Sunday, July 3, 2016

Cross Country Again, Texas to South Dakota!

First of all, Happy July 4th to one and all. We have a full-hookup site through next Saturday, so we aren't going to be on the road at all until Tuesday. On this 3rd day of July we are having thunderstorms all afternoon, but it should clear out by tomorrow, so maybe we'll have a cook-out after all.

As of the last post, we were still in Livingston, Texas, at the Escapees Rainbows End RV Park. We got our air conditioner fixed (I think...at least it runs OK, except from the generator again, which now has no output... again), and we got our new shocks installed. We were going to have the air bags replaced, but scheduling of their shop and our departure date didn't allow for it. The new shocks do make a world of difference, though!

I also discovered that we dragged the hitch again. Could have been a low driveway entrance or even on a dip in a city street somewhere. The end result is that we are constantly grinding away at our safety chains and damaging our screw-together chain links that lock the safety chains onto the receiver hitch.

Badly abraded safety chains from dragging on pavement and/or concrete.

By the time we got to Livingston, we discovered the links were so badly bent, I had to use a wrench to unscrew them. Now, I keep a second set handy at all times.

Badly bent chain links had to be replaced.

This problem is due to two different issues. The receiver hitch on this motorhome hangs so low that the outside edges of the hitch actually have skid bars on the bottom! But the receiver itself is only a couple inches higher, but in the middle. And then the rings that the safety chains fasten to is right on the bottom of the receiver! Granted, that's where they are normally mounted, but on a hitch this low, they shouldn't be!

Whenever it's convenient, I may have a welding shop add another set of rings to the top of the receiver hitch. That way, if it rubs the ground, the links should be well above any potential for damage. But until then, all I can do is carry spares!

We also discovered we had two badly worn front tires, but only on the inside edges. I hadn't noticed it, and it couldn't readily be seen without turning the wheels or crawling under the front end and looking at them straight on. So we made arrangements the next day to get new tires and a wheel alignment, but this is where it gets crazy.

Right front tire worn on inside.
Left front tire worn on the inside.

We got to the tire shop, but as soon as we got to the counter, the guy that told us they "could" align the front end, now told us they couldn't. This was after I fully explained the year, make, model and even the length, along with the fact that it was a Chevy P-30 chassis, which has been an industry standard only for the past 50 (or so) years. But the counter guy was young and didn't know what a P-30 chassis was, and he apologized. We got the tires anyway, and I figured we could get an alignment at the next place we could find.


We also attempted to get our legal vehicle business taken care of in Livingston. We got to the license branch, and the driving inspector happened to be out front. He immediately surmised why we were there and told us the entire procedure, like he had it memorized. First, we had to take the motorhome to a repair shop across the street, and get a safety inspection (no emissions inspection in this county, just mechanical stuff). Then we were to go downtown to the courthouse to pay property tax on it. Only after all that was done could we return to the license branch to take care of title, plate and drivers license business, and apparently, another inspection. Oh, and he said we could wait to do the trailer and bring it back later! Apparently even trailers have to be safety inspected before you can get plates!

Maybe if they didn't allow 70 and 75 MPH speed limits on roads that aren't safe at 50 MPH, they wouldn't need to have all this safety BS in place!

But... the safety inspector at the shop across the street immediately discovered that the clearance lights didn't work. I thought they did, as I had spent time going through part of that circuit before we ever left Kingman. On this coach, the way Gulfstream wired the dash, you have to have more than just the headlight switch on to get all the lights to work! Why? I have no idea, other than they wanted to use up some of the NINE other redundant switches on this dashboard... just to make it look impressive! We still haven't figured out what they all do, and Gulfstream can't provide a wiring schematic for this coach anymore! Neither is there any specific information in the owner's manual! Great!

At this point, we are in temperatures of upper 90's (and moving closer to triple digits day by day) with high humidity, I have no ladder with me long enough to reach the clearance lights on the front, and I am NOT about to pay another mechanic to work on a coach he isn't familiar with, and who doesn't know nearly as much about electrical issues and troubleshooting as I do (I used to teach it).

With only one business day left before we were scheduled to leave, we were fast running out of time, and we had our fill with the Texas heat, humidity and bureaucracy, and there is no way we ever wanted to come back to Texas in mid-summer to have to renew anything in the future. So we made a rash decision... head for South Dakota, where we had intended to go in the first place before winter caught up with us last year, and establish residency where we wanted to all along!

So we headed back west first, to get around the major city of Fort Worth (we hate to drive through large cities). We used Walmarts at all stops except one. We hit Hillsboro first, where we had already spent a night at Walmart on the way to Livingston, but this time, we had our first knock on the door.

Our motorhome and trailer on the right, at the Hillsboro, TX Walmart.

It seems the manager at this new Hillsboro store is booting all trucks and RV's... and not in a nice way. Instead of sending a cart guy out to notify those in the lot, he waited until 9 PM to bring in a couple of wreckers... a flat-bed, and a HUGE semi-truck wrecker, and was towing any vehicle without someone inside. No warning at all. It seems he is concerned about "heavy" vehicles damaging his nice new pavement. Forget the live spring that is making the corner of the parking lot a swamp. You can see evidence of that in the photo above!

So at what point does gross mismanagement come into play, when instead of sending somebody already on payroll out with a warning... as opposed to sending in a couple of huge wreckers to do your dirty work for you, because you don't have the guts to do it yourself? I don't think this manager will last long at this store... or any other. RVers and truckers often spend a lot of money at these stores, and he is already hurting his sales! Besides, how is he going to get inventory if he complains about every truck that comes through his lot?! I haven't found any evidence that this is a city ordinance issue. From all indications, it's just one inexperienced manager making a bad judgment call and costing his store sales!

And I might add, that this was after we had already been into his store at least twice, (once the previous week we stopped there) and spent over a hundred dollars on supplies! If this is how people in Texas treat paying customers, it is just another good reason we have no desire to EVER spend any more money in Texas! And after catching the worst case of the flu I have ever had in my life when we were in South Texas in '94, I don't care if I never see that state again!

So at 9 PM, just as we were about to get ready for bed, we had to secure everything and figure out where we were going in a strange town, in the dark, and without clearance lights working!

We finally located the TA truck stop at the next exit down (and out of our way), which I must say is not only new, but very nice, and literally, the largest truck stop we have ever seen. It must easily cover 20 acres or more, and has everything a trucker would need. We found an empty pull-through spot at least two spaces away from the large trucks, and we had a decent night's sleep... except for the high humidity again. The truck noise didn't bother us at all, even with windows open. Thankfully, we have fans!

The next night was at Breckinridge Walmart, which has a huge gravel lot between their paved lot and the highway, and other trucks use it, so it worked out well.

Our motorhome and trailer on the gravel front lot at Breckinridge, TX Walmart

However, the heavy truck shop in Breckinridge that I had called the previous day from Hillsboro, and who told me they could align our P-30 Chevy chassis, discovered at the very last minute that they couldn't do it either! I knew they couldn't when (after we dropped the trailer in their yard) they told me to pull in onto a bare concrete floor! You don't align a chassis like this on a bare concrete floor! It takes a wheel alignment machine mounted on metal ramps big enough to accommodate the length and size of this rig! Had they known what a Chevy P-30 chassis is, they could have told me the day before when I called and saved me a lot of hassle!

Unfortunately, in the process of dropping the trailer, I got the trailer kinked a little too tight trying to back it in, and I had my first "oops" moment. We have no rear camera on this RV (yet) and I couldn't tell how tight the turn was through the mirrors. Nor did I hear anything when it hit the right rear corner.

My first "oops" moment when backing the trailer!

Had the truck shop told me ahead of time that they couldn't align this chassis, I wouldn't even have been here to do this! But... the bright side is that I know how to work with fiberglass, and can do this repair myself. The hardest part (as always) is matching the paint. It's just another thing to add to my "to do" list for when we finally settle in cooler weather.

Since we couldn't get our wheels aligned there, we were able to leave earlier than planned and head for our next stop at a Walmart at Altus, Oklahoma.

When possible, we always try to park next to a curb, for safety, and for Angel.
This was at the Altus, OK Walmart.

Before we hit Elk City, we cut west of Hwy 6 on Hwy 152 over to Hwy 283, and took it all the way north to Dodge City, Kansas. to another Walmart. Sorry, I didn't get a photo of that one... too much else on my mind, I guess. We discovered there was a Little Caesar's Pizza store right behind us in a strip mall, so we treated ourselves that night with a supreme pizza.

We had a little delay the next morning, for a couple of reasons. First, I noticed that the front left bracket of our trailer's roof rack had broken.

Broken front bracket on roof rack of trailer.

I underestimated how much sideways movement would be forced upon the brackets by the weight of the solar panels. Even just the rocking of the trailer going down the road was bending the brackets, and everything had shifted to one side to the point where the unused crossbar cups on the right side were now digging into the edges of the roof, and the front crossbar now was resting on the roof!

Unused cross bar mounting cups digging into the roof edge.

Without having special aluminum or steel corner gussets made, and bolting them to the rack, I had to come up with a quick solution. Ratchet straps to the rescue again! I bought four matching ones from Walmart, and tied them at an angle on all four corners. I was able to manually pull the rack back to center as best I could, and the ratchet straps have worked like a charm to hold it steady.

Ratchet strap securing front left of roof rack.

Still, this tends to put the rush on getting the panels and system moved to the motorhome as soon as possible. That could happen as early as August, since I am scheduled to help out another trailer owner install his new panels on his rig. Maybe we can do mine right after his.

The other issue I noticed was that the right-side trailer wheel was half flat the next morning! I added enough air to get it safely around to the Auto Center behind the Walmart Store (isn't being right at a Walmart already really great?!) and upon inspection, they discovered that it wasn't the tire leaking. It was a bad wheel! The leak was right at the welded joint between the center spoke section and the outer rim!

These were part of the cheap "package" (new tires already mounted on wheels) that I had bought last fall from a supplier on Amazon. The price "each" was only $54, so I couldn't expect much. The tires went bad before they even had 1500 miles on them and we had to have them replaced at a Walmart in Casa Grande, Arizona last November. The replacement tires were $102 each, but they're Goodyear tires... not some foreign crap.

Only now, one of those cheap wheels has already gone bad, with less than 4000 miles on it. I had our new Goodyear tire taken off the bad rim and put on the rim that the spare was on. It was original with the trailer, so should be better quality.  I kept the spare, but threw it into the trailer without a rim. So now my other task is to find a trailer dealer who sells quality wheels, and have the left-side tire and rim changed out. Besides, I don't want to be on the road any longer than necessary without a usable spare!  

From Dodge City, we again headed north to Norton, where we turned west on 36, to Oberlin, and then across the state line to McCook, Nebraska. We pulled into the Walmart first, just to check to see if anything else was available (we were nearly full on our holding tanks and low on fresh water). We discovered Karrer City Park, with seven FREE electric only sites, all on a circle with pull-through sites, and a dump station and several fresh water spigots thoughout the park! Eureka! We hit the jackpot!

The flag pole plaque in memory of Dr. Karrer. We thank you for remembering RVers! 
Our RV and trailer on the other side of the circle at Karrer City Park.
The restrooms and showers at Karrer City Park...all FREE... but they take donations. 
The first RV spot at Karrer City Park. Behind it on that short street is a dump station and fresh water supply.
Each of the seven sites at Karrer City Park is a pull-through with free electric and a concrete picnic table.

After refreshing everything, and grabbing a spot, we got acquainted with a fellow traveler in a Honda Element in the center of the circle. He was traveling by himself, and shared a watermelon with us, and when we discovered he could use a microwave to heat his dinner, we invited him over. We had a great visit with Rick LaValley, from Florida, and maybe we'll run into him again some day.

The next day we had a longer drive, from McCook to Chadron, Nebraska, and again stayed at a Walmart... only this time, we decided to delay a day due to a storm front moving through and bringing an all-day rain with it.

Our spot at the Chadron. Nebraska Walmart for two days.

From there, it was an easy 2-hour drive to the Rapid City area, where we will remain in this park through the 9th of this month. I'll show more photos and give more details after we leave here. Nothing is open until Tuesday anyway, so we have the three day holiday weekend to relax and catch up on personal things.

Then, starting Tuesday, we have to take care of establishing residency in this state, getting our licenses updated, title work and tags for the vehicles, set up new bank accounts, get some work done on the motorhome, including wheel alignment and having our engine belts checked (we're getting a squeal when the A/C is turned on at highway speed RPMs), as well as getting an oil change and new wheel for the trailer.

If we need more time (into next week) to accomplish everything, we will likely leave our current location and find another (hopefully less expensive) place to park for awhile. Once everything is done here, we really have no rush to be anywhere else for about a month. We have to meet another blogger somewhere between Gunnison and Flagstaff to help install his solar panels and system, but other than that, we have no commitments for a good long time! After August will be the longest stretch of absolutely no commitments since we have been out here traveling full-time. We can literally head any direction we choose to! That's a great feeling of freedom!

Of course, our choice will be to stay at higher elevations and in the cooler, drier air, until such time as it becomes a little "too" cool, and then we're gradually work our way back to the southwest... hopefully farther south than we were able to make it last winter!