Phannie

Phannie
Photo taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Trip Planning: Ditching the Maps

At Cicada Springs RV Park, Killeen, Texas...

After completing Phannie's work at Red Bay, we migrated back to the Dallas area for more of our never-ending medical checkups and then to our spot here in central Texas to visit friends and relatives.


Several posts ago, I mentioned that I had done a presentation on electronic trip planning and navigation at one of our rallies. Some folks mentioned that they would like for me to put some of the same info in one of these posts. Well, why not? 

I should mention that I have tried a new app or two since that rally presentation and found them to suit me better than some of the ones I touted then. It was during this most recent trip from Red Bay to Dallas that it occurred to me that I haven't used a paper map or road atlas in quite a long time. I'm not sure when I stopped, but they simply became unnecessary. 

Now, I must admit that I like gadgets--especially electronic ones--and I tend to trust them. Perhaps this is because of my years flying airliners when I had to rely solely on the cockpit instruments in front of me. On countless occasions, I had to fly the big airplanes down through the clouds and fog, seeing nothing but gray soup outside, trusting the instruments to guide me exactly to a point on the approach to the airport where I would finally catch sight of the runway only seconds before touchdown. (Things are different now--it is not uncommon for airplanes to land themselves in really low visibility.) If that doesn't build trust, nothing will. Having said that, I do not extend the same level of trust to off-the-shelf GPS systems for automobiles, having been led astray a few times. By and large, however, these are pretty reliable.

The revolution in electronic mapping for auto and RV drivers has, of course, extended to aviation. You don't see flight crews carrying around big bags of charts and maps any longer; these have largely been replaced by the iPad. I say, thank goodness; revising those charts used to be the bane of my existence--as it was for all professional pilots back in the day.

But, I digress. Let's get to the apps and websites:

If you've read this blog for a long time, you probably know that I am not much of a planner. That may seem odd for someone who had to use detailed flight plans for decades when flying airplanes, but that was then and this is now; I'm retired and not prone to doing anything that requires a lot of effort. There is so much information available on the Internet nowadays that it tends to make child's play of planning--if you have the right apps and websites. 

Some degree of planning is necessary, I've found, because there are more and more RVers chasing few new RV parking spots, so we have to make reservations more often than not. We also have certain standards for park amenities and cost, and some research is necessary to find a decent park and yet stay within a budget. Also, I want to know how many miles are in each driving leg; we don't like to drive more than about 250 miles in a day. Finally, I like to do some research on things to do and see when we arrive at one of our stops. And yes, there's an app for that!

If I have the time, I'll generally do trip planning on a PC at my desk in Phannie's living room. Then when we're on the road, I'll use the iPad to do the navigating and trip following, like in this setup:



So, let's talk first about the pre-trip planning that I do on my PC. When we decide on an itinerary, I bring up Good Sam's travel planner at http://trips.goodsamclub.com and begin entering the itinerary. (You have to be a Good Sam Club member to use the planner.)



This is the best trip planner I have seen so far, and adjusting the route is very easily done in the itinerary list on the left of the screen or by merely dragging the route line around on the map. You can tell at a glance the number of miles between each stop. Then, at each depicted stop, you can zoom in and take a look at all the nearby campgrounds, rated by Good Sam. They even rate the ones that are not Good Sam parks:



There are limitations to this app, however. Clicking on the buttons representing the individual parks doesn't give much information other than the Good Sam rating. To get more info, I like to take a look at Passport America (www.passportamerica.com) to see if there are any 50% bargains to be had among the local RV parks:



Clicking on the red teardrops takes me to more information about the discount parks, including the conditions under which they will grant the discounts. Then, if I would like to get some reviews on the parks, I'll pull up RV Park Reviews (www.rvparkreviews.com) to check out what others say:



If I want to include federal, state and municipal parks in the mix as another economical choice, I'll bring up Ultimate Campgrounds website (www.ultimatecampgrounds.com). In the photo below, I notice there is a state park right in the middle of Indianapolis. This might be worth checking out:



So, I click on the state park icon, and I notice that it is the Indiana State Fairgrounds with 170 sites; this might be a possibility:



If I'm still not convinced, I'll sometimes open Google Earth to get a buzzard's eye view. Here's a closeup of one of the state fair RV parking areas at Indianapolis:



On the other hand, if I'm looking for a high-end place with the best of facilities, I'll take a look in this very blog you're reading and click on the link "Best of the Best RV Parks." (Pardon the shameless self-promotion.) That will bring up a list like this:



You will notice that I have no high-end listings for Indiana. That doesn't mean there isn't one, but that I couldn't locate one that met my standards during my research for the list.

If I'm looking for a good place to eat, I'll open my own list, "Favorite Restaurants" (again, shameless self-promotion), linked on the Phannie and Mae blog:



I notice that I have no listings for Indianapolis (not a surprise, as I haven't been there to do any restaurant reviews), so I move on to Yelp (www.yelp.com): 


If I'm spending more than one night in Indianapolis, I might like to see some attractions, so Travel Advisor (www.traveladvisor.com) is a good source for that:




Well, that about does it as far as pre-departure planning goes. But I like to acknowledge that planning a trip is a very personal thing, so I'm just sharing the things I find myself doing. Now, if you're using some cool websites or apps for this purpose, please leave me a comment; I'd like to try them out.

Once I fire up Phannie to get on the road, I use my iPad for enroute mapping. My preference is to toggle between the InRoute app and the All Stays app, both of which are available from Apple. InRoute is good for mapping your route, keeping up with your position and doing a re-route when necessary. It also has a built-in GPS:



I like AllStays because it has an exhaustive display capability of anything you could think of that would be of interest to an RVer, including things like places to get propane or warnings of low bridge clearances, not to mention RV parks, Walmarts, truck stops, and a bunch of other stuff. Here's what the AllStays screen looks like for Indianapolis:



We will be leaving Killeen soon and heading to a Tiffin owners' rally near Lake Buchanan, Texas. Then we'll be spending some time at our sort-of home base park on Lake Conroe before heading north for the summer. Hang around and see where we end up--we haven't planned that one yet, but we have the tools when we do!

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

Monday, April 3, 2017

Working Through Phannie's List, A Day Trip and Small Town Values

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

One thing is certain, whether you live in a stick-and-brick house or in an RV: Maintenance will always be required. It is perhaps more of a certainty in an RV, as it is a combination of house and vehicle, both of which require frequent attention. Fortunately, my insistence on following carefully a maintenance schedule for Phannie's engine and drive train has resulted in almost no problems in this area in nearly 50,000 miles. 

After Phannie's good bill of mechanical health at Bay Diesel, we have been concentrating on the "house" part of our bus. We've had some body work done to take care of some dents and scratches, and next will be some work on our awning and other minor things. 

There is no better place to get these things done than the little burg of Red Bay, Alabama, where the Tiffin factory is located.  There are perhaps a dozen ex-Tiffin employees who have set up little cottage industries of their own to take advantage of the overflow of Tiffin customers who return to the factory for service. With more than 80,000 Tiffin coaches having been built, there is almost always a wait for owners to get their coaches into one of the more than fifty maintenance bays at the service center. The spillover is a feeding frenzy for the local independent techs, who can usually see customers much more quickly than the factory shop.

Because Red Bay is such a small town, coach owners often help pass the time taking day trips into the surrounding area. Tupelo, Decatur and Muscle Shoals are not far away, and these places have all the amenities that could be expected of larger cities. (Red Bay doesn't even have a Wal-Mart.)

We decided to make a round-robin excursion to Decatur and Scottsboro, Alabama.  Decatur is a pleasant town of about 50,000 located on the Tennessee River, and I had long heard recommendations to try the fare at Big Bob Gibson's Barbeque. That would, indeed, be our first stop on the tour:




We were not disappointed. We ordered the Big Bob Gibson feast to share and, upon its delivery to our table by a very cheerful waitress, we both exclaimed at the same time that we couldn't possibly eat all of this!  Guess what--we were wrong! This was some seriously good 'cue, and it will go on our best restaurants list for sure. 

Afterward, we stopped at a local bakery, Mel's Sweet Treats, for some cookies that were to die for, and that place will also go on the list. 

Now, since our stop at Big Bob's was considered my treat, it was now Sandy's turn to make a choice of things to do. She chose the Unclaimed Baggage Center, about an hour away in tiny Scottsboro, Alabama: 



This is the one place in the country where all the unclaimed baggage of airline passengers goes to be sold to the public. Sandy had heard about it for decades, and she had always professed a desire to stop and take a look. Since I had had my Big Bob Gibson fix, I was most agreeable, and off we went to Scottsboro, about an hour away from Decatur. 

I'm not so sure Sandy was looking for a bargain so much as merely being curious as to what things airline passengers would leave behind--as it turns out, some really strange stuff. One of the employees told us that they had recently sold a $75,000 emerald ring for $36,000 and, when we were there, we saw not one, but two, suits of armor that passengers failed to pick up. I didn't even try to figure that out.



The place gave the appearance of a large department store and, as you might imagine, there was a huge amount of clothing on display, in addition to tons of cameras, laptops and other electronic gizmos.
We both decided that the outlet was slightly disappointing in that the prices being asked for the goods seemed quite a bit higher than we expected. That didn't seem to deter the customers, however, as the parking lots were full, and a constant steam of patrons were leaving the store with bags of merchandise. Sandy found a couple of never-worn items, including a pair of pants and some Teva flip-flops that she would bring home to son-in-law Tyler. This was apparently enough to satisfy the little shopping demon that sits on her shoulder, constantly whispering his nefarious temptations in her ear. I counted myself lucky.

It was a pleasant drive back to Red Bay and, upon returning, we remarked how being in this tiny town and its very rural surroundings was almost like being transported back in time to our own small home towns where we grew up in the innocent 50s and early 60s. It is a place that crime and violence haven't discovered--where few doors are locked at night and where the Ten Commandments are prominently displayed in a local cafe:


It is a place where everyone smiles and waves, and the postmaster remembers your name after a couple of visits. It is a place where the sheriff wears a tropical shirt and where you can buy ice on the honor system:












Fortunately, we got back to Red Bay after the 3:30 rush--when all the Tiffin employees leave work from the single factory shift, designed so that the workers can pick up their kids from school and have supper on time. Yes sir, it's a different world.

We'll be leaving here in a couple of days, making our way back to the D/FW area and all the madness that entails. We will miss our little town that time forgot.

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



Sunday, March 26, 2017

Back to Red Bay - Phannie's Birthplace

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

We decided this was as good a time as any to head for Red Bay and get some routine things taken care of on Phannie. She needed her annual service on her engine and genset, and the local facilities weren't too crowded yet, as it is yet a little early for the spring snowbird migration of Tiffin owners heading back north. If you own a Tiffin motorhome, it is only a matter of time until you make a pilgrimage to Red Bay, the tiny factory town just inside the state line in northwest Alabama. I won't go more into the Tiffin experience now, but you can read more about it from a previous post here.

Our first stop was at Bay Diesel, a local provider of motorhome engine and chassis service that has probably done more of these with motorhomes than, well, just about anyone. They still do business with the small town ethics that you would expect in the rural Bible belt, and I do not question anything they recommend as they do a thorough look at all the systems. 



Fortunately, Phannie came through with flying colors. All that was needed this time was the basic fluid and filter changes.

As luck would have it, we found out through the grapevine that a number of our Tiffin Bluebonnet club members were also in town with their coaches. Naturally, we did what we always do when we get together--eat! We trekked about ten miles south of Red Bay to Reeves Steak and Fish House, where we had a nice get together with our friends:


Club members in this photo (besides us) were Diane and Chip (near left) and Shirleen and Hank (near right). Members Richard and Patsy were there, but Richard was taking the photo and Patsy is visible just beyond Sandy. Friends Lynn, Ed, Art and Gerry also joined us.
The next evening, we motored over to Tupelo and had dinner at Mt. Fuji Hibachi Restaurant, where we had a very entertaining chef:


From left: Patsy, Sandy, Diane, Chip, Richard and Moi. 
We brought back enough leftovers from this place for another meal. Lucky us!

The national Tiffin Allegro owners' club has a rather robust constellation of local area chapters across the country. There are several in Texas, and joining the Bluebonnet club has provided us with some very special friendships with people who have a common interest. If you enjoy the social aspects of RVing, then maybe an owners' club is something you would enjoy.

On a rainy Saturday, Sandy had the idea that she needed to organize the storage cabinets above the couch in Phannie. These had become a bit of a rat's nest in more than a year of fulltiming, and she managed to redo the contents in such a way that we ended up with a bunch of extra space. Fortunately, one of the hallmarks of a Tiffin motorhome is the company's dedication to providing massive storage space, but there is a downside in that stuff gets pushed to the back that really should have been thrown away. Sandy made short work of this, and I found myself making a couple of trips to the dumpster. Oddly, she actually enjoys organizing things, God love her; it's just that they don't always stay organized when I'm around. 



We will be in Red Bay a few more days as we take care of some more minor service items, then we'll be making our way back to the Dallas/Fort Worth area for routine doctor visits. After that, we'll be heading to Conroe to see the kids:


Perhaps I should mention that you can still get a 15 percent discount on any Strongback chair by going to http://www.strongbackchair.com and using the code "PhannieAndMae15" when you order. 



Just so you'll know, I don't get a kickback from Strongback; I just like their chairs because of their good back support.


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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Branson

At KOA Branson, Branson, Missouri...

We've had a great week in Branson with our friends, Bubba and LouAnn and Harvey and Mary Lou. We took in a three-day series of gospel concerts, followed by attending "Moses," an amazing live show at the Sight and Sound Theater. If you've never seen a production at this venue, it would be worth your while just to witness this visual extravaganza, the likes of which I had not seen before. 




After our friends left to go back to Texas, Sandy and I got tickets to a musical show, "Number 1 hits of the 50s and 60s."


This was another fine show with some very talented performers. It was neat to be transported for a while back to the popular music of our youth, done so well as it was. We couldn't help but notice that the 50s music now has a much smaller presence in the theaters than it did when we started coming here 20 years ago. I guess time doesn't wait for the bobby-sox generation either, does it?

We've decided to head over to Red Bay soon to get Phannie's annual drive train service done along with some other mostly cosmetic things that need attention. More on that later.

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

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Sure Enough, It Gets Colder When you Go North!

At Long Lake RV Resort, Poteau, Oklahoma...

I knew it was too early to leave the Rio Grande Valley. I suppose we had been lulled into thinking that our tropical clime would somehow go with us northbound, but it didn't. After an uneventful leg to Port Aransas, we enjoyed a nice seafood dinner with Jackie and Steve at a local dockside restaurant. Here are our traveling mates at our table overlooking the harbor. Looks like a pirate ship may be approaching over Steve's shoulder:


It has really been a pleasure traveling with these two fine folks; we've had a great time with a lot of laughs. 

Our next stop was at the Jamaica Beach RV Resort near Galveston to attend another Tiffin owners' club rally. The closer we got to our destination, the worse the weather became, unfortunately. Our entire stay there was marked by cold weather, including rain, fog and then high winds as a front blew through. To make things worse, the RV park had just partially completed a new expansion, and the new spaces and roads were unbelievably narrow. Most of the big rigs had great difficulty navigating the maze without hitting something or running the wheels off the pavement into the mud. What a mess! Obviously, the owners were motivated entirely by greed when designing this sardine-can part of the park, having no consideration for their potential customers. We will not be back, and you can be certain of that.

One of the rally events I always enjoy is "Tech Talk," a discussion about technical issues related to our Tiffin motorhomes. On this occasion, I was asked to give a presentation on computer-aided trip planning, which I was happy to do. Here's a photo of my lecture, using my iPad to project images onto the TV set behind me.


Here are three of our members looking on:

Art, Hank and Shirley at the Tech Talk lecture.
In defense of those hard working club members who set up locations for our rallies, their job is not an easy one. There are actually very few parks that can accommodate a large group like ours, and I don't think anyone realized what had happened to Jamaica Beach during its expansion. You guys do a great job getting us fine rally locations, and we appreciate it.

Leaving Galveston, we stopped near Kemah to have lunch with Mindy and Tyler and the grands. This was a great little reunion, and I was so pleased that the boys ran to greet me even before I got out of my seat there in Phannie's cockpit:

This photo may give you the wrong idea; I'm actually very strict with the boys; they get away with nothing around me. You believe that, right?

We said goodbye to everyone after lunch, and Jackie and Steve headed back to Austin. Although we were sorry to see them go, we know they were desperate to see their little granddaughter, Maddie, who lives nearby.  It was hard to leave our family, too, but we will be back before long, and Mimi and Poppy, as always, will have an armload of surprises for them.

Our first stop after Galveston was near Canton, Texas at a Passport America park named Bluebird RV Park. This was a rather basic park, but quiet enough, and we especially liked the $18 discounted parking fee.

We left Canton in rain that was preceding yet another blustery cold front, whose strong winds we fought all the way to Poteau, Oklahoma to Long Lake Resort, another Passport America park. Again, the price was right at $21, and we had a nice paved spot next to the river. What a deal! What's not so great is that it is going to be freezing tonight, and the temperature will drop into the twenties in Branson! What were we thinking, leaving the warm RGV? 

Tomorrow we meet up with other longtime RV friends, Bubba and LouAnn, who will have with them some more of our friends, Harvey and Mary Lou. What a good time we'll have as we travel on up to Branson!

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

Monday, March 6, 2017

Sick Call, But Well Enough to Head North

At Llano Grande RV Resort, Mercedes, Texas...

Our time here in the Rio Grande Valley is coming to a close. We've had a good time visiting with friends and enjoying the magnificent warm sunshine with nearly constant breezes to keep mosquitoes away. One almost has to suspend belief to realize that we have been here in our shorts and tropical shirts in the dead of winter. We see scenes of northern snow and ice on television, but it seems unreal because we're so detached here from that sort of thing.

We were traveling this time with friends Steve and Jackie, whom we met by chance in Austin a couple of years ago when we parked Phannie next door to their rig at an RV park. We started off with plenty of energy here in the valley, going to dinner with our RGV friends, taking in a movie, shopping, and even going to the annual barbeque cookoff here in Mercedes. In this photo, old friend Ed and I are chowing down on some BBQ chicken. (It was very, very good!) And no, Ed and I didn't collaborate on our attire; we just can't help being fashionable, I guess.



Along with Steve and Jackie, we also took in the Iwo Jima Museum in Harlingen. This was a small museum, but we were surprised how much we learned about the importance of the battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. If you're ever down here, it's worth the visit. There's no charge, but they gladly accept donations.


Jackie and Steve at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Harlingen
It couldn't be, of course, that our idyllic time down here would be unmarred. It didn't take too long for all of us to notice after the museum visit that we were beginning to get cold symptoms. As the days passed, we all developed full-blown colds that would pretty well ground us for quite a few days. Steve and Jackie had the worse of it, but we've finally begun to get around again, just in time to leave, it seems.

We haven't been exactly idle since we've been laid up. We got Phannie's carpet cleaned by Lee at All About Floors; they do a great job. I also assembled all of our financial records needed for taxes that will soon be destined for our CPA, who will give me the (normally bad) news in a few weeks regarding how big a check I will have to write.  

We're headed to Port Aransas and Galveston from here, where we'll be attending another rally for our RV club, the Texas Bluebonnet Allegros. We'll say goodbye to Steve and Jackie there before heading farther north to Branson, but we'll probably meet up with them again this summer in Red Bay.

We'd like to remind you that you can get 15 percent off Strongback chairs by using the code "PhannieAndMae15" when you order any of their products.  Just go to www.strongbackchair.com. (We don't get a commission; we just like the chairs.) 

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Settling Down in the RGV Plus a Good Deal on Strongback Chairs

At Llano Grande Lake RV Resort, Mercedes, Texas...

It didn't take long for us to begin reconnecting with RVing friends, many of whom make their home here in the Rio Grande Valley during the winter. And what do we find ourselves doing most often?  Well, this:


From left front around the table: Jackie, Marian, Marilyn, Sandy, Steve, Jackie, Jim, Carol, Ed. Mike and Denny.
This handsome group met at Macaroni Grill for much conversation and laughs on this occasion, and we'll undoubtedly meet again several times before we leave the Valley next month.

Now that we're here, enjoying the warm days and the breezes whispering through the palm trees, it doesn't seem like winter at all. In fact, we've put away our winter coats and have broken out our shorts and tropical weight shirts. We see news reports about the harsh winter storms elsewhere, but it's just really hard for us to relate to the reality that it is still the dead of winter in most of the country.



We decided to bring Mae with us this time instead of Beulah, the Escalade, which is decidedly roomier for potential passengers. My thinking was to put more miles on the car most likely to be traded soon, although I'm not sure when that will happen. With new brakes and a new transmission, Mae needs to pay for herself a good deal longer. 

We've already had our favorite RV washing guy, Jesse, out to give Phannie a good wash and wax job. We never fail to get this done here, as he charges only about half as much as almost anyone else outside the RGV. 



We'll also be calling on the carpet cleaners to give the carpets a good cleaning. By the time we leave, Phannie will look like new!

We found some more good places to eat--Dai Tung for Chinese food and the Smoking Oak for barbeque. These will go on our favorites list linked above. Here is a photo of my mighty fine brisket sandwich; I brought the ribs home to eat later, and they were excellent; their house barbeque sauce was really good, too. I really like the look of the ribs added below as garnish, don't you? Much better than parsley or some other fru-fru weedy thing:



Sitting outside on a pleasant evening, I noticed that one of our older Strongback chairs was not unfolding properly. Looking closer, I saw that a key attaching fitting on one of the legs had broken. Because of the nature of the break, I couldn't figure out a way to repair it, so I reluctantly discarded the chair, which was probably a mistake. I think someone really good at repairing stuff could have fixed it. This was painful, as we have really enjoyed this brand of chair which, as the name implies, is ever so comfortable because of its back support. This is a photo of the older model whose sliding leg attachment fitting had broken:



Here is a photo of the new and improved 'Elite' model that we've only had for about a year:




Not wanting to be without one of these chairs (we had four of them before this incident), I sent a quick email to Strongback to order a replacement. I knew that the failure of this fitting in one of their first production series of chairs was probably due to a design oversight--that being the use of a fitting attachment brad that was susceptible to rusting. The newer chairs I have bought have rustproof fittings.

I related my experience to Strongback and, to my astonishment, they offered to sell me the replacement chair at a very generous discount--recognizing, I presume, the inadequacy of the fitting that had broken in my older model chair. Now this was a good deal, I thought. We had gotten quite a few years of use out of that old chair, and it certainly wasn't eligible for any kind of warranty replacement. I was so impressed that I ordered not one, but two, new chairs.

Now that brings me to what may seem like a crass commercial offer that benefits me, but that's not the case. As you know, I have never offered anything for sale on this blog, nor have I placed any ads in it, although I certainly could have. But because of my positive dealings with Strongback and my belief in their products, they have agreed to offer a 15% discount to all of my readers who order one of their products from their website at http://strongbackchair.com and include the code "PhannieAndMae15" at the point in the online order where you enter a coupon code. This will save you about 15 bucks on an 'Elite' model (there are several others), but you should know that I receive no commission on such orders. I just like the chairs, and I think anyone who tries one would be equally enthusiastic.

On another subject, I have made several additions and deletions to my "Best of the Best RV Parks" linked above. These can be seen in red text within the listings. As always, I appreciate reader input if you find a "best" park not listed or if you find a park that you think doesn't qualify for its rating.


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




Monday, February 13, 2017

A Rally Before We Head to the Valley

At Llano Grande RV Resort, Mercedes, Texas...

It's always a little sad to leave the kids to continue our peripatetic lifestyle, but this time it was quite a bit more difficult, as we had been on hand there near Conroe for almost three months--the longest time we have had an uninterrupted stay at a single location since we began fulltiming. We enjoyed lots of exciting times, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Pryce's birthday and Mindy's graduation from nursing school--all of which were family events that we wouldn't have missed. We had the additional advantage of a relatively warm location to spend most of the winter in a nice park on the shore of Lake Conroe. We had only one cold spell where the temperature sank below freezing, but most of the time, not even a light jacket was needed. 

After so long immobilized, hitch itch had begun to set in, and the road definitely beckoned to us. We had signed up to attend a rally in Victoria held by a Tiffin owners club of which we are members. We found ourselves a bit clunky in getting our normally clockwork-like pre-departure prep done, as we were a little rusty. We were slowed somewhat by the need to take some things back to storage that we found had sort of migrated into the coach. We didn't exactly remember when this happened, but we must have been the culprits, as the items certainly wouldn't have climbed aboard by themselves! When fulltiming, it's very easy for excess 'stuff' to get out of hand, so we have to be diligent in keeping only the things we need. In a small space, things get cluttered quickly.

Arriving at the KOA near Victoria, we had a good time with club friends. Among the highlights was a visit to Art and Shirley Buckert's new 'barndominium'--a beautiful RV port built out on their land a short distance from town. I didn't have the presence of mind to take a photo, unfortunately.

Here is the row of Tiffin coaches belonging to rally participants:



We did lots of visiting and dining, things at which we seem to be professionals. One of the more popular activities was 'tech talk,' hosted expertly here by Chip Jennings:



Some of the members made the short trek over to Goliad to see what we could find at the local trade days market. In this shot, I can see various parts of Chuck, Ronnie, Sandy, Fran, Chip, Diane and Cathy.



I found some good salsa and homemade pickles that I just had to have.



It would not be difficult to conclude from this that I am fond of spicy food, and you would be right. These pickles were really spicy (and really good).

On the last evening, Shirley arranged for us to occupy a Victoria restaurant to enjoy a prime rib dinner prepared just for us. We felt pretty important, and the food was delicious! Thanks, Shirley! And thanks, co-host Fran! 

After an uneventful drive, we arrived here at Llano Grande on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, where the temperature was 84 degrees.



As we changed into cooler clothes, we saw on TV that winter storm warnings were being issued for the east coast of the U. S. 

Pity, we thought.

We'll be meeting friends Ed and Marilyn in a couple of days for a trip across into Mexico. That'll be a fun time for sure.


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


Monday, February 6, 2017

And...We're Off!

At Sunset Shore RV Park, Willis, Texas...

The day finally came for the grandsons and their parents to go for an airplane ride with "Poppy." (I'm not sure they know my real name any longer, and that's fine with me.) Daughter Mindy had flown with me years ago, but it was in a DC-9, and I'm not sure she remembered the experience very well. This was also the first time in a small airplane for son-in-law Tyler and the boys. Up until now, their knowledge of their grandad as a pilot was merely anecdotal and through seeing photos of me dressed in a pilot's uniform or showing views of the airplanes I flew.

We all showed up at the sleepy little Huntsville airport, and I got a big kick out of how the boys had dressed for the flight. Little Pryce was in a little junior pilot's uniform, and Mason was wearing one of my decades-old pilot's caps that I had given him. Apparently, they were really getting into this, much to my delight.


The line personnel brought the Cessna to the terminal ramp, and I went out to preflight it, after which Mindy and the boys came out to get strapped in.




When it was Pryce's turn to sit in the copilot's seat, he insisted on reading the checklist, because I had told him that pilots are supposed to use checklists so as not to overlook something important.


After all was ready, we fired up the engine and taxied to the runway end, where we made the engine runup and I asked the boys to help me look for other airplanes that might be approaching for a landing.  (There was no control tower at this airport.) Seeing no other traffic, I advised on the radio that we were about to depart, and then we lined up on the runway and took off with a roar. I had prepared Mindy and the boys for the engine noise which, compared to the airliners I had been flying, was formidable. (In a 727 with the engines far back in the rear, the sound of the engines is almost inaudible in the cockpit.)  

Here we are, climbing away from the airport on the first takeoff:


Remaining at low altitude for good sightseeing, I was a little apprehensive that my passengers might be affected by the slightly bumpy air, to which small aircraft are much more susceptible than large ones. Luckily, no one had a problem at all, and they were all transfixed by what the ground looked like from the air. I pointed out various landmarks to them, and they seemed completely enthralled by the experience, just as I had hoped. 

We didn't stay up but a half hour on each of two flights. We had to land and let the boys change seats about halfway through. Once airborne, I let Mason hold the yoke on his side for a brief time to give him a feel of it, but he quickly turned it back to me after a stronger-than-usual wind gust jostled us a bit. But that's okay; he flew long enough to have bragging rights among his school chums, something of which he took full advantage, I later learned. Tyler took Mindy's place on the second flight, and he seemed to enjoy the experience, too.

After about an hour, we returned to land; no one was worse for wear and there were smiles all around. Mission accomplished!


What a great experience this was for all of us! I don't know whether this flight or future ones will have any influence on my grandsons now or later in life, but I'm glad I could be the one to take them for their first flight in a small airplane. For me and for them, this was a promise fulfilled, and I suppose I am now not merely Poppy but, in their admiring eyes, a living legend to boot. I couldn't possibly be happier.

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