Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New decade, new masthead

Happy New Year. Lots to catch up on here in my first post of the decade. We are parked at the Elks lodge in Pinellas Park, Florida (map), between St. Petersburg and Clearwater and right across the bridge from Tampa. More accurately, we are parked across the street from the lodge in a lot they own. It is an excellent location, with shopping just a block away and including an Applebees, a Chilis, a Chipotle, and a BJ's Brew Pub. Importantly it is only a short scooter ride to the Petsmart/Banfield where we needed to pick up prescription cat food, as we were completely out when we rolled in here on Monday.

Before I get further into updating our status here, I'd like to thank good friend and professional photographer Karen Nace for our new masthead photo, taken at Bussin' 2011. Louise spent a couple hours redesigning the blog template around the new masthead, and so you may notice some changes to the sidebar widgets as well. While it looks for all the world in this photo like we are intently driving down the road, in fact the parking brake is engaged and we are rocking out to Elton John on XM radio.

I'll try not to bore you too much with the play-by-play update from the rally, other than to say that it was well-organized and smoothly run as always, and to say a hearty "thank you" to Jack and Paula Conrad for organizing this rally for the past eleven years. The Conrads are retiring from the rally business and new organizers have stepped up to the plate for next year; I understand they intend to hold a similar rally in the same venue.

My plumbing seminar went off without a hitch, and was well attended both in person and via live streaming on the Internet. I even took questions from remote attendees who submitted them in a chat room monitored on-site by expert busman Ewen Steele, who was recruited by Bus Nut Online webmaster Ian Giffen to operate the live feed. One of my on-site attendees was a retired professional plumber with over three decades of experience, and it was most gratifying to hear from him afterward that I had done a good job with the presentation. I believe the live stream is being archived and will soon be available on the BNO web site, and I will post a live link to it here as soon as it is ready.

On Tuesday before the rally
Ben and Karen arrived in their Liberty Prevost conversion, and we had carefully coned off a spot right next to Odyssey so that we could park together. In addition to facilitating our nightly hot tubbing ritual and providing some privacy for the tub between our two coaches, this also allowed us to "power share" for the duration of our time there. That made the buses into symbionts in a way, if "symbiotic" can be extended into the inorganic realm.

Ben is working on converting a vintage Flxible coach into their new rolling home, and he is incorporating energy efficient boondocking capability into his design. In stark contrast, the Liberty conversion is anything but; "power hungry" and "needy" are both terms that come to mind. With the Flxible on the horizon, it makes little sense to invest in retrofitting their current home to be more boondock-friendly, especially since that would make it less readily serviceable by technicians at Liberty Coach, possibly detracting from its resale value. For many factory conversion buyers, there is comfort in knowing they can take the coach to the converter's service centers for anything they might need.

The upshot is that the Liberty really wants to be plugged into shore power when parked, or else have the generator running nearly full time. With power hookups for the rally already sold out, Ben and Karen ended up in the occasional generator section with us. We were able to lend our enormous battery bank to the cause, providing them with a 20-amp circuit from our inverter. That was enough to run the household-type fridge, water pump, computers, and a handful of lights on the Liberty, so long as they kept everything else shut off and had mostly already-charged batteries (no way to turn off the battery charger without losing all AC power in the bus), and they could go overnight without needing the generator.

In turn, we plugged our 50-amp shore cord into the "buddy plug" connected to their enormous 20kW generator. We settled into a routine where they ran the generator about two hours each evening, topping up the batteries on both coaches and allowing them to do their cooking, washing, and whatever else was needed. By the morning our batteries would be down to the point of requiring recharge (in contrast to our normal run of two to three days between charges) and they would run the generator again for an hour or so, which got both of us hot water for the day as well as enough battery charge to carry us to evening with help from our solar panels.

This made for an odd arrangement with power cords going in both directions between the buses. A couple of people looked askance at them and I was sorely tempted to tell them it was a free-power infinite loop, sort of like a perpetual motion machine. While our generator did kick on a time or two briefly, they provided most of the generator run time for our entire stay. We provided the battery cycles, as well as the hot tub heating, which comes from our diesel-fired boiler.

Extending the symbiosis somewhat, I was able to help Ben with a couple of minor technical issues on his coach, including an inoperative generator auto-start system. In turn, being extremely left-brained myself, it was great to be around such creative talents for a few days, and Karen was very generous to provide us with several of her fantastic photos, including our new masthead as well as the great shot of Opal at the top of this post. That should please Kelly, Rocket, and Mojo who asked just today in a comment on my last post to upload another photo of her. To see some of Karen's other photos from the Bussin' 2011 rally, have a look here.

We spent a lot of time at the rally, particularly in the evenings, with Karen and Ben, who are kindred spirits to us in many ways. But we also caught up with many old friends and met several new ones. On Tuesday evening the four of us went to dinner with our friends and fellow Neoplan Spaceliner owners Steve and Harriet Siems from Fort Lauderdale, along with John and Lynn Silver from Central Florida Bus Repair whom we saw in Lakeland last month, and several others. We were also very pleased to finally meet in person long-time bus-board acquaintances Russ Long from California and Ewen Steele from Ontario. We very briefly caught up with Lou and Renee Kirk, who also own a Spaceliner, Marty Nixon, upon whose hospitality we prevailed in Atlanta a few years back, Dave and Carol Lang with the gorgeous Starliner in Karen's photos that we parked next to back in '05, Ace and Susan Rossi, and many others whom we have met or messaged over the years.

It was a great rally with good company, good eats, and plenty of interesting buses to see. We also got rid of a fair amount of excess stuff, and we enjoyed ringing in the new year in style, with a glass of New Jersey (really) champagne in the hot tub at midnight. The rally had the Turner center booked through Sunday, and so we opted to spend one additional night there. We spent so much time Sunday morning socializing with the remaining folks and cleaning up our camp, that by 2pm we were still without a plan for where to head next, although we were at least packed and ready to roll. Another hour or so passed without being able to nail down a destination or interim plan for the next two weeks, and we finally conceded defeat and decided we'd spend the night at the Arcadia Wal-Mart (map), as we had to be out of the Turner center. We were the third-to-last rig to depart.

As it happened, Ben and Karen were in a similar situation. I think by the end of the day they had more or less decided to head over to the secure facility at Liberty Coach in Stuart until their next commitment, where they could get free hookups and maybe have Liberty look at a couple of things, but since it was Sunday they could not get the entrance gate code. They decided to join us at Wal-Mart where we were able to continue our symbiotic power-sharing arrangement for one more night, as well as have a nice dinner at local Mexican restaurant El Pirata a short drive away. There is actually a Chili's right there in the Wal-Mart parking lot, but we had eaten there Saturday night when El Pirata turned out to be closed for the holiday.

Around mid-day we finally parted company, with Karen and Ben heading east to Stuart while we finalized our plan for the next few days. After ruminating for several hours and poring over the maps we finally decided to head towards Tampa, where we knew there would be a choice of at least three Elks lodges at which to park as well as the much-needed Banfield for the prescription cat food.

As long as we are here we will try to meet up with James and Maria whom we met at the shuttle launch last year and perhaps some other folks in the area. We'll also zip over to Tampa for dinner at our club there one night. At this writing it is uncertain how long we will stay in the area; we are not due in Orlando until the 16th.

All photos by Karen Nace, except second from top. Used with permission.


  1. Karen does excellent work! Of course, having the cool bus to begin with helps out, but the image is powerful just the same!

  2. New look looks good! So THAT's what that spot looks like in the daylight?

  3. Great new look!
    Long-time lurker, Chris

  4. Excellent job at making the bus look like its barreling down the road! Wonderful.


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