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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