Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Monday, September 16, 2019

Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This

At the KOA Journey, Terre Haute, Indiana...

The meaning of this post's title, from the 1961 hit by the Shirelles, will become evident much later as you read this. As we headed south toward Red Bay after the installation of our new jacks and the subsequent Michigan adventure, our first stop was Indianapolis, and all went well to that point. We spent a couple of days there looking around and discovered their wonderful old Union Station, built in 1888 when Indianapolis was becoming a major railroad hub. It replaced, in grand architectural style, a much more modest edifice built in 1848. 

Indianapolis was the first city in the country to develop the concept of a union station serving several rail lines. The station in the photo above has a grand hall and wonderful stained glass windows, but here's the kicker: You can't see inside!  We walked to every door and found it chained and locked to visitors, although there was no construction going on and the interior seemed fully intact. It was just closed to the public. We were dumbfounded! How could a city with such a spectacular historical masterpiece not pridefully allow it to be shown to the public including, of course, out-of-town visitors?

I did some research on the Internet and found a newspaper article excoriating the city fathers for their shortsightedness. According to the piece, the station was at one time open to the public, but it also housed some shops and restaurants, the leasing of which was supposed to support financially the total cost of operating the building. Well, apparently, there weren't enough customers for the tenants to keep their businesses open so, when they closed up, the station closed as well. It is used now only for paid special events. 

I'm sure there are a majority of the major historical venues in our cities that don't fully pay for themselves, yet they are open for sightseers, history buffs and visitors of all kinds who come into town and do what? Spend money!  For the city fathers of Indianapolis to thumb their noses at their heritage in this way is almost nauseating. What in the world are they thinking? What are their priorities? 

I was so upset that I wrote the mayor, a former chairman of the Indiana Democrat party, a seething email, to which I'm sure I'll never get a response. Our disappointment left a bad taste in our mouths. Sometimes it doesn't surprise me how unimportant history is to the younger generations, as they either don't learn about it in school or learn it in a distorted way that makes it fit certain political, social, racial or gender notions that may have no basis in fact or the real meaning of events that made the country what it is. Sorry for the rant, but Winston Churchill was right when he said in 1948, "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."  (Yes, I know he paraphrased a similar quotation from Santayana in 1905, but I like Churchill's better.)

If that weren't enough, the Interstate highways that loop around and feed Indianapolis seem to be in a perpetual state of construction, as they were a couple of years ago when we went through there on our way to Detroit. It is a teeth-rattling experience with narrow lanes and delays everywhere. 

Little did we know that we would be passing back through this mess again in just a couple of days after we left it.

Now, that little teaser gets us to the reason why this piece is titled as it is. We had left Indianapolis, heading south on I-65 through Louisville and on to Franklin, Kentucky, just south of Bowling Green and our next overnight stop. Just before reaching the exit for our RV park, I noticed an unusual thump near the rear of the coach but, since it was still driving okay, I decided to continue to the RV park, which was less than a mile away; I then got out and took a look.  As I walked to the back wheels, I noticed that the outside tire on the passenger side had blown and had begun to shred. The inner tire was okay, thankfully. Yep, mama said there'd be days like this.

As luck would have it, the entrance to the RV park was between two truck repair shops, both of which sold and repaired truck tires. I unhooked Mae and drove about a block to one of the shops and asked if they had a Michelin replacement tire for Phannie. They did, so I returned and drove the bus the one-block distance to get the tire replaced. Here are some photos of the blown tire, the installer at work and the new tire:

Now, I have several comments about this experience:  

1) In 15 years of RVing, this is the first tire failure I've ever had on an RV, although one occurred on Mae a few years ago, caught by the TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system). 

2) I was fortunate in that Phannie's tire didn't explode and do any peripheral damage, perhaps because I stopped almost immediately after I noticed the unusual thump. (I use a TPMS on Mae, but not Phannie, because I probably would not notice a tire failure on a toad until a lot of damage had been done.) I am careful to check tire pressures on Phannie and Mae, and I replace the whole set of tires on the bus every six years and the tires on Mae as they begin to show signs of wear. I am also careful to do walk-arounds at every stop (a habit from my flying days). My thinking has been that taking these steps would be sufficient to avoid a blowout, and they have been successful for 15 years--up until now, that is. 

3) I'm pretty sure angels watch over us. Who would have thought the RV park I picked days previously would be located a block from two truck tire shops, and that our tire failure would occur within a mile of them?

4) As it happens, this is the sixth year for this set of Phannie's tires, and we all know that RV tires deteriorate from age before they wear out from miles driven. I was planning to replace the whole set when we get back to Conroe. Now, it appears that I will have only five tires to replace; one just got replaced a bit early. I also think I will go ahead and get TPMS sensors for all the tires on both vehicles. Fifteen years without an RV tire failure is a pretty good track record, but I think I'll go ahead and get sensors for both vehicles since this happened.

Now the next bad news:  After getting the new tire, we drove to our parking spot at the RV park, and I dumped the airbags and hit the auto-level switch on the new Bigfoot levelers. Nothing happened! I tried again, and this time the system began working but seemed confused and suddenly stopped during the process.  I tried putting the jacks down manually, but the left front jack didn't move. After several tries, I retracted the jacks, and we retired for the evening. The next day, I called Bigfoot in Michigan, and they said it was probably a grounding issue and that I would need to take it to an RV repair center of my choice and the factory experts would talk them through how to fix it at no charge. Yes, mama said there would be days like this.

Well, you can imagine what I was thinking after paying six thousand bucks for this new system that worked for just a few overnights before breaking down. I decided that the factory was the only place I was going to take it.  No one knows the system better, and who knows when some repair outfit would have time get to it? They might even do more harm than good, I thought. (There aren't many RV repair places in which my confidence is very high.) I told the Bigfoot folks that I was in Kentucky at the moment, but I would be in their parking lot when they got to work in the morning. They said fine, they would be waiting for me.

By this time, it was past noon there in Kentucky, but I was full of  energy. I wanted my jacks fixed, but mostly I wanted some reassurance I hadn't made an unwise purchase. White Pigeon, Michigan was 454 miles north of where we were, and we would have to go back through Bowling Green, Louisville, Indianapolis, Elkhart and then to White Pigeon, Michigan, but so be it. 

Without further ado, I hooked up Mae, gassed up Phannie and headed back north on I-65. After a couple of rest stops, we pulled into the overnight parking area of the Bigfoot factory about 1:00 o'clock the next morning. It was a miserable, exhausting trip. We had already observed all the road construction north of Indianapolis, so I decided to try I-69 from Indy to Fort Wayne, but it was even worse. Almost all of it was under construction, with narrow single lanes laid out on the shoulders and, to make matters worse, it started raining--heavy rain with thunderstorms for the last couple of hours. Yes, mama told me there would be days like this.

After getting a little sleep in the factory parking lot (they have a dedicated parking area with electricity provided for customers' rigs), I strode into the Bigfoot office and was met with profuse apologies and an assurance that this almost never happens, saying they were as curious as anyone as to what the problem could be. They took Phannie into the shop immediately and, since we were starved, we went for a bite of breakfast in downtown White Pigeon. In about an hour, I got a call from Matt, who was my contact at Bigfoot and very good at schmoozing customers like me whose fuse--with some justification--could be a little short. Matt said the bus was ready to go, and he would explain the fix when we got there.

It seems that it was a grounding problem after all. The powder coating of one of the components was slightly overdone and didn't allow for a good ground through bolting these components together. So, they removed the excess powder coating and affixed an additional grounding wire just for sake of redundancy. 

They apologized profusely again and assured me these systems are usually nearly bulletproof, and that mine is, of course, under warranty. Matt also gave me contacts for maintenance outfits that are familiar with and competent to work on this system. Matt's coolness and reassurances seemed to work; no firearms were needed. Besides, I really like the system, and I'm glad the problem was such a minor one. This put me in a better mood, so we left again, this time spending a couple of days at Elkhart to rest up before starting the trek south again. 

While at Elkhart or, I should say, in close-by Mishiwaka, we had a rather unusual experience at a Thai restaurant--unique, I must say, in all the thousands of restaurants we have patronized. It is no secret that I am a huge aficionado of Thai food, and I found this restaurant, Thai Lao, to be open only for one meal a week, that being dinner on Fridays. Well, it happened to be Friday, so Sandy agreed that we must give this a try. 

The one-day-per-week opening was not all that was unusual: The restaurant has no menu; the patrons have a choice of only one meal, and that is whatever the chef decides to cook. Besides that, there is no fixed price; when finished eating, the customers merely pay what they think the meal was worth. I gave them $50, which I thought was a bargain, considering what we were served. The owner seemed happy with this, so winner-winner!

The meal was not only delicious, it was enormous--six courses in all, including appetizer, soup, curry, pad Thai, a fish entree and dessert.  Everything was superb, but impossible to finish. The restaurant was crowded, and everyone seemed to take some of the leftovers home, as did we. Here is a photo of the modest little restaurant: 

Here's a photo inside, Sandy looking a little dubious of what we were about to be served::

Below is the appetizer we were served--wontons, barbecued chicken wings, egg rolls and crab Rangoon with three delicious sauces. I didn't want to overdo the photos, so I didn't include one of each course; but, take my word for it--each dish was beautiful and plentiful:

I think we had enough food left for another full meal, and it was just as good the next day.

On the trip south again, I was determined to avoid Indianapolis and Fort Wayne at all costs, due to the highway construction nightmares we had already experienced. So, I'm writing this from Terre Haute, Indiana. We came this way, mostly driving on two-lane roads through a dozen small towns and a million acres of cornfields. This was actually a very pleasant journey through middle America and little burgs that are good places for kids to grow up and get a good sense of family values and being good neighbors. They reminded both of us of the small towns in which we grew up and of which we still have good memories.

We are parked at a small but very nice and relaxing KOA park, and we have a great site. 

We liked the park so much that we decided to stay for three nights and take a looksee at Terre Haute, a new stopover for us.

Terre Haute, "Highland" in French, is a moderate-sized city on the Wabash River--so named because of some high bluffs on the riverbank near town. There is some industry here, as well as Indiana State University. However, what I found interesting was a couple of things that are familiar to everyone in the country, except almost no one knows their connection with Terre Haute.

One of these is Clabber Girl baking powder, which is manufactured here in Terre Haute. They make other products as well, but none as familiar as Clabber Girl. Baking powder was invented in 1843 in Germany and would ultimately be brought to Terre Haute through the wholesale grocery business that German immigrant Francis Hulman started in 1850. Clabber Girl baking powder dates from 1859 along with another less well-known brand, the substance being an acid-based leavening agent that was revolutionary for baking at the time.

Without getting too deep into its history, the Hulman family became very prosperous--so much so that one of the Hulman scions purchased the Indianapolis 500 Speedway in 1945. They were also very philanthropic and a major employer in Terre Haute and elsewhere in Indiana. The factory is still located in downtown Terre Haute behind this, the Hulman office building, the bottom floor of which contains an interesting museum:

One of the least noticed relics in the museum was a copy of a letter written in 1849 by Francis Hulman to his brother Herman in Germany, imploring him to come and join him in America. With all the controversy about immigration that is in the news these days, I thought it would be interesting to read the thoughts of this immigrant about his new country and its potential for success instead of its potential for handouts:

O Herman! Herman! Follow my advice. There is still time. You will lead an entirely different life, be a different person, a free man and a republican (he didn't mean the party, but the form of government) who is conscious of his worth and dignity as a man. In this free and happy America, poverty and ignorance do not reign; one can express his opinion freely, and there is no censorship. The laws are good, and wealth and well-being reign everywhere.

I try not to be too political in this blog, for it leads to nothing but controversy, but I do hope that we can keep this country like the one lauded above by Francis Hulman and avoid a descent into the socialism that inevitably brings about the destruction of what has made us so prosperous and free.

The other bit of historic trivia that I found interesting about Terre Haute involves Coca-Cola. Yes, the brand of soft drink that has the good fortune of more worldwide recognition than any other. It seems that, in 1915, the company was looking for a bottle design that would also be as distinctive as their logo, and the winning design was submitted by the Root Glass Company of Terre Haute, Indiana. Root Glass Company survived under the ownership of several corporations until its demise in 1984. As you travel through town, visitors may notice that the local county museum proudly displays a commemorative sign on the side of its building:

Well, that's about it from Terre Haute; it's on to Red Bay from here. Stay tuned!

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

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood


  1. Mama said.......but, fortunately, it came to pass!!
    Great history story!! What an amazing experience!! No wonder you were all “jacked up” after shelling out ALOT of “jack” for jacks that failed!! Hope no other issues arise. BTW, do you use hollow points?!?! 🤣🤣
    Stay SAFE & continue to eat well! 🙏🙏

    1. Thank you for the good wishes! We have taken a few lumps lately, but we try to make lemonade out of the lemons. Worked pretty well this time.

  2. "Mama said" is an oft used expression in our home. No matter how blessed we are, no one escapes the aggravations of every day life. Thank heaven that you, Sandy and your fellow motorists were not injured and serious damage wasn't done to your rig.

    Bad news aside, this was a delightful post, Mike. Every single one of the topics you covered was a bit off the beaten path, so to speak, and quite intriguing. Love the letter from one Hulman brother to another - a personal, palpable piece of history for sure.

    Alan and I are fond of union stations, and agree that many of them are well-maintained and a pleasure to visit. My Dad worked for the Penn Central railroad, so trains and their stations are close to my heart.

    Travel safely, my friend! We don't want to hear "Mama said" fall from your lips again!

    1. HaHa! It hasn't been easy to keep a positive attitude during all this but, then, when you don't expect it, something interesting and unusual pops up to brighten things again. Glad you liked the post, and I hope we're through with "Mama said."

  3. The flat tire then the issues with your jacks, but at least all is well there now for you guys.
    Keep on enjoying this lifestyle and enjoy more safe travels.

    1. Thanks, George. I always admire your positive outlook. Troubles don't stay around too long, thankfully.

  4. Love history so we appreciate your postings. 2 comments: the Union Station in Kansas City had fallen into disrepair to the point there was talk of tearing it down. Luckily a group got together and saved it restoring it to its firmer glory. There is Science City, restaurants and shops plus they host traveling exhibits.

    Second comment is that if you haven't visited the Dr. Pepper museum in Waco you should. It is the oldest soft drink after all and it's in Texas.

    1. I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't visited the Dr. Pepper museum, since I'm a native Texan. But I vow to do it, if for no other reason than saving face. Thanks for the suggestion!

  5. Yep....some days are better than others! You had one (or a couple) of the others! Nice post in spite of ...

    1. Thanks! It's hard for us to stay down for long. We're always eager to get this kind of stuff behind us.

  6. Goodness. ..I am totally, and completely exhausted.

    Glad that's done. . .wow. . .what a rough few days!

    1. It has been a trial...and it's not over! We had problems coming into Red Bay. We're liking your life more and more...

  7. Sure glad you had fun in TH......just 50 miles from our home.....we are close to I 69 that goes south to Evansville and KY.
    We have a west trip planned out and start next week. Had a 2 night "shake down" and found some problems that have been corrected.....already got a new starting battery and rear tires.
    Love your blog.

    1. Hi, Norm. My goodness! Wish we had shook and howdied while we were there. There's always something with these big ol' machines, isn't there? But we're ready for a break! Glad you like the blog; your encouragement means a lot.


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