Friday, October 16, 2015

Our Trip North...Part Two, in Valparaiso, IN and Beyond

We arrived in Valparaiso, IN about mid-afternoon... on Sharon's birthday... just in time to celebrate with her sister. I think they were both so excited about seeing each other after nearly a year, that they totally forgot the occasion of her birthday!

The next two days we simply rested, and recovered from the trip up there, content to visit and chat about plans for the next two weeks. At least that was all it was supposed to be!

On Monday, the 14th, we headed for Union City, MI, the home of Vintage Technologies, from whom we had pre-purchased windows for our trailer by phone. They were the only ones who seemed to have windows that were even close to the small shape and size we needed because they deal in mostly tear-drop style trailers.

The trip up there was uneventful, stopping only for fuel and refreshments. We arrived one minute before their closing time of 4 PM. We had forgotten about the time difference, and hadn't looked at their schedule. Oops! But they were still there, and had our windows all wrapped for us, so all was well.

Before we could even get out of their driveway, we heard a metal to metal scraping sound from underneath the van. I can only describe it as what I was hoping it was... a brake shoe that had come loose and was rubbing on the inside of the brake drum. If only we were that lucky!

The van drove normally all the way back home, a good 2-1/2-hour trip. Other than the noise, there was no noticeable difference in handling, shifting or anything else. In the next two days, I had two different shops listen to it with test drives. The first didn't have a lift substantial enough nor height enough to lift our high-top van, but sent us to the second shop, which immediately (after a test drive and rack inspection) said the noise was coming from something inside the back of the transmission!

That wasn't the news I wanted to hear. But after discussing options, we had them place the order for a rebuilt Jasper (national transmission rebuild chain) transmission, which was to arrive in about five days. They would call us. I trusted these guys, because the owner's mother also had been scheduled to go on a trip with Sharon's Machu Pichu. They all went to church together. Unfortunately, the trip was cancelled because of an uprising in Peru at that time, but still...

Anyway, on the next two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, I set about the work of installing the new windows in the trailer.

The new windows on the right side, including one where Angel can see out.

New windows on the left, by the front couch and rear bunk.

These are nominal 14 x 16 windows, dark tint, single-hung with three position latches/locks and screens. I was hoping for a tilt-out style window, so they could stay open when it rains, but could find nothing available anywhere in this size.

Of course, nothing ever goes easy. First, I had forgotten to bring my small saber saw with me. I ended up using Wiss sheet metal shears (both right and left) to cut the sheet metal siding. That was OK, but inside, I don't think I could have gotten my saber saw close enough to the bottom of the cabinets to make the cut in the plywood across the top.

Also complicating things, was the fact that the windows were still about an inch wider than the space between the metal wall studs of the trailer, and I had to cut the flange off both sides of the studs in the opening to get them to fit. With no saber saw, I went up to Home Depot and bought a new Ryobi reciprocating saw, in some ways much handier for our future use than the smaller saw would have been. And because of the narrower base plate at the nose, and longer blades, I can reach into corners where the smaller saw could not fit.

The drawback is the blades are much wider and can't make the tight turns that a saber saw can make. And in an effort to prevent damage to the siding on the outside, I cut the plywood from the outside so I could control the blade better and watch the edges of the siding... or so I thought. Let's just say that the cuts aren't as precise as I would have liked them.

It would have helped if there was a template provided for such an exact cut, but being bulk windows for a manufacturing facility, none were provided. In fact there was no paperwork at all, except for the invoice. I urge anyone tackling this kind of job, to make a cardboard template first, and make sure it fits the exact contour of (especially) the outer frame of the window! I got in a hurry and failed to make said template, and then trying to maneuver a heavy reciprocating saw on the inside curves was more then I should have tackled. The inside frames aren't as critical, but even there, you only have about 3/4-inch of flange to cover any mistakes. On the outside, it's less than 5/8-inch.

Cuts like that, in sheet metal are better done with a special sheet metal cutting tool on an air chisel. I have one, but trying to carry the air compressor up to Indiana was not in my plans. And having to work in that residential neighborhood with such a noisy tool would have had the neighbors complaining. Sometimes you just gotta do what ya gotta do.

These new windows come with a neoprene seal under the outer flange, and supposedly (famous last words) you should not have to use the typical gray butyl tape with them, like older RV windows require. Well... some of the openings were larger than either the neoprene seal OR the butyl tape (which I did not even buy) would cover, so I ended up going around all the windows with a special exterior window and door sealant... in other words... caulking. But try as I might (with wet fingers even), I had a hard time wiping the caulk down to get it smooth. Whether it dried too quickly or what, some of it turned out more like curdled milk than I preferred, but at least they are all in and weather tight. It is what it is, and good enough for who it's for.

That first Monday, before we went to Michigan, we also visited Valpo Trailer Sales to see about air bag suspension being added to the van to solve the height issue (see previous post). We discovered that Firestone no longer makes air bags for a van this old (a '97), but Air Lift, another company catering heavily to the RV industry had them. The order was placed, and scheduled for Thursday morning. After we dropped off the van that day, and went to breakfast nearby, we were told that the company had only sent one air bag in the box! What?!

Yes, after phone calls to the company, they discovered that one of their shipping employees, either new or obviously ill-trained, had shipped one air bag to not only this customer, but also to several others! It also seems obvious, at least to me, that this employee had no idea what an air bag is, what it is used for or that they are only useful in pairs! DUH! Why are they even working there if they don't understand the product or what needs to be done?!

So our scheduled appointment was not completed for the task it was meant for, but I did get them to check out the wiring (see previous post) on the trailer receptacle. Just as I thought, it needed a special converter (a $60 item) to be installed to get the brake lights to work properly, so at least they did that while we were there, AND they tested them! The original reason for the appointment was rescheduled for the following Tuesday.

On Monday, the 21st, the girls took off by themselves and wandered over toward the Elkhart area. While there, they revisited the Heritage Trail, where various quilt gardens are scattered for miles between several different cities. We had visited them a couple of years ago, and those who have read my other blog at will remember them from that blog.

Click on the photo to enlarge it, and you can see where the Heritage Trail goes.

That's a rhubarb leaf impressed into concrete and made into a stepping stone.

One of the many fall displays along the Heritage Trail.

An expanded view of the items in the last photo.

The next day, the girls took off again by themselves, only not so far. This time, one of their stops was at the Michigan lake shore, but they only got one picture through the windshield, and not blog-worthy.

The rest of the week was spent mostly in preparing for a scheduled "quick-invite" party at the sister-in-law's house on Sunday. There were about 20 relatives, mostly cousins, fellow square dancers, fellow church members and a few former work associates that showed up. And boy, oh boy, did we have the food for them! We were snacking on leftovers for the next week and beyond!

Bonnie's rear deck, before the guests arrived.

Oh, and in the middle of all this, I hit the plastic bellows pump on our 32-year-old Thetford porta-potty one morning and had water squirting everywhere except in the bowl! The bellows had split at one of the inner folds. Without hesitation I immediately placed an order for a new Thetford Curve portable toilet and had one delivered before the weekend! I might have been able to order parts for the old one, but at 32 years, it had a good long life and it was time for a proper burial... in a landfill.

The new transmission arrived on Monday the 21st, but we already had a rescheduled appointment for the next morning for the air bags to be installed... both of them. (:/) The transmission was then scheduled for Thursday morning. They thought they might have it done in a day, but it actually took until just before noon on Friday. We originally planned to leave no later than Sunday.

During all this, we had put off making arrangements to visit the people we had originally planned to visit, including two very dear friends in Elkhart and Three Rivers. So we filled our time with helping the sister-in-law with various tasks around home, until we could attend to our own tasks again.

The soonest we could meet with one of our friends was on Tuesday, so that took us into the third week. As luck would have it, though, our other friend from Three Rivers was able to drive down to Elkhart (about 40 miles) and meet us after our first meeting, so that all worked out well, and saved us about 180 miles of back-tracking on another day. We thank her for that, immensely! We got home after dark, but that was OK, as we had most of our stuff ready to go, and we left the next morning, back to where we had begun, and by pretty much the same route.

So as you can see, we had a quite a time while up there! We didn't start out expecting to install air bag suspension on the van or have a transmission replaced, but it could have been worse. If it had to happen, better it happen in a place where we had alternate transportation available, where people know people, and had two of the best shops around to work with.

I might mention here that if anyone is in the Valparaiso area and needs anything to do with trailering, Valpo Trailer Sales has one of the best stocked stores in the area, for nearly anything you need, and if they don't have it, they can get it quickly. The service was excellent, the hospitality great, and they got done what they said they would, when they said they would (other than the air bag being missing from the box, which was not their fault).

The other company that was an excellent choice to deal with was Valpo Muffler and Auto Service, run by a father and son team, John and Matt Redmond. They run a VERY clean and professional shop, have a very nice waiting room if you need it, and handle appointments and customers with the utmost of professionalism. Our transmission problem was quickly diagnosed, options discussed openly, and the work was scheduled and done within a day and a half. And then they apologized that it wasn't faster because they don't specialize in that type of work!

I thought they did GREAT, and will definitely go back again when I'm in the area! The same goes for Valpo Trailer Sales. They have many things in their store that I could use, and would love to have, but it will have to wait until my wallet recovers! Hopefully by next year!

Now we're on to sad farewells to the Northern Indiana area. The weather was great, too, and it only rained one day in our entire trip, and that was mostly overnight, anyway. The temperatures were very comfortable, with slightly cool mornings and warm afternoons. It was beautiful.

But our next post will be the last leg of the trip, a return to Arkansas, with some of the route the same, and some different, but it was all great, and no surprises this time. Unless you get out and travel freely, with no deadlines on being anywhere for any reason, you can't understand the freedom of the open road. Even people of working age are suddenly jumping on the bandwagon to get out there and see the country, no matter what their status in life. The constantly improving options of the internet and cell coverage, and the ability to make money from a computer are opening up new worlds that didn't exist even ten years ago, to people of all ages.

Some of those people are forced to start out modestly, and learn as they go. Others are transitioning from an already established career in a fixed location to being able to take their careers on the road in the style of new RV's of all price ranges. Others, like us, are doing it the way we are doing it because we finally see the fallacy in the "buy more junk, spend more money" mentality, and realize that to be out of debt and free of commitments is THE ultimate form of freedom. We can afford it, but we don't need a fancy motorhome to be able to do what we are doing, and in many ways, it takes away from the freedom we want by limiting where we could go with it, worrying about how we are going to get in and out of fueling stations, worrying about the handling of it, the maintenance labor and costs, and so much more.

We had a 40-foot monstrosity a few years back, and we swore we would never go that route again. It's just too much expense and hassle, and limits where we can go and what we can see. We're retired. We don't need to impress co-workers, friends or anyone else. If any of our supposed friends can't understand why were are doing what we are doing, then they likely weren't close enough friends to begin with, and have no clue about the RV lifestyle, nor do they have any interest in learning about it.

Many people are using an ordinary cargo van and converting them to suit them, rather than buy a finished RV product that some designer thinks you should have. Some buy smaller Class B vans which are already finished out. Some people are thinking that a 6 x 12 cargo trailer is awfully small for two adults and mid-sized dog, but in reality, we have more square footage than an extended wheelbase van...because our sides go straight up, rather than tapering inward at the top. The only thing we don't have is a cab area, but in many Class B vans, that area is of little use anyway.

We are also able to take not only two (matched pair) mountain bikes with us... IN the vehicle, where they won't be subject to weather, theft or damage, but we're taking a full size, 360-pound spinet style piano with us... all in the same vehicle! Try that with some ready-made Class B RV van! Even toy-haulers twice the size aren't laid out for our specific needs and wants... which is why I designed our own!

We are in another (somewhat) unique position also, in that we have no one to leave anything to (that deserves it), so why would we want to continue to spend money on useless junk that some estate attorney is going to declare near worthless anyway? We see the foolishness of people who continually spend and spend and spend, only to clutter their houses with hoarded possessions, and then give stuff away or sell it for next to nothing in next year's yard sale just because they get tired of it. And for the most part, all they are doing is trying to keep up appearances with the crowd they have been used to hanging around with. What is the point?

Some people just haven't realized yet, that no one cares what they have, or how nice their house is, or whether they drive a new car every two years. And sooner or later, the retirees are going to realize that they don't have the kind of money coming in that they used to, and can't afford to keep up with all those people that are still working.

Like us, they are also getting older and can't take care of a house anymore like they could when they were younger. All anyone can hope for is to plan their "golden" years so that the work and expense is lessened as much as it can be, and for some, hanging onto real estate is a losing battle, for health as well as finances. For many others, they are realizing that an RV lifestyle is the way to go. Some will never be able to see the forest for the trees, though.

Anyway, that's a whole different line of thought, better left to a different post, or even a different blog!

Subsccribe if you haven't already, and watch for the next post, coming online tomorrow.

Thanks for reading!


Bradford H. said...

Hi John. The trailer looks terrific. Sorry to hear about the transmission on the van. I've contemplated building up a small trailer but am kind of hooked on the van (for just one person) because it's enough for one person and highly maneuverable. I agree that a 40 foot monstrosity would be difficult!

You're doing the right thing by going small and designing it yourself. You'll also be able to service it, knowing its ins and outs. It's that way when something acts up with my van's customizations... I know exactly what's giving fits.

I admire your traveling spirit. I think it helps when there is a second person. It was harder for me being alone and going from place to place - not knowing anyone. You and Sharon are going to have full-time camping adventures for many years to come. Enjoy!

John Abert said...

Thanks, Brad! You are exactly right. If I were by myself, I would opt for just a van, also. I wouldn't be carrying a piano, accordion, or anything but my guitar, and wouldn'the have to have a second livable unit for when company comes to visit!

Having grown up on a farm, I have learned of repair just about anything, especially on vehicles, right down to rebuilding engines. But these days, the knowledge is helpful only in supervision and making right choices, as the body is no longer willing to do things that the mind knows how to do! Unless it's something simple, I normally will go to a trusted mechanic...unless I get stranded out in the boonies, and then I will do what I someone! (:/)

Anyone can find a partner, if they are willing to put themselves "out there". After a divorce of my own choice, and then not finding anyone through my normal social circles, I went another route. This was in the days before the internet. We had a local, free, weekly paper called the "Penny Saver". In it were two pages for singles, one for men, one for women. You could either put your own ad in, or reply to one's already there. I chose the latter. I met a few ladies over several months, usually at public places like restaurants, but none were "keepers"...until Sharon called. We just seemed to hit it off from the first meeting. That was over 35 years ago, and we have creating our own history ever since.

You can't go around avoiding opportunities to meet potential partners if that's really what you want to do. I hear so many people try to explain away their single lifestyle by saying they just haven'the met the right person yet, and yet every one of them has done absolutely NOTHING to go out of their way to do that! They need to get out of their comfort zones, and do things that may seem uncomfortable at first, before they can succeed at anything!

If you think that there may be only one in a thousand people who would be a b good match for you, and you really don't want to spend your life alone...then your first goal should be to make a concerted effort to get out there and meet a thousand new people! If there are none in your immediate social circles, then go outside those circles by whatever means are necessary!

In today's world of the internet, the old printed social pages are mostly gone, and we know that the Internet dating world can be shady at times. But there ARE legitimate sites and ways of finding a compatible partner through the web, if you simply get out of your comfort zone and put out the effort. If you know someone you would like to know better, you have to make the effort to get a date with them! The worst that can happen is they reject the offer. So what? There are a lot of "fish in the sea", and as you should well know, sometimes you have to throw some back yourself!

On the other hand, some people make the choice, either consciously or unconciously, to remain alone all their lives. There's nothing wrong with that if it truly is a choice. But if it's only because they have never gone out of their way to find a partner, then they only have themselves to blame. If you want a life partner, then get more involved socially in the kinds of things that are important to you, whether that be church, fishing clubs, camping clubs, van dwelling groups, or whatever you like, because somewhere within those groups, are potential partners!

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

Love the adventure, John. Of course, I have more insight about the trip than you posted here because of our other communication, but as John Lennon said, "Life is what happens when you're planning it." Or something like that. Your tranny and air bag story is certainly akin to my blown engine story from earlier this year. Like you, I found a local, family owned and operated business with a great reputation and great customer service and rapport. And, they sent me to another place where I had some other work done and got the same treatment. Like you, I was fortunate to have someone there to stay with (my son) and alternate transportation. So, it does make situations like yours and mine more tolerable. I had a breakdown in rural GA a year before and a vandweller came to my rescue - he had the tools and skills and we got me up an running again in a Home Depot parking lot. All of this is what makes this an interesting, often exciting and adventurous lifestyle.

All your other challenges with the windows and tool substitutions, etc. are a great credit to your skills, knowledge and experience. While I get it when you say at this stage of life you don't necessarily want to do all the work, but call someone else, having the knowledge is a great asset.

I also appreciate your commentary about this lifestyle and the choices people make I think most of us go down this path because it's almost pre-ordained that we attain some status and look, feel and smell good to our friends, family and associates. Wrong! You stated it well, my friend. That's pretty much what I tell people, as you know - either personally or in my 2livefreely blog. We are kindred spirits. You discovered me through my blog and we've become good friends because we respect and understand each other. That's what this life is all about.

I also found your comment to Brad interesting. I know how you met Sharon. I actually used that same method, except after answering a few "personal ads" I carefully crafted my own ad, put it in a major magazine and got 53 responses. It led to my 2nd marriage, lasted 7 months. Seemed right but it was wrong. Used a dating service the next time. The relationship lasted 8 years and it was wrong since it began, but I did my best to make it right. It wasn't and ended badly. The next thing I tried was on line matching services. In the interim I met someone the old fashioned way, through social contact. Ultimately, I've I've determined, for me, I'm better and happier single with lots of friends of both genders. So, as you noted, you have to ultimately decide who you are and what's best for yourself. But, you're right, you have t decide what is right for you, then step out of your comfort zone and do what it takes to find your match.

Live free & be happy,

John Abert said...

Hi Ed! In the relationship department, I also went through some wrong choices for awhile. But I came to realize that they were all based on my not wanting to be alone, plus looking for something missing in my life while growing up. It wasn'the until the "in between" time before I met Sharon, that I actually became comfortable with being alone. At that point, I had lost the "urgency" in finding someone, and had also put myself out there to meet a lot more women, so that the urge to latch onto the first decent I met was gone. It was only after I could step back and look at the situation objectively, not really caring whether I found someone or not, that the right one finally appeared.

As always, persistence is the name of the game. Those who refuse to try, for whatever ridiculous reason, will never attain what they want, nor will those who give up way too soon. The lifestyles we lead, even living in a van, should not dissuade one from seeking a life partner if that is what they want. In reading plenty of blogs, and becoming educated in the lifestyle, I see plenty of single women RVers out there, some of whom enjoy the van lifestyle. Even if two vanners got together and moved into a slightly larger rig to be more comfortable, the concept is still the same! But if people don'the make the effort to get in the right circles where compatible mates can be found, then they only have themselves to blame! They are probably looking in the wrong places, or have given up looking at all!

The worst mistake people can make, though, is getting in a hurry. Physical attraction is a poor substitute for getting along with someone for the long term. My best advice would be to slow down! Hang around with the person for awhile. If vehicle living, travel together for awhile in your separate rigs. Wait a few months, to make sure it could be a possibility for the long term. Meet the opposite's family. Learn everything you can about them. If they aren'the on the same page as you, then don't over-extend your stay. Move on to the possibility of someone better.