Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Phannie Needs a Little Extra Attention, So Plans Change

 At Tom Sawyer RV Park, West Memphis, Arkansas...

You may recall from a previous post that I had made a miscalculation about the need to make an appointment at Bay Diesel for Phannie's annual checkup. We spent quite a few, um, less-than-productive days awaiting our turn, and then the day came. The servicing took only a couple of hours, but we learned from the tech that some more work would be needed, and that would involve the ordering of parts.

Ordering parts for a "classic" coach like Phannie is not always easy, and it certainly doesn't happen quickly. It seems the old girl needs attention mostly to the suspension system, something that is completely understandable after 16 years and 125,000 miles. The need, it appears, is for new airbags, repair to a leak in the air line, new shocks and, oh, by the way, new engine hoses. The old gal is still quite drivable, and I don't notice any difference in her handling, but I really had some misgivings about a long trip to Colorado this summer without updating things that could cause a breakdown in the middle of nowhere. 

So, I had quite a bit of back-and-forth with Teresa at Bay Diesel regarding when Phannie may return to have all this done. "Well," she said, "We're gonna have to order some parts, and we don't know how long it will take to get them here for a coach like yours."

I thought her choice of words was nicely done--typical of ladies of the South. If we had been somewhere in Yankee territory, I would probably have heard something like, "It's gonna take us a while to comb through junkyards to find what you need for this derelict coach of yours."

Well, some may think she is a derelict, but she has been lovingly cared for and has had many new upgrades over the years. Her hulky Caterpillar diesel engine, the same monster that runs hundreds of thousands of pieces of construction equipment all over the world, has never had a hiccup, and it has not needed a drop of DEF. Studies have shown that it should easily reach 500,000 miles before any major repair is needed; that will certainly outlast us! Phannie is solidly built from when almost every Tiffin owner will admit were the "good" years. Trade her off? Unthinkable.

Teresa and I settled on July 24 as the day of the work. "July 24?" I was aghast that we would have to hang around for a month in a town that was too small even for a WalMart. Red Bay doesn't even have a Dairy Queen, for goodness' sake! 

During our downtime awaiting her service visit, I had Phannie's exterior lighting upgraded to something a little brighter when we need it. I'm pretty happy with the result:

Since we had more than a month to kill before July 24, we decided to drive over to Memphis and attend the annual gospel quartet show. Having been a gospel pianist all my life, I really enjoy these. We always park at the Tom Sawyer campground by the Mississippi River. It's always fun to watch the river traffic go by:

The river is very low right now, as you can tell from the narrowness at this point. This places the navigable channel very close to our campground, which is even better for viewing the river traffic.

Walking near the water, I spotted these old logs that had been washed downriver perhaps decades ago, undoubtedly uprooted by a flood from who-knows-where:

There is so much history associated with this mighty river, it is easy to get lost in thought about its past and, indeed, its present. I could almost hear the wonderful old song, "Old Man River" that I play often when I do show tunes on the piano:

After attending the quartet show, we'll leave Memphis and spend a couple of weeks in Branson with old friends Larry and Carolyn and their family. That will be a fun experience and a pleasant way to pass the time until our return to Red Bay. 

After that, we will finally make our way to Colorado and the cool mountain air. Fortunately, the temperature has been unusually comfortable in this area since we left Texas. I hope it stays that way for another month. I looked at the temperature in Hondo today, and it was 104 with a heat index of 117; that's why most of the park empties out in the summertime. We think of our friends who have to stay there in the summer and thank Mr. Carrier for inventing air conditioning.

Thanks to all for hanging on as we take the curves in our trip plans, but that's the nice thing about being retired--who cares?

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

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

Monday, June 12, 2023

A "War" Story From Long Ago

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

Since we are in a bit of a waiting period here in Red Bay, I thought it would be a good time to re-publish the monthly column I write for my hometown (Nacogdoches, Texas) advertising paper, Around The Town. Recent columns I've written have described the operation of flights in smaller airplanes carrying U. S. Mail across the U. S. at night. This was about a five-year experiment by the U.S.P.S. some 50 years ago and, in the area of east Texas where I grew up, I became the lone pilot performing those flights for most of the program's duration. It doesn't seem like that long ago, of course, but few of the citizens knew about them back then--and especially now that a half-century has passed. There will be one more column on the subject after this one, and I hope you find these little lagniappes  interesting.

Flying the Mail—It Wasn’t all Roses


It was a winter night, and a thick cloud cover lay over most of eastern Texas. I couldn’t reach the top of the clouds to find clear sky, and the cloud bases were only a few hundred feet from the ground. So, it was one of those nights--flying by instruments for the entire trip after leaving Dallas. I was barely able to make a successful NDB (a now-primitive Non-Directional Beacon) approach into Palestine and, after unloading, I was off again, back into the clouds seconds after raising the landing gear after takeoff. After leveling at a low cruising altitude, and the big Pratt and Whitney radial engines were humming smoothly, I noticed a wisp of smoke seeping out from behind the instrument panel in front of me. After a few minutes, the smoke became thicker, and the attitude deviation indicator (a pilot’s primary flight situation instrument because it mimics the position of the airplane if there were no clouds) in front of me slowly began to skew, indicating the airplane was beginning to bank when I had not moved the controls. I glanced over to the right side of the panel to compare this with the copilot’s ADI, which showed the airplane to be in normal, straight-and-level flight. I knew I had a problem, but I didn’t know if it was limited to the ADI. Now, an on-board fire is the last thing a pilot wants in an airplane, so I began tripping circuit breakers to any electrical instrument on the left side of the panel, and the smoke soon stopped. (I can’t remember what was found to be the problem—probably the ADI itself.)

Fortunately, almost everything critical on an airplane is duplicated in case of failure. Had there not been a duplicate set of operative instruments on the right side of the panel, I would have been a goner. Why? Because without some kind of visual reference to an airplane’s attitude (position in the air), there is nothing to counteract the brain’s false sensations of what the airplane is doing. There are several sensory elements, located mostly in the ear canal, that always sense false cues about the position of the airplane if a pilot’s outside vision is lost. Almost every change in the airplane’s position—even its acceleration or deceleration—sends false signals that eventually and inevitably end in loss of control of the airplane if there is no countering visual reference. The technical name for this is spatial disorientation. It is for that reason that special training and a special certificate is required for pilots to fly solely by reference to instruments.  I can still hear the instructors’ admonitions when I was obtaining an instrument rating: “Trust the instruments, trust the instruments, no matter what your brain is telling you.”

There have been a number of fatal airplane accidents attributed to spatial disorientation, some involving the loss of famous people, such as Buddy Holly in 1959, Patsy Cline in 1963 and John F. Kennedy, Jr. in 1999, among others.

Since my side of the instrument panel was disabled, I was left with the copilot’s instruments to fly the airplane, except I was in the wrong seat. (By the way, there is no requirement for a copilot on the Beech 18 and there was none on board that night.) I quickly unbuckled and moved over to the right seat, where I could fly more effectively what I knew would be another instrument approach with low clouds at the Lufkin airport. The only problem was a little feeling of awkwardness in operating the aircraft from the right seat. I had never flown the Beech 18 from the copilot’s seat and, while I wasn’t concerned about it, things certainly felt different. All the controls were now operated by opposite hands from usual. The airplane had no autopilot, so I just had to ignore the different perspective and keep flying.  

Since you’re reading this, I obviously arrived safely after the approach into Lufkin, awkward as it was, but it was a bit tense that night—just so you won’t get the idea that everything always went smoothly for a mail pilot.

Today’s pilots are probably shaking their heads at the primitive nature of the aircraft instrumentation we were using 50 years ago. Today’s avionics are, by comparison, stunning in their technology, capability and redundancy.  

I have one more mail-flying “war story” to tell you next month, then we’ll move on to something else.

The photo below is that of a Beech 18 instrument panel. The ADI is the round blue instrument just above the yoke (steering wheel for non-pilots). See how it mimics the airplane relative to the ground and sky?

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

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

Friday, June 2, 2023

Red Bay Again and an Interesting Side Trip

 At Downtown RV Park, Red Bay, Alabama

It has been quite a while since we've been to Red Bay for Phannie's annual service--especially since Colorado is sort of the other direction from Texas. In the previous post, I explained about our paint touch-up combined with a visit with friends in Searcy, Arkansas that placed us within a few hours of Red Bay, and we don't know of any better place for diesel service than Bay Diesel there.

Red Bay hasn't changed much. It's still a sleepy little town, lost in the last century--a real plus, in my mind. Nothing is "woke" here; I doubt if they even know what that is. Restaurants come and go. One has changed to a barbeque joint, and another has changed from Chinese to Mexican food; both are mediocre, unfortunately.

Because of the vast migration of Tiffin motorhomes through their birthplace here, repairs often take a while, even though there is a myriad of non-Tiffin shops to do the work the factory turns down once a coach attains five years of age. We've learned to make appointments and just wait our turn. This is the first time, however, that we weren't able to get an appointment with Bay Diesel within a few days of our arrival. "Two weeks," they said! Alas, they have been discovered. It's okay, though. We had a couple of other things to be done and we really prefer now to go places and say awhile. But we've already written about that.

Luckily, we caught up with Walt and Lanie from our home park in Hondo. They were finishing up some factory work and some paint touch-up, so we were able to visit with them for a while. Walt was kind enough to help me install the new pole that will lift our Starlink antenna up above Phannie's roof:

It was great to toss our backup hotspot in the drawer and get back to Starlink's blazing internet. Thank you, Walt, for your help.

In a couple of days, we bade them goodbye and decided to take a day trip to Corinth, Mississippi--about an hour away and a place we had never visited. Corinth is a good-sized town, nestled in rolling hills and, not known to us, the site of a crucial battle in the Civil War. Back in that time, Corinth was a strategic railroad crossroads between north and south and east and west. The crossing point is still there:

Corinth was originally held by 25,000 Confederate troops under the command of General P.T.T. Beauregard. The Union wanted badly this strategic rail center and lay siege to it for a month in the spring of 1862. Commanding the much larger Union army was Major General Henry Halleck, who said that Corinth was of equal importance as Richmond, the Confederate capital, and he successfully took the city on May 30, 1862. The result was that the Confederate army no longer had access to the rail line into western Tennessee, thusly limiting any successful occupation in that direction. 

After the Union victory, no fewer than six Union generals visited or headquartered at Corinth, including Ulysses S. Grant, whose control of the lower Mississippi River basin was thusly assured for the rest of the war.

This is the Mask House, near downtown Corinth, which served as the headquarters of several Union generals. It has been lovingly restored and donated to the city of Corinth:

The site of General U. S. Grant's headquarters was just south of the Mask house; it is now occupied by the Corinth City Hall:

On our way into town, we stopped at Abe's Diner, a near-junkyard of memorabilia of the last half-century or longer:

We parked in front of a non-functioning parking meter and a hundred-year old gasoline pump. The vastness of the memorabilia, inside and outside, was mind-boggling.

We were seated by Pat, the current owner, on a couple of barstools at the counter; there were no chairs, tables or booths in the tiny place. Pat, a rotund and delightfully pleasant older man, was stationed at the takeout window with an open cash drawer crammed with money that could easily have been purloined by anyone within reach. But such things apparently don't happen in this place. I can guarantee that at least one of the stools was occupied by a patron with a firearm.

Cooking at the griddle was Lynn, Abe's grandson, and his mother, who was dishing up freshly-cut and fried French fries:

Hanging from the ceiling were dozens of license plates, and surrounding the menu were all kinds of currency, and even a Fedex truck hanging by a string.

Pat, wearing a blue apron like that of his wife and son, walked over to us, noticing that Sandy and I had ordered only a hamburger each and no French fries. He seemed distressed by this, pointing to a potato slicer in the corner and telling us the fries being loaded onto most of the other customers' plates were cut "right there this very morning." The temptation was great, but we politely declined, trying to stay as much as we could within the diet regimen Sandy and I have been painfully enduring for more than a year. Pat's face dropped, but he said he understood. Now, I actually regret that we didn't at least split an order of the fries.

Afterward, we drove around town for a while. The museum was closed, but we saw some charming and well-kept homes like this one:

We were out of most everything, it seemed, so we made a Wal-Mart stop that took a couple of hours and over four hundred bucks of stuff--almost none of which was food. This would be a good place to rant about politics, but I have learned that it is fruitless to do so in this blog. There are just some things I will never understand.

Corinth is the county seat of Alcorn county, and I snapped a photo of the courthouse, along with a statue of a Confederate soldier, Col. W. P. Rogers of Texas, a close friend of Sam Houston, whose importance in Texas history is legendary, and whose name is borne by the largest city in Texas. Col. Rogers was killed in the second battle of Corinth, a failed attempt by Confederate soldiers to retake the city from the Union occupiers. I was glad the statue was still there and not defaced, a fate that has befallen many of the historical monuments of the South, as if the history could thereby somehow be vindicated if not erased altogether--another thing I guess I will never understand:

As I was taking the photo, I noticed a gathering in front of the courthouse, including the setting up of some musical instruments. I learned that on Thursday evenings, a local group of musicians would play and sing for the townfolks, who would gather around, chat and listen to the music. I thought to myself, how delightful and ironic at the same time, that the very site of such horrific divisiveness in the past is now a place of peace, good will and friendliness to all who gather there, even in the shadow of Col. Rogers. Here's a link to the show.

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

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