A Little Ray of Sunshine

I’m on the road again, traveling with even more electrical load for the truck and even fewer places to plug in. I may have to rethink this.

Back in an earlier Road Trip episode I mentioned adding a freezer to the truck inventory.

“It’s nice to be able to carry food on long trips and I’ve gotten tired of the ice makers in motels. I will run the freezer on the truck system when I have to and on plug in to a handy outdoor outlet where I can.”

It’s a 12VDC or 110VAC unit that needs a little extra cooling so I also added a fan and a nice, 600W inverter to run that.

For this trip, I bought a 110VAC compact refrigerator and tested it on the inverter. It worked fine until I got to the mainland. By then, the inverter was running neither the frig nor the fan.


The frig draws less than a lightbulb running but it apparently has a starting surge the size of Niagara Falls.

I bought a bigger inverter. That one didn’t work at all. Took it back. Found a kilowatt inverter guaranteed to run the frig and the fan and one section of Yankee Stadium (really — that’s what the salesman said).

It made it out of the parking lot before I heard the sizzle and smelled the smoke.

So I went back to the old standby: ice. The 110VAC compact refrigerator keeps pretty nice and cold with a couple of canisters of ice innit.

That’ll work, I figured.

Except the first couple of motels had no outdoor plug for my truck. I really need to run the fan and both coolers — and particularly to recharge the “house” batteries — overnight every night.

I used the 315 HP generator GMC graciously supplied with the (new)(white) truck, idling away its time like a bus or emergency vehicle but at idle, even with the air and lights and other truck services turned off, it doesn’t quite keep up with the load. By the time I got to the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, I was feeling some desperation.

The Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec is an exhibit of the artist’s radical, bold, and often outrageous posters and illustrations, particularly for the Moulin-Rouge and the angry Aristide Bruant.

It’s a wonderful museum built originally around the collection Walter P. Chrysler Jr. had assembled over his lifetime. Mr. Chrysler was one of the country’s leading art collectors and benefactors; his father, Walter Sr., founded the Chrysler Corporation.

I went for Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa but knew I would spend more time on something there. I left the truck idling in the parking lot.

The welcoming young lady at the ticket desk agreed that my question was one she had never heard before, “Do you have somewhere I can plug in my truck.”

She called the Maintenance Chief who arrived with an extension cord even longer than mine and we walked out to the lot.

“Oh, good,” he said when he saw I had backed up to the generator room. In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t know it was the generator room. I just thought it was about the only shady spot in the lot. A couple of minutes later, the back of the truck was humming nicely as the frig and freezer ran and the big charger purred. The front of the truck was blissfully silent.

I saw too much to catalog that afternoon. Play Me, I’m Yours entranced me. The public piano art project put pianos out in public and invited people to play. The Japanese prints companion exhibit to Toulouse-Lautrec looked at the woodblock prints that inspired him and so many other French artists and reminded me of the prints Uncle Joe Clark brought back from Japan. The paintings of Thomas Hart Benton and the Navy captured an heroic period in American history. And I spent quite a while with Glen McClure’s magnificent enlargements of the Shipyard Workers of Hampton Roads. The Norfolk photographer shot 9,000 frames of 400 of the men and women who keep our coastal economy literally afloat.

The Chrysler also hosted the 2017 Glass Art Society conference. We watched Clare Belfrage prepare for her demonstration from the first gather.

I learned stuff and saw beauty.

When the Chrysler’s Glass Studio kicked us out after the main museum had closed, I hustled back to the parking lot but the cold stuff was still just humming along happily.

“Just roll the cord up when you leave,” the Maintenance Chief had said. “I’ll ask the security folks to put it away.”

I did.

A great museum turned into a life-saver for this traveler. Thank you Chrysler.


Road Trip XVI-12

In our prior episode, I drove into Texas to Jim Hall’s Chaparral cars, learned about drilling the Pembrian Basin, and got my shower outside instead of in as I drove across the state.

My coolers were nice and cold and ice filled, the freezer was at -2, and the batteries were full of juice. On the other hand, a slow moving weather system had me pinched. I crossed Texas in one jump because a large area of showers continued to move to the northeast around 15 mph right through the heart of the four state area. Much of the I-49 and I-20 corridors were soaking wet from Texarkana to Shreveport to Alexandria. The back edge of this area of rainfall extended from Longview to Lufkin and continued moving eastward with from Shreveport to Monroe and heading to Gulfport and Biloxi about the time I could get there.

In a trip full of superlatives, the Shreveport motel I found may have been the dirtiest room I have ever stayed in but at least the shower worked. And I plugged in the truck.

Someone outside a nearby room spent a while racer taping something together. I didn’t look on the off chance it was a body in a rug.

Since the room had neither micro frig nor microwave, I went looking for supper. It’s Louisiane, so I wanted something locally good and a po boy sounded just right. Big Os Catfish and More had a noisy bar and sticky floors but the young waitress was lovely and attentive and very nice although she had no idea what an ale was. I got a shrimp po boy fully dressed with fries and a Bud. It was fine. Just fine.

I went touring. I chose the J Bennett Johnston Waterway Center on Clyde Fant Pkwy. I wanted to see the Barksdale Global Power museum but I wasn’t sure they’d let me in Barksdale AFB without making me show them everything in the truck. There’s an interesting gallery in town, too.

Speed Lumps

The weather, the Garmin, and the fact that Louisianne closes on Mondays made it less than a perfect day. I had some photo ops that I didn’t bother with because I didn’t want to get wet. Lila Too kept taking me to places she shouldn’t.

Lila II and the Actual Road

The art gallery was on Unobtanium Street and probably closed. The waterworks and railroad museum closes on Monday. I was there Monday.

Waterworks and Railway Museum

In good news, I did get a private tour of the J Bennett Johnston Waterway Center.

The Army Corps of Engineers has rebuilt the Red River from NM to the Mississippi. This Shreveport section is a consistent 9-foot deep by 200-foot wide navigation channel from the confluence of Old and Red Rivers upstream for 236 miles to the Shreveport-Bossier City area. They built five navigation locks to create a lift of 141 feet for the standard 6-barge tow and towboat in a single lockage. They have also realigned the banks of the Red River by dredging and cutoffs, and by stabilizing its banks with revetments and dikes.

The Waterway Visitor Center was, of course, closed but an Army Corps engineer gave me a tour. of the Red River exhibits from past to present. The Corps of Engineers tamed the mighty Red for navigation and recreation through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Their continuing mission is bank stabilization, dikes, dragging, and revetments on the river. The Port of Shreveport-Bossier handles over 2 million tons of goods each year.

A truck can deliver a ton of goods 59 miles on a gallon of fuel. A railroad takes that ton 202 miles on the same gallon. And an inland barge can carry the truck trailer and the railroad car 514 miles per ton on a gallon of fuel.

The Red River itself hosts bass tournaments plus recreational fishing and boating and has parks and campgrounds along its length.

Most interesting to me, after the history, were the mat sinking operations for revetment construction.

“The Red River used to wander around its valley like an unsupervised child, drifting this way and doubling back that way, looping and meandering and sometimes raising hell. The old New Orleans Crescent described it as a kind of perpetual motion machine, ‘a very whimsical and uncertain river,’ with sandbars appearing out of nowhere and banks eroding overnight…” Michael Grunwald wrote in the Washington Post in 2000.

Red River Channel

The revetments are concrete blankets they lay from the shore out a few hundred feet at the bends to keep the bottom from shifting. It’s pretty cool terra forming.

Mat sinking is the core of the Corps of Engineers’ river stabilization program. Their Mat Sinking Unit is the only one of its kind in the world — its vessels build and distribute articulated concrete mat squares on the banks of the river. The mats prevent erosion and protect submerged river banks.

Laying Mat for River Bank Stabilization

The Acadian Cultural Center is closed on Monday, too. I drove on to New Iberia where I saw boys skateboarding under the “no skateboarding” sign at the Clara Roy Pavilion in the Steamboat warehouse and got panhandled. The boys wanted to know if I was a photographer so we talked about that.

Skateboarding in New Iberia

The pavilion entrance has a mural of the history French-speaking Acadians who established communities throughout the bayou country.

Clara Roy Pavilion Mural

Writer James Lee Burke’s character, detective Dave Robicheaux, lives in New Iberia, perhaps because Mr. Burke spent his summers playing and fishing in his family’s hometown. His grandfather once lived right on Main Street in the city which has “southern manners and at the same time is a first-name kind of place.” Robicheaux lives out on Bayou Teche and prowls south Louisiana to fight crime in the books.

Unfortunately, New Iberia rolls up its streets early on Monday, so I didn’t see what I wanted to see. And Lila took me to West Main Street instead of East Main Street. It was fortuitous because I saw stores and people I wasn’t looking for, but still…

“East Main in New Iberia is probably one of the most beautiful streets in the Old South or perhaps the whole country.”
— A Stained White Radiance

Century-old oaks surround stately homes in the National Register Residential District. New Iberia’s Historic commercial district won the 2005 Great American Main Street Award, sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“My office was now located in City Hall, on Bayou Teche, with a grand view of a religious grotto and wonderful oak trees next to the city library.”
— The Glass Rainbow

Mr. Burke adopted New Iberia and the city returned the favor with stores and restaurants right from Dave Robicheaux’ adventures. The public park has a shrine dedicated to the Veterans of Foreign Wars from New Iberia who died in the service of the United States and the main branch of the Iberia Parish Library system houses the Bunk Johnson Jazz Collection Room.

I’ll go back to see the Bayou Teche in sunshine.

Next up, stops along the Gulf Coast in the rain and home.


Road Trip XVI-11

In our prior episode, I drove out of Arizona and through New Mexico where I still didn’t find my drivers’ license.


Oil Well

Texas has the most farms and the highest acreage in the United States. The state is ranked #1 for revenue generated from total livestock and livestock products and #2 for total agricultural revenue. Beef cattle represent the largest single segment of Texas agriculture bringing $7.4 billion or 56.7% of the state’s annual agricultural cash receipts. Texas leads the nation in the production of cattle, horses, sheep, goats, wool, mohair, hay and cotton. Cotton earns $1.9 billion and dairy products make “only” $947 million.
Ever since the discovery of oil at Spindletop, Texas has grown to be the sixth largest oil producer in the world. The state has known petroleum deposits of about 5 billion barrels, which makes up about one-fourth of the known U.S. reserves. The state’s refineries can process 4.6 million barrels of oil a day. Texas also leads in natural gas production, producing one-fourth of the nation’s supply. Petroleum companies based in include Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Conoco-Phillips, Exxon-Mobil, Halliburton, Marathon Oil, Tesoro, Valero, and Western Refining.
Despite the extraordinary mileage many Texans drive, they consume, on average, only the fifth most energy (of all types) in the nation per capita and as a whole, following behind Wyoming, Alaska, Louisiana, North Dakota, and Iowa.

I chatted with a gentleman in Amarillo who had driven across the state. He had a trailer-load furniture coming from his home in Houston to his “summer house” near Amarillo.

“I’ve already driven halfway to California,” he said. That was a Texas exaggeration but only by about 100 miles. Since I opted against El Paso and San Antonio for this trip, I’ll drive only 700 miles across Texas instead of 1,000.

My first view of the Lone Star State was a cotton field with oil derricks and there were almost uncountable horsehead pumps/nodding donkeys filling the fields the rest of the way in. The drive to Midland was mostly pretty desolate so I was surprised to see an orchard as I left one small town.

I made it to Midland in time to spend a couple of hours at the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum. Natch, I started at the Chaparral wing where I “test drove” the 2E and had my picture taken and drooled over all the other cars. Every one except the model I sat in is in running shape and kept that way purposefully.

Test Driving the Chaparral 2E

Mr. Hall was a founder and charter member of the West Texas Region of the SCCA in the 1950s. He raced the cars he built in Midland and competed in Formula One from 1960 to 1963 but his place in motor sports history came because he was the engineer and driver and part owner, with Hap Sharp, of Chaparral Cars.

Business End of the Chaparral 2J, the Famed 'Goer-Blower'

Chaparral built the most innovative racecars in the United States Road Racing Championship and in the Can-Am of the ’60s most obviously because his aerodynamics shaped the coming generations of racing. He drove in SCCA Trans-Am Series and won the 12-Hour at Sebring in the ’70s, then took over as a team owner in CART and Champ Car Racing.

Rutherford's Chaparral_2K

His cars won the Indianapolis 500 with Al Unser driving in 1978 and Johnny Rutherford in 1980 in the radical new Chaparral 2K, the first ground effect car to be raced at Indy.
Chaparral 2K Ground Effects TunnelsAfter reading Zuckerman’s The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters, the museum’s “this is how it works” exhibits showed me the actual iron used from the earliest oil fields on. Many of the exhibits were created to teach kids how great oil and oil exploration is. Mythcrackers is one, with an introductory film that dispelling common petroleum myths in a Family Feud-style game show because “it’s what you think you know that just ain’t so.” They have a large display of paintings by artist Tom Lovell.

FlareThe industry museum shares the energy story and its impact on our daily lives with a journey through millions of years of history starting with the vast sea that covered the Permian Basin 230 million years ago.

Lightning chased me from the outdoor drilling and pump exhibits, though.
Early Mobile Drilling RigI had reserved a room in America’s Best Value Inn because when I called ahead to make sure I could check in with my passport, the desk clerk reminded me to book online because it was cheaper. I was quite pleased to have the real frig which froze my ices solid in the room. I left just three in the coolers overnight to keep them reasonable, so I had only a little ice to get. On the other hand, I could.not.make.the.shower.work. The tub had no obvious diverter on the spout and no valve. I went to the front desk.

“This would have been a better night if you had a shower that worked or even a plug for the tub.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. You just have to pull on the thingie,” the desk clerk said.

Uh huh.

We eventually figured out that she meant to pull down on the aerator on the spigot. Like that’s intuitive.

It was going to rain so I had a waffle and headed for Shreveport.

Crossing the rest of Texas was a mostly boring, wet, ride. The rain started in earnest shortly after I left Midland, hammering down so hard some of the time that I used the fastest wiper speed and slowest truck speed, and continued until I was 50 miles from Louisiana. Traffic flowed at about 50 mph several times.

The highest speed limit I saw was just 75 and I don’t think anyone drove by at faster than 80 or 85. The rain meant I didn’t see all that much and wasn’t particularly enticed by any side trips. The rain also meant the NASCAR Cup race in Fort Worth turned into a night race, finally getting underway after a rain delay of nearly six hours Sunday. Reed Sorenson drove the #55 Trump-Pence Toyota which may have clinched the election although he finished the race in 35th.

Speaking of speed, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is still driving fast, even though he has been sidelined from NASCAR because of a concussion. Junior was pulled over for speeding while driving to Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday morning. His fiancee who was in the car with him tweeted a picture of a police officer writing out a warning for NASCAR’s most popular driver. According to her tweet, Junior didn’t get ticketed. She didn’t say how fast he was going.

Sweetwater Wind FarmI passed the huge Sweetwater wind farm in Nolan County but just one turbine out of 346 was turning. Sweetwater was built in five phases with GE 1.5 megawatt S turbines, SLE turbines, and XLE turbines plus Mitsubishi 1.0 megawatt turbines and Siemens 2.3 megawatt turbines.

I also passed an LA Fitness right next to a Golden Buffet.

Gas was consistently above $2/gallon across the state and seemed to average between $2.09 and $2.19. I filled the tank with Sunoco in Midland for $1.999.

Next stop the J Bennett Johnston Waterway, Dave Robicheaux’s house on the Teche, and a po’ boy.