Palm Trees in southern Florida

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Our Florida adventure goes sideway

We've been in Florida, at this Escapees co-op park  for the month of December & it's been an interesting month!  The park is a beautiful place, palm trees, very friendly people, an active social life...a community.  I can see buying a spot here (it's a co-op).  
It was a very good place to spend Christmas!

The SKP RV park in Zolfo Springs

The plan was to use this central Florida location as a hub to explore all around, as most everything I wanted to see is within two hours.  It looked good on paper!

Things have not gone quite like we'd planned ...

When the Olds minivan died it took almost 2 weeks to find a suitable replacement. We had the RV & our bikes to explore, but if that had been the plan we'd have stayed somewhere closer to either coast and the beaches.

So, rather than exploring, we spent our time looking for a car...

We had five criteria for our new ride:
1) A 2001 or newer (it was replacing a 2000)
2) Lower mileage, 150,000 was the maximum
3) It needed a sunroof (that was my requirement.. more a hoped-for feature)
4) It had to be within our budget
5) It had to look good, my wife was the sole judge of that :-)

4 out of 5 is not bad    :-) 

We picked up a 2000 Toyota Camry in superb shape! 
We had just enough time to finish the Florida paperwork for the car & our new Florida driver licenses before our month was up at this park.
If anyone is interested Florida charges new residents a special tax fee of $225 each to get their cars registered!  It was $610 to register the Camry!

2000 Toyota Camry

Today we leave for Quartzsite, Arizona.  January is the month for the RTR & the RV show & flea market in Quartzsite. 
Our first stop is going to be Cobb Camp (Osceola NF up by Lake City, FL) to visit Cuzzen Dick and whoever else is at the roving winter SE GTG.

I did get the solar panels installed on the roof of the RV here, and that will make boondocking a lot more comfortable. Solar is magic!

We're going to be coming back to Florida, as there's still lots of exploring to do.

A Florida sunset 

All in all it's been a good month here in Florida!

Happy New Year Everyone!!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Dead cars, craigslist scams & distances

We headed to Florida for the month of December, our first destination with our new RV setup! Our Class C RV now pulled our Olds on a tow dolly, so we'd have a ride for around town and such when we arrive. Just park 'the house' & use the car for errands & sightseeing wherever we are.  

The van & RV leaving in our new travel arrangement 

Last week were on the way to the new Star Wars movie, the 12:30pm show (IMAX & 3D!!!) in Lakeland Florida.

We were halfway there when the car died.

It was the engine and the noises were not good ... called a tow truck & took it to the shop in Wauchula FL that I picked off the internet.  I knew it was more than I could deal with in an RV park.

I went on-line and, because the movie had not started, the ticket money was refunded. A bright spot to the day!

The van loading on the tow truck 

Turned out the engine was shot.. around $2000 for a crate motor, around $1400 for the labor. Plus we'd need far more time than we had to spend in this part of Florida to get the job done.

It was a 17 year old vehicle so it was not real surprising,  but this sort of thing is always a disappointment.

We started shopping for a used vehicle. Looking for the newest, lowest mileage we could find within our budget. I like craigslist.

Search criteria -
There had to be a picture, 2001 or newer (we are replacing a 2000 model), less than 100,000 miles (or 125,000 miles or 150,000 miles, changing the amount is easy), more than $15 (that gets rid of the dealers who put $1 on the price block) and $3000 for the max price. Then I typed the word "sunroof" in the search block & let'er rip!

All kinds of cars with sunroofs that meet the rest of our criteria.  All of them a goodly distance from the great central location we found for a month-long Florida stay.

We are about 5 miles from the grocery store in town, that's bikeable but a good distance from all the population centers selling cars! Too far for my bike.

So we drove the RV to look at cars.  It drives nice, it's comfortable, but using it for a car search from here was just a bit spendy at the gas pump.

We drove to look at several cars that weren't there, "We just sold that one today."  I did have an offer on a nice one in an eBay warehouse in Billings Montana, a gmail address, pictures on Instagram and they said they'd ship it!

This is the first time my new bride & I have shopped for a car.  Turns out our ideas of "acceptable" are just a tad different. :-)

The next trip to look at a car will be combined with a day trip to the beach! Having your house at the beach with you is a good thing and a really nice way to rationalize the gas money!

Through all this I realized how much I counted on my cell phone, I even thought how much harder this all would have been without it.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

This and that

These are random thoughts, things I've noticed that just won't leave my head. Plus it's a neat way to write a blog for when I really need one ...

Meatloaf cooked in a cast iron pan seems pretty random

I've been doing a blog since April of 2013,  that's 181 of them and I cannot tell you how much I admire those people who put out a blog every day.  Every Day. Wow, it's just amazing!

Hell, I wonder how those who do one once a week manage it!  
Let alone the people who make a living from blogging...

There are more people out at Yellowstone National Park  after Labor Day than I really expected. 
I didn't realize how many retired folks were out there and I can't believe they are all here at the same time we are!  :-)  

We're all waiting for Old Faithful to do it's thing 

That's a joke, as I'm sure some of them are at the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and the same Indian casinos I've been staying at :-)

I'm starting to think the economy is doing better than I thought. There are a lot of new RVs out here.  That, to me, says something. Another indicator is at a small general aviation airport a friend of mine is associated with:  you can't rent a plane to get some time unless you're a student learning how to fly, because the rental planes are all booked. All the hangers are rented out too.
Nothing says disposable income like a new RV or a small airplane... unless you're living in it  :-)

I read others blogs on traveling, RV living & VanDwelling. 
I'll admit that I'm envious of the clever saying they come up with as a way to point out that, if you want to do something, there is no time like the present. It's such a true thing and I'm just jealous! 
I think and think, but the only thing I can come up with is "I'd rather spend my money on good flip-flops than a winter coat!"
It's embarrassing, but it's the best I came up with. 
(The flip-flops I bought were the brand 'Freewaters' brand.)

Our new (to us) RV will cruise down the highway at the 70 or 75 mph limit with ease and a smooth ride, but the gas gauge doesn't really do so well at those speeds. 62 or 63 seems to be a happier compromise between getting somewhere & the gas mileage...

So far, December in Florida has been really nice. 
We went to Sanibel Island  & found real sea shells! 

It's alive but it's not tiny!

I'd been wanting to go there since I discovered the blog "I love shelling".  A nice place, for the most part. I'm sure it's great if you live there or if you're renting a place with a short walk to the beach, but if you're driving down there, the $5 an hour parking fee is a real downer... Live & Learn!

I'm hoping there are affordable beaches at other places, for we tourists who are not staying at the salt water.

The water was warm!

I never realized that Florida got fog, it just never crossed my mind! No reason for it not to get fog...

This was out our window this morning

The plan is to go to Arizona next month, Quartzsite for the RTR, the RV show & just to see friends and all the other RVers that show up. 

Plus there are palm trees ... I like palm trees!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Our beet harvest finances

We worked the beet harvest, it was interesting work and the money was good.

We worked out of Drayton North Dakota, staying at the RV park they built for the workcampers there. Our piling site was about 11 miles away in Minnesota


The shift was 8pm to 8am and we ran the machines that piled sugar beets, lots and lots of sugar beets. Each pile ended up 250-300' wide, 20' tall and a quarter mile long. Our piling site had three pilers.

Sugar beet piles

I was hired as a foreman & my wife as a piler operator. They wanted me there to train early in August when they started the pre-harvest, I couldn't make it then. We arrived early in Sept so I could train (12+ hr days, 5 days a week).   
The regular harvest people started showing up (25-29 Sept) the week before the harvest was to begin. The harvest was scheduled to start at midnight  (0001) the 1st of October.

The harvest actually started at midnight Friday night/Saturday (30th) morning, a day early due to weather. 
The last truck for us rolled in about 2 am on Tues the 10th of Oct. and we left early (3:30 am) that morning. 
There was no night shift work on Wednesday and I received the call that the harvest was over for the night shift at 3:30 in the afternoon on Thursday the 12th.

We showed up to work for 11 nights in a row.

The finances are tough to be accurate about. I was a foreman, so my hours & pay were different from my wife. 

I had $3500 deposited to my account for the time of the official harvest.
They did withhold income tax for the Fed, North Dakota and Minnesota, plus social security & medicare.

My wife, for the actual beet harvest had $3020 deposited to her account.

I cannot say enough about the people at the harvest. From the bosses on down to the people on the ground guiding the trucks, taking the samples and pushing the spilled dirt & beets out of the way.  

ALL the people I worked with  were great!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Solar on the bench

Our new RV didn't have solar... so we bought some!

All the parts

Solar is magic, it really is. As long as the sun is shining, you have your lights, your water pump & your electronics going. 
Life is more comfortable with solar.

Two 170w panels off Amazon for $180 ea, an mppt solar controller, a remote read out for the controller too. Two mount  kits,  two "Y" cords, some 10g solar wire & several mc4 connectors (they were a good buy so I bought extras).

The batteries are already there and I already have a few tubes of Dicor self-leveling sealant on hand (shop around, it can be found locally). I was just out taking photos of the solar gear & realized I'll need some bigger wire too, for panels down to the controller, and controller to battery.

The pieces
That's $646 for a 340w system (plus the batteries)

Cable, $48
50 FT - 10 AWG Solar PV Multi-Conductor Tray Cable - 600V Type TC Cable

170w panels, $179
Newpowa 170W 170 Watt 12V Moncrystalline Solar Panel High Efficiency Mono Module

MC4 connectors, 5 pair pack for $5.18
ECO-WORTHY 5 Pairs MC4 Connector Male/Female Solar Panel Cable Connectors

Controller $149
SolarEpic 40A MPPT Solar Charge Controller 100V input Tracer A Series 4210A With Display

Remote readout for the controller $30

SolarEpic MT-50 Remote Meter LCD Display fit for Tracer BN series MPPT Charge Controller NOT FIT FOR RENOGY & HQST MPPT

"Y" cable connectors $10ea (you only need this if you're doing more than one panel)
Signstek Y Branch MC4 Parallel Connector Adapter M/FF and F/MM

Panel mount kit $10
HQST Solar Panel Mounting Z Brackets with Nuts and Bolts -- 4 Sets of RV, Boat, Roof, Wall and other Off Gird Installation

The header picture... I got tired of looking at roads so I went to sun set/rise pictures, then I found this one again. I just like it!

Friday, November 3, 2017


I scraped the roof of the RV on a tree limb. I'm really bummed... 

The part of the tree that clipped the RV

Trashed the awning, put numerous rips in the rubber roof along the edge & tore the refrigerator roof vent off.

Tears in the rubber roof & the missing vent
The awning didn't fare well either

It was a weekend, so the insurance company was no help.  It looked like rain was coming, so I had to do something about the torn rubber roof.

I had a small roll of Eternabond repair tape for small wounds to the roof;  this was more than that. We went to a nearby RV store, and I bought a large roll of repair tape & got the rips patched. Bought a replacement cover for the refrigerator roof vent too. The awning was not going anywhere, but it wasn't usable either.

The story will continue after we see what the insurance company has to say....

New roof & awning is what the insurance company said. 

They took the receipts for the new refrigerator vent cover & Eternabond tape and will deduct that from the deductible.

The RV is in the shop that my wife wanted it in (she was familiar with their reputation) and should be out in a week.

We'll see if this is a happy ending after we're driving down the road!

Monday, October 23, 2017

St. Joseph Missouri sucked up a day ....

On our way south we stopped in St Joseph Missouri to see the ... well my wife wanted to see the Pony Express Museum & I wanted to see the house where Jesse James was killed.

The original Pony Express building 

The house Jesse James was renting when killed

We also stopped to see the Patee Museum.

The Patee building

The Pony Express museum was good, more than expected! 

At the Jesse James house, it was interesting to be in 'the' place where a big piece of American western folklore actually happened.

Both of those places were done well & I learned  a bit!

Then we went in to the Patee House Museum... 

A wide variety 
A steam locomotive

Lot's of shops, with equipment 

That's where we never even heard the sucking sound as the rest of the day went away.

Oh Wow! We were just starting the second floor when they announced closing time in 15 minutes, where had the day gone?

This was in a room on the second floor

It was just stuff. A full sized steam locomotive, cars & a jeep. A representation of a whole small town, from the barber shop to the blacksmith, let's not forget the drug store or the music store or anything! It's all done well and it's all so interesting.

A Giant ball of string!

Like I said the day disappeared.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Gone is the flat!

Heading south on I-29 out of North Dakota was neither good or bad, it was heading south having finished the work.


A stop in the big city (Grand Forks) for some errands & shopping then we continue south.  Spent the night at a rest area in ND then we went south some more, it's a good thing we're leaving as it went into the 20's that night!


and flat

and more flat

Sometime that second day I noticed hills off to the west & got excited. 

A Hill !


Not too much later the road was going through the hills & I was smiling.

It had been over a month on the flat prairie of North Dakota/Minnesota.  It wasn't until we got into the hills that I realized how much I'd missed a changing topography.

I was surprised.

I'm not saying there was anything wrong with the prairie, it was beautiful & all the trees planted as a wind break, well they just looked good.  But it was flat farm land. Lot's and lot's of flat farm land.

A whole lot of food is grown here....


It was good to get back to the hills!

Ya, it's not much of a finish to this blog but leaving the flat is like that....

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Head'n South!

The beet harvest is finally over, got a call at 4:30 in the afternoon telling me we were done! No more nights, the little remaining would be handled by the day crew. Just like that.

Our official harvest started at midnight on Saturday the 30th and ended (for us) at 0200 the morning of the 10th. 11 days.

We're heading south, we've some business in Georgia to take care of & some people to visit. Then it will probably be time to head to Florida.

Home for the last month

Now keep in mind that we have 1500 miles to go & we are not on a time schedule anymore.

Lot's of route choices... Kansas City for some bbq?

Via KC

Maybe Chicago for some of the eateries on my list?
The Chicago route

My list you ask? 

Yes I have one!  

After I realized I'd driven past the Alamo 3 times without knowing it, I made a list of places I wanted to stop, things I wanted to see & I put them on a map. 

Now I look at the map to see if I'm going to pass by anything that caught my interest enough to wind up on the Travel List.  
I might even make a place from the list into a destination!

The list grew as I'd become aware of new places. 

I've found many off "Diners Drive-ins & Dives" but not all are food places. Niagara Falls is there just because I want to see it again.

The realities of our travels ... the current weather when we're traveling may affect the route choices.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Beet Harvest, Day 6

There was a beautiful sunrise this morning, an orange crack on the eastern horizon. 

This is the 1st indication that the long day is nearing it's end!

I saw it as I was stacking 30# beet sample bags in the sample container, they have to be stacked as there are too many to just dump in from the front loader any more.

The work is really not bad, dirty but not bad. All the people are great, all of them!  
The hours suck.... 
I'm writing this during my sleep time as I woke up early..

12+ hours ( I have NOT hit a 14 hour day yet) at the beet piling station in Minnesota, a 20 min drive from the campground in North Dakota. Half an hour to walk down to the shower house to shave-shower-whatnot, a small something to eat while I look at the on-line comics, check the blogs & glance at my email then off to bed in our "blacked out by cardboard" bedroom in our RV to sleep during the day.

Some time later I wake up (5.5 hrs of sleep today, 7 hours yesterday!).  It's warm, too warm (inside). I have 2 hours before we leave for work.

Coffee, the internet stuff, eat now, fix something to eat at 2 am (the mid point of my 12 hour shift) and get dressed for work.

We hit all the thrift stores in Grand Forks for work clothes, before the season started & I found five pairs of blue jeans for $6 ea, I bought two new ones at Walmart for less than $10 each. That gives me 7 pairs.

My initial guess was three days a pair but reality changed that to two days.  Then there were a couple of days that they only made it one shift (I could not believe the mud!). I'll have to spend some of my sleep time in the next few days doing laundry at the local car wash/laundromat here in Drayton.

The Drayton, ND laundromat 

I was hired as a foreman. I make decisions, watch over everything, carry the keys and am an on site maintenance-grease & lube oil person. I had forgotten just how dirty you can get greasing machines that need a lot of lubrication!  

I also move dirt.  The beets grow in the ground and the piler produces a lot of dirt. I move it.
The work is good, the people are good, the money is good. Some of the sun rises have been spectacular but mostly it's just dark when out from under the lights of the pilers.

And there are trucks carrying sugar beets, lot's & lot's of trucks carrying sugar beets. 

Hundreds, even thousands in a day, bringing beets to be piled. 

Good drivers, experienced drivers & ones that look to be backing out of the piler for the very first time in their short life, so we all have to be careful. 

They have to back out because the dirt is still mud, won't support an empty truck. 
This morning, right after I was relieved, the 1st truck made a successful turn out of the piler!

Did I mention that the money is good? That we are treated really well by everyone? The campground shower is really nice? There is free coffee at the piler station? That this is just for a short season?  15 days, give or take, is expected for the site I'm working at and today is day 6. The money is really good.

I can't send this out without mentioning the beet piles themselves. These things are huge & so far away from my "normal" that I'm still amazed every time I see them in the day light. We built these!

I've got to go.... supposed to get down to 34 degrees tonight... did I mention that I had to buy thermal underwear again? I got rid of all mine when I left Minnesota in 2003.  

Time to break them out.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Sugar beet? What's a sugar beet? Or where did I put that alarm clock?

I'm back to work... it'd been what? Two years? It's tough being retired!

Then not just any job but a 12 hours a day, 7 days a week until the harvest ends job. In North Dakota.  The sugar beet harvest. 

A small sugar beet

Express Employment Professionals hired me to work for the American Crystal Sugar Company... They had a booth at the Quartzsite RV show, they have an on-line site & they hire people right here.

A beet piler making a sugar beet pile
That's what we do 12 hours a day

We're here. 

The Drayton,ND campground. Real close to the Drayton yards
(steam in the background). A bit farther from some of the other
piler locations, I'm just under 20 miles away.
Nice showers & an acceptable TV/internet room

They have several campgrounds, we're at the one in Drayton ND at a park built for the harvest. I've always been a sucker for free rent.

The money is good... or can be. It all depends on the weather & the harvest. The first 8 hours are regular time the next 4 hours of that day are overtime.  All 12 hours on Saturday are time & a half, all 12 hours on Sunday are double time...but if it's too hot or too cold or too wet there is no harvest so if those days come on the weekend you lose.

I have to admit that having that alarm go off at 0500 took some getting used to, 12 hrs on my feet was something my feet had to get used to.

I'm enjoying it...

Dressed for work with vest, safety glasses & hard hat

The harvest was going to start on October 1st at a minute after midnight but it was moved up a day. So I get to run a beet piler station all night long starting starting a day early!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

BIG art!

Mt Rushmore
After we left Yellowstone we headed to South Dakota, the land of the BIG art!

I'm talking about Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial and the Jackalope at Wall Drugs in Wall, SD. 

Mt. Rushmore is free to see, but they want cash money to park. It is impressive to see & well worth the trip.

I'd never made it to the Crazy Horse Memorial before, that was something to see. Even bigger art! 

The sculpture is huge, you can see the outline of the horse in white

Maybe my grandkids can see it finished? It's financed by the $11 it takes to get in & donations. There is still a lot to be done so it's going to take some time.

The head is clear and the front sculpture is what it will look like
The American Indian Museum is a nice one too.

After those magnificent sites some might call Wall Drugs a let down but I remembered the billboards! 

The 5 cent coffee was good, the $12 buffalo burger was good too but the pie was so-so at best. The parking was free & plentiful, lot's of stuff to see plus they had the Jackalope!

My kids even remember the Jackalope!

The Jackalope!
After this, it was getting close to time to show up in Grand Forks, ND for the beet harvest, so we found somewhere close to spend the night then we headed for North Dakota.

Just outside the Badlands NP, free BLM boondocking.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Yellowstone National Park

What's new that I can say about Yellowstone?

I looked, Yogi & Boo-Boo were not to be found nor was a picnic basket but Ranger Smith might be still be around. 
I wonder how old you have to be to remember Ranger Smith?

This visit is not quite like I wanted, it was a lack of planning on my part, I'm retired & gave no thought to when the Labor Day weekend was. That weekend did not seem to be a good one to show up at the 1st ever American National Park so we rested up in a different part of Montana.

There is traffic, lots at times. We spent 45 minutes in stop
and go traffic for some elk

That resting up was needed by me, (packing up, going, sightseeing, setting up, sleeping & repeat does get old)  but it did use time that could have been better spent in Yellowstone. I wanted a day's rest, maybe two, but not the whole Labor Day weekend that we sat out because I didn't realize it was coming!
How can "time" mean much to a retired person you ask? We're going to work the beet harvest in North Dakota and have to show up this month. There is an "end" to this particular chunk of travel.

I had visions of the vacationing legions packing up on Monday (Labor Day) & heading home after the last summer fling. The reality seems to be a little different as there were still plenty of people in the park & the campgrounds around it. Gee, a lot of them look retired too!

We found a spot in a national forest camp (Bakers Hole) not too far from the park's west entrance. The price is right, the views are great and we can leave the RV in its place & drive into the park with the other van to see the sites then drive home that night. Good enough!

The first stop was Old Faithful.  My wife had never been here before and that's one landmark I didn't want to miss. We walked up to the viewing area 30 seconds before it started erupting, talk about timing! 

We took a walk around Old Faithful then went to the Old Faithful Lodge 2nd deck viewing area to watch it do it's thing again. A pleasant afternoon.

There are mountains and animals too.
The 45 minute traffic jam for elk

Yellowstone!  It really is something to see the steam coming out of the ground, to see the boiling pools and the clear, clear bluish green water that smells of sulfur.
Steam from the ground is common

Bubbling pools that come with an odor

When you get tired of the people, the mountains, the animals, the steaming pools and geysers you look for this sign.