Archive for June, 2009

A Hundred Year Rain

Friday, June 26th, 2009
The RV Museum
The new RV Museum in Elkhart, IN

I needed more time to do research at the RV Museum in Elkhart, so before leaving for Mackinaw City, MI, I spent the morning in a rush going through old trailer magazines in the library. This is another place I could spend an entire season. If only they’d let me camp in the parking lot.

Vintage trailers
Vintage trailers on display at the museum.

But we nearly spent too much time there. It wasn’t that we had a reservation to make because we had none. It was the weather. It had rained exceptionally hard the night before and more was on the way. There was a window of opportunity I wanted to take advantage of. The weather was supposed to clear for a a few hours between storm fronts and that was all the time I figured we’d need to head north and away from the violent weather.

When I went into the library, I found Forrest and Jeri Bone there, researching early Tin Can Tourist articles. They’d original thought they’d be on the road, but they decided to wait out the thunderstorms. I promised Patrice we’d have lunch at 12:30 then leave, but typical of me, I was late, so we didn’t actually get on the road until 1:30.

Oh my, that was nearly a very bad mistake. About an hour into Michigan we ran straight into the storm that dumped eight inches of rain in an hour on the village of Holland and spawned a tornado east of there that damaged four homes and lifted a barn from its foundation .

“Why is the trailer swaying so?” Patrice asked.

I watched the tops of trees along state highway 131 bending into the shape of corkscrews and did not answer. Should I stop? Should I speed up? The rain blew horizontally across the road and suddenly there it was, a funnel to the west. My grip tightened on the steering wheel and I resisted the urge to go faster. The storm was moving east. We were headed north. If I could just keep us on the road the tornado would pass behind us. I wondered about the few cars and trucks heading the opposite direction.

“You know when you asked me about the swaying?” I finally replied. “I think we dodged a tornado.” Seriously, how could I abandon our rig, then walk, pull, or even drag Patrice into a roadside ditch to take cover? Yet, that exact thought went through my mind. Pucker factor, nine. Relief, priceless.

Things To Do In and Around the Village of Jackson Center, Ohio

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Let’s face it, if you are not interested in Airstream history, then likely you’ll find Jackson Center, Ohio a dull place. Certainly, there are even Airstream owners who only want to go there for the service center and perhaps the factory tour. Past that, the area has little appeal for them.

As for me, I could easily spend an entire season there. You would find me either camped at the Terraport (free Wi-Fi), or at the east end of the village, in the back lot of the Wally Byam Caravan Club International headquarters. There alone I could spend considerable time just going through the history archive.

There are other things of interest in and around JC though. Directly across the street from WBCCI HQ is the Wally Byam Memorial Park, at the corner of State Route 274 (Pike Street) and Parkwood Drive. The park features a municipal pool with a spray park, sheltered patios, restrooms, picnic areas, lighted tennis courts, basketball courts, and playground equipment.

The sheltered patios are available for a mere $25. Each has picnic tables, power and can accommodate 50 to 60 people.

There is GKN, manufacturer of the Henschen Axle on the north side of the village at, 522 N Main St. It is a non-descript long metal sided building. Tours have been available in the past, but right now, with the slow down in the economy, the factory looked inactive. If you want to see how the rubber torsion axle is assembled, call first, (937) 596-6125.

Bike Museum

The Bicycle Museum of America

About fifteen miles west of JC, is New Bremen, Ohio, where you can find the highest point of the Erie Canal and the most excellent Bicycle Museum of America (419-629-9249). The museum is at 7 West Monroe St. (ST RT 274), which is nearly dead center of the town. So, it can’t be missed. Every stage of bicycle development is represented, including one of the unicycles used in the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics, held in China. Be sure to go to the third floor and look at the replica of Alfred LeTourner’s Schwinn Paramount. He set a land speed record of 108 mph on it, and he is the bicyclist Wally Byam hired to photograph pulling an Airstream trailer in 1947. That photo is the iconic image Airstream Inc. still uses today to identify its product.

Alfred Did It

Alfred LeTourneur towing Airstream Liner, courtesy WBCCI Archive

Just up the Interstate from JC is the Neil Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio. It is also easy to find, being just a few hundred yards northwest of Interstate 75 exit 111 (SR 33). Obviously, named to honor Astronaut, Neil Armstrong, for being the first man to set foot on the moon, but it also chronicles Ohio’s contributions to space flight. Among the items on display are an F5D Sky Lancer, the Gemini VIII spacecraft, Apollo 11 artifacts and a moon rock. The museum’s Astro-theater runs multimedia presentations.

There are numerous other attractions within an afternoon drive of JC, such as glass museums, and the fabulous Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH, but the surprise for me was that Airstream Inc. has not worked these connections more to its favor. That is, the LeTourner exhibit ought to have at least a photograph of Alfred pulling an Airstream with a bicycle, but it doesn’t. He was among the most famous of bicyclists in his era and one would think that, being practically neighbors, Airstream Inc. and the bicycle museum would want to make that connection. The Neil Armstrong museum likewise has a photograph of the Apollo 11 astronauts talking to President Nixon through the window of the Airstream built Mobile Quarantine Facility. Would it not make sense for both the museum and Airstream Inc. to make the connection with just a note that the MQF was another of Ohio’s contributions to the space program and was built just down the road?


President Nixon talks to Astronauts housed in the MQF

It’s just nuts. Sure, I know Airstream Inc. touts these accomplishments in its sales brochures, but I think they also need to get together with their neighbors so that the general, non-RVing, public can appreciate the connection when they tour the museums.

Passing of a Great Airstreamer

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

I am saddened by the news of the passing of “Bud” Cooper, the founder of the Vintage Airstream Club, and its first president. The following is his obituary information:

“Bud” Cooper

Rutherford Cooper “Bud”
COOPER – Rutherford “Bud” Cooper, age 84, of Grand Rapids, passed away Wednesday, June 17, 2009. Surviving are his beloved wife of 64 years, Bettye; daughter, D’Anne Smith and son, Richard Cooper. He will be greatly missed by his grandchildren, David Smith, Jeannine Kieleszewski, Michelle Krypel, Emily Cooper and Hannah Cooper. Bud was a mechanical engineer, world traveler, archeologist, photographer, musician, founder of the International Vintage Airstream Club, author, and lecturer. There will be a memorial service at Genesis United Methodist Church, 1601 Galbraith St., Cascade Twp. at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 20th. Memorial contributions may be made to the church.

Published in Grand Rapids Press on 6/19/2009

Where In the World – Continued

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

“Where is Carmen taking us?” I asked, as we struggled with rush hour stop and go traffic. I watched the temperature gauge on the dash with dread. The last thing I wanted now was to stall from vapor lock. Too many tired drivers were already showing their impatience with us.

“I can’t find us on the map,” Patrice said, “I have no idea where we are.”

Carmen, our Garmin GPS, kept giving us instructions, three blocks this way, four blocks that way, and finally, “You have arrived, Elkhart, Indiana.”

“Oh, no! I thought I programmed Elkhart Campground. Instead, she’s taken us into the center of the city.” And then I had to apologize to Carmen for all the really bad names I’d actually called her. She’d taken us exactly where I’d asked. Where we ended up was the result of operator error – my error.

Fortunately, there was an empty parking lot to turn into. There, the Excella was out of traffic and away from confrontation. I cooled down and opened the hood to help the engine do the same.

Elkhart is in trouble. The RV capital of the world is hurting. The parking lot was empty because the business was closed. Everywhere, in and around the city, there are homes for sale. I picked up a realty magazine at a grocery store and was stunned at the asking prices. Hundreds of cute homes, no money down, can be had for forty to sixty grand – less than the price of an Airstream. Want something grander? How about a furnished mansion with water front property for $1,350,000? Last year, that was the price for a class A Prevost motor home.

At the campground though, there was serendipity. Down the row from us were parked three vintage RV’s. A 1978 24’ Argosy trailer, a fiberglass motor home, and a rare 1949 Masonite sided American trailer. All fully restored. They were returning from a Tin Can Tourist rally. The American belongs to Forrest Bone, TCT president, and his wife, Jeri.

Forrest Bone
Forrest Bone

Oh my, Doug Keister needs to do a photo shoot. The American deserves a real pro, not a hack like me to do it justice. Forrest told me it was found in original, nearly factory condition. That doesn’t mean it didn’t take a lot of work to bring it to its current condition though. For instance, the original silver painted canvas roof is now a beige leatherette material.
1949 American, curb side
So many people ask to see the inside that Forrest and Jeri have to keep it in “open house” condition at all times. Yes, guilty as charged, I asked to see the inside too. Forrest was gracious about it. After all, how could he turn down another Forrest?

1949 American, rear bed
Bed room in the rear.
1949 American, front lounge
Front lounge
1949 American, cozy bed
Cozy bed
1949 American, cute kitchen
Cute kitchen

What Can Go Wrong – Will

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

We’ve been camped in Jackson Center, at the Airstream Terraport, since last Thursday. What a great place! I could stay here for a month.

Airstream Terraport

We left Denver Monday evening, about 6:30 p.m. My original plan was for us to leave on Tuesday morning, but I wanted to get to JC before 2:00 p.m., Thursday, so that I could tour the plant while some trailers were being made. With the recession, Airstream has cut production to around eight trailers a week. Their workforce and workdays have also been reduced. There are factory tours on Friday but nothing is up and running.

To get here we took I-70 all the way to Dayton. When we stopped for the night, we utilized roadside rest stops. The one at Arriba, CO was level and clean, but very windy. Missouri’s rest stop was equally level, and attractive, but very busy with truck traffic. Indiana’s rest stop was the best though. It was park like, with a separate RV area (although that didn’t stop some truckers from parking there).

Arriba Reststop
The Roadside Rest at Arriba, CO

Road condition was excellent everywhere but in Indiana. Illinois had the very best. It always amazes me how different a road surface becomes just crossing from one state into another. I-70 was terrible all through Indiana except for where it goes through the capital, Indianapolis.

Denver to Jackson Center is nearly 1,300 miles. To get there in time required 400 plus mile driving days. That isn’t something I like to do nor do I like putting Patrice through it. As it was, we lost an entire morning due to a breakdown.

Prior to leaving, I took our Suburban into my local Chevy dealership to check the brakes and earlier they replaced the harmonic balancer.

In Kansas, I noticed the parking brake pedal traveled all the way to the floor. Not a good thing if we need to park with the trailer on a grade somewhere. I’ve crawled under to check the cable and it looks okay. The problem, I think, is that it has come loose in one or both brake drums. This particular design requires pulling a drive axle to remove the brake drum and make adjustments. It isn’t something I want to do on the road. In fact, that’s why I had Chevy check it. It’s a hassle. It looks like that is what will need to be done though. For now, we’ll do without. The hydraulic brakes work fine, and the shoes are adjusted properly (that can be worked on through a small service port on the backplate).

In Missouri, I began hearing a “clickity, clickity, clickity.” I thought it was the air conditioner compressor at first, but it was off. Then, without any other warning, we suddenly heard a thud and lost power steering. Red lights came on. The temperature gauge immediately went up to 200 degrees, then 210, then 230, and before I could get to the top of an exit ramp, it was into the red (around 260). We coasted into Gribit-N-Go Convenience Store and gas station at Boonville with the engine boiling over.

We were fortunate this all happened within a quarter mile of the exit ramp. We’d lost the bolts holding the main pulley onto the harmonic balancer. The pulley itself nearly fell out of the engine compartment, but the radiator fan shroud caught it. That was a good thing, and again I consider it a lucky break. If it had fallen out completely, it would have banged up the underside of the truck and likely done the same to our Airstream. Who knows what it might have then done to any vehicle following us.

Then we got another lucky break. Just a block from the gas station, and down hill from there at that, was Terry‘s Auto Service Center & NAPA store. I gathered the pulley and two bolts out of the engine compartment, hosed it down (thanks to the store manager), and with it cooled off a bit restarted it just enough to coast down the drive, into the street, and down the hill to park in front of NAPA.

There I unhitched and drove the Suburban into the service bay. By 1 p.m., Terry had located and retrieved a salvaged pulley out of a local junk yard, and his wonderful mechanic retapped the threads in the harmonic balancer and installed the salvage pulley and old belts. This time the pulley was put on with the proper sized bolts. The ones the Chevy dealership used were too short. With only a few threads engaged, they hadn’t held.

When we get back home, I’m giving the dealership the bill, and a piece of my mind. They simply have no excuse.

Double-Jointed with Six-Foot Long Arms

Monday, June 1st, 2009

About this time of year, everyone is busy getting their Airstream ready for travel. I know that’s what I’m doing. My wife thinks I should make a list of things to do, but I won’t do it. My list would be so long it would depress me. Even ten items is enough to overwhelm me. Hey, what can I say? I’m a guy, and lists are for women. I don’t read manuals, or ask for directions either.

Anyway, I usually can get over to my trailer for the afternoon. My normal procedure when I get there is to sit for a few minutes (okay, maybe a half hour) and survey the situation. Then I’ll pick whatever I think I can get done before dinner.

Yesterday, for instance, I installed a CB radio. It should have been a simple task. For the most part, it was, but I’ve found that simple does not mean easy.

I picked a conventional location, in a roof locker over the dinette, next to the refrigerator. I found the wire leading to a light fixture, tapped into that, and fastened the bracket that holds the radio to the cabinet – so far, so good. Then, I needed to route the antenna cable into a space above the refrigerator, and then up through the upper vent to where I’d attach it to the antenna. The antenna itself I attached to the aluminum vent cover. Routing the cable was problematic though.

I knew where I wanted it to go, but had no immediately obvious way to get it there. The only access panel to the back of the refrigerator is the lower vent. That’s fine for doing maintenance on the refrigerator, but to reach the upper vent from there I would have to have six-foot long double-jointed arms. I finally concluded I’d have to remove an interior cabinet that occupies a small space between the top of the refrigerator and the ceiling. I could see the screws holding it together, but the space was so small I couldn’t use a normal screwdriver.

I’ve run into this before, and I attached a Phillips bit to a socket holder to make a compact screwdriver. Still, it was labor intensive turning each screw a quarter turn at a time. Fortunately, they were finger tight, and awkward ham-handed finesse was all that was needed.

Once the interior of the cabinet was disassembled, I was able to reach in over the top of the refrigerator, pull the cable in from the neighboring roof locker, and then push the bitter end up and out through the screen covering the upper vent – all with the help of a mirror, a lot of patience, and precarious balancing on a little foot stool.

I also took the opportunity to clean the top of the refrigerator and ceiling above it. It was amazingly dirty, but short of removing the refrigerator altogether, there is no other way to get to that location.

All together, that was my entire afternoon. I got that one thing done. I won’t be checking it off my list – because I don’t keep one.

About the Author

Hi, my name is Forrest McClure. I've been writing for the magazine since its inception. My wife and I travel with our 1966 20' Globe Trotter or our 1986 32' Excella. So, my primary interest is vintage travel trailers.