Way To Go, Stud

I thought this evening I’d grab my slingshot and spool of fishing line and rig a 73′ ham radio wire antenna when we returned to our trailer this afternoon. We’d been at a wonderful luncheon with our local unit of the Wally Byam Airstream Club and I told them what I wanted to do when we got back. I’d love to have that great antenna working in the morning between 7am and 9am for the daily 40 meter net session. But something more appealing came up after the luncheon before we even left Winston-Salem.

Yesterday morning one of the two gas struts supporting my truck’s tonneau cover broke. The gas strut’s fine but the attachment at one end broke from the tonneau cover’s supporting arm. Hatch doors on SUVs and SAVs and some vans have two gas struts to lift and hold that hatch door. One won’t do the job. It’s the same with my tonneau cover – two gas struts, working properly and together, just barely get the job done. One strut alone leaves you with a truck bed cover that you’re going to need a prop stick for, if you can even get the tonneau cover open.

Pretty much anything with gas struts has ball studs. The ball studs are the attachment point for the ends of the gas strut. The ball studs are under a tremendous force and may break off. Mine did over a week ago (after a mere eleven years daily service). I sort of fixed it but the repair didn’t hold and yesterday I realized I needed to find the right parts to really fix this.

8mm ball studs

A good friend suggested I might find at an AutoZone auto parts store the gas strut ball stud I needed for my tonneau cover. I’ve never bought one before. I didn’t even know how they’re packaged or who would sell them. Last night I searched on line and found it’s sort of a specialty item despite tens of thousands (way more?) cars and trucks use this. But Randy is right (by the way, he says Camping World also sells these). AutoZone on Country Club Drive in Winston-Salem had one package of 8mm ball studs. A pair of them set me back less than $4 with tax. Thanks Randy for the spot on referral.

I didn’t realize what the 8mm or 10mm label on ball stud packaging referred to or I might have worried I wouldn’t have the tools I wanted. Turns out, the measurement refers to the threaded portion. Not realizing this, I pulled out my grab bag of threading taps and found one to match the threads on the ball stud. Guess what, it’s an 8mm tap. The correct drill bit size is embossed on the side of the tap. I was delighted to find the requisite 17/64″ drill bit (very slightly larger than 1/4″). I have a drill, bit, and tap. Okay, what I didn’t know or plan hasn’t hurt me so far.

One of the gas strut’s ball stud had yanked clean out of the tonneau cover’s hinged support arm. The hole was too small for the 8mm shank of the new ball stud. I could have drilled out the hole to 5/16″, slid the new shank in and secured it with the included nut. But I decided it would be stronger (and a little bit of fun) to drill and tap the support arm for the 8mm shank to thread into plus put a nut on the extra length of shank on the other side. It looks like this:

ball stud threaded through support arm and secured with nut

The gas strut snaps onto the ball after I pry the spring release open. I made a mistake and pried too far. The spring popped off and landed in the truck’s pretty messy bed. Once I found it I realized what a mistake it was to pop it off. Much harder to put this spring on than to open and close it. I’ll be more careful in the future to only pry it open enough to release from the ball. Here’s a picture of the gas strut snapped properly onto the new ball.

gas strut snapped onto new ball

I’m no mechanic. I’m just lucky enough to have some tools I’ve collected over time and a tiny bit of mechanical aptitude. I’ll admit I have no idea if this installation method, tapping threads in the support arm, is better than making a larger hole and slipping the threaded shank through. But it was fun to do this and, like a puzzle completed, it’s satisfying to have the pieces fit together. This took me 15 minutes to complete once I had the tools out and the drill plugged into the power receptacle. Here’s a picture of the not so many tools I needed and used today for this quick and easy project to keep my tonneau cover easy to lift and hold open.

all the tools needed for this job

The oddest thing is to figure why I have an 8mm threading tap. I guess it’s from 1978-79 when I was keeping my Toyota Hi-Lux truck going. I never thought the tap took up space I needed for something else. It’s approx 5/16″ diameter by 2.5″ long. Of course, this is one of how many threading taps I have in the toolbox? Debbie doesn’t worry too much about what’s in the truck or under the trailer as long as I find things to do outside when she wants inside space. And you wondered how two of us live full-time more than ten years in this small Airstream trailer?

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On Our Way to NYC This Week

We left Pittsburgh a couple of days ago on our way to meet up and go to NYC with a bunch of Wally Byam Airstream Club friends from Ontario. There were several potential routes to the meetup and we hadn’t settled on where to stop the first night. Then BANG! “Why don’t we spend a day touring Niagara Falls?” Okay, small route change and no problem. Let’s do it.

Sunset on Lake Erie

Why do things work out really well sometimes? Apparently someone cancelled their plans for an RV site in Four Mile Creek State Park. This is near Niagara Falls and our site backs up to Lake Erie. Four Mile Creek State Park is a gorgeous campground with several hundred sites. The shower houses are very nicely built, although there was no walk path from our loop. The sites are large and have electricity. Water is available throughout the loops for refilling fresh water tanks and the dump station is conveniently located on our way out. Best of all, the drive between Four Mile Creek and Niagara Falls is a pretty and short twenty-mile drive.

Our NY State Park camping fee also covers the day’s parking fee while we’re visiting Niagara Falls. This happens sometimes, especially if we listen and take someone’s advice, are willing to be flexible, don’t let our expectations keep us from enjoying things, and let things work out. It’s not just a freedom of full-timing, but that helps too. Sometimes you wonder what you did wrong. Sometimes you get very lucky.

Garbed up for the boat tour

We checked in for our online-purchased tickets when we arrived at Niagara Falls State Park in the morning. The visitor’s desk lady asked us, “Do you want to get wet now or later?” Our choices were to get wet on the boat tour, or wetter on the Cave of the Winds walk. We started the day at the Falls with the Maid of the Mist boat tour.

Can you see us on the boat?

The falls almost overwhelmed us on our boat tour. Not capsized us, but it filled us completely with awe. There are 675,000 gallons per second rushing over the Canadian Falls and we were struck dumb by the tremendous power and beauty as we bobbed along in our boat near the base of these falls.

taken from the Skylon Tower

Best laid plans were thoroughly doused in our next adventure. The issued blue ponchos had kept us entirely dry on the boat tour despite wet blustery air currents and showers. We wore our waterproof hiking boots and gore-tex jackets too, so we felt well-prepared for whatever the Falls could dish out. We went next to the Cave of the Winds and boldly advised the flip-flop passer outer that we had on our waterproof shoes and wouldn’t take the free flip flops.

Ha! Our waterproof boots, once they filled with icy cold water on the boardwalk so near the falls, kept the water from leaking out from around our feet. We sloshed back to the truck where, fortunately, we had two pairs of dry socks to change into. Note for next time: use the flip flops.

Our park pass admitted us to all the attractions and also onto the trolley. We made good use of the pass, checking out all the stops on foot except for the Schoellkpof Power Station site. The trolley trip there was nice and quick and allowed us time to tour this and see the movie in the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center. Our last stop was for dinner reservations on the Canadian side, 1.6 miles distant. We walked across Rainbow Bridge, the largest hingeless arch bridge in the world from its 1941 construction until twenty-one years later when surpassed by a nearby bridge (Lewiston-Queenston) of the same design.

Perhaps exactly midway across the border we were standing astride the border between two of our favorite countries, the one where all our children and grandchildren live and the one where two of our grandchildren were born. Someone told us earlier in the day we’d find the Canadian side of Niagara Falls cleaner and neater than the American side. The remark didn’t surprise us and we weren’t surprised to find it so, again. We had a nice appetizing walk to the Skylon Tower and made our early dinner seating right on time.

dinner reservations at Skylon Tower

Debbie had arranged for a prix fixe, where everything’s included in one price, at the revolving restaurant atop the Skylon Tower. We would ride the yellow elevator up the outside and have seating in the window for a one revolution per hour dinner. The dinner was several courses, the food was very good, and the views were wonderful. This was a really nice way to spend the evening after walking all over the Niagara Falls State Park.

dining in Skylon Tower

The spontaneous stop in Niagara Falls allowed one of our best touring days ever. The weather forecast was for rain. We figured we’d be getting wet anyhow (and we did, or at least our feet did), and the rain apparently kept the park from being very busy. We arrived early and stayed until nearly 7:30 in the evening. We didn’t spend enough time on the Canadian side and didn’t quite finish the American side either.

As usually occurs, we left thinking, “We’ll want to return and see more of this”. It was a great day!

See you down the road,

Jim and Debbie
see us at dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees
see what’s going on at WBCCI, The Wally Byam Airstream Club

Why Settle for Less?

Jim’s long enjoyed making, repairing, or installing things for himself and our friends. He does his best work when he’s helping someone else. But working for himself, he says, he sometimes just tries for “good enough.” That can leave him wondering if and when he’ll go back and redo his project the way he really wants it.

We recently enjoyed a special visit with friends in York, South Carolina, near the NC-SC border. We were traveling north from Florida. John and Susan Leake invited us to park our Airstream at their house on our way up. We’ve known John and Susan several years and like them a lot. We’d heard of their beautiful home and old fashioned Southern hospitality. But this post isn’t about what great hosts they are, what a great cook Susan is, or how much we like their home. They are, she is, and we really do. Read on and see what affected us so much on this visit!

Even with the high praise we’d heard for Leake’s Antiques we weren’t really prepared for what we found. John and one of his sons, Jay, are creating gorgeous furniture masterpieces, one at a time. Their signature piece, a cellaret, is pictured below (read about it in the Garden and Gun Magazine article, linked further below:)

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Leake’s Antiques Cellaret

Read what the Leakes say on their own website,

“John and Jay Leake hand make period reproduction furniture in the styles of William and Mary, Queen Anne, Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Sheraton. Using all solid wood, each piece is made to order using the finest mahogany, cherry, walnut and maple available. Not only is the wood of the finest quality but also our hardware and brass. Customers who identify quality and craftsmanship will especially appreciate our furniture. 

John Leake and son Jay build fifteen to eighteen major pieces per year in their York, South Carolina shop, each with craftsmanship featuring hand carving, dovetailing, and pinned mortise and tenon joinery.

We don’t have a “line” of furniture. Pictured on our showroom page are some of our favorites. We often duplicate them but can also adapt or modify them for your needs, or build you a totally custom piece. We work on 1 piece at a time for 1 customer at a time. We welcome your inquiry, better still, a visit.”

Doesn’t that sound pretty special? We think so. The real thing’s even better and they’re receiving well-deserved recognition for it. A couple of years ago, Garden and Gun Magazine did a feature on John and Jay’s work. The link takes you to a wonderful article with nice photographs of the Leake’s shop, showroom, and the guys too.

Jim’s dad built furniture as a hobby. He instilled in Jim a love for woodworking and finishes. When Jim graduated from college he worked for years as a construction carpenter then ran a woodworking and cabinet shop. He did all the shop work and installations himself and learned what it takes to do good work. John and Jay don’t just do good work, they do beautiful work. Their craftsmanship is amazing.

This matters to the rest of us. Have we heard anyone complaining about how poorly things are made nowadays? Are our lives affected by cheap or inappropriate clutter? Does quality pay? Do beautiful things improve our lives? Does a job well-done improve our outlook? The answer to all five is, “YES.”

Competing priorities can confuse things. There’s only so much time and money and there are plenty of rationalizations:
“We’re leaving tomorrow and this needs to be safe and secure first;
We didn’t spend much on this because it’s just a trial and we might not like it;
I’ll do this better later when I have more time.” And you can think of some others, right?

We see there’s a new Dyson $399 handheld blow dryer on the market. Dyson reportedly stated his company has never designed “down to price.” He’s not interested in competing with companies offering lower-cost goods. He makes the best product he can and the buyers who want it will pay for it. If a buyer like his products and thinks they’re worth the price then everything’s copacetic. (ed. note: we don’t own any Dyson things :-)

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Dyson’s new hair dryer

The Leakes aren’t compromising on quality either. We’ve never seen better crafted furniture than John and Jay are making. The attention to detail and the joinery is superb.  Jay hand cuts the beautiful visible dovetailed joints, and even the blind structural joints are dovetailed. Their furniture has perfect joints, flawless inlay, beautiful hardware, gorgeous finishes. They’re taking their time to do their very best work on every piece they build. The result is pleasing to the eye and soul.

We thank John and Jay for showing us how high quality work matters to them and to their customers. They create beautiful furniture. As John Keats wrote 200 years ago in his poem, Endymion “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Seeing the high quality work Leake’s Antiques turns out made all the difference to us. Why settle for less?

See you down the road,

Jim and Debbie
see us at dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees
see what’s going on at WBCCI, The Wally Byam Airstream Club

Enjoying Full-Time Living in Our Airstream Trailer

Enjoyed a few cups of coffee with friends today and returned to the house mid-morning. What to do with all that morning caffeine? Turned on some energy music, pulled out a few cleaning supplies, and started burning calories. Cleaned ceilings, walls, floors and doors of all our rooms. How long does that take? About two albums worth, listened to all of Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II.

Airstream walls and ceilings all clean

cleaning’s ez pz

This brings up a benefit of living in a tiny house. Our former home was 3,000 feet on two floors plus a detached 1.5 story 2 car garage. We lived in four rooms of that large house, the bedroom, small den, breakfast nook, and kitchen. With company, we’d use more space. How often would that happen? We’ve known homeowners of all ages who lived similarly, gravitating toward the cozy space for reading or browsing, eating in the kitchen, sleeping in the bedroom, while supporting a house of anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 square feet. The less-used spaces still require upkeep of dusting and vacuuming. Somehow all the washrooms seem to need cleaning. There are lots more windows to clean.

For now, we’re enjoying the benefits of living well in our tiny house. Do NOT get rid of your nice home. We love visiting you. We love occasionally housesitting for you (we call it “playing house.”) You love your home and we do too. In a way we don’t really know what we’re missing. Some ask us, “What d’ya miss most about your house?” Our answer varies with the season or our moods.

How do you answer about something that, in a way, never was? Sometimes we reply, “We never lived in it as retirees – as soon as we quit our jobs, we sold our stuff and the house and split. We don’t know what it would be like to live there now.” We also fondly recall hosting folks for large gatherings, like Jim’s high school class during Christmas holidays 2007, or a sister’s wedding brunch with family from near and far, and baby showers for friends and family. Just can’t invite as many into this tiny house. Those are nice memories. Would those occasions still arise if we had a large enough house? Do we miss doing those?

How many camping stoves does a fast-hiking 4-person backpacking team need to carry? Does everyone need a car in case they want to run an errand, or can we share cars or support mass-transit and taxi solutions more economically (and with less carbon footprint?) Do we all need enough house to host family and neighborhood gatherings? Is it fair for the tiny house people to not share in the cost of the host homes? Are we willing to own and maintain a “big home” again?

A large fixed location house isn’t currently one of our needs. We don’t miss owning a large home. Taxes, maintenance, and utilities comprise the large portion of an annual household budget. We’re saving, by not supporting a large home, nearly half of our current entire annual budget. We’re enjoying volunteer leadership for the Wally Byam Airstream Club, life in our Airstream trailer, and our ability to travel where, when and for how long we want.

How much Spring Cleaning time do we save by living tiny? It’s not really the point. We’re enjoying living full-time in our Airstream tiny house. Easy maintenance, inside and out, is a great feature of Airstream trailers. We love living in ours.

See you down the road,

Jim and Debbie
see us at dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees
see what’s going on at WBCCI, The Wally Byam Airstream Club

The Road Less Traveled By

Any other highway but I-10 would be fine this time. So we started westward on I-20 and almost magically found ourselves entering the Sacramento Mountains on US-82. How could we have known how cool this was going to be? How many times did we not take this road?

We’ve crossed the continent, out and back, almost every year for the past ten. Every time we’ve been pulling our sweet 25′ Airstream home-on-wheels behind us. It seems like we’ve taken I-10 way too many times.

Really we probably used other highways at least half of the times we traversed the continent. We’ve crossed on The TransCanada Highway once, and each of I-90, 80, 70, and 40 at least once in both directions. Interstate 10 gets all our other crossings because it’s the most southern route and therefore the most suitable for towing our unwinterized RV in January, Feb, or Mar, which we often seem to do.

We were headed from North Carolina to Casa Grande AZ for the WBCCI Airstream Club’s annual winter Board meeting. Each evening on this trip we looked at the possible routes and weather a day ahead ahead. An overnight in Sweetwater TX on I-20 gave us a good look at a route we’d never considered. We saw a straighter line than I-20/I-10 offered from Sweetwater to Las Cruces, by picking our way from I-20 to US-82. We had no idea the adventure we were facing, the route simply looked more direct.

One hundred or so miles later we were in an incomparably beautiful area, the Sacramento Mountains in Lincoln National Forest. Without a doubt this was the prettiest part of our entire drive. The two lane road gently turned and climbed back and forth as it followed an ancient route through a gorge and then inexorably upward toward Cloudcroft NM at 8,650 ft above sea level.

There were long stretches of nothing but unspoiled terrain. This natural beauty reminded us of driving on Top of the World Highway between Dawson City YT and Chicken Alaska, where for as far as we could see away from our road there was no trace of civilization anywhere. Gradually we started seeing more homesteads, then RV parks, and finally stores. In Cloudcroft we even drove by a small ski slope filled with folks enjoying skiing on a sunny afternoon.

It took a little while for us to recover from the excitement of watching our engine and transmission temperatures climb on the mile-high climb and imagine our brake temperatures climb on the 4,300′ descent. Then we realized we were going to be driving right by White Sands National Monument. Several times we had driven on one border or the other of the White Sands Missile Range. We’d never been on this side of the area and hadn’t thought how to find our way to it. We had to stop!

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We spent a fascinating hour touring the Visitors Center and watching their very good video about the area. We learned some history and geology about the area, and why the white sand is special – it’s gypsum instead of quartz. What surprised us most is the rule prohibiting taking any of this white sand out of the park. Sure enough, we saw little piles of it on the sidewalk of the parking area where people dumped out their shoes so they wouldn’t be absconding with the material.

I’ve friends who won’t take that road, the one less traveled. Their travel’s going to be on the four-lanes and GPS-referred routes. There’s nothing wrong with that. Those roads are likely to have good paved shoulders, softer grades, great sight lines, and perhaps other safety features. The best thing is that the really interesting routes might remain, in Robert Frost’s words, “the road less traveled by.” It did make all the difference for us yesterday.

See You Down The Road

Jim and Debbie,
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees
©dreamstreamr odyssey 2017

Preparing for Snow?

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This morning on the telly NC’s new governor, Roy Cooper, announced declaration of state of emergency for all 100 counties. They’re pretty sure this snow’s coming. We’re in the dark blue region on this map so things could become messy. We made a quick trip to the local store, beat the rush. We have enough scotch and bourbon for the weekend.

We were planning to leave NC today for sunny Arizona. We miss 75 degrees and look forward to a great Board of Trustees meeting of the Airstream Club. Our new plan is to enjoy the snow and tow our Airstream southbound starting Monday. We’re ready to go!

See you down the road,

Jim and Debbie
see us at dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees
see what’s going on at WBCCI, The Wally Byam Airstream Club

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Not Chasing 75 degrees

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It’s 40 below, raining, and we’re thriving. Not 40 below zero, 40 degrees below our vaunted (and often achievable) outdoor temperature target of 75 degrees. We’re glad to see the rain, have opportunities for walking and other exercise on our land, and consider improvements we might do someday.

Our Airstream is keeping us warm and dry, as always. The furnace was running upon our return from a nice 45-minute walk in the rain. That’s unusual. We normally turn the furnace down to 45, the minimum, after we warm the trailer’s interior in the morning. Then we’ll use the catalytic heater and the portable Pelonis electric heater to maintain 66-68 degrees inside. For our walk we left only the catalytic on. The interior temp fell below 64 and we’d forgotten to turn the furnace down so it was trying to keep up

Our central heat, if we ever build a house, will be very quiet. We’re weary of noisy heat, even if grateful for warmth. The Pelonis ceramic heater is the quietest of our mechanical heaters, followed by the gas furnace, followed by the electric strip heat in the roof a/c unit.

Our Olympian Wave6 catalytic heater is silent, radiates great warmth, and we can focus it in the direction we wish. Nearly ideal, except it adds moisture to our space (a bad/good thing.) The moisture wants to condense on cold surfaces and our many single thickness windows are happy cold sinks. The mechanical heat sources help dry the air more. But they’re so darned noisy. We prefer the silent radiant heat when we’re awake and indoors (we NEVER leave the catalytic heater operating when we’re napping or sleeping.)

And we love the coziness of our 25′ Airstream trailer in the rain. Even freezing rain.

See You Down The Road

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamrs, still chasing 75 degrees
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