Travel Plan Reveal, Fun With Friends in Prescott, AZ

Comments 22 Standard

Leaving behind the lush Sonoran Desert around Wickenburg was a bit melancholy, but we wanted to move on before the weather really heated up.  We were finally on our northward trajectory, after figuring out where we’d spend our summer and fall this year. Continue reading

Dodging storms from Memphis to Huntsville to Gaffney

Comments 27 Standard

When we planned this route last year, we thought most of the bad storms occurred in the Spring months.  But it turns out that Fall can be equally nasty – as we found out firsthand.  Well, now we know! Continue reading

Plumbing Into an RV Propane System

Comments 8 Standard

Steve’s giving me a break and posting one of his tech-thingy articles – yay! 🙂

We recently purchased a portable propane campfire unit, after checking out many of them during our travels.  Mona Liza just couldn’t wait to say, “It’s about time, what took you so long”?, since I had held off purchasing one for over four years.  Dave and Faye gave me the final push, after demonstrating their unit and making me realize it was exactly what I’d been looking for.

We love campfires, but the smoke and the issue of getting good firewood?  Not so much.  And of course, many campgrounds just don’t allow wood campfires.  So I had no problem with buying a portable unit – I just wanted to get the right one.  Some I had seen used “logs”, but I prefer the small rocks and tremendous heat this little unit provides.  It’s Camco part#58041, and I can say after using it for a while that we’re very happy with it.


The basic fire pit, ready to screw onto a propane tank. But that wasn’t good enough for me!

Back to the main reason for this post – I wanted to plumb this unit into my existing RV propane system which has a 30-gallon tank, and not have to carry and refill extra tanks.

The only downside to this I’ve heard is that I can’t carry the fire pit and tank to another site.  Too bad, folks will just have to come to our place if they want to enjoy it with us!  And in reality, it would be easy to disconnect the fire pit from the extension hose if someone else provided a tank for us to hook up to.


Staring at the parts didn’t get much done, so I got on the internet and educated myself


The task was to make this fitting from the fire pit connect to a 12′ extension hose, then get the other end of the hose plumbed into the RV’s system

After researching propane systems and the parts I’d need, I got the job done – and it was quite simple.  The requirement was to safely place the fire pit at least 8-10 feet from our coach on the curb side, and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time setting it up.

The parts I needed were:

  • A 12′ extension hose, Camco part#59043
  • A brass tee to plumb it into the system, Camco part#59113
  • An adaptor to connect between the fire pit regulator and the extension hose

This is the brass tee that gets plumbed into the high-pressure line coming out of the RV’s tank


I found this adaptor at an RV parts supply place.  It adapts the “propane tank” type connector on the fire pit regulator to one end of the 12′ extension hose.  Sorry, no part# for this one

I’ll let some photos taken by Mona Liza during the project tell the rest of the story:


Connecting the extension hose to the adaptor…


… then connecting the other end of the adaptor to the fire pit regulator – easy peasy!  Don’t use teflon tape or any “pipe dope” on these connections


The tee will go here, between the shutoff valve on the tank and the regulator for the RV’s system. Here you can see I’ve removed the regulator’s plastic cover


Insert the tee and tighten moderately. Test the connections with soapy water, not a lighter – or you might turn your whole RV into a fire pit!


The fitting where the extension hose connects (behind my fingers) has a spring-loaded valve in it, so you don’t need to shut off the main valve to connect/disconnect the hose.  Sweet!  The hanging cap keeps dirt out when the hose is disconnected.  To the right under my hand you can see I’ve replaced the plastic cover over the RV regulator at its new location


Testing everything right to the burner before adding the rocks


Adding the bag of included lava rocks


The instructions specified a 30-minute “burn in” for the rocks, and everything worked great

For only another $13.00, I purchased the campfire cooktop also sold by Camco, part#58033.  It’s OK to cook meats or other foods over this fire pit, since the intense heat will burn off any fats or other products that drip onto the lava rocks.


Throw some shrimp (wrapped with bacon) on the Bar-B?  Oh, yeah!


Love it when a plan comes together.  Cheers!

Replacing an engine coalescing (CCV) filter

Comments 4 Standard

This is Steve’s post detailing some maintenance he did recently on the coach.  His mechanically-minded buddies may enjoy it, but probably nobody else.

Betsy has been intermittently displaying a fault code indicating “high crankcase pressure” for quite some time, and after a bunch of research, I learned one thing I could do to possibly resolve the problem is replace the crankcase ventilation (CCV) filter, also known as a coalescing filter.  Note that there is also a “coalescent” filter in the air brake system on large diesel RV’s, but the one I’m talking about here is on top of the engine on our 2008 Cummins ISL 400hp unit.  A bit confusing, and even the Freightliner guys weren’t familiar with this part when I ordered it.  But the filter itself had the word “coalescing” printed on it, so there’s no doubt.

Engines with closed crankcase systems use this filter to prevent crankcase oil from escaping the engine and reduce emissions, and my thought was that it might somehow be getting plugged up and throwing the codes.

Since the filter is on top of the engine, the only way to access it is to remove the engine cover inside the coach.  I wasn’t crazy about having a mechanic inside Betsy tearing our bedroom apart, and since the filter replacement itself is easy I decided to do the job myself. According to the mechanic, it would have been about two hours of labor for him to do it, so we saved a nice chunk of change too.  Win-win!

About 90% of the job involved removing and re-installing the bedroom access panels to change the filter, which was a simple 20-minute job.

We have a Sleep Number bed, so I deflated and disassembled the mattress to reduce the weight so I could prop up the bed base:


I replaced a bedchamber a few years ago, so I knew how to take the mattress apart.  Mona Liza ran over and laundered all of the mattress components while I did the work


I propped the bed base up with a piece of metal bar, backed up by a 2×4 just in case.  If this thing lands on your back, you’re toast!


Finding the screws to remove the flooring. You may be able to use a magnet to locate them, but mine weren’t magnetic so I just yanked them out and replaced them with new ones


Those black plates are the 2-piece engine covers that have several screws holding them together


That rectangular cover where my hand houses the filter. About 12 bolts attach it to the engine

CCV Filter

Here’s the new filter (left) next to the old one sitting in the cover (right) . There was a spring-loaded pressure valve in the filter that I suspect was the culprit – time will tell!

Since the fault code was very intermittent, it will take a while to confirm if I fixed the problem.

Diffuser (tailpipe) replacement

I was feeling so good about how that project went that I decided to replace Betsy’s diffuser (tailpipe) while I was all sweaty and dirty.  Freightliner somehow forgot to install a new one when I had my maintenance done and asked them to do it, so I bought the part and did it myself.  Another 1/2 hour of labor cost saved!

This is the 2nd time I’ve replaced Betsy’s diffuser.  Although it’s ceramic-coated, temperatures of over 900º give it a limited lifespan and make it impossible to keep clean.


That simply won’t do…

Since I don’t happen to carry an air hammer with a cutting chisel in the coach, I drilled a whole bunch of small holes and then cut between them with a hammer and chisel to remove the old piece:



Now that’s more like it!

All in all a good day for Betsy!


The wonderful people and places of the Philippines

Comments 18 Standard

[This is Steve’s post about his experiences in the Philippines]

My third trip to the Philippines during the past 12 years has inspired me to think about all the good times I’ve enjoyed during my visits, while also reflecting on what I’ve learned about the good people there.  I’ve also found that I get somewhat depressed about the hardships that folks have to deal with in their day-to-day lives on the many beautiful islands (7,107 to be exact).

Philippine Map

We spent 8 nights with Mona Liza’s family in Moalboal on the southwest end of Cebu, then several nights on gorgeous Palawan – the island to the left in the image.

I want to stress that this post is a very general comparison of life in the Philippines, in contrast to living in the good old USA.  Like any place in the world, there are many exceptions to the following characterizations, but I thought it might be worthwhile to offer my insights into what I observed while there.


Just another day heading into the office or school

Pasil, Cebu

Squatter’s shacks along the water – the worst of life in the Philippines

My recent trip reminded me how upbeat, tough, resilient and flexible the Filipino people are.  These folks generally work hard for extremely low wages, and there are no pensions, retirement plans or medical benefits in sight.  There’s no “attitude” here as there is with many young people in the USA, and these are non-violent people.  Their biggest joys are spending time with family and chatting comfortably with complete strangers.  They are friendly, helpful and respectful with anyone they meet.  Life is much more leisurely, and it’s almost as if time is not a factor when trying to get their jobs done (ie. a very low-stress lifestyle).


Mona Liza’s sister Thelma returns home from the market – this is the way to get around town, and I totally enjoyed the ride several times!

Wanna talk about tough?  Many people in the U.S. choose between living in areas that experience either brutal weather or earthquakes.  In the Philippines you get both!  We arrived in the midst of a “signal-1” typhoon, which caused some damage but never made the news.  Several typhoons cross the islands each year, but only the “super typhoons” make the news.  Fortunately, the recent huge typhoon Hagupit headed north of our stops and spared us and ML’s family.

Kawasan Falls

The typhoon we endured while on the island of Cebu caused quite a bit of damage at the popular waterfalls

No matter how terrible things get with regard to weather or their job situation, Filipinos rarely fail to show up at church on Sunday to thank God for what they have.  Amazing!

Farmers Market in Moalboal

A typical market that we enjoyed on a daily basis

Although I love the beautiful islands and warm Filipino people, I have to admit that I’m probably just too spoiled to live there full time.  I would never drive there; although the drivers appear to be insane as they negotiate the roads with no attention to any kind of traffic laws, they somehow make it work and defy my certainty that accidents must occur every few seconds.  On my first trip in 2002 I was terrified as we weaved through traffic at high speeds.  This time I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.

Sabang, Palawan

You think you’ve seen crazy drivers?  How many violations can you spot here?

Sabang, Palawan

Hauling coconuts to a stand for sale. We loved drinking the milk and eating the meat of these yummy delights!

Saavedra, Moalboal

Life can be difficult here, but they always get the job done

Despite the fact that I don’t speak the language or even fit in very well, I always look forward to my next adventure in the Philippines.  So many beautiful islands to explore and friendly people to hang out with.  You simply must make a trip there one of the items on your “travel bucket list” – you won’t be disappointed!

 Next up:  More about our exciting visit to the Philippines

“Nothing Runs Like a Deere” – and much more in Iowa

Comments 12 Standard
Field of Dreams

This is a two-part post – first Steve’s account of our factory tours at John Deere, then back to me for our other excursions.


John DeereOur first stop in Iowa got me to thinking about what kinds of tours we might want to take while staying in this part of the country for the first time.  I use FactoryToursUSA when we get to a new state, to assist with locating available tours.  It’s kind of a crude site and not updated regularly, but I have found it to be useful on several occasions.  Anyway, I learned while looking there that John Deere is a major employer in the state of Iowa, and they have several good tours available. I think I’m excited!

I was able to make reservations for two tours on the same day at their Tractor Assembly Plant and Engine Works Plant in Waterloo.  Unfortunately, we just didn’t have time to visit the Drive Train Division, Product Engineering Center or the foundry, which are also in the area.

These plants are huge – the Tractor Assembly Plant is one of the largest buildings under a single roof in the U.S.  As usual, no cameras or cell phones were allowed at either plant, so I was unable to capture any of the fantastic things going on there.  My jaw ached at the end of the second tour from having my mouth hang open so long.  Folks, this is heavy-duty manufacturing, and anyone coming into the area should try to do some of these tours.  And they’re all FREE!

Tractor Assembly Plant

On this tour, we learned that every tractor built has been ordered and paid for before assembly begins – the same “Just in Time” concept we’ve seen at so many auto assembly plants.  None of these big companies want inventory sitting around, especially when times turn bad.  And with computer and communication technology being what it is now, they don’t have to.  Each tractor is custom ordered, and all of the 20,000 parts required to build it come into the plant from outside vendors within one or two days prior to assembly.

John Deere

One of the large tractors built at this plant

Speaking of technology, John Deere harvesters can now be ordered with state-of-the-art GPS built-in.  Accuracy?  How about within 1/4″ over 6 miles!  It’s no wonder the corn fields out here are so perfectly straight.  The tour guide told us a tractor can be programmed to go down a field, lift its accessory, turn around, put the accessory back down and continue down the next row – without the driver touching anything!

A tractor can be built in about 8 hours, and they are churning them out fast and furious for customers all over the U.S. and around the world.

Corn rows in Iowa

Perfectly straight rows of tightly-packed corn, courtesy of GPS technology!

The Engine Works Plant

The Engine Works Plant was awesome.  Hundreds of gorgeous completed engines sitting there ready to be shipped, and the tour took us through every step of machining and assembling an engine – as we watched the workers.  From engine blocks that had just come out of the foundry to final assembly and paint, they do every machining and assembly operation on the larger engines right here.  Engines are available in a myriad of colors – green for agricultural, white for marine, yellow for industrial and red for fire trucks. Absolute works of art, I was in engine heaven!  Wait, haven’t I heard someone say that about birds?

John Deere equipement at work

We spotted the finished product at work in a nearby field

I would have loved to go back to tour the foundry, but the 150-mile round trip prevented it on this stop – too many other things to see and do.  Maybe on our way back north next summer?  We’ll see!

Iowa Corn fields

Most of the corn you see growing in fields across Iowa is field corn. Very little of it is Iowa sweet corn.


I was not exactly in heaven like Steve but I did enjoy these tours.  They were a bit different than the usual airplane or automobile factory tours.  To me it was just fitting to tag along, as we are in the midst of Americas number one corn producer, Iowa.  I learned the secret of how the farmers plant their corn in a straight line and how efficient they are, using the advanced technology available to them now.

Field of Dreams

“If you build it, he will come.”  “Is this heaven?  No, it’s Iowa.”  Remember those phrases? Well, we visited the site that made them famous, the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa. It’s been over 25 years since the movie was made, and we discovered that the baseball diamond carved out of a corn field to pursue a dream remain unchanged.  The place has been preserved exactly as it was in the movie, and it’s not over-commercialized – just a quiet little field next to a farm house out in the country.  I suppose the simplicity of it is what made the film so endearing.  Although I’m not a baseball fan, I thought the movie was quite inspiring.

Fields of Dreams, Iowa

My lame re-enactment of the ghost players in the movie

Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams, Iowa

Field of Dreams from a distance

 Basilica of St. Francis Xavier

On our way back home from the Field of Dreams, we observed two steeples standing out in the distance.  We made a turn toward town to investigate and found that they belonged to the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, one of only a few Basilicas in the United States.  It is unique, in as much as it’s the only one in a rural area; all the others are in metropolitan cities.  This is considered one of the finest examples of true medieval gothic architecture.  The Catholic church confers the title of Basilica on churches of unusual architectural or spiritual significance.  This church was raised to the rank of Minor Basilica by a proclamation of His Holiness, Pope Pius XII on May 11, 1956.

As some of you have commented on my previous posts, there are many hidden treasures out there in small town America.  We are always on the lookout for them, but many times we’re just pleasantly surprised to stumble on something unusual and delightful.  We are so thrilled to be traveling this way and taking in the scenery and simplicity of life that can’t be experienced in the big cities.

Let me leave you with this amusing sign we saw along the road 🙂


Well, this one made me laugh!


Next up:  Pelicans – in Iowa?