Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

No drama

Friday, June 7th, 2013

I know I keep harping on about Alumapalooza even though it is over for this year, but the event gives me a lot to think about.  Although we now run three events per year (and four are planned for 2014 so far), Alumapalooza has always been “the big one.”  I meet a lot of people there who give new perspectives on what Airstreaming is all about, and also a lot of people who say they read this blog.

This year, I was particularly thrilled to hear from a couple of people who separately told me that they went full-time in their Airstream partly as a result of inspiration from this blog, or the previous “Tour of America”.  Lots of others commented on Emma, saying that they’ve watched her grow from a little five-year-old tyke to a teenager.  These friendly folks are like an extended family to us, even though we often don’t know they’re watching until years later when we meet at an event!

I kept hearing from people that one of the best parts about Alumapalooza was that there was “no drama,” meaning that there were no internal battles, no public embarrassments, no arguments, and no politics.  Everyone just laid back and had a good time.  It might seem that this should be the norm for rallies, but too often events (not ours) have been marred in the past by such things, and a lot of people are frustrated by that.  The best rallies and events are the ones where everyone sets aside their politics and prejudices, and shares the good values that bring us together.  We work hard at making sure that happens, by thoughtful programming of the activities, and selecting the volunteer staff very carefully. So I was glad to get the feedback that we’d succeeded.

We are now in Vermont, with the Airstream parked in its usual summer resting place in the shadow of a row of cedar trees near Lake Champlain.  It won’t move again until late August or September, but despite that we have many travels ahead.  Eleanor and I are focused on getting out the door next week for a long-anticipated trip to Europe.  By Friday we expect to be attending a big (for Europe) Airstream rally in Weilburg, Germany.  This is going to be a major experience for us, since we’ve never camped in Europe and we haven’t yet had the chance to meet many of our correspondents in Europe.

Our Airstream during the rally will be a brand-new Airstream 684, which is the largest Euro-spec model available.  It is being provided courtesy of Airstream Germany.  (Because it is new and unsold, we can’t use the bathroom or the galley, so it will be sort of an “aluminum tent” for us, but that should not be a problem since the campground is in town—see upper edge of photo.)  Euro13-WeilburgCORRECTION:  It turns out this is a PR and rental trailer for Airstream Germany and we will be able to use all the facilities —bonus!

We’ll be parked in a lot with about fifty other Airstreams for three nights.  Quite a few of them will be caravanning down from the UK, as well as Belgium, The Netherlands, and other countries.

weilburgaltstadtOn Saturday night I’ll be giving a little talk at 9:00 pm, about Airstreaming in America’s National Parks.  (While researching this presentation I did a quick count and found we’ve visited over 100 of them so far, which is only about one quarter of the entire NPS system.)  Otherwise, there’s not much on the program other than a barbecue, so there should be plenty of time to explore the town of Weilburg and meet the European Airstreamers.  I expect no drama.

This weekend Eleanor and I will be busy prepping for this trip. With about 10 days to play with, we are likely to visit Switzerland and a little of northern Italy in addition to Germany.  I’m bringing only an iPad and an iPhone 5 (with a German SIM card) for technology, trying to keep it light.  Also in keeping with our usual travel style, we are going mostly reservation-free.  We don’t want the pressure of a fixed itinerary.  We’ll have a car and some maps, and see what looks interesting along the way.

The trip starts on Wednesday.  I’ll blog as much as I can.

Decompression session

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

With Alumapalooza behind us, we’re off on the next leg of our voyage.  This will be the fourth year we have spent the two days following Alumapalooza courtesy-parked at the home of Lou & Larry in the “premium spot” next to their house.  They provide a very comfortable place to decompress, with a full hookup and access to the house wifi, and they make no demands on us (quite the opposite in fact, since they feed us and help with minor trailer repairs), so it’s a wonderful first stop on the way east.Ohio courtesy parking

We had extra food from the catering on Saturday night that we couldn’t let go to waste.  On the four hour trip from Jackson Center to here (near Cleveland) a lot of aluminum trays of food rode in the shower.  When we arrived, Eleanor repacked it to fit in our refrigerator and freezer, but still there was so much that we were able to prepare a sizable gift for some neighbors here who need it, and give a bunch to our hosts as well.  Even giving away many pounds of food, we will have enough ribs, cornbread, and green beans to serve the whole gang of family & friends once we reach Vermont.

Being here for Monday has given me a chance to reflect on this year’s Alumapalooza. Overall it was highly successful, with few glitches and lots of positive feedback.  People have been writing in all day to say how much they liked it, and there were a lot of memorable moments.

APZ4-2Later this week I’ll have over 480 photos from our official photographers and will definitely post an album of them online. I think those pictures will tell the story better than I can.

The things that didn’t go well are also memorable, and I’m writing them up as notes for our team so we can find ways to improve them for Alumapalooza 5.  We’ve already got a lot of neat ideas for new activities, and I think some clever solutions to the few remaining problems.  All of this will be very helpful as we plan for the big Alumaflamingo event in Sarasota.

Airstream familyIn two days at our Ohio courtesy parking spot, a lot can get done.  I managed to get a good night’s sleep, get office work under control, have some time with our friends (including Lou, Larry, Dan, sKY, slaDE, Loren, Mike, Al & Shinim), and eat a lot of good stuff.  Eleanor took care of our shopping and did the laundry. I also noticed and replaced yet another bad propane pigtail (hopefully the last of the unreliable ones I bought last year).

So with all that done, it’s on to the next adventures.  I’m feeling ready for tomorrow’s drive.  It will likely be a long one across Ohio, Pennsylvania and much of New York, so we’ll be starting as early as possible.

 

 

 

The last day of Alumapalooza 4

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

Did I mention that this has been the best Alumapalooza I’ve ever had?  The attendees always seem to have a good time, but those of us in orange shirts tend to work long hours and run around solving problems ad hoc all day.  This year I have to give the credit to the absolutely awesome staff who have made everyone’s life so much easier.  We added two “orange shirts” this year and picked up about four others who have pitched in unofficially.  They’ve all been great.

APZ4 Kirk McKellarThis is making me much more optimistic about next year’s event in Sarasota FL, Alumaflamingo.  There was a lot of talk about that event. Many of our seasoned team are coming to that event, and also quite a lot of the people who are attending here.  Also, our new mascot, Sammy The Solar Squirrel will be attending.  He makes daily calls on the staff radio channel to remind everyone to put on their sunscreen and drink plenty of water.

Sammy has been a little disappointed lately.  We’ve had intermittent showers Friday and this morning, which look likely to continue all day.  Not much call for sunscreen.  Yesterday we got halfway through the Backup Derby (using a 29-foot Airstream Ambassador) and got rained out. We had some pretty major showers during the Charity Auction but since we were all under the main tent, nobody minded.  The Auction was a huge success. We auctioned off some Airstream art, a special edition “Alumapalooza 4″ Zip-Dee chair, two Airstream scale models, one of Kristiana’s silver trailer necklaces, and a Lodge Dutch Oven.  That raised $1,455 which will be donated to the Fish Pond, a local food bank.

We also announced that the proceeds from the Aluminum Gong Show reached $818, which Brett and I pledged to match dollar for dollar, so the total will be $1,636 to be donated to the Red Cross for help with tornado relief in the midwest.

Today’s events are mostly under cover, so the rain won’t matter.  We already had yoga this morning, and Kid’s Yoga is starting soon.  The Swap Meet was huge (I sold a couple hundred dollars worth of stuff myself) and Rivet Masters was a big hit according to Alex, who emcee’d it. APZ4 pano1

In a few minutes we’ll start Eleanor’s “Aluminum Chef” demo and then if the weather holds we’ll resume Backup Derby at 2, then tonight we have some awesome door prizes, dinner, and The Trailer Park Troubadours.  Alumapalooza 4 is almost over, and I think a lot of people here are sorry to see it end.

The Aluminum Gong Show

Friday, May 31st, 2013

I’m sitting here thinking about everything that happened yesterday, and it’s all a jumble of images in my head.  Too much stuff is happening to keep track of it all!  Brett and I walk around with little notepads in our pockets so we can make notes about things that we need to address for future events, or announce at happy hour.  This year our notes are considerably less than the first couple of years, which I think indicates we are getting everything smoothed out.

Yesterday everything went as well as can be expected.  Our trailer numbers swelled to 128 parked on the field, plus several more in the Service Center and the Terra Port.  We should hit about 140 today.  I heard from a few people who had problems on the road, but they all eventually pulled in with big smiles and a sense of relief.

Andy Thomson was a little late getting here to do his famous Test Drives, but by 10:30 he was taking people out for a spin in a Ford Taurus SHO coupled to a 30-foot Airstream Serenity.  I took a ride in the back seat and was impressed, as always. Eleanor is going to drive it this afternoon.

Tim Maxwell and Dave Schumann of Airstream held two seminars and packed the room, talking about Airstream maintenance topics.  We also had seminars from Phil May of Techno RV and Colin Hyde.  Despite the threat of thunderstorms most of the day, Yoga, Kite Flying, and the Bike Ride around Jackson Center all were well attended.  But the afternoon Pool Party at the JC Municipal Pool was deterred by a quick cloudburst that hit almost exactly at 2 pm, when the party was due to start.  We’ve had no luck organizing Pool Parties at Alumapalooza—every year we either get rained out or it’s too cold that day.

The weather here is unpredictable, as I’ve often said.  All you can be sure of is that there will be rain, fog, cold, heat, humidity, calm wind and high wind, often all in the same day.  We’ve had two fantastic days but today it is a certainty that the thunderstorms are coming in soon.  It’s such a shame because right now (at 7 a.m.) it’s just beautiful: about 72 degrees, moderate humidity, calm wind, and beautiful clear skies.  By 9 we’ll be getting rain, alas.

Last night we saw clouds on the horizon around sunset, and after checking the radar and with our resident meteorologist Alex, we sent a text message (to everyone who registered to receive them from us, about 70 attendees) warning them to pull in awnings.  For a few people, the message arrived too late, due to the vagaries of the local cellular network, and they had awning damage. The storm was brief but severe, dumping 1/4 ” of rain in less than 10 minutes, and the main tent suffered some light damage which will be corrected today, plus a lot of stuff was blown around.

For situations like this we have emergency procedures in place, including assistance from the Fire Dept, several First Responders on the field, and access to the manufacturing building in case of tornadoes.  We’ve rehearsed these routines every year but never had to use them, fortunately.  It’s Ohio in the summer and the weather can be a little challenging at times.

APZ4 Santa BabyThe big fun yesterday turned out to be the Aluminum Gong Show.  We had more acts signed up than we could present in the time allotted, so we pared the list down to 10.  First we gave out a ton of great door prizes, and then kicked off the show with Eleanor and performing “Santa Baby.”  I played ukulele badly, and Eleanor sang.  Neither of us could hear ourselves, and we thought we might get gonged, but the crowd sat through our act and even tossed a few dollars in the Charity Jar.

After that, we had a good guitarist, and then Brett recited Dr Seuss’ “Sam I Am” in the voice of William Shatner (he got gonged), and then we had a Human Calendar Calculator, and after that the acts got better.  It was hilarious. Alex & Charon stole the show with their duet recitation of a Gertrude Stein Dada-ist poem.  Probably half of this will end up on YouTube or our Facebook page, so you can see it eventually.  We raised a ton of money for charity with this show, and we’ll announce the total tonight at Happy Hour.

Alumapalooza jam sessionLast night’s entertainment wrapped up with Laura F singing torch songs and then a great “Jam Session” that went for a couple of hours with Kirk McKellar, Curtis Remington, Art Martin, David Winick, and several others.  Bob Wheeler of Airstream and his family showed up on the field and are camping in the Terra Port this week, so we had a chance to visit with them after the lasagna dinner at the local Methodist Church (an annual tradition).

I’m pretty sure I’m missing about ten other things that happened today and were worthy of note, but as Ramona Creel (one of our presenters) would say, “There’s just too much stuff to keep in mind head!”  So I’m going to move on. It’s time to get dressed and join the rest of the staff for what promises to be another exciting day.

Life at Alumapalooza 4

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Everyone here keeps asking me how things are going for us, since we are now entering our third day of Alumapalooza.  I have been replying that his has been the easiest and best year yet.  Many of the troublesome issues from years past have been worked out, and we have an absolutely awesome team of “orange shirts” who have just nailed every problem that crops up, even before I know about them.  As a result, we’re having a pretty good time.

This is good because we are already thinking hard about the challenges of next February’s Alumaflamingo, to be held in Sarasota FL.  We’re going to be have to be at the top of our game to make that event meet our standards the first year out, especially with (likely) 200-300 trailers on the field.  Normally it takes about 12-18 months to plan a new event, and at this point we have just nine months left, so it’s definitely on my mind, and Brett’s.

But we’ll talk about that later.  You want to read about Alumapalooza, right?  What can I say—it has been great.  The weather has been excellent since the early sprinkles ended mid-day Tuesday.  We’re expecting lots of sunshine and temps in 70s and 80s through Friday, then probably a few thunderstorms will roll through.  That’s typical.

The events have been well-received.  I’m not going to go through a list of everything we’ve held, because it’s all in the online schedule, but suffice to say the attendees have been kept completely occupied, from Yoga at 7:30 through the Roving Happy Hours in the evening.  Yesterday a lot of people missed half of Marty’s talk about “Running a Business On The Road” because they were trying to chow down a little lunch between activities.  We may have programmed the day a little too tight because we had so many things we wanted to present.

Well, that’s just a warm-up because today’s schedule has a lot more on it.  We’ve got seven seminars and activities for today, plus towing “test drives”, plus the Aluminum Gong Show (Eleanor and I will be doing an act in it), plus a Pool Party, two factory tours, door prizes, Open Grill, and this evening’s Jam Session.  Eleanor and I went through today’s schedule at 6:30 just to plan what we were going to do.  She and Emma are starting their day with Yoga at 7:30.

We are taking care to pace ourselves so that we aren’t burnt out by Saturday. I’m trying to get to sleep around 10 p.m. but it doesn’t always work out.  Regardless, I have to be up at 6:30 or so to get ahead of the day, take care of email, slather up on sunscreen, and check in with everyone.  (By the way, “Sammy The Solar Squirrel” gets on the staff radio channel every day to remind the staff to take care.  Today he is going to be joined by “Harry The Hydrated Hippo,” to remind them to drink the cold water we keep in a cooler by the main stage.  We have fun with our radios …)

The new Internet system is working very well.  Instead of the marginal and occasionally slow Internet I normally get while at Airstream, my system is flying along at good 4G speeds all the time.  I’m getting a consistent -73 dBm.  Brett has a similar system with a different antenna and he’s also getting awesome performance and a better dBm rating (-59 dBM) so I think his antenna is a better one. I may switch later.  Colin Hyde has one too, and he’s very happy.  Alex is next door to Colin and finding poor reception so I suspect he’s the next one to upgrade.

Gotta go — the day has already started!  For more about what’s coming, check the Alumapalooza Facebook page.

Pre- Alumapalooza 4

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

The blog has been quiet the past couple of days because we’ve been deep into the Alumapalooza pre-event routine. We’ve settled into a pattern for the set-up of these events, which started before we arrived.  This year we have a slightly larger staff than before, and they are all really excellent, so the workload for us has gotten much lighter.  When we pulled in to Airstream’s Terra Port on Saturday, everything was so well under control that there was little to do but get updated, and on Sunday instead of joining the goody-bag assembly line, I was able to spend the day with Super Terry doing some maintenance to our Airstream.

Airstream Safari CircleThe maintenance was primarily about inspecting our tires and wheel bearings.  It has been over three years since the bearings were re-packed, and many miles, which is far beyond the usual RV industry recommendation.  Paradoxically, our heavy and regular use of the trailer is one of the reasons we’ve gotten away with it. Sitting still isn’t great for the bearings, as it offers an opportunity for condensation to get in.  I’ve also periodically checked the bearings to ensure they are running cool, and whenever a wheel is up in the air I check for smoothness & quietness of rotation.

Still, it has been nearly two years and probably over 12,000 miles since the last time Super Terry and I took the wheels off to check things out, so it was definitely overdue.  We found that the Michelin tires are still doing well, but wearing more on the outer edge of the tire tread, so we took them over to the Wal-Mart Super Center in a nearby town to get them flipped.

Airstream Michelin tire wear 2013-1

Now the white-letter side of each tire is facing out, and the tires have been swapped from side to side so that they will have the same direction of rotation.  This should even out the wear a little.  Based on the wear I saw, I’d guess we could get about 50k miles out of them.  They’ve already gone over 30,000 miles, and the date code says they are five years old so they are probably going to “age out” before they wear out.

Airstream Parbond caulk-1Our inspection revealed that the brake pads were fine except on one wheel, where the disc caliper sliders had gotten dry.  When that happens, only one brake pad gets all the wear, so we replaced that set of brake pads and re-lubricated the caliper sliders.  Otherwise all was good.  Super Terry re-packed the wheel bearings, and re-applied gray Parbond (a sort of thin caulk used for small seams on the exterior) to a few spots that needed it, and that completed our day of maintenance.

Over the weekend I had a few minutes to look around Jackson Center to see what has changed.  We knew that the Cafe Veranda, the best restaurant in town, had closed.  The building is still for sale.  I hope someone buys it and turns it back into a B&B.  It’s a gorgeous house and has some interesting history.  I’ve heard that Wally Byam used to stay there many decades ago.

The one-screen downtown movie house, the Elder Theatre, is in danger of closing for the same reason as many other old independent screens across the country.  The mandatory change to digital projection is too expensive for this little Mom & Pop operation, and so they’ve launched a Kickstarter effort to raise $25,000 to save the theater.  Check it out and pledge if you love the little village of Jackson Center, OH.  This country is going to lose hundreds of little downtown theaters if they can’t make the digital conversion this year.

Phil’s Cardinal Market, the old grocery store, has been replaced by a spankin’ new Family Dollar store.  It’s nice to see some investment in the downtown.  It just opened last week and seems very fine.  This week the Alumapalooza-goers will flood it and probably clear it out of milk and bread, as they usually do.

On Monday the big deal of the day was the arrival of the tent.  Normally the tent crew arrives in the late morning and has it up by 2 or 3 in the afternoon, but this year things ran late, so we didn’t have a chance to get in there and set up our stuff (lights, sound, kitchen, Internet, refrigerators, etc) until after 6 p.m. This was an inconvenience but really not much more than that, so overall I would say setup went extremely well this year.

All weekend we’ve had early arrivals showing up and parking in the Service Center parking lot.  At this point I think we have about 25 Airstreams there, plus another ten or so staff trailers in the Terra Port, and probably 6-10 more service customers.  Everyone gathered on the grass for the Memorial Day cookout, which was a huge success.  The rain we had gotten in the morning cleared up for the afternoon and early evening.  It rained again last night and there is still the occasional patter on the roof as I type this (at 6 a.m. Tuesday) but the forecast is calling for improving conditions all day and fabulous conditions through Friday.  Only a little rain and not too much heat is a pretty good week in JC this time of year.

Airstream guitar Yesterday Dave Schumann showed up and took a few of us into his office to show off a new Airstream guitar.  So far only two have been made, but Airstream will get more and sell you one for $2,250 if you are interested.  One of our attendees is going to play this one on stage this week.

All week Eleanor and I have been practicing for the new Aluminum Gong Show, which is a featured part of Alumapalooza this week.  We’ve got a little routine which involves both of us and a ukulele.  If the performance is not great, at least it will be entertaining.  I am hoping a few more people sign up to be in the show.  Any act is welcome, even pet tricks.  It just has to be a minimum of 90 seconds long and a maximum of four minutes.  If you are attending Alumapalooza you really don’t want to miss this show, trust me …

It’s time to get moving now.  This is going to be one of those days where we do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.  By 8 we will have a caravan of staff trailers heading out to the field, and by 9 parking of the general attendees will begin.  Alumapalooza begins now!

Arrived at Airstream!

Friday, May 24th, 2013

We’ve completed the final leg of our long long trip to Airstream headquarters in Jackson Center, Ohio, at last. Yesterday we towed 330 miles from the Great Smoky Mtns to a spot somewhere between Dayton and Cincinnati to crash for the night, then the final 100 miles or so this morning.

I was pleased to see that even though our battery was severely depleted after three days of shaded camping, we managed to pick up 47.5 amp hours through the solar panels while we were towing. It was a beautiful day, and with the battery back up to about 76% it was no problem to spend another night without plugging in.

We’ve been lucky to avoid a lot of weather trouble along our route this year. Normally we’d follow a route across I-40 or I-70 to get to Ohio, and if we had, we’d have risked tornadoes and nasty thunderstorms. This year we opted for I-20 to I-30 only because we were heading for The Great Smoky Mtns National Park, and coincidentally lucked out on the weather. All we had to deal with was a lot of heat across Texas, and some humidity in Arkansas and Tennessee. Now it’s just about perfect in Jackson Center, OH, with days peaking around 70 degrees and dry air.

That won’t last, of course, because there’s nothing as changeable as Jackson Center weather. All I can hope is that the inevitable thunderstorms won’t be too severe, and right now the long range forecast seems to support that. We shall see, because even a 48-hour forecast really can’t be counted on for much. Every day’s a surprise.

The rest of the crew are here, and by the time we arrived they had the field all staked out. Tim & Alice were busy arranging the water system and checking on the power. Brett and a small crew were marking the tent locations (they’ll be put up on Monday). In other words, business as usual. Tomorrow we’ll stuff the goody bags and Terry & I have plans to do some service on our Airstream, but it’s generally light work. Nobody is too busy yet.

I see four Airstreams belonging to attendees who have arrived early; they’re all in the Service Center parking lot. Little impromptu Happy Hours and get-togethers seem to be forming, which is nice to see. Tomorrow it should pick up quite a bit, and by Monday we expect at least 25 Airstreams to be boondocked in the lot for the Memorial Day cookout.

It’s nice to see Jackson Center again. It’s always like a Homecoming. We have a lot of memories here and of course it’s the home of the company that my entire business is based upon. It’s a tiny village in the middle of a lot of corn & soybean fields, and I never would have come here if it weren’t for this amazing phenomenon called Airstream, but since I have it has become a place I think of fondly.

This afternoon has been spent settling in, and catching up with friends who we haven’t seen in months. There’s a lot more of that ahead, I’m sure. If Alumapalooza is anything, it’s a giant social occasion—and Airstreamers are very social people. This promises to be a very fun week.

2013 trip plan

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

It’s that time of year again, when I finally start writing about the trip plan for the summer.  Every winter I plot and obsess about where we’ll go in the summer, because (a) planning is a way to get through the boring parts of the winter; (b) summer is our big opportunity to go places, since we are “forced” to travel east for Alumapalooza anyway.

This year’s plan is especially exciting to us.  Late next week we’ll hit the road toward Alumapalooza.  This is a long slog, something north of 2,000 miles to Ohio, and lots of tedious Interstate travel, but we try to mix it up a little each year with new stops or routes.  After doing this trip from Tucson at least five?  six? times, I think we’ve exhausted every possible route so now we are going a little off the concrete path and adding unnecessary miles just to see something new.

2013 trip leg 1The big goal for this leg is the Great Smokies National Park (“B” on the map).  We have never visited with the Airstream, and yet it’s reputedly the most visited National Park in the entire NPS system.  Eleanor and I went once, back in the 1990s, pre-child, pre-Airstream, and we didn’t get a chance to do any hiking, so this visit will probably be entirely different.  Should be a nice chance to chill out before we jump into the long days of running Alumapalooza.

To get there on our schedule, we must bear up to once again traversing the I-10 and I-20 route through Texas.  It’s not the most exciting drive, but I prefer it slightly to I-40 through Oklahoma, or I-70 through Kansas, or I-80 through Nebraska.  No matter which way you cross the Plains, you are going to see a lot of flatness and emptiness, so all you can do is pick the type of emptiness you prefer.  I like the kind with more desert in it than grass.

2013 trip leg 2In Ohio we’ll be running Alumapalooza for a week (including prep time).  After that, and a mandatory decompression session with Airstream friends in eastern Ohio, we’ll head east along a well-trodden path of I-90 with only one or two quick stops in New York.

Why the rush?  Well, there are only ten days between Alumapalooza and our next major travel leg, and in that short time I’ve got to tow the Airstream 800 miles and catch up/get ahead on work.  I also have a quick overnight motorcycle tour to Americade planned with my brother and some of his friends.  It’s a lot to pack into a short time.

A few days later, Eleanor and I will head to New York City to catch a plan to Germany.  Eleanor and I are going to camp with the European Airstreamers at their annual gathering, just north of Frankfurt.  We’ll be staying for three nights in a new Euro-spec Airstream provided courtesy of Roka Werk AG, the German Airstream dealership.  Very cool, and I can’t wait.

Of course, I have to sing for my supper; in this case, doing a presentation about “America’s National Parks” for the assembled Europeans.  In the process of researching it I was amazed at what I didn’t know about the National Parks.  We’ve visited close to 200 of them now (Emma has over 60 Junior Ranger badges) and still there’s so much more to see and learn.  I’ve spent several nights picking out the best photos we have for the slide show, which has brought back a lot of great memories.

After the 3-day Gathering, we’re going to plan hookey for a while, touring around Europe in a rental car.  What will we do?  I’m not sure, but don’t expect me to return calls for a while.   I’m not even bringing my laptop, just an iPad.  It will be a wonderful opportunity to disconnect.

Then it’s back to Vermont for a week or so with family, and then I’ll fly back to Tucson for July, reverting into my alter-ego personality of Temporary Bachelor Man for four weeks.  I can’t tell you what to expect from that either. You never know what TBM will do.  Probably he’ll be buried in work from all the time I was offline in June, but I’m certain he’ll do his best to make a small roadtrip in the time available.

In August I’m flying up to Oregon to run Alumafandango.  Being the first time in that location, it should be a lot of fun with a lot of new faces.  We’re going to release the Preliminary Event Program in June (most likely), and it will be typically packed with stuff to do all day.  The setting up there in Canyonville is just beautiful, too.

Mid-August?  I dunno.  Probably a little more TBM, then flying to Vermont to retrieve the family (remember them?) and the Airstream.  After that we are kind of open on the plan, including the return timing.  We might leave in August and take a long trip across the northern tier before heading home, or we might hang in New England until early September and then bolt home (out of necessity due to appointments).

In prior years our annual round-robin has run anywhere from 8,000 to 14,000 miles total (including side trips not towing).  I’m expecting about the same this year.  Fuel prices are about the same as last year so I don’t expect a major change in the budget.  We’ll spend the same amount for the Airstream portion of the trip as we would have taking the family on a two week cruise.  Not cheap, but to my mind a bargain for an entire summer of fun.

Mobile Internet, part II

Monday, April 15th, 2013

OK.  I’m sitting here looking at my fingers as I type.  I see three small cuts (nicks from sharp aluminum edges), three broken nails, and one knuckle scuff.  I have been fighting the mobile Internet installation, and finally won.

When I started on the project Saturday I figured it was a two or three hour job:  pull out all the old gear, run a new antenna cable, mount the new antenna, and then install the new gear.  No big deal.  But every step of the way, I was tested.  This was an exercise in beating frustration, which is part of why it took two and a half days to complete.

Nothing would go right the first time.  Now, I can admit that some of the trouble was the result of my inexperience with some things, but I’m not a total noob, so there’s a piece I can attribute to some other force:  bad karma, juju, luck, biorhythyms, alien influence, whatever.  Nothing was as easy as it was supposed to be, and when I realized how things were going to be, I decided I would stick it out even if it took all week.

The big problem was the antenna.  The old antenna was something called an NMO Mount, which means that the installer made a 3/4″ hole in the Airstream’s roof that I would have to plug.  The new antenna requires a side mount (it was designed for buildings rather than RVs) and so I had a very limited range of places I could put it, unless I wanted to fabricate a custom aluminum bracket. I very nearly did, but then found that the bracket upon which the TV antenna rests made a perfect mount.

[NOTE added 5/14/2013:  I'm an idiot.  I should have just returned this antenna and done some more looking.  Since I went through this nightmare install, I discovered a replacement that would have just screwed right onto the existing NMO mount, avoiding the need to run a new antenna cable and seal up the old hole.  I would recommend this antenna to anyone who wants the same 4G performance but with a much lower profile:  Laird Phantom.]

Airstream antennaThis location was ideal:  away from metal objects on the roof that might block the signal (such as the solar panel and air conditioner), low enough that the antenna will clear the carport entryway, and right where I can easily inspect it.  I had to run the coaxial antenna cable through the base mounts that hold up the front solar panel.  That was actually one of the easy problems, solved with the purchase of a 1/2″ drill bit and two rubber grommets.

Antenna closeup

The simplest path to the electronics cabinet was through the existing 3/4″hole in the roof.  I thought I was being clever to use the old antenna wire to pull through the new one, but the old line kept snagging.  So I used the old antenna wire to pull through a few feet of slick & smooth plastic vacuum line (left over from the Mercedes 300D renovation), and then used that to pull the new antenna line through–and discovered that the new one wouldn’t quite fit through an internal brace inside the Airstream’s ceiling.

I tried everything to get that wire through, wiggling it, greasing it, pushing it and pulling it, but it just wouldn’t go. I even drilled little holes behind the overhead cabinet to try to locate the problem.  By the time I had exhausted every possible approach, the entire overhead cabinet and doors were completely removed along with one of the ceiling mounted JVC speakers, the curtains, one power outlet, a 12 volt outlet, the coaxial cable outlet, part of the white vinyl wall covering, and (just for good measure) the obsolete DVD changer.  With the tools burying the dinette table and bits of fiberglass insulation, sawdust, and aluminum shavings everywhere, the Airstream looked like it was still on the assembly line.

Airstream wire chaseIn the end, there was nothing to do about it.  The new antenna cable was just too large to fit through that hidden constriction. After sleeping on it, and consideration of the idea of relocating the entire electronics cabinet, there was really only one practical solution left.  We drilled a fresh hole in the ceiling and ran the wire down the ceiling about four inches to a point where it could disappear again.  A plastic wire chase helps minimize the visual impact.

There were many more challenges, but I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice to say that nothing could be taken for granted.  Every splice was suspect, every hole was in the wrong place, every trick I tried was confounded, and in the end the job took about eight hours, not counting three stops at the hardware store.

Airstream Internet install completeBut finally, it works.  The picture shows the install. It’s a little cluttered looking in the photo.  In reality we have more useful space in the closet than we had before, because I neatened up a lot of the DC wiring and tied up the excess.  That little plastic bag at the bottom contains a 12vDC + wire that is leftover from two installations ago and is still hot.  I’m keeping it in case I need more power in this cabinet later.

There’s a little more work to be done on the roof.  I still have to seal up the rest of the 3/4″ hole from the old antenna, where the new antenna line emerges. I never did find the right caulk locally, so I’ve got a tube on order from an eBay seller.

I’m in the Airstream now, using the new wireless Internet system to write this blog.  The reception is fantastic even in the brick carport (router reports -53 dBm).  I can’t wait to try it out in a remote place during our next trip east.

Since I started this project, I noticed that Kyle and Kevin both went with similar equipment.  Since Kevin is an engineer/publisher who must get online daily when he’s traveling, and Kyle is a full-timer who does Internet consulting, I figure we are in good company.  The transition to 4G technology is raising a lot of questions for people, so I may do a seminar at Alumafandango (Oregon, Aug 6-10) on that subject.  (By the way, if you’re planning to come to Alumafandango, now’s the time to register.  Spaces are filling up quickly!)

Rumors and evolution

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Alumaflamingo 2014For the past few weeks I’ve been working with Brett (and now Alice, the latest member of our team) to work out details for our new event, Alumaflamingo.  It’s the fourth major event in our program, to be held next February.

I talked about this a little before.  We were asked by the Director of the former Florida State Rally (FSR) to come up with something new, because the FSR was finally disbanding after four decades. We stepped into the breach, and now we’re committed.  It’s a little nerve-wracking because it’s a lot of work and we have no assurance at this point that we won’t lose our shirts financially. But if we hadn’t stepped up, there would be no major Airstream-oriented rally to replace FSR in 2014.  So it seems to be worth some extra effort and risk.

When you step in to replace something that’s been going on for decades and has lots of loyal customers, it’s inevitable that the rumor mill will start up, and there’s a tendency that many of the rumors will be unflattering.  We expected a certain amount of this, and it’s OK. We understand that people might feel threatened by change.

For example, people who had gotten comfortable with the super-cheap rally fee of FSR ($220 per couple) may be upset that Alumaflamingo will cost $335.  But if we ran the same event as FSR, we’d be facing the same slide in attendance that it suffered over the past several years. As they say, doing the same thing but expecting a different result is an exercise in futility.

So we are trying to upgrade the event to meet modern expectations, which means adding in more activities, better food, better informational seminars, more vendors, better entertainment, etc.  People who went to FSR primarily because it was cheap will probably be unhappy with any price increase, and choose to go elsewhere.  But on the other hand, people who stayed away because they didn’t think it offered enough fun & education will hopefully give Alumaflamingo a try.  Our past three years of experience at Alumapalooza seems to support this.

In the past few weeks I’ve heard some pretty wild rumors.  One guy was saying he wouldn’t go because we wouldn’t have liability insurance.  When asked why he believed this, he said he’d been told by “people.”  For the record, the Fairgrounds requires us to have a significant liability insurance policy, so that rumor was nonsense.

Another common rumor has been that our event will not be “an Airstream event” or somehow will be polluted because our policy is to allow non-Airstreams to attend. That one really kills me.  We allow non-owners to attend because we figure anyone wants to come to an Airstream-centric event must be considering buying an Airstream. These people are future members of our community, so we think it’s a good idea to let them know they are very welcome.

At Alumapalooza, we usually get about 4-5 “white boxes” attending, out of about 200 trailers. In Sarasota we expect about the same.  So 98% of the rigs on the field are Airstreams, there’s an Airstream dealer selling trailers, Airstream Inc. is present and providing service, we’ve got at least a dozen Airstream-specific seminars, and the event is sponsored by Airstream Life magazine.   Yeah, I’d say that qualifies as an Airstream event.

Another common rumor is that casual visitors to the event will have to pay to get in.  I don’t know why people think that.  I guess I’ll have to update our FAQ pages to specifically address this issue.  Of course friends can visit at no charge. There’s no gate at any of our events.  We only charge admission to people who want to camp, join the activities, eat the meals, or attend the programs & entertainment. Dropping in and taking a look, or visiting with friends, or shopping for an Airstream with the sponsoring dealer is always free.

(By the way, we always have a dealer sponsor showing trailers.  George M Sutton RV will be displaying trailers indoors at Alumafandango, Lazydays RV will be displaying at Alumafiesta, and Bates RV is expected at Alumaflamingo. )

Perhaps the most painful rumor we hear is that the demise of FSR (and decline in attendance for certain other club rallies) means that the WBCCI is doomed.  We don’t believe this.  We think the WBCCI will continue as a viable club even if some major events are organized by third parties. The club represents the history of Airstream, many of the most enthusiastic and supportive owners, and it remains an important means for Airstreamers to meet in person, travel together, and share experiences.

Sure, Alumaflamingo is not an official WBCCI event.  But why does that matter?  The club is more than welcome.  In fact, at Alumaflamingo we are giving the Region 3 officers meeting space so that they can conduct some of their official activities on site. They can even publish their own event schedule for members or officers, if they like.  They get all the benefits of the FSR, without all the work.  Makes sense to me.

This means that we regard WBCCI as a partner and are looking forward to working with our friends in the club for many years to come. By launching Alumaflamingo, we’re hoping to be part of the road forward.  It may not be a comfortable road for us until the dust settles, but it’s exciting to contribute to positive change.

About the Author

Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine