Archive for October, 2008

Camping At Home

Monday, October 20th, 2008

It looks like we have ended our traveling and camping season for the year. This week temperatures are expected to dip below freezing, and usually this area of Colorado has its first snow by the end of October.

I bought RV Anti-freeze for the Excella. It will be the first time for me to use anti-freeze. Our Globe Trotter’s plumbing is so simple that I’ve always been able to just blow the lines out and drain the P-traps. But the plumbing on the Excella is much more complicated with longer runs, holding tanks below floor level, and inaccessible P-traps. Will five gallons be enough?

Our last rally was in Loveland, Colorado, at “The Ranch,” which is the official new name of the Larimer County Fairgrounds and Event Center. It is an extensive complex and includes the Budweiser Event Center, home of the Eagles hockey team.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate and nearly every day was cold, overcast and rainy. There were no hookups and the rally was dry camping. After a couple of days those relying on solar panels for power found themselves either having to hook up and idle their tow vehicles to recharge, or borrow a generator. But everyone shared and helped out. We didn’t need good weather to have a good time. There was an interesting mix of Airstream owners from Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, both with new Airstreams and vintage.

I did a presentation on floor replacement that was well received because it included information on newer Airstreams and not just vintage. From the questions asked it is apparent that vintage owners are not the only Airstreamers to have floor problems..

Fairgrounds camping
About 32 Airstreams attended the rally despite the poor weather. In the forground is an Airstream “Wally Bee” fiberglass trailer, or what remains of it, brought in on a flat bed trailer towed by a vintage firetruck owned by Luke Bernander.

Still, I wish the weather had been better for the out of state participants. Just prior to the rally and then just after the rally the weather was fantastic. Clear to partly cloudy skies, highs 68 to 72 degrees and lows in the 40’s. Perfect, so good in fact, that we couldn’t refrain from camping one more night and did so in Cherry Creek State Park, just two miles from our condo.

Cherry Creek SP & Pikes Peak
Cherry Creek SP looking south across the lake with Pikes Peak (14,110′) in the background (70 miles distant).

It was an opportunity to use full hookups to drain our tanks and also have two of our grandsons stay for a “sleep over.”

I took my grandsons, 5 and 3 years old, for a walk in “the woods” and to the lake to skip rocks.

It’s hard to believe that Cherry Creek SP is surrounded by the city. I think Rich Luhr and his family have camped here three years in a row. The camp sites are now all full hookup with level concrete pads. The interior roads are all paved, yet the area retains the look and feel of a rural area. There are deer, rabbits, prairie dogs, coyotes, fox, raccoons, eagles, hawks, cranes, and fish – wildlife galore. I believe I even spotted a wolf the other day, and my son tells me that there have been repeated sightings of bear. Wow, all that in the city?

Cherry Creek campsite
Several Airstream owners were camped in the park while we were there. One was from Massachusetts. I don’t know who the owner of this Airstream is, but I thought it made for a nice photo.

It made me realize that I will always be able to go camping, anytime I want, regardless of fuel costs. It may seem a little frivolous to camp only two miles from home, but it works never-the-less.

The Beast

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

If you read Hunt Jones article, Towing Vintage With Vintage, in the last issue of Airstream Life you might be aware that there are challenges. I tow our ’86 Airstream with an ’85 Chevy Suburban. Not quite vintage but nearly so.

I believe the ’85 Suburban was the last 3/4 ton with the 454 CI engine to have a carburetor. Subsequent to that year GM used a fuel injected throttle body. Still, our Burb passes the emission inspection and gets close to the same mpg while towing as the 2001 F-150 we used to have

We’re a one car family now too. The Burb is our daily driver and not just our tow vehicle. So, it’s important for me to keep it running.

In my previous post I wrote about the trip we just took where we towed our Airstream around New Mexico and southern Colorado. In all, the trip was about 700 miles. The day after we got back though, it suddenly began making a strange clicking and whining noise. This happened just as we were pulling out of the garage.

I immediately opened the hood to see what was going on and noticed gasoline pouring out of the mechanical fuel pump. For the last three afternoons I’ve been working on that problem. It isn’t something that should have taken anywhere near that much time, but I violated the number one repairman’s rule, “do no harm.”

The fuel pump on  is in a tight location, between the right front wheel well and low on the engine. There are a couple of hoses that have to be moved to get to it, but all in all it wasn’t too hard to take off.

The real problem started when I went to install a new fuel pump. I haven’t worked much on cars for awhile as I simply have’t needed to. But one of the reasons I went with an older tow vehicle was that I figured if something went wrong with it out in the middle of no-where I might stand a better chance of fixing it than I would if I broke down in a newer tow vehicle.

Let me explain why. I once tried to change the spark plugs on our 2001 F-150 and it took me an hour just to get the number one spark plug out. I gave up on changing the remaining seven plugs as I didn’t want to spend fifteen more hours taking out the old and putting back in the new. I couldn’t even see where there was room to get a wrench and spark plug socket onto the spark plugs at the rear of the engine. In fact, I couldn’t even see those spark plugs.

Certainly, this is partly due to the fact that I’m not the most practiced mechanic, but newer cars don’t seem to be made with the idea of the owner doing the maintenance. Shade tree mechanics are really challenged when it comes to working on cars made within the last decade or two. So, it isn’t just me. To change the spark plugs on some of today’s cars actually requires dropping the engine! They really are that tight.

Comparatively then, the Burb is a cakewalk, but it still helps if you know what you’re doing. I thought I did, but I didn’t. I figured the new fuel pump would go on the same way the old one came off. Wrong! I forgot to move the fuel pump push rod up and as a result I bent it. In doing that I also cracked the flanges on the new fuel pump. Yep, I broke everything that was involved! Do no harm? I was a disaster package.

When I went to install the second new fuel pump I did remember to move the push rod up. Yes, I moved the bent push rod up, and it got wedged in the bore it travels in. You see, I just didn’t think a ½ inch piece of steel could be bent that easily, but again I was WRONG!

When the second pump didn’t work because the rod wasn’t moving. So, the problem I faced was how to get the damaged push rod out.

I Googled the problem. One horrifying poster testified that he broke three fuel pumps before figuring out what he was doing wrong. Another wrote that it took him TEN months to figure out how to get his bent push rod out. He ended up soldering a pipe to the end of it and with a make-shift handle attached was able to turn and twist it out. Good Grief, what had I done, and what was I to do? The people making these posts were all hot-rod fanatics. They worked on their cars just for the fun of it. It was a pastime. Some had done complete restorations, yet they were as stymied by the same little push rod as amateur me.

So, I called a friend who has a Burb and he called a friend who owns a Burb and is also a mechanic. “What should Forrest do,” he asked? The answer I got was, “its Hell to be Forrest.”

By now I realized I needed some help and I called my son. Some things I think happen for a reason. Why would our Burb (my son and daughters call it “The Beast”) run nearly flawlessly all this summer, towing for thousands of miles, only to break down in our driveway the day after we got back home? How does that happen, coincidence?.

The Burb

Our 1985 Chevy Suburban Silverado, hooked up to our 32′ 1986 Excella.

My son and I ended up working all afternoon on the problem. It always helps to have a second set of eyes and another set of hands to help. Both of us tried using needle nosed pliers to get the rod out. No luck at all, it wouldn’t budge. Since he had a car he drove me around to get a new push rod, and mechanic’s work gloves (my hands were getting pretty scratched up, cut and bruised from knuckle busting slips).

But what we ended up doing most was talk about some problems he was having in his life. We haven’t talked like that in a long time and especially these last few years where I’ve been unavailable with traveling and hospitals, etc. He really needed someone to listen and confide in and I think I was able to help him sort some things out and put them in perspective. He’s a great kid (okay he’s 32, but he will always be my boy). I couldn’t solve his problems but I hope it helped him just to be able to talk about them. That’s all a dad needs to do sometimes.

We wouldn’t have done any of that though if the Burb hadn’t broken down exactly where and when it did. The next day my son couldn’t get by to help me as he had to go to work and I was on my own again. I went back to using my needle nose pliers. On my first attempt I got a good grip on the rod and gave it a sharp tug. It came loose without a fight.

I was then able to insert the new push rod. By coating it with axle grease it stayed in the up position. I turned the engine by hand to make sure the cam the push rod contacted was shallow. That done, the fuel pump bolted on without difficulty. I was done in an hour. I turned the ignition and the engine ran like it was supposed to, and there were no leaks. How does that happen when it’s Hell to be Forrest?

Autumn Glory In the Southwest

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

angel-fire-caravan-reduced.jpgLocation, location, location may be a business mantra but when it comes to Aspen gold it is location and timing that is needed. You will not see one without the other. This year we have been in the right place at the right time.

We started with a small caravan from Pueblo West, CO to Angel Fire, NM. There we joined others in a rally at the Monte Verde RV Park. The owners of the park are Lynn and Maria Eubank. They are Airstream owners themselves and also members in the Club. They have been hosting rallies for us for several years and now as always, their hospitality is very special and enjoyable.

Monte Verde RV Park
Monte Verde RV Park, Angel Fire NM.

Angel Fire is a very pretty area, but the night sky is the most memorable. So clear, so dark that the Milky Way looked like a long throw of sparkling mist spilled across a blanket of black velvet studded with thousands of luminous diamonds. At over 9,000 feet the night was cold too, with temperatures down in the twenties. Our propane furnace, which worked well back in the driveway at home, failed on the road and we had to rely on one small electric space heater, but it managed.

The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, west of Taos, NM.

From there we traveled solo through Taos, where traffic is always congested, but we went through on a Sunday and it wasn’t as bad. We stopped as we usually do at the Rio Grande River Gorge west of Taos and looked at the vendor’s jewelry and took more photos of the gorge and of a new memorial marker (suicides are rampant).

No, little fella, don’t jump!
Rio Grande
Rio Grande Gorge looking south from the bridge.

We continued traveling north and west to Mogote Meadow RV Park about 4 miles west of Antonito, CO. It is an older park, but very nice, close to the Conejos River, surrounded by mature cottonwood trees that were beginning to turn. Being that it is only four miles from the station, Mogote made a nice base for us to ride the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Rail Road. We splurged on the deluxe touring package, a bus ride from Antonito to the charming little town of Chama, NM. There we boarded the narrow gauge train pulled by an antique steam locomotive. We rode in the parlor car for marginally better service and comfort.

Mogote Meadow RV
Mogote Meadow RV park, CO.

The only other time I’ve been on a train (other than light rail) was when I was a child with my mother on a “modern” diesel powered passenger train from Chicago to Denver back in the Fifties. I remember that being a pretty smooth ride. The C&TS RR is not. It is bouncy, rocky, and loud. But that is part of its ambiance, and it was a lot of fun. The main reason for our taking it though wasn’t for the old railroad experience, but for the majesty of autumn in the Rocky Mts.

C&TSRR, in aspens
The C&T Scenic RR passes through Aspens close enough to touch.
C&TSRR at 10,000
The train stops for lunch at about 10,000 feet.

Oh, my, although we’ve lived in Colorado all our lives we’ve never seen it this good. The aspen trees were at or very near their peak of golden yellow occasionally punctuated by a grove of fiery red. Over each rise, around each curve the beauty continued to surpass what came before, so much so that it was overwhelmingly exhausting because there was simply too much to humanly take in. My neck ached from straining and twisting to see it all.Aspens, aAspens, b

The weather was perfect too; warm enough for a short sleeve shirt, even at 10,000 feet, with scattered white fluffy clouds set against the intense Colorado deep blue sky. We began at 8 a.m. and ended around 4 p.m., more than one passenger fell asleep as early as 2 p.m. due to the warmth and rocking motion of the train. The hot turkey lunch most passengers opted for might have had something to do with it too (as turkey contains tryptophan, a natural sedative).

The next day we returned to the area of the Conejos river valley to tour by car. I resisted the impulse to take a thousand photographs, but only because I had to do the driving. We scouted out the Ponderosa Campground as a potential site for a rally. It is located across the Conejos river from Colorado Highway 17 and has a mountain backdrop covered with Aspen and Pine with campsites surrounded by Cottonwood trees.

Ponderosa RV Park
Ponderosa RV Park along the Conejos River & CO State Hwy 17.

The managers told me they hoped to maintain the campground’s vintage appearance, and earlier had some Vintage Airstream Club members stay with them. I was mystified though that it was their last day (September 30th) and would close for the season. But it was the same for many of the campgrounds in the area, both private and public. I’m not sure why they do that as normally the first snow in Colorado is around the end of October, and the end of September and first week of October are the best time of the year for viewing the mountain autumn colors. They have location, location, location, but reject the best of times to be open. Is it because they want to keep it to themselves?