Project Vintage Thunder

The latest on Project Vintage Thunder, by Airstream Life magazine. Sponsored by George M Sutton RV, Reese hitch, Dometic USA, PPG Paint, Axis Products, GSM Vehicles, and Zip-Dee. Vintage Thunder is an "honest" RV refurbishment and travelogue. We tell you what really happens ...

Saturday, July 02, 2005

International Rally, Day Four

Another fine day in Springfield, MO. Thunderstorms on Thursday night cooled things down a bit and Friday was a beautiful day, full of sunshine and relatively comfortable temperatures.

It's always a good day when the pump-out truck shows up! They showed up early, doing the dirty work with a smile. Those guys are volunteers, too, which is amazing. Today's local paper had a headline story about the rally, called "Dumping Tanks and Giving Thanks." Hmmmm... is that what we are known for?

Emma was off to Fantastic Caverns with the other kids in the morning, and then the rest of the day was a leisurely one for us. I usually get run down at these events because I'm working all day and night, but this time I've taken it easy.

In the evening we visited with some folks in the Vintage 30 amp section (Shari Davis, Fred Coldwell, Patti Raimondo, Herb & Sidra Spies, Candy and Bill Fisher, et al), took a bunch of photos for future articles, and then made popcorn at the trailer after dinner. Edie dropped by again to check email and chat, and Richard Geschwinder smelled the popcorn while riding by and he dropped in, too. All in all, a beautiful quiet day surrounded by friends.

Friday, July 01, 2005

International Rally, Day Three

It is an inevitable part of living full-time in a trailer that you have to stop and work. It's not all fun and games. I've actually been working in every spare moment I can find (an hour here, an hour there), but Thursday I stopped all the running around and spent most of the day in the trailer working on the Fall issue of the magazine.

There are worse things ... I like the work and it was very pleasant sitting in an air-conditioned space on another hot and humid summer day, Plus, everyone was off doing other things (the kid program involved a bus ride down to Branson for a day at a water park), so I was basically left alone to concentrate.

Working on the road is a huge subject which I've touched on only a few times. But at an International Rally, you will meet people who do it. Most are wandering freelancers: writers, photographers, painters, artists of all description, even traveling nurses and teachers. A few have more traditional jobs that they've managed to adapt to life on the road, such as me (a publisher and consultant). As a result, I often have conversations with people about how it is done, and the issues we all face: good Internet connectivity, setting up efficient workspaces in a trailer, finding the right equipment, wireless phones, etc.

The bottom line is it can be done and the biggest barrier is psychological. The technology is there. The precedent is there. But it's also a matter of who you are as an individual. Some people need the company of others when they work and don't do well in a self-disciplined environment. Some people can't concentrate when there are many distractions around. You've got to be a self-starter and able to adapt -- actually, you need to thrive on the change and be inspired to work when you're in a new environment. Some people can, some can't.

I've adapted the layout of Vintage Thunder to be a good working environment as much as I can. I have four workspaces inside the trailer: kitchen counter, bedroom alcove, mid-couch, and front dinette. With my laptop I can readily move from space to space as events warrant. Dividers in the trailer provide a visual barrier to help focus the spaces, and in a pinch I can move outside and work under the awning too. Fans help dampen audio distractions from others (conversations, movies playing). The laser printer runs off a wireless (Mac Airport Express) network so I can print from anywhere, and the Internet is distributed wirelessly as well.

I've also culled my files to a bare minimum, so that the paper I haul around fits entirely into one small plastic storage tub. Paper is the enemy when you work in a trailer. As much as possible is electronic: faxes, files, images, maps, even postage. There are good tools to make all this possible, and most of them are cheap.

Among other things, I've begun planning our route back East. We don't have to return until July 17, but we already have a full schedule for the return trip. We'll have stops in Kentucky, Boston, the Adirondacks, and a few other spots as well. More on that later. If you've got any suggestions along I-64, let me know.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

International Rally, Day Two

The subtitle of this blog should be, "Why Rallies Beat Service Appointments" -- read on.

The first thing I did yesterday was walk over to the Airstream vendor tent (about 1/4 mile away) before it got too hot. I dropped in on the Dometic reps and set a service appointment to check the freezer door problem I mentioned earlier in this blog. At the appointed time, the service tech came over and told me:

(a) the freezer door latch is not adjustable (I knew that already)
(b) the freezer is behaving normally, in that the frigid air inside the freezer sucks the door inward, compressing the seal.
(c) the compression of the seal is what is causing the 1/4" play in the latch
(d) therefore, this condition is normal

Then he did a very tech-like thing: he removed the existing door latch assembly (3 screws) and replaced it with an identical new one. This accomplished nothing, but at least he was able to say he did something. I have a receipt to prove it, which will undoubtedly make me feel very good the next time my food defrosts... *sigh*

I was thinking that we'd be back to the blue tape solution, when a "real Airstreamer" came by. I'm talking about one of those folks who have used their Airstream all over the country. She said to just get a small tension rod to keep the food from falling forward onto the door. DOH! What a perfect, simple solution!

And that's why going to rallies is sometimes way better than getting service appointments.

We spent last evening visiting Paul and Mary Kim Waddell and their daughter Virginia over in the vintage 3 amp section. Paul did something I had thought of doing (but didn't have the nerve to do!) -- he installed a kiddy pool at his trailer to beat the heat. But Paul is not the sort of guy who likes to do things halfway, so he bought a 12-foot diameter pool, three feet deep, complete with filtration system and chlorine, and filled it overnight with cool water.

Well, let me tell you, this pool has been the hit of the 3-amp vintage section. With no A/C, a swimming pool is perfect. There were at least six people in it all the time last night, while Paul and some other friends barbecued chicken and burgers from everybody. It was so much fun, we are certain that next year there will be a rule against swimming pools. We're going to call it "The Paul Waddell Rule."

Earlier in the afternoon, Airstream's president Dicky Riegel showed up at Vintage Happy Hour with photos of his recently restored '55 Flying Cloud. Needless to say, everyone wanted a look. It is one of the finest refurbishments I've ever seen -- an ideal mix of old and new, done in a way that was sensitive to the original trailer's aesthetics. I'll try to run some pictures in the Fall issue of Airstream Life.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

International Rally, Springfield MO

At long last, we made it to the International Rally. It's exactly as expected: hot, humid, dusty, and confusing. Big rallies are like that. I always feel bad for the first-timers ... and even the second-timers (like us), because there's never enough explanation of where to go, how to get registered, how things work. But we all muddle through anyway.

The sight of 1000 Airstreams parked in a field is always astonishing and exciting. At this rally, we are a bit spread out since there is a 30-amp section (filled with trailers that have windows tightly closed and A/C running against the 95 degree heat and humidity), and a 3-amp section (filled with trailers that have windows and vents wide open). The 3-amp section is more sociable, since everyone is sitting outside under their awnings with a glass of lemonade. On the other hand, we slept comfortably in the 30-amp section last night.

The distance from one end of the rally to another is about a mile as the crow flies, but since we are separated by rows of trees and an electrical station, you really have to drive from one section to another. The photo I am posting here is only of part of the Purple and Red 2 sections. There's also Red 1, Gold, and Vintage elsewhere.

Somewhere among the field in Purple section, Row 3, you can find a blue-green Argosy ... one of a kind. We're tucked deep amidst other trailers and not readily visible, but already the Internet technorati have begun to discover us, since they've heard (from this blog and postings on the VAClist and Airstream Forums, that here they can check their email on our Internet-in-Motion system. Last night, Edie dropped by about 10 pm to sit on the front step and check her email.

The bug list on Vintage Thunder has not increased any since we left Vermont, but I've noted previously a few things that have happened (the battery box latch, the freezer latch), and we've also noticed two interior pop rivets have broken near the streetside bedroom window frame. That's an easy fix too, and I have all the tools to do it this week.

I have finally broken down and purchased a blue tank, a 15-gallon model. It is outside connected up right now. We'll probably have to dump it every other day or so. I wanted the 10-gallon model but only the 15 came with an attachment to tow the full tank to the dump station -- and the dump station is about a mile away over many dusty bumpy gravel roads, somewhere in the Vintage 3-amp section. I figured fewer trips is better.

So what's there to do here? Well, the big rallies are a matter of making your own fun, I've found. There is a schedule of seminars, celebratory meals, and meetings, but the best fun is meeting up with friends and talking aluminum. The best way to do that is to hit one of the many Happy Hours which are usually 4 pm every day. Vintage has one of the best ones under their own tent, but also Hunter's Yahoo Airstream List has a couple, as well as many of the local Units.

The bulletin boards and word of mouth are the way you find out about these. Each Region also has a breakfast or dinner at least once, and there is a full kids program (for adults too) that we'll be taking advantage of. Thursday we are headed to the water park if there are no thunderstorms. Today, I'll be checking out the Vintage Open House from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. I expect a few visitors, too.

I received my first copies of the new Summer 2005 issue of Airstream Life yesterday. It looks good. Copies should be in the mail to all subscribers this week. As usual, expect 2-3 weeks delivery time.

Now I've got to head out and put the awning up. It helps a lot to keep the trailer cool. Right now it is a comfortable 72 inside, and I am interested to see if the A/C can keep up against the heat today.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Indianapolis, IN and Onandaga Cave SP, MO

We got involuntarily disconnected last night from our Internet lifeline. I was online Sunday night from our stop in Indianapolis, but busy enough catching up on work that I didn’t have a chance to update the blog. At the end of the day Monday, we landed in a hollow deep in the heart of Missouri where cellular signals do not penetrate. No calls, no Internet.

That’s not such a bad thing once in a while. But I did get a bit behind in posting, so here’s the rundown of the past couple of days.

The major story is all the fun we’ve had to leave behind in the rush to get to Springfield by Tuesday. Departing Kooser State Park in Pennsylvania, I was horrified to find that we were a mere 20 miles from Fallingwater, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright house. Our schedule didn’t allow us to visit (being a fan of architecture and lately of F.L. Wright, I could have easily spent a full day there). I made a note to visit on the way back.

Through West Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana, I kept seeing fascinating little roadside stops … and passing them by, reluctantly. This is NOT the way we usually travel. We usually take our time, averaging no more than 200 miles per day when we’re in a rush. On this trip, we’ve logged an average of 300+ miles per day.

Finally, we went through St Louis today and I could not pass up the Arch. There is parking for RVs nearby, if you can find it, and the Arch (and its associated museums within) are well worth the stop. We didn’t have the two hours necessary to visit the top (one hour of waiting in line, one hour for the roundtrip), and it was a humid 95 degrees outside, but still it was a great break from the monotony of endless driving along I-70.

Oh, all the great spots we missed along the way! Little shops that make local cheese, wineries, flea markets, museums, waterfalls, riverwalks, historic districts, factory tours … On the way back home, I expect we’ll correct this. We are now – if you didn’t know – full-timing in Vintage Thunder, and as a result we will have less schedule pressure and hopefully more time to sit still and explore an area when we get to it.

Our stop Monday night was Onandaga Cave State Park. Missouri is riddled with caves, but this state park caught my eye as both a convenient stop before the home stretch to Springfield, and a nice place to spend one last quiet night before the bustle of a major rally.

We weren’t disappointed. Five stars for Onandaga Cave SP! The park is in a beautiful hilly forest miles from any traffic noise, the facilities are brand new and well maintained, there are a variety of great campsites, the showers are superb, there’s a laundry with a few trusty Speed Queens rumbling, amphitheater talks on weekends, hiking, and guided tours through two caves. The only negative is the total lack of cellular phone service (there is a payphone), and I’m not sure that’s really a negative anyway.

This blog entry is being posted while we are driving the final three hours to Springfield. As per normal rally procedure, we are arriving “empty and full” meaning black/gray tanks dumped and the fresh water tank full. Although the rally sites are supposed to have water, we’ve often found that we have to rely on our own for a day or two. And I don’t think we get a pump-out until Friday … they tend to treat that information like a state secret at these events.

The blue tape solution for the freezer door is working well. Each day has been hot and humid, and the interior of the trailer has soared to 100 degrees or more. Despite this the freezer has stayed between 0 and -2 degrees F. So now that we’re sure they won’t melt, we got brave enough to pick up some “novelty treats” at Wal-Mart (where else?) for a future hot and sticky evening.

We have extended the blue tape solution to a few cabinet and closet doors that keep opening in transit too, so now the interior looks like it is being prepped for painting every time we travel. If I have time at this rally, I’ll fix the problem doors. Most just need an extra pop rivet or two in their hinge attachment to stabilize them.

We’ll be posting daily from the rally site starting Tuesday. I’ll also get some pictures ASAP.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Kooser SP, Bakersville, PA

A long and occasionally bumpy road is the best way to find out what needs attention on your RV. You would think that we had already discovered all the bugs from our previous trips up the east coast and round-trip from Vermont to Ohio, but I am continually surprised.

Along I-84 in Pennsylvania, we encountered a huge traffic backup at the merge with I-80. Without getting into a lot of details, we had a choice: sit for an undetermined amount of time, or follow a few hardy drivers along a bumpy dirt path off the highway and to an escape route. We chose the off-road path. I must say that Vintage Thunder took it well, but between that adventure and several other badly rutted roads, things got bounced around a bit inside and out.

So, we discovered three things:

(1) The lock on the battery compartment needs a longer metal bar on it. As it is, it can rotate a tiny bit and let the door fall open in transit. I've temporarily rigged up an extension to the locking bar with a piece of plastic knife and some tape -- McGuyver-style.

(2) The magnet bar near the entry door was loose because one screw had stripped out, but it was easily secured with a longer screw,

(3) The Big One: The freezer door is out of adjustment. Normally the freezer door stays tightly shut. But on this trip, for the first time, we packed it FULL. During the bouncing, the weight of the food shifted to the door and the door came ajar about 1/4". Normally the door shouldn't be able to open at all because of the snap locks built into the handle. But in the case of our freezer, the snap is 1/4" out of adjustment. So quite a bit of our food defrosted along the way.

This made for a very interesting smorgasbord dinner last night, as well as a lot of frustration. The door lock is not adjustable.

The picture above is sideways. If you look closely, the left latch (freezer) engages differently from the right latch (refrigerator). The refrigerator latch connects properly, so that when the door is shut, the door cannot move forward at all. The freezer latch connects so that the door can move 1/4" forward (open) before the latch stops it.

It appears that the freezer door itself may be hung slightly out of square, and the position of the door is what determines the position of the lock. Looking at the door, it is not obvious to this non-mechanical person how to adjust the door. I plan to drop by a Service Center along the roadway (or perhaps call Dometic USA tech support if they are open on Sunday).

In the meantime, we can secure the door with The Handyman's Secret Weapon. (Actually we are using blue masking tape, which doesn't leave a glue residue.) Crude, but it will work for now.

OK, enough of the tech talk. You'd think with these problems that we had no fun at all. In fact, Kooser State Park is a pleasant little spot up at 2,600 feet in the pine trees of western PA. It was virtually abandoned this weekend for no apparent reason, so we just drove in and picked a nice spot near the playground (for Emma). The swimming beach is a bit silty but the cool trout stream was a nice break. Even up at this altitude it was well into the 80s today. Emma spent a pleasant hour catching tadpoles in the shallow water and we all came away from the water feeling refreshed.

Today looks like another long driving day, if we are going to arrive in Springfield MO by Tuesday. ...