29 April 2012

Postcard from New Mexico- 4

29 April 2012

Santa Fe

Getting closer to D-Day. Maybe.

New glasses please!

All the appointments are done and last Tuesday we went to LensCrafters to order new lenses. Lenses cost a lot more than I remember the last time in 2010. All together it was about 12 days of diesel fuel for 5 pair of lenses plus one pair of frames- almost $2,400 after the 30% discounts. Yikes! As far as I know there's still no safe way to drive if you need glasses and don't have the right ones, so we paid the piper.

The biggest gripe for me was that the previous pair of clear progressive lenses (ordered from Eye Associates) were not ground to be centered in front of the eye: I have to turn my head slightly to the right (eyes to the left) and incline my head to find the best focus at shorter distances. I have the same problem with my sun glasses which also have progressive lenses. Plus I noticed that the lenses of my sun glass are starting to delaminate. Which is odd because they weren't supposed to be laminated in the first place. Progressive lenses are not for everyone, but maybe a contributing reason is that not every optical lab knows how to make and install them! I've had good luck with LensCrafters in the past, so my expectations are high.


With our lenses on order, it's time to once again clean and rearrange the basement (and maybe I'll discover where I put my knife sharpening tools- the Admiral is getting really cranky about dull knives!). My biggest problem is finding room for dog food. Lots of dog food! Annie has to eat a special diet as the higher fiber content of most dog food is an irritant to her gut. So we feed them both the same gastro-intestinal formulation made by Royal Canin. We go through a 10 kilo bag every 24 days, so we need about 7 bags of this pricey stuff to get the girls through the summer. It's only sold by vets and I don't want to mess with finding it as we travel. I try to buy the Royal Canin on the internet when I can and did get 3 bags from PetFlow.com, but the remaining 4 bags will have to come from Smith Veterinary Hospital here in Santa Fe.

Btw, Smith Veterinary is somewhat iconic in these parts. Remember Smokey Bear, the mascot of the US Forest Service? The original Smokey Bear (not the cartoon bear!) was orphaned in a fire in Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico, in May 1950. He had burns on his feet and abdomen, so the USFS brought the cub to Santa Fe where Dr. Ed Smith, the founder of Smith Veterinary, treated his burns. Today his grand daughter Kathy and her husband Mike Dobesh, both vets, run the veterinary hospital.

The Admiral has been doing some spring cleaning and has managed to fill the back seat of the truck with odds and ends of clothing, exercise mats, place mats, extra cups, etc. You wouldn't think getting rid of a few extra clothes would make much difference, but the 2 wardrobes and the bedroom storage cabinet are actually useable again. Big improvement.

The truck. Again.

My biggest concern is the truck. It will have to go back to Spear's Auto Center. Scott found the biggest problem with the Banks tuner (a pushed-back pin in the main harness), but it appears there's another connection problem somewhere. Frequently, not too long after having started the truck, the engine will hesitate for a moment. After that hesitation it runs OK, and (maybe it's my imagination) the mileage seems to improve. Plus there's sometimes a code coming from the Banks equipment that says there's an 'Engine Position Sensor fault'. Whatever that sensor is, it sounds like an intermittent. So I'm convinced there's another problem in the wiring that started when everything was disconnected back in November.

Streaming video

I bought a video-streaming box (ROKU 2 XS) in hopes we can download a movie here and there. Works with all the major sources. Getting movies on DVD from NetFlix will be a problem while we're moving. An internet friend in NYC got one of these ROKU boxes and thought it was a winner. Probably is if you have a good internet connection, but the flaky connections we have in RV parks may present a challenge! It was cheap enough ($90, free shipping) that I thought we could experiment.

The countdown

It all depends on the truck and Scott Spear. If he gets lucky and can find the bad connection, we can be on our way about 9 May. If it proves to be as difficult as most ghost problems, it could be longer. In any case we don't want to get on the road until it's resolved.

19 April 2012

Postcard from New Mexico- 3

18 April 2012

Santa Fe

We're plowing through the necessary steps of getting on the road headed east. I've got a new prescription for eye glasses and Celia will get hers in a few days. Celia is done with the internist and has her replacement prescriptions. So with us nearly ready, it was time to get the truck to the doctor too...

Cedar Crest

While we were wintering in Arizona we got Ford's newest Power Control Module firmware installed (factory recall); the high pressure fuel pump replaced (warranty); and a new engine wiring harness installed (warranty). But after all this free warranty work, the Banks tuner was not working properly. Each time the dealer tried reconnecting the Banks system, the truck didn't run right and started throwing codes (error messages).

Our truck in the service bay
So the time had come to go see the New Mexico diesel and Banks expert in Cedar Crest. Spear's Auto Center helped friends Mike & Susan get their Banks-equipped 2003 Ford diesel (7.3 liter) running better than it had in the 8 years they'd owned it. Scott Spear listened to my tale of woe to get a few clues, reconnected the Banks harness & modules, and guess what? It didn't run right and started throwing codes. [ Sound familiar?! ]

One short call later to Banks Tech Support and Scott had a few ideas of where to look. Off he went again into the bowels of our truck and, sure enough, pin 39 of the Banks harness wasn't seated properly... the source of the problem. Possibly a pin that hadn't been seated properly when the harness was first built. It's something I've dealt with in an earlier life, but we'll never know. Took another 1/2 hour of contortion and liberal use of magnifying glass and elbow grease, and Scott had it fixed. Yee haw!

That's Scott on the phone in the back
Now the truck seems to run great and we're still getting good mileage. What it does with a load (the trailer) is still a mystery, but that day will be here soon enough.

When all was said and done, I felt really good about going out of the way to see Scott and his dad Gary at Spear's Auto Center. It was well worth the extra miles and was money well spent. These guys are good and they're Banks dealers. In our case, that's a big deal. We still have a few months or 14,000 miles of warranty left, but in another 14,000 miles (or July, the month the warranty was activated in 2007) I'll probably talk to them about what else they can do to improve our fuel consumption.
A customer's car... in for service.

Diesel Conditioner

Btw, I was told these Ford diesels need to be fed a diet supplement of diesel conditioner to keep injectors operating properly. They said most diesel conditioners (a chemical product added to the tank before pumping in the diesel, so you have to estimate how much fuel you're going to pump) should be OK although they weren't so sure about the Power Service product WalMart sells. But conditioner from Racor, MotorCraft, AMSoil and a few others is supposed to be good. I chose Racor instead of the Power Service conditioner I'd used previously (it had started developing a whitish sediment...??) and bought enough to get us to the east coast and back.

Of eyeglasses and cameras

I've been having a hard time using the viewfinder on my new Sony NEX-7. The eyecup is pretty stiff and mashes the lens of the glasses against my eye. The alternate is to remove the glasses or use the 3" screen on the camera back which washes out in sunlight. A few days ago I found a listing for Hoodman PhotoFrames. These titanium frames (I wonder if they're really titanium or if that's the color?) allow you to have your optometrist install lenses with your prescription, either clear or colored. When it's time to shoot, just flip the lens up out of the way and hold the camera to the eye... no eyeglasses in the way of the too-stiff eyecup. Sounds good, but we'll see just how good!

14 April 2012

Postcard from New Mexico- 2


Santa Fe, NM

Getting settled has been a breeze compared to earlier trips here. We didn't kill one another while I backed the rig into the space (I wish I were better at that!), and before we knew it we were done and off the road before working folks started coming home. The dogs would have appreciated getting out of the truck a little quicker since it was time to eat, but they forgave us!

Even the sewer connection went easier: I pulled the sewer hose out of the boom. That way I could run it directly which put it further uphill. The park's sewer connect-point is too close to the rear of the rig with a sideways slope to the site making it a challenge to keep the hose from falling off the support. Of course, if you have a hose connection that starts at the rear you'd wonder what I was going on about.

2 of my 4 appointments are out of the way: the dermatologist got to play with his liquid nitrogen, and the internal medicine doctor confirmed that, contrary to rumors on the street, I really do have a heart. I have an eye check on Monday and dentist on Tuesday and, barring a surprise, The Captain will be nearly ready to go as soon as he gets new glasses. And the Admiral is working her way through her to-do list including a doctor visit and lab work. So we're moving along.

While we were out and about I stopped at Chavez Jewelers. Among many other items Chavez offers, they're Citizen watch dealers and I need a new watch band for my titanium watch & band. The band fit so loose that it would slip down over my wrist where it got stressed when I bent my wrist. That foolishness finally broke a pin and the pin isn't replaceable. So now I get to buy a $200 titanium replacement band. But the watch has been flawless for the 9 years I've had it, so I'll spend the $$$.

Santa Fe Skies added a dog park this past winter, right in an unused space between 2 solar arrays. It now has the Kelly seal of approval. She did laps at near light speed, pausing only long enough to christen it with urine. (I guess you realize dog pee is really canine Pee-mail, right?). Kelly is a happy camper! Annie is reserving her opinion. She just strolls around sniffing "stuff". And has war games with Kelly as they pretend to kill one another. Life is grand in the dog park!

Celia arranged for us to have dinner with friends Carol & Jay. We haven't seen one another in 6 months, so it was fun catching up. We had dinner at a new place recently opened by the chef that owned Josh's. The Ranch House, across from Outback, has the same great BBQ but with much nicer surroundings. Pardon the pun, but I pigged out on pulled pork. Like the old Josh's (now closed), you have to arrive early (5:30 PM works) cuz it has big crowds!

And taxes are done. I hate doing taxes more than getting a cortizone shot in the ankle, so I put it off till Friday (but why did I pick Friday the 13th?!) and had everything e-Filed by 3:00.

Still have to arrange for the truck to be looked at by Spear's Automotive in Cedar Crest- they're a Banks dealer. It's beginning to look like the pacing item.

11 April 2012

Postcard from New Mexico- 1

12 April 2012 


Santa Fe, NM

On Sunday morning (sort of... 10:15 AM is nearly not morning!), 4/8, we left SKP Saguaro Co-op in Benson headed for Las Cruces, NM. Spent the night at the KOA in Las Cruces where we collapsed into bed. We are definitely out of shape from having too much fun in Benson!

It was an uneventful trip (the best kind) and we arrived by about 4:00 PM. I thought we'd made it by 3:00 PM but forgot we went from MST (Arizona doesn't use Daylight Saving Time) to MDT. So much for an early arrival.

While we didn't suffer any breakdowns on the trip, we did have some strong winds for the last 90 miles. Makes for a tiring trip with lots of wheel correction which made The Captain a little grumpy! But the next day those headwinds became either tail winds or still air and the driving was much easier. We arrived in Santa Fe Skies RV Park by 4:00 PM. This will be home for the next month as we do the usual doctor/dentist/dermatologist/ophthalmologist appointments. We really need to find these services in Arizona (Benson, Sierra Vista, Tucson), but we know these Santa Fe doctors and have hesitated starting all over again.

At any rate, the Montana is in its back-in site ($650/mo including electric) which will be home for the next month as we get ready for the road east to Maine. With luck I'll keep from breaking the Montana as I did last year!

Fuel Economy

Btw, we'd been running at 11.2 mpg coming out of Benson, but that gave way to 10.1 by the time we got to Las Cruces with the nasty headwinds. The next day we drove the 280 miles to Santa Fe, NM. I initially tried driving at 60 mph but between the extra speed and some uphill running the mileage dropped off below 10 mpg. So I throttled back to 55 mph and watched the mileage slowly creep up to 10.3 till we got to Albuquerque. From Albuquerque to Santa Fe is an elevation change of about 2,500' and there went the mileage again! We ended at 9.9 mpg for the whole 505 miles. A non-F350 diesel truck owner might not think that's much to write home about, but compared to 8.4-8.6 mpg on a previous Las Cruces-to-Santa Fe trip, that's 15%-18% improvement over the old firmware. And this without the Banks electronics connected (intake filter, exhaust and inter-cooler are still in place). I doubt we'll get the 15%-20% increase in fuel economy from the Banks we got when the older Ford firmware installed, but hopefully we'll see some additional improvement. At more than $4.15/gal for ultra-low sulfur diesel, everything little bit helps.

It turns out the new Ford engine-control firmware Lawley Ford installed in 11/2011 as a recall fixes (among other things) my biggest gripe about the 6.4 liter diesel. The cleaning cycle of the diesel particulate filter (the DPF) has been changed significantly and now occurs less frequently... perhaps every 750-1,000 miles vs. every 75-100 miles. This change makes for a big improvement in fuel economy. And why did Ford engineers make the change? Well, it wasn't to reduce owner expenses. Rather, Ford wanted to reduce their own warranty expenses. Turns out the frequent DPF cleaning cycle was burning out temp sensors. DPF cleaning is done at 1,250 deg F and these temp sensors are used to control that upper temperature limit. So, while Ford's improvement is very much appreciated, their motivation was apparently entirely self-serving.

So, now I'm anxious to get the Banks operating again. And to that end I got the name of the mechanic who  helped RVing friends Mike & Susan with their 2002 Ford F350 which has the older 7.3 liter diesel. Spear's Automotive in Cedar Crest, NM is apparently a Banks dealer and repair center and they made a very big improvement in Mike & Susan's truck. So we will be making a visit there before we leave town in hopes of getting our Banks controller running right.

08 April 2012

Postcard from Arizona- 8

April 2012

Benson, AZ

Been awhile (mea culpa!). Here's a quick summary...


Retro Rockets at the New Year's Dance
RVers seem to want entertainment if they stay put for any length of time. SKP Saguaro indulges that with local groups like The Elliotts (Benson locals), The Partners (singing duo), Johnny Bencomo (solo 24-string guitar, singer), The Retro Rockets ('60s rock), and cowboy poets Waddie Mitchell (one of the 2 original organizers of the Elko, NV Cowboy Poetry Festival) and Baxter Black (Benson rancher, author, former veterinarian, long-time radio commentator).

Miller Mamas... 'What's shakin', baby?'
They also got residents and visitors on stage for things like the park's annual Out Takes. Celia goes to a 3 times-per-week line dance class and her dance buddy Kim asked Celia plus 3 additional line dancers to perform a line dance done to a Glen Miller medley. They christened themselves The Miller Mamas, were the first act on and were awarded great applause. Well done Admiral!

The park also does an annual Ladies' Night Out dinner for women only. Again, Kim convinced Celia and their buddy Alaska Linda to help her do a lip-sync of Dianna Ross & The Supremes doing "Stop! In the Name of Love". Their routine got a standing ovation. Celia says they didn't think of themselves as the Supremes but rather as the Extremes. No photos cuz no men allowed. Well... unless they're serving dinner!

RVing friend Mike Phelps plus 6 others did a piece for Ladies' Nite Out which was a synchronized swimming exhibition... sans swimming pool & water!

Both acts were so well received they were asked for a repeat performance the following month so that those who weren't back in the park yet could see what they did.

Btw, when they were rehearsing "Stop! In the Name of Love", Celia listened carefully to the lyrics and thought "Is this how I would handle this situation?" The answer was a clear "Hell no!" So if they do it again next year they're going to lip sync the song "Hit the Road Jack!"

Side Trips

Jeff, Brian & Susan and a very patient BBC waitress!

Bisbee is a fun place to visit for a few hours. We learned about the Bisbee Breakfast Club restaurant in the old town of Lowell (now part of Bisbee) and have gone there a few times. We had lunch there with friends Jeff, Brian & Susan (plus Donna, Susan & Mike off to the left) then did the tour of the town... 10 minutes?

Lowell's theater used to be the fire station.
The old town sports what looks like an old movie theater, but we later discovered (by looking beneath the marquee) that the building actually started life as a the fire station for this town.

There's not a single gas station anywhere in this tiny town... the Gulf sign and the non-functioning gas pumps further down the street are artifacts of days gone by.
Restored Indian motorcycle circa 1930 (?)
The local motorcycle shop has showcased a restored Indian across from its' shop. But don't let the old Indian fool you... theirs is a Harley shop.And the Bisbee Breakfast Club (called the BBC by everyone that eats there) is a frequent destination of hungry bikers. I understand they also have a location in Tucson.
Seems an unlikely spot for a gas pump right outside The Palace (yikes!), but this old relic is actually in front of what was once a Chevrolet dealership.

The sign for The Palace makes me wonder if it was once a hotel. Or my favorite speculation... perhaps a brothel! Nearly everything but the bike shop and the co-op organic market on the North end of the main street seem to be unoccupied.

Down and out for awhile

While all the rehearsals were going on for Out Takes and Ladies' Nite Out, Celia kept saying she wasn't sure if she was having a problem with allergies or if she was getting a cold. Well, the data is now in and it's official: it was definitely a cold. It was a really slow moving virus that hit nearly all the park and took weeks to get run its' course. I was about 10-days behind The Admiral, and it lasted longer. In fact, I was starting to worry that I wouldn't get over it before we had to hit the road, but after about 6 weeks I realized I was coughing less and sleeping at night instead of all day, so I guess that's behind us.

Lawley Ford in Sierra Vista, AZ

When we arrived in Benson, the truck kind of gave up the ghost. Turned out to be the high pressure fuel pump which Lawley Ford in Sierra Vista replaced under warranty. Replacing the pump is a really big deal as the cab has to be lifted off the chassis to get to the pump. The truck was back to full power again, though I thought I had some sense of 'harshness' when running on the highway... not a miss, but more like some cylinders were producing a little more power than others.

We also had a connector backshell missing from the engine wiring. A backshell is a plastic hood the covers and protects the wires as they leave the back of the connector and in this case also includes a mechanical device to separate/re-connect the connector halves. Dunno when it broke and fell off, but I suspect it was missing when we bought the truck from CarMax in Albuquerque, NM. You need the mechanism because these 96-pin connectors require 20#-30# of separation force. The connector is on the engine wiring harness and, as it turns out, the whole harness has to be replaced if the backshell is damaged. The diesel tech said he thought he might be able to get it done under warranty if we waited 3 months (he was afraid Lawley Ford would be blamed for damaging it). Sure enough, Lawley Ford, and particularly the diesel tech Leeroy Miles and the service rep Joe Wozniak, convinced Ford to replace the harness. As it turns out that was exactly what needed to be done: a surprise benefit was that the 'harshness' I mentioned when running above 45 mph is gone! The truck is running better than I can ever recall.

My point of all this diatribe is that if you have a Ford diesel (or gas!) truck and find yourself needing repairs or service anywhere near Sierra Vista, AZ, don't be afraid to give this dealer a try. Initially I was very hesitant because we have all the Banks gear installed, but it wasn't the issue reported by some Ford truck owners where a dealer refused warranty coverage because they claimed the modification might have caused a problem. Lawley's tech disconnected the Banks electronics, then ran their regular diagnostics. I had to pay the labor of the extra steps, but that was a long way from the $3,200 bill to replace the high pressure fuel pump or the $1,200 to replace the harness!

Toyota Service

We had towed our Toyota Highlander to Benson so we didn't have to drive the truck for errands. Since we're leaving it there for the several months we'll be gone, we wanted it serviced so the old oil didn't sit in it while it sits unused. Plus we had an incentive to get a couple recalls done, especially the cooling unit for the power inverter which can cause a fire on certain serial number cars. We contacted Sierra Toyota in Sierra Vista and they checked our car. Thankfully we aren't affected by the recall for the power inverter, but we did have another recall for clips to be replaced on the carpet. So we were able to get that done before leaving plus have the car serviced while we waited.

To make it even better, friends Mike & Susan followed us to the Toyota dealer then took us to lunch at Golden Corral. I'm sure you know the place.. it's the all-you-can-eat place with the Chocolate Fountain in the dessert bar. About the time we finished lunch I got the call that Highlander was ready, so the timing was perfect.

So, why all the blah-blah about getting our Toyota serviced? Because we paid about 1/2 what we normally pay the independent mechanic in Santa Fe. And that mechanic charges much less than Beaver Toyota of Santa Fe charges. We thought it was a bargain for the routine maintenance service we wanted, and we're not used to dealers of any brand being this reasonable. Plus they washed the car and vacuumed the interior. Thank you Sierra Toyota!

Changing Cameras

My Canon 5D-II DSLR has gone to a new home along with all the lenses in January. In place of the 21.1 MP 5D-II, I bought a 24.3 MP Sony NEX-7. The NEX-7 is a much smaller camera body, easy to carry, and has more pixels on a smaller APS-C sized sensor. The Canon lenses I had won't work on the Sony (yes, they make adapters, but the adapters didn't include autofocus or aperture adjustment at the time I sold everything). So I have to replace lenses.

Initially I bought only 1 lens- there was just nothing available till the end of March! The 18-200mm zoom lens I bought, designed for Sony's NEX video cameras, is pretty big compared to other E-mount lenses of the NEX line. But images are very good for a lens which covers focal lengths from 18mm thru 200mm (11X zoom range). Recently I've added several other of Sony's E-mount lens and have still managed to go from about 25 lbs. of gear to maybe 10 lbs. even with all the new lenses. Best of all there's no loss in resolution and equal or (under some conditions) better image quality thanks to Sony's brand new EXMOR sensor.

Sony Thailand under water in October 2011.
The wait for the NEX-7 was significant as Sony's Thailand factory, built specifically to build only the NEX line of still- and video-cameras and accessories, was devastated by floods in October of 2011. Since Sony had to start from scratch again, there have been significant delays. Lenses are way behind the need of users, and some models of NEX cameras, reviewed using pre-production samples, were many months behind the expected 1st delivery date. But all in all the NEX-7 is proving to be a very influential camera in the market as it has made a surprising splash in the world of interchangeable-lens-mirrorless-cameras (sort of a 'range finder camera' style reminiscent of the old Leica IIIF film cameras if you're old enough to remember those).

I still have my Panasonic LX5 as back-up. It's a very small camera which would easily fit in a pocket were it not for the protruding Leica lens that Panasonic designed into this camera and the optional electronic viewfinder. If the NEX-7 proves to be as good as I think it will, the LX5 will probably be going to a new home as well.

Memorable quotes

Signature tag from Bill McClung on the Sony NEX Forum at http://dpReview.com:

Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark; professionals built the Titanic!

Particularly meaningful to a couple old toots that discovered RVing during their 'golden years'! :)