Category Archives: Safety

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!


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

Air travel is Again safe

Tried to get through TSA screening today with Chapstick in my pocket. It’s nonmetallic, non-liquid, right? The full-body scanner picked it up, thank heavens. We then submitted to the one-on-one.

“Sir, do you have items in your pocket?”

“Yes.” Reach in and retrieve the Chapstick, and I show it to him.

“Sir, I’ll need to pat you on that side.” I guess it was good for him. Then he said, “Please open the Chapstick.”

Okay, that worked. I get to keep my Chapstick. They either didn’t detect the individually wrapped lifesaver mint in my other pocket or they know what it is. Probably the latter, eh?

I hope we’re safer now. So long as only goodness comes in Chapstick- and smaller-sized packages, I do feel safer.

Better Handling Our Screen Door

Full time life in an RV has a few dimensions different from living in a bigger home. Our RV experiences are more frequent than most RVers, since we stay in our RV every day instead of one, two, or three weekends a month. Too, we come into contact with a very wide array of RVers in a years time. We enjoy our time traveling and meeting people from all over the world.

One more benefit to hanging out with other RVers is the shared knowledge and experiences. Sometimes we commiserate and just make each other feel better. It helps to learn you’re not the only one experiencing a recalcitrant water heater or a fridge that refuses to behave as advertised.

More helpful yet is when someone shares a solution you can use. We weren’t looking for this fix but knew it would help. Several times Jim thought he was stepping out of the trailer. He was so surprised when he abruptly was jerked back by one or more of his fingers caught in the screen door pull.

New pull is easy on the eyes and the fingers

New pull is easy on the eyes and the fingers

Susanne showed us a simple fix she and Keith did on their new Airstream. They replaced the small curved pull on the screen door with a beefier Euro-style bar handle cabinet pull. The new one has three inch centers, so uses the same holes and screws. We found this pull at our local building supply store.
One inch offset allows more room for fingers to get in and out. The bar handle matches the other dozen cabinet and drawer pulls in our Airstream trailer.

You never know what you’ll learn from others. It’s a cinch we can learn a lot from each other if we pay attention. This is a practical, easy and economical solution for a sometimes painful problem in our trailer. Our screen door is easier to handle.

Thanks, Susanne!

See you down the road,

Jim and Debbie

dreamstreamr odyssey™
visit our website
©2007-2015 Jim @

Spare Parts for Full-Timing

Last post I said, “Next post may be about spare parts — what else do we carry?”

It’s taken awhile to get around to this post. I’ve been writing elsewhere about our adventures on our land in the Blue Ridge Mountains of N.C. While thinking about this post, I just didn’t get to writing it.

We’ve addressed previously the gear list of our truck and trailer on our web pages.

This post is to talk about spare parts we carry. We try to be self-sufficient as much as we can. If we can, we’ll fix what breaks. Sometimes things wear out or break. Some things are more important than others. If we lose refrigeration of our food it’s not quite disastrous. We have dry goods, and usually are within a reasonable drive to a grocery store. But if our hitch fails, we’re stopped. If our trailer’s electrical system stops working, we might be uncomfortable.

Having looked closely at what we carry (and don’t), I’ve decided to eliminate some of the stuff we thought we needed. What’s the worst that happens if you lack the spare? How many years do you carry something before you decide it’s surplus?

This is the list of spare parts we carry on our travels:

Quickbite Coupler and Equalizer hitch parts –
1 pair Equalizer L-pins
1 pair Equalizer socket pins
1 pair Quickbite hitch jaw pins
2 5/16″ hitch ball
hitch head pin and clip

Dometic Fridge –
thermistor (interior temperature sensor)
thermocouple (flame proving sensor)
gas burner jet

Atwood Water heater –
Thermal Cut-Off (TCO) replacement
Drain plugs (plastic, threaded)

Casework –
cabinet door latches

Electrical –
LED 5 watt G4 bipin bulbs
LED 10 watt G4 bipin bulbs
CFL 9-watt bulb for dinette lamp
ATC fuses 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 amp
80 amp class-T fuse (for inverter)
wire, insulated stranded and solid, 22 gauge to 8 gauge
7-way receptacle, complete spare
battery cable tubular lug rings

Plumbing –
bushings 1/4″ IPT, brass
ells, short nipples, plugs 1/4″ IPT, galv
fresh water tank petcock

Radio –
UHF PL-259 connectors
Double UHF female connectors
shrink tubing, various diameters
AGC fuses (0.5 – 30a)

Let’s see what your spare parts lists are, and what you think of mine.

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie

dreamstreamr odyssey™
visit our website
©2007-2015 Jim @

New Make-up Air Vent for our Aluminum Home

Full-timing allows us to experiment with strategies for heating, cooling, venting, cooking in our RV. We thought for years about installing a make-up air vent.  We guardedly use an unvented 6,000 btu catalytic heater, and use the windows and roof vents to properly add oxygen and remove products of combustion. Safety concerns prevent us from using the heater when we’re asleep or without adequate ventilation.

Otherwise, we enjoy the soft warm glow and heating without any electricity. These benefits are especially nice when we are dry-camping and want to make our batteries last longer. Full-timers might have more opportunities to use this convenient heater, but it would work for anyone.

The heater has explicit recommendations for 24 square inches minimum each for fresh air intake and exhaust. No matter which window we use we seem to have a draft. Rain can limit which window we open. An intake located near the heater would serve the heater as well as the oven and stove.

We’ve read and heard that Wally Byam, Airstream Company’s founder, had gravity floor vents in his own Airstream trailers. Without air conditioning, the best place to find cool air is under the trailer. Jim proposed numerous times installing a gravity floor vent near the oven or catalytic heater. But management would not approve the project.

Jim found an approvable solution recently while we were at Alumapalooza at the Airstream Factory. Airstream Company (and others, too) installs Salem vents in the Eddie Bauer version of their trailers to vent flammable gases from motorcycles or gas cans in the trailer. Easy to install and operate, weatherproof, and durable, these are neat vents.

The vents can be a little difficult to source using the patent name, Salem vent. Just today, Jim found an easier name for search — 2-way hingeless vent. Several sources list these for under $30. Ours came with an abs plastic trim ring for the interior.

Here are pictures of the install:

Protect the aluminum before marking the cut lines

Protect the aluminum before marking the cut lines

Cut completed and pilot holes drilled to inside

Cut completed and pilot holes drilled to inside

Small holes for locating, large hole for starting saw blade

Small holes for locating, large hole for starting saw blade from indoors

Interior cut, fortunately it's above the 110vac wiring for receptacle

Interior cut, fortunately it’s above the 110vac wiring for receptacle

Vent sealed and riveted.  When caulk skins, we'll cut the Olympic rivets pins

Vent sealed and riveted. When the caulk skins, we’ll cut the Olympic rivets pins

This page cross-references with our web page about catalytic heater venting and about Salem Vent.



See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie

locate us here
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©2007-2013 Dreamstreamr

Fiat 500 Fit For Full-Timers?

Our new Fiat 500

Our new Fiat 500

We drove a new 2013 Fiat 500 over 1,000 miles this past week.  Some of you might wonder if it has the required towing capacity for our 6,500 pound trailer.  No.  I’ll get back to that later.  The Fiat 500 is a more economical means for travel between a couple of points than driving our big red truck.

picture of driver side of our red truck

Our big red truck

We usually drive the big red truck.  It’s a fully capable trailer towing machine and equipped with more amenities and electronics than any vehicle either of us ever owned.  Comfortable?  You bet.  Big?  A bit. Expensive to drive?  Definitely!  Last week we needed to make a road trip between Dayton OH and Charlotte NC. Luckily, Jim’s brother suggested we consider renting a car — both fun and economical, he said.

The quick rundown showed we would save over $50 on gas costs alone after paying the rental fees.  Little did we know we would be driving this cute little looker AND getting great economy. Including all costs we might have saved hundreds of dollars using this little gas sipper instead of taking our truck the 1,000 miles round trip.

Here’s a quick look at some statistics between this Fiat 500 and our 2006 Chevy 2500HD truck:

1,400 cc engine instead of 8,100 cc engine.
2,800 pounds loaded vs 8,000 pounds loaded.
Total interior volume 85 cf vs 140 cf+.
40 liters gas tank instead of 45 gallons.
41 mpg highway vs 15 mpg highway.
Horsepower and Torque ratings of 100/98 vs 330/455
Towing capacity of ZERO vs 16,000 pounds
$17,500 instead of $43,000.

Why are the dreamstreamrs road testing the Fiat 500? We needed to drive from Dayton OH to Charlotte NC and back for a weekend. This 1,000 mile round trip is almost all highway but still could cost a lot in our big red truck. The 4X4 truck’s 496 ci (8.1 liter) engine and 8,000 pound weight are all about capability, not economy. Jim’s brother suggested we consider renting a car — it’s fun to drive something different plus we could probably do it cheaper than in our truck.

The Enterprise rental agency in Centerville OH pulled our rental car to the front while we were inside doing rental paperwork Thursday morning. Their sample sub-compact is a Chevy Aveo. We were delighted to walk out and find a little white Fiat 500 smugly awaiting our approval.

Fiat Co brought this model to the states in 2012. We had read the early reviews with interest, hoping to find they had brought a true economy car. Too often, it has seemed to us, car manufacturers have withheld from the American market small gas misers because Americans “would not purchase under-powered cars”.

True to form, the reviews often cite the Fiat 500’s low power (98 hp) as the car’s major short-coming. Two interstate days of 500+ miles each and two days of urban driving proved the car has enough power to maintain highway speed despite our loading the boot fully with our gear for this trek.

This car is seriously cute inside and out. We didn’t measure but the Fiat 500 looks as though it would fit into the bed of our truck, maybe an Eddie Bauer extended Airstream, or surely into a Pan American Airstream.

controls nicely arranged

controls nicely arranged

The interior is fun and nicely arranged. Fiat’s designers cleverly decluttered the controls. Some of the functions were intuitive, where you might expect to find them and operating similarly to what we are accustomed to. The a/c compressor is switched on or off by pressing in on the fan control’s rotary switch. Smart, simple, and clean. Neat design.

A few controls were a little more interesting to fathom. Last night Jim accidentally stumbled on the headlight delay switch (on the hi-beam/turn signal stalk). The door locks by pressing the door latch into the bodywork. The seats recline and release for folding with a handle at the top corner of each seat.

Speaking of seats, we found the seats very comfortable for driving, but think these are small person seats. Tremendous leg room suggests tall sizes are welcome, but the seats are the narrowest we’ve seen in a car. The driver’s seat cushion easily adjusts up and down, nice for varying leg position.

Seating position is good. The driver’s arms are extended to reach the steering wheel, and all controls visible and easy to reach. Good visibility overall, particularly side and forward. The radio requires a little practice but worked well and sounded good through the six speakers.

The Fiat 500 is surprisingly quiet, smooth, and comfortable on the long stretches of interstate driving. We expected a rougher ride from a very short car. Handling doesn’t seem great, the car doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in turns. Maybe a different tires setup or (I hate to suggest) more power would improve cornering?

One of the greatest joys was hitting parking spaces with this little car. The mirrors are good and visibility at the front is great, so pulling in, backing, and parallel parking are all a breeze. It seems you could parallel into a space no longer than a living room sofa.

an hour of I-77 in NC

an hour of I-77 in NC

How did we do on economy? The rental cost was $25/day with unlimited mileage. We rented the car five days, or $125. We saved enough on gas costs to pay the entire rental fee. Our gas mileage was 25 mpg BETTER than our truck, so we saved over forty gallons of gas by not driving our truck for this 1,000 mile trip.

Assuming AAA’s April 2013’s $0.773/ mile total vehicle cost, we might have saved over $650 net by leaving our truck parked for this quick trip. AND we had a lot of fun driving this cute and comfortable little car. Thanks brother Chuck for the great cost-saving idea.

Sad Fiat

Sad Fiat

How about safety on the Fiat 500 — how is it in crashes? We had the misfortune to find out when a fellow started to turn left smack in front of us, failed to yield to oncoming traffic. There was nowhere for us to go, and despite how slow we were going, he pulled across too late for us to avoid his car. The Fiat is pretty much a mess.

Airbags deployed everywhere

Airbags deployed everywhere

The Fiat 500 deployed all its air bags, destroying both front seats and the windshield. The impact damaged the bumper, both fenders, both doors. The noise of the airbags was deafening, the smell slightly like burnt wiring, the car was instantly very hot inside, and some sort of cornstarch powder filled the air.

The passenger side dash airbag broke the windshield. The wrecker guys said this is common, for the airbag to “use” the windshield as a backstop.

The car’s body panels don’t fit too well anymore. Sort of a surprise to us, considering how slow we were going just before impact.

Jim checks with other driver

Jim checks with other driver

The other guy seemed to have no injury at all. We think we have only a couple of bruises and a bunch of burns between us. The bags seemed to have protected us pretty completely except for cuts on our legs from under the dash.

and then the wrecker truck tire blows

and then the wrecker truck tire blows

The wrecker truck picked up our rental car and us two hours after the incident to take all to Cincinnati where we could pick up another car and continue to Dayton. But the wrecker suffered a blown tire and stopped us AGAIN. Thankfully our good Dayton friends were already on their way toward Cincinnati and detoured to our road stop. They carried us home with them.

Our trip westward will wait another day while we try to sort out the impacts from this incident. The Fiat? Maybe a one hit wonder, but a great little car still.

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie

locate us here
visit our website

©2007-2013 Dreamstreamr

Is Your House Secure?

We were talking yesterday with a bunch of fellow travelers.  The conversation went to travel blogging. One of them said,

“Our travel blog is private.  Only our family members can access it. We don’t want to advertise the times our home is vacant.”

picture of security door

Just don’t invite them if you are not home

Today I was enjoying reading Rudy Maxa’s Travel Minutes, looking for his take on airline ticket purchasing. Rudy posted this neat article a couple of months ago about exposing your house during your absences.

House thieves in a large city apparently obtained, on an ongoing basis, “stop orders” for the daily newspaper. We never considered stopping our newspaper a risk — quite the opposite, we figured we were methodically covering our absence from the sticks and bricks home.

Our rolling home now moves rather frequently. It might be difficult for an under-achiever to find our house. Just in case, though, we don’t want to disclose the best times to not find us home.

locate us here
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©2007-2013 Dreamstreamr

Don’t You Read The Manuals First?

A few days ago in Edmonton we watched the neighbor open some adult-proof vacuum-packed tough plastic-enclosed something or other. We never did figure out what Dave was opening, maybe a flashlight combo-pack or something like it. What struck us was how he very carefully, using aviation snips, cut open the package on two sides so he could reach carefully in and extract the instructions.

That’s all he removed, the instructions. Everything else he left in the packaging. And he seemed to read thoroughly the instructions. Wouldn’t it be a sad punch line indeed, for the instructions to say at the bottom, “Do Not read the instructions — install batteries and test device first”?

If you pilot an airplane (not RC, I mean the ones with 30′ to 230′ wingspans) you probably read, retain, and respond to information from, the instruction manuals. I’m pretty sure of this. Some of you probably are active or retired pilots — let me know if I’m wrong on this.

I read an exchange between a couple of pilots today that went sort of like this:

Pilot 1 said, “We’ve always done the event on the second Wednesday, always. It’s in the manual. They should have followed the manual.”

And pilot 2 responded, “What were they thinking? Someone isn’t reading the manual.”

Okay. A couple of us might be guilty of not following what the manual says. And not just on this issue, of scheduling a particular event on the day. There is doubtless great cause for following the manual if you are a pilot. Lots of very bad experiences almost certainly would reflect unfavorably upon their failure to follow prescriptive rules. Even emergencies likely are well addressed in the pilot’s instruction manual? They must be.

There’s an interesting, although not sourced, paragraph on 1950’s military disdain for manuals’ nonreaders in this Wiki article,
“The phrase RTFM was in common use in the early 1950s by radio and radar technicians in the US Air Force. Operators frequently did not check simple faults, for example checking whether a fuse had blown or a power plug had become disconnected.”

Gary KB0H suggests in his nicely written article our failure to read the instruction manuals may not be all our own fault.

Also check out dogbert’s approach this short instructive youtube video on use of manuals — it may not help but is fun.

A long time ago I had responsibility for installation, operation and maintenance of a large hospital’s critical environmental, electrical, and medical gas equipment services. We did this all according to the manuals. There was no other conscionable or effective means of insuring everything was copasetic with the equipment. We operate and maintain our great cowboy cadillac the same way for the same reason — we don’t want any surprises in sometimes critical functioning.

Back to the email exchange between the pilots, they were writing about and copying to another officer of a club. Their resounding smugness was very telling. They apparently read and follow manuals better than some of their younger (and non-pilot) counterparts. A lack of proper training is the problem with young people these days, I tell you!

A few weeks ago I stopped the truck awhile for Deb’s Father’s Day conversation with her pop. Given this downtime in the cowboy cadillac pilot’s seat I wanted for amusement. Messing with Deb was out of the question, important phone call. Didn’t really have time to walk down to the beach and besides, the winds were gusting over 30 mph so truck cab felt pretty good.

Hmm, maybe I can just explore the Kenwood ham radio (TM-D710a) while Deb talks with pop. I scroll through all the many buttons, watching the display in a manner not possible while driving the truck. What’s this button labelled “POS”? First thought goes to Men In Black and the black Ford LTD “POS” — do you remember it? Will Smith called it a POS but was quickly proven wrong as it did flying and other things our parents’ cars never could.

What does this radio’s POS button do? Lo and behold, this function is NOT in the manuals. Notably, neither of the two manuals for this very complicated vhf/uhf radio say a word about reading the manual. I read them both again last night. I do read them each time I have a question about the radio — how do accomplish some programming or task — and the answer is not always there. Hmm, maybe manuals aren’t what they used to be?

But I’ll wager you still read the manuals if you ever did. Dave has this good habit. I don’t. What about you? Which is it?

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

locate us here

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr

Searching for Woody Hi-Q in the desert

Herb and Lois are full-timers we met through ham radio rallies years ago.  Debbie and I  have fun with them and share many interests including walking.  This day Debbie and Lois drove to Quartzsite on a shopping trip.  Herb and I agreed we might take a little walk while the girls were away.

Herb and I left our campsite intending to stroll about looking for Woody, the Hi-Q antenna guy.  Herb has a couple of Hi-Q ham radio antennas (neat stuff!) and brought along some money to buy a few more parts from Woody.

I assumed Herb knew where we were to look and I had no idea whatsoever where Woody might be camped.  Had we talked a little more about our prospective walk I would have figured we were really just on a walkabout in the desert south of Quartzsite.  Which is fine but I would have brought along more stuff than I did.

SAR guys tell us the basic rules for trips into the desert

The search and rescue guys had only two days before given a presentation to our large group.  These SAR guys provided very clear precautions  before striking out into the desert and Herb and I violated all but one.  Good news, we did have a portable ham radio and a cell phone with good service and battery.  We had no water, no sandwiches, no sunscreen, no camera, and had left no note as to our walk plans.  And, if I had remembered it, we had a quite capable compass in my Suunto wrist computer/watch.  The compass would have been helpful if I had remembered it AND if we knew what bearing to take.  You do need both, a compass isn’t as useful if you don’t know where you want to go.

So Herb and I set out along a pretty decent road from our camp, walking briskly.  After 45 minutes we see a settlement a mile or two (or three) ahead in the desert and decide we’ll keep going in that direction.  We arrived a the housing development (park model development?) after another 45 minutes, or two miles walking, and spent twenty minutes walking 3/4 around it.

We were at least two miles from Quartzsite and not sure whether we could find Debbie and Lois there and hitch a ride back with them so we struck off across the desert toward (we thought) our encampment.  Bearing on a distant landmark in the mountain range well to the southwest, we headed across the open desert watching for the road we had hiked in.  It was a well-traveled road we were sure we “couldn’t miss”.

More than two hours later we had missed the road without knowing it.  We also didn’t realize we passed well west of our campground and extended our walk a couple of miles.  Thinking we needed to change our approach we headed for some buildings to our east, and encountered a dirt-biker heading by us.  He told us we had a several miles on a new course to reach our campground and pointed the way.

My next RVing antenna?

Fortunately the dirt-biker was correct on the direction and overestimated the distance a tiny bit.  We entered the Road Runner BLM “campground” from a new (for us) angle.  We saw this antenna — it was worth the walk to see this antenna holding the little camper down.  Herb and I marched, triumphant at our 10+ mile walkabout, into the campsite.  And drank a gallon of water each.

Next up — pictures and descriptions of our week in the desert (no, not walking) with 400 other amateur radio RVs at the 2012 Quartzfest Rally in Quartzsite.

Jim and Debbie

locate us here
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©2007-20112 Dreamstreamr

Travel Trailer and Truck Weights

Full-timers reputedly take everything with them in their RV. There’s no “home” for your stuff except your RV, the home you live in year around. Stuff can get heavy, especially when stuff is densely packed. And RVs have specific limits on hauling heavy stuff. We don’t want to run around the country without any books, food, water, or gear. We could simply declare everything is “a critical need” no matter the weight. Bad idea. How do we figure out how much we can take?

Many RVers have pulled truck and travel trailer across the CAT scales at a truck stop somewhere. Perhaps you’ve stopped by one of the state’s weighing scales? Any of these seem to provide a reasonable look at compliance with overall weight restrictions. Trucks and trailers each have maximum allowable weights, called gross vehicle weight rating or GVWR. The truck and trailer also each have gross axle weight ratings (GAWR) specific to each axle.

The truck has an additional rating you might need to look for a little deeper, the GCWR or gross combined weight rating. This is the maximum allowable total combined actual weight for truck and trailer. You cannot use the two vehicles’ listed weights for this, you need to know what your fully loaded weights are. The CAT scales provide you these total weights for the truck and the trailer for under $10 USD.

You won’t obtain weights for any given corner, or tire load, from these truck scales. They weigh across the entire width of the axle for the weight supported by the left and right tires of each axle. Portable scales can provide weights for each individual tire’s load. We had not attended any rally offering this more detailed weighing and were interested in how balanced, side to side, our truck and our trailer are.

front wheels go onto the two scales first

A prime reason for us to attend the Escapees rally in Marion this past weekend was their SmartWeigh program. Mark Nemeth, Escapees technical advisor, supervised and documented the wheel by wheel weighing of our trucks and trailers. This accurate weighing system provides this information beyond what we obtain from CAT scales.

pads keep the unweighed wheels level to the others

We learned the load per tire for all eight tires. The first weighing was truck only, front axles first. Not surprisingly, Jim’s side weighed thirty pounds more and corresponds closely to our difference in body weight. The rear axles highlighted a 250 pound difference, probably attributable to the 295 pounds of gasoline remaining in the fuel tank on the truck’s left side and the 150 pounds of tool box at the left rear.

must be a diesel-pwr truck, mine doesn't weigh this

Twelve percent imbalance from left to right may not be a big deal but probably explains the utility of tires rotation, eh? More importantly, we want to be attuned to weights distribution for safely towing our full-timing setup down the road.

Our trailer’s weight on the axles is 5,650 pounds. This is good, our axles rating is 6,000 pounds so we are 350 pounds under the maximum rating.

Unfortunately the axles aren’t loaded equally. The front one is 3,200 pounds and the rear is 2,450 pounds. So we plan to raise the hitch head’s height to move weight from the front axle to the rear. We will re-weigh the trailer’s axles afterward.

We learned our weight-distributing hitch needs a little tweaking. Jim knew the hitch wasn’t loading quite enough to the truck’s front axle. The trailer’s weight distributing hitch is still allowing the trailer to push the truck’s rear fenders down over an inch and raise the truck’s front fenders one-half inch. The weighing shows in more detail the problem with the trailer hitched to the truck — five hundred pounds added to each truck rear wheel, and fifty to one hundred off the front wheels. We don’t want to see weight subtracted from the truck’s front end.

Our hitch head is already mounted at the draw bar’s top holes. Jim plans to tear the hitch head down and paint it so it’ll look as good as the a-frame and other hitch parts. Then he will invert the draw bar to provide additional upward adjustment and raise the trailer’s front two inches. He will adjust the hitch ball’s tilt away from the truck to increase the loading to the truck’s front axle.

We could have obtained these results from CAT scales easily enough. But the CAT scales would not have shown us our side-to-side loading. Our trailer’s rear axle weight is equal from side to side. The trailer’s front axle is two hundred pounds heavier on curb side and we don’t think we can effect much change on this — we’re not ready to move the case work or holding tanks. And the truck is less than two-hundred pounds heavier on the curb side, which we can account for and alter by relocating some of the truck bed’s heavier contents.

We have corrections to make on the hitch and fine tuning on our loads. Jim has another project, again. Then a trip to the CAT scales to verify the improvements.

Jim and Debbie

locate us here
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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

Isn’t alcohol lighter than water?

We’re overweight. What’s new, right? I mean, aren’t something like sixty percent of Americans overweight now? Except I don’t mean “us”, but our home. How much does your home weigh? You don’t know? Who weighs their home? We do, up to 2X/year. How else can we maintain any margin of safety relative to our trailer’s gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr) or our truck’s gross combined weight rating (gcwr)?

Jim likes to pull occasionally into a Flying J or Pilot or another truck stop with scales. He can pull the truck and trailer onto the scales platform and, for less than $10 and five minutes, we obtain a printed weight report for each of the truck’s two axles and for the trailer. We try to have our home weighed once or twice a year.

How’s it working out? Not too badly for having moved everything from a 3,000 sf house into a 184 sf trailer. Well, not everything — it wouldn’t fit. We moved what we thought we should and could take with us. We tried to be very judicious about our belongings, only taking what we thought we would need and use.

Gradually we have accumulated stuff. Mostly the increase seems to be food, clothing, and books. Wait a minute, aren’t these the only things we have in the trailer? Not really, since we have cookware, place settings, radio equipment, and cleaning stuff, too.

Still, the trailer has gained weight in the three years we’ve been full-timing. Here are our weights over the past four years:
date              trailer truck
25-Sep-06 5580 7400
12-Aug-07 6060 8160
17-Aug-07 6040 8080
4-Jun-09 6120 8840
22-Oct-09 6220 8760
28-Mar-10 6400 8700

The first weight is one of our first outings with this trailer, packed for a weekend. The next two are in the first week of our maiden voyage as retirees, on our 8,000 mile shake-down cruise. The weights, interestingly, are pre-solar panels (60 pounds), pre-6 volt batteries (50 pounds increase) and pre-roof-mounted ham radio antenna (40 pounds?). Also, we had a weight in 2008 (not shown) that is 800 pounds heavier and we attribute it to scale (or math) error and tossed it out.

Our last three weights are current, last year and last week. And we decided we have finally reached the tipping point. We are officially over-weight. Last year we emptied the trailer’s outside storage bins (curb side and rear) of all weighty gear, including chemicals and shoes. Nice thought, but this left a lot of work yet to be done.

Today we earnestly started cutting out excesses in our rolling home. First to go? Bose Sound System sub-woofer and Almost Invisible speakers, comprising 20 pounds, are de-mounted and heading for storage where they’ll await another, heavier home sometime in our future.

Next? We pored through our clothing totes in the trailer and found almost five pounds (woohoo!) of clothes to give away or store for backpacking or winter. The stored ones will stay with us, but in the truck which has almost limitless weight capacity. Well, not really, since the gvwr is 9,200 pounds and we’re already at 8,700.

And we’re carrying all the gear we have room for — the truck bed is full enough already. We lack no tools or fun gear. We will swap out Jim’s golf clubs and add our backpacking gear for some adventures in Washington or Oregon late this summer or fall. Our challenge, then, is to find the stuff we aren’t using and don’t really need but just happen to carry along.

The best examples are our pretty Airstream books, or our complete Martinis and Medicine MASH dvd collection. We can’t watch but so many episodes in a year’s time, and as much as we love the books we spend more time reading books and periodicals. Speaking of periodicals, we’ll save a few pounds if Jim will catch up with Debbie on Time, Appalachian Trail Conference, Carolina Alumni Review, and QST magazines so we can carry fewer of these.

And we have increased our food stocks without any regard for weight totals. Who wouldn’t? What do you want to do without, beer, chocolate, or ice cream? Nah! We want them all! And the truck isn’t a good place for these items. But we can move ten or twenty pounds of canned and other dry goods to the truck.

What else can go? We have carried two spare sets of sheets and one spare set of towels. And have never needed them. We can wash and dry either in one day and put them back in service. Rarely do we have overnight house guests needing linens, although once we did have a granddaughter stay overnight two nights. Okay, we’ll shed the oldest set of bed linens and the remainder comprise almost five pounds more we can move to the truck.

This weight reduction will help, but we could cut the most weight by keeping our fresh water tank empty. Jim prefers to maintain the fresh water tank full. But at 39 gallons X 8.3 pounds per gallon, we can trim some part of 320 pounds right there. Traveling without fresh water isn’t a great idea, but we can carry less than a full tank. Lacking water, if we get thirsty we’ll still have a case each of beer and wine and a few fifths of liquor, right?

Jim and Debbie
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©2007-2010 Dreamstreamr

What I don’t know about drinking water can hurt me

We lived many years in Charlotte, NC, and benefited from a well-run municipal potable water treatment and distribution system. Some folks turn up their noses at muni water supplies and prefer bottled water or well water, perhaps without investigating the difference in qualities.

Public water systems maintain stringent monitoring, process controls, and reporting to meet or exceed mandatory EPA guidelines (FDA standards for bottled water are far different from EPA’s tap water standards, according to NRDC). There are, of course, always exceptions but, given a highly regulated water source and an essentially unregulated one, we’ll generally stick with the EPA-regulated water source.

Full-timers may be less familiar with local water supplies than home owners and sometimes this can matter significantly. Have you ever considered asking the local tap water supplier about the water quality? Shouldn’t you know if the park is under a boil-water condition, or “the water is okay but no one drinks it”? Wouldn’t you like to know what you’re drinking?

We’ve started asking about the water source and quality if we’re going to connect to, or fill from, a park’s supply. You may get a funny reaction from the park’s office staff (even if they are the manager). Sometimes they’ll say, “Hmm, I hadn’t thought about it, I’ll find out.” We’ve been told, it comes from the adjacent housing subdivision and is whatever they get.”

And we learned at one park, “The well water is untreated.” We needed to fill our potable water tank, but didn’t want to store untreated water in it. Cleaning the interior of a water storage tank is much more difficult than keeping it clean. Or do you believe what you don’t know won’t hurt you? You can’t see in the tank, and the gradu isn’t showing up in your ice trays so everything is okay. Wrong.

How do we maintain our RV’s potable water system? We provide the following not as a prescription for your use, nor as a superlative to anyone else’s methods. The following is what we have done for the past five years. We wish we could show you a picture of the inside of our tank (or maybe we shouldn’t be looking in there anyway).

> We keep our fresh water tank full as much as we reasonably can. We can treat what is under the water line, we cannot treat above the water line. Air space above the water line is space for growing stuff on the tank walls. Keep the tank full most of the time.

> We change the fresh water on a regular basis, even if we haven’t used it. Water treatment is our friend (many people will argue this, but this is about us) and inhibits organic growth in our fresh water tank. Chlorine treatment doesn’t persist in stored water.

> We don’t put untreated water into our potable water tank. If the park offers only untreated water then we’ll treat it during the tank filling (more on this later). We don’t have a nifty siphon pickup attachment for our fresh water (white) hose. Instead we use a piece of NSF grade clear tubing two feet long to siphon from a one quart container of the bleach and water solution. We mix the solution following guidelines for emergency treatment of drinking water from EPA.

We found a helpful link to system cleaning procedures as well as normal chlorination here. We also have used guidelines from an EPA document, emergency disinfection drinking water. The EPA guidelines are similar to what Jim followed in treating institutional potable storage tanks in his previous lifetime.

An interesting side note comes from monitoring our drinking water pitcher. This pitcher is clear plastic and sits upon our counter-top. The pitcher holds almost a gallon of drinking water and receives artificial light or indirect sunlight all day. The pitcher has an integral filter cartridge. And, within three to four weeks, we start seeing green film in the pitcher.

The filter’s advertisements claim, “Lowering levels of sediment and chlorine–evident to the nose and mouth–enhance water taste while health concerns are addressed by reducing copper, mercury, and up to 98% of lead commonly found in tap water” (Amazon ad). Relevant in this discussion is the reduction of chlorine in the water. No algae inhibitors, so here grows the stuff! We thoroughly wash our pitcher every three or four weeks when we notice visible green in the bottom of the pitcher. Can you wash your RV’s fresh water tank so easily, and how do you know when to do so?

We mentioned earlier, we cannot readily see inside our fresh water storage tank and aren’t sure we really want to. [I think I’ve seen some pictures of old potable water tanks removed from RVs — not a pretty site. We couldn’t find them to attach for this article.] We do want to maintain our fresh water tank in a reasonable manner and believe we can do this by following three simple guidelines.

> We keep our fresh water tank full as often as we reasonably can.

> We change the fresh water on a regular basis (drain and refill at 3-4 week intervals).

> We don’t put untreated water into our potable water tank (if the source is untreated, we’ll treat the water while filling our tank).

Our RV has an inlet water sediment filter with a large cartridge in a plastic canister. The whole house water filter keeps rocks and other debris from clogging our valves and faucets. We mentioned above we also use a Brita water filter for our drinking water. We do not use bottled water and don’t buy water (RO or other processes).

Whenever we stay in an area for a few days we become accustomed to the local water “flavor”. Filtered through our counter-top pitcher, the water makes good tea and is fine in our re-usable water bottles. Why incur additional costs (and increases of disposable plastics to waste dumps) of bottled water? Or dumping quarters or dollars in the RO water dispensers?

We believe we are providing safe and sufficient quality water for our uses with the above steps. This has worked for us. What do you do?

Jim and Debbie
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©2007-2010 Dreamstreamr

What would keep them safe?

What if we invented THE way to keep people safer, everywhere? Parents wonder and worry about their children’s safety. The work of safety professionals is to reduce the hazards, or effects of hazards, upon workers. And will our fourth branch of US government resist increasing its nannyist attention to safety of the citizenry? What else could keep people safer?

Last night Jim read some questionable advice on RVing safety on one of the millions of websites concerning full-time RVing. He ranted awhile and finally worked through how he felt about a couple of the suspect points. Okay, no big deal — we aren’t in business to change people and we have our hands full keeping ourselves safe. Why worry about other people?

Still, Jim looks at these issues through his professional lens as a former safety officer. Some things are black and white. Sure, we all know life is full of gray (and not just retiree gray things). The speed limits on our highways are, as our parents told us more than a few times, the MAXIMUM speeds. This is a black and white thing.

Don’t drive impaired, whether impaired by some chemical or by some distraction like texting or cellphone use while driving. This is a black and white thing. But the speed you should drive is definitely a gray thing — according to current conditions (including traffic, weather, road surface), your vehicle, your condition . . .

And safety? What aids have we to pick our way through the almost daily packaged food recalls, four bazillion new chemical compounds formulated in the past few decades, the air pollution present in so many locales, the sun’s UV effects everywhere, and the countless physical hazards anywhere? What would keep people safe?

Jim figured it out last night in an epiphany in those dreaming moments just as he was falling asleep. Here’s his narrative:

I was still turning over in my mind the safety message I sent tonight to a good friend. My message concerned someone else’s clueless and careless statements related to propane safety for RVs. Then I started falling asleep. Suddenly I had images of a myriad of balloons in the RV. The balloons were a variety of colors and sizes.

The biggest balloons, and the brightest colored, were the most hazardous ones. There are dozens and dozens of balloons but not all are so large or bright colored. You cannot thread your way through the balloons without contacting many of them. But you really need to avoid as many of the larger ones as you can. And try to stay away from the brightly colored ones.

You don’t know just what will happen if you bump into this big one, or that one. You’re confident the smaller ones are innocuous, just like rubbing against a smoothed piece of wood won’t likely result in painful splinters in your hand, or touching a warm surface feels better than contacting a very hot surface. Oh, another gray thing, right? The small ones are the small bumps and scrapes most of us tolerate well in everyday living, but what I can tolerate isn’t the same as for you.

How many things do we do that are proven to lead to injury, disease, or disability? A big balloon might be like smoking cigarettes as 1 in 5 Americans do, according to a recent Time Magazine report. Or maybe a big balloon might be obesity, a major relation of diabetes. Unsafe driving (let’s see: too fast; distracted; impaired senses; damaged equipment; others?) is dangerous.

Lighting an open fire inside your RV, now that would be a big and brightly colored balloon, right? If we could readily identify and rank the hazards in our paths, wouldn’t we be safer? All you need do is maximize your safety and health by navigating a path involving contact with the smallest number of big or brightly colored balloons. Maybe, maybe not.

Remember Leon Uris’ story about airlifting the tribal guys back in the 1950s? These resourceful folks got cold back there in the airplane. They understood what would make them warm and they lit a campfire on the steel deck floor of the plane. They didn’t understand the safety hazards of open flame in flight, because they couldn’t see the size or color of the balloons. But the Air Force guys were safety-trained. Open fires in an airplane in flight = very bad safety hazard. A big bright balloon this smoke and flame thing is without adequate ventilation and unavailable exit paths. It can be pretty simple, eh?

My job as a safety director for a large hospital was to market safety to as many people as I could, every day. I wish I could have made it so simple as telling people, “Don’t worry about bumping into the small balloons. But please, whatever you do, try not to hit the big or brightly colored ones.”

Oh, I think we’re back to the black and white versus gray stuff again. You can describe the balloons. You provide empirical evidence of results of contacts with the various sizes and colors of balloons. And some people just won’t believe. Some people, especially the younger ones, haven’t felt hurt, haven’t seen hurt, and don’t believe in it yet. They don’t think your evidence applies to them.

One in five Americans continue to smoke cigarettes, despite the significant short-term expense and the black and white evidence of the long-term health effects. Fifteen to twenty percent of motorists drive their automobiles without their seatbelt fastened, despite the certain risk of sudden and unlicensed flight. Forty to sixty-six percent of drivers ages 18-24 admit to texting while driving.

So the number of people ages 18-24 texting while driving is high, right? And this despite the certainty of impairment and very high probability (if not certainty) of vastly increased liability for resulting accidents.

Hazards, especially those with any degree of deferred effect, aren’t a black and white issue to many people. Even if a hazard really is black and white, we don’t think it will affect us just this once. It may be a sure thing, cause and effect. You do this, and this happens. And some people believe they can beat the odds no matter how slim.

What would keep them safe? I wish it was as simple as avoiding the big balloons.

[Aside: Gee, isn’t saving or not saving money just real similar to this argument?]

Jim and Debbie
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©2010 Dreamstreamr

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

Disaster averted in trailer tire failure

We bought new sneakers for our Airstream. I bought four new sneakers this morning to replace the original ones, we installed high-pressure stems to replace the insufficient original equipment ones, and bought a new set of solid lug nuts. We had considered we were due for tires sometime later this year. We heard stories of these tires failing disastrously and damaging rv trailers. Our tires were installed on our Airstream sometime in 2004, or almost five years ago so were near end of life.

picture of separated tire tread plies

picture of separated tire tread plies

Did we now change the tires just because they were out of date? No, actually we hadn’t gotten around to checking the date until last week. Pretty good timing, right? Again, no. We parked the trailer at Jerry’s and Ann’s house and I clamped the wheel chocks into place. I happened to look at the clamp surface and saw this irregularity in the tread.
picture illustrates tire's DOT date code

picture illustrates tire's DOT date code

Okay, now I’m checking the date on my tires. I knew our trailer was put together in about the fortieth week of 2004, or 4004 by the DOT code. You can see in this picture the date code on our tires is a little earlier. The factory-installed tires had a DOT date of 1404, or fourteenth week of 2004. We are approaching the seventeenth or eighteenth week of 2009, so we had good service from our set of Goodyear Marathon ST225 75 15R tires.

We thought we would carry a 2 gallon air compressor for emergencies. The air compressor weighs very little, around twelve pounds, so I originally placed it well forward in the truck’s bed. The 1000w generator weighs twenty-seven pounds, or more than twice the air compressor. The heavier object should be in a more accessible location, near the tailgate, right?

I was digging the air compressor out, each time I needed it, from under the tonneau cover and whatever had arranged itself over and against the compressor. Fortunately, whenever we needed the air compressor we could plug it into the outdoor electrical receptacle on the side of the Airstream. And we had no occasions calling for the electrical power generator.

The effort to extract the air compressor was not extreme but I finally realized, “Hey, I did this backward.” So I moved the 1000w generator to the forward (and less accessible) position and placed the air compressor in a very handy location by the tailgate. Monthly I have been wrestling the generator from its tight little corner, carefully maneuvering it out and to the ground. And for months, I haven’t needed the air compressor.

One of our four running tires developed a hole a little over two years ago. The tire lost one pound air pressure per day. Immediately before we departed for our full-timing adventure last year we found a metal screw had penetrated the tire tread too near the sidewall to repair. So one of the running tires is only fifteen months old, and is now on the spare wheel. So this set of Goodyear Marathons performed as advertised, safely carrying our home across the highways and byways of North America for the past three years.

Much has been said in many forums about problems with Goodyear Marathon trailer tires. Some Airstreamers have doggedly tried to get satisfaction out of the brand. They replaced a couple of times with the same brand until finally, in frustration, finding a new solution in 16″ wheels and a higher priced European tire. Some RVers started more closely monitoring their tires’ condition and avoided problems by acting quickly on first notice of any problem. Others, I think, have reported damage to their wheel wells and nearby plumbing and wiring when a tread separated and slapped the trailer silly.

Like they say on the golf course, it is better to be lucky than good. I’ll take luck anytime, but don’t want to count only upon it. So we try to take good care of the equipment. Our trailer’s loaded weight is within the gross vehicle weight rating, or GVWR, and our tires’ rating is almost 3,500 pounds higher than our GVWR. Our tire inflation is 55-60 pounds, in accordance with Goodyear’s inflation/load chart for these tires. We use a tire pressure monitoring system to monitor our tire pressure during towing days. We keep our speed below the tires’ max speed rating of 65 mph. And maybe we are lucky?

picture of trailer's tire after >30,000 miles towing

picture of trailer's tire after >30,000 miles towing

I try to keep an eye on our tires. Although I hadn’t noticed it earlier in the week, the curbside front tire showed clear indication of tread ply separation in one spot. This separation resulted in a high ridge in the direction of the tread. The tire was running on a two-inch wide portion of tread along twelve inches of the tread length. This portion of tread was beginning to bald. Here’s a view of the tread on the opposite side of the damaged tire. We’re fortunate we noticed the anomaly while we were parked at Jerry’s and Ann’s, before the tire separated and became a flailing weed-eater in my Airstream’s wheelwell.

I guess I can move the generator to the tailgate area, very accessible for the monthly load testing and maintenance. And I can relocate the air compressor back to the originally designed niche, way forward in the truck bed under the low part of the tonneau cover. If I’m lucky I’ll need the generator before the air compressor. I especially don’t want to need the generator to make electricity for the air compressor, because then I may be pumping up tires along some roadside. All I need now is more luck.

Picture shows tread section raised at top of picture

Picture shows tread section raised at top of picture

I had read the Airstream Forums posts and had friends describe to me the damage to watch for in these tires. I wasn’t looking for this tire’s raised section. We feel lucky to have caught sight of the raised portion of our tread. And we narrowly avoided disastrous damage to the curbside wheel-well of our Airstream. Whew!

Everyone is packing

Yesterday morning Debbie and I awoke early and drove into St Augustine for Easter Sunrise service outside Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church. The Service was in the Columbarian. Tiki torches provided light around the perimeter and chairs provided comfortable seating for 50 people. It was an intimate setting and seemed very appropriate. We enjoyed the music and the message.

We had the final event for the week yesterday evening at the Easter Rally. We sat with Gilliams from TN and Kolesars from VA. The rally evening fellowships offer the opportunity to sit with different couples each night. We got to know both couples a little better yesterday, and will look forward to seeing them again at another rally.

The Florida State Unit of WBCCI provided us a catered ham dinner plus cake and ice cream. The dinner was very good, and Debbie and I volunteered to help with serving the cake and ice cream. Some rallies offer volunteer opportunities for the participants to help carry a little of the load. We find volunteering is a fun and easy way to get to know a few more people.

After the ceremonies and dessert everyone started saying their farewells. We saw, as we walked back to our Airstream, people preparing for this morning’s departure. It was a pleasant evening and we had a little more daylight. Why wait until the morning and unknown weather conditions? Tomorrow might bring rain or locusts!

We latched the awnings and all the windows except the bedroom ones. I lowered and secured the tall antenna and mounted the towing mirrors on our truck. In the morning I would check these things again as I complete preparations to tow our Airstream home to the next destination. I saw one of our Airstream friends walk around his Airstream, clipboard in hand, going through similar steps.

A checklist helps avoid costly omissions like a broken window or awning, or an improperly connected hitch, or snapping off a raised antenna. We have, we think, good checklists. And we used them frequently. Debbie and I have committed to memory the steps for hitching and un-hitching.

I’m responsible for the awnings and hitch segments and Debbie for the kitchen and toiletries. I prep the hitch, back the truck, connect and lock the hitch and its parts. Debbie secures the stove, stows the teapot, kettle, water pitcher, fruit bowls, soap dispensers, toothbrushes. I reef and latch the awnings. Otherwise, we each tackle the preparation for travel as if the other is not doing so.

The other steps include disconnecting and stowing fresh water hoses and filter and shore power cords, and stowing outdoor rug, doormat, chairs & tables. And we remember to safely store our only pet, the aloe plant Monroe Bowles gave us in Okeechobee, FL, in January.

Debbie and I walk around the Airstream at least two times each for our “de-park” inspection. We look at each other’s work as well as our own, carefully examining each window and awning latch, hitch part, step, vent, antenna and light. We slowly and methodically walk around the trailer checking every detail of road-worthiness. This is our final pre-flight check.

We’re ready to go 22 miles to our next State Park. Our preparations would be identical if we were going 220 miles or 400 miles. We don’t want to leave gear behind, we don’t want to damage our Airstream or truck, and we don’t want to create a problem for anyone else on the highways.

We have heard stories of people whose windows broke while on the Interstate, apparently from wind currents slamming the window open and closed. We have seen batwing television antennas crashed into the roof, possibly piercing the roof skin. We have seen sewer hoses dragging from their storage place as the trailer traveled up the road. We know one ham whose raised antenna smashed into an overhead bridge. The antenna apparently smacked into and broke roof-mounted solar panels, to add insult to injury.

Our experience with this has been good, so far. We left a sewer fitting in one campsite, and two levelling blocks in another. Total losses? Less than $20 in five years. One mistake could cost thousands, though. We’ve been fortunate. We might return to a checklist yet.

The routine activities of packing and hitching up take between an hour and two hours, depending upon how “unpacked” we became at the site. Here we used all three awnings, our rug, the grill, a folding table, and had all our family pictures on the shelf inside. When we are staying one night, we can unhook from utilities (if we even connected to them) and be hitched up and on the road in 1/2 hour.

Yesterday and this morning we probably spent over two hours, although some of the time was mixed with saying farewells. We enjoy this part of the rally, too. Five years into Airstreaming we still get excited when we pull onto the road towing our Airstream. Did we remember everything? What will the inside of the trailer look like when we arrive? And, what adventure lies ahead?

Moving Day is a Different Day

Today is so different from yesterday. Still the cup of tea and browsing in the common area between our five campers. But today we all will close up our awnings, stow our chairs, shake out and fold our rugs, hitch up the campers to the trucks, and move our camp to Medford, OR. We take our time, still. We have all morning to pack up and depart. This is similar to crowding an hour’s lesson into four hours. We’re good at this, intentionally taking our time when we can.

How did the question arise? Someone will remember, someone often will say, “it happened this way”, and sometimes noone can remember. Somehow, though, Jim pulled out his trusty Craftsman torque wrench and set out to check the wheel lugs tightness on one of the Airstreams. Oh yeah! One of our group had their Airstream wheel bearings repacked immediately before this caravan and had not rechecked the wheel lug nuts once since. Wow, that’s an invitation for failure. A few lug nuts working loose on a wheel can result in further loosening with vibration from rolling miles down the road. The tremendous forces on these five or six (depends upon wheel size) lug nuts can shear the lug nuts off. Untethered and spinning down the road at over fifty miles an hour, a wheel on its own separate course can severely damage your trailer. Worse, it can become an extremely hazardous projectile for other people on and near the highway. Scary prospect!

Jim found several lug nuts requiring tightening. Then Howard said, let’s check mine. One lug nut was a little loose. And Glen said, do you mind checking mine, too? His were all fully tight. Then Jim decided it might be tempting the fates to check three other Airstream’s lug nuts and not ours. We check our trailer’s wheel lug nuts at least monthly, more if we are driving more. We’ve been driving an extraordinary amount on this caravan and will check the tightness on the lug nuts at least weekly. It’s worth the no more than ten minutes the task needs.