Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Friday, October 26, 2018

Nashville Abbreviated

At Nashville North KOA, Nashville, Tennessee...

For some reason, we had managed to omit a visit to Nashville in all our travels, so we thought there was no time better than when we were this close. So, after Charleston, we pointed Phannie northwest and made for Music City.

The trip through the Smokies was beautiful, as always, and our arrival in Nashville was not unlike the approach to any large metropolitan area--many miles of freeway travel amid a flood of traffic that didn't seem to diminish regardless of the time of day. Yes, Nashville has become a big city of over a million souls. According to those who should be in the know, each day brings to the city a hundred more new inhabitants seeking fame, fortune--who knows what?

The close-in RV parks were jammed, but we were able to find a spot about 20 miles north of town in Goodlettsville at the Nashville North KOA--quite an adequate park with very nice people in the office.

Our plans for touring Nashville brought a degree of indecision that was quite unusual for us. The reason for this, I suppose, was that we are not exactly fans of what passes for country music today. We rather like the old classic country but, alas, that seems to have gone the way of the dinosaurs--perhaps because the old country stars have, well, died off.  

Our affection for the older songs and their singers never was what you would call rabid, however, so our desire to tour the main attractions--the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium and the Country Music Hall of Fame, was tepid, at best. Upon taking a bus tour of the city, we saw these attractions but simply couldn't muster the enthusiasm to go back and get up close and personal. We were also turned off by the throngs of tourists who apparently had mustered the requisite level of interest, so we just decided not to impede their progress by inserting ourselves into the mix surrounding those venues.

The press of touristas was even greater downtown on Broadway, where dozens of bars and food emporiums host countless live, guitar-picking troubadours, serenading too loudly, in our view, the customers while waiting to be discovered. That is just not our scene, so we stayed far away.

So, if you don't like country music, what is left, you may ask?  Well, that's sort of the dilemma we were facing. We decided instead to visit the Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson, which seemed entirely fitting after our history-filled visit to Charleston. The old Jackson mansion, built in the 1820s, sits on about twelve hundred acres and has been masterfully preserved. The docents provided a rich narrative as we walked through the stately old house. We found this tour very interesting and learned a lot we didn't know about our seventh president. Perhaps the most interesting is the common comparison of Jackson with our current president, complete with a marriage scandal and a swashbuckling leadership style. His history is readily accessible on the Net.  

Here's the front view of the Hermitage:

Here's the Jackson dining room as an example of the interior:

Jackson's tomb is also on the property:

We thought our bus tour of the city was quite worthwhile. One of its stops included the old train station, which is now a hotel. We find fascinating the grand old train stations, and we've visited quite a number of these:

We were going to visit the Parthenon and some other historic sites, but we cut short our visit to Nashville by one day in order to miss the forecast rain that we would incur on our travel day to Memphis had we not done so.  Normally, we would just have waited it out, but we have doctors' appointments in Dallas and have to maintain a schedule, something we don't particularly enjoy here in our retirement freedom mode. So, anything we missed will have to wait until next time. 

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.

Monday, October 15, 2018


At Lake Aire RV Park, Charleston, South Carolina...

Since we were already in South Carolina, I thought, why not continue on to Charleston, one of the few significant and historical cities we have never visited? I'm not sure why we hadn't gone there, but I suppose it is because the Civil War period has not held as much interest for me as that of World War II, in which my father and several uncles served. As I get older, I realize that, because I have several ancestors who were Confederate soldiers, including one who was an officer, I would like to become more familiar with that period. That sounds like a perfect opportunity for a fulltimer. 

We thought the best way to take in the sights of Charleston was via guided tours, so we booked a boat tour that took us all around the bay, pointing out the Civil War forts--Johnson, Sumter and Moultrie--as well as the carrier Yorktown, the Ravenel bridge and, of course, the environs of the historic buildings along the long pier behind which lies the old city. Perhaps owing to the narrow streets--some of which were cobblestone--Charleston reminded us of some old European cities we've visited. 

(Borrowed Image)

Luckily, most of the old buildings that were heavily damaged during the Civil War still stand, having been restored rather than replaced due to a lack of capital after the Confederacy surrendered.

The city is very old, having been settled in 1670 by the English under the auspices of King Charles II--hence the city's name. It has a long and incredibly rich and garrulous history, having been subjected to attacks by Indians, pirates, the French and the Spanish, not to mention Union forces during the Civil War.

Slaves were introduced into Charleston by its early settlers in the mid-1600s, and the practice continued in public auctions until just before the Civil War, when the public slave auctions were outlawed in the city, perhaps due to the beginning of an awakening among the citizenry as to the barbarity of it. The auctions didn't end, however; they merely moved indoors out of the public eye. Here is a photo of the last known private indoor slave trade mart, which is now a museum. Notice the cobblestone street:

There are other aspects of the slave trade that we learned. For example, some native Indians were also rounded up and sold as slaves. Also, a large number of slaves were captured in the South and sold to buyers from foreign countries. It was explained that the going rate for a healthy young slave was about $12,000 in today's currency.

There are no tall buildings in Charleston, as it was decreed long ago that no building near the bayfront could be constructed taller than the tallest church steeple, which happens to be that of St. Matthew's Lutheran Church (below). Accordingly, the city looks much like it did two centuries ago, when the harbor would have been full of tall-masted sailing ships transporting the products that made Charleston wealthy.

Here are some photos of our harbor tour boat and some of the sights we saw, including the really handsome Revenal Bridge that spans Charleston Harbor and the decommissioned aircraft carrier Yorktown:

Here's a view of the city from Fort Sumter; this would be a sailor's first view upon entering the harbor:

Having only a hazy memory of the Civil War history that I was taught back when history was an education requirement, I was aware of the fact that Charleston's Fort Sumter was the site of the first shot of the Civil War; but that's about all I remembered. What I didn't know was that the first cannon shot actually was fired from nearby Fort Johnson by the Confederates but aimed toward Fort Sumter, which was manned at the time by a garrison of Union soldiers and who returned fire, to no avail. This was the signal for the Confederate batteries in the harbor to open fire. It was April 12, 1861. One day later, after a 34-hour bombardment, the Union occupants of the fort surrendered. 

We also didn't fully realize that Fort Sumter was on an island located a half-hour boat ride from the city at the mouth of Charleston harbor. We also didn't realize that the fort was almost destroyed by Union cannon fire--as was much of the city--during the 567-day siege that followed Union reinforcements' arrival after the original garrison surrendered to Confederate forces on April 13. What little is left of the original fort has been painstakingly uncovered from the rubble and lovingly restored.  Here is a prewar rendering of the fort:

As you can see from a current photo below, only a portion of the bottom floor remains. The top two floors were reduced to rubble by the  Union barrage:

Here's a view inside the fort looking northwest toward Charleston and our tour boat. There were originally two more stories above the alcoves seen below which were cannon emplacements:

 Here's a closer look at one of the emplacements showing the damage of the brutal Union barrage:

The next photo shows a Union shell still lodged in the masonry:

Here's a restored cannon emplacement at Fort Sumter:

During the Union barrage of Fort Sumter, the ammunition magazine in the fort exploded, forcing outward this ten-foot-thick entrance wall, killing 13 men. The wall's tilt is discernible by comparing it to the striations on the perpendicular cement wall on the right: 

For some reason, Sandy seemed way too gleeful in seeing me posed like this:

We also took a home tour, one of many that are available to see in the area. We were especially interested in the Aiken-Rhett mansion, in which a governor of South Carolina lived.  It was somewhat unique in that the house has not been restored but preserved. This means that the house and its furnishings were left, to the extent possible,  just as they existed 200 years ago. Here are a couple of photos--one of the veranda and one of the art gallery:

Of course, no visit to Charleston would be complete without sampling some of its many excellent restaurants.  One of our favorites was 167 Raw, a tiny fresh seafood spot on Bay Street. We had some of the best ceviche ever and this killer lobster roll, which we shared:

I hadn't intended for this post to be so long, but Charleston just had so much to offer to visitors--and we didn't really scratch the surface. I'm glad we decided to make the trip. 

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.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

A Visit to Freightliner in Gaffney

At the Freightliner service campground, Gaffney, South Carolina...

I've heard about the Freightliner Custom Coach Chassis Service facility in Gaffney, South Carolina ever since we've owned Phannie. Among the owners of motorhomes with Freightliner chassies, the Gaffney facility is generally reputed to be the gold standard in servicing their product--as it should be, I suppose. I had often thought we would go there someday when we were in the area; well, someday is today. 

For those who don't know, Freightliner has a large chassis assembly plant in Gaffney; it also has a service center here devoted almost exclusively to motorhomes. But the service center is not located at the factory; for some reason, I didn't know that, and it caused quite a bit of confusion and some embarrassment on my part. I'll explain shortly.

I made the service appointment back in May and, at that time, I asked if we could also attend Camp Freightliner, an informational academy for owners of Freightliner coaches held for a fee at the service facility. I was told that, due to the popularity of the course, six months was not enough lead time to score a reservation. So, I suppose that wasn't in the cards for us. 

The reason for making the service appointment for Phannie was a left front brake issue. Under rarely-needed heavy braking, the left front brake seemed to bind excessively and jerk the wheel backward. I figured this was indicative of something fairly serious and worthy of a look by the factory experts. As it turned out, the service advisor knew exactly what the problem was as soon as I began to describe it. 

"New brake roller," he said. "It's no big deal; we'll take care of it." 

Phannie also needed an oil and filter change, something that has to be done in six-month intervals now instead of annually. This is because we have been traveling so much more since going full time. The coach still gets a comprehensive annual service, though, and that includes changes of three kinds of filters other than the oil filter and servicing the generator. Our next annual service visit will also include transmission service and coolant service that will be due and a changeout of both engine cooling system thermostats; that visit will be fairly costly, I'm afraid. This service will likely be done at Bay Diesel in Red Bay, Alabama. That is a yearly visit, where we take advantage of the many talented and trustworthy RV repair and servicing shops that have proliferated in the area. These cottage industries serve well the overflow of Tiffin motorhomes that the factory's massive service center cannot handle. 

I also asked Freightliner here in Gaffney to do a full inspection of the chassis, a standardized two-hour-long colonoscopy of sorts, wherein they look at everything underneath the coach that could need repair or replacement. This inspection has a price tag of $200, and you get a written report afterward of the findings. Thankfully, Phannie passed with no discrepancies! Very relieved, I happily paid the $655 bill that covered the whole visit; I had figured it would be much more than that. And yes, if you infer that we don't scrimp on Phannie's upkeep, you would be right; but we think this is the reason that she has given us such good and dependable service over the years.

Gaffney is a relatively small town of about 15,000 between Spartanburg and Charlotte, NC.  Besides having Freightliner as the major employer. Gaffney calls itself the peach capital of South Carolina. In recognition of this, they have erected a water tower that looks remarkably like a peach:

The Freightliner factory is a very large facility located south of town on Hyatt Avenue. I just assumed the service center would be here, too:

Freightliner chassis factory
Wrong!  Having arrived late on a Sunday afternoon, I pulled Phannie and Mae around to the rear of the plant where I encountered a guardhouse from which a sleepy young guard finally emerged. I explained that I was looking for the Freightliner service center, and he appeared genuinely dumbfounded--as if I had just landed in a flying saucer. 

The parking lot he was guarding contained hundreds of freshly-minted Freightliner RV chassies like these:

The chassis above appears to be about 40 feet in length and contains a Cummins diesel engine in the rear. It can be driven as it is, and these can be seen scurrying here and there as each one leaves the assembly line with a driver. This chassis will be delivered to some RV manufacturer and become a beautiful new motorhome before long.

The guard finally collected his thoughts enough to communicate, and he informed me that he was new to his job and, basically, knew almost nothing except how to raise and lower the gate arm at his post. I can confirm that he was, in fact, skilled at this, having witnessed his performing the procedure several times while we were there. 

When it began to dawn on the guard that we were not going away, he called someone on the phone and then informed me that the service center was about two miles farther north via Interstate 85. Armed with this information, I began to assess the real estate in front of me to judge whether I could turn bus and toad (RV slang for "towed" vehicle) around while hooked together. I quickly determined that it looked very iffy; so, fearing that taking such a chance in this crowded lot could have some very expensive consequences, I took a wiser course. I unhooked Mae, backed Phannie up and turned around, and Sandy followed me in the car to the new destination. (For those who don't know, you are never supposed to back up a motorhome with a towed vehicle attached behind.)

This little episode really had no adverse consequences other than a little embarrassment on my part, and it could easily have been avoided if I had been a little more diligent in my trip planning. I kicked myself for assuming the service facility is located at the factory; making assumptions is something I have been trained to avoid in 50 years of safe flying as a pilot, and I suppose that was the embarrassing part.

The service center was at little underwhelming--a small office and customer lounge with only six maintenance bays. I suppose that having heard about this place for so long inflated my expectations to a degree. The office and customer lounge are in the low building to the left below:

The service bays will each handle two coaches parked in tandem; the other three doors are on the opposite side of the building. 

Freightliner provides parking spaces for 20 coaches in the rear of their facility, each space having a 50-amp electric hookup. A water/dump station is also provided nearby. When we arrived there, all the spaces were occupied except for two or three; this place stays busy! You can see Phannie, in her gray glory, lounging in her space on the right side of the photo below.

Next door is a business training center where I suppose Camp Freightliner classes are held:

My impression of this place is a good one. The employees we encountered were very friendly, and John, our service tech, listened very carefully to my questions and answered them fully, working quickly and skillfully to complete his tasks. By early afternoon, Phannie was back in her parking spot, where we would be spending another night before departing for Charleston the next day.

So, with this successful visit, we bid goodbye to Gaffney, and we'll post again from Charleston. 

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.