Bill and Kit’s 2020 Excellent AdventureSpecial Edition in Memory of Vince Ullrich

Time to come home dear brother your tour of duty through
You’ve given as much as anyone could be expected to do

So, take your place of honor among those who have gone before
And know you will be remembered for now and evermore

Robert Longley

Friday, January 24, 2020: At our age we lose people to disease or old age, and if I’ve introduced them in previous Excellent Adventure Journals, I tend to memorialize them upon their passing. I decided to issue a special edition as today we lost a great friend and a great man. Vince Ullrich has succumbed to a short but courageous battle with cancer.

He is survived by a loving family, and many friends around the country. Vince, and his wife Candy enjoyed the RV lifestyle…

…traveling in their motorhome with canine companion, Jake. Their RV allowed them to escape the Maine winters for balmy Key West.

Where they assembled with other “Winter Floridians”…

…and enjoyed the retiree lifestyle.

In addition to being a devoted family man, Vince was a retired Navy Master Chief serving in various P-3 aircraft squadrons. I first met Vince some thirty years ago when he hired on at Lockheed and became a highly skilled Test Engineer on the U. S. Navy’s Aegis Combat System.

Kit and I joined Vince and Candy along with other couples…

…on various outings and adventures, including camping trips on the Saco River where we would bring everything imaginable piled high in canoes. And then gingerly make our way down river to our favorite sandbar for a weekend of comradery and partying.

Vince was an avid outdoorsman enjoying hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, four-wheeling, and paddling many of Maines classic rivers. This last aspect of his life is where a few of us knew him best. Vince organized many multi-day camping trips on rivers throughout the state…

…which often included our children and grandchildren.

Whether it be a spring trip on the Moose River…

…or a pleasant paddle down the Penobscot…

…or a ten-day paddle on the iconic Allagash Wilderness Waterway…

…Vince was in his element.

Fair winds and following seas old friend…

…enjoy paddling those meandering rivers in heaven.

Kit’s Bit’s: As we mourn the passing of a dear friend, we are reminded to enjoy every minute with our loved ones and friends each and every day. Life is fragile. We, as well as Vince & Candy’s family and friends will be there for them, as they have been for us for many years. Sending love to the Ullrich Family.

Bill and Kit’s 2020 Excellent Adventure, Journal #4

The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.
Eleanor Roosevelt

 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019 through Saturday, January 4, 2020-Oasas RV Park, Las Vegas Nevada: Vegas is one of our must stops on our annual winter RV excellent adventure trips as it is where 1/3 of our family lives.

On Christmas eve, the first full day in town, found us hanging out with our two youngest grandsons Jack and Tucker and, as is tradition, taking them shopping for their parent’s Christmas gifts.

Tucker is approaching his 13th birthday, and older brother Jack is age 15. They are the youngest of our five grandchildren and are great kids…as are the other three back east.

After shopping and to recover from the Christmas Eve shopping madness, we sought refuge in a local In-N-Out Burger joint for lunch.

This chain, which hasn’t made it to the Northeast yet, features a simple menu and uses natural and fresh ingredients to produce a very good hamburger. The business model is unique as well, a privately owned company, every employee receives benefits and is paid far above minimum wage…but they agree upon employment to bring value to the company in the form of delivering an honest day’s work and providing excellent customer service. In-N-Out is one of the few fast food chain restaurants that consistently receives high marks from well know chefs and food critics.

After a nice meal, we returned to the boy’s home for more visiting with them and their folks before heading back to the RV park for the evening.

Christmas morning dawned bright and early with the boys…

…and newest member of the family, Sophie…

… excited and ready for the day’s festivities.

First off was the traditional opening of gifts from Santa…

…where Jack received the world’s largest Tortilla…

…and Tuck scored an…

…authentic Lamb’s wool blanket, amongst other gifts such as fancy basketball shoes.

In addition, they both received an Amethyst Crystal…

…that Kit and I purchased a few days ago in Wickenburg, Arizona.

Along with gift opening, we enjoyed some of our daughter’s famous Monkey Bread…

…served with fresh brewed coffee!

By afternoon, the boys were either enjoying their new gifts indoors…

…or outdoors.

That skateboard Jack is about to ride is motorized and can reach a pretty good speed by manipulating a small wireless controller…a far cry from my skateboard days of homemade contraptions made from 2×6 boards and cut up roller rink skates.

Toward evening we enjoyed a traditional, by Vegas standards, Christmas meal…

…of Broccoli Salad, home-smoked beef ribs, Buffalo Wild Wings, and homemade popovers…

Kit and I had a wonderful time celebrating this joyous day with our left-coast family!

By now you may be wondering if Jack and Tucker live in the house on their own.

Nope…

… their folks, Kevin and Suzie are allowed to live there as well.

Also, as mentioned earlier, a very affectionate rescue dog by the name of Sophie resides in the home.

Sophie took an immediate liking to Kit and started bringing her gifts in the form of her favorite dog toys…

…one after another…

…after another.

Since the boys are off school for Christmas break, Kit and I spent the rest of our time in town with them, going to places of interest, or just hanging out at their home.

Traditionally the boys like to spend a few nights in the camper with us but this year only Tucker took advantage of the offer. Jack is getting a bit too tall to comfortably sleep on the Lazy Boy recliners and the campgrounds Wi-Fi lacks the speed for him to enjoy his many electronic devices.

However, with Tuck’s late to bed-late to rise schedule, our day started around noon…which was just fine with Kit!

Oasis RV Park, our home for the next 12 days, is an upscale (read pricey) facility…

…with 935 full hook-up sites, and a nice recreation complex featuring two pools…

… hot tubs, dining facilities, and a 19-hole pitch-n-putt golf course.

All in all, as nice as it is, not our style of campground! We much prefer federal, state or municipal facilities that feature less amenities but more spacious sites away from large cities…or, when convenient, military campgrounds and recreation facilities.

So, why do we stay here? Well, it’s about 5 minutes from where the kids live and the prime reason for us even being in Vegas is to spend time with them! And so, without further to-do, here are some of the activities we enjoyed.

Viewed the movie Jumanji, The Next Level…

…even though it’s about some kids being sucked into an old video game, it was surprisingly entertaining!

On one of our many outings I spotted a toy from my own childhood…

…which both boys enjoyed…

…even though it functioned without computer technology.

We often ask the boys what activities they would like to do and being quite different they usually come up with unique requests…such as when Tucker wanted to see some special interest automobiles. This didn’t appeal to either Jack or Kit, so while they hung out at home, Tuck and I took off on our own…first stop was to the Shelby American manufacturing plant and museum.

Where the story of famed American race car driver and automotive entrepreneur Carrol Shelby was told concerning his innovative take on American sports car racing. Also, his legendary vision, in conjunction with Ford Motor Company, to develop unique automobiles for the American motoring enthusiast…such as the 1967 Ford Mustang GT-500…

…and the iconic Shelby AC Cobra developed by marrying a lightweight British AC Ace. With an American Ford V-8 power plant.

Carrol Shelby passed away in 2012 but the company he built still has a relationship with Ford to modify production Mustangs and F-150 Pickup trucks…

… with performance suspensions and available engine modifications producing up to 1000 horsepower!

Then the car that started it all, the AC Cobra…

…is still being built and sold at this facility. One of these jewels can be yours for a mere $250,000.00 and depending on engine choice the price goes up from there! Being one of my dream cars, I happened to exclaim to Kit, “it’s an investment”! The very first AC Cobra built recently sold at auction for $17.7 Million Dollars!” Yea, Kit wasn’t buying it…literally!

Another iconic race car in the collection is this Shelby modified Ford GT-40…

…that famed racer Dan Gurney drove in France during the 1966 Le Mans race where Ford fielded the top three finishers, an American first. Notice the “blister” on the roof? That was added so 6’4” Dan Gurney could fit in the driver’s seat.

After viewing the museum collection, Tucker and I enjoyed a garage tour by a Shelby staff member…

…and an accomplished semi-pro race car driver. We got to see new AC Cobra sports cars being built. These are known as “continuation cars” to differentiate them from the original 1960 era classics, which often command seven figures at auction. In addition, we were able to see some new production Ford Mustangs and trucks being modified with Shelby performance parts.

A very enjoyable and informative experience…if you’re ever in Vegas, make sure you make time to tour this interesting facility.

Our next stop was at the quirky Hollywood Cars Museum.

Many car collectors specialize and focus their collection on one marque or vintage of automobile. But this place is full of unique vehicles from either movies or television shows such as the jalopy from the Beverly Hillbillies…

…and a fully functioning roller skate car…

…notice the steering wheel sticking out the top of the boot?

Also, the death car from Bonnie & Clyde.

Complete with bullet holes made from…well, real bullets! Note the holes in the car’s body…

…they were shot from inside to minimize damage to the interior, but from a distance they look normal.

Then there was the Batmobile from the film “Batman Returns”.

And the submarine car driven by Roger Moore…

… in the James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me”.

And although technically not a movie or TV car is old Doc Hudson of “Cars” fame…

…which was built from an actual Hudson Hornet and used for promotion of that classic animated film.

The owner of this eclectic collection is Michael Dezer, a local real estate developer.  Michael was born in Israel and at a young age developed an interest in vehicles while piloting his Vespa scooter around town.  So, it’s no surprise that he has a separate mini-museum that houses a complete collection of those iconic Italian motor scooters.

The two red scooters in front are Ferrari Vesparossa’s…reportedly those were produced for an Italian Formula One Racing Team.

There are many more car collections to view in Vegas, many we’ve enjoyed in past years, but its time to head back and see what Kit and Jack are up to.

Often, we just enjoy hanging out with the boys at their home. Being a musical family, there are instruments scattered around the house…

…such as this electric cello. I asked Tuck to play the old Rosemary Clooney song “I Ain’t Got No Body” but he didn’t get it…yea, very few people understand my weird sense of humor.

Some folks hear of Las Vegas and think of only the famed Las Vegas Strip of hotels, casinos, and show venues.

However, there is life outside the strip. Vegas is in a valley surrounded by mountains…

…such as snowcapped 7,510-foot Mount Charleston. And many other attractions that do not include “The Strip” most of which we’ve enjoyed in past years.

Las Vegas has your typical American neighborhoods with average folks attending to average daily activities…although it is a bit surprising to be walking through the average neighborhood grocery store and come upon a bank of slot machines!

Before leaving Oasis RV Park, we treated the family to a nice dinner out an BJ’s Restaurant, a perennial favorite.

Where we enjoyed food, drink, and great conversation…

…what a difference a coupe of years makes, the boys were behaved and engaged…it felt like we were dining with six adults!

Well tomorrow we pull chocks and head to the north…stay tuned for further adventures with Bill and Kit.

Kit’s Bit’s: We had a wonderful Christmas Holiday week with our Las Vegas family! The boys are getting older so, we don’t actually play with them as we did when they were younger. It’s more about observing them doing whatever they enjoy. Both are intensely involved with computer games and seem to have a natural knack for it. Of course, it’s way beyond our understanding so, we are content just watching them as they each get totally immersed in their favorite activities.

Bill and Kit’s 2020 Excellent Adventure, Journal #3

One of the great things about travel is that you find out how many good, kind people there are.
Edith Wharton

Thursday, December 19, 2019: Woke in El Paso, Texas to sunny skies and cool temperatures. Then made relatively quick work of breaking camp and getting on the road before 0900 hours.

There are primarily three routes to head west from our location, south and through El Paso, west and over the Franklin Mountains, or northwest through a gap in the mountain chain…this year we choose the latter.

It’s a few miles longer, but not having to climb those steep grades saves fuel, and not dealing with El Paso traffic minimizes stress…and the travel time works out to be about the same.

Within fifteen minutes, we encountered our old friend Interstate 10 and soon crossed the eastern border of New Mexico…the domain of the fearless Roadrunner which is memorialized with a huge roadside sculpture.

Roadrunners are a species of Cuckoos that inhabit the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. Even though they can fly, the Roadrunner prefers to run…able to reach speeds of 30 MPH. Guess swiftness, and its legendary agility, is why the Roadrunner never had to mail order anything from The Acme Corporation in order to evade its nemesis.

As mentioned in the previous journal, Border Patrol Checkpoints are scattered along southern highways, and we soon encountered our first one of this year.

Unlike previous Excellent Adventures where the agents stopped our truck for questioning, it appears they are using sophisticated technology to screen each vehicle before it arrives at the agent’s position.

                                    (From Google Images)

When we rolled up, the agent just smiled and said: “Hi Bill, hope you and Kit enjoy a safe trip to your brothers’ home in Tucson”. Then we waved us through the checkpoint…yep, the USBP knows almost as much about you as Google does!

An hour passed before deciding to take a break from the monotonous interstate by exiting into downtown Deming, New Mexico.

A typical isolated and dusty Southwestern Desert town of 15,000 folks, Deming lies about 30 miles north of the Mexican border, and 60 miles from any sizable US town. It’s historical claim-to-fame was that the second American Transcontinental Railroad was completed here in 1881 with the driving of a symbolic silver stake and connecting the Southern Pacific to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroads.

Oh, and in June of 1965 the town of Deming was our first stop as teenage newlyweds during the 2,900-mile road trip from our childhood home of San Diego, California to our new home of Key West, Florida.

And, after nearly 55-years, the motel we stayed at that evening is still standing!

Back then it was a Travel Lodge, note the “TL” on the second-floor railing, and as I recall a room cost about $10.00 a night. Adjusted for inflation that would be close to $90.00 in today’s dollars…a princely sum in those days.

A sad update about our time in 1965 Key West however.  Readers of these journals may remember Johnny and Eileen, a couple we first met in Key West and have visited many times during our Excellent Adventure trips.

A few weeks ago, Johnnie passed away following a short illness.  He was one of our oldest friends and always welcomed us to camp in their driveway.  Rest in Peace Johnny.

Another update from our early travel contacts is the passing of Pat S.

A dear friend from our Maine hometown, Kit and I enjoyed connecting with her during our visits to the San Antonio area.   Pat also left us way too early after battling the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s Disease and dementia…Love you Pat.

Back to our travels along Interstate ten, we soon came across evidence of the recent heavy rains that swept through this area a few days ago.

Initially thinking it was a mirage, as it is unusual to see standing water alongside the road in the arid desert southwest…

…but we soon realized it was mile after mile of water ponding on both sides of the highway.

Four hours into today’s trip, and after a few roadside rest breaks, we rolled across the Arizona border…

…and a half hour later pulled off into a favorite roadside stop of ours…

…Dwayne’s gas station, campground and Jerky Emporium…

…where every conceivable meat product is dried to oblivion and vacuum packed for ones snacking pleasure.

In addition to a variety of jerky we also picked few jars of cactus jelly…

…from the famous “We B Jamin Farm” (apparently the pun is intended). Kit and I were in culinary bliss!

Back on I-10W, we trundled along through Texas Canyon, bypassed the famed Saint Rita Church of Vail, and rolled into the city of Tucson. Then at 1546 hours we backed into the dooryard of my brother and sister-in-law’s place for a brief stay…our first “mooch-camping” opportunity of the year!

Dewey and Bea are avid Rv’rs as well and have set up their sizable driveway with full hookups resulting in a very comfortable and enjoyable place to camp.

The afternoon consisted of a lot of visiting and catching up followed by a nice home cooked meal, followed by a few cocktails, followed by slumber in our camper…goodnight!

 

Friday, December 20 and Saturday, December 21, 2019-Tucson, Arizona: Spent an enjoyable two days visiting with family and enjoying the nice Arizona weather in Dewey and Bea’s large and beautifully landscaped backyard…

… full of various desert trees, shrubs, cactus and succulents, such as this Yucca.

Dewey pointed out that the Yucca leaf’s each have a unique geometric design…

…a result of when the plant was forming and tightly bundled. The leaf above imprinted an image of its shape on the one below it…pretty cool.

Their backyard is the perfect place to gather…

…and enjoy breakfast alfresco of Bea’s delicious Tamales and eggs!

So much outdoor time in winter is a real treat, however any northerner who hasn’t been exposed to the sun in a while knows the importance of proper sun protection and therefore wears stylish headgear…

…regardless of how dorky he or she may look.

A tradition Kit and I adhere to is the act of treating our dooryard accommodating guests to a meal out. So, on the final evening in Tucson Dewey, Bea, Dan, Kit and I gathered at the prime Mexican restaurant of Guadalajara Grill in North Tucson.

Specializing in inexpensive Margaritas…

…a tableside Salsa bar…

…and authentic Sonoran inspired fare…

…which was incredibly delicious!

Back at the DewBea Ranch, some of us participated in a challenging game of blocks…

…until it was time to climb the spirals stairs up to the rooftop deck…

…and enjoy the evenings sunset.

Goodnight!

 

Sunday, December 22, 2019: Up early, and on the road at 0815 hours under partly cloudy skies and a temperature of 46 degrees. We wound our way through various North Tucson streets until hitting I-10 where we headed west once again.

While motoring along, Kit and I started seeing what looked like snow…what the?!?! Soon we can upon this tractor-trailer rig…

… that had a huge roll of raw cotton which was sloughing off bits of the fiber as the truck rolled along. That was surprising, but even more surprising was the fact that cotton is being grown in Arizona…in fact, this state ranks number ten in the US for cotton production!

Passing through Wymola, Arizona we noticed the major landmark of Picacho Peak on the left…

…and shortly left civilization for the open desert.

As we neared the megalopolis of Phoenix, we choose to detour around the city via I-8 to Gila Bend where we stopped at the Shell Truck Stop for fuel and breakfast. A large facility with easy access in and out, separate dedicated RV fuel lanes, and a large parking area. It’s the perfect stop and includes a fitting memorial to the animals …

…who gave their lives so we may have the fuel to travel.

Out of Gila Bend we traveled on AZ-85 heading north, then rejoined I-10 East intersecting with AZ-303 North which circles the west side of Phoenix. At US-60 we headed north toward the town of Wickenburg, Arizona…our destination for the evening.

Upon arriving, we pulled into the Desert Cypress RV Park at 1235 hours and set up on a nice level site.

This RV park, one which we’ve stayed a few times before, is across the Hassayampa River from Wickenburg proper and features a nice wide pedestrian walkway that leads to downtown.

The river is basically a desert wash, and dry most of the year making it suitable for grazing of cattle…

… except during Monsoon Season when raging runoff flows under the bridge. Even though the river is occasionally damp the “No Fishing from Bridge” sign seemed more of a practical joke.

Wickenburg, the self-described Arizona Cowboy Christmas Town…

… features a typical western downtown with shops and restaurants lining both sides of the main street…

…where cowboys, cattlemen, and miners…

…congregate on a pleasant Sunday afternoon.

Kit and I have stopped in this quaint little town in west central Arizona of 6,000 souls a number of times. We enjoy walking about and poking through the various gift, antique, and junk shops…such as Trader J’s.

Where Jimmy, the third-generation proprietor all previously being named Jimmy as well, holds court.

It’s not a large shop, but full of interesting items such as Native American jewelry, historical artifacts, various gems and other local oddities from the surrounding hills, and best of all, Jimmy’s stories of growing up in this small western town. If your travels ever find you in Wickenburg, stop by Trader J’s and tell him Bill and Kit said howdy!

Around midafternoon, we grabbed a quick bite to eat at Bedouins Bistro…

                                    (From Google Images)

…where good food was the staple…

…followed by a slice of incredible Pecan Pie, made from an old family recipe that Kit failed to convince the owner to divulge.

Then it was back to the camper for a cocktail and an early turn in…goodnight!

 

Monday, December 23, 2019: Up and on the road at 0903 hours under overcast skies and a temperature of 46 degrees. Back on AZ-60 West and climbing in altitude…

…we enjoyed driving through a forest of Joshua Tree’s that line the highway.

A species of Yucca, these iconic plants of the American Southwest, grow in an altitude band of 1,300 feet to 5,900 feet and always look to me…

…as a figment of Doctor Seuss’s imagination.

About once a trip, while driving along a relatively straight, flat, and windless highway, an exercise I periodically undertake is to zero out the trucks MPG calculator and check the trucks fuel efficiency…

…12.3 MPG! Not bad for a 19,000-pound rig with a frontal area near the size of a billboard!

Around 1100 hours found us merging with I-40 continuing west, then at the crossroads town of Kingman, Arizona Kit and I choose to head north up the east side of The Colorado River by taking AZ-93.

Crossing the Colorado River via the Pat Tillman Bridge, we pulled into the Hoover Dam Lodge and Casino for a quick break…

…and where a scenic overview of Lake Mead can be enjoyed.

Yep, the lake is still historically low, the result of population growth and below average rainfall…yet this area is still being developed!

At 1244 we crossed the border of Nevada and entered the Pacific Time Zone, gaining an hour on the day.

Rolling through Bolder City, Nevada and dropping into the Las Vegas Valley, we found our way to Oasis RV Park situated on Las Vegas Boulevard, south of the famous Las Vegas Strip and set up camp for a two week stay.

Today is a big day for Kit and me as we finally reach the city where our daughter and her family live, and where we are looking forward to a nice Christmas…stay tuned.

Kit’s Bit’s: Yes, we’ve been looking forward to this day! We saw our 2 youngest Grands last summer however, it’s been 2 years since we’ve seen Suzie & Kevin! Our trip so far has been easy. Thanks to Bill who is so particular about getting everything on both the truck and trailer in tip top shape before we head out. I don’t mention it often but, I REALLY appreciate all the work he puts in to keep us safe on the road! I’m quite certain his attention to detail has kept us out of lots of precarious situations. We’re anxious to see the kids and share the holidays with them. Let The Wild Rumpus Begin!

Bill and Kit’s 2020 Excellent Adventure, Journal #2

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page
Saint Augustine

Friday, December 13, 2019-San Marcos, Texas: Woke to a beautiful Texas morning at Canyon Trails RV Park located in the town of San Marcos.

And why did we choose this particular campground? Well, it’s because of these fine Maine Snowbirds who winter over here.

Rey and Darlene live full time in their luxury fifth wheel camper. They also travel with a cute little guy by the name of Kobi…

… who unfortunately had to undergo doggie dental surgery and wasn’t his old self.

Kit and I spent the day visiting and taking care of maintenance items on our rig. Then at the appropriate blue hair dinner hour of 1630 we gathered with another Canyon Trails couple at the 54th Street watering house.

Rey, Darlene, Larry, Debra, Kit and I enjoyed ice cold Barley Pops and delicious Tavern Fare.

This local brewhouse had an incredible selection of draft offerings…

…of which I chose the Velvet Yeti from Great Divide Brewing Company.

Thick, rich and frothy…the perfect American Stout! In fact, it was so good, I enjoyed a second, what the heck, I’m not driving!

Back at the ranch, Texas Talk for the campground, we gathered in Rey and Darlene’s camper for a few nightcaps and more enjoyable socializing.

While walking back to our trailer in the gathering dusk, I noticed some timid deer that had left the protective cover of the woods…

… to graze in an adjacent field as the sun dipped below the western horizon…

…illuminating the rear of our camper in golden Alpenglow…

…which was followed by the full moon rising in the east…

…signaling that it was time to retire. Goodnight!

 

Saturday, December 14, 2019: Up, said our goodbyes to Rey and Darlene, and hit the road at 0850 hours under sunny skies and a temperature of 66 degrees.

Traveling south on I-35 Kit mentioned she would like to visit the world-famous Buc-ee’s. So, with my needing fuel, and Kit desiring some Retail Therapy, we pulled off the highway and made our way to the Texas sized service station.

With 120 fueling stations in two rows, it’s the largest gas station in the world.

Only a native Texan would think to build such a massive facility. The fuel prices are quite a bit lower than anywhere else…case in point, diesel was $2.55 a gallon where the current nationwide average is $3.32 a gallon. Filling my 36-gallon tank nets a savings of $27.72! Open 24 hours, the fuel flows day and night to the point where Buc-ee’s has a fleet of gasoline/diesel tankers that deliver fuel nonstop!

The associated convenience store is…yep, you guessed it, the largest convenience store in the world at 68,000 square feet

The above photo was taken inside the main entrance and only shows the right half the retail space! The store features 31 cash registers, a food court with 80 soft drink dispensers, and the “facilities” boasts 83 gleaming toilets!

Picking up various sundries, which seemed a bit odd to me as it was only Saturday, Kit and I continued our trek south on I-35. Nearing San Antonio, we merged onto I-10 and headed west meandering through the picturesque Texas Hill Country.

This area of Southcentral Texas is known as the demarcation line between the American Southeast and the American Southwest. As such it contains elements of both geographic regions and hosts Yucca, Prickly Pear Cactus, Juniper Evergreens, and majestic Live Oak’s. The region is noted for lush rolling hills, meandering streams, and a heavy influence of German culture. Kit and I have explored this area extensively over the years and hope to spend more time in this interesting section of the US, possibly on our return trip East in the spring of 2020.

During our days travel, I-10 continues to cleave through the Texas Hill country…

… on its way to the flatter, and more arid West Texas.

Kit and I enjoyed a pleasant and uneventful transit across the Texas plains with stops for fuel, rest and to stretch our legs a bit. After 345 miles, we pulled into another one of our preferred campgrounds, Fort Stockton RV Park, and set up for the evening.

We were pleased that the late afternoon temperature was a pleasant 82 degrees…the warmest it’s been all trip!

This campground is unique amongst RV parks in that it’s one of the few we’ve seen that features a nice little café on the premises…

…where southern fare is the specialty, such as their incredible chicken fried steak!

Drinks and desert, in the form of ice cream cups, are included for $7.95…hard to justify cooking in the camper after a long day of travel at those prices!

 

Sunday, December 15, 2019: Departed Fort Stockton at 0822 under sunny skies and a temperature of 62 degrees. Back on I-10 and continuing westerly we traveled the longest, and most boring segment of Texas. An area of little traffic and seemingly endless “pointy roads”.

You may notice the white dot in the upper part of the above photo. Yep, it’s the moon, still reflecting the early morning sunlight!

Long, flat, featureless highways seem to be more prone to vehicle mishaps…

…such as befell this hapless trucker.

As we neared the west end of Texas, the terrain begins to exhibit a bit more character…

…well by West Texas standards anyway.

Over the years, Kit and I have noticed less long-haul commercial truck traffic on the East-West Interstates, as opposed to those that traverse North and South.

It appears that east-west commerce is transported via railroad more often than hauled by trucks.

About an hour east of the New Mexico border a weather alert came across the trucks onboard computer indicating high winds. Pulling into a rest area we discovered that the winds were from the west and sustained at 18 MPH with gusts to 25 MPH. My personal threshold for driving this high-profile vehicle is 20 MPH, however with a headwind I determined it was reasonably safe to continue on, but at a reduced speed…which helped offset the wind effect on handling and fuel economy.

Not wanting to tempt fate and nearing our daily travel time/distance limit anyway, Kit called the campground at Fort Bliss Army Base. This military RV park has a first come, first served policy and she discovered there were only three campsites available. So, soldiering on (no pun intended) we battled (no pun intended) our way through increasingly heavy winds toward that objective.

Pulling off I-10 and onto I-375, which loops around the city of El Paso, we headed north and fifteen minutes later exited toward the Fort Bliss RV Park where we happily discovered that there was an available camp spot for us…

…so, we checked in at 1130 hours, and set up for a three-night stay.

Spent the rest of the day doing laundry, fixing a few items on the camper, and relaxing before enjoying a nice meal. Then it was off to bed…goodnight.

 

Monday, December 16 through Wednesday, December 18, 2019-Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas: This RV Park is another of our favorites. Primarily because it’s an inexpensive, clean, modern and a full featured RV Park. Since we are making pretty good progress toward our Christmas destination Kit and I decided to layover for a few days. That will allow time for us to fill the larder, attend to some domestic chores, see some of the sights, and take a breather from our daily travel routine.

On one of the days, we spent shopping at the commissary and Post Exchange.

A retail establishment that rivals any mall in the US! In addition to the huge Post Exchange, there are many smaller stores clustered about a large food court…

… that contains dozens of fast food offerings, as well as full featured restaurants.

At 4,900 square miles, Fort Bliss, in conjunction with White Sands Missile Range, is the US Army’s largest installation. It is home to the 1st Armored Division with a troop count in excess of 33,500 soldiers. The primary mission of Fort Bliss is to train soldiers in the use of Army weapons such as this M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank doing its thing in the hills north of El Paso.

Ironically, the 1st Armored Division was nicknamed “Old Ironsides” by its first commanding general after the Navy’s USS Constitution, a wooden-hulled, three-masted frigate who earned the mantle “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812, due to her ability to withstand relentless cannon fire.

On base, there is a museum I took in while Kit enjoyed other pastimes that didn’t feature loud noisy machines.

The Fort Bliss and Old Ironsides Museum includes US Army weapons from various world wars, police actions, armed conflicts, skirmishes, peacekeeping scuffles, and other armed fracases…

…such as this 105mm Howitzer from WWII…and the M2A1 Halftrack that hauled it…

… which frankly would make a pretty nifty RV, especially with the .50 Caliber machine Gun sprouting from its roof to dissuade discourteous drivers from cutting you off in traffic! Over 13,500 M2 Halftracks were manufactured by the White Truck Company, they all sported 386CID truck engines that developed 148HP which produced speeds up to 50 MPH over rough terrain.

Also, of WWII vintage, was a M5 Light Battle Tank manufactured by the Cadillac Motorcar Corporation.

During the second world war, most automobile companies retooled to support and build equipment for the war effort. The M5 features two Cadillac V8 engines that propel the 33,907-pound tank to a speed of 36 MPH.

There was also a captured German Troop Carrier from WWII on display.

Which featured heavy armor around the troop compartment…but there was no roof!?!?

Seems like an engineering oversight that would put the troops in jeopardy from aerial assault.

Outside the museum, there were other US Army weapons on display…

…such as this M-60 Patton Main Battle Tank used during the Vietnam conflict…

…manufactured by the Chrysler Corporation.  Sporting a 105mm main gun, the M-60 is powered by a 750HP Turbo Diesel engine which propels the 100,000-pound tank to a top speed of 30 MPH.

Even though I’m partial to US Navy museums, I found this offering to be a very interesting collection of military history and hardware!

On another day, we took a ride around El Paso to do some shopping and stumbled upon a community Rose Garden.

Being winter, it wasn’t open…however being the Southwest, there were many rose bushes still in bloom!

Before returning to the camper, we happened upon a chain Mexican food place we had never heard of. And since it was past lunch, and since it appeared to be popular, we stopped in for a bite.

While Kit and I stood in line pondering our order, a very nice Hispanic woman realized we were Taco Tote novices and offered suggestions. Which turned out to be spot on!

The food was excellent, by chain restaurant standards, and the salsa, pepper, and chip bar were fresh and very well stocked!

On the final day in town, Kit and I visited the US Border Patrol Museum, a bit north of town.

Established in 1979 this national museum is dedicated to the men and women patrolling our nations boundaries…some of whom gave their lives in pursuit of their duties. The Border Patrol, currently an agency of The Department of Homeland Security, was established in 1904 and originally called Mounted Watchmen.

At 19,437 agents, the US Border Patrol is the largest law enforcement agency in the nation. Their original charter in the late 1800’s was to restrict the flow of illegal immigration from Chinese nationals, who were crossing our southern border in defiance of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Agents not only patrol the borders, but also man checkpoints along southern highways…

…a practice that continues today. If you’ve traveled through the American Southwest within 100 miles of the Mexican border, you have been subjected to personal questioning and occasionally searching of your automobile.

The Border Patrol Museum features the many and varied vehicles used by agents in their line of duty.

I was surprised to learn that border surveillance by air has long been utilized to watch for illegal activity.

This helicopter was used to patrol the border south of El Paso in the 1940’s.

Another asset used by the Border Patrol is a bit unusual…a 1985 Pontiac Firebird 350 “Pursuit Vehicle”.

This high-performance muscle car was designed to chase automobiles that were engaged in illicit activity. However, the pursuit vehicle was not very practical, so this sole example was eventually relegated to public relations activities by being taken to schools and car shows as a recruiting tool.

Other automobiles in the Border Patrol inventory are items confiscated from drug traffickers who, in order to launder their ill-gotten gains, purchased exotic sports cars or classic vehicles such as this 1930 Ford Model A Rumble Seat Coupe.

Most confiscated automobiles are sold at public auctions with the proceeds going back into the Border Patrol budget…however this fully restored Model A found a home in the museum.

Today, the US Border has a modern and capable mobile arsenal to use…

… in patrolling the land and water boundaries of the United States against illegal activity. In addition to the above, the Border Patrol uses off road vehicles, video surveillance, tethered blimps, thermal and motion sensing devices, agents on horseback, drones, and good old-fashioned foot patrol to guard our borders. And, today their mission remains to combat drug trafficking and capture any person entering the United States illegally.

On the other side of the law, drug and human traffickers use novel and usually homemade contraptions to illegally enter the US.

Yep, motorized hang-gliders, powered scooters, makeshift boats, and low slung and highly muffled go-cart’s…

…with side baskets for prone humans or bundles of drugs.

Or, during illegal human entry, some aliens try and use fake cow hooves made of wood attached to huarache sandals.

Which the illegal migrants would use to mooooove along, but doesn’t fool the border patrol agents one bit.

The majority of agents are minorities, and many of those are of Hispanic origin, some of whom immigrated to the US legally and worked toward their US citizenship before becoming agents.

Many miles of border contain no fencing, and some with little vehicle deterrent, so the agents of the Border Patrol serve a valuable function in helping minimize drugs or illegal aliens from entering our country.

As an historical side note, in the early 1960’s, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, took advantage of the proximity and experience of Border Patrol agents by deputizing them to enforce school integration in the deep south.

A great museum dedicated to the men and women of the US Border Patrol…don’t miss it if your travels find you in the El Paso, Texas area!

Well, its been a nice stopover, but tomorrow we must continue west, so as the sunsets behind our camper…

…we bid all a goodnight.

Kit’s Bit’s: Fortunately, our trip has gone very smoothly, so far. Other than Houston traffic, we’ve been able to get through or around all of the larger cities easily. There weren’t any problems in Houston, just a LOT of traffic during the middle of the day. Our visit with Rey & Darlene and Larry & Debra was fun. Hope to see them in Maine this summer. We enjoyed our short stay at Fort Bliss. It has always been a good stop to take a couple days of rest. Heading west in the morning!

Bill and Kit’s 2020 Excellent Adventure, Journal #1

The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun
Christopher McCandless

Monday, December 2, 2019: Well, today was to be our departure day…however there’s a large winter storm bearing down on us from the west, so we’re wisely staying put!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019: And a good thing we did as we woke to this sight…

… and it’s still snowing! Even the “Old Pine Codger”, standing guard in our backyard…

…looked a bit perplexed.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019: Woke at 0430 and immediately checked various weather and road condition websites…it looks to be reasonably safe for our travel out of the neighborhood and toward points south.

While loading up the truck and camper with last minute items, a neighbor braved the cold to come out and bid us farewell, and another neighbor stopped as he was driving by to do the same…thanks Kim and Jeff!

Underway at 0520 with a light snow falling and a temperature of 19 degrees. Kit and I wound our way through the quiet neighborhood where the roads were a bit greasy. Yep, greasy, that’s a Maine term meaning hard packed snow and ice…I guess the town’s Public Works Department was taking a well-deserved break from plowing over the long storm. On the main road out of town the conditions improved immensely. And once we hit the Interstate, they were clear and dry…thanks’ Maine state snowplow folks!

Made our customary stop at the I-95 Kennebunk Service Plaza to take a bathroom break and conduct a safety check, part of which is to check the campers tire, brake and wheel temperatures with a laser pointed infrared temperature meter.

Fortunately, 80.2 degrees is within specifications! I conduct these measurements, along with tire wear patterns and lug nut torque, to minimize any issues that may leave us stranded.

Speaking of being stranded, you may recall our trailer malfunction during last winter’s trip…if not it was extensively chronicled in 2019’s final journal which can be found at: https://bilnkit.com/2019/06/16/bill-and-kits-2019-excellent-adventure-journal-16/.

I mention this as over the summer, in order to limit and future problems, I had all running gear components replaced. Axels, brakes, springs, shocks, shackles and bolts…all new!
Just as Kit and I were leaving the service plaza, the sun peered over the eastern horizon.

It appears we will enjoy a great travel day!

Our preferred route out of New England and through New York has been well documented over the past 12 years of these winter RV trips so I won’t go into detail here, other than to mention we still prefer utilizing I-84…

… to cross the Hudson River via the Hamilton Fish-Newburg Beacon bridge, way north of the big city.

For stats monkeys such as I, here are the border crossing times: 0725 New Hampshire, 0743 Massachusetts, 1045 Connecticut, 1234 New York, and at 1409 hours we crossed into Pennsylvania and merged onto I-81, the infamous Truckers Route and our main conduit south toward warmer weather.

So many long-haul truckers use I-81 that some decide to travel it in reverse to make it more exciting…

…as this Freightliner jockey is doing in front of us!

The temperature has risen to 37 degrees, but the overnight temps will be in the 20’s…

… that, and the fact there are no convenient campgrounds open this time of the year, led Kit to suggest we stop and overnight at the Fairfield Inn in Hazelton, PA.

We usually attempt to get further south on day one, but with the late departure coupled with the waning daylight, this was to be our decision…according to Kit, a very wise woman!

Following a great meal at Damon’s Grill located right next door, it was time to put day #1 to sleep…Goodnight!

Thursday, December 5, 2019: Following a great motel provided breakfast, we got underway at 0930 under cloudy skies and a temperature of 31 degrees. Back on I-81 South and, within 10 minutes, we were in a snow squall!?!? Reducing speed and hunkering down behind a FedEx truck we plodded along looking for a safe place to exit to wait it out when, as quickly the squall began, it abruptly ended…weird! Then within an hour the sun shone through and the temperatures rose into the mid 40-degrees!

Shortly after noon, we crossed the Maryland border, and 30 minutes later found us in West Virginia. Another 30 minutes passed before crossing into the State of Virginia where the grass was green and the temperatures nudged 50 degrees…Yay, shorts and t-shirt weather!

At 1435 hours, with 246 miles on the road, we pulled into Shenandoah Valley Campground for the evening.

Kit and I have developed this time vs distance decree we call “The 300 Rule”. On travel days we limit our driving time to 300 miles or stop by 3:00PM…whichever comes first. That allows for a relatively easy travel day while still making some forward progress toward or ultimate destination, which in this case is Christmas in Las Vegas with our daughter Suzie and her family.

Speaking of family, since these annual journal’s only cover the winter RV’ing half our lives, and as such chronicle’s visits with family and friends we see along the way, I traditionally mention our Maine borne family in the initial issue.

A few weeks ago, we held our annual Thanksmas family celebration where Christmas and Thanksgiving are combined into an enjoyable day of togetherness.

Left to right, we have Joe, Ann, Katie, Finny, Kim, Whitney, Joe B, Kit, and I. Grandson Chris, who is away at college, couldn’t make it this year…however Kit and I were able to see him a few days later when he visited home.

Chris, is a second-year student at a university in Rhode Island and is seeing a delightful young lady by the name of Shileigh…

… a fellow student and an accomplished race car driver.

Granddaughter Katie is living and working in New York City in the world of high finance for a large international bank and financial services company. She and her partner Branden, …

…who is finishing up an internship with Major League Baseball, live the exciting life of a young professional couple.

Our oldest grandson and his partner Whitney are holding down the fort in our Maine home while we galivant around the country.

Whitney is finishing up her college degree while Joe has recently started his own construction business…

… and is booked out for most of next year, much to the chagrin of his grandfather who is waiting patiently in Joe’s work queue.

And the four-legged member of our family is Great Grand-dog, Finny.

The resident BMOC (Big Mutt on Cul-de-sac), Finny is friendly, playful and a joy to have around.

And, then there are the two youngest grands, Tucker and Jack…

…more about them in a few weeks. With that its back to our travels!

Friday, December 6, 2019: Departed Shenandoah Valley Campground following our first camping opportunity this trip. It dropped to the low 30-degree mark, but with our well insulated camper and robust heater Kit and I spent a very comfortable and restful evening.

Enjoyed an uneventful transit further south on I-81, stopping every few hours for food, fuel, or some walking around time before crossing into the State of Tennessee. With 296 miles under our belt it was time to seek out a suitable campground…not too far off the interstate, not too fancy (expensive), and with at least electric availability. Kit, using the AllStay App found Rocky Top Campground in Blountville, Tennessee.


Dinner, some E-Time, and it was off to slumberland…zzzzzzz.

Saturday, December 7, 2019: Back on the road at 1024 hours following a restful night. Once again, wound our way to I-81 where we continued the trek south under sunny skies and a temperature of 48 degrees.

At 1130 we merged onto I-40 West, then an hour later intersected I-75 continuing south while crossing the Tennessee River a few minutes later. Pulling into an interstate rest area for some rest and leg stretching the temperature had risen to 62 degrees and we shed our jackets for the first time this trip…yay, getting warmer!

By 1300 hours we were back underway and within minutes merged onto I-59 West nipping the northwest corner of Georgia before looping back into Tennessee near Chattanooga and entering the Central Time Zone, thereby gaining an hour. At that point, we only had 232 miles for the day, but were within striking distance of a favorite overnight stop of ours…Marion County Park in Jasper Tennessee. So, we pulled into their sparsely populated riverside campground for the evening.

Dinner, an adult beverage or two followed by a stroll about the park brought us to bedtime…goodnight!

Saturday, December 7, 2019-Marion County Campground, Jasper, TN: This morning, greeted by a spectacular sunrise…

…Kit and I decided to stay put and declare a goof off day, so we extended our departure until tomorrow morning. We have been on the road for four solid days, covering 1,243 miles (that’s 310 miles per day for those seeing if we are adhering to our 300 rule) and we needed a break!

A leisurely breakfast, some photo editing and journal writing followed by some kite flying for Bill…

…and some knitting, reading, and napping by Kit filled the bill in the goof off ledger.

Monday, December 9, 2019: Departed Marion County Park at 1009 hours under cloudy skies and temperatures in the high 50’s and found our way back to I-59 South.

Crossed into Alabama an hour later, and two hours further south we moved over to I-459 which merged with I-20 West a few minutes later. A few fuel and rest stops were accomplished before crossing the Mississippi state line where the temperature had climbed to 71 degrees. Approaching the hour of 1600, and after amassing a rule breaking 360 miles, we stopped for the evening at Roosevelt State Park, in Morton, MS.

Oh, as a side note, if there appears to be an inordinate number of camper photos, it’s because we use these journals as a log of past camping locations for future consideration. You may also have noticed the fresh Maine wreath affixed to our campers’ rear ladder.

This is a tradition of ours on these winter RV trips, to spread holiday cheer, and as a test to see how long an authentic Maine wreath can survive a trip to the American Desert Southwest…time will tell! I should note that this year our wreath was provided by our neighbor Henry, the result of a Midcoast Youth Hockey fundraiser.

Roosevelt State Park is located in a beautiful wooded area on a pristine fishing lake…

…and was sparsely populated at this time of the year so we enjoyed complete quiet and solitude.

Tuesday, December, 10, 2019: Overnight a large rain storm inundated the area, and it looked as if we would be driving in it most of the day, so we decided to break camp early and get on the road in case there was any low areas that had accumulated standing water where we need to wait it out.

Made it out of the campground unscathed, and within the hour were on I-55 South, and at 1116 crossed into Louisiana and continued south toward the Gulf Coast.

In route, Kit noticed that we would be passing very near to Amite, LA…the childhood home of friend Betty, so we decided to pull off and have a look about.

It was still raining pretty hard so most of our sightseeing was from the comfort of our truck, but from what we could tell, Amite appeared to be a wonderful and quaint small southern town.

Back on I-55 South, we soon came to I-12 which parallels the north shore of Lake Ponchatrain and headed west. Thirty minutes later we intersected I-10, our traditional conduit to the western United States…at least this time of the year. Any farther north and the threat of tornados, thunderstorms, snow and ice are a concern. US-90 is an alternative, and one we have taken a few times in the past. It meanders through many small towns and is far more picturesque but a lot slower, adding a few days to our travel toward the left coast.

It’s still raining, and the traffic is heavy, but fortunately most everyone has slowed down and appears to be driving very cautiously. Well, that’s until we started across the 18-mile-long Atchafalaya Swamp, where we were delayed by two separate crashes on the narrow causeway.

Finally clearing the wrecks Kit found us a nice campground in the town of Egan, Louisiana so at 1540 hours we pulled in for the evening.

Goodnight!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019: Woke to sunny skies, a temperature of 45 degrees, and a strong northwest wind. Driving a high-profile vehicle such as our rig is a challenge in winds over 20MPH, but it’s predicted to stay below that threshold for today’s travels, so we decided to motor on.

Before pulling out, Stephanie the owner of Hidden Pines Campground stopped by to see how our stay was.

She and her husband purchased the formerly closed and run-down campground 18 months ago and have done a remarkable job in bringing it up to quality standards…we highly recommend anyone traveling through this part of Louisiana to patronize this fine park!

At 0949 hour’s we made our way back to I-10 and continued West.

Traveling along our nation’s byways, we often come across some humorous and attention-grabbing road signs, such as…

…which is cleverly advertising a towing service in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

As we near western Louisiana there are more and more oil refineries along the interstate.

However, even though it’s only a few yards to the local gas station, the price of fuel remains the same!?!?

At around 1100 hours we crossed the Sabine River and entered the State of Texas!

Where tradition has it that northerners don traditional Texas headgear, such as the dork below is sporting…

…and pick up a supply of the Official Texas State Nectar of the Gods…

…ah, the good life of a “Winter Texan”!

One of the challenges of traveling I-10 West is passing through Houston. This metropolis of over two million folks can be quite congested, however we try and time it for midafternoon, so the traffic isn’t too bad.

However, I was glad I had the extra set of eyes of my delightful and every observant traveling companion!

Well…she’s delightful anyway! However, she was alert when it was time to end todays travel as we neared the town of Brookshire, Texas. Using AllStays, Kit guided us to a great campground!

Another pleasant facility with a very nice laundry. Important, as after eight days on the road, we had a pile of dirty laundry! Also, there was a lovely fishpond…

… with resident ducks sunbathing on the shoreline.

Using the Dave W. technique of “continuously snapping photos as you sneak up on wildlife before they detect your presence” worked, except…

…I got the timing off a bit. However, I was able to capture an acceptable photo of this group showcasing diversity in nature.

Time to fold clothes, enjoy a nice meal, and call it a night!

Thursday, December 12, 2019: Up, broke camp and hit the road by 1030 hours under sunny skies and a very pleasant temperature of 71 degrees!

As we neared San Antonio, we decided to leave the interstate and spend some time on country roads heading for the winter stomping grounds of some Maine friends.

Kit and I really enjoy traveling the backroads of America but sticking to the interstate system is necessary to make better time and ensure there are diesel stops that can accommodate our rig. However, although slower, backroads are far more interesting as they pass through small quaint towns such as Kingsbury, Texas.

Where the town’s pastime appears to be decorating the numerous oil well pumps with nursery rhyme caricatures.

Piecing together a variety of farm roads and state highways we pulled into Canyon Trails RV Park in San Marcos, Texas by midafternoon for a few days off the road…

and visiting with great friends.

Stay tuned for the further adventures of Bill and Kit!

Kit’s Bit’s: Despite leaving a couple days late, we’ve made good time and haven’t had any issues with either truck or trailer. I think we’ve discovered that, at our age, we really need to stick to the 300 miles a day and stopping at 1500 for the day. We also need to take a day off here and there to recharge. Also, of all the places to doze off, why Houston? The busiest traffic (for a couple hours) of all the places we’ve been???? Good thing Bill doesn’t doze off while driving!

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.