Sunday, April 23, 2017

Ocean Pines and more RV Friends

We are here for a few more weeks in Virginia and enjoying the nice Spring weather.  The past few weeks we have been staying at the Sea Mist RV Campground on Oceana Naval Station Annex at Dam Neck.

Sea Mist is one of the nicest military campgrounds we've stayed at and we always enjoy being at this place.  The sites are good and what really makes it stand out is the maintenance.  They have a couple of full time guys here that putter around the grounds and keep it well maintained.  It shows with all the grass being mowed, the shrubs trimmed and the pine cones picked up.

Plus, they have a crew that comes in daily to clean the laundry and restrooms.  The office staff is accommodating and have worked with us to extend our stay here.  We got here in mid December and have been here since then.

Last week we went to Fairfax and helped with Adam and Melissa's kitchen remodel.  Its been quite a project but they are in the final stages of completion.  They did a lot of the work themselves with assembling all the cabinets and some ceramic work.  We helped with all the trim and drywall patching, and caulking.

Before
After

It turned out well and I think we are all pleased.  Kitchen and bathroom remodels are based on what one wants and can afford. And its always a challenge in inconvenience and schedules.  They got with five different contractors plus Adam and Melissa and Pam and me so it was a group effort to say the least. It worked out and despite the disruption it was done in three weeks.

After returning to Sea Mist, we stayed a few more days before we had to move 5 miles down the road to Ocean Pines Campground.  This is at Ocean Naval Air Station and one we have visited a few years ago. It also is quite adequate and a little more convenient.
At Ocean Pines, we use a code on a gate that moves back and forth for entry/exit.  And it is closer to Jon and Kelly so it saves us about 10 minutes each way from their house.  The park itself is maintained pretty well as is Sea Mist RV Campground.  Also, the price is right at $25 / night.

An interesting point about Ocean Pines is that it used to be the base mobile home park.  It was converted to an RV Campground years ago.  The streets and layout is the same.  The sewer connections were left where they were for the mobile homes instead of moved to the side of the site.   That means I had to crawl on my back to hook up the sewer hose which is positioned directly between the rear tires.  It was less convenient but still workable.

The site is level and we are able to get satellite TV.  Internet service here is not that great and typical of most RV parks.  All in all it is we're glad we have a spot and I'm glad we are able to stay here.  Lots of RVers are heading north as we move through Spring, so campgrounds are getting more crowded.

Recently I was on Facebook and found some friends from our Hawaii days back in the 1980's.  They posted some pictures of work on their  Airstream.  They live in Georgia and are refurbishing the entire insides of an older model they bought a few years ago.

I got in contact and found out Tim had a Navy reunion this past weekend and was going to be in town.  We had dinner and he came out to see us at the campground.
It was great to hear his stories about the Airstream and how they purchased it and how they are doing a lot of work on it.  Another great reason I love this lifestyle -- we keep running into people who are in various stages of RVing.  And I have often said there are so many ways to do this RV thing, that it is fun learning about their approach.  Hopefully there will be some camping together with Tim and Caroyl at some point in the not too distant future.

I don't think I have mentioned this before, but daughter Kelly is having surgery this Wednesday to remove a fibroid.  Thanks for your prayers for her and the family.

That's about it for now from Virginia Beach!  Thanks for joining us on the Roadrunner Chronicles today!  Would love to hear from you!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Helping Out

Not sure exactly what you call it but we've been helping out our kids.  Our daughter and her husband are in Virginia Beach and they recently had their second little boy.  Our son and his wife live in Fairfax and they are embarking on their biggest project to date. They are redoing their downstairs bathroom and getting a whole new kitchen.
We have been in Virginia Beach since mid December and we'll be here until mid May.  That will be our longest stay in one spot since we started full-timing in May 2009.  Its been a great time and we have helped out in a couple of ways.
First - we have spent most days at our daughter's place which is about 35-40 minutes from our campground.  We go over to her place 4-5 times a week and help baby sit.  Having one active 2 year old is busy enough, and with a new baby added to the mix - it adds to the challenge.   I would say the second one is a game-changer but upon reflection, That applies to those with a third toddler.  THAT's a game changer! Right now it is completely manageable and our being there works out in many ways.
We've helped take the pressure off during those early weeks. When we are there she can take a breath and grab a nap here and there on those afternoons when both boys are asleep.  Plus we also get to bond with the oldest who is in the midst of being a two year old!  He is a handful at times but he is also the sweetest, cutest, most lovable, smartest little boy around.
I never thought I would be a 'Papa' or that Pam would be a 'Mama'. But little kids have a way of making you comfortable with whatever label they tag you with.  We learned early on that we had to come up with our 'name'.  We picked Grandpa and Grandma but those were a little tough to pronounce so we're now Mama and Papa.  And we are fine with that.
We are happy that Spring has come with its warm weather as the little guy loves to play outside!  And he loves to have someone out with him.  There is zero resistance when that little fella grabs me by the thumb and tugs me follow him and 'pay'.  Its his version of "lets go outside and play".   No surprise, he can wear me out in a hurry.  
I bend over and follow him around as he pushes his little race car and I trail with the little boat.  He looks back every few steps to make sure I'm still there.  It's another version of Extreme Workout.  
He also has found the magic of playing cars. I like to watch him with a couple of cars in his hands as he rolls them on top of the coffee table. Sometimes he walks down the hall and 'drives' his cars on the wall.  He's in a world all his own and I wonder what goes on in that little mind.
200 miles away, outside of Washington D.C., our son and daughter-in-law are remodeling their home. They decided to redo their downstairs bathroom and their kitchen.  We've visited them a few times in the last six weeks and have helped on getting those projects done.  We are about 90 percent done and currently at their place to finish up somethings.
The kitchen and bathroom started about three weeks ago.  We cleaned out the kitchen in true 'demo' mode. We removed all the cabinets and appliances and ripping up the flooring.  Then we rented a van and carted all the waste to the city dump.  The appliances went to the contractor doing most of the mechanical work in the kitchen.  He added a new gas line for the stove and rerouted and added some electrical outlets.  The other contractor did the tile floor.
Phew!  Its been a big job but its been quite the transformation.  From this:
To this:
The marble counter tops are going in on Tuesday and they are pretty excited about it.  Then the sink and disposal get installed and the kitchen will be complete.

Our son did the downstairs bathroom with a little help from us.  
He took off the vinyl squares, removed the toilet, the sink and stand, and the medicine cabinet.
Next, he cut tile and laid them down in place. After he got all the pieces like he wanted them, he pulled up a few at a time and laid on Thinset mortar. All the pieces went back into place and he put in the spacers.
After letting it dry, he installed the toilet, sink and new light.
They also put in a nice new mirror. I didn't get a picture of it yet but will when I get pictures of the new kitchen. I'll get those after the counter top, sink and appliances are all up and running. Shouldn't be too much longer until its done!

Its fun to see our kids become handy around their homes and do all sorts of projects.  And fun to help out.
So that's some of what we've been doing the last few weeks during our long stay here in Virginia.

Thanks for joining us today on the Roadrunner Chronicles!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Roadrunner Memories: Camping at the Repair Shop(s)

We were in Richmond VA at the Atlantic Cummins shop earlier this month to check out our 'cold start'.
We scheduled our time here to check out our starter.  At times, it is sluggish even after preheating the engine overnight.  We have new chassis batteries, so we were thinking it may be a starter or a solenoid or a charge issue with the inverter or??

Really not sure but we wanted to check it out instead of just crossing our fingers.

The set up here for staying overnight is fine.  Completely adequate but nothing fancy.  It got us to think about where and when we have parked overnight and stayed in the repair shop parking lot.  We have done that a few times.

For the fun of it (and for curiosity sake) I decide to look back over the years and note when we had actually done that:

October 2009 - Freightliner, Dallas TX 
This was our first experience getting towed outside of Waco, Texas.  Replaced a fuel pump and stayed in the coach overnight at their new facility.  It had 50 amp service and was a brand new facility.
March 2012 - Fleet Maintenance, Fort Walton Beach FL

We stayed at the Ft Benning Army Recreation Center RV Park in Destin when we saw a leak.  We were able to drive it over to Fort Walton Beach.  They had to replace gaskets and other stuff and let us stay in the coach.  We were able to plug into a 50 amp circuit and left later the next evening.

October 2012 - Freightliner Factory Service Center, Gaffney SC
We attended the Camp Freightliner course and were able to stay free at one of the campground sites at the facility.  Had full hookups and internet.
July 2013 - HWH Factory, Moscow Iowa
Broke a foot on the rear jack and had it replaced.  Also replaced the electronic keypad on the driver's console. Parked in one of their free sites (W/E, no sewer).
April 2015 - Freightliner Service Center, Gaffney SC
Had some routine yearly maintenance done.  Stayed overnight in one of the full hookup sites
August 2015 - Bay Diesel, Red Bay AL
Roadrunner was 'chugging' going up hill.  It was a tough one to diagnose.  The mechanics worked on it all day and we stayed overnight parked in front of one of their bays.  They hooked us up with 50 amp.  Finally, after they changed a fuel pump and it was still doing it, Chris Thompson got us an appointment with the Cummins folks at MHC in Tupelo.

September 2015 - MHC Kenworth, Tupelo MS
Changed out two more fuel pumps before they figured out it was the fuel line to the gas tank that was causing the issues. Was able to stay a few nights parked outside the rear bay but hooked up with 50 amp electric.
May 2016 - Custom RV, Vina AL
Stayed out front of Brannon Hutcheson's shop.  Had a sheared bolt on the front DS which he replaced plus a number of things on our list.
August 2016 - Cummins Northwest, Portland OR
Time for yearly service on our fuel filters.  Stayed overnight in one of their eight full hook up sites at their Coach Care facility.
August 2016 - HWH Factory, Moscow IA
Had a broken chain on our PS slideout which we got repair there.  Stayed overnight in one their small but adequate campsites with 50 amp/water.

December 2016, Cummins South, Ocala FL
Made an appointment to have them check out why the Roadrunner seemed to start so slow.  They determined we needed to replace a couple chassis batteries.  Stayed one night with 50 amp/water.

February 2017 Atlantic Cummins, Richmond VA
Wanted to check out if there was an issue with the starter or solenoid.  They troubleshot as best they could but determined there was no issue.  We were OK with that and liked their customer service.  We stayed overnight parked outside one of their rear service bays with 50 amp service.

Surprisingly, that is about 12 times that we have parked overnight (or for a few nights) outside of a repair facility.  Seven times the business had a parking spot/camp site with hook ups, the other five times, they had a 50 amp electrical outlet we were able to plug into.

Though it is not my favorite way to spend the night, it always has turned out OK and been part of the intrigue of this adventure!

Thanks for joining us today on the Roadrunner Chronicles!



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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sunday at the Virginia Beach Aquarium

A few months ago, we went to the Virginia Aquarium and got a season pass.  Last week, we returned again with Jon and Kelly and the boys.

I like the exhibits with a few tidbits and information that reflect a bit of history.
 Virginia Beach and nearby 'First Landing'.  In 1607 explorers landed near Cape Henry and First Landing.  Weeks after that they settle and form a new community up the coast in Jamestown.

The Lynnhaven is an area in Virginia Beach that has been famous for oysters which have seen a resurgence in the last few years which is nice to hear.
 The aquarium has a number of different areas and one walk way where the water flows over the top of the path and connects the glass sides of the tanks.
 Brooks liked the fish but he was also enamored with the little wall where people could sit up against the glass or walk along it as he was doing.
 I am a little mesmerized at watching all the different sizes and shapes and kinds of fish swimming around.  It was really beautiful!

It was nice to get out and walk through and see a little bit of the many galleries and displays.
Toward the end, they had a big tank of eels that had been defanged.  You could stick your hand in the water and touch them.
These outings don't have to be long to be worth it.  Every time we go we learn something else and get exposed to a new aspect of the Aquarium.   It was a great day to do it and I'm sure we'll be back again.

Thanks for joining us on the Roadrunner Chronicles!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Shamrock 8K in Virginia Beach

As a former runner, I was reminiscing about how much I used to like being around races.  Back in the day, I could find a race to run about every other week.  That was when we lived in Hawaii in the late 1980's.

I ran cross country in high school only because the basketball coach wanted the team to go out for Cross Country so we'd be in shape when basketball started.  A buddy and I from the swim team decided to go for it and did OK, making the team, going to District and qualifying for the State Championships.

Golf showed up that fall and I found my true love and lifelong sport.  But I always admired the runners.  In the 1970's Jim Fixx wrote "The Joy of Running" and Bill Rodgers was a star at the time. And marathons began growing in popularity.  I liked running, but the thought of 26.2 miles was crazy!

While we were stationed in Germany (1980-1983) I saw a neighbor train and run for the London and Paris Marathons.  That idea began to grow on me and I decided to go for it during our next duty location - Honolulu.  Sure enough - I completed one there and then three more in Albuquerque during our four and 1/2 years there.

Now into my early 40's, I became more prone to injury and pulled a muscle while training two weeks before the Marine Corps Marathon in DC.  I ran a few more shorter races (5k's and the Army 10 miler around the DC monuments, but that was basically it for my running and racing days.

I remembered all those people on the sidelines and stations along the races who volunteered so the runners could get out there.  I decided to give it a try at the Virginia Beach Shamrock 8K.

I didn't want to be late for my 6:00 AM arrival at the Volunteer Tent so I showed up early and had a chance to talk with Mel at Orange Peel Shuttle.  He was one of 7-8 shuttle drivers going back and forth from the VA Convention Center to the Oceanfront.
 After check in I went over to my assignment as a 'Corral' helper over by the Start Line.
 About 6:30 more volunteer showed up including this gentleman who was sporting his brand new Leprechaun outfit.  His talented wife made it for him.
 Going back from the start line, we set up the white fencing.  One thing about the race --- it was very organized.  These folks were pros.  They had done this many times before this one.  And they hire people to do it.  In this case J&A Racing was in charge.
 My station was back near one one of that last corrals.  'Corrals' were the groupings racers based on the information they provided during their sign up.  It went according to their estimated 'per mile' times.  It is a natural tendency to want to start up near the front.  The serious and competition runners were up in the front corrals.
 After we got set up I was at corral marker 14.  We had about 30 minutes before race start and it was fun to interact with racers and police and fans.  I must have talked to 6-7 folks. I talked with a VB police officer that was at the intersection explaining the road was closed to drivers trying to get to work and closer parking lots.

I also spoke with a teacher who was there with 15-20 Jr ROTCers  from a local high school.  They provided some entertainment as they went through their jumping jackets and loud cadence yells.  A racer from NC was there with her five year old and boyfriend.  I also talked with a grandpa who had a 16 month old, an Air Force retiree and his wife, etc etc.  It was fun to interact with folks.
 Every couple of minutes, each corral moved up and about 10 minutes after the start time Corral #14 was off!
 After being there for a couple of hours I was in need of the facilities... and I found some a couple of blocks away.
 Later, down at the board walk not far from the finish line, a giant sand pile noted the event.
 Despite the forecast of rain, it held off and we only had a few sprinkles.
It was a fun way to spend some and get into the running spirit again.  I may do another one -- we'll see.

Thank for joining us today on the Roadrunner Chronicles! 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Time for New RV Insurance Quotes

We became residents of Florida in March of 2016.  We registered the car and motorhome (aka The Roadrunner) at that time and had to get insurance for both in the state of Florida.

Every year I go through a little bit of research and compare quotes from different agencies in order to manage our costs.  This year National Interstate raised our rates almost $200 so I wondered if I could do better.

I scoured the TiffinRVNetwork.com Forum  to see if any new insurance companies popped up.  I took last year's information from my spreadsheet and called around.  Surprisingly, most got back to me if they had a good number.

This this is the spreadsheet I used:
 And here are my results:
 I got back enough quotes to know that National Interstate is going to be the best again for us this year.
I logged a few notes in the far right column including an update on Blue Sky.  We had them for a year or two but their low prices apparently caught up with them and they are no longer doing any new RV quotes.
I asked for a multi-vehicle discount with USAA which is great for our automobile insurance, but they sub-contract their RV insurance out to Progressive and do not offer that discount.  They were also a little higher than than what Good Sam offers with Progressive -- both of which are higher than National Interstate.

After taking the time and effort to go through all of this, I was satisfied that National Interstate was the way to go again this year, so we renewed with them.

I offer that to you for what it's worth and hope at least some find it useful and/or helpful.  If you'd like a copy of my spreadsheet for your own use I would be glad to send it to you -- just let me know.

That's all for today from Virginia Beach on the Roadrunner Chronicles - thanks for stopping by!




Monday, March 6, 2017

Check the Meds...

Our experience last week at Atlantic Cummins caused me to think about how important it is to be on top of things and to ask a lot of questions when you take your RV in for service.

It reminded me of when my mother was ailing back in the 1990s and ended up in the ICU.  We were at the hospital and to my amazement, the nurses were asking me about her meds.  What?  Me?  Why are you asking me?  Didn't you read the chart?  You should know this, not me.....
One lesson I learned from that experience was 'don't always rely on only the experts'.  Do your own homework if you can.  Hear what they are saying but have a healthy scepticism.

Same with taking your RV in to get it repaired.  There is a balance between keeping up on things and getting in the way and being a pest.

Seems as if every time we take our car or the Roadrunner in it is at least a $1000 bill.  But not this time.  After four days at the service center, we drove away with a 'NC' - no charge.  The rest of the story follows.

We had a leak from a cylinder that is not part of the engine.  It looked like a hydraulic something. I crawled under the Roadrunner and took these pictures.
 It didn't look like previous oil drips we've had.  But we didn't know what it was and we are more inclined to fix something before it gets too bad that wait for it to totally break when we are out in the middle of nowhere.

So we made an appointment with the closest Cummins shop and drove it over to Chesapeake VA about 15 miles away.
Our service rep was ready for us and said they'd get right on it.  Meanwhile we decided to check out the little diner next door for breakfast.
The Razorback Grill was fine -- a little on the pricey side but its the only one nearby and probably doesn't get volumes of business.

About 10 AM the service rep said they found some hydraulic hoses that needed to be replaced and they had to fabricate them so it would be a while.

We drove over to Greenbriar Shopping Center to hang out and use the internet at Panera Bread.  A little bit of dé ja vu.  Eight or nine years ago our daughter had a condo nearby and lived in the area, so we visited Panera often.

About 3:00 PM we went back over to the Cummins shop to see how they were doing and they said they'd have to keep it overnight.  That was a bit inconvenient - but workable.  We plugged in the Roadrunner, got some things and went back over to Kelly and Jon's to spend the night.

When we returned the next morning and discovered the mechanic also stated we needed to replace a leaking hydraulic fan pump.  What?  $3100 is what!  And they waited too long in the afternoon to get same day delivery for the part.

We came back the next day and the service manager said he just learned about the leak we were referencing.  We came in with the photos and I thought they were basing their repairs on the same thing I knew was leaking.   They were not!

At that point, the service manager indicated he was going to steam clean the whole are himself and find out what was going on.

Meanwhile, I called the Tiffin Service help desk and talked with the hydraulic expert.  He concluded the leaking item in the photo was a hydraulic "Equalizer Balancer".  The cylinder ensures the main slide on the Passenger Side moves in and out steadily with both edges at the same time.

When I talked about it with the Cummins service manager he indicated that the Cummins shop does not work on RV related items such as this.  Fair enough.  But at the same time I wanted to be sure that there was clear evidence problems with hoses and the hydraulic pump.

He pulled the Roadrunner into the bay and cleaned it up in the area.  He found no evidence of leaks on the hoses or the pump.  So we didn't need a pump afterall.

I was/we were not pleased.  But I maintained a level of communication without condemning him or 'yelling at him'.  I calmly expressed my disappointment and how three days after we brought it in for a scheduled appointment, we find out my initial survey of the situation was the only problem-- the leak in the equalizer balancer (though I didn't know the name of it at the time).

While the Roadrunner was sitting there the previous day, I called Cummins in Richmond to see if they could take a look at our engine starter problem.  We are not sure it is a starter per se, only that it appears to be sluggish at times when we start it.

He asked since we had the coach in the shop at Atlantic Cummins, 'why don't you get it fixed there?'.  I told him we did not have much confidence in their work at this point.  The Service Manager in Richmond called around and found another Cummins dealer on I-95 for us in case we wanted to use get it checked out after we leave Virginia Beach next month.  He really went out of his way.

Isn't this is the type of effort and help one hopes for when it comes to getting work done on the RV?

So that was nice of him and we'll schedule a visit to Richmond for another time.

Back to our repair shop saga...

The Service Manager called back from Atlantic Cummins and said he cleaned the engine area thoroughly and could not find any leaks in the hydraulic pump or the associated hoses.  He was apologetic and said - everything looks good.  No need for new hoses or a new pump.

Every time I talked with him he was always courteous, helpful and quite a bit embarrassed at how this was turning out.  He said, "I have talked with my bosses and make this right."  --- whatever that meant.

We were cleared to pick up the Roadrunner on Friday morning.  We drove over and wondered how much the diagnostic/labor hours expended bill was going to be?

To our complete surprise -- they said No Charge!  It was a mess shortly after the whole episode started so good for them.  We should not have been charged!  We were very thankful and glad not to have to pay $3100!

So here are some lessons learned:

- Take pictures if you can and share them with the tech when you first get to your appointment

- Stay on top of the situation.  I asked for an update every couple of hours and called after not hearing from them after about 3 hours.  Is anything happening out there?

- Try to track down the problem on your own and see what you can find out.  I call Tiffin Service Help Desk, Cummins in Richmond and a local RV place.

(The RV place said we could get an appointment in about eight weeks.  This is a busy time of year.  When I called Tiffin, I asked if we were at risk if we waited on replacing the equalizer balancer.  He said No -- but to keep an eye on it.  We will do that and get it fixed at Red Bay in late April.)

- Maintain lines of communication, even if you are upset.  I think that proved very helpful in the end.  They could have charged us for time they looked at the coach that was probably 2-3 hours.  At $130/hr -- that is probably over $400 we did not have to spend.

- I should have called and done my homework earlier.  The people at the factory know the RV better than the mechanics at the repair shop.  Theoretically -- I could have found out that the Equalizer Balancer was the issue and that I could wait and get it fixed at Red Bay.  I could have avoided the whole episode.

- Take more responsibility (as in trying to learn what meds my mother has or has not taken the last 24 hours

Moving forward,
I will continue to be civil with those that are trying to fix or repair our RV.

We will continue to try to troubleshoot and figure this stuff out on our own.  Primarily this will help us help them - the professionals.

Expect the best, but have a 'healthy sense of scepticism.  Key word is healthy.  Most people try to do a good job every day.  The Atlantic Cummins Service Manager was one such individual.

I will hope of the best, but try to anticipate what could go sideways.

I will continue to view this and other episodes in light of the fact that we are, truly, Living the Dream.  This IS part of the adventure.  This is not life and death, this is part of the journey.
We will be thankful. Every day.

That's all for now from the Roadrunner Chronicles.  Thanks for joining us!