Tuesday, September 1, 2009

At a standstill

We are at the Elks Lodge in Fayetteville, Arkansas (map), just four miles from where we spent Saturday night in a Wal-Mart in Springdale. This is a nice lodge, with probably the nicest interior we've seen at an Elks, along with two swimming pools, 18 holes of miniature golf (really), and a single RV power pedestal with 50/30/20 amp outlets. The 50 was taken when we arrived, but the 30 (or even the 20) was plenty for us in this weather.

On Sunday morning our plan had been to continue moving slowly east, and we had our eyes on the Buffalo National River, where there is a nice campground and visitor center. We had even figured on a couple days of downtime there, and stocked up the larder at Wal-Mart so we could enjoy some remote dry camping.

By the time we were ready to hit the road, however, the wildfires in California (and one in Utah) had jumped the lines and were on a course to potentially destroy thousands of homes. News of mandatory evacuations was sobering, and even the historic Mount Wilson observatory is threatened.

In light of this news, and recalling the fact that, two years ago, we were all the way across the country in Florida at the tail end of hurricane season when enormous wildfires did serious damage in California, prompting us to drive all-out across the country to help, we decided it would not be prudent to move any further east. Unless and until Investigation Area 94L develops into an actual storm, that is.

With temperatures here in the very pleasant 70s, we opted to simply stay in the Springdale/Fayetteville area. Not wanting to overstay our welcome at Wal-Mart (and not knowing if the Sam's layout facility would have a bunch of employees arriving Monday morning), we opted to just come down here to the Elks lodge until we knew what we were doing.

That gave me the opportunity to tackle some projects that have been languishing, and after we got settled in Sunday afternoon, I started on Louise's scooter. She's been having trouble keeping up with me on the hills, and her on-line research indicated that moving to more specialized and slightly lighter centrifugal slider weights was the single best modification to make to improve this performance. We've had the new slider weights in our hands for a good couple of weeks now, but we just have not had a solid block of time to install them.

As it turned out, we lacked tools, as well. One of the steps involves removing the nut that holds the "variator" pulley onto the drive shaft, and there is no way to get enough leverage with a standard wrench to remove the nut, without risking breaking the fins off the variator. The right tool is a powered impact wrench, and somehow I have avoided owning one of these for my entire adult life. I've instead always managed by using a hammer and a normal wrench, or my cordless drill with a low clutch setting, or even a manual impact driver. None of those would work in this situation (well, the cordless drill might have, except I lacked any way to chuck the huge 22mm, 3/8" drive socket into it -- it only accepts ¼" drive items).

Fortunately, a Lowe's, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart are all within a short scooter ride from here, and with Louise's scoot in multiple pieces all over the parking lot, I rode down to two out of the three to get what I needed. I am now the proud owner of an el-cheapo Campbell-Hausfeld ½" drive impact wrench, along with a 3/8" drive adapter. The impact wrench made short work of the hub nut, and, as a bonus, I'll be able to avoid those make-shift methods the next time I need to remove a sticky nut or bolt. I can probably make a few quick bucks changing car tires on the side of the road, too, but, alas, this unit is not beefy enough to remove the bus lug nuts.

Adding the tool foray to the scooter project had it run well into the dinner hour by the time I had everything back together and cleaned up, and we decided to just run out to Olive Garden rather than fix any of the things we had just bought for dinner. Besides, Louise was chomping at the bit to test-ride her new slider weights -- she reports the bike is much more responsive now. (It remains to be seen whether there is a price to be paid in top speed -- slider weight changes are always a compromise.) I brought half of my pasta home, and somewhere on the return trip the unopened set of ½" drive metric sockets I had in the trunk for return to the store interacted badly with the leftover clamshell, resulting in linguine al portabagagli. I'm sure Wal-Mart will hardly notice the Bolognese sauce.

Yesterday was also a day of waiting and watching the weather and fires, and opportunity for more projects. Now that it is cool enough to work up on the roof, I removed all three roof air conditioner shrouds and set to cleaning the condenser coils, a task we have not done in the five years we've been on the road (actually, the A/Cs were up there a good six months before that, even). Everything looked to be in good shape, with the exception of a handful of bruises and cracks on the shrouds themselves from banging against low trees. The coils were quite dirty, and I would estimate that about a half cup of dirt came out of each one. I used compressed air and a toothbrush for the cleaning; the pressure washer would probably have been more effective, but I would have had to bag up the motors somehow to keep the water out of them.

Oddly, the fan motors and bearings have no lubrication points, and the Dometic manual says the units never need lubrication. I would have liked to lube them anyway, as long as I have them open, but there was no obvious way to do it. I did spin each fan by hand to make certain there was no turning resistance or excessive bearing end play. The compressors are completely sealed units, so nothing to be done there.

There is a strip of open-cell foam weatherstripping that seals between the sheet metal ducting and the shroud, which is there to keep the forced air flowing through the coils, rather than over them. It also keeps the hot air exhausted from the coils from getting sucked right back in to the cool air intake. Several inches of this material had become brittle with age and crumbled to dust on two of the units, and Louise had to make a Lowe's run to pick up some generic weatherstripping to replace it. Given how many of our readers have these (or similar) units, I am sorry now that I did not snap a photo while I had it open.

While I was up on the roof, I had two different computers plugging away at trying to recover and save my files from the failing disk drive fiasco. I also spent about four hours last night trying to recover my Blackberry sync capability -- the combination of falling back to older data on the PC end on top of just having upgraded the BB to v4.5 (which screwed up the calendar entries) was deadly. It's all working now.

In anticipation of most likely having to completely reinstall Windows and all my apps from scratch, I went ahead and picked up a brand new laptop at Wal-Mart before we left their lot. It's actually a "netbook" -- the only kind of new computer Microsoft will still allow to be sold with XP on it -- and I believe it is exactly the same model my niece just got for her 14th birthday (except hers is pink). I'm not sure what that says about me. In any case, I have not yet opened the box, and I have two more weeks to return it if it turns out to be unnecessary. But it does not seem to be universally stocked, and I wanted to pick one up while I could, in case we're in the boonies when I pull the trigger on the project.

Last night we scooted over to the little burg of Johnson, nestled between Springdale and Fayetteville, to dine at the award-winning James at the Mill restaurant, in the luxurious Inn at the Mill hotel built in the historic Johnson Mill. The food was excellent, if just a bit pretentious (chef Miles James has trademarked the phrase "Ozark Plateau Cuisine™" -- c'mon). We escaped pecuniary injury by ordering appetizers in lieu of entrĂ©es, which turned out to be plenty of food anyway.

This morning we are continuing to watch the weather and fire forecasts, and will likely continue to hover right here in the middle of the country. We need to move Odyssey, if for no other reason than to put water in our now empty tanks, and so we may very well head south, putting us closer to the Interstate should we need to scamper off in either direction. The Buffalo River will have to wait.


  1. If you want to come further south in Arkansas, come on down to Bradley (40 miles north of Shreveport) -- we can offer you a driveway, 15 amp power, a waterhose -- (a dump is with in 13 miles) and a fenced yard for Opal to run in. We have a single vehicle which you are welcome to either use or we can drive you around to get things you might need.

    GFM (gmorgan52@hotmail.com)

  2. I understand the lug nut issue. Had to have a guy with a breaker bar bust loose the lug nuts on my Dodge truck. I was 8 miles back on a 4x4 road and it ticked me off 'cause I'm normally perfectly capable of changing my own tire. No way was I going to get those puppies loose.

    Good idea to stay relatively central U.S. I see TS Erika, Invest 94 plus about 4 tropical waves coming off Africa.
    California is a mess. I spent Sunday afternoon and into wee hours Monday in the Placer Co. EOC as an ARC gov't liaison for the 49 fire in Auburn. I think that will end up being my local chapter role (multitasker's dream job). DR 542-10 includes the Auburn fire which is mostly contained but was devastating. Bad enough, but SoCal fires will be longer lasting and worse. Our ECRV 4712 is on alert for CA fires. It has a crew ready and I'm sad that I can't deploy with it but need to stay local for business (damn I loved being retired.
    Enjoy your updates. Hello to Louise and hope her scooter keeps up with you (else you are gonna have to get her a new scooter) --Donna Dimmick

  3. I was out driving down 71B in Springdale Sunday morning and as I drove past the old Sam's club I looked over and seen the backend of the bus. Right away I said thats the Odyssey rig, I have to admit your rig is even more impressive in person, even at a distance.
    Hope you enjoy your stay in the area. If you head south and want a nice drive down to I40 take old 71b out of fayetteville, it was the main route before 540 opened. Nowdays it is nice and empty and when you get to the top after Winslow you have some great views of Lake Ft. Smith and the Boston Mountains. Very nice road and it leads right down to I40 in Alma.

  4. You may want to purchse software to make a ghost copy of your hard drive as it came and then periodically later. This alows you to reinstall all programs, drivers, settings, etc. should you get a virus or something goes wrong. Wont reinstall data files, etc from the last dat of the ghost but better than nothing if you back up data files religously. Just a thought.

  5. @thoughtsinretirement: Thanks for the offer. Too early to tell if we will be going that far south, but we will keep it in mind.

    @Donna -- Maybe you have enough of an inside track there to tell us whether we should be rolling back west. I guess if they launch the ECRV, that would be a good indicator. Always good to hear from you.

    @jc: Thanks. You should have given us a ring -- we were probably inside, ruminating about where to go.

    @Rod and Jean: Thanks, I do have disk imaging software, including an older version of Ghost™, which is actually a trademark of Symantec (Norton). Nowadays, BTW, there are several free software packages that do the same thing, even better IMO. And I am actually up and running, in a half-baked sort of way, courtesy of one of those images. However, simply "falling back" to a previous system image will, unfortunately, result in usable data loss, as many programs now rely heavily on registry settings and other system files to keep track of things. So restoring to a previous system state, then having to massage things to get back to where I was is almost as much work as a clean install followed by porting the data (but not quite).

    The other problem with disk image programs, of course, is that you have to have backup media large enough to fit the image you are creating. In today's fractional-terabyte world, it gets increasingly difficult to use this type of backup strategy.

    I religiously back up my data to our on-board Linux file server using SyncBack, so I have not actually lost any data -- it's just the pain (one way or another) and time involved to re-construct my system and settings so everything is fully usable again.

    Thanks for the comment, though, as many readers may not be aware of these programs.

  6. Sean -

    Wow - some excellent writing here. Plus I learn something every time you post!

    For some reason, I now love the phrase "pecuniary injury", even though Google seems to think it's mostly a legal term...

  7. Here in Bradley you are about equidistance to either I-20 or I-30.


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