Costa Blanca #2, Spain, 11/13

December 10, 2013

With our grey water tank nearly full and our freshwater tank almost empty, we headed north to Aguilas to resupply. Leaving Cabo de Gata and the Costa Almería, we drove north on good highways towards the super resort city of Benidorm on Spain’s famous Costa Blanca.

We stopped for the night at a beach recommended by fellow travelers, Playa del Pinet, which turned out to be a parking area along a side street. Looking like an RV dealership, it was a winter haven for Dutch, Swedish, French and German snowbirds. We grabbed an available spot and spent a quiet night, but it was no place to linger. Others would spend a couple of months there.

It was interesting to see the difference between the European RVers and those we know in the States. There were virtually no tag-alongs, but everyone had either a small 2-passenger motor scooter or cycle or at least bicycles on the back, sometimes electric ones. No trailers or 5th wheels. No slide-outs. These were relatively small coaches built on Fiat, Ford, Renault or Peugeots with 4-cylinder diesel engines. Almost everyone had a satellite dish for television and an array of solar panels. Most of the lighting inside was LED. Virtually everyone uses cassette toilets since in Europe there are very few if any places where you could use a hose to dump 25 gallons of black water.

Benidorm announced itself from far away. Negotiating the main drag of Benidorm, we were glad it was not the height of the summer season. Monika remembered her first visit to Benidorm in 1966 when there was only one high-rise building. Now there was a forest of condos. Still, the beach is beautiful and we could see the reason for the town’s popularity.

Once a sleepy beach town, Benidorm is now a super resort city with a forest of high-rise condos and the largest discothèque in Europe.

Once a sleepy beach town, Benidorm is now a super resort city with a forest of high-rise condos and the largest discothèque in Europe.

Costa Blanca 3 02

We could not imagine what the traffic would be like during the height of the summer season.

We could not imagine what the traffic would be like during the height of the summer season.

The Benidorm main beach was world class.

The Benidorm main beach was world class.

Playa del Pinet turned out to be a parking area along a side

Playa del Pinet turned out to be a parking area along a side street for European Snowbirds. It looked like an RV dealership.

Many Snowbirds had either a small 2-passenger motor scooter or a motorcycle to get around. There were no “tag-alongs”.

Many Snowbirds had either a small 2-passenger motor scooter or a motorcycle to get around. There were no “tag-alongs”.

Costa Blanca 2 03

Bicycles were also popular. Many were electric.

Bicycles were also popular. Many were electric.

This three-axle coach was about the maximum size we saw, and they were rare. No one had “slide-outs”.

This three-axle coach was about the maximum size we saw, and they were rare. No one had “slide-outs”.

Solar panels were a must. This foldout set was claimed to produce 120 watts for 350 Euros ($473.00).

Solar panels were a must. This foldout set was claimed to produce 120 watts for 350 Euros ($473.00).

Despite strict rules differentiating “camping” with “parking”, (no chairs, awning, tables, BBQs, etc.), some people pushed the law.

Despite strict rules differentiating “camping” with “parking”, (no chairs, awning, tables, BBQs, etc.), some people pushed the law.

 

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Sintra’s Antique Motorcycle Club Show & Rally, Portugal 9/13

October 19, 2013

Waking up in Sintra we looked out the window to find out there was an antique motorcycle show in progress. Since Gary used to ride a motorcycle, (Kawasaki 350 Avenger and Honda 750), we couldn’t resist taking a few pictures. The Motorcycle Club of Sintra is the oldest in Portugal, and this is their 29th annual show & rally. How many of these beauties can you remember?

29º PASSEIO MOTAS ANTIGAS

7 DE SETEMBRO 2013

Mais um grande êxito do Moto Clube de Sintra

http://www.motoclubedesintra.com

Please note that we had to use WordPress’ Gallery to publish all these photos. It is a little cumbersome. Click on a photo to enlarge it, then click on it again to really enlarge it. Our webmaster is working on finding a solution for a better presentation. Tip: Use Firefox if you can. The photo displays centered with a black background.

 


 

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Seitz Factory, Krautheim, Germany 6-13

July 16, 2013

On the road and looking for a good place for the night, the modern gas stations and truck stops in Germany are often ideal. They have clean restrooms but it will cost you a Euro to use them. If it’s a big truck stop, parking areas are large and easily accommodate small motorhomes like ours. We found a comfortable spot in the back of a gas station. In less than 10 min. we were sitting outside and the chicken was cooking on the BBQ.

Modern German gas stations and truck stops are often ideal for overnight stops.

Modern German gas stations and truck stops are often ideal for overnight stops.

Our little Weber “Go Anywhere” grill is turning out to be a good travel companion.

Our little Weber “Go Anywhere” grill is turning out to be a good travel companion.

The next day we arrived at the small town of Krautheim. This is the home of the Seitz Window Company. We were one of the first campers in United States to use these popular windows, chosen because of their many features. First and most importantly, they are dual pane with no metal cold-sink to the outside. They also have built-in roll-up/roll-down privacy shades and built-in mosquito screens. Our own windows, having been installed over 10 years ago on The Turtle V, needed some minor repairs, and what better place than at the factory.

Several years after we had installed our original windows in 2001, Dometic purchased the Seitz Company. Dometic has been an important product sponsor on our vehicles and RVs for many years, including refrigerators, awnings, stabilizers and now Seitz Windows. The simple fix for our aging windows was to replace the frames on the inside and readjust the security blinds and the mosquito screens. Although the factory does not normally do repairs, they were kind enough to arrange for a technician to do the work and they were able to put an overnight rush job on our new frames to have them painted to match our existing trim. We found a very comfortable campsite on a hill overlooking the village.

The dual-pane Seitz Windows are becoming more and more popular in the United States as RV manufacturers and customers learn of their features. They have been standard on European motorhomes for many years. After an interesting tour of the Seitz/Dometic factory, we headed for Switzerland.

The small town of Krautheim is the home of the Seitz/Dometic Window Company.

The small town of Krautheim is the home of the Seitz/Dometic Window Company.

Typical of many German towns, there is a castle guarding the surrounding countryside.

Typical of many German towns, there is a castle guarding the surrounding countryside.

Krautheim-Seitz 005 Krautheim-Seitz 006

Waiting overnight for the frames to be painted, we found a very comfortable campsite on a hill overlooking the village.

Waiting overnight for the frames to be painted, we found a very comfortable campsite on a hill overlooking the village.

Krautheim-Seitz 008 Krautheim-Seitz 009

Seitz arranged for a technician to install our new widow frames.

Seitz arranged for a technician to install our new widow frames.

Krautheim-Seitz 011

After over 10 years of backload travel, surprises hiding inside the gap between the frame and the external window would require a botanist and etymologist to identify.

After over 10 years of backroad travel, surprises hiding inside the gap between the frame and the external window would require a botanist and etymologist to identify.

Seitz/Dometic Window Company any employs over 400 people. They make hundreds of different size windows, doors and sunroofs for motor homes and cars.

The Seitz/Dometic Company employs over 400 people. They make hundreds of different size windows, doors and sunroofs for motor homes and cars.

The Dometic Company has been an important product sponsor of The Turtle Expedition for many years.

The Dometic Company has been an important product sponsor of The Turtle Expedition for many years.

 

 

 

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Across the USA 2013 #12 (Turtle Delivery to Port)

May 29, 2013

We have been working with Murphy for many years. We know his 1st law; “If anything can go wrong, it probably will.” We waited patiently in the dusty parking lot of A1 Escort Service near the Port of Baltimore. In order to enter the Port, either to pick up something or to deliver something to be shipped, you need a certified escort with the proper credentials, preferably one who knows where he’s going, where you need to go, what papers you need to have, (which ones you don’t need), and who to give them to.

Seabridge International had recommended A1 Escort Service. As the clock ticked after the two-hour lunch break we started to wonder if we’re going to spend the night there. Because of morning traffic into Baltimore, we had been advised not to leave Wrightsville PA before 9:00 AM. That meant we actually arrived at A1 Escort Service’s parking lot about 11:00 AM.

Not to worry. Garret Taylor, the owner of A1 Escort Service, arrived and when he saw that we were still waiting, things started to happen. Paperwork in hand, I followed Garrett through a maze of potholed side roads to the entry of the Baltimore Port. Monika had to stay behind. Only one person is allowed to enter the Dundalk Marine Terminal with the vehicle being shipped.

First stop was a massive 15-foot high gate like something you’d see in a penitentiary. I parked next to a tall pillar obviously designed for semi truck drivers. Garrett jumped out of his escort car and reached up to grab the phone and hand it to me. The person on the other end lethargically asked me for my name, driver’s license number and if I had some other paper – (I could barely understand her). Garrett just told me to say yes. After a short pause, a white slip of paper popped out of the slot below the phone. I grabbed it and we continued to the next gate where a second officer inspected my driver’s license and my white entry slip, gave a friendly wave to Garrett, and opened the crossbar. We then wound our way through a maze of warehouses and parking lots. I followed carefully, snapping pictures along the way. The first stop was Customs. There were a couple of drivers waiting but it took only a few minutes. Two different people inspected the documents Garrett instructed me to hand them, including the original Vehicle Certificate of Title. I did have a stack of other documents including multiple copies of the Vehicle Certificate of Title, an official letter from the Department of Treasury Internal Revenue Service with my taxpayer identification number and my Passport, none of which were needed.

We then proceeded through the continuing maze of parking lots to a second building. I’m still not sure what the function of that office is. They did re-inspect all the paperwork again, including the original of the Certificate of Title. There was no problem but they asked when we’re going to be returning with the vehicle. When I said it would probably be 3 years, the officer raised his eyebrows, pause for a moment, and stamped the original title “EXPORT APPROVED”. Beneath the stamp it said “US Customs and Border Protection”. Since I thought we had already been through Customs, this office must have been a secondary Customs and Border Protection check.

We then drove around a couple of warehouses to a large parking lot full of 5th wheel and travel trailers. Garrett directed me to what he considered a safe place to park and we waited. After about 5 minutes, agent Lewis Hubbard arrived in a golf cart with his clipboard in hand. He checked the VIN number and looked the vehicle over. He noted that all external compartments were securely double locked except for the driver’s door.

He then asked me if we had carefully measured the vehicle. I said yes we had. He asked me if I was satisfied with those measurements. I said yes. He said, “That’s good for me.” I handed him the key to the ignition and took a few more pictures  including some of the outside of the truck and camper, showing that there was no damage at this time. I was surprised and relieved by how simple it all was and how friendly everyone was. Lewis assured me the parking/holding area was well lit and under 24-hour video surveillance. He said with the vehicle parked right under the Custom’s nose, they didn’t encounter much crime.

We drove back to the office of A-1 Escort and paid $62.50. Garret apologized for the delay and gave us a ride to the Transportation Center to catch a taxicab to the underground and eventually to the airport. Where was Murphy? Aside from proper preparation, we could not believe how simple the whole process had been.

The next day we landed at Heathrow International Airport in London, England where an old friend of Monika’s met us. Sinking into the plush leather seats of the Range Rover, we had arrived. Never mind that our Turtle V would be sitting in the Port of Baltimore holding lot for 10 days, waiting for the next ship to dock. It was time to go to a Pub and have a pint of ale and some proper fish & chips.

We were beginning to wonder if we were going to spend the night in the parking lot of A1 Escort Services.

We were beginning to wonder if we were going to spend the night in the parking lot of A1 Escort Services.

We wound our way through a maze of warehouses and parking lots. I followed carefully, snapping pictures along the way.

We wound our way through a maze of warehouses and parking lots. I followed carefully, snapping pictures along the way.

Garret Tayler, the owner of A1 Escort Service, was very knowledgeable and friendly. It helped that every one at the port seemed to know him.

Garret Taylor, the owner of A1 Escort Service, was very knowledgeable and friendly. It helped that every one at the port seemed to know him.

The final Port inspector gave us a friendly wish for a safe trip. He did say the parking/holding area was under 24-hour lights and security cameras.

The final port inspector, Lewis Hubbard, gave us a friendly wish for a safe trip. He did say the parking/holding area was under 24-hour lights and security cameras.

The Turtle V was safely on its way. With a sigh of relief, we relaxed on the underground metro to Dulles International Airport.

The Turtle V was safely on its way. With a sigh of relief, we relaxed on the underground metro to Dulles International Airport.

Arriving in England, it was time to pop into a pub have pint ale and some proper fish & chips.

Arriving in England, it was time to pop into a Pub for a pint of ale and some proper fish & chips.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

 

http://www.a1escortllc.com/

 

 

#1

We were beginning to wonder if we were going to spend the night in the parking lot of A1 Escort Services.

 

#2

We wound our way through a maze of warehouses and parking lots. I followed carefully, snapping pictures along the way.

 

#3

Garret Tayler, the owner of A1 Escort Service, was very knowledgeable and friendly. It helped that every one at the port seemed to know him.

 

#4

The final Port inspector gave us a friendly wish for a safe trip. He did say the parking/holding area was under 24-hour lights and security cameras.

 

#5

The Turtle V was safely on its way. With a sigh of relief, we relaxed on the underground metro to Dulles International Airport.

 

#6

Arriving in England, it was time to pop into a pub have pint ale and some proper fish & chips.

 

 

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Across the USA 2013 #11 (Shipping Surprise)

May 27, 2013

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!!! We’re not shipping to Germany after all. Just two days before we were scheduled to deliver The Turtle V to the port in Baltimore, we received the following email from a member of The Silk Road Caravan Club:

A couple of years ago, a couple shipped their RV to Germany and were required to deposit $19,000, refundable when leaving Germany. I assume to prevent someone from selling their RV. They did get their money back.

We really couldn’t believe that, so we contacted the agent in Germany who was scheduled to handle our paperwork. She replied:

 

Hallo Monika,

The costs I gave you on 10 April, 2013 are for 1 passenger car resp. Jeep/Minivan

What is an “RV” ????

Will you travel in Germany and Europe and ship the vehicle back to America ???

If you intend to import the “RV” as a tourist into Germany you will have to pay to Bremerhaven customs a customs-bond. It will amount to approx. 29 % of the vehicle’ s value and it needs to be paid in cash. Customs will reimburse you with the money as soon as you can show them a proof that the vehicle left the European Union.

Best Regards,                                                                                                                                                                                                           ASI-Auto Shipment GmbH                                                                                                                                                                           Bremerhaven

 

“Hallo Mission Control—I think we have a problem, over”. Even at our suggested greatly reduced value of The Turtle V “RV”, ($25,000), we would need to come up with about $7,250 CASH which we would supposedly get back when we exited the EU six months later in Greece. (Good luck!) If German Customs decided that The Turtle V had a more realistic value of $150,000, a 29% CASH bond, (Put your shoes back on. I have a calculator), would be about $43,500, or just a small briefcase of $20s. We carry that with us all the time, right?

Oh!, and by the way, the ship we were supposed to load our truck on came into port a day early so the cutoff date for delivery was moved back a day and the ship was already full. Are we having fun yet?

Thanks to Larry Space for the “heads-up” on German Customs. He recently shipped his Sprinter to Amsterdam. Obviously, some quick research was needed. We contacted Mike Albi at Seabridge, our shipping agent. He suggested some alternative ports including Amsterdam, Holland and Zeebrugge, Belgium. (www.portofzeebrugge.be). Turns out our new ship, the Figaro Voy UF313, will actually arrive at Zeebrugge before going to Bremerhaven.

We logged onto Skype and called Rita Boussemaere at Wijngaard Natie Logistics – Atlantic nv in Antwerp, Belgium, http://www.wijngaardnatie.com/index.php?id=83 and explained our situation. She laughed. She said that was crazy. Belgium did not require any such deposit of any kind. We were tourists just traveling through and she would simply register our vehicle as transit. We breathed a sigh of relief and drove to the dusty parking lot of A1 Escort Service (www.a1escortllc.com) in the morning. The Port of Baltimore opens at 8:00 AM, stops for a two-hour lunch, and closes at 4:00 PM. We waited. At least there were a couple of wobbly porta-toilets next to the office.

 

We parked in the dusty parking lot of A1 escort service (http://www.a1escortllc.com/) in the morning, armed with a dozen documents and multiple copies.

We parked in the dusty parking lot of A1 Escort Service (http://www.a1escortllc.com/) in the morning, armed with a dozen documents and multiple copies.

The portable office buildings, (porta-shacks) of A1 Escort Services did at first not inspire great confidence. Needless to say,  the service was excellent.

The portable office buildings, (porta-shacks) of A1 Escort Services did at first not inspire great confidence. Needless to say, the service was excellent.

 

 

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Across the USA 2013 #10 (Shipping Security)

May 25, 2013

Not that we were worried or that we didn’t trust the hard-working longshoremen in Baltimore or in Belgium, but we had read about the horror stories of campers being broken into and equipment being stolen. When you’re shipping a vehicle overseas, replacing equipment is much more difficult. The Turtle Expedition’s Tortuga Camper will not fit in a container, so it must go “Ro-Ro”, (roll-on-roll-off), which means the vehicle is driven on and off the ship by dock employees. We took the normal precautions.

All easily removable external accessories like the PIAA lights and Total Vision cameras were removed. Smaller side and back-up lights were locked with PIAA Light Locks by McGard. All easily removable accessories from the cab were removed like radio, GPS, seat belts, Platypus hydration bags and fire extinguishers. False bars were velcro-ed across the inside of windows to eliminate temptation. Most windows are designed to be too small for anyone to crawl through. The camper itself is not accessible from the cab.

Outside storage compartments were either emptied or double locked with quarter-inch thick plates and padlocks. Of course, if someone wants to break in, there’s always a way, but we made it as difficult as possible. It’s called “physical intimidation”. Finally, since the cost of shipping is determined by volume, we reduced the tire pressure and emptied the Hellwig air suspension bags, which lowers the actual height of the truck by 2 inches. This could result in significant savings.

Easily removable external accessories like lights and cameras were packed in the camper.

Easily removable external accessories like lights and cameras were packed in the camper.

Radios and GPS are easy targets for the ”snatch-and-run” thieves.

Radios and GPS are easy targets for the ”snatch-and-run” thieves.

Center console and other storage compartments were emptied.

Center console and other storage compartments were emptied.

Items like the GPS brackets had no real value and could be left intact.

Items like the GPS brackets had no real value and could be left intact.

Smaller external storage compartments were emptied and put in labeled boxes in the camper for quick reloading. Larger compartments were double locked.

Smaller external storage compartments were emptied and the items were put in labeled boxes in the camper for quick reloading. Larger compartments were double locked.

Thick plates and double pad locks are impossible are remove without doing obvious damage to the camper.

Thick plates and double pad locks are impossible to remove without doing obvious damage to the camper.

Top storage boxes were padlocked and in any case, difficult to reach without a ladder.

Top storage boxes were padlocked and in any case, they are difficult to reach without a ladder.

Fuel and water cans were stored in the camper to eliminate any temptation. The spare tire and sand ladders are always locked.

Fuel and water cans were stored in the camper to eliminate any temptation. The spare tire and sand ladders are always locked.

Fiamm marine air horns were secured with a lock and heavy cable.

Fiamm marine air horns were secured with a lock and a heavy cable.

Finally, we reduced the tire pressure and emptied the Hellwig air suspension bags, which lowers the actual height of the truck by 2 inches.

Finally, we reduced the tire pressure and emptied the Hellwig air suspension bags, which lowers the actual height of the truck by 2 inches.

 

 

 

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Across the USA 2013 # 9 (Safelite/SmartPlug)

May 23, 2013

One of the last minute projects we took care of in Wrightsville PA was to have the experts at Safelite (in York) replace the windshield. It was not broken, but it had acquired the normal little bug and sand pits over the last 50,000 miles. We wanted to start fresh. Admittedly, I am a little fanatic about having a clean windshield. After all, one purpose of travel is to see out. There is an old Tibetan or Buddhist proverb: “If a man wears leather on his feet, the whole earth is covered with leather.” My version: “If a man drives down the road with a dirty windshield, the whole world is dirty.”

We also took time to upgrade our external 110-volt shore power inlet to the new improved SmartPlug. Instead of twisting and screwing to attach, it pushes straight in and stainless steel clips lock it in place with a weatherproof seal. An internal thermostat cuts power at the first sign of overheating and its straight-in connection blades have 20x more contact, greatly reducing electrical resistance and the chance of arcing. We did need to cut off the 30-amp male plug and adapt a heavy-duty 20-amp plug, the size we  normally use. A blue LED shows power is connected.

The technicians at Safelite used a unique Ezi-Wire device that cuts the windshield’s rubber seal without damaging the paint or factory trim.

The technicians at Safelite used a unique Ezi-Wire device that cuts the windshield’s rubber seal without damaging the paint or factory trim.

A previous installer had scratched the metal above the windshield. Safelite sanded off the rust and primed it before installing the new glass.

A previous installer had scratched the metal above the windshield. Safelite sanded off the rust and primed it before installing the new glass.

The sealing compound used by Safelite dries in an hour and has a lifetime guarantee. It remains pliable which is an advantage for the rough roads we drive.

The sealing compound used by Safelite dries in an hour and has a lifetime guarantee. It remains pliable which is an advantage for the rough roads we drive.

The installers at Safelite were extremely professional and they had all the right tools.

The installers at Safelite were extremely professional and they had all the right tools.

We had never used Safelite before, but their quality and service will bring us back.

We had never used Safelite before, but their quality and service will bring us back.

The old fashioned Marinco plug was replaced with a new improved SmartPlug.

The old fashioned Marinco plug was replaced with a new improved SmartPlug.

We did need to cut off the 30-amp male plug and adapt a heavy-duty 20-amp plug, which is what we will normally use.

We did need to cut off the 30-amp male plug and adapt a heavy-duty 20-amp plug, the size we normally use.

The SmartPlug pushes straight in and stainless steel clips lock it in place.

The SmartPlug pushes straight in and stainless steel clips lock it in place.

SmartPlug pushes straight in and stainless steel clips lock it in place. The straight-in connection blades have 20x more contact, greatly reducing electrical resistance and the chance of arcing.

The straight-in connection blades have 20x more contact, greatly reducing electrical resistance and the chance of arcing.

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Across the USA 2013 #8 (Hoak’s 4WD)

May 20, 2013

Our last stop before shipping The Turtle V to Europe was Wrightsville, Pennsylvania, home of Hoak’s Four Wheel Drive Center. This was a safe harbor to do a final oil & filter change, remove all lights, cameras, GPS, etc. from the outside and the cab for safe transport in the double-locked camper, and finish up a few last minute projects. In-between all of this, we took time to play tourists with our gracious hosts, Ben & Ann Hoak, owners of Hoak’s Four Wheel Drive Center. The local specialty is crab cakes, so that was a must. A weekend farmers’ market had such delicacies as smoked dog bones and a wonderful assortment of homemade pies, cakes and jams by the local Amish. A popular tourist town was Intercourse. We hear Paradise was nearby, but we didn’t go there.

Hoak’s Four Wheel Drive Center was a safe harbor to do final oil & filter change and prepare the truck for shipping.

Hoak’s Four Wheel Drive Center was a safe harbor to do a final oil & filter change and prepare the truck for shipping.

We joined Ben & Ann Hoak for a crab cake feast, a must if you are in this part of the country.

We joined Ben & Ann Hoak for a crab cake feast, a must if you are in this part of the country.

Fresh crab cakes!! Trust us, they taste better than they look.

Fresh crab cakes!! Trust us, they taste better than they look.

Homemade pies, cakes and jams by the local Amish were a tempting treat.

Homemade pies, cakes and jams by the local Amish were a tempting treat.

A bone for your Great Dane? Yes, there were small bones for your poodle. Maybe a pig tail?

A bone for your Great Dane? Yes, there were small bones for your poodle. Maybe a pig tail?

Yes, there is a town named “Intercourse”. Looks like there is also an Intercourse Island in the Dampier Archipelago off Western Australia. Probably not related?

Hm, there is a town named “Intercourse”. Looks like there is also an Intercourse Island in the Dampier Archipelago off Western Australia. Probably not related?

At the Intercourse Museum, we discovered a beautiful selection of Amish quilts

At the Intercourse Museum, we discovered a beautiful selection of Amish quilts

Trees were in bloom everywhere.

Trees were in bloom everywhere.

Tidy Amish farms dotted the rolling countryside. Steel wheels were norm, and five mules provided power on this farm wagon It’s an Amish thing.

Tidy Amish farms dotted the rolling countryside. Steel wheels were  the norm, and five mules provided power on this farm wagon. It’s an Amish thing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Across the USA #7 (Rickson Truck Wheels)

May 18, 2013

Leaving the Espar Headquarters in Mississauga, Ontario, we headed south towards New York State. Crossing the Rainbow Bridge we snapped a picture of Niagara Falls and it occurred to me that we were not “traveling”. This was just “driving”. Our typical travel day might only involve 150 miles and maybe 4 or 5 hours on the road before we find a nice place to stop for the night. If it’s really nice, why not stay a day or two and explore the area?

Crossing the border into Pennsylvania,— “Speed Limit 55 mph”, “Please Wear Your Seatbelt for the Next Million Miles”, but everyone’s going 78 mph and tailgating like they do in Los Angeles, —our next stop was Rickson Truck Wheels in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

Very few shops in our area of California have tire-balancing machines that can handle our big Michelin XZL MPT 41-inch tires. More importantly, it’s not just having the right machine. Someone needs to know how to use it. While the ideal way to balance these big tires on new rims would have been finding a high point on the wheel first, then finding a high point on the tire and then matching the two so that they cancel each other. There was no time for that. Using a sophisticated computerized Hunter Hammerhead balancing machine with the proper centering device for our 20” wheels, coupled with Dan Rickson’s knowledge of how to use that machine, was the next best thing.

In some cases we were able to remove five weights and replace them with two, following the laser line that the Hunter Hammerhead drew across the tire. In two cases, after the Hunter found a high spot on the combination of tire and wheel, we did spin the tire on the rim to compensate. These are big tires and Rickson wheels weigh something like 130 pounds each. The slight shimmy we had been noticing at 65 mph is now gone.

While we were at the Rickson factory, Dan gave us a quick tour. We got to see the Mercedes blanks that were the foundation for our wheels. We asked Dan why he didn’t put valve stems on both sides of our reversible wheels. Basically he said it wouldn’t be DOT approved. We had consulted with Steve Sasaki at Powertank and with the people at GH Meiser (Accu-Gage Tire Gauge). Both agreed that it was not a problem to simply drill a hole on the backside of the wheel and add another valve stem. The surface where the stem sits does not have to be flat. The actual seal is created as the rubber expands inside the hole when the nut on the valve stem is tightened.

Back in California, we had experimented using 90° extensions on the valve stems. That was not the answer, so we had to drill holes and add valve stems after we had already mounted the tires. It was much more difficult, but we had no choice. Because we air our tires up and down frequently, depending on road conditions, and because the rims are reversible, valve stems on both sides were a necessity.

Real “air suspension”. What a ride!!

Real “air suspension”. What a ride!!

Having the correct centering device for hub centric wheels is critical to get a proper balance.

Having the correct centering device for hub centric wheels is critical to get a proper balance.

The Hunter Hammerhead is an extremely advanced sophisticated balancing machine.

The Hunter Hammerhead is an extremely advanced sophisticated balancing machine.

Dan Rickson knew how to take every advantage of the sophisticated Hunter Hammerhead balancing machine.

Dan Rickson knew how to take every advantage of the sophisticated Hunter Hammerhead balancing machine.

In some cases we were able to remove as many as five weights and replace them with two, following the specific instructions given by the Hunter Hammerhead.

In some cases we were able to remove as many as five weights and replace them with two, following the specific instructions given by the Hunter Hammerhead.

Steel blanks like these are ordered from Mercedes. They are the foundation for custom wheels like ours. Hub-centric holes and lug nut holes are machined in the blanks.

Steel blanks like these are ordered from Mercedes. They are the foundation for custom wheels like ours. Hub-centric holes and lug nut holes are machined in the blanks.

A robotic welder joins the centers with the outer rims.

A robotic welder joins the centers with the outer rims.

Computerized CNC machines are used for precise machining of center holes and lug nut holes.

Computerized CNC machines are used for precise machining of center holes and lug nut holes.

The specialty of Rickson Truck Wheels is a much stronger replacement 19.5 rim for those that typically come on trucks and motorhomes today.

The specialty of Rickson Truck Wheels is a much stronger replacement 19.5″ rim for those that typically come on trucks and motor homes today.

Any questions?

Any questions?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Across the USA 2013 #6 (Espar)

May 15, 2013

After a quick stop at Ken-Tool, we headed northeast to Canada. Despite our fears of long lines and secondary inspections, there was no waiting and Canadian Customs simply asked us if we had any firearms or explosives, and then waved us through.

In the morning, the Customer Service people and Technicians were waiting for us at the Espar North American Headquarters in Mississauga, Ontario. Our Espar diesel-powered heaters are an extremely important element to our comfort on the road. The Airtronic Air Heater is the primary heater for the camper itself. The Espar D5 Hydronic heats coolant from the engine to 187°F. Using a system of valves, we can direct that heated coolant to our FlatPlate hot water heater, or to preheat the engine on a cold morning, or to the camper itself should the Airtronic fail, or even to all three at the same time if needed. Both heaters use diesel from the main tank and both have been extremely reliable over the last 10 years.

We had come to Espar for two reasons. First, we wanted to have the heaters checked and analyzed by the Espar technicians with their computers to make sure everything was working correctly. Secondly, since these heaters are often used in sailboats/yachts at sea level, we had never installed a high-altitude kit that adjusts their fuel for the thinner air.

This would’ve normally required the installation of the second high-altitude fuel pump on each heater, but as luck would have it, Espar engineers have developed a new and more efficient method to deal with altitude. A small black box was installed on each heater that actually measures air pressure, which is directly related to altitude, to adjust the fuel pump automatically. With parts at their fingertips, the glow plug and atomization screen on the Airtronic was changed.

The new air pressure sensors have been tested to 10,000 feet, so we will let you know when we get to the 16,000-foot elevation along the Walkhan Corridor. If all else fails, we can always just leave the engine running as we did in Siberia, letting our third back-up Hunter radiator in the camper keep things toasty.

The Airtronic Air Heater is a primary heater for the camper itself.

The Airtronic Air Heater is the primary heater for the camper itself.

The D5 Hydronic heats coolant which is directed through a series of valves to the engine, the FlatPlate heater, or the Hunter radiator in the camper.

The D5 Hydronic heats coolant which is directed through a series of valves to the engine, the FlatPlate heater, or the Hunter radiator in the camper.

Based on years of experience, we placed all the controls for heaters, the rooftop Golite and music right next to our bed.

Based on years of experience, we placed all the controls for heaters, the rooftop Golite and music right next to our bed.

Espar technician, Jeffrey Amours, knew every detail of our heaters.

Espar technician, Jeffrey Amours, knew every detail of our heaters.

Our Espar Airtronic main camper heater was installed so that it can easily be serviced when a glow plug or other parts need to be changed.

Our Espar Airtronic main camper heater was installed so that it can easily be serviced when a glow plug or other parts need to be changed.

With parts at their fingertips, the glow plug and atomization screen on the Airtronic were changed.

With parts at their fingertips, the glow plug and atomization screen on the Airtronic were changed.

A small black box was installed on each heater that actually measures air pressure, which is directly related to altitude, and adjusts the fuel pump automatically.

A small black box was installed on each heater that actually measures air pressure, which is directly related to altitude and adjusts the fuel pump automatically.

Both our Espar heaters will be extremely important during our travels along the Silk Road.

The new air pressure sensing device controls the fuel pump as altitude changes.

The Espar team, (L to R) Alexey Konyshev, Jeffrey Amores and John Giglio (far R) were all extremely knowlegible and helpful.

The Espar team, (L to R) Alexey Konyshev, Jeffrey Amores and John Giglio (far R) were all extremely knowledgeable and helpful.

Espar's mascot Bertrand will be traveling with us.

Espar’s mascot Bertrand will be traveling with us.

On our way south, we snapped this photo of Niagara Falls as we crossed the Rainbow Bridge.

On our way south, we snapped this photo of Niagara Falls as we crossed the Rainbow Bridge.

 

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