March 2011

We drove from Palmdale, Florida to Jefferson, Texas with stops in Tampa, Florida, Medart, Florida, Pensacola, Florida, and Summerdale, Alabama.  Distance driven with the motorhome during March was just over 1200 miles.

March was both a fun and frustrating month.  First the fun part…

For the first time since we’ve been coming to Sabal Palm RV Park in Palmdale, Florida, we were here for the four day bluegrass festival.  Our site was almost immediately across from the pole barn where the musicians played their hourly sets from Thursday afternoon through Sunday afternoon.  We could sit outside our front door and listen to the music although for some of the groups, we brought our chairs closer to the stage area.

Some of the groups playing were so-so, some were pretty good, and all were new to us.  We especially liked Bill and Maggie Anderson’s performances and bought two of their CDs.  Maggie can get sounds out of a dobro we’ve never heard before and their harmony together is fantastic.  Val Smith and her band Liberty Pike were good – Val has lots of energy on stage but her fiddle player, Becky Buller, was one of our favorite performers.  This gal not only plays a mean fiddle and other instruments, she also writes music – we heard some of her compositions over the weekend.  Pure and Simple were pretty good too – a mix of bluegrass and contemporary music with good vocals.

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An outside stage and a continuous venue of bluegrass artists made for a great weekend.

Sabal Palm was transformed during the festival.  Most attendees arrived specifically for the festival and opted to dry camp just about anywhere there was enough real estate to set up.  The new sites around the ponds were completed just in time for those who wanted hookups.  Those of us already staying in the park didn’t have to pay the festival fees but we did volunteer to help in a few different areas to justify our free tickets.  Larry drove the shuttle golf cart one shift and Lucille helped others prepare breakfast a couple of the mornings.  Larry also assumed pool cleaning duties which freed up Dave, the park’s manager, to do whatever was needed to make the festival a success.  

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Lucille's Aunt Lorraine made us a beautiful quilt and placemats.

We enjoyed seeing the aunts in Tamarac, going out there one day to help with computer issues, and then meeting them another day for lunch in Clewiston.  Lorraine had made us a beautiful quilt for our bed in our new home on wheels – it wasn’t quite long enough so she added a skirt to it.  She also made us a set of placemats and coasters.  Our dining room table is long but narrow and store-bought place mats were too wide so a custom-made set was the answer.  If you can’t do something yourself, it sure is nice knowing someone who can!

Not so fun was Lucille getting that pesky tooth pulled early in the month.  It had been over forty years since she last had a tooth extracted – thank goodness for nitrous oxide (laughing gas).  It was a difficult extraction but with the help of novocaine and nitrous oxide, the job got done.  Luckily there were no complications so we were able to leave Palmdale area a week after the dental work.

Also not fun at all and quite frustrating was trying to get some work done on the motor home.  Larry made the ‘mistake’ of reading the owner’s manual, which recommended getting the vehicle’s front end checked after it was loaded.  An appointment was made at the local Newmar dealer (75 miles away), at which time they told us the alignment was too far out of spec for them to adjust.  They gave us the number of a place in Fort Myers that could do the work.  We returned back to Palmdale, contacted Newmar to find out what our next step was.  With their blessing, we made an appointment at the alignment shop, driving back into Fort Myers a second day, only to find out once we got there that work done by a non-Ford facility would void the warranty chassis.  Why we weren’t told this up front is a mystery.  

While we were still at this shop, Larry called Ford Motor Coach Division who contacted a local Ford dealer who could do the work.  We then drove over there, hoping to get the work done that afternoon.   As soon as we pulled into the service lane, the technician told us they couldn’t work on the motor home because they couldn’t accommodate 22.5” wheels.  We naively assumed when Ford Motor Coach contacted them, they gave them our specifics.  But the visit there wasn’t a total loss – we learned more about the problem and what the fix would be.  But we weren’t too happy about having made two 150-mile round trips for nothing.  

We returned to Palmdale and contacted Newmar again, who put us back in contact with Ford.  (Backing up a minute here….we don’t usually make reservations months in advance unless we’ll be running into a holiday, or in this case, spring break across the country.  We had reservations in New Orleans, Peoria, San Diego, the Los Angeles area, and Petaluma.  Our goal was to find a place on the way that could take care of the alignment issue without our having to change or cancel reservations, some of which charged fees to do so.)  Ford Motor Coach made us an appointment at Baughn Alignment in Pensacola, Florida.  

Fast forward a bit to finish this episode…when we got to Pensacola, we checked out the shop first, practically giving the manager the 2nd degree as we questioned him on whether he could do the work, could his shop handle 22.5” wheels (now that we know what questions to ask.)   We told him about the run-around we’d been having so he wouldn’t think we were fanatics.  He assured us on all counts so we left to come back later on the appointed day.  

Larry has learned by now that when we get to a repair shop, we call Newmar while there to make sure all is in order, to have them confirm with the manager what has to be done.  He also had to call Ford Motor Coach, who promptly informed him that they never sent him there.  That was the straw that broke the camel’s back – after much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth and getting a few more gray hairs, work finally proceeded.  We did learn during Baughn’s initial assessment that the problem was more serious than we thought, so it may be a blessing in disguise that we ended up at this shop in such a roundabout way.  Ford agreed to pay for the chassis repairs; Newmar would cover the alignment; and we picked up the tab to have the front tires trued (shaved) to get them in round.  When we left the shop late that afternoon, we both noticed the ride was smoother and the motor home easier to handle.  End of the alignment saga!

Back to our Palmdale stay – as always, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit there.  The month went by too quickly.  We continued policing Main Road north of the RV park to US 27 for trash on our morning walks.  It’s amazing how much new trash we continued to find every single day.  We renewed friendships with folks we’d met there in the past, including managers Dave and Sue, Ken who does just about anything needed in the campground, enjoyed talking to Frankie and Donna (Sabal Palm’s owners), and making new friends.  Eugene and Linda were parked next to us – they are a joy to know and great neighbors.  We look forward to seeing them again in the future.  Before we left Sabal Palm, we reserved one of the new sites for next year.

Lazydays RV dealer (the largest RV dealer on the East Coast) in Seffner, outside of Tampa, has a huge RV park on their premises.  Because this was our first stay there, we were allowed two free nights’ camping – wotta deal!  Lazydays also provides breakfast and lunch weekdays to anyone, whether or not you are buying an RV or staying at the park – again, wotta deal!  We were set up in our site by late morning and made arrangements to ‘buy’ lunch for friends Ron and JoAnn at Lazy Days, and then hang out with them the rest of the day.  Lucille worked with Jo back in 1970 – it had been several years since we saw them last.  After lunch, we returned back to the motor home to play catch up on our lives, to watch the movie Secretariat on our flat-screen TV,  and then we all went out to dinner at Buddy Freddy’s in Plant City before we said our ‘see yas’ till the next time.  

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Old #1housed an old fire truck as well as original alarm systems once used to notify the fire department of a fire.  A look behind the doors of the once ubiquitous red fire alarm boxes showed the clockwork mechanism and telegraph relays that summoned the fire department.  

While in the Tampa area, we visited the Tampa Firefighters Museum – a small but interesting museum situated in a former fire house, Old #1. The Tampa Fire Department was founded in 1895 and is one of Florida’s oldest professional fire departments.  Old #1 served continuously as the fire department’s headquarters until 1978 when it was converted to the museum.  Our guide told us that they did such a great job renovating the building that it is actually nicer than the newer headquarters building.

Some of what we learned touring the museum:  Prior to motorized vehicles, horses pulled the firefighting equipment.  The horses were trained to walk forward in teams of two or three at the sound of an alarm.  Collars would drop down from the ceiling and clamp in place.  The teams would be ready to move within minutes of the alarm sounding – impressive.

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Switches, levers, bells and lights mounted on marble plates were all part of the fire alarm system.

Gamewell, a subsidiary of Honeywell, makes 95% of all fire alarm systems.  Some of the original alarm systems were made of marble because it doesn’t conduct electricity.  An actual system was on display – what a huge amount of switches and levers and bells – all done electro-mechanically.  Originally, when a fire alarm box was activated, all stations got the call and only those closest responded.  Later a signal director was the only one to get a call, at which time he would route the alarm to the appropriate fire department.  

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We met with friends Art and Suzan for a seafood dinner.

Time to get back on the road – destination Medart, south of Tallahassee, where Quebec friends Art and Suzan were finishing up their workamping gig at the county park there.  They’d gotten permission for us to park there for a couple of nights.  Sue fixed dinner for us the first night and the second, we went to the Kast Net for some great fried grouper – portions so large we had enough for another meal.

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At Wakulla Springs Lu got to sit on the boat seats we rebuilt last year.  While on the boat trip a great blue heron looked at us as if he remembered us.

We did a little sightseeing in the area – driving down to Bald Point State Park to look for horsehoe crabs (too early still) and to walk on the beach, then drove over to Alligator Point – a beautiful scenic ride with water on both sides of this narrow spit of land.  We ended up the day back at Wakulla Springs State Park, taking a late afternoon boat ride with Luke our captain, and one of our favorite guides.  Amazingly, for the first time in years, the springs were clear and the glass bottom boats finally running that day.  As often as we’ve taken the boat ride, there is always something new to see.  We also got to see, and sit on, the benches we’d built for the Limpkin last year – not bad looking at all if we can pat ourselves on the back.

Back on the road for Fort Pickens on Pensacola Beach – our first return visit since the hurricanes wiped out the access road several years ago.  Spring break was in full force here – but most of those staying at the campground at Fort Pickens were families with young children.  The sites in Loop C are a little smaller than those in Loop A, where we’ve stayed before, but our site backed up into the scrub so we had more room than most.

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Our friend Norlando came over from Mobile to explore Fort Pickens with us.  We watched as the Blue Angels practiced their routines over the bay.

While we were there, the famed Blue Angels practiced on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, weather permitting.  Someone suggested we could see the aerial display from the sea wall at Fort Pickens National Historic Site – the airfield was just across the bay.  We enjoyed the show that Wednesday.  Friend Norlando drove up from the Mobile area to visit with us, getting there in time for the show.  Afterwards, we introduced her to geocaching, finding a few caches in that area.  

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This monument to aviators graces the entry to the air museum.  Above the statues, an early flying boat is suspended.

A visit to Pensacola isn’t complete without a visit to the National Naval Air Museum where we checked out the thirty-five plus planes on display in Hangar Bay One (the latest addition to the museum) as well as the Sopwith Camel, made famous by Charles Schultz and his character “Snoopy”.  The aviator monument when you first walk in is quite impressive, honoring aviators for World Wars I & II, Korea, Vietnam and Gulf Storm.

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Hanger Bay One with its unique planes and helicopters is the latest addition to the Naval Museum.  Lu poses with Snoopy's Sopwith Camel.  The LeRhone engine shown is unique in that it rotates with the propeller.

Factoid:  We learned from one of the docents that pilots flying the open cockpit planes started wearing scarves (originally strips of parachute material) around their faces for practical reasons – not for the cold, but to protect them from the lubricating oil thrown back by the rotary LeRhone engine – lubricated with castor oil.  You can imagine their first stop when they landed after having inhaled all that castor oil!  We also learned that pilots would bring a dog flying with them in these open cockpit planes to help keep them warm, giving Charles Schultz the idea to pair Snoopy with the Sopwith Camel.

At this time, we were still on schedule for our future reservations.  We left Pensacola for a few days’ stay at Rainbow Plantation, the Escapees RV park in Summerdale, Alabama.  Alas – life happens – we noticed our RV fridge wasn’t cooling properly, whether it was running on electric or propane.  We contacted Camping World in nearby Robertsdale who said they could work us in on Saturday.  We were there shortly after 8 am and lucked out that the technician was able to start working on diagnosing the problem soon after we got there.  After several hours, he suspected a bad switch, which had to be ordered but nothing else could be done until Monday, the day after we should have left the area for our New Orleans reservations.  Knowing that it may take several days for the part to get in and get back into the shop, we cancelled those reservations and had to bump out our arrival in Jefferson, Texas.

In the meantime, Larry suspected that one of the two fans wasn’t working either – he stuck the digital camera up in that small area and videotaped the one fan trying unsuccessfully to start.  He was back at Camping World first thing Monday morning with the camera.  The technician couldn’t figure out how Larry had gotten the video but agreed after seeing it that the fan also had to be ordered along with the switch.  We agreed to pay expedite fees – Norcold (our fridge’s manufacturer) typically takes over a week to get parts shipped out and we didn’t want to wait that long.  The parts came in Wednesday and we were back in the shop Thursday morning.

All the food had to be removed and stored in coolers because they had to remove the fridge to get to the back of it – nothing’s easy with these repairs.  After a long eight-hour day, the fridge was working again and we were on our way.  We’d already checked out of the campground so we hit the road, with plans to drive as far as we had the energy for.  We bumped across I-10 in Mississippi and bounced across I-12 in Louisiana before heading north up I-49 to Jefferson, Texas.  We made it to a Walmart in Opelousas, Louisiana, where we obtained permission to spend the night.  Long day, but wait…there’s more!   The fridge conked out again – AAAARRRGHHHHH!!!!  Stay tuned to read more about this problem which ultimately turns into a coast-to-coast problem.

Coming up:  A visit with family in Jefferson, Texas; a few days’ stay in Deming, New Mexico; a short Las Cruces stop where the fridge problem gets diagnosed but still isn’t fixed; visiting family in Peoria, Arizona; and then heading out to California.

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