Monthly Archives: June 2009

Aha improvement

hot new vent with damperThis is a nice change we very recently made to our RV’s ducted heat system and was so simple. We removed and replaced the washroom’s terminal louver with this new one. The former one swiveled to change the direction of heated air. The new one both swivels and has a damper knob on its face.

Even as much as we try to chase 75 degrees, it seems we often are outside that comfort zone. Our air heat system performs two jobs, it heats the living space and warms the holding tanks. The holding tanks should obtain some freezeproofing from this latter function, if we stayed in a sub-freezing climate more than a day or two.

The ducted system seems to have had no intentional air balancing. The heated air pours into the washroom far more than the room needs, especially since we spend the least time in the washroom. The new diffuser allows us to select the volume of air to the washroom and therefore we can increase the volume to the more oft used spaces.

Little changes, all added together, make our home fun to tweak and maintain. Maybe we are improving it. Or at least, we are customizing it. This was an inexpensive ($5?) change, easy to install, and it actually works as we imagined it would.

This is one of those aha moments that you sometimes just stumble onto. We weren’t looking for it. The air volume design (or accidentally achieved) into the bathroom was so excessive it was stupid. I imagined installing a slot damper inline in the duct under the lavatory. Then we saw this in the Airstream factory store. Aha!

How many utensils did you dump into the toilet?

Someone I met tonight told us the story of his missing fork, and said I could share it if I didn’t name him. With a little background and explanation by me, here’s what happened:

When RVers attend rallies they might spend several weeks in limited hook-up settings. Drinking and washing water runs in white “potable water” hoses, splitting off in a wye at each trailer down a line as long as fifteen or twenty trailers. The trailers might have full-service electricity, enough to run the lighting, radios, and even microwaves and air conditioners if they have these too.

What is most often missing in large rallies is a sewer hook-up to allow frequent emptying of the trailers’ rinse water and black (sewage) water tanks. The rally organizers typically provide a contract service to pump out the waste tanks (rinse and black) at some interval, like every four days.

Some RVers might optimize their waste tanks capacity by disposing of the used dish water into their toilet, because the black tank seems to last longer than the rinse tank. It seems some people prefer using a lot of water for their showers, and this can fill the rinse tank in only a few days.

Used dish water is likely to become cloudy from soap and from washing plates and pans and utensils. We’re all a bunch of experienced RVers, we’re seasoned travelers and we share many good habits learned from repetitive motions of RVing. Right.

Dishes are washed and rinsed. A certain RVer takes the dish pan from the sink and walks to his trailer’s washroom. He steps on the toilet pedal to open the flush valve and empties the dish pan contents into the toilet bowl. And watches a fork slide cleanly into the waste tank.

What’s the chance of this happening? Every previous time, he poured the contents of the dish pan into the toilet bowl before depressing the toilet flush pedal. And if someone wanted a utensil to pour through the small flush opening (3″ diameter?) you know the utensil would, most times, turn crosswise and refuse to go down the drain.

Not this time. The fork went right down the drain and into the black water tank. Yep, the sewage tank. And no, there’s no easy way to reach in and fish something out. We’ve read horror stories (at least we thought so of them) of children’s toothbrushes, soothers, or toy soldiers going off to do battle in the wasteland under the toilet. And the RVer borrows bore inspection cameras and rigs retrieval wires and recites incantations over the toilet, hoping the extraneous items will all leave the tank without clogging the dump valve.

You see, if you clog the dump valve then you have messed up the whole works. It is roughly analagous to losing the drain valve on your car’s radiator — all the radiator coolant just drains onto the pavement. And the coolant is a dangerous pollutant, not something we should allow to drain uncontrolled from our vehicles.

So, how will it work out if we get a plastic toy figurine or, say, a fork, stuck in the black water waste tank’s dump valve? I’ll just start this and let your imagination color it in for you. Every time anyone uses and flushes the RV’s toilet, the contents will rush downward into the waste tank and then. . .

Okay, back to the story. He ingeniously located a magnet in his toolbox, attached something to it so he could go fishing with it. He lowered this through the toilet’s flush valve and into the waste tank. And he pulled a fork up from the depths of his waste tank! Boy, is he glad it wasn’t a plastic fork?

I asked him if he is sure there was only one fork?

Through the north, darkly

The Airstreams are lined up in their placesWe arrived yesterday at the Dana County Fairgrounds in Madison, WI, for our WBCCI 52nd International Meeting and Rally. We might be the 400th Airstream to arrive, there are a lot of “early workers” already encamped. It was fun to again greet and visit friends we’ve not seen in months or, in some cases, in almost a year.

For the second time in as many travel days we’ve driven under the threat of “severe thunderstorms capable of large hail and dangerous lightning with damaging winds up to 60 miles per hour” (NOAA weather alert radio). The skies were ominously dark and the rain as hard as we’ve driven in for a very long time.

Really dark skies weren't very welcomingWe decided it was in our best interest to plow through, expecting the storm would behave as predicted. National Weather Service stated this storm was traveling west to east at thirty miles per hour. Okay, we’ll slow down, put on our 4-way flashers, and try to not travel into the heart of this big mess.

Our travel was on county roads all day, so we had very little traffic in front or behind us. Driving 40 miles per hour affected no one but us, and this speed felt most comfortable for almost one half-hour. Before long, the storm moved off to the east and we were in the clear for the rest of the easy drive to Madison.

Madison was easy to navigate following our club’s driving directions from the June edition of the Blue Beret magazine. We’re glad to be here and looking forward to an excellent rally.

How many people saw President Lincoln alive?

Debbie and I drove today through the worst-looking skies we’ve seen in a long time. We were on our way from New Salem, near Springfield, to Johnson-Sauk Trail State Park a little north of Kewanee, IL. The skies ahead and to both sides were very dark. We listened intently on our truck radio’s weather band to the local National Weather Service’s threatening messages about the dangerous lightning, golf ball-sized hail, and winds of sixty miles per hour. All the weather news sounded terribly ominous.

Decision time — do we turn back, find a barn to hide the trailer from the hail, or stop for lunch and let the storm pass ahead of us before we travel further toward it? While I slowed our truck Deb started map-reading to determine a bearing on the storm relative to our position. We decided the storm was going to pass safely east of our path so we continued our northerly course.

We arrived in Kewanee, IL, after the storm. They were spared the hail but did get heavy rains. Fields are badly flooded, reminding us of the widespread flooding in the Midwest this time last year. It’s too bad there isn’t a way to store all this extra water until later in the summer.

We were camped the past two days in Lincoln’s New Salem Historic Site near Springfield and spent an afternoon touring the New Salem village. The village was restored in the 1930’s to reflect the buildings and grounds from the 1830s. Many of the buildings are staffed with interpreters dressed in period costumes. We learned a lot about this midwest frontier lifestyle before we returned to our mosquito-dominated campsite. The only good thing we found about the campground is its proximity to the New Salem Historic Site.

Lincoln family's homeYesterday we spent all day touring part of Springfield. We lucked into free parking across the street from Lincoln Home National Historic Site. Our first stop was a tour of the Lincoln Home. Debbie and I were surprised at how nice and large the home was — the history books never showed us this aspect of President Lincoln’s life.

Old State Capitol, Springfield, ILWe walked through downtown Springfield to the old State Capitol Building, built in the 1830s and restored in the 1960s. Custodians lived under the gallery stairs so they could tend the many iron wood-burning stoves throughout the building. Congressional sessions were held only in winter, a necessity for the many farmer representatives. Many trees fell to keep rooms in this large building warmed.

After a brief stop at Pease’s Candy and Nuts for ice cream we continued to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. Did you know more people, 1/4 of the American population, saw President Lincoln’s funeral train as it coursed from Washington, D.C. back to Springfield, IL than ever saw President Lincoln alive? This is one of many things we heard in this well-organized museum.

The museum displays were very nicely done and displayed well Abraham Lincoln’s beginnings, travel, challenges, and successes. Some of the most moving displays were a photo wall portraying people involved in the Civil War, and a wall-sized National map which, using seconds to represent weeks, ticked off the weeks from President Lincoln’s first election until his assassination and displayed the death toll, separately, for the Union and Confederate militaries.

Lincoln TombUnfortunately, President Lincoln was never so popular as he was after death. Our final stop for the day was Lincoln Tomb. This tremendous monument is the final resting place of President Lincoln, Mrs. Lincoln, and three of their four sons (Robert, the eldest son, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery). The Lincoln Tomb is beautiful and impressive and seems a fitting tribute.

We enjoyed Springfield, Illinois, were blessed with great weather, and would enjoy more time in this lovely park, Johnson-Sauk Trail State Park. We have a neat site with great breezes and no bugs. What a relief after the last park. This park has great areas, a beautiful lake, and loads of walking trails.

But we will push on Friday morning. We are on our way to Madison, Wisconsin for the 52nd WBCCI Rally and Meeting, a great gathering of the association of Airstream owners. Check on us later for news on this big deal — it might be interesting!

See You Down The Road!

Effingham, Illinois hospital fire safety

You never know what you’ll find when you turn the next corner. Nor can you guess what will bring you to some findings. Who would expect to find, in our travels, one of the hospitals most significantly contributing to the development our nation’s very excellent fire safety requirements?

We’ve spent the past week in Ramsey, Illinois, visiting with Janet and Mike. Well, mostly we’ve had an enjoyable time house-sitting as Mike spends much of every day visiting the hospital with Janet. She is recovering well from an apparently very successful surgery. St Anthony's Mem Hosp in Effingham, IL

And we’ve driven to Effingham, Illinois, three times to visit with Janet. Each visit to the hospital has impressed me more and more. I spent twenty-five years working in hospital maintenance and safety in four hospitals and one very large multi-hospital system. I’ve never seen as clean or attractive a hospital as Saint Anthony’s Memorial Hospital. If the surgical, recovery, lab, and records departments are as well-run as housekeeping, maintenance, and food service are then this is the hospital for my medical care needs. Best Evac Route sign anywhere

The hospital has an interesting and unfortunate history which almost certainly provides more fire safety for its patients, visitors, and staff. The original hospital, Saint Anthony’s, was built in the late 1800s and was lost to fire. Sixty years ago this April, the hospital suffered a devastating fire in which the hospital was a total loss and seventy four people lost their lives. The community pulled together magnificently and staged a campaign to fund the replacement hospital, named Saint Anthony’s Memorial Hospital in memory of the lives lost in the fire.

The National Fire Protection Agency has fire history lists for many categories including The NFPA’s deadliest hospital fires. The Saint Anthony’s fire is the second deadliest hospital fire on record. The top three are these:
> Cleveland Clinic (Ohio) May 15, 1929, 125 deaths
> St. Anthony Hospital (Illinois) April 4, 1949, 74 deaths
> Mercy Hospital, St. Elizabeth’s Ward (Iowa) January 7, 1950, 41 deaths
Source: NFPA

The cause of fire was never determined. The routes of the fire and smoke, from the basement to the third floor, were clearly defined as the wood-lined linen chutes and the open stairwells connecting all levels of the building. The old building was wood and brick with combustible acoustical upper wall and ceiling panels and with oil cloth on the lower portion of the walls. The building had no compartmentation to restrict the spread of smoke or fire throughout the entire building.

The open stairwells filled early and intensely with smoke and fire and were useless as exits. Three special emergency exits, installed as required by the Illinois Fire Marshall’s Office in 1940, were inaccessible to the building occupants. Smoke and fire raced, unchecked, throughout the corridors, blocking any access to the only available exits.

National hospital requirements for compartmentation, staff fire drills, automatic fire detection, alarm, notification and suppression systems all combine to provide much safer health care institutions. I don’t think there has been a large-loss hospital fire in the United States in many years. The last reported significant American hospital fire was in 1994 with four lives lost (all patients). Improvements to fire safety regulations for hospitals have since reduced or eliminated the contributing factors for three of those deaths.

I suspect Saint Anthony’s Memorial Hospital has been a leader in implementing and demonstrating fire-safe design for hospitals since its construction in 1954. And it appears Saint Anthony’s is providing a safe and clean hospital for the thousands of people it serves every year. My thanks go to the staff, management, and the Hospital Sisters Health Systems.

[NOTE: If you are interested in an exhaustive and well-done analysis and pictures of the Saint Anthony’s fire you can find Hospital fire losses, St Anthony’s here.]


revised 6/18/2009, added two pictures — jmc

Is your U.S. Flag flying?

It’s National Flag Day — do you know where your flag is?

Thinking out of the box

I sit expectantly on the dining room table. Both the two-leggeds are pretending to be otherwise occupied. The story of a table-game’s life, eh? Everyone is just too busy anymore. Sit, sit, sit on the closet shelf and for what? Nothing, most of the time. Dark, quiet, still, pretty cramped. Used to have more room, before these wooly things started sitting all over the shelf. It’s not like I was cold before, either.

Sometimes a two-legged pulls me off the shelf and puts me in the great big room, like when bunches of two-leggeds are around. Then nothing. Nothing. Just sitting around. Oh, what’s this pirate ship looking thing? This wasn’t here last time, was it? I might as well sit in the closet on the shelf except it’s nice to get out and look around. Oh for the old days, when I sat on the table all day. . .

But wait! Why did they search the house looking for me? Did they just want to prove they could find me? They might finish their silly little busynesses and get around to doing something worthwhile, like trying to figure me out. These are different two-leggeds — they’re pretty weird, too. They don’t even sleep in the house, I don’t think. I may be in a closet all the time but I know something about what goes on around here, you know. I can guess what two-leggeds are eating, they’re so noisy about it.

Sometimes their pockets make noise then the two-leggeds talk real loud to their hands. And half the time they make almost no noise at all. I don’t know when it is, ’cause it’s always dark in my closet. I wish I had a window or a skylight, I could see something now and then. Then again, I would just fade and they’d probably get rid of me, all color-faded and not pretty like I am now.

Yeah, everyone’s so busy. Some of the other games tell me there was a time when two-leggeds didn’t even put us away. We were out, like, every night. Maybe it’s a cold-outside-time thing? The two-leggeds only like us when they can’t find anything else to do. Then when they do think they can spend a little high quality time (with me, of course), they find so many last minute things they just have to do first. Food, drinks, phone calls, check the weather, go to the bathroom for the fourteenth time . . . and on and on, it seems.

Of course one of the two-leggeds, he slips out the door every two hours or so and sneaks out to the garage. Then some kind of 4-wheel motorcycle purrs up the lane and goes somewhere for ten minutes. He’s doing something, or he’s just cruising — for a really short time. Probably skeered of the dark rain clouds, don’cha know?

Anyway, he comes back in, looks at the pond a few minutes, takes a deep sigh and finds the other two-legged, the one rattling around in the kitchen. He grabs her, smooches on her, and says something to her then he walks back over to the windows facing the pond.

Wait! He’s picking me up and opening me — Oh My Gosh, he’s gonna turn me over, dump my tiles and turn them over. He must be gonna play now — maybe the other two-legged will too.

Back to ya later, this is pretty intense! I’m going to be thinking out of the box awhile.