Monthly Archives: July 2009

Happy Anniversary!

Wedding Day picture

Wedding Day picture

Let me call you “Sweetheart,” I’m in love with you.
Let me hear you whisper that you love me too.
Keep the love-light glowing in your eyes so true.
Let me call you “Sweetheart,” I’m in love with you.

[Music by Leo Friedman and lyrics by Beth Slater Whitson. The song was published in 1910 and first recorded by The Peerless Quartet. Sung at Dilworth United Methodist every Fellowship Dinner when anyone is celebrating a wedding anniversary.]

Today is our eighth wedding anniversary. Today we renewed our contract for another year. And we look forward to many more years together.

Jim and Debbie

Little pleasures in our little home

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to keep us interested. Today it’s the toilet and the power converter. Sunday afternoon we replaced the converter/charger with a nifty new PDI 9260c. Yesterday we used a kit from Dometic Sealand to restore the toilet flush ball and seal.

Debbie and I were sitting in the living room, reading quietly. Suddenly the ceiling fan in the bedroom noticeably increased its speed. I jumped up and ran to the bedroom (five steps) and checked the voltagle meter. The voltage had increased to boost level, 14.4 volts. Our converter/charger owners manual explains, every 21 hours of storage mode the unit would boost the voltage to the battery for fifteen minutes to stir up the electrolyte and keep the battery conditioned.

I set a timer for fifteen minutes. Sure enough, the ceiling fan slowed to normal and the voltage returned to 13.2 volts right at the fifteen minute mark. How cool is this? I don’t have to tend the converter/charger at all — it is just as automatic as they advertise! Okay, this is pretty cool.

And as we would occasionally visit the washroom we would exclaim “There’s water in the toilet!”. It may be no big surprise for most homeowners to find water in the toilet. In fact you would be very surprised if you found the bowl empty. For the past month we’ve not seen water standing in our toilet. This is not as big a deal as it could seem. In fact, on driving days we don’t want any water sloshing around in the bowl — it can slosh right out into the washroom.

The rv toilet flush ball seal is five years old. We found the flush ball and seal couldn’t hold water in the bowl because of crusty deposits. A completely dry bowl doesn’t seal the holding tank smells out as well and also contributes to the bowl smelling a little worse. We seem to use more water to rinse and flush, to compensate for the bowl not staying wet. Finally we had a chance to ask the factory experts about this while we visited the WBCCI Rally in Madison.

We purchased a replacement seal and cleaning kit from Dometic Sealand, and were really glad they were at the vendor show at the International Rally in Madison. We were ready to remove and refurbish the toilet. But at the last minute, we decided to try the cleaning kit instead. We used the Sealand acid cleaner and flat brush to scrub the seal and ball interface. After less than twenty minutes scrubbing around the interface between the ball and seal, I had worn out two of the supplied scrubbing sticks. Bunches of calcified grit had scrubbed loose from the seal’s surface.

We rinsed everything out using the helper spray. Wow! The bowl and ball were super-white. And the toilet held water for over a minute. Well, that was just the first test. We set a timer for ten minutes. Yep! Still holding water, this is one big deal. We walked away, pretending not to be watching. Later, when we returned, the seal had still held the water in the bowl. Isn’t this just too exciting?

So two projects in two days, we’re streaking through the list here. No projects on the list for today, I’ll catch up on some website maintenance and reading and play some golf. Debbie is working on updating our anti-virus program. It’s a struggle, not behaving well at all. We’re pretty sure all the fault lies with Windows Vista. Nothing goes well with this OS.

I’ve claimed before our home is low-maintenance. Even with the past two days projects I still maintain this is a lot less work than a sticks and bricks home. We have to pay attention to what needs attending. We have some regular maintenance items like checking the tire pressures, cleaning the solar panels, lubricating the latches and awning arms, and replacing the occasional popped rivet in the interior ceiling.

None of the maintenance work requires more than an hour, and it is a rare week we have more than one such maintenance item per week. This leaves plenty of time for golf, sightseeing, watching the water level in our toilet and monitoring our battery charger’s performance. Did you think anyone could take so much pleasure in these little things?

CHECK! Another project complete

We attended a very cute and very small Methodist Church in Clearwater, MN, this morning. The Clearwater Methodist Church has met in this white clapboard Sanctuary building since 1879. The pew seating is New England style, with each pew divided by a 42″ high partition. We enjoyed the service, the Pastor Ken was very good, and afterward we joined in the cake and coffee celebration for new members and July birthdays.

Jim, as soon as we returned from church, disconnected the batteries, solar panels, and electrical power from our Airstream and removed the converter charger. This was an involved project and he enjoyed launching into it with a free afternoon.

We mentioned yesterday the box from Camping World, containing our new converter charger, was awaiting our arrival at Minnesota Airstream Park. And also yesterday, we visited the local hardware store for a few feet of heavy duty electrical wire (#8 AWG), some connectors, and a few small bolts. Jim is happy to have found excellent step-by-step directions for his first-time replacement of the converter charger unit.

Jim took a lot less time to remove the old converter charger than to prepare and install the new Progressive Dynamics Intellipower 9260. But he was both following the directions carefully and was checking his work thoroughly. We would really not want to awake to smoke pouring from our circuit breaker panel!

We had a few interesting observations in this project. The old converter charger has apparently been smoking a little — we found a pile of black soot surrounding the electrical cabinet’s old vent fan. The new converter charger, by Progressive Dynamics, has far larger heat sink cooling fins mounted on the unit and so may require less fan operation to cool it. Fully loaded (every light and appliance in the trailer running) the new converter charger’s fan is far quieter than the old converter charger’s fan.

And finally, it sure was nice to have very well-documented instructions for installation from another user. Many thanks to William Hemme who allowed Best Converter to provide on-line publication of his installation instructions.

Golfing in chilly Minnesota

It is 53 degrees outside our trailer this morning! Jim’s looking forward to a morning golf came after the park’s Coffee and Rolls get-together this morning. Brrrr!

We arrived early yesterday afternoon in Clear Lake, Minnesota to the Minnesota Airstream Park. We were greeted at the gate by Beth and Mac, who run the Park’s office. They have been looking out for us for the past two weeks and asking people as they walked in, “Jim and Debbie?” They thought we were to arrive July 5 — we weren’t specific, we didn’t want to be tied down to a date while we explored Wisconsin.

Jim had asked several weeks ago, by email, if we could have a Camping World package sent here and held for our arrival. They graciously agreed and asked when we would arrive. We hadn’t meant to mislead them but we thought we might arrive the week of July 5. We then decided to take our time in Wisconsin and are really glad we did. Well, the package is here and Jim’s pretty excited about it.

Our wonderful Airstream is equipped, as are many RVs, with 110vac to 12vdc converter with a single stage battery charger. This charger constantly applies 13.6 or 13.8 volts to the RV’s batteries, regardless of the batteries’ usage or depletion. When the batteries are fully charged, a good charger should taper off or shut down. Good chargers adapt to this condition with a “float” charge rate. But not ours.

Our Magnetek/Parallax converter-charger will, if not monitored carefully, boil the batteries dry. It applies a constant voltage (and low amperage) to the batteries, regardless of their condition. We know, we’ve seen it happen to previous batteries and have heard countless other people who had the same experience. For the past two years Jim has manually switched the converter-charger on only when needed. Our solar panels provide almost all the 12vdc power we need and occasionally he would use the converter-charger, mostly first thing in the mornings to power the ham radio at 100 watts for long distance chatting.

Our Camping World package is a Progressive Dynamics Intellipower 9260, the most advanced (maybe I should qualify, “and affordable”) converter charger we could find. Great thanks to Beth and Matt Hackney from Georgia for their recommendation of the 9200 series instead of the 9100 series — the 9200 incorporates features you pay extra for in the 9100. This should be a fine improvement to our home, once Jim installs it.

No sooner had we pulled into our site, with friendly and capable help from Mac, than our neighbors walked over to welcome us. Jim and Lois Ryan have been Airstreaming over thirty-five years and spend summers here. Jim invited Jim (that’s right, they can both easily remember each other’s names) to join him for a round of golf on the park’s golf course and offered Jim use of his second pull cart.

We finished leveling and then connecting the utilities and she fixed us a wonderful lunch. Soon the Jims walked to the nine hole short course and met two of Jim Ryan’s buddies at the first tee. The golf course is nice and very compact with all but two fairways straight as an arrow and lengths varying from 84 yards to 223 yards. This is a relaxing way to play golf!

Jim has at least two big projects for our stay in Minnesota Airstream Park. Hopefully golf will allow him enough time to get these done too.

Goose Island on the great Mississippi River

We are at Goose Island, five miles south of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Staying a few days to celebrate Jim’s birthday (today, July 12). You should be able to see a map of our location by clicking here. Thanks for your birthday greetings, Jim is sure your cards are heading from our mail forwarder (Livingston TX) to Clear Lake, Mn to await our mail pickup there next week.

Jim checked into the RV Service Net on his ham radio both these two mornings, pretty cool to be able to get wireless voice without cellphone towers from just about everywhere on this continent. Thanks to W8ACT Charlie for relaying Jim in! While on the amateur radio net, Charlie told Jim to check out the Memorial Park in Arcadia, Wi. A little later Jim received an email from Charlie with some more details. We’re looking forward to steering through Arcadia next.

Adam Kroner Hardware

Adam Kroner Hardware

After breakfast we drove downtown, parked the truck, and toured La Crosse on foot. Deb read from a self-guided tour pamphlet the features and uses of the preserved downtown buildings. Jim drew us into Adam Kroner’s hardware store, serving La Crosse for 140 years and still in the same family. Our purchases were very small for them but useful to us — we bought a packet of aluminum rivets and a phillips 0 pt pocket screwdriver (to disassemble the television/dvd player next time).

We were drawn, like a moth to flame or a falling body to the earth, from the sidewalk into a building by baking smells. We found the International Bakery with fresh coffee and big and fresh cinnamon buns and a copy of the daily newspaper. Why resist this? An hour later, properly fortified, we again launched our tour. We found several Richardsonian Romanesque Revival churches and buildings. We hadn’t previously heard of RRR design and found helpful information here.

Did ladies wear sunglasses in 1900?

Did ladies wear sunglasses in 1900?

Deb’s walking tours map showed a preserved home, The Hixon House. We stumbled upon the house in the midst of a summer ice cream social. People were dressed in 1900s period clothes, people were playing old-time lawn games, barbershop quartets sang from the back porch, and people were eating popcorn and ice cream. This was interesting but not what we were seeking. We could have skipped the cinnamon buns if only we had known.

The Hixon House, as it turned out, is a museum of the Hixon’s home as it would have looked in 1900. Over eighty-five percent (85%) of the furnishings are from the Gideon Hixon family. The Limoge china, the silver service, the library, the furniture, lamps (electric and gas), and even the bed linens have been preserved and are on display exactly as they would have been over one hundred years ago.

Hixon House, a great museum

Hixon House, a great museum

Some items did not survive so well and required careful treatment or replacement. The carpets, some wallpapers, and some upholstery have been replaced with the most authentic items available. It was surprising and amazing to find a house in which such a large amount of original possessions have been preserved intact. The admission price, normally $8.50/$7.50(seniors), doesn’t seem to come close to funding the kind of preservation and maintenance required for the Hixon House. The La Crosse Historical Society is doing a great job operating and funding the program. This museum is a gem for La Crosse and we highly recommend it to anyone.

cute babe at the overlook

cute babe at the overlook

We repaired to our truck and drove to Riverside Park, along the Mississippi River, for a really late picnic lunch on the lawn before driving up to Grandad’s Bluff. Grandad’s Bluff is an almost 600 feet high rock outcropping overlooking La Crosse and the river. Visible from the Bluff are Iowa, Minnesota, and, of course, Wisconsin. This reminded Jim of Chimney Rock, North Carolina, where as a boy he was told you could see SC, TN, VA, and NC — but he couldn’t see the state lines!

Wesley UMC built 1886

Wesley UMC built 1886

This morning we attended Wesley United Methodist Church in the 1886 sanctuary. What a testament to its construction and care. The stained glass windows are bright and beautiful, the deeply carved wood pews have a rich lustrous stained finish, and the congregation has apparently done a great job carefully modernizing the building without marring the historic appearance. One case in point is the relatively recent addition of three fan-coil cooling units.

Two are concealed by grills behind the altar and a third is visible but unobtrusive near the rear of the sanctuary. Fan coil units require no ductwork but have fans quietly blowing room air across the cooling fins then throughout the room. Very friendly members invited us, after the service, for coffee and pastry in their fellowship hall and we had a nice visit. We spoke at length after coffee fellowship with Rev. Don Iliff, Pastor. He described another interesting change completed this decade.

The church removed the choir loft from behind the altar and pulpit, added a raised semi-circular stage and pushed the altar and pulpit back toward the wall. The stage is accessed by two steps along the entire semi-circle except at the back right where a ramp affords accessibility. So the choir, as well as any others accessing the altar or pulpit, are not hindered by disabilities but have equal access. And it looks fanastic!

We’ve both enjoyed Jim’s big birthday present this year, our visit to La Crosse, Wisconsin. Goose Island Campground is a treat, and La Crosse is full of wonderful surprises. We’ll look forward to another visit here.

Madison, Like Peeling an Onion

Three weeks ago we arrived in Madison, Wi, for the 52nd International Rally of Wally Byam Caravan Club. Tomorrow we depart Madison for the La Crosse, Wi, area to explore and tour awhile. As long as we’ve been here we still haven’t explored everything. Our best effort has been these past several days, after the end of the Airstream rally.

Standing outside Taliesen

Standing outside Taliesen

Our time in the previous two weeks included several days of touring, and we’re glad we could add a couple more tour days. The rally provided little time for sightseeing. We took advantage of a couple of off-days before the rally to tour House on the Rock (skip the warehouse/museum buildings, just see the house) and Taliesen, Frank Lloyd Wright’s house in Spring Green. The Capitol Building tour was a high point, seeing the building and its history through an excellent tour guide’s interpretation.

Standing outside Puempels Tavern

Standing outside Puempels Tavern

Friends Beth and Matt Hackney drove with us to New Glarus, Wi. We all sampled New Glarus Brewery’s best brews and purchased a few bottles of our favorites to go. We ate at a very old pub, Puemplers Olde Tavern, where we looked at the 100 year old paintings on the wall while sipping Belgian Red and eating brats and kraut.

Rallies, like caravans, are interesting and fun but demanding, too. We’re always a little relieved at the end, like after a tough but rewarding course in school or a tough hike. You’re glad you did it but not necessarily ready to repeat it right away. The time after the rally is nice for us. We enjoy the change of pace and, after a day off, look forward to a new agenda.

We did a few chores after the rally and mostly explored Madison. The first day we walked all about downtown Madison, circling the Capitol building, locating (and enjoying) the farmers market, and walking State Street from the Capitol Building into the edge of the old section of the UW campus.

We ate a bite at a local sub shop near campus and, re-energized, retraced our steps up State Street, around the Capitol square, and to the farmers market. Lunch was walked off so we each ate a fresh cookie and bought a few fresh groceries.

Loaded with a backpack full from the farmers market, a guided tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Monona Terrace, near the Wisconsin State Capitol, provided us an in-depth introduction to this great civic center and convention building. The building was built thirty-five years after Wright’s death but faithfully followed his exterior plans. The building’s approval was difficult but finally provides the community vision and service envisioned by Wright.

We scoured downtown and the University of Wisconsin campus. The day started at The Unitarian Church, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The church provides daily tours May through October. We were fortunate to have an excellent tour guide but unfortunately the new meeting hall was closed for resanding the painted floors.

The sanctuary's design is inspired and inspiring

The sanctuary's design is inspired and inspiring

The original sanctuary became too small many years ago. The membership was 175 in the 1950s when the church building was new. Now membership numbers over 1,500, so the church has added a new and much larger meeting hall. Our tour included all parts of the original building. It is graceful, comfortable, and it has aged beautifully.

The building carries many of Wright’s trademark Prairie design features including, among others, the dark red color, plywood built-in furniture, 60 and 120 degree angles, single plane transition of ceilings and floors from inside to outside, and mitred glass joints without frames at corners.

Unusually nice student union looks out on Lake Mendota

The Babcock Dairy Bar provided a great place for tour of the dairy demonstration classroom/production area, a tasty lunch. We walked next through the Physics Museum, stopping to play with most of the hands-on displays. Next we walked to the incredible Memorial Union building, a great place to sample Babcock Dairy ice cream cones while gazing out over Lake Mendota. The Union’s terraces provide several hundred chairs, all full with people enjoying the fine weather. This was a great end to our walking tours of Madison.

Madison has been great, and our tours at the end completed our visit wonderfully. As always, we feel we have left a few things undone or unvisited. Perhaps if we stayed four weeks we could exhaust the opportunities, but I’m pretty sure this is a false assumption. It is like peeling the layers from an onion — there are so many and the onion gets sweeter the further you go.

Grilling and catching up

We are hanging out in Monona, Wisconsin, enjoying cooling weather and beautiful scenery. It’s nice to relax after the 52nd International Rally of the WBCCI. We spent June 19 to July 5 at the rally and like this part the best — relaxing and catching up.

Catching up first meant washing clothes and linens — a lot of them. We usually keep up with laundry and groceries more often, but just didn’t want to interrupt our time at the Airstream rally to do these things. We last did laundry June 15 so were glad to get everything clean and put away again. Monday we also restocked the pantry and fridge and are good to go for awhile.

Washed the truck yesterday then took it in for oil change. (You have to wash it before you get the oil changed, you know?) A couple of people at our recent rally advised they save 20% by having oil changed at Wal-Mart instead of dealer. Our oil change was $80 with filter and seven quarts of Mobil 1 (full syn). No savings from last couple of tries with GM dealers. We’ll shop the oil change price before we “pull the plug” next time.

We cooked a couple of burgers yesterday evening on my birthday grill. Our small portable gas grill was originally a Char-Broil stamped steel give-away we received when we purchased a grill for the deck fifteen years ago. It saw no service until we started rving in 2005. Two years later and with one tire imprint on the grill cover we upgraded when a European couple left a newer inexpensive ($25) grill beside the dumpster at the camground in Vancouver, B.C.

There are a lot of choices for portable grills including charcoal, gas, electric, and others. We like propane, we’re accustomed to it. Disposable cylinders are easy to find in many kinds of stores. And we have the opportunity to connect to a slightly larger refillable propane cylinder.

We had periodically considered replacing our stamped steel cheapo grill, but it just kept on going. Our grilling was consistently good because we had figured out the respective cooking times for fish, chicken, hamburgers, and steaks. But our grill was notorious for flaming up on beef and it wasn’t going to last without substantial rebuilds. Last year we cooked burgers for a large picnic with friends and the grill caught fire and burned a half-hour before the accumulated fat burned out.

Last year we replaced the gas regulator. I sanded and repainted the cheap grill twice, refastened the handles, and broke one handle. We replaced the heat deflector when the original one corroded completely a few weeks ago.

We aren’t avid rummagers but checked out the flea market at the International Rally this past Saturday. We saw a couple of people walking out with their prizes and we thought, “darn, we coulda used those, we might be too late to find anything.” Five minutes later we stumbled onto a table with an Olympian 4000 grill with a full propane cylinder, a padded cover, and a gas hose to connect to large cylinders.

What a deal! It is fourteen years old but shows no corrosion or damage, the wood handles look brand new (might well be), and the grilling rack is bright, shiny, and substantial. Best of all, it works great. Only problem is, we will be experimenting awhile to establish the best heat to cook the various foods. And we have cooked hamburgers twice this week without any flare-ups. Cool!

Olympian is a brand we already are familiar with because our RV’s catalytic heater is an Olympian, too. Nice quality, built to work and last. And parts are available, if we need them. So we put our old grill outside the dumpster to let someone else benefit as we did. Two hours later, parts were missing from it so it lives on in parts.

And we, with any luck, will get at least fourteen more years from this sturdy cast aluminum grill by US Catalytic. Speaking of product durability and reliability, we took our two-year old Toshiba lcd television/dvd player apart last night. We had last turned the television on several weeks ago, at least, to watch a dvd movie.

Thins were going pretty well and we decided it was movie night after supper. Last night we pushed the dvd eject button and nothing came out. We couldn’t get it to accept a dvd, though. So we pushed eject again. Again, nothing. Okay, let’s try another dvd and see if it will go again. (Note: don’t try this at home, or at least use a dvd you don’t care about. You might not get it back in working order.) Yep, the second dvd we tried did go in.

But it wouldn’t play. Nothing we did would eject or play the dvd. On a hunch, we peered inside the little felt wipers and found we had two dvds in the tv/player. Oh no! Well, we almost exclusively use the television for watching dvd movies and if it won’t work we don’t need it. Nothing to lose by taking it apart, right?

Out come the screwdrivers and pliers and a flashlight. Let’s always start by making sure the unit is unplugged. And we won’t put our fingers inside, there may be some parts (capacitors) holding an electrical charge still. After several tries we finally located all the little case assembly screws and pried the case in two.

It only took a few minutes to extract both dvds, then we reassembled the whole mess. Lo and behold, it still worked in television and in movie play modes. And even more surprisingly, both dvds worked despite our prying and tugging on their edges. An hour after we first intended we started our movie, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Cool, a little confusing, and really interesting. We’ll enjoy it again.

It’s time for breakfast, then let’s go to the Farmers Market downtown and walk about Madison awhile. Today is a cool cloudy day, high of 74 and a little bit of rain (of course it rains — we washed the truck yesterday). We’ll see you a little later, take care and keep the rubber side down.