I woke up when the alarm went off at 5:30, feeling as if I could use another hour of sleep. When I tried to get out of bed, I found that I had a pretty bad backache...partly the result of yesterday's long drive and partly, I think, because of something that's been bothering me for a week: the driver's seat cushion is more compacted on the right side (after all, that seat has been sat in for 115,000 miles!), so my pelvis is slightly tilted in that direction all day. I can't think of any quick fixes, but I'll definitely take a look at it when I get home. If I can't correct it, I'll replace the seat.
This morning's other unpleasant surprise came when I looked at the atlas to plan the day's driving. Using a scissors as an impromptu divider, I marked off the distances...and discovered that it's about 450 miles from here to Fayetteville! There's no way I'm going to make it to Terra Studios tonight; I'll be lucky to get as far as Bartlesville, 150 miles from the Arkansas border. Oklahoma is an even bigger state than I thought.
Well, my back feels a bit better now, and it's 7:00...might as well wash the breakfast dishes and get started. Oh, I forgot: my gray water tank is full—I can tell because the shower just barely drained—so I'd better not do too much washing until I get a chance to dump. Too bad I can't divert some of it into the black water tank, which is only half full... Ah! there's a dump facility here. I'll unload both tanks on my way out.
Today consisted of more monotonous driving through Oklahoma, which seems characterized by fields of grain dotted with cattle and sprinkled with small walking-beam oil pumps—almost all silently rusting. There aren't a lot of trees here, other than those that have obviously been planted and irrigated by humans...and occasional groves of brilliant green cottonwoods wherever there's a little water. I like cottonwoods; I wonder why we don't have them back east...or do we?
I've been surprised by the number of Sinclair gas stations in Oklahoma. I remember these very well from my childhood because of their dinosaur logo (after all, I am the son of a paleontologist!), but in my part of the country all the Sinclair stations were bought out by British Petrol (BP) decades ago, and I just assumed the same was true everywhere. Nope! It's a funny feeling to see the green dinosaur logo, so familiar from the Fifties and Sixties, still adorning working gas stations. And hey, it's an apatosaurus—same as Gertie!
Speed limits seem high here. A little winding two-lane country road with no shoulders—the sort that would have a 45 mph limit in New Jersey—is posted at 65 out here. There's no way I'd drive Gertie that fast on such a road; I probably wouldn't even do it in my car. But I suppose when you have hundreds of miles of nothing but prairie, you want to get across it as fast as you can. I know I did. ;-)
As I approached the eastern end of Oklahoma, there were a lot more trees and much bigger creeks and rivers—also a lot more hills. Fortunately, the hills weren't big enough to cause Gertie the kind of problems I'd had in Arizona and New Mexico—they were just a pleasant variation in the monotonous scenery. I stopped and had lunch at Osage Hills State Park, which was really quite a beautiful setting—if it had been later in the day, I would cheerfully have taken advantage of their RV camping facilities. But I pushed on, making better progress than I had expected. Most of the towns I passed through were of the type formerly described as "one-horse." I was surprised to reach Bartlesville and actually see a structure that was more than three stories high but was not a grain elevator.
I stopped at a "Dollar Tree" store and picked up a few items. The store was large, clean and well organized—unlike the tiny, cramped dollar store near me. They had lots of very nice merchandise, too, and much less of the really cheesy stuff I'm used to seeing in such places. I bought several 16" x 16" bungie nets—always useful for organizing mobile storage—intending to send a couple to Judie and Bev and keep one for myself. I bought some larger paper cups for the holder in the bathroom. But wouldn't you know it...they turned out to be too large! So now I have two boxes of wrong-size paper cups: 3 oz. and 9 oz. Guess I need 6 oz. cups...sigh.
My first RVing invention
I also bought a sisal cat toy for Marie, and a chrome-plated wire storage rack. I wanted the rack not as a rack, but for its wire. When I left behind my gas cap yesterday I immediately set to work planning a cap-holder that would prevent such a mishap from recurring. I meant to make it from wire, somewhat in the shape of the Stetson hat holders that Lyndon Johnson had installed on Air Force One (the DC-6 version that we saw at the Pima Air & Space Museum last year). I could have used a wire coat hanger, but didn't have one handy—they are getting rarer and rarer these days!--and besides, this would look prettier.
I fabricated the holder this evening, using a couple of pairs of pliers to bend the wire to shape. Then I screwed it to the side of the coach right next to the gas filler. It works like a charm: grips the cap nicely once it's parked there. Since I'm used to parking the gas cap of my Honda Accord in a similar way (Honda provides a place inside the filler flap for just this purpose), I'm sure I won't have any trouble remembering to put Gertie's cap in its wire holder as soon as I remove it to fill up. And even if I were to drive off without replacing it, the cap snaps into place in the holder...so it would probably still be there when I stopped.
I also bought a can of white enamel and painted the electrical cord flap door (after wirebrushing off the rust). It was about half rusted, and looked lousy. Gertie has a number of rust spots that I will be treating with wire brush, Rust Reformer and paint once I get home. I expect that in California and (especially) Arizona, where she lived before, a spot of rust was no big deal. But in New Jersey, rust is called "cancer" and is taken just about as seriously. With our humid east-coast weather and salted roads, once rust starts, it tends to spread inexorably. I'll have to go over Gertie carefully, applying preventative treatments to try to keep that from happening.
Hitting the roof
I made very good mileage today—340 miles. I even got across the Oklahoma border and into Missouri (though I will almost immediately be in Arkansas when I head south tomorrow morning.) But this evening saw my first real mishap with Gertie: as I was pulling into the Indian Creek campground, I clipped the corner of the office building's front porch.
Luckily the damage was minor. Gertie's rear awning end cap was knocked awry, but I was able to tap it back into place with the aid of a borrowed rubber mallet, so there was no damage to my rig. Even the porch was not much hurt—just a crumpled corner on the gutter and a broken shingle or two. The owners were very nice about it all. They said it had happened before, and much worse—a year or two ago, a fellow pulling a fifth-wheel trailer had really slammed that corner ("It was during the Gulf War, and I thought we had been bombed!"), seriously damaging both the roof and his trailer.
Here's where I probably made a mistake: I dutifully phoned in an accident report to my insurance company. It was the straightforward, honest thing to do—but if I had been thinking, it would probably have been smarter to offer the owners cash and keep it private. The insurance company will no doubt hit me with a hefty surcharge at renewal time next year, even though the cost to repair the roof is likely to be in the neighborhood of $30-$40 at most. Oh, well—too late to do anything about it now. At least I can console myself that I played it straight and did the right thing. And Gertie's OK, so hopefully I can put this behind me rather than brood on it.
I had a nice long chat with the owners, who gave me some good RVing tips. In particular, they suggested checking/replacing the ignition wires, as they described having hill-climbing problems very similar to Gertie's with their Shasta class C motorhome...symptoms that were cured by a new set of wires. It's probably too much to hope for a miracle cure for Gertie's lethargic hill-climbing performance...but I'll have to look into it.
By the way, the rubber mallet I used to fix the awning cap came from a woman named Marie in a Coachmen class B van conversion who was stopping by the campground to check prices (she eventually elected not to stay). She hung around chatting with me for about twenty minutes after I had fixed the awning. She's fulltiming in this tiny rig, but has owned a Minnie Winnie class C motorhome of about Gertie's size in the past. She seemed hungry for conversation...I guess you get that way when FTing. Funny, though...I don't seem to have that pent-up urge to talk, as I half expected I would. This has actually been a fairly solitary trip. I tend to arrive at a campsite, get leveled and hooked up and then stay inside till I leave the next morning. (That's especially true on days when, as lately, I've been driving all day.) I don't go hang around the picnic areas and strike up conversations with other RVers, as a rule.
Oh, I go out of my way to be sociable to the people I do meet. I had a nice conversation with an older chap at Boiling Springs yesterday as we were dumping our tanks. He said he had retired (from the Coast Guard) in 1965! Now that's the way to do it. He was driving a new Tioga. (Lots of those on the roads; in fact, the highways are crawling with Fleetwood junk). I really am trying. But I'm not naturally the gregarious type. Maybe RVing will gradually bring me out of my shell a little; at least I hope it will.
Anyway, I enjoyed talking with Marie. She's traveling with a very well-behaved and not at all yappy miniature dog named Chief, who weighs only 4.5 pounds—less than half the weight of my cat Marie! I have to admit that he was quite appealing.
Speaking of Maries, I was missing my cat Marie today, and thinking about how she'd look sitting on the seat beside me. To tell the truth, though, I'm beginning to reconsider my plan to acclimatize her to Gertie so I can take her on trips. On a long trip like this it might be nice to have her along...but on the kind of weekend excursions I'm likely to take once I'm back in New Jersey, I'll likely be driving for two or three hours and then spending the rest of my time outside the rig. Leaving Marie shut up in Gertie by herself for half a day at a time doesn't sound like much fun for her, and of course in hot weather I couldn't risk it—she could easily overheat in here.
Tomorrow I have only about an hour's drive to Fayetteville; then I can spend the day at Terra Studios and the night at their RV site. Hope they have a laundromat—the laundry bag is pretty much full! I think I'll sleep late—I can afford to, and today was harder than it needed to be because I was fighting drowsiness all day. If I'd been able to use the radio, it would have helped—but this unit is 15-year-old GM junk. When I get home I will definitely put a decent radio/CD player in Gertie. I suspect that Gary and Judie didn't use this one much, if at all—I remember Judie commenting that Gertie was "so noisy!" when I broached the subject of adding a radio. But they were driving with the windows open for lack of air conditioning! With the windows shut, the noise level in the cab is quite modest—less than I expected, actually.
After Terra Studios it's on to Toad Suck, Arkansas...hopefully I will get there sometime Thursday. If I don't push myself (and at this point I don't think I need to do any more of these 300-mile days!), I will probably arrive in Pittsburgh next Tuesday or Wednesday...depending on how much time I depend at the USAF Museum in Dayton.