Thursday, April 13, 2017

Back on the Road Again

From the middle of January to the end of March, we camped on a friend’s farm as caretakers.  We enjoyed the time there and accomplished our goals of exploring North Alabama and keeping a regular fitness routine.  I suppose we can check the box that we have Workamped now.  Not bad, but hitch itch had us ready to move on.

Our first stop was Brannon Hutchinson’s Custom RV Shop in Red Bay, AL.  We needed the annual maintenance on the AquaHot system that kept us warm all winter and we wanted Brannon to do a couple upgrades to The Bus.  Unfortunately, when we tried to retract the bedroom slide, it did not move.  After checking all the electrical circuits, I looked under the bed and found the electric motor and gearbox for the slide mechanism had broken in half.  The owner’s manual describes how to manually retract the slide, but that assumes the motor and gears are in one piece.  What would MacGyver do?  I removed the remaining gearbox assembly and used a flat drill bit and electric drill to retract the slide.  It was not pretty, but it worked.  I called Tiffin Service Center and asked if they had a replacement assembly.  They said yes, but they have two different parts (one was $530 and the other was $245) and they were not sure which one I needed.  We grabbed the broken pieces and took off in the Jeep for Red Bay, AL.  The parts counter showed us both parts and they were identical except on had a fitting on the end of the main shaft that allows you to use a socket and wrench to move the slide manually.  I chose the one with the fitting and was happy that it was the $245 one!  Once back, we installed the new assembly liberally applying blue Loctite to all bolts and lubricating the slide mechanism.  It works great.  Since the failure probably occurred because the bolts became loose, I decided to check the bolts in the front slide.  I found one bolt about to fall out and the other three finger tight.  I removed each, applied blue Loctite, and reassembled them as well as lubricating the slide mechanism.   

With the slides in good shape, we headed to Red Bay to see Brannon.  He quickly cleaned and serviced the AquaHot system then began converting our oven/stove range fan to exhaust externally rather than internally.  He removed the oven and cut a hole in the exterior wall to fit a new duct and vent cover.  He reversed the fan and bolted the oven back in place.  We really like this upgrade as we do a lot of cooking and it keeps the inside of The Bus cleaner and smelling fresh. We took the opportunity to upgrade the porch light to the 2017 style LED light. 
Bruce Deaton painted the vent cover to match.
Next, he replaced our cloudy headlights with new projector beam and LED headlights.  The new lights give the old coach a fresh look and we hope we will get more usable light from them.

With this work complete, we headed back to camp near Huntsville, AL since I had a business trip to Orlando, FL the following week with a flight out of Huntsville.  With a day to spare, we visited the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center and really enjoyed the history and glimpse into future space operations.

My business trip to Orlando reminded me why I don’t like to fly.  The trip down was fine with about 6 hours total travel time.  However, coming back I had to go through Atlanta on 5 April.  This was the day that recurring thunderstorms basically crippled the airport stranding thousands of travelers including me.  With no hotel rooms available and no rental cars available, my choices were limited.  I needed to get away from the city.  I remembered a shuttle bus that my sons use that goes to Auburn and caught one of them at 9:45 PM.  After a night in a Auburn hotel, my son picked me up and took me to get a rental car locally.  I drove back to Huntsville where my bag had magically appeared.  Pattie and I agree that we are spoiled by being able to travel and sleep in our own bed every night.

We left the Huntsville, AL area and relocated to one of our favorite spots at Uchee Creek Campground adjacent to Ft Benning, GA.  We like this area because we can take care of medical/dental appointments and visit our sons in Auburn as well as assist Pattie’s mother in Atlanta. 

Thanks for keepingupwiththejonesrv!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Enjoying North Alabama

In previous posts, we have talked about how different North Alabama is from most of the state.  It is mostly topography.  The culture is the same with more Alabama fans west of I-65 and Auburn fans east of I-65.  That’s how we measure culture down here.  Since we are staying still as caretakers for a fellow RVer’s farm, we decided to immerse ourselves in the local area. 

Due to poor planning on my part some 30 years ago, January and February bring about our Anniversary, Pattie’s birthday, and Valentine’s Day.  OK, two out of three I didn’t have much choice in the matter.  The chocolate investment alone can break the bank.  We have been good on our diet and joined a local gym where we workout 5-6 times a week, so some celebration was in order.  For Pattie’s birthday she had her heart set on a specific dessert sold at P.F. Chang’s called the “Great Wall of Chocolate.”   We made the short trip to Huntsville for dinner and she brought the slice of cake home and ate on it for a week. 
There are many fine dining opportunities in the Huntsville area and the old downtown area is really coming to life.  The Vaugh Braun Center downtown hosts attractions all year.  Pattie wanted to go see the Chinese ballet Shen Yun, so we got tickets and enjoyed the show. 
Not to be left out, I selected a spot to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  A local roadside cafĂ© southeast of Huntsville on Hwy 431 called Galen’s offers a real country breakfast.  Nothing says I love you like biscuits, grits, and bacon. 
Now for her birthday, we went to the local Trek bike store and asked the helpful bike expert to fit Pattie to a bike.  You may recall that last August, Pattie had a bad accident on some bike trails in Maine and we have been wondering if her ten-year-old 17-inch frame Trek was the right size for her.  Apparently it is not.  She needed a 13-inch frame bike to ride comfortable and control it.  So, we came home with a new ladies bike for her birthday.  Our first ride was about 7 miles and she said the experience was much better.  We stopped by the local Wal-Mart and bought a 65 inch BBQ grill cover to put over the bikes since they live on the back of The Bus.  We will see how that works out.
Speaking of BBQ Grills, the farm owner said I could use his Traeger grill/smoker.  I tried it with a couple racks of ribs and we had a couple we know from our college days come over to help us eat them.  A few days later I tried some salmon.  Both meals came out edible and the grill works great. 

This local semi-stray dog named Maggie was ever present as the grill was going.  I have never seen any creature as happy to just be as this dog.  The world is her toy and every moment is made for fun. 
Maggie says, "If it ain't fun, don't do it."
We keep in touch with a few fellow Rv'ers we have met along the way.  Laura and Bruce have a coach the same year model as ours and we met them last year at a boon docking rally.  They were making a pilgrimage to Red bay, AL for service and we suggested meeting one Saturday at Dismals Canyon near Phil Campbell, AL for a day hike.  What a wonderful place this is.  You would never guess that Alabama had such rock formations.  We had a great time hiking the canyon and getting caught up on each others travels and plans ahead.
Hiking Dismals Canyon with Laura and Bruce

 RV Lessons/Tips
Our Samsung Blue Ray/surround sound receiver began shutting itself off flashing a FAN NGO warning.  I pulled it out of the confined cabinet where it lives on top of the DISH receiver and tried it our on the kitchen cabinet.  It worked fine there.   Suspecting it was shutting down due to excessive heat, I purchased four aluminum electrical outlet boxes to use as spacers to separate the components and disperse the heat.  I padded the boxes with anti-slip pads so they will not move around in transit.  The receiver stays on for now.  A friend of mine suggested a USB driven fan to move air through the cabinet.  I ordered a couple installed them to further improve cooling.  No issues so far.

When preparing to stay in one place for a long time, we put these covers over the mirrors and windshield wipers.  Why?  Because we found them in a cabinet of the coach when we bought it.  I suppose the ones over the wipers will help keep the rubber from deteriorating as quickly.  The ones over the mirrors keep them clean from bird droppings.  (A blue bird has shown up delineating his territory and he "fights" the bird in the mirrors- hence the droppings.) I’m not sure I would have run out and bought them, but since we have them, why not? 
Moon Rise

Thanks for keepingupwiththejonesrv!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Getting Ready to Stay Put

Pattie and I enjoyed our time at the Lake Martin, AL, Air Force FamCamp.  We did not encounter the snow that was forecasted, but it was down to 20F on several nights.  I called Randy Warner (a fellow full time RV’er who has a coach like ours) and discussed cold weather precautions.  He writes a blog at that we follow so I know he has much more experience with cold weather than we do.  He gave me some great tips on adding insulation to the wet bay and a droplight to help keep things warm.

We survived the cold and I even had time to fish a bit.  My mom gave me a new rod and reel combo for Christmas and it really did the trick. 

We also visited Horseshoe Bend National Park to learn its history and hike the trails. 

While we were in the area, we made appointments to get each of our sons new Air Force dependent ID cards.  Since they are fulltime college students, I had to personally go with them to Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, AL to accomplish this.  We are so glad that we traded the 2 door Jeep Wrangler for the Grand Cherokee.  With only one vehicle, we need the flexibility of four doors and a comfortable ride. Of course, the trade didn’t do our budget any favors.

When Pattie and I began planning this full-time RV lifestyle, we sought those who have been doing it for years to answer our many questions. “How much does the full-time RV lifestyle cost?” was an obvious question.  The answer is different for everyone.  You can full-time RV for very little by Boondocking, minimizing travel, and workamping.  You can full-time RV for as much as it cost to live in a stick and bricks home with a mortgage and utilities if you travel frequently, stay in commercial campgrounds, and dine out often.  Over the 18 months, we have had our good budget months and our not so good budget months.  Some of that is due to our own agenda and some due to unexpected expenses.  We call the funds we hold back for budget overages our War Chest.  With the War Chest running low, we began considering options for restocking it.

Some common threads we found in our research to RV full-time efficiently were:

1.    Begin with little or no debt – There will be enough pop-up expenses along the way and you don’t need debt on top of those.
2.    Build up a War Chest of funds that are separate from retirement accounts and long-term investments that you can quickly access to address the unknown pop-up expenses
3.    Eliminate or minimize fixed expenses – These are storage fees for anything you keep, telephone/data costs, Satellite TV/radio fees, and insurances.
4.    Minimize recurring expenses – campground fees (pay for a week rather than a few days, use discount programs, Boondock, stay away from prime season parks, etc.), groceries vs dining out, and fuel.
5.    Find a workamping job and stay put for awhile

We have pretty much done items 1-4, so we began looking at item 5, workamping.  It is really surprising how many opportunities are out there.  Most workamping jobs offer a free full hook-up (power/water/sewer) and some add cable/wifi and use of resort facilities.  They normally want 20 hours a week for a couple to get the free hook-up and will pay for hours worked over that.  While we were browsing the various options, I came across a post from a couple that just wanted someone to be caretakers of their 30-acre farm in north Alabama for a few months.  I called and found out they have a coach similar to ours, were retiring soon, and wanted to take a lengthy trip but needed someone to watch over their place.  Pattie and I drove up to meet them and see the farm.  It is in a beautiful area of North Alabama among the mountains with its own pond stocked with bass, brim, and catfish.  The owner has a garage/shop capable of housing a large RV and a full hook-up.  He said we could stay for free, just look after the place.  I asked him to make me a list of jobs that he would like us to do around the farm.  We agreed and told him we would be on-site late January.  This would save us about $1000 a month in campground fees, allow us to look around an area that's on our short list for investment property, and give us a chance to get back to a gym on a regular basis. 

We arrived late January and had about a week to go over things with the owner before they departed.  I was able to help him finalize wiring and brakes on his Jeep they will tow.  He gave me a list of things he would like us to work on while they were away.  Before they left, Pattie and I went out to celebrate our 30th Anniversary at Grill 29.  The food was great and we enjoyed reminiscing about our journey to this point.

About the same time all this was going on, I received a call from an old friend who thought I would be a good hire for an air traffic control consulting company.  We spoke and after a little discussion, they offered me a job and said they are perfectly happy with allowing me to work and maintain our mobile lifestyle.  So, we went from being free and easy to working a farm, working a job, and working out at the local gym.  Don’t worry about the mule, load the War Chest!

Thanks for keepingupwiththejonesrv!

RV Tip:  Make sure your sewer hose is unhooked and drained completely before freezing temperatures.  Don't really need to explain why.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Christmas and New Years in Alabama

Pattie made this stocking for our son Chris
Our mobile decorations

Tuscaloosa. AL, the home of the University of Alabama, nemesis of my Auburn Tigers, was our home for a little more than three weeks.  We enjoy visiting with my mom and my sister’s family as often as possible and they live in Tuscaloosa.  We like to stay at Sunset RV Park adjacent to I-59 because it is close to mom’s house. This year we were able to help mom with a few doctor’s appointments and even an overnight stay in the hospital.  Once out, it was off to the store for groceries where mom wields a scooter buggy with the best of them.
She has her list and checking it twice
Pattie did a great job helping cook a traditional Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve and a beef roast on Christmas Day.  Our son’s William and Chris came up to visit and William brought his girlfriend Rachel.  We basically over ate, exchanged gifts, and celebrated Christ’s birth as many American families do each year.

After Christmas, my sister invited me to go hunting with her and her brother-in-law Jim.  She loaned me a rifle and we got out in the woods well before daylight.  It was nice to be out and hear the woods wake up.  Just after daylight, I heard a shot from Jim’s direction and soon after got the text that he had shot a buck.  They loaded it up in the ATV and picked me up.  I didn’t see any deer where I was, but I am glad Jim was able to take this nice buck home.

Jeff Mohr, CEO of Mohr Manufacturing, contacted me with a offer for a new SuperBumper to select customers.  I have used his SuperBumper products for years on various vehicles and have written a few reviews of them.  They fit in the receiver hitch and are designed to move in and out to absorb low speed impacts with other cars or stationary objects.  I was hit in the rear in Washington, D.C. a few years ago and the SuperBumper prevented damage to my vehicle as well as the vehicle that hit me.  Last year in California, I backed into the concrete base of a light pole.  Again the SuperBumper absorbed the hit with no damage to my Jeep.  Jeff offered me a new Stainless Steel version, which looks much better on the new Grand Cherokee.  I gifted my old one to my nephew to protect his SUV.  If you own an SUV, you do not have much in the rear to protect you from significant damage even in a slight collision.  SuperBumper can protect a vehicle and reduce potential for whiplash injuries.

Before leaving mom’s house, she asked me to lubricate her garage door as it was making strange noise. Much to my surprise, I found that the center anchor point for the garage door opener had pulled away from the wall causing the entire mechanism to move back and forth.  The builder apparently thought that five nails would sufficiently anchor the assembly to the wall.  They were wrong.  I disconnected the motor assembly and installed five lag bolts to properly secure the anchor.  Once we adjusted the door AND lubricated it, the strange noises stopped.

With mom fixed up, we headed to the Lake Martin Recreation area to camp and be in position for Pattie’s follow-up medical appointments the following week.  The weather has turned bitterly cold and local forecasters are warning of 1-2 inches of snow in Alabama. We are thankful that our AquaHot heating system seems to be keeping up with the demands for heat.

Thanks again for keepingupwiththejonesrv!