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2002 September

2002.09.01 (FL, GA) 2002.09.03 (GA, TN) 2002.09.14 (TN, MO, NE, WY, ID, NV, CA)

2002 August

2002.08.16 (Prep) 2002.08.23 (CA -> FL) 2002.08.31 (FL)

2002 July

2002.07.21 (Prop)

2002 May

2002:05.24 (Prep)

2002 January

2002.01.31 (Prep)

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2002.09.14: It's been quite a long time since I've updated our activities. We've been off the net for about a week now, and will probably be for at least another couple of days (as this was composed, that was true, but....).

My last missive ended with us in Nashville. From Nashville we proceeded to St. Louis, where we spent the night in a wretched little park on Chain of Rocks Road (or something similar), then had breakfast with Sara's step-grandmother in Collinsville. Note to self: average ratings of 5 or 6 from the campground book are not worth staying at -- stick to the RED dots. From there we set sail off to Lincoln, NE. Going west from Lincoln, we encountered a stretch of highway 80 with severe "truck ruts" throwing The Engine back and forth. We stopped for lunch and to let a bit of air out of the tires only to have about three people stop by to ask about the GMC and inform us that the problem was with the road, and one said that "my Explorer does the same thing". Fortified with German food and encouraged that The Engine was in fine fettle, we re-entered the interstate and proceeded to Ogalalla, where we turned north.

Within a few miles, we'd decided that a general policy of avoiding Interstates and using US highways was an excellent idea. We made the trip across western Nebraska to Scottsbluff on such lesser roads and were very pleased with the more intimate and local ambiance. From Scottsbluff we proceeded to Thermopolis, WY (on the recommendation of Arch from the GMCNet), where we settled into a park with a hot mineral pool. Upon arrival we were asked "is that a new GMC?" and informed "I've got another one of those in the park". When we walked down to see this other GMC, we found a beautiful coach newly acquired by a lovely lady by the name of Dorothy. When we asked if she were going to the Cody Rally, she said no, but after some discussion agreed to follow us into Cody the next morning. That evening we participated in a singalong at her coach which was a great deal of fun.

On the morning of Saturday September 7, the two of us caravanned into Cody, where we washed The Engine before pulling into the Ponderosa campground. When we walked into the office, they immediately asked "are you the Robinsons? Can we see your RV?" Apparently a substantial number of GMCers had been telling the staff about The Engine, to the point that they wanted an immediate tour.

Dorothy pulled in behind us and immediately began telling anyone who would listen that she had come in by herself and didn't know anybody here. She was immediately taken under several wings, shown to a space, and introduced around. The GMC community takes in another!

Four days in Cody went by like a whirlwind. The first afternoon (Saturday) we spent showing off The Engine. People seemed well impressed, especially with the basement and the dishwasher. Starting the next morning (Sunday), I spent most of an afternoon cutting through the back bedroom wall with a jigsaw (acquired at the local hardware store) and giving tours in between while Sara investigated Cody. After several efforts at dropping the cabinetry (visits to Arch's coach for moral support and this or that were necessary several times) I succeeded at opening the back wall. The hot water connection had merely slipped out of its pressure fitting, and I replaced it, making sure it was tight and well-taped. While testing that fitting, I discovered that the output line from the shower appeared to be leaking from at least two pinholes. I (temporarily) closed the wall so we could sleep in the bedroom and resolved to be off to the hardware store in the morning and get another hose.

In the morning (Monday), I decided to make sure that the output hose was not simply loose. I taped and tightened it, and lo! it was not leaking. We tested the system under shore water pressure (about 45 lbs) for several hours and called it good. I closed the wall and we were off to the Rally dinner buffet at the Irma Hotel (built by Buffalo Bill Cody and named for his youngest daughter, Irma) followed by the Cody Gunfighters performance and a 1 hour tour of Cody by trolley. According to the tour, the average price of a home in Cody is $107,000 and the average price of a home outside Cody (which presumably includes more land) is $187,000. For the price of a fixer-upper in the Bay Area, you could buy both here!

Every night at the Cody rally there was some sort of Happy Hour. This is not really a custom I'm used to from Silicon Valley. Sure we have the Friday Afternoon Beer Bust associated with various companies (we did it at Electronic Arts and Adobe, and I'm sure it's practiced extensively elsewhere), but this is different. It is a custom that I think the Valley could well adopt, since I think it makes for more relaxed people.

Tuesday we got a visit from a man who was not a GMCer, not even an RVer. He'd asked someone on the road about their GMC, and they'd told him about the Rally, and that he had to come and see The Engine. So now we were getting drop-ins for tours from off the street! We had a nice talk about how we had decided that RVing was for us, and the 3 year process of testing an RV, deciding on a GMC, and then actually getting one built for us.

Also on Tuesday we got a couple of experts to come look at our suspension. We'd been hearing a "thunk" now and again when turning left at speed. First we all jumped on the bumper to flex the shocks, then jacked up the front end to wiggle the right front tire and examine the bearings, torsion bar, and whatnot else. The verdict was that the steering and suspension were fine, although we found a loose bumber shroud, a leaky oil fitting and some loosened muffler mounts. I tightened everything I could and put the tools away.

Wednesday morning was the end of the Rally. We had breakfast and set off to the Buffalo Bill Museum for a couple of hours. We lunched at Cassie's, a restaurant in an old bordello, then picked up groceries and coolant for The Engine, and drove into Yellowstone. We stopped at Madison for the night after several close encounters with Buffalo (including staring one down in our lane) and plenty of road construction.

In the morning (Thursday) we drove off to Old Faithful and saw an eruption before breakfast, then down toward the south entrance. We stopped at West Thumb, where I worked in a gas station one summer in college -- but the station, our housing, and pretty much everything else was gone, so we went next door to Grant Village, where I found someone who knew where the old West Thumb gas station building was. Each summer's crew painted one of the inside panels of the temporary building, and the structure is now in use as a storage and welding shed in Gardiner. We proceeded to Jackson where we stopped for local information and lunch, then drove westward into Idaho through Idaho Falls and Pocatello and stopped in...Twin Falls, which brings us to tonight! If I'm lucky I'll have email access again tomorrow.

Driving in the Rockies we did not get the engine performance we expected from Thorley headers and the 3" exhaust. Coupled with the engine's generally low water temperature, I suspect that she may be running very rich, especially at high altitude. Excess fuel will cool the combustion, according to various people at the Cody Rally. That would also account for our relatively low mileage. We'll have a pro look at the engine upon our return to Half Moon Bay.

Yesterday we drove from Twin Falls to Fairfield, and spent the night at the Camping World. A 600+ mile day, and we were tired at the end of it. Not too tired to take advantage of the fact that we had Express Network access again, though, and we downloaded some 1800 emails for Evan and 1400 for Sara after being without access for a bit over a week. We should be back in HMB this afternoon, pick up the kids, settle into the hot tub, and take a day or two of rest before getting back to work on selling the house, the cars, and doing basic maintenance and upkeep on The Engine. I'll put together some sort of summary post about our trip, distances, mileages, problems, and so forth and post it to the web site when I get a chance (oh, and possibly after the site is moved to another ISP).

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2002.09.03: We're temporarily back on the 'net by stopping for bits in Nashville. The last two days have been packed with interesting tidbits about our GMC.

First off, two nights ago I went to bed a bit before Sara. I was awakened by a shower of water. My first thought was "close the vent fan", before I woke up enough to realize that the water was *hot*. I concluded (correctly) that something was wrong with out water system (duh) and called for Sara to go out and turn off the supply water. This was the first night we'd spent hooked up to water, and we blew one of the supply lines to the shower, it slipped down in the space behind the bathroom cabinet and shot water over the cabinets onto the back bed. As soon as Sara shut off the water outside, the cascade (more of a sprinkler, actually) stopped. We mopped up a bit and went to bed, secure in the knowledge that this problem could wait until the next day.

In the morning, I pulled the upper bathroom cabinet out and discovered that the waterline was there, but I could not get access to the shower fixture to re-attach it. A call to Jim confirmed that access to the shower was from the back (through the wall in the bedroom), which means removing: 1) one of Daren's cabinets; 2) part of the bed pedestal; and 3) the entire wall panel. We decided that cutting an access hole made more sense and that the entire project could wait, provided that it were possible to plug the hose so that we could pressurize the rest of the water system. A trip to Home Depot provided the answer: a hose clamp (duh!) -- what I call an "airplane clamp" for reasons I don't understand -- put over the doubled-back end of the poly water line and tightened. It works. So we have no shower, but we have water in the rest of the coach. I replace the bathroom cabinet and we move on. We're still deciding exactly what kind of access hole to cut and what to do it with.

Last night about 3am, Sara woke me up to ask if I smelled gas. I interpreted this as "propane" and said (rather sleepily) "no". She went outside and walked around the coach and came back in saying we had a gasoline leak and would I come look. I did, and we do, and it's just behind the vent on the driver's side. There's a short piece (about 2 1/2 or 3") of hose that connects the tank with what appears to be the fill tube. The hose looks rather like rubberized canvas, and is soaked with gasoline, dripping a drop or two every 5-15 seconds. I attempted to tighten the hose clamps holding the ends, but I don't think it made any difference. Concerned that this represented a safety hazard, we called Jim (yes, at 3am! Yes, we considered this above and beyond the call of duty! Yes, Janie answered and got Jim for us, and no, Jim did not ask why the **** we were calling him at 3am!), who suggested a replacement procedure (requiring that we nearly empty the gas tanks and jack the coach up on the left side) and a possible source for the replacement hose. He opined that it was not a safety issue, because he drove the Dumpster with all kinds of fuel leaks. We have tracked down all the parts and will try to find a convenient opportunity to do the replacement (although if we have to, we'll do it at Cody).

That's the news for right now.

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2002.09.01: (Evan) With Jimmy Buffett's "Gypsies In The Palace" and "Fins" playing on the iPod, the Engine of Mischief departs Camping World in beautiful downtown Kissimmee, Florida, at approximately 3:50pm on 2002.09.01. Our weekly destination is Cody, WY, to attend the GMC Western States (<>) Rally starting on the 6th. Which we haven't managed to get confirmation we're registered for yet -- although we now have phone numbers.

We've been in the Orlando area since last Sunday night, when we arrived at 11pm. Stella (our dog) arrived the next morning at 9am, and Jim Bounds (<>) picked us up. We spent the week living in the coach and giving Jim and his crew interminable lists of "honey do's" inside and outside the coach. We spent one night at a Cracker Barrel in Ormond Beach and one night in Sanford while road-testing The Engine.

Saturday we returned from Ormond Beach having lost a couple of fan belts. Jim provided instruction in replacing and tightening belts (and an alternator, but I'm not telling on Jim until he does). He also re-attached the steering wheel rotated 90 degrees (much more difficult than it sounds, and the GMC steering connection is not infinitely adjustable, BTW), which seems to have improved the drivability considerably. Another evening and morning of road test led us to Camping World for a last few items (internal chock for the rear bogies, custom curtains for the front [a special order item], etc.), and we are off.

Delorme says it's about 2250 miles to Cody. More as it happens.

(Sara) 11:40 pm Sunday night. We got off the plane in Orlando exactly a week ago right now. At this moment, we're spending our first night in an actual campground, a tree-filled old place just off I-75 in Valdosta, GA. And the first 250 miles of our 1900-mile run to Cody are behind us.

There was a rainbow overhead as we climbed into the cockpit (me at the wheel, Evan manning the laptop GPS, red dog at our feet between us) and eased our way out of Orlando. I took that as a good omen.

The Engine has been close to perfect. She cruises happily at 65, but starts to wiggle-waggle alarmingly at around 70 if the road is anything less than ideal, or a large vehicle whooshes by. The dishwasher is a wonderful decadence, the fridge is better than the one we have at home, the generator really is quiet, and the power system is robust and practically runs itself.

Evan has been making daily stops at hardware stores since about Wednesday, collecting tools for this and that. They're starting to take over the rig. Every time I turn around, he's happily tweaking something with a wrench or a screwdriver, or learning something new about one of the coach's systems. I think he's gonna take to this Industrial Age technology thing pretty well after all.

It's been fun, sitting in restaurants our standing outside stores, to watch from a distance as people see the coach. They do double-takes, or give it long, lingering looks, or sometimes just walk around it, scratching their heads.

So everything's been roses and bluebirds....up until about five minutes ago, when it appears that the hot water pipes burst inside the bathroom wall.

Evan had me run outside and disconnect the water hookup to take the pressure off the system. So now we have no water service at all until we get this straightened out. Tomorrow's Labor Day, and Jim is now far behind us....let's see, where did we put the Black List?

Our two airbag pressure readings aren't ever the same. The right's always about 10psi higher than the left. What's up with that?

Thanks to Marlene, we finally made contact with the Cody organizers. They know we're coming, and will make space for us.

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2002.08.31: So here we are in Ormond Beach, FL, parked in a Cracker Barrel parking lot for the night (it's the beginning of Labor Day weekend, so I doubt there is anything available in a park nearby). We do have Express Network coverage here, so we could get email to catch up. We'll send this in the morning before we move on.

We got on the road today through the good graces of Mark at Escapees, who spoke to a VP at RVAA on our behalf, then gave us her name and phone number. When she responded to my voicemail, she clearly had a large misconception about what we were trying to do. I reached her directly and got everything straightened out.

We spoke with 5 different people at RVAA before the VP. The 4th one was a disconnect so she didn't count. The third one told us flatly that such policies (Jim Bounds cited a GMC owner's policy and appraisal value) "were no longer available". The first two were relatively clueless, and by the time I spoke to the 5th I'm sure I was not being pleasant or helpful. Only the 5th one suggested that we get an appraisal from the company they normally get appraisals from (ADP, with whom we'd already spoken, and with whom I was NOT impressed).

The VP, after determining that we were interested in "Agreed Value" not "Stated Value" nor "Replacement Value", admitted that such policies were available, and could be obtained once we had an appraisal. Since we had a Master Appraiser (no, I don't know what that means either) out this afternoon, and he faxed them his "preliminary estimate" (which he told us would be in the vicinity of $70,000), they were willing to go to $45,000 "Agreed Value" until the final appraisal came in, at which point we will settle on the actual "Agreed Value" of the coach. She then connected us with Connie who does "Agreed Value" policies, and the rest went smoothly. I gave them a credit card number for the first payment. An insurance policy number was obtained from Progressive via computer, and the insurance card was faxed to us at Jim's. By about 5:30 pm EDT we were ready to go. That was a good thing, because if we didn't get it straightened out, we'd have spent the entire Labor Day weekend parked in Jim's lot.

RVAA specifically mentioned Wes Coughlin as an expert in valuing GMC motorhomes. Perhaps we should get him to appraise The Engine. I expect Jim will be calling Wes and finding out how to get frocked ;-)

The fundamental problem here was that we and the various insurance agencies were speaking slightly different languages. Had we received Jim van der Heyden's note before we started all this it probably would have gone better. Jim Bounds' appraisal looked remarkably like a list of everything we'd had done to the coach and how much it cost, which may have been more information than they needed, and further confused them. Perhaps a simple 5 line letter saying "this coach is worth XXXXXX" might have been better. But that list is what other insurance agencies (even RVAA, I guess) have taken before. Maybe it's the difference between a $40K appraisal and a $70+K appraisal they're worried about.

We went off to WalMart & Lowe's near Jim's to get some basics: lug wrench & socket, 2 1/2 ton floor jack (we have a bottle jack already, but it's in CA -- and they didn't have the right size here anyway -- next opportunity I may just get a second one), 3 ton jack stands, propane wrench, sockets for this and that, crescent wrench, and so forth. Key rings, and extra keys, and ....

We wait in the parking lot long enough to get a list of WalMarts in FL (figuring that we may well not be able to get an RV space over the weekend) and a list of the Express Network cities.

It's getting dark by now, so we pick a direction and go -- out toward Daytona Beach. Rain comes down intermittently -- sometimes quite hard -- but the rig drives pretty smoothly. There's something about it that makes me want to wander back & forth in a lane, but that smooths out as I drive for a while. We test the cruise control and experiment with the ride feeling (and engine noise) at varying speeds, take notes of this or that that seems to need fixing or explaining. We are impressed with the smoothness of the ride and the lack of dolphining, although there is a bit of side-to-side roll.

After a bit over an hour, we stop at a 7-11 + gas station to check tire temps (112-119 for all six wheels, slightly higher on the passenger side than the driver side) and look for evidence of problems -- no drips, no really bad smells, the soft pod is still on top, gauges have hardly moved since they stabilized (oil temp crept up a bit to almost 230 but then dropped slightly as our speed went down). We poke around our various electronic lists and see that there's a WalMart one exit north. When we get to the exit we like the Cracker Barrel better, so we stopped there, ate, walked the dog, and settled down to read & write email.

And here we are. First night out of Jim's lot. Boondocking (well, kind of). Thirteen months of rebuild. One family death. Three trips to Florida. Six large boxes of checked luggage and a collapsible dog crate. One house on the market. One dog under the dinette.

A 200 square foot home, with a 48 state backyard...

Look Out!

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2002.08.23: The day after tomorrow (Sunday) we'll be flying to Florida (finally!) to pick up The Engine of Mischief, our completely rebuilt (pretty much from the ground up) 1976 GMC Eleganza II motor home. We plan to spend about three weeks shaking The Engine down, coming across country, and visiting Cody, WY, where there is a GMC rally happening in early September.

For basic information about The Engine (why she's named that, for instance) and waaay too much information on the rebuild, check out <>.

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2002.08.16: Taking longer to get the house ready for sale (I'll have pictures at some point), but The Engine is on track for an 8.25 delivery to us! Since we've missed our event in Indiana and scheduled event in Denver, we'll probably head straight from Orlando to Cody, WY (for the GMCWS Rally, where we hope to show off The Engine for Jim Bounds. Delorme says it's Orlando, Atlanta, St. Louis, Sioux Falls (our home town!), Gillette (WY), and a short run into Cody the next day. It'll be a good hard test run for The Engine -- about 2350 miles to Cody, then another 1200 from Cody to HMB to finish loading....

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2002.07.21: With the completion of the memorial service for Sara's father, we head home and are working on a new timetable. Our current plan is to fly to Indiana in early August for a four-day weekend meeting, then to Orlando for a week or so of shakedown (hopefully I get some time in working on other coaches to learn about them). In mid-to-late August we set off westward to visit Houston, Austin, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Denver, Bishop (where we transfer stuff out of our SOB into The Engine and ferry the SOB to...), Reno (where we drop the SOB off at a consignment lot for sale as is), and Half Moon Bay (where we load up the last stuff we have prepared for The Engine). After that, the open road calls....

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2002:05.24: OK, "so that happened". We didn't get out when we expected. Sara's father was diagnosed with lung cancer in February when we were in South Dakota setting up residency and in Orlando working on The Engine. Our progress slows considerably as we spend more time in Reno at the VA hospital than getting our house ready for sale. In the meantime, Jim Bounds has trouble with his workers and completion of The Engine is delayed, first until the Prescott Rally at the end of May, and then to sometime in July. So our new plan is to pick up The Engine the second week of July by flying to Orlando. Some shakedown in FL, then up the east coast to western NY. From there to Denver, CO, and then back to Bishop, CA (where Sara's father lives). Stay tuned....

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2002.01.31: The Engine was rebuilt in Orlando, FL, from mid-2001 through (a planned) April 2002. On 16 April 2002, we plan to leave Half Moon Bay, CA in our Ford Explorer to pick up The Engine. Our planned route is via Denver CO, Albuquerque NM, and Austin TX.

2002.01.31: "Evan Has Left The Building"

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