Big Little Newport, OR

They say Newport is the largest town on the coast so I thought I might find a mall hiding somewhere with a Kohls in it. But no, silly me. When they say big, they mean big by coastal standards. Highway 101 runs north and south and ends up being the main street in each of these charming towns. Each one has its own unique personality. But don’t look for shopping malls off to the east.  A barrier of mountains and wilderness stands between the coast and central Oregon, where the real metro areas of Portland, Salem, Eugene and Medford run along I-5.






We started out the morning by plunking our butts down on some sand dunes on the Pacific, savoring our morning coffee with endless crashing waves. 

Newport is blessed with a long, glorious beach, two lighthouses, and a protected bay for safe harbor and fishing. They  are calling themselves the “Crab Capital of the World,” based on tonnage.  You can immerse yourself in the bustling fishing and crabbing industry by driving down historic SE Bay Blvd.The water side of this narrow street is thick with bustling canneries. Trucks are going in and out. Salty longshoremen are stacking crab pots by the thousands. Pots are six deep out on the sidewalk.





 Across the street is a swarm of colorful tourist shops and restaurants. Every available surface on the sides of buildings has been taken over by spectacular murals of the sea – orcas, sea lions, old salts and fishing trollers tossed in mighty seas.







Today’s catch is for sale everywhere. Get your clams, crabs, mussels, shrimp, tuna, perch – raw or cooked. It’s a miniature Fisherman’s Wharf. We had divine clam chower at Mo’s Annex.



Grandma Mo passed away but her recipes are famous. Out Mo’s window we could see five NOAA ships docked across the bay, home to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s pacific fleet.






While strolling down the street,

 we heard the loud barking of sea lions.

Just a few steps out onto the pier

and your jaw drops at the site of a dozen

enormous sea lions hauled out on wooden planks, basking and snoozing just twenty feet below you.

 There is also a very large cage with the door open. They want the lions to come in, take a nap, and go out at will. Eventually they will get a sea lion with painful plastic or fishing line around its neck. Then they drop the gate and have the animal captured for repairs.

 We ended the day at the making photos of a beautiful sunset at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. 





Down below the lighthouse, just offshore, are herds of seals, sea lions and pelicans posing on their favorite rocks. These haul-out areas are strictly protected from human interference by the BLM. If you’re lucky – we weren’t – you can see whales going up and down the coast. They migrate 8,000 miles to Baja in December and then swim back to the Bering Sea in March/April. You were complaining about your long commute?!


 Little Newport also boasts one of the top ten aquariums in the US. No coincidence this town also has one of the best marine research facilities in the nation. All marine students from Oregon State University end up studying here. The center is open to the public and we could easily spend a few days there too.

We got out of our car at the end of the day and this is the view we saw from BessyBus. It’s the Yaquina Bay Bridge on 101, downtown Newport.

 – carol ann dwyer


Girl-Friendly Explanation of the Aqua-Hot Heating System on your RV Bus

Editor’s Note: I truly don’t want to offend any wives by my title above. It’s meant in gentle humor. There are flocks of tech-savvy females on the RV circuit, but I believe the majority are like me. When I started out in 2008, I was mechanical systems clueless. I didn’t even know what a generator was. I was scared of my thermostat. How-to articles started out so far over my head, they were like foreign languages. So for all of us non-techie babes, I have written this article. 

Well girls, I have to confess I totally didn’t understand the Aqua-Hot heating system on my RV bus. I just flipped it on and wallowed in the nice hot water. But if you really understand how it works, you will be in awe of its beauty and complexity. This system really is a miracle. And it’s not over our heads at all, if you can just get a girl-friendly explanation of it.

All RV’s need heat when it gets cold.

Most RV’s have propane heaters (one in front and one in back.)

This RV has an Aqua-Hot system.

The propane heater is identical to the one in your stick house. It uses propane to keep a tank full of hot water ready at all times. This is a very energy-needy system. In cold weather, your propane tanks can run out of fuel every seven days. It’s a huge hassle to keep refilling these tanks. On a small RV you have to take the tanks out and drive to the store. On a big bus you have to pull up stakes and drive your bus to the store. If you decide to stay in one place all winter, you would definitely want to rent a larger tank and set it up.

The Aqua-Hot system, on the other hand, does not keep a tank of hot water ready. It works on demand, heating water just ahead of you as you are using it. What a great idea!

The Aqua-Hot has three different ways to heat itself up.

It can use electricity from shore power, or diesel fuel from your main engine’s gas tank, or heat coming off the engine itself while you are running down the road. Or a combination of these!

Last winter we were forced to park in the back yard of our old house and the long driveway is lined with vicious tree branches and tight curves, so we didn’t want to go in and out of there any more than necessary. With Aqua-Hot system of heat, we did not have to pull of stakes for the entire winter of below freezing weather. We used about 70 gallons of diesel from our 150 gallon tank.

Not only does “Mr.” Aqua-Hot have three different ways of heating coming IN to the system, he has two different competing demands on him going OUT of the system.

He has to give you both heat AND hot water for your showers. When you combine all of these you get a duke’s mixture of possibilities, depending on how cold it is outside, how many people need a shower, whether you like your room 65 or 70 degrees. Or maybe it’s August and you’ve got the air conditioners running full blast.

Don’t be intimidated. Just approach the thermometer switch on the wall and set it to 70 degrees.  Now walk over to the panel above the driver seat and turn on the Aqua-Hot system with the switch that says “Electric.” Let’s assume for this day you are parked and plugged into 50 watt shore power.

The system has a little tiny plastic sensor in the living room that measures the temperature. Its 62 degrees. He sends a signal to the brain, “Hey, we need more heat out here.” The Aqua-Hot then turns on its electric heating element and begins cooking a tank full of antifreeze (50% water, 50% poison stuff) to 170 degrees. Then it pumps the hot antifreeze throughout the bus to small heat vents/outlets/registers. Just inside these vents are cute little bitty radiators with lots of surfaces. A fan comes on and blows air across these very hot surfaces, then out the vent hole, heating your room.

Now all is well, and you are at a comfy 70 degrees. But wait! There’s more! I said this system was complex and amazing.

This electric heating element continues to work as long and hard and as he can, no matter how cold it gets outside, but there is a limit to his ability. Because, did somebody say “Your turn, honey.”  Now you need shower, and where is all that hot water going to come from?!

Back at antifreeze central, just picture a long snaky pipe filled with clean water. It winds its way through the antifreeze tank, so it also stays heated to 170 degrees, same as the antifreeze. Turn on the hot water faucet on a warm summer day, and you will easily  have enough hot for two showers without any extra effort. But on a cold winter day, and he is working hard to keep the antifreeze at 170 and keep the rooms heated up. If you drain off all the hot water for a shower, you pull a bunch of ice cold water back into the pipes around the heater core, and you are giving that electric element the shivers.

Now he’s crying in pain, and reaches the limit of his electric capacity. Mr. Aqua-Hot  must choose whether to give you heat or hot water. The guys who built this system already told him, “If you get overloaded, forget the heat and just make hot water only. We don’t want the lady of the house hitting ice water halfway through her shower.”

But this is where the genius comes in! When you get in this situation, you just walk back to the panel over the driver seat and you flip the other Aqua-Hot switch, the one that says “Diesel”, and you will hear, from the bay underneath the bus, the sound of a diesel flame heater kicking in. You will come to cherish this quiet, gentle whoosh as the sound of luxury. This is “on demand” on steroids. Within two minutes, you have enough steaming hot water to shower your grandson’s entire little league team. You can now take a long hot shower on a cold winter day, but as you know, we RV’ers are way too sensible for that. And you will probably continue to take your little Navy shower just as always. And by the way, when you take a shower in the wintertime, I advise you to always switch the diesel switch on BEFORE you get into the shower. It’s no fun streaking through the bus soaking wet with no regard for your windows and neighbors.

To keep from scaring you early on, I failed to mention that your bus also has the words ”heat pump,” on the thermometer, which is a whole different system from your Hydro-Hot. We actually never use this heat pump. It is part of the air conditioning system. It uses Freon to heat instead of antifreeze. The only advantage we can see to the heat pump is that it won’t lower the temperature of your antifreeze and your hot water core. On the other hand, the heat pump only works well when the outside temperature is 40 degrees or above. So we’ve always been in the habit of using our furnace only. But would love to see a comparison of electricity usage on heat pump versus furnace.

When we were stuck in Oklahoma for the winter (I’ll explain why below) it drops below freezing at night and sometimes dips below zero. We found out that the electric heater kept us cozy in the daytime, but needed help after sunset. At bedtime we kept the electric heater on, but had to switch on the diesel boost and let that diesel burner run all night long to keep our bus at 65 degrees. Steve estimates we used 70 gallons of diesel over that bitter winter. With our 150 gallon tank, we could easily have lasted through a Canadian winter. It was a great blessing to us not to have to drive to the gas station once all winter. Compare that to propane tanks that must be filled once a week.

We also had to wrap heat tape around our water hose, and leave the faucets dripping all night. Our water hose still froze up on bitter cold nights but the next morning the sun would shine and by early afternoon the hose would thaw. Many times the hose was buried in a blanket of snow, and this actually insulated it from cold, as non-intuitive as that sounds. You can ask the bunnies and polar bears about that.

A couple times our water froze right inside the bay and we found out that ice cold air was sneaking into the bay through the big opening of the sewer hose. It was just like leaving a door open! On extra cold nights we had to go out and unhook the sewer hose and cap off the black tank. And that ended that.

Even if our thermostat on the furnace is set to the “off” position, Mr. Hydro-Hot knows he has to keep making hot water for us. Whenever the temperature of the antifreeze drops below 140 degrees, the electric burner kicks on and reheats it, even on a hot summer day. When we draw hot water, this pulls fresh cold water into the pipe, cools down the antifreeze and signals the burner to kick in. The element heats to a maximum of 170 degrees and then floats, similar to a battery floating to maintain full charge.

Now let’s say we pull our electric plug outside and park our bus on BLM land atQuartzsite,Arizona. We are dry camping for two weeks. What fun for us, and for our flexible, ingenious heating system.  We have no electricity, so we might as well turn our thermostat to the OFF position. We would never attempt to do “dry camping” in a cold climate. But here in Quartzsite, let’s say it’s a balmy 70 degrees outside so we don’t need heat anyway. We can even open our windows. But we would like a little hot water for showers. And how do we turn the lights on?  Hmmm?!

The answer is – generator – that thing your husband rushes to Lowe’s to buy when bad weather hits and power goes out all over town. Your generator runs on diesel so you don’t want to squander it, and it makes noise, so you don’t want to run it at night when other people nearby are trying to sleep. So start it up in the morning and power will flow from generator to inverter, converting that power to electricity. It flows through all the outlets marked “inverter.” Now you can run your lights, coffee pot., toaster oven, radio, computer and big screen TV all at once. The generator will also recharge your house batteries. Once you turn it off, you will still have six fully charged batteries so you can run your TV, computers and lights quietly for the rest of the evening. .Run your generator a couple hours in the morning when you get up, and a couple hours in the early evening, and you are sitting pretty until your diesel runs out, or your dirty tanks get full.

As far as hot water, there is no electric element heating except while the generator is actually running. The burner has been trained to shut off whenever the generator shuts off. Otherwise it would drain your house batteries in a hurry. Even if you have the Hydro-Hot electric switch in the ON position while dry camping, the system will not run off your batteries.

So if you want to take a shower, you can do it while the generator is running. Or if you turn the generator off, the water will probably stay hot for 45 minutes or so. But remember your magic switch – the Hydro-Hot diesel, which you haven’t even touched yet. Just flip it on and the magic diesel burner comes on, heating water with diesel fuel from the motor. It doesn’t even need the generator to do its job! Within two minutes you have enough hot water for that ball team. Seriously, it is heating the water on-demand, just ahead of you. So no matter how long you leave the hot water faucet running. . .I wouldn’t, though, because God only gave you a 65 gallon storage tank for your used (“gray”) water. And once that’s full, you’re up a different kind of creek. Also, you are carrying a tank of 90 gallons of fresh water. Be thrifty with your water usage and you will be able to have fun out in the desert for seven whole days before you have to drive into town to refill your fresh water and empty your used water.

Well class, I think that’s enough for one day. You have to agree the Hydro-Hot system is amazing. It does take maintenance and after several years the heating element, pumps or fans may certainly need to be replaced. You can save a lot of money if you work on it yourself, but some systems are easier to get to than others. In the case of our 2005 Tiffen Allegro Bus, Stephen spent a week with bloody arms and hands and he looked like a sausage with his 6’3″

 250-pound frame stuffed into a tiny opening. Here are a few photos of Steve repairing his system.

Best of luck, guys. We couldn’t live a day without our Aqua-Hot!

 *Why we spent the winter in Oklahoma:

We had a photography business in our home for 22 years. In order to sell it in 2008, we had to hold the note for the buyer. He was newly self-employed, out-of-state, and in a bad economy. We only did it because his parents co-signed and had good financials. The buyer defaulted after one year! We offered to settle for $94 when he owed $5600, He chose instead to declare bankruptcy, taking his parents with him.  What a tragedy. We lost our shirts financially, got the house back and parked our RV in the back yard to babysit the house while looking for a new buyer – one with a bank loan.


– Posted by Carol Ann Dwyer

Carol dumps poopy tanks bare handed

 Dumping tanks is the one and only unpleasant part of RV life. Usually you see the poor husband outside, bending over in rain, sleet or snow, while the little wife sits on her passenger seat throne with a book and small dog.

 Me, I like showing those babes that we, too, can get our butts out there. Real women empty tanks! I have seen wives’ jaws drop when they spot me out there wrestling sewer hose.  The men get big smiles on their faces and make cute comments to Steve about how well he has me trained, and can I also bait hooks and change oil.


Dumping is no big deal. Find the sewer hole in the ground. It’s called an RV Dump station. They have them at parks, truck stops, RV campgrounds.

Your sewer drain is on the driver side of your bus, halfway back. Pull your bus up nice and close to the hole. Remember you only have 15’ of hose to reach it. The bay door opens upward so you will have to bend over to get under that door to access your drain, and probably have to kneel down too, so bring a pad. For this exercise, let’s assume it’s not raining.

 You have two tanks in your bus and they both drain here. The black tank holds poop. The grey tank holds dirty shower water. The tanks are actually silver in color. Black and grey are just names. You can live aboard for about seven days before these tanks fill up. If you let them overflow, you will make nasty puddles on the ground, so avoid this at all costs. Both tanks share one common drain pipe. Its 3’ PVC with a protective overflow pan underneath it in case of accidents – sort of like a diaper for your bus.

In the overflow pan you will find 15’ of flexible sewer drain hose, smashed in there like a giant coiled snake, and often resting in a puddle of brown stinky wet stuff. Wait a minute! Apparently we have overflown? Flowed? into the overflow pan. Whose fault is that??!! And why don’t they make these pans a little bigger so you can squash the darn hose back in there without doing contortions?

There is no way to pull this 15’ hose out of the overflow pan without getting stuff on your hands. So better grab some gloves right now. And put them on. Disposables would be a good idea here. Unscrew the lid on the sewer hole on the ground.



Then stretch your hose out nice and flat, and stick the far end of it into that sewer hole. Do something to brace it in there so the tip won’t come flying out like a demonic fire hose spraying brown stuff all over kingdom come when you release your tank. We’re dealing with alot of pressure here. Sometimes folks leave you a rock or brick nearby for this.

 Sometimes I just have to hold my foot on it. For this I have to open the drain valve and then run fast like a bunny back to the hole to get my foot on its head before the raging river arrives. So sad they couldn’t even make sewer holes uniform! My hose rarely fits tightly.






Locate the two levers that release the black and grey tanks, and make sure they’re still shut.  

 Next, unscrew that large white cap at the bottom of your overflow drain pan. This gives you a big hole.



Thread your 15’ flexi hose up through the hole.


Now the business end of your hose is facing the sewer pipe where the poop will come out. But, there’s a black protective cap in the way. Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to unscrew that cap. Note the cap is facing downhill, and – as you’ve heard – poop falls downhill. As soon as you twist the cap off, I guarantee a cup of soupy brown gunk will fall out of the pipe and onto your hand. Horrors!!! It’s “just” a little bit of leakage left in the pipes from last time. Steve laughs and says, “Try to catch that gunk in the end of your hose!”  I do try, but that gunk falls at the speed of light, and there’s no way I can get the snake up in there fast enough. You just have to grimace and bear it.

 I have also found out that if the wind is blowing out from underneath the bus, it can blow this poopy water all over your legs and nice new sandals.  Then you feel the urge to take your shoes off to save them, but if you do that, you may find yourself standing barefoot in a puddle. And maybe it’s not even your own puddle, but a scary puddle from the people who dumped just before you. Most dump stations don’t have puddles, but some do. It might be clean rainwater, or hose water. But it could also be something more sinister. Who knows for sure? Only the Shadow do. Better wear old shoes next time.

 After this crisis passes, you can screw your snake hose onto the drain pipe. This is a very difficult quarter twist and it has to be lined up perfectly. I can’t tell you how many times I have screwed my hose on and it looked perfect and felt tight, only have a brown fountain spray out of that connection as soon as I turn it on. There’s a lot of pressure involved here. You’re supposed to dump your black tank first, then dump the grey tank last so you can use the barely dirty grey water to flush the bad stuff out of your line. But if you don’t have a tight connection and you turn the black water on first, you get the worst poop shower. Today steve said to me, “Hey, why don’t you just turn the grey water on first, briefly, to check your seal before releasing the black. Gee! Wish somebody had told me this a year ago.

 Ok, are we ready for blast off? When your seal is good, open the black tank lever first and let it drain. The black tank holds 45 gallons but we’ve never seen it full. After about five minutes, the flow slows to a drip. Close the black lever and open the gray lever to release the full one – 65 gallons of used sink and shower water.  It roars out with alot of pressure. You’ll have to stand around for 5-10 minutes enjoying the weather or shivering in the rain. Be alert to problems at either end of the hose. No matter how expensive a drain hose you buy, it seems they all crack and spring leaks way too soon, sometimes in a matter of months! The earlier you catch cracks, and the handier you are with duct tape, the longer your pitiful $30 hose will last.

 When the grey tank is empty and barely dripping, close the valve. Put the two caps back on – white for the overflow pan, black goes over the sewer drain.





Now you’re ready for the big finish. Unhook your hose from the bus end only. Hold it high up in the air with left hand, while you find and turn on the clean water hose with your right hand. Rinse out your sewer hose with clean water and let the rinse water flow into the ground. Turn the water off.


Pull your hose out of the ground. Curl it up. Wrestle it back into the too-small drain pan storage compartment.

 Close the lid on the bay door and dispose of your gloves. Now run for the kitchen sink to scrub your hands in hot soapy water. Congratulations! You have dumped tanks all by yourself and your bus is good to go for another seven days of fun, more or less depending on how many showers you take, dishes you wash and overnight guests you host. Living the RV life makes you so aware of the preciousness of water, and what staggering amounts of water are wasted in a normal home. Leaving water running while rinsing dishes or brushing your teeth is one example. Taking half-hour showers is a biggie.

 I am sure this article will obliterate any interest you may have had in RV living. Now let me confess to you that dumping tanks can be a regular chore OR a rare occurrence – you decide. If you camp in humble places, ($10-20 per night), you will have a common shared sewer or no sewer at all, and you will have to dump tanks. If you stay in the nicer, “gold shoe” places,  ($25-$40 per night) then you will have your own private sewer. You will still have to hook your snake up when you arrive and stow it when you leave, but this sewer flows on its own and you won’t have to see or handle any yucky stuff. Any time you see the word “Resort” in a name, you can bet it’s an upscale “gold shoe” place.

 Guess what, girls! I think I’ve had enough bravado. From now on, you’ll find me sitting pretty in the front seat with a book and a poodle while my husband does the dumping.

Goodbye, Firelake Grand – Our “Home Sweet Casino”

Sat. june 25, 2011

 While guarding our old house in Meeker, we also managed to spend several months parked at a Casino nearby. It’s Firelake Grand, at the corner of I-40 and 102, east of Shawnee. We love this Casino.

 I daresay there’s not another casino anywhere in the country that will let you stay free, with free water AND free electric. And yet we were blessed to have such a place right next door to us, at a time when we were in a financial bind, because we also had to pay water, electric, insurance and taxes on an unsold  house we couldn’t live in.

This sign is so big, people complain it is a highway hazard. Of course we also pay our “dues” here at Firelake by eating and playing in the casino, and by bringing all our friends here. We like to say that a casino parking lot has been our home for the last two years, and it’s not as bad as it sounds. . . .

We had grass and a creek right out our window.

We had our own picnic table and barbecue grill.

There were 5-lb bass to catch in the creek, and beavers to supervise!!  We had Molly the Muskrat, and assorted frogs.

We had the best parking spot of all – Number “0” down at the end, so we didn’t have any neighbors on one side. We didn’t have to worry about anyone looking in our windows. On the open side we had parking right next to our bus, enough for our two cars, plus all our guests.

  And did I mention that electric, water and parking were free!!! Unbelievable.

 I also had a beautiful two-mile paved circular track around the perimeter to walk, jog and ride my bike. Usually while watching gorgeous sunsets.

There were ponds with pretty colored fountains in the middle.

This place was like a mini Las Vegas, with security cameras and employees everywhere – the safest place on earth to live.

We never saw a single hooker or scrap of litter in two years.

There was always some excitement going on if you needed it.

RV’s and 18 wheelers were coming and going. New people to visit with.

In a short time, we acquired a flock of interesting new friends that we will cherish for a lifetime.

We had a wide open view of the Oklahoma weather coming in from the southwest. In spring our little creek would turn into a raging river, boiling out of its banks and licking at the heels of our bus.


In May the tornadoes would blow through like clockwork. Only once were we truly scared – it was about 3 am and our bus was rocking in an 80 mph wind. We could feel our bus wheels lifting off the ground as we braced ourselves in the hallway with all four slides pulled in. “Steve!” I said, “We’re going over!” But somehow, we didn’t. Sometimes the casino would blow its sirens, and residents within a ten mile radius would come running. The stocky-built casino was the best tornado shelter in the county, and they generously shared it with the community.   

 There were cool bands on the weekends, car shows, and big name performers.

Not to mention black jack and slots whenever you needed a fix.

And three great restaurants within walking distance. But why walk?! A cute little shuttle came by every 30 minutes. Just step outside your bus and the driver will take you to the door. We felt like royalty.

 We humorously nicknamed ourselves the Social Directors of the Firelake Parking Lot. We made a point to become best buddies with shuttle bus drivers, and even invited our pal Les and his wife over for a barbecue dinner one night.

 When when we had to leave for 8 days for a flight to Alaska, we were able to ask our good buddy Les to look after our bus. He had to drive by every 30 minutes anyway. He guarded it like a bulldog the whole time we were gone.

 We also had our own gas station, regular and diesel, for ten cents less than competitors, and if you used your casino player card, you got an extra 3 cents off.

There was a handy US mailbox at the gas station and –OH! – the best coffee in the universe! Three flavors – none of them pansy coffee. They never let it get cold in the thermos, or cook down to a thick tar, like so many other convenience stores I have known. And only 75-cents for a giant 24-ounce refill. No tax! Keep it simple. Bring your own cup. Shawnda will greet you with a huge smile every time. They even have steamed milk for real lattes, not the hypersweet dispenser lattes.  No matter where I go in the USA, I haven’t had better coffee. Now when I have to pay $3.57 for a large (rediculously labeled “Venti,”) I grieve for my Firelake 24-oz for 75-cents. 

 In a hurry? There’s a grill here with a great menu open 24 hours a day – whatever you need. Breakfast sandwiches to go and a great Philly steak for lunch.

 It was just about paradise here at Firelake Grand.

Only one minor inconvenience here – we had no private sewer drain. But what do you expect for free? Other places charge $20 to $30 per night for this. Living off our storage tanks means we could not do much laundry aboard the bus.

Our casino did generously provide a shared drain, and it was only three car lengths away. We used to look longingly out at it from our bedroom window. Every seven days we had to pull in our slides and drive the bus 20 feet to empty our tanks. We usually took a few laps around the parking lot just to exercise the motor and give Carol some driving practice.  We could have put a folding chair in our special spot “0” to save it , but since the sewer was only twenty feet away, we could just saunter over there if we saw a new RV approaching.  If it weren’t for our weekly trip across the parking lot, we might have forgotten how to pack up and drive this bus. There’s a lot to it, but we had it down to rocket science – pull in four slides, stow breakable stuff, raise leveling jacks, stow Hughes internet satellite on roof, unhook electric and water, start your engines!

 Hanging out at the casino was definitely a lot more fun than being stranded in the back yard of our old house in Meeker. Also the casino was a lot closer to Shawnee for shopping and tennis.

 So, thanks for the good times, Firelake Grand. We’ll always consider you “Home Base!”    


Giving Up Tennis for the RV Life

Friday june 24, 2011

(sorry I don’t have a single photo to go with this article.)

Today I got to play tennis for the last time. I had a good workout with hard singles & doubles. I choked out a simple “Good bye” and then walked off the court with my back to my friends so they wouldn’t see me bawling. They thought I would be back tomorrow.  I couldn’t bring myself to say the truth: “I won’t be back here for a long, long time.”

 My dear tennis buddy Eric called a week later and said, “Hey, when are you coming back to the court?” I had to say, “I don’t know when” because I couldn’t say “Never,” which is probably the correct answer.

 For years I have played tennis three times a week, 2 to 3 hours per day. That is a lot of exercise. Tennis is a central part of my life, my identity, my health, my equilibrium.

Sure, I will be able to find occasional tennis on the road, but it’s not the same. Tennis doubles foursomes are very much like bridge foursomes. They go on for ten, twenty years. There is no point in me going out to a court alone and standing around with a racquet and a long face. Players already have their two or four when they arrive. They don’t show up with 3. They know random players don’t exist.

Tennis is not as popular as it was in the 60’s and 70’s. Football and basketball have taken over in high school because the more players you have on the field, the more parents can show up and cheer.  Tennis is also very big in country clubs and private indoor tennis clubs, to which I don’t belong. As a traveler I couldn’t possibly join a club. Occasionally you find organized tennis in city parks. In Tucson I could play every morning at Ft. Lowell Park. Just show up, give them $5, and they would sort 20 or more retirees into sets of four. Without this set up, I would be forced to beg, read bulletin boards, post on Craig’s list and pray for some other player to get sick so I could wheedle my way into a group of regulars. Sadly, I would just have to leave town the minute I got in. So tennis and the RV gypsy life don’t mix.

 However, it’s OK!!

 Giving up tennis is going to be an easy sacrifice for me because it’s time to head out.

Big Steve has been patiently waiting for me for six long years. He retired from the state of Oklahoma in 2002 after 31 years of service as Motor Pool Director. Since then he has been hanging around the house waiting for me to retire from my job as a self-employed portrait photographer. Don’t get me wrong – Steve was busier than a one armed paper hanger while waiting. The first thing he did upon retiring was to let go of our cleaning lady. He said it would be awkward to watch her putting clean socks in his dresser drawer while he was lying on the bed watching Oprah. So while I was working 60 hours a week on photography, Steve took over everything else — the cooking, cleaning, laundry, 4 acres of yard work and vehicle maintenance. He also did bookkeeping and lots of photo production work and computer repair. Steve is my hero and a jack of all trades. We made a great team. But the clock was ticking on our retirement. 2008 was definitely time for me to hang it up.  I’ll have to switch to walking and bike riding for exercise on the road.


Getting BessyBus ready for First Big Trip to Omaha-Milwaukee-Seattle

 Thu June 23, 2011

Two days before D-Day (Departure Day)

Goodby Blacky Blazer, Hello No-Name Dodge Dakota

Our first destination is picked for us — luckily – otherwise we’re dazzled by too many choices.

 Our Seattle brother, Paul and Dee Dwyer, have a son getting married Aug. 20. Our special nephew, Patrick Dwyer, will wed Maria Cuenca. We decide to swing by Milwaukee to see Carol’s sister Sharon and family. Haven’t seen them in way too long! We also want to see Omaha so we will swing wide to the west on our way of Milwaukee.

 Steve has been working frantically all week to make BessyBus road ready. The generator had a stripped nut so we couldn’t replace the fuel filter. We had Cummins freight in Oklahoma City put in a new fuel line, water pump belt, filter, oil change. We also replaced the coolant recovery tank on the Cummins ISL400 engine, but Steve had to modify the new tank to fit. The old one had a crack by the cap and wasn’t holding pressure. We used our dear repair man, Gary Kjenshus RV Repair, to replace the awning topper on the driver side front. Gary also removed our obsolete KingDome tv antenna and replaced it with a WineGuard Travel’r SK3005. Now we’ll have HD programming! Yay!

We used to tow a black ’05 Chevy Trailblazer and Carol loved that frisky little, comfy riding thing. But sadly, we had to say goodbye to Blacky Blazer because it wasn’t big enough to hold Steve’s inflatable boat. He has a 10.5 ft Sea Eagle inflatable with a 5.5 hp Johnson antique motor. In order to stuff all this into the little Blazer, he had to put the boat in the back and then hang the motor on a receiver hitch carrier out back. There was no room left to put groceries or anything in the back. And we needed our back seat free for guests. RV dinners, you know. That’s a big thing.

My photo isn’t doesn’t show this very well, but take my word for it – the motor on the back of the Blazer looked like a wrapped dead body. The motor was lying on its back and covered with tarps and rope. It had a head, plus two feet sticking up, plus arms folded over like a corpse. It was creepy, but no one ever messed with our Blazer. 

We buy everything out of Craig’s List (or Ebay) so in May Steve flew to Detroit and brought a nice clean, 2008 Dodge Dakota back to Oklahoma. Steve is a Chevy man but he thought the Chevy Colorado was a little too small for his big 6’3″ body. The Dakota was 1000 pounds lighter than a full size truck, so he could keep his old hitch set up. With our new Dakota, both boat and motor fit neatly in the bed, and it’s protected by a locking cover. Next he had to convert his Dakota to a proper tow vehicle:

1) install new a tow bar on front. (Keep old tow bar on bus.)

2) install auxillary brakes.  We use M&G — an air hose runs from bus to toad and makes the durn thing apply its own brakes whenever big daddy applies bus brakes up front.

3) install Pressure Pro – this warning system tells you if any of your tires are getting low or flat. It monitors all 6 bus tires, plus all four tires on the tow. It is not a question of IF, but WHEN you will get a flat tire on your tow. Then you just keep dragging your vehicle down the road on its rims. The driver of a 16-ton bus cannot feel any resistance from a truck weighing two tons.

4) install system for remote turn signals and brake lights. So when momma bus turns left or right, or puts on her brakes, baby bus will do the exact same thing. Without this, we will be arrested or hit in the rear, whichever comes first.

Looks like we’ll be all ready to go by Saturday.


Misfortune causes 2 year delay; BessyBus Survives Winter of ’10

Wed June 22, 2011

Its three days before D-Day, the day we really, finally get to leave Meeker, OK and go traveling full time. We have been waiting for this day for three years, since January 30, 2008. That’s when we sold our house for the first time, but it didn’t stick.








 We held the note for the buyer, with both parents co-signing. The buyer did not pay. After $10,000 in legal fees and 18 months, we got our house back but buyer kept $85,000 worth of photo equipment and threw away 20 years worth of negatives. The court awarded us a judgment but buyer and both his parents declared bankruptcy so they would not have to pay a dime. Why, you ask, would we foolishly agree to hold the note? It’s because the buyer was self-employed and out-of-state, and we were eager to go.

  We knew the parents were financially stable and naively believed they wouldn’t declare bankruptcy with their stable pension income. Wrong!

The judge handed us back the key to our old house on December 8, 2009. We had sold it right before the big crash and got it back right after. Great timing! Sell low, buy high, we always say.

We could not move back inside the house as all our furniture was gone, and we didn’t want to live inside anyway. We were perfectly happy in our RV. But we had to park it in the back yard to protect the empty, 5,000 square foot house from vandalism until we found a second buyer. (This time we would be sure to get one with a regular bank loan.) We had a lot of work to do to get this house ready for market. 

We ended up living in the back yard on and off for 18 months. We had to get special dispensation from the city manager to park an RV long term in city limits. Our driveway was long, curved and tree lined. It was a horror getting the bus in there. We trimmed trees but still ripped scratches in the side of our bus. By a miracle of God, there was a city sewer manhole cover right in the back yard, so we could stay put once we squashed the bus back there. Without that sewer, we would have had to leave every seven days to dump. We ran a drain hose 15 feet to the manhole cover and propped it slightly open. We got our fresh water from a faucet in the corner of the yard. We invested in a long, expensive 50 amp electric cord and then had our electrician friend, Jim, install a 50 am plug on the side of the house. Then we went to work, painting and cleaning up the house, and listing it with a realtor.

BessyBus survives “Winter of ‘10” in Okie Blizzard

The winter of 09-10 was bitter cold with a couple blizzards. We learned a lot about how to stay warm in an RV. We had electric heat tape wrapped around our fresh water hose, but we still had to leave the kitchen and bathroom faucets dripping all night every night. That ran up our water bill, no doubt.

Our water hose still froze up on bitter cold nights but the next morning the sun would shine and by early afternoon the hose would thaw. Many times the hose was buried in a blanket of snow, and this actually insulated it from cold.

We had our bay (basement) thermostat set to 42 degrees. A couple times our fresh water froze at the faucet right inside the bus.  Steve discovered that cold air was sneaking into the bay through the sewer hose. It was just like an open door. So one of us (Steve) would have to trudge through the snow in his bathrobe to disconnect the sewer hose and cap off the plumbing pipe.  

During the day we could heat our bus with electric heat only from the Hydro-Hot. But at bedtime we had to pull out all our quilts and switch on the diesel boost. The diesel burner ran all night long to keep our bus around 65 degrees.  

Steve estimates we used 70 gallons of diesel over that winter. With a 150 gallon diesel tank, we had plenty left. It was a great blessing not to have to drive the bus out of there for more diesel fuel. Actually, our wheels were frozen in place and our driveway was a block long skating rink with deep drop-offs on both sides. We never could have made it. We love our Hydro-Hot, as compared to propane. 

Finally on April 29, 2011, we sold our house. Pinch us!  The albatross is gone! The chains are cut! The prisoners are set free! Now let’s get this bus out of the back yard before the new family moves in. We’ve killed all the grass under the bus. Must be time to hit the road, Jack! 

– carol ann dwyer