Bill and Kit’s 2019 Excellent Adventure, Journal #16

 

Monday, April 29 and Tuesday, April 30, 2019-Scranton, PA: This city of 78,000 folks lies in the Lackawanna River Valley of Northeastern Pennsylvania. It was historically famous for its abundance of Anthracite Coal which led it to becoming a major industrial city and a railway hub for the region. So, it’s only fitting that the National Park Service chose Scranton for its National Historic Site devoted to early railroading…called Steamtown.

The genesis for this historic collection of railroad artifacts came from the collection of Nelson Blount, a wealthy business owner from Bellows Falls, Vermont. His private museum, which he named Steamtown U.S.A., was eventually donated to the National Park service and moved to Scranton. Since the cities “Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railyard” was still in operation it provided the infrastructure to create a world class museum complex.

Situated on 63 acres the site includes a restored and repurposed roundhouse and houses many historic passenger and freight railcars from the Blount collection, as well as a number of additional acquisitions.

In addition to a visitor’s center and movie theater, there are various interesting displays and railroad artifacts within the restored 1902 roundhouse…

…such as this cutaway of a 1923 Baldwin Locomotive which shows the inner workings of a typical steam engine.

The centerpiece of the roundhouse is a fully operational turntable…

which allows museum pieces to move between the central display area…

… and the restoration, repair, and maintenance stalls of the roundhouse.

As in most National Park facilities, there are ample opportunities to get up close to the historic displays…

…and allow your inner child…

… to shine!

Guided access was also allowed inside the repair and maintenance shops contained within the roundhouse…

…where huge industrial machines allowed the repair or refurbishment of the museums rolling stock.

On a railcar most everything is massive, requiring very large examples of common tools such as this four-inch diameter drill bit!

Parts and pieces for the oldest components of the museum’s railcars are difficult to come by, so any usable items removed from a scrapped car are kept for possible use in a future restoration project.

And out in the “boneyard” lay locomotives…

…boxcars, and other rolling stock…

…waiting their turn in the restoration queue.

I’ve learned from my friend Jeff, an avid railroad buff, that railroad locomotives are generally classed by their wheelset configuration. So, four leading wheels, followed by six drive wheels, then followed by four trailing wheels would receive a classification of 4-6-2.

A 4-6-2 locomotive currently undergoing restoration is an artifact of the Boston and Maine Railroad.

From Google Images

Old number 3713, built in 1934 by the Lima Locomotive Works, was later named “The Constitution” as a result of a contest by New England schoolchildren and is undergoing a fundraising campaign to help finance the restoration.

This 81,000-pound steam locomotive operated throughout New England for over twenty-five years before being put out to pasture. Following its restoration, the old workhorse will once again be under steam and join the fleet of the museum’s excursion trains taking visitors on short trips around the area.

Nearby, “The Constitution’s” six-and-a-half-foot drive wheels are refurbished and ready for assembly when the locomotive frame is competed.

Another survivor waiting for some attention is the Union Pacific 4012, known as “Big Boy”.

A 4-8-8-4 class locomotive, the “Big Boy” weighs a massive 1,250,000 pounds making her one of the world’s largest steam engines ever built. As such, it is too large and heavy to fit inside the roundhouse so is slated to be left original, made mechanically sound, and return to operating condition.

Kit and I enjoyed a great day of immersion in railroading history. However, we had one additional stop before returning to the campground. The former Scranton Train Depot has been restored and repurposed into a high-class downtown hotel and, it’s open to the public.

We took a walk through the ornate lobby…

…and envisioned the many passengers that strolled through…

…this classic former railroad terminal.

Well, it’s been a nice stay in the Scranton area but tomorrow we start heading home, by way of Rhode Island, where our grandson CJ who is a first-year university student.

 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019: Up and on the road before 0800 under cool and overcast skies. We wound our way south of Scranton in order to avoid the morning commuters and merged onto interstate 380 heading south. Within a few minutes a car pulled up alongside us and motioned that we had a problem with the camper. Thinking it was a blown tire, I pulled onto the aptly named break-down lane…

…walked back to the camper and discovered a tire was indeed missing, as well as the wheel rim, as well as the brake drum, and part of the brake assembly…

…Yikes!

Now, how does an RV’r not feel, hear, or see such a catastrophic malfunction? In hearing other RV’rs similar tales of woe, and reporting the same phenomenon, it appears to be very common!?!? Dual axel trailers are designed to suffer loss of a wheel and still safely support the load, at least for a short while…thank God for the good Samaritan that warned us!

So, what happened? It appears the outer wheel bearing failed causing the wheel assembly to slide off the axle spindle. Not sure why, all four wheels were professionally maintained just five months ago, the undamaged inner wheel bearing showed plenty of grease, and I had just checked the torque and the integrity of all four wheels a few days ago. In the immortal words of Forrest Gump…Stuff Happens!

Calling roadside assistance resulted in the nearest available mechanic arriving in a converted school bus chocked full of tools, machines, equipment, and parts.

Jim quickly realized there was little he could do roadside, so he called a friend nearby and received permission for us to park at his large bus/truck storage yard. With Jim’s large yellow school bus behind, we limped our three-wheel camper safely off the interstate. At the storage yard, Jim carefully surveyed the problem and decided the failure of the wheel bearing damaged the axle spindle and proceeded to remove the axle right then and there.

So, we are now on two wheels, and four leveling jacks, which pretty much makes us residents of this community until an axle can be located. Fortunately, Mel, the gentleman that owns the lot…

…along with his partner Diana…

…also own a nice café on the premises, which serves delicious breakfasts and lunches.

Mel and Diana turned out to be good old down-to-earth folks and are the nicest people one is likely to meet! They quickly realized the stress level of our ordeal and adopted us into the community of café regulars making us feel welcome and secure. There are parts of this country that would react differently to travelers in distress by taking advantage of their plight for their own personal greed. However not only did Mel and Diana provide us a secure place to camp but refused to take anything in return!

 

Thursday, May 2, 2019-Moscow, PA: Spent the day attending to laundry, fueling up the truck, lounging about the camper, and packing for our motor trip to Rhode Island. Yep, were still going…wouldn’t miss an opportunity to see our grandson!

 

Friday, May 3, 2019: Up early, grabbed some coffee from the café, said goodbye to Mel and Diana, and hit the road by 0700 hours…leaving the camper behind felt a bit odd after all these years of pulling it around the country.

Traveling on I-84 East we crossed the Hudson River at Newburgh, New York 45 minutes later, then an additional hour found us intersecting the state line of Connecticut. After a few rest stops, one of which included breakfast in Southbury at the Laurel Diner, we arrived in Rhode Island at 1222 hours, and at our motel shortly before 1300.

Since Chris isn’t expecting us until tomorrow, Kit and I grabbed lunch at a nearby restaurant and took a drive about the area. With the weather being overcast, cool, and a bit drizzly, we decided to cut our tour short and return to the motel and just veg out.

 

Saturday, May 4, 2019-Rhode Island: Today was devoted to spending time with Grandson, CJ…a first-year college student.

The weather was cool and overcast, but fortunately no rain! CJ gave us a tour of his beautiful campus…

… and as we strolled along, he brought us up to date on his life away at the university.

We had hoped to meet CJ’s girlfriend Shileigh, but she was out of town for a track meet, so we will look forward to seeing her this summer up in Maine.

Located in a rural area, the school grounds are large and park like…

… with very colorful landscaping.

Following the tour, we were getting a bit hungry so, decided to visit CJ’s favorite restaurant…”The Thirsty Beaver”.

Where we continued to visit and enjoy each other’s company over some excellent tavern fare.

It was great visiting with CJ and seeing his campus. This summer he has an internship up in Portland, Maine so we hope to spend more time with him then.

 

Sunday, May 5, 2019: Up and enjoyed a nice complimentary breakfast at the motel before heading back to Pennsylvania. We basically retraced our route and, other than a few rest stops, made steady progress toward the west, arriving back at our disabled camper by 1400 hours.

 

Monday, May 6, 2019-Moscow, PA: This morning we learned that our configuration of axel would have to be custom made by Dexter and that it would take a few weeks for construction, testing, and shipping. So, over breakfast at the Café we broke the news of the delay to Mel and Diana and were told to not worry about it, we could stay for the summer if we liked…what great folks! So, Kit and I decided to spend the day loading as much stuff in the truck as would fit and take off for home in the morning.

 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019: Up early, stopped in the café for a big breakfast, said our goodbye to Mel and Diana, and hit the road for Maine. But before we departed, since they wouldn’t take payment we asked if we could bring anything back for them. To which Mel, who by the way loves to visit Maine, replied; “Yea, bring me an issue of Uncle Henry’s Weekly Swap It or Sell It Guide”.

Shutting down our campers’ systems, and locking everything up, we bid it goodbye…

… confident in the knowledge that Mel would look out for it as he does for the school buses and long-haul trucks that we share space with.

On the road at 0855 hours under cloudy skies and a temperature of 64 degrees. Made our way on the standard highways and interstates that Kit and I have traveled so many times in the past, however this trip seemed a bit odd in that we had nothing in tow.

The eight-hour trek to our home did give us ample opportunity to review this year’s Excellent Adventure and we came to the same conclusion. All in all, it was an enjoyable trip with opportunities to explore parts of the country we had not been in for some time. Our only regret about staying east of the San Antonio River was not being able to see our youngest daughter and her family in Las Vegas and our friends and family in Tucson and San Diego.

On many former trips we usually select a musical number that becomes that year’s official road song. Past selections have been Willie Nelson’s-On the Road Again, Woody Guthrie’s-This Land is Your Land, Kenny Chesney’s-American Kids, The Eagles-Take it Easy and The Beach Boys-Fun, Fun, Fun. However, as we motored along sans camper, a Kenny Rogers tune popped into my road addled brain.

So, with apologies to the former front man for The First Edition, here is my version to this year’s road song:

You picked a fine time to leave me loose wheel
With four tires on the road
And heading for the adobe
We’ve had some fun times
Lived through some sun times
But this time your failure won’t heal
You picked a fine time to leave me loose wheel

So, with that to keep us amused, a few stops at full featured rest areas, and a break for a fast food lunch, we eventually encountered a familiar and welcoming sight.

Then as is tradition, I pulled off the interstate after we crossed the Maine state line in order to pay a visit to Kittery Trading Post for some walking around time…

…and to enjoy some authentic Maine seafood at a nearby clam shack.

Back underway at 1627 hours, we made our way north on I-95 and 80 minutes later arrived at our summer abode. Whew, what an experience this past week has been…sure feels good to be home!

 

Kit’s Bit’s: This week’s adventure was certainly unexpected! Traveling around the country as we do, you just never know what can happen. We are very thankful there were no injuries and that our hosts were so welcoming and allowed us to leave the camper in their lot while it was being fixed. Also, we thoroughly enjoyed having our meals at the restaurant! During our stay there, at least I didn’t have to worry about meals and kitchen clean up. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit with CJ! He is very happy at school and doing well. Hard to believe he will be 20 in September! Where does the time go?

 

Here are the statistics for our 2019 Excellent Adventure:
Length of Trip: 124 Days
Total Distance: 8,885 Miles
Total Fuel Used: 703.3 Gallons
Average Fuel Economy: 12.40 MPG
Highest Diesel Fuel Cost: $3.56 in Pennsylvania
Lowest Diesel Fuel Cost: $2.44 in Texas
Highest Camping Cost with Hook-up’s: $61.93 in Fredericksburg, Virginia
Lowest Camping Cost with Hook-up’s: $18.00 in Blora, Texas
Average Camping Cost: $24.90 per Night
Freebie Camping: 8 Nights, “THANK’S FOLKS!”

 

And the cumulative statistics covering the past eleven years:
Total time on the road: 1,563 days
Longest trip: 207 Days
Shortest trip: 99 Days
Total distance traveled: 127,388 Miles
Total fuel consumed: 11,905 Gallons
Average price per gallon: $3.35
Average cost per night for campsite: $25.84
Average spent on campsite fees and fuel per year: $6,720.00
Number of nights camping for free: 311
Lowest elevation visited: -279 feet at Bad Water Basin, California
Highest elevation visited: 11,158 feet at Vail, Colorado
Lowest temperature experienced: 26 degrees at Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Highest temperature experienced: 102 degrees in Globe, Arizona
Number of states visited: 46, only Rhode Island, Washington, and Alaska remain.
Number of National Park Unit’s enjoyed: 86
Number of Canadian provinces visited: 4-Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.
Number of Excellent Adventure Journals issued: 264
Number of hits on our webpage: 136,746
Number of address’s in group notification email list: 206
Number of folks signed up for notification of release of latest journal: 76
Number of comments from readers: 2,095
Top commenters: Randy R, Chet G, Pat C, and Nancy G…Thanks Folks!

 

A quick postscript. The trailer is repaired, and we will likely head back to fetch it sometime next week…wish us luck!

Bill and Kit’s 2019 Excellent Adventure, Journal #15

The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.
Joseph Campbell

 

Monday, April 22, 2019: Up early and departed our campsite at the Short Stay Military Recreation Facility, Moncks Corner, South Carolina under sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 60’s. Before making it too far had to make a quick stop at the campground’s wastewater station.

This is one of the better designed dump stations we have come across in our eleven years of RV part-time living. Plenty of room, accessible from either direction, and sloped just right to ensure a quick and efficient evolution. It also should be noted that, due to the rather large capacity of our wastewater holding tanks, we were able to live in our camper for eight days without needing to use any of the campground’s restroom or shower facilities…gotta appreciate the efficiency of “Navy Showers”!

Back underway at 0800, we followed Lucy, the GPS, as she directed us down a series of country roads basically heading toward the north.

Meandering through one small town, Kit was delighted to see this colorful Bookmobile…

…likely bringing the thrill of reading fine books to some remote South Carolina town.

Lucy eventually found our way to US-17 which hugs the U.S. Eastern shoreline and then continued North through Huntington Beach State Park and the resort town of Myrtle Beach. Shortly before noon found us crossing the North Carolina border, and within another 90 minutes, pulling into Southport where we queued up for the NC Ferry System ride across the Cape Fear River.

Being a larger vehicle waiting to be loaded on a medium sized ferryboat, we garnered our own lane to wait the ferry’s arrival, and then were one of the first vehicles to load…score one for us!

The NC Ferry System is Americas largest fee-free ferry organization and is managed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. It connects the states coastal byways across various bodies of water, mainly to the islands of the Outer Banks.

The MV Southport we were on is one of the newer ferries in the system. At 180 feet long and a beam of 44 feet, she can carry up to 44 automobiles and over 300 passengers.

As we pulled out of Southport for the 35-minute transit…

…we were offered a bon voyage by some local residents…

…who had an ulterior motive for their friendly attention to our boat…

…as the rotating props in the shallow river churned up a lot of delicious edibles!

Midway across the river, I happened to notice that our GPS was dutifully keeping track of our voyage.

Which provided a unique image and indicated the boats speed of 9.5 MPH…however, our indicated elevation of 33 feet above sea level was a bit suspect!

Arriving at the debarkation point of Fort Fisher, we rolled off the ferry and made our way north…

…a few miles to the town of Kure Beach, NC where we pulled into our home for the next few days…

… Fort Fisher USAF Recreation Area and set up in their nice spacious campground.

Then, following a nice meal, a walk about the area, and a nightcap, we turned in for the evening.

Goodnight!

 

Tuesday, April 23 and Wednesday, April 24, 2019-Kure Beach, North Carolina: Woke as the sun was rising over the beach front homes a block east of our campsite.

Kure Beach, pronounced “Cure-e Bee-ch”, is an oceanside town of a mere 2,000 year-round residents, that swells to ten times that number during the peak summer tourist season. Due to its relative isolation and the strict zoning laws, Kure Beach has not succumbed to the overbuilt touristy enclaves that plague so many coastal towns but primarily consists of privately-owned cottages…many of which are brightly painted.

The small downtown of Kure Beach is quaint and very walkable with beautiful flowers along the sidewalks…

…which lead to a municipal fishing pier at the foot of the main drag of Atlantic Street…

…where one can capture panoramic views of the coastline…

…and enjoy the warm ocean breezes!

However, things were not so tranquil last September when Hurricane Florence ravished the Atlantic coastline with 100 MPH winds. The resulting six-foot storm surge inundated this low-lying area and washed away a significant amount of beach sand. Today the US Army Corps of Engineers is undertaking a massive $17,000,000.00 remediation project…

…to dredge over a million cubic yards of sand from offshore…

USA/COE Website Photo

…and deliver it via large diameter pipes to help restore approximately 3.5 miles of eroded public beach…

…which they then sculpt to a normal beach terrain using heavy equipment…a process the government calls “Oceanfront Nourishment”.

As you can imagine, seafood joints are the restaurant of choice in Kure Beach, and one that came highly recommended was Jack Mackerel’s Island Grill…

…where we enjoyed an excellent dinner…

of locally caught Flounder!

At the southern tip of Cape Fear lies the Confederate stronghold of Fort Fisher.

Where fortifications guarded the entrance to the Cape Fear River, a major strategic point during the Civil War in that it protected the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina 17 miles upriver.

A small museum staffed by knowledgeable docents greets the visitor and provides a glimpse into the life of the soldiers and sailors that manned the fort. In addition to military artifacts behind glass cases…

…there was an opportunity for the public to touch and inspect some fragments of cannon balls found near the fort…

…and I was surprised by how heavy these relatively small pieces were!

Walking around the grounds of Fort Fisher…

…one notices the stunted and misshaped coastal trees…

…which is a direct result of the near constant onshore winds in this area, which also…

…makes for some great kite flying!

Kit and I thoroughly enjoyed this, our second visit to Kure Beach, North Carolina…

…but tomorrow it is time to pull chocks and continue our journey toward the Northeast!

 

Thursday, April 25, 2019: Woke to another spectacular sunrise…

…and following breakfast broke camp and headed up Cape Fear under sunny skies and temperatures in the 80’s.

Kit and the GPS soon found our way to Interstate 40 and we soon crossed the southern border of Virginia. We rolled through Richmond at 1507 hours, and 90 minutes later found us pulling into the KOA Campground in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Since this is to be a quick overnight stop, I kept the truck and trailer connected and didn’t bother to extend the leveling jacks.

After dinner, and a walk about the small but nice campground it was time to call it a night.

 

Friday, April 26, 2019: On the road by 1000 hours and headed north on I-95. Our fellow RV’ing friends Vince and Candy advised us on a great way to bypass Washington, DC which added a few miles to our transit. It was far more enjoyable driving through the lush countryside of Virginia
than the congestion headaches of DC.

Kit and I enjoyed a pleasant and uneventful day as we rolled through the Shenandoah Mountains while making our way toward Interstate 81.

Shortly after noon we crossed into West Virginia, and a few minutes later clipped the corner of Maryland before entering the State of Pennsylvania. At this point, we decided to stop for the night in the small mountain town of Tremont, PA and located Echo Valley RV Park.

Setting up for an overnight stay…

…I once again did not bother to disconnect!

 

Saturday, April 27, 2019: This morning, over breakfast, Kit and I decided to remain another night at this rustic campground in the hills of central Pennsylvania. Judy, shown at left in the below photo, is a former Mechanical Engineer who gave up the corporate rat race and purchased this campground a few years back.

The gentleman to the right lives in the park and is the campground caretaker. Both he and Judy were very friendly and down to earth…we had a great time getting to know them both.

The park borders a pleasant stream which was running at capacity due to snow melt and the spring rains that had recently moved through this area.

A great place to rest and enjoy a day off the road!

 

Sunday, April 28, 2019: Up to gloomy skies and, following breakfast, we were on the road by 1040 hours winding our way through the countryside…

…as we headed back to I-81 North.

The interstate was in even rougher shape than when we passed this way a year ago!?!? If one moves over to the left passing lane, the road surface is a little better…but in the travel lane that we generally use due to our moderate speed, it can be very rough as this is the same lane that all the long-haul truckers use and is pretty darn beat up.

Nearing Frackville, Pennsylvania we encountered dense fog, and noticed the temperature had dropped to 41 degrees…a might bit cold for us snowbirds!

By midafternoon, we were nearing the city of Scranton and decided to pull in for a few days, as I had wanted to visit a National Park Unit in this city for some time now. Locating a campground that had just opened for the season, we pulled off I-81 and wandered northwest through farming country.

Yep, that’s a dirt road we are on, and a not very wide one at that! Also, the low hanging branches added additional battle scars to the sides of our camper. Oh well, such is the plight of the adventurous RV’r.

At 1454 hours, we pulled into Highland Campground and set up on a nice secluded campsite…

…bordered with an iconic stone wall.

These types of walls are scattered through the Northeast and are the result of early settlers clearing the hardscrabble land in order to build cabins and clear an area for vegetable gardens. In later years, the walls became official land boundaries and were surveyed as such. In more current times, as land was sold off and surveys were conducted with modern GPS enabled equipment, many boundary lines were either gapped by a segment of no-man’s-land or were shown to overlap other owners’ boundaries which created disputes…some of which continue to this day.

Up next, a visit to Steamtown National Historic Site, our nation’s premier railroad era museum complex where some of the most important and historic railroad artifacts are housed.

Ones that helped American grow, prosper, and provided citizens a quick and comfortable method of travel…in fact, many of our National Parks were initially serviced by the railroads. So, join us next time as we explore this vast complex dedicated to the early days of railroading and the rather exciting, not so excellent, “adventure” of our final push home to Maine.

Kit’s Bit’s: On that note, our peaceful and somewhat predictable roving lifestyle took a “turn”. Stay tuned for the final phase of our trip. So far, it’s been a very nice getaway, a bit different than our routine jaunt out to the Southwest. The scenery has been beautiful, I love all the green trees and spring flowers. We were finally able to spend time in a few places where we had lived (and never were able to explore) and some new places along the southeast coast.