Upgrades

Camping and working with a vintage trailer teaches you the necessities and not so vital issues to deal with these time capsules. After four years of use, we finally agreed that we HAD to install some kind of built in A/C system: summers were just too hot and the portable unit we had tried just did not do the job. So following the rally at lake Livingston we dove into some upgrades!
First, the freshwater pump needed attention. Starting last summer, the pump would not catch prime or pump water out of the freshwater tank. Not a huge problem since we had not been boondocking, but it needed to be fixed, so it was first on the list.
When we restored Tallulah Belle, we had installed the pump under the sink– about 4 feet distant from the tank outlet– and ran a length of Pex line to allow freshwater to gravity feed to the pump. In assessing this layout we decided that it would be better to mount the pump directly adjacent to the outlet of the tank (within 6 inches) to avoid the restriction of several feet of Pex line before the pump. After moving the pump, it still would not operate at full pressure, so we guessed that some sort of malfunction had occurred. Ok, it happens, nothing mechanical lasts forever, right? Off to Amazon to order a new Shurflo 60 psi pump. And wait 10-12 days for it to be delivered.
While waiting for that to occur, we tackled the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Yes, the A/C issue. There is a cabinet space above the refrigerator in the center of the wardrobe area, and THAT is where the new A/C was to be installed. The opening is not quite 12 inches by 22 inches and was about 16 inches deep, but the back wall was a false wall and there was an additional 5 inches of space to the outside wall. Searching for a window unit small enough to fit yielded an LG 8000 BTU unit at our local Home depot–but there was a problem. The dimensions of the unit would allow it to fit inside the space, but the front cabinet was too small for it to pass through. This meant that we would have to cut an opening in the side of the camper and install it from the outside. Of course, we would be opening up the sidewall to vent the unit outside anyway, but now we were required to install from outside.
Oh, and one other thing–the cabinet itself was built of paper thin birch plywood, and the new A/C weighs about 60 lbs, so serious reinforcement would be needed to support the weight.

Wellll, since we were going to be doing some woodwork, this seemed like a good time to upgrade the cabinet/storage space. The floor to ceiling closet to the right of the fridge would get shelves installed to store dishes, appliances and lots of sundry items, and the half length cabinet to the left of the fridge would now be used as storage for hanging clothes. The slide out chrome tray we had installed there in 2013 would be moved to under the sink for cleaning supplies, since the water pump was to be moved from that location.  So, removal of the original A/C shelf and replacement with 3/4 plywood with heavy duty shelf supports, and lining the closets on both sides with new 1/2 inch birch (shellac finished of course) to support the new shelves in those locations.

Cabinet above fridge is where the new A/C will be installed

A/C cabinet after new shelf and supports installed, before opening up outside wall.

Sorry for the sideways photo–this is the full length closet to the right of the fridge after new birch lining and new shelves have been installed

Following a couple of days of measuring, cutting, shellacking and installing, the shelves and cabinet for the A/C were ready. Now came the nerve wracking part. In order to install the unit, the outer skin and inner birch wall would have to be breached. We made a template the same size as the A/C unit and marked it’s outline on the outer birch wall, then drilled holes through the skin at the four corners. Moving to the outside, we used hand sheet metal cutters to slowly, carefully cut the metal from hole to hole until we had an opening exposing the inside birch, then use a jigsaw to open the hole all the way through. A bit of trimming of the top 1X4 brace was required to shoehorn the unit into place but eventually it fit through. We attached pads of Sorbothane vibration damper material to the bottom of the A/C to ensure quiet operation and then slid it into position. Fit like a charm!

New 8000 BTU air conditioner in position in it’s cabinet. The cabinet door still fits flush!!

The cabinet door was retained as it still fit flush with the unit in place, but we moved the hinges to the top and the chevron pull to the bottom, and ordered gas piston struts to hold the lid open in use. With the cabinet shut there is no indication that the trailer has been modified.

Of course the drain tube needed to be installed and the opening sealed and insulated, which we used pool noodle foam to accomplish. Heavy foil heating duct tape was used to wrap and seal the edges of the opening and to create a foam seal on the edges of the louvered vent cover which now covers the opening. (We also used black fiberglas mesh to make a screen to keep out bugs and unwanted stuff)

Making the cuts to create opening.

Please don’t screw up!

Sheet metal cut into shape, Time to cut away interior birch.

Unit in place and foam insulation sealing up opening, Drain plug not yet installed into position. It was run down behind the fridge and out the door behind the fridge compressor.

The drain tube was installed to drain through the door behind the fridge compressor and fixed into position. Once everything was buttoned down we tested the A/C and blessed cold air filled the formerly stifling hot interior. WE HAD AIR CONDITIONING!!

We also removed the chrome slide-out rack from the left hand closet to the under sink area, which involved building a flat platform with riser blocks to give the rack clearance from the wheelwell tub. Now we have a handy storage for cleaning supplies under the sink!

We also had decided to update the front window rock guard, and replace the polycarbonate with a three panel solid panel, which we used vinyl flooring material to create. If the vinyl proves unsuitable we will try a thin sheet of Lexan, but for now the rockguard looks good to go.

New rockguard

Another view of the new rockguard.

The new louvered vent is the only cue that we have slammed an air conditioner into the old girl.

So now with all the upgrades we will have to take some road trips and see how everything is working, but fear not, camping is in the forecast!  We will continue to update Tallulah Belle’s evolution. Happy Camping!

New Adventures-Old Friends!

Time to add another chapter to Tallulah Belle’s archive!  The weekend of April 7-9th was the annual spring rally of the Texas Vintage Trailer Club at Wolf Creek Park on Lake Livingston, Texas.  Blessed with glorious weather and sunshine, 53 trailers attended, and it was an overload of vintage trailer goodness.

Working on some last minute items to get Tee Girl ready, I moved the water pump from under the sink to the outlet of the freshwater tank under the streetside dinette bench to minimize hydrostatic backpressure, cut and installed hardwood quarter-round moulding on the edges around the flooring, and finally, troubleshooting the on again/off again Marey tankless heater. All of these tasks were finished when April 7, 2017 finally rolled around and we hitched Tallulah Belle to Pearl, the new truck, for the first time.

On the way to the park, April 7. 2017.

This was also the first time we had towed the trailer since having the new springs installed in the fall, and we were relieved to find that the increased ride height allowed the trailer to handle dips and bumps without bottoming out.  The new truck pulled the trailer without effort, BUT being 2 feet shorter and about a half ton lighter than the 2006 truck, the motion of the trailer influenced the truck MUCH more than we were used to. Driving in sidewinds is especially when you notice the swaying and jouncing. Looks like a set of sway bars/ride control is in the works for our trailer!

Arriving at the park in early afternoon, many of the other trailers were already set up, and the owners enjoying the sunshine. We had a spot between some great friends from last year’s rally, so we got to catch up on happenings in their lives.  The three main loops of the park were all filled with vintage trailers, and some lakeside spots a bit further on had several rally attendees as well.  A good number of the Shasta reissue trailers were present, and many restored Airflytes, Deluxe, Astrodome and Compact Shastas, but there were some highly creative homebuilt teardrops and customized vintage trailers. The ingenuity and creativity involved in some of these restorations is mind-boggling!

1954 Clipper

1970 F-100 Sport Custom with slide in camper

1978 Silver Streak motorhome

Our favorite was the 1970 Ford F-100 truck with the slide-in camper, and it’s owner had done a magnificent job recreating the original look of the rig.

Interior of 1970 Ford truck camper

period-correct magazines

Check out this custom tile work on the kitchenette of the truck camper!!!

Friday night arrived and we all gathered at the pavilion for bbq brisket and sausage, beans, coleslaw and dessert, and got to mingle and socialize with other owners. As darkness approached, we clustered around campfires and enjoyed embers and smoke blown into our faces…(doesn’t that always happen?)

Saturday morning dawned radiant and golden, and as we sipped coffee and came to life, an omlette breakfast  was set up and prepared by our neighbors.  We had never seen “omlettes in a bag” before but it seems to work well. Crack your ingredients into zip-loc baggies and toss them into boiling water for a few moments, they all turn out perfect without burning.  Pretty slick way to feed over  100 guests with minimum prep and fuss!

Saturday afternoon was the open house/tour of campers, and this year we were able to actually go to look at some other trailers, thanks to the son of some friends who cat-sit our kitties and allowed us to wander around and play tourist.

Ben keeping our cat Deuce occupied and letting us look at other trailers.

Omlette breakfast on Saturday morning.

One of the benefits of touring the other trailers is getting to see the mods that owners have done, and taking inspiration from them. We have wanted to incorporate a three-flag holder onto our trailer for  flags of the US, Texas and Acadiana, and we saw a setup that we are going to copy on our trailer.

The owner of a 1954 Clipper had built a bracket with built in lighting on the hitch of his trailer, and it seems to be just the thing we have been wanting to do ourselves. Seems to be a perfect solution for this application!

Three flag holder on the hitch.

Saturday evening rolled around and the potluck dinner was served. Melinda had prepared several dozen ultra deluxe deviled eggs, and there were many iterations of pasta salad, beans, and casserole, so there was plenty of food for everyone.

After dinner, the door prize drawing was held, and then once full dark arrived (?), the cornhole tournament began. It was fun but being able to actually see the target to toss bags at would have made it more enjoyable.  Following this, the campfires were lit and we got to share fellowship and Melinda’s trademark Mexican style cinnamon hot cocoa.  It doesn’t get any better!  Friendships and campfires are the payoff for the whole camping experience!

Sunday morning dawned as another cool beautiful morning, and Melinda set up the Camp Chef stove to prepare eggs benedict breakfast for us and our neighbors. For most of them it was a revelation, getting served a four-star breakfast in a camp setting. You Only Live Once, right?

All too soon it was time to break camp and pack up all the ‘stuff’ that goes with a vintage camper, and to make our way back home again. In this case we were only 60 miles away, but due to idiot drivers on US 59 the trip took us almost 3 hours to traverse those 60 miles.  Made it home safely and got Tallulah Belle parked back in her spot, and the trucks  unloaded. Why do the really great events have to end so suddenly?

And so with another rally behind us we prepare for the summer camping season, and possible plans to caravan with some other owners to a remote camp destination as well as our annual trip to Fredricksburg.  We will update as these events happen.  Happy camping!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Ritual

Tallulah Belle getting her shine on!

 

Another spring is upon us, and with it another camping season.  Our annual “Rites of Spring” ritual has begun — the cleaning/tweaking/repair of stuff that was put off during last camp season.  Since the last entry on this blog we have moved to a home where we can store Tallulah Belle on site, and this allows us the opportunity to spend more time addressing the items needed to be repaired. So far, this list includes:

  • moving the water pump close to the outlet of the freshwater tank, extending Romex wiring to accommodate the pump in it’s new location.
  • polishing out the stainless stove cooktop, which was showing rust blooms from the 241% humidity Houston is famous for.
  • Polishing aluminum brightwork, including windows, wings, trim and interior pieces.
  • repainting high wear areas–bumper, hitch, doorjamb, rock chips, etc
  • refilling propane tanks and function testing electrical/propane/water systems.
  • finally, complete washing and detailing inside and out in preparation for rally season!

Since the last post on this blog, we have not been camping, but in October  we DID have an ‘adventure’ with Tallulah Belle . We finally found a trailer repair shop that would install new springs on the old girl, and by this time the 56 year old original issue units were in bad shape.  The rear bumper would scrape the ground from the slightest of bumps while under tow, and the ground clearance was only about 4 inches when parked. We made the arrangements, towed Tee Girl to the shop and left her there for the work to be done.  After about two weeks we were notified that the springs were installed and ready to go. Went to retrieve her and decided to return to our home on surface streets rather than risk the 85 mph kamakazi traffic of Houston’s Sam Houston Tollway. She towed well and we navigated rush hour traffic finally pulling up to the curb in front of the house, where we had to open the driveway gate and back the trailer into it’s parking place.  When the gate was opened, we put the truck into gear and rolled forward, manuvering to back the trailer into the driveway, and we both heard a grinding, clanking noise from the streetside trailer wheel.  Pulling the baby moon off we were greeted with the sight of the wheel sitting loosely atop the hub and all five of the wheel bolts clattering into the street.

WHAT???

Yep, you read that right.  ALL of the wheel bolts were out, and there was nothing securing the wheel to the axle.  The  extreme narrow dimensions of the wheelwell, coupled with the long axle hub had somehow prevented the wheel from departing during the trip. The wheel was just sitting loosely on the hub.

Someone at the shop had put the wheel in place and then not tightened the wheel bolts, so that the rotation of the wheel backed all five bolts out.

This was the ONLY TIME that I was grateful for the ridiculously small wheelwells and lack of clearance. Silver linings and all that. So that, gentle readers, was our err…’adventure’ for the fall.  We got her backed into position, tarped up and secured for the winter (such that is is in Houston).

Now that it is March, and our first rally of the year is less than a month away, we dove into the work needed to get Tallulah Belle ready for camping again.

Paint touch up around front windows

Touching up the paint around the front window.  The high heat from storage in a shed all summer caused butyl tape to ooze out from under the window frame. This required cleaning with mineral spirits and some paint touch up.

This is what the wings are supposed to look like!

 

 

Wings polished and brought back to mirror shine!

 

Shining on.

Jalousie window after cleanup/polishing.

 

Can’t forget this can we?

And of course, the Shasta emblem needed some love also.  Looks pretty good now!

We are eagerly waiting for the first rally of the year, and the chance to tow Tallulah Belle with the new F-150 truck.  We have calibrated the truck’s ‘Hands-Off Trailer Backing System’  and are curious as to how well this feature works.  We will have a full user review of this facet of the new truck after the spring rally.

Until then, Happy Camping, my friends!

Back on the Road Again!

Melinda's new F 150

Melinda’s new F 150

June,2016.

Since the rally in April, we have been camping twice with Tallulah Belle, and what a joy it is to be able to pack up and go when we wish!

We returned to Wolf Creek park on Lake Livingston two weeks after the rally for a low stress relaxing weekend,and this time we were the only vintage camper on site, but the park was full and everyone there seemed to have a great time. We Had a surprise visit from some new friends whom we had met at the rally, Guy and Beth and their son Ben, and it was wonderful to connect with them again for some camping fellowship. Alas, the weekend flew past far too quickly, and then it was back to work.

Readers of this blog will remember that we are quite fond of Fredericksburg ,Texas, and we celebrated our wedding anniversary with a trip to that town, where we again stayed at the KOA campsite a few miles out of town (where we stayed in May 2014). Four days of shopping, camping, Melinda’s outdoor chef wizardry and of course, crawling through various winery tasting rooms!

Six Shooter Cellars has become our favorite winery location in Fredericksburg, and another visit there did not disappoint. Very knowledgeable and social staff, a variety of outstanding wines and a metric **** ton of fun!

Melinda picked up a Fagot induction cooktop for the camper, and it made us wonder why we had waited so long to do so. An induction plate is PERFECT for use in a trailer, as it does not heat up the interior when using it, it cannot cause burns or start fires – a great advantage with rambunctious kitties in the camper- and allows extremely precise control of heat and cooking.

We went the weekend before Memorial Day due to my schedule, and lucky we did, for torrential rains during the week made the holiday weekend a flood situation for most of the Hill Country. Several of the main roads in and out of Fredericksburg were literally under water during the Memorial Day weekend!

Now that we had logged three camping trips in two months, it seemed as if things were truly getting back to normal again, but the big news was yet to happen. As you have seen in the photos so far, our tow vehicle is a 2006 F 150 nicknamed the Kobiyashi Maru, which has been a flawless and faithful companion for pulling the Shasta. We have been planning on acquiring a new vehicle for Melinda for two years now but the situation was not right to make this move.

Until now.

And so in June, we got a new Ford F 150 Lariat, in pearl white, which is both Melinda’s new vehicle and a tow vehicle for Tallulah Belle.

This truck is crammed full of the most incredible high tech features imaginable, such as 360 degree cameras, blind spot warning, colored ambient interior lighting, and an automated trailer backup assist. Seriously! You shift into reverse and engage the assist, take your hands off the wheel and rotate a knob to make the trailer back up in the direction you want.

I cannot help but think that the folks who built the Shasta trailers 56 years ago can could not have imagined a truck which would back up the rig without using the steering wheel! The juxtaposition of new tech vehicles towing half century old skool campers is really crazy. I’ll add some photos ASAP for visual impact.

The Curse Is Broken!

April 12, 2016

First off, I KNOW it has been  a while since I have updated this blog. Last summer was the last post, in fact. Guilty as charged. Life has surged forward and now seems an appropriate time to catch up on Tallulah Belle’s ongoing adventures.

So the Great Memorial Day Flood of 2015 had occurred, we pulled Tee Girl out of the waters and took her back to the family ranch for storage in a pole barn alongside feed spreaders and ranch equipment, and there she sat.  Our home situation had stabilized, with me working as a control room operator for Noble Energy in Houston, until the control room was moved to Dilley, Texas  –south of San Antonio on I 35– and now I am back on a 7 on/ 7 off rotation, just like offshore.

We pledged that we WOULD make it to the Texas  Vintage Trailer Club spring rally at Lake Livingston in April, so to make ready we bought a new 2016 Frigidaire dorm fridge and painted it the same Bright Idea yellow as the other appliances ( since the other fridge had self destructed on the rocky ranch roads), getting it finished and then packaged to travel.  In March we made a weekend trip to the ranch and spent several days cleaning and repairing the issues which had developed. The trailer was filthy with fine white powdery caliche dust which coats EVERTHING, there was residue from the flood to be scrubbed and polishing/touchup to be done before the rally.

The big news was that we had located an RV storage facility not far from our apartment, so that we can FINALLY keep the trailer close by and not have a 10 hour round trip each time we want to use it! We found uncounted mouse turds inside, so everything came out and disinfectant followed by more disinfectant and then serious cleaning was the order of the day. Every bit of fabric or cloth was cleaned and then left in the sun for two days to air our. The bargman Trail-Lite which had vibrated loose and was dangling by it’s wire was reinstalled with screws to the wood backing AND adhesive to the aluminum skin this time, the aluminum windows and trim were scrubbed and then polished, and finally Tallulah Belle began to take on a semblance of her former shine. After an uneventful trip back to Houston she was finally nestled in her secure indoor storage slip and we were Ready To Rally!

April 8 crawled toward us with agonizing slowness, but eventually it was here, so we packed up the kitties and the supplies we’d need and hitched up Tee Girl for the two hour trip to Coldspring, Texas!  A ravishing spring weekend was forecast, and when we pulled into the park we beheld a number of other vintage travel trailers nestled at the base of the soaring pine trees, glinting like metallic easter eggs through the boughs. What a sight!12938291_931810730267172_5854963521894279259_nVintage campers arrayed at the camp grounds.

The organizer told us that 42 campers were present this weekend (not all of them vintage) and that this was the biggest turnout ever for this particular rally.  We set up at our site, got the awning up and furniture placed, and then watched as more and more vintage beauties rolled into the campgrounds! Among the numbers were 5 or 6 of the 2015 Shasta reissue campers in all three of the factory colors. One of the owners mentioned that their campers were excluded from some vintage rallies (sad, isn’t it?) but being Texas, all were welcome here!

Friday night had in store a fajita dinner for the campers, prepared by one of the attendees, and a chance to meet and greet other vintage owners. We finally met in person some of the people we had been corresponding with online via several vintage trailer forums, and got to see their own projects! (Big shoutout to Ethan and Amanda).  After the dinner, when darkness fell, we were ready to grab some rest, as Saturday was the big day of the rally so we crashed fairly early.

Saturday morning dawned a flawless crisp cool 55F, the lake was sparkling and the breeze sighing in the pine boughs. We had our leisurely coffee, and then began to stage  and set up for the photographer and open house later that morning.  The exterior was already mostly ready except for the whitewalls/wheels, so a quick blast of Totally Awesome cleaner and the tires were spotless.

*NOTE*  I know I have commented on Totally Awesome before but the stuff is truly incredible, ridiculous name and all!

12961699_931814876933424_1094813895180454214_nReady for Open House!

13006688_931814926933419_620969400205342840_nShowing off her original 1960 trailer plate!

 

Since we had brought Deuce and Ziva with us, we were concerned that they might react to a stream of strangers touring through the trailer, so we stayed closeby to ensure that they did not escape, but to our surprise both cats were completely mellow and lounged while the visitors paraded by! Deuce, in particular, went into his ‘Dude” (Big Lebowski) mode and charmed everyone, especially the photographer, who tried to get the cats into all the interior shots, but without success. Cats do what they want to on their own schedule, right?

13000097_931815780266667_4443797483316940470_nDeuce is visible on the seatback of the gaucho at left.

12994539_931815806933331_2266872479027115470_nDinette area.

The Open House saw a LOT of visitors and we hope that some of them catch the fever and find their own vintage camper to personalize and travel with. Unfortunately we did not get to go look at many of the others ourselves due to cat-sitting, but we did chat up many other owners for their stories and perspectives.

13001264_931814810266764_6087773090904818016_nTallulah Belle and us!

12938362_1156768547675384_1187890331876253852_nOne of our favorite shots. Thanks Amanda!

 

Saturday evening brought the potluck dinner –we had brought deviled eggs–and there was a tremendous amount of food for everyone! BIG kudos to the BBQ artist who did the brisket! We had a big circle of campers who enjoyed the meal and the fellowship with each other, and really, this is what rallies are all about!13001119_931812676933644_6187282712350927741_nSome new/old friends, the Langley family and Ruby, their 1960 Shasta!

 

After the dinner, as darkness fell, we set up a campfire at our site, and a group of campers joined us for some Abuelita’s hot cocoa (with cinnamon) and storytime in the firelight. What a great way to end a perfect vintage camper day!

Alas, Sunday morning came all too quickly with the threat of afternoon showers, so we broke camp and departed before noon, headed back to Houston and secure cover this time, to wait until the next trip or rally.

Finally, the curse has been broken!

Follwing are some random photos of campers and owners in attendance this weekend.

12718096_931815370266708_4371539612553984930_n12938229_931812503600328_7846419413919240157_n12938279_931810660267179_6818203087548917731_n12938353_931812386933673_2734542567830177339_n13000288_931813500266895_2554070780741468932_n12961724_931810376933874_7811673046415198626_nOur hostess, Teresa. Bravo!!12987127_931810463600532_4837338126038049119_n12998615_931814066933505_6399823923209612373_n12961579_931812983600280_6248683092520501780_n12998553_931814783600100_6277151796471982897_n12963402_931811920267053_2743752377483197645_n13010899_931813826933529_1878258317530110944_n

 

 

Why so quiet?

It’s been a month since I have updated this blog, and you may be wondering what is happening in the catastrophe-filled world of Tallulah Belle. The short answer is Not Much.

At least for now.

My foot is healed and I am back at work in the Gulf of Mexico, and we will (soon) take some time to fix the issues caused by the flood in Houston and by the beating from the unpaved rocky ranch roads. So far our punch list includes

—replace refrigerator (which died during Memorial Day trip)

—repair on demand water heater (we think that jouncing on rocky roads damaged electronics)

—repair the license plate frame/Trail Lite which vibrated loose on the trip home last time (those rocky roads again)

—get the springs replaced or modified to give 3-5″ of lift so that the rear of the trailer does not scrape every time we encounter a bump or a driveway dip.

—find a better way to cool the interior. The LG portable A/C unit just does not cool the temperature much, and we are looking at a permanent installation solution.

It does not appear that we will be able to make any of the scheduled rallies this summer or fall due to schedule conflicts and already filled reservations, but we are planning on another trip to Texas Renaissance Festival with Tallulah Belle this fall.

One bit of bright news to report is that Tallulah Belle is now a catalog model!!   Diamondback tires has used her to show off their whitewall trailer tires in the  2015 catalog. Look on page 11 to see her in her glory!

www. dbtires.com

Texas Flood

April/May 2015

Drama.

We REALLY dislike drama.

Answer me then, O gentle readers, why have we had so much drama this spring?

(A rhetorical question, but essential for setting up this chapter…)

We rolled into April keenly anticipating an upcoming rally near Cleveland, Texas, held by the Texas Vintage Camper group, and had reserved and paid for our campsite, made the arrangements for everything and were more than ready to dive into our first rally.  I had installed a front mount hitch receiver on our truck, in order to accommodate our bikes when the trailer was attached, and a few days before the weekend of the rally I drove over to our ranch where Tallulah Belle was stored, to clean, polish  and get her into rally-ready condition.

Our plan was for me to do the prep work and on the Thursday drive to the rally location, where Melinda would meet me, as it was less than an hour’s drive from Houston and she had to work on Thursday. After two long days of fixing minor issues and polishing exterior trim, the whole rig was packed and loaded and ready to roll for Thursday morning.

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Packed and ready to roll.

The next morning, I awakened to find my right foot swollen and very painful, to the point of almost unable to place any weight upon it.  Not Good.  The closest medical care was in Goldthwaite, Tx, about 30 miles away, and so I drove the rig and my mother took her Tahoe as she was very concerned, and we drove into town. After being examined it turned out that my foot was badly infected with a large abcess on the sole and I would need hospitalization.

Just Great.

I was told that I could NOT drive, and so we worked out a way for me to be driven halfway to Houston and my wife met us there, with her driving the rest of the way, and then I was admitted to the hospital in Houston that night. I’ll save you the long medical soap opera but my foot was operated upon and  had multiple abcesses caused from a bit of bone which was left behind following an operation in 2006. I had a week long stay in the hospital and then began the wound care and hyperbaric treatments to speed the recovery process.

Obviously we did not attend the rally.  That made two rallies paid for and unable to attend.

May, 2015

Memorial Day weekend is special to us, as it is our anniversary, and we try to go camping or travelling as an anniversary gift to each other.  We decided to take the trailer to Galveston Island for the holiday weekend.

My foot was still an issue but by now I can move about well, with bandaging and an orthopaedic shoe/slipper to cushion the sole. So once again I drove to the ranch and retrieved Tallulah Belle, drove back to Houston (8 hour round trip) and on the Thursday night, May 21, we drove into Galveston after Melinda got off work. We had booked a reservation in a brand new RV park–this was it’s first weekend open–and in fact the clubhouse/showers/pool were not yet completed when we arrived!

No matter, we were there to relax, to decompress, from the doubled and redoubled stresses of the last few months. We set up in a site in the front of the park, and of course, plenty of big white saltine box RV’s filled the park, with us and a single lone pop-up camper the only exceptions. The weather was lousy, as heavy overcast skies, rain and continuous 25 MPH winds were forecast for the entire weekend.

NOTE–Our fridge had just quit cooling on this trip.. lights still work but it did not cool at all, so apparently it died and we will have to replace it as soon as we can. We also had issue with the gas water heater, it would ignite and provide hot water for a few seconds and then the flame would go out. This may be a solenoid, and be replaceable, but I will have to research and gather more info before I can do anything.

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The high winds were too much for us to set up our awning, at least on Friday, so we just made do without it and enjoyed being on Island Time. On a drive into town we passed by Jamaica Beach RV Park and noticed not one but TWO of the new 2015 reissue Shasta campers in the park so of course we HAD to  investigate!

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Matador red 19 foot reissue.

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Streetside view, 19 foot reissue Shasta

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Seafoam green 19 foot reissue

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Streetside view, 19 foot Seafoam reissue.

 

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Dinette of seafoam 19 foot reissue.

This was our first time to see the reissue campers in person, and the park owner had purchased them to keep in the park and rent them out by the night/week. We have sort of a mixed reaction them as they LOOK great, but the interior fitments and finish do not–in our humble opinions–warrant the 19K price tag these babies sell for.

On Saturday the gusty winds had dropped down a point or two and so the awning would actually stay up, but the skies were still overcast and leaden. No matter, we always have a great time camping no matter what. We of course had brought the cats and they lounged around, as they always do, and looked out the door in bemusement at the dogs on leashes being walked by their respective owners.

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Dogs out there, I’m staying inside!

 

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Finally!  Awning in place!

Saturday night a STRONG storm front was scheduled to blow through so we deployed the heavy tarp and wrapped it securely, and at 5 in the morning when 35 MPH winds and sideways rain hit we were not worried. By noon the skies had cleared and winds were almost calm so we enjoyed the rest of the day, and set out our American flag.

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Sunday, May 24.

Sunday and Monday were pleasant, and we took our bikes into Galveston to ride on the seawall (but throngs of shambling zombie tourists staring at their smartphones make riding dangerous), enjoyed the ambiance of the city and had a great time.

Unfortunately Monday came wayyyy to soon, and so reluctantly we packed up and set out for Houston before the Wild Wild West traffic wars began. We got back to our place by mid afternoon with no problems, and unloaded the camper and the truck, which we have to park in the street,  with the plan that I would take the trailer back to the ranch the next morning. It had been a great weekend.

This should have warned us.

In the evening, Melinda left with our laundry from the trip to wash at a laundromat, since the washers at our apartments were small and slow.  About 7 P.M. the rains started, falling heavily and continuing to fall with no letup.  After two hours with no end in sight, I got online to see what the weather radar looked like.

rainssevere1Screenshot of radar image of the storm front Monday night, May 25.

Suddenly, things got bad. The weather site noted that rain was falling at the rate of 3-5 inches per hour  and would continue for several hours. Melinda was still gone, and I could not get her on her cellphone.  About 10 PM she called and told me she was stranded at a store about 2 blocks away and the water was too deep to drive in. She left her Mustang there and waded home in 2-3 foot deep water, and when she arrived, a neighbor told us that the road where our truck and Tallulah Belle were parked was flooding badly.

Remember that whole ‘open wound in the bottom of my foot’ thing?

In near panic, we wrapped my leg to the waist in several layers of huge plastic storage bags, (think giant heavy duty Baggies) and wound tape around my leg, in the hope that the foot would not be soaked in  the flood waters.  We waded to the truck which was up to the doors in water and to our relief, it started up, and with Melinda and our neighbor wading in the water to each side, we set out to find a dry place to park. Melinda tripped and found herself completely submerged in the middle of the street at one point, and the truck was leaving a bow wake in the 3 foot deep waters (still rising). We drove thru the water for several blocks until we found a parking lot that seemed to be above the flood, and we gingerly pulled the truck and Tallulah Belle into this lot, where we unhitched the trailer, secured her locks and chocks and  prayed for the best. I could feel water sloshing in the bags on my leg and was about to completely despair. We drove/floated as best we could back to where our apartment was, and I nosed into the parking lot which was jammed up with other tenants’ cars, and we left the truck.

Once inside, fearing the worst, I unwrapped my leg to find that the outer bag had leaked and filled with toxic water, but the inner bag had not and my foot had NOT been soaked!  HALELULAH!

The next morning we awoke to see news of record flooding in Houston, and yet more rain forecast for the day. We left Tallulah in the parking lot until the afternoon when it seemed that we would not have a repeat of the flooding, and I hitched up and dragged her back to the apartment complex.  We were too heartbroken and exhausted to attempt to assess damage, but left her covered with her tarp, and two days later on the Thursday, I towed her back to the ranch and parked her under the barn, immediately driving back to Houston, as I had wound care appointments for my foot the next morning.

As I write this we still do not know the  extent of the damage, as this will require a round trip back to the ranch, but priority is  trying to get my foot healed and get back to work ( I was laid off in March). If you’ve read this blog you KNOW how much work, blood and soul we have poured into Tallulah Belle, and all I can say at this point is that we are just crushed.

I hope things get better.

Link

March 2015

With this chapter, I’d like to share with you gentle readers, an incident that can happen to any of us, but we seldom think of or prepare for.   Trust me when I say we were scared.

Really scared.

As the new year of 2015 swept in, Melinda found herself accepting a new job in a new city: Houston, Texas.  Despite a long and diligent job search, nothing local to Youngsville had turned up, and in her industry Houston was the place to be.  The early days of 2015 found us scouring Houston for an apartment located close enough to her new job so that commuting would not be an issue, and we found a small but decent apartment in the dense urban sprawl of an old Houston neighborhood community. We rented a Uhaul trailer and packed up some furniture, a sort of ‘starter kit’ of housewares for her to have in the new place.

Of course, there is no parking to be had in this new location so Tallulah Belle stayed at our house in Louisiana.  This was not an ideal situation but we had no other choice and no where else to store her, at least for now.

Covered in a new extra heavy duty tarp and secured against the elements, Tallulah Belle was nominally secure there but   being a four hour drive away, complicated the planning and driving needed when we wanted to go on a trip. A better solution soon was worked out–we would store the trailer at my family ranch in central Texas, where it would be under cover, completely secure and much closer to Houston.  A quick turnaround trip to Louisiana in early March happened and I towed Tee Girl to Houston,  in order for us to make the trip to the ranch the next day.  As Friday, March 6, 2015 dawned we were set to make the drive as soon as Melinda had finished her work day. The always-volatile March weather in Texas was mild and damp in Houston and southeast Texas, but a cold front was in place over the northern reaches of the state. The various weather sources indicated that temps would be in mid 30’s  in the Central Texas area later that night. Nothing to worry about, right?

We left at about 6 PM that evening and fought our way through the stranglehold of Houston rush hour traffic, and after about 90 minutes our route had become standard two lane state roads twisting through many small towns.  As we travelled, we heard a radio station reporting high 20’s temps had developed as far south as Temple, Texas (one of the waypoints on our trip) so we ratcheted up our caution and drove on. By the time we had reached Temple,  we were greeted with swiftly falling temps and the threat of light rain or mist.  (OH JOY!!)  Another hour north and we passed through Gatesville, Texas, there was now heavy mist in the air and the temp was 26F.  We were only thirty miles from our destination so we kept driving cautiously, while  outside town the terrain becomes hilly as it ascends to the elevations of the central Texan regions. We were now on high alert, but the roads had been good and so we kept moving.   Until we started to hit patches of black ice.

Black ice occurs when light condensation falls in freezing conditions and the road is glazed over without showing visible signs of ice. We suddenly felt the truck and trailer shimmy as we drove over patches of alternately glass-smooth and normal highway.  Being that it was now after midnight, the road ahead promised to be only more treacherous, and we were fast getting into completely icy roads, we pulled over to turn around, but due to road conditions we had to back up on the shoulder for about two hundred yards in order to get to a spot with enough traction to turn back around.

Once we had accomplished this, we started out again, to return to Gatesville and spend the night in the camper until the icy conditions had improved. We got up to road speed (50 mph) and just then began ascending a fairly steep hill. With a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach, I could tell that we had completely lost traction and would NOT make the crest of the hill. We slowed to a stop a few hundred yards from the crest and despite my stomping the brake pedal into the floorboards, the road was so slick that we began sliding BACKWARDS down the hill, with the trailer slewing into the oncoming lane and us finally coming to rest blocking both lanes. The tires spun helplessly when power was applied, and we were unable to more at all.  We were just on the blind side of a long slope and an oncoming 18 wheeler or car would have NO CHANCE to brake or stop after cresting the hill, but would have plowed directly into us.

To recap:  After midnight on a iced over deserted Texas road, unable to move at all, blocking both lanes on the blind side of an incline  and just waiting for the  next vehicle to crest the hill.

We got on the phone and called the county Sheriff’s office to tell them of our predicament and I tried to get out of the truck, at which point I quickly found myself on my butt in the road, the surface being like a wet hockey rink.  As I attempted to talk to the dispatcher on the phone,  a set of headlights pulled up behind us and crept up to our truck. A fellow came sliding over the ice toward us and identified himself as a local resident and said that his  four wheel drive truck would probably be able to get us out of the road, but he had nothing to pull with. I cobbled together a tow line from cargo straps and bits of poly rope and tied onto his truck. Melinda had retrieved the bag of cat litter in the bed (we travel with cats.. OF COURSE we have cat litter!) and broadcast litter under the wheels of our truck to get a small bit of traction. With his truck pulling, we slow-w-w-w-wly straightened up and began to creep up the hill, finally rolling over the crest…just in time for an 18 wheeler to come barreling along right where we had been a moment earlier.

We thanked the fellow for hauling our rig to safety (and us as well), and so started back to Gatesville to wait out the icy roads. We had no further encounters with black ice on our way back to town, and decided to stay in the Wal-Mart parking lot since it was well lighted and there was a 24 hour store handy. Once there, we bought a gas can and filled it at the gas station, set up an impromptu camp on the edge of the lot, and I broke out the generator and fired it up to give us some power. The heater inside warmed up the camper in minutes and we finally were able to settle down about 3 AM to catch some sleep.

The next day we awoke to icy, slushy conditions and mist still falling, and it was mid afternoon before the temperature had warmed enough for road conditions to improve. We crept back onto the road to finish the long trip to the ranch and finally arrived just before dark.

icicles3 March 4 icicles2 March 4

Note the filthy road grime and dirty icicles on the sides. Sorry that the pics are sideways, there were correct when loaded into the queue.

The next day we stored the camper and wrapped it up against the elements to wait for our next camping adventure. Poor Tee Girl was absolutely filthy, covered in road grime and sludge from the icy roads and caliche mud we had plowed through to get to the ranch. Clean up would be oh-so-fun, but that could wait until the next time we went camping. At least we, the cats and the camper were all safe.

We never, never thought that icy roads would be something we would have to deal with, in TEXAS of all places, but folks, the awful feeling of powerlessness when you are totally at gravity’s mercy is something I hope that you never have to experience for yourself. If you are travelling and especially towing a camper on icy roads, BE FREAKING CAREFUL!

Thus endeth the lecture.

Odds and Ends

Summer 2014-Fall 2014

While doing some photo filing and editing, I realized that  some of the camping trips Tallulah Belle had taken in 2014 had not yet been documented, and so I will now post a few of them.

June 2014:   In the small town of Rayne, Louisiana, close to our home, there is held a car show every June, and I was able to get Tee Girl ready to go for the one this year. The event is held at a pavilion/outdoor space and draws  quite a few really sweet restored cars every year. The management was happy to have our camper at the show this year, because it was something different and it has a strong 50’s/60’s vibe as well.

I had finally gotten around to fabricating and installing a rock guard for the front jalousie windows, as these are almost impossible to replace if they become damaged. They were built by the Hehr company 50 years or more ago, and at this late date, parts are scarce. So, gentle readers, if you have a trailer with front jalousie windows, it is a REALLY, TRULY, MOST EXCELLENT idea to have a rock guard to protect from water or flying road debris while under tow.  I got aluminum  stock  and tinted polycarbonate from Lowes, and a pair of rock guard arms from www.vintagetrailersupply.com   and knocked it together in a couple of hours, for a cost of about $150.00. Cheap insurance indeed!

The rock guard, when deployed in the up position, also gives another place to put a small awning to match your larger trailer-side awning, but as yet we have not made one for Tee Girl. Rest assured that it IS on the to-do list!

So anyway, on a beautiful Saturday in June 2014 I towed Tee Girl to the site of the car show, and was directed to set up on a flat, emerald green and freshly mowed grassy area between displays of glittering vintage Detroit iron.

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If only all campsites were green and flat like this!

 

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Tallulah Belle feels at home with some of her fellow vehicles from the same time period!

 

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Pink flamingos?  Yes, please!

 

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Vintage Shasta sign is propped on camp chair.

 

I brought along a recent score, a New Old Stock Shasta Trailers embossed tin sign which features a Deluxe just like Tallulah Belle!  When the outside was set up and arranged just so, Melinda worked her magic and arranged the interior in a display of circa 1960 time capsule goodness.

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Yes, that is the original IRONING BOARD!  Also note the vintage toaster and rack of highball glasses on shelf above stove.

 

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Sorry abut that, the pic printed sideways. Anyway, a display of vintage anodized aluminum cups and pitcher over the refrigerator.

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Dinette ready for lunch, circa 1960

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Love me some vintage!

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The whole smash, vintage dishes, radio, fan…everything!

 

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Sit down and have a soda..in a glass bottle!

 

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Time warp!

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There’s that ironing board again. Who does ironing while camping????

 

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The gaucho and that damned IRONING BOARD!

 

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View of the rear of the trailer as seen while sitting in the dinette area.

Of course, I had to wander around and look at the cars. What’s a boy to do??

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Here is a suitable tow vehicle. See Tallulah Belle in top right of photo.. she agrees!

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Sure it’s a cliché now, but damn aint it purty!

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1956 Chevy 2 door hardtop (no post). This would be a nice tow vehicle also.

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YES!  THAT”S IT!!   A 1961 Plymouth Fury convertible. This would definitely be a great tow vehicle, but needs a color change.

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Oh well, can’t afford a classic tow car right now, so I guess we’ll stay with the trusty F-150!

All in all we had a tremendous day, met a lot of car enthusiasts who fell in love with the trailer and made some new friends. It’s funny, that no matter what kind of car they had in the show, majority of people who looked at the trailer were amazed, and you could see wheels turning in their heads after taking a closer look. Perhaps next year there will be some car/trailer rigs at the show??  We’ll see!

We took the trailer to a close by state park in August, called Palmetto Island Park, which was overall a nice place, but the camping sites were literally carved out of Louisiana swamp/scrub land and overgrown on all sides which leads to a closed in and hot camp. (No breeze can get through)  Nontheless we enjoyed a few days of no cell phones and quiet solitude.

 

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Palmetto Island park, August 2014

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Camp site surrounded by tall trees and dense foliage.

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What we cook on while camping, Camp Chef 3 burner stove and griddle.

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Cooking awning and trailer awning have large covered space to sit under!

 

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Yes, it was hot and sticky. No breeze can blow through the dense greenery and add the South Louisiana heat and humidity!

Of course our Snowshoe cats went camping with us, but only Ziva was interested in coming outside and exploring a bit (on a leash, of course!)

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Snowshoe and Shasta!

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Try to get a cat to hold still for a photo!

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Here is one way to get the cat to look at the camera!

After the frenzied repair session chronicled in the previous chapter, our next outing was to the Texas Renaissance Festival in November 2014.  We went late in the season when the weather would be cooler and more pleasant. Or so we thought. It actually got freaking  COLD at night, so we had a fire pit and wrapped up in blankets to stop teeth from chattering.

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COLD!

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Quite pleasant in the warmth of daytime.

 

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Night shot of Tallulah Belle at TRF.

 

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A good idea to put flags on your guy lines so drunken revelers do not stumble into them in the dark.

 

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Another night shot.

 

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At TRF, November 2014

 

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View from our campsite, TRF.

 

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A look at some of the hundreds of other campers at TRF.

 

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The campgrounds ad TRF.

 

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There were a few older trailers but not many.

The 2014 visit to TRF was our 10th anniversary of going to the RenFest, but I myself have been attending as far back as 1984, where I saw some then  unknown performers juggling and doing magic…they were called Penn and Teller. Yes, the same Penn and Teller!

As always, we had a great time at RenFest, and added some costume items (me-really cool knee high buccaneer boots and Melinda-Baltic amber cuff bracelet and earrings) but alas, the weekend was over far too fast, and then it was time to return home and get Tallulah Belle secured for oncoming winter weather.  2015 was just around the corner and who knows what adventures await?

Lassiez les bon temps roulez!

 

July, 2014

As June morphed into July,  we seized another opportunity to camp in Tallulah Belle, this time in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Melinda had been involved with BeautiControl  cosmetics, and the company was hosting  it’s annual convention in Grapevine, Texas this year. She could have stayed at the convention center, but found out that there was a very nice RV park only two miles from the location, so we decided to take the camper and log some more time camping!  The park is named “The Winery”, also in Grapevine, and is one of the most upscale RV parks we have ever seen.  We reserved a space for  the event, and drove in on a Wednesday afternoon.

This park caters to the ginormous motor coach crowd, and a majority of the sites are large pull-through type, but all that was available to us was an unusual site on an elevated shoulder of the main road through the park, with a railing and a small set of steps leading down to the picnic table/seating area.  At least we were able to set up the awning over the picnic table. During the three days of Melinda’s conference,  I walked around the park, took some photos and got some more practice putting the tarp up at short notice, as it was unseasonably cool and rained several times.

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Our site at The Winery RV park.

The park itself was large, several hundred acres, with rolling green grassland hills and small ponds, several different locations for pad sites and cabin camps, and very well maintained.

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Looks like a golf course, doesn’t it?

 

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Every Saturday evening there was a firework show over the main pond, which was straight away from our site, so it was like a front row seat.

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Evening photo under the awning. We forgot the clip on lamps for outside illumination.

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They spent a bit more on their campers…

 

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Street view of our campsite.

 

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We’ve added the name to the rear of Tee Girl by this point.

 

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Birch glow at sunset. Nothing like it!

 

 

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Streetside view at dusk

We had the usual visitors, wondering about what year and brand of camper, and  hearing their fond memories of parents and grandparents who owned trailers “…just like that.”  We had a great visit, and as we  were leaving we were hailed by a fellow who worked for the park, wanting to see Tallulah Belle. As it turns out, this man had worked at the Shasta location there in Grapevine, Texas in 1962 when he had graduated from high school, he was wondering if maybe ours was one of the ones he had personally helped to build!

On the way back to Lafayette we stopped in at Terrell, Texas to take some photos of Tallulah Belle along with a late 50’s Soviet MiG 17 fighter, which is displayed in front of an antique store.

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Mid Century Jet Age!

 

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All clear on the flight line….

 

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The MiG was rated for 1300MPH, but the Shasta sleeps 5.

 

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Somehow these two Cold Warriors seemed to belong together in a photograph, although only one of them is still on active duty!

Home gain, after Grapevine, and we noticed something troubling. The birch wood above the front window had become discolored, and worse yet, was soft and spongy when touched. What the hell??  It seemed as if the wood had gotten soaking wet and was delaminating from inside.

Well, we had paid for a spot at a vintage rally in Fentress, Texas in September, which was to be Tallulah belle’s first rally, and we were going to have to fix whatever was causing the problem before that time. Problem was that with my 14 on/14 off schedule, that left precious little time until the rally.  So, upon my next time home again we would find and fix the issue.

With a VERY small window of time left, we started on repairs, which meant, remove the front window and the front skins, to find soaking wet insulation, which had caused complete failure of the interior birch.  To this day we stil have NO IDEA how the water got in as every seam was sealed with double layers of butyl tape, but somehow there it was, and it needed to be removed and replaced.  We ended up removing all the front wood, the streetside dinette panel and much of the framing. Gentle Readers,  remember that it is now September in Southern Louisiana and 100F temps are everyday. It was literally a frenzy, as we tore down, remade and reinstalled an entire front end in FIVE DAYS. I will let the following photos tell the story.

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Front end removed, ready to start cutting and installing birch.

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Another view of the missing front end.

 

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Blank slate…new birch about to become vintage.

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New front lower installed.

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Storage bin in place.

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New birch matches the old pretty well…

 

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About to fit the upper curve birch panel in place.

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Skins back on, getting it buttoned up.

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Five long exhausting days and the work was done, the trailer buttoned up and ready to go to the Fentress rally.

So we thought.

While I was offshore, Melinda was cleaning and getting the shine on for Tallulah Belle’s rally debut, and she plugged in a vacuum cleaner in the front of the trailer, to find a dead circuit. The entire front circuit was not working. No lights, no power, nothing. CRAP!

DOUBLE CRAP!

Really???   Yes, really.  So with heavy hearts we had to cancel our trip to the rally. When I came in ashore again I had to remove the newly installed roof metal and trace the wires, to find a nick in the Romex which had cause a short. Four more days of work to remove, replace and button-up AGAIN.

At least the damage had been repaired.

.