Monthly Archives: February 2014

Desert Rain

Yesterday the wind picked up, but it was still warm and dry here with temperatures in the upper 70s. Donna went out for a short run. I didn’t do much. I didn’t sleep well the night before. I read for a while and took a nap after lunch.

The weather forecast is calling for a 40% chance of rain this afternoon, 100% tonight and Saturday. Since the Jeep we borrowed from Mike Hall is a fair weather vehicle with a canvas top and no side curtains, I decided to return it to his shop for shelter. I drove to Mesa, filled the gas tank and met Mike at Lucky Lou’s for a beer. Then I drove over to his place and retrieved the scooter. I anticipated an interesting ride in the gusty wind, but by the time I was heading back the wind had turned into a steady breeze.

When I got home, Donna had a rack of lamb on the counter, ready to grill. While I grilled the lamb, she prepared vanilla whipped sweet potatoes and garlic steamed spinach. She served the lamb over steamed spinach with the sweet potatoes on the side.

Lamb chops with vanilla whipped sweet potatoes

Lamb chops with vanilla whipped sweet potatoes

This morning I’ll secure the grill and our outdoor chairs in the trailer. If the weather guessers have it right, the rain later today and tomorrow will be interesting. If we have a thunderstorm with a sudden downpour, the arroyos will flood.

Back in the 1970s, I hitchhiked cross-country from San Diego to Longmont, Colorado. Along the way, in Gila Bend, Arizona, a geology professor from the University of Arizona in Tucson, stopped to pick me up. He was returning from a field trip with a couple of students. As we drove along, he pointed out the dark clouds and lightning to the north. It was raining heavily in the Maricopa Mountains. A little while later he said, “We’re about to witness a rare sight.” He pulled over to the shoulder where a dry creek ran under the freeway.

He told us to watch the dry creek bed. I expected to see a small stream of water that would slowly fill the creek. This isn’t what happened. After a few minutes, I heard the sound of water approaching. It was a violent crashing sound, almost like surf hitting the shore. Then I saw a wall of water, about two feet high and 15 feet across come rushing down the arroyo. Rocks and sticks were tumbling as they were pushed along. The wall of water ran under the freeway and the creek quickly stabilized into a muddy stream.

I was really surprised at the swiftness and violence of it. The professor simply stated, “That’s why you never set up camp in a dry creek bed.” We got back into his Toyota Land Cruiser and continued on to Tucson.

When the rain arrives here later today, I doubt if we’ll witness anything that dramatic. We’re on high ground, but the road at the park entrance is much lower. There could be some flash flooding of the park road and McDowell Mountain Road below. If the rain continues tomorrow as expected, the dips in the road will surely be flooded.

Sunday is supposed to be dry. The ground here usually drains and dries quickly. The creeks that form in the arroyos will have drained into the Verde River and become dry creek beds again. But where the road dips across the arroyos, sand and debris may be left behind. This could be tough to deal with on the bike portion of the duathlon Donna is competing in on Sunday. The bike course runs along McDowell Mountain Road through these dips.

Today, I’ll batten down the hatches. Donna and I will probably take a hike before it rains. Later, I might brave the elements and take the scooter down to the road and watch for flooding.

Cooling Systems

Yesterday’s weather was fabulous. The temperature was in the mid-70s with mostly clear skies. Today looks like more of the same. This won’t be the case this weekend though. A large storm system is supposed to hit southern California tonight. In San Diego, they’re forecasting more than two inches of rain this weekend. This storm system should reach us by Saturday. We may have a wet weekend ahead.

Yesterday, after I posted, I went to work on my project of the day. It was a fairly simple task. I needed to adjust the v-belt that drives the A/C compressor. When I replaced the belt, it seemed tight. I knew it would loosen up after the engine was run for a while. The 25-mile drive from Mesa to McDowell Mountain Regional Park (MMRP) was enough to seat the belt.

When a new belt is first installed, it’s almost impossible to put enough tension on it to fully seat it in the groove of the pulley. You need to run the engine so the belt seats in, then adjust it again. I didn’t want to fire up our big diesel while we were at the Apache Wells RV Resort just so I could adjust the belt. I knew the short drive to MMRP would seat it in. Also, since it’s the drive belt for the air conditioner compressor and I wasn’t running the A/C, having a little slack in it wasn’t going to be a problem.

After I completed that task, I poked around the engine compartment. I was trying to figure out why some coolant was spit out of the overflow hose when I was parking our coach here. I brainstormed a bit the other day with my friend and former colleague, Keith Burk, and we came up with a couple of possible causes. Then I studied the cooling system on our Cummins ISL engine.

The cooling systems in these diesel pusher coaches are unique to each brand. When Cummins supplies the engine to the chassis builder, they specify certain cooling system requirements. The engine comes with the water pump and hose fittings in place. It’s up to the chassis manufacturer to provide a suitable radiator and plumbing for the cooling system.

Back to the problem at hand, it made sense to start with the easiest thing to check – pressure testing the radiator cap. The cooling system in a liquid-cooled internal combustion engine is held under pressure once the engine is running. The system is sealed. As the coolant starts to warm up, it begins to expand. With a sealed system, this expansion creates pressure. The radiator cap is designed to relieve the pressure at a specific point.

Having the coolant under pressure raises the boiling point. For each pound per square inch (PSI), the boiling point is raised three degrees Fahrenheit. In most systems, when the pressure exceeds the specified value, a valve in the cap opens and allows coolant to flow into an external, vented container. When the coolant cools, it contracts, creating vacuum in the system. Another valve in the cap allows the coolant to be drawn back from the external container into the system.

On our coach, there isn’t an external container. The Peak chassis utilizes a surge tank with enough volume to accommodate expansion of the coolant. The radiator cap is on the surge tank.

Cooling system surge tank

Cooling system surge tank

The other thoughts on why the cooling system overflowed weren’t so simple. One possibility would be a leaking exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) cooler. This would be bad, however, our Cummins ISL doesn’t have an EGR system. So that’s not an issue.

Another possibility would be a leaking head gasket. This also would be very bad news. I didn’t think this was happening because leaking head gaskets leave other tell-tale signs. I didn’t have any other symptoms.

My thought was to take the radiator cap into town and have it pressure tested at the auto parts store. Most auto parts stores will test them for free, and this was true at the O’Reilly Auto Parts in Fountain Hills.

I removed the cap and saw there was no need to test it. The seal was visibly bad. It was distorted and had ruptured. There’s no way it was holding pressure in the system. Although the fluid in the surge tank wasn’t boiling, this may not be true of hot spots in the engine. With no pressure in the system, the coolant will boil at about 223 degrees Fahrenheit. Parts of the cylinder liners and cylinder head may have had localized coolant boiling, pushing the coolant out of the cap seal.

Old radiator cap with bad seal

Old radiator cap with bad seal

My next task was to determine what pressure the system should be limited to. I searched online, posted questions on forums and went through my manuals. The only definitive specification I could find was in the Cummins engine manual. It specified seven PSI minimum pressure. That’s really low. Online I found anything from 10 PSI to 15 PSI. The old cap didn’t have a part number on it, but it was stamped with the number 14, leading me to believe it was probably rated at 14 PSI.

I didn’t want to over-pressurize the system and create a new problem. I found a 13 PSI cap that was dimensionally correct and bought it. Using the formula of a three degree rise in boiling point for every PSI, this would raise the boiling point by 39 degrees, making the coolant boiling point 262 degrees Fahrenheit instead of 223 degrees.

New radiator cap

New radiator cap

This is a long-winded, technical explanation for what amounted to unscrewing the old cap and screwing a new one on. If you’ve read this far, it must have some value though.

Today, I’ll head back to town to look for more effective allergy medicine. Donna is going for a run to test her new cooling system. She just picked up an Osprey Rev 1.5 Hydration Pack – a small backpack with a 1.5-liter water reservoir with a hose to sip from while she runs and rides her bike. She used to have a Camelback hydration pack, but the Dirty, Rotten Thieves got that when they stole our cargo trailer back in San Diego.

I also need to talk to Mike Hall this afternoon and see when he wants me to return his Jeep. It would be good if we had it on Sunday so I could pick up Donna and her bicycle after the race. On the other hand, the Jeep is open and if it rains on Saturday I don’t have a covered parking area for it at MMRP.

Are You Handy?

Yesterday the sky remained overcast all afternoon. The temperature was in the low 70s. Donna went for a run in the morning while I played around on the Internet. The pollen count is so high now, I’m really suffering from allergies. I’m taking three medications to fight the symptoms. I use a prescription nasal spray, Opcon-A eye drops and an over-the-counter antihistamine tablet. I hope whatever is producing all the pollen quits soon.

After Donna returned from her run and showered, we decided to drive down to Fountain Hills for lunch. We went to a Mexican restaurant called El Encanto that her friend Julia recommended. There are three El Encanto restaurants in the greater Phoenix area. The original opened in 1989 at Cave Creek. About 10 years later, the second opened on Carefree Highway. In 2009, they opened the third in Fountain Hills and called it El Encanto de la Fuente (of the fountain). I had the special, which was a carne asada burro and a taco. Donna ordered a fish taco with black beans. Great food and the service was good too. I recommend this place.

While we were in town, we drove to where Donna used to live to visit her next door neighbors, Dwight and Marianne. Donna last visited them a little over a year ago when she was in Phoenix. Dwight suffered a stroke a couple of years ago and is confined to a wheelchair. We were happy to note that his condition has improved considerably though since the last time Donna visited.

On the way home, we stopped at the Fountain Hills Bicycle Shop. We met the owner, Doug, and chatted with him. Donna picked up a few items while I checked out the mountain bikes. Watching people riding mountain bikes on the trails around here has me thinking about getting one.

When we returned, I put new handlebar tape on Donna’s bike. The tape cushions the rider’s hands and she was due for new tape before her race this weekend. Then I read a book while Donna continued to edit her book. Basically, I had a lazy day with no real projects. I didn’t even muster enough ambition to  practice guitar. Most days, I have a project of some kind. There’s always something I can improve on our coach, scooter or bicycles.

Donna told me that a friend of hers, Paula Switzer, wondered my if blog might make some people leery of hitting the road. She was referring to all of the projects I post about. She thought that maybe people would think they would need to be handy and have the tools and knowledge to work on the various systems that make up a motorhome.

I don’t mean to make it seem scary or beat my chest about my mechanical ability. If you’re handy and have some mechanical inclination, it helps. Some people wouldn’t think of turning a wrench on their RV. They follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule and have a dealer or shop do the work. When the recommended maintenance is performed, the RV is inspected. Any shortcomings can be handled by the shop. From what I’ve read on forums and other blogs, most people in this category buy new or nearly new RVs with a warranty.

There are others that defer maintenance and only have work performed when something breaks, leaks or quits working. I saw a lot of this when we were at Mission Bay RV Resort. It seemed like mobile RV technicians were at the park daily to fix someone’s RV. This approach is a little scary to me. Deferring preventive maintenance until something breaks can lead to expensive repairs.

My approach is to perform the maintenance tasks I’m capable of. I don’t do everything at once like a professional workshop would. I try to prioritize the work and spread it out. I try to take care of little issues before they become big issues. This doesn’t guarantee things will never break, but it lowers the odds. On our old coach, I would change my own engine oil and filter. It was powered by a gasoline engine and held about seven quarts of oil. Our present coach has a diesel engine that takes about 25 quarts of oil. I’ll take it to a shop and pay to have the oil changed because I have no way of containing and disposing of more than six gallons of oil!

The other work I perform on our coach are things that I have the ability, tools and time to do. I wouldn’t do this work for pay on someone else’s coach. But I’ll do it on my coach to avoid paying someone else to do it.

Donna is kind of like that in the kitchen. She cooks dinners that are worthy of fine restaurant fare. We go out to eat on occasion, but probably not as often as many people do. Though Donna is a good cook and enjoys serving good food, she wouldn’t want to open a restaurant and do it for a living.

Speaking of food, I forgot to mention in yesterday’s post about the dinner we had Monday night. In the morning, Donna seasoned boneless country-style pork ribs. I browned them on the grill, then Donna put them in our 4-quart Health Craft pot on her slow cooker base with sliced onion and apple with a homemade BBQ sauce. They cooked all day. By dinner time, they were ready and so tender!

Boneless country  style pork ribs

Country-style BBQ pork ribs over egg noodles

Today, I’ll readjust the air conditioner compressor belt I replaced last week. As I expected, after running for a while, it’s loosened up a little. The sky is clear and the day is quickly warming. I better get this project going before it gets too hot.


The Fountain

When we set up at a new location, I try to avoid dropping the trailer if I can. Dropping the trailer adds extra steps to the process. I have to put the trailer into position, disconnect the trailer, stabilize it, then pull out and pull in again to park the coach. When we leave, I have to line the coach back up with the trailer and connect it again.

In Sunday’s post I mentioned that our site was nominally 50′ in length, but we managed to get our 56′ overall length in without dropping the trailer. You might wonder how we did that.

We parked our rig diagonally in the site parking area. The right front of the coach is on the right side of the parking space. The left front of the coach is near the edge of the roadway.

Front of coach hugs the right side of the site

Front of coach hugs the right side of the site

The left rear of the trailer is all the way to the left of the parking area. This opens space for our grill and a sitting area.

Trailer is positioned on the left rear of the site

Trailer is positioned on the left rear of the site

The rear of the trailer extends past the parking space. That’s how we shoehorned a 56′ rig into a 50′ long parking space.

Rear of trailer overhangs the end of the site parking space

Rear of trailer overhangs the end of the site parking space

Yesterday, Donna worked on editing the latest iteration of her book. This should be the final edit and then she’ll review the page layout. While she was working, I took Mike Hall’s Jeep out for a tour of the area. McDowell Mountain Regional Park is quite large.

Our site, at 2,060 feet above sea level, is at the high point of the developed areas of the park. All roads from here descend into arroyos or valleys.

I drove out to the end of the main road and back. There’s a lot of wide open space here. Desert and mountains are all you can see to the north and east. On the west are more mountains. To the south we can see the town of Fountain Hills.

Wide open vista to the north east

Wide open vista to the north east

Later I drove into town. The town of Fountain Hills is located east of Scottsdale. It’s bordered by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation and the Salt River Pima – Maricopa Indian Community.

Fountain Hills was conceived by Robert McCulloch. In 1970, he built a pond with a large fountain, a year before he famously reconstructed the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City. The fountain sprays from a large, concrete water lily sculpture in the pond. The water is driven by three 600-horsepower turbine pumps. The water is pumped at a rate of up to 7,000 gallons per minute.

The plume of water can reach a height of 560 feet under ideal conditions. When it was built, it was the highest fountain in the world. Today, it ranks fourth highest. The city operates the fountain at the top of the hour, from 9am to 9pm for about 15 minutes. Most of the time, only two of the three turbines are utilized and the spray reaches a height of about 330 feet.

The center piece of Fountain Hills

The center piece of Fountain Hills

When it was built, many people wondered why McCulloch would build a pond and fountain out in the desert. He purchased the land, which was previously a cattle ranch, in the late 1960s. The man had a plan. He began construction of a master planned community. In 1989, the city of Fountain Hills was incorporated. Today, the population of Fountain Hills is around 23,000 people.

This morning there’s a low overcast and the temperature is relatively cool. Yesterday the thermometer hit 80 degrees. Today’s forecast calls for upper 70s with a cooling trend dropping the daily high to the upper 60s by the weekend. This should be good weather for Donna’s duathlon on Sunday.




Spiders and Snakes

Yesterday, I showered early. I used the public showers here at McDowell Mountain Regional Park (MMRP). There’s no lack of hot water. In fact, the water was hotter than I like, but there’s no adjustment. You push a button and the shower starts. The water sprays for a few minutes, then shuts off. If you want to continue the shower, you push the button again.

I was preparing for a rendezvous with Andy King and his wife Donna, Carole Sue Bringas and Carole’s cousin, Diana. Carole and Diana had been visiting friends in Prescott and were heading back to San Diego. Andy King hasn’t seen Carole since the 70s or early 80s. Andy found a restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch near I-17 and the 101 loop on Bell Road.

I left here around 9am. I took the 29th Avenue exit from the 101 loop. I should have taken I-17 south to Bell. 29th Avenue meanders a bit. I noticed the low gas light was illuminated on the instrument panel. The gauge was on empty. I thought either this Jeep is a real gas hog or it has a small tank.

I found the restaurant and walked in just after our 10am meet-up time. I found Carole, Diana and Andy, who were just being seated. Donna King joined us a few minutes later, she had been walking their dog. My Donna couldn’t make the breakfast – she had a bike ride and run scheduled with her friend Beth who is doing the duathlon with her next Sunday.

We enjoyed the breakfast and swapped stories for an hour and a half. Then it was time to say our goodbyes until next time.

Andy, Carole and me

Andy, Carole and me

I checked Gas Buddy and  found a station down the street at Fry’s. Regular was only $3.23/gallon! I filled the Jeep’s tank – it only held 11.5 gallons. No wonder the gas gauge seems to move so quickly.

When I returned, there was a good sized snake on the road in the park. Unfortunately, it had been run over by a car and it was dead. Back at our home, Donna was getting ready to go out for the afternoon with her best friend, Julia, from her days in Fountain Hills. Donna took the  Jeep and drove to Fountain Hills.

While Donna was out, I decided to hike and look around the area. There are 65 miles of hiking, mountain biking and equestrian trails at MMRP. I took a slow stroll on the Granite Trail. I made about a two-mile loop. I walked slowly, looking for wildlife. I saw several quail and other birds. I found a lizard. I was hoping to see something more interesting like a snake or tarantula. I didn’t find any this time.

Tarantulas have a fearsome appearance, being large, hairy spiders. They usually aren’t a danger to humans, although they can bite if provoked. They’re venomous, but there’s no record of a tarantula bite being fatal to a human. I saw one crossing the road once near Florence. It was as big as my hand! I’ve only seen one other wild tarantula in the desert. Tarantulas reach maturity after 5 to10 years, depending on the species. Males rarely live much beyond 10 years. Females have been known to live 30 to 40 years.

Granite trail - look closely and you'll see mountain bikers

Granite Trail – look closely and you’ll see mountain bikers

Last evening, I dialed in the Dish Network and watched the NHRA drag races from Wildhorse Pass Raceway. Donna cooked up chicken with saffron cream sauce and peas served with herb chicken tortellini.

Chicken with saffron cream sauce and peas

Chicken with saffron cream sauce and peas

In a post last week, I complained about Microsoft pushing an update on my computer and forcing a restart. I’ve since figured out how to change that setting. Today, I’ll have add to that complaint. This morning, as I type, I keep getting double letters when I don’t mean to. I had this issue before and had to go to keyboard settings and adjust the sensitivity. I went back into my settings and found everything had been reset to the Microsoft default. I guess when the update was installed, the settings were changed. Arrrgh.

Today, I’ll get up on the roof to see if the tree branches I drove through in the Fountain Hills detour did any damage. Other than that, I have no plans.

Snootful of Nitro

Alright, we need to catch up a bit. Friday morning was a move day. I started out by riding the scooter a few miles to our friend’s house. Great guy that he is, Mike Hall very generously lent us his Jeep while we’re at McDowell Mountain Regional Park (MMRP).

This is fortunate for us. MMRP is a little off the beaten path and we’ll spend the next 10 days here. While I was picking up the Jeep and leaving our scooter in Mike’s shop, Donna was preparing the coach for travel.

On my way home, I stopped at Senor Taco and bought a chorizo and egg breakfast burrito. These burritos are so huge, one was more than plenty for both Donna and me.

We completed our pre-flight tasks and got ready to exit Apache Wells RV Resort. Our neighbor was kind enough to assist me with positioning the trailer. Now that we have a wheel that we can put on on the front jack, we take advantage of that and maneuver the trailer to a position that makes it easy to hitch up. But in this case, we had to roll it over gravel and up onto the concrete pad.

Once we were hooked up and ready to hit the road, Donna took the wheel of the Jeep and followed me on the 25-mile drive to MMRP. I expected an uneventful drive, but we ran into a snag in Fountain Hills.

We were driving down Saguaro Road when unexpectedly a detour sign appeared. At the next intersection, the road was closed and I had no choice but to turn right. This led me down a narrow road with cars parked on the right. I had to hug the curb of the center median on the left. Unfortunately, the city has been remiss with their tree trimming. I passed under a few trees that were hanging less than 12 feet above the road – these trees scraped the roof and roof accessories of our coach. I’ll assess the damage later.

We found our way through the detour and made our way to MMRP. When we entered the park, I made a wrong turn so we circulated the park a couple of times before we found our site. Eventually we were ready to back into site 37. Donna and I looked the site over and discussed our options. After pacing off the dimensions, we decided to try backing the trailer and coach in at an angle that would allow us to keep the trailer hooked up.

It wasn’t easy, but we managed to situate our 56′ length into a 50′ site without dropping the trailer. We had two bravos, one from a couple that was leaving the park and watched while they waited for us to clear the roadway, and another from our new neighbor across the road.

The only problem now was the Jeep. We filled our site and still needed room to park the Jeep. Our neighbor across the street came to the rescue. She told us we could use the excess space in her site to park. Her motorhome is smaller and she doesn’t have another vehicle. That’s the beauty of this lifestyle. Most people are so friendly and willing to assist.


Jeep slightly overhanging our site

There was a bigger concern though. I saw fluid in the road where we just were. Looking in the engine compartment, I saw the fluid came from the coolant overflow line. This is puzzling. While I was backing in, the engine was idling. Diesel engines tend to run cool at idle. So why would the coolant tank puke a little coolant while we were parking? I’m sure I’ll ponder this question many times in the middle of the night.

Friday night I slept soundly. It’s so quiet and peaceful here away from from the city. Donna and I woke up feeling well-rested. I needed to get up and at it. I unloaded Donna’s bicycle from the trailer and pumped up the tires for her training ride while she made bacon and eggs for breakfast. After we ate, I took a quick shower and then drove out of here in the Jeep.

I drove to Mike Hall’s place, 30 miles away. Our plan was to go to the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Drag Racing event at Wildhorse Pass Raceway (formerly known as Firebird Raceway). We then drove to Scottsdale to pick up our friend, Lindert Hartoog.

On the way I realized that I didn’t bring my Opcon eyedrops with me. I’m having an issue with pollen allergies and my eyes are itching and watering. After we picked up Lindert, we stopped at CVS pharmacy and I bought Opcon-A eye drops. This turned out to be an epiphany. The Opcon eye drops I had were a couple of years old. The new, fresh eye drops were so much more effective. I wouldn’t have thought that a year or two would make that much difference.

We finally arrived at the race track. I remember this place as Firebird Raceway, not Wildhorse Pass Raceway. I used to ride track days here on my MV Agusta and Ducati motorcycles when we lived in Mesa. In 2008 and 2009 I was the crew chief for G2 Moto and we raced here frequently. We were moving the team towards an AMA berth, but I left in 2009 to follow my career with Volkswagen in Michigan.

Mike, Lindert and I had fun roaming around the track and pit areas.

Mike Hall

Mike Hall next to John Force’s Funny Car

Lindert hooked us up with a guy he knows. His friend, Ray Problem (no, Ray’s not a problem, his last name is Problem) comes to the NHRA event in Phoenix every year. He pays to have his motorhome trackside near the finish line. General Admission tickets for Saturday’s qualifying event cost $38. But Ray had us covered at his site for $40 including beer, lunch and snacks. Vendors were selling beer for six dollars a pop, so this was a good deal.

Our host, Ray

Our host, Ray

Oftentimes, while I’m gassing up the scooter or whatnot, people ask me about our scooter. When I tell them it’s a Kymco, they say what? I have to explain that it’s a Korean company that makes millions of scooters worldwide. I mention this because Kymco is high profile at NHRA events. They had a big display and many teams had Kymco scooters in their pits.

Kymco scooter display

Kymco scooter display

One of the things I love about NHRA events is the access. Your general admission ticket is a pit pass. You can wander the pits and see what goes on behind the scenes.

FC Pit

Funny car without the body in the pit

FC rebuild

Tony Pedregon’s car getting an engine rebuild

Middle Eastern Money

Al-Anabi top fuel dragster funded by Middle Eastern money (Qatar)

Tony Schumacher's ride

Tony Schumacher’s ride

My friend, Lindert, had a blast shooting photos of all the action. Behind Ray’s motorhome, a scaffolding was set up. This gave us a great vantage site for the races.

Lindert shooting photos from the scaffolding

Lindert shooting photos from the scaffolding

Back at MMRP, Donna rode the duathlon course for her race next Sunday and found it more challenging than she remembered. She lived in Fountain Hills when we met and rode it often back then. I think she’ll do fine. She needs to taper this week and take it easy.

One more thing from the track. Before we left, I saw a T-shirt that resonated with me. It has chemical equations for nitro-methane fuel that reminded me of Breaking Bad. I had to buy one.

Breaking Bad?

Breaking Bad?

Today, I’ll be meeting up with Carole Sue Bringas and Andy King for a late breakfast. It’ll be fun to spend time with old friends again. Carole Sue made the trip from San Diego to visit people in Prescott and we’re taking advantage of the opportunity to hook up again.












One of the things that took me by surprise when I started blogging about eight months ago is the number of spam comments that get posted. I wrote about this before. I’ve added software that quarantines comments that appear to be spam. This software is very effective and filters out about 100 spam comments per day.

Some spammers will work around the software though. One guy started adding comments that appeared to be genuine. The comments would pertain specifically to the content of the post. After having his comments approved several times, the spam software saw him as a trusted contributor. Then he spammed me! I was really disappointed by this. All of his comments have been removed.

I like receiving comments on posts. The spammers make it difficult though. It’s frustrating at times, but we’ll hang in there. Please add comments if you wish, but please – no spam.

Yesterday, I started on my project of the day as soon as I finished my blog post. It was a project that appeared simple enough, but my track record has proven that even the simplest task can run into complications.

The doors on the basement storage compartments on our coach have struts that are gas springs that assist in raising the door to its open position and then hold it open. Gas springs are cylinders filled with an inert gas (usually nitrogen) to a specific pressure. The gas pressure extends the shaft of the strut. On the passenger side, just ahead of the entry door, we have a large, pass-through compartment with a big door.

Large pass-through basement compartment

Large pass-through basement compartment

There are two struts (gas springs), one on each end of the door. This is the bin that we use the most. Things that we need on a daily basis are stored here. It’s convenient as it’s right next to the entry door. The opening is large, making it easy to retrieve things.

The gas springs on this door were a little weak. The door wouldn’t fully open on its own – we had to lift a little to get it open. Sometimes it wouldn’t hold fully open and the door would come back down a few inches. It makes sense to me that this door would show wear on the gas springs. It’s the largest, heaviest door and it gets the most use.

I found a thread on the Alpine Coach Owner’s forum about these gas springs. It turns out that these aren’t standard parts. They were built specifically for Western RV. One post had contact info for a company in California that built the SPD gas springs and supposedly they had the parts. I tried calling the number listed, but it was no longer in service.

I did a Google search and came up with a company in Maumee, Ohio called Associated Spring Raymond (ASR) that carried SPD gas springs. The part number on our struts is SPD-GS-6711. Their online catalog didn’t list this part number.

I called their customer service number to see if they had a part that had similar specifications. Gas springs come in different lengths, diameters and spring rates (pressure). When I told the woman at ASR customer service that I needed to replace SPD-GS-6711 gas springs, she told me they had an exact replacement part. The only difference was their part had a nitride coated shaft but other than that, the specifications were the same. She said it’s a non-standard part that’s not listed in their catalog. The part number is GSNI-6711. Bingo! I ordered two.

Old Gas spring strut on top, new one with black nitride shaft on bottom

Old gas spring strut on top, new one with black nitride shaft on bottom

The spring pressure of the struts is very high. I tried to compress the gas spring by hand and couldn’t get the shaft to move at all. Fully extended, the length of the shaft is about half an inch longer than the dimension between the two mounting points when the door is fully opened. The strut mounts near the pivot point of the door, leveraging the weight of the door against the gas spring. This is the reason for such a high-pressure specification.

Gas spring strut on compartment door

Gas spring strut on compartment door

When I woke up yesterday morning, I was lying in bed thinking of how to get the gas spring compressed to enable me to mount it. I came up with a plan.

I removed one of the gas spring struts. I installed the new gas spring strut on the upper mounting point on the door. Then, I used a foot long section of 4×4 wood that’s normally a wheel chock for our cargo trailer as a lever to compress the gas spring from the bottom. Once I compressed it enough to align with the bottom mounting point, I snapped it in place with my free hand using channel lock pliers.

It worked perfectly. I repeated the process on the other side. For once, I had a project done with no complications. I was finished with the job before Donna left for her 11am dental appointment! Now, when I open this compartment, it fully extends itself and stays open.

After lunch, I scootered Donna to her eye exam appointment on Brown Road, about two and half miles from here. She hasn’t had her eyes checked in three years and was pretty sure she needed a stronger prescription for reading (she was right). She opted to walk home from her exam. I completed a few errands before stopping at Red, White and Brew for a cold one. I had Kiltlifter, a locally brewed Scottish style ale from Four Peaks Brewing.

Last night, Donna prepared prosciutto wrapped scallops and sliced summer squash. I grilled the scallops and squash. Donna served the scallops over steamed spinach with a lemon vinaigrette. Yummy!

Grilled prosciutto wrapped scallops and summer squash

Grilled prosciutto wrapped scallops and summer squash

Today, I’ll start preparing for our move to McDowell Mountain Regional Park (MMRP). Our friend, Mike Hall, is lending us his Jeep for the weekend. I’ll ride the scooter over to his place tomorrow morning. The plan is to leave the scooter in his shop and drive the Jeep back here. Then I’ll finish our preparation for the 25-mile drive to MMRP. Donna will follow me there in the Jeep. I don’t think I’ll post tomorrow as we’ll be busy.

Water Log

Yesterday’s virtual tour of our coach turned out to be a popular post. By the end of the day, we had 322 visitors take the tour!

Yesterday, I finally got around to a project I’ve been meaning to do for more than a week.

The fresh water hose from the spigot to our coach has an inline water filter. This filter prevents sediment from entering our fresh water system. It also has activated carbon to neutralize odors and remove chlorine. This filter simply screws on to the end of the hose. I need to replace it after about 90 days of use.

Under the sink, we have another filter for the purified drinking water tap. Western RV specified a proprietary filter design for the Alpenlite trailers and Alpine Coaches they built. This filter is bacteriostatic, removes heavy metals and chemicals and generally improves the taste of the water. This filter should be replaced annually.

When we were in Quartzsite, I took a picture of this filter and showed it to vendors, trying to find a replacement. I was told it’s a special design and no one has them anymore. I searched online and found The RV Water Filter Store. I’ve taken to liberty of copying the description of the filter they offer for Alpine and Alpenlite owners:

Alpine and Alpenlite RVs are outfitted with water filters that are non-standard, and until now, owners had difficulty finding a reasonably-priced replacement unit.  We now have a well-built solution to this problem.  Our replacements are 2 1/2″ in diameter and about 8″ long.  They are made of granular activated carbon and they include KDF.  Our units actually contain more filter media than the factory units, so they should last longer.  We sell these filters with or without the brass fittings needed to hook them to your plumbing system.  If you are handy, you can remove the fittings from the old filter and install them on the new one.  If you don’t want to fool with changing fittings, buy the unit with the fittings included.

I think I’m fairly handy, so I ordered a filter without the fittings. It arrived a few days later. Yesterday, I shut off the water supply and opened the faucet in the kitchen to relieve the water pressure. The filter is mounted against the wall under the kitchen sink.

Old water filter

Old water filter

The filter has quick-connect brass fittings. All I had to do was pull the brass sleeve and the fitting released the filter. Then the filter will unsnap from the mount. I placed towels under the filter to sop up water that would drain out of the line and I was able to release the couplers.

Old filter with quick release mounts

Old filter with quick release couplers

I used a 9/16″ wrench to remove the fittings from the old filter.

New filter without couplers

New filter without couplers

I sanitized the fittings, wrapped the threads with Teflon tape and screwed them into the new filter.

New filter with couplers installed

New filter with couplers installed

Easy stuff, so why all the procrastination? Getting the new filter in place was the hard part. I told Donna I need to grow longer arms. To install the new filter, I had to pull the sleeve on the brass fitting and insert the filter coupler before I released the sleeve. This required both hands at the back of the cabinet where the water lines are. My arms aren’t long enough to reach both hands back there. I had to squeeze my head and shoulders between the sink drain pipes and the shelf in order to get both hands back there.

I need longer arms to do this

I needed longer arms to do this

After flailing about under the counter, I finally managed to get the filter installed. Job done.

Later, Donna asked me to soak a cedar plank in water for a few hours. Meanwhile, she prepared steelhead trout with a miso rub. If you’ve never had steelhead, it tastes a lot like salmon and is usually more favorably priced.

Steelhead trout spiced and ready to grill

Steelhead trout spiced and ready to grill

I fired up the Weber Q and let it pre-heat. I adjusted the burner to medium and placed the cedar plank on the grill. I closed the lid and let the grill do its thing.

About 18 minutes later, we had steelhead trout grilled to perfection!

Ready to serve

Ready to serve

Donna served it with coconut basmati rice and steamed broccoli. She continues to feed me well!

Cedar planked Steelhead served with coconut basmati  rice and steamed broccoli

Cedar planked steelhead trout with coconut basmati rice and steamed broccoli

Yesterday, the UPS driver dropped off a package for me. Today, I’ll have another project to tackle. Again, it’s one that seems simple at first glance, but I expect a challenge.


*Just so you know, if you follow one of my links to Amazon and decide to make a purchase, I’ll earn a small commission. It’ll go into the beer fund. Thanks!








Behind Closed Doors

Today we’ll take a virtual tour of our Alpine Coach 40 MDTS. This is where we live.

Our coach has a mid-door entry. This is unusual for a diesel pusher layout. The floorplan works great for us though. I don’t understand why mid-door entries aren’t more popular. With a mid-door entry, you feel like you’re stepping into our home. The more common layout with a front door entry, in front of the passenger seat, feels like your stepping into a bus.

When we’re parked, I dump the air from the suspension. This lowers the coach before I level it. With the coach lowered, it’s an easy step up into the entry.

C'mon in

C’mon in

We’ll start the tour in the rear of the coach. Our bedroom has two slides, one on each side. This allows plenty of room for our full-length queen size bed. Most RVs have shorter queen size beds. Full length is 80″ versus 75″ for the short.

The mirrors in the back are the doors to the wardrobe.

Looking across our bed from the bathroom

Looking across our bed from the bathroom

The bed is situated east-west, with the headboard in the driver’s side slide-out.

From the foot of our queen size bed

From the foot of our queen size bed

With one of the wardrobe doors open, you can see Donna has plenty of room to hang her clothes.

Donna's wardrobe at the rear of the coach

Donna’s wardrobe at the rear of the coach

On the passenger side of the bedroom, a vanity is located in the slide-out. We have plenty of drawer space in the bedroom.

Bedroom vanity counter

Bedroom vanity counter

We call this closet in the bathroom our laundry room. The Splendide washer/dryer combo is inside along with our hamper and shelves for detergent and other storage. The door is solid wood, just like the cabinetry and trim throughout the coach.

Laundry room door

Laundry room door


Splendide 2100 washer/dryer

Splendide 2100 washer/dryer

The bathroom is between the bedroom and the kitchen.

Bathroom basin

Bathroom basin

Toilet facility

Toilet facility

Glass shower enclosure

Glass shower enclosure with skylight

In front of the bathroom door, our refrigerator is located on the passenger side. This is a full-size refrigerator/freezer.

Our refrigerator/freezer

Our refrigerator/freezer

The kitchen counter is opposite the refrigerator. Hidden in the back corner of the counter is a Keurig coffee maker and a Vitamix. At the left of the photo, behind the mirrored doors, are two large spice cabinets, one up and one down.

Donna's kitchen

Donna’s kitchen

Another view of the kitchen counter with the induction cooktop.

Kitchen counter

Kitchen counter

In front of the entry, on the passenger side, there’s a table with free-standing chairs.

Dinning table

Dining table

The table has an extension that pulls out.

Dining table extended

Dining table extended

In front of the kitchen on the driver’s side, we have a sofa. The sofa is a hide-a-bed.


Leather pullout sofa

The pilot and co-pilot seats swivel. They can be used for additional seating while parked. The 32″ LED TV is overhead in front. My guitar and amp-stand are stored behind the seats while we’re parked.

Cockpit view from kitchen

Cockpit view from kitchen

Between the table and passenger seat we have a Euro-recliner and ottoman. There’s a small storage cabinet beneath the window – the perfect spot for our Bose iPod player. Note the tall windows – one of our favorite interior features along with the wood floor.

Co-pilots seat and Euro recliner

Co-pilot’s seat and Euro recliner

Here’s a view looking back from the front seat area. We love the spacious feel of this floorplan.

Front to back

Front to back (before we moved in)

Below is a view looking forward from the entry area. The window shades are down, but you can see the large windows. With the shades up, it feels very open and airy. The windows are dual-pane glass with solar shielding which provides good insulation.

Looking toward the front from the entry

Looking toward the front from the entry (also before we moved in)

That’s our wheel estate!



















The Posse

In some areas of the country, the winter of 2013-14 will be one to remember. I’ve heard from friends back in Michigan how the snow has piled up and they continue to get slammed. I guess timing is everything. Donna says we picked the right time to sell our snow shovels.

In the southwest, we’re experiencing a very mild winter. Temperatures here in Arizona have been above historical averages. I don’t know if the weather is an influence, but the citrus crop is abundant this year.

Yesterday, we started with fresh picked grapefruit. The white grapefruit grown here in the RV park is very sweet – almost like a ruby red grapefruit. The rind is thick with pectin and the grapefruit can be easily peeled.

Fresh picked white grapefruit

Fresh picked white grapefruit

Donna went out for a run in the morning. She covered almost seven miles. I futzed around while she was out. I retrieved my camera bag from the basement and started charging the batteries for my Canon DSLR. I checked the oil level and tire pressure on the scooter. Mostly, I caught up on a few blogs I follow.

After Donna returned and showered, we ate a light lunch outside. We decided to take a ride on the scooter out to Saguaro Lake for ice cream. On the way to the lake, we stopped at Phon D Sutton Recreation Area and visited Mark and Emily. We ended up sitting and talking with them for more than an hour!

They have a hummingbird feeder attached to a window of their fifth wheel trailer. The hummingbirds are constantly feeding. They are fairly tame, using the feeder while we were standing just a few feet away. Our hummingbird feeder sees some action, but nothing like theirs. I think it may be due to all of the choices the hummingbirds have here at the RV park. Not only are there multiple feeders to choose from, there are also many flowering plants and fruit trees.

We left Mark and Emily and continued our ride on the Bush Highway to Saguaro Lake. Donna and I each had a cup of vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup as we watched the boats on the lake.

Saguaro Lake

Saguaro Lake

When we pulled out of the parking lot, there were a couple of motorcycles and a Can-Am BRP three-wheeler (one of those bikes with two front wheels and one in the rear) in front of us. More motorcycles pulled out behind us. At the stop sign at Bush Highway, a guy on an old Suzuki Intruder with un-muffled straight pipes pulled up next to us and said, “Are you riding with us?” Donna said, “No.” The guy said, “How about letting our posse pull on through?”

No problem. We followed them onto the highway. The last rider in their “posse” was riding a Harley with ape-hanger handlebars. I thought he was going to ride off the road into the desert as he struggled to get his bike around the left turn. They were a squirrely bunch. The guy who asked us to let them through passed a car on the right shoulder at one point.

When we reached the stop sign at Ellsworth, they rode straight on Bush Highway. I made the left on Ellsworth, just to get away from them. We rode over Usery Pass and turned west on McDowell. On the way home, we stopped at Basha’s grocery store. Donna bought shrimp and some veggies. She also caved and bought Girl Scout cookies from a stand in front of the store.

When we returned, the batteries for my Canon 10D were fully charged. I took photos of the interior of our coach. Donna whipped up a great guacamole and we had chips and dip for an appetizer.

For dinner, I grilled the shrimp and zucchini boats that Donna prepared. Zucchini boats are made by slicing a zucchini in half lengthwise. Then, the zucchini is hollowed out. The pulp is sauteed with onions in olive oil, and then you add garlic and panko bread crumbs and continue cooking until the bread crumbs brown a bit. After removing from the heat, she adds shredded mozzarella and chopped mint. The mixture is placed back into the hollowed zucchini half and topped with grated parmesan cheese and black pepper.

Grilled shrimp and zucchini boat

Grilled shrimp and zucchini boat

Today, I want to go to the pool and read. It was a little breezy this morning, but the wind has died down. I think we’ll be in for another warm day. I’ll try to get some guitar practice in – I finally put new strings on my ES-339.

A few of our friends have been asking to see the interior of our new home on wheels. Maybe I can post some shots tomorrow.

Tomorrow we'll step inside

Tomorrow we’ll step inside