Friday, December 25, 2009

Natchez Trace option

As we near our departure date for the Southwest, I'm continuing to look at travel routes and potential overnight spots, focusing on Walmarts and Flying J's along Route 81 toward Knoxville. One of the great guides that helping me look at options further south is Marianne Edward's "RV Boondocking in Southern Texas." She has advice about getting south out of the Nashville area and suggests taking the 444 mile Natchez Trace Parkway from Nashville to Natchez. I have the feeling that we will be sick of interstates and trailer trucks by the time we get to Nashville. We can thaw out, take it easier, and see a historic part of our country.

Here's what Wikipedia says about the Trace:
The Natchez Trace, a 440-mile-long path extending from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, linked the Cumberland, Tennessee and Mississippirivers. It was a traditional Native American trail and was later also used by early European explorers as both a trade and transit route in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Today, the trail has been commemorated by the 444-mile-long Natchez Trace Parkway, which follows the approximate path of the trace.[1] The trail itself has a long and rich history, filled with brave explorers, dastardly outlaws and daring settlers. Parts of the original trail are still accessible.

Edward's has some good ideas on stopping points at free campgrounds -- we'll likely stop near the north end at Meriwether Lewis near the north end at mile marker 385.9 and perhaps then at Rocky Springs near the south end. We may take an extra day and do a little exploring before heading over to the Texas coast.

I'd love to have you comment below sharing any advice or recommendations you might have about driving the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


I bought and installed new support rod for propane tanks and after a lot of drilling, was able to paint the parts yesterday -- and install and test everything today before the snow hit. Things are buttoned up, the 'stream is winterized and parked until mid-January, and we're starting to plan the route and stops for our trip to Texas. With a wood fire going and snow falling, it's nice to think of warm desert camping.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Back Home

Yesterday, we said our goodbyes and hitched up the Airstream, taking our time to make sure things were done correctly. I found that the threaded bar holding the two propane tanks in place was snapped -- another good thing to fix before heading SW. I was able to tie it down for the trip home and will now deal with rusted nuts and cold metal.

The traffic on a Tuesday after Thanksgiving was light and the roads were dry -- although we were worrying some about the Vermont forecast of snow showers. The route out of Merrimac is quite winding and relatively narrow, and after a five-mile detour around an accident, we were heading Northwest toward I-93. No other travel trailers heading north on December 1st although we saw a few rigs headed in the opposite direction.

Pulling the Airstream, we have to plan our coffee stops a little more -- remembering places where there is adequate parking and turn-around room. We made our normal pit stops and after an uneventful trip (always nice), we were headed through Montpelier, wondering about the state of our driveway. It has a tough turn entrance, is steep, and is usually icy from frozen ground water. Well, we found it relatively dry and had no trouble getting up it, backing the Airstream into its resting space (where it will sit until we dig it out in mid-January), and unpacking.

It was a nice trip -- a turkey trot, a wonderful Thanksgiving, lots of family time, and a great birthday celebration for a dear friend. We debugged a few more Airstream problems and had good traveling up and back. A nice last shakedown before snow hits.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Ongoing Saga

I somehow got both the furnace and the refrigerator running -- and just in time for heat as the weather turned even colder. I'm still not sure what the problem was -- I removed the exhaust system and banged on some things, wiggled some electrical leads, and probably for other reasons, the heating system kicked in and stayed lit -- operating normally.

So it's been comfortable in the Airstream. Last night, as I returned from the house, I found that the lights were dim and the blower was laboring. Dying battery! I guess it's not surprising given the draw of the blower motor. (I'm planning to have at least one more battery for boondocking -- so this confirms that plan.)

It was late so I nosed the truck in toward the trailer, hitched up some jumper cables, and got juice flowing so that the heating system and lights worked.

You can guess the rest of the story: this morning, the truck battery was too low to turn the engine over! Fortunately, a quick jump start from my daughter's Jetta got the Ford going, and we've got the trailer battery on a charger. We'll be all set and have new impetus to set up a better system for future boondocking.

Friday, November 27, 2009


We hitched up and headed out mid-morning on Wednesday for Thanksgiving in Massachusetts. We're bringing the Airstream as part of the continued shakedown cruise before our Southwest trip.

I tend to forget how steep the hills are on the interstates in Vermont until I start hauling the trailer out of Montpelier and start the long climb to Berlin. The Ford truck chugs away but our speed drops and I can almost see the gas tank gauge drop. There are several climbs that have to be at the maximum grade allowed -- and it is very tempting to then let it fly down the hills but troopers (and trailer tires) don't work off average speed.

The trip down was foggy and had more traffic than normal, but the early start avoided the heavy load on Wednesday night. We had one close call in the right lane in New Hampshire with a stream of merging traffic which refused to yield -- and a truck on my tail -- and the left lane filled. It was just one of those ten seconds of either an accident or a close call. Horn and brake and accelleration and a few curse words got it done.

Arriving in Merrimack, we geed and hawed backing the trailer into the driveway and to a cleared out area we had previously prepared. It was nearing dark at 4:00 as we set up -- the plan being for the dog and I to stay in the camper and Mary to sleep in the house.

To make a long story short, I soon found out that the Atwood 8500 furnace is not working. We have used it several times before without problems but this time, the blower starts, it ignites as it should and heat flows for about 7 seconds, then the heat stops. It does that three times and then just refuses to try to light.

So, it's been a camping experience for the last three days. I've managed to take the edge off heat-wise by running a stove burner but at night, it's strictly sleeping bags and the dog for warmth. Thanksgiving weekend is not the best time to get answers and the cold rain has made working on things unpleasant. It could be a gas valve issue, a sensor, a mud wasp nest -- who knows? I'm glad to encounter it now rather than mid-trip on a cold night out west.

On the plus side, we have a nice woodsy setup here at Jennifer's and it will be a good way to visit and keep the impact low. We ran a 5K yesterday, a family tradition, and our grandson ran a kid's fun run. Thanksgiving was wonderful and we have much to be thankful for. A cold Airstream is really not that big a deal in the scheme of things.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Look out for Muffler Men

I got an email from Gabriel Aldaz, a friend in Copenhagen with whom I'd once been discussing a bike touring book. Life (a new child) changed some of his touring plans but he told me:
"I have not worked on my bicycle stories, but I have been wrapping up a different project. You will think that I am crazy, but I have written an entire book on a specific kind of 20-foot-tall fiberglass statue, known as the Muffler Man. These guys are all over the US - there is even a tracking chart on Roadside book tells about how I first encountered this statue in 1984 and the ensuing 20-year (with many long breaks in between) scavenger hunt to discover its origins."
I love it when I brush up against something that I know nothing about and find out that there is a bunch of people who do -- and like barbed wire collectors, orienteerers, or members of Vermont's 251 club, are pretty passionate about their activity. So I've already boned up on how "to avoid the social embarrassment of incorrectly categorizing a muffler man sighting by studying his simple features and variations" and reviewed the U.S. map with Muffler Man sightings.What's this got to do with Airstreaming? Well, I've never seen one of these dudes and since we're heading through many states with Muffler Men, we might just track down some of these along the way. It's a neat part of roadside Americana. For equal opportunity viewing, we'll also keep an eye open for UniRoyal Gals. Stay tuned for our results.

top photo from bradbridgewater lower photo from Mykl Roventine

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Restoring a '61 Airstream

Over the years in aviation, I’ve known quite a few airplane builders and restorers. Their attention to detail and perseverance amaze me -- they work years and years on their planes. Some then fly them a lot, others seem to prefer to work on them or start a new project. I’ve always been more interested in flying than building.

I think it might be the same with vintage Airstreams. Some folks love to tinker with them and their shiny babies hardly ever leave the driveway. Others head on out. My brother is the latter type.

He and his wife have owned a small Airstream for a decade and have logged thousands of miles each winter, spending months in south or southwest U.S. But over a year ago, he bought a tired old ‘61 Airstream, a 24-footer, and has bitten off an awfully-difficult renovation project. Having seen it gutted this summer and thinking, “No way are you traveling with this in December, ” I went up to see the project yesterday. Well, I think they’ll make it.

Having small little fixes to do on our own Airstream, I get tired just thinking of the work he’s doing. Right now, he’s finishing the plumbing -- after having a grey water tank added and completely redoing the belly pan. Later this week, he’ll start the electrical. The walls are all insulated and back in place, painted professionally in a warm yellow. The gaucho is out for recovering, the cupboards are all refinished, the floor is done.

We plan to meet up with them in Big Bend National Park in late January. I’ll look for the shiny vintage Airstream with the Vermont plates. I hope my admiration for Barry and Mica’s skills and energy are apparent: it’s wonderful to see a tired old camper restored to 2010 standards -- but keeping its 1960’s look. It’s tempting to consider a project .... no, I think I’ll just hook up and go.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Planning our SW trip – medical preparation

As we prepare for our trip and start planning routes and stops, we are also starting to gather ideas on personal preparation for the two months we’ll be traveling. Here are some of the steps we’re taking regarding medical issues:
1. We have advance directives (health care proxy, power of attorney and a living will) prepared and appropriate people have copies. We will take a set with us.
2. Our medical insurance is national in scope and should be fine throughout the U.S. We do not plan to enter Mexico this trip.
3. We use mail order prescriptions which normally are good for 90 days worth of meds. We’ll likely have to set up a mail drop midway. We can order online from the road.
4. We have contact lists for doctors on our iPhones but will print them out with names, addresses, phone/fax numbers and e-mail addresses.
5. Likewise, in the Airstream we plan to carry emergency information including health history, emergency contacts, current medication list and allergies.
6. Mary has a current Medic Alert bracelet.
7. We’ll carry several first aid kits in the truck and Airstream.

Got some other ideas for us? Comment below.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Lessons Learned

Ever since we bought the Airstream this Fall, I've been concerned about tire failures -- mainly because of the stories I've read on blogs and the damage to the wheel well on our A/S from an incident several years ago. The tires were about six years old and in spite of their good tread, there were a few small cracks in the sidewalls. I replaced all four, learning how to hoist the trailer (using 2 x 6 planks) and getting ready for trouble on the road. Little did I know that my tow vehicle tires would cause me grief first.

The truck is a 2007 and there are only 16,000 miles on it and the tires so I've been pretty confident of having good rubber for the winter and for our upcoming trip. Well, not so fast. Last week, I was driving down to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center for a routine appointment with my cardiologist. It is about a 1 + 20 trip and about 45 minutes into the trip down I-89, the tire warning light came on in the truck. I noticed it right away -- but because my previous Honda had many false warnings of the tire light, kept going. I passed the Bethel rest stop which is closed for budget reasons (thanks Gov. Douglas) and one exit where I knew there was no service stations. I was hoping to make it to a rest area in New Hampshire and the truck felt fine.

Just as I crossed the Connecticut River and approached busy Exit 20 for West Lebanon, a tire blew. I was in the left lane and managed to veer through the stream of traffic to the right breakdown lane and hobbled to a stop just before the exit. The traffic streaming by shook the truck and I had to wait to even open the door and get out to check the damage. I was so close to the guard rail that I couldn't fully open the right door.

The right rear tire had shredded after blowing. I looked underneath at the spare tire hanging there, as the traffic zipped by -- and realized I had no idea how to extract the tire or even find the jack. (I had the truck about five months but figured I was good for a while tire-wise.)

Fortunately, I had good cell coverage and called the doc and cancelled and then called AAA. They said about 30 minutes and that's about what it took. I remembered that I had some road flares so after fiddling with the instructions, got them going up the breakdown lane as a warning.

My dog, who was in the jump seat, needed a walk and I needed to get us away from the truck and traffic so I extricated her, got her underneath the guardrail, and we walked back and forth on the steep embankment until the wrecker arrived. Tieing her to convenient post, I watched the young man use the long rod to lower the spare tire down and then change the tire. The spare, fortunately, was a full-size tire and brand-new. In ten minutes we were all set, and after thanks and a tip, he found a break in traffic and ran interference with his well-lit truck while I got going and off at the exit.

Of course, the spare tire has no sensor so the tire light was on the whole way home. It was a good lesson to me to believe the warning light and stop and inspect things right away. It also showed me how to use the spare tire system so if I need to in some remote area out west, I can do it. And the final lesson is to keep renewing our AAA membership - you never know.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Getting Out of Dodge

We've had our first snowfall, which melted right away, and the Airstream is perched on the side of our front yard headed toward warmer climes. Even though it will be several months, and several feet of snow to move beforehand, our trip to the Southwest is in our minds. We've got travel guides, vacation material from Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico tourist offices, and the trailer is winterized and waiting.

One of the big concerns is timing our departure and getting south of the snow/slush zone with dry roads and no blizzards to fight. I know too well how tricky winter driving can be -- and as a pilot, also know how unreliable long range weather forecasts are. However, my brother has done it for years -- picking a window of decent weather, and driving long distances until he gets out of snow country.

Getting out of Vermont is not easy hauling a trailer. Getting down our driveway isn't either -- summer or winter. However, if we avoid the passes in the Green Mountains, we can hit Route 7 and take our normal cut-over to the Glens Falls and then take the Northway (I-87) south to Albany.

My thinking at this point is to take I-88 over to Binghampton and head south on I-81, which can be terrible in winter heading down toward Wilkes-Barre. We'll have to stop somewhere north of Harrisburg I suspect, and then head south toward Knoxville. Haven't thought too much about beyond there -- since I may have an airplane to look at in the Knoxville area. (I'm in the market for an old Luscombe)

I've done some online research on Flying J and Walmart locations along the way and need to gameplan as to how and when to activate the winterized systems. As I sit in front of our woodstove, it's fun to think about heading into warm dry desert territory in early 2010. We just have to make sure we get out of Vermont unscathed -- easier said than done in January.

photo from skidrd

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Time to winterize

Yikes! The Airstream is covered with frost this morning - it's 31 degrees outside- and I'm just starting to read up on winterizing.

I need to get some RV anti-freeze and get serious about getting things ready for winter. I need to get my hands on an air-compressor to blow the lines dry and find out which valves isolate the water heater.

The previous owner left a number of cryptic notes on fittings he changed and tips on draining sumps -- and reviewing them, I'm getting a better sense of the process.

RV anti-freeze is about $4.00/gallon and as it turns out, my neighbor has a small air compressor. Now he just has to find the fitting for tire valves (nothing like being a picky borrower.)

So, I'm draining the drinking water tank through the spigot on the bottom and will read once more all the guidance I'm finding online and with the materials that came with the Airstream.

This isn't rocket science -- and once I've done it - I'll have it down for future winters. I'll tackle it in the next day or so and report back. Meanwhile, I'm checking the forecast - 32 tonight but getting down to 26 later in the week. Tomorrow is winterization day!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Sad Homecoming

A beautiful oceanside morning greeted us as we began our preparations to return to Vermont. One last walk on the beach to check out the seals and it was time to hook up the Airstream and head on out. Last minute checklist to make sure the TV antenna is withdrawn and the footpads retracted, and a smooth dumping of wastewater, and we were on our way to I-95 north.

Traffic was light and the foliage color improved as we headed up I-89. Stopping at a favorite New Hampshire rest stop (Springfield), we had lunch in the Airstream, with the heater going, while the Vizsla munched on a couple of biscuits. Here’s a picture of Mary with the pretty view in the background (and the foreground.)

We wanted to get home mid-afternoon since I had a land trust meeting in the early evening. We made it through the tourist-laden streets of Montpelier and up our steep driveway. The house was as we left it and after starting up the water system, I unhooked the trailer and parked the truck. Then I glanced up at the bee yard. Chaos! A bear had broken through the electric fence.

I ran up to encounter a picture of destruction with parts of beehives scattered every which way, fences down and posts leaning, and a few clusters of bees trying to stay warm. One hive was simply ruined, with no bees left at all. Three out of the five hives were destroyed and one other had been moved off its base but not toppled.

It’s tough to see bees, who worked so hard all year to construct wonderful vibrant communities, uprooted by a bear. I don’t hunt -- and intellectually know that beehives are an attractive nuisance to wild bruins -- yet, it really torques me off.

I had about an hour to put the pieces back together, put up new wire and insulators, and shower before leaving for my meeting. I got one hive back together with the hope that it will survive since there were quite a few bees left. However, if the queen was killed, they’ll never make it. The other hive with a few bees has little hope -- but I put it together and will probably try to combine it with one of the two hives that were untouched.

We’d had a wonderful trip, a great time with our daughter and her family, an inaugural overnight by our grandson, and some wonderful scenery of the ocean and river and fall foliage. This loss ruined the end but it’s important to keep things in perspective. We’ll restock the bee colonies next spring and buy a new battery for electric fence. For the short run, we’ll check each evening for revisits by our black furry friends and hope that our newly strengthened fence will keep them at bay. Stay tuned.

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Night Visitor

We had our first overnight visitor to the Airstream last night. Our eight-year-old grandson, Mac, stayed with me last night as Mary stayed with his parents in Merrimac.

Penny, our Vizsla, was pretty interested in the new addition to our camping family but we got her settled. After some initial homesickness (solved by a nice cell phone talk with Jen), we had a good night’s rest and were up early.

After breakfast, we took a nice early morning walk on the beach to watch the seals and exercise the dog. Mac got in a lot of running as the dog raced after sea gulls and barked at sea ducks. With the exercise and sea air, they’ll both sleep tonight.
Then it was time to clean up and head to church down in Newburyport. It was a nice first visit of a grandchild and hopefully the start of many more. Next time we’ll figure how to have Mary be part of the overnight.

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Seal Spotting

Every fall and winter, harbor seals come into the Merrimack River. They congregate just opposite our camping site so every day, we walked through the dunes down to the beach to observe them. (Those are seals "resting" in the photo to the left. They are very much a local attraction -- to campers and day visitors to Salisbury State Park Reservation.
Named common seal throughout Europe, this seal frequently observed around Long Island lives along the shores of eastern Canada, New England and in the winter, as far south as the Carolinas in a variety of habitats. Their scientific name loosely means "sea calf" or "sea dog." This latter nickname is well suited as these seals closely resemble a dog when their head is viewed at the surface of the water.
They were in the middle of the river -- and I’m sure that the fishing boat owners coming and going were not as pleased to see them as we were.

When they were out on the rocks, they lie with their heads and hind flippers elevated in a "banana-like" position. We saw them in the channel, in what is called the "bottling" position, with heads tilted straight back and perpendicular to the surface; thus assuming the appearance of a floating bottle.

While they didn’t do the tricks of the seals at Sea World, it was delightful to see them in their natural habitat, feeding, playing, and resting. Nice images to take back to a pending Vermont winter.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Not Exactly Swimming Weather

Loaded and hooked up, we maneuvered our way through Montpelier and launched down I-89 toward New Hampshire. It always takes me a while to get used to the effort the haul the Airstream -- the movement tugging at the truck, the extra power needed, the need for careful turns. Vermont and New Hampshire interstates have some pretty serious climbs on them so the Ford works pretty hard. The override for the overdrive helps even out the effort and after fifteen minutes or so, I’m back in the hauling attitude. I ease the speed up to about 60 and watch others whiz by us.

The traffic is light in the middle of the day, and week, but the colors are peaking fast and the leaf-peepers will clog things up for the next several weeks. As we head into New Hampshire, the trees seem even further along with some brilliant patches from the maples. We stop outside Lebanon to walk the dog and check the trailer -- the bearings I packed, the newly-mounted tires, the connections. Everything looks good.

Salisbury Beach State Reservation
is a gem tucked into the over-developed Atlantic coast. With 484 camping sites, it is fully booked all summer. With an immense day use area for the beach and an active boat launching facility, it is a busy spot. This time of year it’s about 20% full -- it that. I’ve reserved a site online that was near the water and as I check in, the young woman says, “That’s a neat site by the river. At low tide the seals should be coming in.”

As we drive to the site, past scores of empty pads, we’re amazed at how closely they are spaced -- “cheek to jowl” as Vermonters say. Our site requires a 45 degree back-in, which I manage fairly easily (I’m getting better finally) and we’re set up in no time flat. First time on a paved pad with 30 amp power and park water. We’re in “ high cotton” as they say south of here. The only snag is our 50’ of water hose is too short but we’ll remedy that later.

It’s time for a beach walk with the Vizsla who has been a good passenger once she knew she was going along. There are trails through rugosa roses and beach grass to the Merrimack River which runs into the Atlantic right here. Gulls and terns excite Penny who strains at her long leash. Sport fishing boats zoom up the channel (red right returning) as we walked down the wet hard sand filled with smells and tracks.

Merrimack, where Jen, Ben, & Mac live, is about a half-hour away and we pack up, go over for a nice visit and supper, and make plans for the days ahead. Returning to Salisbury, we spot two skunks crossing the roadway and make a note to walk carefully with the dog at night. Hooking up the water with our new hose, we marvel at the ease -- no noisy water pump -- pressure and quality like home. The temperature is dropping outside but the Airstream heater cranks things up nicely.

After a good night, and morning coffee and NPR news, Penny and I take an early morning walk on the beach. It’s in the 40’s with a north wind but we’re dressed for it. No one is around -- we’ve got the whole river beach to ourselves as the fishing boats head out before sunrise. We walk the long Salisbury beach with the sun just coming up over the eastern clouds.
Today calls for a breakfast at the Hampton airport, and then some wandering around looking at airplanes tucked into the open hangars. Tough work but somebody’s got to do it.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Off to Salisbury

Packing and hooking up (where's the EZ pass for the trailer?) for a trip to Salisbury Beach State Park. Cold and damp in Vermont but the forecast looks good for few days. Time to load the bikes in the truck and get the Airstream hooked up and ready to navigate down our driveway. Gas furnace is running already -- we'll need that the next few nights.

Looking forward to seeing Jen and Ben and our grandson, Mac. Got a "genius bar" appointment for a sick iPhone while we're down there -- at the NH Apple store. Plan to look for old airplanes tomorrow. Arrivederci

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Want to be a campground host?

On a recent trip to a Vermont state park, we happened to meet the couple who are the “hosts” for the summer. And in doing so, stumbled on a nationwide opportunity for Airstreamers (and other RV types) who want to trade free camping for service.

The retired Vermont couple we met had tired of Vermont winters and transitioned a few years ago to full-time RV’ers. They initially went to Florida for the winter months but got tired of the crowds and hubbub and now winter in Georgia and love it. The started being hosts about four years ago and show up about Memorial Day and leave after Labor Day. They are on duty about four days a week and love it.

I was intrigued by the program and doing some searching, soon came to find that their are countless programs and positions out there -- and that many people come back year after year. Hosts, often retired couples, help manage a campground for the summer camping season in exchange for a free site for their RV or travel trailer. Most public campgrounds have special host sites which often (but not always!) have full hookups, even when the campground they are managing is primitive.

Camp host jobs vary greatly from campground to campground, but almost all require taking fees from campers, cleaning bathrooms, and light grounds maintenance (such as raking fire puts, blowing leaves, etc.) Hosts with maintenance skills are always in demand.

Here’s a job description from one public campground:
Campground hosts will serve as a "live-in" host during April through October for a four (4) week period.
The host will be responsible for (but not limited to) the following tasks:
• Explaining (not enforcing) Campground Rules
• Campground Foot Patrols
• Litter Clean-up
• Bath House Clean-up Three (3) Days a Week to Include: hose down floors, sweep, toilet and sink cleaning, wash mirrors
• Various Light Maintenance Repairs
• Stocking Supplies in Bath Houses as Needed
• Prepping Campsites After Campers Check-out
• Removing Debris From Fire Rings
• Restoring Power to Electrical Sites (switching the breaker back on)
• Night Watchperson During Busy Nights
You can find out much more about hosting at (America’s Natural and Cultural Resources Volunteer Portal), Workamper News (Helping RVers Explore America - 1 Job at a Time), state agencies such as these in California or Alaska, or the book Camp Hosting USA.

Mary and I are not ready to leave our Vermont home to volunteer at a campground but see it as an interesting option for retired people who enjoy camping and helping others enjoy it. Check it out -- and thank hosts that you meet for their service.

top photo from camphostcouple website lower photo from Fairfax County website

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

It Takes A Village To Get Our Airstream Ready

Belly pan, tires, tail light, inspection -- it’s been a steady stream of maintenance items the last two weeks. I lucked out and got a piece of aluminum from my neighbor that trimmed up to patch the belly pan and thanks to good advice from my brother, I was able to drill and rivet the large 8’ x 4’ piece in place and it looks great.
I had ordered new tires since the old ones were from 2003 and even though they looked ok, had baked in the Florida sun for several winters.

I’m using the two 2”x 6” approach to hoisting a wheel and removing the adjacent one -- rather than mess with a jack. My local service station is mounting the wheels as I bring them in.

Last Friday, I went downtown early with the trailer and got the VIN number verified by the Department of Motor Vehicles. (This is a requirement for vehicles/trailers purchased out of state.) This morning, I again snaked my way through Montpelier and got the rig inspected.

A couple of tires to go and we should be in good shape for the road.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pop Goes The Rivets

The belly pan on my Airstream is sagging and needs work. It's something that I can do but I've never done any riveting. So I ordered some wide-flange rivets and a rivet tool from our local company, Vintage Trailer Supply.

Today, I drove over and picked up the order and met the owner, Steve Hingtgen. He gave me a drill bit and some pointers; it's great to have him and his parts company here in town.

Crawling under a trailer, banging and drilling out old rivets, and then putting a new rivet in place is slow dirty work. I soon realized that I'd need some washers since the old rivets had opened some larger holes in the belly pan. I got about 20 new rivets placed and will do the rest in the next few days.

Of course, when you are up close and personal with your trailer's underside, you spot other stuff. A couple of brackets holding water lines need attention; one of the tires has a couple of cracks. I'll get this project done and add those to the list. Need to get this baby ready for our winter trip.

Friday, September 4, 2009


With a new battery hooked up and ready to go, we hooked up the Airstream and headed out to Stillwater campground on Lake Groton. It’s a Vermont state park with no hook-ups (like all Vermont state parks) so we are “boondocking” for the first time. And right now, we have 115 amp-hour battery and no supplemental systems like solar or a generator so it’s “watch the amps” time.

This is the last week that state campgrounds operate in Vermont and with school now in session, there are just a handful of campers here. We like it that way -- and it is one of the benefits of being semi-retired -- we can go mid-week and late in the season.

The site we reserved (#53) is nice -- level and relatively secluded -- and just a few hundred yards from the nice beach. The back-in process was the best so far -- perhaps I’m getting better with experience. After setting up, I walked the dog, checking out the other sites, and took a short bracing swim in the September water.

In addition to no hookups, there's no cell phone coverage (or 3G for the iPhone) and no wifi anywhere near. So it's the first time we've been "unplugged" for a long while and it's quite nice. We know we can drive about seven miles and pick up a cellphone signal (one short stretch on Route 2 where people pull off to call.) Instead of telemarketers calling all evening (in spite of Do Not Call), we hear loons and cicadas.

We've needed the gas furnace in the morning to take the chill off -- it's been in the 40's overnight -- and the gas-run appliances are running fine. I decided to use some fresh Vermont blueberries for muffins, trying out the gas oven for the first time. I used a Bisquick recipe off the web that was very simple but the muffins, while tasting great, were flat as pancakes. I blamed it on the oven setting until later, Mary checked the box and found that it said "Best if used by October, 2004. Guess I should have preflighted our pantry ingredients a little better.

We got the awning out for the first time yesterday and it looks in great shape. I've used the Springer system to exercise the Vizsla and Mary and I took a short bike ride on the old Montpelier-Wells River Rail Trail yesterday. The weather is spectacular and the forecast is good. Email and blogs can wait, it's time to get outside and enjoy this beautiful setting. I'd recommend it for your travel plans next season. Reserve well ahead -- these parks fill up fast during the summer.

Above are some shots I took yesterday morning with the iPhone on an easy morning walk with the dog. It's neat to watch the fog burn off on these pretty September mornings. Safe traveling.

P.S. We made it 3 days with no battery problems. I suggest sites 53, 63, 41, or 14 if you're planning to make reservations for next season. Here's a map of the park layout.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tricking Out The Tow Vehicle

I owned a Toyota Tacoma for years and enjoyed the four-wheel drive in our Vermont winters and the ability to haul stuff in back. Even though my airport friends ragged me about my “toy truck,” it suited me just fine. That is until Toyota announced serious frame corrosion problems in certain model years (including mine) and offered a generous buyback program.

Gas was approaching $4.00/gallon and I bought a used Honda Fit -- talk about a toy car -- which I loved but missed being able to carry loads, and to get up our driveway in winter.

Catching the RV/Travel Trailer fever this spring, I started reading blogs and articles and having a general sense of size, first started focusing on a tow vehicle. After getting all sorts of advice (“Never buy a Chevy” “Fords are problems”) I started leaning toward a Ford F-150 with the larger engine and tow package. Right away, up on Craigslist pops the ideal truck: 4 X $ Supercab, XLT 145” Wheelbase, 5.4L, 3.73 limited slip axle, and a tow package.

We are very happy with the Ford so far. It pulls the Airstream nicely and the super cab is a nice traveling space for the Vizsla. However, on our first trip we knew that we would need some sort of cap or cover to protect the extra gear we would be taking with us. Having bought a used cap for the Toyota which didn’t fit right, leaked, and came loose on dirt roads, I decided to go for a professionally-installed truck cap.

I ordered a paint-matched Leer cap from Add-On Accessory Outlet, a local firm in Burlington. It was installed Saturday (Vermont’s tax free day) so I saved 6% but more importantly, was pleased with the fit, the color match, and the overall customer service. With this addition, our tow vehicle is about set to go -- I still need to work more on hitch height and may need to drop the ball a tad.

Here’s our Ford tow vehicle wearing her new red cap.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Airstream Design & History

One of the nice things about owning an Airstream is that you are part of a long history of a travel trailers known for design and function. I recently came across this article by a design firm titled: Airstreams: Icons Worthy of Preservation. The article mentioned in part "
....This week in Germany, I learned that classic Airstream trailers are being restored and rented to hip European "holiday makers." Hence, Airstreams are also iconic structures (albeit mobile ones) being restored and, in some cases, retrofitted."
An older post by a design firm who worked on the new Bambi design noted:
"with their sleek metallic exteriors, these travel trailers
are a nostalgic piece of america.
even today customers love the timeless beauty of the
aerodynamic shapes and the ingenious efficiency of
the compact space, but the average age
of a first-time travel trailer buyer is 64 years old !"
And finally, for a little romp through history, this older web site has a lot of information and links. In part it starts:

In The Beginning...

...was the Great Depression. The stock-market was down. Many people were struggling just to keep food on the table. In the early 1930s, A young college graduate named Wally Byam went to work for a magazine publisher. An article they published was an instruction guide for building a camping trailer. After the article was published, people began using the plans to build their own trailers. However it wasn't long before letters began coming in from the readers complaining about errors in the plans.

Determined to discover the problem, Wally Byam began building trailers in his own back yard. While working but before he would finish a trailer, someone would would see it and want to buy his "project." With each new attempt, Wally would experiment and change, improving the original idea. It soon became a full-time occupation for him. He called his new trailer company AIRSTREAM. The trailers were fairly standard looking for the era with some influences from the European styles of design.

top photo courtesy of American Retro Caravans Bambi photo courtesy Cindy's Salon

Vintage photo part of a wonder collection - Roger's Airstream History

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Shakedown Cruise – Day 3 & 4

After some initial wandering (thanks, MapQuest), we headed out on Day 3 and soon were heading north on Route 3 toward Tupper Lake. It was a pretty Saturday in the Adirondacks and every trailhead and put-in spot was crowded with vehicles.

We passed a spectacular sight – an international rugby tournament – in Saranac Lake with many games going at once and the fields a riot of colorful uniforms. We made the turn toward Plattsburgh and soon the road became lightly traveled with few settlements as we cruised northeast.

We were heading toward Maccomb Reservation State Park which was described as “wilderness-like” on the web but turned out to be anything but that. The gps and map seemed to be at odds where to turn but I made one correct turn but promptly turned too early and the rig was headed down a back road – and I needed to turn around. No easy thing.

I found a driveway and with Mary’s help, was attempting to back up and turn but after several tries was getting nowhere. Suddenly, a guy came across from his yard and offered his help. I jumped out, he hopped in and patted the dog, and in one smooth maneuver, had things lined up and ready to go. Thanking him, I noticed a big travel trailer in his yard – he’s obviously had more experience than I have.

We found the campground, checked in, and went to our reserved site – one of the few with power. Scoping it out, I realized that it was next to a big playground swarming with kids. Bad move. Again, I had to figure out how to back the rig in without hitting trees, bikes, kids, etc. Fortunately, one more Good Samaritan came from across the way and offered the guide me (he said he’d hauled drag racers for years and had backed up a lot of trailers.). After some colorful and direct advice and backing and forthing, we got it situated and ready to set up.The site was level but the noise level was high – lots of pre-teen girls and boys doing their summer flirtation rituals complete with screams and giggles. The noise did quiet down after dark and rain the next day keep things quiet.

This campground was a disappointment. Not particularly well designed, it had a seedy feel to it – grubby restrooms, balky showers, and a weedy swimming area on a man-made lake. We’d signed up for a couple of days and decided just to relax, read, and get to now the Airstream’s systems a little better.

One nice thing about upstate New York is that there’s pretty good coverage for the iPhones. While not finding wifi (we didn’t look too hard), we could check email and do limited web surfing at all the campsites.

We used our new departure checklist and the trip home was easy, heading north on I-87 and then taking pretty Route 2 down through the Lake Champlain islands. We explored Grand Isle State Park as a possible future camping spot and then stopped in South Hero and grabbed some wonderful, if not healthy, lunch items. (I won’t tip our hand but they involved catsup)

Driving ahead a bit, we found a beautiful shaded parking area along the lake and enjoyed lunch with breezes flowing through the Airstream and the Vizsla sleeping in the truck. It was another reminder of the flexibility of hauling along your own eating space.The last test of the trip was to make the sharp turn and steep climb up our driveway. Well, the bumper dug a rut in the dirt road but we made it up fine and after buttoning things up, were home safely with a very successful shakedown cruise.Postscript: Three days later, I was in the Emergency Room facing an operation for a perforated appendix. As they say, timing is everything!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Shakedown Cruise – Day 2

On the second day of our first adventure, we headed north on Route 3 toward Watertown. The pretty highway follows the coast of Lake Ontario and while I’d driven the road before, it was different hauling a trailer. First of all, everyone travels faster than the speed limit and secondly, there are few places to turn off to let folks by. (The type of thing you note while towing but don’t give much thought to driving solo.)

As we crossed the Salmon River, it brought back old ski trips where I’d see anglers, standing side-by-side in the frigid waters, hoping to entice a spawning salmon to their line. “Look at those idiots,” I’d sometimes muttered forgetting that soon I would be out in the same sleet and cold air, in a Lycra suit – racing the Tug Hill trails. Different strokes ….

Passing beautiful Henderson Harbor, we got a couple of good views off to the west but I was concentrating on the traffic, which was picking up as we entered Watertown. We managed to navigate our way through lane changes and traffic lights and soon were heading out of town on Route 11 – another road I’ve spent many hours on during my work days.

Two major changes in the last 20 years that I’ve watched is the dramatic growth of Fort Drum as the 10th Mountain Division has expanded and taken more deployments and the influx of Amish/Mennonite families moving in and buying old farms. So, we saw a number of buggies but no Humvees.

We had our first on-the-road lunch in Governeur at a gas station where Mary picked up some Subway subs while I walked the dog and got her settled in the truck. It was rather civilized without the Vizsla’s brown nose sniffing our food and after some “remove the evidence” hand wiping, we were on our way.

The drive up to Potsdam and down to Colton is pretty. We were heading to the Higley Falls State Campground on the Racquette River. The campground is nestled in big pines with sites well spaced and placed. It had looked good online and we weren’t disappointed. However, as I clanked by way along the access road and found our site, it was an “oh, oh” moment. I needed to do a 90 degree back in, avoiding several big trees. Some folks were sitting out across the way and I said to them, “Get ready for 20 minutes of comedy – I’ve never backed this thing up.”

Just then their son-in-law arrived in his pickup – and offered to guide me. (This is typical of the help we ran into everywhere.) Well, after a lot of coaching, false starts, wrong turns, we got the trailer lined up on the site with room to keep the truck hitched.

The site was great. Neighboring sites were no that near and we could walk down to the river for a beautiful view. First order of business was to grab a swim before the area closed for the night and off we shuffled down the path toward the beach.

This was our first swim of the year and it was great. The beach is fine and the water, while bracing, was not heart-stopping cold. The river is very wide in this area and it was just like swimming in a pond. Like most streams in upstate NY, the water is tea-colored from the tannic acid.

Power at some of these campsites is a little dicey and while this was supposed to have 15 amp service, we had some circuit breaker issues. I got the refrigerator running for the first time on gas, after some tinkering, so that helped our overall situation. We went down to the water, sat on a log, and watched a gorgeous sunset over the river.

We had a good night and in the morning, after a bike with the dog using the Springer, used the gas stove for the first time. Bacon and eggs while camping always tastes a little better.

We really like this campground. The sites are spaced and sited well and it has a good “family” feel to it. For water activities, it’s unbeatable.

Going carefully through our departure checklist, we did everything right except to remove the 15-30 amp adapter (I had a second one). That got added to the checklist.

We hated to say goodbye to this nice setting (checkout is 11 AM but you can stay all day), but we had miles to move to a two-day stay near Plattsburgh.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Shakedown Cruise – Day 1

I bought our 25’ 1999 Airstream Safari rapidly, right after it came up on Craigslist for Syracuse. I’d been watching a number of sites around the Northeast, having lost a couple of units to quick sales earlier. Looks like the 25’ model is popular for those, like us, who are retired and want a unit that fits into most state and national parks. So, right after this unit was posted, I called, lined up tentative financing, and the following morning began a quick round trip out to Syracuse, New York – the Vizsla and I – made a less than thorough inspection, and a purchase – then started the long drive home in the truck. I wanted to get plates and get organized for actually towing the rig.

I was working on some time constraints because the seller was undergoing tests for some lung issues and probable surgery (the reason for selling) and I wanted his help in hitching things up. So about a week later, after loading the truck with all sorts of provisions for the Airstream, we headed out early for central New York. We had decided to camp our way home and make it a test cruise – and it sure was.

We arrived mid-day after a trip of about six hours – a trip I’ve made many times. But this time it was different – I visualized hauling a travel trailer behind me and noted that the turns needed to be wider, the traffic changes fewer and smoother, and all in all, just a slower pace. I have never towed a trailer any distance so I was a bit apprehensive but the weather was good and the roads were, although busy, ones that I know.

The former owner directed the hookup of the ball, the sway systems, etc and loaded us up with the gear needed to operate the rig. After some last minute directions about the TV antenna and the awning (instructions I’ve forgotten) and a quick walk for the dog, we were off – testing the new brake controller on the side street. The tow system squawked loudly with every turn but soon we were launched on 7 North and just ahead, trying to blend our way onto to I-81, the major highway heading north.

I got up to speed and generally was comfortable – the Ford 150 handled things well and once I got into the right lane and settled, we cruised north. I’d picked a close-by state campground, Selkirk Shores State Park – since I didn’t want to tow very far before checking things. The access road of the interstate was lovely and aside from the clanking and squawking we made, it was a pretty drive.

New York state campgrounds vary greatly in quality and I was not too impressed with Selkirk Shores. The site I had reserved was pretty low and very close to the neighboring trailer, whose occupants had sort of taken over the vacant spot. Fortunately, I could pull far enough ahead so the backing up for the first time was fairly routine (little did I know what the future held).

We got going on transferring most of our gear from the truck to the trailer. We’d gotten water on the way in and there was 20-amp service so we were ready to relax. I took the dog for a walk and we found every barking dog on the circle but I could get off the road and head down the path toward the beach. It was Thursday night and the beach is only open on weekends (budget crunch?) but the structures and pier were impressive. One of the many CCC projects from the 1930’s, the park has some beautiful buildings and areas for outings and day use.

Back at the trailer, I started to learn that the previous owners really had never “camped” with it. They told me that they drove to Florida, hooked up and lived there during the winter, and drove home. They did not know that the refrigerator could use gas and never used the gas stove. Well, I found out that they also never used the fresh water tank – I could not get the pump to run. It would turn on but nothing would happen and in spite of taking the water pump apart, we had no water that first night. Great! Fortunately, the rest room and showers were right down the path.

I always have to chuckle at the propensity of campers to make roaring campfires every night and this place was no exception. Our neighbors, who were very helpful, were no exception. We had a light supper, turned the fans on and slept pretty well. The state parks seem to quiet down nicely – it’s kids and families and not many partying types – at least near us. The Airstream is a nice sound barrier with the fans on.

The next morning, I took the dog on a walk up the path to the north along the lake and we saw a couple of deer out for a browse. It was quiet, the lake was clear, and only the ever-present image of the big Oswego nuke plant disturbed the tranquility.

After breakfast, it was water system time again. I removed a length of piping connected to the pump to see if it was clear to the tank, and it was. Then I spotted a tiny valve on the underside of the pipe, turned it with a screwdriver, and after hitching things up, had water flowing through the water pump. Yahoo! The valve was impossible to see and the manual for the Airstream is so limited that it shows no helpful schematic information.

Now, wouldn’t hot water be nice? I tried to turn on the heater with little success. Then, a knock on the door and my neighbor said, “Do you know you have water pouring out of your trailer?” Sure enough, the drain plug was missing. I thought I might have to wait and visit a plumbing store for one but rummaging around in the box of spare parts in the back, I found one and soon we were cranking. So two successes in a day – now to navigate the dump station for the first time.

I’d done a lot of reading and things went well, items got stowed and we were off for Day 2, heading north to Higley Flow State Park on the Racquette River.