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21 April 1997.

Dear Editor,

Further to my letter of last October, where my lifelong ambition of traveling the concrete arteries of the USA had been put on hold due to the health of my Mother in law. Two months after her funeral we booked our flight to Phoenix, Arizona. The only obstacle, my  wife’s family ties, had been partly allayed by her brother who said “Go for it” and my concession that we would fly back home every two or three months to see kith and kin.

Our planned intention was to visit the few dealers that I had faxed from France, inquiring about the purchase of a one year old, 96” wide Dynasty by Monaco, with a 300 hp. rear diesel about 36 ft. long and with a budget of up to $150,000.

Reading of the experiences of others before me, and of my previous purchases from the States, this should prove to be a simple process with no problems or difficulties envisaged and would therefore allow us to spend the required twelve months pleasantly touring fifty of the United States before returning with our RV to the UK. without incurring any import duties.

The first step, the flight, was only a minor anxiety as I had booked for a one year return. November 97 to November 98. The tickets arrived a few days before departure with the return date of  28th February 98 !  Irate phone calls to the travel agent revealed that the US immigration would not permit a British citizen on a ten year visa to stay more than six months at a time and a return flight within the six months was necessary before entry would be granted. Assured promises from the agent that the return dates could be changed upon our arrival in Phoenix, or they would pay any excess for me, made me happy again.

US immigration are the most unfriendly, belligerent and difficult organization that we have ever had to deal with on our travels, more of them later.

Motels are generally clean, spacious and good value everywhere in the States, on average we paid $49.00. less the universally accepted 10% for either AAA, Good Sam, FMCA, or a host of other clubs and organizations. I even used my B&Q over 60’s card and my out of date Student card to get a discount. If the motel was situated next to or near a large office block, a request for that companies corporate rate would bring even greater reductions.

Car hire is another ball game. There are so many extras that get added on, that what seemed like a good deal to start with ends up costing you far more than you budgeted for. We faxed our request for rates to a variety of car hire firms that advertised in the Phoenix Tourist Guide and a wide variety of prices came back, from the economy model that you cant get a holdall in the boot to a minivan or 15 seat. Rates vary with the duration of the rental, size, mileage, how many states covered, seasonal and weekend specials. Then there’s insurance, basic, CDW, and total. All these charges then have state and sometimes city taxes added on.

After we had reserved by fax from a small local firm, we received a promotional flyer from one of the RV dealers who also sold and rented cars with an incentive that if you bought any vehicle from them, your rental charge would be reimbursed. As this was one of the dealers we might buy our motorhome from and the charges were competitive, I quickly faxed a further request for all in costs including insurance and taxes. Back came a quote of $195.00 weekly for a mid range car, which I accepted by return of fax.

Whilst boarding our Continental Airlines flight to Phoenix, Margaret Thatcher climbed the first class stairs in front of us. We had to change at Chicago Airport and had two hours to make our connection. That was before the delay in take off, then the head wind cut the connection time down to one hour, even Maggie’s presence could not alter that but she probably did not have to stand in an immigration line for twenty minutes. We made it with minutes to spare but the stress made us realize the benefits of a direct flight.

  After a restless night in our first motel at a major intersection of the freeway, not on their advertising, we rang the car hire company only to find they were too busy to deliver our car. A $25.00 taxi ride and our Dodge Cirrus was at our disposal for $275.00 weekly.  I was tired after 24 hours with little sleep and blew my top, in the end we settled on $240.00. weekly all in and I still don’t know how the calculations were made.

We set out on our quest on November 13th. and covered 2500 miles visiting 12 or 15 dealers in three states before changing our requirements to a 1994/5 Fleetwood Eagle or Dream at 38 ft. but only 96” wide. Most manufacturers went 102” wide back in 1992/3 and as we wanted as late a motorhome as possible it had to be Fleetwood.

We had already seen Eagles and Dreams in various dealers but discounted them as too long, we now had to recount our steps and review the selection trying to remember and find the right color and spec that would please both of us. Several dealers said that they had just what we wanted or one was coming in soon or next week. They all wanted us to leave a $500.00 refundable deposit on a variety of potential RV’s. to give us first option. I resisted all attempts at this until a company “ Tveton RV South” with promises of the perfect RV, prized $500.00 over the phone on my credit card. Not only did this company NOT have the motorhome they said they did but as soon as they credited my $500.00 they immediately debited another $500.00 which I did not find out about until checking my credit card statement back in France two months later. It took a further month and many phone calls and in the end a visit to their premises in Phoenix to get my refund. Be warned !!!

Most dealers we visited had one or two RV’s we were interested in but Beaudry RV in Tucson had a selection of 25 used Fleetwood Eagles, 12 at 96” wide and 13 at 102” wide plus many other Fleetwood products new and used. The dealership is vast with 60 full length service bays and an 80+ customer full hook up park with free coffee and doughnuts each morning.

We eventually chose a 1994 ( narrow body ) 38 ft. Fleetwood Eagle with 35500 miles on it. It’s quite a good spec with a 300 hp. Cummins, Pack brake, white marble floors, white Corian worktops, external freezer and the interior upholstery color that pleased my wife well within our budget, so I added a further two year warranty for $2000.00 extra. On taking our choice for a test drive we discovered a back axle whine, steering pulling to the left, a chipped windscreen, generator battery u/s, wind whistle under the dash, paint miss match and the drivers electric window defective among other things..

Beaudry true to their word fixed most things and replaced everything we found defective even before the money came through from England, in fact we were living in the motorhome, glad to be out of motels at last, for about five days waiting for the transfer of funds. There must be a fiddle in the money markets to delay any transfers over a weekend so the middle man gets some extra interest, the same delay occurred on other transfers.

With motels and car hire running up $600.00 per week, it did not take long to make a dent in the petty cash, at least now we could start spending on our HOME. Kitting out a motorhome from scratch was fun, color coordinating everything from the bedroom furnishings to the kitchen utensils, even buying tools and equipment, hoses and cables, fuses, belts, filters, spare bulbs, washing materials and polishes etc. etc. All the time remembering that we had several boxes full of just the same things back in our garage in France taken out of our last motorhome

Now the documentation started.

As we have been members of the FMCA for twelve years, we were aware of the many benefits that they offer for the surprisingly low price of $20..00. including postage of their magazine to Europe. They have a free message service for anyone to call in and leave a message for members on an 800 number. They also have a mail forwarding service but we chose a commercial company in Oregon for our residence address and mail forwarding which only takes two days to reach us, also this was to help with the registration of our vehicles. Oregon has no sales tax and registration fees are small. Three other states also have this benefit. We had opened up a PO box in Apache Junction, Arizona for local, immediate, club, banking and junk mail for only $12.00 per year but they do not foreword mail.

We opened an account with Wells Fargo Bank, only because they were represented in eleven western states. We could not find any bank that had branches in all 50 states. We  then we found out the exorbitant charges they made, like for cheque books and for receiving incoming payments, so we rang head office and had these charges reimbursed but we found US banks “quaintly” old fashioned. As they charge for each withdrawal, so we shall withdraw all of our funds in one hit. So far we have only written two cheques in five months, one for a speeding fine in Tucson, where we were clocked on a deserted six lane highway doing 56 mph when the limit was 40 at night. Cost $96.00. The second for our RV insurance.

Insurance here in the US is another mine field. You choose the level of cover in every case or eventuality, up to 12 options. The state of registration is another factor, then your personal details. Remember to take your NCD entitlement from your UK insurer, we did not but a call to Safeguard in Leeds resulted in our NCD being faxed to our agent in Tucson. Lastly your license will make a big difference to the premium. We were fortunate to take not only our UK licenses but the international one issued by the AA, this enabled us to get our RV insured at only a 50% loading of $2000.00 pa with a company called Progressive.

All our requests for vehicle insurance were either loaded or declined without a US license, so it seemed a logical step to get one. A receptionist in a motel we had been staying at, said that it was a piece of cake and the license department was just in the next street. So off we went. You sort of get court up in the system when making an inquiry and the next thing we knew was we were sitting a written test. 25 questions of A B or C answers, 20 is a pass. We failed.

When all else fails, “read the instructions”. We read the Arizona driving manual and then passed. The license is produced with photo in about three minutes. It was the next day we found out that it expired in five months. The Arizona license department will only issue for the duration of our immigration I-94. Upon our return from England in February 98, we endeavored to extend our I-94 longer than the August 98 expiry date. We rang immigration for hours, no reply, we visited the office and stood in line in the rain with dozens of Mexicans for two hours, no luck. This problem is on hold until our next UK return in July.

The one immediate benefit of having our US license was a refund of $660.00 from our RV insurer, also when asking for other quotes at the FMCA convention in February, we received a $890.00 annual figure from Alexander & Alexander. The Good Sam Club was a waste of time for insurance as we had to have a US license for over THREE years before they would even quote.

Our RV purchase in Tucson Arizona would normally have state and city taxes added to the price, in our case many thousands of dollars. As we have an address in one of the states that don’t charge sales tax, we are permitted to take possession of our motorhome out of the state of purchase. we have to pay for this service but it’s well worth it. We took delivery in New Mexico about 120 miles away. We were issued with “temporary tags” or paper license plates by the dealer, good for 30 days. We then have to apply for registration in our “resident” state.

We were advised by others that we would have to visit Oregon to have the vehicle inspected but a call to the Department of Motor Vehicles proved otherwise. It could all be done by post to a one time out of state address like our PO box in Phoenix. All went well and we received our new plates, legal for two years for only $240.00. But the numbers did not match the title certificate. If it can go wrong it will. I posted it all back to Oregon and never saw them again for over two months, luckily we did not get stopped by the police.

All this time we were renting the car, now over four weeks and $1000.00 bill, it was urgent to buy one. With the thought of getting our rental charges reimbursed, we returned to the hiring dealer to look through a selection of 1000 cars. They are Ford, Dodge and Chrysler agents. We were aware that only two automatic cars could be towed without modification, Honda and Saturn. As we had been happy with the Rented Dodge, we were persuaded that with a small pump fitted the Dodge could be towed, so we agreed a price, paid the deposit and requested funds from England. It was then we found that it was going to be four weeks before all the towing modifications would be completed as it was an unusual vehicle to tow. We canceled. We then read Fords publicity that their 1998 automatic Contour could be towed. We chose the color, agreed the price and bought it. Upon arrival I read the hand book which stated that 35 mph was the maximum speed it could be towed. We canceled again. By now they had our money and we had run up another week in rental charges. Now we were dealing with the management on first name basis and with promises of being able to find a suitable car at cost, we waited. In the end they found a 1996 Honda Civic that was just right but after all the financial details were over we only managed 10% off the rental charge. Be warned, even if it’s in print it might not be true.

The documentation started again.

Insurance was easy this time as we had our licenses. Out of state delivery we had to arrange for the following week. In the meantime the fitting of the towing bracket produced a few surprises. Camping World in Phoenix would have been the cheapest especially with our Presidents Club discount but they wanted ten days before fitting. Beaudry RV in Tucson, where our motorhome was being fixed again could order and fit in four days but at the higher price of $1000..00.

The customer RV park at Beaudry’s was becoming like our “Home Park”. We had spent so much time at this free facility, being repaired, waiting for parts or money, receiving mail. We made some  friends in the same boat and have many invites to all parts of the states. We also learnt many tips and benefits from old hands and full timers. As we were going to be “Full timers”, the purchase of a campground membership seemed the next logical step. Many of our fellow RV ers belonged to one or another membership and prices of between $1500 & $4500 were the norm. We weighed up the economics of this outlay against paying full price for camping and it was touch and go for the proposed 12 or 13 months intended use. A visit to a Coast to Coast office soon made us realize that all prices were flexible and the harder you bargained the better the deal. We settled for a two year lease for $500..00!!

One other indispensable membership that we joined, was a breakdown service. There are several, all offering similar benefits. We chose the FMCA Emergency Road Service at $79.00. pa. as this also covered WESTERN EUROPE as well!! They provide tire changing, flat battery, fuel supply, lock out service and technical assistance.

One other service  which we found indispensable while being away from our family was an economic international phone service. A calling card is a must but which one? The cheapest was purchased in Las Vegas, and at 8 cents a minute to the UK could not be beaten but popping back to Vegas when they run out was not an option. Swiftcall was the next cheapest and most convenient at 5 cents a minute with no surcharges at any time. Swiftcall can be accessed at any time in the UK or USA on an 800 number and it can be topped up from your credit card.

It was now mid December 97. We were actually ready to start on our traveling holiday in our newly acquired motorhome and tow car. About this time Rick and Linda of The American and European Motorhome Show flew out to Phoenix to continue their travels in their Airstream motorhome that they had shipped out eighteen months before. We teamed up at this point and headed of to Las Vegas for Christmas.

We had experienced beautiful weather and glorious sunshine throughout our travels in Arizona and California, as we headed for Las Vegas via Laughlin we climbed over the Black Mountains through snow drifts of three or four feet which covered the vehicles in black grime and slush. We need not have worried as Vegas was a pleasant sunny 70 F. and the smell of bar-B- Qs greeted us on our arrival at Sam’s Town RV park. Five days parked next to a casino only cost $18.00 per day but it probably cost us a great deal more by the time we left. Food at any of the casinos is an incredible bargain with all you can eat buffets and giant steaks for only $6 or $7 even at Christmas time. We had our traditional turkey dinner and Christmas pud with all the trimmings in our motorhome with Rick and Linda. After bringing Las Vegas almost to a standstill by parking in the main street for a photo session in front of the casino New York - New York, we headed off to Death Valley for a few days. The noise in the back axle of the motorhome had become intrusive by now and a call to Beaudry RV resulted in their request to return to Tucson for them to investigate, It was about this time one of my teeth split in two.

Death Valley is an incredible place, like a lunar landscape. With a great dry salt lake and many unusual geological formations in the 200 mile national park. Three days at a $10.00 per night campground, little better than a car park was enough for us to see the usual tourist attractions like Bad Water at 282 ft. below sea level and Scotty’s Castle, an extravagant folly built by an eccentric con man.

It was nearing new year by now and we preferred to be in a more lively environment for the celebrations, so checking our Coast to Coast directory we found a campground in Los Angles near to the attractions of The Queen Mary and The Spruce Goose which we wanted to see again and Rick and Linda had not seen. Five hours later and fighting the Santa Monica Freeway traffic, we eventually found the most run down and seedy campsite ever. Although the giant, colored manager welcomed us in and indicated a couple of spaces between the piles of rubbish which were probably decaying mobile homes, we declined his offer and once again fought our way south, back onto the most crowded road in the USA, The San Diego Freeway No. 405.

Eighty miles down the Pacific coast, we came upon an excellent Marine Corps campsite with full hook up for only $12.00 per night, on high ground we could see the ocean about one mile away which gave the most spectacular sun sets imaginable. We also looked over a lake with pleasant wooded areas. We dined out locally for new years eve and proceeded to toast in the New year FIVE time, with London, New York, Chicago, Phoenix and LA as the midnight hour came towards us, both on TV and by phone.

A couple of days lazing about in the sun in southern California, we then headed south again for San Diego wild life park but we chose the wrong one and found that as it was about to close and the weather started to close in we should head back to Arizona and warm weather. Also by now I was taking pain killers daily for my tooth. As we were several miles inland at a town called Julian, it was decided to take a short cut over the Vallecito Mountains on route 78, joining the freeway at El Centro and interstate No. 8 to Yuma. This was the most tortuous route we could have chosen, with mountainous terrain and a narrow two lane road that wound round trees and lakes, up into the snow line with drifts several feet deep, making the already narrow road into a single lane. We pressed on with Rick almost running out of fuel. Now we were into cloud and with visibility less than to the next curve I lost sight of Rick’s Airstream and did not see him again until we descended several hundred feet and found a garage. It was now dark but we chose to continue to the interstate and find a campground at a lower and warmer elevation. One more days traveling brought us to Yuma where Rick had a Canadian friend that had invited us to stay.

Yuma is one of the most southern towns in Arizona and therefore full of “snowbirds”, so space is at a premium in winter, we were fortunate to be offered a yard 60 ft square with full hook up for two RV’s at only $10.00 per night. Yuma is also close to the border with Mexico and as every American and Canadian knows, medical treatment and medication is far cheaper in Mexico. With my tooth still causing me pain, I decided to give them a try. An enormous car park just on the border crossing at Algodones, owned and operated by the local Indian tribe, that can accommodate many of the largest of motorhomes was full of US registered cars, whose owners were all seeking medical bargains across the border. As soon as you cross through the border control, it appears that all the local inhabitants are either Dentists, Opticians or beggars. We were fortunate to be recommended to a particular Dentist by our Canadian friends. They don’t work on Saturday but first thing on Monday I was in the chair and a diagnosis that I needed root treatment and a crown by a specialist shocked me a little. That afternoon it was done and two days later a gold crown fitted. I felt that I had been processed on a conveyor belt. At a total cost of $390.00 I was quite happy and without pain again. At the same time, my wife had a pair of tinted, prescription bifocals made for only $50.00 with a voucher in the local paper. The only other bargains we purchased in Mexico was booze.

We stayed  in Yuma for the rest of the week and I haggled and test drove some more Fleetwood Eagles and Dreams, just to see weather we had a good deal or not. Also we checked out more restaurants.

With my tooth fixed and our rear axle whining in our ears we headed of for Phoenix again to spend a few days with Rick and Linda at the campground in Apache Junction that we had come to look upon as our base. Also pick up the mail before we had to leave our motorhome with Beaudry’s for repairs at the end of January and fly back to the UK for three weeks.

The logistics of just popping back to the UK should be simple, apart from purchasing the best price flight tickets, there’s the option of a direct flight or having to change at a hub of a major airline. We chose British Airways only because they flew direct from Phoenix and the stress of changing aircraft was worth the extra $20.00 each, even with the smaller seat spacing compared to US carriers. Then there’s the safe storage of the RV. We were fortunate that we could have work done at the same time as our trip and Beaudry would keep our “home” safe. Then there was the storage of our car. We chose to leave it in the campground at Apache Junction for $19.00 per month, which was only a $24.00 shuttle bus ride away. Generally flights from the US leave in the evening, which allowed us time to pack up and get to the airport easily. Flights from the UK leave in the morning, giving just enough time to get back to the car and travel to the Motorhome for a good nights sleep.

Three weeks back in England was not nearly enough time to visit everyone and pop over to the house in France to pick up the post. We found that we were saying good-bye all too quickly and I was still dealing with the reply’s to our mail on our return to the USA. Whilst in England I had bought a second hand Dell laptop to record our travels and maybe even compile a story of our travels, it was supplied with Windows and Office included. Just prior to our departure, my brother in law examined it and declared that he should “clean the disk up”. I carried it to the US and it never worked again.

We left a warm, sunny England in mid February and landed back in a wet , cold Phoenix, where we found repairs to the rear axle were complete. The steering wander was still there and a problem with the drivers window and the dash whistle had not been resolved. Our next rendezvous with two American friends in a Dream was the FMCA rally in Las Cruces, New Mexico in early March where 7500 RV’s congregated. A report of this was in ARVE magazine. While at the rally I visited the Fleetwood stand with some of my queries and was told to make an appointment with the factory in Decatur where they would do all they could to rectify my problems . I also asked Spartan about my steering wander but they suggested it might be the tires or the pressures or the weight or the steering stabilizer or the rear axle or anything but the chassis. This started a quest of several thousand miles to find a cure. On the last day of the rally my Onan generator quit due to a flat battery. The generator was not charging it’s own battery.

We left Las Cruces with our friends following in their Dream on the Sunday. They informed us by CB that we were going along the road sideways or “doglegging” as the Americans call it, and headed back to Beaudry’s in Arizona for more on the alignment and the failed generator. It seemed the freeway was full of RV’s and we could hear the truckers on our borrowed CB complaining about them clogging up the road. On our arrival at Beaudry’s customer RV park, we managed to slot into two of the last remaining free plug in  spaces and then proceeded to witness dozens and dozens of RV’s arriving from Las Cruces turn into the parking area, finding no room exit and park up in the local mall car park.

Beaudry fitted us in the next day for the generator but could not make an appointment for the alignment for three weeks and as we had to be in Albuquerque in ten days to pick up my sister in law and her husband who were giving us the pleasure of their company for  THREE weeks in our motorhome, I argued that a specialist alignment shop might be more productive. Three days later Beaudry agreed and we were off to Mesa near Phoenix and Spectrac, an alignment shop recommended by Spartan. A week later with two days in the shop and a bill of $450.00 we headed of for Albuquerque with no appreciable steering  improvement but no time to pursue the matter.

We had to meet my sister in laws plane on 27th March and had booked into a Coast to Coast park just outside Alburquerque the day before. It was March 23rd in Tucson and we chose to spend two days on our way at our Coast To Coast home park, Cochise near Toombstone to see what it was like. An extremely bumpy road off freeway 10 brought us to a nice quiet, spacious campground which we were allowed to stay in free for two weeks at any one time. Then we were off to New Mexico and somehow missed the short cut to Hatch and had to endure 30 miles of road works on interstate 25, which had just been resurfaced and coated the front of our Honda tow car with tar.

It was not a good week, the first night we froze as the temperature at 7000 ft went down to 30* F. As we set off for the airport it was snowing and this covered the pot holes in the freeway, a bumpy ride. My sister in laws plane arrived on time but without their luggage, an hour later we left the airport with promises of the cases being delivered later that night, we went to sleep at 11.00. The cases came at 09.30 the next day. More snow and a biting wind made us decide to head south and a lower elevation to warmer temperatures. Next day and 150 miles south, we stayed in a state park at Truth and Consequences and were sand blasted all day and night.

The next campground at El Paso had been recommended in an article about visiting Mexico in the FMCA magazine. Mission RV Park was easy to find being just off interstate 10, possibly a little too near. It was a nice level, shady site and two types of Trolley went from the gates into Mexico either on a guided tour or a shuttle service. The guided tour gave us some history, religion, economy, industry, dining and shopping, excellent value at $12.00. We saved that on the booze we brought back but don’t try to hide it from the US customs as being searched is not worth the $1.00 duty. My brother in law is an active “Rotary’ member and never misses an opportunity to attend a new branch and exchange a banner. The El Paso branch which we attended, had a speaker on private flying and after the dinner I engaged him in conversation about my aviation experiences. He insisted I join him in his BMW to his private hanger. Where we rolled out his Cesner and took a 20 minute flight to a private airfield and a collection of some 30 historic military aircraft all in working order, War Eagles Air Museum, Santa Teresa, New Mexico. Here I was introduced to the curator of this collection, Guy E Dority who was the radio operator of the first B-17 to arrive in England on 1st. July 1942. He flew 50 combat flights and survived. Still flying today, his love of these old aircraft was obvious in the perfect condition of his collection.

Heading down into southern Texas, intending to take route 90 to Alpina, we stopped at Van Horn because diesel was only $0.91. per gallon and visiting a restaurant we were told of the Carlsbad Caverns by fellow travelers. After an excellent lunch we turned around and headed north back into New Mexico on the 54. The Carlsbad Caverns are an amazing phenomenon 700 ft. down in the earth, either reached by steps or an elevator. Many miles of spectacular caverns lit to accentuate their colors are easily walked, some even by a wheelchair. With a snack bar, restrooms, telephones and the usual souvenir shop all at the base of the lift. We telephoned home and sent postcards from 700 ft. in the earth. That night dry camping at the local state park, after leveling up on our jacks, we were just on our second drink with the wind blowing strong enough to rock the motorhome, when “BANG’ our windshield fractured from top to bottom. Next day calls to our insurance company revealed a deductible, or excess, of $1000.00 and guess how much a new windscreen fitted would be?  Yes $1000.00. I shelved the replacement of the screen.

As we had toured Texas some years before, this was like providing a guided tour for our visitors. Spending a couple of days in the unspoilt Big Bend National Park. Two days in Dell Rio beside picturesque lakes. A few days in San Antonio, which is very tourist friendly, with the river walk taking a whole day, the history of The Alamo and dining 700 ft. above the town up the Tower of Americas with an excellent, reasonably priced meal taking another day. One warning, the water pressure here is 160 lbs. psi. and if you don’t use a water regulator damage can occur to water appliances in the RV.

 We then headed for Corpus Christi on the Gulf of Mexico to an excellent Coast to Coast campground at Rockport, with a lake and pool close to the sea. We sampled the sea food specialalities toured The USS Lexington, a sea life museum and south Padre Island, a 100 mile stretch of sand which is a wildlife preserve that you can drive or camp on.

About this time I realized we were heading for Austin, the capital city of Texas and also where my Dell laptop was made. I phoned Dell on their 1 800 number and spoke to the sales department who said that they could not help me as my machine was second hand and they had no record of my serial number. Several unsuccessful calls later and many minutes hanging on listening to music, I gave up. The next day I pulled our 52 ft. into the head office car park of The Dell Corporation and before we had come to a standstill, the security were bearing down on us with “You can’t park there”. When I explained that I was an unhappy customer and wanted to see the top man before we moved it brought immediate results. We were treated to a tour of the factory while their technical department re-conditioned, re-programmed and re-loaded Windows and Office. The PC was as good as new.

Next stop Waco, whose only claim to fame was David Coresh and the siege. The local inhabitants did not want to even mention this part of their history. So one night in a delightful wooded  park close to a stream and we were on our way to Dallas - Fort worth. Dallas was where my sister in law was due to fly out from in a couple of days time. We found another excellent Coast to Coast campground, almost in the center of Fort Worth, and with temperatures in the 80’s, welcome shade from many large trees. Another “Rotary” dinner where we dined with the hierarchy of Dallas and received invitations to many homes. An interesting visit to the Fort Worth stockyards, which although are still in daily use with cattle and horses, have been extensively renovated to bring tourists and money to the area. Many restaurants and souvenir shops are inside the old station and sometimes the train puffs through beside the diners. The only other notable feature of these two cities is the terrible state of their roads

We said our farewells to my in laws at the airport. I was relieved that the motorhome had coped so well with four people. My wife was not so happy that her sister had gone home. Now with our alignment and windscreen problems to attend to, it was all haste north to the factories of Fleetwood and Spartan.

 
 
 

RV ing from a Brit’s view. Part 2.

 

24/04/98                                                     On the road.

Oklahoma is one of the most tidy states we have seen, possibly because there are less people, only three million. Many of these are in the oil or cattle industry and are fairly affluent.

We did not stay long, only one night in a “Good Neighbor Park” just on the outskirts of the capital, Oklahoma City. We stayed just long enough to pay our respects to the 168 people who died on 09.10 am. 19th. April 1995. when Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols planted a bomb in the city center.

We had made a reservation in Memphis, Tennessee for two days in a camp site. Partly to see Graceland and to get the mail sent on and also to try and get our Cummins engine serviced at 42000 miles. So the passage through Arkansas was quite rapid, just staying at two state parks that apart from the mosquitoes were close to perfect. Both nicely off the freeway as to be quiet and overlooking water with plenty of trees and space. The second of these was just south of a town called “Waynne” where the Klu Klux Klan were holding a meeting that night, so that hastened our progress. Arkansas, birth place of Bill Clinton, is a green and pleasant land with plenty of rivers and lakes and only 2,362,000 people to enjoy all the abundant leisure facilities that the state provides.

Memphis, apart from Graceland which was quite modest, was a tip. We were told to go and see the “World Famous” Beale Street which we found to be a tacky half dozen restaurants and little else. Down town is crumbling away. We did manage to get both the motorhome and the car serviced at great cost. Cummins charged $220.00 for an oil and filter change and a grease up. Even then I had to point out that they had missed one of the fuel filters, whereupon the “mechanic” explained that he did not know much about this engine. The Honda was due for a 30,000 mile service which came to $300.00 because Honda recommends that just about every thing gets changed at this time.

That night we endured torrential rain and warnings on TV that tornadoes were in our area, there were many accidents on the freeways and even as we drove back to the campsite a car did a triple pirouette between our two vehicles. So we moved on the next day to Nashville where the previous week a tornado had carved a one mile wide path through the city and the historic area. Nashville, the music center of the “World”, also has the fourth largest hotel in the world, with 2880 rooms, 14 acres of botanical gardens, waterfalls, a river and a dozen restaurants under the vast roof. You can even go for a boat ride on the river within the hotel walls. We visited the Grand Ole Opre but that is a weekend event so booked tickets for a live show by The Everly Brothers, it was great. It was here that we found the most expensive campsite so far, $32.50. also more torrential rain.

Talking to other campers about our directional stability problem, several mentioned the big difference tire pressure made to their rigs but weather over or under 100 psi was the question. So putting exactly 100 psi in the front tires we set off between showers. The steering appeared to be slightly improved at this time but as the weather was so bad speed had to be moderate. We then discovered a damp patch on the bedroom ceiling next to the air conditioner. I dismantled the underside of the unit and endeavored to tighten the fixing bolts, this resulted in the fan touching the framework as the whole assembly was out of true. We now await results of this repair.

Arriving at our next campground, a Coast to Coast resort a few miles north of Bowling Green Kentucky, we were told that unless we had booked they were full but that they had another new park only one mile away at $10.00 per night. We accepted, paid and were directed along an atrocious lane with great pot holes and no chance of passing if anything had come the other way. Arriving at the site we were in time to see the previous motorhome completely stuck  up to his axles in the soft ground beside his pitch. We wondered what we had let ourselves into, so viewing our pitch on foot drove cautiously into place. After talking for half an hour to the stuck camper, a small recovery pick up truck arrived that looked totally inadequate for the job and proceeded to fasten a winch cable on the front axle of the 14 ton motorhome. Two metal wedges behind the rear wheels of the 30 cwt. pick up and the winch wound the RV uphill and out of a 10” mudbath, I was amazed. 

The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs Louisville is not only a horse race but a hot air balloon race, a river steamboat race and a gigantic firework display that this year contained 36,000 fireworks, and a laser light show that goes on for two weeks beforehand. This year, the 124th. race it rained heavily for the two weeks before so was a quagmire. Louisville also has a museum of Baseball. We avoided Louisville on Saturday 2nd May as 200,000 racegoers were expected and chose a route through Lexington.

Our next site was in another state park, oddly named Big Bone Lick State Park due to prehistoric bison and mammoths congregating here for the salts and minerals in the ground. We did see a small group of Bison kept for the tourists. From here it was only twenty miles into Cincinnati, where I had an old friend of ten years, he was the salesman who sold me our last motorhome in 1988. There is a campground in the city of Cincinnati but it is definitely not recommended. After two days with our friend catching up on family and RV  news, also trying unsuccessfully  to swap our Arizona licenses for Ohio ones, we once more headed north towards the Fleetwood factory at Decatur Indiana.

It was now late April and I had anticipated being in the area of Fleetwood within a week or so, on our way up to the Spartan factory in Charlotte, Michigan, I rang ahead to book an appointment with Fleetwood for the numerous items that needed attention and was told that 7th July was the earliest they could take us in. One item the passenger windscreen that we had been quoted $1000.00 to replace elsewhere would be done for only $500.00. So I accepted the July appointment. One other factor that affected my acceptance was we had just booked our flights for our quarterly return to the UK for the month of June so it fitted in quite well.

In the UK we are led to believe that the Americans pay a lot less for flights than us, not so. With a little planning most of our transatlantic flights have been in the 200 TO 350 POUNDS but whilst in the US we have paid from $540.00 to $800.00 and that’s using any discount connection that I can like Coast to Coast. We had managed to book four weeks in the UK for only $640.00 from Detroit, when I realized our return coincided with Rick’s Malvern show on the 28th June, an extra $160.00 was forked out each for the two extra days until the 30th.

Fleetwood is the largest RV and mobile home manufacturer in the US. With 34% of the market and a turnover in the Billions!” The American Coach” department of Fleetwood which includes the manufacture of Eagle, Dream, Tradition, Limited and the new 45 ft long Heritage has several plants and one enormous production line which turn out four a day. We were given an extensive tour of the plant and shown many of the new innovations and designs that are being incorporated into the new motorhomes or “Coaches”. Many of these are high tech and cost thousands but when I asked why in a coach costing a quarter of a million dollars still did not have an entry door courtesy light or possibly even remote keyless entry, the answer was that no one had asked for it. But then I received numerous reasons or excuses why some pretty obvious benefits to the user could not be incorporated, like why my Eagle did not have a ladder on the rear cap to enable the owner to safely gain access to the roof for simple maintenance like cleaning the expensive solar panel that might become dirty. Instead I have to go down to the local hardware store and purchase a collapsible aluminum ladder to clog up the already full storage bays.

Another annoying design feature is the distance the hot water heater is from all the taps, so that several quarts of cold water have to be wasted before any hot is received at the shower or sinks. Or why the rear furnace thermostat is situated on a wall at the foot of the bed instead of the head. This necessitates the owner leaving the warmth of his bed to turn on the heat. The reply to any and all of these logical questions was “We sell all that we can build and our order book is full”. In other words “That’s the way we have always done it and why listen to customer requirements”. With this said Fleetwood does have a phenomenal customer loyalty, every owner is in praise of their after sales and even out of warranty service. Apart from the ladder, they were happy to accommodate all of the requirements on our list.

Whilst in the customer RV park of Fleetwood at Decatur in May, we talked to many other Eagle and Dream owners. Two couples we had met previously in Beaudry’s dealership RV park and one couple remarked that they had met and spent some time with an English couple in Florida who owned an Overland motorhome in the UK and had just bought a fifth wheel and truck, i.e. Terry Fleetwood or Mr. Undecided, it’s amazing how small this world is.

After six days enjoying the free hospitality of the fairly basic customer RV park, we once again headed north. We were advised by other owners that the “World Famous” flea market and auction at Shipshewana, Indiana. (I have never heard of it) was an event not to be missed, so finding a Coast to Coast park nearby in Howe that was close to perfect and cheap, we enjoyed three days of wonderful countryside and old world charm of the Amish people.

The Amish people are scattered all over the northern part of Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and Illinois in mostly farming and rural areas. The biggest give away to their presence is piles of horse manure all over the place as they live a very primitive existence without the “benefits” of electricity, petrol, cars and any decorative adornment. They have a strict religious belief in the letter of the scriptures and often have ten to twenty children that don’t integrate with other American children. We enjoyed their cooking, carpentry, needlework and other basic skills. Their farms on the most part were neat and tidy, it was fascinating to see a team of six horses pulling a plough across a field. Just occasionally we witnessed a transition to the modern world, like the sound of a cell phone coming from a horse drawn buggy, the sound of an electric machine from inside the carpenters shop and a change in their traditional dress.

Whilst in northern Indiana we drove through Middlebury on our way to Elkhart, where many of the RV manufacturers are based like Jayco, Coachmen, Gulf stream and others. I was here nine years ago but could not recognize anywhere, the expansion of these towns was considerable.

Searching around in Elkhart for a landmark that looked familiar, we came across a RV show at the local airport, so I turned into the car park and was confronted by a sign of $3.00 per head, unless you were a senior. Out came my B&Q over 60 card and we were waved in no charge. It did cost us $70.00 for a two year subscription to Passport America another  campground system that gives a 50% discount off the normal fee. Use it  for ten nights and you start saving.

The rest of the show was merely average with mobile homes or manufactured homes as they are known here, with many of the cheaper range of RV’s. I enjoy trying to get a price out of any salesman that tries to drag us into his web. They have to asses your particular situation before committing themselves, even then it’s a cat and mouse game but you can get a welcome cup of coffee and a sit down during any tiring show.

On our way back to the campground we heard on the radio that a local factory that produced chassis for Jaco had burnt to the ground, I guess we just missed that.

Passing through the town of Legrange on our way to the campground, we spotted another Driving License Department and popped in on the off chance of being able to swap our rapidly expiring Arizona license for any state that might give us a one for a couple of years. The queue was out the door, so we opted to return first thing in the morning. At 08.20 next morning there were three cars outside the license department when we arrived. As the doors opened at 8.30, an old, no ancient lady staggered out of a large automobile and bent double with her stick headed for the door. We made the mistake of holding the door open for her, as she hobbled towards the license renewal desk. Three times she tried to read the eye sight machine, it then took several minutes to find her car keys and stagger outside for a test drive. She was a little confused when asked to use her indicators and tried to start the already running engine, the clerk was as understanding as he could be but suggested she get her eyes tested. She drove off somehow, I hope we never meet her on the road or any of the thousands like her.

09.30 and it was our turn. After the simplest of true or false questions we passed, had our photo taken and gave the address of Fleetwood as our residence, paid $10.00 each and we were on our way with our new Indiana driving licenses until the year 2002.

Heading north on Interstate 69, we arrived at the Spartan factory in Charlotte, Michigan in less than two hours. After plugging into the primitive customer RV park with only electricity and no water or dump facility,

I visited  the administration building and found myself talking to a lady that was born and bred in Consett, Co. Durham where we were going to visit my mother in two weeks time. I enrolled for the forthcoming Spartan rally then spoke to the service department about our chassis direction problem. As they could not start on our motorhome until 4th June, I asked if they could look after the rig while we were in the UK. That took a load off my mind. The next question was where to leave the car in Detroit as we heard that this was a bad city.

We had a week or so to kill before the Spartan rally so it seemed a good opportunity to check out the parking situation in Detroit and pop over the bridge into Canada for a few days as we were so near.

The roads in Michigan are some of the worst we have driven on in the US but interstate 94 must be the worst, with pot holes the size of a bucket and so many road works it felt like home on the M 6. A  5 mile que of traffic into Detroit backed up past the airport. Eventually we were able to visit the long term parking areas and found they all charged $6.00 per day or $144.00 per month, what a rip off.

 We continued on our way to Canada. More road works, a detour with no directions, down town slum area, lock your doors, more pot holes and broken road surface. You cant take your eyes off the road to look at signs but we eventually made the Ambassador Bridge which crosses the Detroit river into Windsor, Canada. The toll was $3.75 and there is a currency exchange booth either side.

As you are entering another country, customs and immigration have to be passed through but apart from the different value of the dollar and road signs little changed in this corner of Ontario. The same TV, shops, cars, houses, food, electricity, and RV’s every where.

We checked into a nice sounding RV park and marina right on the shore line of Lake Erie. Sturgeon Woods Campground and Marina has 400 pitches and only one phone but it was ideally placed for visiting the point Pelee bird watchers paradise and at only $21.50 Can. good value.

It was then we found that this weekend was a national holiday, Queen Victoria’s birthday, and a minimum of two days was necessary to book. As the traffic was heavy we were glad to stay put in this pleasant but packed site. We did venture to the ” point “ on the Monday when the holiday crowds had been reduced somewhat and there were birds everywhere as it was a migration route in May. Trouble was their food was there also feeding on me, bugs galore  with me in shorts I realized why the serious bird watchers were fully clothed in 85* heat.

This birds paradise was the most southern point of Canada and on the same latitude as Rome and Barcelona, jutting out into Lake Erie, gateway to three of the five great lakes and at the junction of Ontario, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.

As our next campground was about 50 miles away, a Coast to Coast $4.00 per night site, I rang and booked for two nights at The Rock Glen Family Resort. We slowly traveled past Essex, Kent, Tilbury, Harrow, Maidstone, Windsor, Maldon, Chatham, Dover, Watford and close to London over the river Thames. Apparently an English Major had visited this area in year dot and with no imagination named all and sundry like home.

A neighbor had advised us to take route 33 alongside The St. Claire River. This was an aquatic millionaires row and apart from a couple of power stations “Drop Dead Gorgeous”. These mansions had been built by Ex sea captains who still wanted to see the big ships pass by. Many of the smaller wooden houses are up for sale to be developed into much larger luxury homes. There are three camp grounds along this stretch of the Ontario side of the river and more on the US side, a really picturesque locality.

We also drove along the Lake Huron shoreline from Sarnia to Goderich where in places a pure white tropical sandy beach made me wear sun glasses and at other parts the pond life had moved in and developed a most beautiful coastline into a squatters camp.

RV parks abound near the shoreline some superb and some little more than an overflow car park at the rear of the local store.

.

 

 

RV ing from a Brit’s view. Part 3.

 

18/5/98.

Our campground was nice and peaceful after the national holiday. As we drove in, many RV’s were coming out full of families with many children. So two days exploring the falls and fossils, of which there were hundreds, walking on the golden sandy beaches in this corner of Ontario. We also found an English couple running an hotel and restaurant with home cooking.

By Wednesday 20 Th. May, we decided to head back to Charlotte and get ourselves tucked up in the campground where the Spartan rally was to be held before the US holiday traffic built up. So crossing back into Michigan via the Blue Water Bridge at Port Huron and another $4.50 toll fee  brought us through immigration again into America. This was the one and only time we met an immigration officer who remotely resembled a human being.

Onto I-69 and 90 minutes later we were pulling into the rally field where we could take our pick of the sites. With 260 coaches expected and only 25 power boxes and water taps we tried to pick a spot in the shade and close enough to the services.

By Friday we had a dozen other motorhomes sharing our tranquil spot, these contained parking volunteers and organizers. Somehow we both were roped in to help, myself with parking and Pru with registration.

The next three days over two hundred 36 to 40 ft. wide body coaches, most towing cars, were squeezed into this small tree filled campground with only 6 to 8 ft between them and these small gaps the tow cars fitted. Slide outs further reduced this inadequate gap to only 3 ft. in some cases. In the event of a fire or problem hardly anyone would have been able to leave. It was calculated that over $50 million in RV’s were present.

The rally proper started on the Tuesday but by then we were socializing with many of the “American Coach” owners that we had met at one venue or another, recounting the progress of one problem or another.

It transpired that many of the Spartan based motorhomes also had similar wandering problems to ours and a variety of remedies had been tried with varying success. I had also been advised that many small repairs and upgrades would be done at the rally free of charge if you managed to get in the queue on Tuesday morning for service.

As the service manager was not due until 8 am. I rose especially early and at 7.30 joined a queue of almost 100 other owners who knew the procedure. By 11 a.m. I was processed and promised that these other items would be attended to at minimal cost. The last owner for service was attended to at 4 p.m.

It transpired that out of an attendance of 260 motorhomes, 130 required either repairs, service or warranty work. I don’t know weather this was an enditement or a complement of the Spartan chassis.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were full of technical, mechanical and informative seminars on all aspects of motorhoming. From maintaining engines, transmissions and the chassis to navigation by GPS into Mexico and Alaska. Investments and ladies driving was also on the agenda which allowed Prue to drive a new wide body Eagle and a Scenic Cruiser. I was busy all day trying to attend them all, many were duplicated to allow another choice the next day.

A factory tour was available each day. So we managed to fit this in. Throughout the entire tour I never witnessed any alignment of axles to chassis. I asked about this and was told that they had only just purchased the equipment to do this and were looking for skilled operators.

I also asked why newly welded chassis were pushed outside into the elements with bare metal to await the next stage of the build process. The answer “They are only there for a few days”. Time enough for rust to be evident!

Breakfast was provided each day with one other buffet meal and a final sit down dinner on the last day with the complementary speeches. Entertainment each night, and five nights camping all for $99.00.

Mail could be forwarded to the Spartan factory during the rally and a member of staff would perform the morning delivery to the door.

All too soon it was all over and we were making preparations to leave the RV with Spartan for the month of June and pack our cases for the return flight to England.

We left a detailed list of problems, repair items our return dates and times, also where the keys were to be securely left, as our return was to be late in the evening.

Heading off to Detroit Airport the sky darkened and a black cloud followed us for the 100 mile drive. Arriving at the long stay parking the heavens opened and we hurriedly transferred our luggage to the courtesy bus in a deluge.

It was some time later that it occurred to me that I had not fitted the sun shields and battery maintainer or possibly even left the lights on in the car in the rush. It was too late then as we were boarding the plane.

One of the rare times I wear a jacket and tie is when flying, partly for the comfort and three times we have been upgraded to club class. This worked BOTH ways this time with BA.

 

Our time in England was spent with family. Apart from collecting post from France again and Ricks Malvern show. We covered 1500 miles in our little Citroen which thankfully John, an RV friend keeps it in his garage for us.

 

30/6/98

We arrived back in Detroit quite fresh and elated after our club class travel, with the news of England’s draw with Argentina at that time. Soon to be brought down to earth again by the usual grouchy immigration officer demanding, “ Why are you here and when are you leaving?” also phoning home to find out that England had lost on penalty’s.

The Honda started first turn, which was a great relief as I had visions of jump leads and a breakdown truck. We paid the $148.00 storage, with our 10% “seniors” discount and headed off to Charlotte and our “home”.

True to form, our motorhome was not where it should have been and even when we did find it in the service yard, the keys were not to be found either! At 9 p.m. I was glad that we had the foresight to have a spare set hidden outside the RV.

Next day a test drive of our motorhome revealed that although Spartan had put new springs and caster shims on the front axle, realigned both axles and checked every adjustment, it handled WORSE than before!  Also we now had greasy hand marks on the upholstery, curtains, steering wheel and a damaged table.

Upon taking the service manager for a demonstration, I drove down the freeway at 75 mph. showing him the wandering condition. His immediate response was that he did not drive these vehicles at over 60 mph. What a cop out!

He did concede that my ‘’Safe T Plus had been taken off and maybe the handling could be improved with it back on. He was right, a considerable but not perfect improvement  was immediate.

When I expressed my disappointment at their efforts after traveling over 1500 miles for them to correct the problem. He apologized and waived the charge on the work sheet which included several other jobs. Also It was suggested that I might be offered a refund of the $600.00 that I had previously paid out at alignment shops. I can live with this and a whole new suspension but I await the cheque.

I have previously commented on the satisfaction of Newmar owners on their slide out motorhomes. Whilst at Spartan we met a Newmar owner who had taken delivery of a new Mountain Air three months before. His motorhome was so bad in every way that Newmar had offered him his money back.

It vibrated so much that a coffee cup would EMPTY it’s contents all over the dash. The slide out was so bowed that he could put his arm into the gap. Few if any body panels fitted without gaps and copious amounts of mastic. No paint in places and overspray in others. Plus over 100 other complaints.

The only reason he wanted it repaired was Newmar had discontinued this particular floor plan and he did not want any other.

I have come to the conclusion that the quality control of American products is sadly lacking, even non existent. Like BMC in the sixties and seventies.

The American RV industry can sell anything it builds, good, bad or terrible as demand exceeds supply. We all suffer the quality.

It is so ripe for the Japanese to step in and repeat the lesson taught to General Motors with the subsequent lay offs and an improvement of the product. I never thought that I would say this but it’s so obvious.

Another observation on the differences between American and British mentality are our homes. An Englishman’s home is his castle and he spends all his waking hours working for, paying for and maintaining it. Whereas an American is more likely to live in a “shed” and own a Cadillac, RV, Powerboat, pickup truck, 10 ft. satellite dish and a ride on mower.

When his “shed” crumbles around him through neglect, the American buys another one and sites it next to the old one, moves in and just mows the grass round the pile of lumber that was his old home. Usually one or two of his previous vehicles can be seen in the undergrowth that he meticulously mows round.

With most urban Americans having an acre of ground and few fences, this gives an impression of great space. Most lawns or “yards” as they are known are immaculate and meticulously cut and pruned every weekend.

2/7/98

With five days to kill before our appointment with Fleetwood and only 150 miles to go. We chose to return to the Coast To Coast campground at Howe, Indiana for four days. We had liked the peace and tranquillity and the proximity to the Amish people.

Once again we had not realized that this was another holiday weekend, the 4th. July.

It started to dawn on us when pulling into the campground it was almost full. 

Many events were advertised for this weekend, like Air shows and Balloon festivals but the night of 3rd. July produced a tornado warning and torrential rain. Apart from incessant fireworks day and night and America winning Wimbledon, the highlight of this weekend was visiting dozens of “Garage Sales”, or “Yard Sales”.

Everywhere The Stars and Stripes were flying at every flagpole, so we just had to fly three or four Union Jacks in defiance of history. This brought a knock on our door and a voice saying “You durn Brit’s just don’t know when to quit !”

Jerry Klein, the membership secretary for The American Coach Assn. who we had met previously at the Spartan Rally, had parked his Dream further down the row of motorhomes. He had come to give us a lesson in history.

6/7/98

Monday the 6th. we headed back to Decatur Indiana and the American Coach repair department of Fleetwood. Inquiring at reception about our start time the next day, we received our latest mail delivery and were told to report at 6 am. much to my despair, as I am not an early riser.

The customer RV park was full to capacity with Fleetwood owners of Eagles and Dreams, who still under guarantee were having many repairs and modifications done to their motorhomes. There were 25, and appointments had to be made nine weeks in advance! The facility was being expanded to accommodate even more owners who took delivery of their NEW motorhomes with ever more faults, especially slide out’s.

Every one thought that production had been increased to 40 units per month at the expense of quality control. Fleetwood being no better or worse than most other RV manufacturers as demand was so high that their order books were full.

Many of the unhappy owners we knew from either Beaudry, Spartan, FMCA or other gatherings. It was more like an ongoing social event. Fleetwood made our stay as painless as possible with the customer lounge having TV, coffee, phone, daily papers and a cook out or bar-B que during the week.

Three days later, apart from the ladder, everything had been done. New windscreen, new bra fixings, doors adjusted, new taps on the basin, drivers express window relay, rear air con leak and roof stain, new floor in LP bay, fixed desk back to the wall, two three point seat belts fitted, new control module in fridge, new ice maker door and the jack hydraulics checked. All for the paltry sum of $650.00. We were impressed.

In the meantime I had become so disillusioned with the steering and THE cheque was NOT now on it’s way due to my vehicle being out of warranty, that I rang Spartan to say that we were on our way back. Their only comment was,  everything that could be done had been done and I would be wasting my time.

Friday 9th. An hour late because of the time change, we were rewarded by a test drive by another mechanic. Same result. They thought it handled quite well. After standing my ground another “Expert” would review our situation after the weekend.

Whilst at Spartan we met another British couple in a Fleetwood Tradition. Linda and Colin Rogers had been everywhere, from the southern most tip of Mexico to the North of Alaska. They had touched wale’s, ancient tribes and glaciers and that’s just on this latest trip. They had been nomads for eight years covering most of the American continent. 24 hours was not nearly enough to communicate all the valuable information that they had accumulated over the years. One or two things we were able to help them with.

As our countrymen departed the rather basic customer RV park at Spartan and headed  for Canada. We decided to find better facilities and shade for the weekend. Recalling the cheap and shady camping at the municipal fairgrounds, we drove in only to find a fair in progress and the place seething with doggy and horsy people. Many resembling gypsies.

We asked if there were any other campgrounds nearby and were told of  “The Sherwood Forest campground” only 8 or 9 miles away. One hour later we found that it had closed four years previously, even though the signs off the freeway were still there newly painted.

We returned via the fairground to dump and fill with water on our way back to the now deserted Spartan parking. At least we did have electricity and apart from a train whistle every three hours, peaceful.

Unlike Europe where trains generally travel on raised embankments to separate the traffic. American trains pass through town at street level and at each junction only provide two half barriers that enable drivers to pass round the lowered obstacle.

To try and cut the many deaths at these crossings, train drivers blast their horns several times at each and every intersection, day and night. This cacophony of sound can be heard over two miles away with the wind in your direction. The horn fades into the distance as it leaves the city limits, the rumble of more than a mile of trucks continues for some time. This happens several times each night and can disturb sleep for over ten minutes.

 

 

                                2nd. TIME DEALING WITH SPARTAN.

 

Monday 13th. July, 7 am. Arrived at Spartan’s workshop. After 7 hours Gary William’s test drove with me. He found that there was a delay in steering response and excess roll.

He suggested that further investigation of the caster angle, the steering drag link. Also a sway bar and different tires might help our condition.

I was relieved that it was not all in my imagination and that someone else could feel the problem that I had been complaining about.

Tuesday 14th. July, 7 am. Waited until 8.45 am. Found that the sway bar was not in stock. Offered to pay the overnight cost to ship. Into the workshop for caster shims to be changed from 2* to 4* again. Checked the tolerance in the drag link, found to be within “specification” but possibly could be improved. Test drove and found a slight improvement, similar to when we brought the vehicle here in May.

IPD sway bar ordered late p.m.

Wednesday 15th. July, 7 am. Waited all morning for the delivery of the sway bar. Introduced to John  Rowland,  Director of Service, who asked why we were still here. He introduced me to Tim Williams, chief engineer who test drove our RV and declared that there was a slight delay in the steering. Supplied him with a copy of my article in floppy form to install into Spartan computer..

He offered to look at the steering geometry as and when the sway bar was being fitted. Midday, sway bar arrived without fittings or brackets. Spartan had brackets in stock thankfully. 2 p.m. fitting of sway bar started. After test drive still wandering. Dwight and a mechanic suggested that a smaller transfer arm could help. It helped but still felt that a delay was present. Then found out that Safe-T-Plus had been taken off and control was quite good. By now it was 6 p.m. Offered to try out latest adjustment tomorrow and see if Safe-T-Plus was required.

Thursday 16th. July,  9 am. took Eagle for a test drive with Lee and Prue. Twenty miles later, concluded that it drove as good as it could apart from a slight pull to the right. Returning to Spartan 10 am. to ask that this bias was corrected by any adjustment or the refitting of the Safe-T-Plus.

Seven hours later with numerous adjustments, retorking wheel bearings, fitting of the Safe-T-Plus and much fine tuning and alignments, accepted that it was as good as they could get it. The slight “delay” or “play” in the wheel that I had been complaining about could only be explained by the pressure needed to operate the power steering. The final bill of $688.91 comprised mainly of the sway bar, shipping and fitting charge.

 

 

 

RV ing from a Brit’s view. Part 4.

 

17/7/98.

After one week hanging around while Spartan managed to get the steering to come close to acceptable limits, we finally hit the road. With new caster shims, spring hangers, sway bar, laser alignment front and rear and our Safe-T-Plus reinstalled, we could drive now without the constant wandering and aching arms.

Up to now all my comments about our motorhome have been of a complaining and critical nature. It has finally taken six months to sort out all the mechanical problems. Apart from not having a ladder on the back and a courtesy light on the entry door our American Eagle is a superbly put together motorhome with the best livability we have ever found in a 96” wide RV.

It is built so well and solidly that just running extra 240 volt wires for some 13 amp sockets is proving a difficult job. There are no gaps or crevices to go through. Although some of the chassis wires are duplicated for spares.

After six months of full timing we have almost filled the cavernous storage facilities and with all the tanks full, our car on tow the 300 hp. engine pulls like a train, easily accelerating to freeway speed within the space of any onramp. Without using the very effective air conditioning we average 11 miles per US gallon.

The tank capacities are more than ample, 150 gallon fuel fillable either side, 100 gall. fresh and 100 gall. waste water, 4 x 217 amp house, 2 x 2000 CCA engine and 1 x 100 amp generator batteries. 72 watt solar panel, 2000 watt inverter.

With air ride and ABS excellent ride and handling, with a reservation on steering. We still have the last year of Cummins warranty on the engine.

The 5 ft. wide bed never feels the heat from the insulated engine. A shower cubicle large enough to be able to towel down in and bathroom big enough for the two of us. The biggest kitchen worktop ever. The ample dining table for two extends and has fold away chairs for four. Our guests thought the fold up settee as comfortable as any bed.

We have no less than three ways to make ice, although neither of us takes ice. The ice maker doubles as a cocktail cabinet and the outside freezer, which we never thought would get used, keeps sixty beers and several bottles of white wine cool.

We do have a problem storing the red wine as we buy it in four liter bottles, not very compact. Of course there is never enough wardrobe space for two, or at least for one of us. With two Sony self seeking televisions a VCR and a ten disk CD player combined in a surround sound system throughout the motorhome, we can get what music where and when we want.

We would have liked dual pane glazing but that was introduced in the wide body, as was independent front suspension and a ladder. The washer dryer we thought a little over the top but it gets used as often as we have a full hook up.

Now that I have fitted an electronic control to our central heating, it performs to the second of time and to the degree of heat. We even use it as an alarm to wake up warm. I am not keen on floor heat registers but they do give out plenty of volume and enable the underfloor storage bays to benefit from the transfer of heat.

Another extremely beneficial modification was the addition of an electric element in the water heater, a “Hot Rod”, This enables all our gas and battery appliances to automatically switch over to 110 volt when we plug in.

The external washing center is a boon, not only for washing up after dumping but greasy hands or sandy feet. Just another standard convenience fitted by Fleetwood.

We had intended to travel north into the northern peninsular of Michigan of which we had heard so much about but before leaving Charlotte I phoned a distant relative in Mokena south of Chicago. They would normally be at a family reunion in Utah about this time but due to age and cost had decided to stay at home. They were quite elderly nine years ago when I last visited them and as we were so close another visit was in order.

So braving the diabolical roads of Michigan we headed south west in the direction of Chicago through a corner of Indiana and into a fifteen mile traffic jam on I-80. Crawling along at 2 mph. we listened to the truckers on our CB who indicated a detour via I-65 and US 30. Following their lead we found ourselves in another crawl of traffic and road works 5 miles along US 30.

The language on the CB was colorful. As the chatter became more irate and intense, a low southern drawl was heard to input, “He needs a HURRG”.

It was hot and tiring. A journey of 3 hours  on some of the worst roads ended up as a 6 hour traffic nightmare.

The coast to Coast campground at Joliet that I was heading for, was a little harder to find due to the directions in the book being written round the wrong way. Eventually turning into the campground adjacent to the freeway we were told that it was full and we could only have a space in the car park with no facilities and at full price. We left.

There were no campgrounds nearby in any of our directories. Heading back East again on I-80 we passed a shopping mall and asking directions to any nearby campsite brought us to a campground that I had stumbled upon nine years ago when visiting the area. It was packed, being one of the few places that had somewhere to swim. A green mosquito infested pond with a pile of sand at one end that was called a “beach”.  At $25.00 it was not good value but welcome.

My relatives had not changed much in nine years and were still going strong at over 80. We spent the day with them swapping photos and adding the latest additions to the family tree. I managed to copy the list of relatives that would be attending their reunion in Utah, possibly we would be passing one or two later on our travels.

It was now time to resume our travels trying to see as much of the US countryside instead of repair shops. The northern peninsular of Michigan was our next objective.

Heading up the western shore line of lake Michigan we found that large vehicles, including RV’s were prohibited from traveling up “Lake Shore Drive” passing Chicago on the waterfront. We had to stay on I-94 only viewing the famous skyline from a distance and at a hectic 70 mph. We noticed that almost every other vehicle was piloted by an aggressive colored “Kamikaze”

Not wanting to get tangled up with the traffic in the suburbs of the big city, we waited until we were well clear of the concrete jungle before turning towards the lake. The area between Highland Park and Waukegan must have more mansions per acre than Hollywood.

Nice tree lined, manicured boulevards with vast homes resembling Buckingham Palace led to the lake shore, most with gate houses and private jetties. We collected many curious stares as we drove our combination through this affluent region. Views of the lake made it worth it.

Crossing into Wisconsin we stopped at the usual “Visitors Center” for lunch and to collect  a free map and state park list. As there were many State Parks along this shoreline we chose to leisurely drive northward and pick a site as and when.

3.30 p.m. found ourselves approaching Kohler-Andres State Park with a convoy of RV’s following us to the ranger station. We managed to get the last spot as the park was packed being right on the lakeside. At $14.00 per night not bad but added to this was the state park entry fee of $7.00. This was the most expensive S.P. to date at $21.00. A stroll along the beach was like being on a tropical island, pure white sand, gentle waves, trees overhanging the dunes, wall to wall bikinis. It was difficult to appreciate we were beside a lake but a lake the size of England.

Lake Michigan is 307 miles long, 118 miles wide, 923 ft. deep and has 1,660 miles of shoreline. It has 79 lighthouses and is the second largest Great Lake.

20/7/98, we decided to have a couple of cheap nights in a Coast To Coast site with some shade, as the temperatures were in the 90’s all this week. Checking the book, Iron Mountain just inside the upper peninsular had the nearest club site. Turning in we drove over a railway line running alongside the campground, that was a minus point but as it was full of trees a bigger plus point was shade.

I came across a day van with a GB sticker on the back doors. Soon after I engaged the owner in conversation, asking if they had any British connections because of the GB plate. No they replied, it’s our initials that’s why they bought the van. They had no idea of it’s meaning, thinking it might be a paint code.

Many times we are accosted by another camper with the words “You’re a long way from home”. They only understand the Oregon plates and not the GB sticker. My reply of “Yes about 6000 miles” brings a quizzical expression.

Two days relaxing and spring cleaning inside and out, we only heard one train. The area had mining history with tours underground. Some spectacular mountain scenery and waterfalls were all around.

We would have liked to stay longer at this pleasant spot but I had made a booking at another state park, Brimley which was close to the Canadian border. We had wanted to book into Straits State Park which was close to our goal, Mackinac Island but it was fully booked.

With 225 miles to travel we opted to take two days and stop en route in another club site at Manistique. Pulling into this small site which was at the topmost point of lake Michigan and so close to the water that we slept with the sound of waves rolling onto the beach. It was close to the ideal site except for the flies, they had the biggest teeth ever but the fee was only $8.00 with 15 amp maximum power.

It was at this site that my wife noticed green fluid splashing out of the engine vents whilst backing into our spot. Sure enough we had a coolant leak coming from a pipe connection. A quick check of the Cummins service book revealed that we had passed the only service point in upper Michigan 80 miles back in Iron Mountain.

Out came the tools to disconnect two pipes and four unions before the offending leak was finally sealed by PTFE tape and clear NAIL VARNISH.

Once again we saw on the TV how lucky we had been with the weather. Lower Michigan including Detroit and Charlotte, had suffered a destructive storm that had blown down so many trees on cars and power lines that 300,000 homes were without electricity.

23/7/98 Pulling out of our idyllic campground, the dusty drive made our nice clean motorhome look like a flour grader. Within an hours drive, a short sharp shower and some road works plastered both vehicles with so much road grime that they looked worse than before cleaning.

An hour later we pulled into Brimley State Park beside Lake Superior. With over 270 pitches it took some time to settle on one that pleased us both. As it was midday we chose to visit a nearby attraction.

The “World Famous” Soo Locks, that we had never heard of, were recommended as a must by other campers and at only 15 miles was an easy ride.  As we drove into the town of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan heading for the docks, I pulled into the tourist office for a map and directions to the locks.

Although we were only one mile from the our goal, the tourist office recommended that we turn back and go four miles via the freeway to the locks, due to a hostage situation just down the road. We obeyed.

We saw on TV that night reported that a newspaper worker came to work and shot his boss dead. He then took some other workers hostage and vanished. The police are still looking for him.

This vast lock system which connects Lake Superior via a 21 ft. drop into Lake Huron comprises of five locks. Four US and one Canadian. The largest being 1350 ft. long and 80 ft. wide.

The largest ships of over 70,000 tons, 1000 ft long and 105 ft. wide have to go through the specially made “Poe” lock which is 110 ft. wide. When these monsters move in or out of the lock system their speed is regulated to less than 1/2 a mph.

Five inch steel cables are stretched across in front of the lock gates, just in case a ship drifts and damages a gate.

A road and a rail bridge also cross to Canada at this point. The road bridge at 150 ft. high and the rail bridge at 20 ft. which raises on the US side and swivels on the Canadian side. With 12,000 ships a year passing through these locks each year, the mechanical reliability is excellent.

We took a boat trip up through the Canadian locks and back down through the US locks, with an informative commentary all the way for only $13.00, well worth it. We passed by two waterside campgrounds on the way and later inquired about their rates. At $16.00 and $19.00 per night  quite good for the position.

Next day 24/7/98 we drove the 50 miles to the approaches of the Mackinac Bridge, where we caught the ferry to Mackinac Island, in Lake Huron, our objective in being in Upper Michigan. $13.00 each and 15 minutes later we were landing at one of the three ferry quays on this unusual island.

Once owned by The British in 1812 and given back to the US in 1815 by treaty. The island is devoid of motor vehicles. Only horses and bicycles are permitted. With 2700 acres or 8.2 miles round it’s easy to see all the island by either mode of transport.

It’s in a Victorian time warp except for the prices which are definitely 20 Th. century. The largest employer is the Grand Hotel with 5000 employees. They also own 300 horses and 75 carriages. Many others are owned by a consortium of local families. One night at the Grand can cost up to $580.00 more modest accommodation starts at $85.00 per night.

Property prices in the US are generally much lower than UK prices but on this island the average price of a modest dwelling was $500,000.

We dined, toured, shopped and wondered where all that manure gets deposited that is swept off the streets. Gained a great deal of history of the island before returning on our ferry later that afternoon. Then drove over The Mackinac Bridge, which links upper and lower Michigan.

The publicity on this structure is impressive:- The Worlds Longest Suspension Bridge at 8,344 ft, with 42,000 miles of wire in main cables, which are over 24 inches in diameter with the approaches at almost 5 miles or 26,372 ft. The Worlds Most beautiful Bridge over The Worlds Greatest Inland Waterway.  

Mackinaw City on the south side of the bridge is another tourist trap, with a multiple series of malls and more ferries to Mackinac Island. After we killed some time in a cinema watching Lethal Weapon 4, then had a slap up meal of ribs, all the time a variety of entertainers were performing outside all the restaurants.

The finale of the entertainment that evening was a free laser light show at 10.30 p.m. Quite interesting but not a patch on the last one we saw at Futurascope in France.

The following day a leisurely drive along the shoreline of Lake Superior to “Paradise”. We saw many properties for sale with lake frontage. Modest wooden homes with an acre of trees and several hundred feet of shoreline. Normally properties like this would fetch prices in the region of several hundred thousand dollars but in this northern region where  the lake freezes over to enable vehicles to drive on it, these picturesque dwellings only fetch $80 to $150,000. Paradise for six months of the year and purgatory for the rest.

Michigan’s I interstate roads are terrible, with pot holes and bad joints in the concrete slabs shaking the motorhome rhythmically to bits. Surprisingly their state routes are smooth and well maintained allowing an average of 55 mph to be easily achieved.

A slightly comic sign that appears beside these state roads is:- “Do not overtake when opposing traffic is present”.  This reminds me of a bill board beside the road in Tennessee, where two full size black and white cows up two ladders were painting the slogan “EET MOR CHIKIN”.  You have to see it to appreciate it!!

Heading west now with the intention of meeting up with Rick and Linda Jenkins in Idaho about September, gave us about  two months to explore the State Parks of the northern states.

Michigan state route 28 takes us directly west through the upper peninsular and passes many lakes both large and small. I lost count of the “Scenic View Points” we passed. After taking numerous photos of magnificent lake side scenery I gave up.

Round every corner a better and more picturesque campsite than the last appeared. We managed to pick two perfect lakeside sites with spacious plots fronting directly onto the water. One a city tourist park in Munsing for $18.00 and the other Lake Gogebic State Park which has 127 sites in a 361 acre park for only $11.00 a night.

Michigan state parks require that a vehicle pass of $4.00 be paid each day unless you purchase an annual pass at $20.00. Luckily we had the foresight to buy the annual pass some time earlier, saving some fees.

The town of “Christmas” is on route 28. Many campers told us to stop at this famous place but it’s only a collection of tacky trinket shops. One even had a small wild bear in a pitiful compound to draw visitors.

Once again we were surprised by a time change of one hour in the middle of a state. The Central and Eastern time zones run a tortuous and confusing route through the upper peninsular. Pick the wrong road and you could change time zone four times in 50 miles.

28/7/98 We woke to a thunderstorm and debated about driving on in poor conditions during an excellent breakfast in the nearby town of Marenisco, which was all but dead. A post Office, Bar and Restaurant come Launderette was all that was left in the decaying township.

By 11.30 the sun dried everything and we were off intending driving through Wisconsin to our Coast to Coast campground in northern Minnesota, where we were having our post redirected. After pulling out of a “Wall Mart” only 78 miles from our starting point that day, another perfect campground beckoned.

In the center of Ashland, adjacent to the marina and an antique iron ore dock. The Ashland City Campground at only $15.00 was too good to pass by. This was to be the last time we went to sleep with the sound of The Great Lakes in our ears.

The ore dock is a vast concrete structure jutting out into the lake over 1500 ft. Built in 1916 and added to in 1925 this 1800 ft. long, 80 ft. high and 59 ft. wide it was the largest concrete of it’s kind in the “World”.

This dock provided facilities for the 1000 ft. cargo ships that ply the 2000 miles of the  great lakes from The St. Lawrence sea way to load at this end of the 350 mile long Lake Superior.

Other docks were in use at the turn of the century in the towns of Superior and Duluth. These were multiple structures, with more than three miles of dock frontage. Loading 100,000 tons of ore a day. A fascinating part of this regions history.

Lake Superior is the largest body of fresh water in the “World” and is 1333 ft. deep. It covers 31,700 square miles and borders three states, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. Also the two countries of the USA and Canada.

All these gigantic statistics of the “Great lakes” pale into insignificance when put beside “Lake Baycal” in Siberia. This lake could swallow all five of the great lakes with room to spare but the Americans “World” only encompasses America.

We crossed into Minnesota almost without incident. There are two roads with the number “35”  that run through Superior. One a State route and the other an Interstate we chose the wrong one of course.

Our Coast To Coast campground at Sturgeon Lake was spacious and shady being entirely within a pine forest. Here we saw our first “Live” deer, all others had been victims of traffic on freeways. She just looked and walked slowly through the site. The only other “Wildlife” we encountered were Mosquitoes, by the million.

Minnesota has over 12,000 lakes and rivers, mostly in the upper half. This is perfect breeding ground for bugs.

While en route to Minnesota we had noticed that the prize for the Powerball Lottery had risen to $295 million so we bought tickets. With 36 numbers, it’s amazing that I did not have even one number.

One ticket eventually won the prize but it had to be shared by a group of thirteen people. After taxes and other expenses, the winners only received eight million dollars each. Poor things.

While driving around this beautiful part of Minnesota with its lakes and trees, we saw other wild deer both live and dead. At this point I fitted the two deer scareres to the front of our RV. Most of the properties we saw were well kept like show houses but there is always the odd one or two that resemble junk yards.

We were so amazed by one such “pile” right in the middle of a beautiful forest of pines, that I turned around and was about to take a picture. When an individual dressed in camouflage and resembling one of the characters out of  the film “Deliverance” strolled towards us with his four large dogs howling and asked “Waderyawant?”  We gave some lame excuse and sped off.

It makes you wonder how some one can degenerate into a recluse who collects absolutely everything and gathers it all around them. We have seen collections of steam engines, farm machinery, vehicles, fire engines and plain junk cluttering up the otherwise beautiful countryside.

31/7/98, I wanted to see the big cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Ringing round the campsites within a 30 mile radius I found them all full until after the weekend. I opted for another Coast To Coast site about 40 miles from the cities that we found in the directory.

Driving about 120 miles only to find that this site had closed ages ago. With nowhere else to go we were about to follow a bunch of hippies into the woods for a Blue Grass festival, when we came across a private campground by a stream. At only $20.00 fairly cheap but decidedly scruffy and still 40 miles from town.

With only the afternoon to kill we drove to Camping World to buy a few bits with the discount vouchers I had redeemed from their catalogues. Relating our difficulties in finding a campground, one of their counter staff indicated they have customer hook ups in their back car park.

We toured a few computer shops in the area trying to buy a printer for my Laptop. Eventually choosing a bargain Hewlett Packard at $100.00, I asked for a demonstration using my PC. Eventually finding out that I did not have sufficient memory to enable it to run I had a refund. All in all, a waste of three hours.

Next day, Saturday, we were on route to the Camping World car park when we saw some people waving banners offering a FREE CAR WASH. Always one for a bargain I pulled in. My wife said there must be a catch.

No catch, just members of The Church of Elk River doing their bit for the community and they would not accept one penny, even offering caned drinks free while you wait also. It was here that I noticed a field of old fire engines with grass growing through them. From small compact models to the large turntable jobs at 50 ft. long.

With a clean car we then drove to our second free offer that day. Free hook up courtesy of Camping World.

The guide books list a variety of interests in the Minneapolis Saint Paul area. One of these is “Mall Of America”. The largest mall in the USA, only Edmonton in Canada has a larger one. We visited this mall which covers 78 acres including over 13,000 parking places. The leisure area, Knotts Camp Snoopy, covers 7 acres and has 25 rides and attractions. 620 shops, over 40 restaurants and eating places.

The day we were there a boy had fallen out of the “The Log Shute” on his head and it was closed. He died next day and they opened the ride the following day.

The facts and figures of this self contained “town” are vast in every way but in the end it’s  just lots of places to spend money. After about six hours we were shopped out and retired to our free camp site for a relaxing glass of wine, or two.

Another attraction that sounded rather special was “The Minnesota Zephyr”. A 1949 train comprising of five restored dining cars and an observation car called “The Grand Vista Dome” with 80 ft. of glass to take cocktails while watching the scenery.

This six car train is pushed and pulled by two 1951 diesel electric engines with over 3250 hp. and takes three and a half hours to cover the 15 miles and back along the St. Croix River Valley. The menu and the elegant ambiance sounded marvelous and even at $58.50 plus drinks, service and tax about $175,00 for us both. What a special trip to remember.

We arrived at the depot in Stillwater at about 11.00 am. on the Sunday and inquired about a dining voyage. The train leaving at midday was full and the next was on   Thursday and it was formal dress. As we were leaving in two days we decided not to book.

The literature said that the interior of the dining cars had been renovated but while we waited for the train to depart we noticed that the outside was a little shabby and decrepit. eventually with a whistle they were off on schedule and crawled out of the station.

We drove down the line for about half a mile and pulled in a lay bye and waited. Five minutes later the noisy diesel announced itself and slowly crawled past. We could have walked faster. The occupants sipping their gin and tonics looked like mannequins.

At that point we were happy that we did not spend the money on the rail journey and drove off to a “Famous Dave’s” Bar-B-Que restaurant and had the best meal for weeks, with wine and beer for less than $30.00.

Eventually between the rain showers we drove down town to The Twin cities. St. Paul was a run down dump with construction projects and road works all over. We could not find anywhere of interest that looked safe for tourists.

A short drive over The Mississippi River and we were in another world, Minneapolis with it’s high rise office buildings and modern shopping malls. We parked close to the Convention Center which has a variety of auditoriums and lecture halls and entered The Skyway System directly from the car park.

The Skyway system is a five mile walkway running through almost every building down town. This carpeted and temperature controlled, first floor environment has a multitude of office supply shops and food emporiums within it’s corridors.

Workers can get everything they need, from a hair do to a chiropodist, from a burger to a slap up chandelier dinner. They need not breath fresh air, which is heavily polluted, from the moment they leave home to their return that evening.

We waited for an old fashioned trolley for an hour before we found out that it ceased running at 4 p.m. so we walked miles, good exercise which we badly needed.

5/8/98. Wednesday we thought that we had taken advantage of Camping World long enough, even though we had spent money there almost every day. We collected our mail at the local Post Office, general delivery, picked up our processed films from Wall Mart and were about to head south to Iowa when we discovered a passenger.

A well fed and healthy MOUSE was running round the settee. This mouse almost caused a divorce. I blocked the heating vents and opened the front door, hoping it would choose freedom to our lounge.

It vanished, this caused my wife to sit on the worktop, the mouse reappeared next to her on the worktop. She screamed, it vanished and I got it in the neck. “Do something”, so I picked up a shoe. “No don’t kill it”.

By now we found droppings in the kitchen cupboards, it had to go! I went and bought four traps and some peanuts for bait. Peanuts had worked well in our French house with the same problem. Setting the traps round the settee invoked “Cant you hide them, I don’t want to see it trapped”.

As the mouse had tried to get into the heating vents I guessed it might have come from the storage bays. Bingo, piles of droppings and some aluminum foil chewed in one bay.

I remembered an article in Motorhome saying Moth Balls kept rodents away, so off to Wall Mart for Moth Balls. “I can’t stand the smell of Moth Balls” she wailed.

“Do you want Mice or Moth Balls?” I asked. “Neither!!”  I started to distribute the camphorous balls around the storage bays. “Don’t go over the top” she complained. “You will never get rid of the smell!”. By now the air was heavy. And not from the odor.

It was like trying to fight with my hands tied. Four more traps and another packet of balls installed and we were off with the fumes percolating through the RV. 

Forest City, Iowa was only 150 miles away but we only went 80 miles when it rained. I don’t like traveling in the rain so we pulled into a campground near Owatonna for the night. Plugging in I checked the storage bays and found our passenger neatly trapped by the neck.

Displaying my trophy and gathering up the Moth Balls with a rubber glove restored the equilibrium and dinner  was back on the agenda.

 

End page eight and “Doc. 4 Doc”

 

 
 
 

RV ing from a Brit’s view. Part 5.

 

6/8/98.

From our overnight stop in  , Minnesota sheltering from the rain, we headed off under gray skies to try and make The Winnebago Factory at Forest City, Iowa in the county of “Winnebago”, 60 miles away.

Almost every vehicle draws it’s name from an American town or community. Itasca, Cadillac, Hudson, Pontiac, Scotsdale, Fairmont, Dakota, Concorde, Mustang, Suburban, etc. Not very imaginative.

We had only traveled about 20 miles when hunger, the need to phone home and the dark ominous skies made us pull off into a T. A. Travel Center. This new, modern Nordic style facility had everything under one roof. Burger bar, Pizza cafe and a family style restaurant, numerous phone booths, souvenir and grocery shops with the best bathroom facilities any traveler could ever want.

Outside was a vast lorry park, at least 30 fuel islands, vacuum, air, water and dump. A separate RV parking area made it easy for us to turn in.

As we walked to the phones the smell of bacon drew us to the restaurant where an “All You Can Eat Breakfast Buffet” for only $5.99, included every possible choice. We gave in and started with the soup. By the time we ate our way through breakfast the Lunch Buffet was being loaded onto the hot plates.

The sweet and fruit almost beat us, the coffee cup was never more than half empty and the final bill for two was an amazing $14.78 or £9.23. We did not eat for 24 hours after.

The rain held off just long enough for us to drive to Winnebago Industries Visitors Center in Forest City. I asked where the customer RV parking facility was. “Your in it” was the response.

I was expecting something better than the gravel car park with a dozen or so power points dotted around from the mighty Winnebago name. As it was raining it was most undesirable.

Considering the dealers and other manufacturers facilities for customers and their motorhomes this ranked a very poor bad. Ironically there is a 1500 space campground across the road but is only opened up twice a year for the Winnebago rallies.

The factory tour was another thing altogether. Starting with a 25 minute film show which covered the production line from raw plastic and aluminum ingots to the latest finished Winnebago, Itasca, Vectra, Luxor and Realta motorhomes. A new model “The Freedom” in just being produced now.

Then an actual tour in an air-conditioned bus with running commentary. 18 buildings cover the 60 acres and made up the plant with one gigantic hanger called “Bertha”, which we were told was the largest motorhome assembly plant in the “world”.

Five assembly lines progressed slowly along with parts dropping down from the many overhead conveyor belts, the closest thing to a automobile assembly plant. 40 units per DAY roll off including the VW based Rialta. These are now delivered from Germany with two front ends bolted together as Winnebago manufacture everything behind the cab.

I did manage to speak to a member of management about the shabby way they treated me after buying a new Winnebago. They could not even reply to my letters or faxes. His reply was “Gee that’s too bad”. Which only goes to corroborate the general reputation that Winnebago has, that after they have your money they are no longer interested.

Forest City is an insignificant small town. The majority of it’s inhabitants work at the plant. This in itself is a limitation on production for Winnebago, as there are no more available workers. Plus the pay is only $8 to $12 per hour.

A company that delivers all the new motorhomes is always looking for drivers. If you have the time a few weeks work might supplement the income.

After two nights in this now muddy car park  we stayed just long enough to visit the Winnebago Surplus Store. This shop is where all surplus parts are sold off at great reductions, from interior furniture and decor to the nuts and bolts, plumbing and electrical. We even found a new cooker hob top for $1.50, an amber rear light assembly for The Eagle for $2.50 and a spare set of waste water valves for $19.00.

Taking Iowa county road 9 west for 120 miles that day we drove for hours through fields of sweet corn and Soya as far as the eye could see.

The terrain is generally quite flat but this sea of green has the occasional tree covered knoll protruding out of it which contains the farm house and buildings, neat, tidy and the only obvious sign is a post box beside the road. 

After two hours and wondering if we had made a mistake, a caravan sign led us off the main road towards the town of “Little Rock” and into the smallest campground yet. Two spaces with electricity in a sports and recreation park. We were the only takers and at $10.00 in an honesty box good value. It obviously pays to take the quieter roads.

At this point we were heading for the Sioux Falls area. I had been making unhappy noises to Michelin about our steering wander since the FMCA rally in March. As everything else had failed to rectify the problem completely. Now they were getting interested in our problem and the possibility of new tires was in the wind.

Sioux Falls was the nearest city with a sizable Michelin dealer. Located at the eastern end of South Dakota where we were heading, to visit the state parks of the Badlands and Mount Rushmore at the western end.

Our first stop was in the Tourist Welcome center immediately upon crossing the state border. Here we are provided with a state map, a State Park list and a campground list.

So choosing a State Park with camping only six miles from the city of Sioux Falls in Brandon, we found ourselves in an out of the way, 10 site campground at only $9.00 per day with electricity and shade. With only two other residents, nice and peaceful beside a river

We did have to buy a State Park annual license fee for $20.00, to enable us to drive a vehicle into all South Dakota State Parks. As we were intending to be in S.D. for some time, hopefully a good investment rather than paying $4.00 per day.

It was here that I saw a triple articulated lorry of 110 ft. disconnecting the last trailer to be legal on his way through to Iowa.

Possibly I have said before that most Americans are a friendly and sociable race. At any time you might be asked “How are you?” or “How are you doing?” just a friendly greeting to all and sundry.

These greetings happen in mall car parks, in shops, restaurants or even in the gents. We are constantly receiving these greetings in campgrounds from other campers, who when they hear our British, or sometimes “Australian Accent”, invite us to their table or campfire for a chat.

It might be that other campers are mature self sufficient responsible people in a similar situation to ourselves. Invariably the conversation gets to their European relatives who we might just know!

10/8/98 I spoke too soon, the “Pond Life” has just moved into our peaceful campground. With kids yelling, dogs yapping and the adults screaming incessantly at one another. The car radio up loud and a guitar strumming until 1.00 am.

I wonder if they have even paid to be here as they turned up late in the evening and were not around at warden time. There are other campgrounds locally but at $25.00 and beside the freeway not for us.

Fuel prices are on the rise as we move West. Diesel cost us $1.04 filling up in Iowa and petrol up to $1.12 per gall, about £0.68 or £0.80 per imperial gallon. I now run low looking for a few cents cheaper

This last weekend a Harley Davidson rally was held at Sturgis, South Dakota. The TV said that 400,000 bikers attended and 12 weddings a day were performed. This event is a Woodstock with wheels where Missionaries, Doctors, Lawyers and “normal” folk don their leathers and a few odd garbs to hang out on two wheels.

Some with everything on the back of the bike, some with a million dollar motorhome and color coordinated trailer and bikes. They were still passing us a week later heading home from the rally.

I was lucky for us we did not get to The Badlands that weekend as every available space was taken. Also the police have a high profile and plenty of arrests were made.

We have to kick our heels here for a few more days as my negotiations with Michelin have produced an offer of a 50% reduction on two new XRV tyres to try and aid the steering problem.

Dealing with four different people at Michelin and three different people at the tire dealer. Produced a variety of numbers, which took 24 hours and many trips to phones and down town to resolve.

I still feel that after six months, $2,000, five alignment shops, 8,000 miles, fitting of a Sway Bar and a Safe-T-Plus it can only be the tires. We will see.

To kill time we visited a large mall on the outskirts of town. Apart from the usual Sears and J.C.Penny department stores, my wife wanted some white cotton. So asking for directions we turned a corner and entered the largest haberdashery and book store ever.

Combined they were the size of “Brent Cross” shopping center. With their own coffee shop and restaurant you could spend all day there. My wife spent $50.00 on things we don’t need but I cant complain as I have spent more on spares for the RV that I hope we NEVER need.

We saw an add on TV that offered $50.00 to give blood. Visiting a launderette on a small parade $200.00 was offered for giving blood. We wondered how much you had to give and how much it changed hands for.

Although American restaurants give enormous value for money in the quantity department, some times the quality or finesse leaves a lot to be desired. Often a stone cold plate and fierce air conditioning gets your hot food to your table luke warm. Drinking coffee from a thick plastic mug or a polystyrene cup is the norm and the automatic placing of a sticky plastic glass of ice cold water in front of you takes the edge off.

Another gripe of ours is we take milk and sugar in coffee. As soon as it’s just right and has gone down an inch along comes a top up and ruins it.

Not everything is bigger and better in the US. Their gallons and toilet paper are smaller than ours. Occasionally we see a tiny caravan or pop top which would attract stares in Europe

While wasting time, we venture further and further from our campground and stumble across a “Ghost Town” a few miles west of Sioux Falls. It was only $4.00 each but it was almost derelict and badly in need of a little upkeep.

Many painted descriptions  were difficult to read as they were so dirty from bird droppings. The board walk was patched with chip board. We were promised a herd of Buffalo would come by for food but all we saw were four in a pen being prepared for market.

Another diversion was the local Zoo. Normally we avoid Zoo’s as the animals suffer for our gratification. Sioux Falls was typical in it’s minuscule enclosures but did have a marvelous display of stuffed animals.

We were a little late in seeking lunch on Friday and in desperation chose a ”Sports Bar”. It was a bar and grill with 30 televisions all with cable and 56 channels. One at each table or booth, even in the toilets and in the kitchens. Even the food was quite acceptable and cheap. You could even place bets from the table or buy lottery tickets.

That afternoon we were visiting another State Park 15 miles away in Garettson. As we entered the park the female warden said that we had a message. “Our tyres were in”!!

She could see the bewildered expression on my face and explained that it had come over the radio and another warden was at that moment going to our RV to leave a message. She had recognized us and relayed the news. Just as I was thinking how inefficient the US was.

We galloped off and had two new Michelin XRV tyres fitted and balanced for $360.00 or about £100.00 each. This made a marked improvement to our steering problem and gave a much smoother ride. So much so that I will definitely be changing the rear four tyres for XRV’s.

Saturday, two days early and we are on our way west, just stopping long enough to find out that our mail has not arrived before our departure. The post master was good enough to offer to send it on to us at our next campground.

That day we comfortably drove 303 miles. Stopping for lunch and a visit to the “World” famous Corn Palace in Mitchell. Since 1892 this exhibition center has been decorated in a different theme each year with local produce including corn of different colors nailed to the outside. This year it depicted every aspect of sport.

We also stopped at an 1880 town just outside Murdo, South Dakota and a few miles over another mid state time change from Central to Mountain time where we gained another hour.

Over 30 original buildings including a rail depot. 1950 Train Diner and movie props from “Dancing With Wolves”, are probably worth the $6.00 entrance fee. Or only $5.00 for “old” me.

The terrain changed dramatically after crossing The Missouri river. From the flat mile after mile of agricultural sweet corn and Soya beans to more undulating hills covered with cattle.

The road started to climb also revealing hills and valleys. We finally turned off interstate 90 and onto The Badlands Scenic loop. A 35 mile stretch of two lane road suitable for motorhomes that winds it’s way through a fantastic Lunar Landscape.

It was early French trappers that named this area. “Les mauvaises terres a’ traverser”. Or “Bad Lands To Cross”. You can imagine the choice words that were uttered when confronted with this terrain to cross on a horse and cart.

The “Badlands” is a rugged barrier of tinted spires, ridges and twisted gullies between two strips of undulating prairie.

The Badlands National Park covers 244,000 acres and includes “The Worlds” greatest variety of grasslands as well as the fantastic geological forms. Much wildlife also exists here, Bison, Big Horn Sheep, Prong Horn Antelope, Prairie Dogs, Coyotes and Ferrets are just some.

The prairie dogs will take peanuts from your hand at two designated areas. Due to the tourists they are the fattest rodents I have ever seen. 

As usual The Americans exhibit their national treasures brilliantly. From the Visitors Center where a dual video, one with subtitles, shows everything in the Badlands. To the vehicle access and parking places called overlooks even for RV’s and disabled access to viewpoints.

While watching the video we were treated to the extra delight of a pair of swallows feeding their brood of three just above the monitors.

We took a helicopter ride just before sunset. Although only ten miles and ten of fifteen minutes, we had a view not to be missed for $47.00.  As we anticipate visiting numerous National Parks, we bought a “Golden Eagle Passport”  for $50.00 that allows unlimited entry to “Most” National Parks throughout the nation.

The first night we stayed in The Cedar Pass Campground within the park but without hook up for $10.00. By 7.00 p.m. it was full of predominately tents. The next night a commercial campground two miles down the road gave full hook up for $16.00 less 10% for Good Sam, that we were very grateful to be able to use the air-con in 90* heat.

One excursion of 32 miles we took while staying in the Badlands was to the small out of the way “Town” of “Scenic”, population 22. Apart from the “Bar Person” and the owner of the only other store, the rest of the community were Indians drunk out of their minds sprawled on the ground completely helpless.

As soon as you enter South Dakota you are accosted by bill boards at the side of the freeway advertising everything from laxatives to national monuments. One that repeats at every mile for the first two hundred miles is “Wall Drug”. for the last one hundred miles it repeats every quarter mile.

“Wall Drug” is firmly on your mind after 300 miles and you turn off the freeway obediently at the correct exit. The town of Wall is predominately occupied by a tacky tourist trinket shop called “Wall Drug”. We succumbed and left an hour later sadder and wiser.

We found the Coast to Coast park, Rushmore Shadows RV park but they had used up their C.2 C. quota  and wanted $11.00 a night. As our mail was on it’s way we paid for two nights. It was quite reasonable and handy for the tourist attractions.

After our two nights stay at Rushmore Shadows we moved five miles down the road to another Coast to Coast resort. This was the best RV park we have ever stayed at. Hart Ranch Resort at $4.00 per night was the best value ever. With 506 sites, manicured lawns, cable TV, 50 amp hook up, five launderettes, in and out pool, a palatial members club house and every conceivable facility we opted to stay for our permitted week.

It not only nestled in the Black hills within 12 miles of Rapid City, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Mountain, Custer state Park and Wind Cave National Park. The club’s own golf course, horse riding stables, bison herd ,service shop and fuel station are available to members.

To say Mount Rushmore is impressive, is an understatement. As usual The Americans presented this monument in a theatrical extravaganza. Taking fourteen years to almost complete in solid granite. It draws over 2.5 million visitors a year.

With it’s visitors center, restaurant, film show and easy walk along a wooden board walk to the base of the mountain, it’s user friendly and at only $8.00 for the undercover parking well worth it. At 9.00 each evening a lighting ceremony takes place.

Just round the corner or next mountain is the sculpture of Chief Crazy Horse. This monument to the Indian Chief and the Indian people draws 1.5 million visitors and is even bigger. After 50 years only the face of Chief Crazy  Horse has been completed. It will take another 500 years to complete the full sculpture of the torso of this warrior, the front half of his horse and take all the mountain.

This area of South Dakota is known as The Black Hills. An oasis of 500,000 acres of pine clad mountains on the great plains. They offer scenic drives, waterfalls, wildlife, trails and fishing where wild bison and horses roam free in Custer State Park.

We drove 500 miles in five days in the car. Dined in the shadow of the monuments. Were frequently surrounded by wild animals and saw the most impressive of mountain formations.

One day we found an interesting restaurant down town made out of an old fire station. With all the trimmings and memorabilia retained including the pole. A mezzanine over the bar, an open area housed the diners and the brewery. Also outside in the practice yard.

That afternoon we visited the South Dakota Air and Space Museum at Ellsworth, where 28 aircraft and missiles are on view. But the most interesting item was to be a visit to the only Minuteman missile silo open to the public. The day was immediately after The US bombed Afghanistan and Sudan, which due to security had closed all and any military facility.

Driving into Rapid City we passed a large collection of old cars in quite good condition. It was a museum but over 100 cars were for sale. From 1939 and $6,000.00 to 1966 and $500.00. Many were drivable but all wanted some restoration. Four Edsels and Cadilacs several fire trucks and convertibles.

Each day under a clear blue sky, the temperature rose to over 90 f. or 33 c. which by evening  produced thunder clouds and fantastic lightning storms. The campground was in a valley and the lightning dancing along the hills around us lit up the hundreds of RV’s like a grave yard.

For the last two days of our stay at Hart Ranch we were joined by friends that had bought a Fleetwood Dream from Beaudrys at the same time we had. They were on their way East to the Fleetwood factory and a christening in New Jersey.

We had kept in touch by the FMCA message service and now six months later caught up with news, failures and modifications of our respective RV’s. We dined and socialized until all too soon we went our opposite ways at about mid afternoon.

Before leaving this beautiful part of South Dakota, we stopped in a campground at the foot of hill containing a petrified forest only 38 miles later. Once again everything is bigger and better in The US.

The whole hillside was covered with the petrified remains of trees from 150 million years ago. When a geological upheaval brought them to the surface. More than 50 whole trees and countless pieces were strewn around this hilltop. A pile of 400 petrified logs were stacked in one place, resembling a wood pile.

Our memories of this state were extremely pleasant. During the summer months it was a super place to live, with low crime and divorce rate, perfect climate and interesting sites and places to visit. But with five months of winter snow, only for “Snow Birds”.

On entering Wyoming, we stopped at the visitors center and asked for the usual camping information, especially in Yellowstone Park. The ranger suggested a visit to The Devils Tower which was nearby and only a 28 mile diversion.

This 850 ft. high tower was designated in 1906 the first National Monument in the US. It is the central core of a long gone volcano sticking out of the landscape. It comprises of pentagonal columns.

Traveling across Wyoming to get to Yellowstone, we cross 260 miles of the most varied terrain in the mid west. Starting with the rolling Black Hills leading down into Thunder Basin National Grassland.

Passing through Buffalo and onto state road 16, we climbed over The Big Horn mountains and through some of the most scenic hills and valleys I have ever witnessed. Pine clad mountains with streams cascading down beside the road which then wound round rocky pinnacles. Hairpin bends going back and forth to gain or lose 6,000 ft. of a 10,000 ft mountain.

Next came 50 miles of scrub desert on more rolling hills. Each hill having a “Nodding Donkey” on it similar to Texas. This gave way to flat agriculture as we neared the river Big Horn and the town of Greybull.

Water channeled in irrigation canals for miles to retain the required fall, would go off into the desert and back again. A green band of fertile produce, sweet corn, spinach and other crops stretched a mile or so either side of the river.

Turning West again from Greybull to Cody more prairie and uninteresting scrub went on for miles. We passed the “Town” of Emblem with a population of 10 and wondered how they made a living. Apart from the Post Office and a pile of scrap metal scaring the land, there was nothing  for 20 miles.

Cody, pop. 6500, was a real old western town, with “Saloons” and boardwalks. Wild Bill Hickock or Buffalo Bill Cody is immortalized here with a historical center that contains six museums and exhibitions. Well worth the $8.00 for my wife and $6.50 for me being a “Senior”.

Reportedly the largest Art / History Museum between Minneapolis and the West Coast, 250,000 visitors visit annually. One part is devoted to the Plains Indians, another to art, another to the Cody Firearms collection, of which 2600 are on display with another 2000 in vaults.

The largest section being about Buffalo Bill himself and his various exploits. Some true, some false. His time in England is well documented even with an old film. We thororly recommend a whole day to look round this marvelous collection even though we whizzed through in two hours as we had reserved a site in Yellowstone that night.

Immediately upon leaving the town of Cody, the road starts winding up into the hills and passes “Buffalo Bill” reservoir into Shoshone Canyon. This part is beautifully scenic between the mountains and beside The North Fork River. But within a few miles road works reduce the reasonable road to a series of assault courses for tracked vehicles. We made slow progress between the boulders and single lane track without any traffic controls.

Climbing to 7000 ft. we enter the park through the East gate. And flashing our annual pass to The National Parks, we are waved in with an “I love your accent”.

Yellowstone is everything you have ever heard and more! About the size of Yorkshire at 3,472 sq. miles or 2,220,000 acres with 370 miles of roads. 10,000 thermal features like “Old Faithful”. The largest concentration of free roaming wildlife in the lower 48 states.

Most of the park is at about 8,000 ft. and Yellowstone lake is the largest body of water above 7,000 ft. in the “World”.

We managed to see 100’s of Buffalo, dozens of Elk, many deer, Big Horn Sheep, trout, one Moose and Kestrel diving into the streams to catch fish. We walked miles round a thermal circuit to watch geysers spout steam and water up to 100 ft. into the air. many boiling pools of different colors about 190* F. Mud popping and boiling. some of these eruptions occurring below the surface of the rivers and lakes.

With nine months of snow, we were fortunate to be able to visit after the crowds and before the weather closed in. Ten years ago a fire ravaged the forests of Yellowstone to such an extent that I can remember our media in England saying that the park had been destroyed.

In fact about 750,000 acres were burnt or one third of the park. Only 1% of the wildlife suffered.  Now 10 years later, apart from millions of dead pine trees decomposing into the soil, new growth is apparent everywhere. The herds of wildlife are increasing.

Our campground at Fishing Bridge is the only one that provides a full hook up. At $30.00 per night, a little stiff but well worth it. many other campgrounds are available at $12.00 but extremely primitive.

There is far more to Yellowstone than our four days or space here could possibly do justice to. Just to say that as usual the items of interest were accessible to the car and some times a wheelchair. With large car parks that could accommodate the largest RV, and board walks that allow you to walk across a volcanic crust and peer into the depths of a boiling crystal pool.

The entertainment does not stop at nightfall either. Each visitors center has an outside  Amphitheater in the pines, with audio and visual aids to evening seminars or educational talks on the history, geology, wildlife and evolution of the parks.

Moving on to Grand Teton National Park which lies immediately south of Yellowstone, you are immediately struck by a different beauty. Numerous lakes interconnected by The Snake River at 6,500 ft. are flanked by The Teton range of mountains of up to 13,800 ft. high. Some like Mt. Moran having five glaciers on it’s slopes.

With only 68 miles covered that day, we opted to stay in the only campground with full hook up in Grand Teton and beside Jackson Lake at $31.00. We were again treated to two evening talks about birds of prey found in the park.

That evening and the following morning, my wife was determined to see more than the ONE moose we found in Yellowstone. So positioning our motorhome on a bend in The Snake River called “Oxbow Bend”, where a double bend in the river had produced the ideal Moose habitat, we waited.

Our patience was rewarded. Seven adult and two baby moose drifted into view and munched their way through young willow shoots. While waiting we were treated to the sight of five pelicans, three herons, numerous ospreys and two giant fish eagles tearing into a large fish.

We were elated and happy to move on south through The Teton National Park. Even the diabolical road works just south of Jackson did not dampen our joy. We were down to less than 5 mph. Picking our way round the boulders and holes.

I apologized to the truck driver behind us on the CB radio about our slow progress. He was sympathetic and appreciated our concern with a “Take it easy”.

Winding down beside the Snake river from The Tetons, we were to follow its progress for many miles across Idaho and into Oregon where it flowed into Washington and became The Columbia River. We saw many delightful forestry campgrounds but the road works were covering everything with dust.

So we opted for another Coast to Coast site at Thane in The Star Valley. This five star campground had over 500 sites and every conceivable facility available to us but with little or no shade and RV’s packed together so tightly, we were happy to move on after only one night at $4.00

 

 

 

 

RV ing from a Brit’s view. Part 6.

 

5.9.98

Next day Rick and Linda turned up from their 7,000 mile Alaskan trip. Apart from a cracked windscreen, one tire and a ton of dust, none the worse from their experiences. We swapped stories on who saw the most wildlife in Yellowstone or Alaska. They won with a whale.

Two days relaxing with our friends in Emmett, being bitten alive by mosquitoes and trying to sleep in humid 70* F. night time temperatures. We were happy to accept the offer of their daughter and son in law, Sharon and Don who have a few acres up in the Cascade mountains 80 mile north of Boise.

Two hours following The Payette River north and gaining 3,000 ft. in 50 miles up one of the most picturesque valleys. We saw white water rafts and a timber train following the course of the river.

The rapids boiled and foamed downstream round rocks and boulders. Starting with brown and muddy lower down, graduating to pure crystal clear water after it forks at Banks.

Eventually at 5,500 ft. just below the town of Cascade we turned onto a gravel road and into the four acre patch within the pines that Don  and Sharon own and plan to build their retirement home on.

At present they have a chalet, a 5th. wheel and spend all their spare time just getting away from it all at up to 8,000 ft.

We enjoyed exploring some of the many thousands of miles of logging trails by jeep. Occasionally finding deer and elk tracks. Spotting many birds of prey. Winding round the overgrown tracks in the go anywhere jeep, even through streams and over trees fallen across the path.

They also have two horses which are perfect for this mountainous terrain but we were happy with four wheels even in a downpour and no hood.

A few days living the outdoor life of coffee brewing on the open campfire, which could also produce breakfast on a skillet or dinner in a giant pot. Being entertained by their two dogs, that understood every word spoken and fetched anything asked for.

We panned for gold, played horse shoes, sunk some beer and generally put the world to rights round this fire. Also we let them know just how lucky they were in having such a play ground.

If ever we are invited again to this idyllic spot, where the back to nature feeling is all around, I will jump at it. Bearing in mind they have several feet of snow on the ground for four or five months of the year.

Eventually Rick, Linda and ourselves went our separate ways. They north to Canada again for a few weeks before heading to Phoenix and their flight home in mid October. We were still on a westerly track into Oregon and then south to visit as many of the National Parks as possible before we too have to end up in Phoenix and our return flight mid November.

Heading west we found we were following the route of the original Oregon Trail migrants and stopped at Baker to visit the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. This fascinating collection of historic memorabilia and facts, show the hardship and endurance of these pioneers had to suffer on their six to nine month journey over 2,000 miles of difficult terrain.

About 400,000 migrants made the voyage to the western coast to escape the poverty, violence and unsanitary conditions in the east.

Ahead was the promise of gold and fertile land but many died on the way from disease, accidents with the wagons or guns. Contrary to popular belief, Indians were an asset and assisted the pioneers to cross rivers and traded food. Only a small number were killed by the Indians.

Oregon has a similar land mass to The British Isles but a population of only 3.2 million. The state has everything from skiing up mountains of 11,240 ft. to 400 miles of sandy coastline. Thousand of miles of rivers with white water rapids and thousands of acres of pine forests.

The mild climate allows fruit farms of peaches and grapes. Many vast deserts give a varied and dramatic landscape.

Passing over the Blue Mountains at 4,200 ft. with a six mile approach and decent down to Pendleton and the Columbia River, previously The Snake River. We noticed a train with eight engines. It’s quite common to see three or even four engines on one train depending on the incline or weight but eight meant that the grade was extreme.

Planning to stop before Portland for the night, we descended into the valley or gorge that the river had cut between Oregon and Washington. The Columbia River Gorge is an impressive sight with hills on either side some 900 ft. high and the river about 2,000 yd. wide in places. A road and railway follows both banks, making quite a highway.

A camping sign at Biggs led us over a bridge into Washington and a campground beside the river and in the shadow of STONEHENGE! Yes a full size replica in concrete had been erected by Sam Hill, to the dead of the first world war.

Sam Hill was the original designer of the first road through this gorge in 1900. This road, based on European designs, with ornate arches and balustrades, was spectacular as it respected the natural beauty of the terrain and went round them instead of blasting through them.

Parts of this historic highway are still usable. Like Route 66, it has been passed by the fast, modern interstate

Another benefit to this campsite and region was we were surrounded by peach and other fruit trees. They were so cheap and delicious we overdosed on fruit. On the downside, the two railway lines ran trains all night blowing their horns, barges throbbed up river and a small fire caused a siren to be sounded at 3 am. It was the worst night’s sleep ever. It was deafening.

Next day we only traveled 44 miles. The scenery slowed us down, as did The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center. Calling in at 10.00 we did not leave until 3. p.m. It has the most revealing and interesting history and geological films, talks and displays. Once again The Americans display their limited history to the best advantage. You felt like you were walking back in time with the old facades and sets.

Just enough time to find the Coast to Coast campground at Mosier. Winding up into the hills onto dusty gravel roads, covered the camper in grime but the view of snow clad Mount Adams at 12300 ft. was worth it.

Driving the remainder of this incredible gorge, we opted for the freeway as a cloud was sitting in the river obscuring the views. We popped in and out of the mist only glimpsing the remains of the old historic road up along the hillside.

Portland looked a nice, tidy, modern city with a newly opened tram system. It is a user friendly city with pedestrians at the top of its priority list. We sped through on the overhead freeway, not realizing that a car had dived off a bridge into the tram lines below and slowed everything up. We viewed this on TV the next day.

As several people had said “You must visit the town of Seaside and start the coastal route 101 south” we went. Our verdict on Seaside was “Give it a miss!” Just a typical tourist tacky trap. Route 101 on the other hand varied from “Spectacular” to “Uncomfortable”.

This Pacific coast road winds along deserted golden sandy beaches one minute and then climbs up several hundred feet of rocky cliffs where tortuous, uneven and narrow lanes prevent the driver from looking at the waves breaking on the rocks below, producing a misty haze that gives a picture postcard image.

 

Occasionally a sandy cove with a large rock in the middle spawned a town with all the modern conveniences of commercialism along the way including campgrounds. In fact almost every half mile either a private or forestry service campground popped up.

Even out of season hundreds of thousands of RV’s filled the road and sites along the coast. It was at a particularly busy, windy part of this road that a rock claimed our third windscreen.

After 100 miles we turned inland towards Eugene. Intending to get a service at Cummins and tour the Monaco factory next door. Also the tyres on the Honda needed rotating as part of their service by The Discount Tyre Company who had a branch in Eugene.

Monaco, like most manufacturers have a free customer hook up at their premises. We swept in amongst the thirty or so customer Monaco RV’s parked in front of the office block.

They were all in for service and had hook up facilities, lounge, launderette etc. We had to go into another car park with only 50 amp power all to ourselves.

Monaco, like all other RV manufacturers has stepped up production with a subsequent loss of quality control. All 30 motorhomes were almost new and were complaining bitterly about having to spend so much time in the service shop with production faults.

It seems that the more you pay for a motorhome, the more time you spend in the repair shop. This included Executive and Signature models.

We took the factory tour, which was a bit of a let down. Apart from an excellent monokock chassis which is produced in a bunch of sheds and pushed around by hand, the rest of the production leaves a lot to be desired.

Bits of wood nailed together, roof curve formed by a few tapered bits of batten stapled onto the panels. Wiring like a bunch of knitting. Each stage of the spray job in a different bay, necessitating driving around the plant. So far Winnebago has the production efficiency edge.

I did receive an excellent quote for a new 100” wide Dynasty, about £75,000 less than the sticker price in Europe. Remember taxes and shipping would add another £36,000 to the cost. Maybe next time we can ride on a Monaco chassis.

Our next disappointment was Cummins. Due to the Monaco and Safari rallies happening that week, we could not get service for seven days. We were recommended to the local Freightliner truck service agent who could fit us in next day.

Again my faith in American mechanics was tested. $220.00 for a messy oil change and grease up. No knowledge of other mechanical things like our Pack Brake sticking or ride height adjustment.

Next time I go to Wall Mart for a $7.00 waste oil container and $34.00 for six gallon of best oil. One filter for $32.00 and do it myself. Total $73.00 and a bit of dirt.

Discount Tyre company was another thing. All wheels rotated and balanced in five minutes flat with a smile.

Two days sitting in Monaco’s car park cheered me up no end. Apart from no campground fees, almost every other motorhome owner had many more problems than us. One had been in and out of Monaco and Cummins for five years with turbo and manifold problems. We also managed to wash the RV and the laundry.

Marathon Coach Service Department was across the road from Monaco. Even they at $1.2 million had their problems.

Our next stop Roseburg only 70 miles to the south, where our mail forwarding service was, has little to recommend it other than its the gateway to Crater lake. As it started raining for the first time in 83 days, we chose to rest for a couple of days and catch up with the post.

Collecting our post from our mailing address was easy and an eye opener. Two extremely efficient women were sorting about 500 clients post and answering the phones, redirecting envelopes, entering it all on a PC and talking to me at the same time.

19/9/98.

Back on route 101 heading south once again, we were treated to some wonderful views of the rocky coastline. Many places on the road had been washed away at some time or another and badly patched. This gave a switchback like ride that rocked and swayed us even at a slow speed.

We called in at many bays and viewpoints to take pictures or just to sit and take it all in. From Bandon to Brookings there must be 20 or more State Parks that provide the tourist with a picnic spot or campground facilities.

One night at Arizona Beach Campground in Port Orford, right on the shoreline listening to the waves and watching the sun go down into the Pacific for $19.00, was a relaxing experience with a glass in hand.

At this time we saw on TV that unleaded petrol was at an all time low in Atlanta, Georgia at only 75.9 cents a US gallon, or about 56 pence per Imperial gallon. Apparently some garages were “loss leading” fuel to sell groceries !

As we were approaching the Californian state line, we decided to save a few cents in filling up with fuel while still in Oregon. Also it occurred to me that obtaining an Oregon driving license while we were there, might be advantageous.

Brookings was the last sizable town on route 101 south that might have a driving test center, so we called into Harris Beach State Park campground only one mile north of town. This State campground was all under trees in secluded sites with cable TV for $19.00 and a stones throw from the beach.

A little known fact is that Brookings was the only site in the 48 states bombed by the Japanese in 1942. This lumber town has a moderate climate which encourages retirees and 90% of Easter Lilies are grown here.

With low taxes and NO sales tax in Oregon, it is understandable that property prices are quite high here at  $50,000 for a plot with an ocean “glimpse”. And $350,000 to $1,000,000 for a nice ocean view home. License plates for any private vehicle at $30.00 for two years and RV’s unbelievably cheap.

Picking up a tank of fuel and a drivers manual, we spent the rest of the day on the beach swatting. There were twice as many regulations in Oregon as previous states we have taken the test in.

Next morning, $26.00 and  half an hour later I had my new Oregon driving license valid for five years. This tidied up the legality of having the same state for my residence, registration, insurance and license. Prue kept her Indiana license.

We did notice that this and previous driving licenses are valid to drive private vehicles up to 26,000 lbs. or 11.5 ton. As our Eagle’s gross is 30,000 lbs. or 13.5 ton, we have to rely on my international driving license to be within the law.

South again we crossed into California within five miles. At the border we were stopped by a trooper and asked if we had any fruit on board. We decided to come clean and I said that we had a bunch of bananas and some peaches.

“On you go and have a nice day” was the surprising reply. We wondered why they bothered to ask. We know that California is paranoid about any infection that might be introduced into their crops by fruit flies, fungus and other pests.

The giant redwoods was the next stop.

For the first 80 miles into northern California you pass through Redwood country. Redwood National Park is a unique eco system that creates its own weather.

The giant Redwoods that grow to over 360 ft. and live to 2,000 years old. Sometimes have a girth of 40 ft. Not many of these real giants still exist today due to logging companies activities.

Only 2 or 3% are left protected today for our appreciation.

It was in the early 1900’s that concern over the destruction of this national treasure was raised. During the 1920’s and 1930’s timberland was bought up to create state parks but It took until 1968 to protect the remaining three coastal areas into a National Park.

Much of the remaining Redwood trees are in private hands, either for logging or for tourists to pay to see the oddities like drive through tunnels, of which there are three.

The remaining “giant” or old growth trees are now protected. Most are 500 to 700 years old but some are over 1500 years. This spectacular growth is in part due to the sea mists and low cloud that drench the north California coastal area.

This gives a non tropical mild rain forest effect with moist, rotten, decaying vegetation all over the forest floor. From sea level to 3,100 ft. everything thrives and grows well. Even the wooden benches sprout.

We walked for hours amongst these giants. Feeling the immensity, the timelessness of these living things. Some had been dead for 200 years and were still standing. Others appeared to be burnt out shells, with only the bark supporting over 200 ft. of tree and still living.

We drove four miles on dirt roads to Gold Bluffs Beach, winding through thousands of these mammoths towards the sea on logging tracks. Most of the time in a heavy wet fog.

Eventually at the Pacific with the surf crashing onto the sand, we drove another four miles along gravel roads at the foot of 600 ft. cliffs with trees clinging perilously to the top edge. Driving through several small streams and passing  primitive campsites on the beach we came to Fern Canyon.

This “canyon” is basically a cut in the cliffs worn out by a stream. Two miles long, 40 ft. wide, 70 ft high and covered from top to bottom in ferns. Everything was dripping wet and as the erosion of the sides continued some of these enormous trees had crashed into the cut.

This gave a most picturesque hazy vista. Walking up this river bed on the usual boardwalk, every turn produced a perfect picture of a rotting Redwood being covered with a multitude of ferns. A tropical rain forest without the heat.

Not many cars made this difficult journey. But we did see two rental C class motorhomes bouncing through the riverbeds. Both were Cruise America, you have been warned.

All the State Parks have a 24 ft. maximum length of RV. We ended up on a dusty car park called a RV park beside the sea and road at Freshwater Lagoon, Orick. Half the residents were Hippies and looked like they had taken root. The rest were jostling for enough space to fit in as the fee was a small donation.

Just as we managed to get parked, we found a Coast to Coast park in the directory only a few minutes away and managed two quiet nights beside the Kalamath River at $4.00 per night.

Almost every day we woke up to mist or low cloud saturating everything but the sun shone through after lunch.

Moving south again down route 101, we entered Scotia and started on The Avenue of The Giants. A 31 mile narrow road beside route 101 through some of the largest and most weird trees. The most spectacular in private hands and chargeable.

Three hollowed out bases to allow a car to pass through. Three other hollowed out stumps into houses or rooms. All a bit tacky as the obligatory souvenir shops had to be negotiated before you exited.

We were overwhelmed by the trees but disappointed by the commercialism. In the town of Pepperwood, Pop. 100, virtually all residents appeared to be junk metal merchants. In this National Treasure of a finite resource, the odd inhabitant could reduce the locale to a rubbish heap.

The Avenue of the Giants is passable in a RV but with care and a wide body would have to be extra careful. Unless you are an addict to trees the first 10 miles would be sufficient. My wife had to experience the full monty.

Further down the 101, at Ukiah we entered into grape vine country. Many tasting outlets were beside the road. We passed quite a few looking for a campground and vineyard together. In the end we succumbed and tasted some nice wine at $27.00 a bottle.

Our campground that night was Cloverdale city fairgrounds site at $15.00 with full hook up and wine at $10.00 for 4 liters from the supermarket Albertsons.

We had encountered a few problems with the Eagle again. A leaking exhaust manifold, whistling Pack Brake and the gearbox shift pattern had changed.

Calling into a Cummins agent in Eureka and within two hours the bolts on the manifold had been torqued up again to eliminate that problem.

A call to Pack Brakes 800 number brought the suggestion of adjusting the stop position. A call to Allison’s 800 number, and we went through a diagnostic process before deciding that the Throttle Actuator needed adjusting by an Allison agent.

As we were rapidly approaching San Francisco, we decided to leave these other little problems to a more opportune moment. Fuel was our next concern. With a 150 gallon capacity, the big problem was forgetting to fill up. We would drive for 1,200 or 1,400 miles before thinking about fuel.

California suddenly took on a whole new image with diesel at $1.49 per gallon !! That’s highway robbery at £1.10 per imperial gallon. I was thinking of driving out of the state, when we saw diesel at $1.19. So filling up 120 gallon at $142.00. That’s £88.00.

Within a mile we found the price at $1.09, you can’t win.

Also in trying to book a campground we found all the campsites full to capacity due to a big ball game going on that weekend.

Eventually we managed to book two nights in the very campground that was immediately outside the stadium for the big game. Candlesticks campground at $38.00 per night was not only the most expensive site but the smallest patch to park on we have found.

We later learnt that the going rate for the day of the ball game was $76.00 per RV.

Everything was more expensive in San Francisco, from  parking, accommodation, campgrounds, food, souvenirs, property, tolls and even the price of fruit.

$6.00 to cross The Golden Gate Bridge. $15.00 per day for parking anywhere near the Fisherman’s Wharf. $20.00 for Spare Ribs, instead of the usual $12.00 or $15.00. Two bed apartments from $400K. to $700K.

We rode the famous cable cars and visited the power room museum, walked in down town Chinatown, drove down the “world famous” Lombard Street, that’s the wiggley one in all the films.

Some of the hills are unbelievable at 45* angle. We drove up and down Pacific Height’s looking for the house in the film of the same name but they all look alike. Why people pay up to $1M. for a house that you can’t park near, I don’t know!!

We spent most of Saturday at the “world famous” Fisherman’s Wharf, looking out to Alcatraz over our $10.00 breakfast, parked on a $3.00 per hour meter. Looking at expensive tacky trinkets and tee shirts. The National Maritime museum was FREE as our National Park ticket covered that.

We did have an excellent “Combo”, steak and lobster dinner served in wonderful surroundings overlooking the bay and the Golden Gate bridge. With wine and superb service but let down with an after dinner coffee served in a PLASTIC MUG.

The “Yanks” just do not have the faintest idea about finesse. Did you notice The President of the “Free World” pontificating on TV about his “Improper” relations drinking out of a CAN of coke

They think nothing of eating superb food from plastic plates and drinking wine out of a polystyrene cup. Almost every restaurant we visit, immediately serves ice cold water in a colored plastic glass. 

I must agree with “Terry Fleetwood” on many of the statements he makes. The most technological nation in the world is quite backward or quaintly old fashioned in many ways. You only have to look at the equipment in your RV, it’s 20 year old design.

We had booked tickets for the Alcatraz prison tour for next day, Sunday. Normally you would have to book several days beforehand for this popular attraction but as the big ball game was on at this time, interest  was a little light. 

We woke on the morning of the big ball game to another camper wanting our space as the site was full. I was told that for the regular price of $38.00 we could stay in the overflow car park at the rear of the campground.

This proved to be a refuse land fill site with skips, bulldozers and seagulls that had been white lined into an 800 space, $25.00 a car, park for the day. We slotted our rig in between the skips and left before 250,000 fans moved in.

With all day to kill we found that three blocks, or three hundred yards back from the bay side the parking was free when you found a spot.

After dining we watched the buskers, eccentrics and the gays putting on their respective acts. Some how San Francisco has more oddballs and weirdoes per acre than anywhere. We encountered many of them in the tourist areas.

Another entertainment was the sea lions that use pier 39 each day. Between 100 to 600 of these mammals frequent the pontoons set aside for their use. We watched about 150 fighting, playing and roaring within twenty feet of many tourists. Fascinating but smelly.

The Alcatraz tour was not only interesting and educational but entertaining also. 15 minutes on the boat and we were climbing onto this small island belonging to The National Park Service.

The island, originally a fort in 1853 and shortly after a lighthouse, only became a prison in 1915 for the military. The famous federal penitentiary that housed Capone, Doc Barker, Robert Stroud, Machine gun Kelly and others only came into being in 1934.

For 29 years 1,545 men did time here and spawned films like “Escape from Alcatraz” and “The Birdman of Alcatraz”.  Only three inmates ever escaped from the “rock”. It was then closed due to cost by Robert F. Kennedy.

A short occupation by Native Americans ( Indians ), and in 1973 then became part of The National Park Service who want to preserve and encourage visitors to this piece of their heritage.

It has been a tourist attraction almost as long as a prison. We climbed up the winding path to the cell block, passing many derelict buildings that were laundry’s, workshops, chapel, wardens house and living accommodation for other officers.

Inside the cell block, 336 cells lie empty and decaying but the whole place gives the visitor the shivers. Only 260 cells were ever filled at one time. There were no executions but five suicides and eight murders on Alcatraz. An audio tour guides one round the history of the corridors

We left The Rock at night with the lights of San Francisco and the two bay bridges on the approaching skyline, an impressive sight. Twenty minutes later, after removing our RV from the rubbish tip we turned in with thoughts of clanging cell doors.

Three million visitors come to this city each year and The Golden Gate Bridge is the most photographed thing in the “world”. Typically residents of big cities are not the most hospitable.

Although we only had three days in San Francisco, we felt a little claustrophobic and longed for the open road and more interesting sights. The traffic was frantic, getting faster and more reckless with volume.

As we drove over the Oakland Bay Bridge on the lower level, heading east. I was conscious of the vivid TV images in 1989 when the upper level collapsed in the earth quake, crushing cars and their occupants. We breathed a little more easy after the crossing.

 End page 7. 28th. Sept. 98. Doc 6.

 

 

 

 

RV ing from a Brit’s view. Part 7.

 

29/9/98.

After San Francisco we headed east on interstate 80 and 580. This brought us to route 120, a two lane road that went straight through to Yosemite National Park. Route 120 also went through some of the most fertile land in California.

Peaches, almonds, walnuts, pecans, tomatoes, grapes, apricots and squash were all being transported in vast double articulated trucks all day long in the lower valley.

After Chinese Camp on the junction of the 120 and 49, the road starts to climb. A part of the road called Priest Grade climbs 3,000 ft in eight miles. We climbed in third gear all the way. Winding back and forth on itself gives wonderful views of the climb from the lake and river below.

We made a Good Neighbor Park in Groveland just 20 mile south of Yosemite and booked for two nights. This site gave good access to the park and our intention was to continue straight through on the 120 into Nevada and Las Vegas and our rendezvous with Rick and Linda again.

I spent the next morning on the phone, booking our site in Las Vegas at Sam’s Town RV park. Then arranging for our post to be sent there. Next was to arrange servicing at an Allison agent for our gearbox in Vegas also. Lastly was the booking of our airline tickets back to the UK in November.

All went well except the original airline ticket with United Airlines was for our return from Baltimore in November. U.A. wanted another $760.00 each for the connecting flight from Phoenix to Baltimore. Further calls to other travel agents revealed that, a return for four weeks to the UK could be bought for $500.00 each or six weeks for $990.00.

As our return tickets were of no use and we had reserved others, we drove off in our car to tour Yosemite. The park was free with our annual National Park ticket.

Yosemite was interesting in it’s own way with a climb up to 6,000 ft to then drive down into the valley with it’s waterfalls and rock formations. We managed to get there just as the clouds rolled in. After a mile walk down to some sequoias and back we were knackered and just drove into the valley to see the clouds roll along the river floor.

Even at the end of September the park was packed with tourists. Many driving rental RV’s up and down these tortuous mountain grades. The rain forced us back to the campsite by late afternoon where we met other RV ers who told us that the 10,000 ft. Tioga Pass on route 120 was closed by snow.

As our route to Nevada was barred we had to go via Bakersfield, an extra 200 miles detour. Also we had to retrace our route down the 3,000 ft.  winding hillside road.

We then turned onto route 49 and headed south. For the next 50 miles we wound either straight up or down whilst turning back on ourselves. It was the most torturous “road” I have ever driven. Every 100 yd. a hairpin and every other mile we tried to pass a lumber wagon going the other way, who was not about to stop.

The view at the top of the many mountains, of the road below that we had negotiated had to be seen to be believed. Zig, zag and spiral are the only descriptions I could give to this terrain hugging mountainous route.

All this with a gearbox that was not performing as it should. I was having to manually select each gear or we lost momentum gaining the next gear down.

This journey was strangely quiet and it was only after the road became easier that my wife spoke for the first time in hours. She had been petrified with fear and I had been concentrating on the road and not noticed her anguish.

The road became easier after the town of Mariposa, and we were soon entering Fresno. As I was concerned about the gearbox we called into an Allison agent.

Within an hour we had been diagnosed, tested and recalibrated without even touching the gearbox for a cost of $62.50. These electronic transmissions are wonderful.

Checking the Coast to Coast directory, it was only ten miles to a resort at Kingsburg. A realy nice site deep in fruit growing country, beside a river, under trees and only $3.00.

Next morning with a 390 mile journey in front of us to Las Vegas, we drove out of our site early but as we crawled through the lines of fruit trees we could hear an unusual noise. We had a flat rear tire.

For the first time I called our breakdown service with the FMCA. Within two hours and at a cost of $13.00 we had our tire repaired and were on our way. I thanked our lucky stars that we did not find out about the flat tyre on the freeway, when the other dual might have given out.

Unable to make our destination that evening we stopped 150 mile short at Calico, an old mining town just off interstate 15 that we had visited last Christmas. And apart from the usual train whistle all night, had a quiet night. ?

After an hour and a half the next day and a remarkable climb of 5,000 ft. straight up a 16 mile stretch of Interstate 15, where many vehicles had broken down due to overheating. We crossed the Nevada state line and were immediately accosted by casino adds. Eat here, dine there, play here and win here. The advertisement of a 95 cent breakfast caught my attention.

Two hours later we pulled into Sam’s Town Casino and RV park. Rick and Linda  were already there as was our post. Full hook up and every luxury for $18.00 a day less 10% Good Sam discount in this 300 site park.

This was our third time at Las Vegas and the only attraction here for me was the ridiculously cheap food. Like a full plate of pork ribs, chips, beans and other vegetables for only $3.49, that’s £2.18 and I was full.

Unlike my wife, whose compulsion to the gambling made us stay an extra day in this perfect weather of 85* and clear blue skies. We left a total of about $65.00 down but must have saved $40.00 on food.

Rick and Linda left for Phoenix and their preparations for returning to the UK. We turned north to the National Parks of Utah, calling in on the way for a night in The Valley of Fire.

This Nevada State Park has its own charm and rock formations, principally sand stone which has been worn away over the eons by rain and wind to create some amazing geological formations.

Mostly in red, the shapes of elephant, duck, beehives, seven sisters and many more are easily accessible to an infirm motorist.

One interesting area was “Mouse’s Tank”. A natural basin where water collects and remains for several months. This sustained a renegade Indian in the 1890’s. Modern tourists had put paid to it though by throwing rubbish and cigarette ends in this once clear water.

Another thoughtless act by tourists we witnessed while in the state campground, was a que of some RV’s reading the directions in the campground, when a rental RV pulled round in front of the others and took the last site.

The offending rig was full of noisy young Germans. Ironically, one of the other two rigs was also German who bemoaned their countrymen as they had to park in the tent area.

We have noticed many German rented RV’s in California and the adjoining states. Possibly their exchange rate is favorable, unlike their manners.

Back onto Interstate 15 and we head out of Nevada but not before sampling the culinary delights of one of the last Casino’s restaurants. I went in for breakfast but at 11.00 they go to lunch.

For $5.50 each we sampled some of the best cooking we have ever tasted in the USA. The buffet at the Casa Blanca Casino was superb. With unlimited choice and quantity of lunch. desert and a beverage. Not only that but I won $5.50 on a bandit.

Interstate 15 goes fleetingly through Arizona before entering Utah and the numerous National Parks that this state encompasses. First “Zion” which is a series of canyons that you drive into and look up at the 2,000 to 3,000 sheer rock faces, covered in climbers.

Protected within Zion’s 230 square miles is a wilderness of the unexpected. It includes the “Worlds” largest arch at 310 ft. The word Zion suggests a place of peace and refuge. Tranquil pools and deer munching within feet of you are the norm.

The first inhabitants, The Indians, called this place “The Center of the Earth” and respected the silence and magnitude of it.

There is a road that most visitors miss. Starting at Virgin just outside the park, it climbs up over 4,000 ft to Lava Point which allows you to look right across the 30 or 40 miles of Zion. It was on this road that we almost drove over a Tarantula the size of my hand. Stopping and photographing this enormous spider, which luckily made it across the road.

Many interesting hikes or walks take you to pools and waterfalls within the valleys. We spent three days just enjoying the geology and an “Imax” theater.

If any of you have seen these giant screen films, you know what I am trying to describe. An 80 ft. by 70 ft. screen that you sit quite close to. This necessitates constant movement of the head to see everything.

Dramatic, reverberating music and it feels like you are being launched off a cliff into mid air. Shots from a helicopter are the only way to experience the majesty of the cliff faces. Close up film of a girl rock climber falling 200 ft on the end of a rope, right past your eyes.

As I have many distant relatives in Utah that are Mormon. I showed the list of names to our waitress who was also Mormon and she knew several but time did not allow a visit.

Leaving Zion National Park in an easterly direction, you pass through two tunnels. One of which was constructed in the 1930’s. Any vehicle over certain dimensions, like a small RV has to pay $10.00 for the privilege of driving through these tunnels in the center of the road

The tunnels pass through solid rock within the mountain but have “windows” cut in the walls to allow light into the shaft, quite an engineering feat.

Eighty six miles to the north east of Zion lies Bryce Canyon. A National Park with the exact opposite characteristics. Here you drive round a plateau up to 9,115 ft. high and peer into the depths of these canyons. With their tall sandstone and limestone columns and bizarre forms.

Bryce was named after Ebenezer Bryce, a Scottish immigrant and millwright. A Mormon settler in 1875. He and his wife Mary eventually moved to central Arizona.

The park established in 1923, grew to 38,875 acres today. Early residents were the Paiute Indians who hunted and fished.

This is as close to heaven we could get. With most of the hikes at over 8,000 ft. we were soon breathless with little exertion. Even so I managed to wear a pair of trainers smooth.

You can see the erosion of this soft region happening quite quickly. Many of the viewing points, which luckily are no more than 50 yards from the car park, are being eaten away by rain and wind in the 50 years the park has been open. Some by as much as six feet.

All camping within Bryce is dry at $10.00 per night. The campgrounds are spacious and pleasant within pine trees. Also as the park is only 20 miles long and only one road goes to the extremity, it can be seen in a day.

We took two days to see the sunset and sunrise and hiked strenuously up a canyon following a stream to a waterfall and a weeping overhanging rock.

The second night without a hook up, we almost froze as temperatures dropped to the 30’s. We had been using the inverter for TV and the heating at this altitude. When the gas furnace came on automatically in the early hours and almost drained the batteries.

We had to wait until 8 am to run the generator and gain sufficient heat to take a shower. It was later that day I checked and put almost a gallon of distilled water in the four house batteries.

We were parked next to some Australians who commented about all the Germans in rental RV’s. There were so many other languages spoken in Bryce and Zion, Dutch, German, French, Italian, Arabic, Lebanese, Japanese and Swiss.

The rental industry must be having a field day. On average charges were about £35.00 per day off peak, plus insurance, mileage and starter kit. There were so many companies competing it pays to shop around and not settle on the first one, or even accept the old chestnut about pre paying in the UK in sterling.

I found Germans paying from $65.00 to $110.00 per day depending on where they booked. Locally in the US was by far the cheapest.

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Our next quest was Arches National Park and 100 miles later we pulled into a Good Neighbor Park at Moab for $11.00 per night. This campground is mid way between Arches and Canyonlands Park.

From our pitch we could see two of the “world” famous arches. Arches at 73,000 acres and Canyonlands at 527 square miles, are almost the smallest and the largest National Parks.

I am unable to describe these incredible sights without repeating myself. And my words do not do them justice. So I take some words and statements from The Utah Guide.

The “world’s” largest concentration of natural stone arches is found in Arches National Park. Over 2,000 of these miracles of nature grace the 73,000 acre area. A 40 mile round trip paved road in the park leads to the major sights, including Balanced Rock, Skyline Arch, Double Arch and the Fiery Furnace.

The largest arch in the “world”, Landscape Arch at 306 ft across we photographed from every angle. As its fragile nature and the sure erosion will inevitably destroy it. Unlike Delicate Arch which stands only 30 ft across, on it’s own. As everything around it has eroded away.

Canyonlands National Park give views thousands of feet down to the Green and Colorado rivers. Or thousands of feet up to red rock pinnacles, cliffs and spires create the incredible beauty of Utah’s largest national park.

The two rivers have sliced Canyonlands National Park into three districts, each named according to it’s distinctive landscape. Island in the Sky, Needles and the Maze.

We drove the scenic roads within the Island in the Sky area and stopped at each overlook. Hiked about four miles to vantage points to take those unforgettable photos of a plateau 100’s of miles across etched 2,000 ft deep by a river.

Next day leaving on our way to Natural Bridges Park, we heard on the CB, a trucker with a problem. Stopping and helping the trucker with duct tape and a wire coat hanger, we followed him for some miles to a repair shop.

In conversation on the CB he mentioned the “world” famous Mesa Verde of Colorado. So we detoured into the next state to see this historic marvel.

Finding the campground within the National Park to be perfect with full hook up, sites separated by trees and bushes, animals like deer, wild turkey, grouse wandering through and an elevated position at 8,000 ft. with views over valleys and mountains.

Next morning we woke to 2” of snow and a beautiful white panorama. This was quite a shock as we had been in shorts for six months. It was a shock to the two mice we found in the traps, who tried to shelter in our RV.

So donning warmer clothing we set of on the rapidly melting snow to view the ruins. These cliff dwellings that had been built and occupied over 800 years ago but abandoned 100 years later.

The people who lived here are refered to as The Anasazi, a Navajo Indian word meaning “ancient ones”. Little is known about them because they disappeared after creating many cliff dwellings like this one.

Mesa Verde National Park contains many of these Anasazi villages clinging to or under cliff faces. Cliff Palace is the largest in America and we bought tickets to take a guided tour round the remains.

With the clouds rolling in we stood in a party of about 40 tourists. The usual Germans, Brits and other Europeans. The tour started and a thunderstorm crackled around us. The guide tried to continue but the giant hail made us all run for cover within the ruins.

Fearing for our safety the ranger ushered us all to the exit, which necessitated climbing a number of old wooden ladders and stone steps for about 70 or 80 ft. Many overweight people slowed this process up so that it was snowing again before we made it to the car.

We drove the 15 miles round the mountains back to the campground in 2nd. gear following the snow plough. Passing an upturned people carrier in a ditch. By now 3 or 4 inches had fallen.

Almost everyone had left the campground and escaped to lower elevations. We were stuck, not wishing to risk driving down a 3,000 ft. mountain in snow, so we booked for another night, plugged the engine heater in and watched the wildlife, hoping for a thaw by morning.

Luckily we managed to escape next day and drive down through the cloud. The campground was due to close for the winter next day 17th. October. ???

Heading south west towards our next objective, Monument Valley. Route 160, passed through Ute Indian reservation and the Navajo Indian reservation. For the next 120 miles the road side was littered with bottles and trash.

There were so many bottles tossed aside that it was impossible to pull off onto the shoulder without driving on glass. Even the roads adopted by cleaners were full of rubbish.

We were deep in Indian land now, when we came upon The Four Corners Monument Navajo Park. This junction of the four states Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona had been fenced off and a charge of $1.50 per person to inspect the US government bronze plaque and a tacky jewelry market.

You could also buy food and snacks totally devoid of hygiene. Indian fry bread, that gives instant indigestion. I would give this delight a miss next time.

Driving further along the glistening roadside of glass to the town of Kayenta we tried to get the usual American service that we had become accustomed to. The surly indifference of the Indian reminded me of African service.

The short drive to Monument Valley was through numerous Indian communities. Run down shacks resembling our gypsy encampments or the Sowetto townships with the usual ring of junk and garbage strewn around the several acres of their home.

Some Indians were housed in rows of state provided prefabs. Millions of dollars had been spent on new schools and sporting facilities with manicured lawns. Some of their hard done by animals benefited by grazing on the new turf.

Arriving at Monument Valley, which we presumed was a National Monument, we were surprised by a $2.50 per person charge. Once again it was Indian owned and operated. This transpired to be “milk the tourist” philosophy.

A lumpy campground with no services for $10.00 per night. An incredibly bumpy car park with notices indicating even worse roads through the valley. Touts for the bus and jeep tours into the valley, which conveniently stopped by more tacky trinket stalls. These at $30.00 per head.

The whole enterprise was commercialism at the lowest level. We drove carefully on the winding dirt roads to photographic vantage points, being passed at great speed by the tour busses and four wheel drives bouncing their passengers around in a cloud of dust.

 

Typical of third world counties, the Indians treatment of their animals left a lot to be desired. Starving dogs and cats scavenging. Horses kept for the tourist to ride in poor conditions. Even their farm animals looked mall nourished.

Before visiting this area we were very sympathetic of the Indians plight. But after our visit we realized that this “once proud nation” was exactly that, once proud!

We chose to stay at The Goldings Campground just a mile away, with full hook up and all the usual facilities, like a surly reception and plenty of stray dogs and cats.

One day was enough and we continued on the glistening highway for over 200 miles to a Good Neighbor Park in William’s, close to The Grand Canyon. Railside RV Park at only $11.00 per night was OK but we were warned to disconnect water pipes as freezing temperatures were expected at night. The days were beautiful clear blue skies.

We now had just over two weeks before we flew back to England. Still without tickets, I was uneasy. Our mail had arrived without them but plenty of post from UK and France.

It had been 9 years since we last visited William’s and The Grand Canyon. Last time 2 ft. of snow blanketed everything and we stayed in a motel run by two Brits from Byfleet in Surrey. The snow had gone and it was warm shirtsleeve weather.

Details of the park are so long, that possibly a separate article might be printed.

An old historic steam train had been replaced by a diesel which almost ran through the campground on its way to the canyon rim. We drove round all the vantage points taking the usual pictures of the 277 mile long, 18 mile wide and 1 mile deep canyon.

The National Park service has a 320 dry campsite at $12.00 per night, with an 84 full hook up site at $20.75 run by a commercial concession. Even in late October they were almost full. In fact the whole park was crowded with tourists at this time.

Nine years ago we visited the Imax theater and watched an impressive film on the canyon. This time I wanted to see the latest version so we queued for tickets, only to be told they were still showing the SAME film. We left and went to a deer petting farm, a wonderful experience.

It was at this time we discovered a crack in the windscreen of the Honda. That’s screen No 4 on our travels. This time only a $100.00 excess would apply but I was going to wait until we had negotiated for a new car in Phoenix.

The Grand Canyon is suffering from it’s own popularity, with over 5 million visitors a year we are wearing it away. A light rail system is planned for construction in the year 2,000 and day visitors will travel the six miles from Tusayan to the canyon view by train. It’s possible that vehicular traffic will be restricted.

It was only 200 miles now to Phoenix and with the planning, packing and logistics of our return to England on my mind we made it in an easy day. Site 58 in VIP campground Apache Junction, which had been our base the previous winter, Rick had paid the months rent up to our departure in November.

The management had changed since our last visit and not for the better. The new man went by the book with no flexibility. As we had paid for the storage of our RV for two months while in the UK. we stayed for the duration.

Planning on our return in December we made reservations at another campground only half a mile away. Also this site could be flexible with our comings and goings with storage of the car.

The next day we emptied our PO box at the local post office. A 2 ft. pile of mostly junk mail and a few important documents took over 48 hours to deal with. Renewals of subscriptions due next month. Letters from friends six months old. And magazines galore to wade through.

A new twist with our bank, had debited $3.60 for sending us some PAYING IN SLIPS ! The Trailer Life Campground Directory 1998 had arrived in late April, now no longer any use to us. Both these items took about an hour on the phone to resolve.

Finally our air line tickets had arrived at the agent and were being forwarded on to us. At a total cost of $1,116.00 or £675.00 the pair. Phoenix - London - Phoenix for six weeks. The remaining days were spent trying to pack too much into our cases and negotiating for a new car.

Many adds on TV show a super new 7 seat minivan with all extras for “only” $17,000 or £10.K.

When we looked and finally selected one the salesman calmly gave us a price of $30,000. Our choice did not qualify for the discounts, cash backs, 98 clearance etc. etc.

The other choice was a new model Jeep. Last years model was only $18.000 but this year “99” model was $29.000. With all the publicity about the auto industry being swamped with stock, foreign imports gaining a bigger market share, I can see why. The new car is on hold.

The RV park was only 20% full at this time of October. The surly manager lasted only one week, replaced by a much warmer person necessary to deal with older clients.

A Dutch Canadian couple on their way to Mexico, pulled in two spaces up and immediately we were comparing US and Euro differences with the emphasis on the blinkered, self-centered and old fashioned American who has every thing at his disposal and still complains about it all.

Because VIP campground is pretty basic, it’s cheap. The Dutch couple showed us round another  local RV park that they had stayed in for two years running. Valle Del Oro RV Resort at $3,000 per six months had every leisure activity you could possibly think of at their disposal.

Their own news paper listed the daily schedule of events and courses from Accounting to Zipper art. Over 70 other free activities were listed, even dowsing, Tai Chi and nine different dance classes. Two full size wood and metal working workshops, two pools and Jacuzzis were available to the 1,500 spaces. Half containing RV’s and the rest “park models” or mobile homes.

It was about now we realized that 80% of the suburbs around Phoenix had developed into RV shanty townships and were still growing.

We were then taken to the local Indian Casino for a $12.95 all you can eat crab, muscle, prawn, veal, chicken, veg, salad bar, eight different sweets and all non alcoholic drinks. And we still heard complaints about the price.

Passing a corner with an advert for windscreen repairs, we succumbed to the hype and had a repair to the Eagle windscreen. At $64.00 and reclaimable from the insurance company it was not exactly invisible but secure.

Next day we had the Honda windscreen replaced, and paid the $100.00 deductible. The insurance company paid the rest.

The days were warm with clear blue skies, the nights pleasant enough to sleep soundly. We knew what to expect of the November weather in England.

It was about this time we received the post from Oregon, including the latest batch of UK magazines. A letter by a club member indicated they had been traveling the US for over two years and now wanted to know about shipping and converting to the UK.

I looked up the name in the FMCA directory and left a message on their voice mail. Next day we were surprised by a visit by Valerie and George Garner. Hopefully some useful information passed between us on the exchange over the next few days.

And of course the day before returning home for six weeks, when packing had reached a frenzy. Terry Fleetwood left a message on our FMCA box. We then spent the last evening in their humorous company which completely threw all our last minute order and plans.

 

3/11/98.

 
 
 
 
 

RV ing from a Brit’s view. Part 8.

 

December 98.

Once again, six weeks and 2000 miles was not enough time to see everyone back home before flying back to Phoenix on 15th. Dec. to continue with our travels.

Rick and Linda  of The American and European Motorhome show, picked us up in their RV and took us to our storage and campground in Apache Junction.

The Honda and Eagle fired up immediately with no ill effects after the six week lay up. A few days to stock up with provisions, deal with the post and buy some Christmas presents and we were all on our way to Yuma and Mexico.

It was on this journey that I noticed the rear view camera had stopped working. Playing with some other circuits it appeared that we had lost an auxiliary supply.

Investigating in the 12 volt distribution box revealed that an isolating relay was not working unless it was banged. It was easy to find a replacement in the first RV store we found for only $15.00. To be changed at a later time.

Finding a Coast to Coast RV park alongside interstate 8, at only $4.00 per night for us. Rick managed to avail himself of the introductory offer of $19.00 for two nights including a chicken dinner. This necessitated listening to a sales spiel to buy a plot.

Here we crossed the border on foot into Mexico to buy more spectacles and enquire about the paperwork needed to take our vehicles into the country for Christmas and New Year.

Now we experienced our first taste of Mexican bureaucracy. Tourist office to the Immigration office and back again with conflicting information. Then we were told to go to the border crossing at San Luis for our visas.

Eventually we visited the immigration offices at Mexicali, 60 miles away and after winding through a maze of back alleys, received our stamped papers in one minute free of charge.

Next was the purchase of Mexican “Third party vehicle insurance”. Two quotes and we settled on $95.00 per vehicle for 30 days. We were all set to spend the holiday season in Baha.

Following Rick through the checkpoint on the border, a cursory inspection by a Mexican official revealed our drinks cabinet. As he seemed interested I offered him a drink. A nod and I poured a generous glass of neat GIN.

His face was a picture as he tried to escape our rig with a mouthful of spirit and a smile on his face. We were waved through into the hectic Mexican traffic.

The transformation from the good old USA, to Mexico was dramatic to say the least.

The roads had not been repaired for decades. Holes, cobbles and railway lines made progress slower than the chaotic, crazy driving permitted.

The only people who benefited were the street sellers, windscreen cleaners and beggars as they could walk beside any vehicle they chose. We fended off dozens of attempts to clean our windows.

The next eye opener was the piles of rubbish and the hovels of homes. Sometimes we could not distinguish between the two. The suburbs which seemed to go on for miles, changed from lopsided trailers to homes constructed from pallets then piles of trash in the form of a mound with a door.

Soon we were on route 5 to San Felipe, our goal that night. 

We had been advised by many Americans, not to go into Mexico, not to drink the water, not to eat the food, sterilize all fruit and vegetables, not to drive at night, filter all fuel through a pair of tights etc. etc.

Route 5 was quite a good two lane road. Several army check points waved us through. Only two small groups of “habitation” were passed enroute.

By 4.00 PM the sun was dipping below the Sierra De Juarez mountains and as the shadows lengthened we remembered the night time driving advice.

 

Approaching San Felipe in the gloom of evening, many campground signs lined the road. The El Dorado Ranch with full hookup seemed to have the most appealing signs.

We drove through the impressive gates and down a drive that resembled tarmac to an excellent Good neighbor campground. I was asked if we were Coast to Coast and as I was, we both benefited with only $11.00 per night.

The campground had every facility. Beach side RV pads, Pool, Jacuzzi, restaurant, bars, clubhouse, beach and daily deliveries of seafood and vegetables. We spent a glorious week here over the Christmas period.

Christmas day we had the traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings including a Christmas pudding transported from England. Afterwards a long walk on the sandy beach did us all a lot of good.

Phoning home was proving a little difficult. Our Swiftcall account did not work in Mexico. All the call boxes suggested reversing the charge to the US, but not Europe.

The operator said she could charge it to a credit card. I thought problem solved, then I asked how much. $47.00 for three minutes then $20.00 per minute after. That’s over £10.00 per minute!

In desperation we paid $1.00 per minute to use someone’s cell phone to access the 800 numbers in the US, then Swiftcall to Europe.

The town of San Felipe was a culture shock with crumbling roads, pavement and sea wall. A few seafront campsites were jammed together like car parks. Many of the residents had been coming here for many years, true snowbirds.

Restaurants gave the impression that hygiene had not arrived yet. We did have one meal out and survived.

It reminded me of Spain 30 years ago. Fishermen pulled their boats up the beach with pick up trucks right up onto the esplanade, where you could haggle over the catch.

We toured the rest of the camgrounds in the area and decided that we had picked the best in town by accident. We also had a tour of the 9,000 acres that were being sold of in lots that were going like hot cakes.

Winter snowbird holiday acres in this area were proving popular with Canadians and the northern states folk. When it was suggested that we bought a plot I raised all sorts of questions about regulations and taxes. This was shrugged off with “This is a free zone”.

Later we read in a local paper that all normal regulations still apply and if not complied with, the property could be forfeited and the “resident could be deported without notice.

I had to try and find the energy to change the troublesome 12 volt relay. This took many hours because as soon as you open the bonnet a crowd of bored snowbirds with nothing to do, use this as an excuse to get involved.

I had to explain the what and the why many times before closing the “hood”. The group seemed disappointed when it was finished.

Eventually we chose to head over to the Pacific coast for Rick to get some diving in as he had been lugging all his equipment around for months.

The road through the mountains to Ensenada was about 130 miles. The first 40 miles were quite good. The next 70 miles were terrible.

Pot holes the size of a suitcase, crumbling surface running to sand, dips where flooded rivers swept the road away and more piles of rubbish in the middle of nowhere.

We ended up negotiating this “highway” at 5 or 10 m.p.h. constantly being passed by locals in fat tyred jeeps. Even at this low speed Ricks fridge door catch broke and anything that could fall did.

As we approached the suburbs of Ensenada with its even bigger piles of rubbish and acres of scrap cars, frantic traffic and enormous dips in the roads, we stopped for fuel.

A short discussion and we decided to turn north back to California and relative civilization. So one more night pleasantly beside the Pacific in Mexico and we joined the melee of cars to the border.

30 to 40 minutes of creeping towards the border crossing, we were sniffed by dogs and sent on our way through concrete posts just wide enough for our 96” motorhomes. We wondered how wide body vehicles fared.

About 80 miles up the coast and we found ourselves in exactly the same state park campground that we spent last new year in. At least we were able to communicate our “happy new years wishes” to friends and family by phone.

After four days enjoying the warm balmy weather over the new year, Rick and Linda went on their way to Yuma and then to Phoenix to get some repairs to their RV.

We found a Cummins agent nearby and as we had found some sooty smuts on our tow car, decided that a new air cleaner was required. Some discussions with the parts department revealed that a rattle on our engine might be a belt pulley that Cummins were having trouble with and were changing under guarantee. Jan 4th was the earliest appointment available to us.

We stayed in this pleasant, spacious park at only $18.00 per night for a further three days, until our appointment with Rencon Truck Center. By now we were quite familiar with the local geography.

Visiting The Queen Mary and a Russian submarine at Long Beach, we were disappointed that The Spruce Goose, Howard Hughes enormous sea plane, had been moved to Oregon. The whole experience was a bit of a disappointment as the place had deteriorated since our last visit.

We  visited San Diego Zoo, Also visited nine years ago. This was a marvelous day with superb weather and not too many crowds. The rest of the time while kicking our heels, was spent in car dealers trying to decide which new vehicle to change our trusty Honda Civic for.

 

Dealing with Rencon Truck Center.           (Cummins)

 

Chassis No. 011842           Engine No. 44905698      Vin No.4S7MT9K07RC011842.

 

Date in Service. 21 Feb. 94.

 

31/12/98.

Called into Rencon Truck to ask about the purchase of an air cleaner. Discussions with the parts department then revealed that our noisy pulley or idler was a fault that Cummins were aware of and were fixing under warranty.

Requested service of the pulley and the replacement of air cleaner.

Told to call on Monday 4th. Jan.

Told to come in Tuesday 5th. Jan. about 10 am.

Paperwork completed, air cleaner changed, inspection of pulleys and idlers revealed no problem with them. Rattling sound still apparent.

Mechanic removed oil filler cap, noise much louder. Possible loose or damaged timing gears.

Call to Cummins to OK the removal of cover. Left RV in workshop.

On our return found timing cover removed and air cleaner also removed.

Discussions with workshop revealed that no obvious damage found. But a further call to Cummins and their knowledge of an oilway fed via the camshaft could block due to a bush turning on the shaft would restrict oil to the pump. The return flow of this oil would normally flow to the timing gears allowing their lubrication.

As it was late evening, further calls to Cummins were needed to sanction work to rectify problem. This would necessitate the removal of camshaft, rockers and pump.

Spent the night in workshop service bay.

Wed 6th. Jan. Further phone calls to Cummins resulted in their request to cut open oil filter to search for foreign matter in oil. Also remove diesel injector pump to see and follow oil passages.

By now the bill was mounting into the hundreds of dollars. No obvious defects were found and Cummins were starting to distance themselves from the problem.

Rencon Truck politely informed me that if Cummins were not going to accept responsibility for the work, then I would be liable!

At this point I produced our Extended Warranty Policy. Then rang the company to explain the sequence of events that had led to a possible claim. They were sympathetic and requested that the workshop ring them to explain the situation.

They continued to search for a reason for the oil restriction. After lunch the finding of an “O” ring of the wrong size within the diesel pump confirmed that this could have produced the oil restriction.

On returning to the workshop that night, we were informed by the shop foreman that the problem had been presented to Cummins and they had accepted the liability. Whew!!

One more night camped in the repair facility. The new gears had to be flown in the next day but I was to pay for the transportation. About $25.00 was estimated.

7/1/99. Returning to the workshop at 4.00 PM. the job had been completed. Just a little cleaning of splashed oil in the engine compartment.

The total bill including new oil, filter, air filter, belts. gears and freight was $266.65 whew!

We left Rencon Truck repair center that evening and headed for the state park campground at Camp Pendleton. It was then we noticed the exhaust brake was inoperative. Also a high pitched squeal was apparent from the engine compartment.

Cursory inspection revealed that an adjustment arm on the throttle control might be adrift. So phoning Tom at Rencon, I was told to come in the next morning, Friday.

8/1/99 We received immediate attention upon our arrival at Rencon Truck in the morning.

The Pack Brake micro switch arm had been assembled incorrectly. This was attended to. I then reported the squealing noise and their mechanic followed us round the block. An air leak in the inlet manifold was suspected but would only reproduce on full load. The workshop then informed me that they did not have the equipment to diagnose this problem exactly. They suggested I take the vehicle to a larger Cummins agent with all the equipment.

As we were heading for Phoenix and Tucson, I decided to contact the Tucson branch who had changed the exhaust manifold one year ago. 

 

We left San Clemente mid morning and went straight to Palm springs to look up Terry Fleetwood, stopping only to check on the engine for oil leaks. Trying to find a large turnoff to pull over proved difficult and we eventually turned into a road that led to a private drive into a most salubrious golf club.

The car park amongst the BMW’s, Merc’s and Cadilacs was the perfect place to stop for lunch and an engine inspection. I even called into the impressive club house to make a few phone calls.

Finding the campground in Palm Springs that Terry Fleetwood had said he was staying at was a waste of time as he had left the previous day for Los Angels. Making haste we managed to drive to Blythe on the California, Arizona border and found a convenient campground beside a bend in the Colorado River to spend the night.

Next morning, soon after passing Quartzite with it’s 100,000 RV’s camped in the desert we saw what appeared to be a cloud across the road. Entering this “cloud” we could taste the sand. The wind had whipped up a sand storm that was heading for the desert dwellers.

Three hours and 180 miles later we were collecting our post in Apache Junction. We then checked into the Good Neighbor Park that Rick and Linda were staying in.

Two days catching up with the latest mechanical repairs that we both had to undergo and we went our separate ways again. Rick north to Vegas and us South to Tucson and more friends.

We found our American friends that we befriended twelve months before in their American Dream parked on their one acre plot that they are trying to sell.

It’s an idealic spot just far enough north of Tucson to be out of the crush and at the foot of the Catalina mountains. We spent two pleasant days with them wondering why this piece of land did not sell.

Later we found out that two prisons and a detention center surrounded them. One with a death row, that might have had an effect.

It was here that we almost bought our new car.

We had found that Honda had introduced a new minivan or people carrier called an “Odyssey”. Not only was it cheaper than the competition but also had a more powerful and frugal engine, had more bells and whistles but only came in four disgusting colors and there was a two month wait if you gave a deposit.

We test drove some other people carriers but always came back to the Odyssey. Then we came across a new 98 old model in white, our favorite color, with offers wanted.

Our offer of $18,000 was only $2,000 short, and the dealer, Beaudry Honda, would not budge so we left them our number and started looking at The Grand Cherokee Jeep again.

Two days parked up with our friends in their garden, if you could call an interesting piece of desert a garden. Then they had to go to a FMCA rally in Indio California. They offered us the freedom of their plot for as long as we wanted.

As we had made an appointment with Cummins in two days time we needed to be nearer their workshop. Beaudry RV where we had bought our Eagle thirteen months before was only ten minutes away. A phone call to their sales office and we were given permission to stay in the customer RV park for a few days.

The customer facilities at Beaudrys are marvelous with water and electricity hook up for eighty RV’s. A lounge with coffee, TV, phones, fax and computer permanently connected to the internet all free.

I phoned, faxed and sent E mail to all and sundry while we were there, also Camping World is on the doorstep for any spares that might be needed. As usual we spent money here.

Our appointment with Cummins was to find an air leak in the inlet manifold system which was producing a high pitched squeal. With the aid of a rolling road it revealed a leaky gasket.

As our five year guarantee was to run out next month, this was replaced under warranty along with some other adjustments and repairs free of charge.

Back at Beaudrys, discussions with our friendly salesman produced a remarkable price for a new Monaco Windsor. A 36 ft. slideout with an excellent floor plan at only $150,000 or £91,000 made us consider trading our Eagle.

Examining the Windsor next day revealed many shortfalls. Although with a superior chassis than our Spartan, the fit and finish of the cabinetry, the lack of storage, small driver and passenger windows, poor visibility from the rear view mirrors, only one furnace and smaller tank capacities all added up to our decision to keep the Eagle.

Whilst at Beaudrys, several customers came up to us that we had met 12 months previously and renewed old acquaintances. Swapping travel and mechanical experiences, the time flew.

Five days later we left our free site and many friends at Beaudrys, and headed south to our “home” park in the Coast to Coast system. Cochise RV park is near Tombstone and we are entitled to stay here for 14 days at no charge.

We will only stay here for four days as we have to be back in Apache Junction for the weekend as our son and girlfriend are flying in to stay with us for two weeks on 23 rd. Jan.

Our first day at Cochise, we visited the world famous town of Tombstone. As the publicity says “The Town that refused to die”. All the usual tourist attractions were there including several amateur gun fights, numerous saloons, a theater now a museum, stage coach rides, boot hill, the court house and western style eating houses with gigantic bars and mirrors.

We dined on the biggest and stickiest ribs, watched the gun fight at the OK corral between the Earps and the Clantons, a history film show and a museum, all with entrance fees.

At the end of the day we felt that we had paid dearly for a tacky tourist trap. But you have to go and see for yourself these legendary places and happenings.

The second day we drove 50 miles back towards Tucson, to see “Colossal Cave”, an attraction we had often passed as we drove down the 10 interstate. This colossal cave was just a fraction of the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and cost $7.50 each.

This cave went about a third of a  mile and 70 ft. down, whereas Carlsbad stretched for some four miles and 750 ft. into the earth and was free with our National Park ticket.

While staying at our “home park”, I requested that we see their sales team. Expecting another sale they came hot foot. As I had seen advertisements in some magazines for a better deal than ours from this park, I wanted to renegociate.

Eventually after an English cup of tea, we settled on an extension of our lease to five years from the original two, with no increase on our $500.00 payment. As we intend to return to the UK with our Eagle next September it’s quite academic unless we return before 2003. 

It was now hot foot to Apache Junction where Rick and Linda had booked in for another week, via Beaudrys to send some “E” mails and phone before our son flew in on Saturday.  23/1/99.

 

End doc 8.

 

 

 

 

 

RV ing from a Brit’s view. Part 9.

 

08/02/99

We have just seen our son and his girlfriend off at Phoenix airport. Sadness and tears for my wife and just a little relief from the responsibility for me.

It was a pleasant experience to be able to show them around the sights and scenes that we had experienced before. But now the pressure from being a tour guide and organizer was over, and our “home” was once more ours.

We had covered 1,600 miles visiting Yuma, Mexico, San Diego, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Quartzite, London Bridge, Laughlin, Las Vegas and The Grand Canyon. All in glorious sun shine except The Grand Canyon which had 5” snow and a big cloud in the canyon.

We were back in our comfortable, convenient and cheap campground in Apache Junction. The manager managed to fit us in at a moments notice, even though full at the time.

Carefree Manor RV Park is a Good Neighbor Park and only charges $11.00 per night to members. It is about half a mile from any major thoroughfare. Nice and quiet with plenty of wildlife all around and a pool.

We had spent some time with Terry Fleetwood in Las Vegas and Apache Junction, just socializing and comparing motorhomes to fifth wheels, with and without slides. We begged to differ in the end.

For the first time in our thirteen months of traveling, we could stay in one place and relax for a few weeks. Our next rendezvous was in Texas to meet my sister in law and hubby at the end of March.

So fixing a few minor problems and researching the purchase of some new tires and batteries occupied my time. Also now that our circle of E mail recipients has grown to enormous, I can spend up to an hour per day at the local library.

This state did not last long as Rick and Linda came back from their showing friends around the same high spots as our son. Their friends Geof and Barbara who plan on returning with their American motorhome in two years time, when they retire. Had three more days here and we all shopped and dined together.

Soon we were off to stay in Tucson with our American friends and their American Dream, on their property for one week. A one acre lot at the foot of the Catalina mountains was our home.

Here we were accommodated, entertained and taken out in their new four wheel drive, up mountains into the snow line and even experienced a 1,000 ft ski lift to the top of Mount Lemon at 9,200 ft.

Our house batteries by now were going dry or using up the distilled water quite quickly. Asking around for replacements revealed that Fleetwood could supply the four Trojan golf cart 105 batteries for $155.00 each. Walmart for $80.00 each. But the local battery wholesalers gave me four 145 golf cart high capacity leisure batteries for only $78.00 each. These would give twice the capacity of our originals. They were an irresistible bargain.

While back in Phoenix, we could devote some time to the purchase of a new car. The car buying process in America is a long and tedious business.

We now had about six months before returning with all our possessions to Europe. It was necessary to acquire the car and own it at least six months to be allowed to import without incurring taxes.

We wanted a replacement for our Chrysler people carrier in France. Something that could carry all the visitors we get. And yet a safe comfortable transport to Newcastle on a regular basis.

We had seen the new Honda Odyssey which gave us everything including electric doors and towability at a reasonable cost but with a two month waiting list.

The Grand Cherokee Jeep was another towable option. But at great cost, a hard ride and only 20 mpg. I rejected this.

It was back to the Chrysler Town and Country people carrier. We negotiated over two days and bought The Limited top of the range model from Earnhardts in Phoenix for $33,000 or £ 20,625.

After paying we found out that the three year warranty did not extend to Europe. So we got our money back.

Visiting every auto dealer we found that NO US manufactured vehicle carried it’s warranty outside North America. We would have to buy and gamble on reliability.

So checking with Honda again we found that the waiting list had reached SIX months, impossible to comply with the UK import rules.

By now we were back in Tucson and checking round the Chrysler dealers, found just what we wanted at $31,000. or £19,375. for an all singing all dancing, bells and whistles minivan. The only problem was a further $1,500 for the tow hitch and a transmission lubrication pump to permit it to be towed behind our motorhome.

The dealer, Jim Click of Tucson invited us to a seminar for new owners, that was an experience in PR. It was like a “Multi Level Marketing” meeting, where everything was wonderful and any problems were their only concern. With Chryslers three year all over warranty to fall back on and the dealers expertise and competitive stock of parts, I felt privileged.

It all fell apart when put to the test. Still no warranty from anyone after leaving the US. The parts ordered did not arrive, a set of brake pads $115.00. And my complaint that the steering pulled to the right was met with the excuse that Chrysler built their cars with a right hand bias in case the driver fell asleep he would drift into the kerb. Can you believe it ?

Do not believe anything a salesman or service department says !

We had made arrangements with Camping World and Beaudry RV to have a towing hitch and lube pump fitted to the Chrysler and wiring installed in the Eagle to facilitate towing the car.

We camped overnight in Beaudry’s customer park again to let us make the early appointment. All went well with the installation until the end when numerous alterations had to be made to the wiring.

This resulted in shortening some cables to a bowstring like tension. Also once again no covers to the seats and carpets were provided. Resulting in grease and oil on the upholstery and carpets of our pride and joy.

We had to stay another night in the customer park to allow our complaint to reach the right ears and rectification of the low transmission oil and greasy carpets.

Eventually we were satisfied as best as we could expect. But found that the memory of the seats was non effective. Denials from Camping World and confusion from Beaudry’s, we decided to let Chrysler rectify the problem.

Jim click the Chrysler dealer eventually rectified the steering problem, then informed us that our model did not have the memory seat facility. This I told them was rubbish as I had previously programmed in the so called non existent memory.

The service department said they had phoned Chrysler and no seat memory was functional with the remote key fob. I disputed again these findings as the specification listed it as included.

Eventually by trial and error we found that the remote seat memory could be programmed by a sequence of open door and ignition key manipulation. So much for the technician.

Finally we left Tucson and headed east with our friends who had sold their property that we had been parked on. Texas was our goal.

It soon became apparent that with the added weight of our new Chrysler minivan on tow, there was a coupling problem. A certain amount of play was obvious when braking and accelerating.

I phoned Blue Ox, the manufacturer and explained the problem. They suggested we call in to an agent in El Paso en route for an inspection.

The agent corroborated the play in the tow bar and parts were immediately dispatched to our Houston campground that we were intending to visit in a few days.

 

Almost seven hundred miles later, we pulled into a campground that our friends were members of. The Thousand Trails membership park was impressive with a lakeside view and plenty of facilities and wildlife.

We were supposed to get two days free of charge with an introduction by members but a charge of $40.00 for the two days was levied, with the promise that if we bought into the system we would be reimbursed. A bit like high pressure sales.

Further discussions with management about the attitude of staff, resulted in them basically saying take it or leave it. I relayed this information to the members who were our friends and they were so aggrieved, they petitioned the manager. This resulted in an extra day at no charge.

Next day all eight of us dined at an all you can eat shrimp “garage”! This unusual restaurant had all the old paraphernalia strewn around and some real oddball clients.

A slap up gut bloating shrimp binge with drinks came to $11.00 or £7.00 per head. After we returned to an enormous triple slide fifth wheel, chatted and drank the rest of the day away.

Feeling quite guilty the next day prompted me into a maintenance mood. So cleaning the car and motorhome, the water filters and heater made everything look and work better.

We had to leave our American friends next day and head for Houston in rain and drizzle. The vehicles were black after a few minutes.

My sister in law and her husband were arriving in a few days and we wanted to research the airport, a campground, storage for our motorhome and car for the period we were returning to The UK. This would take a few days.

Finding a Coast To Coast campground at only $6.00 a night, the new rate, only 35 miles north of the international airport that also had storage at $18.00 per month seemed a good choice. So we booked for a week.

Upon our arrival at the campground, we were told that a full hook up with dump under trees would be an extra $3.00 a night. So we opted for only water and electricity in the meadow with views over a carpet of Bluebonnets and Indian Blankets.

By now our mail and tow hitch parts had arrived ,or half of them. Further phone calls received promises of more parts to be dispatched.

Two days later after visiting Houston and the airport in the rain. Trying to find a taxi service to ferry us to and from the airport. We needed to go to the dump. The ground was soft and muddy all around us. We slithered sideways off our pitch, leaving deep furrows in the ground.

Not wishing to return to the picturesque meadow after dumping we opted to pay the extra and have a full hook up on firm ground for the arrival of our guests. Prue went to retrieve the car and door mat which we had left on our muddy pitch.

Next minute a plume of water shot skywards. Prue saturated, had beat the mat against the water stand pipe which broke in two and swamped the already muddy site into a quagmire.

We left and found the local library where 15 E mail messages were awaiting my reply. Shopping and cleaning were the order of the day as tomorrow our guests were arriving. 31st. March.

The next three weeks went so quickly. With our relatives on board we first had to wait at the same campground for the post to bring our new registration for the Chrysler and some new parts for the Blue Ox tow bar.

We moved a few miles to the south into another Coast to Coast campground that was also a Western Horizons facility. They gave out promotional pamphlets that gave new visitors two days free if you went through “The Programe”. This was like a high pressure sales operation.

During this presentation the worst storm I have witness for many years passed by. We later learnt that part of this storm had developed into a tornado and touched down at our last campground, demolishing the communal pavilion. It was matchwood. Luckily no one was injured.

It was here at The Western Horizons campground beside Lake Conroe that we met up with another couple of Brits in their new Winnebago also touring around. But they were heading back to the factory and onward to ship from Baltimore.

As we spent a few nights with them, the game of “Jokers and Pegs” reared it’s ugly head. This game of chance and malicious intent soon became known as “Ba----ds and Bi---es” as the intensity became nasty. We now have three of these compulsive boards to inflict the same

 

After leaving my sister and brother in law at the Houston International Airport today, we headed in the direction of interstate 45 and the Compaq building.

 

 

Preparing to come home.RAY,

 

For the past six months I had been researching the laptop market. Every time I came to settle on a particular model, a new one superceded it. The prices are so much cheaper here,

 

By now I was picking up my “E” mail in the Gateway shop. Apart from public libraries, shops like Gateway and other computer shops sometimes have one or more “on line” and a little twiddle gets me into Hotmail, then I ask to see how it prints.

This procedure is sometimes interrupted by an over enthusiastic salesman who then tries to flog to me the PC that I have been so interested in. I then have to counter with, “where is the £ key”? or “will it work in Europe”? They then go off to speak to a higher authority and leave me to get on with my “E”’s.

I did make a decision that speed was not my priority and that memory was. Although I could send and receive “E”’s, store every letter and bit of information that I put onto the screen for the next ten years, it would only take a few digital photographs to start to fill up 3 or 4 Gig. And this is going to be my next quest.

I am so frustrated with the limited “EVERYTHING” on this laptop, that MORE is the watchword. As more and more is available on the internet, I expect to be downloading volumes of info. My contribution to the two motorhome magazines also takes up memory.

Voltage and frequency is not a problem as all PC’s have a 110 to 230 volt switch on the back near the plug, in fact the plug is universal.

Some might have noticed that almost everything in my lifestyle is over the top? Having many enormous American vehicles for at least 30 years. Having a 35 plus feet of motorhome for the past 16 years. For many years my runabout was a six ton Mercedes van. We did buy a six bed, three bath holiday home in Bergerac. And a 14 hp. mower for a spec of lawn.

Now to go with the seven seater people carrier and a 38 ft. motorhome a 10.2 Gig PC is just the logical norm. I seem to need “Office Pro”.

While kicking our heels at the Fleetwood factory waiting for our appointment for service, I thought to make the most of the time by having an engine service before shipping home.

So booking a 6,000 mile service and a valve adjustment I brought up the old chestnut of the squealing noise when using the exhaust brake. This has been one of my complaints since September 98. Each time Cummins fixes something under warranty (no charge) and on we go only to find it still squealing a week or month later.

Now with the engine three months out of warranty and the extended service contract 350 miles out of warranty, we find out the squealing noise is the most expensive part of the engine, the turbocharger! Signs of a bearing failure are apparent by the oil within the ports.

We are spending another night plugged into another Cummins facility awaiting some sort of negotiations on this problem.

Almost everything on this most expensive of our motorhomes has gone wrong. If you get what you pay for, why did this one cost five times the others that had almost no failures.

Next morning I enter into further discussions with the service department of the Fort Wayne Cummins agents. Indicating that this problem has been with us for about one year and each time that I have complained they have found something to fix but not the real problem.

Their service co-ordinator contacted Cummins and received a promise that they would cover the cost of parts and that I would have to pay all the labour costs.

This I begrudgingly agreed to as it was a recurring problem that should have been rectified a year ago. When the mechanic found that the exhaust manifold was leaking and might have contributed to the noise I complained bitterly that this had been changed by Cummins and that I should not have to pay even the labour costs. But Cummins would not budge on their decision as I was out of the guarantee period.

After the exhaust manifold was removed, it was found that the head had been so badly pitted as to make an air tight seal impossible.

Further discussions between the service department and Cummins produced more offers to supply parts but still I would have to pay labour. As the estimated labour cost, even on a minimum assumption was approaching $1,000. I was not too happy.

I was then informed that we would have to check into a motel for one or two nights until the repairs were completed. A further $70. accommodation charges to add to the already spiralling labour costs.

With the installation of a new head, manifold and turbocharger, my part of the bill would be considerable. It was then armed with all the previous receipts and documents relating to all the work on this engine that I sat down with the service department once again to explain that this should have been taken care of by warranty. And I should not have to pay such a large amount.

I also told them that as we had had so many mechanical problems with this motorhome, our experiences were being serialised in two UK magazines. Buyer beware was the headline that I produced. Copies were taken of the magazines. As Michelin had helped us with sharing the cost of replacement tyres, I let it be known that a favourable report of their dealings had been written. Within an hour the service co-ordinator had been on the phone to Cummins and received their offer to pay labour also. At this I was ecstatic and expressed my joy and appreciation.

The costs of almost $2,500 for parts and $1,200 for labour had been accepted by Cummins, Finally the squealing noise had been solved, a test drive proved that it was all quiet in the engine bay. Now that almost everything had been renewed at the top end of the engine.

Two nights in a local motel, even with the ubiquitous “Corporate Rate” discount was enough to make us realise the pleasure of living in the Eagle. Smoky, dirty and noisy rooms, with no facility to make real tea and we were eager to get back into our “home”.

Now after four days for what initially was only an oil change. we were on our way back to the customer car park of Fleetwood just 40 miles away.

The 4th. of July holiday was almost upon us. We managed to slot into a space at Fleetwood Friday evening, as the car park was almost full. But we need not have worried as first thing Saturday it was a mass exodus for the majority of motohomes heading off to friends and families.

We were one of five RV’s remaining, to sit out the independance celebrations.

 

 

Dear All,

This will probably be the last “E” from the USA. I am not looking forward to going “home”. The prospect of trying to explain to the family why I like it so much in the states. Having to put up with high prices and crowded streets back home, grey skies, cold damp weather, and too many visitors trying to come to our house in France before we have even settled in and unpacked.

Paying for local phone calls, trying to register (tag) the car and RV. Complying with all the Euro vehicle regulations to our vehicles. Tiny pieces of tough meat, indifferent service, mowing grass, chopping logs etc. etc.

In the meantime we have to finish packing all those little last minute things. Try to conceal anything valuable. Cover chairs, upholstery, bedding and carpet with bin liners and plastic. Remove tags and hitches from both vehicles. And a 101 other last minute things that I won’t bore you with now.

We have managed to sell the two Sony TV’s, as they don’t work in Europe. We still have the VCR to go. New multi standard ones will have to be bought for use in UK and France.

When we get to London it will be another 18 days before the ship docks in Southampton. We will try and see all the relatives before picking up my mother in the north of England and transporting her down to London in readiness to collecting the vehicles and whisking her off to France for a while.

She just wants us near in case of a difficulty. Not understanding that I love the life here. The American Motorhome scene has been my life, hobby, and pleasure for the last 18 years, and now I am being taken away from it.

I still have not bought a digital camera, as the one I want is $900. And it goes against the grain to spend that much on a toy. I do have a contact in the UK who might be able to get one at a great discount. I so want to send pictures via “E” mail to you all in the states, of our place and area in Europe. Maybe soon.

I am already planning on our return, or at least mine. Trouble is new RV’s are being introduced each year and the choice might be totally different in two or three years time.

At some time I must try to finish the second year of our travels for the magazines. It will be much more condensed than the first year and only contain joys and problems, of which there were many.

We have had so much work done on this motorhome that it must be almost new. Trouble is that when we try to sell it in one or two years time, people will remember reading about all of our problems and failures. Hey Ho.

The only thing that can go wrong now is the ship sinking. With our luck it could happen. Watch the weather. There is the promise of hurricanes from Africa on their way as I write.

Anyway we will always be in touch by “E” mail or even phone. And we hope to see some of you make it across the pond. Our Christmas list has increased to almost 200 now.

I can honestly say that apart from Prue’s purse being stolen and the difficulties of trying to use the phone system here, we have enjoyed the whole 22 month experience. The diversity of the landscape, the friendliness of the people and the value for money here.

Even spending many nights plugged into a variety of repair facilities did not dampen our pleasure of the RV lifestyle here in the US.

Hope to hear from y’all at some time.

Aurevoir, alvedesien and tatar for now, Ray and Prue.

 

 

Dear Editor,

Over the past 22 months travelling round The USA, we have encountered the aftermath of tornadoes in Tennessee and Oklahoma. We were fortunate that sufficient warning gave us plenty of time to change our projected route and stay clear of the threat.

Later visiting or passing through these unfortunate areas we were shocked by the devastation that nature had wreaked on homes, trees, trailers and the overhead services.

Now at the end of our sojourn, we are spending the last week here in Brunswick, Georgia, before leaving our motorhome and car at the mercy of the Dockers at the port.

Finally getting on top of all the latest repairs, making last minute arrangements for shipping, customs, car hire and flights back to London. Shopping, packing, letters to insurance and mail forwarding and a host of other minor details.

Everything planned beforehand to go smoothly without any suprising hiccups. We now hear that hurricane “Dennis” is heading our way.

It is due to strike land in our area on the day we have arranged to collect the rental car from Jacksonville, Florida and deliver the vehicles to the docks.

Hourly we see on TV images of previous hurricanes, the damage, the traffic, the empty shops and ships blown onto the beaches. We are told of the projected escape routes. What to buy to sustain life for three or four days after the impact. People boarding up windows and doors. And how far inland to drive to escape the worst of the storm.

Everything and anything that could go wrong with our experience has gone wrong. From multiple repairs to the motorhome engine, rear axle, transmission, steering, electrical, windscreens, fridge, jacks, generator. Problems with driving licences being revoked, registration, insurance, banks, warranty claims. Being hit by a lawn mower. Dealing with the theft of my wife’s handbag, the death of a relative and many other incidents too numerous to mention.

Even in the final throes of our return, Mother Nature can’t leave us alone. At this time the loss of the ship would not surprise me.

With all this said, the experience has been so rewarding in visiting a most varied and diverse country, meeting many friendly and interesting people that I am planning our return as soon as circumstances permit.

 

 

 

I'm afraid thats it. Some of you might say thank god.

But the next year, while interesting for us, gets a little repetative for others.

We are now back in France with our Eagle and Chrysler encountering a whole new series of registration problems.

Ray.

raynipper@aol.com

 

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