Eloquence

Something I lack.

Someone put into words a concept that I’ve been trying but failing to properly convey for years:

Children become adults—autonomous individuals—by separating from their parents: by rebelling, by rejecting, by, at the very least, asserting.

The attributes of adulthood—responsibility, maturity, self-sacrifice, self-control—are no longer valued, and frequently no longer modeled. So children are stuck: they want to be adults, but they don’t know how. They want to be adults, but it’s easier to remain children. Like children, they can only play at being adults.

There is a concept in the Navy that’s a bit foreign to civilians but it’s apt here. It’s called “working yourself out of a job”. The military is a young man’s game. It’s a physically challenging life and the toll can be high even when not in combat. So, in the military, a solid 50% of the job is to teach the people coming up behind you how to do your job. If a military member can’t perform their duties for any reason, and there aren’t at least two or three other people who can step in seamlessly, that military member failed.

I took the same approach with my kids. My job as a parent was to prepare my kids to take care of themselves; not to coddle them through every situation but to teach them to figure things out on their own. Teach them to improvise, adapt and overcome.

Many parents these days seem to have lost sight of that job. They want to be their kid’s best friends rather than their parents. Pro-tip: You can be your kid’s best friend when they’re out on their own, self-sufficient and have kids of their own to raise. If you try to do it before then, that time will likely never come.

Anyway, the entire column linked above is well worth the read. It’s not long and he says it way better than I ever could.

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The End of an Era

The old truck is sold. That truck and I have been through a lot together over the past 15 years or so and I’m really going to miss it.

I’m glad to have the newer, more powerful truck but it just doesn’t have the character of the old one. By the way, We’ve been on the waiting list for a spot to store the camper at the Navy MWR lot on the base since we bought it. A spot finally opened up and I towed the camper over there a few days ago. With the new truck, I could barely feel the camper back there. The difference in power is really amazing.

But I digress. We got a lot of interest in the truck…I was actually shocked at how much…and we sold it within two days of putting it up for sale. Probably should have asked for more considering. The guy who bought it is a diesel engine mechanic by trade. He hit a deer with his truck a few weeks ago and really needed a new truck quickly. He said he already knew a guy with a low mileage used engine he can drop in it next weekend and have it on the road again almost immediately.

Really nice guy. I’m glad it’s going to someone who can fix it and will get some good use out of it.

The end of an era.

On a related topic, I’ve got a 5 day trip to The Estate planned for next week. I’ve got a tractor reserved (again) to rent so we’ll give that another shot…hopefully the weather will hold up this time. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Update Again – Updated

Update – I posted pictures of the CB install below. I’m just using an old magnetic mount antenna for the moment until I decide how to install the permanent antenna(s).

I know it’s been several days since I’ve posted. Been busy, both with work and life.

So, an update on the Truck situation:

I realized that the ladder rack on the new truck had been overloaded at some point in the past and had cracked the aluminum (not fiberglass as I’d originally thought) topper. It was so bad, in fact, that one leg of the ladder rack had almost punched completely through. So I pulled the ladder rack (anyone want to buy a ladder rack with an amber flashing light on it?).

I used my almost forgotten skills as an aircraft maintainer to patch it: I stop drilled the cracks and JB welded them closed as best I could, riveted an aluminum patch over the area and sealed it up with Permatex RTV. I still need to squirt some white spray paint on the RTV to make it look a bit better, but it’s watertight. Had a bad rainstorm yesterday which served as a good (and successful) test of my patching skills.  Everything stayed dry.

Last week, I went and dragged the old truck back home. That was an adventure but not because of the new truck.

I’d reserved an 18′, 12,000lb capacity trailer from a local equipment rental place.   I reserved it for the length, not the weight handling. The old truck only weighs a bit less than 6500lbs, but it has a 13 foot wheel base so in order to get it balanced correctly on the trailer, I needed some space to move it around.

Well, I went to pick up the trailer and the one I’d reserved hadn’t been returned by the last person who rented it yet. The guy at the counter told me that they had another 18″ tilt bed trailer but it was only rated for 7500lbs capacity. The old truck weighs a hair less than 6500lbs with me in it, so I decided to go with that. I assumed they knew their equipment and so didn’t measure it, I just hooked up and left.

Mistake.

After 5 hours on the road I arrived at Salem, paid the shop there $50 for the half hour of labor they charged me (I’m pretty sure they actually spent more time on it than that, they cut me a break) and set up to load the truck. If you’ve never used one, a tilt bed trailer is naturally back heavy so as soon as you unlatch it, it tilts down at the back automatically, you drive or winch the vehicle to be towed up onto it and when the front wheels get past the balance point, it tilts back down level, then you latch it, tie the vehicle down and you’re on your way, easy peasy.

Except, as I quickly realized, the trailer wasn’t an 18′ after all. It was a 16′. Because the deck was too short, the front wheels would pass the balance point and tip the back of the deck up off the ground before the rear wheels were on. So I’d end up with the front of the truck on the trailer, the rear of the deck up against the bottom of the truck with the rear wheels still on the ground.

One of their mechanics saw my plight and came out to give me a hand. They didn’t have any ramps, which I think would have worked, so we brainstormed for a while to figure out what to do. After close to an hour of futzing around we finally came up with a successful solution. On the edge of their lot there was a curb about 6 inches high and the grass on the other side of the curb was as high also. I drove the truck up over the curb onto the grass and turned it around facing the parking lot. Then we backed the trailer up to the curb so that the back end of the deck was over the grass but the wheels were still on the parking lot. What that meant was that when the front wheels of the truck got too far forward and the trailer deck tilted, the rear of the deck was only about 8 inches above the grass and curb rather than the 14 inches or so if it had been on flat ground. We put the old truck into 4WD low and basically climbed it over the 8 inch gap to get it onto the trailer.

So, with the truck on the trailer, I positioned it to the rear of the deck as far as I was comfortable doing and then chained it down securely.

There were only 3 feet of extra deck for positioning, so I wasn’t able to get the balance point right. With a Pickup, the balance point is very forward and there was no room to move the truck back far enough, which means too much weight on the tongue. Well, I wasn’t going home empty handed so I just decided to deal with it.

What that really meant, though, was on the highway at anything over about 55mph the trailer would start swaying dramatically. A 10,000lb trailer swaying wildly behind a tow vehicle that only weighs 2/3 of that is…um…exciting. At any rate, what that meant was that I ended up having to keep my speed around 50 mph or so for the 285 miles all the way home. The trip home took significantly longer than the trip out.

But I made it with no real problems. The really surprising thing to me is that I made it on a single tank of gas and still had over a 1/4 tank left when I got home. That was even towing through the mountains for the first 150 miles or so and getting stuck in crawling traffic for 30 minutes at the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel. I calculated my gas mileage at 13.7mpg average. While towing a 10,000lb trailer that’s not bad at all. Of course some of that can be chalked up to driving so slow, but still, that’s way better than I expected.

The difference in power between the two trucks is actually pretty amazing. I was satisfied with how much power my old truck had, but the new one puts it to shame.

Anyway, so now that the old truck is back home, I’ve been working on moving all my accessories over to the new truck. I’ve got the Winch, Backup Camera and radio with the screen I use with the backup camera (those were very important with the topper on the new truck, I can’t see hardly anything behind me when backing up), XM radio receiver, and GPS permanent wiring installed in the new truck. Oh, and I moved all my tools, towing/winching gear and miscellaneous accoutrements from the bed toolbox of the old truck into the topper side toolboxes of the new one. I really like how accessible everything is from those side boxes.

I only have three things left to install:

2500W power inverter: Interestingly, they already had a set of 1/0 cables going from the engine compartment into the passenger side of the passenger compartment, but it looks like whatever they had installed was somewhere in the footrest area of the passenger seat. The power inverter is too big to mount there so the cables are too short. I’ll have to run new ones.

The aftermarket automatic headlight control: I read up about installing a factory automatic headlight switch, but it seems that you can’t just install the switch and sensor even though the truck is pre-wired for it…you have to get the computer re-programmed and there are lots and lots of truck forum threads about how hit or miss it is for Ford dealerships to have the ability to make the change…apparently it’s not just a “switch” they have to flip in the software, it requires writing specific information into specific lines of code in the software…and even then, if you have something serviced and they restore the computer back to the “as built” software from the factory, they disable the auto headlights again. I actually have the cable interface and computer software I need to make changes like that in the software, but I’m not confident enough in my ability to do things like that. I bought the interface and software just for programming chip keys for my wife’s 2011 Taurus when we bought it. That was cheaper than getting new keys programmed at the dealer. But a side-effect is that the software can also make changes to the computer settings and software or just be used to perform analysis and troubleshooting. It’s pretty amazing how much information you can get about how the engine is running when everything is monitored and controlled by a computer. The downside is that when everything’s controlled by a computer, if anything breaks, the computer will detect the fault and won’t let the vehicle run anymore. If my new truck throws a sparkplug like my old one did, I seriously doubt that I’d even be able to convince the computer to let it start, let alone be able to drive it around on 7 cylinders like I can the old truck.

Anyway, I think it’s probably better just to use the aftermarket solution I already have. If I do a clean install (and I do) it’s just one additional, relatively unobtrusive, switch on the dashboard (that’s used to turn off the headlights in the dark if you want to over-ride the automatic feature).

Finally, the last thing to install is the CB radio*. The new truck’s interior is different enough (both due to model year changes and the fact that the old truck is a Lariat and the new one is the base model XL trim package) that I struggled to find a place to put the CB that wouldn’t be ugly as sin or in the way. I was laboring over it when my wife came out, sat in the truck for about 15 seconds and said “why don’t you just put it here”. To which I responded “duh…why didn’t I think of that?”. Sometimes it’s good to have a smart wife.

Update – picture added

Basically, there’s a cupholder at the bottom center of the dash where a center console would be if there were a center console. It folds down and I don’t anticipate needing it often, but the way it’s in there, I don’t see an elegant way of removing it to put the CB there without it being ugly as can be. She suggested just mounting the CB vertically to the front of the cupholder face. That way most of the time when the cupholder is closed, the face of the CB will be up and easy to see and access,

but if we need the cupholder we can just swing the CB down, the cupholder will open above it and the CB will be horizontal with the face to the rear.

[update – The radio was a little too heavy for the cupholder to stay closed, so I added strips of velcro to either side to help hold it up.  That’s worked well so far.]

Harder to see and access, but only temporary while the cupholder is in use. Genius. There’s plenty of room beneath and behind all that for the back of the CB and the cables to have room to move. I’ll post a picture when I get it installed.

The other question is the antennas for it.  On the old truck I have dual firestik antennas mounted to top of the bed rails just behind the cab, one on each side.  the problem I see with the new truck is that mounting them like that with the aluminum topper, the topper will interfere with and block a large bit of the signal from them.  aluminum is a very good conductor of RF energy so having that huge sheet of aluminum alongside and behind the antennas will play hell with the radiation pattern.  I’m thinking I need to switch to a single antenna and mount it in front of the cab on the driver side opposite of where the radio antenna is mounted.  I’d get better range if I mounted it to the top of the cab or even to the top of the topper (that would make a great ground plane) but I’m afraid it would be too tall and I’d be smacking it against and catching it on stuff all the time.  Any opinions about that?

Anyway, that’s where I’m at and what’s been occupying my time lately.  I still need to get the old truck cleaned up, get some pictures taken and get it listed for sale.  I’m hoping I can find someone with the ability (and workspace, which is what I lack) to replace that bad head themselves and have a decent work truck for a small amount of money.   A new head can be had for about $500 so I’m thinking ask $2500 for the truck and some enterprising do it yourselfer can have a solid work truck for $3k and maybe 8 hours of labor.

As usual, if you’ve doggedly stuck with reading this long-winded post for this long…thanks for reading.

*Yes, I know that CB radio is passe, but I came of age in the era that (at least in the rural community where I grew up) everyone had CB radios in their vehicles and probably a base station at home with a directional antenna on a 30 foot tower…poor man’s ham radio setup.  The CB I have has sentimental value…I bought this radio from a truck stop when I was a teenager and have had it installed in every primary vehicle I’ve ever driven starting with my very first 1973 Dodge Charger SE.  Having this particular radio in my truck, even if I don’t use it much, has significant sentimental value for me.  I will have this radio in my vehicles until I flat can’t keep it working any more – which, considering my 21 years of experience as an Aviation Electronics Technician and associate’s degree in electronics technology, will probably be when I die.

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Truck Update

I finally got estimates from the shop on repairing the truck. I’d pretty much written it off already but their response pretty much confirmed it.

A new engine, if and when they can find one, would run about $8k. The truck’s pretty beat up…I own a truck because I use and abuse them, not as a status symbol…so even with a new engine, it wouldn’t be worth near that much, and there’s no telling what else could give out down the road. There are already some iffy things on it that I’ve been thinking about getting fixed pre-emptively. I just don’t think it’s worth it to sink that kind of money into it.

Plus it would still be the same type of problematic engine that has a tendency to blow spark plugs under stress.

I could get the head replaced, but then I’d still have another head and the entire block with 250k+ miles on it and I don’t think I’d trust it to tow the camper after this experience.

And it would still be the same problematic engine that has a tendency to blow spark plugs under stress.

So, I decided to start looking for another truck.

I’ve had a problem for a long time with the trend in trucks. They used to be utilitarian work vehicles that could be had for a reasonable price.

Now, they’re basically luxury vehicles and finding one without all the stupid expensive extras is pretty hard. I don’t need a 7.1 surround, bluetooth enabled, Blu-ray capable entertainment system with voice control navigation and integrated Sirius/XM receiver,  I need to be able to hook up and tow a 6,500 lb trailer up a mountain reliably.  I don’t need Corinthian Leather power seats and power windows and power door locks and power sunroof and power headrest, I need to be able to throw a ton of gravel or dirt in the back and not have to worry about staining the seats or getting the carpet muddy after I’ve unloaded it at my job site.

You get the picture.

At any rate, I started looking at what I could find. I also started doing some serious research into diesel engines because diesel is king when it comes to towing. Basically, what I found was that Dodges and GMs have, until recently, had lots of problems with dependability and long term reliability. I hear that their newest offerings are as good as any, but I can’t afford the newest offerings of anything. I found very few models of any make newer than 2015 that were in my price range and they were “baby” trucks that don’t have the payload or towing capacity that I need.

I’m sorry if that offends any Mopar or GMC fans, but it is what it is. Personally, even though I’ve always had Fords, I’m not wedded to them emotionally and would have snapped up a Dodge, Chevy or GMC had I found one for a price I liked and had good reviews for dependability. Sadly, they just weren’t out there.

What I found for Ford was that the engines to get (for 3/4 ton trucks) are the 1999 – 2003 7.4 liter and the 2015 and earlier 6.7 liter (that one has a great rep and makes an astonishing amount of torque). Obviously, I couldn’t afford anything new enough to have a 6.7 so I tried to find an older 7.4 that I could afford. The added bonus with those is that the winch mount on my 2004 is compatible with the 1999-2003 trucks, so that would save me several hundred dollars in buying a new winch mount.

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t find anything that was in decent shape, within my distance limit (I’m not flying to California to buy a truck) that I could afford. many of them with lower mileage (less than 250k) were almost as much money as a 2015 model. I understand that considering the excellent reputation the 7.4L powerstroke has, but it didn’t help me out any.

After a week or so of futile looking I decided to expand my horizons and add gasoline engine trucks to the mix. Apparently they fixed the problem with blowing out plugs in 2007, but from 2007 to 2010 there were other reliability issues to contend with. In 2011 they introduced a 6.2L V8 16 valve engine that makes an impressive amount of power for a gas engine and has a very good reputation for reliability. The only bad thing people mentioned about that engine is that it has 16 spark plugs…an upper and a lower for each cylinder. Makes it an expensive PITA to change spark plugs, but that’s the only negative I’ve seen about it.

I quickly found a 2011 F-250 within (right at the edge, but it was barely in there) my price range. Part of what got it into my price range was that it was a commercial truck with few of the “normal” bells and whistles. It has shift on the fly electronic 4WD (I’d have been fine with locking hubs and manual shifting), it has A/C and cruise control, but that’s about it. Two speaker plane jane AM/FM radio, industrial style vinyl floor coverings instead of carpet. Manual windows, manual seat adjustments, manual door locks, manual mirror adjustments. Vinyl seats. Perfect.

As an added bonus it already has a front grille guard that will accommodate my 12k winch. That’s a savings of about $700 right there.

The only downside is that it has a topper (the kind that replaces the tailgate in the back, so if I take it off, I’ve got to find a tailgate from a junkyard somewhere), but I’m actually undecided on that at the moment. It’s got a ladder rack on top that I don’t need and I’ll definitely lose that, but it has upward opening doors with easy to access toolboxes on both sides. Those toolboxes are very convenient. Much better than having to jump into the bed every time I want to get something out of the toolbox. Also, the topper is tall enough that I can still put pretty big things in there, I just can’t “dump” things into the back like you can with an open bed. Unfortunately, I seem to do that a lot so I may end up having to pull the topper and sell it if I just can’t get used to it or it’s in my way too much.

At any rate, as a company truck it was a one owner vehicle and has surprisingly low miles: 141k. The carfax shows regular and complete maintenance records and shows that the spark plugs and coil packs were just changed at about 120k so they should still have 80k or so on them which is a plus.

It also has a class 5 receiver hitch and factory trailer brake controller. The truck/engine combo is capable of towing 12.5k which is comparable to what I’d have been able to handle with a 2003 and a 7.4L diesel, so I don’t think I’m compromising on performance.

I went and took a look at it last weekend. Drove it around for about an hour including taking it up on the highway. It ran great, drives well, handles smoothly (for a truck), has great power is just a comfortable truck. While I had it I tested the 4wd system, it shifted into 4wd smoothly and quickly and worked as advertised. Basically seems to be a solid vehicle. I made them an offer after I got back and now I have a new (to me) Emergency Escape Vehicle.

(click to make bigger)

One thing I’m going to do is get the transmission serviced and inspected. I’m taking it in for that on Monday. I’m thinking about having the timing chains replaced as a pre-emptive measure, but that won’t be cheap so I’m still mulling it over. I may do it myself but it will take some time as I don’t have the best place to do it (garage is too small) and you basically have to take the entire front end of the truck apart to get to it. Oh, and I definitely need tires with more aggressive tread to get up onto the property in TN.

The one thing about this that feels strange to me: every time I’ve ever bought a vehicle in the past, it’s because it was “time” and I was excited about getting a new vehicle. This time, even though I’m happy with my purchase and think I made the right decision, I’m not overly excited. In fact I’d describe myself as “ambivalent” about it. I really, really liked my old truck and although I still believe that from a practical standpoint, it’s the right decision to let it go, it just makes me sad. I’ve had that truck for about 15 years and we’ve been through a lot together. All things that have a beginning also have an end.

At any rate, now that the personal truck shortage has been alleviated, the next question is what to do with the old one. It’s still in Salem about 285 miles away, it has a lot of stuff on it that I want to get off and transfer to the new truck (winch, CB radio that I’ve had in every vehicle I’ve ever owned, 2500w power inverter, all the stuff in the toolbox, etc.) plus the mechanic that it’s at pretty much told me that there’s no place local in Salem that would give me a decent price for it, most likely about $200 for scrap. Heck, the winch mount on the front is worth probably $500. It cost $700 brand new and it’s in perfect condition. Plus it’s still a fully functional truck minus the head that needs to be replaced. I wouldn’t trust it to tow what I need to tow any more, but if someone needs just a general hauler for local use, it would be great for that. I’m thinking take off the winch mount and sell it and the truck on Craigslist. I think I can get $500 from the winch mount and probably $1-2k for the truck “as-is”.

The problem is getting it back home. I initially thought I could get get a car dolly from U-haul, but unfortunately, they don’t make one big enough to handle a 6500 lb truck. They also don’t have a trailer that can handle that kind of load.

I checked all the other rental places like Penske and Hertz and same story. Getting a little disheartened, I decided to check with commercial auto transportation places. I found a couple and got quotes. $550 to bring that truck home. That’s pretty much a non-starter. So then I started looking into equipment rental places. I finally found one in the area that has a trailer that will do the job. It’s $125 a day which is reasonable for an 18′ tilt bed equipment trailer. The trailer itself weighs 3200 lbs, plus the truck weight of about 6500 is a total load of 9700 lbs…well within the ability of my new truck. The trailer can handle 12,000 lb loads so it’s easily able to handle the truck.

They actually have a trailer that’s even closer to what I need that’s 600 lbs lighter with a load handling capability of over 7,000 lbs, but it’s only 16 feet long. The wheelbase of the truck is about 13 feet and the body is 20 feet long so I just don’t think that one is quite big enough. I may not have enough back and forth wiggle room to get the truck’s weight balanced correctly on the trailer and there would be a lot of truck hanging over the front and/or back ends of the trailer. I think the 18′ is a better bet even if it is a little overkill in the weight handling capacity.

Of course, one of the downsides of renting from a company that typically works with construction companies is that they aren’t open on the weekends so I’ll have to take a day off work to make the trip during the week. I made a reservation for Thursday and Friday next week. That will give me time to get the truck into the transmission shop to make sure the tranny is in good shape and up to the task.

So, hopefully within the next 8 days, the old warhorse will be back in town and I’ll be able to transfer all my personal gear to he new truck and sell the old one to offset some of these unplanned expenses at least a little bit.

So…..I know this was long and if you hung in there all the way to the end, thanks. I just needed to vent a little bit. Sometimes writing this stuff all out helps me review and solidify my reasoning to make sure I’m thinking it through all the way. Call it a sanity check. At any rate, that’s where we’re at. Hopefully within a couple of weeks this whole ordeal will be over and my household will be back to “normal”…such as it is.

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Planes, Trains and Automobiles

So, at some point, I’m going to have to make it back to Salem to pick up my truck. The original plan was for my wife to drive me there in her car and then both of us drive back independently. It’s about a 4 hour drive.

But, now that gas prices are going up, I decided to take a look at other ways to get there.

First I checked for flights. Salem is a suburb of Roanoke which has a regional airport that I know the major airlines serve, so I took a look. First, there are no direct flights from Norfolk to Roanoke. Every one would have to go through a hub, and would take a minimum of 8 hours (not counting checking in, getting through security etc). So then I checked from the Newport News airport which is about 45 minutes from here. They do have direct flights, but the costs are in the $350 range. Incidentally the only way to get a flight from Norfolk, even with a transfer, for less than about $300 is to book it at least 3 weeks in advance.

So that’s out.

Next I checked Amtrac. There’s a train station in downtown Norfolk, so maybe I can take the train. That’s what I’d do in Europe if I needed to get somewhere that far away. Heck, on a trip to Germany several years ago, my wife and I took a high speed train from Karlsruhe (where my company’s headquarters is) to Paris and got there in 3 hours for roughly $250 for both of us (round trip). That would have been about a 5 or 6 hour drive each way.

But, alas, the only Amtrac service would go through Hampton, and then to Northern Virginia, and then back south to Roanoke, would cost $133 and would take between 13 and 14 hours.

So I tried bus service. Greyhound would be only $77, but departs at 3:40am and would take almost 9 hours. That’s actually a viable option if I had no other alternatives, but it’s hardly the most efficient or convenient from my point of view.

Finally, I checked how much it would cost for a rental car. One way from here to Roanoke at National (that’s what my company uses so I’ve got a membership there) would be $69.72 total with fees and taxes and everything. Now, granted, I’d have to pay for the gas to get there which at current prices would cost somewhere around $50 so the total would be closer to $120, but I can be there in around 4 hours. My time is valuable to me. 4 hours of my life is well worth the extra $65.

If I rent a car, I can depart on my schedule, be there in 4 hours, drop the car off, uber to the mechanic for about $12, pick up my truck and be home in time for dinner.

If my wife takes me, we have to pay for gas for her car in both directions, so we’d only be saving a total of maybe $35, but she loses 8 hours of her life as well.

And they wonder why Americans don’t take public transportation like Europeans do.

By the way, because of my membership and the fact that I rent cars for work a lot, I actually have some bonus points I can use that gets the car rental down to about $45, which ends up making that option virtually the same cost as my wife driving me, so that’s definitely the way I’ll do it. Most people wouldn’t have that option so I didn’t mention it before because even without it, the rental car and driving it is still likely the best bet for most people.

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Update

OK, so I haven’t posted in a while because life has been…um…eventful.

Had another business trip to Seattle (someone was shot on the street just down from my hotel while I was there). After I got back from that, we packed up the camper and dogs, hooked up to the truck and headed out to The Estate.

So, we got there fine, but it had been raining for most of the week, so it was too wet and muddy to try to get the camper up there, so we found a KOA RV park to camp out in. The camper worked out great. Enough room for us to do our thing. Everything except the water heater worked as advertised, and I think the water heater was user error. What was happening is that the water heater was coming on OK, but the hot water was intermittent and coming out of whatever faucet it felt like, hot or cold. The only water that was consistently hot was the flush water for the toilet. We just shut it off and used the stove to heat water. Come to find out, there are bypass valves that basically connect both sides of the water heater to the entire plumbing system…this is for winterization to ensure that everything is equally winterized.

I didn’t know about that so I didn’t close those valves. I’m pretty sure that’s what the problem is. Anyway, everything else worked well. On the property, not so much. As I mentioned the ground was very wet and it continued to rain through the weekend. I didn’t want to take a chance so I decided to cancel my tractor rental that I’d reserved. I’ll do that at a later date. I did get a little more clearing done and I got the power company out there to take a look.

They said that the supply lines, transformer, pole, meter, etc all looked good. All I need to do is get wired up everything I need to get wired up, get it inspected and they can turn the power on. So, slow progress is better than no progress.

So, things got interesting on the way back home. One of the dogs had not been doing so well while we were there. She’s an older dog (about 12 we think) and in hindsight we think it was just the stress of the trip, but she wasn’t eating, was spending a lot of time just laying around and her stools were very runny.

After about a half hour on the road on the way home, she started whining. I looked for a place to pull over, but before too long, the smell started. She’d messed herself, her dog bed and the blanket that was on it. We pulled into a truck rest stop and cleaned everything up as best we could. Got back on the road and as I was accelerating into traffic there was a “bang” from the engine compartment and then a familiar “thump, thump, thump” sound.

I’d blown a spark plug. If you’re not familiar, most gasoline engines these days use aluminum cylinder heads. They’re lighter than steel and dissipate heat better, but aluminum is a relatively soft metal. The spark plug threads that screw into the head are steel. What can happen is if something goes wrong, the spark plug can start “working” in the threads and, over time, will basically wear down the aluminum threads to the point that, during the combustion cycle, especially under a heavy load, the threads in the head give way and the spark plug basically is ejected from the head. The coil pack usually keeps the spark plug from flying out, but it is generally destroyed in the process as well.

This has happened to me twice before. After the second one, the mechanic told me he thought the issue was my coil packs were all old and the boots were deteriorating, which was causing arcing, which was causing the spark plugs to start “working” in the head. I replaced all the spark plugs and coil packs a few years ago and hadn’t had a problem since. I don’t know specifically what caused it this time, but it happened.

When it does happen, the solution is to ream out the spark plug hole in the head, to a slightly larger size, tap it and thread in a helicoil that’s the right size for the spark plug to screw into. It’s labor intensive and takes a couple of special tools, but not overly complicated.

Luckily we weren’t too far from an exit so we pulled off into the town and found a gas station to pull into. We found a couple of mechanics, one said he couldn’t do it at all, another said he couldn’t get to it for several days, we finally found one who said they “might” be able to get to it the next day.

I sweet talked the manager of the gas station we were parked at (which was about 2 miles from the mechanic we found) and got her to allow me to push the camper back into the corner of the lot to keep until the truck was fixed. Drove the truck down to the mechanic and dropped it off.

Now, remember we had a sick dog and we were frankly very worried about her, we wanted to get her home and to the vet so we decided to rent a car for the Wife to drive her and the dogs home and I’d stay with the truck and camper. The problem is that she doesn’t have a major credit card. The other problem was that the rental agencies we normally deal with didn’t have any one way rentals so she would have to take the dogs home, drop them off with someone, get someone else to drive her car, drive both vehicles back so that she could drop the rental back off and then drive home again in her car.

We had pretty much resigned ourselves to this plan but I had to go pick up the rental car (since I had the credit card). I took a $140 cab ride (there was no uber or lyft drivers in the area we were at) to the airport which was on the same exit as the RV park we’d been staying at and had departed from just that morning, and went to the rental car area. Out of desperation, I checked with every rental agency there and, lo and behold, at the last one I checked, they had a one way car (actually mini-van) we could rent. I quickly canceled the other reservation and booked the mini-van. Drove it the 40 minutes back to where the truck was, transferred everything hey needed from the truck to the rental car, got the dogs settled and got the Wife on the way home.

I slept in the camper and then walked back to the mechanic the next morning.

Several times during the day, if I asked how things were going, they’d give me a song and dance about how they were putting me ahead of other customers and they were so busy and they were doing me such a big favor by fixing my car. I kept reassuring them that I wasn’t trying to rush or pressure them, just trying to keep up with what’s going on.

At about 3:00, they told me the truck was finished. When I went to pay them and sign the paperwork, something interesting happened. The day before, when I was messing around with the truck in the gas station parking lot, the spark plug still seemed to be threaded into the head but was just loose. I thought it couldn’t hurt to try putting in a new plug and coil pack and giving it a shot so I walked to a nearby O’reilly’s and bought the parts. Because the head was so bunged up, I couldn’t get the new spark plug to thread in, which is the point at which I decided we weren’t going anywhere for a while.

So, when I dropped the truck off at the mechanic, I told him I had a spark plug and coil pack but he told me “we don’t use customer provided parts”. I said that it was no problem, I could return them to O’Reilly’s for a refund.

The interesting thing is, the next day when I was paying for the repair, they told me that they’d used the spark plug and coil pack from O’Reilly’s…exactly what they told me they wouldn’t do the day before. They had me sign a waiver form saying they weren’t responsible for the quality of the parts they used since I provided them. I assumed that they’d done it to get me back on the road faster and I was appreciative. Anyway, I paid them, drove the truck back down to the gas station, hooked up the camper and was on my way.

For about another hour and a half. Right outside of Salem, VA, I again heard the all too familiar “Bang” followed by “thump, thump, thump”. Again, lucky to be close to a populated area, I pulled off. At that point it was too late to find a mechanic so I put “Walmart” in my GPS and by luck there was one right at the exit I was pulling off at. I parked the truck and camper in a corner of the lot, went in and verified with the manager that it was OK for me to leave it there, and settled in for another night. I did check the engine and realized it was the same spark plug that had blown and had just been repaired.

The next morning, I took the truck to the first of three mechanics in the same general area of town. They got me right in, but within a half hour had a verdict:

The mechanic who’d done the repair yesterday had screwed it up. They drilled the spark plug hole at an angle and then couldn’t get the helicoil to go back in right. They just sealed it up with JB weld as best they could and let it go.

No, I’m convinced the reason they used the parts I provided was as an excuse to have me sign that waiver. I haven’t spoken with them yet, but my guess is they’ll try to blame it on the parts instead of their mechanic. We’ll see when we get to that point.

At any rate, they gave me quotes for replacing the head and replacing the engine, the only two options left. I decided to get a second opinion so I took the truck to one of the other nearby shops. The second place specializes in trucks. Shockingly, they got me right in too, looked it over and came to the same basic conclusion as the last guy…the prior mechanic had screwed up the repair.

The second shop, however, said that they “might” be able to fix it without replacing the head. They said they have a kit that uses thicker helicoils so they may be able to redrill the spark plug hole even bigger and straighten it out, then use the thicker helicoil for a permanent fix. Unfortunately, they were too busy and the earliest they’d be able to get to trying that was on Monday (today). Because they had another option, I decided to leave the truck with them and let them give it a shot. If they can’t get the bigger helicoil to work, we’re back to a new head (about $3k) or new engine (about $5k)…I’ll probably just go with a new engine and be done with it.

At any rate, I still had to get my camper home, so I took an Uber (they did have Uber service in Salem) to the nearest U-haul place to rent a truck that could tow the camper. They went out of their way to help me. The only one way truck that could tow the camper was already reserved, but they called that customer and transferred the reservation to a different u-haul place so I wouldn’t have to take another uber to another location. Nice people.

Anyway, I rented the U-haul, went back and loaded it up with all the tools and stuff (including a 150+ pound generator) that I had in the back of the truck to use on the property, went back to walmart and hooked up the camper and finally, finally got on my way home.

So now the camper is back in the driveway at home (Side note: backing up a camper hooked to a box truck that you can’t see behind is an adventure in and of itself), the truck is still in Salem and I’m riding the motorcycle everywhere I go for the duration.

I hope to hear back from the mechanic in Salem today so I’ll at least know whether they’re going to be able to fix it or not without replacing the engine. After I find out exactly what the repair is going to take I’m going to call the first mechanic that screwed up the job, tell them I got opinions from two different mechanics that the problem was the work, not the parts and see what they’ll do to make it right. I’m not holding my breath. I’m not sure it would even be worth a lawsuit, but I suppose if they refuse to take responsibility, it never hurts to at least get a consultation with a lawyer.

So, to put it lightly, the past couple of weeks have been eventful. And expensive.

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A powerful message

She said a mouthful here:

When a person is at peace with themselves and expressing themselves naturally, they don’t desperately micromanage everything and everyone around them.

The link goes to a very long story from a woman who bought into the “transgender” fad when she was a teenager, discovered her mistake before it destroyed her completely and then “detransitioned” before it was too late.

As I said, it’s very long, but it’s well written and poignant. She makes many points that many on the right have been making for years: Kids and teenagers are being pressured into declaring themselves “non-binary” for social acceptance and once they enter that world, they are continually pushed in one direction and one direction only. Expressing doubts results in being vilified, ridiculed and cast out…which is more than many can bear.

The quote above kind of summarizes a point I’ve been making with respect to all “marginalized” groups. If you are comfortable in your own skin, it shouldn’t matter a whit what anyone else thinks about you and how you express yourself. It is people who are insecure and doubtful about themselves…people who are presenting themselves for acceptance and accolades rather than for their own personal expression…who get defensive and angry when someone doesn’t approve of them.

This goes for race, sex, “gender”, sexual orientation, hairstyles, clothing choices, etc.

They claim they only want acceptance, but that’s not really what they’re after. What they really want is approval. When they don’t get it, they don’t react well.

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A tale of Two Clocks

When moving into the farmhouse that my parents raised their family in, my dad discovered an old clock in the attic. The face was stained, the hands bent and it didn’t run, but it was a beautiful old clock and Dad loved it, so he took to the local clock guy in our small community to try to get it repaired. The face was cleaned up as best it could be and the hands straightened, but alas they couldn’t get it running.

Even so, dad loved that clock and it sat in a place of honor in our family room for my whole life.

After Dad passed and mom sold the farm, she asked me if I wanted the clock and I took it eagerly. It has since sat on the mantle of my fireplace for many years. The only problem with it is that it’s a bit tall for the Mantle. I’ve got a painted saw above the mantle (that I bought from my dad’s antique shop before he passed) and the clock was in front of part of the saw, but I still kept it on the mantle.

I’ve always loved old clocks like that and I really like the round top mantle clocks you see now and again. A couple of years ago for Christmas, my wife found me a round top mantle clock that is in beautiful condition. She bought it on one of the online sale sites and got it for a very low price. The only caveat is that the guy she bought it from said it needed to be cleaned because it didn’t run reliably.

I moved the old family clock into my office and the round top clock took it’s place on the mantle (and fit much better), but it sat for several years before I finally got around to researching clock repair places in the area. I finally settled on a guy who’s been in business since 1980 and has a good reputation. His son also works in his shop and will someday take it over. The guy’s name is Steve Long and his business name is The Time Machine in Virginia Beach, VA; I highly recommend them if you have an old clock that needs attention. They do house calls to service grandfather clocks and such as well.

At any rate, I decided, while I was getting the new clock serviced, I’d take him the old family clock as well to see if he can do anything with it. From the get-go, he was very confident he could get it running again. He had a 4 month backlog so it was quite a wait, but yesterday, I dropped by there and picked up my clocks. I can’t tell you how happy I am with the work he did and the level of service.

The old family clock is a “gingerbread” style mantle clock with a Sessions movement (click to make bigger). The face is not original because it’s not a calendar movement, but it’s got a calendar face. The face is also very stained. It’s metal so there’s only so much you can do to clean it up without wearing away the numbers and such. This clock has a lot of sentimental value so I didn’t want to alter it too much. He could have replaced the face and the hands, but I asked him to leave them the way they are…the way they’ve always been in my memory.

He found that someone had replaced the mainspring at some point and replaced it with the wrong size (the guy my dad took it too all those years ago?). It was binding up and that’s why the clock wouldn’t run. He put the right size mainspring in it, cleaned it up and lubed it and now it runs like a top.

He also gave me some information about the clock including that it was made sometime between 1902 and 1920, so it’s over 100 years old. I’m so happy to have it running again after all these years…and I know my mother’s going to be ecstatic that he was able to get my father’s favorite clock going again.

The second clock just needed to be cleaned and lubed.  It’s also a Sessions movement, from the 1940’s or ’50’s.  It looks really nice on the mantle and fits much better than the taller one.  It’s got a Westminster chime in addition to the standard chime on the hour.  It will take a little getting used to it going off every 15 minutes, but the tones are pleasant and not too loud so I don’t think it will take much getting used to.  It also has a switch to turn off the chimes if they get to be too much, but I don’t think it’s going to be an issue.

That metronomic tick tock is a soothing memory from my youth as virtually every home had at least one (often several) mechanical movement clocks in various rooms of the house.  That’s something that’s missing from modern homes with quartz movement or digital clocks.

I’m not a clock collector or aficionado of any kind, and I doubt either of these clocks are overly valuable to collectors, but I like them and both of them have special meaning to me so I’m very happy I was able to find someone with the skills and knowledge to get them running properly again.

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HA!

I’ve always told my mother that, although I’d be grateful for anything left to us after she passes, I’m not expecting any inheritance and that she should work very hard to spend every penny that she and Dad saved up on herself and living her own life. She and Dad earned it, we kids didn’t. It’s our job to earn our own way.

What made me think of this was this sentence in a finance story I was reading today:

Fink told CEOs that the $24 trillion of wealth Millennials expect to inherit from their Boomer parents…

Anyone who “expects” to inherit wealth when their parents pass is doing life wrong. My parents earned their own way, I expect to do the same and I hope my kids have the same attitude. I sincerely hope they’re not “expecting” to inherit one red cent from me.

That’s not to say they won’t get anything…timing it perfectly so that the last penny in my retirement accounts is spent just as the last breath leaves my body is a pretty much impossible feat, but I’m not going to overly concern myself with scrimping at this stage of my life so that I have something left to leave them. Whatever’s left after I’m gone is whatever’s left. Like all parents, I sacrificed and scrimped and delayed gratification to provide for them while they were kids. They aren’t kids anymore. If I did my job right, they shouldn’t need me to take care of them after they’re adults.

Any wealth inherited when parents pass should be a bittersweet surprise, not the fulfillment of an expectation.

What I expect of my mother is to enjoy her life and use the wealth that she and my father worked so hard for in fulfillment of that. I hope my kid’s expectations for me are the same.

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End of an Era

Back when Microwave Ovens were really becoming standard equipment for the typical kitchen, I bought my first Microwave from the Navy Exchange while stationed in Rota Spain. I don’t recall what we paid for it, but it wasn’t cheap. It was a Panasonic NE-8050 in the 700 Watt range*.

The reason I’m bringing it up is because not only was that the first Microwave I purchased, up until about a week ago, it was the ONLY microwave I’ve ever purchased.

That beast made it through multiple Permanent Changes of Station, moves within this region, kitchen remodels, the abuse of 2 kids from when the oldest was just a baby through their teenage years and beyond, probably hundreds of thousands of uses.

The only issue I’d ever had with it was after one move, it had apparently been jarred hard enough to dislodge the plastic insulation sheet between the control buttons and the switches. I was able to fix it without much trouble.

Well, about two weeks ago, I noticed that the turntable had stopped turning. It would lurch every once in a while, but wouldn’t rotate, making the food heat unevenly.

I could most likely fix it again, but a couple of factors led my wife and I to just decide to put the old girl out to pasture (the Microwave, not my wife).

First, it’s so old, even fixing the turntable won’t ensure longevity. Something major like the magnetron could go at any time so I could fix it this week and next week it could go out again.

Second, it’s only 700 Watts. Modern microwaves, even the little cheap ones, are generally more powerful than that. Getting a new one would mean faster reheat and cook times. We just decided it was worth it to modernize.

We ended up buying another highly rated Panasonic unit, this one 1250 Watts, about the same size (it’s wider and deeper but not quite as tall). This one was made in Korea rather than Japan so who knows whether it’s built to the same quality as the old one. I guess we’ll know in a few decades if we live that long. To be honest, I’m not expecting it to last past a decade. More likely 5 years or so. They just don’t make them like they used to.

Anyway, For posterity sake, here’s the model plate with the manufacture date from the venerable old warhorse.

After 38 years of service, here’s wishing our trusty old Microwave fair winds and following seas; enjoy your retirement.

*Bonus internet points if you get the vague movie reference from about the same time frame.

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