We left WOTC and drove to Bay City. We discovered a broken spring on the trailer when we arrived in Bay City. Next day we got springs and got them installed and then drove to Victory Camp for the February SOWERS project. Men worked mostly on dorms and some other things. Women worked mostly prepping for an auction to support the church school across the street from the camp. We saw some bats and some relatives and a lot of longhorn skulls. Zeke got his Make a Wish package and then left for Hawaii with his family.
Travel to Next SOWER Project
February dawned clear and a bit cool in Harlingen, Texas. I was feeling a lot better than the day before. We got up fairly early and Juanita went to visit Jeanne over coffee while I started puttering with tire pressures and disconnecting things and all the stuff you do before you move down the road, especially after being parked in one spot for so long. Around ten we were ready to roll so we did. In the first couple of miles I noticed the trailer was leaning a bit but moved over and drove on the wrong side of the road for a while and it seemed to lean a bit the other way and the highway crown must be a bit more extreme than normal and we continued on our way over the backroads to Raymondville. The dash showed the outside temperature was 19 degrees Celsius so not too hot. Withn an hour the outside temperature was up to 28 degrees.
I pulled over to the side of the road once to check tire and bearing temperatures and again in Raymondville when I parked next to a MacDonald’s and Juanita went in to buy breakfast.
Last time we went with our rig through the Immigration checkpoint coming out of the Rio Grande Valley the woman was kind of annoyed that my passport was in the rig. Not annoyed enough to hold up the line while I went back and got it, but annoyed, nevertheless. This time I made sure to have it in the cab of the truck. The man checking us today never asked for it.
I checked the tire and bearing temperatures at the rest area north of the checkpoint and everything was still fine even though the outside temperature was higher than when we left. So hammer down and carry on. While, not quite “hammer down”. When we got on the road the GPS said that we would arrive at 4:37 so I pushed harder than normal since the arrival time doesn’t make allowances for driving slower while towing and any stops and I really didn’t want to get to the RV park in Bay City too late. Besides I was hoping to have time to get down to the beach at Matagorda before dark. However, by the time we got to Raymondville I had figured out that the time was not ETA but hours and minutes left until estimated arrival. We would be fine and I could push the limits not quite so aggressively. Hadn’t used the GPS for a few months.
We carried on without stopping until we were on highway 59 past Refugio. I kept thinking there was a fuel stop close to the road and was thinking it was around Refugio but we saw nothing that looked familiar. A few towns further along the route however, I saw the pumps in question just as we were about to pass them and made too quick a stop and got the rig into the parking lot and filled up while Juanita got some lunch for us. Just about when we were going to eat another rig stood on its brakes and missed the turn and backed up on the margin of the highway so it could turn in so we pulled out and parked on the edge of the road and ate our lunch.
We turned off highway 59 and hit the highway to Bay City just outside of Palacios and arrived at the Passport America park in good time. The attendant led us to the site and went away after we were situated. I started to chock the wheels for unhooking and noticed we had a broken spring so we dropped the landing gears and left the rig with the slides in and went to the campground office. The person mentioned several choices: one local service shop, and two mobile repair people. We went to the shop and talked to the owner and came back and got some information from the rig, called back and forth, then went back to see how successful he had been. No joy in Bay City. No springs available. But we found the springs in a catalog he had and I called the nearest Houston location and they said they had the parts and opened at seven in the morning.
If the cause of the trailer leaning at the start of the trip was the broken spring that meant we had broken right away since they all checked fine in pre-flight checks and in greasing the links and equalizers this morning. It also meant we had driven with a broken spring for over four hours. That’s disturbing.
The next morning we got up at five and headed through the darkness and fog and the traffic jams and got to the shop at 7:30. If you change a spring on one end of an axle you have to change the springs on the other end of the axle. I bought enough parts to change the springs on both axles and all the hanger bolts and nuts for them.
We got back to the RV park at ten and I called the shop and said we would be there at 10:30. We hooked up and said thanks to the campground host and made sure we would have a spot if the repairs didn’t go well, and left. By 10:29 the shop owner had directed me back into the spot between the fire truck and the skid steer and his sons started work. A few years back I had put heavy duty Dexter hangers on and they require a longer bolt with a shoulder on the end. The ones I had bought didn’t match, but I had some new spare nuts which allowed the boys to reuse the bolts.
Once the new springs were on the front axle we looked at how they looked next to the springs I had installed on the back axle a year and a half ago. They were a better match then the springs that had been on the front axle so we scooped up all the unused just-in-case parts and threw them in the basement of the trailer for now, paid the bill, said our thanks and rolled out of the service shop’s driveway at 12:30.
Doing the same job myself had taken me almost two days with all the figuring and trepidation and no torch to cut off the u-bolts and no impact wrench and being the first time and all. As I sat in the cab of the truck reading while the boys wrestled with the axle and springs laying in the dirt I couldn’t help but think this was the much better way to do things. I admit it was a bit warm in the truck and if you opened the window it was cool enough but then the itty bitty bugs bothered you. I considered closing the windows and running the air conditioner, but the thought of gassing the boys with the exhaust came to mind so we suffered the little bugs to come unto us.
We arrived at Victory Camp mid-afternoon. Being Thursday. All the other SOWERS were still there except the GL who had left. We backed into his spot and then contemplated the situation. Our rig is thirty-four and a half feet long. It is going to be the shortest rig here this month. All the other rigs are longer with the longest being forty-five feet long. Last month’s rigs are much shorter. If we all park at the same angle as last month’s rigs we will end up blocking the driveway to the office. Especially if it is one of the longer rigs in the spot closest to the building. It has to be us nearest the building and we have to park at an much more acute angle than they did last month. I carefully back up and park just missing the next trailer on my way into the spot and leaving just enough room for him to hook up tomorrow.
We drop the landing gear, move out the slides, hook up the power and water, wipe the service shop grit off the unused parts and put them in the truck and rush to next to the beltway to return them and get my $160 back. On the way home we stopped for a burger.
Back at home we got the wi-fi password from the other SOWERS and at 6:50 checked our e-mail for the first time since five a.m. There was an invitation to have banana splits with the SOWERS at Hitchcock at seven. Sent “sorry” e-mail. Hitchcock is a half hour drive.
We also got an e-mail saying my services would not be needed at the Spring turnaround at the Regina refinery. Oh well. It was a good nine-year run. Each year I went there I expected it to be the last. It paid well and some of the work was interesting. I’ll miss it, but I won’t miss having to go back to Canada in early March. I sent an e-mail to a friend. He offered me a job starting in mid May. A few e-mails later, we had worked out enough details by 8 p.m. to plan the next couple of months.
Update - We booked a project near Huntsville for March. We looked at booking an April project as well, but realized we had some obligation that meant we had to be back in Meadow Lake no later than April 10th. We extended our out-of-country travel insurance to April 7.
February SOWER Project - Victory Camp
Victory Camp is across the street from Living Stones Church in Alvin, Texas. The camp has a ministry of providing summer camp experiences to thousands of kids during summers. The facilities are used for conferences throughout the rest of the year and during December they run the Christmas train, a miniature train that runs a decorated circuit that presents the Christmas Story and a compelling Gospel message. Thousands ride the train each year. This was the second SOWER project we worked in 2006 and this is our fifth time here as SOWERS.
Friday morning the SOWERS from last the January hooked up and headed off to their next project at Palacios. Then Rick and Melissa Young showed up from their January project around the corner at Hitchcock, TX. Armed with the texted information of when the other two couples were expecting to arrive we carried on with our day and errands until their arrival mid afternoon.
Jay and Naomi Carper and John and Rosie Stoner arrived within minutes of the ETA. We have worked with both couples before. The time we worked with both at once is noted below in the “Memories” section.
After this month’s SOWER project the camp will host a charity auction to raise funds for Living Stone Christian School. Most of the work the ladies did was associated with preparing for that. They made decorations out of denim to go with the auction theme of “Denim and Diamonds”. They also did some cleaning and other preparations for the auction and some office work. On their own time Melissa, Rosy and Naomi made some items to go into the auction. Likewise, Rick made some ornate animal themed cedar birdhouses for auction. He spearheaded the making of three purple martin apartment style birdhouses to replace the ones that were taken down after last year’s mosquito season. The plans he used are here. They are linked from this page about purple martin houses.
Project wise the men carried on the work of the January SOWERS. They had painted the front doors of the dorms in bright colours distinctive for each dorm building. We completed that project by removing the door locks and handles and installing plates, handles and double cylinder deadbolt locks on each door of the dorms. We installed closers on the back doors and repaired, replaced and adjusted the ones already on the front doors. We replaced all the locks and door handles in the lodge.
All the usual annual pre-camping dorm maintenance and check items were done: the toilets were checked and repaired as necessary; many lamps and ballasts were replaced; the emergency lighting was checked and replaced as required and all the smoke detectors were checked. In addition all the stall door latches were checked and adjusted, a couple of shower faucets were repaired and some soffit repairs were done.
We painted the steel bumper strips and the tires holding them on the go kart track and replaced the railings on a golf cart bridge.
One evening Joyce and Ralph Rockford, SOWERS in Hitchcock, TX came over and we all met for a meal at Kelley's Country Kitchen around the corner. Another evening the Rockfords invited us all for banana splits in Hitchcock.
All in all it was a busy productive month with lots of visible results.
Who Dunnit Dessert Theater
For my birthday our daughters sent me a groupon certificate for a dessert mystery theater in Webster about a twenty minute drive from the February SOWER project.
And I have invited each of you here tonight because I think you all know something that will help me solve a murder case!!!
The Owner of this Mansion Mr. Pid (his first name is Stu) has been murdered and we need your help to solve.... A Stu Pid Murder Case!
Upon arrival we sat in the coffee shop for a few minutes until it was time for us all to go into the theater section and find a seat at a table. Pretty quickly the host for the evening, Noah Clue, invited us to help ourselves to desserts and beverages. As people finished eating he invited several members of the audience to participate and gave them the costume accessories and the script for their character. After the drama and the basic facts of the murder were laid out we split into teams of “two or three”. Juanita and I were a team and were both happy we would not have to learn to play well with strangers. We wandered from room to room and examined packets of evidence in each room and took notes and tried to be first to come up with who the murderer was and his or her method and motive. Another team was first to figure it out but we all had fun.
Waugh Drive Bridge Bat Colony
Checking out the things to do in Houston I read about a colony of 250,000 bats living under a bridge over the Buffalo Bayou not far from downtown. The bridge is built with gaps between the stressed concrete beams the optimum distance apart and with optimum texture to encourage bats to inhabit the structure. Articles say to arrive about an hour before sunset and wait. There is a viewing platform and informative placards. Online discussion suggested warm days are more likely to see a lot of bats than cool days.
We arrived an hour before sunset, joining about ten people waiting for the thousands of bats to spiral out from beneath the bridge to spend the night foraging for flying insects. By the time sunset arrived there were more than a hundred. I saw two bats. Juanita saw three. You could hear the bats squeaking from under the bridge, but I think the noise and proximity of the waiting crowd was a bit of a deterrent to a big coming out event. All that aside the biggest factor for a poor showing was probably the wind. It was very windy. I think any self respecting flying insect was huddled in the weeds out of the wind and the bats aren’t going to waste calories hunting for insects when there probably aren’t any.
There was a bit of a festive air to the crowd with lots of small children and almost a feeling of community. I would be willing to go stand around and crowd watch again on a warm windless evening with expectation of seeing more bats the next time.
On the way downtown we saw signs warning of a monster jam at the OST (Old Spanish Trail) and stopped and used a coupon we had for some ice cream hoping the monster traffic jam had abated. There were still traffic warning signs with that information both on our way downtown and on the way back. We finally figured out that the monster jam was an event featuring monster trucks. The next night it was still on and when we went over to Juanita’s niece’s house her husband was a bit late joining us because he had gone to the monster jam with his son and grandson.
The Butler Longhorn Museum in League City tells the history of the longhorn cattle breed in Texas and efforts to preserve it. There are displays about the cattle and the Butler ranch and a guided tour where the guide gives a good overview of the history of the area and the many displays. There is time after the tour to go back and read many of the exhibit panels and look at the many longhorn skulls and horns. The museum grounds are part of a local park which is a pleasant place to wander or relax.
I went to the museum knowing the difference between a bull, a cow and a steer. I left the museum with the knowledge of how to determine which is which merely by looking at the horns.
Make A Wish
Our Grandson, Ezekial, was diagnosed with Leukemia in January last year. His treatment is currently in the maintenance phase.
It is as good a time as any for a trip. When the Make A Wish foundation contacted him and asked where he would like to go he said he would like to go and dig for buried treasure. This month they showed up with a palm tree balloon and a treasure chest with some goodies and his itinerary inside. The whole family is going to Hawaii. One of the days they are there he will go in a canoe decorated like a pirate ship, ride to an island with some other Make a Wish guests and dig for buried treasure. His parents and his siblings will go by power boat to the same island, but will not be digging for buried treasure. The Make A Wish people have organized everything, and provided deluxe accommodation and a generous allowance for meals and other incidentals. They also have arranged a fishing trip for Ezekial and his dad.
The trip is scheduled from February 24th to March 2nd. A week before departure a gift box arrived at their door of things Ezekial might need on the trip including some expensive sun clothing and accessories like a mask and snorkel. Make a Wish goes out of their way to make these trips as fun and effortless as possible.
Sometimes you end up working with the same SOWERS at different projects. There are four couples at this project. We have worked with all of them before. Rick and I ran fiber optic cable at Juanita’s and my first ever SOWER project at ALERT Academy in Big Sandy Texas in 2006. Rick and Melissa worked with us at their first project as a couple a few years after that and we have worked together several times since, including as recently as December.
Going back to where we worked with the other two couples warranted a look at the past and evoked a few memories.
The above picture was taken by me of the SOWERS at Way of the Cross for the January 2008 project. From left to right irrespective of front or back row they are: Ray, Alean, Jay, Ron, Paul, Dorothy, Naomi, Juanita, John and Rosalie. Ray and Alean were group leaders that month. The big project was turning the tractor barn at WOTC into a dorm for outreach teams, but we did lots of other stuff. The write-up for the month is here.
So where are they all now?
Ray and Alean only worked a couple of projects after that before settling into working at the SOWER office. They, with some help from other SOWERS, keep the project listings sheets and SOWER skill sheets updated and organized. They receive requests from hosts for SOWERS and requests from SOWERS for project assignments. They manage to do a job that requires the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon with grace and efficiency.
Jay and Naomi are here this month and doing well with no big health issues at the moment and aging without any signs of it slowing them down. John and Rosy are, likewise, here. They have had some health issues that seem under control and family issues that SOWER projects get worked around, but are still going strong.
The Paul in the picture is not me and not a SOWER. He was a friend of John’s that came to help for a week or so. He and I worked together doing the wiring of the tractor barn. He was a union industrial electrician and not a “Romex Jockey” as he called it, but I still learned a few tricks from him about using NMD cable. He died this month. John flew out to spend a day with him a week before he died, helped Paul's daughter commit her life to Christ and has kept in touch with her since, helping her through the process of losing a father and dealing with the issues of a funeral.
Ron and Dorothy are no longer doing SOWER projects. They bought a place twenty-five miles closer to their children in Wisconsin and a park model in an RV park in Florida and do “six-and-six” between the two. Ron will celebrate his 80th birthday in May and is recovering well from a seizure last year. Dorothy sounds as bubbly as ever over the phone. Ron and another fellow beat 31 other pairs to gain the horseshoe championship of the park. Dorothy told me that. Good woman. She knows how to celebrate her beau's accomplishments. I remember my mother cheering me on as I learned to tie my shoelaces. Men. Boys. We all respond to praise. It's in the firmware.
Juanita is doing well as you know if you read this web site. She is incredibly patient having had 42 years of practice being married to me. Me? I’m not in the picture. I took it.
At one time Juanita had three sisters and a brother in the Houston area. She still has a sister and several nieces and nephews in the area. We spent a lot of time doing things together with her sister Ninabeth and her husband Gary. Some of it was nothing too fancy like going out to Katy to look at Airstream trailers, but we had fun and got in some good visiting. We also shared meals with some nieces and nephews and other family.
Part of my birthday gift from our daughters included some Groupon credits some of which I applied to a restaurant near Kemah. We took the highway through League City but completed the loop home by continuing on east. Almost to Kemah I pulled into the Home Depot to buy something on the shopping list and the parking lot was full of special cars. Apparently people show up with cars they are proud of and show them off every Saturday evening when the weather is good. There is no special time. There were cars leaving and arriving while we were there about seven p.m.
I took a picture of a 1963 Chevrolet, not because it was anything special but because I learned to drive on a 1963 Chevrolet. There was a 1957 Chevrolet which was leaving and I started to take a picture of it and the driver stopped so I could get a better picture of it. It was in great shape but he pointed out the special thing about was the dash. It was an all electronic late model Cadillac dash complete with large screen GPS in the middle.
Before every trip we putter around and do preparations. In preparation for our planned departure from Victory Camp on March 2 I greased the suspension and carefully checked the bolts on the hangers for the axle that had the springs replaced in Bay City the day we arrived in Alvin.
They are not supposed to turn in that style of heavy duty link, but they now do since they were reused and it stripped the locking splines. It looks like they will do the job. What didn’t look like they would do the job were the U-bolts holding the front axle to the springs. The new plate that was used has too wide a spacing on the holes and the plate was too flimsy and bent a bit when the bolts were torqued. The bolts themselves were a bit splayed. They might make it to Huntsville, but our next trip after that is to Canada and the parking spot in Huntsville is gravel. Changing them here laying on concrete seemed like a better idea.
On the last day of February we drove to the South Freeway and Telephone Road and bought bolts and then came back, put in the slides and I changed the U-bolts with some help from Jay and John. They couldn’t do too much with the space for access making it mostly a one person job, but their tools came in handy. I had salvaged the old heavy plates when the U-bolts were put on in Bay City so I started taking off the ones on the trailer while John reamed out the holes in the plates to accept a slightly bigger diameter U-bolt. The original plates from the trailer did not bend when the U-bolts were torqued and the bolts sit more squarely on the axle. I feel safer. Time will tell whether that is a valid feeling.