Florida at Last


After departing Huntsville, AL. on Thursday, March 6th, we headed south towards the Gulf of Mexico.  Our destination was St Andrew’s State Park at Panama City Beach.  It took us about 45 minutes to get through Dothan AL on the bypass route!  I counted 22 stop lights and we caught almost every one.  There was enough traffic that frequently we had to sit through two cycles.  And it was raining.  The closer we got to Florida the more it rained.  Once we crossed into Florida it was about 60 miles to go.  

Somehow I had imagined a state park like we have in MInnesota.  Not quite what they have here, at least this one.  We drove through Panama City and then across a high causeway (bridge) to Panama City Beach (known by all but us as the Spring Break Party Capital of the World) then over another shorter causeway (if you listen to them down here they will tell you that’s what it is cause you need it to get that-a-way … my theory anyway) and then on down the road right through the middle of town.  At the end of the road starts the park.  We registered, we were a day late, our loss, and drove in to find the first of our two sites.  It had been raining nearly every day for a week of more and some sites were flooded and in general it was very wet.
We were right on the Grand Lagoon.  Cloudy, raining on and off, got stuff set up and hooked up, no power.
I checked the 20 amp line and it was correctly wired based on the output of my tester nd checked voltage on the 20 and 30 lines.  Good enough.  Checked in the coach which is full of smart stuff and my power line manager said the hot and neutral on the 30 amp line were reversed.  I called the park office and told them.  They were surprised that there was a problem since someone had just been there.  The service guy showed up much quicker than I expected and indeed the hot and neutral were reversed.  He was pretty surprised that I was able to detect it.  He swapped the wires and we were good to go.
My cousin, Sue and her husband Lloyd were staying just down the road.  They were leaving in the morning so we called them up and arranged to have dinner with them and then back at their place for a visit and Key Lime pie.  Very tasty fish and shrimp dinners. We got a bit of a tour through historic St Andrews and Panama City.  Hard to figure out what is what at night.  It was nice to visit with them.  They had been here for two months and were not eager to go home but then the weather here had been not so great either.
Friday was cloudy and 47 in the morning.  It was nice and warm in the coach.  We had a nice breakfast and did some chores (house cleaning, inside and out).  I spent way too much time looking for  a nut that had come off and fallen into a never to be found place.  That made two nuts I needed. Time for a hardware store trip.  By mid-afternoon the sun was coming out as well as campers.  We went a long walk around all of the campground.  There are more than 200 sites so it is big.  At the far end we found were our next site was going to be, a nice site. Beyond that was the boat launch and a fishing pier.  Further on was a camp store. And then we came to Alligator Lake.
Lots of birds and turtles.  I did see a smaller alligator.

I guess I will leave then alone.  There were some other roads to follow but we figured they would wait.

I went for another fairly long walk about 6.  It was cooling off.  I went through the parts of the campground we had not seen.  There are campers of every imaginable description and age here from everywhere.  Several from Ontario and Minnesota, one guy from Oregon, some from California, Colorado, everywhere..  The folks next to us were from North Carolina.  They made reservations for this place last June.  Most parks in FL are very busy.
I put up the TV antenna to see what we could get… 25 digital channels. Not bad but then we’re right next to town.
Moving day. Groceries.  And the hardware store.  Susan located hardware store on the way to the grocery. It was an old, old hardware store.  The owner and a couple of his good old boy buddies were there and if not for him we would have never found the two nuts I needed.  It was pretty much disorganized chaos. I needed two different sizes of locking nuts.  It took about 15 minutes for him to find them and he knew right where to look.  It totaled up to a whopping 42¢ including tax.  I don’t even know if they have sales tax here.  
Then groceries.  It is always an adventure going into a new grocery store.  This one was no different.  Prices were about 50% more than we were used to.  Didn’t get too much.
Then we came back and moved about 1/2 mile to a nice big site with 50 amp power that was OK.
We sat in the sun at 70ish temps and had a nice lunch.  I fixed the things that needed nuts.  We got the bikes off the bike rack, cleaned them up, added air to the tires and went for a 3 or 4 mile bike ride to places in the park not yet visited.  
Beyond the boat launch there is beach access near the jetty at the entrance to St Andrews Bay and the Grand Lagoon.  The campground is on the Grand Lagoon.  On the other side of the Bay is St Andrews.
All of the sand is white(ish) and there are lots of dunes.  More down the road end we came to the Pier. Lots of fishing people there and to the west Panama City Beach stretches for several miles.

At the far end it is much like carnival/frat party for the spring breakers.  There are amusement rides like they have at the State Fair that appeal to this crowd (bungee jumping for example). They have fenced in areas where the cops take those who have been arrested for who knows what to be detained.  They are held over night in the “dog pound” and processed, taken before a judge in the morning, fined or jailed if found guilty and if they can pay the fines they are released.  If not, who knows what.
Having never experienced a spring break excess before, it is outside my imagination.   It is all about drinking and misbehvior.  My friend Mike and I usually spent spring break at the library or at choir practice.  😉
That’s it for now.  Time to get started on dinner.   A Foyle’s War for desert.
Roger and Susan

March 5, 2014 Rocket and Space Center and Beyond …

Writer’s Note

I have heard from a couple folks that they thought our exit for MN was quite harrowing.  I probably made too much of our delay due to air pressure gauges not working.  Motor coaches are just a big vehicle with truck-like systems and a house with house-like systems. Most owners are curious and want to know how things work and what to do when they don’t.  Some things are pretty easy to fix, sometimes you call for help.  There is an owner’s web forum (foreforums.com) (not part of the manufacturer) where people exchange ideas, questions, help and advise.  About 2,700 users and nearly 150,000 posts.  Lots of nice people and help when you need it.  So if I get too technical or too detailed please excuse me, it is just how I describe things.   

Google Blogger

This is one of the clumsiest programs I have ever used.  Inserting pictures is very slow.  Editing text makes no sense so far.  I have to try it in a Google Chrome browser to see if it is any different.  Please have patience. 

Space Camp

The Rocket and Space Center is pretty cool.  I was there in the early 70’s.  I was working on a NASA project to write simulation software for the recovery of the solid rocket boosters.  I have never actually seen one, even then.  And here they are!

There was a Saturn 5 rocket laying on its side, out doors.  Today there is entire building to house it and many more exhibits.

Here is the business end of the Saturn 5. It is about 35 ft across.  The five engines burn 12.5 tons of fuel every second!  The Saturn V rocket was about 140 ft tall.

There are three stages.  At the top of the third stage the Apollo capsule and the lunar lander were pushed into space and on towards the Moon.

The entire rocket was controlled by one of the most advanced computers of the day.  Once the rocket was released this computer controlled the engines, the trajectory, the stage separations, the orbital insertion and the push to the moon.

The display said that a stack of these computers about 2 miles high would be needed to have the computing power of a typical home computer of today.  Another way of looking at it is that a typical smart phone today has more than 100,000 times the computing power of what seemed like and amazing machine.

It is hard to get a sense of just how big this thing is. The Rocket Center is at the Army Redstone Arsenal. A lot of rocket testing was done here. The Saturn v engines were tested here before the first rocket launch. The test was so loud that it could be heard 90 miles away. 
One of the Space Shuttles was there.  Not one that ever flew in space but it was just like the real thing.  The main fuel tank and the solid rocket boosters were real ones as well.

It was a great place to stop and visit.  And I got to see a real Solid Rocket Booster (SRB).  By the way the SRB with parachutes attached and open was taller than the IDS building.  

Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site
After leaving the Rocket and Space Center we drove down to Auburn, AL (go Tigers) to a Camp Wal-Mart.  We walked laps, got some milk and fruit and walked some more.  About 4:30 in the morning something outside was making a lot of noise.  It sounded like a giant sander.  We think it was some sort of vacuum cleaner for the parking lot.
We drove about 14 miles to the Tuskegee Airmen NHS.  This is located at the Moton airfield which was built to train pilots, air crews and ground crews.  Segregation and discrimination were the way the Army Air Force worked at the time and many in the Army refused to give African Americans a chance.  Well, these Airmen proved to be a strong force during WWII in Africa, Italy, bomber support and all the way to Berlin.  More than 16,000 were trained as pilots, air crew and ground crew personnel.  
The exhibits we housed in the two original hangers.  The rigors of training for pilots, mechanics, ground crew and all the other support people looked hard.  Typical pilot training was more than 9 months, longer than the life expectancy in combat.

Pilots learned to fly in Stearman biplanes then went on to more advanced training aircraft and finally into fighter training at bases all over the US.  Some split off to become bombardiers or navigators.   

By 1944 the RedTails were flying P-51s.  It wasn’t easy for them to convince the army that they needed better airplanes to fly the long range bomber fighter cover missions they were being assigned.  Eventually they got P-51s and provided some extraordinary service. 

After a really worthwhile visit were headed off toward Florida.  Our arrival in the next post
Roger and Susan

Icy Roads

Day 2 – Bloomington, IL to Huntsville, AL

This was a long driving day at least for us.  About 9 1/2 hours including the obligatory stops. We left Camp Wal-Mart early after a lap or two around the store. It was maybe 7 degrees. I still had the long undies on but just a flannel shirt instead of a sweater.  Driving was good until southern IL where the effects of the storms over the weekend became evident.  Remember we left late, good thing.  Lots of snow on the sides of the road, the shoulders were rarely cleared.  By Paducah, KY we were down to one lane and the other lanes was covered in a solid, heavy layer of ice.  No passing here.  Then there was the construction.  Lots of slow downs. Never saw a construction worker or piece of equipment operating.  The huge bridges over the Ohio, Cumberland and the Tennessee Rivers are all down to a single lane each way.  Probably ready to fall into the river.

So we went slow at times and carefully at all times. The coach weighs 34,000 lbs and the Jeep another 3,400 lbs.  We move carefully.  We sit up high so it is easy to see what is coming.  Our mirrors are great so visibility is good.  We try to help each other out looking for oncoming traffic in the on ramps and when we are changing lanes.  We are a team!

Into Tennessee and the roads got worse.  Lots of times it was less than one lane and everything else was ice.  Heading into Nashville the trees were covered in ice, whole trees and big limbs were down everywhere.  Water had oozed out through layers in the cut rock faces along the highway and frozen into shaped that looked like candle wax. There was a dense fog layer just above us and visibility was OK but very frosty looking. The north bound lanes had a stop and go back up for more than 10 miles.  There were several broken down semis and even a Greyhound bus. Many cars in the ditches. We saw two major semi wrecks. On the last big downhill into Nashville the roads started to clear up, the fog was lifting, the tree ice was going away and there was no more snow on the ground. On we went. 

We were going to stop at another Wal-Mart south of Nashville but we did the math and figured we could get to the Space and Rocket Center near Huntsville, AL before dark. We made it with minutes to spare.  I have never seen traffic like that heading west from Huntsville.  There was one exit at Madison where the traffic was backed up, two lanes wide, for at least four miles.  We found the exit for the Rocket Center and headed into their RV Camp.  Pretty old but serviceable.  It was about 60 degrees so we flushed all of the winter antifreeze out of the coach water system, added water with a fairly high bleach concentration, flushed all of the lines out with that.and then added another 40 gallons of water. I washed all of the mirrors and the windshield.  Lots of road grime.  All of that was done shortly after dark.  Supper, some chores, some reading, some email and we were off to bed by 9:30.  It is warm, cozy, very comfy and quiet in the back bedroom.  After a day of driving there is residual engine heat as well.  We sleep very well.

My next post will have some pictures from the Rocket Center.  There are some great exhibits there including a Saturn 5 rocket of the type used to send men to the moon.  It had some of the most sophisticated computer systems available at the time.  Maxed out it had less than 5 megabytes of RAM.  The display stated that it would take a stack of memory and processors from the Saturn 5 more than 2 miles high to equal a typical home PC of today.Today’s smart phones have more than 100,000 times the computing power that those giant rockets had.  And those seemingly primitive computers controlled all aspects of the rocket’s flight after lift off. Pretty amazing.  More later …

Roger and Susan

We Are Off, March, 2014. SE USA

Day 1, Monday, March 3, 2014
We were going to leave on Saturday but the weather in southern IL and TN looked bad. Snow, sleet, ice and even rain. So as is not uncommon for us we waited until Monday for things to clear up just a bit before the next big storm shows up.

It was -19° this morning.  A few last minute things to load up. Some house chores (turn off the water and so on) and we should have been ready to go.

We opened the door on the barn and the old girl started to whine.  A little coaxing and after all was ready she started right up.  Of course the engine heat was on all night as was heat in the coach and the refrigerator.

When it was up and running I noticed that the two air pressure gauges read zero and both had warning lights on.  a quick check of all of the systems that use compressed air showed that all were working.  Good thing, these include ride control, ride height, brakes, emergency brakes and so on.  Actually, if there is not enough compresses air you cannot move the coach.  The emergency bakes will not release, the transmission will not engage, the ride control system will disallow movement, dead in the water (or snow).

A quick check at the Foretravel owner’s website and I got quick answers.  The gauges are electric and are fed from pressure transducers in the “blue module” which has been problematic for many owners.  This is a custom electronics device that was only used for 4 model years, ours included.  The solution is to use actual pressure gauges fed from the lines leading to the “blue module”.  A project for some other day.  I may have to spend some time trying to shut off the dinging alarm that goes off because the gauges are not getting a signal.

Everyone said that if all else was working go for it.  So we took a five mile test drive to confirm everything was working, it was, so we hooked up the Jeep, checked all of the lights and hit the road about an hour later than we were anticipating.

We had the coach heat on, the dash heat on, our long undies on and our jackets on and it was cool but OK.

So on day one we drove to Bloomington, IL.  About 440 miles in 8 hrs including several rest stops for driver changes and well, bathroom breaks.  Roads were good, no weather issues other than it was cold and we just made it to Camp Walmart as sunset was nearing.  I got to try out my new HID European headlight bulbs.  I don’t know what that means but they are two or three times as bright.  

I swore I would never drive in the dark again after going through Kansas City after dark last winter.  I am going to try to keep that promise.

And so another day comes to a close.  still smiling.  We got in three store laps at Walmart and got some fruit for breakfast.  we had pretty much our choice of the parking lot.  We were warm and snug in our jim-jams.  We watched the first episode of Foyle’s War, had a couple of fig Newtons and called it a day by 9:30.  More tomorrow, I hope.  This blogging thing is not as simple as it should be.


2014 Travels


It is March in one of the worst winters we can remember (there have been others just as bad, we just choose to forget them) and we are eager to hit the road.  The coach is packed and fueled.  The refrig is on.  The heat is on. Everything is ready but the weather along the route we will be taking heading towards Florida.  Snow, rain and ice in southern Illinois and Tennessee. Prudence says we should wait until Monday to leave.  So does Susan.  I agree.  So we wait a couple days.  Just like our first long trip in the original Home2.  

A New Home2

After a couple years of research, thinking, dreaming and looking, we found a coach we wanted.  In California.   

What we wanted changed over time.  We (I) looked at a lot of different motor coaches, mostly specs, how they were built, what kind of structures they had, what kind of engines, transmissions and other equipment they had.  We started out thinking something maybe 30 ft would work.  What we wanted was enough space to be comfortable, enough maneuverability to get to the places we wanted to go, enough power to not be the slowest one going up the grades and something that had the level of quality that we were used to in our current Home2.

That lead us to Newell Coaches, Prevost bus conversions, Country Coach and Foretravel Coaches.  We had a budget, age range and milage range in mind.  Newell coaches and Prevost conversions were way outside of those ranges.  We had looked Country Coaches and while they were nice they didn’t really blow us away.

So we started looking more closely at Foretravels.  They made a 34′ coach that we liked.  They had three model levels, the U270, the U295 and the U320’s.  The coach body, structure and  suspension are the same in all three models.  Engines, transmissions, heating systems, generators, plumbing fixtures, kitchen appliances and interior trim changed as model numbers increased.

The 34′ coaches we only available in the U270 models.  These were 300-350 HP Cummins diesels.  

We debated about whether we wanted a slide out or not.  They added significant cost to the new coaches and some extra weight and more complex systems.  They add more room and many argued they dded to resale value and the ease of resle.