September 2008

 

On September 7th, our truck was stolen outside of Montreal, Canada.  After a month, we are finally getting back to normal.  What a stressful month!

September 7, 2008, will be a memorable date to us for a long time.  That was the date our truck was stolen outside of Montreal in the province of Quebec.  But before that happened….

September travels took us from New Harris, Nova Scotia, through Burlington, Vermont and then into a small town outside Montreal, Canada.  Distance traveled was about 940 miles.

We crossed back into the U.S. at Calais, Maine – we breezed through the border crossing but Karen and Galen got stopped, which had been the norm for them this summer for some reason.  On our way to Vermont, we dry camped one night in Maine and one in New Hampshire (we got to add a new state sticker!)

The North Beach Campground is a city-run campground in Burlington, located right on the shore of Lake Champlain, with a paved bike path leading back into town.  After getting set up, Larry contacted the local Ford dealer to look at the truck – the rear end had a leak.  $320 later – it was fixed.  (What a waste of money that turned out to be just a few days later.)

Our few days in Burlington flew by – we were kept busy doing mundane things, like getting Lucille’s military ID card renewed at nearby Camp Johnson, a National Guard base; stocking up on stuff at Costco; and meeting up with our friends, Art and Suzan, who came down from the Montreal area to enjoy the Woods Tea Company concert at the Church Street Festival.  We got front row seats and enjoyed two hours of wonderful music and it was free – wotta deal!  

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Art and Suzan (Art took the photo) joined us for the Woods Tea Company concert in Burlington, Vermont.

Check out their link to see if they will be appearing near your area – they are very talented musicians with some humor tossed in between their songs.

After the concert, we enjoyed a late supper at a burrito place.  Church Street is a pretty cool place.  It’s pedestrian traffic only with several restaurants, clothing shops, and various other shops selling Vermont-made items, including Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream! 

Time to head back into Canada – destination Camping Alouette, in Saint-Mathieu-de-Beloeil, Quebec, where friends Art and Suzan stay during spring and summer.  What hosts they are – Art met us at the interstate exit and led us to the campground and then up to our sites.  Suzan fixed spaghetti for dinner that night – between Karen and Lucille, we contributed salad, bread and dessert. 

Art and Suzan lead personalized walking tours of Montreal – sports, historical, art – whatever interests you.  We made plans to go Sunday with Suzan to see two attractions and return on Monday with both of them to learn about Old Montreal.  We volunteered to drive (big mistake!) – we can comfortably fit five in our truck.  We parked at the Metro parking lot in Longueuil (where Art and Suzan have parked dozens of times without problems), and then took the Metro to town.

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The Biodome was built as a cycling stadium for the 1976 Olympics.  Exhibits included a saltwater aquarium and polar bird habitat.

First stop was the Biodome – a zoo, aquarium, botanical garden and much more.  As you stroll the pathways through the different ecosystems, you forget that this building was originally the Olympic stadium for the 1976 Summer Olympics.  Our first stop was the tropical forest – warm and humid, just like a tropical rainforest in South America.  We didn’t spot them all but there are supposedly hundreds of animals in the pools, foliage and the mountainside cave in the tropical forest exhibit.  We experienced a change of climate as we passed into the Laurentian forest – the deciduous and coniferous forest was pleasantly cool.  More animals here – beaver, porcupine, otters and lynx, among others.  Next stop – the St. Lawrence Marine ecosystem where there are close to 600 fish swimming in the 660,000 gallons of ‘seawater’.  Last stop was the Artic and Antarctic exhibit, where we spotted Atlantic puffins, razorbills, eider ducks, and several varieties of penguins.

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Pointe-a-Calliere is an archeological dig encapsulated within a museum.  Early remains of what is now Montreal are partially excavated beneath the museum.  Old walls, vaulted stone conduits and even an old sewer system have been excavated thus far.

After having lunch at Eggspectation, we visited Pointe-a-Calliere, where Montreal was born.  This museum is actually the heart of an authentic and still ongoing archaeological site.  We started our visit of the museum with a multi-media/multi-sensory presentation where we ‘met’ the men and women who founded and built Montreal.  After the video presentation, we traveled an underground route that covered six centuries of history.  Among some of the remains we saw:  Montréal’s first Catholic cemetery, the stone fortifications, the old guardhouse that became the king’s storehouse, and the first marketplace. 

Our pleasant day touring Montreal went downhill the minute we returned to the Metro parking lot and realized our truck had been stolen – what a sinking feeling that was to all of us.  Suzan and Larry returned to the Metro to call the police, while Karen, Galen and Lucille waiting in the parking lot, numb.  How many times have any of us gone out to a store parking lot and not found our vehicle right away, thinking the worst, only to find it parked right where we left it?  Sadly, the truck wasn’t there, no matter how much we hoped we’d just forgotten where we parked.  We were very upset that the truck was missing but what was so unsettling was realizing that, even after we got back to the campground,  we were stranded in the Montreal area – our truck towed our home.  Had we had a motor home instead, having our towed vehicle stolen would have been easier to deal with and replace than a truck built to tow 20,000 pounds. 

After 45 minutes, the police showed up, took down the pertinent information, checked out where it had been parked (no broken glass so we believe pros were involved), and didn’t give us any hope of recovering the truck.  After the fact, we find out that Montreal and the province of Quebec are the stolen vehicle capitals of North America.  Montreal is an inland port, making it easy for thieves to drive the stolen vehicles immediately to a container ship, where they will make their way overseas somewhere.  We couldn’t figure out how such a highly visible truck (a Ford F550 with very prominent red, white and blue graphics) could be driven off the lot.  We learned a pro could get a vehicle started within 30 seconds and be on their way without arousing suspicions.  The police thought the situation hopeless and didn’t even ask for our phone number – we had to insist they take it.

Art picked us up in his truck to return back to Camping Alouette.  Then we started the process of notifying insurance companies, letting family and friends know what had happened, canceling our plans to visit friends in Ontario, Michigan, Illinois and Missouri.  We also cancelled our plan to visit Old Montreal, Art and Suzan’s tour that we’d been looking forward to for months.

Our first priority was to try to return to the U.S.  We felt it would be easier to make phone calls, surf the ‘net for a vehicle search, and do whatever else was necessary to get mobile again.  Karen and Galen’s Dodge 3500 wasn’t hefty enough to tow us without damaging their truck.  Lucille contacted the Good Sam Emergency Road Service.  Get this…. Had we broken down, they would have provided us with a tow back to the U.S., but having a vehicle stolen doesn’t qualify for help!  A major loophole.  The RV dealer around the corner from the campground subcontracts RV hauling with a local man, with whom we arranged to tow us back to the U.S. that coming Friday.  Lucille and Shelley rode with Karen and Galen, while Larry rode with Raymond.  We decided to return to Burlington, Vermont where we knew the area some, as well as some of the folks working at the campground there.  (On a lighter note, friend Harry (also a Ford owner) was afraid Shelley would be traumatized riding in a Dodge, whereas Galen felt she’d be spoiled by the ride – she’s being diplomatic and not talking.)

In the meantime, we extended our stay at Camping Alouette until that Friday.  Thanks to Art and Suzan’s intervention, we received a reduced rate on our site, as did Karen and Galen, and the campground waived the daily internet access fee.  (We appreciate the help we did get from the campground.)   Larry spent his time almost non-stop searching the ‘net looking for a suitable replacement truck. 

We also contacted the U.S. Consulate in Montreal to see what help they could provide as we crossed back into the U.S. without our RV’s registration, which had been in the truck.  Contacting them was a challenge.  The 800# listed on their website didn’t work in Canada – huh?  When we dialed the local number, a recording told us to submit our request through their website – huh, again?  What if we weren’t internet savvy?  After we submitted our request online, an automatic response came back that it may be three days before we’d hear back!!!  There must not have been much of a backlog – we did hear back within 24 hours on how to obtain a duplicate copy of our registration.  Our driver insisted on our having the registration, especially because it was a Canadian-tagged truck pulling a U.S.-tagged RV.

Time to leave Camping Alouette - Raymond and his Ford F350 showed up on time, assuring us that he could safely tow the rig.  Larry rode with him for the 100-mile trip back to Burlington.  He noticed that Raymond’s brake controller didn’t work with our electric over hydraulic trailer brakes – good thing he didn’t have to make any sudden stops or negotiate any steep hills.  It was sad to see our rig after it was backed into our site with no truck parked in front of it.

We now started the process of filing claims.  We had three different policies covering us – one for the truck, one for the RV for the RV-related items in the truck, and one for personal property.  We immediately started the truck claim – the sooner we got that settled, the sooner we could pay for a replacement vehicle.  The personal property claim took longer – we had to list all the items that had been in the truck, an approximate value, date and place of purchase.  Keep in mind that we fulltime in the fifth wheel, which does not have endless storage.  Our truck was also our mobile garage and shed, housing all Larry’s mechanics’ tools, our Habitat tools, camping gear and several other items.  We sent a letter of explanation along with our claim – normal people don’t carry all that stuff around in their vehicle, but our lifestyle isn’t normal. 

The last claim to be filed was for the RV-related items that were stored in the truck – the spare tire and wheel (batteries for our solar system occupy the spare tire compartment in the fifth wheel), the custom-made sunshades for the RV and a few other items. 

Speaking of the RV spare tire and wheel – that definitely had to be replaced before we resumed our travels.  The tire we got locally, the wheel was ordered online.

Back to the truck search…. We contacted Bartow Ford in Florida, where we’d purchased the original truck.  We’d decided we wanted to buy used rather than new.  We didn’t want a huge monthly payment, and most likely we will be switching to a motor home in four years (when our social security checks can offset monthly payments), so buying used made more economical sense.  Bartow had a possible replacement but it had no storage capability, something that we had to have.  Another Florida truck dealer answered an email – all they had were new vehicles.

A Ford dealer here in Vermont was also searching, thanks to Diane’s friend Barbara’s friend’s help (got that?)  They did locate a 2004 Ford F550 with a Fontaine bed (similar to the original one) but it was 300 miles away.  We were willing to make the 600-mile round trip to check it out, at our own expense, but the dealer insisted we buy the truck first.  Duh!  Obviously, that wouldn’t work.

We narrowed our choices to either the 2003 Ford F550 with a Fontaine bed, near St. Louis, Missouri, or a 1999 International medium duty truck in the Dallas, Texas area.  Both were priced right, both would adequately tow our rig, both had pluses and minuses.  We had already talked to Jim who had eyeballed the Missouri truck for us, giving it his stamp of approval.  Larry then arranged with Mary at Lou Fusz Ford in Chesterfield to thoroughly inspect the truck, on our nickel.  A few problems turned up but they were repaired under warranty.  All we had to do now was to go out there and check it out ourselves.  If it fell through, the Dallas truck would be our second choice. 

We left Burlington 10 am on Sunday September 21st, in a one-way rental car, arriving in Chesterfield, Missouri Monday afternoon around 5 pm – 1,200 miles in two days, with an overnight stop in Fairlawn, Ohio, where we imposed on Rich and Linda to watch Shelley for the next few days.  We met with Ron, the owner of the truck, that evening – thumped the tires, checked under the hood, took it for a ride on the interstate – and decided that this truck would work for us.  We made arrangements to meet with Ron early the next morning to take possession on the truck, once we got our loan processed. 

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The 2003 F550 is very similar to the stolen 2000 F550.  The most noticeable difference is that the cargo bed has a tailgate.  The previous truck had a notch in the bed where the tailgate would have gone.  The 2003 F550 also has the 6.0 liter engine and 5-speed transmission rather than the 2000's 7.3 liter engine and 4-speed transmission.  We have towed the RV about 1400 miles with the newer truck and appreciate the transmission's Tow/Haul mode which acts like an engine brake on those long downhill slopes.

Larry then brought the truck back to Lou Fusz Ford, who changed out the oil and fuel filters and performed other routine maintenance tasks.  The folks at Lou Fusz Ford (especially Mary in their Service Department) bent over backwards to get the truck taken care of that day.  We highly recommend them if you ever need their services.

One of the plusses to our trip there was the opportunity to visit with Jim and Linda, whom we’d first met at our Habitat volunteer gig in Big Pine Key, Florida, over two years ago.  We were all strapped for time but managed to squeeze in a couple of hours of catching up on our lives while we enjoyed Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. 

We left Chesterfield early the next morning, arrived back in Fairlawn, Ohio, in time for one of Rich’s wonderful home-cooked meals, very welcome after having eaten out the past several days.  The next morning, we got an early start, bringing Shelley back with us.  I’m sure she got lots of attention and loving while she was there – we really appreciate the fact that Rich and Linda opened up their home to the three of us.  (We suspect Shelley watched a lot of Westerns with Rich – we overheard Rich asking her if she liked Westerns, as she lay by his chair, soaking up all that attention.  She’d probably even tolerate watching a cat show if Rich kept giving her belly rubs.)

We arrived back in Burlington early Thursday evening, having completed 2,400 miles in four days of hard driving, more than we typically do in a month.  Once we got the truck back there, we arranged to have the tires balanced, had the new hitch installed, installed the replacement PressurePro tire monitoring system, and had a Ravelco anti-theft system installed to give us peace of mind whenever the truck was out of our sight.   Our goal was to have the truck roadworthy by October first.

In between the online searching and marathon driving back and forth to Missouri, Larry started to replace several of his tools.  You’d think a guy would enjoy having a shopping spree at a Home Depot or Ace Hardware, but his heart just wasn’t in it.  Some of the tools that were stolen had been tools he’d been collecting over the past 40 years.  They may not have cost a lot but they were good tools. 

At last, we had enough mechanics’ tools replaced to get back on the road, and all other systems were go – we pulled out of North Beach Campground, under our own steam, October first.  What a wonderful feeling to be back in control of our own lives!  

Throughout this ordeal, a network of angels assembled. 

bulletArt and Suzan helped with translations, ordering a copy of the police report, hauling us around.
bulletKaren and Galen not only provided emotional support, but transportation locally, back to Vermont, and around Burlington till we picked up a rental car. 
bulletKaren sent a message out to an email group she belongs to. One of the recipients, Roman and Laura Lou, offered the Ford Friends and Family discount if we were going to buy a new truck. 
bulletFriends and fellow Habitat volunteers Dave and Mary (we had to cancel seeing them in Michigan), contacted Tom and Diane, also Habitat volunteers who lived about 30 miles south of Burlington, who offered whatever help they could provide.
bulletFriend Dianne, with whom we were going to travel the Maritimes together but who cancelled due to family issues, contacted her friend Barbara, who contacted her friend, who knows the local Ford dealer, willing to meet with us on a Sunday to discuss possible replacement vehicles. 
bulletFriends and Habitat volunteers Jim and Linda (we had to cancel seeing them too in Missouri) were called upon to eyeball a possible replacement truck outside of St. Louis before we would pursue that any further.
bulletFriends Rich and Linda, whom we met a few years ago in Palmdale, Florida, agreed to keep Shelley in their home outside of Akron, Ohio, while we went on to St. Louis, and provided us a place to stay overnight on the way back and forth.
bulletOntario friends Harry and Marie (we cancelled their visit too!) did some online searching and came up with a few leads.  Harry was even willing to tow our rig with his Ford F350 back to Vermont, but we didn’t want to chance putting that much weight on a truck meant to tow less than that.
bulletNew friends Jack and Shelley, hosts at North Beach Campround in Burlington, checked on our rig when we went out to Missouri.
bulletAnd, last but certainly not least -- the countless emails and phone calls we received from family and friends everywhere, offering prayers and emotional support, as we were trying to get back on track.

From the two of us - a very special and heartfelt thanks to all who helped make this happen, whatever form help was.

Coming up:  A month in Mountain View, Arkansas; a week in Huntsville, Alabama; visiting Americus, Georgia, before parking at ‘Camp Carr’ in Rincon, Georgia for the rest of the year.

 

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