2018 Spring Summer CA to NY

Pictures can be found here

Our last update was up through mid-April 2018.  We had been to the annual Alfa rally in southern CA, and begun a tour of Alfa friendly repair places.  Our long-term plan is to spend the summer at my brother’s house in the Hudson Valley of New York State.

After the rally, our several days spent at Redlands Truck & RV Service resulted in the bus driving smoother than it ever has.  Our next stop will be Charlie’s Service Center in Sunset, UT.  We have been to Charlie’s before, the last time being about a year ago when amongst other things they totally rebuilt our dash air conditioning system.  Well it doesn’t seem to be blowing cold anymore, so I suspect a leak from the repairs last year.  The trip from the Los Angeles area to the Salt Lake City area took us three days.  The first day out of LA we drove to the California/Nevada state line, where we spent the night in the parking lot of Buffalo Bill’s Casino.  There are a couple of casinos here at the state line, and I don’t see how this one stays open.  We found a huge empty parking lot to park in.  It is obviously a popular stop for trucks and RVs alike.  We went inside hoping to have some dinner and found the place deserted.  The typical casino buffet and several other restaurants were all closed.  There probably weren’t more than a dozen players in the whole place.  The only eatery open was Denny’s.  Not my first choice for dinner, but I didn’t want to unhook the car to drive elsewhere, so Denny’s it was.  I normally wouldn’t even consider Denny’s for anything but breakfast, and this place did nothing to change that.  We were the only customers, the service was sketchy, and the food was mediocre.  The good news was that the parking was good.  It was quiet, we saw a Security truck drive around every now and then, and we got a good night’s sleep.  The next day’s goal was A Flying J truck stop in Beaver, UT.  I picked this place to overnight because it was almost exactly halfway between last night and Charlie’s.  We got to the Flying J late afternoon, fueled up, and found a pull-through parking space.  Truck stops are usually noisy until late at night and this one was no exception.  We had our satellite antenna up and watch TV all evening, including the late news and weather.  The forecast (from Salt Lake City) was for some light showers overnight and nice weather tomorrow.  We turned in after the weather.  The trucks parked either side of us seemed to be in for the night too, so it was not too noisy and we slept well.  In the morning, I got up and got dressed.  I went up to the driver seat and sat down to put on my sneakers.  I could see the flatbed truck next to us through the side curtains, and it looked like it had snow on it.  I thought maybe it was a truck that had pulled in from somewhere else, but when I looked closer, it was the same truck that had been there all night.  I opened the front blinds to find about four inches of snow had fallen overnight, and it was still falling.  When I saw last night’s forecast, I neglected to figure in that Beaver, UT is at 6000 feet elevation.  So, our “light showers” were snow!  Fortunately, it was not sticking to the roadway much because the temperature was a few degrees above freezing.  We weren’t in a hurry, so I went inside and got us some breakfast burritos and coffee.  The snow stopped, and we waited until almost 10:00 to leave, by which time the roads were clear.  The only problem the snow really gave us was that when I tried to stow the satellite antenna, the snow packed under it as it retracted against the roof.  I had to try it a couple times before it moved enough snow to come all the way down.  Driving from there was pretty with the snowy landscape, and the roads were fine.  We did go through another snow squall, but still the road was warm enough to not stick.  Once we crested Scipio Pass all traces of snow stopped.  There was none on the ground, and the sun came out for the rest of the trip to Charlie’s.  It was Friday afternoon when we got to Charlie’s, and our appointment isn’t until Monday.  But they have full hookups for their customers, so their man Gilberto got us parked and hooked up before they all went home for the weekend.  We spent the weekend just hanging out relaxing.  Monday was a busy day at Charlie’s, and they knew we had no deadline, so it was late afternoon before Justin came out to checkout our a/c.  He too assumed we must have a leak from the previous work, and was going to just hook up the gauges and vacuum machine to check the pressures.  But, he thought he would do a quick check to make sure the compressor was running first.  We opened up the bed to allow access to the top of the engine and started it up.  The compressor did not come on when the a/c was turned on.  Justin was looking down at the compressor and noticed the wire that operates the electric clutch on the compressor was broken.  Five minutes and a butt connector and we were making cold air again.  I felt stupid for not having done any diagnosis myself and just assumed it was a leak (which I couldn’t have fixed myself).  The next morning we left Charlie’s and headed east for New York.

Our first stop was planned to be Laramie, WY.  As we were traveling, Barb was checking the weather.  The forecast low for Laramie was going to be in the 20s for most of the overnight.  Laramie is above 7000 feet.  After our experience last week with the snow, we are remembering to figure elevation into the equation.  Barb’s research found that we could drive another hour to Cheyenne, WY, which is a thousand feet lower, and the forecast lows there were also in the high 20s, but only for a couple hours.  That sounds better for not worrying about anything freezing.  We planned to stay at a Walmart, but when we got there we found signage that said overnight parking was not allowed.  There was also a police car in the parking lot that seemed to just be waiting for an RV to park.  So, we made a quick call to a nearby KOA and secured a spot for the night.  Our next day took us from Cheyenne to Kearney, NE, where we scored a spot with 50 amp power for $15 at the Buffalo County Fairgrounds.  It’s just a parking lot, and each light pole has a plug on it, so for overnight it’s great.

Our next day took us to a stop for a couple of days.  We are at Ivan’s Campgrounds, which is a Corp of Engineers campground just downstream from the dam that creates Red Rock Lake in central Iowa.  We are stopping here because fellow Alfa owners Robert & Leslie McVey are the camp hosts here for the summer.  The day we arrived was only a day or two after they officially opened, so there was no problem getting a spot in this first-come-first-served park.  We had met Robert & Leslie a few months ago when they were also staying in the Houston area.  We got settled in one of the spots large enough for a big-rig, and went to check in with Robert & Leslie.  The lake is formed by the damming of the Des Moines River, which then flows right by the campground below the dam.  While the dam is not new, they are in the process of building a new hydro-electric plant there.  It was a very nice location right on the river, although it was cool and very windy.  That first afternoon, we took a ride into nearby Pella for dinner and found a neat little town.  Leslie had told us to check out the bakery, but since it was evening, we didn’t.  The next day we took a ride into Knoxville, IA.  Knoxville is the home of a well-known dirt Sprint car race track.  Also at the track is the Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum.  While we have never attended races at Knoxville, we are well aware of The Knoxville Nationals, one of the Sprint car world’s largest races.  The track has just recently added a six story tower with luxury suites that is named for Bryan Clauson, a driver who lost his life in an accident a couple of years ago.  We went to the museum and started to look around.  The first floor is all museum exhibits which we took in.  We then went up to the Hall of Fame on the second floor.  The second floor also is a club area where there is indoor seating and a bar overlooking the track.  We were the only people up there, and we sat down at the window seats to rest our feet.  It was Thursday and they were in the process of preparing the track for Friday night’s racing program.  So we were watching the tractors and a grader working the clay surface, when a gentleman walked in and asked how were doing.  After pleasantries, he asked if we would like to see the new Bryan Clauson Tower.  Sure!  So, we got a private tour of the suites, the story behind how the tower got conceived and funded, and a nice visit with the guy who turned out to be the museum director.  It was pretty cool to get this special tour.  During our chatting, we mentioned where we are staying, which is halfway between Knoxville and Pella.  The museum director asked if we had been to the bakery in Pella.  We said no, but we had heard of it.  On our way out, we stopped at the museum gift shop.  We ended up chatting with the cashier about our travels, and she asked if we had been to the bakery in Pella!   I guess we need to check this place out.  We plan to leave in the morning, but we aren’t going far, so I got up early and drove to Pella to Jaarsma Bakery.  This place is like stepping into a bakery in Holland with the staff all dressed in Dutch clothing.  The selection of fresh baked treats, breads, cookies, and all sorts of other goodies was overwhelming.  The place was busy, but I was quickly waited on, and got a couple of Danishes and a couple apple fritters.  It would have been easy to buy more than we could possibly have used while it was fresh.  I got back to the bus and enjoyed our goodies with Barb. 

Our drive today was just a couple of hours to Illiniwek Forest Preserve, which is a county park on the banks of the Mississippi River.  The park is just south of a dam and lock on the river.  Again, since it is only April, this first-come-first-served park was not full.  Our primary reason for stopping here is that just across the river, back in LeClaire, IA is Antique Archeology, the shop featured in the TV show American Pickers.  So, the next day was tour day.  Frist stop was lunch at a German Restaurant called Bier Stube.   We sat at the bar where we had a fun chat with the bartender and enjoyed some good German food.  Next stop was Antique Archeology.  My primary reason for wanting to see the store, besides being a fan of the TV show, was to see the 1949 Nash that is parked in front.  The old Nash is not restored or even running.  It looks like it was parked in a field a long time ago.  Why that’s special to me is that it is exactly like the very first car I ever had.  Growing up in the country, it wasn’t unusual for boys to have “field cars” before they had licenses.  My older brother had a 49 Nash and a 49 Cadillac as field cars.  He and his friends drove these cars through our 20 acres of woods and the neighboring apple orchards.  When he got his license and could really drive, these two cars were passed down to me.  By then the Nash was dead, and while it was “mine” it never moved again.  But it was the first engine I disassembled and the beginnings of my learning how to work on cars.  I did get the Cadillac running and drove it around until I killed it too.  Ironically, my brother, who still lives on those 20 acres, got to remove the hulks years later.  Anyway, it was cool to see the old Nash and recall the one we had.  The store itself is neat, but it is more a souvenir shop for fans of the show than it is stuff that they have found on the show.  Of course, none of the people you see on the show are in the store (or at least they weren’t when we were).  So, we bought t-shirts and moved along.  Our next stop was the Mississippi River Distillery.  This small distillery is in the heart of the main drag of LeClaire.  We had a drink at their bar while waiting for the next tour, which consisted of us and another couple.  We had a nice tour and tasting session.  As is common in our travels, once we engaged the tour guide in conversation, he was as interested in the story of our travels as we were in his tour.

The next day, we moved on to Nappanee, IN.  Does Nappanee sound familiar?  If so it’s because that’s where the MoonBus got turned into the pretty bus it is today.  Over the years, the companies that specialize in the renovation of Alfa and other brands of RVs have changed some, but the guy who originally re-skinned ours is now operating as MCIRV.  We stopped by to have a few little things fixed.  As usual, we can stay at the shop free, plugged in and with access to water and a sewer dump.  We spent about ten days here, not so much because we had so much work to do, but because we had little things that they fit in between their real work.  At their previous shop, the very busy CSX railroad was literally less than 100 feet from where we parked.  At the new shop, it’s about half a mile away.  You can still hear it, but it’s not nearly as loud.  One day, PJ (the owner) showed up in the morning and asked if we heard “it”.  We had seen and heard a few emergency vehicles pass by, by didn’t know what “it” was.  It turns out there was a derailment about a mile from us that shut down both tracks.  Apparently the track washed out due to the heavy rains recently.  Nobody was hurt, but the engines and about twenty cars of a train that was all shipping containers piled up.  What was noticeable the next day was a steady parade of dump trucks taking dirt to the derailment site so they could build a road parallel to the tracks from the nearest road and get a crane in to right the derailed cars.  But, for over twenty-four hours, we heard nary a whistle of a train.  Even though we have been in Nappanee several times, we had never visited Coppes Commons.  Coppes Commons was originally a large factory where the Coppes Company built cabinetry that you would recognize if you were alive in the 1960s.  It has now been reborn into many little shops, restaurants, and the Hoosier Cabinet Museum.  It was pretty interesting to see the kitchens that looked like my childhood, and really neat to see the old timeclock they used in the factory.  In addition to the Alfa rejuvenations that MCIRV specializes in, they also have a deal to refurbish race car haulers.  So, we joined PJ and Ben and their families at Plymouth Speedway, about half an hour away, for a USAC Sprint car event where a car sponsored by their hauler customer was running.  We took the bus and spent the night at the track so we could drink as much as we liked and not worry about driving home.

From Nappanee, we moved southeast to Eldora Speedway in western Ohio.  Eldora is owned by former NASCAR driver Tony Stewart who has always had an interest in dirt track cars too.  We met old cruising friends Mike & Lynn there for a weekend of USAC and World of Outlaw racing.  Mike & Lynn have sold their sailboat also, and now split their time between an RV and a home in Florida.  They spend the summers wandering around the mid-west from dirt track to dirt track following the USAC sprint car series.  Mike & Lynn have done this in the summer for many years, and have a group of friends that they see at the various tracks.   We met one of their friends, who turns out was the grandfather of Bryan Clauson who the new building at Knoxville was dedicated to.  We had fun catching up with Mike & Lynn and two nights of good racing.

After Eldora, it was on to my brother’s in NY in two days.  We spent a night in western PA and then on to Wallkill, NY.  In previous years, when we have stayed at my brother’s, we have parked out in the yard away from the house a bit and dry camped.  That is to say, we ran our generator very day for several hours, and every ten days or so we broke camp and drove about ten miles to a KOA to dump our holding tanks and refill our water supply.  Since out last visit my brother has had a new garage built to replace the old barn that collapsed a few years ago.  The new barn has a 50 amp plug for us.  So we are parking backed in the driveway and plugged in.  About two weeks before we arrived, my brother had a good news/bad news story for us.  The bad news was more for him.  His 50+ year old septic system gave up the ghost and needed to be replaced.  The good news for us was that he got it done before we got there and included an RV dump port alongside the driveway so we could dump without leaving.  And, being close to the house now, hooking up a water hose was no problem either.  The only downside to where we are parked is that the nice tall trees on his property block our view of the DISH satellites, and we are too far from NYC to get the over-the-air stations, there will be no TV in the bus.  Although, since we are using his fast, unlimited Wi-Fi connection, we can stream Netflix.

We plan to be here for about four months, and my brother has a long list of tasks he hopes to have my help with.  The second day we were here a severe storm came through.  As it was approaching, our phones all started beeping with a tornado warning.  My first thought was that the phone was confused where we were since they don’t get tornados here.  But, the message clearly named our county.  So, of course instead of all getting in the basement, we went to the big glass back door to watch the storm.  We were standing there watching as the forming tornado (which we couldn’t see due to the heavy rain) passed over and took down a 70+ year old oak tree in the backyard.  The tree could not have been more perfectly felled if we did it on purpose.  It fell between the two houses on the property and pretty much missed everything except two smaller trees that got taken out.  We learned later that a tornado did touch down a few miles east of us.  Given its path when it touched down, it makes sense that it came from our direction.  The storm also took the power out.  There was a lot of tree damage, and power outages all over, so we guessed we could be without power for a while.  Since our RV is parked right outside, and we have a 7.5 KW generator we weren’t too worried.  My brother got extension cords, and we were able to power his two fridges and giant freezer and a light or two.   We ended up without power for fifty-one hours, so the generator got a workout.  Removing the huge tree now taking up most of the backyard now became the priority task on the list.  Fortunately, my brother has several chainsaws, a medium sized tractor, and a pickup truck.  He also lives only a few miles from the town dump which was accepting tree debris with no charge.  It took us the better part of two weeks to cut the tree up, hauling the small branches to the dump and moving what could be used as firewood next year out to the existing wood pile on the property.  Bob did all the cutting and I did the tractor driving to move cut wood.  The main trunk of this tree was about three feet in diameter, making cutting it with an eighteen-inch chainsaw a challenge.  We had to cut the main trunk into about twelve to eighteen inch chunks so the tractor bucket could lift them.  When I had a chunk in the tractor bucket, I had to use four-wheel-drive because the rear wheels were barely touching the ground.  It was a lot of work that we hadn’t planned on, but we got it all cleaned up.

After the tree ordeal, we got to work on Bob’s list.  My brother can take a pile of wood and build a house, but he isn’t mechanically inclined.  I on the other hand will try to fix anything, but don’t ask me to measure a board or hammer a nail.  So, I fixed one the chainsaws for $20 parts when the dealer had quoted several hundred, changed the oil and filters on the tractor instead of having a mobile tech come out from the dealer, replaced the switch on his drill press so he didn’t have to plug it in or unplug it to control the running, replaced the drive belts in his 300 CD changer, replaced the power port in a laptop, and got his 1965 VW bug running with new brakes, shocks, muffler, plugs and points, and battery after it had been sitting for ten years.  There also was a major undertaking of building a shed.  Bob is a bee keeper, and his bee yard is a couple hundred feet out behind the house and garage.  His new garage has a nice segregated workshop where he builds the boxes and frames for the bees, but then the boxes are being stored in the garage that should be holding cars.  So, using a lot of wood salvaged from the old barn we tore down a few years ago, we built a shed out by the bee yard.  When I say “we” built it, I mean Bob did all the measuring and planning, and I played laborer.  As I said before, I don’t build things, but I can follow directions pretty good.  The shed was about twenty feet by fourteen feet, with a roof that went from eight feet at the back to twelve feet at the front.  In addition to using a lot of reclaimed wood, we put a metal roof on using metal left over from building the new garage.  When we were done, we were able to move a bunch of bee boxes, and several cabinets from the garage to the new shed.  That, combined with organizing and stacking a bunch other stuff in the garage gave us enough room to get Bob’s Class C RV, and his 1927 Chevy inside where they belong.  The VW will stay outside for now since hopefully it will spend some of the winter getting painted. 

I did a few things to the bus while we here.  I had a plan to install a TV outside in the cargo bin.  I purchased a 39” TV for the project.  I found that the exterior dimensions of the new 39” TV were the same as the older 32” we have in the living room.  So, I swapped the new TV for the 32” thinking that we watch that one every day, and the outside one will be now and then.  I then worked on how to mount this TV so it would fold up for travel, and come out for use.  The solution I came up with wouldn’t quite work with the 32” TV.  So, I swapped the 32” for the 19” that was in the bedroom.  After a lot more work than I planned on, we now have an outdoor TV.  Another project I undertook was to do my own oil change on the bus.  There is nothing about an oil/filter change that should be that hard, if you have the place to do it.  Since RV parks don’t allow work like that, I have always paid the price to have it done at a Freightliner dealer.  But, here, Bob had a pan to drain the oil, and diesel to prime the fuel filters, so I figured what the heck.  I got all the filters and new oil and started the job.  First thing was drain the oil.  I took the plastic pan Bob had, pulled the drain plug and drained all nineteen quarts of oil out of the engine.  I put the plug back in and started to move the pan out from under the bus and noticed oil on the ground.  The plastic pan had a crack in the corner and it was leaking!  I quickly found two smaller plastic pans that I had used when I changed the oil in the tractor, and dumped the oil from the leaking pan into them.  Glad I noticed the leak before all the oil had gone on the ground.  Next I got back underneath the bus to remove the oil filter.  I had my large strap wrench with me, but I could not budge the filter with it.  Oil filters should not be hard to remove.  They should be installed only hand tight.  Apparently the guy at the Freightliner dealer in Phoenix didn’t get that training.  Since I couldn’t get my plastic and rubber strap wrench to work, I went to town and got a metal filter wrench.  With the metal wrench, I could put a pipe over the handle to increase my leverage.  But, I just ended up bending the handle and eventually breaking the wrench.  I took another trip to the store to buy a larger, stouter wrench.  This one had a chain to go around the filter instead of a strap.  While I was able to dent the can of the filter with this one, I still ended up bending the handle and the filter had not budged.  Bob stopped by the small repair shop in town that does all his car repairs and told them about my problem.  They sent him home with a strap wrench that has a socket for a half-inch drive breaker bar.  They said that would take off the most stubborn filters.  I still couldn’t get it.  While I was doing this, the road in front of the house was being paved.  While they were waiting for the next truck of blacktop, one of the guys walked in the driveway to look at the VW.  He asked what I was doing and I explained my dilemma.  He was younger and stronger than I, and he just jumped under the bus and took a shot at it.  All we both accomplished was crushing the can of the filter.  I finally went to last-resort mode.  I punched a hole in the bottom of the filter can to drain the oil out, and then tore the can off the base.  This allowed me to get a chisel on the base and hammer on it.  After much hammering, I finally got the filter base to break free and removed it.  I put the new filter on, hand tight, and then replaced the fuels filters.  One of the fuel filters was much tighter than it should have been also.  The guy who serviced it in Phoenix must have been taking out his aggression on our bus last year.  I wonder if I would have been charged extra if a dealer had this much trouble.  Bottom line was I saved about $70 doing the job myself, if you don’t count the extra wrenches I destroyed. 

While in NY, we took a couple of trips (without the bus) to Long Island to visit my daughter and grandkids.  We would have liked to spend more time with them, but between working and kid school activities even though it’s summer, we didn’t see them enough.  On one of the visits to my daughter’s,  we went to see our musician friends Drop Dead Dangerous at a nearby club.  Another trip we took was to the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival.  We have done this a few times before with my brother and several other friends.  This festival is four days of camping at what is a working farm the rest of the year.  The way the camping works is that people show up all day on Wednesday and get staged in a field.  About 2 PM, they open the gates and you get to go claim your camping spot in the order you were staged.  There had been a lot of rain earlier in the week, and more was forecast today.  While we were waiting to get in, it started to rain.  It rained for over an hour before the gates finally opened.  Most of the campers at this event are in small trailers of tents.  Large RVs like us are the exception.  Probably sixty or seventy vehicles entered before us, and where the lanes all came together to enter the gate, it was getting quite muddy.  Just as we entered the muddy area, they stopped the traffic to let a car come out the gate.  This was our downfall.  We were unable to get going in the mud again.  I was able to back up and at the direction of the guy in charge I backed up past where we had started.  The hope was that I could get out onto the road and come back to the gate on the real road instead of through the mud.  But, once backed up, I could not get moving forward again.  We tried and tried, but got nowhere.  We finally shut her down and walked up to where the rest of our gang had gotten.  Once we walked in and saw the roads inside the campgrounds, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have gotten stuck in there which would have been worse.  We ended up spending the night out in the field in the hopes things would dry out enough to get unstuck in the morning.  We had dinner with the gang, and then walked back up there for breakfast.  After breakfast we checked out the roads in the campground and found them still very muddy, with a couple of vehicles still stuck and blocking the roads.  Based on that, we made the decision to try and get unstuck and not stay for the weekend, since there is more rain forecast.  We unloaded the food and supplies that we had been carrying for the group and hiked them up to the campsite.  I then tried to see if I could get out.  Even though the ground was a little drier, it was still too muddy.  So, we got a hold of the farmer whose field it is.  His home is across the road.  He said he would bring his tractor over shortly.  When he got there, we hooked a chain to our trailer hitch and he pulled us backwards out of the muddy spot.  I then was able to get moving forward, steer around the spot I had been stuck in, and make it back out to the road.  We went back to my brother’s house and left them there to enjoy the festival.  As it turned out, the heavy rains that were still to come, came overnight one night and did not cancel any of the music.  Bob’s daughter and a friend were planning to go there for the day on Saturday, so we gave her our tickets so they weren’t a total loss.  This makes the second time we have gotten stuck in mud since we had the bus.  I do not recommend it.  A third little trip we took was also just in the car.  We went to Lancaster, PA to see our musician friends Tom & Michelle Becker do their Tribute to the Music of John Denver show.  They are doing three shows at a dinner theatre.  They have a Sunday evening show, and Monday lunch and dinner shows.  We drove down Sunday afternoon and stayed at a hotel across the street from the venue.  As we checked in I heard live Trop Rock music.  Turns out Dennis McCaughey, whom we don’t know well but have heard before, lives here and plays a regular weekly gig in the hotel bar.  So after checking in, we went to the bar, enjoyed listening to and chatting with Dennis, and got the bar to switch a TV to the NASCAR race.  We ate there at the bar, and after Dennis was gone and the race was over, we went to our room for the evening.  We had seen Tom & Michelle in the lobby as we were checking in and knew they planned to be in the bar after their show tonight.  So, about 9:00, we went back down to the bar and met up with them and Dennis had come back.  We enjoyed visiting with them for a while until the bar asked us to fill our drinks and move out to the patio because they were closing.  Closing a bar is something we rarely do anymore.  Monday, we went over to the venue for the John Denver show.  We shared a table for four with another couple whom we didn’t know.  It was kind of funny to see the different audience at this show compared to the people who would be at one of Tom & Michelle’s Trop Rock shows.  The buffet lunch was good, and the show was great.  Tom bears a resemblance to John Denver, even though he doesn’t try to dress up like him for the show.  After the show, we briefly chatted with Tom & Michelle in the lobby as they signed autographs and sold merchandise, and left in an effort to beat some rain coming through.  While we did manage to get to the car between heavy downpours, we ended up driving in heavy rain for a good part of the trip back to NY.

It was getting to be mid-September and time to head south.   That will be the next update.