On the road to St. Augustine, FL

rutherford-bad-lug-nut2.jpgMaintenance complete (or so we thought), we pushed onward through South Carolina. Since the wheels had all been removed, it was incumbent on me to stop and check the lug nut torque a few times as we went.  I typically do this around 15 miles, 50 miles, and 100 miles, although it doesn’t hurt to check a little more frequently.

That’s when another maintenance issue cropped up. We’ve had these crummy “capped” lug nuts on the trailer forever (pictured at right).  They are the cheap-o version.  Instead of being solid metal, they have a thin chrome cap over a steel nut, sort of a “falsie.” The problem with this type is that eventually the chrome cap can loosen and even come off.  Super Terry had pointed this out as a potential problem, and honestly I have been meaning to replace all of them for years but just never got around to it.

So of course, about 15 miles out in a lonely piece of rural North Carolina, one of the caps started spinning loose, meaning that I couldn’t properly torque the nut.  Now, being a prepared sort of Airstreamer, I carry 4 spare lug nuts, the solid kind.  I took them out and discovered that they require a 13/16″ socket, but the largest socket I had is 3/4″.  So I couldn’t install them.

After pondering the situation and trying a few tricks (like the car’s lug nut wrench) the ultimate solution was simply to tow to the nearest auto parts store, where I bought the appropriate socket and 20  more of the solid chromed metal 13/16″ lug nuts. I didn’t want to take all the wheels off right there to replace all the nuts, so I installed just the one I needed and tossed the rest in the storage compartment for future use.  My idea was to replace them one wheel at a time whenever a wheel needed removing, but of course about 150 miles later when I checked the nuts at the end of the day I found another loose one. So now I have 22 nuts that require a 3/4″ socket, and two that require a 13/16″ socket, which makes it much more amusing to watch me checking the nuts.

The other maintenance item is the tires on the Mercedes.  I’ve been watching them carefully for a long time, and was hoping that they’d last until we got back to Tucson.  At 29,000 miles, when we had the last dealer service, they looked OK, but now at 33,500 miles it is clear that they need to go.  The front end of the car is somewhat out of alignment, a fact that was revealed only in the past week when the right front and left front tires started showing excess wear at the outer edge. I could rotate the tires one more time (front to back) and probably gain another 1,000 or 2,000 miles, but I don’t care to push them quite that far.  Towing, as you know, puts high stresses on tires.  The last time I tried to stretch a tire (on the Nissan Armada) we had a blowout at low speed.  So a set of tires and an alignment are part of this week’s plan.

Our base of operations for the next few days will be St. Augustine, FL.  Normally we stay over on the coast, but this time I’ve got obligations in Green Cove Springs, which is west of  St. Augustine, so I’ve selected a rustic old campground near the St John’s River.

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We have all the little cues that tell us we are Florida.  It’s balmy and humid.  Everything is green with life, and there’s a particular scent in the breeze that speaks of ocean salt, inland swamps, and natural decay.  Spanish Moss hangs from every tree, and grayish sandy soil is underfoot. Eleanor even managed to get bitten by a red ant within 10 minutes of arrival.  Ah, yes, Florida.  I love it here but you’ve got to watch out — there are more biting and stinging things here than Arizona, by far.

The campground is many decades old.  It is a classic piece of “old Florida”: well shaded, unpretentious to a fault, and straddling the line between marginally maintained and moldering neglect.  There are ducks and chickens and feral cats all over the place.  The river is alive with water birds and fish (and probably alligators).  We like it.

The campground is under threat of development, but not any time soon.  The owners, who have run various businesses on the property for 80 years, announced in 2005 that they were going to sell the whole thing for condominiums, but so far nothing has happened, so we should be fine for the rest of this week, while we take care of business.

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