Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Every convenience brings its own inconveniences along with it
- Proverb

By my own choosing, much of my life is consumed with doing things the hard way. In addition to lighting pilot lights in my vintage travel trailer and winding clocks at home, I prefer to make my own Cream-of-[fill in the blank] sauces and yeast bread. So one would think that pulling a cord or twisting a wand to open or close a window shade would be right up my alley. But the push-button convenience of the motorized shade over Big Tub has spoiled me – Push UP, and the shade goes up. Push DOWN and no more neighbors’ yard lights. Cool.

Although I tried to resist, this Siren Song of convenience proved so strong that a similar shade was just installed in “Tom’s room” on a ridiculously easy-to-get-to window.

Heeding the song was not without consequences, though. While I escaped with my life, the sheetrock above the window suffered greatly while I tried repeatedly to drill an 18-inch long hole through the 40 year-old header behind it.

The first hole was drilling great until the bit encountered a nail. After sharpening the bit, the second hole was going well until the sheetrock started to bulge. Hole number three appeared to be the ticket right up to the point of when the ¾” diameter drill bit poked all the way through the sheetrock. Sixteen inches of hole number four were drilled before my Milwaukee ½-inch drive drill motor all but stopped drilling, and started to smoke. Old wood can be a real drag to drill.

After letting the drill bit and motor cool, the drill bit was waxed with Johnson’s paste wax to cut down on the drag. Success – The new shade now had wiring access to the attic.

Cutting the hole for the new switch and wiring everything went smoothly. Watching the shade go down the first time the button was pushed put a smile on my face…until the shade got to the bottom of the window & stopped uneven with the window sill. If the shade had had a cord on it, I would have just adjusted it for evenness. But with no cord, I ended up having to pull the motor out and re-clock one of the “winder-uppers” on the motor shaft. All is now well.

From now on, I’ll stick with doing things the hard way – It’s easier!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Don’t Forget to Adjust Your Trailer Brakes


My first car, a ’68 VW Beetle, had fairly short maintenance intervals. The oil had to be changed every 3,000 miles, and the valves adjusted every other oil change. The manual-adjust brakes were adjusted somewhere in that mileage range, but the call was usually made when the brake pedal got low or had to be pumped up.

Nowadays, every vehicle in our driveway has self-adjusting brakes. In the back of my mind, I knew the Airstream’s brakes are manual adjust, but since the axles were new, the thought of adjusting the brakes never made it to the front of my mind. It did after our last camping trip though after the Mighty Burb ended up having to do all the braking on a few wet mountain grades.

Sure enough, every backing plate needed several clicks of the adjusting wheel. An immediate & significant improvement in braking was noticed in the subsequent test ride down a mountain grade.

Checking the maintenance log, I was surprised to see that the Overlander’s axles turned three years old in September, and had 14,514 miles of trips on them. Since the owner’s manual lists a 10,000 mile/6-month maintenance interval, I’m surprised a problem did not pop up until now.

If you have a travel trailer, don't forget to adjust your brakes!

Gotta go – according to the list, it’s also time to paraffin the Strike pocket on the Main Door…

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Windows 95 has left the building

…along with my first real PC – A full-tower, Micron computer with a cat’s-meow-for-its-day, 90 MHz Pentium processor. Its 1.3 gig hard disk decided to throw in the towel this past weekend after 14 years of continuous operation, the last ten of which were spent in my unheated shop running a train-whistle-on-the-quarter-hour program.

But I knew this day would eventually come, and had prepared for it by having not one, but two old Windows 98 computers sitting in the unheated garage waiting to fill the void. The first choice of the two for restoring the sound of live steam to the shop was a computer custom built for me at the local Gigaparts store in 2000 to replace the Micron as “house computer”. But since it was missing its hard drive, Dad’s old Acer computer got carried into “Tom’s Room” for prep.

Old Acers apparently do not like sitting around in an unheated garage as the computer did no more than beep a lot before shutting itself off. Hoping the Gigaparts PC would fare better, I rummaged around my toy box, and found a hard disk that looked like it would work. Years ago, I used to keep up with the difference between IDE, EIDE, etc. but everything kept changing so fast that the fun got sucked out of it, and I stopped. Fortunately, Google makes it really easy to research topics quickly.

Thankfully, both computer & hard disk whirred to action without beeping. But the hard disk had Windows XP on it, and XP didn’t seem to care much for the Windows 98 box it was now in. A couple of hours were spent trying to get computer & hard drive to play together before deciding it was not worth the effort. The Windows 98 operating system would have to be installed on the computer.

Windows 98 was the last Microsoft OS which used a floppy drive for the initial part of the install, and the floppy drive on the Gigaparts computer was found to have something stuck in it. Between idle curiosity, and remembering the computer had spent time in my then-six-year-old son’s room before its retirement, exploratory surgery was performed on the drive. Now we finally know what happened to Daniel’s library card, Toys-R-Us birthday club card, and penny.

But after getting everything ready for a floppy disk, the right floppy disk could not be found. It appeared the project was dead until another copy of the magic floppy could be located.

Then, it dawned on me to see if the entire Acer computer, hard disk and all, was dead. So, after dual hard disk ectomies, the Gigagparts PC was powered up with the Acer’s hard disk. Success! It wasn’t pretty at first, but it worked.

If the computer could have talked at that point, it probably would have said, “Whoa! I’ve got to cut back on the mushrooms. It feels like my head’s on a different body”. But after feeding the computer a few sobering disks of device drivers, I was finally rewarded with another icon of Microsoft’s past.

Now that I had working Windows 98 box, a magic floppy was immediately made should I ever need to install Windows 98 from scratch.

Since this PC will not be hooked to the Internet while in the shop, there’s no worry about computer viruses & such. But for nothing more than hoot value, I decided to check for Windows updates while it was still in the house. In spite of a message advising me that Microsoft stopped supporting this operating system on July 11, 2006, there were six critical updates ready for download.

After installing the updates, and verifying through headphones that the train whistle program still worked okay, the computer was considered ready for shop duty.

The computer sits on a shelf in the boat bay where there is a lot less dust. The speakers, one from a 1957 Heathkit Radio, and one from the Micron’s early days, are in the main shop.

After hooking everything up, and standing around drinking beer for 14 minutes, I was rewarded with the first train whistle produced by the Gigaparts computer, and it was so soft I had trouble hearing it. It then dawned on me that this computer had always been used with an Audigy Sound Blaster card instead of the onboard sound port. The trouble was that the card formerly used is now installed in the current House Computer.

Luckily, I had a second dawning where I remembered the Micron came with a forerunner of the same card.

After a successful transplant, and at least 14 more minutes of Natural Lite, a single blast from the 604 loudly announced quarter-past the hour.

And so ends the Micron era. But I do have the monitor, keyboard, and mouse to remember it by *sniff*. The Acer ought to join it by the side of the road, but it still has a few usable parts remaining.

The Gigaparts PC should have years of life left in it. Hopefully, by the time it quits, the house’s computers will have been rotated, and Daniel’s current computer will be sitting in the garage waiting to take its place. But to preclude premature rotation, I don’t think I will let Daniel in on the plan…

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Death by Clorox

Certainly sounds more ominous than, "I cleaned a bunch of biological fouling off my fresh-water tank's filter by immersing it in a solution of Clorox & water".

During the effort chronicled in my last post, I totally forgot about checking the filter. I did that today, and sure enough it was partially clogged with bugs/microbes.

Everthing's clean now.

As in the past, a weak solution of Clorox & water will be run through the system before the start of next season's warm-weather camping. But I'm still surprised at what can accumulate on the strainer over the course of one season