Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Altoona, IA - Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jog

Well, our Winnebago Two-Step is done. Were they able to duplicate our problem? Did the slide fail to come in even once in the 16 times they tried it? Nope and nope. Of course, you knew that would happen. But our tech, Dave, gave us some hints about what might be causing it and how to get the slide in should the motor fail. We knew about manually moving it and Gary has worked with the motor slide wiring to get it in. But, now we have another hint or two. Then, of course, if all else fails, I can get outside and throw myself against it to try to force it in.

However, it didn’t fail and we will soon be on our way, back to Griffs RV in Altoona and happy to be going back. But, first we’ve got to dump and hook up the Jeep. The dumping went fine but the hook-up did not. We had bought a new tow bar at the Rally and it was a different brand than our old tow bar. Gary had struggled with it trying to get our Tow Defender (a vinyl cloth which covers the tow bar to prevent small rocks from hitting the Jeep and pitting the paint) to fit and finally bought a 1’ extension (would you believe this cost $100?) to get it to all fit. Part of the problem is that we’ve got a Roadmaster Tow Defender, a Blue OX base plate on the Jeep and now a Demco tow bar. Never a good practice to mix and match parts from different companies.

Today, we tried to hook it all up together and, sure enough, the Tow Defender now fits but the safety cables on the new tow bar were way too tight with the 1’ extender. No go. We puzzled it out for a bit but just decided that I’d drive the Jeep back and Gary would drive the RV back, separately and we’d solve this problem when we got back to Ankeny. We’re tired of dealing with problems:

        the tow bar

        the slide and

        2 FAN-TASTIC fans and 2 FAN-TASTIC fan covers. Yep, the fan cover adventure is ahead of us.

We wrapped up the unused tow bar so it would not get damaged or paint chipped and tooled on down the highway.

The next day, he called Winnebago which will take the tow bar back, Demco about getting our Blue Ox tow bar back (we had given it to them to dispose of) and Blue Ox about a new tow bar and the $150 rebate for turning in our old Blue Ox. Whew. Looks like everything will turn our ok but it has been a long saga.

Forest City, IA - Winnebago Two-Step

We’re at the Winnebago factory in Forest City, just hanging out in their parking lot ‘campground’ waiting for our turn in the service bays. The routine is that the service mgr. puts next day’s service list on the front door of the customer service area about 4 pm when they close. On this list are the names of the lucky people who will actually get into a service bay and actually have a TECH working in their RV.

Winnebago used to tell people to get their RV’s here at 7:00 when customer service opened but - it took about an hour to get all of the RV’s into the bays and the techs, who arrived for work at 7:00, waited an hour. A waste of everyone’s time. Now, we are asked to be in the parking lot ready to move by 6:00 so they can get all the RV’s into the bays so the techs can start work at 7:00 on the dot. Clever.

Friday, when we arrived, we saw an amazing dance of the RV’s, like the dance of the elephants in Fantasia: large behemoths swirling around the parking lot, pirouetting around each other and pivoting in and out. and All they needed were pink tutu’s.
But that was Friday and it went on all day since the rally had just closed and there were a lot of RV’s hoping for service. Saturday and Sunday were quiet, only those RV’s parked here joined by a continual parade of cars driving up to the front door of the service area, the passenger rushing out to check the list for Monday. There must be at least 50 RV’s in the area waiting for service. On Sunday, we also checked the list to see if, by chance, we slipped in for Monday service. But, no go. We were scheduled for Tuesday and no earlier.

Monday morning at 6:00 we heard several diesel motors rumbling away, getting ready to go in for service, but when we looked out our front window at 7:00, expecting the same elephant dance, we saw - nothing. Awww. Disappointment.

Monday night we eagerly checked the list and we had made it! We were in like Flynn (as my mother used to say.) Which meant - up at 5:00. Whoo - eee. But the goal is to get our RV fixed and 5:00 is a small price to pay. Up at 5:00 followed by breakfast. We then readied the inside of the RV for moving and then got ready to move the slides in. Guess what - the problem slide moved perfectly. Wouldn’t you know it? It is an intermittent problem: we counted that it has failed 5 times out of 11. Not a good ratio. But, today, slid in like a knife through butter.
At 6:00 we looked out of our front window and - there were 10 RV’s ready for their entrance onto the stage for the dance of the elephants, moving into position so that the white-shirted guy with the clipboard could assign a driver to them to get their RV into the service bays. By 7:00, the parking lot was empty - just as it was Monday when we looked out. We had obviously slept through the dance on Monday.

Now, about the driver. Winnebago used to let owners drive their own RV’s into the service area but that was fraught with danger. There were a few fender benders and angry people, thinking some one had taken their place in line. But a fist fight? Sure enough, two guys really got into it over one getting his RV too close to the other. Now, they assign a driver to get the RV into the service bays. The drivers come equipped with a small carpet sample and some plastic to protect your RV when they are in it. Nice touch.

Here’s where you don’t want to see your RV - in a service bay with two people huddled on the left looking into a basement compartment. Actually, that’s Dave, our tech, in the red shirt, with Gary, in the white shirt, looking under the slide for the tiny holes that we can use to bring the slide in with some of our tools.
On the other hand, that means that we are getting the service we need and will soon be on our way.

Hey, what’s with all the chairs. Chairs? What do chairs have to do with RV repairs? Well, they hold your spot in the ‘campground.’ We’ve put ours out, our neighbors have also. If you want the same spot for tonight, you’ve got to either park your car in your spot or put out chairs. Note the car behind the chairs - it is also marking a spot for the RV in that ‘camp site’ who is also in getting repairs.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Forest City, IA - Gary's Fantastic FAN-TASTIC Fan Adventure Part 1

Here we are in Forest City, waiting for our turn on the list and thus our turn in the Service Center. What to do? But, let me backtrack for a bit. While we were in the rally, I happened upon the Fantastic Fan display and saw that there was a Upgrade kit for Fantastic Fans of which we have two. This upgrade not only has a thermostat with 14 separate settings, an automatic and manual setting AND a remote. Wow-eee. I spoke with the sales person who told me that ALL we needed to do to install these was to remove the 4 screws in our fans, re-do the wiring, put the new fan in and put the 4 screws back in. How easy is that?

I rushed back to the RV to tell Gary about my marvelous find.

‘What problem is that going to solve, my sweet pea?’

‘Well, hugga bunch, it has 14 settings and a remote, will be so easy to install and they’re half price.’

He looked at me as if I had two heads. But, now we have two fan upgrades and he gets to install them and what better time to do this than while we’re waiting in the Winnebago ‘campground’? And, it will be so ‘easy’.

The first clue that ‘easy’ might not be the correct adjective is when he unboxes the fans and finds two sets of instructions. Two pages which have some of the same write-ups but all different pictures. Hmmm. Maybe this is the time that I’d better make him a batch of brownies.
The salesperson was right about how easy it was to unscrew the 4 screws. Maybe even I could do that. Always easier to take something apart than to put it together. But, wiring? Nope, not me. Sounds like a job for Big Gary. I wil l say that they did give us enough wiring to do three fans.
In the end, Gary figured it all out. What he realized is that the instructions assumed that we had no wiring for our fan at all and that it was all manual. Actually, our Winnebago had some wiring but not enough for the fan to be remote and have a thermostat. It might have taken a few hours and a few brownies but Gary got it all done. What a guy.

And, here’s the finished product:


But lest you think that all we do is find problem: we took a long walk along a trail which skirts the rally grounds and a small city park. Nice wide level trail and we enjoyed walking through nature next to a meandering stream and over the beautiful suspension bridge which we had walked across several days ago. Quiet and relaxing.

Very nice facility for such a small town. There is a beautiful golf course and a disc golf course also. And, did I mention Sally’s and Scoopy Do’s? If you’re in Forest City, try breakfast or lunch at Sally’s and ice cream at Scoopy Do’s, right next to each other on the Main Street. Great city planning.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Forest City, IA - Wright Stuff con't

We then went over to the Stockman Home after we had visited the Park Inn Hotel. We had seen this many years earlier but had not been able to tour the inside. We always knew we wanted to do so and today was the time.
While Wright was in Mason City overseeing the construction of his hotel, Dr. and Eleanor Stockman commissioned him to design a home for them based upon a 1907 design of his in Ladies Home Journal for a fire-proof home. It was a typical Prairie School home with a hip roof, clerestory windows, broad overhanging eaves, a large central fireplace and ribbon windows. However, it was to cost only $5000 and be suitable for a middle class family.
It was built in 1908 and, after the death of Dr. Stockman in 1924, 6 other owners had it. When the final owner left in 1989, it had fallen into disrepair and was becoming an eyesore. Finally, the Methodist Church next door wanted to buy it so they could raze it and build a parking lot. However a deal was worked out with the River City Society for Historic Preservation which moved it to its present location on a large grassy corner lot. They moved the house 4 blocks down the city streets of Mason City and what a sight that must have been.

Then the restoration began. One of the items they repaired was the roof. Note in the picture that the entry has a large overhanging roof. By the time the Society bought the home, the corners were being held up by wooden poles since previous owners had re-roofed many times, once even adding plywood to the roof. When they took off the plywood and the many layers of shingles, the roof sprang back up, the poles fell down and Wright’s design was vindicated.

Besides re-roofing, adding new wiring and reworking the plumbing and refinishing most of the exterior and interior, the Society then furnished it. While almost all original furnishings were lost as the house transferred owners, three built-in bookcases and a dining room sideboard remain. Luckily, the Society had interior pictures taken by Mrs. Stockman showing both what furniture they had and where they had them in the house. Some pieces, which had been bought long ago, were still in Mason City. Some of these were donated to the house. In one case, a tourist who had a California business building Mission furniture, copied the living room picture, made measurements and built a desk to match the desk of Dr. Stockman which had been in the living room.

We were in the 3:00 tour, well, actually, we WERE the 3:00 tour and Jim, the docent gave us his all. We were surprised at how large the rooms felt, having seen the plans for the house and the exterior. But, Wright, who believed in open space in a home, made the home feel very spacious as rooms flowed into other rooms. and were extremely well lit by the ribbon band of clerestory windows. I would love to have some photos to show what interior of the house looked like, but photography was not allowed and I put my camera into the case and into my bag.

Wright believed that a fireplace should be the center of the house and not stuck on a wall at the end. The fireplace in this house is about 15’ wide and, making it seem wider was the particular type of brickwork he designed. The bricks themselves are about 12” long and 2” tall but it is the mortar pattern which makes the fireplace seem even longer and wider. The horizontal mortar is white so you can see a long white line from one end of the fireplace to the other whereas the vertical mortal is dark and you can hardly see it.

I was also intrigued by the ventilation. In the second story rooms, there was a vent above the door which fed into the attic and into a window to the outdoors. Hot air rises and this way the air flowed through the home and the hot air, which otherwise would stagnate in the 2nd story rooms would keep these rooms incredibly hot in the summer. With Wright’s design, the rooms were much cooler.

We were in the 3:00 tour, well, actually, we WERE the 3:00 tour and Jim, the docent gave us his all. We were surprised at how large the rooms felt, having seen the plans for the house and the exterior. But, Wright, who believed in open space in a home, made the home feel very spacious as rooms flowed into other rooms. and were extremely well lit by the ribbon band of clerestory windows. I would love to have some photos to show what interior of the house looked like, but photography was not allowed and I put my camera into the case and into my bag.

Wright described his Prairie School architecture this way:

‘The prairie has a beauty of its own and we should recognize and accentuate this natural beauty, its quiet level. Hence gently sloping roofs, low proportions, quiet sky lines, suppressed heavy set chimneys and sheltering overhangs, low terraces and outreaching walls sequestering private gardens.’

The Stockman House is a delightful example of this. If you’re interested in Wright and his designs, the Stockman home is an example of a more modest home home than many usually associated with him.

Forest City, IA - The Wright Stuff

Where in the world is the only remaining Frank Lloyd Wright designed hotel? If you guess the Park Inn and City National Bank in Mason City, IA, then you move to the head of the class. Several years ago, Gary and I visited Mason City and saw the hotel while it was being restored. We saw the broken windows, the bird nests and the crumbling bricks on the outside. Today we saw the restoration done. What a beautiful hotel. Now, it is not open for business but also for tours. You can rent a room there. And, what a marvelous place to stay surrounded by Wright-designed furniture, stained glass, interiors and exteriors.

On the left of the light was the City Bank, on the left is the park Inn and in the middle was a legal office. Note how massive the bank side is - to look like a strong box and make you want to invest in this bank and put your money there.
The hotel was built in 1909 to serve three purposes: as a hotel, a bank and a law office. Even though Wright had moved to Europe after he had designed it, one of his associates finished it exactly as Wright had designed it, maintaining his Prairie School look: long and low with wide roof overhangs, large central fireplaces, ribbon windows and horizontal banding.

It was very successful at first. However, with economic and banking downturns in the 1920’s, the hotel was re-designed to allow for more retail. Here it is in 1926. Oof-da. What a change. This is obviously a Wrong design.
With the Great Depression following the economic downturn, the hotel steadily declined until it could barely hold its own. Parts of the building were sold off, later it was turned into apartments but finally pigeons and cobwebs took over. Finally in 2005, a local group, called Wright on the Park (WOTP) , first worked to get the building on the National Register of Historic Places, raised money, began restoring it and finally opened it to the public in 2011.
Here is the room behind the reception desk, originally designed to be a restaurant but now serving as a lobby for the hotel guests.
The floor tiles are original along with the stained glass in the ceiling.
Interesting story behind the stained glass. When parts of the building were sold off, these windows were installed in an attic over a sunroom in a private home in the area. When the bank section was being restored, they found some stained glass panes that had been in the ceiling of the directors’ room. When Dr. Robert McCoy, a WOPT board member, saw these, he realized that the ceiling glass in the home he had bought was closely related and, sure enough, these 25 windows were the original 25 Wright windows from the restaurant.
Following this, many other original pieces which had been sold off have now been donated to the hotel. Many have not, the new owners preferring to keep them. However the WOTP has made many copies of the original pieces and these now grace the rooms. The Mason City Library actually has a Mercury statue from the original bank. It lent the statue to WOTP to copy they made 4 copies, the original number and now there are 4 in the bank area.
Here’s a picture showing how Wright made his buildings look longer and lower than they might have been. He left the vertical mortar almost flush with the bricks and indented the horizontal mortar. Secondly, as you can see in the picture above, he used long, flat bricks for the wall. 
What is original in the building now?

        the 25 art glass panels in the ceiling in the skylight area

        the majority of the tile floor in the hotel lobby and skylight room

DSCN2229_Cedar_Rock.JPG-2013-07-28-19-41.jpg        stairway rails although layers and layers of paint had to be stripped off

        the exterior brickwork and art glass windows across the front of the hotel

        exterior urns

        and many other items.

What a beautiful hotel and what a great restoration of a Wright masterpiece. Our next stop is at the Stockman home, another Wright design. You can’t go wrong touring Wright. And, by the way, there is another Wright home in the area, Cedar Rock in Quasqueton, IA just south of rte 30. We saw this in 2008.
We’ve seen Taliesin West in Scottsdale, AZ but plan to visit the other Wright homes in the Phoenix area this winter in amidst our hiking.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Forest City, IA - The Adventure Continues

When Tom and Cathy bought their RV, they knew that they needed some work done and had made an appointment for this service work for the last day of the rally. When they got to the dealer yesterday, oops, the part had arrived in the shop but had not been painted so it was not ready for them. Shucks. So they found a spot in a local park, hooked up their electricity and waited. Our neighbors, who had gone in for service work on Wednesday had also found that the part they needed had not yet come in but that they could get it installed on Friday. Were we surprised at these two instances of not getting service when it was expected? Nope. And, so their adventures continued.

Little did we know that ours was to continue also. Yesterday was the last day of the rally and we had planned to leave for home today. But first, we met with Cathy and Tom at a local restaurant, Sally’s, on the main street in downtown Forest City for breakfast. We love to try the small mom and pop restaurants rather than the big chains and so do Cathy and Tom. We then found the Winnebago factory store where we needed to pick up some parts that we had ordered.

Winnebago does parts very well. Every RV that Winnebago manufactures has a serial number and a list of parts that belong in that vehicle. If you want to know what the name of a part is in your vehicle, go on line and look it up. If you want to order a part, they need only know your serial number and they can find the part just for your RV. Neat. Also - many parts in our RV have a sticker on them (where it can’t be seen) that identifies the part with a number. For instance, I can look at a cupboard door and find out the part number and order it should I need it. Pretty neat.

Now some history. Last October when we traded in and got this RV, they were cleaning it up for us and power washed the battery compartment where the slide motors are. Let me repeat this: THEY POWER WASHED THE BATTERIES AND THE SLIDE MOTORS. What ever were they thinking? Well, obviously, they were NOT thinking. Can you guess the rest of the story? I’ll bet you can. They replaced two of the slide motors but since this ‘soaking bath’ we have had intermittent trouble with the third one, the one they did not replace.

Today was one of the times. We are ready to rock and roll down the highway back to Altoona when I pressed the button for the large slide to come in. 4” later, it stopped. Wouldn’t go in, wouldn’t go out. Dead in the water. Gary has dealt with this before so he went out, detached the wires, reattached the wires. We tried again. No go. He detached and reattached again. No go. One last time, the slide came in. Whew. And, we drove about 3 blocks to the Winnebago customer service area, pulled into one of the spaces, hooked up and are waiting til Tuesday when they said they’d be able to look at it. The RV on the far left has been here in this scenic campground since mid-June. The one to his right has been here often enough to claim this spot as his. There are actually about 6 RV’s in back of us in another ‘campground’.
I suppose, if we’re going to have trouble with our slides, this is the place to have it. 3 blocks from Winnebago Customer Service. Here’s our ‘campsite’. Note all the other rigs here. Probably not a good advertisement for Winnebago. However, I doubt that there’s an RV out there that hasn’t made it into service at one time or another.

Now, we only hope that the slide motor fails when the tech looks at it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Forest City, IA - Magic Moments

The theme of the day was from an old Jay and the Americans’ hit ‘This Magic Moment.’ Every day has some magic moments which stand out and form the fond memories that make up a lifetime. Some moments are not so magic but these also form memories that, unfortunately, also stand out. But, as time passes, those not so fond memories fade while those magic moments and the good memories stick. But, what were our magic moments today?

RallyScenes-20-2013-07-24-20-36.jpgWas it the ‘garage sale’ in the morning? Yep, each section of the campground had a day in which everyone in that section could put our a table with things they wanted to sell. I had some RV things that fit our last RV but not this one. The lady at the table next to me had lots of craft items she makes all year for this opportunity to sell. The woman on the other side had some antique kitchen items she wanted to get rid of before she whipped them off to the thrift store. Now, we might have sold most of our items but a garage sale, by its very nature, for me, can never qualify as a magic moment. 

Was it the RV Care seminar yesterday? This was a very good seminar and both Gary and I learned a lot. I’ve got 4 pages of notes and my handwriting is pretty small. But, somehow, an RV care seminar, while it might be a learning moment, is not a magic moment.

Was it when we learned that our two bar had ‘worn out’ right after we found that our tire sensors had let the air out of 2 tires, one on our Jeep and one on the RV? Ouch. We signed up with the tow bar company for a routine inspection. At the inspection, the tech told us that our tow bar was wearing out and should be replaced. Then we have a tire monitoring system with 10 sensors in which 3 have been giving us some trouble and, when Gary spoke with the reps here at their booth, they told him to put them back on and try again. Yesterday he did and - voila, we woke up with 15 lbs of pressure in one of the Jeep tires and a slow leak in one of the RV tires. Having to buy a new tow bar and a new tire monitoring system? Nope, this was definitely not, by any stretch of the imagination, a magic moment.

Was it Wednesday evening when Cathy, Tom, Gary and I strolled around the campground visiting where many of the states had set up with food, games, displays and good conversation. Cathy hit the target 4 out of 4 times. Remind me not to get into a tangle with her. But it was great fun and definitely a magic moment.
Was it when Marie in the golf cart spied us walking back to our RV with heavy cumbersome loads and asked if we would like a ride? This comes pretty close to being a magic moment. She came at the right time, after 2 flat tires, a worn out tow-bar, several times walking the 1/2 mile between the sales building and out RV, problems getting the tow bar to work and missing lunch because we were trying to solve these problems. Marie was certainly a magic moment.

NiceParkWalk-3-2013-07-24-20-36.jpgWas it walking along the tree-lined biking path towards town and finding a neat suspension bridge with every board donated by someone in the community? At one point we saw five boards, all nailed in a line across the bridge with the name of 5 family members, 3 for the kids and 2 for the parents. I can see the kids in the future returning to their home town with their families and looking for their board. Ah, this was a magic moment.
Was it sitting out side Cathy and Tom’s RV in the evening watching the sun set over the trees and hills beyond and enjoying the quiet conversation of close friends? A magic moment for sure.

imgres-2013-07-24-20-36.jpgOR Was it the Jay and the American’s Concert Wednesday evening?

This magic moment, so different and so new,
Was like any other until I kissed you
And then it happened. It took me by surprise
I knew that you felt it too by the look in your eyes

Sweeter than wine (sweeter than wine)
Softer than a summer night (softer than a summer night)
Everything I wanna have (everything, everything)
Whenever I hold you tight.
This magic moment (this magic moment) While your lips are close to mine
Will last forever. Forever till the end of time
ConcertTime-JayandTheAmericans-21-2013-07-24-20-36.jpgOops, this is not the group we saw. Hardly, We’ve all aged and Jay and the Americans has had 3 different ‘Jay’s’. The concert was good however, since I knew most of the words to most of the songs they sang. It was a perfect night with no clouds in the sky, temps in the 70’s and a large crowd clapping, singing and enjoying the music. Yep, this could be a fun moment, an enjoyable moment, a nostalgic moment, but maybe not a magic moment.

And, thus are days made: some magic moments, some not so magic moments.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Forest City, IA - Rally Time!!!

RallyScenes-16-2013-07-22-22-24.jpgIt’s time for an RV rally, those events that are a combination of party, education, party, trade show, party, information sharing and, did I mention that RV’ers like to have a good time and party? Just about every RV group has a rally of some kind during the year. We’ve been to large international rallies (international because 3 Canadian RV’s came) and we’ve been to smaller more intimate rallies. Our first experience with RV’s, even before we had bought an RV was with a group called Life on Wheels. This was not really a rally but it had many of the same aspects. They held a 3-day series of seminars on the RV lifestyle in Ankeny, IA back in 2007. It was one of the best introductions to RV’ing that I’ve heard of. Unfortunately, the owner of the company which put these seminars on died and with him went RV 101.

Last year we traded in for a Winnebago Journey, joined the Winnebago / Itasca Club and sent in our money for their 2013 rally. Gary and I don’t do rallies often but we do enjoy going to a rally every now and then to learn new things, buy RV specific products and meet people who share our lifestyle. Since we have a Winnebago RV, we thought we’d come to the annual Winnebago rally. We also mentioned to Cathy and Tom, who just bought a new Winnebago View, that they might like to come to learn all about it and talk to others who have the same RV.

Rallies are:

part learning experience - bring your note pads and pens on such topics as: Allison transmissions, toilet care, cooking in a microwave/convection oven, Digital cameras, Michelin tires. You don't think these sound exciting? Well, I’ll agree, they don't 'sound' exciting. However, and this is a big ‘however’, they are great learning experiences. Here you can talk with the people who build and repair Allison transmissions, which we have in our RV, and ask any questions you have. Here you can find all about how to keep your tanks clean, how to get love bugs off your windshield with a minimum of effort, how to get 10 years out of your Michelin tires, etc. Among others, Gary and I went to a seminar given by Bob Livingston who writes about RV care and tech issues for Motorhome Magazine. A 2-hour seminar just crammed with ideas.

part entertainment - big acts every night, small acts during the day.

part social hour - if you think happy hour is only at 5:00, you haven’t been to a rally. And, food, food food. Above is the Iowa section. Under the tent is the line for the food and in front are the prizes that we could buy tickets for. The prizes were donated and the money went for to charity. I put all of my money into the $50 Casey's coupon. Did I win? Need you ask? Nope. 

part business - meeting time for various RV clubs to elect officers, conduct business and meet and greet.

TightRallyParking-2-2013-07-22-22-24.jpgpart meeting new people - the people next to you in the campground, the person sitting next to you in the seminar, the person eating ice cream at the same time as you, the person standing next to you in the parts store. All of these people share our lifestyle and have adventures to relate and information to share. Gary met Bob one night when he went out to see what all the commotion was. The rally provides electricity to us but we do not have individual water hook-ups. Some rigs have been here for longer than we have and others have smaller water tanks. Here’s one way to get more water: hook up 6 or 7 hoses to the water faucet and string these hoses through the RV’s.

part store - where you can see what is available for RV’s and shop til you drop - or your wallet screams in pain. New products (we checked out a new kind of window treatment), replacement products (we replaced our tire monitoring system and our tow bar), fun products (my brother and sister in law bought a flag pole and 2 flags) and repair products (enough said).

The rally is being held in Forest City, IA, natch, and so, yesterday we convoyed up with Cathy and Tom arriving about 1:00. Here we met about 2000 or 3000 of our new best friends and waited in line with them for our campsite. It was an orderly process but there were lots of RV’s here. Above is a picture of the rally grounds. You can very definitely see Tom and Cathy, they are in the small RV to the left of the road going down the middle, on the right end of the front row. Tom says they look like the period at the end of a long sentence. Their view is of the trees in front of them and the green hills in back. Us, we’re way towards the back, to the left and in front of the red barn which is on the right of the middle road. See us? Yeah, right. Our view was of the hind end of the RV parked in front of us.

From our spot to theirs is 1/3 mile. How do I know? We walked it enough times to earn an ice cream or two. And, about that ice cream - it is from Scoopy Doo’s which is a store in downtown Forest City. We knew about Scoopy Doo’s before we came to the rally since we had stopped here after we had taken the Winnebago factory tour last summer with some friends. And, the ice cream is just as good as then.

Here is an RV in the classic Winnebago row. It is a 1975 21’ RV. Looks like it’s in great condition.

Monday we were in seminars just about all day and the same on Tuesday. Oh, yeah, we did meet for lunch but other than that, we saw each other only in passing.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Altoona, IA - On the Road

It’s been a while since we’ve really been on the road in the RV, what with Gary’s father’s death, cleaning up the estate, selling the house and all that entailed. Then, with all that practice is cleaning out a house and selling it, we decided to do our own. Believe you me, 2 houses in 5 months is not what you want to do And, there I was feeling bushed when I spoke with a single woman who also did 2 homes, hers and her mother’s, but in 3 months, alone, with a mother who is exhibiting the first stages of Alzheimer's. I was then feeling lots less bushed.

MeetingC%252526TatElkhartExit-2-2013-07-20-19-41.jpgBut, today, we’re on the road, heading north to Forest City, IA for the Winnebago rally. With us are Tom and Cathy in their new View who will be on their first big RV adventure. They have spent 3 days in a local campground testing all the systems in their new RV and are now ready to rock and roll. We met them at a local interstate entrance. Here they are, waiting for us. And, yes, it’s raining. We're not complaining: Iowa desperately needs the rain.

Prior to any trip, especially those where we have not gone and not seen the lay of the land, I check the roads, the maps, the places to stop for lunch and the places where we can get gas. At 53’, we’re not going to take every road, go into every gas station and drive through every parking lot. I also check elevations and check the roads for curves. We flatlanders like to know about these things in advance. But, heck, this is Iowa, the elevations don’t change and our roads go straight on to morning. I think I don’t need to check the roads and curves.

On the other hand, we have extensive checklists for when we leave a campground and go out on the road. So, we’ve gone through our checklists, although no matter how many times we’ve moved, we still check those lists. We’ve seen too many TV antennas up on moving RV’s, we’ve seen slides out on moving RV’s and we’ve seen electrical cords still attached pulling the pedestal along with them after the RV bouncing down the road. Ouch. Yep, we still check our lists.

My bills are getting fewer and fewer. Every month, I go online to get the amounts of our monthly bills and write them down on a piece of paper so I an keep track of when they’re due and when I’ve paid them. Because we’re now full-timers, we’ve lost our real estate tax bill, our electric and gas bill, our water bill and our monthly town home association bill. Wow, it takes less and less time to compile them and even less time to pay them. Being able to get and pay the bills online certainly makes this life-style much easier than it must have been when you had to get the bills in the mail and then send the little stub and a check in the envelope provided. Gotta get a stamp, gotta find a mail box. Whew. We’ve sure got it easy. But, then people in 15 years from now will say that about us too.

Let’s see, we’re going about 120 miles and want to get there around 1:00. Yes!! No, 0 dark 30 for us today.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Altoona, IA - My Box Springs Don't Spring

LoadingatStorageBuilding-1-2013-07-17-11-50.jpgMy brother, Jack, is sorely in need of a new mattress and, since we’re clearing out our home, we happen to have a queen mattress and box spring that have hardly been used. We got it from our in-law’s in 2001 who had just moved into a house which had a built-in king sized bed and no longer needed a queen bed. We had used it for guests which were pretty few and far between since we are gone about 9 months a year. Thus this bed is not only firm but also mostly unused. Perfect for my brother who is still sleeping on a mattress and box spring which he bought in 1984 and is now supporting with a sheet of plywood.

We had offered to get it up to him on top of our car but he thought he ‘new’ mattress might get dusty so he scrounged around, found a friend, Kent, with an enclosed trailer and drove up a week ago to get it. But Jack, we would have covered it with plastic, we wouldn’t have let it get dirty. But we’re sure he didn’t trust us. You know, I’m an older sister and thus suspect.

LunchafterLoading-3-2013-07-17-11-50.jpgHere are the 3 guys putting a plastic baggie over the mattress. Jack has a friend in the moving business and got a nice big baggie to put over the mattress for transport. We are all in the storage facility where we are storing our furniture - and Jack’s mattress and box spring until he picks them up.
Me, I just take pictures. We took the two out for lunch and discovered that Gary and Kent had the same great-grandparents. Gary’s grandmother was Kent’s grandfathers sister. I’m not sure what that makes Gary and Kent: cousins twice removed, second cousins. Who knows but I’m sure that there is a correct term for this. Well, that’s how those two are related. And here are the sibs below.
When Jack and Kent got back to Fort Dodge, they got the mattress up into Jack’s 2nd story bedroom ok. But the box spring was tough. Jack’s stairs are parallel to his living room so to get to them requires a sharp right angle. Then the stairs are narrow and the bedroom floor is over them. This box spring was a no-go. He had gotten his original box spring down but that one was not as deep. The extra depth was the problem.
But, tell me, are box springs necessary? What purpose do they now serve? No and not much. Gary and I have gone online and talked with bedding specialists in furniture stores and have learned that these days there are no springs in box springs. A box spring is a wooden box with cloth around it. Hmmm. Mattresses are so good these days that no more springs are needed. So, we told Jack to keep his plywood, put the mattress on top, put the box springs somewhere (anywhere in the house) and we’d buy a platform bed frame for him.

How did such a simple gift to my brother turn into a project? Ah, well. We found a platform bed several days ago, picked it up today, got it into our Jeep (inside, not on top, wouldn’t want to get it dusty) and drove the 90 miles up to Fort Dodge to my brother’s home.

Jack had cleared a space for it between his 5 dressers. Look at all those slats, no wonder he won’t need a box spring.
And, here it is - all together. Success.
And Jack is sleeping well now. We took the box springs to a local group called Bridging the Gap which takes gently used furniture and donates it to families who are desperately in need of furniture. We had donated lots of Gary’s father’s furniture to this group back in March. One of their goals is that every child should have a bed to sleep in. We are happy that we can help them in their mission.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Altoona, IA - Missent

Where do we live? Don’t ask the post office - they haven’t a clue. We have had trouble before when we wandered back to our house in West Des Moines in the spring and tried to stop the forwarding process. Somehow, mail gets lost, gets to us terribly late and, when we ask if we can pick it up, we’re told, ‘no, it’s not here. It’s in the system.’ Well, this time, I ordered a book which really got lost in ‘the system.’

I ordered a book from Amazon in late June along with 2 other items. These two items got to me within a week and I was waiting for only this one. Interestingly I had given Amazon my address here in Altoona where we are staying in our RV and the first two items were shipped here. The book was shipped to our old home address and then began its odyssey. Ironically this book is about the Coast to Coast hike in England which takes about 2 weeks. This book’s hike through our Des Moines postal system has taken longer than the hike across England.

Gary began tracking it for me several days ago and gets e-mail updates automatically. Here is the last e-mail he got and, sure enough, the book did get to us here in Altoona, which is the top posting. But, look at all the stops it made. And, look, they even said it was MISSENT on 7/12. At least they’re honest about their foibles.

This is a post-only message. Please do not respond.

Gary Macek has requested that you receive the current Track & Confirm information, as shown below.

Current Track & Confirm e-mail information provided by the U.S. Postal Service.

Label Number: 420502669241999999883006778018

Service Type: USPS Tracking

Shipment ActivityLocationDate & Time
DeliveredALTOONA, IA 50009July 13, 2013 3:39 pm
Processed through USPS Sort FacilityDES MOINES, IA 50318July 13, 2013 12:48 am
Depart USPS Sort FacilityDES MOINES, IA 50318July 12, 2013
Processed through USPS Sort FacilityDES MOINES, IA 50318July 12, 2013 10:26 pm

July 12, 2013 9:40 am
Depart USPS Sort FacilityDES MOINES, IA 50395July 12, 2013
Processed through USPS Sort FacilityDES MOINES, IA 50395July 11, 2013 1:09 pm
ForwardedCLIVE, IAJuly 6, 2013 1:19 pm
Out for DeliveryCLIVE, IA 50325July 6, 2013 10:59 am
Sorting CompleteCLIVE, IA 50325July 6, 2013 10:49 am
Arrival at Post OfficeCLIVE, IA 50325July 6, 2013 9:03 am
Shipment AcceptedDES MOINES, IA 50318July 5, 2013 4:15 pm
Electronic Shipping Info Received

July 5, 201
Arrived Shipping Partner FacilityHEBRON, KY 41048July 1, 2013 7:00 pm

We hare having some wonderful sunsets around here and our view out the front windshield is absolutely gorgeous.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Altoona, IA - Around the Campground

We have an interesting group of campers here in this campground. Everyone is a full-timer, except for those who merely store their RV’s here and there are a few of those. The 5th wheel next to us is owned by a couple who live about 50 miles away and come up here once a month to stay overnight for a bit of a vacation. There’s a Prevost with a large motorcycle hitched to the back around which I have seen absolutely no human beings. There’s another large tandem axle RV across from us that has a large trailer with it. Sometimes the trailer is in front of the RV, sometimes in back and right now it is not here. I’ve never seen anyone there but, I can’t attribute all that movement to ghosts.

There are two groups of campers: those who work at the local race track and others, like us, who are snowbirds but come back to Iowa in the summer where they have friends, relatives or old memories. We saw one guy who is smaller than Gary who weighs 125 lbs with his old Navy work boots on. This guy had a saddle in his storage compartment and we figure he’s a jockey. Here are 3 boys who circled the campground all day. Note the sticks in their hands. Nope, those are not sticks, those are crops and they beat their rear tire with them to make the bike go faster.

HarvestingWildRaspberries-2-2013-07-14-20-13.jpgGary and I like to walk every day and the only problem with this is that there aren’t many walking trails - within walking distance. We have to drive to them all, unless we want to walk around the campground or along the roads around here. Dull and unsafe. We’ve found several nearby, all old railroad beds which have been converted to trails part of the Rails to Trails Conservancy.

Several days ago we found a very overgrown rail bed where the rails and ties had been removed but no trail had been built yet. Here we found a mother lode of blackberries. Yesterday, we brought two plastic containers and began to pick. We filled these two before we had gone half way along the trail and noticed as we continued that the berries got bigger. Next time we’ll start at the other end and pick these. 

Today we walked the GayLea Wilson Trail which connects Altoona to Pleasant Hill and up to Ankeny, 12 miles altogether. And, if you think we’re walking 12 miles, you’re eating too many carrot sticks.

1 block into the trail we noticed this little thing on the tree. It is a gypsy moth trap.

WalkingAltoonaTrails-4-2013-07-14-20-13.jpgOh, no. We lived in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire for about 17 years before returning to the Midwest in 1985. We’ve dealt with gypsy moths and, though we had heard that they were migrating westward, we didn’t think they had gotten this far yet. Gypsy Moths are disgusting and eat every bit of greenery around, even evergreens if necessary. They have a 7-year cycle and are hardly noticeable in the first year or two. In the third year, you can see some of the larva and some tree damage. In the 4th through 6 year, the damage is progressively worse and there are more and more of those caterpillars. In the 7 year, there are so many that cars skid on streets when they are covered with the caterpillars. How disgusting.

They were brought to America in 1869 to breed with silk worms to develop a silk worm industry. Somehow they got out and not realizing the damage, no one tried to retrieve them for a while. Big Mistake. BIG MISTAKE.

I remember the 7th year of their cycle when we lived in southern New Hampshire on a wooded lot. One evening, I could hear raindrops falling on the trees around us. We needed rain and this was such a delightful light rain that I sat in our living room just listening and enjoying nature at work. Then I realized that it was not rain, it was gypsy moth poop falling from the trees onto leaves below and then down to the ground. How disgusting.

I also remember one spring getting a paper bag and scouring our lot trying to scrape all of the egg sacs off any surface I could find. To keep them off the trees, we would wrap the trees with tape with the sticky side out to catch the caterpillars as they climbed up. But there were so many, that the first ones got caught by the tape and the rest just crawled over them to get to the leaves above. How disgusting.

In the end, they all die off because there are so many. Then the body hangs down held up only by their back two feet. How disgusting.

Have I mentioned that I think that gypsy moths are disgusting?

It is classified as a pest, and its larvae consume the leaves of over 300 species of trees, shrubs and plants. The gypsy moth is one of the most destructive pests of hardwood trees in the eastern United States. And, it’s coming to Iowa. Oof-da mega.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Altoona, IA - Huh

Tom, our brother-in-law, who, with Cathy, his wife, has just bought a new RV, a Winnebago View. There are a lot of decisions they must make now and one of them is what car to tow behind the View. He’s got a Honda Element which he really likes because it has so much usable space in it, The two rear seats are removable and can also be moved aside so you can carry lots in the back. However, he’s terribly confused by all the conflicting opinions about whether the car is towable 4 wheels down.

Now, there are 3 ways to tow: with the car on a small trailer, with the front two wheels on a trailer and the rear two wheels on the road or with all 4 wheels down on the road. The preferable way is with all 4 wheels down since this way, you don’t have to worry about a trailer. Hitching up to go or unhitching to stay are just much easier and you don’t have to worry about storing a trailer when you get to an RV resort. Tom prefers to tow with all 4 wheels down but is getting mixed messages from both Honda and another company which deals with these issues, Remco. An example of this mixed messaging is this passage from a manual from Remco. Note that:

You can tow:

        it is ‘towable as is with speed and/or distance restrictions’

        ‘it is not recommended to tow this vehicle over 65 MPH’ (but below 65 must be ok)

        ‘we have a large number of customers who are flat towing’ the Honda and ‘are not having any issues’

        if you want to do this ‘follow the Emergency Towing procedures in the owner’s manual to a T’

        ‘when towing for an extended period of time…’

You can’t tow:

        BUT if you choose to tow your Honda and damage the transmission, ‘you will have to pay for the expense out of pocket’

        ‘Officially from both Honda and Remco the vehicle is not towable’
The message here is we don’t recommend it but here’s how to do it.

Come on, make up your mind. It’s like a mother saying: no, you can’t have any snacks before dinner but if you want to, please eat them at least an hour before dinner.’ My mother never said that. When she said ‘no’, she meant ‘no’. She didn’t mince words, she wasn’t a weasel.

Wash%252526WaxDay-7-2013-07-10-21-11.jpgPoor Tom, this is a large monetary decision. Sell the Honda and buy a new car? Or, take a chance and tow the Honda and risk possible transmission damage? No good decisions here. Only expensive ones.

Our decisions are much easier today: use the old blue rag or the old white rag to wash the car. I love those easy decisions. But don’t ask me my feelings about washing the RV.

Today we:


        WASHED THE RV - here’s Gary on top of the RV scrubbing the top.

We have all our supplies out ready to go.
We had a great day to do all this since it was cloudy and we didn’t have to worry about the sun beating down on the RV.

Wash%252526WaxDay-3-2013-07-10-21-11.jpgTomorrow we wax the RV. Does the fun ever end around here? I kept looking for Manny and his crew who used to circle a Palm Springs campground we have camped in. Where is Manny when we need him?


Time for bed. We thought that was the end of the day. Silly us. Sure enough we heard rain on the roof of the RV. It must have rained about 5 minutes: not enough to water the lawns, not enough to help the corn and soybean crops. Just enough to spot the RV.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Altoona, IA - Hitch Itch

One of my favorite literary passages is from Moby Dick by Herman Melville. It is when the narrator of the story joins the crew of Captain Ahab’s whaling ship.

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.” Herman Melville

Now, my name is not Ishmael, I’ve never felt this melancholy nor have I ever had the need to go to sea. But I do know the desire to roam. RV’ers call this feeling ‘hitch itch.’

What in the world is ‘HITCH ITCH’? I’m sure you can guess. The words themselves give the definition away. It’s that feeling that comes over one when sitting in an RV park for too long. It can lie dormant for a while in the campground but, as the days pass into weeks and the weeks into months, it grows stronger and stronger. It can begin slowly when one sees a license plate from another state, when one opens a travel magazine and reads about a trail one hasn't taken, when one picks up an atlas and begins browsing on the US page or when one talks with the couple next door and shares stories of adventures. Soon, it is a full blown phenomenon with only one cure.

We’ve been sitting here since June 1. First our time was occupied by the sale of our house and the dispersal of our worldly goods. Now, we’re still here while we finally attend to some chores that we have been neglecting since February when we began emptying and selling Lug’s home. Our goal is to remain here until August 31 when we leave on our journey to Arizona and the Grand Canyon. We have so much to do and know that we need the time in a stationary spot. Our journey will be so much better if we get all these little details taken care of.

But, when I pick up my small 8” x 11” atlas or when we walk through the campground and see the Mississippi, the Montana, the Washington license plates or when I read my brother-in-law’s magazine about great places to visit in the US, I feel the hitch itch and want to be off. I want to see it all and start yesterday. But, I know that we had better stay and organize our lives for the future so I’ll content myself with scanning the atlas, with reading about trails in the mountains beyond Iowa, with planning our journey through the National Parks in Utah into Arizona. And, then come September 1, we’ll be off.

So today, we’ll content ourselves with a journey to a Des Moines furniture store and only dream of venturing down the road to a new adventure. My brother needs some new furniture and tomorrow we’re going up to Fort Dodge where he lives to go with him to some local furniture stores to see what he might want. He wants some other opinions besides his own and ours are free. Of course, saying he wants our opinions and really listening to them are two different things. Meanwhile we thought that a visit to a Des Moines furniture store will give us some ideal about what is available in Des Moines and what the prices might be. Luckily, the local store thinks that fresh baked cookies and a cup of coffee are conducive to making good furniture decisions so we hiked to the center of the store, picked out the best chocolate chip cookies and sat to plan our assault of the store.

Altoona, IA - Walking the Old Interurban

We had planned to walk a trail south from near our campground, under Interstate 80 and down towards the center of Altoona. However, after we had parked at the trailhead, we took off down a bulldozer-rutted road and were glad that we had worn our hiking boots. The Trails map said that this trail was not to be completed until fall of 2013 and we soon realized that it had not even been bulldozed out yet. We got about 50 yds in, under the highway and realized that we ‘d need long pants to walk any further since the bulldozer had stopped here.

We then decided to walk where we were sure that there was a trail and drove 3 miles to Ankeny. This trail was pretty prosaic since it went along the line of the old Fort Dodge, Des Moines and Southern Interurban. What in the world is that, you ask? Since I’m from Fort Dodge I’ve heard about the Interurban but not very much. Most of what I’ve heard is from my father-in-law, Lug. He mentioned it a bit in his stories of growing up. We doubt that he ever rode it since he had no money for the fares and had no reason to travel on it. Gary thinks that most of his stories were about the East end kids swimming in the old gypsum mine pits in the buff and, ‘waving’ to the train as it went by. I say ‘waving’ but maybe they might have been doing something else. Who knows?

Meanwhile I looked up something about the old Interurban and learned that it was quite a train from the late teens to 1929 when it stopped. So how many of you knew that coal was a vital resource in Iowa at the turn of the century? Certainly not I, though I have seen a statue memorial to coal miners in a local town as we pass through heading to Des Moines from Fort Dodge. I should have guessed that coal might have been important. However, at the turn of the century, moving coal from the mines to cities was in an incentive to build railroads in this region. And that is where the Interurban came into being.

 Incorporated in 1906, it grew to be the largest interurban in Iowa and it grew to a total of 147 miles of electrified line.

Here’s a map of the total system. From Fort Dodge to Des Moines with branches to Webster City, Rockwell City and Ames.

They planned 2 hour service between Fort Dodge and Des Moines and had 53’ long cars, which made them the largest interurban cars produces and equal in width to regular steam railway cars. Here’s one of the early cabooses, and note the diamond with ‘Fort Dodge’ printed on the side.

The trail we walked was, as most Rail to Trail trails are, very straight, although they put in some short curves to make ti interesting. However, the beauty of the trail was not in its straightness but in its surroundings, trees which shaded the trail (very nice on this very hot steamy day), with glimpses of fields between the leaves and branches. We knew we were in the middle of civilization, and, in fact, spotted the tell-tale orange of the local Home Depot across the corn fields, but felt as if we were in the woods with no one near. It was quiet and still with the occasional rabbit scurrying across the trail, the trilling bird songs and a great blue heron flying across a small pond.

By the way, it’s 237 miles to Kansas City from here.
Of course, at the end, we met a father with his 3 small kids on a ATV riding the trail and disappearing into the brush on either side of the trail. Noisy and what in the world is he doing on the trail where signs are posted that no motorized vehicles are to be on the trail? But he was friendly and told us a bit about the history of the trail.

It was one of those trails which, not being completed and linked to any other trails yet, forced us to walk up and then back. We prefer loop trails but, to make a loop would have taken us out on the road where the the Home Depot was: no sidewalk, loud with cars and motorcycles, hot from all the asphalt and not a pleasant walk in the woods. No, we’d rather take an out and back trail through the woods than a loop along a busy highway.

Thus we had a great walk and learned about the Interurban - a two-fer.