Saturday, November 16, 2019

Day 7 - Pima Air & Space Museum

 Today’s tourist activity was the Pima Air & Space Museum outside of Tucson. I didn’t see any “space” things but there were a number of NASA planes. Maybe the space side of the museum will be a future addition. I had originally visited the museum in the late 70s and it is very different now. Nice modern exhibits.

I had seen an announcement for the Wings & Wheels event at the museum with a display by the Southern Arizona Military Vehicle Collectors but they had a pretty dismal turnout. A couple of MB Jeeps, a couple of Kübelwagens, and a 2007 Ural. I talked to the Ural owner for a while. He has around 25k km on it, owned it since new, and the only upgrade has been the deep sump pan with an oil temperature gauge installed. No problems, no breakdowns, no major repairs.

The indoor hangers had a lot of the nicely refurbished aircraft and ones that were on loan from other organizations. There were also models of planes not on display, submarines, and carriers. Including a model of the carrier and fighter from Battle Star Galactica. Someone has a sense of humor.

Here is one of the Kübelwagens. It looked unrestored but did run though not street legal. The owner was sitting with the Ural owner in the shade of a wing. Pretty nice. I had never seen one up close before. It would have been cool if it was one of the super rare 4wd versions.

The outdoor display area was huge with a large number of aircraft such as this B-52D Stratofortress. I remember as a kid seeing these fly over the farm my father grew up on in Sacramento. Pretty impressive. They also had an SR-71 on display inside the hanger with recordings of startup, taxi, takeoff, landing, etc. Pretty cool. I saw one during refueling and subsequent takeoff at Edwards Air Force Base while in college. We were there to see the 747 set up to transport the space shuttle. This was during the initial unpowered flight tests before the first launch.

I had never seen or heard of this bomber with six engines. It is a B-36J strategic bomber from the Cold War era. In use from 1947 to 1959. All of the planes in outside storage have their windows covered to keep out the sun.

This is a KC-135 that was used by NASA for flight training. Known as the “Vomit Comet”. By flying the parabolic path, you get 15 - 20 seconds of weightlessness. I got a chance to fly in the commercial version operated by Zero G in 2010 which was a modified 727. Essentially the same plane. Click on the link to see that blog post including a short YouTube video.

Lastly, there was a C-130 on skis. These a still in use today and DavidR, who comments on my posts occasionally, had worked with the Coast Guard to get a rack of equipment up to Barrow aka Utqiaġvik on one of their daily flights north. No commercial carrier was able to transport the rack as the manufacturer required.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Day 6 - Saguaro Natl’ Park

We went to the West Saguaro Natl’ Park this morning. We visited the eastern park on the other side of Tucson a couple of weeks ago. This park was on the same road as the Desert Museum we visited last year. On the right is the top of a Saguaro which has white needles. The lower part has black so I’m guessing that this may be new growth. But that’s just a guess.


We went on a couple of short hikes. This one was inundated with a school field trip. Not necessarily bad as there were several rangers and a number of parents with the kids.
I think this is a barrel cactus. A little bit of color in the dry area. Fortunately, the temperatures were pretty mild. Somewhere around 80°F by noon. We also went on a nature trail with a number of signs explaining the interaction between insects, mammals, and birds.

One of the walks was to Signal Hill which had a number of petroglyphs on the rocks. These weren’t part of a cliff or protected from the elements at all. There were steel railings suggesting that you stay on the trail and not venture into the area.

This is typical of the Signal Hill trail. Lots of steps. If it was flat, then there was sand. Bridget mentioned that the trails were either very short or pretty long. Not many in the middle.

If the railings weren’t enough to keep people from venturing off the trail, maybe the threat of rattlesnakes helped. The only reptiles I saw were a number of small, very fast lizards. And a number of birds. 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Day 5 - Benson, AZ - TT

Another very pleasant day in southern Arizona. Being able to stay in these Thousand Trails and Encore RV parks is pretty convenient. Some complain that they aren’t resorts. The spaces here are gravel but mostly level. We had a choice between 30 amp and 50 amp power and pull through or back in. The pool and jacuzzi aren’t fancy but nicely heated and clean. The seasonal activities are just starting up for the winter. We went to a pot-luck yesterday evening. Nice to meet others.

I ordered a sous vide kitchen gadget from Amazon on Tuesday evening and it arrived here at the campground this afternoon. Prime works pretty good! This one is made by Instant Pot and there is a large selection of brands out there. You insert it into a container of water and pick a temperature and cooking time. Whatever you are cooking gets placed into a plastic freezer bag, add seasoning, and place it into the water. The sous vide device has a water pump and a heating element to maintain the desired temperature and the pump keeps the water circulating. When it’s done, the entire contents are at whatever temperature you choose.

In this case, I picked up two fairly generic steaks from Walmart. Not high end cuts but they did have some nice marbling. Seasoned them with seasoned salt and pepper, added a little olive oil into the bag, and put the bag in the water. After an hour and a half it’ll be done and just needs to be browned in a pan for 30 sec or so on each side. If you don’t brown it, it looks a very un-appetizing grey. It came out medium edge to edge. Apparently, everything come out that way. Turkey, roasts, even eggs. And there is no risk of overcooking. It’ll maintain that temperature for hours after it’s “done”. Cool gadget!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Day 4 - Tombstone, AZ

Today we did the touristy thing and went down to Tombstone, AZ, which was about 22 miles south of the RV park. I’m glad that it was pretty empty with no crowds and easy parking. Right across the street was the OK Corral where the shootout happened. We paid the $10 for the live action show which was pretty entertaining. (And loud)

Our ticket also got us into a multimedia presentation on the history of Tombstone. It still is a real town and not simply a tourist attraction with schools, Dollar General stores, and a number of RV parks. The “historic” part of the town with the dirt streets and wooden sidewalks was closed to normal traffic and there were a lot of saloons and gift shops galore.

We had heard from some other RVers that Big Nose Kate was a good place for lunch. It was crowded but we were there right in the middle of lunch. But only needed to wait five minutes to be seated. There was live entertainment and the wait staff were all dressed the part. I had an overstuffed Reuben sandwich and it was fabulous and overstuffed with corned beef.

In one of the museums, there was a map of the area and I was surprised to see a town called Fairbanks a short distance to the west of Tombstone. I hadn’t heard of that before but it also showed up in the multimedia presentation as well.

After walking through town, we walked to the Tombstone Cemetery. But it wasn’t the one we were looking for. We walked back to the car and drove to Boothill Cemetery which was the one we were looking for. These were graves from the 1800s with a large number of “Unknown” and violent deaths. Life was hard in those days.

The OK Corral had quite a few old buckboard wagons, surreys and buggies. The sign mentioned that “buggies” were fast and got their name from all of the smashed bug carcasses on the front. This horse ride was there but I wasn’t sure it was functional.

You could get a stage coach ride through town but it didn’t look anywhere near as interesting as the one in Knott’s Berry Farm. Last year, we didn’t visit Tombstone as I thought it was a pure tourist trap. It is touristy but did have a lot of historical information and I’d recommend visiting. If for no other reason than to have lunch.

And, finally, a reminder of why we are here in AZ instead of AK. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Day 3 - Benson, AZ - TT

Another quiet day. I rode the e-bike into Benson today and just wandered around town. I couldn’t think of anything I really “needed” to get done on the coach. I may re-hang the medicine cabinet door/mirror as it isn’t straight and the catch doesn’t operate very smoothly. Today is the “cold” day on the weather app with a forecasted low of 39°F but it’s supposed to be in the mid to high 70s tomorrow and through the weekend. We were thinking that it may be a good day to visit Tombstone, AZ. It is a touristy place south of here.

While I was in Fairbanks, there were some gusty winds here and the door awning was out for some reason. Some springs popped out before Bridget was able to retract the awnings and it now hangs a bit low now. The awning still works as the springs provide tension on the arms so the retract smoothly. I need a tall ladder to get the springs back in place.. The regular awning was supposed to have a wind sensor but I guess either it doesn’t have one or it doesn’t work. Also, there is a light on the macerating toilet to let you know when the tank is full. It doesn’t work. I think a white board and marker to keep track of the number of flushes would be more reliable.

I do need to pick up some foam as there are a couple of gaps in the slide seals. Based on what’s left it looks like there used to be a block of foam. I think I could simply glue in a chunk of pipe insulation and as it’s about the same density and thickness. 

Monday, November 11, 2019

Day 2 - Benson, AZ - TT

Kind of a dreary day today but the temperatures are still in the mid-70s (°F). The RV park really emptied out this morning maybe because it was Monday. We seem to prefer Monday as a travel day so maybe others do as well. We prefer to not travel during the weekend, at least when it was warmer or in popular areas.

Definitely a recovery day from flying. I called the repair shop, the RWC Group in Tucson and for something minor, they prefer I do first-come first-serve. Since they open at 7am, we are going to stay in Tucson on Monday and head over early Tuesday morning.

It’s now just past 3 and the clouds have cleared out somewhat. Now, it’s too hot and sunny at the pool. Time to head indoors. Some people are never satisfied…

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Day 1 - Benson, AZ - TT

The eight hour layover in Anchorage seemed especially long. Probably because the flight to Seattle left in the middle of the night at 1:50am. There was another three hour layover in Seattle. But at least the Anchorage-Seattle flight was in the exit row and on the last leg to Tucson, I got upgraded to first class. Slightly better food than the Skywest flight as it was a hot breakfast. The last two flights were completely packed as most of the Alaska flights seem to be these days. 

A surprise on the Anchorage-Seattle flight was seeing my brother on the same flight. I didn’t notice him in the Anchorage airport and spotted him while boarding. We did get some time to visit in the Seattle airport before he needed to take off to catch his shuttle. 

Sat by the pool this afternoon. About 80°F and partly cloudy. Nice... And spent the evening rewiring six of the fluorescent fixtures for the LED replacements. I say rewiring but it’s really removing all of the existing wiring and plugging in the supplied wiring harness. The old bulbs were 15watts each. I removed 14 and installed 10 LED replacements which draw 9watts each. When you include the power consumption of the ballast, the LED tubes draw about ⅓ of the power. 

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Fairbanks, AK

It’s been a busy couple of days. The truck is in good shape with a full tank of winter fuel with a good dose of diesel fuel treatment. We did manage to get it into the garage so all of the ice and snow could thaw and get the tonneau cover back in place. Plus, it looks like the tire could use a bit more air.

Biannual doctor visit done (still alive), eyes checked, new glasses ordered, prescriptions filled. I was even able to meet up with some very longtime friends whom I haven’t seen in quite a while. This is in addition to meeting other friends at morning coffee. I also had lunch with a couple of former colleagues yesterday. (Thank you James for lunch!) I even managed to squeeze in a flu shot while shopping for some pants at Costco.

I’m returning to the RV with a suitcase full of 12vdc LED bulbs, a pair of “Mr. Tuffy’s” for fat tired bikes, some packages for Bridget, and mail that we need to look through. I was kind of curious if I could have all of this in my carry-on but since I had plenty of time, I went ahead and went through TSA. I proactively pulled out the LED fluorescent tube replacements as they would probably look odd in their x-ray. The one thing that they did wonder about was the FMCA plate. It is an oval plate that can be attached to the RV to identify you as an FMCA member. FMCA = Family Motor Coach Association.

 I’d say that this was a good trip back home. I got a lot done, met up with quite a few people, and got a relatively clean bill of health for the next six months. I think I got enough of a taste of winter for a while. It was -3°F this morning and I was glad that I remembered to plug in the truck last night.

This flight was the cheapest ticket I could find and the schedule reflects it. I arrive in Tucson tomorrow in the early afternoon. Long layovers in Anchorage and Seattle. Day 1 starts over with tomorrows post.

Right now, I’m at the Anchorage airport for my first 8 hour wait until my next flight. Which is 2 in the morning... The fish & chips is from Humpy’s, a well known restaurant in Anchorage. This is not recommended. The fish is mushy and the batter is flavorless, too thick and tastes burned. Probably from the cooking oil. A real disappointment as food from the other restaurant has been pretty good. The fries were good...

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Fairbanks, AK

Welcome to Fairbanks! At least it was warm enough that my truck started and ran even though it still has summer fuel in the tank. I put in 8 oz of anti-gel and drove to the nearest diesel station and filled the tank about half way. I later added another 8 oz of anti-gel before driving back home. I don’t think that there was very much fuel in the tank but hopefully it’s mixed up enough with the winter blend fuel.

I barely got out of the driveway this morning as there was over a foot of snow. This evening, after having dinner with my youngest son, I dug out the snowblower and tackled the driveway. It had a hard time with all the heavy snow and you really had to muscle it up the driveway.

But got everything done that was on today’s list. Tomorrow’s list is shorter. 

Day 82 - Enroute to Alaska


4:30am came sooner than I expected. The  ride on the airport shuttle was short and upon checking in, I was surprised to hear that I was upgraded to the SkyWest version of first class. Not complaining as it meant that I didn’t need to check my suitcase as there is more available space. I really didn’t even need a suitcase for the trip north but I do have several Amazon orders that need to be brought back. 

The coach has eight fluorescent fixtures each with two 18” bulbs. These ran on 12vdc and draw quite a bit of power. About 15 watts per bulb. I had checked Camping World for LED replacements and was shocked at the price, $44/bulb. A quick search on Amazon showed significant savings but still not cheap at $11/bulb when purchased in quantities of 10. BTW, if purchased from Amazon individually, the Camping World price wasn’t that far off. So, I have a bunch of LED bulbs for the interior. Most, but not all, of the 12vdc bulbs. I’ll see how well these ten fluorescent tube replacements work before picking up the rest. I also ordered a pair of “Mr. Tuffy” liners designed for additional thorn protection on fat tired bikes. I suspect that thorns are going to be a common occurrence this winter. 

The flight was uneventful and the included breakfast was pretty good. Borderline healthy. The next flight from Seattle to Fairbanks has no upgraded seats. But at least I have an exit row aisle seat. Like most flights to Alaska these days, the plane is completely full.

I think that this is Mono Lake on the east side of the Sierras. I just happened to look out the window and saw it through the clouds. It is an alkaline lake (no outflow) and the water level is low as water has been diverted to Los Angeles. The last time I visited Mono Lake was ~1980. It’s worth visiting.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Day 81 - Tucson, AZ

I’m back in Tucson staying at a hotel near the airport. My flight back to Fairbanks is early tomorrow morning. Staying near the airport is easier than leaving Benson at 4am and driving to the Tucson airport. I have a couple of appointments on Thursday and Friday. The picture is just my dinner at a bar & grill down the street where I wrote this little update.

The challenge will be getting the truck usable. I think the fuel tank still has summer diesel. I’m thinking that I may be able to add some anti-gel plus some winter blend. And the temperature is supposed to be warmer the next couple of days. I may have to dig out the Ural tonight...

Monday, November 4, 2019

Day 80 - Benson, AZ - TT

We had a short drive to the Valley Vista RV Park which is an Encore Resort that we have access to with our Thousand Trails camping pass plus Trails Collection. We stayed here two times last year and it’s a nice place. This time we paid a daily fee for a 50 amp connection and we have a nice drive through site near the dog park.

On the way here, we stopped at a Freightliner shop as they said they could look at the overheating problem. Instead of simply changing the coolant and the thermostats like I wanted, they wanted to do a diagnosis which would be around $500 for the technician time. It didn’t feel right. 

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Day 79 - Tucson, AZ

High clouds this morning
The owner of a 5th wheel a couple of spaces down gave me a tour of his electric system. He has had this system installed for around 4 years and he lives full-time in the rig for about nine months of the year. He spends the winter in England.

The nine 200 watt panels on the roof are tiltable but he never bothered. Three strings of three panels go to a combiner box on the roof and come down to 45 amp breaker before going into a Victron MPPT charge controller. The voltage from the panels is around 60vdc and 10amps per string or about 30 amps total. The output from the charge controller is nominally 24 volts so the output current would max out at around 75 amps.

N.B. 24vdc. He has four 50AH LiFePO4 24 volt  batteries. He used 24 volt batteries so the wire size could be reduced as the current would be halved. For the AC side, he installed two Victron 3000watt hybrid inverters so he could power both sides of the AC breaker panel. For DC power, there is a 75 amp 24vdc to 12vdc box also sold by Victron. It doesn’t provide enough current for the hydraulic pump for the jacks and the slides so there is a 12vdc AGM battery just for the hydraulic pump. The 12vdc battery is charged either through the connector to the truck or the Progressive Dynamic three stage converter. He has the same battery monitor and adds the Victron Color Control monitor screen which shows graphically the status of all the components. Using the touch screen, you can dig into configuration, stats, and history For each component. When plugged into shore power, one of the inverters can charge the house lithium batteries. If plugged into lower capacity shore power, the inverters will pull battery power to make up the difference between what is available and what is needed. Pretty cool setup.

This is kind of what I was looking at but if this RV is too fragile for boondocking, then maybe not. I may scale back everything and continue using the flooded batteries. Maybe four 200 watt panels of solar wired in two strings of two. Still use a Victron MPPT controller and a single Victron hybrid inverter to replace the existing Magnum inverter.

On another note, we stopped at the Saguaro National Park visitor’s center which was right up the road from Ace Hardware. The park is 80% wilderness even though it is really close to Tucson. It was originally a National Monument but became a National Park in the mid-90s. There is an 8 mile driving loop but decided to return for that and some hikes. It was feeling pretty warm by noon even with the high clouds.

I am getting close to the magic 89 days so I will be flying to Fairbanks in a couple of days. Some appointments, some things to do at the university, and probably go to coffee on Thursday. You know, the important things.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Day 78 - Avondale, AZ

This morning, we drove to a park near Avondale, AZ, for a meetup with a family that I follow on YouTube. Michael and Laine from Loftis Party of Six, travel full time in their diesel pusher with four kids. Pretty ambitious. They had also recently transitioned from a 5th wheel to a diesel pusher. An interesting change given the size of their family. I had a few questions for Michael as their rig also has a Cat C7, is about the same year, and they had similar overheating issues. The good news is that, once fixed, the engine temperature never budges from 190°F no matter what the grade.

We met several other full-time and part-time couples at the meetup. What we thought was unusual was that all of the full-time couples had younger kids. One bit of advice we received was to apply for a media pass at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.

We stopped at Cracker Barrel on the way back for a late lunch/early dinner and returned to the fairgrounds shortly after 4pm. The Prius makes trips like this possible. Easy to drive and fairly economical.


Friday, November 1, 2019

Day 77 - Tucson, AZ

Hot weather has returned to AZ. The last couple of days had highs in the mid-60s. Not the case anymore. The project of the day was to run the cable for the Victron battery monitor from the battery compartment to the wall next to the refrigerator. The battery compartment is behind the rear wheels and the inside wall was about ten feet forward.

After some exploration, I found a route that starts from the back of the battery compartment and follow the frame forward to the front of the rear inner fender well. I then drilled a hole through the inner fender into the tank compartment. This full width compartment has the fresh water, grey water and black tanks. This compartment is just in front of the rear wheels. The inner fender was steel so I used a rubber grommet to protect the wire. The tank compartment had an opening into the furnace compartment under the refrigerator which had an opening to the inside of the adjacent wall.

I just needed to drill a 2” hole for the display itself. Lacking a hole saw, I drilled about 40 holes just inside a 2” circle. Then dug out the Dremel and soon had a nice, neat 2” hole. It’s just thin paneling. I then I nstalled the meter in the wall. Now I need some small wood screws to put the paneling and trim back. I don’t want to use nails as I may want to get back inside the wall to install something else. Maybe the EMS display.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Day 76 - Tucson, AZ

Back on Monday I mentioned that thorns punctured my rear tire. I removed the tire and tube and there must’ve been 40-50 in each tire. Late afternoon yesterday, the neighbor mentioned that he was running into town to the hardware store. I tagged along and picked up two tubes as well as a couple of patch kits from the bicycle shop next door to the hardware store. I had also ordered tubes on Amazon but their projected delivery date is in the beginning of December. BTW, the tubes from the local bike shop we’re about the same price as the ones from Amazon…

The grill/cantina here on the fairgrounds was open so I stopped by for lunch. Ordered the fish and chips as a change from what I’ve been making in the RV. Nothing fancy but deep fried something was a nice change. I rode around the fairgrounds a bit more just to make sure that the tire didn’t go flat again. There are a lot of RVs arriving today. I hear that it’s some sort of rally. It’s been pretty windy all day and I brought the living room slide in last night. 20mph with gusts to 30mph according to Weather Underground. But the wind now is already a lot less than it was last night.

At the other side of the fairgrounds, there were horses & riders practicing jumping under direction of a trainer. This was also the location of the coffee place advertised on signs around the fairgrounds.