Kitten season

While the Airstream sits dormant, we completely switch gears and concentrate on the elements of a traditional suburban life.  Well, at least a few of them.  Because we come and go frequently, we can’t participate in many of the common preoccupations that require a continuing presence. I haven’t joined a gym or auditioned for a dramatic production, nor have I enrolled in any classes at the university or joined the board of the local home owners association.

To tell the truth, I’m glad for that.  A good friend just confessed that (being a good natured person who wants to make the world a better place) he recently accepted committee or leadership roles in three different organizations and now has little time for himself.  One of those commitments is for a three year sentence, um, I mean “term”.  I don’t mind getting involved in things, but I’ve got a business to run too.

Also, it bothers some locals when they discover our odd nomadic ways.  A local club co-opted me to their board of directors a couple of years ago, and my frequent & long absences quickly became the topic of some discussion.  I don’t want to be a distraction, so I resigned after a year. Even our neighbors who have known us for years still occasionally wrestle with the fact that we might at any moment vanish for weeks or months.  It seems to be unsettling.

So there are only three local activities we maintain long-term:  orthodontia (just me now, as Emma got her braces off a month ago), karate class for our future black belt, and volunteering at the local Humane Society.

Eleanor and Emma volunteer because Emma has long wanted a pet.  We haven’t been able to find one that could keep up with our travels, and not die of heat stroke when we are boondocking in a national park somewhere that doesn’t have hookups and doesn’t allow pets on the trails. Dog, cat, rat, snake, various birds and reptiles—all have been evaluated and found wanting.  So in compensation for being such terrible parents, we came up with the idea of volunteering to foster kittens for the local Humane Society.

This is ideal, because we only have to commit to a pet for a few weeks at most, and then it goes back to be adopted.  It’s a great opportunity to teach Emma the rewards of volunteerism and also to experience the responsibility of taking care of a fellow creature.  We’ve fattened up and socialized kittens so that they are adoptable, we’ve visited quarantined cats so they don’t go crazy waiting to be let out of their cage, and most recently Eleanor and Emma took on four very young kittens that required bottle feeding.

four unnamed kittens bottle feeding, from Humane Society of Southern Arizona
The 11 p.m. feeding

You see, this is “kitten season” in Tucson.  It’s the time when litter after litter of kittens is  dropped off at the Humane Society, often without mothers.  When they are very young, they have to be fed by syringe or bottle every two hours, around the clock.  As you might guess, there is a very limited pool of people who are willing to do this, and so the staff is stretched to find foster homes for all those kittens.

Last Friday we got a call from a desperate staffer who had run down the list of volunteers and was on her penultimate phone number when she reached Eleanor.  By that evening we had four little mewlers in the house, each requiring feeding, burping, and assistance with bodily functions.  Those of you who had colicky babies can easily recall the sleep-deprivation that results.  It’s the same with kittens, except they cry quietly enough that Daddy can sleep through it.

Kitten bottle feeding, from Humane Society of Southern Arizona
Hey, this is good! What’s in this stuff?

The feeding process for all four kittens, including clean-up, took about 45 minutes, which means you have just 1 hour 15 minutes before the timer goes off and it’s time to get out of bed and do it all over again.  I helped with one or two of the feedings and realized that motherhood is not for me.  But I think I knew that already from the experience when Emma was a sleepless creature herself.

Roaring kitten
I am kitten, hear me roar!

I thought by the end of the weekend we’d thoroughly hate the little buggers, but I underestimated the cute factor.  This is nature’s way of preventing us from eating our children, I think.  When they really got a rhythm going on that bottle of milk, their little ears would start to flap in time with swallowing, making the grey kittens look like cute fuzzy Dumbos with tiger faces.  Then, with a big beard of milk on their faces, they’d collapse gratefully into a “milk coma,” lying atop their litter mates in the box.

Emma’s technique was praised by the local Society volunteer coordinator and I’m told a picture of her “perfect” bottle-feeding position will be part of the training program for future bottle-feeding volunteers.

We couldn’t keep the kittens as long as we’d like, because homeschooling and other critical daily functions were just not feasible around the kittens’ schedule, but at least we had them for three days and bought the staff a little time to find them a longer-term home.  I would like to think that Emma learned something about the realities of babies, too.

We have about a month before we need to saddle up again.  In those weeks, if we can snag a few kittens who aren’t bottle-feeding, we will.  It feels like having furry foster children is now a fundamental part of our “home base” experience, and we may as want get the full benefit of it while we have the opportunity.  Soon the Airstream will be rolling and when it does, this aspect of our life will go back on hold until next fall.

A 34-foot parking problem

Our friends Kyle and Mary and Kathryn arrived on Sunday as we had expected, and I was all set.  The plan was to park their Airstream in the carport, as we’ve done many times before with other guests.  In the morning before they arrived I cleared out all the remainders of the Airstream re-flooring project, and removed a few things from the Safari that would be difficult to get out once there were two Airstreams packed in tightly side-by-side.  Mike came over with a blower and blew all the dust out, too.

And then they arrived, resplendent in 34 feet of aluminum goodness.  Kyle looked suspiciously at the space I was asking him to back into, but I assured him we’d parked a 28-foot with slide-out in there previously, so he’d fit.  He gamely took a crack at it, which I have to give him credit for, but soon a problem emerged.  Their 34-footer has a rear air conditioner (an unusual option) and it wouldn’t clear the carport roof.

Normally rooftop A/C units slide into the carport easily, but in this case the trailer was so long that the truck was still in the street when the A/C unit was entering the carport.  This meant that the trailer was nose-down, and tail-high, which would be just enough (with that long 34-foot lever) to allow the A/C to hit the ceiling.  So the Airstream ended up in the street instead.

IMG_1934Well, we’ve parked an Airstream or two (and a Bowlus) here in front before, so it’s not a big deal.  The 34-footer even fits with room for the mail carrier to slip her little truck in front of the mailbox and deliver the mail.

The camping in front is not as good as the premium space (carport).  The wifi is spotty out there, we can’t hook up a sewer line, and the electricity is only 15-amp, not 30. Fortunately, this week it’s cool enough that air conditioning isn’t necessary.  We’re getting upper 70s and low 80s here, a hint of things to come in a few weeks.

I am still working on the Safari, but much more slowly right now.  I’ve still got some caulking to do in the bathroom, and I’m noodling how to build the new cabinetry we want, using only scraps of material scavenged from the cabinetry we removed.  It’s an interesting problem, and I’ll write more about that later.

The Caravel project is completely on hold.  The plumbing will have to get completed in a few weeks, after our upcoming trip.  There’s no rush on that one anyway, as we have no plans to use the little trailer.

For the rest of this week, my major goal is to get work buttoned up enough that we can take a few days next week to be out of touch.  That’s a long shot but always worth striving for.  It looks like our route will take us from here to southern California, and then up to Las Vegas, and back—but we reserve the right to alter the plan on the fly.  That’s one of the reasons we travel by Airstream, after all.

Project Season

I did say this was “project season,” didn’t I?  Between the house, the Caravel, the Safari, and the 300D the list of jobs seems endless, so I’ve resolved to just tackle one item every single day without fail.  It’s like chipping away at a mountain, but chipping a little at a time is the only way the mountain will disappear.

The 300D project has gotten the most attention.  On Tuesday we replaced the bumper rub strip.  On Wednesday I replaced the rear sway bar links and inspected the rear brakes.  On Thursday Eleanor and I installed a new hood pad.  On Saturday I removed the instrument cluster and fixed the dim lighting, along with the inaccurate temperature gauge.  I used two T-10 LED lights from LED4RV, which really helped to reduce heat in the cluster.  (The plastic was beginning to melt from the hot old bulbs.)  On Sunday I very carefully removed an old decal from the defroster glass, a tricky job without breaking the silkscreened defroster elements.  In between 300D jobs I continued plotting the rest of the car’s resurrection, researching parts and repairs.

On Friday I got brave enough to remove the heaps of flagstone and slate that were pressing down the Caravel’s damaged Marmoleum floor.  It had been baking in the heat for the last week or so.  It appears that the silicone caulk is working well as floor adhesive.  As I feared, the floor is not lying perfectly flat —there’s a small lifted spot— but it’s good enough.

Eleanor came up with the idea of fabricating a trim strip to hold the Marmoleum in place, and so I cut a piece of flat aluminum to size, cleaned it up with a Scotchbrite pad and orange cleaner, drilled three countersunk holes for stainless screws, and then sprayed it with clearcoat.  Beneath the trim I sealed the edges of the Marmoleum with tan silicone caulk.  The dimensions of the aluminum were chosen to match the trim already in the trailer, and I think it looks great.  The three screws are pinning the floor in place.

The next job on the Caravel is to get the new water tank installed.  I got a start on this Saturday, but decided to take a break in favor of other projects.  I think, barring unforeseen problems, that we’ll have this wrapped up in the next couple of days.  The tank is mostly plumbed in, and the rest of it is just reinstalling the furniture, testing for water-tightness, and sanitizing the system.

The Safari hasn’t gotten much love lately. I bought the rest of the flooring material but we really can’t get on that project until the Safari’s little sister gets out of the way.  That should be an interesting one though, as we’ll be removing most of the bedroom, the dinette, and other stuff.

The house always gets the shortest stick.  All it got this week was a repainted exterior light yesterday, and a new dryer vent on the roof this morning.  The many other house projects are just going to have to wait.  For some reason it’s more gratifying to work on the vehicles!

Tomorrow—who knows?  Every day is different.  I just know that something will get done.  One chip at a time …

By the way, the new Alumafiesta site is up …

Classification: kittens for sale

A friend called Eleanor the other day and noted that the blog was quiet.  When that happens, she said, either Rich is working on projects he can’t talk about (yet) or there’s not much happening.  Turns out that it’s a little bit of both lately.

Home life has been quiet … so quiet in fact that our major form of entertainment has been the foster kittens. They have kept us entertained day and night, even at times when we’d prefer they were sleeping.  They arrived here underweight and left today, three weeks later, each nearly a pound heavier and in peak form to be adopted.

It’s a shame to let them go back to the Humane Society when they are so darned adorable, but they need homes.  We’ve done what we can to bring out their natural irresistible cuteness, and make them completely comfortable with people and typical household life.  As I told them at today’s graduation ceremony, “Boys, the rest is up to you.”  They seemed prepared for the task.  We’ll get a new kitten or two shortly, and begin the process anew.

Meanwhile I have fulfilled my pledge to do something about the spare tire issue.  This turned out to be fairly easy.  I ordered a fifth tire from Discount Tire to match the four new Bridgestones that are on the car, and they mounted it up last week.  The only catch was that the tires for the Mercedes are a lot bigger than the ones for the Airstream, so it wouldn’t fit in the spare carrier on the Airstream without some modification.  The Merc tire is about two inches wider and 2-3 inches larger in diameter.

So the first step was to do some careful measuring to confirm that the larger tire would fit in the Airstream’s belly recess.  It seemed like there was plenty of room in there, almost as if Airstream had foreseen this situation.

The spare carrier comes off easily, with just two bolts toward the rear holding it in place.  A 3/4″ socket and a short extension on a ratchet wrench are all you need.  Well, that plus a little elbow grease.  Once it was off, I loaded it up along with both the Airstream and Mercedes wheels, and took the whole pile to my favorite welding shop.

The modification was fairly simple.  The two bolt attachments needed to be extended by about two inches so that the entire carrier would hang lower.  This would allow the bigger spare to fit and yet still be pressed tightly up against the belly of the Airstream so it wouldn’t move.

I also asked the welding shop to figure a way that I could go back to carrying the smaller Airstream spare if I wanted to.  You can see their solution above.  They simply bolted on a pair of height extensions, welded on new outboard “arms” to accommodate the larger diameter, and fabricated a new latch with two holes.

If I wanted to go back to the Airstream spare, it would be just a matter of unbolting the two extensions, and using the lower hole on the latch for the locking pin.  The tension of the tire pressed up against the belly of the trailer will keep the tire from shifting much.

The new spare was a tighter fit than I had expected. While there was plenty of room in the recess, I had failed to consider the process of getting the tire under the Airstream.  The struts of the Hensley partially block the path, and there’s not quite enough clearance to slide the tire atop the carrier and beneath the battery box.  To get it in, I have to wind the Hensley strut jacks up into towing position (not a problem since that’s where they’d be anyway), and I have to use the trailer’s power hitch to lift the nose about 2-3 inches.  It’s also a much heavier wheel to deal with, so pulling this thing out on a rainy day by the side of a muddy highway will not be much fun.

Once it’s in place, there’s plenty of ground clearance.  The tire still hangs above the height of the hitch weight transfer bars.

This amounts to a very expensive spare tire.  I bought the Mercedes 20″ rim from a guy in California for $300 (new ones cost about $900!), the tire was about $250, and the fabrication work ended up at $125, for a grand total of $675.  But it will get used, because we need to do a five-wheel tire rotation every 10,000 miles (to keep all five tires evenly worn), so I’ll get my value out of the tire at least.

And it’s nice to know we have it.  Now if we have a tire failure on the tow vehicle, we can still drive. If we have a tire failure on the Airstream, we can tow on three wheels or unhitch to go get a replacement Airstream tire.  We have better options.  If we ever decide to go to Alaska or Newfoundland, we can still throw the (smaller) Airstream spare into the back of the car for added insurance.

OK, enough about that.  I hope to not need to write about tires again for quite a long time.  I want to talk about another project, the new Airstream Life Classifieds section.

Places to list your Airstream for sale are everywhere on the Internet.  I used to maintain a list of them that ran to about thirty different sites, all free.  But once in a while I get a call from someone who has a special, rare, or high-value trailer, and they want to see that ad in print, in Airstream Life.  We’ve never been able to accommodate this, but I’ve finally set up a site where you can post your ad online and have it appear in the next issue of the magazine.

So it’s in a trial mode right now.  (I’m sorry, that’s not cool enough for the Internet.  I’d better say it’s “in beta” instead.)  You can try it out right now at classified.airstreamlife.com.  Online-only ads are free, and print ads cost $75.  But here’s the sweetener: since this is the first run, you can actually get a print ad for free.  When you fill out the ad form, at the bottom of the page will be an option box that says “Ad Package”. Choose the “Print ad in Airstream Life magazine” option and just below that, enter the coupon code FREE_ASL_AD and your ad will appear in the Winter 2012 issue for free!

 

Now, I do have to put in a few limitations.  Only one free ad per customer, and all ads must be submitted no later than October 5 to receive this deal.  If I don’t get enough ads to launch the section, this offer will be void (but your ad will still run online for free).

I’m interested in your feedback.  If you’ve tried it out and have some comments that might help improve it, let me know with a comment on this blog post.  If it works and people find it valuable, I’ll make it a formal part of the magazine going forward.  It’s up to the community.  Personally, I think that even in an era of Internet everywhere, there’s a certain credibility that you can only get from print, so I’m hoping that we get some interesting Airstreams in this section.

Switching to project mode

We are back at home base.  And this time, it’s going to stick, because there’s much to do over the next few months.

The first job is resolving our tire situation.  We got back on the road after two days of waiting, and while it was pleasant in Camp Verde and swim in the RV parks’ pool, this isn’t a situation I want to find myself in again.  We might have been on a schedule to get somewhere, or in some lonely place where tires aren’t easily located.  We need a better solution.

The Discount Tire store in Prescott AZ worked with the Discount Tire store in Tucson to work out our immediate problem.  The Prescott store gave us four new Nitto tires (not run-flats) to get us home, and that worked out fine.  I’m not wild about them, as the handling is poor and they are noisy, but it was what they had in stock.  The Tucson store will take them off tomorrow and exchange them for four new Bridgestone run-flats that I ordered a few days ago.

The really nice part is that they’ll give me 100% credit for the returned Nitto tires, even though I’ve used them for 200 miles.  Kudos to Discount for going out of their way to take care of a customer.  This is the kind of service that has caused me to buy tires from them exclusively for the past few years.

Since we got the Merc we’ve always had two plugging kits and a tire inflator in the car at all times to handle typical punctures.  That’s not good enough for our needs.  This episode demonstrates that other things can happen to a tire that you can’t fix by the roadside.  We’re hard on our tires, towing many miles in southwestern heat with a heavy trailer, and so I’ve concluded that we need to get back to a full-size spare when we are towing.

The solution I outlined in the previous blog is still the plan. We’ll remove the Airstream’s spare and put a Mercedes spare in the carrier instead.  The Michelin tires we put on the Airstream have proved their durability, and the Airstream can be towed on three wheels in a pinch, so I feel pretty confident about going without a spare on the trailer.  The car, on the other hand, would be “interesting” to drive with only three wheels.

The challenge is that the car tires are much larger than the Airstream tires.  The Airstream tires (with Michelin 235/75 R15) are 28.9″ diameter and 9.3″ wide.  The Mercedes tires are about 33″ diameter and 11″ wide, so the spare carrier will have to be modified to allow one to fit.  That means I’ve got to find a welder who can either come to the house to work on the Airstream, or has a large lot where I can park the Airstream.  I’ll post pics once that job is done.

We’ll also have to do a five-tire rotation pattern from here on, because it’s important to keep all the tires worn evenly (this is an AWD car).  It’s a small price to pay for the convenience of a full-size spare.  When the car is being driven without the Airstream (and hence no spare tire nearby), it will still have the backup capability provided by the run-flat tires, just like millions of other cars.

We finally pulled into Tucson late Wednesday night.  We’re still in that phase where we are living off the remainders of our Airstream supplies, until Eleanor gets a chance to replenish the house food.  But we have landed lightly, without too much fuss or inconvenience, and are settling into our home-based life for the next few months.  I did a calculation and found that so far this year we have towed the Airstream Safari 7,582 miles, which is about average.  The image above shows our approximate route in 2012 (but not every stop).

Since we are going to be at home base for at least a couple of months, this is a good time to take on projects.   We still need to get on the Airstream interior renovation, although budget is a challenge.  I plan to kick that project into gear fairly soon.  I’m also working on Alumafiesta in Tucson.  We’ve confirmed that Stevyn Guinnip will be joining us at Alumafiesta to lead morning exercise sessions, and Bert Gildart is likely to lead some photo safaris in the great southwestern outdoors.  I’m working on lots of other good things for that event, which will be announced as they get solidified.

E&E have taken on a new project too.  To abate Emma’s lust for a pet, they have taken training at the nearby Humane Society and are now official foster parents to a pair of kitten brothers, one orange tabby and one solid black.  For the next three or four weeks, their job is to convert these malnourished, underweight, frightened and slightly feral kittens into adoptable, people-loving cuties.  The kittens are living in Emma’s bathtub with all sorts of comforting things to assuage their mental anguish, and several times a day they are held and fed.  Although already this project has meant lots of cleanup and midnight attention, Emma and Eleanor are having a great time of it and I’m sure that when the time comes it will be hard to say goodbye to these little beasts.

Our next planned Airstream travel is not until after Christmas, although you never really know for sure.  A trip opportunity may present itself in the near future, and the spare Airstream (the ’68 Caravel) could yet be outfitted for some adventure in southern Arizona this fall…