Saturday, October 29, 2011

Installing Grease Fittings on the Dump Valves - smooth action!

We have three dump valves on the 42' Tour -- two grey tanks (60 gallons each) and the black tank -- also 60 gallons. I really like the large size of these holding tanks and they have worked well. However, after a few months of daily use, the valves start to get sticky and work with difficulty. Time to add grease fittings!

I originally got this idea from Mark Nemeth, Escapees' technical director and first used it on our 2008 coach. The modified dump valves worked great and I had no problems over 2 years of fulltime use, so I decided to do the same modification on our new coach.

Here are the few tools needed. You will need to get one 1/4" zerk grease fitting for each dump valve (I got mine at Lowe's), a 1/4" x 28 thread thread tap, 3/16" drill, and of course, a grease gun with grease. The zerk fittings are only a buck or so and the tap is just a few dollars, so this is a very inexpensive modification.

First, drill the hole above the drain valve handle, being sure that the hole will be within the dump valve body cavity as shown above. Then, use the tap to create threads in the plastic valve housing. I did not have a regular tap handle, so simply used a 3/32 socket and ratchet to hold the tap -- worked great. 

 The threads are easily cut into the plastic. Make sure that the threads go all the way through the plastic housing (have the valve closed during this operation), and in a couple minutes, you will have a nice, threaded hole.

Screw in the zerk grease fitting as shown and gently tighten. I tightened them down until the shoulder of the fitting was secure on the dump valve, but be careful of tightening these too much as you are working with plastic. This completes the actual modification.

Finally, clip the grease gun on and start pumping. This will take a fair amount of grease as you are filling part of the valve assembly. During this filling process, I moved the valve in and out and after a few times, the action got much smoother and easier as the grease was distributed. If you fill the grease while the valve is open, you can actually see the valve begin to close as the grease is pumped in, pushing the valve body closes. This is a clear indication you have more than enough grease in the valve.

After repeating this procedure for all valves, enjoy the smooth opening and closing of the valves. I found that I did not need to re-grease the valves on our prior coach more than once a year to keep the valves working freely.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Amarillo and Cadillac Ranch

Driving into Amarillo, TX, we passed Cadillac Ranch, on the old Route 66. This iconic sight consists of Cadillacs of different years (1949 - 1963) buried halfway into the ground. 
 This closeup of some of the cars shows Cadillacs from the late 50's, complete with fins. This is a remarkable sight of a real piece of Americana and is unlike anything else we have ever seen. Quite a welcome to Amarillo!

 Amarillo is the site of the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, we arrived on a day that the museum was closed, but we still were able to view these amazing statues in bronze outside.

This sculpture portrays the original cowboy days of calf roping and range riding.

 These lifesize bronze sculptures are very impressive and life-like. Amarillo was originally the real cow town and the site of thousands of cattle coming through. Must have been quite a sight.

We had already seen a couple of the painted horse statues in town and began to look for them as we traveled. Amarillo is also know for it's helium production and indeed we stayed at an RV park on Helium Road. Amarillo is a true American original and well worth a visit.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Amarillo, TX and the Big Texan Steakhouse

We spent a couple days in Amarillo, TX and enjoyed touring around this Texas town. Amarillo is the home of the Quarter Horse Association and in recognition of this, we found a number of lifesize horse statues throughout the city that featured painted scenes on them. Interesting!

We had heard about the Big Texan Steakhouse and decided this was one place we had to check out. As we pulled into the parking lot, it was clear that this is no ordinary eating joint! Orinda was impressed with the big "whiteface" steer welcoming us as we approached. 

 The key word of the Big Texan is BIG! There are all kinds of displays to point the way and there is a definite fun atmosphere in the air.

Although we did not have a dog along, the Big Texan wanted to let you know that they were ready to welcome 'em! There is also parking for RVs, a motel, in fact, everything the tourist needs to have  a great dinner!

Orinda had seen TV coverage of the Big Texan and it's Free Steak Challenge. Apparently, many years ago, a group of hungry cowboys came in and had a contest to see who could eat the most steaks. One guy ate 4 one pound steaks AND all the trimmings in under an hour. The owner of the Big Texan was duly impressed, and stated that henceforth, anyone who could eat that much in one hour would get it free -- and so it is to this day. In fact, here is the free meal, with a 48 ounce steak as the centerpiece. 

 Inside, the Big Texan is a classic steakhouse. There is a singing cowboy to serenade you at the table, excellent service and the food was great (and reasonably priced). In the picture above, you can see 6 timers under the steer skull that are set to 60 minutes -- yup, these are the timers for folks attempting to complete the free meal in an hour. Amazingly, as we entered, one guy had just finished the huge steak in 50 minutes -- he earned that free meal!

 Finally, if you had a few too many, or if the huge steak is weighing you down, the Big Texan offers free limo service (for pickup too) to and from the steakhouse. Of course, the limos are complete with longhorn steer horns on the hood! Now that is how cool is that! Rick was wondering how a set of horns might look on the motorhome, but Orinda was not too keen on that idea.

By all means, go to the Big Texan if you are in Amarillo.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Durango & Silverton RR Museum in Durango, CO

It is a beautiful day to explore the Durango & Silverton Railroad in downtown Durango. Just as we finished breakfast, the 9:15am locomotive whistled and steamed through town up toward Silverton. What a great experience to hear and feel this powerful engine begin its charge up the mountain. As part of the depot and railyard is a great museum that we had to take a look at. 

In the front of the depot, and in several other locations around town, are beautiful sculptures focusing on the western heritage of the town. There is also a beautiful university in Durango (Fort Lewis College) which must be popular for all the students interested in skiing and trout fishing!

 The museum was free and featured many great exhibits focusing on the Durango area. We learned quickly that the great roadbed seen on the current railroad (see picture above) was definitely not the case in the "old" days as can be seen above.

 There were several classic locomotives on display which are in addition to the several steam engines used daily on the active trains. One common feature of all the Durango & Silverton locomotives are the small drivers or main wheels seen on Orinda's left. This is the "gear" ratio for a steam locomotive -- small drivers provide great torque, but like a car in low gear, they can only attain a rather low speed. That is just what these needed in the mountains.

 The museum also featured a fabulous model railroad layout of the Durango area. Indeed, this roundhouse, seen above, is a direct model of the roundhouse still in use here by the railroad.

There are also many other displays of items from the 1900 era in Durango. For example, this steam car dates from 1900 and was used in town. Capable of 25 mph, this steamer burned kerosene and must have been pretty spiffy transportation in it's day. 

 Not to be outdone, apparently, the Durango Fire Department was also well equipped with this 1916 fire engine. Beautifully restored, this truck is still equipped with its solid rubber "tires" that, while never going flat, provided a VERY rough ride.

 Here is the working roundhouse where the steam engines are serviced between runs. Look at the soot above the doors as well as the chimneys on the roof, both classic indications of a real, steam railroad.

 Not surprisingly, the railroad keeps as many spare parts for their old engines and cars as they can find. These car trucks are available for replacement when needed and are stored on rails ready to be wheeled to the car when needed.

Just a couple blocks away from the railroad is the famous Strater Hotel, that dates from 1887 when it was built to house business and mining men coming into the town. The hotel (and Durango in general) have very colorful histories covering the last era of the wild west. We had a great time in Durango and will certainly plan to return.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Mesa Verde - Pithouse and Sun Temple

 We learned that most of the cliff dwellings dated from about 1100ad, but apparently, there were even earlier civilizations on the mesa as evidenced by the pithouses dating from 600ad.

 These were much simpler dwellings and consisted of a pit dug in the earth which was then covered by relatively simple structures using branches and other materials.

 While we probably will never really know for certain, the pit structure may have been used to provide some insulation from the hot sun when compared to a primitive structure set solely on top of the ground.

 Compare the pithouse structure to the Square House cliff dwellings which are found in the same area. Rick notes these were built some 500 years after the pithouse--pretty amazing when you think the United States has been around for less than 300 years!

 It seems pretty clear how this structure got its Squarehouse name -- no doubt due to the square structure seen above. Rick was very impressed with the construction of these dwellings -- multiple stories high, with square, straight walls.

 This gives an idea as to where structures were built. In this case, the structures are located in the large cave area, a couple hundred feet below the cliff surfaces.

 A closer shot shows that these are very difficult to approach and of course, would be very hard to bring construction materials to. Imagine trying to manually bring rocks, water and food up the cliff to these dwellings. These people also farmed several crops on top of the mesa -- getting to work sure took on a new meaning as you would climb up or down the cliff each way.

 Our final stop in Mesa Verde was at the Sun Temple which is one of the very few structures built on top of the mesa. This gave us a great chance to see how the structures were built and to see how well it has weathered over 700 years of time and weather.

The temple was apparently never finished and why the entire civilization abandoned the area, we do not know, however, drought is thought to be a contributing factor. This shot shows how accurately the masonry was done on interior walls.

Mesa Verde is a fascinating place and very well worth a full day to explore it. It did make us wonder what folks 1,000 years from now will think of our civilization and what they might think of our motorhome!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings - Cliff Palace

Mesa Verde National Park allows us to visit a former, thriving civilization that flourished several hundred years ago. They built amazing houses and even cities in the cliffs of this canyon and mesa at about 7,000' in elevation. 

One of the first visitation locations is at Cliff Palace -- which is a real palace built into the cliffs. We had a great viewing location on the canyon directly across from the palace as Orinda found. Even with her vision issues, she could use her binoculars to at least parts of the cliff dwelling.

This is a huge collection of structures with over 150 rooms. It is thought that well over 100 people lived here and were well protected from the weather as well as possible attackers. Built from about 1190 ad to 1300 ad, it was suddenly abandoned; perhaps due to crop failure or due to some other influence. 

 It is possible to take a tour of the ruins, but Orinda was not thrilled with the idea of walking near the edge of the cliffs and climbing ladders. Apparently the builders of the cliff dwellings were not afraid of heights.

 The circular structures are called kivas and appeared to have been used for ceremonial functions. This palace contained 23 such kivas, each built with carefully fit stones forming a virtually perfect circle. When we thought about the fact that each stone had to be carried up the walls to this site, it is very impressive.

 We were especially interested in the fine craftsmanship in building the walls and buildings.This must have been a huge effort in construction,while at the same time, making sure that everyone had food and defense.

This shot gives an idea as to the size of the dwellings when you compare the structures to the people touring the site. These buildings are huge and must have taken a terrific effort to build without benefit of power equipment of even horses. It is fun to consider how they lived and built these dwellings and then to think how future generations might look at the remains of one of our cities and wonder how we lived. We will continue our Mesa Verde visit in our next post.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Mesa Verde National Park - a Trip to the Past

 About 30 miles south west of Durango, CO is Mesa Verde National Park. This is a site of many of the famous cliff dwellings that were built by an early civilization that lived here from 1,400 to 700 years ago. This huge mesa is like a huge table in the sky.

 One of our first stops was at Park Point, the highest spot on Mesa Verde at over 8,500'. We took a short stroll on this high spot, that was pretty narrow in spots.

 Rick really felt as though he was on a small platform way up in the sky since you could see down on almost all sides. We were very fortunate to have a great day to visit.

 Wow, can you see a long way from Park Point. These mountains were the same ones we saw on our way to Silverton -- probably 60 to 70 miles away. WE were pleased to be able to drive up here as it took us about 20 miles to just drive up to this point on the Mesa.

 Today, the mesa is very much like it was when people first lived here 1,400 years ago, except that they did not have the opportunity to ride to the top in comfort! Actually, any climbing of the Mesa must have been very difficult as this picture hints at. The sides are very steep and the mesa stands a couple thousand feet above the rest of the terrain.

 When we visited, the area was very dry and apparently, this has been a common state during the past years since we saw much evidence of fires that swept the mesa. There were miles of burned trees, such as these, that will take many years to re-grow, but the grasses and shrubs were already taking hold.

Soon, we came to the first cliff dwellings which are amazing. This smaller site is built well under the cliff overhang and has no easy access that we could see. Apparently, residents used ladders to climb to these houses -- without a ladder, it would be really hard to get to these, which make for excellent defense. Of course, it must have been pretty hard to bring provisions home as well.