March is our transition month when we move north for the summer. Unfortunately summer will not be ready for us when we get there so it becomes a matter of faith that it will eventually arrive and that we will survive that transition.
USS Texas is a battleship that was launched in 1912 and fought in both world wars. It is moored near Houston Harbor next to the location of the Battle of San Jacinto. The battleship was the super weapon of its day, able to fire its 14 inch shells many miles and create massive craters where they hit. Over the years it was modified to handle increasingly necessary defense measures against aircraft. This meant many more people in the same space on board so they were berthed in nooks and crannies all over the ship.
The battle of San Jacinto was the defining battle of Texas against Mexico. It shortly followed the battle at the Alamo and the Texican attackers' battle cry was "Remember the Alamo." The Mexican general was caught napping. A song that came out of the event was "The Yellow Rose of Texas".
The San Jacinto monument is similar to the Washington monument in Washington, D.C. Except of course for the Texas Star on top.
We had planned to start moving north at the end of the week between February and March SOWER projects, but we received more details on the start date and training dates at the CCRL refinery shutdown and calculated that we could stay another week. We ended up staying and working the four work days of the week of March 4th at Victory Camp.
Paul finished the body filler work on the caboose roof. Juanita did laundry, helped clean up dorm rooms and after the Rodeo weekend BBQ. We plan to pull out on Saturday morning and head right through the heart of Houston. Hopefully we will be early enough to miss the Saturday morning traffic to the rodeo.
Last year during the Christmas Train event one of the two locomotives had a transmission failure. This caused major inconvenience to the visitors the last four days of the run. In January the camp director located a used locomotive at a zoo in Pennsylvania and the camp purchased it at a favourable price. It arrived the week of March 4th while we were here. We got to see it unloaded and test driven. It runs well. That and the care that it was placed for shipping indicates it was taken good care of by the former owner. It will be a welcome back-up to the existing two engines.
With crawdad holes all over the property at Victory Camp we were inspired to do research on the habits and capture of crawdads/crawfish/mud bugs.
Most of the research involved Google, but there was one noturnal skulk with a flashlight and a sampling at a local buffet restaurant. They seem a little like a cross between a prawn (jumbo shrimp) and a lobster in texture. The taste is hard to describe since the sample was cooked in Cajun spices and thus tasted like spices and not much else. They are a lot harder to peel than prawns. I think I'll stick to prawns
Odds 'n Ends
The Long Road North
It is about 3,000 kilometers (about 2,000 miles) from Alvin to Regina. Our plan is to travel in stages, go a bit north, settle in a while and watch weather reports and then go a bit more north. Last time we did this, two years ago, we went from Alvin, Texas to Gladewater, Texas and then saw a massive storm on the way and rushed north to get ahead of it. We ended up north of the storm, but in the midst of an arctic air mass. I seem to remember being so cold and trying to sleep in the trailer with a furnace that couldn't gain any ground so we just kept driving and driving and driving. I'll let you know how this year goes.
Alvin, Texas to Gladewater, Texas
Last time we headed north from Alvin we left before dawn to avoid rush hour traffic through the heart of Houston. This year, leaving on a Saturday meant we could take our time and not get rolling until a little before 8 a.m. We could put off leaving or we would have found ourselves in the midst of the traffic headed for the rodeo. It wasn't too bad. We had thought about circling to the East , and avoiding Houston entirely but that route is populated with traffic lights in the beginning and a hundred mile of two lane undivided highway at the end. I avoid driving where people have to take chances to pass, because that means I tend to speed up to not frustrate them.
We stopped at a DQ for lunch during the trip. It is one we have visited before, because it has easy access and RV friendly parking. That counts for a lot. Like a lot of non-interstate highways in Texas, HIghway 59 is four lane divided outside of towns and is four lane undivided in towns. A lot of towns use the curb lane for traffic and there is just nowhere to stop and most driveways are too narrow or exit onto congested parking lots so they don't get much business from RV'ers. It is always nice to see and to patronize businesses that are hospitable to a wide range of patrons.
We arrived at the Gladewater RV park over the noon hour and found a spot and set-up and then went and paid for two nights when they re-opened the office after lunch. The Passport Americadiscount for this campground is half off the first night. The Good Sam discount was ten percent off the bill. You could only use one. I chose the Passport America rate and paid the amount he asked for.
Then we drove to Longview. I turned onto the correct loop over Juanita's objections. Sometimes you need to ignore the navigator. Then she conceded it was right, but made objections about my planned turn off the loop.
Sometimes you should listen to the navigator.
After some backtracking we found the Little Caesar's and had our first Hot 'n Ready Pizza in memory before proceeding to Walmart to pick up supplies and fuel up the truck. Wasn't much of a journey from one to the other since they share a driveway. Exiting the driveway we looked across at Harbor Freight and decided on giving it a pass. Couldn't think of anything we needed, until much later of course.
We stopped at a Dairy Queen and took advantage of their special modelled after the Canadian Prairies - "Buy one Blizzard and get another for only ninety-nine cents." Getting back into the truck the "lamp out" warning came on the dash and we backtracked to near Longview to an O'Reilly's aut parts store to buy a headlight bulb which I installed on our return to Antique Capital RV Park in Gladewater.
We had gone to the Gladewater Opry for their monthly Gospel night several years ago and enjoyed it so we decided to attend the regular Saturday Night concert. It was fun in a small town karaoke kinda way. I'd go there every year or so.
Sunday morning we saddled up (so to speak) and headed to the cowboy church. I toyed briefly with rinsing the dust off my resorcinol cowboy hat, but decided against. You can't wear the thing while driving since it hits the headrest in the truck unless you bend over a bit then you can't see the road to drive. Since I couldn't wear it on the way there or back and had a cultural bias against wearing a hat in church the hat got left behind. No hat and no horse, but on our way to the cowboy church. Might as well have taken it. Their culture is to wear cowboy hats in church and to just remove them for prayer. Oh well, I wasn't the only one out of costume and the folk were too friendly and polite to point out my shortcomings, in any case. Good sermon. They have been around long enough that not every sermon is strictly a salvation message. They have moved on to messages that are related to how one goes about living the rest of your life post salvation.
But back to the subject of headwear. A missionary to Africa stood up and talked about being back in Texas and preparing to go back to Africa. Where they are working in Africa it can get cold and the children can benefit from warm headwear during the brief periods of cold. She told about seeing an end of the winter season sales table in WalMart covered with toboggans and how she started loading them in her basket and people asking about it and contributing money to help buy more toboggans so the kids' heads wouldn't be cold. I had visions of kids wearing wooden sleds on their heads, but decided she meant toques and probably was inadvertantly using the word toboggan. Somewhat like a missionary acquaintance who gave a serman in Cuba about Jesus being a gentleman, but getting the word for gentleman mixed up with the word for horse. The polite Cubans did not correct him. Neither did I correct the missionary and her toboggan. Good thing. That's what they call toques in Texas. Kinda hard to slide down a hill with them, but Texas is mostly flat and doesn't get much snow in most parts.
We had a quiet rest of the day around the rig. During the afternoon I realized I had not received the proper discount for the camping fee, but that would have to wait for Monday to correct since the campground office was closed. There was a phone number for emergencies, but twelve dollars is hardly an emergency.
The original plan was to switch to another Passport America campground less than an hour north of where we were camped and spend two nights. Looking at weather that would now be one night and for the hassle of picking things up and moving about fifty miles and then doing it again the decided to stay another night. That made the working out of the previous billing error a lot easier. It is easier to add another night with the proper discount than to reverse a Master Card charge. At least the person manning the desk thought so.
While doing some stuff around the front of the rig I noticed the front vent for the battery compartment was starting to crumble. Plastic and UV rays don't get along. We headed to an RV dealer a little north of Gladewater to see if they had a vent to match. They did not, but they wrote out clear directions over the back highways to get to an RV dealer in Longview that probably would. In appreciation I bought a can of slide mechanism lube. They also had rebuild kits for the drawer slides in our rig. Had searched all over the place for these in the past with no success so earlier this month had invented a fix using some odd parts from Lowes. Original would have been easier. The drawers all are okay for now so I did not buy any kits and we headed on our way to Longview. That dealer had a pretty complete parts store and had a vent cover as well as some stuff that we didn't know we needed when we left home that morning.
We had a leisurely lunch at Applebee's in Longview and headed back to Gladewater and our rig to install the vent and start to lube the slide seals. While doing that I noticed the rubber roofing pulling up a bit behind the gutter on the main roof. Looked like the roof sheathing was lifting at a corner. The factory may have hit the beam below a bit off and the leading edge of a sheet of shaething was starting to lift. I had visions of this progressing and being caught by the wind as we travelled and just peeling off. Off I went to the nearby Ace hardware store. On the way into the parking lot I clipped a poorly placed steeel cover with the right rear outer tire. Inspected the tire. It looked okay, though. Just have to throw that in my anxiety closet and keep an eye on the tire as we travel. In I went to the store to buy a bag of stainless steel fender washers in two sizes to nest together to be held down by some #8 RV screws I keep on hand.
Back at the rig I screwed down the edge of the roof sheathing three inches in from the side of the rig and then every six inches across the seam and covered each screw and washer assembly with self-leveling lap sealant. Looks like Frankenstein's neck, but shouldn't lift while going down the road. It was getting dark and was definitely time for supper so things got put away. The remaining slides can be lubed another day. I started with the bedroom slide which was the one making seal noises and that slide is done.
Gladewater, TX to Checotah, Oklahoma (almost)
We drove a half day drive to a Onapa RV Park a Passport America campground about three miles south of Checotah, Oklahoma and eight miles north of Eufaula, Oklahoma. On our way north through Texas we managed not to miss the turn-off north from Paris, Texas. We have been known to get deeked out and go around the outer loop one and a half times to get to the exit. We clued in the one time it happened when we said, "that Burger King looks familiar. Didn't we drive by it a little while ago?" This time we got the exit right but not without getting stuck behind some guy in a pick-up talking on his cell phone doing about twenty miles an hour. A bit after we got past him he must have finished his call because he went back to highway speeds.
Hugo, OK still offers some challenges for our navigation skills. Three times in a row we have managed to drive all the way through town instead of around it to get to the Indian Nation Turnpike. We seem to be misinterpreting a directional sign just south of town. Next time, maybe.
The new owner of the RV park and his mother greeted us. He loaned us a plank he had put together for the previous guest so we didn't have to dig out our strips of plywood to get set up and level. After we got set-up we drove the fifty miles or so into Muskogee, bought some lap sealant at an RV dealer to repalce the stuff I used the day before.
After washing the truck we found Braum's and each had one of their advertised California burgers and a sundae that was on special. After fueling the truck up we returned home to watch NCIS and settle in for an early evening.
Juanita had all her records in order, but I took the down day opportunity to dig out all my paperwork and sort and total by category all the stuff I had bought while in the States this winter. Canada Customs usually lets emergency repairs go through without extra charges so those were totalled seperately.
We went for a walk and got where we could see Eufaula Lake, the largest lake in Oklahoma and formed by damming the Canadian River. We passed a farm with some migrating geese sitting in the dugout. Must be that time of year. We couldn't tell if the road we were on went straight to the lake shore or curved around and ran parallel for a distance before getting close to shore so we walked back and got the truck and drove to the shore. The road went straight and ended in a boat ramp and parking lot. We could have walked it, but would have spent a fair time doing so and the hill back would have been more than we wanted to do. There was a guy fishing next to boat ramp so we talked to him a bit then Juanita walked out further to a peninsula and saw some Canada geese there while the guy and I talked fish and fishing.
We drove to where we expected Onapa to be in hopes on getting an ice cream, but there were just a few houses at the junction of Onapa Road and Old Highway 69 so we went back to the rig. Later, after supper, we drove to a Braum's in Eufaula for dessert before coming back for a quiet evening.
Checotah, OK to Mound, Missouri
Thursday (March 14)
I finished lubing the slide seals and winterized the RV plumbing by dypassing and draining the hot water tank and running RV antifreeze through the waterlines. We dumped the holding tanks and took the rig off the blocks and drained them a bit more to make sure they were fully empty.
Back on the road for a drive to Joplin and then head north through Kansas City. We stop for supper and and sleep in parking lot at Squaw Creek near Mound, MO
Temperatures close to 70 F. Warmer than the last time we overnighted here.
Mound, MO to Summit, South Dakota
On the road early with breakfast sandwiches and coffee from the gas station. The restaurant opens at seven. Too late.
Not freezing this year.
Stop at rest area south of Council Bluffs and dump black tank. Lock works this time.
Drop cell phone.
A little north of Council bluffs start seeing ice and snow in fields and ditches.
Stop for fuel and pizza at Sioux Falls.
We carry on north hoping to get past Fargo and big storm coming on Sunday but hit fog. We listent to radio, "freezing rain in Fargo" so stop about fifty miles short of Fargo in a truck stop. After fueling up we park among the big rigs and set up insulation board and plastic and cover the mirrored closet doors with plastic drop cloth.
Summit. SD to Virden, Manitoba
Saturday morning we get up and get dressed and cross the now completely frozen parking lot and use the restrooms and buy breakfast at the mini Pizza Hut booth and coffee at the coffeee booth and post consumption we cheerfully proceed back to the rig.
Well, maybe not cheerfully.
We proceed to chip at the quarter inch of ice that has accumulated on the windshield. While I am checking the fluid levels as part of the pre-trip circle check the ice covered hood bonks me on the head. Its way of saying, "Welcome to winter!" I guess. The truck powers its way out of the mud frozen around all the tires and we proceed cautiously out onto the freeway.
The radio station is interviewing somebody who has just driven from Fargo north to Grand Forks. "It's a skating rink." We carry on over the iffy roads. In the time it takes to get to the part we have been warned about, things have improved.
Traditionally we have done our customs receipts at the cafe counter in the Flying J in Granf Forks, but we did that in Oklahoma a few days back so we are good to go once we have bought fuel and updated the voicemail message on our main Texas cell phone to call us in Canada and to not leave any messages since we don't plan to be back before autumn 2014.
Oh yeah! I had called the Regina RV park and said we would be arriving somewhere around the week of the 18th and would call when we got closer and had a better idea of the exact date. "How about late tonight." didn't fly. The helper answered and said the boss was sick and there was no way they would clear anything out before it stopped snowing, but he would talk to the boss and get back to me. I said I would call in a couple of hours once we crossed the border.
Proceed to border. Phone rings while pulling up to border guard. I ignore. Go inside, pay taxes on US purchases over personal limits. Not for emergency repairs. Finish up. Phone back to RV park. "Not til Monday before lunch" "We'll see you then.
Blowing snow. Ucck
Fill up at Flying J, More diesel, More pizza.
Carry on west.
Portage La Prairie, Too early to stop.
Brandon, No obvious hotels, let's carry on.
Virden, getting dark.
Find motel. Park rig. "Two nights, please"
E-mail query from daughter in response to our e-mail that we will be there two nights:
Two nights? Can't imagine there's much sight seeing to do in Virden. Glad to hear you're surviving the trip....
Sightseeing - window, wi-fi, cable TV, books. Too cold to walk anywhere. No intention of uncoupling fifth wheel. Continental breakfast. Chinese buffet opens at noon next door. Will probably heat up rig during afternoon heat spell of -10 and get stuff organized that we want to take to Meadow Lake. Our hope/plan is to uncouple rig at RV park in Regina, go for pee test at one, drop off results at Refinery and head for Saskatoon and spend the night with Weldon and Alice, then go to ML Tuesday.
Why stop? Tired. Driving for thirteen hours straight except for brief fuel stops and to pay GST at border. No RV spot until Monday morning in Regina - they won't dig out a spot until it stops snowing. No room to just leave in driveway. Otherwise would have pushed through to midnight. Couldn't think of a hotel with RV parking in Regina. Still had light in Brandon so carried on. Saw motel in Virden with parking for rig. Stopped. If no parking would have proceeded to Moosomin. If none there then Broadview but didn't want to drive in dark. Roads mostly clear but some icy patches. Don't see them soon enough in dark.
Day before was Friday. Drove until foggy. That was okay but between where we stopped and Fargo was freezing rain at the time so we stopped and spent night at truck stop. Had to get north of Fargo before Sunday because of major storm coming through there on Sunday. It will join up with the one passing over us here and during the week they will hit eastern Canada and NE States. If had not got ahead of that would not get across border before Wednesday. If had tried coming north sooner would had had other weather challenges. This was the window.
Best laid plans.
Buffet did not open at noon. We walk half across Artic and find it closed with a sign saying they open at 4:30.
I phone the other Chinese restaurant in town. "My husband sick he not want deliver."
I phone the pizza / video rental place. "We don't deliver before five."
Juanita thinks she remembers a can of soup in the rig. We can heat that in the microwave in the room. She goes to rig. Opens door and sees snow every where and starts looking for how it got in. Wasn't snow. Was exploded can of Sprite. Manages to sweep up most of the "snow" so it won't be sticky when it melts. Finds can opener and can of soup. Eventually thaws enough to chisel some out of can into bowl and heat in microwave. It was better than nothing.
After our sumpuous lunch we turned the heat on in the trailer, not that it helped much. I replaced the plastic closet door latch that shattered in the cold when Juanita opened the door and we assembled the stuff we planned on taking to Meadow Lake and stowed it in the backseat of the truck. I warmed up a bit in the room and then went back out and checked the torques on the lug nuts on the trailer so I wouldn't have to do it in the dark and cold Monday morning.
Chinese buffet opens for supper.
An evening of the internet and TV, especially the weather channel describing the blizzard pounding Southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Virden, Manitoba to Regina & Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Monday, March 18
Fuel up in freezing wind
Struggle across highway almost getting stuck in drifts and proceed.
One lane clear, most of the time, sometimes two lane clear.
Bathroom break thwarted at Mossomin by grader in turn lane.
Find wide spot where semi has stopped and pull in behind.
Sometimes when only one lane and I start backing up traffic I am able to find a spot where two lanes are blown clear and I pull over briefly to let them past. Most are not moving terribly fast. A few examples of vehicles that tried to drive the speed limits are buried in the drifts to the side. A reminder.
Arrive Regina before lunch. "Not Ready" Phones boss - A2
Setting up rig "What time?" 12:20. Oh dear, no time to do right will do over next week.
Leave for pee test, phone and say will be a five or ten minutes late for one o'clock appointment. Response "it's only noon now" Oops. Time change. Gained an hour without realizing it.
Went and fueled up. Bought coffee and had free chocolate bar. Went for drug test. They did it early. Took picture of card, went back to get one with right name. Dropped card at refinery office and headed north to Saskatoon.
Evening with friends
Out to store for snacks - sticker shock
Stayed up way too late watching movies.
Home in Meadow Lake
Tuesday - March 19
Drove to Meadow Lake from Saskatoon.
Picked up police check form
Picked up mail
Phoned farmer's wife to arrange for him to plow out driveway and yard on Wednesday. Not available.
Wednesday - Farmer's brother's Bobcat showed up and did the driveway and yard.
Rest of week:
Open Christmas cards and other mail that arrived after we left in September.
Watch news reports of blizzards stopping trains to the south of us while not dropping a flake of snow in Meadow Lake.
Time with family
Time on property
Watched the grandkids at gymnastics and went to church.
South to Regina
The first year Millar Western had a staff presence in Meadow Lake for the pulp mill being built there we had only senior staff. The vanguard. Hiring of the bulk of employees would come the next year. We had a Christmas party and invited town notables and officials. I was visiting with the town administrator's wife at this party. She said that this was going to be their last year in Meadow Lake. Her husband was retiring and they were moving "South". I said, "that sounds nice". "Yes. We are moving to Regina". I didn't comment at the time but Regina is not what comes to MY miind when i think of "South". It is, literally, south from Meadow Lake by a about a six hour drive, but it is not what you would consider baumy.
Tuesday - March 26
We drive to Regina from Meadow Lake. Upon arrival I go and buy a shovel and dig out the rig, dig out the power box and hook-up power. After we finish setting up the trailer properly we run some errands. Thenn we come back and finish getting settled in and go out and reward ourselves with dinner at Perkins.
Wednesday - quiet time Some errands
Thursday - orientation and training Dinner at Ngoc Van Vietnamese restaurant.
Good Friday - no services at church we attend in Regina
quiet day, read, do taxes, movie, dinner
Saturday, quiet morning Afternoon go for Safe Permit Training
Sunday - Easter
April 1 schedule to start work on this year's annual turnaround at the Regina refinery. sixth year in a row.