Sunday, August 30, 2015

Cracker Barrel - Conway, Arkansas

Boom! Our tire pressure monitoring system started beeping a split second later removing any doubt as to what happened. We suffered a blowout on Rosie.

We had just passed a beautiful vintage Airstream trailer on I-40 and we were in the middle of a pack of trucks. It didn't take long for us to pull over to the side of the road and turn on the truck's emergency flasher.

Rosie suffers a blowout

We had paid for a roadside emergency service for Rosie for the past three years. (Rosie is our 25 foot Airstream trailer.) We were about to find out how good their service was. 

We were driving in and out of AT&T's cell coverage all morning. Thankfully, the spot we stopped at was in their "working" area and our cell phones worked.

Good Sam's Roadside Assistance promised a tow truck would be at our location in 60 minutes or less. About 40 minutes later, we saw the truck pull up behind Rosie. It was from the correct company and the driver started to change the tire. In a short time, our spare was on Rosie and we were back on the road.
Rosie's tire about to be changed
Technician from Good Sam's Roadside Assistance changing the tire

We limped into Conway, Arkansas using Rosie's nine year old spare tire. In tire years, that's ancient and not trustworthy.

It was Sunday evening and there was an Airstream dealer 20 minutes down the road in Little Rock. Our plan was to call them Monday morning to see if we could schedule a "work in" appointment since there was minor damage from the blowout to Rosie's wheel well.

We stopped to eat that evening at a Cracker Barrel with six RV parking spots and ended up asking the manager if would could camp that night in his parking lot. We had heard that people sometimes camp in Cracker Barrel parking lots and, on a whim, decided to give it a try.

The manager said we were welcome to stay there that night as long as the only thing touching the asphalt was the rubber from our tires. He said that some campers in the past had damaged his parking lot using their jacks and stabilizers. We agreed and were all set to boondock in their parking lot.

Rosie in Cracker Barrel's parking lot

Boondocking at Cracker Barrel

There was a strong slope to the parking lot, probably to help with water drainage. That made staying in Rosie that night a little more challenging.

Maybe July is the wrong month to boondock in Arkansas. It was hot, but it did cool down a little after midnight.

The Cracker Barrel closed at 10 p.m. We noticed that people seemed to prefer parking in the RV spaces with their compact cars even when there were plenty of spaces closer to the restuarant's door. I'm not sure what that says about human nature.

We noticed something else about human nature that night. Pairs of cars would suddenly appear in the parking lot, one driver would get in the other car then after a while, the two would depart in their original vehicles. After noticing this pattern a couple of times, we figured that the "couple" was married, but not to each other. We had no idea that Cracker Barrel's parking lot was, as they say, the place to watch submarine races.

Another thing we discovered was that Cracker Barrel plays the music you hear both inside the store and on the porch all night and all day. The "all day" part is OK, but we grew a little tired of the "all night" serenade while trying to sleep between the visits by mystery couples in the parking lot.

We treated ourselves to a great Cracker Barrel breakfast that morning. Our plan was to call the Airstream dealer 15 minutes down the road at 8 a.m., the moment they opened. When we called, the dealer said that none of its Airstream technicians were working that Monday. Besides, their service technicians were booked solid for the next month. In other words, no dice!

Plan two was to call the Airstream dealer in Knoxville to see if they could work us in. I could not get past their service writer's questions about our insurance coverage on Rosie. It didn't matter because I got the impression they were booked until Arbor Day.

Our fall-back strategy was to call Airstream Factory service in Jackson Center, Ohio. There must be a plague going around in Airstream circles right now because they were booked solid until August. It was starting to appear to us that there is a severe shortage of Airstream service technicians.

We described the damage to the Airstream factory service manager in Ohio and he said that it sounded as if the damage was not "Airstream specific" and that any RV Repair shop could fix it.

Our waitress overheard us talking about buying tires during breakfast and suggested we call the dealer she used. After eating, we pulled Rosie to that shop.

The store did not have the specific tires we needed, but said they could order them and have them delivered no later than 3 o'clock that afternoon. We showed the service manager the damage to Rosie's wheel well and he suggested we call a collision repair shop located about a mile down the road.

The repair shop operator froze when we told him that we were talking about an Airstream trailer, but he said the shop next door worked on RVs and he would have them call us. Our phone rang in a few minutes and the shop's manager quickly drove over to the tire store to look at Rosie.

It didn't take long, but we found ourselves pulling Rosie to his shop and they quickly repaired the damaged wheel well and they charged us their minimum service fee.

Repairing Rosie's wheel well

The RV Service shop that worked on Rosie

Around 3:30 that afternoon, the tire store's administrative assistant came out to where we were parked and it was clear she was upset. It seemed that when she ordered our tires that morning, she forgot to click on the "submit" button. Our tires were not going to be delivered that day and it appeared we were about to learn more about camping out in the local Cracker Barrel's parking lot.

That was when the store owner came into our conversation. He quickly realized what happened and said he would drive to Little Rock himself to get our tires. He also said he would get two installers willing to work overtime that evening to mount our tires.

Rosie's new tires being installed after hours

The owner did return with the tires a few minutes before 5 p.m. The installers were able to get the tires mounted and balanced a little before 6 p.m. and we were on our way looking for a new place to camp for the night.

It didn't take long for us to find our next campground and we were off on another adventure with Rosie, our Airstream trailer.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Rockwell RV Park - Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

It didn't take long for us to drive out of the rain storm over El Reno, Oklahoma. The next city with several camping possibilities was Oklahoma City. Several campgrounds were rejected after seeing them from the road or after reading their scathing reviews online. We ended up stopping at the Rockwell RV Park in Oklahoma City.

Rockwell RV Park in Oklahoma City

Buffalo exhibit at the RV Park

Rosie at the Rockwell RV Park

This appeared to us to be a nice "mom and pop" type campground. Our site was a pull-through and there was more room between sites than we saw at the previous two private campgrounds we stopped at on this trip.

We arrived late and left early, so we really didn't get a good chance to review this park. Instead of our normal narative about each campground Rosie spends the night in, we will mostly talk about this park using bullet points.

Some specifics about this park:
  • Our site had 20, 30 and 50 amp electrical service.
  • Our site had water, electric and sewer connections.
  • The park provided muffins and coffee every morning for breakfast.
  • The park provided free copies of the local newspaper for its guests.
  • The park had an indoor swimming pool and a hot tub.
  • There were a couple of weight lifting gadgets near the pool.
  • There were a couple of clean bathhouses in the park. The showers had the look of the ones in junior high school and we decided to use Rosie's shower that night.
  • As a reminder of where we were, there was a large storm shelter in the park.
We were surprised by the cost of this park. After applying every discount known to the camping universe, our nightly rate was $35. The park attendant said that was the local going rate. I am glad we prefer camping along the Florida Gulf Coast in state and federal parks where the "going rate" is much easier on the wallet.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

El Reno West KOA Campground - El Reno, Oklahoma

The 2015 KOA Campground Directory claims that KOA campgrounds exceed your expectations at every KOA. It also states, "Each KOA campground provides a unique camping experience. Yet there's always large tent and RV sties."

Somewhere in KOA's corporate headquarters are the minimum standards for franchise campgrounds operated under the KOA banner. We have camped in three KOA campgrounds and were disappointed twice. I am starting to wonder how stringent those standards are and how well they are enforced.

We were heading home from the Wally Byam Caravan Club International's rally in Farmington, New Mexico. After a fun stop at the Cadallac Ranch near Amarillo, we were getting tired of being on the road in the late afternoon and we found the El Reno West KOA Campground using the AllStays app on our iPhones. A quick call confirmed that they had room for Rosie, our 25 foot Airstream trailer, that night.

At the Cadillac Ranch RV Park

Entrance to the Cadillac Ranch

The Cadillacs

Another view of the Cadillacs

Rosie parked at the Cadillac Ranch

Rosie at the Cadillac Ranch

Finding this campground isn't easy. You end up driving through a couple of retail parking lots to access the road leading to the park. As we finally turned on the road to the park, the skys opened up with one of the biggest storms we have ever been in with Rosie. The rain was pouring down and our iPhones were alerting us that heavy storms were in the area and to expect flash floods. We pulled up to the registration building and talked to the person on duty using our phones. It was simply raining too hard to open the door on our truck and to walk into the office.

Rain as we headed to the KOA campground

The person on duty said we could drive over to a specific site then return to register once the storm passed. We found the site and sat in the truck watching the storm.

There was a retaining wall immediately behind our site and water was gushing between the rocks all along this wall. We noticed that the water level in our site was inching up on Rosie's wheels.

As we sat in the truck and watched the rain fall and the water level rise in the park, we talked about how close together the camping sites were in that park. I doubt that we would be able to extend Rosie's awning because our site was right up next to our neighbor's. We commented that we have seen trailer storage lots where there was more room between campers.

It didn't take long for us to start looking at our weather apps and AllStays to find another campground about 30 minutes down the road. Just that quick, we decided that we would not be staying at a disappointing KOA that night and pulled out.

The road leading to the campground was starting to flood. Having traveled that road 20 minutes earlier, I was familar with some reference points on the road and determined that the water, while rising, was passable. It probably would not be so in another 10 minutes.

We are not sure what this park had to offer because we left before it flooded. Our decision to leave was based on the rising water in our site, the water pouring through the retaining wall and the campers were jammed so close together in that park. Also, the camping fee was out of proportion of what the park really offered. There would have been a huge bout with "buyer's remorse" had we spent the night in this park.

The person who wrote the line about large tent and RV sites in the current KOA directory may need to get out of the office and camp in a few of their campgrounds. Either that or we define "large" vastly different.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Tucumcari KOA Campground - Tucumcari, New Mexico

After spending more than a week at the Wally Byam Caravan Club's International Rally in Farmington, New Mexico, it was time to start heading home. Our plan was to pull out before 9 a.m., but that didn't work out. There were two problems that delayed our exit.

One of the workshops at the rally was about proper towing. The speaker emphasized that you need to inspect the safety chains on your hitch. A quick visual inspection confirmed that we had problems and the chains needed to be replaced.

Our camping neighbor used a grinder to cut away the old chains and we were able to install new ones. That was the easy problem to fix. The next issue took lots of time to solve.

For some reason, we could not hitch up Rosie, our 25 foot Airstream trailer, because of a problem with our Propride hitch.

We could not get the stinger more than two-thirds of the way in before the hitch pitched to the left and the stinger stopped sliding in. It didn't take long for our camping neighbor to come outside and to start helping. In a little while, one of our friends from the Cajun Caravan drove by and noticed our predicament. He said that the person camping next to him had a similar hitch and asked him to help us.

In a short amount of time, we had about half a dozen people standing around and trying to solve our problem. That was when the man with a hitch similar to ours said that we really needed his wife there because she was the one who was normally stationed at the hitch as he backed up the truck. A few moments later his wife arrived and she immediately saw the problem and knew how to correct it.

After successfully connecting Rosie's hitch to our truck she said that she hated our type hitch when they first got it, but she made her peace with the hitch and started liking it once they figured out the "tricks" to using it. That was encouraging to us and we were glad we had problems at the rally because so many people were there to help us.

In case you are wondering, there was nothing wrong with our hitch. The problem was that the angles of the stinger and the receiver on Rosie were slightly off. Our neighbor's wife quickly saw the mismatch and she knew how to fix the angles by adjusting the leveling bars on the hitch.

It was interesting that once she found the problem and cure, all of the men who were standing around and trying to help but could not figure out the solution, including me, immediately started nodding their heads and agreeing that the problem was fixed and this incident was over.

It was amazing how many things we were able to fix at the rally. Our camping neighbors noticed that our stinger's height was wrong as we arrived in Farmington and we were able to adjust that problem during the rally. During our hitch-up problem, the consensus opinion was that we had our leveling bars in the wrong position. After a couple of experiments, we came up with a new position for them.

It was almost noon before we finally pulled away from our campsite in Farmington. We had to say goodbye for now to some new friends from the Southeastern Camping Unit. We plan to meet up with them in three months at a rally in South Carolina.

The first thing we noticed once we were up to cruising speed was how much better Rosie was riding. Before, we felt every little bump in the road and everything inside Rosie crashed to the floor as we traveled. All that wasn't happening now. The new stinger height and the leveling bar positions were all working together to make towing Rosie much better than before. If for no other reason, the improvements to Rosie's hitch made the long journey to New Mexico worth it. Joining up with the Southestern Camping Unit and getting to know the great people in that group was, as they say, the icing on the cake.

Once again, we were faced with finding a reservation while traveling. Our original goal was to make it past Amarillo. We needed to leave before 9 a.m. to meet that goal. Plan B was to drive until we were tired then use the AllStays app to find a campground. We were getting tired of the road near Tucumcari, New Mexico. The best suggestion from the AllStays app was the KOA.
KOA Campground
You can alter one of the famous quotes from Forest Gump to, "KOA is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get." KOAs tend to range from OK to marginal. That's sad because KOAs meant something special back in the 1960s.

So, we dragged our lowered expections to the KOA Campground in Tucumcari, New Mexico. This time we landed on the high end on the "OK" scale.
Rosie at the KOA
Rosie's campsite

Like most KOAs, this campground was a parking lot. It wasn't full, so the campers were spaced in every other site.

We noticed while setting up that several rabbits were running around the park. As we continued setting up Rosie, it appeared that lots of rabbits were living in this park. We enjoyed watching them hop around our site.

Rabbits at our campsite

The park had a nice swimming pool and a playground for children. Several kids were shooting baskets using the basketball goal.

One of the mysteries of this park was discovered during the night. We saw what appeared to be hundreds of flashing red navigational lights on a hill in the distance. We speculated as to what these lights could be and one of the ideas we came up with was that they could be wind turbines used to generate electricity. That turned out to be correct as we could see the windmills the next morning as we continued traveling east on I-40.

Here are some specifics about this park:
  • If the park was full, the sites are close together. Since it was at about half capacity, they appeared to be filling every other site.
  • It appeared that they were trying to provide some nice amenities at this park. There was a swimmng pool, basketball goal, playground, game room, laundry and a camp store.
  • The restrooms and showers were clean and maintained.
  • We were able to watch all of the major TV networks pus THiS and GRIT digital networks using Rosie's TV antenna.
  • Our site had 20, 30 and 50 amp electrical service.
  • Our site had water and electrical connections. We could have booked a site that also had sewer connections if we were willing to pay a higher price for the night.
  • Speaking of price, there were many pricing tiers at this park. I wonder if two campers paid the same rate that night.
  • There was a dump station at the park.
  • AT&T only provided marginal 3G voice and data service over the park.
  • The park had Wi-Fi service. It was adequate to read email and, if patient, to look at Facebook.
  • The campground has a kitchen from which you can order fast food type items or breakfast. They will deliver your meal to your campsite.

We came close to having an accident in the park. The individual sites were marked with large rocks. As we were pulling out the next morning, we noticed that Rosie was about to go over a big rock. Had we not seen it as we were trying to carefully pull away, the rock would have damaged Rosie's holding tanks. We ended up going the wrong way down one of the camping loops to avoid having to deal with the decorative (and destructive) rocks.

As I mentioned earlier, this park was on the positive side of our KOA experiences. It was also one of the more expensive parks we have camped at. We remarked at how we pay less on the beach along Florida's Gulf of Mexico than this park and how much more natural beauty we enjoy at the Gulf.

Our journey home continues.

Monday, August 24, 2015

McGee Park and Fair Grounds - Farmington, New Mexico

Our caravan to the Wally Byam Caravan Club's (WBCCI) International Rally arrived in the early afternoon at McGee Park, the event's site in Farmington, New Mexico. It was impressive how efficient and quick the volunteers were checking everyone in and escorting us to our site. Since we arrived with the caravan from the Southeastern Camping Unit, we were assigned sites together as a group. That turned out to be a great thing because the members of that unit took us under their wings and included us in their many activities during the rally.

Rosie parked at McGee Park in Farmington, NM

Our electrical connection wasn't working when we arrived. Since the sites behind Rosie, our 25 foot Airstream trailer, were not filled yet, I connected to their electrical service to get Rosie's air conditioner working. In a few minutes, a park electrician arrived, changed out the faulty circuit breaker and switched Rosie's electrical service to the correct feed. That was good because we knew the row behind Rosie was going to quickly fill up with more Airstream trailers.

Airstream trailers parked at the rally

And many more trailers arrived as the rally started. It didn't take long for Farmington's Fair Grounds to turn into an Airstream community. There were workshops for just about anything you would want to know about camping in Airstream trailers. There were also many entertainment opportunities and social events. We quickly learned that Airstreamers love ice cream parties. As the temperatures soared into the upper 90s and the low 100s, ice and ice cream became precious commodities.

Airstream trailers at the WBCCI International Rally

One of the first things we noticed was that we were seeing a surprising number of people we knew at the rally. We were running into people we knew from our previous travels on the Cajun Caravan and from our trips to the Airstream factory. Plus we were glad our neighbors in this park were the great people from the Southeastern Camping Unit. It seemed that this vast sea of silver trailers was actually a community of people who have Airstream trailers in common and who love sharing their knowledge about these great campers.

While camping recently in Ohio, we were advised by friends to get involved in things while at the International Rally. I guess I took that advise to heart as I quickly started working with the radio amateur operators at the rally. There is a WBCCI Amateur Radio Club and it scheduled several events while in Farmington. Before leaving, I was elected 2nd Vice President of that group.

Steve being installed as an officer of the WBCCI Amateur Radio Club

We ended up eating out more than we planned because it was too hot and we didn't want to heat up Rosie while warming our food. Sadly, most of the restaurants in Farmington like to set their air conditioner to either hot or uncomfortable. That made it difficult to find a cool spot in town except for our rally's main center, classrooms and the bathhouse, which were all pleasantly cool.

Eating out in Farmington

About every three or four days, the "honey" truck would come along and empty all the trailer's waste tanks. You always knew when the truck was in your loop by the smell. While the odor was temporarily displeasing, we always welcomed the "honey" truck and were glad to have empty tanks.
There are always things to learn about the Airstream lifestyle and lots of people at the rally were willing to share their tips. One of our big concerns was our hitch. We doubted the non-Airstream dealer we used correctly installed it. Turns out that several other people who watched us arrive also thought there was something wrong with our hitch.

It didn't take long after getting Rosie's manual and the hitch's installation guide out to discover the problem. I didn't have the tools to fix the hitch, but I figured the guys with vintage Airstream trailers probably travel with a complete set of tools. I was right and a group of guys quickly helped with the needed adjustments needed to properly set Rosie's hitch. We were able to feel the difference when we pulled Rosie away from the McGee Park.

We went to Durango, Colorado on our free day. The temperatures there were significantly better than in Farmington.

We went on two tours arranged by the rally. The first was to a local museum featuring lots of old electronic equipment. I found an old Collins 20V 1,000 watt AM transmitter in one of the buildings. That was one of the first transmitters I worked with as a teenager and I remain very fond of that model. (I noticed that the power amplifier and modulator tubes in this transmitter were wrong. I guess this museum could not find the old 4-400 tubes.)

A Collins 20-V AM Transmitter

An 892 type tube

The second tour was very special. The WBCCI people were able to arrange a tour of the Aztec Ruins at night. The National Park Ranger conducting the tour was very knowledgable and she had a wonderful personality. She helped make a great tour more memorable.

Aztec Ruins Tour

There were always things to do at the rally. We found that visiting with our friends, both old and new, was one of our favorite activities during the rally. We also enjoyed the many impromptu cookouts and gatherings with our Southeastern Camping Unit friends.

Becky attended the "tea"

While the heat was oppressive and brutal, the fellowship among our friends made this long trip worthwhile.

Here are some specifics about McGee Park:
  • Sites are side-by-side left-to-right and back-to-back. It helped that everyone was there for an event and we all had something in common.
  • The water lines are all above ground. This normally would not be a problem. In one hundred degree heat, it became an issue as the water temperature reached dangerous levels.
  • AT&T placed good 4G data and voice signals over the park.
  • Our site had 20 and 30 amp electrical service. A site near us had 20 and 50 amp service.
  • There were no sewer connections in this park.
  • We found two dump stations in the park.
  • We were able to watch all of the networks using Rosie's antenna. We were not able to see our favorite digital channels.
  • There was one large bathhouse serving the park. It was clean and the air conditioner kept it pleasantly cool.
  • There were horse stables all around this park and signs said that horse racing was returning to the casino next door the day after we left the park. It was fun watching the horses as they were being trained.
This is not a park that someone schedules on his or her vacation. You end up here because of an event. We enjoyed seeing our friends and making new ones at the rally.

Horses training near the camping area

Another sunset