Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A new addition to the family, and that pesky Fay

I want to thank y'all who have expressed concern since we have this hurricane/near hurricane headed our way. I will have to say that Tropical Storm Fay has turned out to be one of the screwier storms that I've ever tracked - it was originally likely to head west of us, then right over us, and now it's expected to enter the Atlantic Ocean slightly south of us and then to return to dry land slightly north of us. Sheesh!

We are fueled up and ready to go on short notice but my suspicions are that we'll just move the motorhome over to a friend's bar just a few blocks away. That way we can get out from under some very large oak trees that are on our workshop property. The upside is that if the power goes out at the bar during their hurricane party then we can trade diesel-generated electricity for beer. Slick, no?

On one of my Bluebird motorhome mailing lists there is a couple who rode out a direct hit of a Cat. 3 hurricane while in a Bluebird Wanderlodge very similar to ours. They said that they wouldn't intentionally do it again, but a solid steel 23 ton motorhome doesn't get blown over, which is reassuring if worst comes to worst. They said it did leak in some interesting places, but that's beside the point.
Further complicating matters are that we are on call as FEMA subcontractors and have just started to talk to the Red Cross about rejoining as Disaster Volunteers, so we really don't want to be too far away (i.e. running to New Orleans for a week isn't in the cards) because we may get sent back into the disaster area on short notice.


I think that we have accidentally adopted a new addition. When I say "accidentally" the short version of this shaggy cat tale is that we had a stray on the property that the landlord equally-reluctantly claimed any ownership of. When Rich and his family went on vacation Deb and I got stuck with feeding the varmint.

Likewise when a charitable group was offering to spay and neuter the local stray cats Yours Truly took the wayward Siamese to the vet to get her "fixed" and we wound up taking care of the little PITA for several days.

Well, the final straw occurred when the landlord's daughter decided that she wanted to take the stray to live with her in a dormitory at FSU in Tallahassee. Rich and I both sorta thought that was a bad, bad idea and so the little Siamese has now been adopted and has become part of the brood inside the bus.
As I am typing this the little monster is in my lap and wanting to play.

Blue Eyes, the Siamese made her first journey with us last Sunday as we made our weekly cross-town trip and she seems to be adjusting well to the RV life. She has clearly adjusted well to sleeping in our bed, and you can practically find the little varmint there 24/7.

Oh, and for those of you that want to know about the nuts and bolts of keeping two (now three it would seem) cats in an RV without having the place smell like the Lion House at the local zoo, the first thing to keep in mind is "use the best cat litter available." It's not cheap, but the stuff works. That, and change it regularly.

As originally manufactured, there was an icemaker built into the cabinetry of the Bluebird opposite from the refrigerator. I removed that and we put a litter box into the space vacated by the icemaker, with a simple curtain rod and drape disguising the existence of the litter box. Out of sight, out of mind. It's worked well, although seeing the big gray cat trying to wipe his paws on the curtain from the inside is hilarious; it sorta looks like the litter box compartment has a ghost inside that is trying to get out.

We did replace our carpeted floor with what the building people call an "engineered" laminated wooden floor, and that also helps tremendously to keep the cat fuzz and such at bay. Vacuum it regularly and things are fine. The factory built-in vacuum wasn't up to the task and so that too was removed and replaced with a modern "turbo" vacuum designed for apartment dwellers with limited space.

Odors are a big issue with motorhomes and sailboats, and they seem to be one of the first things that come up for discussion every time we talk with fellow full-time RV'ers or liveaboard sailers. We really don't have any problems with odors at the present, and I chalk that up to a combination of repeatedly and methodically looking for mold and water leaks (EVERY motorhome or boat leaks, it's just a matter of degree), coupled with the design of the Bluebird and regularly putting some chemicals into the holding tanks.

Not only does the Bluebird have exceptionally large holding tank capacity, but it also separates the "gray water" (kitchen sink and shower) from the "black water" (that's the nasty stuff that goes down the toilet). It's perfectly legal to empty the gray water in a pinch, and while gray water is really nothing but soapy water around here that stuff can develop a really potent sulphuric smell if you don't empty the tanks regularly. Thankfully there are chemicals to treat the sulphur smell, and if you do need to empty the gray tank into the grass the odor vanishes in about 5 minutes. Hell, in this part of Florida ALL of the brackish streams smell worse than the discharge from a gray water tank, so it's not a big deal.

At our workshop we have installed special electrical hookups for our motorhome but we don't have the proper waste hookups, so we fire up the Wanderlodge weekly and head over to a nearby RV park to empty the holding tanks. Nothing damages a motorhome quite like sitting all the time, so bringing the engine up to operating temperature and taking a little drive across town weekly helps to insure that we can pack up and be gone at any time should an emergency (read: "hurricane") arise.


Sometimes you eat bear. Other times, the bear eats you. Lately it's been a real case of the dreaded Maintenance Blues.

Firstly, Deb and I were at the local Publix grocery doing our weekly shoplifting when we heard that call on the PA that no one wants to hear: "Will the owner of a green BMW please come to the office."

Some poor, clearly pregnant gal ran into the back of Deb's car. Thankfully the young lady did the right thing and didn't run off. Her friend whispered to me as the driver sobbed "She's a bit hormonal" and I responded "Ya think?"

I am not even going to mention that the pregnant young lady wasn't even pulling into the space next to Deb's car. She was pulling into a space 2 spaces away when she managed to hit Deb's BMW. Yikes!

Result: One creased fender, and BMW says that they are going to have to replace the taillights because those got bent in the accident. No, I'm not making this up. Total: $1,600. Thankfully the other gal's insurance appears to be paying for the damages.

Then we have the case of the never-ending motorhome maintenance.

Actually, the Bluebird has proven to be much more reliable than I anticipated - which is a scary thought - but simply the general nature of an RV is that you need to keep on top of the issues.

Deb and I both came down with summer colds and we have discovered that two people in the close but comfy quarters of a 40 ft. motorhome causes us to keep passing colds back and forth. So Deb took off to a house where we maintain a satellite office and stayed away for what turned out to be about 10 days after one of her clients came down with strep throat.

In the meantime I thought that I would take care of some motorhome mechanical problems that had been put off.

We have been plagued with low water pressure almost from the time that we bought the 'bird. Lately we had noticed that when we filled up the water tank that we had a leak somewhere. The water tank is underneath the bed so pulling all of that mess apart called for me to sleep on the couch for a few days (I might add that the couch is one of those foldout bed things and was surprisingly comfortable).

Many months ago Yours Truly had replaced an electrically operated valve in the water system with a more robust hand turned valve and I was expecting that the leak would be part of the connections to the valve. Nope, those connections held well.
But when I looked closely I realized that an old filter in the system was clogged up and consequently was blowing apart when the pressure built up.

Solution: Cut the hoses and bypass that filter (there is actually a second filter that assures drinking quality water). Now we are leak free and as a surprise bonus the water pressure is actually higher than expected assuming that there is some water in the tank and that you run the water pump when you shower. Neat!

Trust me, this is a lot more civilized than taking a shower with salt water on the deck of a sailboat.

We did, however, suffer the first of what I would think of as being a "serious" mechanical problem, considering that my definition of serious is one that keeps you from moving.

I was getting ready to make my run to empty the holding tanks and the blasted bus wouldn't start!

So picture this as a worst-case scenario. Deb's not around, so I had actually put off the weekly trip to empty the holding tanks, said holding tanks are full to the bursting point, and I cannot get the bus running. Arghhhhh!

A mobile truck mechanic who works on tour buses came out and decided that there was something wrong with the starter and starter solenoid. So he crawled under the back of the bus and pulled the unit out (about the biggest starter motor that you have ever seen, I might add) but being as how this was Sunday I had to wait until Monday AM to get the parts.

Monday rolls around and I take the assembly to the local Freightliner truck dealer and ... drum roll please ... the starter works just fine on the workbench.

So rather than replace both the starter and solenoid assembly we decide to replace just the solenoid. The only problem is that the solenoid by itself isn't in stock, so that part has to be ordered and it doesn't arrive until the next day.

I pick up the solenoid but my mechanic buddy can't get back out until about 6PM that evening (ironically I was right behind him in traffic at one point as he was making his way to another job site).

We got the bus started but then start to experienced all manner of weird electrical problems. The alternator isn't producing any current, and the battery chargers that run off of house current are shorting out.

So it's back under the bus to figure out which cable is hooked up incorrectly. Between the two of us we figured it out but there were plenty of sparks, swearing, and smoke to go around.

That was a long night. Once we got the Bluebird running I drove her over to the nearby RV park, emptied the holding tanks (Thank You Lord!), ran back to the workshop, showered for what seemed like the first time in several days, and then headed to a nearby pub for a well-deserved cold one. I got there just before Last Call at 1:30AM. Whew!

Cost of repairs: About $700.

Emptying the getting-close-to-being-ripe poo tank: Priceless.


Like I said, sometimes you eat bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.

Someone has gone around and installed what I think of as video slot machines at a number of the local bars. They come with a copy of a letter from the local High Sheriff stating that they aren't really gambling machines and are legal in the State of Florida, so who am I to complain?

Deb has to be about the luckiest gambler that I have ever seen. She won over $500 on the slot machines at a Mississippi casino last year. Earlier this year she won just under $600 on one of the video machines here in town.

Last night she hit the jackpot not once, but twice, at the same bar.

Now, if we could just get some of that luck transferred to the Lotto ... ;)

1 comment:

The Oracle said...

Great blog! I'm a retired (recovering) journalist and a longtime BMW rider. Come on over to and have a look.