Winter 2013

And winter it has been, more on that later.

The big news from our last update was our completely unexpected major repair on the coach engine and the purchase of a new car – two related events.  I’m sorry I left a few readers in suspense over details about the cost of the engine repair, I answered an email a few days ago from somebody who asked what the outcome was.  We were very pleased the entire bill was about $8,000, while we’re not thrilled about shelling out $8k the bill could have been much worse (note that we had other work done as well, the head repair itself was about $5k.)  The problem was solved by a rebuilding of the head but Kirk of Freightliner had no details from the shop that actually worked on the head.  The valve guides were bad so I’m assuming all of them got replaced but no word if any of the valves themselves had an issue.

Upon word from Kirk that the coach was ready to be picked up, we made plans to drive the new Passat (it already has over 4,000 miles on it!) back to Phoenix, pick up the coach and then caravan back home.  The scheme was for Jane to drive the coach in the mornings and then the Passat in the afternoons and that plan worked out extremely well.  Driving the coach solo was a bit of an unusual experience since we are almost always both in it on the road but we quickly adapted to being alone and kept in touch via radio talkies.

The caravan heads home - a rest stop in west Texas

The caravan heads home – a rest stop in west Texas

We always drive the coach at 65 mph and the Passat gets to go the speed limit but for caravan purposes the Passat had to poke along at 65.  Wow what a difference in MPG that made!  When we were driving the Passat 80 mph (very legal in west Texas), our average mpg was low to mid 30s, on the same highway at 65 mph, our average MPG was over 50!  Holy cow!  The beautiful thing is the Passat’s mileage will continue to improve as the engine gets broken in. We are lovin’ this vehicle 🙂

50+ MPG in the Passat!

50+ MPG in the Passat!

Speaking about performance, the coach’s big Cummins ISL engine is running better than it ever did when new.  This I immediately noticed when watching the amount of boost the turbocharger was producing, it is making more boost and the boost is staying higher for longer than I have ever seen.  There must have been some sort of issue from early on with the head or exhaust system allowing some of the exhaust gas to bypass the turbo.  The more exhaust gas that goes by the turbo vanes the faster it spins and the more boost (measured in PSI) it produces.  I’m also thinking our fuel economy might improve a tiny bit – we’ll see.  Some might be wondering if we’re going to go back to Cummins and present the situation to them for some possible goodwill reimbursement.  Possibly.

And they shall come two by two….

Bill helping to get the donkeys out of the trailer

Bill helping to get the donkeys out of the trailer

Moonpie and the jenny

Moonpie and the jenny – she doesn’t have a name yet. Suggestions?

We have completed our JJ Ranch “zoo” with the addition of two miniature donkeys, one is an adult jenny (female) and one is a yearling gelding (he used to be a boy.)  John has always wanted donkeys and Jane’s brother Bill had a couple of them that needed to go to a new home so the die was cast to add two more mouths to feed to JJ Ranch.  (Actually they will do fine just grazing and don’t need any food supplement so they will be easy care.) The donkeys are incredibly stubborn (that’s supposedly equated with being smart) and loading them in Bill’s trailer took three of us about 20 minutes and unloading was almost as difficult.  We got the little gelding (Moonpie) out of the trailer and when we were trying to move the jenny out, Moonpie jumped back in.  Great.  We pushed him back out and with continual shoving and pushing the jenny finally gave up and we shoved her out.  Keep in mind these are miniature donkeys (less than 36″ tall at the withers) that we were struggling and fighting with.  Can’t imagine working with a standard size donkey.

The first morning (with the donkeys on the property) I walked Sassy (walkies are the 600′ from the house to the front gate and back), the donkeys noticed Sassy and they both started chasing her at full gallop.  Oh my gosh, I could only stand there and watch the scene unfold.  To my great relief, Sassy was about half a donkey length in the lead and stayed there.  This could have turned ugly since donkeys hate canines.  Sassy must have looked like a fox, they probably hate them as well.  Since that contest of speed, we have taken care to gradually introduce Sassy to the donkeys and they now seem to be used to her and don’t see her as a threat.  We hope.

About that winter thing….

It’s started out as a very nasty one, this past Monday we had the Polar Vortex (love that term – it sounds like an old Irwin Allen disaster movie) visit us here in the Texas Hill Country.  Holy cow we got cold,13.6F and we stayed below freezing for about two days.  Hey you Canadian people up there – keep that mess north of the border, eh?

It's cold!

It’s cold!

So, what’s up next…

You would never guess – we’re headed back to Moab in late April for more fun, fellowship and rock crawling with the Family Motor Coach Assn 4-wheelers.

Stay warm, have fun, and be kind to one another.  Blessings from our house to yours.

Wow, what a crazy fall…

We left off talking about our upcoming fall wheeling trip to Clayton, Oklahoma with some of the Rubicon Owner’s Forum guys and then we were headed west to St George, Utah for, you guessed it, more rock-crawling with the Family Motor Coach Association 4-Wheelers.

We only managed to run the trails in Clayton for half of one day (three days were planned)

I broke the front left axle u-joint at Clayton, OK

I broke the front left axle u-joint at Clayton, OK Here’s the work party.

– while making a small turn around a boulder the left front tire got a little bound up and for the first time ever on our Jeep, I heard the unmistakeable BANG that I’ve heard so many times in the past on other vehicles.  That particular BANG noise is almost always an axle and sure enough, it was our front left axle, in particular the u-joint which exploded.  Thank goodness the axle shaft itself didn’t snap as it can be very difficult to extricate the inner part out of the axle tube.  Spencer and Phillip were great and jumped immediately in to help (actually all I got to do was to drag out my tools) to pull the broken axle from the tube and insert the replacement.  Yes, we had a replacement available!  So after only 30-45 minutes, the Jeep was back on the trail but by then it was lunch time so we made the short drive back to the coach.

At that point I decided it was not a good idea to continue running our Jeep since the

Spencer's running the trail behind me.  Nicely set up Jeep on 42" tires.

Spencer’s running the trail behind me that first morning. Nicely set up Jeep on 42″ tires.

replacement axle was only original equipment and not high-strength so I was a passenger for the next 2.5 days.  That was an interesting experience and I can now appreciate what Jane has to endure being in the right seat most of the time; my neck was so sore after we were done here it took me several days to recover.  As the driver, I get to hold onto the steering wheel and our driver’s seat has a high backrest with a neck pillow for good support – wow did I miss my seat.  In the meantime Jane was quite content to stay on the coach and do whatever that she wanted to do without me in her hair.

And for another first, I experienced my first flop (rolling over on your side) – since I was a passenger I was a spectator for this interesting event.  Chris, the driver, started to climb this obstacle that required careful tire placement but he got a little off-line and we started to lean a little to the left, then a little more, and then a little more.  Now I’ve done this many, many times (get off-camber) and have a seat-of-the-pants feel for about how much to push the center of gravity envelope and there was that moment when I told myself “here’s where gravity takes control” and sure enough we flopped almost completely horizontal on the left side.

It was a bit strange being held firmly by the seat belt and shoulder belt while at about an 80° angle but I quickly adjusted to the new sensation.  Then the event moved on to the

I'm a passenger when the driver flopped on the left side.  Great fun!

I’m a passenger when the driver flopped on the left side. Great fun!

recovery phase which required Chris’s winch and that’s when Chris discovered his usually handy winch controller was behind his seat and that he couldn’t reach it, nobody from the outside could reach in since there was a mass of rock blocking that door and initially I couldn’t reach it.  There was no way I was going to try to unbuckle my seat belt since I would have fallen on Chris so I made a few more attempts to stretch out and finally I managed to get a finger and then another finger on the controller line and pull it out from its cave.  After that, recovery went quickly with an experienced crew on the outside setting up the winch line to an appropriate anchor point and Chris quickly pulled us upright with the winch (he can operate the winch from the driver’s position with the winch controller) and he drove out.  That was a way fun experience.

The weather forecast for the day we left Clayton for St George, Utah was rain which usually isn’t a big deal but a complicating factor was that we were set up on grass at the off-road park and were in a low area so we made plans to get out of that place as soon as possible in the morning.  We got up early and had the coach ready to move to a paved area in the nearby town at 7am where we parked and had a quick breakfast.  It rained almost all of that day which made for more careful than usual driving (which gets very tiring.)

After a two day detour at Williams, Arizona to rest up and eat a meal out we continued on to the SW corner of Utah where we arrived at Temple View RV Resort in St George.  For orientation, St George is about 110 miles north of Las Vegas.  We quickly discovered that St George was a very neat, clean and very tidy town probably due in no small part to the overwhelming Mormon presence there – they seem to have a very strong work ethic and hold many of the same values as we do.

We had an interesting time running the trails in the St George area – for the first time we

Little Sahara aka Sand Mountain OHV area

Little Sahara aka Sand Mountain OHV area – these dunes are very large!

had to drive on very large sand dunes (Sand Mountain Off Highway Vehicle area) and there was for sure a learning curve.  Some of the dunes were very steep with sharp break-overs which required a lot of speed to climb but if you go too fast, you could launch yourself right over the dune top and go flying for 20 feet or more.  Think of a large ocean wave – sort of like a “comma” turned on end with a shallow angle on the approach side of the “wave” and a steep drop-off on the backside of the wave.  If you don’t go fast enough, you don’t make it to the top of the dune, if you go too fast, things get way too exciting on the other side.

I volunteered to lead a hard trail and then like an idiot volunteered to lead one more hard trail, it didn’t take long to realize the folly of this.  After going on one pre-run (we run trails the week before the event starts) on a hard trail I realized these trail are really difficult and that first trail was obstacle after obstacle with no let-up.  It was intense wheeling and made more so because almost nobody had any experience with the trails in the area since this

Not a good position - Mike is on a bad line!

Not a good position to be in – Mike is on a bad line!

was the very first FMCA 4-Wheeler event here.  After we returned to camp I dis-volunteered (un-volunteered?) to lead that second trail. The next day we ran an easier trail which took the stress level down a few notches and then the following day we did a pre-run of the trail we were going to lead the following week.  That trail was on the list to be run on two different days so the trail leader for the second running was with us for the pre-run.

Even though we had a GPS track of the trail, it wasn’t precise enough to exactly figure out where the trail went in several areas so the girls walked ahead of us guys to scout out the

I'm trail leader on this trail later in the week and had to make this climb!

I’m trail leader on this trail later in the week and had to make this climb!

trail.  This trail (called Plan B for some reason – maybe Plan A didn’t work out) was difficult in places and very technical (requiring an outside spotter and exact tire placement.)  When we led the trail with the group (I limited the trail to 10 vehicles) it was overall a good day, nobody got into trouble but there was one mandatory hard obstacle where most of the group had to be winched over.  As trail leader, I go first and fortunately I got up and over without too much trouble.

Here’s another picture of us doing an optional obstacle on a trail called Milt’s Mile Extended (it was too short for an all-day trail) – this trail was a bunch of fun and we’ll look forward to running it again if we manage to get back to St George.

Me climbing an optional obstacle - this one was fun

Me climbing an optional obstacle – this one was fun

Here’s a video of that same obstacle:

Here’s another video of a steep optional climb – this one was fun:

So we had a lot of fun and got to know more of the FMCA 4-Wheelers folks, since this was only our third rally we are still learning faces and names.  Oh, we did have a little Jeep trouble while in St George.  We were lined up to run a trail and I noticed some coolant fluid on the ground under the engine.  After a little more investigation I decided this was a very bad coolant leak and it appeared to be coming from the vicinity of the water pump (which was the only part of the cooling system not replaced), so we pulled out of the line and drove the mile or so the the local 4×4 shop and dropped it off.  Sure enough the problem was the water pump.  Sigh.

After an event like this, it’s always sort of sad to see the party break up – there were probably 80 or 90 RVs at Temple View RV Resort which took up a majority of one section, then there were very few.  We left a couple of days later and headed to Phoenix to have some routine maintenance done on the coach at the Freightliner dealer and there was an oil leak around the coach engine oil pan that I wanted them to look at also.  We just finished breakfast when the service manager called me with some really bad news – the oil leak was caused by blow-by (excessive crankcase pressure) which could be caused by worn cylinder walls, cracked piston ring(s), or something wrong in the head like worn valve guides.  Then more bad news – we had to leave the coach there and repairs were going to take 3-4 weeks and repairs could cost $25,000 if they had to tear the engine completely down.


We were a bit stunned to say the least, the engine (Cummins ISL – 8.9 L) only has 89,000 miles on it and we were expecting 250k miles without any kind of significant engine issue.  After we recovered from that initial shock of the situation our energy was directed towards the logistics of getting us, the dog and cat and some essential stuff home to Texas to wait out the repairs.  Since there was no way we were going to drive our special purpose rock-crawler Jeep a thousand miles each way, we looked into renting a car for a one-way.  After calling a couple of rental outfits the price was a big put-off – they wanted $400-700 for a one way rental and the drop-off city was not going to be convenient.  So, we started thinking about the crazy idea of buying a car to drive home.

Actually we were planning on replacing the Jeep Liberty in the next 12-18 months so the idea wasn’t quite as crazy as you might think.  We already had a target vehicle in mind – a VW Jetta Sportwagen diesel.  Since we do so much driving, the Jetta’s outstanding fuel economy (45+ mpg) was a major attractor.  And wouldn’t you know it, there was a VW dealer about a mile away from the Freightliner dealer so we checked out Jettas and while we were there, drove the larger and somewhat more expensive diesel Passat.  After the test drives and thinking the idea over, we decided to see if we couldn’t make a good deal on a new or low mileage Passat.  The larger size of the Passat was a primary factor in choosing that model.

Always hating dealing with car dealers, this buying experience was no different – these guys are sharks and are always looking at how to shake you down for a few more bucks.  After enduring the ridiculous back and forth among us, the salesman, sales manager, and the general manager, we had a deal or so I thought, they tried to slip a $449 “Document Fee” past us.  “But everybody pays this.” Sorry bub – I’m not everybody, I did manage to cut that back by $200. Then the financial closer guy wanted to sell us an extended warranty.  Nope.  Not a chance – I had to cut him off from his canned speech.  So Jane had a new car and we had our own vehicle to drive home.  Hope I don’t have to go through that crap again for several more years.

Jane's new Passat TDI SEL

Jane’s new Passat TDI SEL(diesel)

We were home maybe two weeks when I called the Freightliner service manager and got a bit of good news, they pulled the head from the engine and the cylinder walls look good (not a broken piston ring) so the problem is in the head somewhere – probably the valve guides are worn (or possibly a bad valve).  They sent the head out for an overhaul and it was supposed to be delivered yesterday.  So hopefully the repairs will be nowhere near the $25k mark.

As a final note, we have had some very cold weather here in the Texas Hill Country – we

Our five seconds of fame - we have a picture on TV of our freezing rain

Our five seconds of fame – we have a picture on TV of our freezing rain.  This is the weather guy using a visual aid

have been below freezing for several days and have had freezing rain, ice pellets and a few snow flurries this morning.  As I type this, the sun has shown itself for the first time in six days.  I took a picture of some frozen rain and emailed it to a local TV station in San Antonio we watch a lot and to our complete surprise, the picture was shown on the five o’clock news three or four days ago.  We’re famous for about five seconds!

To all of our dear readers, have a blessed Thanksgiving!  We all have much to be thankful for and please always think of others:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in… Matthew 25:35

Summer update #2 (of 2), ranch stuff

Summer must be over because football has started – yea! (Go Texas Longhorns, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans, and Miami Dolphins!)

John and Sassy in the San Juan mountains

John and Sassy in the San Juan mountains

We last left off with us in Montrose, Colorado at our favorite campground (Centennial RV Park) and as usual, had a great time with our friends in the Western Slope 4-Wheelers club running around the San Juan mountains at 10-13,000 feet of elevation.  This year we didn’t spend quite as much time there as usual (about five weeks) because we had some other activities planned – we

Sassy at 12,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains

Sassy at 12,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains

The Columbine - state flower of Colorado

The Columbine – state flower of Colorado

were going to dry camp (no water/electric/sewer) in Leadville, Colorado at the All-for-Fun off-road event for a week (first time with the 290 watts of solar power I installed last summer and a residential-type of fridge), then we went to Chama, New Mexico to ride the Cumbres & Toltec steam train (we still like the Durango and Silverton train better), and then back home. The reason for coming home so early was due to our dear old friends

Just parked in Leadville, Colorado for the All-4-Fun off-road event.

Just parked in Leadville, Colorado for the All-4-Fun off-road event.

Alpine flowers

Alpine flowers

(Les & Karen) inviting us to spend a week with them on the beach at their time share in Cocoa Beach, Florida.

Remember earlier in the year when the house air conditioner needed to be replaced?  Continuing on in that same vein the washer/dryer combo unit in the coach decided to stop drying so Jane basically was left with a washing machine.  Not a huge deal because almost all campgrounds have a few washers and dryers available, but the Splendide needed to be repaired ($$.)

Then a couple of days before we arrived home, the GE Advantium microwave/convection oven decided to not work ($$$$.)  This was a big deal since Jane had some frozen meals that really needed an oven to properly cook and all we had working was a cooktop.  The washing machine and Advantium oven are eight years old and their failing while a disappointment is not totally unexpected (can’t believe we’ve been running around North America for eight years!)

The Splendide problem was the main circuit board ($325 + shipping) and the Advantium problem was not determined and whatever the cause was, most likely was not worth repairing (an eight year-old appliance that’s been bouncing on the road for 87,000 miles.)  So.. hello new Advantium (sigh, $1,000.)  The new Advantium was installed by John and helpers a couple of hours ago.

Jumping around a little bit with the narrative, we had a great time in Cocoa Beach with our buds but we forgot what 100% humidity feels like.  Wow – it’s like having a hot and damp towel wrapped around your entire body when you aren’t in air conditioning.  After fun and frivolity (and several way fun cocktail hours and dinners out) we pointed ourselves to Ft Myers to visit with some other very dear friends (going back to the 1980s), Bob and Judy.  Bob had heart bypass surgery a few months ago (with a complication) but he is doing well – it was great to see them again.  Then we headed to Naples to visit with our physician nephew Erik and his physician wife Karen and their three small boys; they are escapees from NY state and we are delighted to see them relocated south.  They are doing great and loving their new location.

Our new rhea birds

Our new rhea birds

Ranch stuff – the Rhea birds were delivered a couple of weeks ago and they are settled in and doing very well.  We discovered that the birds leave a rather large pile of green poop which our newly bathed Sassy the corgi discovered and rolled around in a few days ago.  Sassy is just like a two year old human baby – turn your back on them for ten seconds and look-out, chances are she’s doing something against house rules.  So Sassy was quite the smelly mess with a bit of her covered in green poop –  we gave her another bath on the deck.  Never a dull moment.

Today  our trapper delivered a nice 13″ long horned blackbuck antelope to be the new

Our new breeder blackbuck antelope

Our new breeder blackbuck antelope

breeder male.  We wanted genetic diversity to improve the health and bloodline of the herd so this was a huge moment for us.  We haven’t seen the herd in a few hours but we’re hoping the new big man on campus (BMOC) will settle nicely into his new role as patriarch of our herd of 25 or so does and spike bucks.

While driving the Jeep Rubicon around Colorado on the highways this summer, we decided that something had to happen as far as more power.  The Rubicon sometimes can just barely make the speed limit with the engine screaming along at 4,000+ RPMs – it’s frustrating for us as well as the poor folks following behind us.  The solution was more power was needed – this could either be:


The supercharger is almost installed 🙂











a complete engine/drivetrain change out for a V-8 Hemi (mega bucks) or getting more power out of the current engine (mini-bucks relatively speaking.)  So, after doing some research and talking to owners of supercharged Jeeps similar to ours, we decided to supercharge the Jeep’s straight-six engine.

Like always, John did all of the work and the results are spectacular – the wheel horse power went from about 100 to 211 HP. Wow.  Here’s some videos of the unboxing of the supercharger kit, a dynamometer run before and after supercharging and a road test.

Next on the agenda is to head to Clayton, OK mid-October  for a wheeling event and then on to St. George, UT for – wait for it – more off-roading 🙂