Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Um, no

Wet and dry

Once again I lucked out with a free shower at the Flying J in Ehrenberg AZ. If the tall guy with glasses and light brown hair and beard waits on you, maybe he'll give you a free shower, too. Otherwise, it's $12 without the pro driver rewards card.

After getting myself clean, it was time to do the same for my clothes and bedding. I was the only one at Country Wash Coin Laundry on the east end of Hobson Way (the main street) in Blythe CA. The machines aren't the newest, and some are out of order, but the place is clean and there's plenty of counter space for folding.

One of the joys of doing laundry in an arid climate is clothes (especially jeans and towels) dry quickly. That means fewer coins in the dryers or time hanging on a line. It means getting to La Paloma Cafe sooner for one of their burritos.

Monday, February 26, 2018

A bit if bliss

Pleasant temperature, clear sky, almost no wind, and total silence (except for the ever-present whining in my head). The ocotillos are also starting to bud. My need to wander is dormant. At the moment.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Desert wildlife

Fortunately, the Rolling Steel Tent is inedible

My money is on the scorpion

I ain't afraid of no dragon

Layering and unlayering

As the graphic says, a dip in the Jet Stream is causing lower temperatures here in the West. That means the shorts get packed away, except for the hardier or crazier of us. And it means chillier nights.

The past couple of nights, as I was settling in and binge watching Berlin Babylon on Netflix, it felt like it would get uncomfortably cold in the Rolling Steel Tent. So I got out my down sleeping bag to augment my bedding. Mmmm, toasty.

Too toasty. But both nights I woke in the middle of the night overheated, almost sweating. I fiddled with the combination of quilt and sleeping bag, trying to find that Goldilocks-and-the-Three-Bears just right combination. And both nights I ended up with the sleeping bag shoved to the floor. The quilt is just fine at retaining body heat. I only need to give it enough time. Feather power!

Monday, February 19, 2018

It should be a day filled with answers

Bob Dylan said the answers are blowing in the wind. Despite today's van-rocking, dirt-drifting, just-stay-inside winds in the 30 miles per hour range, I feel as clueless as ever.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Sunset looking east

Road test

As I’ve mentioned before, I suspected my old ties were out of round. It might have been the steering, but that would’ve been a side-to-side shimmy (which disappeared after everything was adjusted). This was more like the up and down vibration you get from an unbalanced tire. But the machine said it was balanced. It became more obvious at about 70 miles per hour, the vibration acting like a speed limiter.

After getting the new tires, I took I-8 from Yuma to the California desert. No vibration, just pavement irregularities. I headed back to Yuma today and the ride was so smooth I discovered I’d zoomed to 80 miles per hour coming down the on ramp. Oops. I caught myself before the Highway Patrol could.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Guard duty

Tomorrow my friend Swankie has an early medical appointment in Yuma, a city she's not very familiar with. She left this evening so she wouldn't be late.

I moved over from where I was camped in order to watch after her trailer and bicycle. This act of neighborliness also reunites me with the rock spiral around the ocotillo. Swankie had unknowingly swiped the spot from me.

May this happen to no one

They were all out of these in 245/75R16

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Man of letters

A Valentines Day present to myself

As you can see in the picture above, misalignment of the steering had caused one side of my tires to wear much more than the other. There was too much toe out—the front of the wheels pointing away from each other. In a rear-drive vehicle, there should be just a hair of toe in, because the wheels want to push away from each other when you drive. I had the alignment corrected last week.

Besides the uneven wear, the tread was getting rather thin. And the tires weren’t truly round, which caused vibrations similar to a slightly unbalanced tire.

After researching the hell out of it, I decided to get Cooper Adventurer H/T tires. They seemed to be the best compromise of several factors. Pep Boys was having a special on them, so I drove from the California desert into Yuma this morning, thinking I’d have to make an appointment and return another day. But they were just finishing up on another vehicle and could take me right after that. Excellent. A little less than an hour later I had a all new rubber and lots of even tread depth.

Manny, Moe and Jack supervise the installation

Monday, February 12, 2018

Blow me

I was driving west at about 70 miles per hour. The wind was blowing out of the south at 20-25 miles per hour. For those of you not in the United States, Liberia or Myanmar, I was driving about 112.6 km/h and the wind was 32-40 km/h. And if you’re a sailor or pilot or both, I was going 60.8 knots and the wind was 17-21 knots.

However you measure it, the effect on the Rolling Steel Tent was the same. But not exactly the same as other times I’ve had to cope with strong sidewinds. Today the wind strength was fairly constant. A steady push rather than a horizontal rollercoaster of lulls and gusts blowing me all over the highway. So it wasn’t all that bad. I just held firmly to the wheel, steering slightly left for an hour and a half.

Earlier, I’d been driving north, with a tailwind. That’s good for fuel mileage, but it makes for more erratic driving as the wind keeps changing its mind about which side of the van it wants to slip around.

We were supposed to have flying cars and rocket belts by now. I’d settle for all highways being encased in clear windproof tunnels.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Wheels going 'round in my head

Now that the steering linkage is shipshape (vanshape?) and within specifications, it’s time the Rolling Steel Tent had new tires. But which ones? What kind? As with many of life’s questions, it depends. It boils down to what surfaces I’ll be driving on most often, and how much I’m willing to spend.

Rather than trying to give all the advice necessary for you to choose tires (I started to, but it was turning into a book) I’ll just give you my reasons for my choice. Maybe some of that will apply in your case.

I do at least eighty-five percent of my driving on pavement. And the unpaved places I drive aren’t very challenging. Hard packed dirt and gravel, maybe with shallow sand or dust on top, with occasional fist sized stones. All-season highway tires have done the job just fine for me. All-terrain tires would’ve made no difference getting where I wanted to go.

Compared to all-terrain tires, highway tires usually have lower rolling resistance, which leads to slightly higher fuel economy. Highway tires tend to be quieter, ride smoother, and have superior dry and wet traction on pavement. Some all-terrain tires (like the very popular BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2) have no tread mileage warranties. These are things I wouldn’t want to sacrifice in the name of being able to drive on worse surfaces.

Okay, so whose all-season highway tires? Well, in all the decades I’ve been a vehicle owner, I’ve always gone with well reviewed tires from the big brands. When I first got the Rolling Steel Tent I put highly praised Michelin LTX M/S2’s on it, and was very happy. But these days I don’t have that pile of cash from selling the house, so price plays a bigger part in my choices. Unfortunately, I went too cheap on the current tires—a store brand made in China. They wore quickly, and I don’t think they’re truly round. This time I’m shopping and comparing some of the smaller-but-reputable brands with excellent reviews

But where to buy? I lean toward stores that do only tires (and maybe brakes and shock absorbers) rather than a full service auto center or a big box store. Rightly or wrongly, I think they’re better at getting tires mounted and balanced right the first time. You’d think the fancy spin balancing machines would make it foolproof. But there must be higher levels of fools working at some of these places. Of course, if the store with the best price can’t balance my tires correctly, I could have them redone elsewhere. I’ve done that before.

The quest isn’t over yet. Someday soon I’ll find the perfect combination of compromises. Or close enough to perfect. Or at least the best I can do within my budgetary limitations.

Sometimes I think it would be nice to live in a country without and overabundance of choices. “You’re lucky. Today we offer two choices: this tire, or none.”

Friday, February 9, 2018

Aerodynamic travel trailer

Salvage an old Beechcraft, mount it to a boat trailer, and be prepared for a lot of visitors and questions whenever you stop.

The owner, whose name flew (pun intended) right through my brain, said he had the mattress custom made because the plane is wide in the middle and narrow at both ends. I replied, "So am I."

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Getting another opinion

The story so far:
There were clunking sounds from the front suspension when driving on patchy pavement, unpaved roads and such. After ignoring/thinking about it for several months, I took it to a mechanic in Yuma who said I needed to replace the Pitman arm and idler arm and it would cost $900. His markup on parts was outrageous, so I ordered the parts from and had my mechanic friend, Forrest, install them. That took care of most of the clunking, but I still needed an alignment. I went to an alignment/suspension/chassis shop in Yuma where the guy examined my steering and said I still needed new inner and outer tie rod ends, which I knew was a possibility. He never got back to me with an estimate, and after watching a couple of YouTube videos I figured I could do that job myself. Shortly after, I relocated to Why AZ to hang out with Lou again. I ordered and received the tie rod ends. I gathered the parts and tools and got under the van to start work. I immediately discovered I didn't own a certain big-ass wrench. Neither did anyone else at the campground. Rats. Okay, I'd have a mechanic do it. The man everyone recommended was Ernie, in Ajo.

Today's Update:
I suspected Ernie might be a good guy because he was jovial on the phone and had no issue with installing parts he didn't get to mark up. In fact, he said, "People can save a lot ordering online." He was still happy-go-lucky when I arrived for my appointment.

"Let me check the tie rod ends first to see whether they actually need replacing."

He and his assistant jacked up the Rolling Steel Tent and started pulling, turning, levering and shaking things.

"I don't see anything wrong, except one nut that's kind of loose." They tightened it and repeated their inspection.

"Really, man, it all looks good to me. I think you'd be wasting money replacing the tie rod ends. You need an alignment, though."

"Yeah, I knew that. Can you do it?"

"Naw, I'm not equipped for that."

"Okay. How much do I owe you?"


I tried to get him to accept something, but he refused. Imagine that. I thanked him, wished him well, and went in search of an alignment.

There's another mechanic in Ajo. He could do an alignment "sometime late next week." He was also surly. I told him I'd probably be gone before then. He recommended a place in Gila Bend. So I hit the road.

The shop in Gila Bend was also booked up, so I continued on to Discount Tire in Buckeye. Tire stores are set up to crank out as many customers a day as possible, but even they were jammed up. They suggested the Brake Masters shop next door. They were able to take care of me.

The van had been on the rack a lot longer than I'd expected. I figured there were several possibilities:
1. A slow moving mechanic
2. A very thorough mechanic
3. Malfunctioning equipment
4. A mechanic who didn't know what he was doing
It turned out to be the second, with maybe a little of the first. They showed me the printout. Not only had he adjusted toe-in (the driver side was way out of spec), he'd also checked and adjusted caster and camber. Okay, I figured that was worth my time and seventy bucks.

"The handling will still be a little wonky because of the wear on the tires." (I knew that would be the case.) "So you might want to go next door and get new ones."

"Next paycheck," I replied as I took my keys and waved adios.

I stopped back at Ernie's Garage to thank him again for not doing unnecessary repairs. He and the guys had wrapped up the day's work and were sitting around, jawing, and enjoying beers. He offered me one, too.

Ernie said, "Yeah, there are a lot of mechanics who'll lie to you and take your money. I can't do that. I have a conscience."

I told him I was going to say nice things about him on the Internet.

He laughed (he laughs a lot) and said, "Sure, if you want, but I have enough business. Besides, if they google me they won't find anything. I don't advertise. I'm not listed. I just use word of mouth."

Okay, so here's my word of mouth:
Ernie's Garage
Northeast corner of Highway 85 and Snyder Street
Ajo, Arizona

Wednesday, February 7, 2018


I spent years thinking about different places I could live when I eventually retired. For a few days I was in love with the idea of a house boat.

Then I came to my senses.

The maintenance would be worse than a regular house. And I'd be only slightly less trapped in one place. A lake, a river, a bay...

Staring at water is high on my list, but traveling is higher. Much higher. And there are far more roads than navigable waterways. And like they say, why buy when you can rent?

Still around

Just nothing to say. Maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The best time to repair a heater is when you don't need it

There were some chilly nights a few weeks ago, so I broke out my Mr. Heater Portable Buddy to warm things up. On about the third night I noticed small bursts of yellow sparks shooting between the pilot and the thermocouple. Um, okay? I thought some dust or bugs might be falling into the flame. It sparkled a little longer and then, pffft, the pilot went out. The ceramic plate kept pumping along as it should. I tried to relight the pilot. No luck. I figured the thermocouple had burned up. Maybe.

Oh well, the heater was five years old. Maybe that's all I should expect from it. I went online to shop for a new one. Yow! I'd forgotten how expensive they were. But then I saw I could get a replacement pilot assembly. So I did.

I was one of those kids who took things apart to figure out how they worked. I had no instructions. Sometimes I lucked out and actually fixed something. Mostly I just broke things. But along the way I developed a sense for how things are built. Or unbuilt.

The Portable Buddy seems to have been constructed starting with the pilot assembly and working outward, because I had to pretty much disassemble the heater in order to get to it. I attempted the repair as soon as the part arrived, but I discovered I didn't have wrenches small enough for the propane line couplings. So I reassembled the heater and waited until I got to Lou's place (where I am now). I knew he had some small wrenches. Besides, it had warmed up by the time the part arrived, so I was in no hurry.

Even though I'd disassembled and reassembled the heater before, it was still a hassle.


This needed to be wrestled out, then back in

Old versus new

Some of you might be thinking, "But you probably didn't need a new pilot assembly. The pilot tube was just clogged." I know. Been there, done that. The old pilot was clean when I removed it.

Oh, and just like when I was a kid, there was a part from the kit left over. But there was no old version of it anywhere on the heater. Since the kit is for two models of Portable Buddies, I suspect it's for the other one, or the Massachusetts/Canada model. Mine is working fine without it. And I don't need it right now.

Do you need one of these?

I don't get it

There are people who actually love freezing weather. Given a choice of climates, they choose snow and ice. I don't get it. Sure, different strokes for different folks and all that, but no thank you. No thank you at all.