Archive for the ‘Home life’ Category

Aluminum energy

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

“It has been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon …”  So starts many a tale from Garrison Keillor, and many times I have been tempted to lift that line in prelude to a blog entry that, like a Wobegon story, gradually reveals events that are anything but quiet.

Here in the desert I can feel the energy ramping up.  While the polar vortex captures the attention of those in the north, we have our own sort of vortex which re-directs RV travelers to Arizona right around February every year.  First it’s the annual migration to Quartzsite, where thousands of RV’ers congregate for cheap camping and flea-market shopping every winter.  Now Alumafiesta has entered the picture in a small way, bringing our Airstream friends from all over the country to Tucson for a week or two of warm weather and camaraderie.

I can tell by many signs that the Airstreams are approaching.  The most obvious sign is the mail piling up in our front hallway.  Several friends have asked if they can have their mail forwarded to our house, and of course we always agree because it’s the right thing to do for fellow Airstreamers.  When we were full-timing we often were helped by people along the way who received mail for us, so this is a sort of “pay it forward” gesture.  Looking at our hallway right now I see three boxes, two large flat envelopes, and four other large boxes that contain Alumafiesta supplies sent by Brett.  My email inbox contains a bunch of tracking numbers for additional packages to arrive this week.

Another sign of the impending aluminum invasion can be seen at our friend Rob’s house, not far away.  He has a bit of acreage and a few hookups, and the word got out, so now he has four RVs camped by his house, one of which is waiting to attend Alumafiesta.  On the southwestern side of Tucson there’s a bit of BLM land that allows free camping, called Snyder Hill, and the first Airstreams have appeared there as well.  Over at the Alumafiesta campground (Tucson/Lazydays KOA), I can see a few glints of silver starting to take over.  In nine days, about 110 Airstreams will be camped there.

Airstream at RockhoundLast week I started getting emails from people who are on their way.  One photo came from Rockhound State Park in Deming, NM (at left).  Other emails have come from central California, Texas, Florida, and a few from frigid parts of the north country.

Everyone wants to get together, of course, because Airstreamers are generally social types and we see many of our good friends only once a year or so.  This year it’s a little frustrating because we are deeply engaged in getting ready for two major events (Alumafiesta and Alumaflamingo) and about six weeks of Airstream life/travel between here and Florida.  Eleanor has been working on a new food demo that she’s going to do at both events, and I’ve been trying to get the Summer 2014 magazine at least 70% done by February 1. Plus, Emma has been working toward a higher rank karate belt and so we’ve been taking her to practice five nights a week.  It’s really a drag when work and school get in the way of having a good time.

A few days ago I pulled out the “Safari Departure List” that I maintain for pre-trip preparation. This list has checkboxes for about eighty things that we need to do before we head out on a multi-week trip.  It covers everything: what to pack, taking care of the house and utilities, prepping the Airstream and car, and various notifications we need to make.  Completing this list takes about two weeks if I don’t rush, so every day I’m trying to check off at least five or six items.  Lots of them are easy, like filling the car with fuel and updating our mail forwarding order, so it’s not terribly hard, and having the checklist means I don’t have to try to remember what’s next—which is good, because with everything going here I can barely remember what comes after I put toothpaste on the brush.

With all the activity comes a certain amount of excitement.  Great things are about to happen. We’ll see lots of Airstream friends, travel cross country, present talks and demonstrations, tour Tucson and Sarasota, lead a ukulele band (at Alumaflamingo in Florida), and then hit the beach on our way home for a bit of vacation.  It’s hard to complain; Airstreaming is fun.

The anticipation keeps us energized.  Some would say “stressed” but I prefer to think of it as all positive energy.  A hundred+ Airstreams parked together will raise the temperature of Tucson and make everyone smile.  All these people coming to town with great intentions, friendly faces, and interesting thoughts to share, will infuse us and give us the boost we need to get it all done.  So I say, “bring on the aluminum energy!”  The fun is about to begin.

Pineapple season

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Weather-wise this is one of the most pleasant times of year to be in southern Arizona.  It’s neither hot enough for air conditioning, nor cold enough for heat, and with abundant sunshine because this is one of our dry seasons.  We haven’t seen substantial rain in weeks.

Little wonder that this is when I find myself working the hardest on projects all over the house and both Airstreams.  The Caravel plumbing job is done, tested, and hopefully reliable.  Everything works perfectly.  My only job now is to take the trailer on a shakedown trip, perhaps across the county (potentially no small jaunt, since Pima County is 9,200 square miles) and camp in it for a night to thoroughly test all the work.  I am very confident in it but in this case I’m subscribing to Ronald Reagan’s philosophy: “Trust, but verify.”

(I’m also thinking of another less-famous Reagan turn of phrase: “I feel like I just crapped a pineapple.”  This wasn’t a fun job, but it feels great now that it’s done.)

The Safari, to its credit, is hanging in there just fine. Good for you, Safari.  I tweaked a few things after we got home in September, and while there are other projects in the wings, it needs nothing at the moment.  We are free to go camping.

And we might, if we had the inclination.  But when we were full-timing in the Airstream we found that in some ways this is the least interesting time of year.  The short days, even in the southernmost reaches of the continental US, meant that after about 5 p.m. we’d be back in the Airstream for a long dark night.  In the desert southwest, the temperature plummets after dark and so on those nights when we were in a national park with a ranger program to attend at 8 p.m., we’d have to bundle up like it was Alaska, in order to sit through an hour-long talk in the outdoor amphitheater on chilly metal benches.

So instead we tend to stay home in November and December, except for a break around New Year’s, and I try to get things done so that we can take off later in the season.  It’s also a good time to catch up personal maintenance, so this month I’ve had the full experience afforded the average 50-year-old American male, including a flu shot, a Tdap booster, (Tetanus, Diptheria & Whooping Cough), a examination here and there, dental cleaning, orthodontist, and the threat of having a sigmoidoscope shoved up where the sun don’t shine.  Yee-ha.

(OK, having written that, I do have to wonder why I’m not hitching up the Airstream and driving as far away as I can … Then I remind myself that I’m trying to set a good example for my daughter.)

One use of the time has been to read several very interesting books.  One has been “The Great Brain Suck” by Eugene Halton. Don’t read it if you are thin-skinned (because he skewers a certain group of Airstreamers) or if you can’t stand wordiness.  Halton could have used a good editor to trim down his prose, but his observational skills are razor-sharp.  I would hate to have him review me.

Another one has been “Salt: A World History,” by Mark Kurlansky.  Admittedly, you have to be a history buff to really love this one.  It’s not a foodie book.  He takes the common thread of an ageless essential (salt) and shows how it permeates most of the major events of world history. Salt has caused and prevented wars, changed governments, nourished some societies while crushing others, and literally enabled society as we know it today.  I picked it up while visiting the Salinas Pueblos National Monument in New Mexico, where salt trading was a crucial element of survival for the Ancient Puebloans.

Mercedes 300Dx3

I’m sure I can blame the nice weather for this next item:  I have joined a gang.  We’re not particularly scary, but we do clatter around town in a cloud of diesel smoke.  Not exactly “rolling thunder” but at least “rolling well-oiled sewing machines.” Like Hell’s Angels Lite.

We are small but growing group of old Mercedes 300D owners in Tucson who share knowledge, parts, tools, and camaraderie periodically.  In the photo you can see the cars of the three founding members, blocking the street.  We call ourselves the Baja Arizona W123 Gang.  Perhaps someday we’ll have t-shirts and secret handshake.  Probably the handshake will involving wiping black oil off your hands first.

The rest of my time has been spent working the “day job.”  At this point I am glad to say that the preliminary event schedules for both Alumafiesta, and Alumaflamingo have been released to the public (and that was two more pineapples, believe me).  There’s still quite a lot of work to be done on both events, but at least now we have an understanding of the basics.  To put it another way, we’ve baked the cake, and now it’s time to make the frosting.  If you are interested in getting involved with either event as a volunteer, send an email to info at randbevents dot com.

The question now is whether I will tackle a major project on the Safari, or just lay back and take it easy for a few weeks.  The project would be to remove the stove/oven, re-secure the kitchen countertop (it has worked loose), and cut a hole to install a countertop NuTone Food Center.  On one hand, this isn’t an essential thing just yet, but on the other hand, I’ll be glad if it’s done before we start traveling extensively next February.  I only hesitate because it might turn into a bigger project than I bargained for.  You know how projects have a way of doing that.

Hmmm… pineapple, anyone?

 

 

Cat scratch fever

Monday, October 14th, 2013

OK, we’ve been off the road for a few weeks.  But is that any reason to be going to the cats?

I would say “going to the dogs” but we are admittedly cat people, and you know that Eleanor and Emma foster kittens from the local Humane Society in between trips.  It was not long after we landed in Tucson that the first batch arrived: six cute kittens needing two medications each in the morning, and three medications in the evening, plus a little of our patented kitty socialization school.

IMG_3074

Having a batch of kittens will turn anyone’s life upside down.  Kittens want to jump, claw, fight, eat, and sleep—all the time, and if they can figure it out, all at the same time.  Kittens have no respect for litter boxes, so twice-daily cleanups are just part of the routine.  They don’t know how to share, and if it suits them to tip over a bowl full of water in the middle of the night, well, you just have to get up and deal with it.

In short, kittens are born with the knowledge that humans exist to serve them.  But in this house they are also patients, so we don’t take much flack when it comes to medicine time.  Their claws get trimmed (by me usually), and then with their defenses lowered we deal with them assembly-line fashion: first a squirt of medicine in the mouth, then a dab of ointment in each eye, and finally the despised nose drops.

It’s not all grief for the little beasts, though.  We do our best to give them back to the shelter with a better opinion of human beings.  Lots of snuggling, playing, attention, belly-rubs, snacks, and general carting around seems to work well in convincing them that we are worth keeping in servitude forever. Some lucky person will get one of these kittens and find that it has been pre-programmed to encourage human bondage.  (We don’t feel guilty about it–these guys need homes.)

In anticipation of some of my Airstream projects, I moved the trailer over to Rob’s place to borrow his somewhat taller carport.  Working there gives me a little more room for jobs that require access to all sides of the trailer and the roof.  Not five minutes after I parked the trailer, his cat “Chester” jumped from the roof of the house to the roof of the Airstream.  “Mmmmm… ” I could hear him saying, “a new roof to sit on.  How nice of you to bring it over for me.”

IMG_3119

After a few minutes of exploration, Chester decided to depart the roof.  But jumping back to the house wasn’t appealing to him, so he decided to see if sliding down the front dome of the Airstream would be appropriate.  During the testing phase he stepped just a bit too far out,  and began to slide down the dome.  I watched, completely helpless to do anything, as Chester put out his claws and ever-so-slowly, excruciatingly, slid down the aluminum dome leaving a foot-long claw scratch in the clearcoat.

Anyone who owns an Airstream can feel my pain.

Fortunately for Chester, he’s a very friendly and fluffy cat.  I couldn’t bear to gut him on the spot, as was my initial instinct.  Also, Rob was there watching.  So I picked Chester up, rubbed his tummy, and told him if he ever did that again he’d become a small yellow bath mat.  Chester later redeemed himself by catching a pack rat beneath the trailer, and the scratch in the clearcoat was shallow enough to buff out. So Chester and I are friends again.

(But I’m going to get on those projects soon.  I don’t know how much I can trust Chester.)

Time to fix

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

We parked the Airstream back in the carport last Tuesday night, spent the night in it (because it was too late to start unpacking), and it has been go-go-go ever since. There’s just so much to do …

I think one of the problems with coming back to home base is that suddenly I have no excuse to avoid the projects waiting for me here.  I thought last winter season was busy, but already this one is looking like a record-breaker.

The Airstream Safari came back from its summer trip with many little things on the Squawk List, including:

  • belt line trim replacement needed
  • bathroom fan with broken handle
  • MaxxFan with loose motor/fan assembly
  • cabinet trim by refrigerator needing tweaks
  • loose attachment of the galley countertop
  • loose section above bathroom door
  • … and a few other things

As you can see, most of these items have to do with things working loose over time.  A rolling house tends to have such issues, and after six-figure mileage and eight years of heavy use I’m not surprised to have a few.  But these are generally not hard repairs.  Often it’s just a matter of a longer wood screw where an original one worked its way out, or a bit of glue or Loc-Tite.  I see a few hardware store trips in my future, along with a few hours of weekend puttering.

I plan to make a few of the jobs harder than they have to be, in the interest of preventing future problems.  For example, the loose galley countertop is just a matter of a few screws and brackets that could be fixed in a few minutes , but I want to remove the stove and thoroughly inspect the area under the counter to see if anything else is going on under there.  Instead of just re-attaching the loose under-counter brackets, I plan to install some of my homemade aluminum L-brackets (leftover from the cabinetry job of last spring) which are much lighter and offer more area to spread out the stress.  At the same time I will probably also install the countertop-mounted Nu-Tone Food Center that has been sitting in our storage room for a couple of years.

This is the way I’ve always done it.  I see repairing things on the Airstream as a series of opportunities to improve the Airstream.  Not only do I learn more about how it’s put together, the eventual result is far better in many ways than a factory-original model, since it’s customized to our needs.  This builds confidence (assuming everything I’ve touched isn’t going to rattle apart again).  Someday, when we tow over miles of washboard road at Chaco Culture National Monument, or take a long gravel road in Alaska, I’ll appreciate the extra effort.

That means the eight or ten repairs the Safari needs will likely take through October to complete.  And there’s still the Caravel, waiting patiently in the carport to have its plumbing finalized.  That project has been on hold since April, and it’s high time I got back to it.  So already I’ve got Airstream work to keep me busy for a while.

But who needs an Airstream project when you’ve got an old Mercedes to fix?  The 1984 300D has been sitting here waiting for its share of attention.  Everything was working on it when we headed out in May, so I think over the summer it started to feel neglected.  Not seriously neglected —it still started up promptly even after sitting a month—but just the car apparently felt the need for some TLC because three things failed on it:  a climate control actuator, the trip odometer, and the clock.  All of those problems are at least tangentially related to the heat.

You can’t have an old car like this if you can’t fix most of the things yourself.  It would have killed me in repairs already if I had to take it to the local Der Deutscher specialist for every little thing.  So I got on the phone to Pierre, and read the Internet forums, and figured out how to fix the climate control actuator and the clock this week.  That took a few hours, while the Airstreams both looked sullenly on (I swear, you can tell that they are jealous, it’s like having three young children all vying for your attention).  The odometer fix will have to be done later because I’m just about out of time for repairs at the moment.

This week has to be mostly dedicated to “real” work, by which I mean the stuff that pays the bills.  (Isn’t it ironic that the “real” work generates money and the “fun” work costs money?  If only it were the other way around.)  Right now the Winter magazine is in layout and I’m collecting articles for Spring 2014.  At the same time, the R&B Events team (which includes me) is busy trying to get tentative programs for Alumaflamingo (Sarasota FL) and Alumafiesta (Tucson AZ) put together, and that’s a big effort.

And we’re working on a new iPad Newsstand app for Airstream Life, which I hope to have released sometime in the first quarter of next year.  When it comes out, you’ll be able to get most of the back issues (at least back to 2008) on your iPad and read them or refer to them anytime.  That way you can carry all the knowledge around in your Airstream without also carrying fifty pounds of paper.  I’ve been testing demo versions and it’s very cool, so this is an exciting project.

Finally, I’ll be presenting a slideshow at Tucson Modernism Week next Saturday, October 5, at 2:00 pm, about my favorite over-the-top vintage trailer customizations.  It’s basically the best of the interiors we’ve featured in the magazine over the past several years.  The pictures are beautiful and inspirational.  I had forgotten about how incredible they are, until I went through the old magazines and re-read the articles.  My talk is free and open to the public, if you happen to be in the Tucson area right now.  If you aren’t, I might present the slideshow again at Alumafiesta in February.

Kitten season

Friday, April 19th, 2013

While the Airstream sits dormant, we completely switch gears and concentrate on the elements of a traditional suburban life.  Well, at least a few of them.  Because we come and go frequently, we can’t participate in many of the common preoccupations that require a continuing presence. I haven’t joined a gym or auditioned for a dramatic production, nor have I enrolled in any classes at the university or joined the board of the local home owners association.

To tell the truth, I’m glad for that.  A good friend just confessed that (being a good natured person who wants to make the world a better place) he recently accepted committee or leadership roles in three different organizations and now has little time for himself.  One of those commitments is for a three year sentence, um, I mean “term”.  I don’t mind getting involved in things, but I’ve got a business to run too.

Also, it bothers some locals when they discover our odd nomadic ways.  A local club co-opted me to their board of directors a couple of years ago, and my frequent & long absences quickly became the topic of some discussion.  I don’t want to be a distraction, so I resigned after a year. Even our neighbors who have known us for years still occasionally wrestle with the fact that we might at any moment vanish for weeks or months.  It seems to be unsettling.

So there are only three local activities we maintain long-term:  orthodontia (just me now, as Emma got her braces off a month ago), karate class for our future black belt, and volunteering at the local Humane Society.

Eleanor and Emma volunteer because Emma has long wanted a pet.  We haven’t been able to find one that could keep up with our travels, and not die of heat stroke when we are boondocking in a national park somewhere that doesn’t have hookups and doesn’t allow pets on the trails. Dog, cat, rat, snake, various birds and reptiles—all have been evaluated and found wanting.  So in compensation for being such terrible parents, we came up with the idea of volunteering to foster kittens for the local Humane Society.

This is ideal, because we only have to commit to a pet for a few weeks at most, and then it goes back to be adopted.  It’s a great opportunity to teach Emma the rewards of volunteerism and also to experience the responsibility of taking care of a fellow creature.  We’ve fattened up and socialized kittens so that they are adoptable, we’ve visited quarantined cats so they don’t go crazy waiting to be let out of their cage, and most recently Eleanor and Emma took on four very young kittens that required bottle feeding.

four unnamed kittens bottle feeding, from Humane Society of Southern Arizona

The 11 p.m. feeding

You see, this is “kitten season” in Tucson.  It’s the time when litter after litter of kittens is  dropped off at the Humane Society, often without mothers.  When they are very young, they have to be fed by syringe or bottle every two hours, around the clock.  As you might guess, there is a very limited pool of people who are willing to do this, and so the staff is stretched to find foster homes for all those kittens.

Last Friday we got a call from a desperate staffer who had run down the list of volunteers and was on her penultimate phone number when she reached Eleanor.  By that evening we had four little mewlers in the house, each requiring feeding, burping, and assistance with bodily functions.  Those of you who had colicky babies can easily recall the sleep-deprivation that results.  It’s the same with kittens, except they cry quietly enough that Daddy can sleep through it.

Kitten bottle feeding, from Humane Society of Southern Arizona

Hey, this is good! What’s in this stuff?

The feeding process for all four kittens, including clean-up, took about 45 minutes, which means you have just 1 hour 15 minutes before the timer goes off and it’s time to get out of bed and do it all over again.  I helped with one or two of the feedings and realized that motherhood is not for me.  But I think I knew that already from the experience when Emma was a sleepless creature herself.

Roaring kitten

I am kitten, hear me roar!

I thought by the end of the weekend we’d thoroughly hate the little buggers, but I underestimated the cute factor.  This is nature’s way of preventing us from eating our children, I think.  When they really got a rhythm going on that bottle of milk, their little ears would start to flap in time with swallowing, making the grey kittens look like cute fuzzy Dumbos with tiger faces.  Then, with a big beard of milk on their faces, they’d collapse gratefully into a “milk coma,” lying atop their litter mates in the box.

Emma’s technique was praised by the local Society volunteer coordinator and I’m told a picture of her “perfect” bottle-feeding position will be part of the training program for future bottle-feeding volunteers.

We couldn’t keep the kittens as long as we’d like, because homeschooling and other critical daily functions were just not feasible around the kittens’ schedule, but at least we had them for three days and bought the staff a little time to find them a longer-term home.  I would like to think that Emma learned something about the realities of babies, too.

We have about a month before we need to saddle up again.  In those weeks, if we can snag a few kittens who aren’t bottle-feeding, we will.  It feels like having furry foster children is now a fundamental part of our “home base” experience, and we may as want get the full benefit of it while we have the opportunity.  Soon the Airstream will be rolling and when it does, this aspect of our life will go back on hold until next fall.

A 34-foot parking problem

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Our friends Kyle and Mary and Kathryn arrived on Sunday as we had expected, and I was all set.  The plan was to park their Airstream in the carport, as we’ve done many times before with other guests.  In the morning before they arrived I cleared out all the remainders of the Airstream re-flooring project, and removed a few things from the Safari that would be difficult to get out once there were two Airstreams packed in tightly side-by-side.  Mike came over with a blower and blew all the dust out, too.

And then they arrived, resplendent in 34 feet of aluminum goodness.  Kyle looked suspiciously at the space I was asking him to back into, but I assured him we’d parked a 28-foot with slide-out in there previously, so he’d fit.  He gamely took a crack at it, which I have to give him credit for, but soon a problem emerged.  Their 34-footer has a rear air conditioner (an unusual option) and it wouldn’t clear the carport roof.

Normally rooftop A/C units slide into the carport easily, but in this case the trailer was so long that the truck was still in the street when the A/C unit was entering the carport.  This meant that the trailer was nose-down, and tail-high, which would be just enough (with that long 34-foot lever) to allow the A/C to hit the ceiling.  So the Airstream ended up in the street instead.

IMG_1934Well, we’ve parked an Airstream or two (and a Bowlus) here in front before, so it’s not a big deal.  The 34-footer even fits with room for the mail carrier to slip her little truck in front of the mailbox and deliver the mail.

The camping in front is not as good as the premium space (carport).  The wifi is spotty out there, we can’t hook up a sewer line, and the electricity is only 15-amp, not 30. Fortunately, this week it’s cool enough that air conditioning isn’t necessary.  We’re getting upper 70s and low 80s here, a hint of things to come in a few weeks.

I am still working on the Safari, but much more slowly right now.  I’ve still got some caulking to do in the bathroom, and I’m noodling how to build the new cabinetry we want, using only scraps of material scavenged from the cabinetry we removed.  It’s an interesting problem, and I’ll write more about that later.

The Caravel project is completely on hold.  The plumbing will have to get completed in a few weeks, after our upcoming trip.  There’s no rush on that one anyway, as we have no plans to use the little trailer.

For the rest of this week, my major goal is to get work buttoned up enough that we can take a few days next week to be out of touch.  That’s a long shot but always worth striving for.  It looks like our route will take us from here to southern California, and then up to Las Vegas, and back—but we reserve the right to alter the plan on the fly.  That’s one of the reasons we travel by Airstream, after all.

Project Season

Monday, October 15th, 2012

I did say this was “project season,” didn’t I?  Between the house, the Caravel, the Safari, and the 300D the list of jobs seems endless, so I’ve resolved to just tackle one item every single day without fail.  It’s like chipping away at a mountain, but chipping a little at a time is the only way the mountain will disappear.

The 300D project has gotten the most attention.  On Tuesday we replaced the bumper rub strip.  On Wednesday I replaced the rear sway bar links and inspected the rear brakes.  On Thursday Eleanor and I installed a new hood pad.  On Saturday I removed the instrument cluster and fixed the dim lighting, along with the inaccurate temperature gauge.  I used two T-10 LED lights from LED4RV, which really helped to reduce heat in the cluster.  (The plastic was beginning to melt from the hot old bulbs.)  On Sunday I very carefully removed an old decal from the defroster glass, a tricky job without breaking the silkscreened defroster elements.  In between 300D jobs I continued plotting the rest of the car’s resurrection, researching parts and repairs.

On Friday I got brave enough to remove the heaps of flagstone and slate that were pressing down the Caravel’s damaged Marmoleum floor.  It had been baking in the heat for the last week or so.  It appears that the silicone caulk is working well as floor adhesive.  As I feared, the floor is not lying perfectly flat —there’s a small lifted spot— but it’s good enough.

Eleanor came up with the idea of fabricating a trim strip to hold the Marmoleum in place, and so I cut a piece of flat aluminum to size, cleaned it up with a Scotchbrite pad and orange cleaner, drilled three countersunk holes for stainless screws, and then sprayed it with clearcoat.  Beneath the trim I sealed the edges of the Marmoleum with tan silicone caulk.  The dimensions of the aluminum were chosen to match the trim already in the trailer, and I think it looks great.  The three screws are pinning the floor in place.

The next job on the Caravel is to get the new water tank installed.  I got a start on this Saturday, but decided to take a break in favor of other projects.  I think, barring unforeseen problems, that we’ll have this wrapped up in the next couple of days.  The tank is mostly plumbed in, and the rest of it is just reinstalling the furniture, testing for water-tightness, and sanitizing the system.

The Safari hasn’t gotten much love lately. I bought the rest of the flooring material but we really can’t get on that project until the Safari’s little sister gets out of the way.  That should be an interesting one though, as we’ll be removing most of the bedroom, the dinette, and other stuff.

The house always gets the shortest stick.  All it got this week was a repainted exterior light yesterday, and a new dryer vent on the roof this morning.  The many other house projects are just going to have to wait.  For some reason it’s more gratifying to work on the vehicles!

Tomorrow—who knows?  Every day is different.  I just know that something will get done.  One chip at a time …

By the way, the new Alumafiesta site is up …

Classification: kittens for sale

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

A friend called Eleanor the other day and noted that the blog was quiet.  When that happens, she said, either Rich is working on projects he can’t talk about (yet) or there’s not much happening.  Turns out that it’s a little bit of both lately.

Home life has been quiet … so quiet in fact that our major form of entertainment has been the foster kittens. They have kept us entertained day and night, even at times when we’d prefer they were sleeping.  They arrived here underweight and left today, three weeks later, each nearly a pound heavier and in peak form to be adopted.

It’s a shame to let them go back to the Humane Society when they are so darned adorable, but they need homes.  We’ve done what we can to bring out their natural irresistible cuteness, and make them completely comfortable with people and typical household life.  As I told them at today’s graduation ceremony, “Boys, the rest is up to you.”  They seemed prepared for the task.  We’ll get a new kitten or two shortly, and begin the process anew.

Meanwhile I have fulfilled my pledge to do something about the spare tire issue.  This turned out to be fairly easy.  I ordered a fifth tire from Discount Tire to match the four new Bridgestones that are on the car, and they mounted it up last week.  The only catch was that the tires for the Mercedes are a lot bigger than the ones for the Airstream, so it wouldn’t fit in the spare carrier on the Airstream without some modification.  The Merc tire is about two inches wider and 2-3 inches larger in diameter.

So the first step was to do some careful measuring to confirm that the larger tire would fit in the Airstream’s belly recess.  It seemed like there was plenty of room in there, almost as if Airstream had foreseen this situation.

The spare carrier comes off easily, with just two bolts toward the rear holding it in place.  A 3/4″ socket and a short extension on a ratchet wrench are all you need.  Well, that plus a little elbow grease.  Once it was off, I loaded it up along with both the Airstream and Mercedes wheels, and took the whole pile to my favorite welding shop.

The modification was fairly simple.  The two bolt attachments needed to be extended by about two inches so that the entire carrier would hang lower.  This would allow the bigger spare to fit and yet still be pressed tightly up against the belly of the Airstream so it wouldn’t move.

I also asked the welding shop to figure a way that I could go back to carrying the smaller Airstream spare if I wanted to.  You can see their solution above.  They simply bolted on a pair of height extensions, welded on new outboard “arms” to accommodate the larger diameter, and fabricated a new latch with two holes.

If I wanted to go back to the Airstream spare, it would be just a matter of unbolting the two extensions, and using the lower hole on the latch for the locking pin.  The tension of the tire pressed up against the belly of the trailer will keep the tire from shifting much.

The new spare was a tighter fit than I had expected. While there was plenty of room in the recess, I had failed to consider the process of getting the tire under the Airstream.  The struts of the Hensley partially block the path, and there’s not quite enough clearance to slide the tire atop the carrier and beneath the battery box.  To get it in, I have to wind the Hensley strut jacks up into towing position (not a problem since that’s where they’d be anyway), and I have to use the trailer’s power hitch to lift the nose about 2-3 inches.  It’s also a much heavier wheel to deal with, so pulling this thing out on a rainy day by the side of a muddy highway will not be much fun.

Once it’s in place, there’s plenty of ground clearance.  The tire still hangs above the height of the hitch weight transfer bars.

This amounts to a very expensive spare tire.  I bought the Mercedes 20″ rim from a guy in California for $300 (new ones cost about $900!), the tire was about $250, and the fabrication work ended up at $125, for a grand total of $675.  But it will get used, because we need to do a five-wheel tire rotation every 10,000 miles (to keep all five tires evenly worn), so I’ll get my value out of the tire at least.

And it’s nice to know we have it.  Now if we have a tire failure on the tow vehicle, we can still drive. If we have a tire failure on the Airstream, we can tow on three wheels or unhitch to go get a replacement Airstream tire.  We have better options.  If we ever decide to go to Alaska or Newfoundland, we can still throw the (smaller) Airstream spare into the back of the car for added insurance.

OK, enough about that.  I hope to not need to write about tires again for quite a long time.  I want to talk about another project, the new Airstream Life Classifieds section.

Places to list your Airstream for sale are everywhere on the Internet.  I used to maintain a list of them that ran to about thirty different sites, all free.  But once in a while I get a call from someone who has a special, rare, or high-value trailer, and they want to see that ad in print, in Airstream Life.  We’ve never been able to accommodate this, but I’ve finally set up a site where you can post your ad online and have it appear in the next issue of the magazine.

So it’s in a trial mode right now.  (I’m sorry, that’s not cool enough for the Internet.  I’d better say it’s “in beta” instead.)  You can try it out right now at classified.airstreamlife.com.  Online-only ads are free, and print ads cost $75.  But here’s the sweetener: since this is the first run, you can actually get a print ad for free.  When you fill out the ad form, at the bottom of the page will be an option box that says “Ad Package”. Choose the “Print ad in Airstream Life magazine” option and just below that, enter the coupon code FREE_ASL_AD and your ad will appear in the Winter 2012 issue for free!

Now, I do have to put in a few limitations.  Only one free ad per customer, and all ads must be submitted no later than October 5 to receive this deal.  If I don’t get enough ads to launch the section, this offer will be void (but your ad will still run online for free).

I’m interested in your feedback.  If you’ve tried it out and have some comments that might help improve it, let me know with a comment on this blog post.  If it works and people find it valuable, I’ll make it a formal part of the magazine going forward.  It’s up to the community.  Personally, I think that even in an era of Internet everywhere, there’s a certain credibility that you can only get from print, so I’m hoping that we get some interesting Airstreams in this section.

Switching to project mode

Friday, September 7th, 2012

We are back at home base.  And this time, it’s going to stick, because there’s much to do over the next few months.

The first job is resolving our tire situation.  We got back on the road after two days of waiting, and while it was pleasant in Camp Verde and swim in the RV parks’ pool, this isn’t a situation I want to find myself in again.  We might have been on a schedule to get somewhere, or in some lonely place where tires aren’t easily located.  We need a better solution.

The Discount Tire store in Prescott AZ worked with the Discount Tire store in Tucson to work out our immediate problem.  The Prescott store gave us four new Nitto tires (not run-flats) to get us home, and that worked out fine.  I’m not wild about them, as the handling is poor and they are noisy, but it was what they had in stock.  The Tucson store will take them off tomorrow and exchange them for four new Bridgestone run-flats that I ordered a few days ago.

The really nice part is that they’ll give me 100% credit for the returned Nitto tires, even though I’ve used them for 200 miles.  Kudos to Discount for going out of their way to take care of a customer.  This is the kind of service that has caused me to buy tires from them exclusively for the past few years.

Since we got the Merc we’ve always had two plugging kits and a tire inflator in the car at all times to handle typical punctures.  That’s not good enough for our needs.  This episode demonstrates that other things can happen to a tire that you can’t fix by the roadside.  We’re hard on our tires, towing many miles in southwestern heat with a heavy trailer, and so I’ve concluded that we need to get back to a full-size spare when we are towing.

The solution I outlined in the previous blog is still the plan. We’ll remove the Airstream’s spare and put a Mercedes spare in the carrier instead.  The Michelin tires we put on the Airstream have proved their durability, and the Airstream can be towed on three wheels in a pinch, so I feel pretty confident about going without a spare on the trailer.  The car, on the other hand, would be “interesting” to drive with only three wheels.

The challenge is that the car tires are much larger than the Airstream tires.  The Airstream tires (with Michelin 235/75 R15) are 28.9″ diameter and 9.3″ wide.  The Mercedes tires are about 33″ diameter and 11″ wide, so the spare carrier will have to be modified to allow one to fit.  That means I’ve got to find a welder who can either come to the house to work on the Airstream, or has a large lot where I can park the Airstream.  I’ll post pics once that job is done.

We’ll also have to do a five-tire rotation pattern from here on, because it’s important to keep all the tires worn evenly (this is an AWD car).  It’s a small price to pay for the convenience of a full-size spare.  When the car is being driven without the Airstream (and hence no spare tire nearby), it will still have the backup capability provided by the run-flat tires, just like millions of other cars.

We finally pulled into Tucson late Wednesday night.  We’re still in that phase where we are living off the remainders of our Airstream supplies, until Eleanor gets a chance to replenish the house food.  But we have landed lightly, without too much fuss or inconvenience, and are settling into our home-based life for the next few months.  I did a calculation and found that so far this year we have towed the Airstream Safari 7,582 miles, which is about average.  The image above shows our approximate route in 2012 (but not every stop).

Since we are going to be at home base for at least a couple of months, this is a good time to take on projects.   We still need to get on the Airstream interior renovation, although budget is a challenge.  I plan to kick that project into gear fairly soon.  I’m also working on Alumafiesta in Tucson.  We’ve confirmed that Stevyn Guinnip will be joining us at Alumafiesta to lead morning exercise sessions, and Bert Gildart is likely to lead some photo safaris in the great southwestern outdoors.  I’m working on lots of other good things for that event, which will be announced as they get solidified.

E&E have taken on a new project too.  To abate Emma’s lust for a pet, they have taken training at the nearby Humane Society and are now official foster parents to a pair of kitten brothers, one orange tabby and one solid black.  For the next three or four weeks, their job is to convert these malnourished, underweight, frightened and slightly feral kittens into adoptable, people-loving cuties.  The kittens are living in Emma’s bathtub with all sorts of comforting things to assuage their mental anguish, and several times a day they are held and fed.  Although already this project has meant lots of cleanup and midnight attention, Emma and Eleanor are having a great time of it and I’m sure that when the time comes it will be hard to say goodbye to these little beasts.

Our next planned Airstream travel is not until after Christmas, although you never really know for sure.  A trip opportunity may present itself in the near future, and the spare Airstream (the ’68 Caravel) could yet be outfitted for some adventure in southern Arizona this fall…

Somewhere in this pile …

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

At one point we had thought we might be leaving for Colorado today … but it became very apparent last week that I had absolutely no chance of being ready to hit the road anytime soon.  Everything is happening at once, and I’m locked down in Tucson until I can get it under control.

For years I advocated how you can work from the road, and that’s still true.  In fact it’s even more true today than ever before, because the Internet-based software tools and connectivity options have improved dramatically.  But “from the road” doesn’t really mean from the road, it means “while parked somewhere in your RV.”

To really get serious work done, you have to stop driving, stop sightseeing, and just do the job.  The fantasy of working from your Airstream while the scent of pine trees wafts in your open window, and the Grand Canyon looms just a few feet away, is replaced by the reality that the best place to get work done is often an RV park in a city, with the doors & windows shut.  And if you’ve got to get somewhere in a hurry, it’s pretty hard to get much of anything done.  I’ve never mastered the technique of driving and typing on my laptop at the same time.

I realized that with all the things I need to get done, it was pointless to hitch up the trailer.  We’d just end up driving 300 or 400 miles and then sitting there while I pounded away at the laptop keys and raved about lousy Internet connections.  Eleanor and Emma would have to find something to do, perhaps not in an ideal location, and all told we’d probably be less productive than if we just stayed here a few more days.  So we are.

The Fall 2012 magazine got done last week, and is off to the printer, but that didn’t end my work on it.  A few other things have to be checked off the list before I can forget about it, such as cutting a postage check (a painful moment; postage is my second-highest expense), invoicing the advertisers, invoicing subscribers, updating the online store, updating the website, building the Online Edition, cutting mailing lists, and a few other jobs.  Most of that is now done.  I’m working on the Winter 2012 and Spring 2013 issues when I have time.  Fall should be in the mail by late next week.

We launched Alumafiesta last weekend and that is going well.  People are signing up quickly, which is great to see.  I think we’ve got a winner there.  I’m working on the schedule now and hope to have something to release in draft in about two weeks.

We’re going to have a Track A/B/C system for Alumafiesta.  Track A events will be “active”, meaning hiking, bicycling, and walking. Brett and I will lead most of these personally.  Track B events will be physically easier stuff, mostly museums (like Pima Air & Space) and parks (like Tohono Chul) with guided tours by docents and volunteers.  Track C will be “self guided” suggestions for each day, including driving tours, tourist attractions, and gem show venues.

This will all be in addition to the usual daily get-togethers, evening seminars, meals, and entertainment on-site.  I’m having fun picking out and researching the activities.  Today we are going out for lunch to see if a particular 4th Avenue restaurant will be suitable for an optional lunch get-together for our group, and this weekend we will go check out a park or two and inquire about guided tours.  In September or October, when the weather is cooler, I’ll ride some of the local bike paths to scout out a route we can do, with lunch stop built-in.

The Airstream renovation project is plodding along when I have time to think about it.  The upholstery shop came by for an interior tour, and their quote on re-doing the dinette came in at $1,728 (with new foam, and fabric assumed at $37/yd).  It turns out that the dinette will use about 14 yards of material, which is more than I had thought.  So upholstery is going to be a huge part of the budget. We will probably try to cut that by shopping fabrics carefully, and getting a competitive bid.  Tom M tipped us off to NewToto.com, where we can get Ultraleather at about $21 per yard.  That alone would save us $224.  But no question, it’s going to be tough staying inside of $6k for the whole project.  The Marmoleum floor is looking like about $900 for the material, and I haven’t yet got a quote on the installation.

Alumafandango is in the final stages, with far too much happening at the 11th hour, but the bulk of the details are now complete.  Over at Lakeside they’re racing to finish clearing up the site and installing the power system.  Of about 91 trailers slated to arrive (as of today), more than half need/want 30-amp power, which caught us by surprise.   The hot summer in Denver has really freaked people out.  So the local electrical shops are  being cleaned out of connection boxes by our electrical crew.  Brett & I bought the old power distribution system that was owned by the Vintage Trailer Jam partnership (2008-2009) and that’s being cannibalized to distribute power at Alumafandango too.

We had a serious monkey wrench tossed in the works a few weeks ago.  A micro-burst thunderstorm hit Lakeside Amusement Park and washed out our camping area.  An estimated 300 cubic yards of material was relocated from the main parking area, through our campsites, and into the lake.  It also washed out the track for the steam train that circles the lake.  Brett H of Timeless Travel Trailers led the heroic effort to recover the park as quickly as possible.  They’ve brought in several 4-yard front end loaders, various other machines, and 90 cubic yards of crushed concrete.  There was a lot of stored old park “stuff” that got flooded, and as a result over 30 dumpsters full of soggy material have been hauled away.

All in all this has turned out to be a good thing for us.  The campground will have little grass this year, but we will have a fresh new surface, graded with a swale to prevent future wash-outs.  A lot of eyesore debris is gone, many dead trees have been removed, and overall the camping area will be considerably nicer than it might have been.  Work is still ongoing and things are a bit messy at this point but it should be done well before the event starts on August 21. We’re in daily contact with our people at the park, and revising the parking map & schedule of events a couple of times a day just to keep up with all the new information.  I would rather this was all done months ago, but who can tell a thunderstorm when to hit?

And then there’s the “miscellaneous”. I’m supposed to be giving a presentation on “my favorite mobile apps and tools,” which I have yet to begin writing.  We’re still recruiting volunteers.  The t-shirts need to be shipped tomorrow.  We need to build the geocaches, confirm the ice cream vendor, publish the Survival Guide, pick up the awards, build a temporary dump station, finalize some catering details, order the volunteer shirts, …. At times it does seem endless.

So life is temporarily a little crazy.  We’re trying to do the work of two dozen people with a skeleton crew.  It’s all I can do to keep my desk functional. I have lists upon lists, just to keep all the ideas and tasks straight.  Somewhere in the pile of data that is my computer’s desktop I actually have a list of lists.  There are photos and maps, spreadsheets and layouts, online registration systems (two separate systems covering four events), custom reports, and all sorts of shared documents in the cloud.  If I lost my laptop this week I might as well just move to a country with no extradition treaty because there would be several dozen people looking to kill and/or sue me.  (Which reminds me, I need to do a hard drive backup today.)

This would be depressing except that I live for challenges like this.  Brett and I wouldn’t kill ourselves putting together these events if we didn’t really enjoy it.  The standard we set for ourselves is high, but when it comes together at the end and people say “You guys did a great job!”, it all seems worthwhile—and then we start planning for the next year.

In the meantime there are sacrifices, and the primary one right now is that we will not be able to get into the Airstream until at least sometime late next week.  I haven’t begun packing yet, although Eleanor has done much of the household stuff.  My packing should be simple, since I didn’t take much out of the trailer when we got home a few weeks ago.  I’ve got a small pile of clothes to add from the laundry and then my office stuff (laptop, cameras, etc).  Over the years I’ve gradually accumulated separate “Airstream clothes,” and “Airstream equipment,” so for example I don’t have to load in my flatbed scanner or printer because the Airstream has its own that never get unloaded.  This saves a lot of time. And that’s a good thing, because time is definitely something that is a bit scarce right now.

 

About the Author

Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine