Monday, July 4, 2011

As Roseanne Always Said...

Sunday, July 3
When I was a teen I always enjoyed Saturday Night Live, especially Gilda Radner’s chracters. Roseanne Rosanadanna always said, “You know, it’s always something!” And that sure seems to be the case with our Ursula. I find it hard to put any credence to those commercials about idyllic times relaxing in your recreational vehicle, when every time we take ours out some new and exciting malfunctioning aspect of our complex piece of machinery rears its ugly head.

This trip, as we were riding down to Yorktown, the practically unreadable warning screen informed us that she was overheating. Lee figured that trying to use the cruise control on the rolling hills at high speed might be the problem, and sure enough, when he slowed down, things went back to normal. But still, he wasn’t able to start her without jumping her from the secondary batteries, and various things kept refusing to work unless she was running the engine, like the entry step. This sort of thing does not relax me, since I get visions of being stranded in Farm World, far from RV repair shops or the Internet.

Because of the electrical issues, we ended up parked very slanted the first night we were at the Family Farm, and we could not put out the slides. It’s a little squishy like that, and interesting trying to get into the bed (will be even more interesting from now on, as you will see later). Chris, Lee’s amazing mechanical genius nephew, spent a lot of time making us a 50 amp plug to plug into, but we could not get Ursula close enough to the electric pole to reach it without getting incredibly slanted, so we ran the generator Friday night.

A good thing about having lots of electrical issues is that it gave us a project for Saturday and got us out of the area so Lee’s dad could rest, which he needs a lot of right now (bonus—it got me out of the heat). We set off for Cuero in search of RV batteries and the components for a giant extension cord. Cuero is really a pretty little down of 6,000 or so people. There are so many really nicely maintained old houses to look at, and the downtown area is also chock full of well-maintained old buildings and civic structures. It’s the county seat, so there is a really attractive courthouse and an old jail that looks like a castle (no, that is in Luling, I realized later). [Cuero once boasted the largest population of millionaires per capita in the country.]
DeWitt County Courthouse, Cuero, Texas
One of the lovely old houses in Cuero. Taken from the truck, so it's a bit askew.

The first place we went in search of supplies was a really old hardware store with a lot of original fixtures, and really cool wood floors. While they did not have what we needed, they did have a lot of very interesting cast iron doo-dads, a lot of old bits and pieces to decorate with, and some very interesting bird houses and outdoor furniture. I enjoyed that place a lot. Next we went to a newer hardware store, but it still was a lot of fun—on of those places with everything for every project. There we did find all the parts needed to build the giant extension cord, including some very thick wire for the 50 amp electricity. I enjoyed looking at all the different departments and listening to the employees bantering. I concluded to myself that I am very easily entertained, but that is probably a good thing if we are going to spend a lot of time in this area!

Speaking of civic structures, you can tell oil money is rolling into Yorktown, too. Their little war memorial park got a bunch of flags on poles last year, and this year they have put a helicopter up on a pedestal, which they are about to surround with limestone bricks. Quite fancy looking. There are also a few new restaurants and a lot of RV spots for oil workers.
Veterans' Memorial Park in Yorktown, undergoing major upgrade.

Anyway, less entertaining but still useful was the Cuero Wal-Mart, where we got a lot of large batteries, a fold-up table for Ursula, and some festive 4th of July decorations. I had hoped the decorations would disguise her obvious leaning to the side. But no, it did not help. Finally using the jacks to level her DID help, but that required power.
Ursula all decked out for the Independence Day festivities. Note pinwheel. Lee's dad carefully moved it before we left, and positioned it for ideal wind action.
The late afternoon and early evening I spent watching Chris and Lee try to fix the electrical issue. It took longer than expected because they had been given bad info on which batteries ran which part of Ursula, and because they discovered some of her batteries were 6 volt, not 12. We get to take some batteries back. But, thanks to perseverance, we believe all electrical issues are fixed. And Chris made a really fine giant extension cord, so we now don’t have to run the generator! Everything’s working. We celebrated with an outdoor dinner of barbecue we brought from Johnny T’s at home. We then sat around and talked until late (Lee’s dad went in at 9—he was up late!). We heard hoot owls and bob whites, which was so nice. And we saw night hawks, which Lee’s dad says they used to call “bull bats.” He also said he hadn’t seen any in years—well there were plenty zooming around last night.

The moon was a sliver last night—I took a sorta dim picture out by the “pod,” which is where water separated out from the oil well is stored and where oil is sent on its merry way to wherever the pipeline goes. All I know is the equipment looks cool.
The best my Android phone can do in night photography--and I did use the night setting!

Monday, July 4
It’s weird when the holiday (US Independence Day) falls on Monday, so you have to come home that day. I have actually spent quite a few 4th of July holidays traveling, since my former nonprofit employer’s late lamented international conferences were always held that weekend, knowing that many families would have the holiday off, at least in the US. I remember what fun it is to look down from a plane and see fireworks going off in little towns beneath you. We won’t be seeing many fireworks going home through drought-stricken Texas, even if we leave later than planned.

Yesterday turned out to be considerably less stressful than many RV days. I even had a few things work out well—like the solar lights charged up properly and looked really pretty draped in the bushes and along the old trailer next to Ursula. Once we get the little hanger things, they are going to look nice hanging from the awning. They aren’t so bright that they attract insects, but they do look festive.
Solar lights on a string. Festive.
Much of the day was spent watching Chris and Lee’s dad working on a contraption to water some grass springs they planted (to be a different kind of hay than the Coastal kind the rest of the pastures are). They are going to turn the cornfield next to the pipes and pipelines into more pasture for more cattle. A lot less stressful than watching corn die. This year’s crop is sad thanks to so little rain. They got 5 inches, but it was way too late.

Lee and I went to Victoria, waving at our friends Jim and Esther as we did. After returning excess batteries, we went to a mattress place that has some nice, simple mattresses and got a new one for the bedroom in Ursula. The mattress in there was godawful bad. It looked brand new but was lumpy and uncomfortable. I slept the best last night that I have since getting Ursula, so I think that investment will be well worth it in the long run. However, a standard queen size is a bit longer than an RV one, so it sticks out about 6 inches over the base. Thankfully, it does fit when the slide slides back in, but now there is no room to maneuver in the bedroom unless the slide is expanded. Small price to pay, believe me.

Lee and I drove around the property in the “mule” (a small utility vehicle that runs on gas, but it otherwise similar to a golf cart). Our favorite thing to do is to go way over to the gully at the edge of Lee’s land and listen to the birds. I am happy that there are now quail in there, because I love to listen to them. And I don’t know how any one ecosystem supports so many cardinals! There is an owl in the tree next to where we are parked, and it’s great to listen to as well. We ran into some folks visiting, people who used to live across from Lee’s grandparents. They were interesting because they have traces of the German accent that so many around here had only a generation ago (Lee’s grandparents spoke German). [Dad says he didn't speak English until he start school. Learning was so traumatic that he wouldn't speak German at home when I was little.]

It was a pretty pleasant evening, watching Chris water the grass, seeing the sunset (Lee got good photos of that--so I got one from him), and hanging out and talking until real late.
Chris and Dad work on their watering rig. After trying gravity feed, they eventually settle on using this 200 gallon tank to feed a power washer and spraying the new grass as with a water hose.
Birds at sunset
I am glad Lee and Chris get family time. I get knitting time and the chance to learn a lot of stories. That’s quite entertaining, so it has been a good holiday even if we didn’t go to a fancy resort! I’ll just hope we got Ursula’s issues all under control and we have a good trip home. I miss the kids a lot when I am gone—that’s the main complaint I have—I think I can take the various components failing—what do you expect with a used vehicle this complex anyway?

We ended up leaving Ursula at the Family Farm (Lee has to come back in a week for his dad's next surgery and chemo procedure), though Lee moved her to a more shady spot less in the way of other projects going on. When we realized that a couple of soapberry branches were hanging down and preventing the perfect parking maneuver, Chris jumped up the back ladder and sawed them off as Lee backed Ursula up. This was made much easier since the back-up camera has a microphone, so Chris could tell Lee when to stop. And don't worry, he was creeping along VERY slowly.
Parking under a tree is much easier with your personal tree trimming helper in action!

So, we drove home in a diesel truck that Chris let us borrow. Much less stressful in a "smaller" vehicle (it's a duellie or however you spell that [dually for the dual wheels on the drive axel]--not a small truck at all, but it seems small!). We went a different way than usual, so we got to enjoy some different scenery. It's always nice to just ride around and chat with each other--one reason we look forward to spending a lot of time with Ursula!

I guess Lee will have to blog the next trip, since he will be solo.


  1. I added a couple of links and details in the editorial comments.

  2. Also, I now think the overheating was related to the electrical problems. If the fan didn't kick on because of low voltage (or amperage or whatever) the engine would get hotter than it's supposed to.