Tag Archives: DIY

DAY 39 – 10/23/2012 – Beached! In which the truck fails…

I just put a pan of Toll House bars in the oven. There’s laundry drying in the shower and the rice and beans leftovers are stowed away.

It’s day two in the Creekview Campground in Rosendale, NY. We’ll be here for a while. Maybe another week.

The 4Runner blew a head gasket on Sunday night. It sits idle on the campsite, waiting for attention.

It’s just another adventure on the Tramper Voyage, sort of “Little House on the Prairie” style! It’s ironic that right now I’m reading A Painted House by John Grisham. It’s not his usual tense legal drama but rather a story based on his own childhood in rural Arkansas in the ’50’s. There aren’t many modern amenities. Hard, hand labor is the order of the day.

While we do have Internet and cell phones we have no microwave, dishwasher or washing machine. The water reservoir must be filled daily. Hot water is produced only after we turn on the water heater, powered by propane which, in turn, also has to be refilled. So, compared with our former lifestyle, we are somewhat roughing it in a small trailer. And, it’s raining which keeps us inside.

But, it could be worse. A whole lot worse.

On Sunday evening, we were finishing a day of driving after a nice hike up Monument Mountain near Great Barrington, MA.

Here's the gully that I dropped David's camera into while on our Monument Mountain hike. The camera dropped, I screamed. It bounced, I screamed again. Bounce. Scream. Bounce. Scream. Then, splash! into a stream. I think it's dead... but it had a good 10 year run.

Here’s the gully that I dropped David’s camera into while on our Monument Mountain hike. The camera dropped, I screamed. It bounced, I screamed again. Bounce. Scream. Bounce. Scream. Then, splash! into a stream. I think it’s dead… but it had a good 10 year run.

We had arrived in the Shawangunks region of New York state and thinking about where to park the Tramper for the night.

There was a description of a nearby trailhead parking lot that sounded good (and free). But, the Shawangunk mountains are a playground for New York City and the trailhead lots were crowded with rock climbers on this beautiful October Sunday. Also, we encountered a tremendous traffic jam outside New Paltz. Everyone was headed toward the interstate back to the city.

Sunset in New York, with the car thunk-thunking.

Sunset in New York, with the car thunk-thunking.

So, we opted to head for a small campground instead. The truck, by this time, was starting to run very rough. The trailhead was on a mountain. The campground was in the valley. We chose the campground, just a few miles away. Good thing we did!

It was full dark when we pulled in. The truck was overheating but managed to pull us into a campsite. We met the manager (or maybe he’s the owner), paid for the night and settled in.

David soon determined that the truck had blown a head gasket. Oy! It will require a pretty big repair. David has spent the last two days on the phone and online, trying to figure this all out. I’ve been mostly reading and washing things. And baking those cookie bars which are now cooling in their pan. The Tramper smells delicious and is nice and warm.

The Creekside is a small independent operation. Maybe a dozen campsites. Hot showers, flush toilets (I know! Sorry! I try not to mention the ‘t’ word much but it’s a reality!) and electric and water hookup for the Tramper. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABill, the manager/owner said he stopped selling firewood a few years back. He didn’t want to deal with collecting the sales tax. He’s a bit of a curmudgeon but he adds local color and is giving us a nice weekly rate.

We landed in a pretty good spot! Imagine if we had opted for the trailhead. Life would be a lot less cushy right now.

My good friend Donna gave me this lamp years ago. It makes a nice glow at night.

My good friend Donna gave me this lamp years ago. It makes a nice glow at night.

There would probably be no cell phone or internet service on the mountain either, even with our hotspot. We’ve run into that situation many times on our trip. Lack of these services would have made it very difficult for David to get help with the 4Runner. Not impossible, just more difficult.

So now, we wait. And hang out in the trailer. It’s very cozy and comfortable in here. The renovations that David did are holding up very nicely! In some ways, it’s easier to live here. There are different chores but a lot fewer chores than at home. Life is simpler and sweet.

Yummy maple syrup we enjoyed on our pancakes this morning. Purchased from Matt, the nice shoe salesperson we met back in Maine

Yummy maple syrup we enjoyed on our pancakes this morning. Purchased from Matt, the nice shoe salesperson we met back in Maine

Tomorrow, AAA will come and tow the poor 4Runner to a shop in nearby New Paltz. David’s been talking with a guy in an auto shop there. David has a talent for establishing an instant rapport with people and the guy seems to want to help us out. Not a discounted-price kind of helping us out. But, he’s sympathetic and maybe won’t rip us off. Fingers crossed!

Now the bars are ready to eat…

– Jane

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI outlined nearly this exact scenario when we were “truck shopping”.  No amount of prep can eliminate all risk.  When buying the ’95 4Runner for 2 grand I stated, even if we blow the head gasket or transmission, we may just have to throw another thousand at it.  We’ll just meet some new people and settle in biking and waiting.  If you recall the “blacksmith’s hammer” of pre-ignition, it is pinging that likely killed the poor head gasket on the anvil of mountain climbs and sometimes highway paces.  Fortunately, Toyota has a revised MLS, Multi-Layer Steel gaskets that reportedly hold up better.  I wish the truck were nestled in my own garage where I would disassemble, measure and repair everything with the help of a local machine shop…but I won’t be dropping bolts on the ground here where the weather could change overnight and it’s raining right now.

I always believe our problems are only as big as our hysteria.  Sometimes, I almost think I like it when I have trouble.  No, I don’t really like problems, but have always enjoyed a methodical reaction.

In my teens I was on a school bus shuttling skiers to the Trailside Lodge in Vermont.  When it became stuck on ice, sliding slightly into a shallow ditch nearly everyone sat still worrying about being late for dinner.  Even though I knew I couldn’t budge the thing by pushing, I went out, walked around for a look.  I managed to direct a few willing strangers and a friend to lay branches under the wheels in the culvert, then safely orchestrated pushing and rocking from our team to free the bus.  Thought and caution are good reactions.

We will sort this out.  (At least it is not ruining a treasured one-week vacation) And, who better to be stuck with? ..than Jane

– David

More People!

I ease into most days with the well-wishing of others back home in my mind.  Seems every day someone is helping us get going, do a little laundry, blessing us, or just joining us for a laugh.  We do that often and sometimes with little provoking.

The Tramper and 4Runner Truck are performing pretty much flawlessly.  The poor truck does “ping” sometimes on the highway when I abuse it trying to keep with uphill traffic .  Premium gas, cautious shifts of the automatic transmission and overall patience keep that to a minimum.  Any of you who know what  pinging is (or have heard of it but don’t) may be aware that its like hitting the pistons with a blazing hot blacksmith’s hammer 3000 times per minute.  Essentially spontaneous combustion occurs to an unstable mixture of fuel and air before the piston even reaches it’s top position where it should await an explosion lit by the spark plugs you pay for that job.  That’s where power comes from if things are running right.

I brought the Toyot (missing the A on the tailgate) to a few small shops to see if anyone had time to squeeze in a look.  Both places were gracious, the first mechanic was middle aged, but wore a mohawk.  It was hard to look him in the eye much.  His shop was booked.  The next guy was familiar with 4Runners as that’s what he drives.  Steve squeezed me in this morning for an oil change, transmission fluid change, and to aim a timing light at the 3.0 V-6.  It is as good as  it is going to get; So, my patience and smaller roads will preserve the motor.  I Hope.  Oh yeah, he said GOOD LUCK on the trip, take your wife out to dinner and didn’t charge any labor!  ($33 bucks: wow, the world is full of good people)

Cusick's sign was all I had to go on until I stopped in to ask about squeezing me into their schedule

Cusick’s sign was all I had to go on until I stopped in to ask about squeezing me into their schedule

In Acadia I heard a guy in the Market and Grill mention making pie while we ate breakfast.  When I asked about a slice, the waitress said they didn’t sell pie.  So in a moment Michael (we think) came over and said we could have a slice.  He had made 4 pies for Church and social groups, with one going to his co-workers (or employees) at the grill.  He insisted Jane and I share one, warmed and A-la-Mode’.  Wow, what a baker.  I think it was better than the ones I make with subtle wisps of flavor and a delicate crust.  (the world is full of good people)

In New York we stopped at what could have been a kitchy-artifice of a country market.  A glance saw tchatchkies , knicknacks, candies and handcrafted items.  Closer scrutiny bore out the deep roots; this is a Farmer’s store.  Produce and blacksmithed items at reasonable prices.  (A sizable weathervane for ~$50)  When we met the proprietor I knew it to be the real deal.  Doug and I traded yarns while he checked out the Tramper, each with trouble finishing his story before the other wanted to speak.  By the end, I told him he could borrow the Tramper after our voyage.  Seriously.  A pair of tires or a battery would be good rent and it would be out of my driveway for a month or so.  I don’t know if it was his smile, handshake or stories that gave me the confidence in mankind.

Doug and I in the glory of the day on his parking lot

Doug and I in the glory of the day on his parking lot

Back to the people supporting, nurturing our ride.  A long-time friend who used to let me watch him restore Indian motorcycles and Willy’s Jeeps (I was about 6 years old) certainly kindled my adventure and mechanical roots.  When I researched small trucks on Craigslist part of my selection was confirmed by the previous owner Steve, who had purchased it for his son who now had to go off to college at University of Maryland.  Steve shook hands on the type of deal where trust meant he would hold it until we returned to buy it in a few days.  No deposit required.  I almost felt bad pointing out the work I’d be doing to get it through inspection and safe.  Of course the $300 price break came in handy for rear axle seals, bearings, and rear brakes.  I had to dip into savings for the rest of the parts: front brakes, 4 shocks, mud flaps, muffler, hoses, belts, fluids and “all”.

A surprise came when neighbor Billy brought over one last present, a Dietz kerosene lamp of about the same vintage as the trailer.  He had also donated several small details, some used, some stored at home; an awning and poles, a big plastic water tank.

Look carefully, the left light is a 50 year old kerosene lamp (better picture to be posted) Thanks Billy!

Look carefully, the left light is a 50 year old kerosene lamp (better picture to be posted) Thanks Billy!

When I was trying to make new Birch look like old Birch I trialed about 20 different stain combinations.  It was serendipitous  that I met Dave, a customer at Woodcraft, who showed me the perfect product.  A small bottle of Brown Maple Aliphatic Dye to measure into the shellac, ml. by ml. until the desired hue is found.  Wonderful.

We mentioned Tom and Jean who came and fed us one eve during our hurried final packing.  And, of course, Jane’s recovery from that pesky but benign biopsy. They packed us champagne and steaks.  Wow.  We feel so privileged.

Jane and I both felt compelled to get really good hiking boots.  Jane’s slip and fall while descending the Sterling Pond “bouldering-staircase” cinched it for her needs.  An old pair of Vasque boots had been overheated by a fire ring at Lykens a few years before and were failing.  My own boots were >5 years old from LL Bean and were lasted like a pair of buckets.  We searched the internet which led us to the mall and a store that didn’t stock boots in Jane’s size. The clerk there said, “check Sleepers”, a store next door.   There we met Demarre and Matt who fervently helped as if they meant it.  Matt’s family makes maple syrup so we are well stocked now!  We bought a wine bottle FULL  of Maple Syrup…dark and sure to be delicious soon.

When it came time to leave Maine we went to a gravel pit and weighed the rig.  A business called Ferraiolo’s in Farmingdale didn’t bat an eye as I drove between dump trucks, front end loaders, and gravel spreaders with my little lumbering Tramper.   The scale man was cordial, said the price would be 5 or 10 bucks.  After we finished, he asked for $5.  First I drove onto the long steel plate, total weight: 8,640 lbs.  Then the truck alone: 5,220 lbs. that leaves the Tramper at 3,420.  I guess I’ll look at the ratios, freight rates and see just how bad, or good it is to get the 12-ish mpg we’re getting.  Oh yeah, the people.  He was smiling and eating a tootsie-pop.  Just the right touch to a down-home send off and a cheap way to see how much our load weighs.

Small, five-year-old Parker made us a book of art and helped us on our Raystown, PA  test run.  His dad Steve graciously loaned us his Dodge truck.  perhaps nicest and most frequently seen though, is the cool quilted Tramper banner that hangs proudly at our door.  Donna gave this to Jane days before we left.  We travel on love of family and friends.  We miss you all daily and take note of or take pictures of things you each “just have to see”.

Rainbow artist - Parker L.

Rainbow artist – Parker L.

Yes, there is indulgence in this journey.  But, too we feel there is some amount of inspiration.  Good People Everywhere.  Plus, we demonstrate the possibility of doing that dream that you’ve always dreamt! (even if it doesn’t involve traveling in an aluminum box for a year).

Barriers: The Truck Again

Funny.  I always seem to roll around on the ground in parking lots at the right time.  I wasn’t looking for anything in particular but noticed that the bumper had pinched a wire against the hitch.  Not enough to cut it apart…but maybe it caused a short?  Yup, checking the lights (truck and Tramper), showed NO BRAKE LIGHTS.   Can’t drive like that (we were at CVS getting new passport pics)…so, check and swap the fuse.  (My spares are back at Bob’s in the camper, so I took out the running light 15 amp and put it into the Brake spot.)  CLoser inspection showed I had a Left turn signal and  brake light, but nothing on the Right.

Got home, added the Running light fuse.  Still no R signal.  I have quite a selection of tools and was graced by the invitation to use Dale’s garage space.  The cheap little diagnostic light with a wire and alligator clip at one end and a pointy probe at the other includes a lightbulb in between.  It showed me I had bright light before the little black Toyota trailer thingy, but dim after…  Bought a new one at the RV Store for $12.99 and fiddled/taped for awhile.  WOOHOO, all lights work.  I will not stand for or drive a trailer whose lights don’t work; all of ’em!

Oh yeah, also had Andrew’s help the day before putting the new springs, Cargo Springs, on the 4Runner.  I like it here.  People live and solve the problems of life: food, shelter, transportation.  I think there is a clear knowledge of Season.  It is Fall, there are things to do before Winter.  The springs took us under 2 hours to put in and the camaraderie of working with a peer is great.  I enjoyed it enough to ask for work today.  We again shared the calm meditative state only “working” can provide.  I helped Andrew stack cordwood for drying.

Yes, with Cargo Springs the truck is back at factory height.  I think it had sagged over its 17 years.  The back is about 1 1/2 inches higher now; Can’t wait to plop the trailer on it in the morning and see how far down it goes!

– David

Barriers: The truck

I would “normally” have driven and tested a vehicle for months before an adventure like this.  The new 4Runner got about 150 local miles only.  They tend to look “front high” even at rest (rear fenders are cut 3″ lower), but ours, loaded and under the tongue of the Tramper looks so tired.  I always test “emergent” capabilities of vehicles in non-emergent places (like snow handling in a parking lot).  So it was some surprise that the front wheels will skid in hard braking.  I hope to re-weigh the loaded rig soon, but I want to get the truck to sit more level.  I have ordered new rear coil springs (to go with the already installed new brakes, shocks, muffler, rear wheel bearings, wheel cylinders, plugs, wires, hoses and belts that comprise my faith in this 1995 beast with somewhat unknown 150,000 miles on it).

The biggest safety feature, of course is thought and forethought, but the second biggest is the “low speeds” we are traveling.  40-50 mph offers far more reaction time and stopping ability than what many people use “on the Interstate”.

Meanwhile we roll slowly, remembering “You could fall off a cliff and die but you could also stay home, fall off the couch and die”.

People, people…

In the driveway I began to see what I had done.  The next few people were consulted.  After MD State Inspection, I knew I had repairs to make.  Towing it to Al’s house we surveyed the rust, planned repairs, rolled out with patches in mind.  Rolled back under and out came the need to “just make a new frame”.  Then back to patches and thinking some more.  Then tow it to another old friend and previous boss.  John is a self-taught machinist, welder, business man and heck of a hard worker.  He too began to agree; “just make a new frame”,  steel is cheap.  Perhaps the biggest concern was having 20 feet of welding happening underneath the camper, inches from 50-year-old particle board.

Home it was towed again.  Planning, estimating, and a few second thoughts.  Al to the rescue!  I “Borrowed” a paved section of his driveway to cut bolts,  separate and raise the body off of the frame.  Knowing that if the body collapsed from its own weight, I would be cutting it all up as scrap.  It would either work or fail.  Al’s place was a long static pad for rest while I sorted out the old frame and its new plan.  His visiting dad feared mine was another friend’s project that would die in its tracks.

-David