Camping Daze: the Maiden Voyage

I forgot (meaning never put on a list) a few things like snapping the PITA towing mirrors in place on the truck. That should take a minute or so but never does. I may have to redesign them.

We left on our first trip to a bona fide campground on Thursday.

Packing up and hooking up was actually easier than loading the truck for earlier road trips. We pulled out of North Puffin right around 10, pretty much as planned, and headed on down the road.

We’re missing only a couple of things like a dish towel and hand towels which I thought I had put in the camper.

Anne noticed that something in the camper smells. Turns out that the wool blanket I used as an underpad for the mattress came out of the cedar chest and that slightly sweet smell gave her a headache.

Tale of Two Campgrounds
I reserved a site at Button Bay State Park on Lake Champlain. The Bay’s name comes from the clay concretions found on its shores which looked either like actual clay buttons or the molds used in button making. It’s been a state park since 1964. Sadly, there are no buttons to be found because they keep getting pried out of the ground and taken as souvenirs. I found some divots.

Everyone and everything there was very nice except for the hanging potted plant at the ranger station that clocked me twice when I walked right into the darned thing.

The huge, beautifully kept sites, and the friendly, knowledgeable staff at Button Bay makes it one of the nicest of the Vermont State Park campgrounds.

The ranger said check in was 2 p.m. but we could go right in because the sites were already clean and ready. Cool.

We have a nice, easy in-and-out space not too too far from the bathrooms and with a good view of the lake. The neighbors are longtime campers with grandchildren and a bubble machine but grandpa was glad to look over the rig and approve the way I set it up. We met another woman and her hubby who was in a wheelchair. They wondered if the trailer was accessible so I gave them a tour. The toy hauler ramp was easy for the chair.

No WiFi anywhere and almost no cell signal.

Our campfire was very very fresh cut pine. Hard to burn.

Relaxing by the Fire at Button Bay

The genset performed perfectly.

A (gas-powered) bus rumbled in at 10:30 p.m., backed and filled twice in the road, pulled into a site and shut down. He was set up and camping in five minutes. Hmmm.

The paternal grandparents of the bride turned out to be camped practically next door to us in a bus. Not the one that rumbled in.

The Wedding Park
The “official” purpose of the trip was to attend the wedding of a young lady we have known since she was in the womb. SWMBO officiated so you know that puts an extra whammy on the vows!

They rented Kingsland State Park, about six miles north of where we camped. Kingsland has no camping.

Lila took us to the YMCA camp, not Kingsland, but we still arrived early enough to meet the staff.

Kingsland charged the Check Writer (the bride’s father) $2,500 to rent the lawn, a 1790 building, and a T-shaped, reception and dance hall building. They then charged all the bridal party $4 each to get in on Thursday for the rehearsal and charged the bridal party $4 each to get in Friday to set up the chairs and the arbor and the DJ and so on. The gate guard, from Stalag 13 on weed, was disagreeable about even telling us where the party was meeting.

“Nobody told me anything about it,” she told me.

And she didn’t quite get that our camping pass was a day-use entry to all state parks.

Then, when the party trooped into the dance hall shaped, T-shaped building to check out and plan how to use it, another officious official threw everybody out because she had “just cleaned the building and didn’t want us tracking grass in.”


The Weddings

Bridal Attendants

They were lovely. The bride and groom had an arbor plus seven attendants each who lined up overlooking the lake. They had written their own vows and incorporated them into SWMBO’s. It was a long ceremony but perfectly framed with lake and laughter. After dinner, they completed the day with an Indian ceremony

Ashlee Fish called them “the best wedding vows I’ve ever heard. Congratulations!!!!!!!”

And in the other good news, Kingsland State Park was beautiful, perfectly groomed, and all the staff couldn’t have been nicer on Wedding Day.

The CW Delivers the Bride

The Return
It was a remarkably easy day but with a couple of little glitches.We were up before 8 so I could run the generator to charge up and to run the coffee pot. Because I prefer to use my own smart charger rather than the converter to charge the batteries, the routine is to start one generator and get it running the camper, then hit the battery disconnect switch. With the batteries free, I can then start the smart charger on AC and hit them for a couple of hours. Did that Friday morning and Saturday morning with no problem. Sunday morning, something else kicked in just as the coffee pot cycled and we went black. The generator overload had kicked us to the curb.

It seems (I’ll have to RTM) that simply removing the load doesn’t reset the genset. I had to disconnect, stop, and restart it to bring it back on line. It restarts hot with no problem.

Finished the morning charge on the converter.

The monitor panel apparently works. The battery lights seem pretty accurate. The black tank registered one light. The gray tank registered two lights.

And I spilled only a little getting the slinky hooked up.

Our next door neighbors had given us their firewood when they pulled out. I gave what we had left to the people with a very friendly standard poodle.

We got packed up, hooked up, dumped, and out in about half an hour. Easy drive back and it was dry enough that I was able to back right up the driveway with no drama.

In the end, everything worked except the TV. It was a superb maiden voyage for us and for the bride and groom.


Camping Daze

I built a boat from scratch. I still want to build a camper the same way.

But good sense got the better of me (temporarily) and I bought one instead.

FunFinder Ready to Tow

Yeah, yeah, it’s a lousy photo. I’ll take some better ones eventually.

This is a “Fun Finder XT245” man cave. It has a ramp in the back, a door on the side, a galley with a stove and nuke, Dometic frig, head, shower, and a queen size bed. The good news is that it is just 9-feet tall and will weigh around 6,000 pounds fully loaded. The bad news is that it was necessary to make a few minor changes.

It has too many beds. Boats and campers should drink 8, eat 4, and sleep 2.
The master bed mattress sucks.
The folding couches (known as “gauchos” in the RV biz) get in the way of real furniture when they are down and the windows when they’re up.
I hit my head on the happy jack bed in the back.
It needs a desk for my computer monitors in the back.
It doesn’t have enough house batteries to run my freezer.

Real mattresses are a PITA to move around. I dragged/pulled/carried/humped the original mattress out of the camper and onto the wheelbarrow where it was not very well balanced. Carting it to the barn was easy peasy in comparison.

Three of the four bolts in the right-side gaucho zipped right out. The fourth, buried at the bottom of folding frame, did nothing but spin. I worked on that on and off for a few days.

I finally did get the bolt out of the gaucho and it fell off the wall just like it was supposed to. The retainer is indeed a plastic part about an inch long with a rusty tapped rod embedded in it. The rust part is not a good thing. I put the bolts back in with anti-seize.

The gaucho was a lot easier to handle out of the camper and carry up to the barn than the mattress.

I’m a tool guy, right? In the last 50 years, I’ve collected every possible tool I would need and inherited even more from my tool guy father and tool guy grandfather.

I bought a weight distributing hitch and discovered I didn’t have a big enough wrench.

These things come with locomotive hardware. The trailer ball has a 1-7/8″ nut that requires torquing to 450 ft-lbs. My torque wrench goes to 160 ft-lbs. Uh oh. The mechanic up the street’s torque wrench goes to 200 ft-lbs. Bigger uh oh.

Wait. I have weight!

I applied the 450 ft-lbs to the ball and 250 lb-ft to my nuts with no problem whatsoever. 450 ft-lbs is about 200 lbs standing at the end of a 30-inch pipe on my 16-inch breaker bar. 250 ft-lbs is that self same 200 lbs standing at the end of that same 16-inch breaker bar and bouncing. It may not be exactly right but it’s close enough.

The trailer sits flat and level now.

We borrowed a queen-sized air mattress from a friend and forced our son to test drive it the other night. He reported it was fine so we tried it.

SWMBO was still awake when I came to bed. It was about 55°F outdoors by then but we had a blanket and should have been alright. The mattress seemed OK but it wasn’t. It was cold because it stayed at ambient so I suspect on a hot day it would be hot. The “tube” shaped surface didn’t seem uncomfortable but both of us felt as if we were angled pretty steeply to the side. I don’t know if it was SWMBO being awake or the discomfort that kept me awake but 45 minutes later it was obvious we weren’t getting to sleep so we moved inside to a real bed.

I bought, picked up, set up, and ran the generators. The manuals are in remarkably good English with professional diagrams. I stacked them and ran them in both “economy” and regular mode. They are indeed quiet enough to talk over even in regular mode while standing right beside them. I plugged in the trailer and ran the lights and radio and the microwave with no noticeable issues.

I am sorely disappointed though. It took three pulls to start one of them.

My black and gray tanks don’t seem too too full but I will take full advantage of having a dump station at the campground next weekend.

In the middle of all this, I’ve been buying slinkies and jack plates and chocks and dogbones and totes and all manner of goodies.

And, of course, adapting the battery box I built for the road trip last year to work in the camper.

I realized yesterday that I have one shopping day^H^H working day left before we leave for our first three-day trip at a state campground and I have to work today. Work on the camper tomorrow. Load the camper tomorrow. Get the camper inspected Wednesday and relevel the weight distribution hitch.

The big task I have left is to install the battery box and wire it up. I’m presuming, of course, that it will work. We also need to put the replacement mattress in. I’ve never run the water heater or the furnace. I’ve also not run out the awning. And we need to figure out what food and clothes and sundries we’ll take.

We pull out Thursday morning, rain or shine. Check-in time at the campground is 2 p.m. but “If the site you reserved was not used the night before your arrival, it may be possible to occupy the site sooner, however that would need to be arranged with the park staff, contact the park to inquire” so I’ll need to do that, too. I want to get in around noon since we have a wedding rehearsal to attend at 3.

Lordy Lordy™.

Since I haven’t taken any of my own, here are two shots of other people’s same-model campers.
The Looking in the Ramp  ramp

And looking The Interior forward


Undercooked Pizza

I hadn’t talked with Missy and Biff Loomis for a while so it was nice to hear from them this morning. Missy wears bling which dangles and jangles when she dips her minnows out of the bait tank. She usually prefers to talk about fishing and motorcycles and her job on the state so I put down my newspaper and paid attention. Today, she had pizza on her mind.

Undercooked pizza.

They had gotten tied up with customers down on the dock yesterday and didn’t get to eat breakfast until nearly noon. She decided to call in an order for her favorite pizza to The Doughbie Brothers, a friendly neighborhood pizzeria that has combinations you’ve never heard of.

Undercooked Pizza Slice from a Yelp ReviewShe drove to the restaurant to find the pie was still in the oven. The Doughbie Brothers guarantee the pick up time; worse, this is the second time they’ve been late. She grumbled a bit and a few minutes later, her order arrived all boxed up and ready to go.

Or not.

When she got it home, it was missing several toppings and the crust hadn’t been stretched out so it was all bunched up on one side of the pie. And it wasn’t fully baked.

“That reminds me of the time …” he says as he launches into a story.

We all know someone who does that.

I’m that guy.

SWMBO and I went to First Night Burlington with friends a couple of decades ago. The annual citywide, substance-free party has nearly 100 stage shows, musical acts, and arts activities in 18 or 20 venues to kick off the new year. New Year’s Eve this year will be its 35th anniversary.

A huge number of performers are either from Puffin County or are local favorites so it’s a great show for us. Some events are free and buttons for the rest are available at 65 button outlets around us.

The crowds are large and the lines for food and the church and other venues are often ridiculously long so we opted to drive down to South Burlington to grab a pie at the national chain pizzeria down there.

That chain doesn’t guarantee how long it will take but we didn’t care. We were inside and warm and enjoying ourselves instead of standing in line in the winter deep freeze. Our crust had been stretched out but it wasn’t fully baked.

With a mushy, stretchy, doughy mouthful, I called the waiter over.

“The pizza isn’t done,” I mumbled.

She offered to put it back in the oven.

Everyone at the table knew that wouldn’t work. We’d get back a mushy, stretchy, doughy pie that was really, really hot. And we did.

Anyway, retelling that story is somewhat annoying, particularly to my friend Missy. She’s heard many if not most of my stories but worse, since they’re my stories it means, suddenly, we’re talking about me.


Paul Newman, Mary Harper, Dick Harper (back to camera)That’s a difficult hurdle for our memories because so many of them are about our own experiences. I do (sometimes) tell stories about what happened to my friend Rufus or to my friend Liz Arden or even to that actor fellow I used to race with, but I don’t know their stories as well as I know my own.

Making connections has always been my creative strong suit (see, It’s still All About Me).

If I needed a particular kind of hydraulic hose for that pilemaker I wrote about last month, I found it by remembering that I had used one on the race car, a hose that I first found in the aircraft industry. I’ve done that all my life. Likewise, if you tell me an undercooked pizza story, I will instantly make the connection to that long ago New Year’s Eve in Burlington. Likewise, if you ask me about living in the Keys, I’ll think of my grandfather who, at 92 years of age, decided to close up shop and move there from our ancestral part of Pennsylvania.

Sadly, we humans have more trouble getting to those memories as we age. I don’t think we forget the stories. We just forget the ways to find them without a little conversational help from our friends.

I certainly needed those triggers to access the stories I’ve related here today. I also certainly hope those triggers keep working so I propose a little thought experiment of those of us of a certain age or older:

When you tell a story, write down the trigger that reminded you of the story
Collect those triggers.
Read the triggers in a couple of years.
Tell the stories again.

Let’s all try to remember to do that. When you send me the results, please list this column in the subject line so I can try to remember why I wanted them.

Meanwhile, I’m having a meatloaf sandwich for lunch!


Going to the Mattresses Again

It’s raining; it’s pouring. The old man ain’t snoring. Darn it.

I sure could use it, too. I slept pretty well, I think, until 5:13 when I woke for no apparent reason. I did go back to sleep and was dreaming at 7:00 when SWMBO startled me right off the mattress by imitating a fire siren. I.Did.Not.Get.Back.To.Sleep after that. I simply played possum until the alarm.

I don’t think my mattress is the reason I don’t sleep as well as I did as a kid but a mattress could well be the reason we don’t sleep as comfortably as we did as kids.

Mattress thoughts have been popping up lately. One of my misc.writing buddies was musing about how to choose one “for a friend.” Liz Arden built one for herself from foam blocks a couple of years ago. And I realized this morning that I have bought exactly one mattress in my life. Part of that may be my pugnacious parsimony.

The Good Housekeeping Guide to Buying a Mattress reminds us right at the start that a “big part of what makes a good one is very personal: One person’s luxury is another person’s backache waiting to happen.”

Even online mattresses can cost thousands of dollars. I simply won’t pay that.

Mattress sellers say we won’t find bedding that can stand up to a decade of daily punishment for under a grand.

Horse puckey.

Part may be that I just haven’t found anything I like better.

SWMBO and I came this >┃┃< close to buying a Sunline TransPort toy hauler this weekend. It’s a pretty good alternative to the not-so-Perfect Travel Trailer and it would be parked here today if I hadn’t built a spreadsheet to run the numbers. Sunline built light but this one was just too heavy for the new truck.

Stack of MattressesIn going through my checklist, I sprawled out on the brand new, pillow top, queen-size mattress and took about a nanosecond to realize that was the only part of the trailer that sucked. It made my back hurt to lie down and it made my back hurt to get back up again.

That would have meant I’d have to buy two mattresses in my lifetime.


The last load of family furniture came north when Boppa moved to the Keys in 1984. That included the full size maple Sheraton four poster bed with tester frame that my folks slept in and now we do. (We had previously slept on a bed I built from 5/4-inch plywood, “decorator” cinder blocks, and a mattress that came from somewhere.) A couple nights on the horsehair mattress my folks had enjoyed was enough to send me to the Scott foam store.

My dad had worked for Scott Paper when they made a foray into the urethane foam business. They opened an outlet store at the Chester plant for foam blocks cut to size for chair cushions, boat cushions, mattresses, and the like. I bought the “green” high density mattress foam, stuffed it into a bedsack, and violas played.

About ten years ago, SWMBO and I decided we needed something different so we tried a couple of the inner spring mattresses on the guest room beds but didn’t like any of them. Next, I replaced the bedboard on top of the saggy, custom made box spring. Finally, I moved the horsehair mattress that came with this bed back on it and put the foam back on top of that.


Anyone counting on their fingers has just realized that we’ve used this block of foam for about 33 years. The horsehair under it is easily a century older than that. I lay down on the bed this morning (briefly … that has nothing to do with why this reminiscence is late going up) and realized it is still about the most comfortable mattress I’ve ever tried.

There’s a lesson in here.

Commercial mattresses probably work OK for maybe about half the population. The rest of us would do well to experiment the way Ms. Arden did with blocks of varying density foam. Or try the way I did with foam and horsehair. Or go with toppers on a conventional inner spring mattress. Something will work, but it will take some research.

That and the fact that I should probably go down to UVM for a sleep study.


Facing Down the T00b, I

I’m back in North Puffin, adapting to the changes I experience after living in the Conch Republic. In either place, I like to watch CBS’ Face the Nation with my Sunday morning brunch.

Brunch, whether here or there, usually takes the form of pamcakes or waffles with maple syrup and bacon or sausage. Some Sundays I have eggs and English muffins with bacon or sausage instead.

Sunday, I didn’t get much of any of that.

Regular readers may remember that I’m a news junkie.

FTN is, I think, the longest-running news-ish program on the air with analysis of the newsmaking (mostly) political issues of the day. John Dickerson who took over from Bob Schieffer asks reasonably tough questions of politicians and other newsmakers and then has a roundtable discussion of current events with a pretty well balanced panel of correspondents.

The program ran for 30 minutes when it first aired in 1954; it expanded to the current 60 minute format in 2012 which added the time needed for the roundtable discussion. Sadly, there is a purposeful break between the first and second halves of the program to allow the local affiliates to switch over to “paid programming” if they want. WCAX, the local affiliate in Vermont, so wants.

About 81% of the affiliates do air the second half-hour contiguously with the first although WFOR, the CBS Miami station, bounces it back and forth with their “side channel,” My 33, for no apparent rhyme nor reason. A few broadcasters air the second half on a tape delay after primetime following their late local newscasts. WCAX currently chooses Person of Interest reruns for that later time slot.

The power went bloop at 10:43 a.m. here and stayed off almost until noon. That’s unusual, particularly in good weather. Swanton Village, our local utility, has the best “up-time” record in the state and maybe in New England.

We haven’t been out to shop yet so there are no eggs in the house.

Uh oh. No pamcakes. No waffles. Not even a fried egg and a muffin even if I could have cooked. And no news. I ended up with frozen sausages and toast and jam and a book at about 12:30.

Anyway, FTN airs from 10:30 until 11:00 or 11:30 in the East. The power went bloop halfway into the first half and stayed off almost until noon. Thank goodness for online transcripts. I was able to read all about it to write the next piece, Facing Down the T00b II, later in the day.