Saturday, July 19, 2008

Funny recollections, and one more little hill successfully climbed

July 4th reminded me of a funny time in my life. The time in about 1995 or so when I was living in Wilmington, NC and dating Ms. DC. And I had this pal named Steve.

Everyone should have a friend like Steve. Steve was so politically incorrect that he was just a hoot. He once had a license plate that read "BARFLY." No joke. And you mention just about any subject and Steve would get on a tangent that always involved something political and something conservative. But never PC. Yet Steve was a lot more funny than he was mean spirited.

Steve was pretty much the ultimate good ol' boy.

Steve was pretty seriously into firearms and fireworks. We had been out to his family's farm doing some target shootin' in the past and Steve had a collection of military-styled firearms that wasn't exactly kosher, if'n you get my drift. For most of the time that I knew Steve he was a parts guy at a Buick dealership but had recently been accepted in the training program for the local fire department.

One day Steve, knowing that I had moved to Wilmington, got in touch with me. Steve wanted to set off some fireworks.

OK, I thought. We can find a place on the beach somewhere where he could set off some stuff to his heart's content.

Naw, Steve had a particular location in mind. Only problem was that Steve was afraid that he'd set a nearby condo complex on fire.

So I was thinkin' "Wait a minute Man. Come back to the light. That's getting a little out of hand."

Turned out that Steve actually had a permit to do fireworks displays commercially, and he was managing the 4th of July display at an amusement park in Carolina Beach, NC.

Duh. Of course.

So the big day arrives and Ms. DC happens to be in town. We motorcycled over to Carolina Beach and Steve makes us part of the crew and we get VIP access to where the fireworks are going to be set off. Ms. DC is really happy and tells me that she REALLY likes fireworks displays.

Now, commercial grade fireworks aren't anything like the sparklers or fire crackers that you buy in Tennessee and take back to Indiana. Steve and his crew of two workers had spent a day digging holes in the sand. Mortars made of PVC pipe were inserted into the sand, explosives placed into those mortars, and when the fuse was lit a rocket would shoot out of the mortar.

And the rockets looked to me like they were about 6 inches in diameter. Nothing puny about this at all.

The event starts, and Steve, wearing a fireman's fireproof jacket, sets off the first few rounds.

The rockets scream skyward with a tremendous "whoosh." Flaming embers are on the ground, and the crew is quickly stomping out one or two little brush fires.



The crowd, who are at a safe distance, are applauding.

Of course, I'm at Ground Zero, hanging out with the guys from the local fire department. The noise and the heat are much more intense than anything that any of us expected and the fire truck is rocking back and forth. About that time the Carolina Beach Fire Department decided that they had better move their truck. Pronto. AWAY from Ground Zero.



The truck gets moved, and the firemen and I are all hanging on the side of the fire truck, shielding us from the heat and smoke and flames.

About then I noticed that Steve's two helpers had taken early retirement and were hanging with the firemen and myself. Steve's running around wearing that fireproof coat - and shorts! - alternately lighting fuses and stomping out burning embers. But the helpers have had enough and are seeking shelter.

That's when I noticed that Ms. DC was missing.

I was thinking that, My God, Ms. DC was probably scared to death.

I looked around at the growing crowd that was seeking shelter next to the fire truck.

I even looked inside the cab of the fire truck.

I literally looked underneath the fire truck, thinking that perhaps she had crawled under there seeking shelter because, at this time, Ground Zero resembled a war zone.

No Ms. DC.

I walked to the fence and looked out at the crowd. No Ms. DC.

Now I was really getting worried. Poor girl probably ran away in fear, and she was no doubt PO'd at me because I wasn't paying attention to her and keeping her away from danger.

I walked back to the fire truck and I was just getting ready to walk up to say something to Steve when I saw her. Ms. DC was sitting on the opposite side of the fire truck from where all of us manly men were hiding. She was sitting on the steps of the fire truck, all by herself, with a primo view of ground zero. Basically getting a sun burn from the glow of all of those pyrotechnics, and breathing in the fumes from all of those explosives.

That girl REALLY had a thing for fire works ;)

And Steve? Well, the last time that I checked Steve was Captain Steve at a major metropolitan fire department.

It's a funny world that we live in.

Oh, and the image at the top of the page? I found it online. That's literally the same venue, just a few years later. Small world.


Here's the source of my biggest irritation so far this summer:

Don't recognize 'em? Look at the three sets of grills on the lower side of our motorhome. Those are our CruisAir air conditioners.

At best, motorhome air conditioning is a bit of a black science. Even when brand new, and regardless of brand, they usually only promise to cool the interior 20 degrees, so if it's 120 degrees in Phoenix, Arizona at 5PM it's going to be 100 degrees inside the RV and there's not much that you can do about it, except to abandon ship and hit the pubs early.

The Bluebird, being the best-of-the-best when it was built 25 years ago, specified CruiseAir units for the first few years of production and then switched to more conventional overhead units like you see on your average motorhome.

Supposedly the CruiseAirs work really well. When they are working right.

At least CruiseAir is still in business. Only they make very few RV air conditioners these days. Most of their production is geared towards yachts.

It's a clever unit. The compressor is down below the interior floor where there is little noise. Alas, the condenser unit is buried wayyyy back in the interior cabinetry, which means that it takes an Act of Congress and a week's work to remove one.

And did I mention that it's very difficult to get to the compressor units to work on them because the bus has to be lifted, and none of our local rv dealers has a lift strong enough to lift the Bluebird?
A buddy of mine said that the CruisAirs are actually pretty easy to work on. Then again, he used to own a valve-manufacturing company, and has a grease pit in his personal garage where he works on his Bluebird. And, oh yeah. His new bus has overhead air conditioners anyway.

Another downside to a CruisAir unit is that they require quite a bit of power to run them and even more power to start the compressor. Many motorhomes and travel trailers can make do with 30 amp. electrical service. The 'bird requires 50 amp. service, which we are discovering is practically non-existent in Mexico. On 30 amp. service we would be lucky to run one of the units at a time, never mind all three of them.

We have three separate CruiseAir "basement" units. The bedroom unit at least works like a champ.

I got a household A/C tech out to check the things out and he concluded that the center unit was essentially dead and that the front unit was working awfully hard to cool anything.

As our Florida summer got hotter, the less effective that front unit had become.

Prevost, the big Canadian bus builder, has a service center here in Jacksonville. Hell, Prevost owned Bluebird for a few years! The local Prevost garage declined to work on the CruiseAir units, saying that they hadn't had a lot of luck repairing them. Luck? I was beginning to think that Voodoo and black magic was the only way we would every get the A/C running properly.

Bluebird said that if we'd drive up to Georgia then they'd be happy to look at them but that we should expect to hang out around the plant for a week waiting for parts.

And CruiseAir's closest authorized repair shop, down in Tampa, commented that they were used to working on yachts and had never even seen a CruisAir unit installed in a motorhome. They actually referred us to an RV shop that was up the coast a bit from them.

This was starting to suck. Fast. Things were getting to the point where the 'bird was so hot by 2-3PM that we were scheduling ourselves to be out and running errands in the afternoon.

The first owner of our Bluebird Wanderlodge must have had some similar problems because they had added a conventional Coleman overhead unit to the front of the bus. That unit had never worked during the tenure of the 2nd owner (we are the third owners) and I discovered many moons ago that the power to that a/c unit was disconnected. Running a temporary electrical cable had resulted in the factory wiring shorting out and a near fire, so understandably we weren't going to reconnect that sucker.

The solution? Striking out on getting anyone to repair the CruisAirs, we decided to replace that overhead unit.

After a bit of research we settled on a Coleman Mach III PS "power saving" unit. Requiring 10.5 amps to start one of these things (contrasting with 15 amps for a comparable standard Coleman unit) the savings in electricity should pay for the slightly higher purchase cost. More importantly we expect to be able to use the PS unit at campgrounds where we are unable to get 50 amp service.

With a little detective work ol' John was able to track the original wiring for the overhead unit back to where it had been disconnected. Unbolting that old unit and swapping for a newer unit proved to be surprisingly uneventful, with a friend helping me manhandle the 100 lb. a/c units on and off the roof.

I had some concerns about disposing of the old unit, but after I put it on the curb in the evening some scavenger grabbed it before the next morning. Go figure. You have to love living in a semi-industrial area.

After a week's worth of experience with the new Coleman we have been very pleased with it. In conjunction with the old bedroom unit, the Coleman has been able to keep the front area of our motorhome cool despite having two warm adults working on computers and watching television pretty much 24/7. (As an aside computers and televisions put out a tremendous amount of heat - switching everything over to LCD monitors earlier this spring made a noticeable difference).

If we continue to have good luck with the Coleman unit I expect that we'll add a second one to replace the center A/C unit, which these days basically works as just a ventilation system.

The fate of the installed CruisAir units is uncertain. I could remove them and save the weight. One the other hand getting them working again is tempting, because one thing that you learn from living and working in a motorhome is that backups for all essential systems is a wise idea, and everywhere that we travel to makes A/C practically mandatory. My friendly A/C tech told me that he would be interested in fiddling with them during his off season and I guess that I could put all 23 tons of Bluebird bus up on wooden blocks at our workshop in order to get in under the thing and to lower the units down. Not a small job, for certain.

Stay tuned.

Here's the new Coleman unit (the white box) installed on the roof:

And here's the old unit after being hoisted off the roof. Can you believe that after I left this on the curb for the garbage man that someone took it?


Been writing and riding a little bit lately.

Got a few more chapters of my (presumably) first novel roughed out. I have been making a point to drop every thing else and hit one of our local pubs early in the day before the noisy regulars got in. Yeah, it's a tough gig but someone has to do it. Deb has been encouraging me to grab a pitcher of beer and to write. Bless her heart.


I was hanging out with some former club members of our now-defunct vintage motorcycle club last Monday. They have been having get togethers at a place called the Fly's Tie in Atlantic Beach, FL. Interesting place; it's a seriously Irish bar owned by a seriously Irish family. Ralph used to have some really great food there, much better than you would associate with a small bar, before the anti-smoking laws forced the closure of the kitchen. Ralph's girlfriend was, back in the day, a singer in a name Celtic band and they managed to book some other well-known bands into this tiny little bar. If you are familiar with a band called Flogging Molly, imagine them singing in a bar that doesn't hold more than maybe two dozen people. Talk about a great private show!

If you are in Atlantic Beach, Florida and looking for a pint, let me suggest the legendary Fly's Tie.
177 Sailfish Drive E, Atlantic Beach, FL 32233-4126. Phone: (904) 246-4293


Hanging at the Fly's Tie I ran into my pal Scott, who was a loyal regular of the vintage motorcycle club. We discussed doing a little riding, and since I needed to pick up some parts and kick some tires at BMW of Daytona in a few days we made an afternoon of the the trip.
After leaving BMW of Daytona we headed over to my favorite Irish pub in Daytona Beach, the
Tir na nOg. Thank God they had cold Bass Ale on draft, because as I mentioned previously Bass on draft has been getting scarce in these parts. We were there on a Wednesday which was a bit slow, but if you catch the 'nOg on a night when there is a band or the rugby guys are there it's a hoot. Tir na nOg - 612 E International Speedway Blvd., Daytona Beach, FL 32118 (386) 252-8662

Scott outside the Tir na nOg. That reflective thing right behind Scott, incidentally, is my jet black K1200LT. Pretty effective graphics. Yes, I do have this thing about getting my ass run over in the middle of the night and I do like lots of lights and reflective tape :


If you follow the financial news you are probably aware that InBev of Belgium bought that American standard, Anheuser-Busch, brewer of Budweiser.

Hmmm ... Stella Artois and Bass Ale are InBev products. Busch and Budweiser are A-B products.

Here's to hoping that no jobs are lost in the merger, but I am cautiously optimistic that Stella will bring better beers to a wider distribution here in the USA.


An Alabama-based friend of mine from the BMW bike circles is doing a contract programming gig here in Jacksonville for the next few months. We were discussing going the the open house at the local Honda dealer. That place is literally within bicycling distance from our workshops and I figured "Why not?" Bikes, burgers, and young nymphets washing motorcycles. What's not to love, right?

All kidding aside, in years past this particular Honda dealer was a big supporter of the Iron Butt Association and was a stop in an Iron Butt Rally in years gone by. Now their business seems to be all about sport bikes for kids (it was amazing how many used bikes they had for sale that had obviously taken one slow, sliding accident and then presumably the owner decided to get rid of it) and cruisers, but few touring bikes.

Robert and the ladies. Three guesses which one is Robert:

And what kind of idiot rides a bicycle to a motorcycle function, right? Even if the bicycle comes complete with an Iron Butt Association/Long Distance Riders sticker:

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