Wednesday, September 30, 2020

I’m not the only wrinkly one around here

Another sign of the Rolling Steel Tent’s age is its sagging headliner. The fabric is separating from its backing. It’s not bad when the weather is warm and dry and the fabric shrinks taut. But when humidity rises, the fabric swells and droops, making me feel like I’m driving some raggedy-assed piece of junk.

Out in the world of money the usual solution is to replace the headliner. Or the vehicle. My search for a new or lightly used headliner was fruitless.

I could remove the headliner and try reattaching the fabric to the backing with spray adhesive. It would be a chore just removing all the panels and trim holding the headliner in place. Was there an easier, less likely to fail, option?

I thought about it. For months. Then it came to me. A couple of metal strips to hold the fabric out of the way. Thus yesterday’s project. 

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Rolling Steel Tent gets a skin treatment and Eugene Levy’s eyebrows

The van is at that age when the wretched factory white paint starts flaking off—especially on the leading edges that get dinged by pebbles. I’ve sanded, primed and painted some of the scabs before. It’s not really necessary since the primer underneath is a billion times tougher and will prevent rust. The peeling paint just looks bad. I figure the vagabond life goes a little smoother if one’s rig doesn’t look sketchy. So, once again with the sanding, priming and painting. The results are far from professional, but at least the Rolling Steel Tent is all one color again.

This time I splurged on a protector to prolong the hood’s paint job. I hope. I wish they made them in a more subtle white besides mucho macho black and blingtastic chrome. Oh well. The bugs and stones that hit it are colorblind.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Brief shower

Third item in the shipment

I bought a box of 100 nitrile gloves a few months ago. Meanwhile, a friend sent me a wad of them. I thought they would be more than enough to last through the pandemic. Wrong. 

So, synthetic-rubber-covered fingers crossed, this box of 200 should last. Man, I hope they won’t be needed much longer.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Big Ditch

What is now the Big Ditch used to be Main Street in Silver City, New Mexico, until a flood turned it into a creek. The creek then became a dumping ground, because that’s how people used to be (and some people still are). But in the 1970s the creek was turned into a park, because that’s how people used to be (and some people still are).

Fore and aft

‘59 or ‘60 Dodge Matador, Bullard Street, Silver City, New Mexico

Almost large enough to live in

Monday, September 21, 2020

Last day of summer

So, tomorrow we get all equinoxy. I sensed that without consulting a calendar. I’ve become less concerned with the clock these past years, going more by the sun. It’s increasingly obvious the sun is rising later and setting sooner. It doesn’t help there are mountains on the east and west sides of this valley, cutting sun exposure even more. 

Yesterday evening it had been dark for a while and felt like, oh, 10:30 or so. It was only 8:15. Sigh. I think this winter is going to feel exceptionally long.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Also in the shipment

The big directional antenna

Okay, this is an experiment. Most of the time the small omnidirectional antenna that came with my cell signal booster works just fine. When it doesn’t, I get out the big directional antenna and see if I can pull in them interwebs from somewhere. That’s a little inconvenient. I need to unpack it from the back of the van, mount the mast, run the cable, then aim the antenna this way and that, checking the hot spot to see whether things improve. And since I tend to switch locations frequently, it means I have to pack it all back up, then maybe unpack it again at the next boondocking site.

So maybe this WeBoost Drive RV omnidirectional antenna will be a satisfactory compromise. It supposedly works better than the small one. Bigger is always better, right? As long as the deployed height of the antenna is lower than various state’s height restrictions, I could keep it up all the time. The antenna and spring base are about 15 inches, and there's a 13 inch section one could add. Taller is always better, right? But it might not be a good idea to drive around with 28 inches of antenna sticking up where it might catch on things like low limbs and drive-through overhangs.

I had an idea during the night and I checked the feasibility this morning. If I drilled a center hole in the bracket, it could pivot so that different corner holes lined up in the same spot. I could position the antenna horizontally when not in use. Remove a bolt, flip the antenna up, reinsert the bolt. Presto!

Another downside of the directional antenna is the cable is about a half inch thick. That makes it tricky to feed into the van. I don’t really want to slam the back door on it. That stresses the cable and the door’s weatherstripping. But it’s the one the manufacturer specified four years ago. There’s signal shielding and stuff. Thanks to a forum post, I learned of a much thinner cable that should work. After all, the bit of cable coming out of the antenna isn’t as thick as my finger. We’ll see how it goes if and when I need to use the directional antenna.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

A day by the water

At Bill Evans Lake, Gila, New Mexico


For about a year now my big toes and little piggies have been trying to convince me the Keen Gypsum hiking shoes I love are a half size too small and not wide enough. I finally realized they were right. Sigh.

Keens are already made with roomy toe boxes. That’s why my favorite everyday shoes are their Arroyo II semi-sandals (which, sadly, they’ve stopped making). (They’ve also discontinued the Gypsums.) But I needed wider than that, so when I ordered a pair of Targhee II’s I clicked the WIDE option. That’s EE instead of D.

My feet are thrilled. These shoes fit right. No breaking in, no moleskin on the toes. Let’s go hiking!

Friday, September 18, 2020

Squirrels out, birds in

 Lou had been making friends with the squirrels that lived under the shipping container/shop. He gave them names and snacks. They eventually became a problem. Digging things up, breaking into stuff. They had to go. Lou borrowed a humane trap and caught eleven of them. “I was surprised,” he said. “I thought there were only half as many.” Lou relocated them to a lovely wooded area a couple of miles away.

With the squirrels gone, a lot of birds have moved into the habitat. Doves, quail, and various small brown species that all look pretty much the same to me. Cactus wrens? Flycatchers? Towhees? Finches? Christensen’s Generic Sparrow-like Things? Whichever. I suspect the squirrels had been making things untenable for the birds.

I like the birds better—well, except when they fly in the side door of the Rolling Steel Tent, don’t understand the concept of glass, poop in surprise or fear, and can’t find their way back out. I like when the family of quail come out in the evening and graze in the patch of “lawn” between the house and van. I keep wondering how those birds feel about the head feathers curving down to the edge of their line of sight. Does it drive them nuts like it would me? Or are the feathers actually in a blind spot? If so, do they see the feathers on other quail and think, “Do I have that? Where are they? I can’t see them? I keep turning my head but… My siblings say I have them, but they’ve been known to lie.”

Early Christmas

A downside of constant nomadery is not being in a spot long enough to have something delivered, or even having an address to deliver to. So when I hang out at Lou’s place for a while, it’s order time. The UPS guy was here today. Details in future posts.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Fixed at last. I hope.


The power steering and power brakes on the Rolling Steel Tent are interconnected in a system General Motors calls Hydro-Boost. Most commonly, power brakes are boosted by vacuum pressure generated by the engine. But with Hydro-Boost, hydraulic fluid is sent not only from the power steering pump to the steering gear, but also to the brake master cylinder. Then the fluid recirculates back to the pump. Typically, a fluid reservoir is part of the power steering pump, but in the van it’s a separate container.


Back in the spring of 2018 I noticed a puddle forming under the Rolling Steel Tent. Its source appeared to be a leak in one of the high pressure hoses between the power steering pump and brake master cylinder. I had the hoses replaced. The leak continued, but not badly. 

Convinced I had gotten a bad replacement hose, I went to have it replaced again in November 2019. The mechanic determined the hoses were fine and that the leak was actually coming from the brake master cylinder. I had it replaced.

During late winter/early spring, the van started making a moaning sound that changed pitch with engine speed. The moaning would subside whenever I topped off the fluid.

Then this summer the moan turned into a whine and fluid would leak right out. I limped to a mechanic who informed me the power steering pump and steering gear were both “puking fluid” and would need to be replaced. Okay.

When I picked up the Rolling Steel Tent, the power steering and power brakes failed as I pulled out of the car repair place. I struggled around the block and back to the shop. They replaced the defective pump, and I was back in business.

Except things didn’t feel quite right. The steering and brakes felt only partially boosted. And the moan was still there. I wondered if the noise was something else. The transmission perhaps? Ack! I hoped not. 

I managed to make it from Oregon to New Mexico without breaking down. But I needed to find out what was going on. Was replacement pump number two also bad?


Fortunately, the shop in Oregon was affiliated with NAPA and provided a warranty on parts and labor. Also fortunately, there’s a NAPA-affiliated shop in Silver City. I went in Monday to tell them my story. They gave me an appointment the next day to check things out.

Tuesday the mechanic confirmed the noise was from the power steering pump. (Whew, relief. I guess.) He also noticed the fluid return line from the brake master cylinder to the reservoir was kinked, restricting flow, causing starvation in the system, which was probably what destroyed the pump and steering gear. They ordered a new hose. I came back Wednesday to have it installed.

The service manager, mechanic and I expected the hose to have a bend molded into it, because that’s what the parts diagram showed. But it was just a straight piece. Test fitting showed it didn’t kink as much but probably would end up like the old hose over time. We came up with a solution. They found a spring that would fit inside the hose, supporting it like ribs.

With the new hose, steering and braking felt much more normal, but the pump still moaned. It had probably been damaged by fluid starvation. So it was replaced on Thursday. Under warranty.

Now the moan is gone and the steering and brakes work as they should. Hurray. Fingers crossed. Toes, too.

So, here’s what I think. Automotive parts change in small ways over the years. Sometimes there are tiny differences from one vehicle model to another, like between pickups and vans. I think it’s very possible the return line connection on the replacement brake master cylinder was in a slightly different place, causing the hose to not fit properly, creating the kink.

I don’t blame the mechanic who replaced the brake master cylinder, or the parts supplier. There are so many parts and too many differences to keep track of. And I don’t blame the shop in Oregon for not noticing the kinked hose. They were concentrating on the pump and steering gear, not the master cylinder at the other end of the system. The cost of the repairs (and hotel room while waiting) hurt, but when I compare it to what I had spent on house repairs over the years—new furnace, new air conditioner, removal of fallen tree, new roof, rebuilt retaining wall, and so on—it’s not so bad. And the van repairs happened while I’m generally very happy with my life. I was not a happy man when I lived in the house.

Monday, September 14, 2020

The key to this lifestyle

Lou left on a fishing trip and I stayed behind to look after his place. I’m playing the part of Kindly Old Caretaker, so I expect some kind of Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew/Scooby-Doo mysterious goings-on to break out in the next few days. Or maybe I’ll suddenly be struck with the compulsion to don a mask and murder teenagers. Fortunately, all the sharp implements are locked up.

Speaking of locks, Lou has many more than I do. This is to be expected since he’s a property owner.
LOU’S KEYS (that I know of)                          MY KEYS
House door                                                 Van
Shop door                                                   Cabinet
Storage trailer side door
Storage trailer back door
Storage trailer hitch
Well house
Various cases, chests and boxes
I’ve always tried to be a man of few keys. I don’t like carrying a bunch of them in my pocket. The most I ever had to carry daily was when I lived in San Francisco. I had keys for my apartment door knob, my apartment dead bolt, the building front door, my mail box, the garage, my car, the cover for my car stereo, and the office. Those were the years I carried a man purse. (Because fanny packs were gauche, even in the 80s.)

But besides avoiding the annoying bulk of many keys, fewer keys indicate a less complicated life. Less access needing to be gained or prevented. You simply go about your day with a little less rigamarole. And sometimes less worry, because there are fewer things to lock up, or less need to lock things up in the first place.

The cabinet key listed above? I haven’t used it in years. It’s not on my key ring. So it’s just the key to the Rolling Steel Tent, with a red ribbon attached to make it easy to find. And having just one key means my old man brain doesn’t struggle remembering which key is for what.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

What has Lou been up to?

Lou loves having projects. House construction kept him busy for a year. Then there was getting the shop in shape. This spring it was a greenhouse. While I was wandering around this summer he decided to build a small camper for fly fishing expeditions.

When he hold me he was building it, I imagined something simple, just a roomier version of the cap that had been on the truck before. I should’ve known better. Even though it’s assembled mostly from materials he had on hand, Lou doesn’t just slap things together and call it good enough. This camper is built with the same care as the trailer he lived in for several years.

He connected the solar yesterday and started loading it up. He’s taking off this week, leaving me to watch the place. Oh crap, do I remember how to do the property owner thing? It’s something like water the driveway and mow the flowers, right?

Saturday, September 12, 2020

On the road to contentment

Every now and then I’ll read something that really speaks to me, or expresses what I’ve been thinking or trying to communicate. Today I stumbled across an article that made me go, “Yes! YES!! Gotta share this all over the place!”

The article in The Guardian is Oliver Burkeman's last column: the eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life. Some of his “secrets” apply to the nomad life:
• When stumped by a life choice, choose ‘enlargement’ over happiness
• The capacity to tolerate minor discomfort is a superpower
• The future will never provide the reassurance you seek from it
• Know when to move on
Of course, Burkeman wasn’t writing specifically to nomads. What he wrote applies to life in general, probably universally. Being self-aware, choosing priorities, accepting our limitations, and so on.

We live in a world where productivity (usually for someone else’s benefit) and the material trappings of success are supposedly the indicators of The Good Life. I used to believe—really believe—that was true. But now I see it’s about personally-directed, personally-defined fulfillment and contentment. May you find it for yourself.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Mirror mirror

Mirroring is the behavior in which one person unconsciously imitates the gesture, speech pattern, or attitude of another. Mirroring often occurs in social situations, particularly in the company of close friends or family.

…This concept takes place in everyday interactions and often goes unnoticed by both the person enacting the mirroring behaviors as well as the individual who is being mirrored.
I’ve been on the lookout for mirroring ever since I learned about it in college. Being the contrarian I am, not wanting to be one of the herd, I try to avoid mirroring others and feel uncomfortable when I catch myself mirroring. When I notice someone mirroring me, I change my behavior to see if they follow. Then I change again to see if they still follow. Sometimes it’s quite funny. Like yesterday.

Six of us men had done a bit of manly work and were talking about manly stuff like lumber and GFI circuits. I noticed most of us had our hands in our pockets. So I switched to crossing my arms. Within a minute, the majority of us had crossed arms. So I switched to one hand in a back pocket. Then crossed arms again. Then hands on hips. Then hands loose at my side. Surprisingly, two guys I was standing behind mirrored me most of the time.

The thing is, mirroring is supposed to be a positive action that builds rapport. Yet I resist it. Maybe it’s one reason my social interactions tend to be awkward and a little distant. I guess I should embrace mirroring and see if things change.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Flip flop and fly

I heard bird noises on the roof of the Rolling Steel Tent. At first I thought they were up there pecking at bugs. Then I realized the sound was wings slapping, not beaks pecking. Flappity-floppity-flip-flippity-flap. It was happening several times a day, and the birds would fly away whenever I’d try to see what was going on.

Ah, but then I figured it out. There was a small, shallow patch of rain water on the solar panel, trapped by the slightly raised edge. The birds were using it to bathe. They could splash without getting muddy. It’s like the difference between a swimmin’ hole and a swimming pool. But without the chlorine.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Winter dress rehearsal

Roxy’s van, Studley, near Rocky Mountain National Park

Tuesday, record high temperatures in the Rockies turned into record September lows, delivering up to a foot of snow. There was snow in the Pacific Northwest as well. Hurricane-force winds in Utah sent trees crashing—one toppling my great-grandfather’s headstone, another almost damaging a niece’s house—and left thousands (including my sister) without power. We got the southern end of the freaky weather here in southwest New Mexico. Wind, thunderstorms, hail, rain and unseasonal chill.

Salt Lake City Cemetery

A niece’s house

No doubt, the cold, wet weather was a gift from Canada, which pitied our suffering from heat and firestorms. Thank you, my Canuck friends, even though the relief is only temporary.

Besides a break from the heat, the cold front offered us nomads the opportunity to evaluate our winter preparedness. Do we have adequate cold weather clothing and bedding? A good heat source? Can your tires handle sloppy roads? If not, there’s still time to take measures. Because, as we know from Game of Thrones, winter is coming.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The cure for gaposis

There’s a gap between the bulkhead and van wall. That tends to happen when a straight line meets a curve. For seven years I’ve been stuffing a couple of washcloths in the hole to keep things from falling in, forever out of reach.

I knew what the actual solution was and decided it was past time to implement it. Cardboard template, old license plate, metal shears, drill, screws, et voila.

Monday, September 7, 2020

W! T! F!

I was writing about birds flying into the Rolling Steel Tent when, as if on cue, this thing buzzed in. At first I thought it was a hummingbird, but then… AWK! It wasn't aggressive, so I shot photos then shooed it away. Lou identified the creature. “Oh, yeah, that’s a tarantula hawk. I’ve seen others around here.”

I googled tarantula hawk and came up with an article that warned, “If this wasp stings you, just lie down and start screaming.”


Spam cans are too nice to just throw away. (Yes, I’m eating Spam. Voluntarily. The low-salt, low-fat version. Cook it up with egg and cheese, topped with salsa, and it’s yummy.) 

So, what might I do with this can? Hmmmm…

Ah-ha! A place to keep my wallet and key. (You know your life is simple when you need only one key.) They usually just get tossed on the counter and end up shoved to the side when I use the counter for other things. (Like preparing Spam & eggs.) But now they have a little house of their own.

UPDATE: Lou wants some Spam cans but doesn’t want to eat any of the stuff. He wants me to do the eating and give him the cans. But if the can is worth a couple of bucks to him, he could just toss the Spam, right?

For the birds


A large dragonfly must’ve flown in the window when I was driving, hit something, broke itself, and died in the Rolling Steel Tent. When I discovered it I tossed it out on the ground. Within two seconds a grackle appeared and flew away it, probably thinking, “Why are you throwing away perfectly good food?”


Whatever form of navigation birds use—sun, magnetic field, astrolabe—it must shut down when they fly into the Rolling Steel Tent. They’re unable to find the way they came in. At first I thought it was just a hummingbird problem, but some sort of larger bird was freaking out this morning. What’s the avian equivalent of an exit sign?


Doves are nesting at Lou’s place. I love their soft coo-coo coooooo.

When last we saw Lou


We had finished major construction on the greenhouse when I left for my summer travels. Now I’m back and the crops are doing well.


Sunday, September 6, 2020

Return of the mystery

The Rolling Steel Tent was bare inside when I had an aftermarket stereo installed. Six speakers and a subwoofer. It’s great for blasting road tunes. Born! To! Be! Wiiiiiiild! Born! To! Be! Wiiiiiiiiiiiild!

Six years ago, all of a sudden, it decided to not turn on. I checked the fuses (one in the van circuitry, one that’s part of the custom installation). They were fine. Then the stereo worked again. Removing and reinserting the main fuse disconnected then reconnected the power, resetting something or other, making the world right again. Except I had to redo all my presets. Yay electronics.

I had to do this fuse hokey-pokey a few times that year. Then it stopped requiring it for a while. Then it happened once more and was good for the past several years. Until yesterday. Why now? I have no clue. Maybe there’s a song it doesn’t like. 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Thanks to the host

Linda May (soon to be an international film sensation) put me up—and put up with me—on her land near Taos. She even gave me a parting gift of fairy lights. Thank you!