grandson mason

grandson mason

grandson jaxson

grandson jaxson

Saturday, February 19, 2011

16-18FEB11 - Red Bay, AL (via anniston, al)

We departed Gaffney on Wednesday, 16FEB, heading to the Tiffin Motor Home Service Center in Red Bay, AL. We decided to take two days to make the drive & stopped at a military FamCamp on Anniston Army Depot, Anniston, AL. the Depot is the main “rehabilitation” center for most of the Army’s mechanized armored vehicles. It is also home of large stock pile of biological & chemical weapons they are in the process of destroying! This process has been ongoing for decades & will take a few more to complete.

You may remember that we were just in Red Bay on 06JAN. On that visit we learned that Tiffin had just developed proprietary line of day/night shades & were offering them for a reasonable price to retrofitted into older RVs. By the time we signed up for them it was too late to be accomplished during that visit. So we had them take the measurements for our three main windows in the living area & made an appointment for installation on Friday, 18FEB.

The reason we wanted them replaced is because our coach originally came with cloth day/night shades that were one continuous piece & raised/lowered by a very complicated & fragile string system (see picture). These shades for some reason were used by every RV builder, usually on their higher end models. The strings are notorious for constantly fraying & breaking! You can buy restringing kits, but you need the patience of Job & the manual dexterity of a teenager to fix them (it usually takes over an hour for just one shade!)!

Apparently the original owner of our RV got very frustrated with the original cloth day/night shades & removed all of them & replaced them with metal Venetian blinds (8 windows total). The problem with metal blinds is they attract dust like a magnet, constantly rattle, & never block out all of the light. So on our first visit to the Tiffin Service Center in Red Bay on JUN07, Dan asked to have the original shades reinstalled. Thankfully the technician strongly advised him not to do it.
Along comes a company called MCD out of Dallas, TX, that developed a double set of roller blinds – one black vinyl with thousands of tiny holes in the fabric for use during the day (you can see out, but they can’t see in), & the other solid white vinyl to use at night or when you want complete light blockage. The majority of RV builders have since switched to MCD blinds. We have been very interested in their blinds but found them very expensive. Even at RV trade shows where everyone is offering special deals, MCD would not come down on their prices. We even inquired about driving to Dallas & having the work done there, no deal or discount offered.

Eventually the strings for the metal blind by “Dan’s” chair broke & he decided to get at least one set of MCD blinds for his side of the RV. So at the FMCA RV Rally in Albuquerque that we attended back on 27MAR10, we tracked down the MCD rep & ordered one set. Once again they would not come down on price, but Corrie did get us out of the sales tax & shipping. It is a great product & works well, but unfortunately it will not work with our valance & we had to leave the valance off.
So like we said, most of the RV manufacturers are now using MCD products; but Mr Tiffin must have gotten tired of paying MCD & he developed his own product called “Rollease”. This is not the first time he has done this. He now has own TV antennas, TV switch boxes, surround sound systems; & now builds his own chassis for all his high end RVs. The difference between his blinds & MCD’s, is that MCD has an automatic roll-up feature, & Tiffin’s has a beaded chain you pull on to lower & raise them.

So by lunch time Thursday we were once again back at the Tiffin RV Service Center in Red Bay, AL. We checked into the Tiffin RV camp & confirmed that the Service Center was ready to install our Rollease blinds first thing Friday morning (they were). At 0700 Friday morning we rolled into service bay #29, & in four hours they modified our three valances & installed three sets of Rollease day/night blinds. The cost for three Tiffin blinds & w/labor was only slightly higher than the cost of one set of MCD blinds & no labor!!!

We could have left after lunch for the long drive back to Houma, LA & the kids; but the exterior gasket on our front door was ripping & we had asked earlier if we could get it repaired that day. The rip was not leaking yet & we could probably go months without problems, but eventually it would need replacing. Normally they are fully booked & tell you to wait in line; but for some reason they said to immediately drive over to service bay #32 & they would fix it!?! The next thing we know, we have three mechanics disassembling the entire front door, laying it on a cart, replacing the gasket, & reinstalling the door. Our original gasket one was white, & we haven’t cleaned it too often; as a result it was covered with black mold spots. So Dan asked for a black replacement & was told that they had so many complaints about white trim & mold, they only offer black now! Of course after we saw the bill for the three mechanics time, we wonder if we should have super glued it & washed the mold off?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

12-15FEB11 - Gaffney, SC (via lexington, sc)

After a great three days in Savannah, we continued on Saturday, 12FEB, to our scheduled Freightliner school in Gaffney, SC, stopping in Lexington, SC, to spend the night. Our RV park was right next to Barnyard flea market which was going strong upon our arrival. So after setting up camp we headed next door to check out the flea market. It was a pretty big flea market, but nothing unique. One thing we noted was that about almost everyone was smoking! Why? Because South Carolina has the lowest cigarettes taxes in the USA; so you can get a carton of coffin nails for about $26! We hope the state has a good health care system?

Sunday, we arrived at our RV park in Gaffney, SC; after setting up camp Dan headed to Cowpens National Battleground, while Corrie explored downtown Cowpens. The National Battleground commemorates the 17 January 1781 battle in which Continental Army & militia forces under BGEN Daniel Morgan, defeated British Legion forces under LCOL Banastre Tarleton.

Back Story – By 1778 the war was pretty much a stalemate in the north; so the British mounted a campaign in the southern colonies & were very successful in Georgia & South Carolina. By May 1780 Lord Cornwallis was preparing to move into North Carolina & Virginia. That summer Cornwallis started moving north & soundly defeated Continental forces at Camden, SC, in September 1780.

In December 1780 MGEN Nathanael Greene was placed in charge of the southern Continental forces to try & salvage the situation. He immediately directed Daniel Morgan with 600 battled tested Continental forces to split from the main army to harass Cornwallis’s Army in hopes of slowing them, or forcing the British to split their forces. The strategy worked & Tarleton with over 1000 highly trained men was dispatched by Cornwallis to engage & defeat the Continentals. We won’t bore you with the details, but Morgan’s Continental forces with the aid of 200 militia (ie Patriot Volunteers) defeated the British, capturing over 600 men.

This small part of the National Park Service is free, easily explored in a couple of hours, & has a great walking trail tour of the battlefield. Well worth checking out if you are in the area! Note, the Battlefield is also part of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.

In case you have forgotten, we have been in Gaffney before. Back in OCT09 we were returning from New England & stopped by the Freightliner Custom Chassis service center to get some maintenance on the RV accomplished. Anyway, Freightliner conducts two day “schools” called Camp Freightliner for owners of RV built on Freightliner chassis. We have been trying for two years to attend one of these classes. Since they are only offered in the spring or summer, & only in Gaffney, we haven’t been successful. This year they offered the course earlier (ie FEB) & we signed up.

The school was two days of constant & highly valuable info! We highly recommend it for anyone that has a diesel powered RV, even if it is not on a Freightliner chassis. Besides all the useful information they give you, they also provide some pretty good food for two lunches & one dinner. The only bad thing about the class was too much time wasted by certain participants who either “didn’t get it” or thought they “knew it all”! As we all know, every class/seminar has them, & you just learn to grit your teeth & hope the instructor can deal with them.

Friday, February 11, 2011

06-11FEB11 - Savannah, GA (via al, fl & ga)

Sunday morning, 06FEB, we started heading to Gaffney, SC. Why Gaffney? Because it is the site of a two day school run by Freightliner teaching RV owners the basics of a Freightliner Chassis. We have been interested in this school for years, but “something” always seemed to come up. This year they offered the school earlier in the year & we were able to fit into our schedule. So we decided to break the drive into several small segments, with the first overnight in Robertsdale, AL. Turns out the RV park was right next door to the Derailed Diner. The idea behind the Derailed is a truck stop that has had a derailed train crash into it; & supposedly some of the tables are pickup truck tailgates. But Corrie was still under the weather & we didn’t check it out.

Monday we stopped in Live Oak, FL, at Spirit of Suwannee RV. This is a very big RV park that appears to have some pretty big music events during the tourist season. Right now it is basically empty, & appears desolate & slightly run down. When Dan made a Wally Mart run after setting up camp, he realized we had previously dry camped at this very place on New Years Day 2009.

08FEB, Tuesday, we stopped at the FamCamp RV park, located at the Trident Sub Base, Kings Bay, GA, where we spent Xmas 2007. In our opinion this is one of the best military facilities we have stayed at. We were fortunate to get a site with a great view of the lake, & their laundry is still free.

On 09FEB, Wednesday, we decided to drive to Savannah, GA, & stop for a couple of days to sightsee. We decided to stay at another military RV facility, & after getting lost three times finally made it to Lotts Island FamCamp RV, Hunter Army Airfield, outside Savannah, GA. Hunter is the home of the aviation units for the 3rd Infantry Division headquartered at Fort Stewart, GA, as well as home of CG Air Station Savannah - the CG's largest helicopter unit.

Immediately after setting up camp we head downtown to the river front & discovered “Factors Walk”. First some history about Savannah – Savannah was founded by a “trust” headed by British Gen. James Oglethorpe in 1733. As a trust, Savannah did not “belong” to the Crown. The trust had four unique rules in its charter: no alcohol, no lawyers, no slavery, no Papists. Within twenty years the trust had failed, the rules fell by the wayside, & Savannah was “returned” to the Crown. But there was one great success of the trust & that was Oglethorpe’s world renowned city plan based on 24 squares. The idea was each square would be surrounded by churches, homes & businesses; creating a network of interconnected neighborhoods.

Unfortunately three of the squares were lost to mistaken attempts at modernization. But one of them (Ellis Square) was recently recreated when the city leveled some buildings, dug an underground parking garage, & installed the “new” Ellis Square on top of the garage. Many of the squares have monuments dedicated to important personages from Savannah’s history; but sometimes the monuments don’t match the square. For example, there are statues & monuments to Oglethorpe throughout the city, but there isn’t one in Oglethorpe Square; & the monuments in squares in honor of Gen Pulaski & Nathaniel Greene are not located in the squares bearing their names?

Anyway, back to the river front & the “Factors Walk”. The waterfront of Savannah is unique that the town was founded on top of a forty foot bluff. This was great for military protection & protection from floods, but made the loading & offloading of vessels very difficult. The solution was to build a small piece of level land at the bottom of the bluff with warehouses & extend the warehouses up vertically until the offices were on top, level with the top of the bluff. With the invention of the cotton gin these warehouses & Savannah became the number two cotton port in the world. With the advent of the container vessel, this portion of Savannah’s waterfront fell into disrepair. It has since been revitalized with shops, hotels, offices, bars, restaurants, etc. The two main areas are at the bottom on River St, & at the top along Factors Walk. It was an unexpected discovery & an enjoyable afternoon exploring.

Trivia – what is a Factor?
On our way back to the RV we stopped by Chippewa Square to find the bench that Forrest Gump sat on eating a box of chocolates while he waited for the bus. Every scene of Tom Hanks sitting on the bench was shot on the north side of the square; but as always the case in movies, certain liberties were taken with the actual location. Turns out all the “real” benches are on the interior of park not the exterior as shown in the movie, & face the monument in the center of the park not facing the buildings across the street. So what the producers did was place a fiberglass bench in the middle of flower bed on the outside of park! The fiberglass bench is now in Savannahs History Museum, & the flower bed has been restored.

Thursday morning, 10FEB, Dan headed to Fort Pulaski National Monument; which is also part of the National Park System’s Gullah Geechee National Heritage Corridor, & the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Fort Pulaski is one of the more than thirty forts of the “Third System” of coastal fortifications built during the first half of the 19th century. What makes Pulaski unique was how it fell to Union forces on 11 APR 1862, signaling the end of all such existing fortifications from then on.

The forts of the Third System were pretty much immune to smooth bore cannons beyond 1000 yards. Even the Union Chief of Engineers when discussing Fort Pulaski stated “You might as well bombard the Rocky Mountains!”. In light of the success of brick forts to withstand long range bombardment, the Confederates were not concerned when the Union seized Tybee Island over a mile away. In fact Robert E Lee told the Fort’s CO that the Federal gunners could not breach the walls. But 10 of the Union’s 36 cannons were new experimental rifled cannons. The Union bombardment commenced on 10APR, & by the end of the day the southeast corner of the fort was breached & the Confederates surrendered on the 11th. One Union officer likened the significance of the engagement to the significance of the battle between the MONITOR & the MERRIMAC. Luckily Dan was able to catch the free walking tour of the fort led by one of the Rangers.

An interesting forgotten historical fact is that after the fall Fort Pulaski, the Union General Hunter issued a General Order freeing all slaves in Union controlled areas around the fort, on 13 APRIL 1862. But remember up to this point the war from the Union’s perspective was about secession, not slavery! So President Lincoln rescinded the order. It wasn’t until Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in JAN 1863, that the war also officially became about ending slavery.

That afternoon Dan went to Old Fort Jackson which was a Confederate fort upriver from Fort Pulaski. This is a state park that has a little “southern” bias in its historical displays, as compared to the balanced presentation by the National Park Service at Fort Pulaski. The historical displays make much of the fact that although the Union took Fort Pulaski within one year of the start of the war, they never advanced upriver to Savannah. But with the capture of Pulaski, the Union effectively removed Savannah & all upriver ports as supply routes. And the Union could than remove many offshore vessels employed in the blockade & position them off other Confederate ports. So there was no hurry to try & seize Savannah from the Union view point, probably saving thousands of Union lives.

That night we had dinner at the Olde Pink House. We did not know anything about the restaurant, & were surprised to discover one of Savannah’s oldest & finest restaurants! Corrie had the BLT salad & grilled lobster with baby corn, Dan went with the she crab soup & seafood platter (blackened oysters, seared scallops, & shrimp w/grits). Most excellent! Dan wanted the seafood tower at $115 but Corrie said no!
Friday morning, 11FEB, we headed back into the historic district to catch a “trolley” tour. You have probably seen these fake trolleys providing tours in most major USA cities. We have never taken one, but figured it was a quick one & one half hour history lesson on the city. Our driver also allowed an unauthorized stop at John the Baptist Cathedral to view the beautiful stained glass windows. After lunch Corrie went shopping on Broughton St, while Dan headed to the Savannah History Museum where he learned the about the siege of Savannah during the Revolutionary War.

In 1779 Savannah was a British city under siege by American & French forces. When they finally attacked the British Redoubt at Spring Hill, the Americans & French suffered tremendous casualties & eventually broke off the siege. Many historians theorize that this convincing British victory raised the moral of the citizens back in the UK & strengthened their resolve to win the war. As a result the war lasted another four years. Interesting thing is that although the war was between Britain & American Revolutionaries, this battle was mostly fought by other nationalities. The British forces were Scottish, German & loyal colonists; the French forces were Dominican Republic, Haitians, Irish & Swedish; & the American forces were revolutionaries, Austrian, German, French, Polish & Swiss!

Trivia – what does “15 minutes with Venus & 3 years with Mercury!” mean? The USA was the first country to gain independence in the “new world”, what was the second?

Although we have only scratched the surface, we were very impressed with Savannah & definitely want to return!

Trivia – what was the name of the first steam powered vessel to cross the Atlantic? What was the name of the USA Navy vessel struck by the first radio controlled bomb (ie forerunner of the guided missile)? What was the name of the first nuclear powered cargo vessel? (hint – if you get one right, you should get them all right)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

01-05FEB11 - New Orleans, LA (mostly)

February started off with another cold front passing through Louisiana. We know that not everyone believes global warming, but for what ever reason this has been an unusual winter in south LA. Of course we haven’t had to deal with snow & ice like Atlanta, Dallas & other so called southern cities. So on Thursday, 03FEB, we got back on the road & drove all the way to New Orleans! We set up camp at French Quarter RV Resort just around lunch time. Although a little pricey, you are within walking distance of the Vieux Carre & the Mississippi River.

Then we headed to Domilises for a PoBoy. This is a very small, out of the way, neighborhood bar known for excellent PoBoys. But it turns out they are closed on Thursdays & Sundays! Luckily Dan had noticed Pascal’s Manale on the drive to Domilises - founded in 1913, this family-run, Italian-Creole restaurant is located in uptown New Orleans & is famous for creating barbecued shrimp (note: if you order the BBQ shrimp & they offer you a bib, wear the bib). This neighborhood restaurant is vintage New Orleans, from the service to the d├ęcor. After our lunch we were going to check out the funky shops on Magazine St, but it was too cold; so we got a hot coffee & headed back to the RV.

That night it was dinner at Cochon. Chef Link and co-owner Chef Stephen Stryjewski, have embraced the old style Louisiana traditions receiving whole pigs daily & overseeing an in-house Boucherie; creating boudin, andouille, smoked bacon, and head cheese. The menu also features handmade crawfish pies, rabbit & dumplings, and spoon bread with okra & tomatoes. Most entrees & sides are finished in a wood burning oven; & Cochon offers specialties from the wood burning oven such as roasted oysters, suckling pig, ribs & beef brisket. Seafood from local waters round out the offerings with Chef Link’s signature roasted gulf fish “fishermen” style. The end result is that although only open a few years, it is already one of the top rated restaurants in New Orleans & a destination for “foodies” from all over the world. Corrie had the mushroom soup, fried green tomato w/shrimp & remoulade, & arugula salad w/pickled beets; Dan went w/the boucherie plate (a great sampler of their Boucherie products) & rabbit w/dumplings. A fantastic meal!
Since it was still early in the evening Dan decided to see if we could catch some traditional jazz at the Preservation Hall. The Hall was opened in 1961 to preserve traditional jazz music by providing a permanent place for nightly jazz performances. It has sense become on of those “must do” items on ever tourist’s list. For $12 you stuffed into a small room with about a hundred of your closest friends; probably in violation of multiple fire codes. There are only seats for about 40 people so everyone else stands in the back trying to catch a view of the band. The music starts at 8PM, with the band playing 45 minutes sets until midnight. Once you are in, you can stay through all sets. We had to stand through the first set, but had seats after that. The band will take requests - $2 for a traditional jazz number, $5 for others, & $10 for those tourists that HAVE to hear “Saints Come Marching In”. It was a good time with such standards as St James Infirmary, Going to New Orleans, etc; & yes they even finished w/Saints Come Marching In!

Friday, 04FEB, Dan gets up early (at least for him) so he can catch the 0930 tour at the French Quarter Visitor Center of the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park & Preserve. This National Historic Park is unusual in that it has six different locations: a Prairie Acadian Cultural Center in Eunice, a Acadian Cultural Center in Lafayette, a Wetlands Acadian Center in Thibodaux, the Barataria Preserve, the Chalmette Battlefield where Jackson defeated the British during the War of 1812, & this French Quarter Center dedicated to the history of the New Orleans & the Vieux Carre. The French Quarter Center has numerous displays detailing the area history from Native American times to post Katrina. As usual with the National Park Service it was an excellent & informative free walking tour; but because of the cold & wet there were only 4 people on tour at the start & only 2 make it to the end (Dan was one). Then Dan went to the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. This Visitor Center does not have many displays, but usually has two or more free musical performances during the day.

After rejoining Corrie at the RV, it was back to Domilises for PoBoys; Corrie had her usual oyster poboy & Dan went with the roast beef & swiss w/gravy, both excellent. As we said this is small neighborhood bar & it turns out with a very small restroom (barely room for a toilet & no sink!). Since it was finally sunny out & having finally gotten poboys at Domilises, it was off to Magazine St for window shopping & coffee.

On the way back to the RV we decided to check out the NOLA visitor center at Basin St. This is a fairly new Visitor Center located in the last remaining RR building in NOLA. It was a freight office for the Southern Railway & has displays on NOLA history, music, food, etc, & plenty of parking (something impossible to find in the French Quarter). In addition, it is right next door to St Louis Cemetery No. 1, where you can visit & make an offering to Marie Laveau, the voodoo queen.

Saturday morning if was off to the Riverwalk Market Place where Dan checked out the Southern Food & Beverage (SoFAB) Museum which contains the Museum of the American Cocktail (MotAC); while Corrie checked out the shops. The Museum is a work in progress, but still worth a visit & gives an excellent overview of how different immigrant groups influenced & contributed to the culture & the great cuisine of southern Louisiana. One of the funniest exhibits was the Katrina Deli Lunch Cart which rolled during the 2006 Mardi Gras (the first one after the hurricane). Items included were Bush Baloney Sandwich, Heckuva Job Brownie, Levee Leak Soup, Red Beans & Maggots, etc. While Dan was still in the Museum Corrie headed to Harrah’s Casino where the gods of chance were very, very, good to her. After lunch in the Faubourg Marigny, it was back to RV to enjoy some more of the sunshine.

Trivia – what is the only native North American spice? Who said “where good rum is immortalized & drinking is an art.” (think tiki)?

Unfortunately as the day wore on Corrie’s mild cold got worse & worse. So that evening Dan went by himself to a club in the Faubourg Marigny called “d.b.a.”, to hear John Boutte perform. Dan was impressed with John after seeing him perform at the APR08 French Quarter Festival (see our BLOG entry about the Festival for more details). His songs are sometimes featured on the new HBO series – Treme (which is neighborhood in New Orleans where Boutte was raised & now lives). It was good show, but not the same without Corrie being able to attend.