On our recent trip to California the luggage rack on the EVC made so much noise that I finally climbed up there and took a look at it to see what the trouble was. The recessed corners of the plastic shell had cracked, thus making the rack’s connection to the Eurovan pretty flimsy. Even driving slowly through town, the noise was horrendous, like some roof-mounted troll thought the EVC was a piñata.
I duct-taped the rack and ordered the repair kit from GoWesty. Below is an account of my repair, which was as involved, time consuming, and difficult as I dreaded it would be. But now it’s done, and – most importantly – silent and way more resilient than Winnebago, in keeping with the American manufacturing credo of “barely good enough,” designed it to be.
Removing the Luggage Rack
This was the easiest part. GoWesty’s instructions are simple and worked just fine: unbolt everything and remove the rack.
What I saw after the rack was off was disgusting. Filth, slime, cracking silicone, and rusted, twisted metal brackets. I cleaned everything, let it dry completely, and then drilled the rivet heads off the original brackets so I could remove and replace them. Winnebago only riveted the outside of each bracket; the inside was “glued” onto the roof and the glue job on every bracket had long ago failed.
Winnebago filled the channel on each side of the Eurovan roof with a block of plastic which they siliconed or glued in place. I’ve read about this being a major leak-point for the campers, and sure enough big cracks were opening up around the edges of the plastic blocks. I scrubbed the cracks and filled them with clear silicone.
Repairing the Luggage Rack Shell
Since I’d had good luck with JB Weld on other plastic repairs (e.g., the battery cover under the hood) I decided to use it on the luggage rack. I cleaned the plastic, sanded the areas around the cracks, and cleaned it all with acetone.
I applied generous amounts of JB Weld to both the top and the bottom of each crack (waiting about 12 hours for the bottom to dry before turning it over and doing the top), making sure that I covered the long crack extensions at each corner. After the top had dried completely (24 hours), I painted the dark gray JB Weld with touch-up paint that I got from an auto paint store (paint code: R902, Arctic White). They mixed the paint while I waited; the dealer wanted twice the amount ($25) and two weeks to order it!
After repairing the cracks, I removed the old seal, which had rusted extensively on the inside, since there were bare metal clips holding the seal in place. I sanded and acetoned the edge of the plastic to remove the rust stains, and then installed the GoWesty replacement seal. This seal has a rubber bulb on one side, and the instructions didn’t indicate whether the bulb went on the inside or outside, so I called GoWesty and they got back to me quickly, indicating that the bulb goes on the inside. After installing it, I could easily see why: it forms an actual seal (unlike the original) that keeps the air from getting under the rack and buffeting it. The original seal and the shoddy material and installation of the original brackets allowed the rack over time to get buffeted to the point of cracking at the corners. UV damage also contributed, as the plastic is pretty brittle now.
Installing the New Brackets
This is the part I dreaded most because (a) it required drilling holes in the roof and (b) I had never used a rivet gun. GoWesty’s instructions were clear and simple as usual, and worked fine. What they don’t explain are the finer points of installing rivets, which is not their responsibility. As with installing the Fiamma awning, drilling holes in the Eurovan makes me nervous. With the luggage rack, there was the added difficulty of not drilling all the way through the headliner. [UPDATE: A nice person sent me a comment saying that “Drill Stops” (about $4 at Home Depot) can prevent you from drilling through the headliner – GoWesty should update their instructions and recommend people use those to save their headliners.]
To install the brackets, first I siliconed the bottom of all four holes, then placed the bracket over the existing two holes. I installed the first rivet too loosely, which meant drilling it out and redoing it; luckily I had purchased an extra box of 3/16” rivets as GoWesty supplies only the exact number of rivets required (20). I learned from my mistake that to get a tight rivet you need to squeeze the rivet gun incrementally to get the full pull on the rivet. It took me two or three incremental pulls (squeeze, open the rivet gun handle, “swallow” the rivet back down to the head, squeeze again, “swallow” and squeeze until it breaks off the disposable rivet shaft).
After riveting the bracket into the two existing holes, I drilled (3/16” bit) the two inside holes. On the first one I went clean through the headliner. There is very little space between the roof metal and the headliner, which made drilling the other 9 holes quite nerve-wracking. Despite being extremely careful and drilling very slowly, I still made four holes in the headliner. Not much you can do there (anyone have a suggestion to prevent and/or repair the holes in the headliner?).
Once all brackets were riveted in place I siliconed over all the rivets and leading edges of the brackets to keep water from getting into the holes and leaking through the headliner. To my horror, after looking at the photos I’d just taken of the newly installed brackets, I realized I’d installed the front bracket backwards! I had to drill out all four rivets and re-install that bracket, which didn’t take me long since I’d improved my skill level with the rivet gun.
Re-installation of the Luggage Rack
After dismantling the rack, I sanded and repainted the rusted top brackets that secure the plactic shell to the roof-riveted brackets. Re-installing the entire rack was pretty straightforward, but required some elbow grease to get the holes in the plastic lined up with the threaded holes in the brackets. I bolted one side down loosely, then had to pull pretty hard on the other side to get those bolts threaded.
I’m sad to report that my time-consuming JB Weld job on the cracks failed at the two front corners, which were the biggest cracks in the rack. The back corner repairs held, and the top brackets have enough surface space to hold the plastic securely in place. After tightening the top brackets I siliconed the cracks in the front corners and can only hope they’ll last and keep from getting bigger. Since the rack isn’t vibrating and getting buffeted like it did originally, I’m optimistic. In the meantime, I’ll keep my eyes out for a flawless replacement plastic shell (haven’t had any luck finding one yet; any suggestions are welcomed!).
The impetus for getting this job done was an impending trip to the Olympic Peninsula. I’m happy to report that the damned thing was silent the whole trip, even during near-hurricane force winds in a couple spots. The cracks don’t seem to have grown, and I’m relieved to have this one behind me. Whether I’ll actually use the rack is another matter!
Even though we’re selling the van, I couldn’t rest knowing that the JB Weld had cracked again when we were driving through a 65 MPH wind storm on the Interstate coming home from Thanksgiving. So I went to an auto paint store, bought a little fiberglass repair kit ($25), and fixed that damned plastic tray for good!
Step 1: Remove luggage rack. This was made more difficult than it should have been because of the silicone I’d used to seal the brackets with; the good news was that the silicone held and there was no evidence of water getting under the brackets and rusting.
Step 2: Prep the plastic for fiberglass work. This was also more difficult because of the silicone I’d squirted over the JB Weld, which needed to be removed so the fiberglass/resin would stick. I used a chisel and some medium grit sandpaper to remove all the silicone, and to rough up the plastic so the resin would adhere.
Step 3: Cut fiberglass to shape for the bottom side. I only “fixed” the front corners of the rack; the original rear corner repairs had held, and they get way less buffeting than the front corners. I cut one large piece of cloth for each corner, and several smaller pieces to layer over the cracked areas.
Step 5: Lay fiberglass cloth in place. Once the cloth hits the resin, it’s there for good, so before I put the resin down I traced the section of cloth with a Sharpie so I could set it down where it needed to go.
Step 6: Brush resin over cloth. I made sure to eliminate air bubbles and get enough resin into the cloth.
Step 8: Repeat for top-side of rack. Once the resin dried on the bottom, which only took a couple hours, I flipped the rack over and started on the top side, repeating steps 3-7.
Step 9: Sand and paint. Since UV rays can weaken the fiberglass (according to the instructions), I followed the recommendation to put a layer of paint over the repaired areas (I didn’t do this on the underside because it never gets any direct light). I used a white Rustoleum spray paint, which took overnight to dry.
Step 10: Drill holes for re-installation. Since the fiberglass covered the original mounting holes, I had to drill them out. I used a small bit to reduce the size of the mounting holes from the original, thinking it would increase the strength of the tray in the mounting areas. I had to test fit it a couple times to get the holes to line up so all eight bolts and the center screw would line up.
Step 11: Cut rubber grommets for brackets. I decided to put thin rubber pads (made from a road bike inner tube) under the brackets to maybe reduce the buffeting stress a wee bit; the metal edges of the brackets on the brittle plastic tray seemed to be harsh enough – before this repair – to cause the plastic to crack. I cut pieces to size and used a hole punch (like you learned to use in Kindergarten) and put them under the brackets before installing the bolts.
Step 12: Bolt (and screw) in place. I hand-tightened all 8 bolts, then put the center screw in place (I made a tiny grommet for this, too). Then I tightened all bolts, re-torqued the screw (this is hard because I used the original Phillips head screw, which – because it’s hard to get to, being right in the center of the vehicle), and then installed the bar on the brackets with the two bolts.
I’m very pleased with the results of this repair and think that it should hold for a long, long time. What it lacks in beauty it should more than make up for in strength. I have to admit that during the two days I worked on this I kept wishing I had a spare $600 to buy the OEM replacement that GoWesty sells…
Just returned from a ten-day, 2,750 mile road trip from Boise to California. Where to begin…
First, we vowed never to take another winter road trip that required crossing a mountain range. Second, we vowed never to drive in Southern California again. Next to our wedding vows, these are probably the most serious ones my wife and I have made.
Despite the “never-ness” of the vows, it was a pretty good trip, although – as usual – dominated by excessive driving time.
We had hoped to take the quickest route from Boise to the Bay Area, which takes you over Donner Pass on I-80. The forecast for that area predicted at least two feet of snow and 95-mph winds for our travel day. I knew they would close the road, and they did. Our only other option added over 200 miles to the first day, but we decided to leave extra early so we could meet our friends that evening for dinner and a concert in San Francisco.
We woke up to several inches of fresh snow in our driveway, but hit the road by 5:30 anyway. Thirteen tense hours and dozens of twisty mountain passes later, we’d managed about 600 miles, 118 miles shy of our goal. The Eurovan didn’t even blink at the conditions, which were among the worst I’ve experienced. Howling winds, blinding snow flurries, uneven packed ice, black ice, drifting snow, slush ruts and more.
I stopped to pee at one point before leaving the snowy roads and was amazed at the amount of ice caked and clinging on the van. I had chains with me, but never needed them. The Eurovan handled the roads better than my 4WD Tacoma would have.
Still, with the frigid temperatures and our tattered nerves we wimped out and got a motel room and a 2-pound burrito in Williams, California. We missed our friends, a good meal and a great jazz gig but got a good, digestion-enhanced sleep in this cute town in the heart of California’s central valley.
The Bay Area
I lived in Berkeley from 1982 to 2000. Leaving it was hard, and the way it showed itself to us made my wife ask me why I ever left this place. It couldn’t have been prettier. After stopping for caffeine at the original Peet’s Coffee store, we drove up into the hills and took Angus for a walk in the only place we found in California that allows dogs to run off-leash (more later on this). The “Fire Trail” high in the hills winds through dense stands of eucalyptus and pine, and offers breathtaking views of San Francisco. I ran on this trail with a good friend almost every day while writing my dissertation in 1996. Where does the time go?
We met up with some dear old friends for lunch at Zachary’s Pizza on College Avenue in Oakland, just across the Berkeley border, then headed to the North Face Outlet where I’ve gotten great deals on outdoor gear since my college days in the ’80s. Only tiny or huge sizes, and not so much gear anymore, so we saved our dough for dinner.
Crossing the Oakland Bay Bridge provided a shock since the toll was $5 instead of the $2 it’s been since 1982. We had a long time to take in the sights when the guy in front of us paid with a $100 bill; the attendant had to make some phone calls, get out his microscope to examine the fibers in the bill, and fingerprint the customer, who spent his waiting time picking broken glass out of his car and throwing it on the ground in front of us. This was our first glimpse of some of the downsides of civilization. Finally on our way again we saw the possible reason for the toll increase: the new bridge they’re building, a lower, gleaming, curvy thing that promises to last longer and not pancake when The Big One hits.
We had a reservation at the Marina Motel because it looked cool on the Internet and accepted dogs and because it wasn’t far from Fisherman’s Wharf where my 10K race was early the next morning. A relic from the stylish late 1930s, this motor-court was nice but small. I wish I’d thought to take a photo of the Eurovan in one of the numerous one-car garages; not much of a margin, it fit like a bread loaf in its cellophane sack.
After settling in and recovering from the 15-minute parking job we headed over the Golden Gate Bridge to have dinner with another dear old friend in Mill Valley whom I hadn’t seen in almost 20 years. We had a great time catching up, reminiscing, and eating good food.
We live in a strange time: the pace and stress of contemporary life seems to separate us from friends when it’s not convenient – because of geography or time or both – but the plethora of technology – Facebook, texting, Skype, google – aims or claims to connect us. In pre-Internet days, I most likely would have lost track forever of most of the friends I saw on this trip, but with the help of these tools was able to find or be found and re-connect. This is the topic of another blog altogether, but it’s interesting to think about the forces that separate us and bring us together. The important thing is how we manage those forces and stay human in the face of them.
Sunday morning I ran my first 10K in 15 years, and actually set a PR. I can only attribute this to living and training at 3,000 feet, and maybe the excitement of running through Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embarcadero. Or maybe it was my super-blowout-sale fluorescent orange Haile Gebrselassie model Adidas Adizero Adios shoes. It seemed odd to me that, coming from the silly town of Boise, Idaho, I would get so many comments on my flashy shoes in one of the most stylish cities on the planet. I think I might have been shamed into running as fast as I could.
After the race we met another “lost” friend for breakfast, then headed south along the coast and camped at San Simeon State Park just north of Cambria, near Hearst Castle.
On the way, we saw two spectacular sights: hordes of elephant seals basking in the setting sun, and a customized Mercedes-Benz Unimog from Germany on a trip around the globe. Each sight was equally striking and strange. Germans really seem to go for adventure travel; see my post about the Real Long Way Round.
The next morning we continued south along the central coast – to me, the only remaining livable place in California: it’s gorgeous, has a very temperate climate, and relatively few people. The reason it is that way is because of its lack of jobs and industry, and it’s far enough from the Bay Area and LA to stay desirably un-populated. Which reminds me of another vow my wife and I made: to start playing the Lottery.
After a harrowing drive through LA at the beginning of rush hour, we got to my home town of Laguna Beach in time to run Angus at the local fenced-in dog park. Our little guy is a great traveler, never complains, and rolls with the punches, taking what limited off-leash time he can get, which – in California – was, with the exceptions of Laguna’s dog park and the Fire Trail in Berkeley, illegal. Yet another vow: if we lived in California we would not have a dog.
We visited the Mission San Juan Capistrano, which I hadn’t seen since grade school. I was surprised by the complete absence of any information at this important historical site of the horrendous treatment of Native Americans by the missionaries. Instead, the “historical” video they offer is a thinly-veiled plea for donations and a shameful puff-piece on early California history and the missions’ terrible role in it.
After the trip to the mission, we shifted to birding mode and went to Doheny State Beach to view the huge seagull congregation and then the Newport Back Bay, where my mom brought my brother and me to watch birds when we were little. We watched marbled godwits, black-necked stilts, cinnamon teal, coots, sandpipers, egrets (both snowy and great), American widgeon, grebes, and lots of other birds doing their things in the bay. This felt as much like being “home” as anything on the trip.
It was good to see my mom and step-dad, and to enjoy Laguna, even though I kept saying, “This isn’t the town I grew up in.” The difference? Money, money, money. Way too many cars parked on residential streets, no doubt because the postage-stamp sized lots have been filled to the edges with remodeled bungalows whose square footage is maxed out with living space. The $100K Mercedes can sit in the street.
I wanted to run a track workout at my high school alma mater, Laguna Beach High School. When I attended (1976-1980), our mascot was a goateed artist holding a brush and palette (still the name of the school newpaper; Laguna Beach originated as an artist colony in the early 20th Century). A few years ago – perhaps in an attempt to protect the children from the homophobic taunts I received while competing at opposing schools when I was an “Artist” (Laguna Beach, historically, has has had a vibrant and large gay community, although I’m not sure if that still holds) – they changed the mascot to a wave, and now go by The Breakers. The track, which is now a state-of-the-art rubberized beauty surrounding an Astro-Turf football field, is recently closed to the public. There’s an ongoing debate over the track closure; apparently the new principal has convinced the school board that allowing the public to use the track is an invitation to child molesters, while justifiably annoyed locals who pay taxes supporting the public school can’t use it. I had a good run along the beach instead. The times they are still a-changin’.
Next was a lovely visit with my dad and step-mom in Long Beach. Angus got to meet Maggie (his aunt?) the Sheltie, who quickly became enamored of the little guy, who could not have seemed less interested. What can you do? My dad took us to my parents’ home town of Pasadena so Leslie could see for the first time the gorgeous grounds at the Huntington Library and the magnificent Gamble House, the premier Greene & Greene creation, where we got a tour of the home from a wonderful docent. It was nice to have a break from driving, and my dad took us past all three of his childhood homes in Pasadena, as well as my mom’s old house there where I spent lots of time as a kid visiting grandparents.
Oh, at the Huntington, we watched a masterful artist at work restoring the “faux bois” (fake wood, made of sculpted, steel-reinforced cement) arbors, and learned a lot about the nearly extinct craft from him. Fascinating stuff.
1350 miles down, and we began the trek home a week after leaving. Because of a miscommunication (Leslie and I each thought the other wanted to return along the Northern California coast, when we both actually wanted to take the shortest route home), we bit off nearly more than we could chew. Blasting through LA’s terrifying traffic, in which we very nearly died in a horrific fireball that was almost caused by a “totally agro” teenaged girl, was like nothing I’ve ever seen at 6:15 a.m. It was a jam-packed parking lot where everyone was going 80. California’s budget crisis is nowhere more apparent than its crumbling roads peppered with potholes big enough for an armoir. The dilapidated state of California’s massive network of freeways would embarrass any Third World country. It’s true for the whole state, but Southern California is particularly bad, and – since SoCal is most prominently defined by The Car – the pitifully dangerous shape of its arterial roadways is quite ironic.
We took the 405 to the 5 to the 580 to the 680 to the 780 to the 37 to the 29 to the 101 to the 1 and made it to McKerricher State Park just north of Ft. Bragg in about 13 hours. $35 to camp there, and the showers required numerous quarters. Spectacular scenery, though, if you can see past the deteriorating infrastructure of the state. Which, on that morning, was no problem. We got up and did it again, going up 101 except for a detour through the Avenue of the Giants, a gorgeous roadway (except for the horrendous condition of the asphalt) through massive redwoods lining the Eel River. We passed the Trees of Mystery, lots of Bigfoot souvenir stands, Humboldt State College, broke the law again at Trinidad by letting Angus run free on the beach, and made it to Bend, Oregon 13 hours later. We’d hoped to camp, but it was below freezing and I was wiped and – worst of all – Deschutes Brewery and Pub had a wait of over an hour for dinner – so we checked into another Motel 6.
Our final day of driving only took about 7 hours, bringing us back through Burns, Home of the Hilanders [sic]. You would think they could spend the extra money to spell it right, since it’s something you live with forever. The town’s namesake, Scotland’s most well-known poet Robert Burns, must constantly roll in his grave.
That’s it. A great trip with lots of incredible things, nothing terrible (except for the amount spent on gasoline – the Eurovan takes premium fuel). A few lessons learned, some vows made, and a couple of new mods coming for the EVC in advance of the real car-camping season that can’t get here soon enough.
Last September, four days after putting my beloved Glenna to sleep, we needed to honor her by going to one of her favorite places in this world. It is also one of ours: the Sawtooth Basin outside of Stanley, Idaho. We found a spot far from the highway right on the Salmon River. It was warm, still, and the perfect place to remember Glenna and begin our transition to a one-dog family. Angus, who still seemed in shock over Glenna’s passing, got a reprieve from his mourning at home by being able to explore the sage flat, river’s edge, and woods all to his heart’s content. He needed to run, and did.
The Salmon River, dubbed the “River of No Return” by the Lewis and Clark Expedition two hundred years ago, is a place we return to regularly. It is not overrun by swarms of people even in mid-summer. There are lots of places to camp where you have no visible neighbors and can feel the serenity and solitude which make it therapeutic. And the people you do run into are usually a pleasure, like Taro – a freelance hydrologist traveling in his old beat-up camper with his old dog. We stood with him and talked for an hour, drinking a beer near the river, watching the sun turn the White Cloud peaks on the other side of the valley increasingly darker shades of pink as dusk settled on us. The warm spell we’re getting now makes me ache for September…
We saved enough clams and did the research to decide on a Fiamma F35 awning for our Eurovan camper. We chose the 8′-2″ version since it covers plenty of ground and cost a lot less to ship to us from the Florida factory than the longer one.
I received the small box with the required bracket kit (Fiamma part number 98655-111) first, which was good since the instructions – if you can call them that – left a lot to be desired and required a bunch of research before I even began.
On the surface, the instructions look very simple: drawings only, no text. Step 1 shows tracing the bracket holes to locate where you’ll drill three holes (per each of the two brackets). Step 2 shows the drilling getting done, with a slashed-circle and numeral 9 above the drill bit, which means nothing to me since I have a Ph.D. in the humanities. I’m guessing it means 9mm, but it could mean don’t drill these holes unless it’s 9 a.m., or if it’s 9 a.m. Call me anal, but I like clarity when I’m about to drill six holes into a $35,000 piece of sheet metal.
Step 3 caused the biggest concern, as it showed a strange looking tool that looked like it was required to insert the threaded sleeves into which the brackets are to be bolted. So I spent a couple hours searching for information on installing one of these awnings, and found nothing. GoWesty sells the more expensive F45 awning, and mentions that a rivet nut tool is required for Eurovan installations. $27. Seems a bit steep, but that’s GoWesty for you. I looked for a rivet nut tool at Harbor Freight ($16), but learned that you need to know the thread specs to get the proper “nosepieces” and “mandrels” (not mandrills, even though a monkey could probably figure this out easier than I’ve been able to) for the tool so that it will install the threaded sleeves. But the Fiamma website (not to mention the bracket instructions) do not give any specs for any hardware, or even if the inserts are metric or SAE; you’d assume they’re metric since the brackets (or at least the instructions) appear to be fabricated in Milan, but who knows these days? Which left me wondering how these awnings, which I see on at least half the Eurovan campers out there, got installed. Obviously I’m either making this way too difficult or am retarded, or both. Clearly I have a problem here, but because of the lack of clarity on how to install this thing I feel compelled to write a blog to assist other idiots like me who might want to do this.
So I emailed Fiamma tech support, asking the size of the drill bit and the thread specification for the rivet nuts. That’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. Anyway, they got back to me pretty quickly: 9mm drill bit, 6mm (M6) rivet nuts. Wahoo!
The next day I headed over to Home Depot to find a rivet nut tool. The biggest one they had only went to M5 (5mm). Not surprised (Home Depot almost never has what I need), I headed over to Sears since I’ve had pretty good luck with their tool department. They don’t carry any metric rivet tools. So I checked our local tool rental company (Tates Rents): strike three. I called Harbor Freight since I couldn’t determine from their website if they had metric rivet tools. The person I spoke to had no idea what I was talking about. My neighbor Dave, who’s got more tools than I knew existed, didn’t have what I needed, either. I found a kit on Sears.com for $65, but didn’t want to spend that much. Back to GoWesty and their $27 tool, which I ordered out of shear despairation (intentional conflation of despair and desperation). Call me old fashioned, call me anything you want for all I care; but it would seem – given the necessity of having this tool to install the awning brackets – that Fiamma might raise the price a bit and include this little tool to get the job done. My time is worth nothing, but I still have several hours invested in this, hours I’d gladly have returned to me for organizing my sock drawer or de-greasing used Ziplock bags. Hopefully my tribulations will benefit other otherwise hapless readers in this regard, or at least give them something to laugh about.
The big day came. I’d been dreading it, mostly because I hated the idea of drilling holes in the Eurovan. I needed a 9 millimeter drill bit, but didn’t have one and didn’t want to make another fruitless sojourn into the bowels of Boise to look for one at the non-metric conspiratorial network of commercial establishments some over-generously refer to as stores. I searched the Internet for an SAE equivalent: the closest was 23/64 (.359″), which equates to 9.128mm. I drilled one hole with my 23/64 bit into a piece of plastic (one of my Nordic ski wax scrapers), and tested the rivet nut: fit like a glove. So I traced the bracket holes with a pencil onto the van and drilled a hole, sweating bullets with every revolution of the over-sized bit. Seemed a little bigger than the one I’d made in the plastic, so I took the 11/32 bit and used that to drill the second hole: too tight. So I went back to the 23/64 bit and got all three holes for the front bracket drilled. Stressful.
The first rivet nut was tough to set because I didn’t know what I was doing. It took a while to figure out the position to get the tightening bolt in and where to hold the stabilizing bar. I also wasn’t sure how tight to make the rivet nut, but the tool ran out of threads at what seemed like the perfect spot. The rivets seemed tight, so I put the silicone sealant around each one, placed the bracket and its rubber pad over the rivet nuts, and tightened them down with my 10mm ratchet. Again, I wasn’t sure of the torque to use on these aluminum rivet nuts, and I’m still not. (Stay tuned to this blog for our road trip plans; if you want to follow us and I didn’t tighten the bolts enough, you might end up with a free awning.)
I made them as tight as I dared, but hope to get more info from Fiamma about this when I talk to them on Monday about the damage to the awning I discovered upon installing it.
To place the rear bracket, I went to the Internet to look for photos of awnings on Eurovans. I wasn’t sure whether to have the front of the awning hang over the front passenger door. Since we have the 8′-2″ model, and the sidewall mounting brackets for the awning legs (if you don’t want to or can’t stake the legs into the ground but want to secure the support legs onto the van, like if you were camped in a Wal-Mart parking lot) would need to be clear of the front passenger door, that pretty much sold me on keeping the awning mounted just to the front edge of the sliding door. Which meant that I had 97.5″ from outside to outside of the brackets. I gave myself some breathing room on the rear bracket mounting spot, and drilled the holes, deburring with a flat file, and installed the rear bracket in a fraction of the time it took to do the first.
Once both brackets were tightened down, I took the F35 awning itself and test hanged it on the brackets – miraculously it worked out, but because of the cracked plastic end cap sustained during shipment I couldn’t finish the job and tighten the awning down and do a test set up. I’ll have to get Fiamma to send me a replacement cap and figure out how to remove the busted one and reinstall the new one, which I’m a bit concerned about since they appear to be riveted in place.
Anyway, most of the job is done (as far as I can tell). I hope this sheds some light for the next fool who decides they want to do this themselves. One thing I know is that we had damned well better use this thing on our next trip. I’ll be looking for places that are awning-worthy campsites. If we find any, we’ll post some photos. Stay tuned.
Our band, the City of Trees Pipes and Drums, traveled to Baker City, Oregon last weekend to participate in the Easter Oregon Highland Games. Oh my.
The weather could definitely have been worse. But it could have been way, way better. For a late August weekend, it was downright frigid: 50-something degrees, rainy, and windier than Rush Limbaugh the day after Halle Berry won an Oscar.
I felt badly for the organizers because the turnout was not what they expected. Most of the people who would have attended were huddled against the wood stove back at the cabin. But for those who did brave the elements – which include the vendors, the athletes, and the performers (especially the belly dancers) – it was a good show.
Aside from our fabulous group of nut-cases in kilts, there was a really good band from Emmett, Idaho featuring a couple of hot pipers, a fiddler, a drummer, and a crack bassist. The belly dancers boggled the mind (not least because nobody I asked could explain why you always see belly dancers at highland games) and some might have gone hypothermic. The athletes were fabulous, knee braces, pitchforks and all.
For me, the coolest thing there were the six enormous Irish wolfhounds (again – there seems to be a healthy lack of any shyness about the mixing of Irish, Scottish, gypsy, and whatever else you want to bring to the table at a “Scottish” Highland games). The couple who brought them have been breeding them for a dozen years or so, and they led the dogs (three each) around on leashes during the closing ceremony. Beautiful animals those.
It was a good time. However, unless I can get a guarantee from God next year that it will be warmer I can’t say if I’ll have another obligation that weekend.
On a recent trip in the Eurovan we spent about a week at our family cabin not far from Yellowstone. Mice had been scouring the place for whatever they could find, and several had been trapped (killed). After a while it seemed the mice just disappeared: no more little tiny football shaped dried turds in the morning dotting the kitchen counters. What a relief!
Preparing for a hike, Leslie went to the Eurovan to get some food for the trek and found – surprisingly – that a mouse or mice had gotten into the camper and weaseled their way into one of the food cupboards. Worse, they ate most of one of my favorite snacks – the Nature Valley Sweet and Salty peanut granola bar. A Clif Bar had been compromised also, along with a couple other things, but the Nature Valley bar was the clear favorite among these rodents. We have at least that one thing in common I guess.
Anyway, it took me a while to figure out how they got inside. No windows or vents were open, except for the auxiliary heater vent on the left rear of the van, which you can’t close. That must have been their port, although the opening is pretty tiny. But so are mice.
From there, the mice had to crawl their way into the heater box and out the inside vent at the base of the back seat. To get inside the cupboard with the food, they had to have shimmied up and over the console with the stove, sink and fridge, down the back and into the cupboard from the rear.
If anyone else has experienced this most undesired transgression, please let me know. Also, if I have their route wrong – based on your experience – please let me know that as well!
The kicker in all this mice business is that it didn’t reveal itself until we were halfway home on the two-day return trip. The propane setting (which I’d so carefully repaired, as noted in a previous blog post) on the fridge stopped working. I could tell that the igniter wasn’t working, so the propane wouldn’t light for the fridge, but the stove worked just fine. So the fridge was off while we were camped, and on the 12VDC setting while driving (although I’m not sure even that worked; my beer at camp was not very cold!).
So I bit the bullet and after we got home went through the laborious exercise of removing the fridge. It was just as hard to get out as I remembered. I reviewed all the parts and everything seemed in order until I saw the fuse panel on top of the fridge. The little plastic cover over the center fuse (a 20 amp fuse) looked funny. I removed the cover and found it burned at one end. The fuse was blown.
Then I noticed, scattered hither and yon across the top of the fridge, a bunch of mouse turds, and one very close to the 20 amp fuse. Could a mouse have crapped near the fuse panel and blown the fuse? Or could one of its wee feet have wedged in underneath that fuse cover and caused the damage? Or do fuses just burn up on their own? I’m no electrician or mouse scientist but I’m leaning to either of the first two theories. Again, if anyone has a clue on this, let me know.
By the way, since I had the fridge out, I took the opportunity to add joint tape to all the propane connections on the fridge, which I hope will reduce the residual propane odor that sometimes escapes from the fridge… Now the thing works fine. I thought it might be a good idea to rig up some kind of screen to keep over the exterior heater vents to prevent varmints from entering my mobile abode. But, like a lot of other things, I probably wont’ get around to it until it’s too late.
Another road trip approaching, another round of “improvements” to our 2001 Volkswagen Eurovan Camper. We’re up to 71,400 miles on this baby and we love it more each time we get to use it. During each road trip, we think of things we can do to it to make the next trip better. Thus, the never-ending modifications…
Since my last post about this (Eurovan Obsession, November 12, 2009) we did the GoWesty Lift and Level Kit, which made a big difference in stability and ride. Plus, it’s cool having Mercedes Benz wheels on the van as well as a little more clearance.
Yesterday, I added:
- Yakima 8B Side Rails (Kwik Loaders) so I could put my old crossbars on top and use our Thule Spaceboost or whatever it’s called. We also might put the canoe on top if the mood strikes us to do a float down Big Springs next week (the origin of the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, in Island Park, Idaho). The hardest part of installing the Side Rails was figuring out where they should go. I tried finding pictures of late model Eurovans with them installed, but could not, so I thought I’d document it in case anyone else wants another user’s input on it. Here in a nutshell, is how I did it:
- I wanted the biggest spread between bars I could get and still easily add the rooftop box I have, which turned out to be about 40″. Then I checked the overall length of the box (ours is 90″) and made sure it wouldn’t interfere with the rear door or roof vent. This put the center of the front bar about 25″ from the front of the poptop.
I used the Side Loader as a template to mark the two 5/16″ drill holes for the front rail. The elevation location of the loader rail – at least on this poptop – must rest on the bottom of the curve just above the lower part of the poptop that holds the gasket. Any higher and the inside mounting plate will not fit. I was concerned that the plastic-coated clips on my Yakima towers (which clamp onto the bottom of the Kwik Rail) wouldn’t have enough clearance because of the protruding lip just below the rail, but it just barely clears it when fully tightened (the instructions refer – briefly and vaguely – to this, but since they’re not vehicle-specific you just have to check it on your particular ride).
- Then I measured 40″ back to find the rear location, and marked the drill holes there.
Then I checked the inside of each location to make sure the mounting plate would fit; there are structural ribs located inside the poptop ever 12″ or so, which could interfere with your fore-aft location. I had to move my original spot about an inch in the front to avoid hitting one of those ribs.
- Once I had the locations marked and double-checked the measurements to make sure I had the rails set up exactly in the same place on both sides, I started drilling the first two holes. I learned quickly that it is much easier to line up the holes by starting the drill actually through the rail holes. The first two holes I just drilled through my pencil marks, and the bolts were about 1mm too far apart for the inside mounting plate to fit over the bolts. It took some pounding and re-drilling to get the two holes in the mounting plate to slide over the bolts. The tolerances are fairly tight, so it’s much better to get the holes started through the actual holes in the Kwik Rail. I had no trouble with the other three once I figured this out.
- When drilling each hole, I made sure to keep the tent material safely out of the way in case the drill bit flew too far through the poptop. Access on both the front and rear spots was fairly good, but I had to raise and lower the poptop several times for each rail; to avoid having to go inside the van each time I dropped the poptop down and release the latches, I put a 2×6 scrap at the front to keep the lid from going all the way down. This saved a bit of time and energy.
After testing the fit of the bolts with the gasket and the inside plate, I removed the assembly and added a small bead of Goo (clear poly auto adhesive/sealant) to the part of the bolt just up against the inside of the gasket.
- Fully gooed, I put the assembly back into the holes, added the lock-washer and nut, and tightened it all up with a 1/2″ socket and ratchet. I checked for tightness on each one, and noticed a small amount of Goo oozed above and below each bolt, as well as a little rubber-squishing of the gasket. Since the poptop is just a huge piece of molded plastic with no insulation or anything to crush, I tightened the bolts fairly tight without worrying too much about damaging the poptop.
Overall, it went pretty smoothly. One thing I added to the setup was a home-made bolt cover for the inside of poptop to protect the tent fabric from getting cut up with the bolts protruding from the nut. I cut two synthetic wine corks into four equal pieces each (total of eight), and then used a 1/4″ drill bit by hand to ream out enough material to be able to “screw” the cork piece onto the end of each bolt. It would have been nice of Yakima to include those flexible plastic caps to cover the bolts and nuts, but in a pinch I hope my method will keep my tent from getting torn… Time will tell.
Front dash utility rack: I spent some quality time at Target and found a small organizer to hold our cell phones and other doodads safely out of the way. I used a couple small metal brackets (which I had to modify a little) and the existing screws in the upper part of the lower dash cover to secure this gizmo.
- Two 12-volt outlets – just tapped into the existing outlet. Got these at Radio Shack pretty cheap.
- An iPod/MP3 player cable – tapped through the lower dash cover and held in place with a rubber grommet. If I want to use it I can pull it out at least a couple feet.
- Rear medicine chest cabinet shelf: also from Target, a little organizer tray that I snipped up and screwed in at a slight angle to make the cabinet a bit more user-friendly. Would it have added much more to Winnebago’s conversion to put a little shelf in there? Anyway, I’m thinking this will be a good spot for my toilet bag, which on previous trips was just lumped in there with Windex, paper towels, dog treats, licorice, hand-cuffs, Kim Chee, and an old dog-eared copy of Pride and Prejudice.
With my new schedule and Leslie’s more flexible schedule, we occasionally get a batch of days with no particular requirements. Last week was the latest, and we blasted out of Boise on Wednesday headed to the Oregon coast in the Eurovan. Leslie and I were both eager to introduce Angus to the ocean, and to reacquaint Glenna with the salty water.
We made it to Bend in time to go to Trader Joe’s for “supplies.” Within minutes we were fighting over bran muffins, which I wanted for breakfast and Leslie did not. This made the rest of our shopping experience feel a bit awkward, and I was glad when we got out of there. Then we navigated our way to dinner at Deschutes Brewery where tempers calmed over a yummy CDA (Cascadia Dark Ale, also known as a “black IPA”) and a pilsener for Leslie. I forget what we ate as it didn’t really matter with that kind of beer. Then we headed toward Sisters, hoping to cross the Cascades on the windy Mackenzie Pass road, which I’d ridden up on our honeymoon seven years earlier. Closed because of the snow, we took the Santiam Highway past Suttle Lake (really), and turned up a Forest Service road looking for a “primitive” camping opportunity so the dogs could run unfettered and we could relax.
After some hunting and pecking we found a great spot, and the dogs began their high-speed, long-running exploration of the area, checking back in occasionally for water since we were on a mountain and not near any stream so far as we could tell. On one of Angus’s check-ins, I noticed he pooped something liquiddy and went over to look. Blood! A few minutes later, he did it again, and it was more profuse. Since I have a Ph.D. (not in science) I found a ziplock bag and obtained a sample of the bloody mucus so I could show it to a vet. Leslie and I both worried Angus was seriously ill and contemplated heading right home, but since he seemed normal otherwise we decided to try to find a vet in the morning somewhere on our way toward the coast.
Which we did in Lebanon. The nice vet at Lebanon Animal Hospital determined it was giardia, gave us some medication, and we made it to the ocean by lunch-time. Angus followed Glenna to the surf and romped in the sand, drinking only occasional mouthfuls of seawater as if to check again if it really tasted that bad. At one point he stopped to piss, and tasted his urine as if conducting a taste test. Glenna seemed right at home even though it was only her second time on the coast. Although it was gorgeous, the experience was mitigated severely by howling wind and Angus’ insistence on trying to eat every piece of flotsam and jetsam he could get in his mouth, which gave Leslie and me the willies, imagining more rectal expulsion of blood by the little guy we still affectionately call “Braindamage.”
At Pacific City we stopped at Pelican Pub & Brewery for a pint, where I got into an argument with our waitress about the date it was founded. I swore I was there in 1988 on my trip around the country, but she insisted it didn’t open until 1996. So I slayed them all, and we left without paying. Leslie mentioned something on the way back to the van that I might reconsider getting off the Efexxor.
We targeted Manzanita for dinner, and chose a pub that had good food and better beer. Manzanita is where Leslie’s dear friend Allan owns some property on which he plans to build a beach house soon, so she wanted to check out the town. It was quaint, clean, and not over-run with tourists or businesses. The pub’s clientele seemed pretty diverse but all fairly well-to-do, many probably weekenders from Portland (it’s only a couple hours from the big city but feels like several days away). Everyone including the employees were very friendly.
Heading north after dinner we stopped in Cannon Beach as dusk faded and found a nice RV campground, which, as with all non-primitive campgrounds, we had to keep the mutts on their leashes. This one was on a creek just a ways off the beach, and featured numerous rabbits who seemed to delight in taunting Glenna and Angus.
After our EVC breakfast (coffee and instant oatmeal), we took the dogs to Cannon Beach to run free on the massive stretches of flatflat sand, and both pooches took full advantage of their unfetteredness. It was a joy to watch. I took more “Taisie” modeling shots of Leslie, thinking some of the pix might end up on her website (stay tuned for a post on that in the near future).
Astoria was next, where we could not for the life of us remember which street we bombed down to the dock at the end of our first Cycle Oregon several years ago (2007 I think?). Soon we were fighting, once again, over how to get to IKEA, which was “near” Portland International Airport. Finally inside, the miraculously huge selection of quality, reasonably priced household items calmed us both and we made it out of there alive. We stopped for a brief visit with my dear friend Joan in southeast Portland before heading off to Maupin, along the Deschutes River, to camp.
The salmon flies had just hatched, and filled the dusk sky with their huge (for insects) silhouettes. I found lots of mating pairs on the grass leaves along the river, accompanied by lots of large stoneflies. This has got to be the favorite mealtime for trout because of the comparative enormity of the food unit these insects represent. A fish would have to eat 100 times the number of small mayflies to get the same bang that one salmonfly provides. I felt happy for the fish, and a bit sad that I didn’t have my fly rod with me.
I was also sad I did not bring my bagpipes when a man named Steve Hughes from Portland stopped by our campsite. He saw the “McMichael Piping” sign on the van and asked if I was the piper. It turned out that Steve was a fairly new piper also, at about 65 years of age, from Portland. We chatted for a while and I showed him my electronic chanter (good for practicing when you don’t want to bother anyone because you use earphones). Note to self: bring pipes on all road trips from now on.
After a decent night of sleep, we headed back toward Boise, driving through Fossil and along the John Day River to Unity, and Leslie and I reminisced about the Columbia Plateau and Elkhorn Classic stage races we’d done years ago. Gorgeous country, no traffic, good (Oregon) roads (Idaho roads, by contrast, are horrible as a rule). 1300 some-odd miles, lots of looking (not enough doing stuff outside the car, we both agreed), and several more ideas on how to configure the Eurovan camper for a more comfortable living/traveling experience. I hope to have time to add a post about those details soon.
Leslie reminded me yesterday that my post about our southwest road trip did not mention a rather freaky experience trying to find a place to eat on our last night. It had been a long day of driving from the Grand Canyon to Nephi, Utah (pronounced “KNEE-fie”). Sitting at the Chevron waiting for the tank to fill we decided that a sit-down meal with a beer sounded good. The only option we could see was JC Mickelson’s Restaurant, across
the street. Once inside we were greeted by a host of weird people. The owner or manager, a tall, pale, bearded man, wore sneakers, white socks, khaki shorts, and a Hawaiian shirt. He greeted us and handed two menus to a small, pretty young girl of about 11 or 12 (although who can be sure these days?), who gleefully informed us that the night’s special was prime rib. I interrupted their excitement about the opportunity to serve us by asking if they served beer. Much wind escaped from sails. “No,” the manager said. He then generously tried to think of a place that could accommodate our request. “Not in this town,” he concluded. We thanked them and left, and headed over to Burger King.
We’d been too tired to realize how naive we were expecting to get a beer in Nephi. It’s funny now, but once we realized the hold of Mormons on small towns in Utah and the control they have over things like the basic human right to have a beer with your burger after a long drive, we were kind of pissed. But we got over it and headed to Wendover, where we camped in a Baptist church parking lot just below a row of strip clubs on the west end of town (the Nevada side).
In thinking about our irritation with Mormon “dry” policies or whatever you want to call their crass violation of our 94th Amendment right to a beer after a long day of travel, it occurred to me that we might be guilty of a double standard when comparing Utah with the Diné (Navajo; also spelled Dineh) and Hopi reservations. Inside the nearly 13 million acres bounding the Diné reservation, inside which sits the 1.5 million acre Hopi reservation, it is a crime to possess or consume alcohol. If we’d been stopped by tribal police for some reason, they could have searched our van and arrested us for the beer and wine we had inside. Thankfully that didn’t happen (or you would have much longer blog entries from me).
There are lots of ways to look at this. First, not being able to buy or drink a beer anywhere you want to just plain sucks. But then you have to think about the “respect for different cultures” we try to make part of our creed. I respect and appreciate American Indian cultures far more than I do Mormonism, which is more of a religion dictating a dogmatic and particularly natural resource-abusive lifestyle than a “culture,” but I’m sure real anthropologists would disagree. I’m probably equally familiar with Mormonism as I am with Native American ways of life, but what I know of both makes it easy for me to favor the latter. Indians have been screwed on this continent since before Columbus arrived, yet
they have continued to contribute some very positive things to civilization in the form of art, architecture, farming, medicine, and spirituality. The only really positive thing I can say about what I know of Mormonism is that they appear to teach decent manners to their kids; if you watch a Mormon family at a restaurant, you won’t usually see a bunch of kids running around like Tasmanian devils who think they’re in their own living room. I won’t go into the long list of what I don’t like about Mormonism, but suffice it to say that they don’t elicit the same level of appreciation in me as American Indians do.
So, to resolve the apparent double-standard of being pissed about not getting a beer in Nephi and appreciating and respecting Indian anti-alcohol policies, I think it’s fair to say that the situations are different enough that it really isn’t a double standard at all. It was – and still is – Indian land to begin with, so they should be allowed to set whatever policies they want and expect everyone passing through to abide by them. In Utah, though, the Mormon control of alcohol policy is excessive because the land there is not exclusively owned or inhabited by a single group. There, dryness should be personal choice. Is it beer:30 yet?
Just got home from a 3,033 mile road trip. Nine days. Boise to Roswell, New Mexico to Santa Fe to Taos to Navajo and Hopi country and the Grand Canyon. Lotsa driving, lotsa adventure. Mostly perfect weather. Rather than boring myself (and you) with a chronarrative of the trip, here are some notes, more or less in order of occurrence:
On our first night we found ourselves camped down a muddy/snowy road near Canyonlands National Park. After discovering our camper’s coach battery – which runs the heater – had boiled over and croaked, I couldn’t get the van started. We awoke to a layer of frost on the inside of the windows, and imagined schlepping our road bikes up the muddy track to the pavement in the frigid morning and riding out to the “main” road to seek help. In looking through the owner’s manual I learned that the van would not start if the passenger seat was facing backwards (which it was). In a flash I had the machine running with heat not long behind. Soon after that we saw that we were surrounded by mule deer more numerous than I have ever seen. We joked about the two Boiseans who starved to death in the southeastern Utah high desert surrounded by hundreds of mule deer.
Make sure you know the difference between the positive and negative terminals of a battery. I wired up our replacement coach battery backwards, and wasted hours of my time and the time of many generous people as a result.
Roswell, New Mexico is – as we were warned – obsessed with the notion that people, especially tourists, are really interested in aliens. Wal-Mart has a huge painting of a UFO on its facade. Spending a couple days there didn’t convince me that it’s paying off.
Friends and family – a cliche nowadays, thanks to the destroyers of civilization as we know it (cell phone companies) – are precious. We hadn’t seen Peter in years since he’d relocated to Roswell, and visits with my dad and Susan are rare. Although too short, we all made the most of our time together, some of which we spent talking on how we might increase the frequency of visits… Stay tuned.
- Leslie and I did an out-and-back road bike ride on a straight, flat highway heading west out of Roswell. We both found it remarkable how polite the motorists there were. Despite having the “safety” of a rumble strip between us and traffic on the two-lane highway, even the huge eighteen-wheelers gave us extra room, often changing lanes. In 25 miles I counted only one vehicle that didn’t go wide for us. Conclusion: road bikers are their own worst enemies; where they are plentiful, as in Boise, there are enough of them doing stupid shit to annoy motorists (like riding two abreast in traffic, needlessly slowing down vehicles) that motorists have become un-conscientious toward cyclists. In Roswell, where cyclists seem to be a curiosity, vehicles seemed to respond accordingly to the massive difference in speed and mass between themselves and cyclists and went out of their way to avoid any possibility of an incident. It was refreshing.
- “…motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for American Indians aged 5 to 44” (Indian Reservation Roads guide, part of the Federal Lands Highway program of the USDOT). Luckily we did not see any crashes. But the roads on the Navajo reservation, which comprises over 12 million acres in Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, are treacherous and in very bad repair. US Highway 491 between Ya-Ta-Hay and Gallup, New Mexico, for example, featured frequent potholes a foot deep, foot wide, and eight feet long. Hurtling down this road at night in dense traffic made me imagine I was doing the Super G with life or death consequences. Road maintenance on Indian reservations is apparently a joint effort between the US Department of Transportation and the individual governing bodies on each reservation, but we saw little or no evidence of repairs anywhere. And every road we took, without exception, struck me as very Third World.
Speaking of worlds, we visited Old Oraibi (pronounced oh-RAH-ee-bee), at Third Mesa on the Hopi reservation, whose 1.5 million acres sit like an island in the middle of the Navajo reservation. My mom had taken me and my brother here in 1970 when she wanted to find particular Hopi pottery makers whose work she was studying. It looked exactly the same. Old Oraibi is the oldest continuously inhabited village in the United States, dating back at least to 1150 A.D.
- Somewhere near the spectacular Vermillion Cliffs I turned on the radio and found only one station, a public radio station broadcasting from somewhere on the Navajo reservation. We learned in Tuba City, which was named by a Mormon missionary to the area long ago, that Navajo is the white man’s name for these people, who call themselves Diné (pronounced dih-NEH), which means “the people.” We had stopped at a roadside piñon vendor, a nice woman with whom we chatted for quite a while. She said “Navajo” and I asked if it was pronounced with a long or short “a”, and she said, “We say “Diné,” with no bitterness. Listening to the radio, the live commentary was in the Diné language, and it struck me as amazing that in the middle of the largest Indian reservation in the U.S. I was hearing a language older than English, which is the most universal language in the world. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
It’s hard to say anything about the Grand Canyon. First, it’s not a canyon. It’s a bunch of canyons each of which was the head of its class, the Summa Cum Laude of canyons. We hit the South Rim viewpoints in the afternoon under spectacular light conditions, and the effect was so awesome that I could hardly take it seriously. I began thinking of writing a press release from the National Park Headquarters informing the world that in an effort to generate more revenue for maintenance of our national parks the NPS had decided to offer sponsorship opportunities. Thanks to generous donations by sponsoring corporations, The Grand Canyon would now be called “The iPad Grand Canyons by Apple.” Yellowstone National Park would now be called “Starbuck’s Yellowstone Machiato Park,” and Arches National Park would be “McDonald’s Golden Arches National Bigmac Park.” Branding would be handled exclusively by the William Morris Agency, with oversight by Designer Emeritus Calvin Klein.
It’s good to be home. We missed our dogs, and – we like to think – they us.
Yesterday I and seven other dedicated members of the City of Trees Pipes & Drums hunkered down in the snow to play at a wedding. We do stuff like this to make money for the band. For this gig we earned $300. It involved the eight of us putting on the “kit”: off-white hose (except for Josh White, who wore snow white hose), red flash (the ribbons that get folded into the top of the hose), sgian doubh (black knife) inserted into the top of the right hose (in case one needs to slit the throat of one’s adversary or cut a piece of salami while waiting for the go signal), ghillie brogues (sort of a wing-tip shoe with long laces that get tied in a certain criss-crossy way in the front and back of the hose, with tassels that swagger about while marching), undershirt, white long-sleeve dress shirt, dark tie, kilt (for our band, we wear the Royal Stewart Black tartan – a 15 ounce, 8-yard wool kilt), kilt belt with large cast pewter buckle, kilt pin (mine was a lovely deer antler tip until I lost it – the second kilt pin I have lost in less than two years), sporran (the “purse” covering the crotch of the piper (drummers wear theirs on their sides so as not to interfere with the drum harness) – our band sporrans are made of skunk fur and are very soft and black; they provide a pocket for one’s car keys, wallet, cell phone, condoms, or whatever – the kilt has no pockets), Prince Charlie vest (mine is fine wool with three diamond-shaped buttons and made in Pakistan – a cheap version of the 5-button gabardine wool versions made in Scotland), and glengarry with red feather plume and clan crest (the boat-shaped wool felt hat). After dozens of gigs I now have the dressing routine dialed in at about 25 minutes. To remove everything and get changed back into normal duds after a gig takes about half that.
We arrive at the designated spot – today at the Stone House: a pub adjacent to the Greenbelt. This is our second or third wedding gig here in the past year. I drove our Eurovan because I knew it would be snowing and that we’d be waiting for a while and wanted to have a heated haven where some of us could hang out until we were signaled to line up and march in. Six of us managed to fit in the van, cozy and warm with the propane heater running. I snapped a couple shots with my iPhone, hoping to catch some “regimental” images of my kilted buddies, but – alas – the iPhone’s lack of a flash prevented any compromising photos. John McDade, our dedicated pipe major, and the band’s only bona fide Scot, upon thinking I had snapped a shot of his privates yelled, “It’s bloody cold – I’m claiming shrinkage!”
After years of hankering after and coveting our neighbors’ VW Eurovan Campers, Leslie and I finally put an end to all that unproductive desire and pulled the trigger on a lovely 2001 unit with about 64,000 miles on it.
Over the past four or five years I had learned a lot about these things, and waffled between going the old-school route with a chronically wimpy-motored Vanagon (especially the 4WD Syncro models), or a more modern, more powerful EVC. Various schools of thought compete with persuasive arguments about why their side is better: Vanagon campers are true Westfalias, engineered and built by Germans (as opposed to American company Winnebago, which made and installed the camper equipment in the Eurovans), with a better design, fit and finish. Vanagon campers have a better turning circle and more ground clearance, making them better suited to bad roads in faraway places (which really appealed to me). Vanagon campers have a much cooler “vibe” which almost seems to come from a kind of underdog ethos (a bizarre sensibility for a German product, regardless of the “volks” branding rhetoric) owing to their legendary lack of power, especially on hills. Eurovans, on the other hand, are roomier, have a much better power plant (especially the 2001-2003 models), making them better suited to road trips on the highway, especially in mountainous areas (which really appealed to Leslie). I think the deciding factor for me was that the Eurovan camper came with a 12,000 BTU heater, which was important for us since our favorite camping season is the fall when it can get very cold in the Idaho mountains. You can buy and install an aftermarket propane heater for the Vanagon camper, but it is expensive ($800) and a big job and puts out half the BTUs of the EVC heater.
With Leslie’s input we decided on the EVC, which came in three engine sizes, the best of which was only offered from 2001 to 2003 (201 horsepower), when VW stopped making them for the U.S. market. I “watched” fifty or sixty of the 2001 through 2003 models on ebay during the past several years, and was amazed at how they seemed to keep their value. When new, I think these sold for somewhere around $40k, and you can still find several listed for near or even over that figure. About four years ago I bid $28,000 on a 2001 and just missed getting it. The one we bought cost more than I’m comfortable saying, and we had to drive to Tahoe to get it. I won’t go into the deal, but it was a bit intense. When we got it home and got it registered, we were very relieved.
Although generally in very good shape – especially the most important part: the engine – our EVC needed a bit of attention.
The first thing I had to do was replace the antenna, which got broken off when we took it through the car wash. Not the easiest job in the world, nor least expensive since you can’t buy just the manually retractable aerial part but must get the whole antenna assembly. Since it’s German, it is one engineered bugger. The first one I bought from GoWesty ($79) had the old farka (?) connector for the original Blaupunkt (?) stereo, but ourEVC had a newer Alpine stereo with a different connector. So I cut the farka connected off the new cable, cut the Alpine connector off the existing cable, and tried to solder the latter onto the former. Didn’t work. The mini-coax antenna cable and the connector would not cooperate and I’m not really adept with a soldering iron despite my years of child labor in a Shanghai electronics factory making circuit boards for vibrating sex toys. So I did some research and found another connector on ebay. It didn’t work, either (or rather, I screwed it up while trying to install it). Then I found a web site that had new, different OEM antenna cables that would hook right into the Alpine stereo. So I ordered that (from http://www.Europarts-sd.com, $15), and re-installed it in less than an hour.
While replacing the antenna, which you do through the engine compartment, I noticed the plastic faring over the battery was cracked nearly in half. VW wanted $80 for a new one, so I got some JB Weld ($6) and fixed that.
One of the fog lights was out, so I ordered some cool yellow ones on ebay ($2 plus $10 shipping!). Once I figured out how to dis-assemble the fog light (much easier than it looked, but took me a while to realize it), I replaced the one that didn’t work, and it still didn’t work. So I took the other one apart to see if it was wired up differently, and it wasn’t. I replaced the working light with the new yellow one, then tested it and now it didn’t work. I took it apart, reassembled it, shook it around, banged it, cursed it, sweet-talked it, then retested it. Fiat lux! So I went back to the other one and did the same thing, and low and behold, it worked, too. It was a thrill to drive it to work this morning in my Gangsta EVC. Yeah Boooooyyyyy!
Now onto the big stuff…
The fridge – a Norcold 3-way (LPG, 12VDC, 120VAC) – didn’t work well on LPG, so I pulled it out and found a huge mess from what looked like an old boilover on the stove. I cleaned all that up, got rid of the stinky, stained vinyl flooring, waterproofed it, scraped some surface rust off the inside wall, primed & painted it with Rustoleum, and then added some compact foil-bubble-wrap insulation to the whole wall, cutting out the vent holes for the two fridge vents (the outsides of which I also replaced with new vent assemblies from GoWesty).
I could also smell an LPG leak somewhere when the propane was turned on, and noticed the burner box was missing screws and a gasket. So I took the whole thing apart, found some replacement parts on ebay (a new relighter assembly ($100!), electrode, interrupter, gasket, and thermocoupler), cleaned and re-installed it (which took about a week of evenings and a full weekend day). Now it works quite well on LPG, and gets very cold, unlike the old Dometic fridges in the Vanagons and Buses.
Underneath the van, the propane tank itself was really, really rusted and made me nervous, so I ordered a new one, and a new regulator from GoWesty (great selection and service, very high prices). My initial look under the camper intimidated me because of all the dirt, grease, minor rust, and hoses and components I didn’t understand. I searched high and low on the Internet for blogs from people who had done this replacement but found none. I was pretty surprised by this because I’d done some modifications on motorcycles and had a choice of half a dozen step-by-step posts with photos by people who had done the same thing. Nothing on the EVC.
So I secured a weekend day to tackle this project, borrowed some jack stands and a floor jack from work, and crawled under the van. After a few hours I had the system dis-assembled. It wasn’t easy because the 13/16th flare nuts on the three propane lines were impossible to reach with a wrench, but I managed somehow with a vise grip and crescent wrench to get them disconnected from the cross manifold. I knew that re-assembly would be impossible without a 13/16th crowfoot flare-nut wrench, which I found on ebay and ordered. The line coming off the regulator was saturated with oil, which made me feel better about ordering a new regulator. I took the two old rubber lines (from tank to regulator, and regulator to cross manifold) to Suburban Propane and they made up new ones with new brass fittings while I waited ($30). I got a new galvanized cross manifold and brass flare fittings at Home Depot, along with the yellow LPG teflon tape, and rebuilt the entire assembly.
This LPG thing was a time-consuming and big project for me. The new LPG tank I got from GoWesty (manufactured by Manchester, who made the original tank) had some paint chips down to bare metal which I was impelled to deal with because of the reason I was doing this in the first place: rust. So I masked all the ports and safety decals on it, sanded it down, primed and painted it with Rustoleum. Not quite satisfied, I sprayed the bottom of the tank with the rubberized under-coating. If this thing rusts I’ll eat my hat. The bolts and mounting bracket for the LPG tank were also pretty badly rusted (the EVC originated in Pennsylvania before moving to California when she was two), so I prepped those areas and sprayed with Rustoleum and rubber undercoating, too.
The crowfoot wrench from ebay finally arrived so I could finalize the reassembly. It worked perfectly to tighten the three flare nuts on top of the cross mainfold. The thought of finding a leak when I tested this made me really focus on getting every fitting as tight as I could. I used the floor jack to prop up the newly prepped LPG tank (heavy!), and re-bolted it with new zinc-plated bolts and lock washers. I even added a little blue Loctite for extra security.
The last two things before I could test the system were the grounding strap and loom clamp that had to be reinstalled on the cross manifold. These took about two hours because of the cramped area they lived in. My forearms, hands and fingers still ache from these little devils.
Finally, the new system was ready to leak test. I hooked the tank line to the old tank, opened the valve, and then sprayed soapy water over each connection and looked for bubbles. Nothing. I got excited. Not satisfied, I then took out my cigarette lighter and fired it up and BLAMMMOOO! Just kidding. No leaks, no squeaks. Good to go.
Some other stuff we did or are doing to improve the EVC are:
- Lloyd rubber mats for the passenger area and front ($80 each from GoWesty)
- GoWesty Lift & Level Kit ($1800): comes with wider alloy wheels (made for Mercedes Benz), larger Michelin Hydro-edge tires, Bilstein shocks, a lift pad for the left side, and hardware. Basically restores the suspension to the level it’s supposed to be, since the Winnebago camper conversion makes it sag and lean to the left. After installing it, the EVC handles and rides much, much better.
- Home-made awning: I bought material to make my own lightweight awning from Quest Outfitters (awesome online-store!), since the ones you can buy are a fortune. This will be a coated rip-stop nylon cover that will snap to the van over the sliding door, and be supported by shock-corded aluminum tent poles. Total cost about $110.
- Drink holders: the EVC console has a couple weird-shaped floor-level drink holders that don’t accept anything but small drinks or cups, and reaching for them is kind of dangerous. I bought some OEM fold-up adjustable drink holders (one of which comes standard in the passenger area) to mount in the front – either on the doors or in a custom console I’m hoping to make (see below).
- Console: the EVC console is weak, and the cockpit is surprisingly under-designed and minimalist. There is only one 12V plug (the cigarette lighter); what do you do if you’re using a GPS and also want to charge your phone or computer at the same time? Since there’s no glove box (air bag and air conditioner components take that space in the 2001-2003 models), where do you put pens, flashlight, CDs, comic books, dog treats, gum, car wash coupons, laser pointers for screwing with small aircraft, etc? I bought a cheap console at Target to put between the front seats, but it gets in the way of our dogs tromping between the back and front while we drive, which we mustn’t interfere with since they basically own us and we like the added danger of having dogs loose during drives on windy mountain roads at night. So we returned that. I saw a custom made console on the Yahoo EVC list and want to make my own with several 12V accessory outlets, an outside temperature gauge, a little lockable cabinet for wallet, etc., and probably mount the drink holders I got to it. Neither Leslie or I like clutter in the car, so this will be essential.
- Mattress pads: our EVC, we learned on our first over-nighter, was missing a couple of the foam mattress pads. I like to sleep up top by myself, away from our bed-hog dogs. Leslie likes to sleep below, away from me since I wake her up whenever she snores. So we went to the fabric store and bought some 2″ high-density foam and some nice heavy-duty upholstery fabric with a nice design that will go well with the lovely gray interior and will make the extras we need.
- Bike rack: luckily for us, the EVC came with a nice new 2″ tow hitch in which we can install a bike rack. After lots of research and reading reviews, I got the best bang for the buck, an Allen 545RR. It folds down at the perfect angle to get out of the way of lifting the rear hatch on the EVC, and is very secure. At $100, this rack blows away the vastly overpriced Yakima and Thule racks.
- Seatback organizer: got a cheap little thing that ties to the passenger seat and gives you lots of pockets to put maps, gazeteers and other junk in.
- Propane tank cover: you wouldn’t believe how many EVCs have lost these covers, made of thick, brittle plastic, probably from scraping them off on speed bumps. You can buy a replacement for $150! Incredible! Our EVC still had its cover, but it had a big crack in it that had been poorly repaired and broke in half when I took it off the first time. It’s not super easy to put on and take off, which you must do to turn off or on the propane valve, which you must have off while driving. So I prepped it and did the JB Weld thing with it, and it’s basically good as new, but with more character, featuring lots of scrapes and gashes from who knows what. While a pretty good protective device against the weather and road grime for the LPG equipment, I’m not satisfied with the usability of this cover. I bought some heavy PVC plastic and snaps and am hoping to make a cover out of that with a velcro flap that accesses the propane valve.
That’s about it for now. I’ll try to update this post with photos soon…