Friday, June 29, 2012

Where’s the Cool?

Odanah, WI - June 29, 2012 Our current location.

We are now further north than our intended destination in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and it’s still not cool.  Although we shouldn’t complain too much as the predicted high for today is 85 degrees. 

Wednesday we left Wabasah, MN and continued up the Mississippi River through Lake City and Redwing.  We explored Lake City and found a bar and grille claiming to have the best hamburgers west of the Mississippi.  I asked the bartender if that meant the best between here and the Pacific Ocean or here and maybe 2 or 3 blocks west of the Mississippi?  The bartender answered with “Why don’t we just say they’re the best burgers in Lake City.”  With such honesty, how could we not order a burger?  It turns out the meat is butchered and prepared in a local meat market and the beers were ice cold and only 75 cents for a 12 ounce draft.  While that was the only place we ate in Lake City, any other burger would have a ways to go to beat this one.

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We just drove through Red Wing as we had gotten a late start out of Wabasha and we were trying to get to Turtle Lake, WI which was about 104 miles away.  Turtle Lake City campground had electric hookups which was a necessity since it the temperatures were on the rise again.  We had enjoyed sleeping with the windows open for the last few nights, but that’s over for now with this new heat wave rolling through.

The Turtle Lake City campground has 6 paved rv pads nestled under a canopy of trees and is part of a larger park. There were 3 other rvs there when we arrived.

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For a city of only 1065 people, the park is certainly well used.  While we were there we saw staff meetings, cheerleader practice, what appeared to be a children’s exercise class, and lots of folks taking lunch breaks.

Since we had put in an “exhausting” 104 mile day yesterday we decided we needed a down day to relax and get caught up on some chores.  EJ immersed herself in paperwork and I started installing some of Big Guys replacement parts that we had purchased in Forest City at the Winnebago factory.  So Big Guy now has a new passenger side wiper arm assembly, new seals around the entry door and a new receiver for the windshield lower trim piece.  The wiper arm assembly on EJs side decided to self destruct back in Georgia on the way to Blue Ridge and was being held together with zip ties.  The rubber seals around the door had been chewed up by the door being out of adjustment and the rubber trim at the bottom of the windshield was loose and flopping up and down as we went down the road.

There is always something to repair if you own and use an rv. Someone once said it’s like owning a house that’s in a constant earthquake.  Eventually something is going to break or shake loose.

After hanging around camp all day, we needed to get some exercise so EJ suggested we walk over to the St. Croix Casino we had passed on our way into town.  I’m not much for gambling, but EJ always seems to come out ahead. The casino will send out a bus to pick you up, but considering our bout of inactivity we needed the walk.  After about an hour at the casino, EJ finally talked me into putting some money into the slot machines and it didn’t turn out too bad.  We each walked away with a couple of extra bucks in our pockets and the smell of cigarette smoke in our clothes.

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On Friday, we took another walk to The New Frontier Restaurant for breakfast.  We got there just in time too, because they stop making pancakes at 11am.  After lunch we wandered next door to a gift/trinket shop that just happened to have a wine tasting that started at noon.  Naturally we had to hang around for that. And believe it or not, one of the featured wines was a Moscato.  For a wine that no one had heard of 2 or 3 years ago, that stuff is everywhere now.  Once we had sampled all of the wines we went next door to indulge ourselves in our first Wisconsin cheese experience.

Are you beginning to see why traveling 100 to 150 miles in one day is not easy?  We finally broke camp to begin todays journey, but after about 30 minutes we stopped at the cheese factory in Comstock, WI for some more varieties of cheese.

Then, about 30 minutes further, it was time to stop at a McDonalds for coffee to fight off the afternoon drowsiness.  In town we saw this creative use of a small propane tank.

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Next there was another stop to see the “World’s largest collection of wood carvings by one man”.  It was not what we expected, but we were impressed as the carver, Joseph Barta, had devoted much of his career to creating the story of Jesus in life size renderings. The Last Supper was amazing.

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That was finally our last diversion and we now had our sights on finding a night camp. Using MS Streets and Trips and our Days End guide we decided to zero in on a free camp spot at the Bad River Lodge and Casino.  The important thing was it had electric hookups because it’s still hot.

Upon arrival, we saw that the electric and water connections had locks on them. Turns out back in April they started charging to hook-up. Now we had to register and pay to stay here.  So they had us, at least for one night.

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Our route to date…

Driving Directions from 32 Fox Valley Dr, Orange Park, Florida 32073 to Odanah, Wisconsin _ MapQuest

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

We've Been Spammed!

Wabasha, MN -  June 25 and 26, 2012 Our current location.

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That's right, I finally got to see the Hormel SPAM Museum in Austin, MN on Monday.  And guess what?  It's not mystery meat, it's pork!  And who knew how many varieties and flavors they come in. They even gave out free samples which were pretty tasty because either they were good or we were really hungry.  Our samples were SPAM and cheese on a pretzel stick. The last picture is made of all SPAM cans.

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EJ tried working on a virtual canning line and while she made 1 can of SPAM the factory made 116. She did hers in about 5 seconds and I knew I couldn't top that so I didn't even try. All in all it was a pretty interesting place. The Hormel history and products they create are a testament to American ingenuity and adaptability.

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Laundry had become a high priority since our underwear drawers were approaching empty. We found a nearly deserted shopping center that had a real nice Laundromat and set up an afternoon camp next door. It turns out the laundry was a popular place and by the time we left it was getting pretty crowded. It was an interesting set up. The washers were 2, load, 4 load or 6 load.  There were no single load machines.
Then we were off to Rochester, MN home of the Mayo Clinic.  I had made an appointment at the Caterpillar Dealer to have Big Guy's engine checked, and we wanted to be in place for when they open at 7am.

After checking out a truck stop (no space available) and asking at a big store named Fleet Farm, we struck out for a place to spend the night.

We unhooked Ele’ and headed for the Fedex office at the airport to try to package and send Jim & Shelley’s “special find” we bought in Clear Lake, IA. It was an interesting challenge and the lady at the desk just kept shaking her head.

While on our way back to BG, we went by the Caterpillar Shop to be able to find it in the morning. It was open late so we stopped in and explained to them how cool the engine would be if we didn't have to drive Big Guy in the morning before they worked on it.  They agreed and said it was OK to spend the night in their parking lot. So we went and got BG and back to Cat for the night.

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Tuesday morning we were up bright and early, 6am, thanks to a delivery truck and a fork lift scurrying around unloading and staging boxes in the parking lot.  Just as well, I wanted to be ready as soon as they open. EJ was still half asleep while we readied Big Guy inside and out thinking we would have to pack up the cats and be gone most of the day.  They started working on Big Guy at 7:30 and by 8:10am they handed me the bill. Wow!  In my whole career I never made that much per hour.  But I guess it's all about knowing how big a hammer to use and where to use it.

They checked over the engine wiring harness and found no shorts or loose connections so they replaced the turbo boost pressure sensor.  They were surprised the shop in San Angelo didn't replace the sensor since it is the most common remedy for the problem we were experiencing.

We hadn’t had time for breakfast and were still in shock that we were free to go. We heard McDonalds calling so off we go in search of the closest one.  Along the way we parked Big Guy near a Lowes Store and found a movie theater.  At McDonalds we enjoyed our pancakes, eggs, sausage and hash browns while using their internet.

We checked the listings for the movie theater we had passed and decided to hit the 11:05am matinee for MIB3.  We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and actually felt a little guilty.  It was almost like we were goofing off in the middle of the day.  As for the movie, no sequel is ever as good as the original, but this one was still very funny and explained so much about questions we didn't know we had.
Then we hooked Ele’ up to Big Guy and took the route through town to see the "giant ear of corn" water tower. Frank uses to find all sorts of unique items to see on our travels (i.e biggest ball of yarn, largest frying pan, etc.)

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I didn't bother programming the GPS as we were only going about 50 miles.  How hard can that be?  EJ had the PC all set up with the route on it, but I have trouble seeing it sometimes because of the glare.  Besides she's the official navigator and she can see it just fine.

After we got through Austin on SR 14, EJ went back to the galley to make sandwiches and she left explicit instructions for me not to miss hiway 42. Well, between all the traffic, the plethora of signs and just general confusion, I never even saw a sign for 42. When EJ returned to the front with the sandwiches she calmly informed me that I had missed my turn.  Next stop was the Mississippi River unless we found a way to turn around. We managed to reverse our course and we’re off to our next destination, Wabasha, MN.

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The Days End guide described a large parking area next to the City Park where we could stay for free up to 72 hours.  There are no hookups, but it's getting down into the low 60's at night, so sleeping without air conditioning is not a problem.

When we arrived, we found a spot in a fairly deserted area of the lot and set up camp. Even after a grueling fifty miles, we still had some energy left and decided to wander around town and see the sights.  Unfortunately for EJ, most of the arts and crafts stores were closed on Tuesday, but we did see the National Eagle Center, Slippery's bar (in the movie Grumpy Old Men) and walked along the Mississippi River.
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We decided it was time to call it a day and went back to Big Guy to relax. We got out the camp chairs, opened a bottle of wine and proceeded to enjoy the quiet outdoors.

Then the volley teams started to show up.  The deserted area we had parked in was next to the volley ball courts.  There was grass growing in the courts so we thought they weren't being used.  We counted 7 courts in use and about 50 cars in attendance.  Every time a car would drive by to park, the driver would whip their head around in surprise at seeing someone sitting outside the RV in their parking lot.

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We enjoyed the games and by 9:30pm it was finally too dark to play anymore and the last team left.

Wabasha MN

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Dreaded Orange Light is Back

Austin, MN June 24, 2012    Our map location.

We caught up on some paperwork yesterday morning and worked on the blog some before breaking camp at about 2:30. The motorhomes were rolling in right and left and we decided we better free up our spot so someone else could have a place to park. We needed to dump our tanks and fill with fresh water so we went across the hiway to the Winnebago Itasca Rally Park. This park is the gathering place of the annual Grand National Rally,in July for 6 days, where about 1,600 Winnebago Itasca owners gather gather to attend seminars, have work done on their rvs and generally have a good time.

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The camping options didn't look too good at our intended destination so we decided to see if a casino on our route had any RV hookups. It didn't, but there sure was a mess of gamblers.  The parking lot was almost full.

The reason we're looking for hookups is that it is still hot and it had been more expensive to run the generator all night than to pay for a campsite.  We called several campgrounds around Austin, MN and although they had hookups and space for us, they were pretty pricy for just over night parking.  We ran the numbers and figured it would be cheaper to run the generator than pay the excessive prices the campgrounds around Austin are asking. Maybe I'm just grousing because I had gotten used to paying $10 or $12 dollars a night in Iowa.

The dreaded check engine light is back again.  We limped the last 20 miles into Austin where we set up night camp at Walmart. Research on the Internet suggests the problem might be caused by anything from a loose connection to a bad turbo charger. I'm just guessing at the error since I don't have a way to read obdc codes from a diesel engine. I'm assuming it's the same code we had read at the Freightliner dealer in San Angelo, TX that was supposedly fixed. The nearest shop that can work on it is 60 miles away in Rochester, MN so I'll call them tomorrow and see when they can work us in.

Meanwhile, the SPAM Museum is on the agenda for tomorrow. Sam I Am promotes “Green eggs and ham”, I say why not “Green eggs and Spam”?

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

It’s Been a Busy Week

Bloomfield, IA to Forest City, IA – June 18 to June 24,  2012       Click to see our current location.

We kept wondering where all the campers were while we stayed at the Lake Fisher Campground in Bloomfield.  It was a beautiful area (but pretty windy) and we had it all to ourselves the whole 3 days we stayed there.

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Traveling through Ottumwa, IA the hometown of “Radar” O’Reilly, then around the periphery of Des Moines we made it Story City where we stayed the night.  This campground, even with about 50 sites, only had 8 customers, including us. One thing we’re starting to notice is the numbers of Winnebagos and Itascas are increasing. We must be getting close to Forest City.

This is truly Heartland America. Farms and more corn than you can imagine.

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Another big feature is the Barn Quilts. Various quilt patterns are painted on barns throughout the area with maps  to guide you on a scenic tour.

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Talk about diamonds in the rough.  In the little farm town of Williams, IA is one of the best antique car museums you’ll ever come across.  The population is 344.  Downtown there is a post office, an ice cream parlor, a bank, a pharmacy and a bar.  The rest of the buildings downtown are shuttered.  Then there is the Hemken Collection building.

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A farmer and his wife collected cars for more than 50 years, specializing in 1947 and 1948 convertibles.  The only criteria were that the cars had to be in their original condition (i.e., not restored) and they had to be in running condition.  There are about 60 cars on display.  It was a joy to be guided around the collection by Ann Hemken and listen to her stories about each car on display.

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They even had an old Volkswagon Camper that brought back memories of our first camper.

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Even though we spent way more time at the Hemken Collection than we had allotted Frank wanted to get to Forest City that night.  So racing a line of thunderstorms approaching from the west we sped up I-35 at the blazing speed of 62 mph.  We reached the Winnebago Visitors campground just as the deluge hit at 4:45.  The office was already closed so we couldn’t get our permit to camp over night, but we figured we would take care of it in the morning.

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Our main reason for coming here was to get the entry door and bedroom slide adjusted. So at 7:30am Thursday morning Frank was at the Service Center to see if we could swing a walk-in appointment which are supposed to be very hard to get.  The service writer was very nice and said to call at 10:30 and she would let us know if they could work in Big Guy in the afternoon. 

We decided that in the interim, we would take the 9am Winnebago Factory tour which includes a 20 minute film at the beginning.  After the film, we were about to board the bus over to the plant when we got a phone call.  It was from the service center and they were ready for us. It only took two hours for them to work us in.

We had to round up the cats and put them in the car as the service techs are not allowed to work on rvs while pets are on board.  Guess one too many pets made a break for it while the door was open.  Ours were not thrilled with their new digs.

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We decided to take the 1pm tour while we waited for Big Guys repairs to be completed.  Unfortunately they don’t allow cameras inside the factory grounds or else we would show you all the neat stuff that goes on inside.

Just a little economic news, Winnebago is operating at about one half capacity, but there has been a surprising increase in the number of high end motorhomes being ordered.  We saw lots of fancy tile floors being created for installation on the assembly line. We learned a few things that we had always suspected.  Washer/dryers, refrigerators and couches are installed before the outer walls go up.  That’s why on some rvs the windshield has to be removed to replace a refrigerator or a couch.

Friday morning we got a bit of a late start because the night before we met Russ and Sheri who also own a 2005 Meridian. We stayed up way too late talking about our motorhomes and the Canadian Maritimes.  Turns out they are heading to eastern Canada as well.  We enjoyed our evening and made plans to try to hook up again in Canada.

Because of the late start this morning, we didn’t get over to the Winnebago store until just before 11am to stock up on some hard to find parts.  Of one of the things we wanted had to be ordered from the warehouse which is really no big deal because the warehouse is located right here in the Winnebago complex. The part didn’t show up until about 1:30 (some how the warehouse filled the order then promptly lost it, so the next time they sent a person from the store over to personally pick it up).

Since it was later in the day than we would have liked, we debated whether or not to go to Mason City to see a Frank Lloyd Wright house and hotel.  We decided to go for it as we were only 45 minutes from there.  EJ suggested this as she knows that when Frank P originally started his university studies he had planned on being an architect, not an engineer.

The Stockman House and the Park Inn Hotel were well worth the trip, even though no pictures were allowed inside the house. The Stockman House (1908) was one of the less expensive houses ever designed by FLW costing just $7,500.  From what we heard, Mrs. Stockman had very strong ideas about what she wanted in her house and bent FLW to her will as he was in a very poor cash flow position at the time and needed the money.  As a result, the Stockman house has a usable attic and basement, items which are rare in FLW designed houses.

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We went downtown to see the Park Inn Hotel also designed by FLW.  The history gets a little hazy here as at the hotel it says FLW designed and built the hotel, but at the FLW visitor center it says FLW fell out of favor in Mason City when he ran off with a clients wife and failed to oversee the completion of the hotel.  The last story is certainly juicier, but in any case the hotel is still visually appealing with many of the original 1908 structures and furnishings.

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Saturday (yesterday) we decided to go see the town where “the music died”, Clear Lake, IA.  We got an early start and arrived at about 10am to make sure the farmers market still had a good choice of veggies before the crowds wiped them out.  Well, it turns out there weren’t any crowds and there was only one vegetable stand.  Oh well, you can’t win them all.  At least there was an arts and crafts show as well as an excellent band playing.

We decided to wander through downtown and it’s a good thing we did.  We found an item that will fit perfect in Jim and Shelley’s mountain house.  Now all we have to do is to figure out how to get it to them.

On the way out of Clear Lake we stopped by the Surf Ballroom, the last place that Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens ever played. The plane they flew out of Clear Lake after their performance crashed in a nearby farmers field and there were no survivors. There is a nice tribute are at Three Stars Plaza.

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A high school and college friend, Jeff,(from the Chicago area) called Frank and they spent over half an hour on the phone trying to figure out how we could get together since we’re only one state away. Unfortunately they couldn’t figure out a good way to make it work. We’ll be about the same distance apart again this fall, maybe we can work out away to get together then.

It’s sad because there are a lot more people we would like to visit on this trip, but can’t. Even though it doesn’t sound like it, we do have time constraints.  We really want to get to the Canadian Maritimes before it starts to snow!  And we really do want to travel back through the northeast during leaf peeper season.  So we have to get crackin’ if we’re gonna make it.

We have seen some strange things along the way. Here are a few examples.

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On our way back to Big Guy, we stopped at Pilot Knob State Park to check out the view.

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Here it is Sunday morning, and we’re wrapping things up in Forest City.  We hope to reach Austin, MN this afternoon and visit the Hormel SPAM Museum.  That should be a treat.  Then we have to decide if we are going to continue north or begin to angle north east to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

We’ll let you know next time.

Forest City