Summer 2012 – Update #1

Actually, we’ll back up a little bit in the year to catch our dear readers up on what we’ve been doing.  As you might imagine, Jeep activities continue to dominate – modifying our 2006 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited continues to soak up most of John’s time and our disposable funds (if there is such a thing as disposable funds.)  We decided that towing the Jeep behind the motorhome on the Jeep’s own tires (it’s called towing 4-down) was hard on the tires and everything else on the Jeep that rotates or moves, so we bought a used FeatherLite aluminum car hauler trailer.  Rubi is now a trailer queen and rides in style behind the motorhome.

Rubi after her latest round of upgrades/improvements

Rubi after her latest round of upgrades/improvements – she’s now on 35″ Goodyear MT/R Kevlar tires

Rubi (and her drivers) continues to evolve and improve after every round of upgrades and trails run – I say drivers since Jane has driven for about an hour on a trail that was a little challenging (on the Palo Duro Jeep Jamboree) and she did great.  The latest upgrades on Rubi are larger tires, new 17″ aluminum wheels, aluminum fenders (for more tire clearance), high strength front axles, armored differential covers, larger front brakes (larger rotors and calipers), new radiator, fan clutch, re-routed engine air intake and hood louvers.

After two years of intermittent work on Rubi by John, Rubi is just about where where she needs to be for the long-term.  Taking it to the next level (which means larger tires) would cost a pile of money and not greatly improve its off-road capability.  At this point, it’s now more about driver skill than equipment.

Our good friends Bob & Judy

Our good friends Bob & Judy at their summer home near Independence, VA the morning we left

So far this year, we’ve run Rubi at the Las Cruces, NM Chili Challenge, The Texas Spur Jeep Jamboree near Llano, TX, the Palo Duro Jeep Jamboree near Amarillo TX, and we’re currently near Montrose, Colorado and running trails in the San Juan mountains.

We left home on Flag Day (you did remember to put out your flag), June 14,  and headed to the nearby Miller Creek RV Resort near Johnson City, TX for a Winnebago club gathering and then hit the road for the western part of Virginia to visit with our long-time friends Bob & Judy.  They bought a foreclosed house a couple of years ago that was completely trashed by the prior owners and they almost completely rebuilt it over a couple of summers, so we were anxious to see the house and of course our good buddies.

A minor digression.  Our Norcold refrigerator/freezer decided to not work as well as it should – we were having to run

Our new Frigidare!

Jane is once again a happy camper after the successful swap-out of the Norcold for the new Frigidare

it on its maximum setting to maintain an adequate temperature in the refrigerator part.  After consultation with a Norcold tech and some tests we determined the cooling unit was most likely going south which was very bad news.  A replacement cooling unit was over $1,000 and the repair labor was $800.  After some thought, we decided it was time to replace the Norcold (which could operate on 12V/LP gas or AC) with a household fridge – more and more household fridges (which only operate on AC) are appearing in new motorhomes and are becoming very popular as less costly replacements.  So we bought an 18.2 cu ft Frigidare and after two days of hard work by Bob and John, it was installed and working great.  We have more fridge room but the freezer is roughly the same size as the old one.

We had a fun ten days visiting with Bob & Judy.  Once again we biked the Virginia Creeper Trail – 17 miles (out of a total 34 trail miles) of a former railroad bed and almost all of it was downhill – it was great exercise 😉 and a lot of fun.

John was very appreciative of Bob’s help (and his nicely equipped shop) with the fridge swap, it would have been completely impractical and impossible to accomplish while traveling without this situation.

It was time to say adios to our friends and head to Forest City, Iowa (northern part of the state)  for the Winnebago Grand National Rally held the third week of every July.

Forest City is a delightful mid-western town of only six or seven thousand residents and with each rally the town swells with an additional two thousand people.  The sleepy farm (and Winnebago factory) town gets so busy and hectic, the locals are thankful when the rally ends and the slower pace resumes.  The town folks are very hospitable and thankful for the business boost, but relieved to see things return to normal.

Like a stick and brick house,  something always needs a little maintenance on the coach, usually it is something

Our repaired thermal pane glass is installed

Our repaired thermal pane glass is installed

minor and we’re not disappointed – after all the coach is seven years old with 75,000 miles on it.  Leaky faucet, squeaky door, you get the idea.  The latest issue to deal with (and a very common one across many brands of RVs) is a seal breakdown in our thermal (dual pane) windows;  in certain weather conditions humidity will condensate between the glass panes.  The large window in our coach door was starting to fog up occasionally which was not a good situation – we need to see out of that window to drive safely!  Fortunately at the Winnebago rally was a company in attendance (Duncan Systems) that repairs these kinds of problems with windows, so we signed up for service.  They extricated the window, tore it apart, and resealed the two pieces of glass.  I asked if they injected nitrogen gas between the panes and they don’t – they insert a desiccant strip that absorbs any moisture, hopefully this problem is permanently solved on this window.  Unfortunately I suspect we will have many more windows to get repaired in the future.

Next installment will be focused on our five week stay near Montrose Colorado, and guess what – we’re running trails in the San Juan mountains.  We will leave here September 1 and probably head to Utah to do…. more off-roading.  Utah has a lot to offer so we will play tourists and do as much sightseeing as possible while there.  Near the end of September we will be in Deadwood, South Dakota to…. participate in the Black Hills Jeep Jamboree (yes, John is Jeep crazy.)

Thanks for traveling along with us and may God richly bless you.

A letter from Vietnam, Tuesday, 23 November 1971

I’ve been meaning to transcribe this letter for a couple of months and I’m finally making the time.  This letter was discovered quite by accident while we were digging around in an old folder and quite frankly I don’t even remember writing it or many details of my workaday world while I was stationed in Vietnam (Tan Son Nhut AB, Saigon.)

John in Vietnam - standing in front of my locker

John in Vietnam - standing in front of my locker

While I was trained by the US Air Force to be a telephone technician (and other communications systems), my specialty was being performed by civilian contractors at Tan Son Nhut so I was assigned to the maintenance control center of our communications squadron.  In the letter I describe my job in more detail.  The Dr. and Mrs Nowlin to whom I addressed the letter were my future father and mother-in-law.  Dr. Nowlin was a general practitioner medical doctor in the small Texas panhandle town of Littlefield.  Sadly, both are now deceased.

Take a trip with me now back to Vietnam during the war…

Tuesday 23 November, 1971

Dear Dr. & Mrs. Nowlin,

I am sorry that I have not written sooner, but they keep me pretty busy here.  Thank you very much for the kindness you showed me and thanks for my room at the Cross Country! (they put me up in a motel room before I left for overseas)  That bed was mighty soft!

As I might have guessed, I’m not doing any telephone work here!  It seems that I am destined to do paper-work.  My job will be to monitor radio & weather & special circuits – not monitoring aurally, but going into action if one gets reported out.  Then I have to fill out a card on it and locate the proper person to fix it.  These circuits also include the Tacan, ILS, VOR, marker beacons, Rapcon, control tower, and two computers.  We handle navaids (aircraft navigational aids) for three bases in the area.  As soon as I get trained, they want me to be the day shift supervisor for about five or six people.

Jane might have told you that I don’t expect to be here until August – I have a chance to get discharged in March, but I’m not going to hold my breath.  At any rate, it looks like I should gone (sic) at least by June.  (I did get an early discharge in late February – about six months before my four year enlistment was up)

I bought a movie camera that uses Super 8 cartridges; I have taken 50 feet (1 cartridge)  and sent it to Kodak in Dallas for processing.  I put your address on the mailer – so I hope that it gets to you by Thanksgiving so Jane can see the film also. (Jane was a student at the University of Texas at Austin at the time) One thing I worried about: do they return it processed in the cartridge?  I have never seen a cartridge projector.  I wanted to buy a cartridge projector and send it to Jane; all they have here are the regular projectors.

Enclosed are a few pictures I took recently; the quality isn’t the greatest but I’m learning.  (I developed and printed my own black and white film in the base hobby photo lab and the pictures I sent them were pretty bad and uninteresting!)

Oh, I found out yesterday my schedule for December – it seems that I work Christmas day, New Year’s day & eve, and I forgot to see if I’m working on my birthday – probably so!  It looks like I don’t get many Sundays off, either.  I work three days on (7 am to 7 pm) and one day off.  I don’t feel too bad about that, it could be much worse.

I’d better close and get this in the mail.  Again, thanks for everything, you are like a second family to me!

Love John


Little did I realize the job the Air Force trained me for would be the career path that would follow me for all of my employed life.  In fact the job I performed in Vietnam was almost exactly like one job I had at the old Southwestern Bell Telephone Company in downtown Austin.

So I returned home from Vietnam, married Jane, and lived happily ever-after.  May God bless those who have served our country or are now serving in the armed forces.  Freedom has a cost.


Summer 2011 – Update #3 and last one for this summer :-(

We left off with us enjoying the beautiful cool weather in the Silverton, Colorado area (San Juan mountains), Jeeping, and lamenting about the drought in Texas (more on the drought later.)

Also, we would like to apologize for steering our readers to to read our posts and look at all of the pictures we posted on a trail-by-trail basis.  Unfortunately this forum will not let you even view this particular board without being a registered user (which you can certainly do if desired.)  When John gets industrious, he’ll copy all of that content over here in a series of blog posts and make a new blog category for off-road, Jeep or something like that.

Moving on…

We had quite a bit of fun running trails in the San Juan mountains with our new Western Slope 4 Wheeler club buddies but it was time to press on and head a little further east in preparation for the All-4-Fun off-road event held in the Salida, Colorado area.  We spent a couple of weeks in Gunnison, Colorado at the very nice Palisades Senior RV Park (it’s an over age 55 park, but we got over that stigma.)  Gunnison must have the very worst WalMart store we have even set foot inside.  It looks like the aftermath of a going-out-of-business sale at a Dollar Store.  For a while we wondered if anybody actually worked there judging by how disheveled almost every merchandise shelf looked, but no – there actually were employees hanging around (“hanging around” is a significantly more descriptive term than “working.”)  Perhaps most of them spend their time outside on smoke breaks.

We did have somebody tell us that the city of Gunnison did not approve the building of a super sized WallyWorld store, so maybe this is WalMart’s way of punishing the locals.  Whatever.  John hates to set foot inside of any WalMart.  We weren’t real thrilled with the Gunnison area but there was a shining jewel there – the Pioneer Museum.  Six acres of a trip back in time.

Our Horizon coach at the All-4-Fun

Boondocking at the All-4-Fun off-road event

After our stopover in Gunnison, it was time to proceed to the campground on a private ranch for the All-4-Fun where we will be boondocking (i.e., no electric, no water, no sewer hookups) for a full week in the coach.  We left Gunnison with a full tank of water (about 80 gallons) and topped off the diesel tank (we hold 100 gallons) so we would be in fine shape to be completely self-contained for the entire week.

Even though the trip from Gunnison to Salida wasn’t very long in miles, we had to cross the Continental Divide at Monarch Pass (a little over 11,000′) with a full water tank, a full diesel tank and towing the Jeep.  We probably weighed in at 37,000 pounds between the coach and Jeep but we made the climb with no difficulty thanks to our large Cummins engine (8.9 liters and 1200 ft. lbs. of torque), but oh how we suck the fuel down.  On a long climb like that we are only getting 2.5 to 3.5 MPG and the turbo is at full boost (32 PSI.)

While at the campground in Salida, we would run the generator about 8-10 hours each day (so we could have air conditioning), and we had plenty of water for each of us to take a quick shower every day (and we had satellite TV and satellite Internet) so we certainly didn’t suffer any!  Speaking of the generator, that Onan diesel generator is a wonderful little gem.  It’s very quiet and we only burn less than a half a gallon an hour under our typical load.  We ran the generator for about 75 hours that week and we figured that was only about 25 gallons or so of fuel used.


Rock crawling at Chinaman Gulch trail near Salida, Colorado

Rock crawling at Chinaman Gulch trail near Salida, Colorado

We spent several days running trails with anywhere from about eight vehicles to almost 20.  We did a couple of hard-rated trails and we (and the Rubicon) did just great.  John did some optional hard obstacles on one of the trails, and again we had no issues thanks to increasing driver skill and a nicely built up Rubicon.  By the end of the week we were tired since most trail runs were an all-day event and we were thinking about our next stop which was going to be Grand Lake, Colorado for more sightseeing and trail running.  That didn’t quite work out as we will soon discover.

Thanks to all of the webcams John installed at our little ranch, we can easily keep a close eye on things and one day John noticed the water level in the animal stock tanks a little low.  That wasn’t a great cause for alarm since our neighbors sometimes would clean out the tanks and then it would take them a while to refill.  After going back several days (you can see that particular webcam here) and reviewing the images, it was clear the water level was slowly going down.  Oops, not good!  John called our wonderful neighbors who were looking after the place to see if there was any water in the storage tank that gravity feeds the stock troughs, and no – the tank was dry.  OH NO!

The neighbor said the primary 2500 gallon storage tank was almost full, so something was going on that could not be explained.  John was worried there might be a well issue – maybe even our well was going dry.  It was time to be very concerned about water issues thanks to the extreme drought we were experiencing.  Our neighbor said his well had a reduced flow and there were reports of wells a few miles away actually drying up.

The decision was made to cancel the rest of our summer plans (we were slowly headed to Dalton, Wyoming for another Jeep event) and immediately return home to deal with the water situation.  At least we were able to finish the All-4-Fun event, so this was a good point to break things off and head south.  It took two long days on the road (we covered about 900 miles in those two days) to return home and guess what we found?  We don’t know either.

Our neighbor transferred about 800 gallons of water from the large storage tank to the smaller tank (it holds about 1,000 gallons) to fill the animal troughs and when John looked inside both tanks, they were both almost full.  What the…?  Here we were having visions of having to spend about $25,000 for a new deep well (800′ deep!) and everything looked okay.  We are keeping a close eye on the well’s performance and it seems normal (in the best of times we only get about 2-3 GPM from it) at least so far.

This is the first time since we have owned our place here that we have experienced these hot temperatures and I can tell you that WE DON’T LIKE IT!  However, we are very thankful that we are blessed with a still functioning well – things could always be worse.  Please join us in praying for abundant rain for all of Texas – we do this before every meal .  It is a very serious situation here for everybody, especially farmers and ranchers.  It is still costing us a small fortune to feed the blackbuck antelope and we’re having thoughts about selling the entire herd (lots of ranchers are selling off their livestock.)  We are so down in the hole money-wise with the herd, there is no hope of making a little return on them for a few years at this rate (and that’s assuming we get rain and have some grass growing at some point.)

Pray for rain!

As always, thanks for riding along with Jane and John and blessings to all of our friends and loved ones!