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Saturday, July 30, 2011

I Feel Naked

Thursday was an ending for me.  As my retirement date of 1 September approaches I found myself driving towards the headquarters of the Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) in Arlington, VA.

I've never really talked about it before in the blog, but for the last nineteen years of my thirty year Coast Guard career, I've been a special agent in the Coast Guard Investigative Service

My career took me to places all over this country and the world, places I never dreamed I'd see.  I walked several times through Moscow's Red Square, wandered under the locks of the Panama Canal, visited the base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  I've inhaled the dust of Iraq, frozen in the snow of Finland.  I've enjoyed some time off in London riding the "Tube" (subway) and had my bags lost in France (twice) and Italy (once).  In the states I've watched the sun rise in Key West and set in Alaska.  I've seen the inner workings of Congress, viewed the devastation of Katrina.  Sometimes I wonder which causes greater damage, hurricanes or Congress...

Before you think I was a tourist, no, I actually was working.  I've investigated many crimes and put many criminals in prison.  I've spent days on surveillance of bad guys, living in a car, or a building or even the bushes.  I spent over four years on the security detail for two Coast Guard Commandants and worked hard to ensure not only their safety, but that their precious time was never wasted as they traveled.  That required some of the longest hours I ever worked in my life, but was the best assignment I ever had.

It has been a whirlwind of a career, and now it's over.  I had to go to HQ and turn in all my equipment, body armor, handcuffs, raid jackets, my gun, holster, magazines and ammunition.  Other documents, handbooks and miscellaneous stuff. 

But the hardest thing to turn in was a black wallet that has been in my back pocket all those years with my badge and credentials in it.  It became as much a part of me as my clothes and shoes.  Now that pocket is empty and I feel naked when I sit down or out of habit, reach back and make sure the wallet is still snugly in place.

I am pleased, though that CGIS HQ is retiring my badge (it is pretty worn and tarnished) and credentials and having them mounted for me on a plaque.  I won't have my badge and "creds" in my pocket any longer, but they'll look really nice on the wall in the Journey or some day on the wall of another house.

I've seen some amazing things, met some wonderful and not so wonderful people, rejoiced over some hard won victories, wept with others devastated by tragedy.  There are days I wonder how I was ever so lucky to have had the honor to serve this country as a special agent.

I owe so much to Marti, who kept the home fires burning as I was gone so often.  She raised our kids and managed much of our life without me.  She often had no idea where I was or even when I would be coming home.  She hurried to my side on one occasion when I was rushed to the hospital with a severe case of pneumonia that I contracted in Mexico and caused my lungs to collapse.  She supported me through thick and thin,  I couldn't have done it without her.  I look forward to spending our days together traveling this country and seeing all its beauty hand in hand.

So it's finished. I have lots memories and stories that will be good to tell around a campfire.  Some of them are even true. ;c)

Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Up On The Roof - Part One

Now that the First Battle of Bull Run is over, actually, it was the Fourth Battle of Bull Run.  The First Battle took place 150 years ago, the Second Battle took place on the same ground just about a year later.  The Third Battle took place 50 years ago, in 1961.  No it wasn't a real battle but a reenactment to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First Battle.  So the battle that took place this past weekend, to honor the 150th anniversary should be called the Fourth Battle of Bull Run.  All I know is it was an epic battle...with the heat.

We extended our stay here in the Bull Run Park campground until this upcoming Sunday.  It's so much nicer staying here than trying to keep our house show ready and living in it at the same time.  It's amazing how many footprints grow in the new carpets necessitating constant re-vacuuming to give the house that crisp look.

We will have to deal with being back in the house next week because we hit the maximum days stay (14) on Friday, but we've been allowed to stay until Sunday.  Then we'd have to be out of the campground for 4 days before we could return.

Now that the last battle reenactors have departed, including the Class A motorhome followed by a pickup truck pulling a trailer with a full size Civil War cannon on it, pointed backwards (guess tailgaters will think twice), the campground has quieted down.  Along with that, the temperatures have dropped to much more pleasant levels.

With no further danger from accidental flying bullets, I  ventured up on the Journey's roof to inspect the caulking and surfaces in general.  I took up with me a can of silicon spray.  You are supposed to lubricate the crank up TV antenna every six months.  There is a black plastic plug that you remove with a wrench and squirt some silicone down the hole to preserve the little rubber O-ring that resides on the antenna crank shaft.  If the O-ring dries out, you can get water leaks down the shaft and inside your RV.  You can see the black plastic plug in this picture. 

Looking at all my caulk I found it to be in very good shape.  I did note that the sealant that Winnebago uses to seal the fiberglass roof seam to the rain gutter along the top sides of the Journey was coming loose in a couple of spots.  I have to dig out the old sealant and put in new.  That will be Part Two, as soon as I get it done.  If the sealant  is ignored and enough of it comes loose, the fiberglass roof can tear off, it has happened to Winnebago owners that ignored the inspection schedules.  I'll get that taken care of soon.  This is an issue that is unique to Winnebagos and not found on other brands of RVs.

Another thing I found, and I can't believe I missed it after owning the Journey for over four years is my patio awning has a potential weak spot.  The awning is covered with a metal casing that protects the material from wind and sun UV rays so I thought it was pretty maintenance free.  Then I noticed (DUH!) that there is a two inch portion of the awning, where the edge slides into the side of the motorhome that is not covered by the metal casing, it is fully exposed to the sun.

You can see the metal casing at the top of the picture, with the exposed awning material as the dark line just under it, then the white fiberglass roof.  You can click on the picture to enlarge.

Knowing that someday, inevitably, the awning will have to be replaced due to sun damage, I took preventive action to prolong the life of the awning material. 

I use a product called 303, it is made to protect materials such as awnings, rubber, vinyl,  fiberglass and such from UV damage.

It runs about $14 for a spray bottle this size but it will last a long time.  I've used it for years in the Coast Guard on our Ridged Hull Inflatable Boats (Zodiac type) pontoons with excellent results.  It is pretty waterproof, re-coating every couple of months is all that is needed.
So I soaked my awning seam really well and will hit it again when I reseal the roof seams.  A little bit of maintenance now prevents big problem$ later.

Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Marti's Musings: We buckled....

Well, it has been 6 weeks since we put the house on the market.  We have had less than 10 showings, and zero offers.  So, we re-crunched numbers - and buckled under the pressure to lower the price on the house.  *sigh*

We are keeping our eye on the 'prize' of retirement, but this limbo-thing is driving us nuts!  We never did go home Sunday night, prefering to stay in the CG - makes for nicer days for Paul, and is still close enough to my work.

We have a pretty solid Plan B - as we have a drop dead price and date to pull the house off the market til next spring.  A little premature right now, as the price has not yet been changed on the MLS.  We have to sign on the dotted line, and fax back to the realtors.  But we still have a plan - a good thing.

As Paul says:  Semper Gumby = ever flexible.  We'll keep you posted on our (ever lengthening) road to retirement and FT!


Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Battle is Over and Everybody Won

The First Battle of Bull Run 150th Commemoration is over.  Despite the terrible heat, the reenactment went on Saturday as scheduled and it was a huge success.  I decided it was way too hot to go bopping around the battlefields with thousands of my closest friends to try and see a bit of history.  So Marti and I decided to stay around the Journey and when we did go out, it was in our nice air conditioned car.  Okay, you can say it, I'm a wimp. ;c)

We did go out to eat and then took in the last Harry Potter movie.  Everywhere we went, there were Yanks and Rebs, still in costume wandering around.  Our morning coffee (for Marti) and Diet Coke (for me) run to the nearby McDonald's found booths full of Civil War costumed customers.  It was funny see some Johnnie Rebs standing in line waiting to see the Harry Potter flick, while some Yanks joined us for lunch at Bob Evans.  They all looked like they were having a ball.  You can read about the events here at  Inside NOVA , the local online newspaper.

Back at the campground, there were celebrations going on from the "battle", with participants still in costume.  We laughed to see to girls crossing the campground street wearing white hoop skirts.  How they packed those into their RV is beyond me, I have trouble with finding room for a couple of pairs of skivvies.

Of course there is always one to mar the fun.  A "gentleman" staggered around our Journey, obviously way drunk.  Marti said he was standing next to the driver's side window.  I went to look and by that time he walked around to the Journey's entry door and was looking at it.  I opened the door and asked him if he need any help.  He said no, he just wanted to ask me some questions about the motorhome and started to come in the door.  I stopped him quickly and told him in no uncertain terms he was not welcome around, in my motorhome or campsite and I told him he'd better leave.  He stopped cold, kind of blinked at me a couple of times and the staggered away to his campsite next door.  He made the right choice...

So today is Sunday at the campground.  It is, thankfully, much cooler.  Marti and I have a late checkout, so we're kicked back in our lounge chairs watching the great retreat of all the reenactors as they pull out of the campground in search of the next Civil War event. 

Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Yanks - 0, Rebs - 0

The rerun of the First Battle of Bull Run started today.  I don't think too much ground was captured by either side, when I drove through the battlefield intersection this evening to get to the campground, it looked pretty much deserted.  I don't know why, it is only 103 degrees (that's Fahrenheit, I can't get the hang of that Centigrade stuff).

This morning when I drove through the battlefield (around 0730), it was pretty quiet.  In fact I think the police outnumbered the reenactors by at least 10 to 1.  I don't know how the reenactors are going to do this, they are dressed in authentic reproductions of the uniforms the real Civil War soldiers wore, made mostly of wool.  Plus, the gentlemen I saw looked to be, er, not too young.  In fact there was lots of gray to be seen, beards and hair.  I think they are really much older than the original soldiers.

I hope with this heat there are not any real casualties, that would spoil the commemoration.  I am going to try and sneak around with my camera and see if I can get any good shots, I mean pictures.

And you can be sure I'll be wearing a nice cool cotton shirt, shorts and flip flops.  Heat and I don't agree. ;c)

Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Keeping Our Heads Down

We stayed at the Bull Run Regional Park campground last weekend and since I'm using up my accumulated vacation time we decided to stay the week and through next weekend.  Bull Run CG is nine miles from our house and a little less to Marti's office (poor lass, she still is working), so it is easier to stay in the Journey here and not have to worry about putting the house in show condition every morning.

I was lucky when I went to the campground office to get a site.  Seems like war has come to the area, the Civil War that is.  This upcoming weekend at the Bull Run Battlefield National Park they are re- fighting the first battle of the Bull Run (there were two fought here) to remember the 150th anniversary of the battle and the Civil War.  Bull Run NP is adjacent to the campground.  Civil War soldiers were probably the first ones to ever camp here.

The campground will be loaded with reenactors who have come to participate in the battle's anniversary.  Of course, this time, the soldiers will be here in their air conditioned RVs instead of on foot, horseback and tents.

It should be interesting, with all the different uniforms and period costumes around the campground.  I am wondering if the Union forces will again be defeated by the Confederate army or will they prevail this time.  You see, there are two major roads that cross the battlefield and there is a traffic light that was put in at that intersection some years ago. 

That light might slow the Union forces down about as they attack Stonewall Jackson's position... ;c)

For you history buffs, you can read about it here:  First Battle of Bull Run

As for us, we'll keep our heads down.  You never know when a stray bullet might come your way!

Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Surviving in Style

We've snuck off to Bull Run Regional Park Campground for the weekend.  It's nice to have the air conditioning and our soft bed to sleep in.  We feel sorry for the folks in tents, it has been really hot and humid.  We remember the days when that is exactly where we were.
We actually had a call from a realtor that wanted to show the house yesterday.  We think that's a good sign that our house is still in play on the market in our listed price range.  We dropped by today and took a quick look, we only live 9 miles from the campground and sure enough, there were footprints in our freshly vacuumed carpet.  No realtor business card left on the counter, though.  Usually there is.

Since I'm only "working" Thursday this week, actually cleaning out my desk, we extended our stay here through Wednesday.  It sure is nice being in our future full time home, we enjoy it so much.  Poor Marti still has to go to work yet, but the campground is close to her office too.

Who knows, if the bug hits us to stay longer, we might just do that, we need the practice. 

Thanks to you all for your encouraging comments and emails, that means the world to us. 

The air card is so slow tonight so no pictures, just pretend there are some there. ;c)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Uh-Oh. Plan B

Well, the old homestead (completely refurbished, mind you) had been on the market a whole month now.We've had two realtors with clients come through during that time with not even a nibble.

We've been pushing our realtors, who have suddenly become very defensive lately.  They recommended the asking price we set, based on their experience and similar homes that have listed and sold in the area.  We're actually quite a bit under those other home's prices.

Now the realtors wants us to drop the price a considerable amount citing the "problems" with our house, meaning we don't have a finished basement.  Funny, it wasn't a problem when they originally listed the house.  To make us laugh even more, we have the standard 6 foot high plank wood fence on both sides of the house, which meets up with the same type of fence that both neighbors on either side have.  The realtors told us to replace our fence (there is nothing wrong with it) and get the neighbors to replace theirs!  Huh?

The handwriting on the wall (or in Coast Guard vernacular, the stenciling on the bulkhead) is looking like we're in for a very long haul.  That means with my 1 September retirement, my income is reduced by 50% .  More than enough to live comfortably on the road, but a wee bit short when there still is a mortgage to pay.

Ergo, I need to get a...job by October.  Yesterday I spent most of the day applying for jobs at five different companies, all in the security field.  No, I'm not going to be a mall cop (yet).

So we're covering the bases and by October, we'll pull the house off the market and wait until spring.  The contract with the realtors runs out the end of December and you can be sure we'll list with someone else.

However, we're in good standing, we have our Journey already and we'll make the most of every weekend we can get away with it.  We're also going to do a nice mid September trip to Branson, MO with my dad and Marti's sister.

We're thankful for everything we have, we're looking at the glass as half full and ready to do whatever it takes. 

We appreciate all your encouraging comments, emails and suggestions, they help us keep our eyes on the prize.

Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Letter

Sometimes your past comes back to haunt you.  Other times the past can bring back precious memories.

Flash back to March 1988.  I was a young Second Class Machinery Technician stationed aboard the Coast Guard cutter Point Francis, an 82 foot long patrol boat homeported in Sandy Hook, NJ (just outside of New York harbor).  The cutter had a crew of 10 men.  I was one of the four engineers on board.  Looking back, it was one of the best jobs I've ever had, either in or out of the Coast Guard.

Sadly, like much of the Coast Guard's fleet, the Point Francis was already more than 20 years old when I reported aboard and it took a lot of work to keep her running.  Most of the maintenance and repairs the four of us were able to do.  But at times, the repairs needed were beyond what we had the resources to do.

The Point Francis was used to patrol the seas from New Jersey up to Maine for drug smuggling, fisheries enforcement and search and rescue.  It was a hard life, and the seas off New England in the winter can strain a cutter (and crew) to the very edge of their abilities.  Lets just say that 30 foot high waves are, well, impressive.

Because of the heavy use and abuse, we had a major casualty, one of the Point Francis' two built in 2500 gallon fuel tanks developed a crack from 20 years of twisting and slamming.  It started leaking fuel into the bilges.

It was something that we could not fix ourselves so we had to head to the major Coast Guard base on Governors Island, right in New York Harbor, where there were major facilities to help us repair the cracked fuel tank.

Picture this, 2000 plus gallons of fuel had to be removed, then we had to flush the tank, then open the access hatches and after ensuring there was enough oxygen in there, we had to go in and scrub the tank to pristine condition.  Long, hard, time consuming work.  It had to be spotless so the crack area could be cut out and new steel could be welded in.  After about a week at Governors Island, the welding had yet to be done.  I was tired, homesick and looking forward to going home to Sandy Hook for the weekend in a van the skipper rented for the crew and see Marti and the kids.  I had time after working hours to sit down and write a letter to Marti.

The years went by, Marti saved that letter and put it away in a book for safe keeping.  Life moved on, we moved on and I totally forgot about the fuel tank repair and the letter.

Fast forward to last month.  We're packing up and getting rid of excess stuff to get the house ready for sale.  We're tossing stuff, donating stuff and turning in bunches of books to a book reselling store that we no longer want.

On our blog one day we get a comment from a pastor in the area.  He bought a book at the book reseller and tucked inside the book was a letter.  He looked at the letter, read it and decided to see if he could track down the owners of the letter, us.  Google was his friend and in no time he found our R Sanity RV Adventures blog.  We corresponded via email and we invited the pastor and his wife to dinner.

Along with the great food and conversation with our new friends, we received our long forgotten letter.

(Click on the picture to enlarge, it's okay, you can read it.)

Reading the letter brought back all the long forgotten memories and it warmed our hearts.  A homesick Coastie missing wife, his best friend.

The letter underscored our RV dream, to spend our time together traveling in our Winnebago Journey.  We missed much over the years as I traveled all over the world, at times Marti didn't even know where I was, what I was doing and when (if) I was coming home.  We're going to make up for those missing days and we look forward to never being apart again like those bygone days.

Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Getting The Stink Out

Oh yes, the job everyone looks forward to with great anticipation...dumping the black tank.  If you read our blog regularly, you might remember my Robin Williams moment with an uncooperative sewer hose.

If you missed that "adventure", you can read it here.  Because of my hose also springing a leak, I went to my local RV shop to get a replacement.

I've been using  Valterra sewer hoses, (the red ones) for years and they've held up very well (except that one time).  I carry two 15 foot sections that can be used to make a single 30 foot length on the rare occasions that the sewer dump connection is too far away to be reached with a single 15 foot hose.

The RV dealer didn't have a Valterra 15 foot hose in stock, only a 10 foot and a 5 foot.  Being experienced (christened?) on having to deal with a hose coupling failure, I didn't want to have any more couplings than I had to.  So I bought a heavy duty 20 foot long sewer hose made by Camco.  I installed my Valterra couping ends and  thought I was good to go.

On our very next outing, no the hose didn't come off, there was no disastrous spill again (you weren't hoping, were you?). But when I hooked up the hose I had all kinds of trouble with it.  I tested the hook up with some grey tank water, the couplings were weeping water and the hose sagged between the legs of my slinky hose support.  Totally unacceptable and another smelly disaster waiting to happen.

After that outing, I went looking for another Valterra set up, but was unsuccessful in finding what I wanted.  Fortunately, I found a better product that I've now tested and found even better than the Valterra set up.

It is the Rhino Flex sewer kit.

The hose is not just heavy duty, but it can expand and collapse to different lengths and is stiff enough to be bent into a shape and retain that shape.  Also the couplings screw into the hose and have a locking ring collar that screws into the coupling and locks it tightly in place.

On the end that connects to the sewer dump, there are several threaded sized that will adapt to most any sewer dump pipe.

  The elbow that fits into the threaded connection has little tangs to lock it in place.

Another feature that I like is that the couplings on both ends swivel, so the hose will assume a relaxed position instead of getting twisted.

The couplings interchange with the couplings on my other Valterra hose, but they work even better, they lock together with an audible "click", ensuring a solid connection, music to my ears. :c)

The hose collapses to a small size when stowing and it fits easily into the Journey's wet bay, no more wrestling with a sewer hose to get it put away.

The 15 foot Rhino Flex sewer hose kit cost me $44.00 at my RV dealer, you might find it a little cheaper on line.  I am very pleased with it and am sure it will give me good service for a long time.

Now my Robin Williams disasters are a thing of the past (knock wood!).

Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Replacing The Air Filter

The Journey was due for a replacement of its air filter.  The way a diesel engine sucks in air, you don't want to take any chances of letting dirt into your very expensive engine.  Plus, a dirty air filter can decrease fuel mileage.
This post will be picture heavy, with step by step photos to help the do-it-yourself folks.  The replacement is not hard at all, which I found surprising after reading comments on RV forums.

I started out with some very basic tools, a 7/16" deep socket and ratchet, a screwdriver and safety glasses (very important, there is a lot of dirt under the motor home and it all falls down...on you).

First I removed the the hanging bracket of the mud flap on the driver's side to get easy access to the air filter area.


Looking from the back towards the front, the large round air filter canister can be seen.  The rubber elbow is connected to the Journey's intake on the driver's side of the body.

This view shows the duct work extending upwards towards the Journey's air intake, about eight feet off the ground.

The filter canister is held in place by two large clamps with latches.  Do not unlatch the clamps at this point.

Start with loosening the clamps on the rubber elbow on the rear of the filter canister.  Loosen both clamps on the elbow and then pry it loose, it comes apart very easy.

Remove the rubber elbow and set it aside.

Here is the view with the intake elbow removed.

Next, go to the front of the air filter canister.  There are two clamps, only loosen the forward one and slide the rubber connector away.  Leave the back clamp alone.

Now completely unlatch the two latches on the clamps holding the filter canister to the mounting bracket.

Slide the filter canister forward towards the front of the chassis.

Once you've slid the filter canister forward to clear the brackets, it can be lowered to the ground back end first.  There is enough room to easily get it out.

Now you can loosen the clamp on the large nipple in the front of the canister and put it on the new filter, tighten the clamp.

A side by side comparison shows the dirty filter from the new one (it's on the left in case you couldn't figure it out...)

Take the time to clean the rubber connectors from any dirt, then lubricate them liberally with silicone spray.

Reverse the procedure, slide the new canister front end up first.  Then slide the filter canister back through the large clamps.  Don't latch the clamps at this point.  Reattach the front connection and tighten the clamp.

Here is the new filter canister loosely in place

Reattach the intake elbow on the backside of the filter canister and tighten the clamps.

Double check everything and the position of the filter canister.  When you're satisfied everything is lined up properly and tight, latch the two clamps around the filter canister body.

Reattach the mudflap and you are done.

I never did an air filter replacement of this type, but it was not hard at all.  Start to finish, including getting tools out and putting them away took me just about an hour.  I bought the filter at my local Freightliner dealer, it cost about $80.  Here is the part number in case you're interested.  It might be a little cheaper on line.

One thing I want to point out that I found.  The hooks that hold up my mudflap have worn a bit of the frame where the hole is.  Not something to worry about at this point, but something I will be keeping an eye on.

I hope this helps to give an idea of how to replace the air filter on a Freightliner XC chassis and show that RV owners can do some of their maintenance items themselves and save a bit of money.

Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Oops, We Did It Again!

And we meant to!
With our house on the market, we loaded up the Journey and we headed out,

to the Richmond, Virginia KOA and spend another weekend with  Mike and Terri Young.

We set up the Journey in a nice site and opened up all the awnings, to keep the hot sun off its side.

One thing that I wonder about, the main awning is an electric awning, but the little awning over the door has to be opened with a hand crank.

A crank rod fits in a hook and you twist it to open and close the awning.  It's really fun when you have to run the awning in because of a heavy rain, all the water dumps right on you.  Marti says it does that because it wasn't designed by a woman!

We had several meals with Mike and Terri.  We asked them something special and they said yes.  Mike and Terri are now Tag's godparents!

We had a lot of fun together with them.  It probably will be our last visit with them for a while, they just sold their house and will be heading out on the road shortly.

The KOA was partly full, which is surprising for a holiday weekend.  Still, there we many interesting RVs there.  One was this travel trailer toy hauler with some neat "toys".  We wondered how they fit the toys inside.

Or this RV.  Maybe it's a bordello on wheels?

Thanks for visiting and free to leave  a comment.