Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sitting in the Roadtrek waiting for the lights to come on

I had expected for you to be reading right now about the extended vacation that we just took to Virginia in our Roadtrek. Due to an extensive power outage at home following Hurricane Irene I am sitting in my Roadtrek in my driveway waiting for the electric power to come back on in the house. I am briefly writing this on my laptop using the Roadtrek's inverter. We had quite a trip and HOPEFULLY, in a few days (the power company says "by the end of the week"!) we will once again have power and I can properly sit at my computer and write all about our trip. Until then, I hope all that are reading this are doing so in the glow of electric light, and all are safe. This was quite a storm and I know that others have had extreme damage - luckily, other than something hitting my Roadtrek and putting a small dent and scuff over one of the tail-lights, we have come out well - in the dark, but well.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A There and Back Trip to Camping World and Atlantic City, NJ

Camping World is a chain of camping supply stores all over the country. Of course, "all over the country" rarely includes metropolitan New York and the nearest Camping World store to us is in New Jersey, about as south as Philadelphia in PA. I have ordered things from them on their website and joined their President's Club for discounts - because the discount that I got on my initial purchase both paid for the membership and also gave me a substantial discount on top of that for what I was buying. There was something else that I decided that we need for the Roadtrek if we find ourselves needing to stay not in a campground overnight and we need to run the air conditioner. It is called a Gen-turi Generator Exhaust System and it allows you to run the generator and move the carbon monoxide exhaust up over the roof of the camper and away from you or anyone parked near you. And in this way, you don't die inside from the exhaust while you are sleeping.

Some say this is not necessary. Some say the carbon monoxide detector alarm will wake you in time, but I say, why take the chance when the solution is less than $200. And as it happened Camping World had this on sale.

I could have ordered it online but I really wanted to see it and make sure that it was going to fit without a problem both on the Roadtrek (I have been told by other Roadtrek owners that it would) and also how it will fit in the storage area. This is an assembly of three four feet long pipes. They should just fit inside the back of the rear storage compartment leaving enough room for the three laundry baskets that we keep in there to make moving things in and out of the area easier. But should fit and do fit can be two different things.

We decided that we would make a day trip of it and take the Roadtrek to New Jersey. We would go to Camping World and then travel about an hour and a half further south to Atlantic City for dinner in one of the casinos. I am not really a gambler - I would like to be but can't afford to be. We planned the trip for the end of the week. The week was hot - in the middle of a heat wave of over 100 degree F temps. I decided that Thursday, the coolest (low 90's) and less humid days was the day to go. We would not plan to stay overnight. We made no reservations at a campground and if we needed to stay over for some reason we would find a Walmart parking lot - as there is no overnight parking at any Atlantic City casino parking lot - as there is at many casino parking lots in other places. With the heat expected to climb again, I was not really interested in staying over to a much hotter day, anyway.

We put a change of clothing in the Roadtrek just in case. We made sure there was water in the tanks and we headed out to New Jersey. We took our usual route for the Roadtrek out of New York and headed for the Garden State Parkway. At least we did not need to deal with the traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike due to the construction that is going on there.

The Garden State Parkway was fairly clear and the road surface was good which means it is Roadtrek friendly and we did not have too many bangs and squeaks as we drove. We stopped for lunch at a rest area's Burger King and then continued along. We got to the turn off to Camping World in good time.

I had expected a lot larger store than we found. For some reason I imagined the mecca store for campers - much as Cabellas is for sportsmen. (For those unfamiliar with Cabellas - this is a chain of stores that are large sports/camping/fishing/hunting/etc. stores that are built for "shoppertainment". That means the store is designed to entertain as much as it is to sell you things - and you can spend hours in one.) This Camping World Store was a store with three long aisles of RV gear, equipment, and supplies. There was more than was at our Roadtrek dealer's supply store but certainly not a store to spend a lot of time looking in. Attached to the store is an RV service center and around the store was an RV sales center. We parked the Roadtrek outside near another RV and a few cars and went inside.

I had called before we left to make sure that they actually had the item in stock - as their website indicated they did. I was told that one would be set aside for me. I was not going to make this trip for nothing. We went into the store and started to walk and look. There was a lot to see that we had not seen before.

Of course, when in a store that is of great interest looking at things not previously seen anywhere, we start to shop. We soon had several items that we would gather up and purchase with the Gen-turi before we left. A collapsible tub, a refrigerator fan, a hose to connect to the sink to put water into the toilet when it needs to be power cleaned, a bottle of coconut oil lube to lubricate the tank valves and seals - how can anyone resist these things? ;)

We did manage to spend about an hour in the store. I went up to the cashier and told them that we had a Gen-turi on hold for us - and there it was right behind the counter. I asked a few questions about it and how it would fit. I decided that I could install it myself, rather than have their service department do it for almost fifty bucks. We bought the Gen-turi and the rest of what we collected along the way.

Looking at the Gen-turi in the store, I was reassured that it could be installed to work as intended with a Roadtrek. Installation is temporary and it has the correct fittings for the Roadtrek generator exhaust pipe for the part that is permanently installed. Outside, I opened the back door and made sure that the Gen-turi was going to fit where we needed it to fit to store it. The only problem was that in the box, it was not going to fit in the back as it would out of the box. We did not want to leave the box behind, so Meryl went inside to access the rear through the little aisle door at the bottom. With that and one basket removed, the box could fit down the aisle and into the back compartment. It took about fifteen minutes to get everything in place and we could be on our way.

I pulled out of the Camping World parking lot with the GPS set for Atlantic City and the directions were telling me to head not back in the direction that I had gotten off the parkway. I decided that it must be easier just reversing the directions that I had to get off the parkway I turned around and headed back the way that I had come. Unfortunately, there was no entrance back onto the parkway heading south - only north. OK. I turned around and followed the GPS.

There must be a way back on to the Garden State Parkway and the GPS did not seem to come back to it - if it ever did for miles and miles. It was heading now toward afternoon rush hour and I did not want to be on side streets. We passed a sign that pointed to the GSP South. I turned around and found that sign again, and headed hopefully toward the parkway. Maybe it actually went there - and maybe it did not but we never saw the parkway or any other sign. We were just driving in New Jersey, somewhat in the correct direction. This time we routed the GPS to the GSP South. We drove for over an hour, maybe longer, only to wind up just about where we started and came upon the Garden State Parkway - south entrance. Finally. Driving in New Jersey can be like this - and NJ is the home of traffic circles - no left turns - until you get to the right in the one place where there is, unexpectedly, no traffic circle and you need to make a left. The Roadtrek is a large vehicle and top heavy. It also has limited visibility around it. It is not the type of vehicle that you want to make sudden turns or change lanes quickly in.

We were back on the parkway to Atlantic City. Time again to relax and enjoy the day. To go to Atlantic City you connect from the Garden State Parkway to the Atlantic City Expressway and this takes you right into the middle of the city close to the Boardwalk and in the midst of all the casinos.

There are two areas of casinos in Atlantic City. The main set is along the Boardwalk. There are also a few off to the other edge of the city at what is called the Marina. We were heading to the Showboat Casino parking lot which is the last casino on one end of the Boardwalk. I chose this one because we have seen the outdoor parking lot there and I knew that we could park the Roadtrek with no problem. Other casinos seem to have outdoor parking lots. This one is large and open. I recalled that there was a large iron fence around the parking lot and I was right. What I had not realized was that there was easy access in and out around that fence so the only security would be from the parking lot cashier's booths - one on each side street. It costs money to park in the casino lots in Atlantic City. If you have a player's card from the casino it is discounted. We came with such a card. You pay one price for the whole day or any part of the day - and you pay when you leave.

We parked in an open area not too far from one of the cashier's booths. We closed up all of the windows - we have made curtains, plus the curtains that the Roadtrek came with on the windows, that do not permit anyone to look inside. I beeped the remote to lock the doors and off we went to the Showboat Casino entrance which was right across the street.

You enter here at the bus entrance and make your way through the heavy cigarette smoke of those waiting for their free or heavily compensated bus ride home. You walk down the hallway and come into the hotel lobby which immediately leads to the casino. The theme of this casino is riverboat gambler with a French accent. Every casino in Atlantic City - maybe all over the US - has the same distinctive sounds - slot machine alarms going off paying a jackpot, the sounds of machines being played - symphony of electronic bells and whistles.

I have liked Atlantic City since before there were casinos. My family would come here for a weekend or a week's vacation when I was younger - primarily in my teen years. Then the Boardwalk was filled with hucksters trying to entice you into their showrooms to sell you some very cheap things at very expensive prices. There is little of that remaining, though there are plenty of little shops selling overpriced gifts and souvenirs. I cannot go to Atlantic City and not recall the cons that would happen on the Boardwalk - all a great deal of entertainment if you had the willpower to resist getting involved. Then there were the piers - of which only a little remains. So long ago, I saw the diving horse at the Steel Pier (a little amusement park now is on a pier where the Steel Pier once stood). The Steep Pier was a wonder in those days. There were several movie theaters inside, a concert arena, rides and carnival type attractions - and all for one low admission price. Further along the Boardwalk there was the Italian Pier and inside that (the piers were covered over and mostly were roofed buildings over the water. The Italiian Pier was the place to go for great Italian sandwiches. That pier is still there, no name now, and the sandwiches are just a memory. There are still frozen custard stands on the Boardwalk and of course, you can still get fresh made salt water taffy. It is all still rinky-dink, but it is nothing like the past. For awhile this all went even further downhill and the city was desperate for a revival - and then the casinos came. At that point it was Atlantic City or Las Vegas if you wanted to casino gamble in the US. It turned the Boardwalk around, but did little for the bulk of the city which is still a high crime and poverty area. If you visit Atlantic City do not go more than two streets away from the Boardwalk. This is one of the reasons that we suspect that local ordinances prohibit overnight parking in the parking lots - safety.

We took a relaxing walk down the Boardwalk. About halfway down we stopped to go into the casino restaurant that I had decided upon to see if there was a wait. It was after 6:30 anyway, and it necessary we would just get on line which we discovered was necessary right then if we wanted to have dinner before the restaurant closed. We waited over an hour to get in to eat.

After dinner, we went back out to the Boardwalk. Because of the cooler temperatures of this day and the hotter temperatures coming in for the next day - plus the ocean being right there, a thick fog had come in and all of the neon lights were surrounded in a hazy glow. Oh boy! I am not a fan of driving in the fog to begin with - though I have done it. But with the Roadtrek that I was still getting familiar driving, I started to wonder if we might just be better off finding a place to park and "camp" for the night. No matter what we had to get out of Atlantic City, so we started walking back to the Showboat and the Roadtrek. Ah well. I had been looking forward to a night walk on the Boardwalk.

We made our way walking through the fog, avoiding being run over by the Boardwalk's mode of transportation - the rolling chairs. Men and women push these chairs on wheels with you and your family in them. They often do not care if anyone is walking in front of them. They are not inexpensive - and often you can just as easily walk than ride. We arrived at the Showboat. Looking up at the tall hotels you could not see the tops in the fog and most of the lights were just a subdued glow.

Outside in the parking lot, the fog was noticeably less. We could easily see the Roadtrek. We got in, took down the cloaking curtains and set the GPS for home. I figured that once we left the city and were more inland we would evaluate the fog.

When you drive into and out of Atlantic City you drive with the water on each side of you. The fog here was also not as thick as it had been on the Boardwalk. Visibility out the windshield was not bad. We would encounter several other places that we would be close to the ocean along the trip. Move onward and see was how we proceeded. The Atlantic City Expressway was not too bad and once on the Garden State Parkway there was no fog. The radio weather report - now that the radio in the Roadtrek was fixed we could get weather reports - said that the next day would be into the 100's. It would be a good idea to get home and not deal with that heat. Whatever geographic and weather conditions had resulted in that thick, heavy fog in Atlantic City, it was no where else. And that was good.

We got home without any more fog. It was late when we left New Jersey and it was very late when we got home. We left everything in the Roadtrek that we had with us for the day and went in the house and went to bed. Not a camping trip as it turned out, but it had not been intended as one. Think of it as time to get better acquainted with the Roadtrek; this was something that I needed to do.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Back to PA to Dealer Service

We were home from our trip to Pennsylvania for a day and it was time to head back to take the Roadtrek to dealer service for several things that were wrong. This date was determined by the dealer service center who said that they would have their best Roadtrek service technician available to work on our Roadtrek. A part needed to be replaced and the part that had to be ordered would be available as well. So despite having just traveled the many miles to PA and back again, we were on the road again heading back.

As I had said at the end of my last article, we did not just stay the extra two days to Thursday in Pennsylvania was that we had to get back to our real life for at least a day to take care of "business". Sometimes reality leers its ugly head and demands your attention. So it had to be home and back.

The trip to the dealer should take between three and four hours depending on road traffic and construction - and every road in NY seems to be under construction. We decided that we would not take the New Jersey Turnpike as the GPS recommends because that is under major construction as well. We would head north to Route 78 and go through the mountains with the 18 wheelers. I was not sure how the Roadtrek would keep up on this route as my older van has trouble with the inclines. We would see.

Getting to that route - heck, just getting out of NY meant a vibrating and banging ride on the worst roads imaginable. I do not think that Roadtrek had roads like this in mind when they designed the RV because everything vibrates inside as you ride over roads that could serve as a torture test track for military tanks and somewhere inside is something that still goes bang, bang, bang with every bump in the road. We have wedged down the toilet lid. We have cushioned the shower drain plate in the floor and we have used velcro straps to hold the TV solid in its wall mount. Things that we have placed in the cabinets have been cushioned. I know that there are going to be noises when the road is not smooth, but with each bump I cringe as I hear the bang and shake inside.

We set out early so that we would get to the service center at a reasonable time for them to do the work. We had to stop for lunch along the way and we did not know what to expect from the traffic. Our choice of routes was good. Route 78 was fairly clear. The Roadtrek had no problem with the hills going up and down the small mountains that this route passes through, and it kept up with the 18 wheelers. We arrived at the dealer service center just before 1 pm. We all were surprised that we had gotten there that early.

There were several things that needed to be attended to. Since our first night in the Roadtrek - that night of the day of delivery - the monitor panel that shows how much is in the various tanks was not working correctly. One of the LEDs to show how full the black tank is would not light. We had already been back to dealer service that next day to show them this light and the tech insisted it was fine. He never showed us that it actually lit but claimed it did. When we got home we filled the tank and just as before the lights went from 1/3 to Full with the 2/3 light never lighting. This is a small tank - only ten gallons - and not one that you want to be uncertain about. When we called the dealer to say we were coming back with this problem they told us that they would order a new monitor panel and they did.

A big problem that we were having was that the dashboard radio - a Roadtrek installed combination radio/GPS/CD/Ipod/USB/DVD player and back up camera screen - did not receive any AM radio stations and the few FM stations that it received were barely audible and not locked in. I suspected that the antenna on the van was never attached to the back of the radio. This is a simple thing to attach IF you can reach or even see the back of the radio under the dashboard. Cars and vans today are not designed for you to have any access to the back of the dashboard. In the Roadtrek you cannot even see the back of the radio if you stick your head under the dash. It is behind the upper middle of the dash and blocked by the engine cover that protrudes into the cabin. There was a time, way back when, when you could get under the dash and see the radio, move a few screws or clips and pull the radio out, change the radio or change the antenna and it was an easy and quick job. Not anymore. To get to the radio the entire dashboard had to be removed which involved screws and clips and I was warned that a slight bend this way or that and the dash would snap and that would be a major replacement not covered under any warranty. No, I would leave repairing the radio to the experts.

I had contacted Roadtrek about the radio. I explained what I thought it might be and got little advice but have dealer service look at it. They did advise that the service center should have on hand a new antenna and a new antenna wire just in case the antenna was faulty. If the radio was bad, the service center told me that a new one would have to be ordered and that could not be done UNTIL they looked at the current one to see what the problem may be. That would mean another trip back to Pennsylvania.

While we were away for our four days in Pennsylvania a few other things went wrong. One afternoon, I went to move the driver's windshield visor and the clip snapped off from the ceiling of the van. Roadtrek installs a cushioned ceiling in the Roadtrek that comes right up to the windshield and they replace the visors as well. I looked to see if it could just snap back into place of if there was a screw that came out. There was no screw and there was no way to snap it back as I tried. We were going for service so this would be added to the list.

We also discovered while we were driving the Roadtrek on our four day trip that the little cabinet door on the cabinet that contains the front dining table opens - and when it does and you are driving the dining table which is hinged in half comes sliding out of the cabinet and starts swinging. That was a very exciting moment while we were on the road - and it happened more than once. In addition the kitchen drawer despite its two catches comes sliding out as well. Our list for service was growing.

The last thing on the list were the valve handles to the dump tanks. When we picked up the Roadtrek for some reason the salesman demoing the RT had a need to turn the black tank handle vertical from its horizontal position. He decided that it was better that way. Well, with the handle in that position it gets caught on the door and the door covering the valve handles does not open. Turning the handle back to horizontal just resulted in the handle springing right back to vertical. Ah well - I have told you about this salesman in a past article. We wanted the service center to try to correct the position of the handle.

The service center is located about a quarter mile from a small shopping center and it is just across the road from the dealer showroom and RV supply center. My intention was to be around the Roadtrek as they worked on it - to be right there to show them the LED that would not light and that the radio was not tuning in stations. This, however, was not going to be permitted. We were invited to go to the showroom and supply store across the road to wait - but as we expected - it was going to take hours.

We have not really seen any RV supplies stores except the one at the dealer and we never really spent much time in that one before. There were a few things that I was interested in seeing and we were going to have plenty of time to explore this one now. We walked across the road and went into the store. It was nicely cool and a good place to be out of the heat outside. Of course, as we walked in a salesman wanted to help us - we told him that we would look around - and did not mention that we might be looking for an hour or two - though I suspected it would be a lot longer than that and when we had exhausted all of the time that we could waste here we would be heading over to the shopping center down the road. We went up and down the aisles - twice. I got to see things that I had read about and saw in ads. I found a box of one amp blade fuses that the Roadtrek uses in two places on its RV fuse panel. I had been able to find all of the other size fuses needed by the Roadtrek but no auto store or big box store sold one amp blade fuses. I had found out that some marine stores do sell them and eventually I had planned to visit a few in my area looking for the fuses. Well, we had time to kill and here were the fuses I was looking for. We wandered around a little longer and then purchased the fuses. We had spent as much time as we could here and it was time to move on. It was an hour since we had arrived.

The walk to the road that the shopping center is on was slightly up hill and we hiked on up, crossed the road at the traffic light and found a round about way into the shopping center parking lot as this lot had been built with no intention of anyone ever arriving there on foot.

There are a few stores in this shopping center, which is actually two shopping centers adjacent to each other. There is a dollar store, a Staples office store and then across to the other shopping center there is a Giant supermarket and behind that a Home Depot. There seemed to be enough to waste at least a couple of hours. We started with the dollar store. If we were going to be tempted to spend money at least it would be inexpensive.

We actually found a few things to buy in the dollar store - some personal and some related to the Roadtrek. We walked around the dollar store several times, waited to the last time around to pick up the things that we found and went to the cashier before they decided we were casing the place to rob it. It was really a small store. We moved next door to the Staples office store. This is a place with a variety of things that interest both me and my wife (as odd as that might sound) and we could spend awhile there - plus the store is large and they would not realize how much time we were spending inside. About a quarter of the way around the store, my wife's cell phone rang - it was the service center. Could they be finished so soon? Or had they found a problem? I was sure they were going to say that the radio was bad and had to be ordered. No, they needed to show us something and speak with us regarding the tank valve handles. Meryl told them fine, we were at the shopping center and it would take us about ten minutes or so to walk back. What shopping center was the response - odd.

The walk was downhill this time and we were back at the service center. They had not yet started on the radio. They were still working on the panel. They needed to discuss what to do about the tank handle. There was no way to correct the position of the handle. It would not return and stay at the horizontal position. They felt that it worked fine but agreed that the turned handle could stop the door from opening. The suggestion was to install a small metal L bracket that would hold the handle in a horizontal position and not interfere with its operation and it would keep it away from the door. They showed me the little bracket and it would be screwed in. Fine. I poked around the van to see what had been done. The table cabinet was fixed by moving the door catch from the top to the side - they said that at the top it never really caught at all. They said that the drawer was a problem as the catch could not be moved and there was no room on the side to install a second catch. They tightened this as best they could. (The drawer still slides open when driving.) They thought that the visor clip would just need a longer screw but they had not looked at that yet. OK - we gave our input about the bracket for the handle and we were not needed any longer. It was back to the shopping center. We had been here now for about two hours.

This time we went over to the Giant supermarket. It is owned by the same company that owns supermarkets that are local to us and my wife was interested in comparing. This supermarket is also prominent around Pennsylvania and if we needed something while traveling it would be good to know that they carried it.

This was not the first time that we have browsed in a supermarket. As we have traveled in the past from state to state we would always find a time - usually late night - to check out a local supermarket and see what they sold different than what is sold where we live and how the prices compared. There are actually a number of things that you will find in supermarkets in different states that you will not find locally to you. And sometimes the prices will surprise you, too.

We got to know that supermarket extremely well. We wandered up and down the aisles. We were running out of stores to waste time in and we had to make the most of each on that we went in. There is no real waiting room at the dealer - just a counter and about three by seven feet of space to stand in. We were out of the heat in the stores but I was getting tired. There was nothing to do but keep moving along. We spent more than an hour in the supermarket and at that point it was just making me hungry. To avoid temptation we left.

Next door was a chain drug store. My wife wanted to look for something and we went inside. While there she found the exact pair of tweezers that she had been looking for months for at home and around in various stores. Well, those few minutes in this store were time well spent.

It was off to Home Depot. It was almost four o'clock. Home Depot is not my most favorite store but I do find that stores like Home Depot are always much better out of state than they are where we are at home. Stores that are really good tend to come to our area - and perhaps it is the people that they hire, but these stores never compare in both service and quality to that same store out of NY. I won't elaborate, but it continually happens like this when a chain, that we know from out of state, finally arrives in our area.

We wandered up and down the aisles. We had a few projects that we were considering so we spent the time checking out what they had that we would need. I went over to check out the lumber which did not look bent and curved as it does at the Home Depot at home. As we wandered I became conscious of the time and wondered if we should just head back to the service center now, as it was after 4:30 and I thought that the service center closed at 5.

We started walking back. I looked along the road that the dealer is on and saw that past the dealer's location the road takes a steep climb upward. I said to Meryl that it all could be worse - the dealership could have been further up that hill and we would be hiking up it.

We got to the service center door and it said closes at 5. It was 4:45. We went in and we said that we came back so that they would not have to call us and wait as they close in 15 minutes. They said, yes, they do close but they keep working until 8 - and they were just working on the radio now. They had replaced the monitor panel and said that all LEDs work now - and that they filled the tanks and emptied them to make sure. There was some concern about some of the sensors but they believe that they will be fine. For a newly built RT, I hope so...

I wandered in the back where I could see the Roadtrek through an open garage door. There were two technicians inside working on the radio. They said that they also could not get any signals on the AM and FM. I did not want them to rush, so I joined Meryl in the office at the counter to chat with the very nice lady who had been working with us all day and also was helping us on the phone all along since we took delivery. We had a nice chat. It was getting close to six. It had been a long day wasting time but at least the outcome - I hoped would be worth it all.

Eventually, she got called in the back and got a report from the technician. The repairs were finished. The radio antenna cable WAS NEVER plugged into the back of the radio. This was just as I suspected! The trainee crew must have been in charge of the interior wiring on my Roadtrek at the factory because they also screwed up the TV antenna wiring. With the antenna plugged in now the radio was tuning in many AM and FM stations loud and clear.

The sun visor clip did not have a screw to replace with a longer screw. It instals with a bar tab that force fits in. They were surprised to see one like this - as they expected to find a screw hole. They managed to get into the ceiling padding but advised me that the fit is weak and any pulling on that bracket will bring it out again. When I later saw it I found that where it went back in, was just out of line and the visor did not lock in any longer, but it was held in place and would not fall out. If Roadtrek had used a simple and standard screw in bracket clip, this would never be a problem.

We were finished. I signed the completed work receipt and we got into the Roadtrek. The first thing that I did was turn on the radio and was delighted that I could tune in stations loud and clearly. I had stations from NY that were coming in. Perfect! The problem was fixed and we would not need to come back again to have the radio replaced.

It was after six o'clock and we needed to go somewhere for dinner before we headed home. We know a restaurant that is south of the dealer but not close. It is near Philadelphia and we started off on the road to go there. We were driving about fifteen minutes and I reached over to the GPS screen to program in the location of the restaurant. I then noticed a mark on the side of the screen. What is this?, I asked Meryl. She looked and said that she thought it was a scratch. There was no scratch on the screen before. I have been very careful with the screen. I pulled over into a parking lot and looked closer. It was more than a scratch it was a cut. I could feel my blood pressure rising. I asked Meryl to call the service center and hope that they would answer the phone. They did. Come back they said. I turned around and headed the fifteen minutes back north.

We got there and the woman from the office came out with a camera. She took a photograph of the screen and said that she would speak about it with the service manager the next day. She acknowledged that it was a cut/scratch and seemed to believe me that it was not there before. I asked that when she got a replacement, they ship the new GPS to me and I would swap it with this one and send this one back to them. Fine. At least there was no argument and the attitude was positive and friendly.

A bit of the bubble of happiness that I had a half hour before had burst. We drove to the restaurant and after that home. That cut on the screen was now obvious every time I looked over to the radio.

It took a few weeks but a new GPS is was shipped to me with sincere apologies and I am sending them back the damaged one at their expense. Good dealer service and service people are extremely important.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Home Again, Home Again...

Tuesday - the day after July Fourth

This was the last day of our trip. We like to travel at night and spend the day still touring around the area on our trips so we had some things planned for this last day. Before we packed up to leave we decided to dump the tanks again - they were not near full, but we would be having service on the Roadtrek on Thursday involving the tanks and I did not want to bring the tanks to the dealer's service tech with any surprises inside for him to empty first. The black tank really should be at least 2/3's full before dumping so we started filling it with water. The quickest way is to fill a gallon jug at the campground hose spigot and pour the water down the toilet, so we formed a two person bucket brigade - me inside pouring, and Meryl outside filling. At this point, our monitor panel was not working correctly - the one of the reasons for the service visit at the end of the week back to Pennsylvania - and it would not show when the black tank was 2/3 full. It would go from 1/3 to Full. We decided to count gallons poured in, knowing that the tank only holds ten gallons. That done, we dumped all of that water that we had just filled the tank with and then dumped the grey tank. I also wanted to flush the black tank with clear water (no sure why) so we repeated the bucket brigade and I poured ten gallons of water into the toilet and we flushed it all out through the macerator into the campsite's sewer connection. I must say that the Roadtrek is very easy and fast to dump. It takes a lot more time putting the extra water in the tanks to fill them to the dump point than to actually dump it all out.

Once that was done, we unhooked the electric and the cable, secured everything inside the Roadtrek and then got out of the Roadtrek and decided to walk around the campground and actually take a look close up at the whole place in the day time which we had not done before. There were few campers there - most had either left the day before or were out for the day. It was too early for new arrivals. The campground is very nice. We stopped in the bathrooms and shower rooms just to see how clean and each was very clean and well maintained. We strolled around the whole campground. Half of this campground has unusual spaces. They form a "T" with two RVs or trailers face to face with a short access driveway from the campground road. You must back up that driveway and then turn, backing up into your site which is one half of the top of the "T". These sites are large, but the problem is that those with trailers park their cars in that driveway completely blocking access in or out if the car is there. This is a real problem is you are like us and go out for the day and stay out until late at night. We could see that our small Roadtrek could maneuver up the grass and around the car(s) into the space if we had to, but I would not really be happy with that. We made a note to make sure that we always request a non-T space. I had read about these spaces on the forums and reviews, saw them drawn on the map, but did not really understand them until we saw them in person. We continued our walk around the campground. We passed an older couple who were sitting on folding chairs. He was reading the paper and she was painting. They were facing the stream and the farm across the water. We said hello and they said hello back. The mosquitoes were not out with much force and we leisurely walked back to our site and the Roadtrek. We got in and pulled out on our way for the day and eventually, home.

Tuesdays in Lancaster mean Roots Market in the town of Manheim off of Rt. 72. Roots Country Market and Auction is similar to Green Dragon that I told you about visiting on the day we arrived (check back four articles to see that). Roots is a smaller version of Green Dragon, but it is more out of the tourist area and much less known by the tourists that come to Lancaster County. You are not going to encounter many tourists at Roots (pronounced locally as Ruts) but there are a few so you will not feel uncomfortable there. What you will encounter are more Amish and Mennonites and they come here to buy and to sell. They also come for the auctions - both animal auctions and household/produce auctions. There is a large building with stands inside and there is a smaller building with antique sellers - and one of the auctions. Outside there are stands with produce and there are also flea market stands scattered through out. There are also several places to have a good lunch. One of our favorites is Raub's Subs (also located at Green Dragon) and you can get a nice hero/sub/hoagie/grinder (whatever they call it in your area) here at a reasonable price. There are tables that you can stand at outside and we found a canopied area added now with picnic tables in the back near the new restroom building. They recently added a building with very modern restroom facilities. The former building was a bit rustic - but always clean. There are a few other food choices as well including a Pit Beef stand and a Pork BBQ stand. Of course, there are hot, soft pretzels for sale baked before your eyes. Roots has been around for 85 years and is only open on Tuesdays from 9 to 9 and 9 to 8 in the winter. During the summer they do have a flea market on the property outside on Saturdays. We always enjoy walking around Roots, looking at the great produce - and now we have a refrigerator with us to take it home in - and seeing what each stand has to offer. Across the road from Roots at the back end is a large field with flea market stand holders - they close early at about 2 so get there early for those. There are also two buildings on that side of the road selling antiques and collectibles.

When we arrived at Roots I did not expect the crowd that was there - but after all this was July 4th week and many take that week for vacation. The parking lots, front and rear were crowded, but a normal car would have had no problem parking. The Roadtrek sticks out a bit at the back (or front, depending on the space) and I was not going to chance squeezing it into a single space with a flow of cars in the parking lot aisle. I drove around the back and saw the rear parking lot in a similar state, but across the road there is an Auction House that was not open and their parking lot had a few vehicles but there would be plenty of room for the Roadtrek or other RV. We drove into the lot and parked there. It was just a short walk down and across the road into the main section of Roots.

It was hot but not unbearable and we had a great time at the market. We found a few things that we had thought about getting but were not able to find - these places are great for finding things that you can't find anywhere else. We spent most of the afternoon there.

We left Roots and drove a bit around the country side. We had one more thing that I wanted to do locally and after a while I drove back to Kitchen Kettle - that I wrote about on the Saturday article of this trip. Why Kitchen Kettle again? It was not for jelly. I wanted to test something on the Roadtrek and Kitchen Kettle provided two opportunities. It provided a large parking lot for us to pull into and not look out of the ordinary and it is very close by to Beacon Hill Campground where we had stayed on our first night in the Roadtrek on the day of delivery.

When we were at Beacon Hill I could not get the TV/Antenna on the Roadtrek to pick up any watchable digital signals, despite the lady in the office telling me that others get at least 18 clear channels to come in. Well. I got none. When we got home I discovered that all of the antenna wiring had been done incorrectly at the factory at Roadtrek. I looked at the various wires and knowing how a TV, and antenna, and a Cable coax wire need to be connected, took apart the wiring and re-did it correctly. At home we got many clear channels after that. I wanted to see just how many channels and how watchable the channels would be if we returned to Beacon Hill Campground where there is no cable TV hook ups.

We parked in one of the RV spaces at Kitchen Kettle. It was near the end of their day, but there were still people visiting and the shops were still open. There was plenty of parking. I put up the antenna, directed it toward Lancaster city, and got the TV ready to tune in digital signals. Immediately, the chart started to show channels being locked in. There were more than 25. I went through what was available and there were many good channels to watch. Now I knew. I would prefer the cable hook up but in the event that I can't get a campground here with one, Beacon Hill would be our preferred alternative. Test complete. My wiring was correct and there was watchable digital TV in the area.

The last stop before dinner was at a small local department store out of the Lancaster area in a town called East Earle - which is next to the town of Blue Ball (really). The store is called Goods and it is a small local chain with several locations. This is the location that we prefer and it is near two good restaurants for dinner before we head home. Goods Store is also one of those places to look when there is no other place that has what you are looking for. It is off of Rt 23 just past the intersection with Rt. 322. The store is undergoing a major expansion. I am hoping that they are not growing larger than they should. Service from the Mennonite ladies who work here is always excellent.

It was getting late and local restaurants in the Lancaster region close at 8 pm. We headed for dinner before we got on the road to go home.

Traveling home was... interesting. There was construction on Pennsylvania Turnpike and the road service was uneven. Going from bump in the road to bump in the road at high speed the Roadtrek bucked like a rodeo bronco. It is a long van and a heavy van and the shocks and springs react to whatever you go over in the road. Slowing down just below the speed limit evened out the ride. When we got into Brooklyn on the highway we encountered the perpetual road construction and found ourselves being detoured off the road as the overpass on the highway was being replaced and the highway was closed for all of a mile. We got off, followed the other cars and the easy to miss signs, and wound our way back through the streets of Brooklyn near Coney Island to get back on the highway. I am always amazed in NY in the city boroughs that the roads are just as crowded at 2 am as they are in the middle of the afternoon. In addition the road surfaces are terribly poor and despite the constant road construction never seem to improve. Every bump and ripple in the road was transferred to something banging around inside the Roadtrek. At one point we stopped and and Meryl sat in the third seat to see if that was what was causing some of the noise. It was quieter, but there was still the bang, bang bang. We would be doing a lot of investigating of noises in the days to come. As is getting usual lately with the roadwork, the trip took a lot longer than it should (and it has in years past) - and nothing to do with the Roadtrek - and it was almost 3 am when we arrived home. Home again, home again... Only to need to return to PA in two days to go to the dealer service for necessary repairs. Why not just have stayed? We had things at home that had to be done and business that had to be attended to. Despite what some may think, neither of us are retired.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Fourth of July

On the morning of Fourth of July the humidity had broke and the sky was slightly overcast. We made the correct decision to delay our day at the Kutztown Folk Festival to the Fourth. It was much more comfortable to be outside.

I have been attending the Kutztown Folk Festival since I was young and Meryl and I have been going every year since we were married. This is always the highlight of our annual July Pennsylvania trip and even when we were not traveling overnight last year, we drove down for the day and back that night.

This is a celebration of Pennsylvania Dutch culture. It is located on the fairgrounds at Kutztown University. Kutztown is a little more than a hour's drive northeast of Lancaster. What you will find there is a combination of high class craft show, quilts, stage programs, entertainment, and demonstrations of early skills, and a large variety of Pennsylvania Dutch foods.

When we arrived the main fairgrounds parking was already full and we parked in the overflow lot on campus. The parking lot is large and there were several large RVs parked there. Parking is free.

The entrance to the festival is just across the road and you pay at the gate with cash or credit card. Before going there are discount coupons on the internet and also in local publications and brochures. If you are a senior you can get the senior admission price and use the discount coupon in addition. As soon as you walk onto the grounds of the festival you hear music playing in the distance and the chug chug of steam engines being demonstrated.

Set along each side of the walkways are craft booths set up under large tents. Even in the rain, you can walk through and stay relatively dry and on sunny days you can walk comfortably in the shade of the tents. The craftspeople who come to Kutztown are from all over the country and are selling the highest quality handmade craft. Other craftspeople are set up in two buildings. But Kutztown is so much more than a craft show.

As this is a celebration of Pennsylvania Dutch folk life there is a lecture tent where programs about the PA Dutch are presented. There is a large outdoor, covered theater with country music, polka music, an auction, a comedy show, and other entertainment. There are two things that have been a part of the festival since the beginning and these take place several times each day on each day of the festival - a reenactment of a Mennonite wedding and the reenactment of a hanging that took place in nearby Reading in the 19th Century. This was the hanging of a woman accused of murdering her out of wedlock child. I am not going to give away how it is done, but you watch the whole thing right through the point that she swings. Suffice it to say, this is a family festival and with a little explanation to young children it will not frighten them.

There is nothing Pennsylvania Dutch that does not include good eating and there are plenty of places at the festival to have snacks, a quick meal or a full dinner. There is even an all you can eat family style dinner under a large tent. The food booths have "Dutchified" names for the foods that they are selling Orange Drinka (orangeade), Dutch fries (homemade potato chip style fried potatoes), and Brodwurst sandwiches. You can watch a whole ox being roasted and as it cooks, pieces are sliced off to make sandwiches. I have a secret to share about eating at the festival. You will see food booths althroughout the festival grounds but if you go all around to the back of the festival grounds you will find permanently built stands that are part of the fairgrounds. These booths are taken over by local community groups and charities and they are serving the same foods found at the other booths but at a significantly lower price. We always go to the Lions Club booth and there the bratwurst sausage sandwiches with peppers and onions cost only $4 each. At the festival booths the same sandwich is $7. You will also find Dutch fries at the Lions Club booth and they are also much more reasonably priced. In addition you are benefiting the community group running the booth - and they are doing this as a fund raiser. If you want to sound like you are local, when you order your sausage sandwich with peppers and onions you say - "One sausage with" (more correctly, pronounce it "wit"). Take your food to one of the picnic tables set up under the canopy next to the Lions Club booth and sit in the shade and enjoy your lunch. Of course, you will find booths that sell shoo fly pie, watermelon, pastries, breads, cakes, birch beer (no alcohol), sarsaparilla, huge soft pretzels, ice cream, sweet treats, and so much more. This year there was one booth just selling kid food with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chicken nuggets. There is even a small market to buy smoked meats and baked goods to take home. This market is one of the few places that sell a localized pie/cake, called Funny Cake. Funny Cake is vanilla cake with a bit of chocolate fudge swirled through in a pie shell. There are only certain areas of Pennsylvania where you will find Funny Cake and it is wonderful!

One of the highlights of the festival is the Quilt Competition and all of the hundreds of quilts on display are for sale. The winning quilts are auctioned off at the end of the festival. The quilts are beautiful and each one is made and submitted to the competition by local quilters. In the center of the quilt building is a demonstration of quilting by local ladies. Outside there is a try it yourself quilt and you will be given a free and quick lesson in how to do this for yourself. Even if you are not that interested in quilts, the quilt building is the only building on the grounds that is air conditioned and on a hot day in July this is a very welcomed stop.

If you like antiques, there is one building with antique vendors and there are a lot of unusual things to be found that comes from the local old farms. There is also a demonstration of antique steam engines.

We stopped and listened to one of the lectures being given about Pennsylvania Dutch language. The Amish and Mennonites speak German but there is a dialect of Pennsylvania Dutch that is spoken in this area that only a few still speak. There is an organization of speakers of this language. The gentleman giving the lecture was also talking about the "slang" used by people in the area that originated from Pennsylvania Dutch. When something is finished - consumed - it is "all", as in "The pie is all" meaning there is no more pie left. He commented that he has been working on his teenaged children to understand that while they are comfortable speaking this way, when they go to college (this was not an old order family) this would be considered very incorrect grammar. He was quite an entertaining lecturer. The next lecturer was speaking about religion. It is possible to spend the whole day being entertained by the programs and never look at a crafts booth and you will still have a good time.

The Wheaton Glass company that makes decorative glassware and vases has a demonstration set up on turning molten glass into vases. You can watch a blob of bubbling glass turn into a very decorative vase in a matter of minutes. Vases made the day before are offered for sale.

There is a lot for the kids also. There is a petting zoo. There is a live horse merry go round. There are puppet shows and children's music and sing along shows. There was a hay bale maze. They have been adding more hands on activities for kids.

Just in case, let me say that this is not a carnival in any way. There are no rides. There are no games. There is no side show. It is not a county or regional fair. It is a cultural festival of the plain people of this region.

Not only is this a festival of the Pennsylvania Dutch but it is also a festival of early Americana and it is a very fitting way to spend the Fourth of July. The festival is open every year from the weekend before July Fourth to the weekend after July Fourth from 9 am to 6 pm. There are lots of country fairs, craft shows, and folk life festivals in Pennsylvania. This one is unique and the largest.

We will go back again next year and the year after that. We had a great Fourth of July. We left the festival and drove back to Lancaster County for dinner. We later returned to the campground for our last night there. Several of the other campers had left that day and there were several empty spaces around us. When we backed into our site, we actually found a spot that was perfectly level. I suppose if they claim level sites there must be some spot in each one that is actually level. The leveling blocks went back inside the storage cabinet on the outside of the Roadtrek and we settled in for the night.

The next and last article of this trip will appear next week.