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.

A Long Time Ago …

R&E Vans

So anyway, Ed and I had a lot of fun building our own campers.  That led us to starting R&E Vans in 1975. Our goal was to build very nice campers. Along the way we built about 700 vehicles. A lot of those were 70’s party vans. We also built ambulances, a mobile training classroom and lots of campers.

We built on the ideas from our early campers and produced the Model 5. Pretty snazzy name, don’t you think?   We really neaded a good marketing type person. These were featured in national magazine reviews.  We sold them as far away as Alaska, well one anyway.

This a 1979 Model 5 built on a long body Ford van that I kept until 2012 when I sold it to a fellow in Massachusetts. He flew here, completed what needed to be done and drove it back.
Ed and I closed up shop in 1980. Gas prices were at an all time high if you could find gas. Interest rates were more than 20%. We saw no way to go forward and exited as gracefully as we could.
There is so much more to add about our time with this great camper and the days at R&E Van. I will try to edit and add more when I can find more pictures. I’m sort of new at this blogging stuff so bear with me as we get going.

Home2 started in 1978 as a Class B Ford Van Camper, the one pictured above.  Our shakedown trip was from Minnesota to New Brunswick, Canada and then down through New England and then back along the South sides of the Great Lakes.

As we did for many years we traveled with our dog, Xenia, a 65 lb Malamute. We called her the feed-it alarm system.  If we left her in the camper alone she would sit in the driver’s seat waiting for us to return.  She was rather imposing, rarely barked and was never tested.  On her leash taking us for a walk, she was the friendliest dog you could imagine.  If the other end of her leash was hooked to the camper at the side door, it represented a defensive zone that she protected for all she was worth.

That trip gave us all sorts of ideas on changes to make to add more light, more functional utility and what tools and equipment we needed to have in the camper all the time.  We went from two to five sun roofs, added bug screens, found a cooking set of pots and pans that nested nicely, bought dishes, kitchen utensils and silverware for dedicated use.  We got sheets, pillows and blankets to leave in the camper.  With everything set we were able to leave for a weekend, a week or longer with just loading clothes and food.

The Van Days
After we closed the doors on the R&E Van adventure Susan and I ready to hit the road with Home2.  We made modifications and adjustments that we found necessary on our New England trip.  We wrote to every National Park, Monument and Historic Site west of the Mississippi asking for information and maps. We got state maps from every western state. 
Finally on April 15th, 1980 we were ready to go.  Everything we owned that was not in the van was in storage. We were heading west, that was the extent of the itinerary at that point much to the dismay of my Mother.  And then it snowed 10 inches.  Two days later we actually left.  First stop at my folks house to say adios.  I think we had breakfast and then it was off.  My Mom asked once more, hoping for some itinerary, where our first stop was going to be.  I said the gas station.  And that is the way it went.  We went where it looked interesting.  Moved when we were out of food or books. and left my Mom know where we were using a pay phone or a postcard.
There and Back Again, 53 sq ft of mobile luxury
We spent almost then entire following year going almost everywhere West of the Mississippi and all the way up to Jasper in BC, Canada. We were the toast of the UPS drivers who almost always flashed their headlights our way. 
I will add more on this first retirement later. 
In the years that followed we traveled quite a bit in that Ford. It survived long past our great friend and companion, Xenia. She was a very nice Malamute that we had from 1974 to 1990, a long life for a Malamute. She went everywhere with us and the van was hers as much as ours. We put about 80,000 miles on it and spent at least 750 nights in it.
Late 80’s at Oshkosh for the EAA Convention and Air Show.  Our first trip there was in 1978 and our 8th or 9th trip there was just two years ago in 2012.  We saw as P-38 Lightning on both of those trips as well as many, many other airplanes.
The Next Step

Times change. We wanted to keep traveling but maybe with a bit more room. An actual bedroom and bathroom would be nice, we thought. So that leads us to the next step of the story, right after this…