Monthly Archives: April 2011

Mansions and Motor Homes in NC

On our way in for a grand tour of The Biltmore House

We spent yesterday in Asheville NC visiting the Biltmore House. What a fabulous little seasonal cottage, a mere 175,000 sq ft and 250 rooms. The Biltmore House, we read, is the largest privately owned house in the USA. We entered the house at 10:00 a.m., walked the house and gardens and finally left at 4:30 p.m. to drive to Black Mountain for a little while.

an example of the stone carvings at the house

Our Biltmore House tour wasn’t the first for either of us but it was fantastic. We paid an extra $10 each for audio headsets, well worth the cost for the detail we gained. We had fun hearing history and detailed explanations of the family and some of the 250 rooms in the house. An interesting thing we heard was, “21,000 hours expended to restore approximately 2,000 square feet of the Louis XV suite.”

even the carriage house roof is detail-rich

We are astounded at the quality of workmanship throughout the house — the stone and metal work and finish carpentry were stunning everywhere we looked. Even the carriage house roof is rich in details. We’re amazed to think of the architect, Hunt, designing and executing this project. The scale is so huge, how did he get his arms around this entire thing? How ever he did, it sure worked out well.

GWV left his signature

We’re camped at Tom Johnson Camping Center for the Escapees All Chapters Rally East. This is a great rally site location. There are hundreds of three-way hookups for RVs, paved roads throughout the RV park, a great meeting and eating pavilion, and much more. Blue Ridge Parkway and Mt Mitchell, Burnsville, Asheville and Black Mountain, Old Fort and Marion, Linville Falls — all these are very short distances from this rally site.

what better place for a few rose stems?

Today we spent much less time touring the motor homes at Tom Johnson’s. We looked at small (22′) motor homes for $50,000 and gigantic ones (45′) for up to $750,000. The biggest difference between these extremes, besides engine horsepower, seems to be interior size. Some of the smaller ones are very nicely appointed and comfortable with nice (if compact) layouts. The smaller ones have many amenities like the largest ones (except washing machines and dishwashers.) But the big ones also have enough floor space for an aerobics or dance class and all have walk-around king size beds.

Still not for sale

We didn’t find any motor homes, any size, we liked as much as the Biltmore House or our Airstream International 25. Since the Biltmore House is still NOT for sale and we’re still in love with our airstream, we’re keeping our 25′ trailer as home.

Jim and Debbie

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©2007-2011 Dreamstreamr

The Knee You Save May Be Your Own

We’re towing toward the NC mountains tomorrow and looking forward to a five-day rally with the Escapees Club. This will be our first Escapees event although we’ve been members since 2005. Escapees conduct annual, regional, and local rallies and special activities. We’re glad to have this opportunity to try one.

Some electrical & water connections are harder to reach than others

Several years ago, at a fairgrounds rally, we unhitched the truck from the trailer and proceeded to connect water and electric only to realize the electrical outlet was too far from our trailer. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to remain hitched until checking utilities performance and location and the whether the trailer is sitting level? Yep, we try to remember this every time we park and it’s working well for us.

Okay, we now have that part figured out. One major unhitching issue remains — stowing the hitch-head. What’s that? Can’t we just leave the hitch-head in the truck’s receiver? Or is the better question, should we remove the hitch-head from the truck’s receiver? YES, remove the hitch-head from the receiver as soon as we level the trailer and assure we can reach utilities without moving. The correct answer is a resounding Yes.

If you could prevent a painful, expensive and unnecessary injury to your shin or knee or very expensive repair to your car’s front grille, would you consider it a good savings measure? Or maybe it is only a good safety measure? Either way, you have the prerogative and power to prevent painful and expensive damages. Just remove the hitch-head from the receiver after you park your trailer.

Our hitch-head (the part on which the ball sits and into which the weight distributing bars insert) is typical in size, length, and heft to other brands and types. Some folks don’t use weight distributing hitches (to distribute hitch weight to truck’s front axle and trailer’s axles) and tow with a hitch ball attached to the end of a drawbar. Either arrangement displaces the hitch ball between six and ten inches rear of the truck’s bumper.

Would this arrangement, when carried without a trailer behind the truck, have any impact upon pedestrians or other vehicles? It depends upon whether someone were walking around the rear of the truck, or if the truck is backing toward another car or truck or fence. If you’ve bumped your shin on one of these, you already know what we’re talking about.

How would you like to do this to the car behind you?

Or if you were to back your truck one foot too many you could easily put the stinger or hitch-head through the grille, air conditioning condenser, and radiator of the car parked behind you. Good thing you have insurance — this one required $3,200 in repairs to our sister-in-law’s sedan. Probably there would not have even been contact had the stinger not been stored in the receiver and projecting 12 inches behind the truck. Or if the guy hadn’t backed up toward the take-out window he had just left to ask for another biscuit.

This is how our club members showed us to store the hitch-head, under the trailer’s coupling. We don’t have to lift the hitch-head to get it here, we simply pull the pin in the receiver tube and pull the truck away from the trailer. The hitch-head stays coupled to the trailer as we pull the truck forward a few feet to park it. Then we swing the hitch-head around and under the coupler and a-frame.

hitch head stored under the trailer's coupling

The hitch-head is far less likely to sustain damage here than mounted on the truck. We won’t put the hitch-head through someone’s fence, wall, or car grille if we don’t have the hitch-head on the truck. And just possibly we will prevent a very painful, expensive, and unnecessary injury to someone’s shin or knee.

Our hitch-head is locked into the trailer’s coupler and the drawbar has a locking pin through the hole to reduce the chance of someone accidentally hitching to our trailer and taking our home away. No lifting involved, no back muscles invoked, we level the trailer hitch to the truck’s receiver, pull the pin at the truck’s receiver, and pull the truck forward a few feet.

Prevention costs you nothing. And you might save $3,000 on repairing someone’s car grille, or $30,000 on a knee repair. Swing the hitch-head on the trailer’s coupler, under the a-frame. The knee you save might be your own.

Jim and Debbie

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©2007-2011 Dreamstreamr

How did I survive childhood?

Family legend holds that mom’s favorite baby was pulled from the beach by the tide and a bystander from another family saved me, perhaps ignoring my sister’s insistence that I was supposed to be going for the big ride.

Another family story tells of my yanking down a cuckoo clock onto my head before I was five years old. Before I was seven I had experimented with electric current by cutting an electric lamp’s cord with dad’s uninsulated pliers. I have the pliers still, over fifty years later and they have a neatly cut circle in the middle of the cutting jaws.

Age eight provided me the privilege of owning both a bicycle and a pocket knife. Thirty-two birthdays later I also received a bicycle helmet, my first one, because 98% of bicycle-related brain injuries are preventable. And 100% of pocket knife injuries are preventable by prohibiting people from carrying or owning pocket knives. Some people act amazed when I profess we didn’t hurt ourselves or others throwing our pocketknives at each others feet at school in games of mumbly-peg. 

I shot hundreds of rounds at NRA rifle practice without hearing protection. I built a go-kart, fueled it with a gasoline-alcohol mixture, and fell off it at speed in a rough asphalt parking lot, without body armor or a helmet.   

I built small bombs in our garage on an air force base, hunted squirrels with sling shots, filled my jacket completely around with M-80s to sell at school. I melted styrofoam cups with gasoline to make gelled gasoline, but didn’t know what I did it for. I built and fired tennis ball cannon from beer cans reinforced with tape and wire and fired with lighter fluid. Some people have died from injuries from far less exposure.

I shot a bicycle spoke with a slingshot (it was an accident, really!) into and up the back of my hand and rather than self-report and subject myself to the pain of a tetanus shot, I used an x-acto knife to open the path of the long subcutaneous puncture and washed it out thoroughly with Phisohex soap.

I didn’t wear safety glasses when i exploded entire rolls of toy pistol caps in a six inch mechanics vise (and perhaps ruined the vise after the twentieth or thirtieth time). I wonder if Mike Morrisette’s dad ever noticed changes we probably wrought on his vise. I connected 110 volts to carbon rods I had removed from D-cell batteries and sharpened, to create an arc lamp — it arced alright and, of course, I didn’t have safety or dark glasses on. I did, thoughtfully, have leather gloves on for this handheld experiment. But I couldn’t see anything in the garage for a few minutes afterward.

 I didn’t wear ear or eye protection when we threw lit M-80s into a hole, covered them with dirt, then reached back over the hole to recover the new army-style folding shovel. Yeah, the earth erupted and filled my eyes with flying dirt and rocks. The shovel was okay. 

 I didn’t wear eye or ear protection when I exploded 27 caliber crimped blanks on the concrete garage floor with the back of dad’s axe. I did realize, though, I might need some shin protection when I noticed the old plastic kerosene jug was leaking where it took a hit from shrapnel from the exploding copper shell on the crimped blank. 

I learned to check overhead before starting to chop on something with a hatchet. A few well-placed blows to a wall stud of our garage and I found myself recovering from being knocked out from a blow to my head. A one gallon steel tiki lamp, perched atop the wall, had fallen right onto my soft head. 

I walked the dog barefoot in the snow. I played tennis barefoot on hard courts, sometimes gratefully finding cooler surface on the painted lines. Heck, sometimes I think I grew up barefoot. 

I don’t suffer from diseases contracted through my bare feet. I’m a pretty good shot and I still have my hearing. My uncorrected vision is really good for someone my age. I still have all my fingers and toes, all my body parts are essentially original equipment, slightly reinforced but not replaced. I never contracted tetanus, although I did get hepatitus forty-five years ago from water skiing in the Mississippi River (who knew THAT danger of water skiing?). I still wince when I hear or see something moving over my head — I might should put steel toe reinforcement inside my golf hat?

I should have reviewed this list and considered the resilience of children and youth before my two children came along. I think I would have given them more time outside, more room to explore, more leeway to experiment with cool stuff.


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©2007-2011 Dreamstreamr

Airstream maintenance fun

We’ve temporarily moved into the in-law’s house while Jim takes apart our trailer for improvements and repairs. We last painted hitch and frame three years ago, never painted the battery box, and haven’t replaced the brakes or magnets. Some of this work is a little hard to do while full-timing. This sojourn seems the perfect opportunity to get things in shape for another bunch of dreamstreaming.

This week Jim removed the L-sofa cushion support to repair a relay-controlled circuit beneath. The circuit provides power for all components of the amateur radio station at our dinette and failed a couple of weeks ago. It didn’t exactly fail, at least not by itself. Jim helped it — he “borrowed” the relay control for an experiment with our solar charge controller. He connected power from the solar panels through the relay and accidentally also powered the relay coil with 24- 40 volts dc. The relay got pretty hot about this mistreatment and wouldn’t work anymore.

Jim replaced the relay and restored the circuit to exclusively 12vdc purposes and connections. It works perfectly again. The solar charge controller is waiting its turn, and we’ll come back to that story later. The L-sofa cushion support wants a different arrangement instead of requiring removal of two dozen screws just to access the nifty wiring beneath. Jim bought materials to frame a removable panel in the plywood lid so access will be much easier.

some of the fun stuff under our L-sofa

Last fall we towed through a soft deep mud twenty miles in Arapaho National Recreation Area while trying to find a campground at picturesque Granby Lake. The campground, as it turned out, wasn’t open anyway. Worse yet, our a-frame was just hammered by rocks carried in the mud. Mysteriously the rocks flew up from our tires, swung around our way-wide Enkay Rock Tamer mudflaps, and beat holes through the paint on the a-frame.

Gorgeous Granby Lake

We might have fixed the mud flap problem, we bought Duraflaps and mounted them at the rear of the truck’s wheel wells. The rusty spots on the a-frame needed more elbow grease. Jim removed the tongue jack, gas bottles and their shelf, and guts from the quick-bite hitch. He stripped the several coats of paint from the a-frame then sanded the frame smooth.

Duraflaps might protect the trailer much better

A heavy coat of Rust-Oleum red primer went on the a-frame, coupling, and all exterior surfaces of the battery box. Light sanding smoothed the primer nicely. Jim dusted it all with a dry cloth then applied a thin coat of Rust-Oleum black enamel. Jim says he’ll sand and re-coat with the enamel finish several times. The Equal-i-zer hitch parts and jack stand are at a local shop for powder coating and we’ll get them next week.

Next up is removing the trailer’s big 6V batteries to prime and paint the battery box interior surfaces then remove the brake drums for machining and replacing the trailer’s brake sets. We need to troubleshoot the solar charge controller still to determine why it won’t automatically reset each morning. The truck’s oil needs changing. The trailer’s roof needs washing and waxing. And there are probably other things we can find to do while we’re parked. But some of these tasks will have to wait their turn.

We have more pressing things to do than just maintenance. We have ham radio antennas to hang and tennis and fitness workouts too. After all, we’re here for awhile and don’t have to get everything done in one week, do we?

We attended a fun cardio-tennis workout this morning at the local tennis club and are looking forward to, hopefully, a lot of tennis while we’re here. And Jim moved the jpole antenna from the trailer’s bumper because it wouldn’t hit the Boone 2 meter repeater, 80 miles away. Elevated thirty feet by hanging it from a nearby tree, Jim can talk to friends in Belmont, Glendale Springs, and Winston-Salem some mornings. Also Jim installed our dipole antenna between a couple of tall trees in the backyard.

The work took only an hour with help from Pop and Debbie and put the dipole thirty feet above ground. Just one small problem — it’s over fifty feet from the radios in the trailer and we’re fresh out of coaxial cable. We need 75 feet of coax to reach over and up to the antenna’s connector. We’ll find out later if the antenna location and height are sufficient for good radio work. Jim’ll just have to wait until his order for RG-213 coax arrives in a few days to find out how this installation works.

All the truck and trailer maintenance is entertaining Jim very well but he’ll get his fill soon. The work does seem to be going more quickly than usual and with surprising organization. Apparently Jim thinks he can play tennis all the time once he finishes these maintenance tasks?

Jim and Debbie

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©2007-2011 Dreamstreamr

Dreamstreamers drop anchor

Hi there!  We’re in Kannapolis NC parked in Debbie’s parents’ yard.  Trailer is parked behind and a little below the house. This location is out of their way and a little out of sight, a good thing for our extended stay. Extended stay? The Dreamstreamers? Yep, we’re anchoring down for the spring and summer.

Our storage parking at the in-laws

Spring in NC is fantastic once you rinse the pollen from your eyelids and get over hay fever. Oh, and shovel the pollen off the truck EVERY day. Otherwise, there isn’t any prettier place as you can see from these pictures we took yesterday at my mom’s and at Debbie’s parent’s. Anything not blooming is getting ready to — the trees are gorgeous and the bushes and flowers are too.

flowers at Jim's mom's house

Beautiful flowers at Jim's mom's

We arrived in NC last week and had a wonderful homecoming. Our Chapel Hill airstream friends, Bea and Dave hosted us in their driveway a few days for frisbee, tennis, walking through the campus of our alma mater, fun dining, movies and NCAA basketball finals. then we moved a little south to Jordan Lake State Park for a well-attended airstream rally with our home unit, Carolinas Unit of NC.

Vista Point campground at Jordan Lake SP

Why are we settling down for the summer and not traveling? We had a guaranteed spot in a mid-summer caravan to Canada’s Maritime Provinces with our Airstream club. And we might well have bopped around New England afterward, following fall season changes down the continent back to NC. Sounds great, what’s wrong with all that?

We just couldn’t stand to miss all these great family events. Jim’s mom’s birthday, Deb’s niece’s wedding, Deb’s parents’ 60th wedding anniversary, our 10th wedding anniversary, and Jim’s 40th high school reunion all occur between May 14 and August 14. We canceled our caravan and travel plans and are looking forward to everything except summer weather in NC.

Summer is much more than 75 degrees many days in the greater Charlotte area. We’re not chasing 75 degrees for much of the next five months. It just makes sense to hang up the saddle and spurs and stay awhile, no matter what the weather. We like to think we’re fortunate, not stupid. We had the opportunity to make an important choice for family and will have to make the best of the weather.

What will the inveterate nomads do for five months? Other than Jim’s big maintenance plans (check out Thursday’s blog) for truck and trailer we have plenty to do. Not that we’re ever bored anyhow. Our biggest challenge persistently is how do we get to all the things we could do? Cool thing is, we have five months to fill and we’re looking forward to it.

We’ll visit with family and friends, attend a few local unit rallies, take a trip to see friends in Dayton OH (and attend Hamvention), attend WBCCI’s International Rally in DuQuoin, try to go to Helen GA in Georgia’s mountains for a few days, do a little sightseeing in mid-NC, work on our tennis game, and before we know it it’ll be time to hitch up and hit the road again.

Jim and Debbie

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©2007-2011 Dreamstreamr