Saturday, September 3, 2011

Florida finally

Panhandle Pioneer Settlement, Blountstown, FL

Today we got back on the road. We left our hotel in Bessemer, AL at 8:50 AM and travelled 302 miles in 8:40 hours to Blountstown, FL.

The most interesting event today was just a few minutes after we started. As we got on to the Interstate, traffic headed toward Tuscaloosa was at a stand still. It was 9AM and Tuscaloosa was 60 miles away. WOW! "Roll Tide" and we were glad to be headed the opposite direction.

We rolled into Blountstown at 5:30 PM. We pulled into a shopping center and called Brenda Klingler at the Panhandle Pioneer Settlement. She came to lead us in and became our neighbor for the next two months. We are glad this trip is over and we look forward to our adventure here.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Another day in Birmingham

Hotel, Birmingham, AL

I did not note or record today's temperatures but it was still brutally hot.

We slept in. No need to get up and go out into the heat early, since the truck would not be done early and the Capture Plate was not expected until afternoon.

About noon we went to the Dodge dealer and found the truck finished and waiting for us.

It took about an hour to get squared away with Enterprise Car Rental and get our bill paid at the Dodge dealer. I should note that we have a repair policy with Dodge so our truck problem only cost us the cost of the rental car -- $40. I was glad to see at least one part of our Birmingham adventure over and done with.

Safely back in our own truck, I called the Pullrite dealer and learned that our Capture Plate had arrived.

The Pullrite dealer is located on the opposite side of Birmingham so the round trip took awhile. Again I applaud the GPS function in my phone, it got us easily through the surface streets of a big city.

Back at the Wal-Mart parking lot, I installed the new Capture Plate without incident.

By then it was too late to depart for Florida, so we resigned ourselves to another night in Birmingham.

Still hot, hot, hot meant another night in the hotel. However we hooked up the Cougar and moved it to the Cracker Barrel parking lot next to our hotel. We left the rig hooked up and ready to go tomorrow morning.

Our stay in Birmingham was intended to be two nights in a Corps of Engineers campground. Total cost about $30. Instead it was four nights and the bill was over $500.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A day from Hell....

Hotel, Birmingham, AL

... in all ways. First the weather -- low temperature this morning was above 80* and the afternoon high was reported at 104*. We spent most of the day outside.

Today was a day of overwhelming stupidity on my part. Education is expensive. Today I learned a lot and paid a high price for it.

Our Good Samaritan showed up bright and early and we hooked up the Cougar to his truck. The hookup was difficult and that should have been my first clue. We finally succeeded enough to declare the hookup secure. After pulling out of our campsite, we had to travel to the end of the park to turn around. As we made the turn, I heard a loud crunching, but it was NOT the Cougar contacting his truck cab, so I dismissed the noise as a problem with his 5th wheel hitch. Second clue ignored.

Our twenty mile drive to Bessemer was uneventful except for loud noises at every sharp turn -- second clue screaming at me!

I don't want to turn this into an engineering lecture but some technical talk is necessary to explain. My Dodge Ram 1500 is a short bed truck. Pulling a 5th wheel with a short bed truck requires a hitch that moves back and forth during a turn. Without this capability, the front of the 5th wheel will crash into the cab of the truck during a turn. There are hitches manufactured to do this and that is what I have in my truck. Part of this hitch is a "Capture Plate" mounted on the King Pin Box of the 5th wheel.

We arrived in Bessemer and parked in the Wal-Mart parking lot near the Dodge dealer where our truck was being worked on. Disconnecting the Cougar from the truck revealed a badly damaged Capture Plate and I had an "Aw S__t" moment. I realized the source of the noise and the mistake I made. To hook my 5th wheel to a regular hitch in a full size truck bed requires removal of the Capture Plate. That's where I screwed up big time. I failed to remove the Capture Plate. The loud noise I was hearing was the sound of my Capture Plate being destroyed.

We offered our Good Samaritan $100 for his assistance. He accepted and we bid him farewell. I don't know if his hitch sustained any damage.

Although very angry at myself and unsure how I was going to deal with this problem, I turned my attention to our truck and we drove the rental car to the Dodge dealer. There we got good news. The oil line and the recall parts had arrived and the truck will be ready tomorrow.

Back to the Capture Plate. I telephoned the manufacturer of my hitch, Pullrite, for technical advice and to purchase a new Capture Plate. They gave me some advice which included -- "Do not try to drive with the damaged Capture Plate". However, they cannot sell me a Capture Plate because they only sell through their retail dealers. They gave me the name, address, and phone number of their dealer in Birmingham. I explained my situation, noted the fact that we were approaching the Labor Day weekend, and pleaded for them to sell me a Capture Plate directly if their dealer could not provide one quickly. They agreed.

I telephoned the Pullrite dealer in Birmingham. They did not have the part but would search for one and let me know if they could find it and have it delivered tomorrow. A call back a short time later had good news and bad news. Good news -- he located a Capture Plate in Atlanta and can have it here by tomorrow afternoon. Bad news -- part cost $169 and overnight shipping cost $150. Ouch!! Go for it.

With a temperature of 104*, we had no intention of boondocking in the Wal-Mart parking lot. So we checked into a nearby hotel. I spent the night worrying about our Cougar being broken into.

My anger with myself and my situation was exacerbated by the heat. Late in the evening after a shower, a good dinner, and the comfort of an air conditioned hotel room, I reflected on the events of the day and realized that I had it pretty good. I got into a mess because of my own stupidity. I got out of the mess because of modern technology and business practices that probably do not exist anywhere else in the world. With my cell phone I was able to contact a manufacturer half way across the nation from a parking lot without having to have any cash. That manufacturer was able to put me in touch with a local source, who in turn was able to locate a specific part number somewhere in the southeastern US and arrange to have it shipped overnight. I paid for all of it over the phone with a credit card. All of this in less than an hour from an open space in a parking lot with no cash. Maybe, instead of being angry and frustrated, I should be grateful for what I have, and thankful that I am able to take this trip at all.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A day in Birmingham, AL

Burchfield Branch Park (COE), Birmingham/Tuscaloosa, AL

No travel today. The day was dedicated to getting the truck fixed. We started by trying unsuccessfully to find a Dodge dealer in Tuscaloosa. The dealer there is still busy trying to catch up from the recent tornado and was not inclined to take in a road emergency. So we turned and headed for Birmingham.

I can't say enough good things about the GPS function on our Android smart phone. As we headed east toward Birmingham, I selected the Map function and typed in "Dodge Dealer". All the Dodge dealers in the Birmingham area popped up on the map. I picked the one closest to us (Bessemer, AL) and clicked on phone.

I explained that I was passing through and the nature of the problem as I perceived it. The service advisor told me to come in and he would make room for us. I ended the call. The phone switched back to the map function, I clicked on the navigate button, and immediately had the directions to the Dodge dealership.

The service department took us right in and after about a half hour gave us the diagnosis. Our brakes are fine but there is a pin hole in the transmission oil cooler hose that sprayed oil onto the the right front brake drum. Also, there is a manufacturer recall on my truck for some part that needs to be replaced. He has neither of the parts, will have to order them, and cannot let us drive the truck in its current condition. He hooked us up with Enterprise Car Rental, we got a car and headed back to the campground.

We stopped at the campground gate, explained our problem, and told them that we could not leave tomorrow as planned. A little while later, the camp manager came to our site to tell us that all campsites are reserved for the upcoming weekend -- Labor Day and opening football game of the 'bama season. We have to find someway to vacate the campsite.

Shortly thereafter, a man knocked on our door and offered to tow us to Birmingham tomorrow morning. Of course we accepted.

One last thought. It was as hot as Hates today. The high temperature was over 100 degrees.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The trip was uneventful until....

Burchfield Branch Park (COE), Birmingham/Tuscaloosa, AL

Today we travelled from Barren River Lakes, KY to Burchfield Park, AL. Burchfield Park is a Corps of Engineers campground between Birminghan and Tuscalossa. Our mileage for today was 310 making our two day total 685. We left at 7:20 AM and the trip took 7 hours and 20 minutes.

The last few miles were winding down through hills on a narrow road to the river bed, so we were braking pretty hard. By the time we reached the gate to the campground, we were at water level and smoke was pouring out from my right front wheel well. I figured we had overheated the brakes but I was curious as to why it was only one wheel showing the problem.

The smoke dissipated, we checked in, and found our way to our campsite. This was an adventure in itself. Very narrow road, river on the right, ditch then cliff wall on the left. The campsites are not what I expected and different than anything I have ever seen.

Getting into these campsites is like threading a needle. I had to angle the trailer to the right which meant the rear wheels of the truck had to go to the left and the ditch was deep enough to instantly bottom out the truck. After several harrowing tries I gave up and we moved on to another campsite. I subsequently learned that many vehicles in the past had to be lifted out of that ditch. As you can see from the pictures, there is no space to spare in these campsites. Whew!! If you come to this campground, don't go for the campsites by the river.

After settling in and getting a chance to look around, we discovered most campsites had big displays of University of Alabama football party gear. Not only are we coming up on the Labor Day weekend, it is also the weekend of the first 'bama football game (against Kent State) and this is definitely 'bama territory.

The river here is the Tom Bigbee waterway. It basically parallels the Missippi River from Ohio to the Gulf of Mexico and is a major commercial water route. Tug boats and barges pass frequently and recalled to my mind the traffic I've often seen on the Ohio River.

One night on a commercial waterway with truck problems pretty well washed out any potential for fishing.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bowling Green, KY

Narrows Campground, Barren River Lake (COE), Bowling Green KY

Today was a stand down day. We slept late and spent the day doing not much of anything. In the morning we walked to the marina and visited with the storekeeper. In the afternoon, we drove to Scottsville for lunch. Checked out an antique mall, an Amish bulk food store, an Amish variety store, and a fabric store. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset in a cloudless blue sky with a nice breeze sitting at our campsite. Life was good today.
PS We tore up ALL of our lists.

We're on Our Way

The Narrows Campground, Barren River Lake (COE), Bowling Green, KY

Today the trip began. We got underway about 10AM. A late start because we had to finish up some things we didn't get done yesterday. I had planned for Saturday to be an easy work day with not too much to do. But it turned out to be a day of fulfilling social obligations instead. So the few remaining chores spilled into this morning.
I can't begin to describe how good it felt to be pulling out of the driveway. The trip was uneventful. We traveled 308 miles to The Narrows campground at Barren River Lake near Bowling Green Kentucky. Got here about 2PM CDT, so the trip was five hours. We used I-71 to Louisville, KY then I-65 south from there. This is our first trip with the fifth wheel fully loaded. It handled fine and we got 10.5 mpg, which pleasantly surprised me.
So what did I learn today? Mainly that Love's Rewards card is worthless to RVers unless you are driving a diesel. It won't even register at a gas pump. However some Love's facilities do have RV gas lanes. As of now there is no indication of such on their website. I learned by calling. I think I'll email them and let them know that Flying J is whipping their butt.
Some words about this campground. This is my third experience at Army Corps of Engineer campgrounds (sometimes abbreviated ACE, sometimes COE -- that had me confused for a bit while I was trying to find campgrounds). I am not specifically seeking COE campgrounds. They just seem to be the ones that are convenient to the routes I am travelling. All three of my experiences have been impressive. Well maintained grounds and spotless restrooms make the camping experience extremely pleasant.
Looking at a Kentucky map, you will see Barren River Lake east of Bowling Green and west of Glasgow, KY and close to the KY/TN border. It is readily accessible from I-65. There are three campgrounds and a Kentucky State Park within the 20,000 acres. The Narrows and Bailey's Point are developed campgrounds. Tailwater is primitive. The state park offers a full range of accomodations.
Maybe I'm a latecomer to the party and am talking about stuff that everyone already knows or maybe like me you never gave it any thought. The mission of COE is flood control, so most of their facilities involve a dam on a watershed. That produces lake fishing above the dam, tailwater fishing below the dam, river fishing in the tributaries, and miles of water for boating and water skiing. Throw in some absolutely supurbe campgrounds and some marinas and they become perfect places for a fishing vacation.
Here are some websites for more information and reservations:

After arriving and setting up, we realized for the first time how busy we have been for the past weeks. We showered, ate leftover chinese for supper and crashed.