Friday, October 30, 2015

Elkhart, IN - new wheels and a circus!

When we reached Chicago, I proudly proclaimed that we had achieved a new accomplishment in getting to the central timezone and that we wouldn't be back for a long, long time. How silly I was. Not 2 weeks later, we left Oak Lake Family campground and we made our way for Elkhart. I had finally made a decision about the individual wheel weights/flat and that was to opt for 17.5" wheels/rims and a commercial trailer tire. This increased my load carrying capacity for each wheel up to 4,800 lbs. (where my heaviest wheel weight was running 3,500 lbs.). On top of that, I gained more space between the wheels as the outer diameter of the new setup was 1/2" smaller; this is because the  sidewall height is shorter on the new tire vs. the old ones. The decrease is small enough that I didn't need to swap my spare out yet.

I found two vendors online who offer 17 1/2" wheel and tire combos. Surprisingly, the first is Rickson Tire and they're based out of Maryland- not 10-15 miles from where our house was. The other one is based out of Somewhere, OH. I called Rickson first and spoke with a woman named Heather. She was amazingly helpful and talked me through everything I needed to know. Unfortunately, her shipping lead time was a good 3 weeks, I wasn't crazy about the rim they offered; but worse, her cost was close to $400 more expensive than TT&W.

I also arranged for a auto body shop named Bud's Body Shop in Elkhart to do put the tires on and do a couple of other things (see below). They were recommended by a member of two on forums and their Yelp reviews looked pretty good. While there, I had them replace my leaf springs as two were looking pretty flat and also had them do an alignment to make sure everything was square. Once he had the wheels off, I had them inspect the bearings and brakes.
A customer and his dog
Everything removed
New shoes- so pretty (well OK, it doesn't look any different than before)
New springs
I have a separate album on Flickr of pictures specifically for this swap out.

The problem was what to do with Mandie and the kids. While I didn't mind hanging out at a shop all day; keeping Logan contained in a waiting area would have had me wishing for a tongue tattoo. Instead, we found a cheap hotel (Clarion or Comfort Inn or something). Being at a hotel for a couple of days sure reminded me of how much I love and missed my home.
At least they weren't jumping...
Overall, the repair shop did a good job and I'd recommend them. I was thankful that he backed the camper into the garage bay and that I didn't watch when he backed it onto the pit ramps for the alignment. Their price was fair and I haven't had any issues with the work. I ended up selling the original wheels and tires to a RV surplus place. I got less than I hoped but it was either that or send them to a scrap yard.
They had a little of everything
For one of our dinners, we hit up a local eatery named the Flippin' Cow. It was another Trip Advisor recommendation and it was good. Cool lake-side vibe and yummy food. What more could you ask for?
Waiting for a table
My heart-healthy dinner
I would drive to Elkhart for these onion rings!
Once the camper work was all wrapped up, we moved back to Elkhart Campground. We decided that we would make our way to St. Louis by way of a 2 part drive. We would first drive to Springfield, IL on Sunday and then on Tuesday, we would finish the drive up.

Spending the night in Elkhart meant that we could finally make it to the RV Hall of Fame. It just so happened that there was some kind of family fun fair, a vintage camper show, and even a circus was in town. I guess we had a plan for the day! But first, the kids and I swam.
Pool rules - I thought #3 was rather excessive.
Lunch was the first order of business. The fair had a big tent setup with a handful of offerings- from pizza to BBQ to cupcakes. Wife and I got BBQ and it was remarkably good. I think the kids got pizza and breadsticks- no complaints. If I recall correctly, we also got cupcakes that were pretty tasty. A little fancy for me, but good.
The kids with their pizza
BBQ lunch
The cupcake was beautiful
The RV Hall of Fame was pretty neat. They had an awesome model of the building process of a RV (#roadschool). A few new models to walk through. But their collection of old campers was remarkable. Looking back and seeing where RVs "came from" was neat. One common theme I noticed all of the years is that RVers sure like their alcohol!
Factory model
1913 Camper
Cocktail Maker
After the HOF, we went to the rinky-dink little 1-ring circus. They tried and it was cute. But the acts all went on for WAY longer than my family has attention spans for. I guess the audience needed to feel like we got our money's worth. (Though, the anti-circus protester outside was kind of cool.)
The laziest tigers you'll ever meet
The walked in circles... but wait for it- AND THEN WENT THE OTHER WAY!
The cast
Logan was done by intermission- him and Mandie went off for the bounce house, face painting, and tours of the vintage trailer show (by invite only, really nice folks, and some very cool old trailers).
Logan getting tattooed
Vintage trailers
They were pretty rad
OK, maybe a little over the top
As usual, there are more pictures on Flickr from our time in Elkhart, IN.

I'll post shortly about the drive to Springfield. We found Rt. 66! And made our first stop at a silly roadside attraction... stay tuned!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Week in Review - Fair Oaks, IN

(Still catching up, we were in Fair Oaks, IN from August 11-19, 2015.)

As I mentioned before, we decided to go off script to be able to attend a Fulltime Families rally in Branson, MO. A great part of this is that it made it OK to break our original plans and start to do some more spur of the moment things. One of these was getting to visit with my Aunt Suzette and her family. Our original plan had us missing her by this (holds fingers apart) much between her zany work schedule and us being on the far side of Chicago from her. But, the "no plan" plan meant that we could spend a week in Indiana fairly close to her place.
Dinner out - holy yummy margarita!

We stayed at Oak Lake Family Campground. This was a nice campground. The staff was super friendly. I wasn't crazy about the extra activity fees and felt they were a little high (though, our nightly rate without the fees was about $36, so that's not as bad as I recall). Otherwise, I did like the campground and would go back. Its proximity to my aunt's house was very nice. We hung out a lot- at her place and at the campground.
Huge pull-through site
The cones in the mid-left of that picture are of the fire pit. These were sunk down in the ground and were a hassle. I was terrified that the kids were going to get playing and break a leg. And building a fire down in it was annoying in that you had to be on the ground to reach. And then there was no way of getting airflow down in there. I'm not sure who thought these were a good idea.

We had a view of the lake
Inflatables on the lake (to be on these, you had to pay extra)
The kids enjoyed the jumping pillow (the extra fee applied for this)

And really, that was our week in review: we hung out with Aunt Suzette, Jake, and Michael more days than not. We drove into Chicago (Blue Island) for dried beef to ship back to my sister and to get gyros from T&G Gyros. One really high point was getting a tour of the neighborhoods and seeing houses where my mom and dad lived. We also happened to drive through the area where I was born (Hinsdale). We ate so much yummy food. We hung out and laughed. And just had a great time in general. We even had a (rare for us) fire a couple of nights.
Our wood "pile"
The Albanese Candy factory was right near my aunt's house - great gummy bears!

Like I said, being able to visit family and friends really make this trip special. I'm glad that I didn't let the plan define our experience and that, instead, we went off script and got to spend some quality in time with our loved ones.

Next up, we actually back track to Elkhart for some camper work before we started southwest and were rally bound.

As usually, many more pictures of our week on Flickr.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Being Prepared - roadside tire change

As I mentioned in my Chicago post, I was watching one of my tires with a suspect eye. I told myself that I needed to change it before we left Sycamore and headed to Fair Oaks, IN. But, nervousness and time got in the way and I didn't.

Sure enough, we got on the road and my tire pressure monitor system (TPMS) started indicating that the suspect tire was running a higher pressure than the others. I slowed down and was able to milk that for a while. When I crossed the Illinois/Indiana border, I hit a fairly impressive pot hole. Almost instantly my tire pressure alarm went off and I pulled over.
Within minutes, the pressure dropped from 80psi to 34psi
First "being prepared" - my TPMS saved me from the tire disintegrating and the tread causing damage to the camper. I opted for one by Truck System Technologies (TST). I have the 507 system with flow-through sensors. I bought from Amazon but used their customer service a few times and I have been very satisfied with their support.

Once I got onto the shoulder, I wasn't positive what to do next. I had heard of people calling the police to have a patrol car sit behind them to ward off distracted drivers. I figured this was a good idea and dialed 911. I hated taking up an emergency slot, but I didn't want to become one! They offered to send out State Farm's Hoosier Helpers. I asked about pulling up and off of the exit ramp, but they warned me to not go too far as the Hoosier Helpers can only help when I'm "on" the interstate.

While I waited, Mandie and/or Paige reminded me of my next "being prepared" item which was a gift they got me - a neon green safety vest.
Reflective stripes and all- not needed during the day, though.
I waited 10 or 15 minutes for the Hoosier Helper guy to pull up. As we waited, the tire continued to deflate. I also did the only logical thing and texted my dad to complain.
Yep, that's a flat.

Finally feeling "safe", I got out of the vehicle and started assessing the situation. First, I made acquaintances with the HH guy.
Not long, my new buddy showed up
And, I assess the situation:
Sitting on the rim
We talked and he asked if I had "one of those lifting systems" (meaning a leveling system). I don't, but my next bit of preparedness came in (reading about RVing, a LOT!) and I had read that you can make a ramp out of wood/leveling blocks. I tried this once before and it didn't go so well, but the friendly folks on the Forest River Forums made some comments that stuck with me. I made up a ramp and gently pulled the camper up onto it:
Lynx Leveler blocks ramp
As you can also see, my preparedness with tools came into play. The Helper came armed with an impact gun. He tried rattling off the lug nuts, but didn't have the right sized socket. We decided that instead of using the power tool, we would use a breaker bar and my deep well sockets. I did learn a trick that instead of using your arms/upper body to press on the breaker bar, just step/stand on it. More pressure, less work.

We broke the lug nuts free, but the tire was still firmly on the ground. The axle was lifted a good bit, but not far enough. I had always planned that I could use my truck's jack (since it's a 4x4) to raise the tires. Turns out, I'm sort of right and sort of wrong. The wrong: the jack is too short and I needed wood under the jack to lift it up (in hindsight, I likely need the same wood for the truck's tires).
Truck jack on 2x12 pieces of wood
The right: once I put the block under it, it raised the tire perfectly. Even if it wasn't the most comfortable getting to:
Why yes I did give my phone to HH guy and asked him to take pictures for Facebook/blogging
My one lack of preparedness came by way of air compressor. We got the spare out right away and I had quite a bit of panic that I almost never check its pressure and had no way of topping it up if it was low. I lucked out in that it had the proper amount of air AND if it hadn't, the Hoosier Helper truck has an air compressor.

I got the spare back on and started tightening the lug nuts.
If you squint, you'll see Mandie's view- me working the tire and HH sitting on the wall
Once the tire was on and we lowered the jack, HH hit the lug nuts with his impact gun. I don't know what they were torqued to, but I wasn't going far and I did stop to check torque on them a few times. These wheels/rims and tires were soon replaced.
Tightening Lug Nuts
And then it was time to put everything away.*
So much stuff
As you can tell, it was a passenger side tire. My blocks are stored on the driver's (road) side. Being terrified each time I went to that side, I decided not to put the blocks away in their usual home and instead threw most everything inside the door the camper. Being chicken-afraid, I also didn't do a walkaround the camper which I do every time we stop.

* Putting it all together... when I got the Lynx Leveler blocks out, I moved a bin of toys. I placed it under the edge of the camper. I left it there thinking it would be one less thing I had to move when I put the blocks away. Not putting the blocks away and not doing a walk around meant that I left the bin of toys under the camper. As I pulled away, I must have hit it with the camper and that threw it into the road. Unfortunately, I was oblivious to it and drove away.

The Hoosier Helper caught up to me and flagged me to the side of the road. He told me what happened and offered to go back and pick it up. He did but unfortunately there was nothing to pickup. The toys were destroyed and bin was a total loss. Nothing expensive, just frustrating.

All told, preparedness was the key to handling this. While I hadn't practiced these skills- I had the right tools for the job and the mental knowledge for how to tackle it. I am also thankful for the Hoosier Helper being a calm presence and reassurance for what I was doing.

Next, I had to decide what to do about this tire. Being overloaded on 1 tire and maxed out on 2 others, I didn't just want to swap the same thing in. I'll share soon what I did there.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Windy City, Chicago Recap

As I mentioned, St. Clair was the beginning of the end of our plan. We stayed in Michigan for a couple of extra days letting Mandie's back rest. To break up the drive, we planned to stop somewhere in the middle.

Elkhart Campground fit the bill. With being in Elkhart, I wanted to stop at the RV Hall of Fame but we didn't get up until late the next morning and heard there was stuff going on over there, so I wasn't comfortably taking the camper with us. Instead, we headed on down the road with our sights set on Sycamore. Don't worry- we come back around to this later!

Back tracking for a moment, since my individual wheel weighing, I have been researching different tire options as the weighing indicated that I'm maxed out on 2 tires and overloaded on a 3rd. On top of that, one of the tires was giving me the heebee-jeebees. It just didn't "look" right. Sure enough, on the way to Sycamore- my tire pressure monitor system (TPMS) told me that it was running a little hotter and at a higher pressure than the others. I had to slow down a fair amount (from 62-64 down to 50-55) to keep the pressure down and my TPMS from alarming. This solidified my decision on new wheels and tires. Unfortunately, I didn't act on it right away and we had some "fun" later- but I'll blog about that another time. (Queue collective eye rolling here.)
A sneak peak

Sycamore RV is a decent place. Other than some attitude from the owner/manager, I'd likely be back. I did have to change our dates 3 times- first to reflect our Tuesday travel day (vs Mondays) and then for Mandie's back. He was pleasant on the phone. It started going bad when he asked how many computer devices we needed to get onto the Internet. I didn't plan for this question and quickly ran through devices in my head (3 laptops, 1 iPod, 2 iPads, and 2 phones) and said 6. You would have thought I had asked for a night with his wife with the level of shock on his face. And then it went downhill - apparently this is the kind of place where he guides you to your site. Not a problem. I can read a campground map, but hey- his place. Where he got pissy was when we politely/jokingly (but serious) told him that I only take directions from my wife when it comes to parking the rig. It seems that this was a grave injustice on his park and manhood. He stood there pouting while we parked it. We were barely in position when he made some snide remark and stormed off. The upshot is that the site was spaciously wide even though we had neighbors just behind of us.
Our setup at Sycamore

Chicago was a blast. We first headed to the Sears (err.. Willis) Tower. We got there about noon and hadn't eaten lunch. Imagine our surprise when they were announcing a 2 hour wait to get to the top. But, for the low price of $20 extra per person, you could get a FastPass and go straight to the top. A little lie about Logan's age and we were on our way up. These people were professional elevator packers. When the elevator got full, they let more people in. When we were touching our neighbors, they let more people in. When the nice fellow beside me had no choice but to grope me- they let one last person in. And then we stood like sardines for the X-minute ride to the top.
Our first views of Sears Tower - you can squint and see the skyboxes

Once on the observation deck, we checked out the bugs and spiders outside of the windows. (I do wonder how they got up there.) Mandie and Paige did some roadschooling, talking about the city and stuff or something. After a bit, we made our way to the glass boxes that jute out from the side of the building. This was a mild chaos of lines, but we finally got our turn. Stepping out into the box really did take your breath away. Looking down was pretty eerie. We took some photos and did the selfie thing. We went back to the glass box that had their photographer setup. Paige had to be coaxed, ordered, and pushed out- but the photos are pretty neat.
My wife and kids are so beautiful
Logan Loved It

After this, we needed some food. I have raved about Firehouse Subs to Mandie for a while now. It was very disappointing. Nothing nearly as good as the one in Fairfax.
Firehouse Buckets

Next up was the Adler Planetarium. We were able to get admission to it with a newly acquired annual pass to a Science Center in Lancaster (Lancaster Science Factory). Science centers and aquariums are neat- many have reciprocal agreements that you can get into the others. We really enjoyed the planetarium but really didn't have time to fully experience it. They had some neat space stuff and we drove little rovers similar to the Mars rover (ok, way more simple and much smaller- but the idea is similar). On our scale of "would I go back?" It's a definite yes.
How Astronauts Sleep
It's a Rover, Seldom Sober
Big bang theory

We went to a water front park where Logan and sister played in the "sand" with some little girl. From there, we went to a hotel for the night (a Marriott near Midway airport).
Kids Playing
My beautiful flower

Dinner ended up being very uninspired and we hit a TGI Fridays or Applebee's or something that was next to the hotel. The hotel was decent and saved on our commute time (which was the reason for staying), but it sure reminds me why I love my camper home!
Snuggly in bed

The plan for the next day was to get up early and hit the Museum of Science and Industry. Anyone who knows us just rolled their eyes at the idea of us "getting up early"! And true to form, we got out of the hotel later than we wanted. I also encountered the first parking garage that I simply didn't fit. The entry had a curve to get into the gates and I was just too long and wide to fit. I got lucky in that there was no one behind me and I was able to back out. We found a nice parking lot on the back side of the museum which actually ended up being a fair amount cheaper than the garage.

You could spend days at this place. Our highlights were the Robots display, the massive miniature train setup, and some weather-related exhibits. The kids literally sat on the floor watching a pendulum that shows how the earth moves. Roadschool rocks! I loved the indoor lightning. My dad was telling me about a huge dollhouse that was there when I was a kid. As far as I can tell, it still is, but we didn't get down to see it. We played and stayed until it closed.

Earth's Rotation Display
Indoor Lightning!
Logan watching a robot (he got to control this one later!)
Playing Tic-Tac-Toe against a robot
RAWR! I'm a giant!

Dinner was a Chicago classic- Giordano's Pizza. It was every bit as good as we were told it would be. We got back to the house thoroughly tired and with full brains. Everyone slept good that night!
See deep.
Dat Pizza

As I mentioned, we were there until Tuesday. Nothing major to report- I worked Monday and we got on the road Tuesday for a short 100-mile drive back to Indiana. The drive itself was interesting, but I'll share those details in its own post.

As always, so many photos (160+ and a couple of vidoes) over on Flickr.