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


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.