Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Polar Express

Photo credit: trainz forum

For a momentary diversion, Stephen Wilkinson has posted a video on his Facebook page that he made last year of the annual passing of the Polar Express, the real one.  It lives in a museum now, but comes out once a year for the famous run that has made its way to a book and movie that are popular with kids at Christmas. 


My Dad was a railroad engineer, and started out in steam locomotives like this.  I have fond memories of riding out with Mom and my brother to the railroad crossing to hear Dad go through.  He would lay on the whistle like you hear in the video.  Once in a while, if he was running a freight train and had some time, we would take a picnic lunch.  He would stop the train at the crossing where we, Dad, and the fireman would have a lunch.  My brother and I could climb into the locomotive, throw a small shovel of coal into the boiler so he could deliver the freight, then climb down as the huge pistons began to turn the wheels and drive the train down the tracks.


This is a wonderful sound that kids no longer have the chance to be thrilled by.  Gather the kids around (regardless of age), turn the volume up, and enjoy the experience.  You will find the post on his timeline page for December 1.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Last Minute NFCT Details

For a nice relief from the usual garden gnome, a frog nods off
in hammock to soak in pure tranquility.
I reached our insurance agent this morning and arranged for a declaration page of the policy to be faxed to Western Village.  Just before lunch, I walked back to the office again to confirm that they had received the fax and that it met their needs.  I called B&H and told them of the shipping error.  Here’s the advantage of dealing with a reputable company.  The flash cards needed to be sent back, but they wouldn’t need to wait for their arrival to replace them, but would send out the correct SD cards right away, overnight them, and cover the shipping costs themselves.
I usually handle everything involved with the RV, so I needed to take time to show Jean how to handle the septic issues and raise and lower the trailer’s awning.  There is nothing available near where we live without having it shipped in, so I took my list of a few remaining needed items to a Cabela’s in Harrisburg.  There haven’t been any leaking issues with my tent, but decided to reseal all the tent and fly seams and give them a couple hours to dry before repacking.
I hadn’t been back at the campground long before Jim, a neighbor at the campground, pulled in after also making a Cabela’s run.  He had received a gift card for Cabela’s when he retired, so had picked up a hammock and a campfire hanging tripod and Dutch oven.  He said he was planning on breaking in the tripod and oven by doing a pineapple upside-down cake, so we should plan on having some dessert after dinner if he was successful.  I ran back out to pick up some beer, so we could share a couple drinks together around the campfire after enjoying that pineapple upside-down cake, which, by the way, was perfect.
The next day was going to be the long ride to Old Forge, NY.  I called NFCT to check on any last minute flooding or trail issues, made a final check on the weather forecast for the area, and then called Clark’s Beach Motel for a reservation for the next night.  Clark’s is located just across the parking lot from the launch ramp and the beginning of the 740-mile trail.  As Ben Franklin recommended, it was going to be early to bed, and early to rise.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

B&H Photo and Insurance

Lilies at Western Village Campground
I had decided before leaving home that I should add an extra new camera battery and a couple more memory SD cards.  I had ordered them from B&H Photo in New York.  I strongly recommend them for all photo and electronic needs, and have never experienced a problem.  But, nothing is perfect, and of course the one time there is a glitch will be when you are in a time crunch.  The package from B&H was waiting for us when we checked in yesterday afternoon.  It was after getting the trailer set up that I opened the package to discover that B&H had sent flash cards rather than SD memory cards.  The remainder of Sunday was spent arranging for all of Jean’s needs to be met during my absence, removed the heavy truck hitch, which Jean can’t handle, added an extra length of sewer pipe, arranged for someone to move and fill the propane tank if needed, etc.  With the coming of evening, we finally got a chance to settle back and relax while having dinner with our daughter and son-in-law and watching Matt Damon’s “Martian.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Arriving at Western Village

We knew we didn’t have far to go today, so we relaxed and made a slow start.  It was 9:30 before we got going, and we only made three miles before stopping at a Pilot for gas, coffee, and Danish.  At the next gas stop, we had a casual lunch, resulting that it wasn’t until we got back on the road after this that it felt like we could actually settle in and start making miles.  It was 3:30 p.m. when we pulled into Western Village RV Park, near Carlisle, PA.  This made 261.1 miles for the day, and 1,414.9 miles for the trip east.  This was nowhere near where I would be making the start on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, but would give Jean a comfortable place to stay and closeness to family while I was on a two-month long canoe trip.  From here, we could make a round-trip to Old Forge, NY, in one day to get me launched.

During a walk around the RV park, we found this pull alarm
fire box, which is actually a bird house.  Love it.
We encountered a new wrinkle while checking in at the campground.  We had a definite difference of opinion over whether they had told me in advance that we needed proof of liability insurance in order to stay longer than a week.  They said they had, and I stated emphatically that they hadn’t.  I’ve been planning this trip for nearly a year, so if I had been aware of the need for extra paperwork, I would have taken care of it months earlier as I had with everyone else.  I now needed to take a couple extra days out of my itinerary to get proof of insurance for them.  It was now the weekend, so I was a holding pattern until Monday.  The lesson learned, which I can share, is that I now keep a couple extra copies of the insurance declaration page in the truck so I can present it on demand when needed.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Year of the Cicada

The ground was covered with finger-sized holes where the
Cicadas had returned to the surface.
This was the year of the cicada, or at least when our paths crossed.  In some places the sound of their songs were incredibly loud.  We were riding along with the windows closed and the A/C going when Jean said there was something wrong with the truck.  It was making a strange sound.  With the paranoia we were already experiencing over engine concerns, this was not good news, and demanded an immediate stop to check it out.  As soon as we opened the doors, the overwhelming din of cicadas from trees along the highway resolved our concerns.  The truck was still doing fine.  We are well acquainted with cicadas, but this was a level of sound we had never experienced before.  Overwhelming is a good word, even deafening.

This one didn't know the difference between a
tree and a tire.
There are over 1,300 species of cicada, which are a type of locust.  They live underground, staying buried for 13 to 17 years to give their predators time to starve to death.  After a warming rain and the subsoil warming to 64-degrees, normal for spring or early summer, the conditions signal the great exodus.  Then the nymphs emerge in such hordes that they can gorge remaining predators and still have sufficient numbers remaining to sustain their survival.  Finding a nearby tree or other vertical surface, they attach themselves and shed their outer shell to emerge in adult form to lay eggs in cracks in the tree bark.  There are different broods which emerge at different times in staggered areas across the country.  The site to follow will enable you to identify when they will surface in your neighborhood.

This was just between two roots of the tree, but the surrounding
ground all around was covered with a blanket of dead cicadas.
The price of gas has gone up 70 cents/gallon since leaving home.  Over ten hours, we managed to make 424.9 miles, and stopped in Barkcamp State Park in Eastern Ohio, just before the W. Virginia state line.  Barkcamp is not only a nice park, but a very interesting historical site.  I did a detailed article on the camp during a previous visit, which you can find in the archives in the right margin.  The date to seek is 11/29/15.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Land of Lincoln

Sharing our campsite for breakfast.
After being awake most of the night worrying about the truck and whether we were going to be stranded somewhere mid-trip, it was a slow, groggy morning.  We were still on the road by 0800, so I guess we didn’t do too bad.  I was anxious to get somewhere to find oil, and purchased a quart when we reached the interstate.  I put most of the quart in the engine, and checked the level again so I would have a reference point for checking it again later.  We both had frayed nerves, and driving in rain again until after noon didn’t help.
We pushed to make 414.1 miles over 12 hours, which put us in Illinois.  Our stop for the night was Fox Ridge State Park, between I-70 and Charleston, IL, which put us ten miles off our route.  On the way to the park, we passed the site of the Lincoln log cabin.  It was then 8 p.m., so the historic site was closed for the day.  By this time in his life, Lincoln was an established attorney living in Springfield, but he visited his father and step-mother, Thomas and Sarah Lincoln, here as frequently as able.  The Reuben Moore home, also preserved, and located a mile north of the Lincoln farm, is where Lincoln had dinner with his family in 1861, and said goodbye before traveling east to assume the presidency.  Thomas and Sarah are buried at Shiloh Cemetery a mile west of their farm.  More information on this historic site may be found at:
The day ended with a sigh of relief.  The engine oil level had not changed during 12 hours of running and pulling a load, so I poured the rest of the quart in to bring the dip stick up to the full mark.  Whether the worker servicing the engine was simply not paying attention to what he was doing, or the dealership was trying to maximize their profit margin, we had just been shorted a quart of oil.  The good news was that the engine appeared to be fine. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Murphy's Great Adventures


“If anything can go wrong, it will.”
With all the planning and preparations, it should have been obvious that I was serious about this trip to the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, but as Robert Burns said “To A Mouse,” the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry, or “Gang aft a-gley,” as he said it.  And so they did, a-gley, and a-gley, and a-gley, again, and again, and again.  By the time we got back home, we had accumulated so much “adventure,” we were exhausted, and all for naught.  Also, it was not like our misadventures centered around one or two events.  No, noooo!  We were gone 36 days.  Our first awry was on day one, and they continued unabated until our last cropped up on day 36.  Murphy must be proud!
Part of our problems were centered around what I’ve preached, and am often bitten by.  The best time to go paddling (or anything else) is now, today.  Procrastinating while waiting for greener grass to grow on the other side of retirement, the kids being grown, better financial standing, or any other pseudo benchmark will only lead to catastrophe, disappointment, depression, and unhappiness.  The only thing postponing will accomplish is finding you older, more conflicted, and more infirm. Retirement will NEVER meet your dreams if you’ve put off living and finding fulfillment and enrichment until you near the end and are in so many ways less capable of enjoying it.  When the kids are grown, your field of responsibility just expands.  You will be devoting your time to caring for grandkids and ailing parents simultaneously.  Cost of living and promotion increases will never keep up with inflation and greater responsibilities and issues that increase with age.  Meeting your dreams is not about better planning, it is totally about better and ruthless prioritizing.
The pond at Ballard's Campground in evening light.

Buddy on the rack atop the 2013 Ram and the River Forest
Puma RV trailer.
Some campers like fancy campgrounds with glitz and polish.  We prefer more natural settings, and we’ll trade nature and friendliness for bells and whistles any day.  We started east from Oklahoma and turned off I-44 at X-18A for Ballard’s Campground, near Carthage, MO.  We had been in rain most of the day, and only logged 311.7 miles.  When we stopped for gas, we discovered that someone had stolen the registration validation sticker from our RV plate.  We had the paper registration to prove that we were registered, so there wasn’t much we could do about it at this point.
It stopped raining just before we pulled into Ballard’s to meet Wanda minutes before she was due to close.  The campground had experienced torrential rains for two weeks, and several of her gravel drives had suffered washouts and ruts, so she hopped into the golf cart and led us to a high, level site. 
Jean had been nervous about the mileage on our old Ram, so had been at me for some time to replace it.  We got a used 2013 Ram with lower mileage, a big price tag, and just enough time remaining before the departure date to get the cap installed.  The dealer said the pickup had undergone a lengthy checklist and had been freshly serviced.  I’m normally particular about checking oil levels, but for some reason had taken his word for the oil change, and hadn’t checked behind the service department.  After little more than 300 miles put on the truck, I found it a full quart low.  I got almost no sleep all night.  My imagination raced all night.  Had I been conned by a slick salesman who had dumped a truck on me with a bad engine, was I facing years of civil litigation, or had the service department just screwed up?  There was no way of telling before tomorrow.