Photo taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Fulltiming Perk: Never a Dull Neighbor

At Salt Lake City KOA...

Reader alert! This post has lots of references to RV technical subjects that may be a trifle boring for some folks. For example, I'm not sure Sandy read all the way to the end before her eyelids banged shut. But guys--rejoice! This is for you.

One of the neatest things about RVing is the crossing of paths with some really interesting people. This will be the third post from Salt Lake City in which I have written about new friends we have met. And finding engaging neighbors is not confined to this location; we see them all over the country. I'm convinced that RVers are some of the friendliest people on the planet, and why not? Most with whom we come in contact are retired and free-wheeling to wherever they wish with little in the way of cares or obligations. Why wouldn't they be happy?

Having our obvious common interest, it doesn't take long to start up a conversation with another RVer, especially if there's something a little different about the rig he (or she) is driving. This was certainly the case when Sandy and I, out for a walk, stopped suddenly in front of an old motor home that was clearly a re-purposed Greyhound passenger bus, judging by the paint scheme, and sporting a sign on the nose that read, "Bates Motel."  

Turning to Sandy, I said, "Now there's something you don't see every day in the RV park." We were clearly transfixed by this old bus:

On the rear of the bus appeared a similar but different sign with a horror movie-stylized font. This is, of course, in reference to the 

creepy old hotel featured in Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 horror classic, "Psycho." Now these folks clearly have a sense of humor, I thought.

We finally noticed a gentleman sitting in a lawn chair near the entrance door of the bus. As I walked over to him, he stood up.

"Let me guess," I said. "Your name is Bates and you get a lot of inquiries about your coach."

"Right on both counts," he replied, smiling. He had a distinctive voice that sounded a bit like that of Walter Pidgeon, the distinguished character actor who starred in many classic old movies. 

After introducing ourselves and learning that his name was Bert, I told him that I was fascinated with old bus conversions like this and began to pepper him with questions about the project. He was only too happy to oblige my nosiness and eagerly answered every question, irrespective of how dumb they may have sounded.

It was about this time that Bert's charming wife, Reen, stepped out of the bus, and we made our introductions again. These two were so friendly that we pulled up some chairs and talked as if we'd known each other for decades. Well, it was really two conversations--Bert and I talked about the bus, and Reen and Sandy talked about much more important things, I'm sure.

Reen and Bert and the Bus
We learned they are from Florida and they have been touring the country in this bus since 1992, putting about 250,000 miles on it since the conversion that Bert, a retired engineer, did himself over a three year period. The bus is a 1972 MCI, operated by Greyhound for 20 years before Bert acquired it. My guess is that it accumulated at least a million miles--and maybe many more--before it was rescued by Bert.

The work performed on this conversion was simply mind-blowing to me and, seeing my obvious interest, Bert happily opened the cargo doors to show me the inner mechanical workings. As he strode confidently around, opening and shutting the big cargo doors, I was amazed at his physical vigor that belied his 81 years of age. (Before he revealed his age, I had guessed he was in his early sixties.)

He eagerly pointed out the water and waste systems he installed, along with a new inverter and 12-volt electrical system (the bus now has two electrical systems driven by two engine-driven generators--the original 24-volt and the new 12-volt one) in addition to a diesel genset for auxiliary electrical power. He also installed a propane system for cooking and heat and removed the ancient, 20-ton original air conditioner from the belly compartment, installing two roof airs and a new belly A/C unit that he fashioned from a residential window unit. And I haven't even mentioned Bert's complete remodeling of the interior. (The bus had around 50 passenger seats when he got it.) It now has all the amenities you would expect inside a modern diesel motorhome.

Inside the engine compartment was nestled the massive Detroit Diesel engine, a four-cycle version that Bert had installed to replace the original two-cycle model. He also upgraded the transmission to an Allison automatic from the original manual shift installation.

After dark, I walked back to the front of the bus and took the photo below of the illuminated sign on the nose. Although it isn't obvious from the photo, the "No" in "No Vacancy" flashes on and off. I thought this bit of serendipity was the perfect embellishment for the awesome result of all the efforts of this talented man.

Godspeed, Bert and Reen, and thank you for sharing a bit of your traveling life with us. It was quite a show, and I hope we meet again.

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

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

Installations Done and Meeting More New Friends in Salt Lake City

At the Salt Lake City KOA...

Consistent with hiccups that often happen in the service world, our new microwave oven was delivered to the KOA office here, but the delivery guys didn't know they were supposed to install it, and promptly drove away. After some less-than-genteel conversations with Home Depot's customer service (obviously an oxymoron in my case), an installation was rescheduled to take place in a couple of days. 
*     *     *
So, it's a couple of days later.  Whoops! The installation guys took one look at the old microwave oven and informed us this would require custom work that was beyond their capability. I think they were spooked by the motorhome; this was obviously the first time they had been inside one. The installation clearly didn't require any custom work; it was a standard microwave and a standard opening. I think these guys just didn't want to tackle anything that was a bit outside the ordinary. It made me wonder exactly what they were good at--metabolizing? Motor functions? I suppose I'll never know. But I do know that they did not represent Home Depot well. I decided to cancel that installation and add it to the list when Access RV installs the new air conditioner.

Meanwhile, we're still finding creative ways to heat up and defrost food items. Have we become so spoiled that we forgot microwave ovens haven't always been around? Did people really heat food on a stove in some ancient time?  Heck, I can remember when I saw my first microwave oven--I was about 14 years old. Let's see...that was more than 50 years ago, wasn't it? 

A quick look at Wikipedia reveals that the microwave oven was invented in 1947 and patented by Raytheon under the RadarRange brand. The first commercial model weighed 750 pounds and cost  $27,000 in today's dollars. The smaller residential versions didn't see wide use until the 1970s.

The microwave oven in Phannie is a combination microwave/convection oven, so it took us a while to find one of these that would fit the bill. The one we bought, a Kitchen Aid, is ever so much nicer than the original Panasonic model that has cratered on us.

We had the good fortune to gain a new neighbor in the site adjacent to us. The very nice Discovery motorhome pulled in, and I went over to greet the couple and say welcome to the neighborhood. I learned that Allen and Carrol were not only fellow Texans, but former residents of east Texas, as is yours truly. Here's their photo:

Instantly feeling almost like kinfolks, we were privileged to accompany them downtown to watch a rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The choir and orchestra were, of course, magnificent, and we enjoyed the experience again, having seen them here a couple of years ago:

We also accompanied Allen and Carrol to dinner the next evening, and we really enjoyed the fellowship and laughter. Here's hoping we cross paths again one of these days.

*        *        *

So, it's a couple of days later, and the new A/C and microwave oven are installed and ready to go. We really like the new microwave; now we have to learn how the controls work:

The installation work was done by Access RV here in Salt Lake City. I thought their work was excellent, and the price seemed very fair. I think I'll include them in my list of favorite service providers, linked in the far right column of this blog.

While I'm on the subject of links, I am still adding new parks to the "Best of the Best RV Parks" linked at the same location. An alert reader notified me the other day that I had included the wrong link for one of the RV parks, which I promptly corrected. Thank you for your help!

Also remember that you can get a 15 percent discount on any product you buy from Strongback Chairs by including the coupon "PhannieandMae15." This will save you about 15 bucks on the Elite model (and no, I don't get any kickback from them).

We will be here in Salt Lake for the better part of two more weeks, then off to Provo and St. George, Utah.

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

I had rather own little and see the world than to own the world and see little of it.  

-- Alexander Sattler


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

This is Turning Out to be an Expensive Trip

At the Salt Lake City KOA...

It started in Memphis, when Phannie's big slide wouldn't retract. I had to call a mobile tech who replaced a shear bolt that I hadn't discovered. It cost me the better part of $100 to find out that tidbit of information.

In Detroit, Mae developed a problem with her throttle body for the second time. This cost $500 after having the same thing repaired in Tupelo for $700 a few months ago. A week or so after we left Detroit, Mae's throttle body (I still have no idea what that is) failed for the third time in Middleburg, Indiana. Three strikes--poor Mae was out; rest in peace, old girl, and long live the new Mae! 

The new car was doing fine, except for my tire fiascoes in Elkhart and Butte that I described in earlier posts. (It wasn't the tires at all, but a leaking tire pressure sensor.) That cost about $500 for no reason other than my non-working brain.

It was in Kalispell that Phannie's bedroom air conditioner began to give trouble. The fan motor sometimes won't start and, when it does, it makes an expensive sound like a bearing that's about to swarm.

I think it was in Island Park, Idaho that the microwave stopped working. We didn't realize how much we missed that thing until it cratered on us.  

So, here we are in Salt Lake City, where we have appointments to have a new microwave and a new air conditioner installed. But that's okay; we like it here, as we've finally found an RV park where we can get a spot for more than two or three days. To make things even better, we got an email from fellow blogger and local resident Ray of Ray and Cindy's RV Travels who invited us to have lunch with them which, of course, we eagerly accepted. We met at the Spaghetti Factory at Trolley Square in Salt Lake and enjoyed a fine lunch as we chatted about our respective adventures. They are a delightful couple--RV 'most-timers' who have a winter home in Arizona. Since we're going to be in that area next winter, we hope to meet up with them again! 

Thank you again, Ray and Cindy, for contacting us; we really enjoyed meeting you. And, of course, we will add them to our link, "RV Bloggers We Have Met." 

And while I'm talking about links, you should know that I have added several more new RV parks to our popular list, "Best of the Best RV Parks." These are identifiable with a red triangle beside each new listing.

There are some places of interest here in the area that we didn't get to see on our last trip through Salt Lake City, so we'll undoubtedly seek them out while we're waiting on our service appointments.

If you're new to RVing and you're wondering if it is normal for things to break like this, the answer is probably yes and no. An RV--especially a motorhome--is a mechanically complex part-house and part-bus whose potential for something going wrong is exacerbated by the constant beating it takes on the road. On the other hand, we count ourselves lucky because we have had few problems with Phannie and Mae up until this point. Things are going to break from time to time, however, so we try to be prepared to take them on and get them resolved. We do this by 1) keeping Phannie and Mae serviced faithfully; 2) subscribing to a roadside service (CoachNet); 3) doing frequent walkarounds, checking tires and using a tire monitoring system; 4) driving carefully and sensibly; and 5) keeping a maintenance account well funded. (We don't like extended warranties after being ripped off a few years ago.)

I'm hoping this will be the end of this string of bad luck and that everything will get back to normal. More later from Salt Lake City...

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

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

Friday, August 4, 2017

Rafting for Geezers on the Snake River

At KOA Campground, Salt Lake City, Utah...

After leaving the Yellowstone area, we made a brief stop at Jackson, Wyoming to fulfill (sort of) another bucket list item: Rafting on the Snake River. Our relatively short drive to Jackson was beautiful, of course--there were so many scenic turnouts where you could view sights like this one of the Palisades Reservoir on highway 26:

 Like almost everywhere else we've been since we began this trip out west, we couldn't find an RV space for more than a couple of nights so, being allowed only two nights at Jackson, we had only one day to do the raft trip. Our discounted nightly fee at the Virginian Lodge RV Park was over a hundred bucks a night, so we nearly choked on that. With that in mind, I'm not exactly unhappy that they kicked us out after two nights. Of course, Jackson is a beautiful and popular tourist destination, and they need to make their money during the short summer season, I guess. Everything here, including restaurant meals, was very expensive. Speaking of that, the Thai Plate restaurant in Jackson was very good but pricey!

We had basically two choices in terms of the kind of rafting we could do: The scenic raft tour with almost no rapids or the whitewater version where, of course, one comes close to drowning! Mindful of our age and physical limitations, we chose the scenic "geezer" trip, as the title of this post indicates. We met the raft guide, Arvin, a pleasant but uneffusive young fellow, at Moose Village, about 12 miles north of Jackson. We boarded the raft along with eight other folks, including a family with three kids who were quite entertaining during the trip. Here's the raft being backed into the river:

I guess this is my Indiana Jones impression, sitting here with a "PFD" (a personal flotation device, as the guide called it) installed. I wasn't sure why he couldn't have just called it a life jacket.

Arvin, our guide, skillfully navigated the river which, at this point, had almost no rapids although the water was surprisingly swift:

Under way, we were immediately engaged by the glorious Grand Tetons passing by in the distance. The skies were clear, except from some haze from forest fires, and the temperature on the water was in the high seventies. Just about perfect conditions, we thought.

While we certainly enjoyed the scenic two-hour, ten-mile ride down the river, we found the water a bit more tame than we expected. I can see that the whitewater experience would be a great deal more exciting, and I would recommend that over this geezer trip unless you're too young or too old and clumsy, the latter of which describes us most closely. 

Rafting is easily the most popular attraction at Jackson. There are rafting companies everywhere, and we thought this was a cute display on the roof of one of those businesses. 

Next stop--Salt Lake City; stick around!

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

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

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


At Valley View RV Park, Island Park, Idaho...

Yes, I know, I know. I said I would never go back to Yellowstone during the summer when the kids are out of school. When we visited there two years ago, the crowds and the traffic were terrible. Our frustration caused us to leave without seeing most of the sights in the park. So what changed? Practicality; since we were this close, we might as well...(how many times have you said that? Plenty, I'm guessing.) 

I'm kinda glad we did. Although the place was crowded, it seemed a little less so this time, so we decided to take two days and see most of the major sites we had previously missed. 

We wanted to maximize those two days, so I stumbled upon this tour-guide app named Gypsy Guide, for $4.99. Since I respond to technie stuff like a moth to a flame, I downloaded it to my iPad and took it with us in the car:

Perhaps some of you may have used this, but we hadn't heard of it before and, I must say, we found it amazing in its usefulness to maximize our trip through the park, advising us as we went, recommending things to see and those that were not so compelling, including turn-by-turn directions to get there. It knew exactly where we were at all times, and gave us all the guidance we needed when we needed it. The narrator proved to be a wealth of information, and we found this doggone thing almost human. I think we may even have tried to talk to it. It's not hard to use--just open the app, and it does the rest, with visual and audio cues. I don't think we'll ever be without one of these in the places for which it is offered.

We also watched Old Faithful again, just for auld lang sine. Sure enough, the geyser was still faithful, tossing out its hot water and steam about every 75 minutes:

Here are some more sights from the park, which has half the world's active geysers--150 in all.

There are many, many steam vents (called fumaroles) like this all around the park.
Here's a hot spring in a wooded area of the park.

I find these clear and colorful hot springs fascinating.
This was my favorite. Look how clearly visible are the walls of the hot spring below the water's surface.
Wildlife is everywhere in the park. This doe and her fawn were trying to drink from one of the mineral-laced hot springs. Not sure what they were thinking; looks like it burned mom's tongue.
This big guy was just ambling along beside the road as we passed. They often decide to walk in the highway, blocking traffic sometimes for miles.

The beautiful and wild Yellowstone River flows mightily through the park.

This is the iconic view of the Yellowstone River as it falls into the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
As if there weren't enough other things to see, the surrounding mountains are also there for the viewing.
And so we say goodbye to beautiful and unique Yellowstone. We think we won't need to come back for a while. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the area is how large and close to the surface the magma chamber is beneath the area and how large the volcanic eruption was that formed Yellowstone. The hundreds of boiling hot geysers, springs and fumaroles throughout the park give a stark reminder that the hellish eruption that formed the area some 650,000 years ago will someday happen again. And how often does this happen, you may ask?  Around every 650,000 years. The bad news is that time is up!

On our last evening in the area, I decided to pay a surprise visit to a longtime blogger/traveler friend from Oregon who I learned was coincidentally traveling in the area and camped only about three miles from us. He had no idea we were even in this part of the country. Sandy and I knocked on the door of his cabin and Gordon answered the door, displaying astonishment so total that he had to sit down on the bed. His dear wife, Juanita, was pretty surprised, too, but she held her composure a bit better. It was the perfect prank, but the only bad thing is that there will likely be payback. Here's a photo of Gordon and Juanita and their--not spoiled, I'm sure--beagles, Abby and Luna:

Gordon is an accomplished drone pilot/photographer and posts occasionally to his blog, Gordon's Geezer Grumblings. Thanks, guys, for being good sports; we enjoyed your visit very much.

From here, we're headed to Jackson, Wyoming. Stay tuned!

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

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