Friday, September 30, 2011

The weekend crowd is rolling in

We’ve been 4 nights now at a lovely little state recreation area in SE Nebraska.  Up until today we pretty much had the place to ourselves but tonight the weekenders are rolling in fast and furious.

We left Buchanan last Friday, stopped in Regina for a meeting and a visit with father and then parked on the prairie just west of the Regway border crossing.  I had a meeting with one of my Palliser clients on Saturday morning and then we once again braved the perils of US Homeland Insecurity.  Once again they let us in, perhaps even with a trifle less attitude than we have come to expect.  We then wandered our way down into northern Wyoming before stopping in a roadside truck rest area for the night. 

Sunday found us retracing the interstate that we must have travelled down on our way to Fort Collins 45 years ago.  In the fall of 1965 father packed mother and us kids into a 1964 Meteor, hooked a trailer behind it loaded with some basic furniture and household items and set out for Colorado.  He had been accepted to do a Masters in Continuing Education at Fort Collins.  Mother hung in like a trooper but later in life she told us that when father told her he had been accepted she went to the bathroom to wash her hair so she could cry in the sink.

I can actually remember the border crossing at Regway from that trip – I don’t claim to remember much else about the trip but I do remember the crossing shack.  Its still standing at the crossing but no longer in use.  Homeland Security now operates out of a multi-million dollar steel and glass monstrosity.  The Canadian side likely still works out of the same facility they had in 1965.  It certainly looks like it is 50+ years old.  I haven’t noticed that Saskatchewan has been overrun by illegal aliens entering through Regway so I suspect our facility is adequate for the task.  Nor have I heard about any plague of illegals that has been apprehended by the glass and steel edifice on the south side of the line.

On that crossing so many years ago I remember that just inside the door of the crossing station there was a display case with a very elaborate model of an ox cart.  It was probably something like 1/5 scale – big in other words.  I pulled at mother’s hand and asked her if the crossing guards had taken that away from somebody.  That was probably what we had been told might happen at the crossing – something might get taken away – so it seemed like a logical question to me.  On the return trip 10 months later I clearly recall receiving strict instructions that neither of us kids was to utter a single word while we were inside the crossing office.

We spent Sunday night on the parking lot of an abandoned auto plaza east of Fort Collins.  Its not hard to see the effects of the recession down here, even this far from ground zero.  Many of the small towns have main streets that are almost deserted now.  I’m sure Florida and California are much worse but there’s more than enough hurt to go round.

On Tuesday we found Medicine Creek State Recreation area.  There were a few other rigs here when we arrived but by the 2nd night we had this loop entirely to ourselves.  Tonight the weekend crowd is rolling in and I can’t blame them.  If we lived close to this place we’d weekend here too.  I’m about halfway through a Growsafe installation at Arapahoe, Nebraska.  After we get done here it looks like we’ll be heading west to Reno.  Ultimately we still expect to end up in Texas, somewhere close to Houston.  But our plans are – as ever – fluid.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Our neighbour Michael has a variety of things in his yard – old equipment, lumber, derelict vehicles and a great many apple trees.  He told us to help ourselves to any of the apples that we could use so a few nights ago Marilyn picked way too many.  I had previously picked enough green cooking apples for a couple of pies but the ones she picked resemble a Macintosh – some up the the size of a store bought Mac but mostly about halfway between that and a large crabapple. 

Since we’re going to be braving the perils of US Homeland Insecurity this weekend I needed to get the remaining apples cooked.  Which is why I was standing over the sink this afternoon listening to CBC while I cut up apples.  And it just happened that today was the day that Prime Minister David Cameron spoke to a joint session of parliament. 

Cameron and Harper inherited vastly different political legacies but appear to be moving forward in lockstep and they are clearly setting out a path forward for the G20.  Time will tell whether some other notable world leaders have the insight and balls to follow their lead but we should all hope they do. 

Cameron came to power with a deficit that in percentage terms was worse than the one that presently is sinking Greece.  Harper inherited the wisdom of Paul Martin.  Both leaders are firmly committed to driving down sovereign debt and to that end they have engineered a joint letter with several other G20 members setting out their recommendations for a path forward for G20 members. 

Notably absent from the list of signatories to that letter are the president of the US and the German chancellor.  It may just have been my cynicism but I thought I detected a couple of missiles fired toward Washington in Cameron’s address to parliament.  Clearly he believes that the path forward for government is to reduce debt – we can’t spend our way out of this crisis.  In the subsequent press conference Cameron wasn’t shy about stating that the EU – Germany & France in other words - needs to step up and deal with their debt crisis that is threatening the world economy.

We can only hope other world “leaders” are listening.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Getting rid of Japanese Junk

When we bought the bus I was happy to learn that it had a Kubota generator.  I had never had anything but good luck with Kubota equipment and I assumed that would be the case with the bus gennie.  Oh boy was I wrong!

It should have been a clue when we arrived to look at the bus and the previous owner had difficulty getting it started on a warm April morning.  He said something about it having always been a cold-blooded SOB and I really didn’t pay much attention to it. 

We had a variety of problems with that miserable orange whore over the years.  It never started easily but we eventually learned how to deal with that through overuse of the preheat switch.  It also quit unpredictably, usually from overheating for no apparent reason.  It was also unbelievably noisy.  Eventually it was puking so much oil that it no longer would run so I – foolishly – decided to rebuild it.  I’m not sure why I did that – I probably still harboured some notion that Kubota paint meant superior quality. 

So I pulled it out and took it to the Super Uke, north of White Fox.  The Uke is a local legend when it comes to repairing Chevies and John Deeres so he seemed the logical choice.  I’m sure he did good work but the rebuilt engine didn’t run noticeably better than it had when we first bought the bus.  Obviously it was better than when I took it to Byron because it wouldn’t run when I took it and it was running when I got it back. 

Things quickly got worse.  We spent the first winter with the rebuilt generator on the desert at Quartzsite.  We got about a week’s use out of the genset and then the power head failed.  Of course it failed completely and of course I didn’t have the brains to abandon the whole issue at that point.  Instead I dumped another $2,000 into the miserable orange crap pile, comforting myself that we would have a completely “new” generator – new engine and new generator head.  By this point of course I was well past the cost of a really good brand new genset so I had to tell myself some kind of story but all we really had was our same old pile of junk.

It continued to be less and less reliable until after a trip last fall I had finally had enough.  At that point I ripped it out, threw it in the bush and for the past year we have run with no genset.  That wasn’t as bad as it might sound because even when we nominally had a genset we rarely had one that actually worked so being without one was really not all that different.  At least with the genset pulled out we could use the space for storage. 

When we bought the boat it came with a very old Onan genset.  And we were EXTREMELY nervous about using it at first.  Every time it hiccuped we were sure it was about to die or cost us $2,000.  But it never did and we slowly came to trust it and even to depend on it.  The only real trouble we ever had with it was a sticky solenoid on the starter which I have since learned to blast with weasel piss as part of my regular maintenance.  So when we got back to the bus it seemed like we really should have a genset. 

On Saturday we drove to Selkirk, MB and picked up another old Onan.  This one is air-cooled but other than that apparently more or less the same gennie that we have in the boat.  We bought this one from a guy who used to be an Onan dealer.  He’s 74 years old and trying to retire but judging from the work on the floor of his shop he’s not trying very hard.  I’ve never heard anything but good about old Onan gensets – I hope I’m not about to learn differently. 

Today I got the new generator more or less ready to stuff into the hole where the orange pile of crap once lived.  The big challenge for the day was organizing enough cube relays to enable us to remote start it from the inside panel.  We’ve also got an external auxiliary fuel pump that I needed to drive.  The genset might be able to draw fuel from the tank but the auxiliary pump guarantees that it has fuel and incorporates some additional filtration so I wanted to preserve that feature.  Its pretty noisy but so far I’ve only run it without a muffler so I expect it to be much quieter when it isn’t barking out through a straight pipe.

Stay tuned. I hope we haven’t traded orange grief for blue grief.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Stopping power

We spent the last few nights in Darrel Ozmun’s shop east of Nipawin.  That’s where we go for annual maintenance on the frenchy-bus.  Last year I left a pallet of brake parts in storage because we didn’t really need them.  When we got the safety done in BC the goofball who did it claimed that my rear brakes were pretty well worn out across the board. Fortunately I didn’t let him do any further work on the bus.  But based on his claim, before we showed up at Ozmun’s last summer, I ordered enough parts to rebuild both the tag and drive axles completely.  And by completely I mean completely.  If it unbolted or unpinned from the axle I ordered it. 

When we got to Nipawin last summer Darrel’s head mechanic Bob did a DOT inspection on the brakes and his determination was that the tag axles could possibly be worked on although they were still well within spec. Remember that was a full year and several thousand miles after the clown in BC told me they were marginal.  The drive axle on the other hand, according to Bob had minimal wear.  Can you say “lying BC SOB trying to pad his work order?”  So we changed all the parts on the tag axle and left the drive axle parts on the pallet in Darrel’s store room. 

I didn’t want to leave the parts in storage forever so when we got a chance to go back to Nipawin we headed there to hang my last year’s parts.  Of course we arrived in Nipawin in the middle of a record setting heat wave so it was way past unpleasant pulling off tires and lifting brake drums.  Even with the incredible complement of tools in Darrel’s shop it’s still just bloody hard work at times.

Last night we got all wrapped up and rolled out of the shop right around 5:00.  I checked the brakes one last time and then took the bus to an approach so I could tip it each way.  That’s important to do after you have had the hubs off so that some oil can run from the pumpkin into the now dry hubs.  Then we moved out to Grace & Al’s for a night of eating and drinking.  Which was followed by a morning of more drinking (only coffee this time) and more eating. 

Tonight we’re on the street in Muenster, SK which to the extent that it is famous is famous for being the home of St. Peter’s Abbey.  Tomorrow I have a quick meeting with one of Assiniboia’s tenants and then we’ll head back to Buchanan to see if our Ukrainian painter got the hovel painted.  Sometime in the near future we plan to head way south, possibly into Texas for some Growsafe projects – I sure hope it rains and cools off down there before we get that far south.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Back at Waskesiu

All the years we were rained out at Candle Lake we always wished we had stayed at Waskesiu.  Last summer stopped in at Candle Lake for a visit, had a rainout and came over here.  This year we bypassed the rainout and came straight to Waskesiu.  In fairness we would have gone to Candle Lake but Doug and Jo were out fishing when we phoned so we came here instead.  It feels weird being here without the boat but its pretty nice to be back even if we are boatless.

I guess some genius in Parks Canada decided that “The Trailer Park” was too descriptive a name so we are now in “Red Deer”, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean.  Monday morning the place cleared out as the holiday weekend crew left and then a few newcomers arrived but its still pretty empty.  We had planned to move to Nipawin on Tuesday but the day dawned so nice that we decided to stay an extra night. 

We’ve got a lot of happy memories of summers at Waskesiu.  When the kids were young we spent a lot of summer time either at Waskesiu or at Mara Lake.  When we were here with the kids we always stayed in Beaver Glen because we could have fires over there but that campground is really better suited to tents or at least much smaller rigs than what we have now.  We used to shoehorn the fifth wheel into the sites over there and then the kids would pack fresh water in pails to keep the tank full but we really prefer the open tree cover in the trailer park  Red Deer.  From here we can walk into the village for tea in front of the store.  Our rule has always been that we will sit and sip our tea until somebody we know comes along for a visit.  Occasionally we get skunked but usually somebody comes along and so far on this trip we have been able to visit with somebody each time we have gone for tea.  Marilyn still has some high school friends up here so she has been reconnecting with them too.



Monday, September 5, 2011

We’ll see ………….

I love the story of Charlie Wilson’s war.  Those of you who haven’t heard/read the story should at least see the movie and if you want the whole story then you need to read the book.  There’s a wonderful story buried in the movie about the boy and the zen master.  I’ll paraphrase it here:

A young boy in the community goes out for a walk and a pony follows him home.  The boy tames the pony and raises it.  The whole village says “What wonderful luck and good fortune this boy possesses!” The zen master says “We’ll see”.

After a while the boy starts to ride the pony and one day while he is out riding the pony falls on the boy, breaking his leg and hip in several places.  The whole village bemoans his fate saying “What terrible fortune has befallen this boy!” but the zen master says “We’ll see”.

Shortly after the accident the village declares war on the neighbouring village and all the young men go off to fight but the boy with the pony is still recovering from his fall so he stays home.  The whole village says “What wonderful luck for you” but the zen master says …………

So when I hear what glorious things are happening in Libya and how the good times are about to roll for Libyans all I can think is “we’ll see ………….”

Saturday, September 3, 2011

International bacon day and other assorted weirdness

Apparently today – Saturday – is International Bacon Day.  As a long time fan of bacon consumption I am strongly supportive of the concept.  I try to eat bacon for breakfast at least 5 times a week.  Some fools might tell you that is an unhealthy choice given our family history of high blood pressure and heart disease but ……………

Last week I went to see Dr. Dan to get my prescriptions renewed.  I take something called Vaseretic which is supposed to lower my blood pressure and Lipitor which is supposed to lower my cholesterol level.  Many years ago Dr. Steve told me my cholesterol levels were “slightly elevated”.  He followed that up by saying that I shouldn’t worry because “we can control that with diet.”  “Like hell we can” sez I cuz I knew damn sure he wouldn’t be anywhere to be seen at breakfast time.  “Bring on the drugs”.  So he did and we did and here we are many years later with me visiting Dr. Dan to replenish my drug supply.  I like to carry at least 6 months supply so I never have to be in a panic to get a prescription filled so there was no big urgency but we were in Saskatoon and had some time so I went to see the Dr. 

He checked my blood pressure and it came out something like 100 over 65 which is really good.  When we got all done he told me he was cutting my meds in half which seemed like a good outcome.  I like to think of it as me getting healthier and it definitely is not the result of cutting back my meat intake.  I’m at the top of the food chain and damn proud of it.  And of all the meats bacon is likely my fav.  So I’m a big fan of International Bacon day, even though I never heard of it until about 10 minutes ago.

Continuing our walk on the weird side, how about that Lonechild guy?  For those of you who don’t follow Saskatchewan Indian politics closely (or at all) first off, my hat’s off to you but to quickly bring you up to speed Guy Lonechild is the (former) chief of the FSIN (Federation of Sask Indian Nations).  He got to be former chief when his board unceremoniously and illegally dumped him.  We know it was illegal because he took them to court and the judge said it was illegal.  The day the judgement came down he showed up at the FSIN office only to discover that his key didn’t work.  Apparently he made a lot of Indian enemies by insisting on things like due process in FSIN business deals and by appointing people with educational experience to the board of the First Nations University.  Associations that run on business procedures and universities that are run by educators – OMIGOD no wonder he got canned. 

Most of the other chiefs evidently prefer the old arrangement where they get paid non-stop mileage charges for driving those bright red Dodge pickups we keep buying for them and get paid per diems to sit on boards that they are unqualified for.  For one whole day the media was filled with praise for Lonechild’s brave stand against generations of corrupt Indian governance.

Fortunately the story had a happy ending.  It turns out that the price of Lonechild’s principles was exactly $250,000.  Everybody is buddy-buddy again, the FSIN bank account is $250k lighter and Lonechild has enough money to buy 5 new pickups.  Life is good with the small niggling concern that the Province of Saskatchewan would like some assurance that the million dollars they just recently gave FSIN didn’t help buy off Lonechild.

The past couple of weeks we have been on the move regularly.  We’ll slow down a bit for a few days now.  We spent most of this week in Regina so we were able to have several good visits with father.  His brain continues to wander but his body is in really good condition.  Physically he is probably in better condition than he was when he went into the black hole called Dove House.  He seems to have finally lost the urge to walk so he is no longer covered with bruises from crawling out of bed.  That has to be a huge relief for the Wascana staff – it certainly is for us.