27 December 2011

Postcard from Arizona- 7

27 December 2011

The Furnace Problem That Wasn't

It's been getting cold at night (20s F), but the furnace has always worked well down to at least that temp when we set the thermostat to 62 F. Sometime after we arrived, however, the furnace stopped getting as hot as it should. It would run and run, and often the burner would cut off shortly after lighting. The fan was blowing air that was sometimes barely warmer than the outside temp and at best it was body temp. Clearly something was wrong somewhere in the furnace system, but the repair folks were all out of town for the year end holidays. Then we got lucky when...

Celia asked around among others in her line dance class and got the name of a mobile repair guy that's new to the Benson area. One person had had occasion to call him and he'd treated them fairly and done a good job. So we called Wayne Tedford (928-242-9123) and asked for help. He apologized that he wouldn't be able to get over right away... would 2 hours be OK? Huh?! In my mind 2-hours is pretty darn close to instantaneous!

Wayne had the right equipment to check the pressure of our propane line and, happily, that was the problem. Why happily? Cuz pressure that's too low is probably caused by a bad regulator and, at least in our case, a regulator is easy to replace. Plus, as RV parts go, propane regulators are cheap. We have an RV parts store 1.5 mi. down the road (Cates-Hill on AZ-80), so he was back in 30 minutes with a work-alike part that fit the space. Now we have a new cross-over regulator from the same mfr. (Marshall). The story was that the model regulator delivered with our Montana had a high failure rate. The replacement regulator has been on the market longer and is touted as being reliable. We'll see. Plus it's possibly the last 250,000 BTU crossover around as regulator mfrs have stopped making anything that big for an RV (seems odd considering all the high-end rigs available these days).

The big surprise was when Wayne removed the old regulator and oil started dripping out of the low pressure hose. Yikes!! Turns out this is a common occurrence and almost always shows up on the low-pressure side of the regulator. I asked where the oil came from and Wayne asked which version of the story I wanted to hear. Apparently the experts don't agree: could be propane turning back into oil; or leaking seals on the supply pump; or a certain chemical (sorry... forgot the name) which is added to propane for odor; or a combination of these guesses. Whatever the cause, you really don't want to get any of that nasty oil stuff in your mouth like I did while trying to blow the excess out of the hose. Uugh! 1/2 hour after I set the old regulator on top of the power pylon it was still oozing oil. I can't help but wonder if that was what killed the regulator but have no idea.

Merry Christmas

We managed to get past the holiday, but not without falling off the diet-wagon. A couple of chocolate Santas (each), a bunch of cherry cordials, a chocolate orange (each), packages of various chocolate candies, and more. After all that we were ready to say "Enough!"

As planned, we did manage to avoid the big 2-day Christmas feed at the club house by going out to eat. We'd planned on Golden Corral in Sierra Vista (buffet style restaurant) but they closed for Christmas day. It seems like any question you might have has answers at Celia's dance class, so once again Celia asked and, sure enough, she got an answer, this time from Alaska Linda. 3 places were open this Christmas: Denny's in Benson, Omar's Truck Stop (dunno where they are but they're supposed to have really good chicken fried steak) and the Triangle-T Dude Ranch in Dragoon. Armed with Celia's info, friends Mike & Susan did all the arranging and I volunteered to haul 5 of us in our truck. There were 10 of us all together and we had a great roast beef dinner with all the trimmings but gravy (the Admiral says that's good but I disagree!). And we had 3 choices of pie (the Admiral says that's bad but I disagree!). And they provided live entertainment. Raleigh Jay sang and accompanied himself on guitar... we enjoyed his singing very much. Unfortunately for Alaska Linda and her party, they arrived too early for the roast beef and had ham steaks instead. They weren't impressed.

It's getting warmer

The NWS says it's getting warmer this week. Supposed to get into the 70s during the day by Wednesday. Hope that's true. We've seen mostly high 40s or low 50s for the last couple weeks as the jet stream has drooped down near our latitude. Night time temps are the biggest concern: we've seen 20F every nite for the last 5 nights. Generally speaking, NWS predictions suck for San Pedro Valley evening temps... we've been consistently 10 or more degrees colder than forecast. Same thing happened last year, and local TV forecasts are worse.

Anyway, a general warming trend is welcome news and I may actually be able to put my down coat away for awhile. Annie & Kelly are perfectly happy with the colder temps, but I whine a lot!

16 December 2011

Postcard from Arizona- 6

15 December 2011

Christmas is getting close. I can tell cuz the Christmas lights have already fallen down 2 times and the big bow on the front has fallen 3 times. Made us feel pretty festive. So when friends Mike & Susan invited us to go with them to see the Christmas lights in Tucson we jumped on the opportunity.

It's pretty easy to do. There's a street in Winterhaven area of Tucson named Christmas Ave. Property owners there go all out decorating their yards, trees, houses, cars or anything else that stays put for a few hours in the evening. I guess when you live on a street with a name like that you have no choice. Even those in the neighborhood who don't celebrate Christmas join in. Like the house with the makeshift minora made from plastic pipe; and another with a giant dreidel.

Mike did his homework and got us there quickly: I-10 to Exit 255. N on Miracle Mile (past the NoTell Motel... seriously!) to Oracle, 2 blocks left to Ft. Lowell, then down Ft Lowell to Christmas Ave. He even found a map of the neighborhood that showed the proper route to drive through the neighborhood. It needs to be organized cuz there are a lot of cars! Tucson police control all vehicle access and each of the entry points is lighted with emergency lighting. There are only 3 nights when cars are permitted into the area, otherwise you have to make it by foot. There's an entry fee: as many canned goods as you can afford. The only problem I saw is that pedestrians are permitted onto the same streets as the cars, so it can get a little scarey and we needed to stay alert.

Trying to get photos turned out to be a challenge... night shots from a moving car are if-y at best. So, if you'll pardon the fuzziness, here's our memory shots:

Straight from an animated movie...

Dunno how I managed this one!

LOTS of cars!

Not sure... an Arizona igloo?

Anybody wanna play Angry Birds?!

Not terribly inventive, but it was better lit than a shopping mall.

Even this Jeep got a layer of lights!

Mike looking pretty grim: "Where's the bathroom?!"

Yep... a dreidel

Traditional southwestern motif

Couldn't miss this with lights banging on/off.

12 December 2011

Postcard from Arizona- 5

12 December 2011

Warranty Truck-Repairs

Yesterday we were finally able to take the truck for a proper Sunday drive... our first since Lawley Ford in Sierra Vista completed warranty repairs. During an earlier visit they updated the firmware and this time they replaced the high pressure fuel pump (plus a couple other things). They also discovered there's a problem with our Banks 6-Gun Tuner and had to leave it disconnected. So this drive was to see if things really were running right and that there wasn't something that went wonky after sitting for a week or so.

I'm happy to say the truck runs great! What's more, the firmware update seems to have improved our fuel economy. Halleluiah! What an improvement. When we pulled out of our campsite our on-board mileage computer said 16.8 mpg. By the time we got back after 106 miles driving (including 1,500' elevation change), the mileage was over 18 mpg. Granted we haven't seen what happens with a real load pulling our trailer, but there is certainly an improvement running solo.

The best mileage we ever saw after installing the Banks tuner was just over 17 mpg running solo. So repairing and reinstalling the Banks tuner would mean we would have to settle for poorer fuel economy... we're not gonna' go there. So I think we'll pass on rushing to get the tuner (harness?) repaired.

I have to believe that the other (non-tuner) Banks mods, i.e. the air cleaner + DPF-back exhaust system + inter-cooler, are probably part of the reason the mileage has improved compared to stock. Knowing what I know today, I'd probably pass on installing the expensive Banks 6-Gun tuner + iQ display since we aren't interested in more power without improving fuel economy. Today I'd choose just the mechanical mods.

Looking Good!

Our Montana has a rubber roof. Sort of. Montana covers the plywood roof with a thin rubber membrane. That rubber film does a good job keeping the roof water-tight and it can survive for many years with some care. But the rubber film will die in the sun unless it's treated regularly. Montana says it should have a treatment every year to provide UV protection. Kinda like sunscreen for the roof.

Our winter-neighbor here in Benson has his New Horizon travel trailer washed & waxed every year by a local named Hooper. His rates are very reasonable and, for a small extra charge, he'll use a special washing product which protects the rubber film. Our neighbor's trailer always looks really nice, so we asked Hooper to do our Montana and to use the special rubber protectant.

It took Hooper quite awhile since he got delayed by wind and weather, but he finished a few days ago and what an improvement! I'd forgotten how much shinier the rig was when we first took delivery. Now it looks even better because the polymer-based wax (?) he uses has filled those microscopic scratches that buffing leaves behind. Now the rig fairly glistens in the sun and finally the decals have some protection too. At $5.50/foot + $25 for the special rubber protectant, we think it was a bargain.

We were a little disappointed to discover there was already some damage to the decals, though. We really needed to have done this last year. Now we have at least one location on the nose fairing where a decal is starting to curl (it hadn't had any protection applied at the dealer). Plus there are a few places where rocks or bugs have nicked the decals and the white shows through. And these decals are supposedly the tougher variety that Montana uses now.

Rainy day

This is a la niña year and that means extra snow in Santa Fe. And apparently rain in Benson. Like Santa Fe, Benson had an essentially dry monsoon season. But now we're sitting in our Montana watching everything get a good drink. There's already been 0.3" of slow steady rain. Not exactly what a person thinks of here in the desert, but an interesting change that is supposed to go on for a few days.

29 November 2011

Postcard from Arizona- 4

29 November 2011

Looks like Lawley Ford in Sierra Vista is going to get very, very high marks once the truck is back in our hands. I received a call this morning and learned that they were in the process of replacing the high pressure fuel pump on our truck. That fits with information I've read on the 'net about failure code P120F so I have high expectations that they have it right. Yee haw!

I got the call at about 8:30 this morning and they were already working on the truck. The first step is to lift the body off the truck so they can access the pump... I wonder what genius thought that was an OK way of doing this replacement?! Even with that huge extra step, it appears they should finish in one day. This repair will be done under warranty except for anything they have to move out of the way that is related to our Banks equipment. The estimate is somewhere around 2 hours of labor... about $250. I see it as penance for having installed the Banks equipment, but $250 is a huge difference from paying the whole $2,500 that it would cost if the warranty didn't cover the work.

I had been stewing about this for all the weeks since the pump started failing. Needless to say, this is a huge weight off my psyche. If all goes as planned we'll be RVers again by tonight (without a truck we're just campers!) and we'll be raving about what a great dealer Lawley Ford is! :)

23 November 2011

Postcard from Arizona- 3

23 November 2011


We've spent way too much time fussing with internet access including activating the 3G network on our iPads. The iPads are fine for many things, but it's just not a direct substitute for our laptops. During those times we're in Benson, we've acquiesced and are using the $30/mo WiFi service available to the park. It's provided by a local company and signup is online via credit card for a day, a week, a month, or 6 months. No router permitted and you're able to have unlimited internet access except they measure bandwidth and cut you off if they think you're abusing their service. Hmmm... unlimited access but you can't use it excessively? I'll have to think about that.

Sick Truck

I said earlier we have a problem with our Ford F-350 truck. The day we arrived in Benson it started running rough (feels like a misfire). Now it has greatly reduced power. Just to eliminate one possibility I wanted to remove the Banks tuner module in order to satisfy myself it wasn't the culprit. In the process of unwinding the Banks-installed equipment I found the engine wiring harness is missing the back-shell, perhaps broken a long time ago, or possibly broken at Banks when they did the install. Dunno. But that back-shell is important for more than being a dust cover: it contains the cam surfaces needed to disconnect the engine wiring harness. I feared I would probably break the connector if I tried to pry it off so I put it in the too-hard-to-do pile and looked for help.

It was clear we needed to get someone involved with the right tools and the know-how to troubleshoot the engine and do the repair. I asked around and was warned away from the local (Benson) Ford dealer. But I wasn't finding a reasonable alternative till Celia asked someone in her line dance class. They have a Freightliner and recommended the repair place they use in Willcox (30+ miles East). Unfortunately they turned out to have repair capability for only small trucks. Anything newer than a 2002 Ford exceeds what their test equipment can interpret (there are a lot of the older 7.3 Liter Ford trucks out there accumulating hundreds of thousands of miles each). We ended up calling the Ford dealer in Sierra Vista (30+ miles SW). It's also a Lawley Ford dealer (same name as the dealer in Benson) and have a good reputation. And they didn't seem to have an issue with having Banks equipment installed. So we dropped it off last Saturday.

When I picked it up Tuesday it ran perfectly... for about 15 miles. Then the same nasty P120F fault code raised its ugly head again. The tech found a problem with a Banks connector, plus they did the update & re-calibration of the PCM (a firmware change done as a recall; I'd put this off for several months). They were sure it was fixed and as I drove away I was equally convinced. Sadly it needed to go back and we did that today, the Wednesday before Turkey Day. From what I've been able to read on the internet, P120F doesn't go away permanently till you replace the high pressure fuel pump, but that seems to be a step Ford is reluctant to take as part of warranty repairs. So we'll have to see what happens next.


Last year we got into some bad eating habits during our stay in Benson. To the tune of almost 20 lbs. for me by the end of summer. We had way too many meals out with fried food and big desserts, then we continued to eat that way once we left Benson. We hope to not repeat that experience this year and will pass on the big Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners they have here.(and Taco Night and Fish Fry Night and the Dessert Auction... sigh).

To get things going in the right direction we've started eating according to the Admiral's favorite eating program: Weight Watchers. If we do everything right we can expect about 1 lb/wk weight loss and that's what's been happening. It's a good start and we don't want to get derailed with the large-group eat frenzy that goes on here during the winter. So instead of the big dinners at the Club House and the Leftovers Dinner the next day, we'll be going to a restaurant instead. No doubt we'll go over the daily limit, but we'll be back on track the next day without the temptation of great tasting leftovers.

Anyway, hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving. And wish us enough luck to see the San Francisco game on Thursday. Go Niners!

05 November 2011

An Experiment

5 November 2011

We're struggling with connectivity. When we arrived in AZ we suddenly started getting billed for data at a rate 3-4 times what we've had for the last nearly 2 years. We tried a different Verizon air card to no avail, so that was returned and we closed that particular Verizon line (one of 3). Sadly there's no way to tell anyone why we bailed out after 2 years of being happy customers. Sales apparently is tasked with blocking venomous vitriol from the unhappy masses.

We have unlimited data and messaging on our grandfathered-AllTel phones (recently upgraded to iPhones), but Verizon won't let us use the bandwidth as a personal hotspot to connect our laptops. Yes, it's physically possible to create the hotspot, but they block users from doing it themselves. Instead we have to change our plan which means we would lose our unlimited data/messaging which would be replaced with a 2 GB limit instead. Worse yet, we would lose our free roaming and free long distance on the phones.

So, after fighting it since early this year when we received our then new, hot-off-the-press iPad 2 tablets, we activated the 3G network for both of them. The cost is close to the same as the base rate of the air card data plan, there's no router required anymore since we operate separately, and bandwidth seems to accumulate accurately.

There are limitations using the iPad as the sole net access and maintaining this blog is only one. For instance I have to move photos from the laptop or camera onto the iPad. Can't use Picasa or Flickr as this would accumulate large bandwidth usage. And my first try using Google's Blogger to create a post from PHX airport exposed the complete inadequacy of that piece of Google software. What looks like a proper post in Blogger turns into a run-on sentence. And there's no means of controlling style beyond the template, e.g. no font controls like underscore, bold, etc. Looks like I need another editor, so...

This is my $3 experiment using BlogPress as an iPad app. BlogPress is a WordPress product my son suggested a year ago. At this point I've stumbled my way thru getting a post created, but so far I haven't discovered how to access previously published posts with BlogPress nor how to publish. And I don't know what a post looks like once it gets to the server. So the jury is still out.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

17 October 2011

Postcard from the road

17 October 2011

I'm stuck in PHX waiting for US Airways to clone an aircraft. Oh joy. I'm bored out of my mind so I thought I'd whine.

I'm on my way to Albuquerque for regular doctor & dentist appointments and, more importantly, to retrieve our Highlander. The truck is sick and we rented a car from Enterprise which we'll return when I get the Highlander back to Benson. The KIA Soul was a nice car, but we'd have liked it better if the suspension had springs with more than 4" of travel and mileage better than about 30 mpg. Guess it's not for old toots like us.

The airport delay doesn't threaten tomorrow's appointments, but it does mean I have to reschedule the shuttle. Bummer. I'm assuming all will go OK... this is my first time to use Sandia Shuttle Express. They don't take you to your home, but they stop at all the Roadrunner stops and there's one near the house. A 1 mile walk after sitting for way too many hours sounds just fine.

What a pain not having the truck! We'd planned to drive from Benson to Santa Fe so we both could have our teeth cleaned. Without the truck, we couldn't both fly because one of us had to stay with the dogs. Since the Admiral can't drive more than 30 minutes without falling asleep, that meant I was a better choice to fly, then drive back to Benson. Not bad duty since I enjoy driving anyway.

19 October 2011

The Sandia Shuttle Express turned out to be a great choice: $27 from the Sunport (ABQ) to the Railrunner South Capitol station in Santa Fe. I could have chosen any of several non-neighborhood drop off locations.

Been to the doctor (good for another 6 months) and to the dental hygienist today (yup... still got all 8 of 'em). Barbara has been cleaning my teeth for a few years now and we always take a few minutes to talk about photography. She's a really good photographer who has recently started doing weddings. She has a few prints hanging around the office. I especially liked the shot off the back of the Amtrak... Wow!

I was out of the chair at 1500 and on the road headed South on I-25. Stopped in Socorro for the nite, and tomorrow will take NM-26 from Hatch to Deming in order to bypass Las Cruces.

20 October 2011

I was awake at 0430 so I thought "What the hell? Might as well get going." I was on the road by 0500 and had an easy time getting to Deming on I-10 with nearly no traffic. Stopped in Lordsburg for gas and breakfast (Kranberry's... excellent fresh biscuits, but to my mind sausage gravy is supposed to have some sausage in it; still tasted good), then back on the road. I was at the Dog House by 10ish thanks to the time zone difference (AZ doesn't use daylight savings time). I was starting to fade as I got near Texas Canyon about 20 East of Benson, but the boulder-strewn landscape near the top of the pass is gorgeous and I was quickly alert again to finish the ride.

Tomorrow the KIA goes back. And it was a good thing we rented it. Not only did Celia use it to get me to the Tucson airport (TUS), she had to get Annie to the emergency vet in Tucson at 0100 on the 19th. The Admiral was afraid Annie might have bloat, a very real possibility with berners. It can only be corrected with surgery to remove the twist in the bowel. Turned out she had bad gas (Maalox with Simethicone did the trick), probably from the mesquite berries she sneaks while walking. The Admiral explained it was a $300 fart (cost of X-rays and exam), but better safe than sorry. With bloat you have about an hour to get to the vet for surgery or you'll lose your best friend.

iPad 2 and Google's Blogger editor

I started this post at the PHX airport using my iPad 2 and their WiFi hotspot. I could enter and save text to the blog OK, but it appears the Blogger editor is buggy in its iPad version. Everything was a continuous sentence with no line breaks, and it was like pulling eye teeth to get Blogger to edit what it had just saved. Disappointing. Come on Google... you can do better than that!. I've seen reference to an editor used by Blogspot bloggers traveling with their iPads and had thought it didn't apply to me. Oops! Guess I'd better track it down.

07 October 2011

Postcard from Arizona- 2 *

7 October 2011

Benson, AZ
Back in 1965 when I was working at UTC Div of United Aircraft (now Chemical Systems Div of United Technologies Corp), I worked with a guy named Jerry Yaezel. Jerry was a very calm individual who always kept his head and never said an angry word (are there still people like that?!). UTC built rocket motors and we tested samples at the Coyote, CA facility where I worked. Working with rocket motors, whether solid or liquid, there were always opportunities to get really, really, really excited. Like when a motor blew up (which happened with alarming regularity with experimental motors). Jerry kept his cool through all these things. The foreman in the test bay was Frank Reed and he was not put together with the same DNA as Jerry. Frank liked to tease Jerry and one day claimed he heard Jerry so upset he said "Hell, damn, poop!" Somehow I doubt that ever happened, but I never forgot the story and wondered if I could ever take things as calmly as Jerry always did. Well, yesterday, 46 years later, I had a hell-damn-poop moment.

Recall that we had the great bad-injector-debacle on Monday. Then a neighbor suggested it might be the air filter, so I had a go at cleaning it. I simply blew out the air filter with the compressor, then tried the truck. It ran OK, but the drive to Safeway was short and the truck never got up to operating temperature. I had significant reservations that things were really fixed, so yesterday I took the truck onto the I-10 and drove about 20 miles. Well... hell, damn, poop. The truck runs like a champ.

In the process of getting the filter out of the housing I managed to damaged the screening which covers the paper pleats. Now I have to get a replacement plus some of the spray-on cleaner and the oil (?) that's to be applied after cleaning (it attracts dust to improve cleaning). The filters are expensive ($200? more?) but it's a damn sight cheaper than having injectors replaced!

12 October

Benson, AZ
It's official... fussed with the antenna today and got it working OK, but only OK. But it was enought to log the first QSO (contact) with KZ7ZZ near Seattle, WA on 40m. Then I tuned up a little and listened to Roberto/I2VRN near Milan, Italy. Yikes! He created quite a jam with a bunch of retired hams who don't have to get up in the morning clamoring to be heard. You'd think it was a contest!

So I guess the antenna is going to be at least OK. Mrs. Bowman's little boy is grinning from ear-to-ear!

05 October 2011

Postcard from Arizona

5 October 2011

'The Eagle has landed', but not without falling on its ass. I'll explain...

Lordsburg, NM
We did a one-niter at KOA in Lordsburg, NM. Lordsburg is an easy stop and far enough on the South side of town that I-10 traffic isn't a problem. Weeeell... at least when you're as tired as we were. There's a Valero station 4 blocks away on the main drag that has diesel, so it was easy to get refueled. Lordsburg happens to be home to Kranberry's family restaurant, so, if you're food-deprived, you can have someone fill you with tasty food and fattening desserts for a nominal fee. Sadly the Admiral has us on a Weight Watchers program (thanks a lot, Dr. Oz!) and we abstained.

I fiddled with the power settings on the Banks controller all the way from Santa Fe to Socorro where I finally gave up. I settled on #3 (again!) and used that the rest of the way to Benson. To the uninitiated,10.6 mpg may sound awful (and it is!), but it's actually a significant improvement - about 18% on this trip - compared to what we got prior to having the Banks Engineering mods installed.

Interesting Garmin incident along the way: our Garmin 465T is optimized for commercial trucks and is aware of highways that have restrictions (weight, height, whatever). For whatever reason Mrs. Garmin decided that NM-26, the shortcut to Deming on I-10 from Hatch on I-25 which bypasses Las Cruces, is a no-no. We (and any number of very large commercial trucks) didn't agree, so we soldiered-on avoiding the extra 45 miles and heavy Las Cruces traffic... with Mrs. Garmin complaining the whole way.

Btw, we passed a huge solar farm between Hatch & Deming. I'm going to guess there were 32 panels in each array and each array was installed on its own 2-axis tracking mount (azimuth & elevation). There were maybe 24 mounts in the farm. Photos will have to wait for the next time we pass thru here (in a few days when we retrieve the car).

Benson, AZ
We arrived at SKP Saguaro at 1130 AM only to find the office closed. After grumping about how the staff had gone to lunch early, we finally realized "Oops! Today's Sunday!" October is still on a shortened schedule as leaseholders and JARs (JAR = Just A Renter... that's us) don't start arriving till the end of October.

Since we have an annual rental site, we went ahead and parked in our space. The dogs were in the truck while we set up and I left the engine idling so we could keep the AC running and keep them cool. We were interrupted by the across-the-street neighbor saying 'Hi!', then a few do-overs in setup, but eventually (45 minutes later?) we got things variously disconnected and connected and are settled in our site.

Electricity is expensive everywhere. Here at the SKP park it's $0.14/kW-hr, so (at current propane prices) it's cheaper to use propane whenever we can. I spent a lot of time last year tramping back and forth to Barnett's propane in Benson refilling our 7-gal tanks. This year we want to get a larger tank that is refilled monthly. That way we can use propane not only for the furnace but also for the fridge and the water heater. Off we went to Barnett's Sierra Vista office to sign the necessary paperwork for a 125-gal tank ($40/yr for the tank rental + cost of propane). About 2 miles into the 30+ mile trip I noticed what I thought might be a misfire in the diesel. And this is why I said the Eagle may have landed but it has fallen on its ass.

The misfire feels a lot like what we experienced in Florida when an injector crapped out after the truck had idled for a very long time. On that earlier experience it was a simple case of shutting off the engine then restarting it (that failure turned out to be an intermittent electrical problem inside the injector). Not so lucky this time. The further we drove the worse the misfire got. Shutting down and restarting changed nothing The truck idles smoothly, but at any throttle setting above idle it is a distinct problem until it gets to full throttle where it seems to be smoother. I tried driving at higher speed for awhile, but with all the police watching for speeders during commute traffic it was hopeless. So now we need a local mechanic who can run diagnostics and do necessary repairs.

I asked at the office and got a couple suggestions for a mechanic to help us, then I also asked a neighbor about local mechanics. When he got home, Lorel asked her hubbie Gene what he thought and he immediately suggested our problem might be the air cleaner. It didn't cost anything, so I used our compressor to blow out the filter. I must admit that, at least before the engine gets all the way to operating temperature (that would be over 194 deg F), there seems to be no misfire. I'll drive on the Interstate to be sure cuz my gut tells me it can't possibly be this simple:
  • the filter wasn't super dirty.
  • I've never spent $0 to repair this truck! 
The jury is still out and the truck is in the penalty box, but maybe I'm wrong (and I sincerely hope that's the case!).

And the newest rule for the Dog House on Wheels is that we won't let the truck idle for long periods just in case that caused a problem for the injectors.

Btw, I found a tiny stone (1/8"-1/4") caught in the folds of the filter. Had a filter not been there, we would be buying a new turbo charger and probably having the engine rebuilt. Yikes!

Ham Radio Stuff
Some more photos of the radio installation (odd how the red numerals of the antenna controller refuse to be in focus even though the case is... ???).

17m counterpoise antennas... 3 pair to go!
Scorpion SA-680 on its mast attached to the ladder
World's ugliest swing arm... yuck!
The Office
MFJ-1924 screwdriver antenna controller

Heil ClearSpeech powered speaker
Slide-penetrations for RF cable and antenna control

That Heil ClearSpeech speaker is really nice. It has a small amp as well as DSP filtering. Sadly it's an orphan as it's no longer being built.

The MFJ-1924 screwdriver antenna controller looks pretty fancy, but the reality is that it's just a turns-counter with 10 memories. There's no automatic tuning going on. You must have an SWR meter somewhere to detect null. The Elecraft K3 has that ability, so it's useful as there's really no way to repeat antenna position without something that counts turns. There is a controller called a TurboTuner (I think!) which does find null and stops screwdriver movement, but Ron Douglass, creator of the Scorpion antennas, tells me the design doesn't work well with his drive-motor.

I'll be tuning the counterpoise antennas over the next few days, so even though the parts are all in place it still isn't a working ham station.

30 September 2011

Postcard from New Mexico- 7 *

29 September 2011, Santa Fe

We're close to heading for our winter hangout. We'll be staying at the SKP Saguaro Co-op a little South of Benson, AZ. Barring a calamity we should be on our way 1 October with a one-niter somewhere. We've been keeping ourselves busy fixing problems and creating more, but I think we'll be ready by Saturday.

Along with maintenance chores I've gotten busy installing our ham radio station. That's occupied nearly all my available time for a couple weeks now...

Radio Station
Installation of the radio station happened really quickly. So far I've:
  • installed a removable mast (1-1/4" thin wall conduit from Home Depot) supported by a FlagPoleBuddy.com mount (need something better),
  • installed the new Scorpion SA-680 screwdriver antenna,
  • routed cables and installed support items,
  • drilled holes in the side of the entertainment slide (*that* was a nerve wracking!),
  • mounted weather covers over the holes to feed the wiring inside and keep weather & bugs out,
  • installed an MFJ-1924 screwdriver-antenna controller (with memory... pretty cool!),
  • installed a monstrosity of a swing arm (RAM-Mount... *ugly*) to mount the radio when stopped,
  • installed my old Daiwa 505SS power supply,
  • installed my old West Mountain Radio RIGrunner 4010S power strip to distribute 12VDC power,
  • installed my old Heil ClearSpeech comm speaker (out of production),
  • wired everything, and
  • checked it out.
Scorpion SA-680 with just the 17m counterpoise
Installation of the hardware is (pretty much) complete and I'm reasonably happy except for the ugly swing arm and the support for the antenna mast. But the work is by no means finished. I still have to tune the length of each of the counterpoise antennas... a long and tedious job. There are 8 antenna arranged in opposing pairs covering 4-bands: 80m, 40m, 20m and 17m. No way to get the tuning done before leaving on 1 Oct, so that job will have to wait till we get to Benson.

I did take time to download and install the latest firmware for the Elecraft K3.. our radio was way behind. The K3 is a software defined radio and the designer (Wayne Burdick/N6KR) is forever improving its operation. Wayne seems to work a 26-hr day!

Getting the antenna set up is a big deal, so it'll only happen when I know we're going to be somewhere for awhile. The antenna weighs just under 20 lbs, but there's also the metal mast, an RF choke. All together there's probably 30#-35#. Not too heavy until you stand it up and lift it onto the base of the FlagPoleBuddy mount. Any breath of air and it's pretty much out of control. Then after the mast + antenna are up I can add the counterpoise antennas.

Pre-departure Maintenance
Sitting or moving, there's always something that needs attention. In this case it was the wheel bearings. Fortunately our Montana is fitted Zerk fittings on the axles. Lubing the bearings can be done with a grease gun filled with wheel bearing grease. The bearings are supposed to get attention every 5,000 miles and this seemed like a good time to get it done.

The debacle with the tires back in June/July, which left us with broken landing gear, taught me that I need to have the Montana connected to the truck, move the landing gear clear of the ground, jack the frame first, then lift the wheel off the ground with a jack under the single axle. That's what I did and it worked great. But the fussing around in order to get the bottle jacks positioned and everything blocked is a giant PITA. All together it took about 3 hours: 20 minutes lubing the bearing plus 2hr 40min screwing around with jacks. Humbug! The next rig will have leveling jacks!

Now the bearings are serviced plus I reinstalled the trim piece I'd left off one wheel during the tire change. Still have to drain the water from the fresh water tank, stow the antenna and take several hundred pounds of crap to the house. We leave Saturday morning... a week late thanks to the late delivery of prescriptions from MedCo (the company I love to hate!).

Trip Planning
Haven't had time to decide where to stay on the trip South. There's only one stop before Benson... Las Cruces? Lordsburg? Deming? Dunno yet. This is unlike me... I tend to over-plan and to make reservations too far ahead. But we've been too busy to do the usual.

This evening, however, I updated the GPS we use for RV travel (we have lifetime maps for all our Garmin GPSs). Took about 4 hrs and the file was 1.5 GB. Yikes! But the deed is done and I'm hoping they've fixed a few things in our nüvi 465T. The 465 is designed for use with commercial trucks and RVs and is height-restriction aware. So far so good, and hopefully it will continue to keep us out of trouble.

12 September 2011

Postcard from New Mexico- 6

Santa Fe

I just added one more big chore to do before we leave. I'm way overdue to install our ham radio on the Montana (Celia is K5CMB and I'm NM5B). I may not finish everything before we leave for Benson, but I've got the radio sitting beside me and have have kluged the power line so I could at least see if it still operates after sitting for 2 years. Indeed it does and I've since downloaded 2 major revisions to the firmware.

Elecraft K3 hf transceiver (100 W)
Our radio is an Elecraft K3 100W hf (160m-6m) transceiver with all the early bells & whistles including the sub-receiver. Ours is #00136... part of the very early batch. Since we left to go play "RVers", Wayne/N6KR (he's a co-founder & head of technology) at Elecraft has added some really cool stuff like a panadapter and a 500W linear amp to name just 2.

The only thing we really need at the moment is an antenna. Several years ago I bought an Outbacker (mfd in Australia, but cut to US bands) portable/mobile antenna. We used this bullet-proof portable antenna in Santa Fe till I could install the larger 1/4 wave tunable-vertical from SteppIR Antennas. I used the SteppIR for several years on 40m-6m but always wished it covered the 80m band as well. When SteppIR came out with their Mk III vertical which could cover 80m-6m (basically added an optional loading coil), I switched to that newer model.

Our Outreach 500 and Outpost tripod
SteppIR verticals are great antennas but they're pretty big (33') and inappropriate for our use on an RV as they don't disassemble easily for thransport when we're moving the rig. However, our old Outbacker antenna (Outreach 500 model) stows easily in 2-pieces in its 4' bag. When I bought the Outbacker in 2003, I also bought an Outpost tripod (made by Alpha Delta) which was designed for Outbacker antennas and works quite well (useable on other mobile or portable antennas too). In the photo, the 2 pieces of the antenna (black) are each about 4', though the assembled length of the Outreach is about 11' 5" with the stinger extended.

Outpost with Outreach antenna
The odd looking aluminum contraption in the photo is the Outpost tripod which ends up unfolding a la a child's "transformer". Not exactly human-engineered when it comes to deployment, but once everything is properly extended and a couple spikes are driven through the holes in the 3' long feet, it's a very stable platform that usually negates the need for added radials.

So that's what will get us started. But the rules in most RV parks require any ham gear be attached to the RV and the Outbacker/Outpost don't meet that criteria. So our long term solution will be to use a mobile antenna (a screwdriver design) mounted on the rear of the Montana. I have a Scorpion SA-680 coming from Ron Douglass/NI7J. I ordered his Home Package version which includes n adapter plus a set of 8 radials in matching pairs for 40m, 20m, 17m and 10m. If that works as I expect, I'll replace the 8-port adapter with a 16 port and add 4 more bands (80m, 60m, 15m and 12m).

Anyway, that's the plan. The biggest issue is committing to putting a hole in the Montana!

A Couple Repairs

No matter whether you're traveling or parked, things on an RV break. This time 2 things happened at the same time: the water valve on the Thetford toilet started leaking, and the drive belt on the Splendide dryer both broke. Again. Splendide got the belt here in 2 days, but Thetford sent the replacement valve to a place only they know about.

Repairs on our rig are generally Blue jobs (along with vacuuming and washing dishes), but I'd never have been able to get it done without help from the Pink team. The dryer weighs less than Splendide says it does (it's less than the 67# Splendide states), but it's impossible to reconnect the dryer exhaust hose while holding the dryer. Lots of expletives, but now the dryer is repaired: an hour to replace the belt, then 2 hours of frustration getting the dryer back in place atop the washer.

If the water valve ever gets here we'll have a properly working toilet again. I think it would have been better to have bought the Thetford parts from PPL or someplace similar.

11 September 2011

Postcard from New Mexico- 5

Santa Fe

Must be getting close to time to head for Arizona cuz my beloved asked today if I'd checked the pressure in all the tires. Sheesh! I buy a new compressor and right away the Admiral thinks I ought to use it.

There's a reason for her concern since the new trailer tires are under-inflated at the moment. Discount Tire has a large industrial compressor which, as it turns out, is set at 80 psi max. Probably a shop safety issue so no one accidentally over-inflates a new tire enough to damage the tire or hurt someone. That's all well-and-good, but our new Load Range G tires need 115 psi for our load. In cases where 80 psi isn't enough, the shop has a small portable compressor that dribbles enough air to get tires to 100 psi. And that's still short of the 115 psi we need. Our old low-profile, lightweight 'pancake' compressor has an non-adjustable cut-off switch on the compressor that trips at 100 psi. And it has no regulator, so it's really the wrong thing to use.

Out with the BLUE, in with the RED
So I went to Home Depot where I found a compressor (Husky... the store brand) with adjustable output regulator. It pumps the tank to 155 psi, and the regulator allows setting any pressure up to the maximum tank pressure. Best news is that it has a substantially higher flow rate (3x-5x more) than the old $70US Campbell-Hausfield. Not bad for about $130US. Home Depot was out of stock, but a couple days later I brought home the new (and sadly 15# heavier) compressor, did the 20 minute break-in, tested it at full pressure... and put it away. It took several days and a rush-delivery internet order to get the pieces you see here which can all handle the higher pressure the tires require.

The old yellow Slinky went away with the old compressor
Once I had the new old fashioned rubber air hose, an air chuck with a lock, a proper tie gauge, and a proper angled double-chuck (for the duals), I connected to the new compressor and checked the air pressure. Shoulda' known... the Discount Tire tech inflated the tires to 80 psi and didn't use their backup compressor to get to 100 psi. Nice guys at DT, but everything they do has to be double-checked. Aarrgh!!

Garcia Tires

Now that all the drama is over I learned I probably could have had the tires changed right here in the park. Last week I heard a large compressor pumping away. When I walked the dogs I discovered Garcia Tire of Santa Fe had a mobile service truck busy at the park. They were mounting new tires on a Cougar 5th wheel right at the trailer-owners camp site. I've never dealt with Garcia Tires and I'm sure there's a surcharge to do it, but it's pretty cool to get new shoes on the rig without driving into town! A couple days later their service truck was back and the driver was repairing a tire on a big motorhome.

Spring At Last

The park has a very nice patio which turns into a camp site
Balloon Fiesta!)
It's 6 months late, but it's finally spring in Santa Fe. Every living plant has turned green and has (or was) flowering. Just in time for us to bail out for SE Arizona. What a change from the persistent hot days we've had this summer. We did have the incessant spring winds. And initially they masked the heat which was to become the theme for summer 2011. We didn't like it, but what Santa Fe had was trivial compared to Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, et al. We're glad to see the end of this chapter and look forward to what comes next.

LOTS of sunflowers in New Mexico
Even this metal tree seems alive!

Shadows on the patio

12 August 2011

Postcard from New Mexico- 4

Santa Fe

After a month and a half of whining, the news is good this time. It took 6 weeks but the new landing gear arrived from Lippert Components Inc. (they manufacture the chassis for Keystone/Montana) and the legs are installed... took about 3 hours of labor.

And this time the locking pin extends thru both sides of each leg. No weird angles; no forcing the pin thru.

I was able to also have them replace the after-market connector in the bed of the truck. The optional Ford integrated trailer-brake controller had frequently given us a TRAILER NOT CONNECTED message since late March of last year. In hind sight, it was caused by an intermittent ground connection where the after-market plug connects to Ford's factory-installed wiring harness. Besides causing intermittent failure of the trailer running & brake lights, it also caused the trailer brakes to be intermittent. Yikes! Our work-around had been to use the Ford-provided plug next to the receiver hitch which, unfortunately, significantly limited the angle between the trailer and the truck when parking. [ Like the integrated trailer-brake controller, the hitch is part of Ford's optional tow package. ]

Back at Santa Fe Skies, I was surprised that parking was less of a problem this time. In part because it was the 2nd time getting into the same space, but mostly it's that the opening to the site is really wide. I was able to maneuver endlessly till I walked the rig close to the patio. If we aren't real close, the sewer hose ends up going over a slope which causes the hose-support (the 'caterpillar') to fall over about once per week... usually about the time I have to drain the black tank. Now the tank seems to drain properly and the hose stays put.

Best news of all is that we have the last 2 Goodyear G614 RST tires installed. The rig is pretty much good to go at this point since I was able to lube the spring shackles while the wheels were off. I told the manager at Discount Tire that they had seen way too much of us over the last year. First it was the truck tires which took several visits... not least of which was because I had no "key" for the spare tire. Then I found  one of the new tires going flat which turned out to be a loose Schrader valve. We had them repair a tire on the Highlander which went flat after I put that car on the trailer to bring it to Santa Fe. And lastly was the debacle of one-at-a-time tire-replacement for the Montana. I must have been in an out of the store a dozen times.

Even though the truck & Montana are ready to go, we've decided to delay the trip to Maine. We've watched the endless mid-west heat on the weather reports which have us very concerned. The hot spell has gone on so long we chickened out. At this point we think our best bet is to stay in Santa Fe till the middle of September and then head to Benson, AZ for the winter. Then next year (2012) we'll leave Benson about the first of April and head to Santa Fe for annual checkups before leaving for Maine in the middle of May. That schedule will leave plenty of time to return by way of some of the Canadian Maritimes (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Is.) if we want. Probably have to skip Newfoundland and Labrador this time, but we can see Quebec and SE Ontario. The Maritimes were our easterly destination in 2010 when the house called us back.

Jacking the Montana

I thought I should touch on what I learned from this. When I first had the landing gear failure, I talked to several friends about what I thought had caused the problem. I'd hoped someone could offer a method of avoiding a repeat incident. I think it was Dan Weigman who said he always has the front of his rig supported by his truck when jacking anytime he removes a tire. Plus he jacks the rig only part way via the frame, then he puts another jack under the axle to get the tire clear of the ground. Jacking a fifth wheel this way limits how far the frame has to rise on one side, puts a minimal load on the axle (way less than it sees underway), and keeps all load off the landing gear. So I tried this approach for the last 2 tires and think this just became SOP for tire changes on the dog house.

The only issue is that you need enough blocking. A bottle jack just doesn't have the extension range to lift either the tire or (once the frame is up) the axle. I have 5 dozen 2"x8"x18" scraps plus 2- 2"x6"x6' boards (used for leveling) and it wasn't enough. So before we leave for winter pasture I'll need to add more blocking. And I'll need to replace the plastic "milk crate" (one of those cheap knock-offs from Crates&Barrels) which dies from UV in a matter of months.

Skip this paragraph if you don't want to hear me whine: our Montana (3400RL) has a corrugated plastic cover over the bottom. It keeps out dirt and debris and some of the winter cold so it's much appreciated. What I don't appreciate is that the frame doesn't have defined jacking-points which, if they were there, would be covered by that same corrugated plastic. As a result, I can't really be sure where I'm putting the jack relative to the frame. In fact, at one point I punched a hole in the plastic cover because there was no frame underneath the ram of the bottle jack. So a person has to be careful about where the bottle jacks are placed when jacking the frame. It would have been so easy for Lippert (they built the chassis which Keystone builds upon to create a Montana) to have welded pads under the frame to retain the end of the bottle jack ram. Also, jacking the axle to get the tire clear (200# tops) is a little scarey as the underneath surface of the axle is curved and not appropriate for jacking (the springs are mounted to the top of the axles). I use a block of wood which does little more than add friction, but it would be even scarier without it. End of whine.

Full-timer's Blog

One last thing: RVing friends Becky and Dave are full-timers we met in Sioux Falls, SD last July and we've stayed in touch for over a year now. A couple weeks ago Becky started a blog here so she wouldn't have to e-Mail all their photos to family & friends. Here's a couple photos of Celia reading her blog.

Here's Celia before reading Becky's blog:

Here's Celia after reading Becky's blog:
Clearly reading Becky's blog is good for your state of mind. Looks like it's "Admiral Approved"!

13 July 2011

Postcard from New Mexico- 3

Santa Fe, NM

So. Here we are in Santa Fe, all dressed up to go somewhere and no way to get there. I'll explain.

Since we bought this new Montana, I've been reading about what crap-tires Keystone installs on the rig. We've had zero problem, but then we try to keep the weight down and I limit top speed when pulling to 60 mph (the Marathons are rated at 65 mph max). Tire pressure is checked frequently and I have a small compressor stored in the basement to fill the tire if needed. The reality is that Goodyear Marathon tires are at their maximum load rating with our fully loaded 3400RL Montana. So at this point I don't know if we're doing something right or if those that have had blowouts are doing something wrong.

Whichever the case, in light of heading thru the midwest with some of the hottest weather on record, I finally waved the I'm-a-coward flag and ante'd up for a set of Goodyear G614 RST (over $400/tire!). The G614's we bought are LT230/85R-16G which are a tiny bit larger than the LT235/80R-16E Goodyear Marathon tires that came with the rig (7mm or about 0.28" larger radius). That's supposed to mean about 7 fewer revolutions per mile. The new tires are Load Range G instead of E which should give us plenty of reserve load capacity. And the G614 RST has a full steel belt (Goodyear's Unisteel construction) instead of steel+fiber belting of the Marathons.

Everything seemed straightforward until I realized we would have to disconnect and go to Discount Tire for an hour for mounting, balancing and installation. I hated the thought of 3 hours or more of tear-down/reconnect for just 1 hour of work (not to mention parking again which is always a white knuckle event for me!), so I chose to get a proper sized torque wrench- which I needed to get anyway- and take the old tires one-at-a-time to Discount Tire to get the new tires mounted.

Damaged leg with the pad removed.
Tires #1 & #2 went fine till one leg of the landing gear on the opposing (driver's) side dropped about 4". The leg extension slipped when the locking pin either sheared or bent, but at least it didn't collapse completely... there must have been enough pin left to jam the extension. My WAG - technical mnemonic used in aerospace proposals which means Wild Ass Guess - is that jacking the rig via the frame (per the Keystone manual) tips the trailer to so great an angle that the resulting side force contributed to additional load... which may mean it was on the verge of collapsing anyway. In the photo I've removed the articulating foot (pad) from the leg so I could fit a jack stand under the frame and be able to remove the bottle jack I used to lift the weight of the frame off the damaged leg.

Undamaged (I hope!) leg with the pad in place.
More significantly, our spring-loaded lock pins for the leg extension never did protrude thru the both sides as I suspect they're supposed to. There's nothing in the (nearly useless) manual and it wasn't mentioned in the walk-thru. If the pin extended thru both sides of the leg it would mean the load isn't distributed across 2 points of contact but rather the weight rests on just 1 point. This is the passenger- (curb-) side leg which shows what the drivers-side looked like before it collapsed. Notice the slight downward angle of the pin handle which prevents the pin from extending through the far side. The end of the pin is pointing up at a slight angle. If your locking pin looks like this, you need to get it fixed before your rig breaks like ours!

So now we're trying to figure out how to get repaired so I can get the last 2 tires and get on our way to Maine. The nearest Montana dealer is Aloha RV in Albuquerque, but the service manager said his boss told him they won't touch it since we didn't buy our rig from them. And that's a reality of RVs vs. cars/pickups: they don't have to work on your rig unless you bought from them.

TravelTown, the Santa Fe RV dealer where we bought our used 2003 Montana (not a dealer for new Montanas), will work us into their schedule but that means there will be no consideration for an out-of-warranty claim. And TravelTown is busy- this is when they sell a lot of new rigs- so they have to work us into the shop's schedule plus find the source for replacement legs.

The Montana is sick and waiting for repair,but the truck is good to go. There's fresh full-synthetic AMSOIL 5W-40 in the engine and, like the first time we used this type oil, the diesel engine is noticeably quieter as it idles... an odd but interesting side effect of full synthetic motor oil. Plus a new in-line filter in the transmission.

And we had the truck's tires rotated which turns out to be a bigger deal than a car because of the dual rear wheels. Apparently you have to dismount certain of the tires since there are 2 different kinds of wheels: 4 aluminum rims and, counting the spare, 3 steel rims. So with the mixed wheel types you can't arbitrarily put any wheel in just any location. So some wheels can be relocated while others have to have just the tire moved.

At least the brake lining is still OK: 50% worn at about 62,000 miles towing a combined load of nearly 23,000#... very close to the max allowed. Probably a testament to the brakes on the Montana working OK.

Now we're waiting to hear from TravelTown that they're ready to have us come over for repair. We look forward to finally calling Brad, Stephanie and the girls and saying "We're on our way!"

Eye pressure and vision are just fine after the YAG laser procedure. Worked beautifully.

Btw, a WAG (above) is a slightly lower quality estimate than a SWAG which is a Scientific Wild Ass Guess. The difference between the 2 is that you use a calculator to add the numbers in a SWAG, but a WAG is done in your head. Both a WAG and a SWAG are considered substantially superior to a PIROOMA: Pulled It Right Out Of My Ass. Customers generally were never impressed with any of these 3 as a basis for awarding a contract. Credit for coining the PIROOMA goes to Des Bailie, a master of dead-pan who must be a killer at poker.

01 July 2011

Postcard from New Mexico- 2

Santa Fe, NM

Solar array at Santa Fe Skies RV Park from the east end.
We got back to Santa Fe and settled in at Santa Fe Skies RV Park and were dazzled by the new solar array the Brown family installed. While large solar arrays are nothing new, what is amazing is that this is a small private RV park. This isn't something the local utility or the state or county did. Just a small 235 space RV park that is sick of paying the utility company at a growing rate. Since visitors don't pay for electric power, this is a big cost savings to the park.

With the rig hooked up and safe, we reserved a car-trailer and headed back to Arizona to retrieve the Highlander. Now that was an experience.

All went well with picking up the new trailer. We arrived in Tucson well ahead of closing time and were able to drive the 40 miles back to Benson before dark. We stowed the car while it was still light then took the dogs to a motel for their first ever stay. It took about 2 seconds to realize that dog owners get to stay in the same room previously damaged by another dog (or more likely the dog's owner!). But it went well and they didn't bark too much. Breakfast was a Kind Bar and a couple donuts from Suzy's... best donuts in southeastern Arizona! Nothing like a healthy breakfast to start the day.

U-Haul tire repair... thank you U-Haul!
So off we went to Santa Fe. We'd gone perhaps 90 miles- somewhere just before the New Mexico state line- when a car pulled up beside us and the driver frantically pointed at the trailer. We pulled over and... what a bummer. The right-rear trailer tire was flat and, though not yet shredded, was clearly not going to hold air ever again. I stayed on the shoulder and crept along maybe 2.5 miles to the first available exit and called U-Haul. It took a little longer than they said, but in an hour a really nice tire-dude showed up with a new tire and wheel to replace the now completely shredded original. In a few minutes we were again on our way to Santa Fe and had further problem. But I was left with the conviction that, if you're going to pull a U-Haul (or anything else for that matter), you need to stick to Interstates or major highways where you can expect cell service.

We settled into a different site at Santa Fe Skies which looked like it might be easier to back into. I'm the first to admit that I'm terrible at parking the rig so I try to make it as easy as possible regardless the view another site might have. Now that we're in the site I realize that we'll be taking a tour of the back portion of the park in order to leave, but that shouldn't be a big deal.

Our medical appointments started right away with me leading the parade. All went well including my eye-pressure check, plus I got a referral to see someone for a vitrectomy of my right eye. The floaters are getting really bad and, since it was such a miraculous improvement in my left eye, I'm anxious to get it done on the right.

Late April is when the southwest started burning. First came the Wallow fire in eastern Arizona which covered border towns like Reserve & Luna in heavy smoke. Albuquerque and Santa Fe also had dense, choking smoke so Celia brought our HEPA filters from the house to clear the crap out of the Montana. Santa Fe is something over 100 miles away from Wallow, AZ but you'd think it was just over the hill. For the first week we stayed inside and hugged the AC and the filters. [ Wallow was at 540,000 acres the last time I checked in mid-July. ]

las Conchas fire (los Alamos) the evening of 26 June.
About the time the wind shifted and gave us some relief from the smoke from Wallow, a fire started in Pacheco Canyon immediately north of Santa Fe. While we were all worrying about what was going to happen with that fire, another broke out in las Conchas canyon (a tree was knocked down by strong winds and damaged a power line) which threatened los Alamos and the Los Alamos National Labratory. This was (at least) the 2nd fire to threaten the town of los Alamos, the previous being in 2011. While they were building the fire crew for las Conchas, yet another fire broke out in Cochiti canyon, north of Cochiti reservation and south of las Conchas. [ las Conchas has become the largest wild fire in New Mexico history at over 150,500 acres when I updated this mid-July. It was considered 61% contained at that time. ]

las Conchas fire about 3 PM 26 June.
Even though it's now part of the las Conchas fire, we still see smoke from the Cochiti area. Pacheco is 80% contained with 10,500 acres burned. And the cost so far is $9,000,000 for Pacheco and $37,000,000 for las Conchas and growing. Yikes!

This is what las Conchas looked like from Santa Fe Skies a few hours after it started on 26 June 2011.

While we'd like to get on our way to Maine to visit our family, I'm not sure where we can go without either being too hot or in danger of yet another fire. What a summer!

12 April 2011

Postcard from New Mexico

Las Cruces, NM

We hunkered down at the KOA in Las Cruces waiting for the wind to ease so we could get to Santa Fe. The KOA has a wonderful view (I've said that before) which at the moment is non-existent: everything is obliterated by dust. Not only are the Organ Pipe Mountains lost from view, so too are the cultivated fields at the bottom of the hill where the park is situated... yikes!

This dust storm puts me in mind of childhood days in Stockton. They had dust storms too... peat dust. The afternoon wind would howl and the bottom land in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta would become airborne. Gave us something to chew as we struggled head-down into the blast. Not to mention what it did to the interior of a house!

The dogs could give a damn, of course. They were excited about new smells and new people to bark at till they got the required scratches behind the ears. So they're pretty much happy campers.

I had planned on 2 nites in order to let the wind die down, but the forecast for Santa Fe said there was a chance of rain then snow along with headwinds on the way there. So we stayed 3 nites in Las Cruces.

We had cross winds getting here from Benson, AZ. The rig did reasonably well and I didn't have a single surprise lane-change. Our MOR/Ryde pin box and suspension parts are amazing!

Santa Fe, NM

We rolled into Santa Fe Skies RV Park on Monday afternoon and had our choice of sites (we're ahead of the summer crowd I guess). We chose site Y-9 for our stay here.

We used to have a a fence about 10-20 yards behind the rig, then a view across the mesa toward the prison (3 miles away?) and the Ortiz Mountains on the horizon. Now the fence has been moved and the space between the rig and the new fence is filled with a solar array. The park has finished the installation of 810 solar panels, each capable of 238 Watts. At full output he solar array will generate 192 kW. Amazing stuff for a small privately owned RV park (125 spaces?).

There was no time to rest as I had the first of my regular doctor appointments starting at 10:00 the next morning. Along with doctors confirming we're still alive, we'll start getting the house ready to go on the market. So this is going to be a busy stay if we're to get on our way to Maine to see grand kids!

And that is a segue to fuel costs.

Saving $$$

Banks Power Shop
It's amazing what it costs to save money. Last January I had Banks Engineering in Azusa, CA install everything they offer for our 2008 Ford F-350. We skipped the Banks SpeedBrake since the Ford tow/haul mode seems to work OK. Since Banks doesn't remove the diesel particulate filter (the infamous DPF), we can't expect miraculous improvement in fuel economy like friends Dan & Betty got on their 2006 Dodge truck. Still we hoped for some gains to try and offset the rising cost of diesel... $4.36/gal (!) when we filled up in Santa Fe.

Banks showroom at the Power Shop
The bottom line has been a net gain. The last time we made this trip we ended up at 9.4 mpg as calculated by the built-in computer (Ford claims it's more accurate than odometer/fuel pump readings). This time the computer said 10.9 mpg which is a gain of about 16%. By my reckoning that means roughly every 7th tank will be free and is applied as a credit to the $4,500 investment in Banks gear. Each fill-up currently costs on the order of $150, so it's going to take a long while to recap the cost: 30 "free" tanks out of about 210 tanks altogether. At 250 miles/day that means we'll have to go almost 53,000 miles to break even. That's not an unreasonable distance for us since we've already put 32,000 on the truck since October 2009.

In the service bay at Banks
If you're gathering info on what Banks can do for your Ford 6.4 liter Power Stroke pulling over 15,000# (a 5th wheel) and you're not familiar with the region, here's a little geography lesson. The trip from Benson, AZ starts at about 3,600' elevation, goes thru a lot of +/- grade changes till it reaches Albuquerque, NM at about 5,300', then the last 50 miles is mostly up-hill to Santa Fe, NM. We're at 6,800' here at the park. The computed distance is at least 515 miles (Yahoo! maps), but we added about 45 miles running around Las Cruces and another 15 in Santa Fe before filling the tank. This means the truck's built-in computer, which maintains a 400-mile rolling average, had only current-trip data when we stopped with 576 miles on the odometer. We had some gusty crosswinds from Benson to Las Cruces, then relatively still air from Las Cruces to Santa Fe. If I had to venture a guess it would be that we saw about average mileage for this trip... crosswinds & no headwinds and a substantial elevation change.

31 March 2011

Postcard from Arizona- 5

Benson, AZ

Mike & Susan
A dance at the Saguaro SKP park club house
Life in the slow lane of southeast Arizona kept us busy with tacos on Monday night, fish fry on Friday nights, dances most Saturday nites and Celia's line dance classes 3 mornings each week. And there was a pet show as part of the park's Spring Fling. The competition was fierce with awards for tallest dog, shortest dog, oldest dog, youngest dog and the dog that came the greatest distance. Annie lost out on the tallest dog award by a hair, but she took losing very well and didn't pout at all. Mike and I, however, think she was cheated. And we're pouting!

We made a trip to Sierra Vista with Mike & Susan plus 4 of their visiting relatives. We went to the Golden Corral for the buffet dinner. I'm not a fan of buffets but the mountain of food for $10 was actually very good. We did nearly get trampled: we learned it's not a good idea to get in the way of hungry Minnesotans when it's feeding time! :)

The fire pit... a recycled washing machine tub!
And Mike organized a campfire to celebrate Susan's birthday. It wasn't too cold initially, but by 8:30 everyone was ready to go stand in front of a heater! The SKP park has a group area for these events which includes a fire ring made of an old washing machine tub. Worked great to cook hot dogs and roast some marshmallows. Celia put together a S'more for me which I mostly ended up wearing so I stuck with just marshmallows.

Broken water filter (new bowl in place)
We've made a couple trips to Santa Fe, NM since we first arrived in AZ. I had to have follow-up visits with the ophthalmologist. Each of those trips involved yet another semi-emergency with the water system. What a money pit the house has become! Day-to-day living on the premises would probably have prevented the problems becoming big as they would have been spotted early. But we like RV-living too much for that silliness, so we pay the piper. For instance I think I whined about the $1,700 water bill last entry. Since I posted that whine we were granted some relief by the water company and we now have a $1,300 credit on our account.

Which is a good thing since, just prior to our most recent visit, we learned there was yet another water leak. Again we don't know how long the leak was there but there it was anyway. We called Chris Blea immediately and he had it resolved the same day. It was a bad solder joint that started to leak for whatever reason. No broken copper pipes this time. At least we would have water when we arrived. Yeah, sure...

We had water alright, but there was no heat. We got to the house at about 11:00 pm on a Sunday and wondered why we didn't hear the boiler fire up when we turned up thermostats. I could make out the sound of what I thought might be water in the boiler turning to steam, so I assumed we had air in the lines associated with the water leak. Time to call Chris again. We were (again!) very thankful for our fireplace insert in the living room. Did a great job taking the chill off as the temps dropped in the evening.

Chris is now working for the golf course during the day so we had to wait till he was off. He bled the system several times but couldn't get rid of the problem. Eventually he found the circulation pump had failed and oh-by-the-way 2 of the several ball valves were leaking and needed replacement. He was back the next day with a new pump and 2 new ball valves. He had everything back in order quick enough. So now the heating system is working again and we'll not have that to deal with that when we return to Santa Fe in early April. But I can't help but wonder what other problem awaits our discovery!

So from the preceding you can anticipate we're getting ready to move the rig. Finally. We'll head back to Santa Fe and get busy getting the house on the market. We have a lot of stuff to find a home for (anybody need want a 60" loom?) and even more to just dump. We'll be keeping the truck busy hauling 'stuff'!

If my eye issues continue on the current track (things look decent at this point) we should be able to head for the northeast in July.