarter, and I hope this is about the right frequency.

Departure day finally came, and we turned Phannie eastward toward U. S. 59 that would take us toward our Branson, Missouri destination in a few days. I made a brief stop in tiny Shepherd, Texas to pick up some favorite salsa from a local vendor who makes it in small batches to sell at flea markets and online; it's a little on the garlicky side, and I like that. They also have a milder version, but no self-respecting Texan would be caught buying such a thing.



Okay, some of you will probably be curious where to get it, so you can look it up at www.whhranch.com. But don't get in a hurry for it; they sometimes run out and can't always get another batch into the queue right away. They have lots of stuff like this, and it's all good. In fact, I think I'm going to get up from the computer and open a jar right now. And I know right where the tostadas are.

I parked Phannie beside McLain's grocery, where the salsa is sold and, since it would take only a few minutes to go inside and pick up the salsa, I left Phannie's engine running when I left the coach. As soon as I exited the door, I heard a noise from the engine compartment that I didn't like. Listening closely, it sounded like a chirping fan belt, and I knew this wasn't good; the belt could probably swarm at any time, and I am not fond of breakdowns on the side of the highway.

We stopped down the road at a favorite catfish place for lunch, and I began to call around to see if I could find someone to replace the belt on a Friday afternoon. I was anything but optimistic. Then I called the San Jacinto Truck Center in Shepherd, and found myself talking to the owner, Cruz. He was very interested in helping me and asked for the engine and chassis serial numbers. He said he could have the belt in an hour, so we finished lunch and drove about ten miles to his shop, which was in the middle of nowhere outside the tiny town of Shepherd. The ramshackle facility was surrounded by perhaps a dozen large diesel trucks in various states of repair where a small army of uniformed mechanics worked diligently under Cruz's direction. I drove into the parking lot, and Phannie seemed terribly out of place among the many well-worn and dirty trucks. Cruz met me immediately and, before long, his son arrived from Houston with the new fan belt and a tensioner pulley. With these in hand, he motioned for two mechanics to do the installation. This took a while, as the mechanics clearly had not worked on a motorhome before and didn't know that the top of the engine could only be accessed from inside the coach. But once they had access to the engine from above and below, they knew exactly what to do and appeared to do a fine job.

As I had expected, the old fan belt was shot. The sparkling new one worked fine, and we left Cruz's shop as darkness fell. We were very late arriving in Lufkin, where we would spend a few days visiting friends and relatives in east Texas, but I felt incredibly lucky to have found Cruz; I don't think any other outfit would have tackled this on a Friday afternoon, and I would otherwise have been on pins and needles worrying about an imminent breakdown. The lesson here, I guess, is to walk around your rig now and then while the engine is running. If there's something amiss, it may make itself known as it did this time for me.

The next day, we took a drive through my ancestral homeland of east Texas, stopping at Hemphill Barbeque, deep in the woods outside of town. The place had Bible verses on the walls along with this bit of decor:


Just call it a guess, but I suppose these may be some of the many southern folks "clinging to their guns and religion," as Obama infamously said. Well, since I'm one of those, I felt right at home here, along with the other patrons, among whom probably half were carrying. I thought to myself, this would not be a good place to try a holdup.

The barbeque? Very good, especially the ribs, which were perfectly cooked with a killer sauce:


After lunch, we drove to a campground on Lake Sam Rayburn where friends Dick and Judy are workamping for the summer. We had a nice visit, even taking time for a game of Rummikub, which Dick promptly won, unfortunately. These are really good folks although, judging by this photo, Dick seemed on this day to be having a bit of an identity crisis, obviously pretending to be a locomotive engineer: 


After much conversation and many laughs, we said goodbye and wished them well, stopping nearby at a roadside stand to pick up some freshly cooked pork cracklins. This is a quaint sampling of rural Texana that you don't see everywhere, and I do love to stop and talk to these locals and see their homespun offerings when I can:


Crunching on a perfectly cooked spicy cracklin', I turned the car north toward San Augustine and Center, Texas. Center, a small town near the Louisiana border, has a special meaning to me, for the local airport was the site where I took my first airplane ride when I was about eight years old. I had not returned until this very day:


Sandy and I lingered here where I located the spot where I had climbed aboard the ancient little fabric-winged Aeronca Champ some 63 years ago. The airplane was exactly like this one:


And, oddly enough, this was the same type of airplane in which I flew my first solo flight when I was 16, about eight years later.

During my ride from the Center airport, the little airplane was flown by its owner who, along with several other local pilots, were giving rides in their airplanes for a donation to charity. My parents ponied up the donation for two flights, and I was totally hooked. From that day forward, I knew exactly what I wanted to do for a career--fly airplanes. And that's exactly what I did. 

This was a very nostalgic moment for me, and I thought to myself that reliving the past must be what people do a lot of when they get old. I guess there's nothing wrong with that, especially if the times remembered were good ones, as almost all of mine are, thankfully.
The next day, we had lunch with longtime friends John and Pat and, at the restaurant, we ran into my aunt Joyce and cousin Brenda! We just got to do all sorts of visiting that day, and enjoyed it immensely.

Pat and John
The next morning dawned cold on our departure day from Lufkin, and we said goodbye to the vast east Texas forest lands of my youth and pointed Phannie toward Little Rock, where we would overnight on our way to visit friends in Branson. It was good to be back on the road again!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should each day.


I had rather own little and see the world than to own the whole world and see little of it. 
--Alexander Sattler