Wheels are Kinda Turning in Michigan this Winter

Our current location is Howell Michigan where we have been staying in my mother-in-law’s previously vacant condo for the past six weeks. In case you missed the update in a prior post my wife’s mom, Mary is nearing her final weeks of life. We spent the summer at various locations in Missouri and having made two prior trips to Michigan the same year, knew time was nearing when we would need to spend more time with Mary. We left the fifth wheel RV back in Joplin Missouri where I found covered storage with power to keep the batteries up ($161 a month after 10% veterans discount). My best guess is we will be back the first half of February to resume our RV lifestyle. Mary is doing as well as expected and is now under the care of Hospice and her two daughters. She is able to remain in her assisted care apartment until the end. Thank you to everyone who responded in comments wishing Mary well or have kept us in your thoughts. I’ve read the same story in many of your own blogs. This has become another thing we now have in common. Life brings about changes in the route and in our case has resulted in a number of months parked in Michigan. I’ve had more time to sit around and think than I usually have. The wheels that have been turning are inside my head rather than down the road in an RV where I prefer to be.

Lucky you, or not, I have much time to write …

Karen and our dog Wyatt attend the morning exercise class. My mother-in-law Mary is shown in the wheelchair sometime in early November.

The facility and staff of the assisted care facility are top notch. The food is restaurant quality as is the dining room. The common area of the newer facility is setup like a large home to include a movie theater, sauna, game rooms, library and more. These common areas are duplicated at the corners of the building which I found creates a family atmosphere. By that I mean Mary attends events with the same people who live at the corner of her building, developing friendships. She lives in a one-bedroom unit that opens to a common hallway. Small details make a difference such as there is a shelf and wall area outside each room where resident can decorate however they want. I can tell this personal area aids residents with memory problems how to find their decorated front door. Everyone has a panic button around their neck that can be pushed for even the smallest request. One wing of the building is for memory care issues although I’ve never been in that area that I can recall.

A husband and wife live here as well as individual elderly males and females. The Activities Director plans no less than four events a day, some including trips on the bus to local shopping and restaurants. All of which are posted in photos and video on Facebook available to loved ones outside the facility. Karen makes sure to show Mary the posts to include comments from family. Months ago, before Mary became ill, we watched a video where Mary and friends took the bus to Hell Michigan. Mary is a member of the “lunch bunch” and they decided the one bar/restaurant in Hell was the place to go. It was charming to watch the bikers from the bar escorting old ladies off the bus – which was a planned event. Sometimes we tell Mary we knew she was out with her friends to which she insists she did not go on the trip as if not wanting to admit she was enjoying her new homelife. I really do think she lies on purpose at times. We don’t correct her and just move on to another subject. If she says she wants to move back home we tell her, you live her, this is the only place people are located that can take care of you. Karen was concerned that Mary would not use her oxygen when ordered. I said no worries; I’ve seen it before. Once they get scared, they will do what is required without argument. That’s a cold statement but it is the truth. They will also move to assisted care or agree to changes when they are scared.

Allow me to put out another truth for those wanting insight. During my 30-year law enforcement career I handled death investigations, more intently so during the final half as a Detective. In the 1990’s I wrote a paper on Crime and the Elderly. Research led me to many sources of information. Any C.O.P (Constable on Patrol) whom you might ask if they know Det. Seneker will be able to tell you the most important victim class for me are the elderly. I believe society as a whole can be judged by the way they treat the elderly! This all began sadly with the wrongful death of an elderly person and from then on I was hooked with concern for them. Of all the points I’d like to make in this paragraph I think the best would cut off a common area of concern when first considering the need to force the elderly into living elsewhere. Specifically, regarding court action to revoke their decision making. Rightfully Judges consider taking away anyone’s constitutional rights a serious matter. This includes the right to live where they want, to pursue happiness, to live independently. The average person would be wrong if they think just a few facts or events would be enough evidence for a Judge to incarcerate someone into a place they don’t want to be. Yup, they have the right to fall and die on the floor at home. This is controversial in that some laws allow arrest when a person is a danger to themselves or others. But eventually those arrests end up in court or release within a specific number of hours of initial detention depending on state law. Yes, doctors can be witnesses but getting one of them to court is difficult at best. The state or county Department of Aging, or whatever it’s called in your area, is the best resource and free to call. They have experienced caseworkers. But even their testimony during a court hearing is not automatically a reason to take away someone’s constitutional rights. We are caring family members and find a way to make it work for the best and don’t rely on a Judge’s decision that will most likely never come in a timely manner.

I’m adding the details for the benefit of family and those who will find themselves or loved ones in the same position someday. I went back and edited a few details that after second thought, were maybe too personal. Life is a journey, and we all know in the last trip, “from which no man returns” is one we will have to take alone. I believe Christ is a short distance down that road to quickly great me. Until then, we will do whatever is required to make life comfortable and safe for Mary. Karen’s dad passed a long time ago as did my own parents. The wheels turn in my head reminding me however the longest relationships in life are with our siblings and extremely important. Especially after the death of a parent. By the way, I had never heard this before: “Grief is Love with No Place to Go.” I talked to others and found they already knew that phrase, adding those with the most love to give can experience the most extreme grief.

Across the hall from Mary’s apartment is where Ester lives. She sold her house and moved in here three years ago. From the first day of arrival, she took a liking to Mary and a friendship developed, although Mary sometimes thinks Ester over does it. Ester is high energy and always smiling. She loves the place and makes sure to tell everyone. The first six weeks or so, as the doctor warned, Mary considered this a temporary home and talked about moving back to her condo. We followed doctor’s orders and told Mary this is your home. You see Mary had an automobile accident earlier in 2022 which caused lasting injury. Her daughters gave her a chance to live independent for weeks but that did not work out to include Mary forgetting to take her medication or taking it all at once rather than by prescribed dosage. Mary was a Registered Nurse and when the doctor told her she must live in assisted care or a nursing home she respected his orders. I can understand her wanting to “go home” and desire to live independently. This facility is as close to that as possible. I’ll not take the time to describe the services in full detail, but they ultimately include Mary being able to pass here at her new home in the care of her family and Hospice.

Finally comes the most wonderful thing about the place in my eyes. Everything is considered to be normal here in the eyes of the staff, some of which have adopted Mary. Events considered uncommon for the young occur daily in life for the elderly. I’ll give you few examples. Mary has a stuffed dog which sometimes one has to believe she thinks is real although she says it’s not. When the staff comes to get her when she did not show up at the dining room, they remind her to bring her dog. Her friends even pet it. One lady liked to walk and the staff was conscious that every now and then they needed to turn her around to walk the other direction. Not like a “crazy” person wondering the halls of an asylum but as if the lady had physical trouble turning or lost her way. The staff opened her apartment door for her eventual return. Or there was the old guy at bingo who literally yelled bingo after every number that was called while he was paying more attention to his cell phone screen at the time. I thought to myself, hey guy yelling bingo, when you don’t have a bingo is like yelling fire in a theater. No one in the room gave it a second thought because it’s okay. Accidents happen, sometimes you need someone to push the wheelchair back to your room, professional staff who make a habit to get to know family who visit by first name, letting Wyatt wonder and greet residents who have become fond of him, pausing exercise class while someone walks back to their room for a dog treat and most of all caring that you attend events with your new friends rather than rotting away alone in your room.

Every apartment has a paved patio outside that leads to a maze of sidewalks. Good for visiting others who live on the other side of the building. Typical winter sky here in Michigan. No sunshine sucks. And for the next couple months I hate all my friends who are enjoying it in winter quarters. Not really.

Mary’s daughter Kathy makes sure Mary has everything she needs from the store as a matter of bi-weekly routine rather than as a daily event. It’s important for Mary to live alone and the kids to continue their own life as best as possible. Also, nice to know the fire department is located just down the street for ambulance trips if needed. I’ll note this because it was new to me. Mary fell last week and dumped her head. She is on hospice which she qualified for as she was expected to die within six months and agreed to no treatment for her stage four cancer. She has a do not resuscitate order and durable power attorney vested with her daughter Kathy who lives six miles away. My wife Karen got the call about the fall and resulting injury when the staff member passing out medications in the morning found Mary. The fall had just happened, and they know this because the service at the facility includes routine checks on Mary which were later increased to every hour directly after the fall. My wife Karen, who had retired from hospice work reminded the staff they are to contact the hospice nurse and there would be no automatic trip in the ambulance to the hospital. Injury or illness are at a deferent level of concern compared to someone not on hospice care. Mary turned out fine with a black eye and bruised forehead.

Rest assured there are plenty of people with experience to give advice. It may be overwhelming at first but eventually turns into a comfortable routine for all. It’s only the end of the world for one person who for a relative short time, deserves to be the center of attention. Honor thy parents! That’s one of the 10 most important things we are expected to do in life.

First Winter with Snow and Christmas Lights in Four Years

This is our first Christmas outside our RV in four years. We added a few lights to our neighbor’s Al and Linda’s collection. Al decorated to include a Christmas tree growing outside our back patio door. It snowed maybe five times in November which I understood to be unusual. This latest snowstorm started three days ago and continues. The condo complex landscape team thankfully does a great job of snow removal. Being born and raised in the lower Midwest I found a few weather terms here in Michigan to be a little alarming. First there is the lake effect snow, which Karen had described in the past. Cold air moves across the warmer Lake Michigan and dumps snow east of there. Fortunately, most of it ends near their State Capital in Lansing which is about an hour west of us. Then there is the Alberta Clipper which is extreme wind that develops in Alberta Canada and blows through here. Most alarming of all were the pink rods I found sticking up at the corners of the driveway and sidewalk one morning. A neighbor explained eventually the temperatures drop and remain below freezing for long periods of time. The snow piles up and the snow removal teams use the pink rods as a guide to where the concrete is located and keep the plow out of the yard. And what they call snow flurries here we call heavy snow in Missouri. All this aside, it is oddly nice to get the full Michigan experience as is the same in all the states we live within long enough to get to know the individual state peculiarities.

This year our Christmas tree is alive out the back door.
100% how Karen and I are feeling about the down time out of the RV. We got hitch-itch within five weeks of arrival. Even the neighbors stayed inside but up north, especially the uppers (upper peninsula) folks are living their winter sports. There is a five-mile bridge between upper and lower Michigan. We that live below the bridge are sometimes referred to as trolls.

What I’m Doing When There is Not Much to Do

I’m not bored. In my opinion boredom is another word for lazy. I’ve got plenty to do. Heck, I’ll even make work for myself if necessary. Someday I’ll mature, then go into an assisted care facility and beyond. Think I’ll take my father’s retirement advise. I’m getting up every day and doing what I want and not doing what I don’t want to do. He also said getting old sucks. Everything hurts more and less people care.

I do care to improve my mind which started the wheels turning fast, especially as chances for fun became hidden under the snow outside or parked under an RV storage awning back in Missouri.

Did I tell ya already about our friends Ray and Charlotte stopping at a nearby campground on their way to winter quarters? They live up in Traverse City Michigan. I called Ray afterwards to tell him I hate him and his sunshine down south. Jokes aside, these are special people to us just as are the many we have gotten to know while living fulltime in an RV. We know what it takes to plan a stop while enroute to a destination. They kept up with all our sudden route changes due to family stuff and we really enjoyed the visit. Sorry, no photos because I forgot to take them. I’d love to see Wyatt chasing Dixie in the high snow like they did on that sandy Atlantic beach last winter.

I have been studying the life of Benjamin Franklin. His autobiography was actually the start of a letter to his son and an incomplete work. The two were at odds before the Revolutionary War. Franklin was a loyalist at one time before the revolution and his son remained one, causing a lasting divide between the two. Thankfully they got over it. Franklin had 13 ideas of what virtues make a person more able to do good for others. He trained himself to make these virtues part of his personality. Going as far as to focus on one virtue at a time and evaluating himself at the end of each day on a chart to see how he had done. He was 69 years old, the oldest in the room, when the United States Declaration of Independence was written. By then world leaders had already valued his opinion. I appreciated one quotation which is: “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing.” Again, others may already be familiar with this line of thought and I’m just a little slower learning than others or just got time to improve myself. Should have done that when I was 18. Franklin only spent two years in school. He was a reader and self-taught. His master’s degree was earned however as he could have taught the college course based on personal experience. His two doctoral degrees were awarded and earned as well.

I have done nothing in my life worth writing about as a way of being remembered by others. So, if I follow Franklin’s advice, I think I’ll have to write something worth reading. And put my name all over it as the author. I’m strongly leaning towards the story of my family from Tennessee to Missouri. Then publish the works for the purpose of genealogy and sending free copies to as many libraries or online services that will take it. That would be a way to honor my forefathers as well, especially as much of the work is completed by research they handed down and never got around to writing it up.

Back during the 2020 riots, or whatever you want to call them, I started a letter to my daughter as well. After about six pages I threw it away and never sent it. I had worked with three generations of law enforcement. The first was the 60’s cops and what came out of those experiences was often passed down from the senior officers. Then my own generation that was different and then the next and current which are way different than the others. I wanted to provide better understanding of current events and ease any worry or concern my daughter was going through regarding some attitudes towards law enforcement. I wanted to set the record straight, especially from the perspective of someone like myself who loves this country, our system of government and its ability to be modified without throwing it out and as a police officer with a strong belief the constitution is the greatest law of the land. I threw the letter out because ultimately, I did not feel qualified to write it. I felt the letter would get out and criticism would come from those who have issues with law enforcement and from cops who are currently on the job. The letter was not all about racial issues or whatever. Much of it was about hope and how over time the best decisions tend to be made.

The wheels kept turning so I took on a little more study work during the down time here in Michigan. I’ll not go much into detail because I care not to bring politics into it. I was born in 1963 and became politically aware in sixth grade. My first male teacher, Mr. Dempsy handed out a writing assignment, which as I recall was to be completed over an extended school break. He taught us how to take notes. Then we were to watch the presidential debates and take good notes to be graded later. I located Mr. Dempsy yesterday and gave him a call where he lives in Maine. Thanked him for all he had done for me and how it affected my life the past nearly 50 years. Once I was asked how I knew my police reports were a true and accurate representation of the events. I’m a good note taker is my replay – thanks to Mr. Dempsey. It was nice to have an adult conversation with him regarding what became of him and ideas he had for us as children. He did something in his life worth writing about. Or even a short video by one student which was not me.

Jeol Dempsey, born 11/24/45, my sixth grader teacher. A man worth writing about. He was 29 when he taught me at Prairie Village Elementary on the Kansas side of Kansas City. Real professional.
He lives near Cushing Maine and is now 77 years of age. He invited me to a play he had written in August. Sorry, can’t be there as we are probably heading towards the southwest before then.

I know specific events that happened during the Vietnam War, which shaped the army I joined in 1982. In the 60’s I recall not everyone had a television. So being able to watch TV at a friend’s was a big thing. I recall my grandmother crying as she watched the news about Vietnam where my uncle Tommy was serving and would earn three purple hearts and the silver star. I later learned what were considered honest news reporters although some feel Walter Cronkite was wrong in his assessment of the Vietnam War. The Tet Offensive did ruin the enemy’s ability to fight due to losses. He however feared the war was unwinnable and went on national TV saying the same. So, fast forward to now and me wanting to fill in the gaps in knowledge.

So, I’ve been studying the folks that called themselves the New Left back in the 60’s and when the term New Right was coined around the same time. I have also become more familiar with the Federal Communications Commission’s policy called the Fairness Doctrine and the historical aspects.

Winston Churchill believed that if you want to look into the future, you have to study an equal amount of time from the past as both are on the same road. Seemed reasonable what is going on today that is causing hate and division started a long time ago and is molding into other forms despite someone thinking they invented any great new concept. I’ll end it there and hopefully have not disclosed which way I lean because that’s not the point. Do your own research. Why study this? To gain control of my surroundings and be able to pass along well worded advice to my daughter. I don’t want to be the crying grandparent I witnessed standing around the campfire years ago up in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She said her granddaughter no longer talks to her even after grandmother promised to not talk politics. Sometimes I know my own limitations. I’m not the best communicator and I guess a little lazy in trying to convince others verbally to consider a different opinion. I’m no Benjamin Franklin.

Good thing Jesus Christ did not hate the people that disagreed with him. Guess that’s my Christmas part of the blog.

P.S – an RV thing. Got a new wheel from the manufacturer under warranty. We have had a very slow tire leak since the rig was new. Turned out to be a very tiny crack in the aluminum wheel which is common. Also ordered a new set of water valves for our wet bay because I broke off a handle when winterizing the first time. That’s replaced under warranty due to a flawed design. Got all this sent to me in Michigan while we are stopped long enough to get it. Stuff like this becomes mundane after the first year or two of fulltime RVing so don’t lose your mind, like I did when I was less experienced or at least had worse things happened to compare against.


Carthage Missouri for a Month

Carthage is located in Southwest Missouri just outside the city limits of the larger town of Joplin. Many snowbirds pass here on I 44 heading towards Oklahoma City on their way to Texas. I 49 also intersects here heading south through Fort Smith Arkansas where much has recently been done to complete I 49. There is a tunnel north of Fort Smith for those of us who wish to avoid them.

Time with Family

I noted in an earlier blog that Karen and I decided to spend more time in Missouri, the State we were both born in. Why not take advantage of this full time RV lifestyle to explore areas closer to “home” you never had time to do while working fulltime. I think advice I’ll give others when asked where to take the RV will be – closer to home to see everything you have missed. I was born in the Kansas City Missouri area where I lived for 56 years. Karen was born outside Rolla Missouri (half-way up I 44 between Springfield and St. Louis). At the time her father was in the Army stationed at Fort Leonard Wood which us Army guys refer to as Fort Lost in the Woods. Her family moved from there to Michigan. My mother-in-law hated the heat, and all wanted to be closer to their family.

My ancestors settled in Southwest Missouri having migrated from Eastern Tennessee in the 1800’s. My cousin Kathy and Stepmom Harriet invited me to one cemetery to pay our regards. Located in Jasper County is the Cave Springs Cemetery. An important spot for much of my family to include the Henry side. The nearby schoolhouse was rebuilt after the Civil War as it had been damaged during fighting. Nearby Carthage had been burnt to the ground. The war was different in this area in that it was a heavily contested boarder area. Families fought each other on both sides. It was not uncommon for Bushwackers to pay a family a visit while avoiding Home Guard Militias assembled to protect the town.

That’s me outside the historic schoolhouse at Cave Springs. On the left is a hand water pump which is reported to be directly over the cave
Ancestor Moses Duncan. They married into the Seneker family
Great Uncle Brice Henry is on the cemetery marker of civil war dead. He had joined the militia while brothers took family to Kansas to avoid Bushwackers.
Lucenda Henry was married to Brice. My cousin Kathy brought along photos of family. This is Lucenda with their child. Not too happy a face on those photos. I learned several stories to include how Lucenda was busy loading guns one day while Brice fought off 20 – 25 Bushwackers who had come to kill him as he was loyal to the Union. He survived only to have Brice killed latter in battle. I have a copy of the book titled Cave Spring Henry’s which is well formatted. I have decided to write up our family history from Tennessee to Missouri and have been researching formats for a possible book.

After the visit with family at the cemetery we had lunch in Carthage.

Mt. Vernon Missouri – Apple Butter Days at the Cabin and Family Reunion

Before traveling to Carthage from Branson Missouri, I attended our family reunion which has been held since the 1930’s. It is always located at a church the family formed on the Ozark Prairie at nearby Mt. Vernon. Karen and I will be buried there a long time from now, next to six generations of my family. The reunion took a twist during the pandemic as it was continued online. This was the first meeting in person after the covid thing ended. We talked and after next year we may hold the reunion in person every other year and online in between.

We attended the annual Mt. Vernon Apple Butter making days which is a homecoming for many. My sister Mary and I continued the family tradition of conducting living history at an 1850’s cabin, restored by my father and uncle and lived in for a 100-years by shirt-tail cousins. My father would never have allowed us to have skilled artists setup in the yard of the cabin when it is open for display. Well, he in no longer in charge and we moved on to make things more interesting for visitors. This year we had a flint napper, pioneer era broom maker with machine, blacksmith and wood carver all setup on the porch or yard. We had a special visitor as well who had been born in the cabin.

Sister Mary cooking. Remember to sit sideways at the fire so you don’t set your dress on fire. Those stones for the fireplace were disassembled during reconstruction, piled up with numbers written on them to put them back in order. The numbers wore off but fortunately a retired man was a master stone mason. With the aid of many they built two of the best fireplaces ever constructed to include six feet of concrete under the hearth stones so the fireplace will not move over time.
If you count Canada, this gentleman is an internationally known flint napper (makes arrow heads). He is originally from the area and agreed to put on a display. I was fascinated to no end by his skill and devotion to the art. He made a living traveling to shows around the country and also collected his materials from original sources. He made a knife out of volcanic rock he dug from Oregon. It was fun watching his old classmates meet up with him for presumably the first time in a lot of years.
The lady on the left was born in this cabin. Her mom visited years ago and told the story about the birth to include it was so cold that night a bucket of water froze inside the cabin. The visitor had never heard that story. She delayed a trip home out of state to be around the place although she has little memory of it.

Not Everything was About Family at this Stop in our Travels

We toured the area of Joplin which was once a lead and zinc mining town. An interesting note is that Stephen F. Austin, a founding father of Texas, moved with his family to Missouri from Virginia as his father was in the lead mining business and ore had run out at their claim in Virginia. Karen and I might be among the few Missouri people who now technically call Texas home and have visited Stephen Autin’s hometown in Virginia and purposefully traveled the landmarks in Texas as well. Although Stephen settled in the Southeast corner of Missouri known as the boot hill.

One famous person who did “settle” in Southwest Missouri was George Washington Carver. The national monument in Joplin is a well-done place with a huge museum and walking trail, much of which consists of paths made from a rubber like substance. George Washington Carver is a fascinating man and worth the read if you care to research his accomplishments. During an RV trip we had tried to visit George’s grave in Tuskegee Alabama, but the college grounds were closed because of covid at the time. Geroge’s mom was a slave and purchased at the age of 13 by Moses Carver. I did the math and at the time Moses paid the equivalent of one third the value of his farm to purchase her. Apparently, it was common for slaves to be stolen. George, his mom and sister were stolen. Moses Carver paid to have bounty hunters track them down. Sadly, only George was found and remained separated from his family forever. Moses raised him and taught him the value of education. George developed his love of plants while a child walking trails at the farm. He became a famous inventor and educator and was known for more than his discovery of how to make a living from everything made from a peanut.

George had a very high voice for a man. So cool to find video of him speaking during an internet search. Just thinking this man went from slavery to international fame. His national monument was the first for any African American in the USA.

We enjoyed walking George’s trail through the farm and contemplated the meaning of several of his quotations displayed on signs.
Wyatt earned his Bark Ranger Badge by following all the dog rules.
I was concerned upon arrival and finding three school buses in the parking lot. Turned out we enjoyed following the kids around, like here at the Moses Carver house. Park staff had set up multiple displays of pioneer crafts for the kids. Good thing our dog Wyatt likes meeting new people as the kids practically mauled him.
We know to always pack a lunch for the trail. There is always a picnic table nearby. These become memorably moments at times. Maybe not in this case, but in others the table is setup at a scenic viewpoint.

We Have Stayed in Carthage Twice Before

We have made Carthage one of two stops near family in south Missouri when in the area. We tend to stay a week or two. This time we spent five weeks. Coachlight RV Park had a reasonable monthly rate and if one decides to stay a day or week later, they will extend the monthly rate of $20 per day with full hookups and a concrete patio. In other words, if you stay a month then you pay far less than the daily or weekly rate even for a day or two extensions. It is very uncommon for RV Parks to do this.

This is a quite park and easy to get to off the interstate. There are no amenities other than it’s a favorite for RV rallies who make use of the meeting hall. The place was fully booked when I called a couple months before arriving. Great – how can I get a monthly spot when they are full. So nice the manager remembered us and said come on out, you may have to move spots, but we will fit you in. There are several large RV Dealerships in the area with the RV Park being next to one. The dealership sometimes uses spots in the park to setup rigs recently purchased. Management gave us one of those spots and never had us move. Nice to slow down and have the mail delivered from Texas and get a couple parts delivered for warranty work on our rig. We were in town for the Carthage Maple Leaf Festival which we stayed clear of because of the crowds. The fall colors were again wonderful this year.

We enjoyed the fellowship with neighbors and our good friends Dean and Cheri (Travels with Bentley Blog) drove over for a visit. The couple are a fine example of the good people you will meet while traveling fulltime in an RV. They are selling their fifth wheel and bought a nearby home. Currently they plan to downsize to a travel trailer as they still enjoy traveling at times. If it were not for our life fulltime in an RV we would not have had the chance to meet people who will surely be among our longtime friends.

First time in 20 years that we had trick or treaters for Halloween. Two bags of candy were gone quickly when the neighbors brought the kids over before departing for town. Their mom is a traveling nurse from Georgia.

We crashed a rally being held at the park. This one was a blue grass music rally where the RVers are from nearby Oklahoma. The Kansas boarder is also just a few miles away in case you want to knock out three states for your RV travel map!

When the Leaves Fall – We leave!

That’s our motto. We usually move a couple hundred miles south when fall is ending to enjoy the milder weather and get a chance to see another round of fall colors. Not this time. The RV is in storage, and we took the truck to Michigan. Karen’s mom is not doing very well, and we are staying near her for a few months. The doctors gave my mother-in-law three to six months and three have passed. I have always loved my mother-in-law. I’m thinking she does not hold me to the same standards as others because I can’t recall a single time she was not smiling when we visited and has always made a place in her home for me. We have never had a disagreement.

Found a covered storage spot with electricity in Joplin that has good security for $180 a month. Another reason to stay longer in Carthage was to find the perfect storage place. We took time to drive the route to the storage facility, sign the month-to-month contract and have management show us the easy back-in spot before we moved the RV. I also had two court trials to attend as a result of my old past job in Kansas City. Yet again both trials were postponed. These cases are from 2018 and having to setup near Kansas City or an airport is getting very old.

More on Michigan later. Yup, it has already snowed a little. Karen said she would make things fun on snow days, if you get my drift. Can’t wait for it to snow again.

This morning in Howell Michigan I found all these pink rods around everyone’s driveway and sidewalks at the condo complex. Neighbor says they are placed as markers so they know where to snowplow. Bet they were laughing if they noticed the Texas license plates on my truck. Damn, I have only begun to wish we were in Florida or Texas again for winter. Guess it’s a good thing the other neighbor has left for Arizona so we can use his driveway. My truck is two feet longer than the garage, so I’ll have to move it to the neighbors in time for the plow to catch our driveway. Damn again….

Today’s RV tip is minor but hopefully something new. Most who live fulltime in an RV give up on their black and grey tank gauges working. We are just happy not to have a sewer clog or smell. On the Vanleigh RV Owners Forum folks have been discussing the issue after a vendor attended a rally during which they offered waste tank cleaning and advice. This includes to stop using black tank treatment which turns everything to a pasty slug. They say, and we all agree, use a lot of water when flushing. They go on to suggest if the waste is suspended in water, it will exit the RV easier and even using two ply toilet paper is not an issue although I’ll not chance that. The vendor, Kleentank.com suggests if you want to use a waste tank treatment then mix Pine-Sol with Calgon Bath Beads. Costs maybe $10 for 50 treatments of the mixture. I’m going to try this the next time we setup the RV. We have always used Happy Camper as a treatment. If you are looking for a side job while on the road, Kleen Tank can set you up as a dealer.

Branson to Pomme de Terre State Park Missouri

We had lost about five weeks during our 2022 spring and summer trips after rerouting to Michigan due to Karen needing to spend time with her aging mother. No worries, we decided why not enjoy a long stay in the state we lived in for so many years – Missouri – rather than cramming in a long trip over thousands of miles elsewhere. We had not taken advantage of the mobile lifestyle to enjoy Missouri as much as we wanted over the past three years. So, the spring/summer trips turned into short distances between southwest Missouri towns.

During the last post I wrote about our first month in Branson. We wrapped up the second month and moved to Pomme de Terre Lake State Park to spend time with family and enjoy one of our favorite lakes in rural Missouri. We then moved on to Carthage Missouri where we are now parked until November 1st while I drive on to Kansas City Missouri for a week or so regarding old work-related stuff. Our current plan was to go back to the Branson area to meet friends and more trout fishing then on to Texas via US 65 in Arkansas. However, there is a better than average chance of returning to Michigan for even a longer stay to be with Karen’s mom during her final weeks of life. And if so, we may spend much of the Michigan winter indoors while the camper stays in Missouri.

For now, this is the way our fourth year of travel begins!

Final Month in Branson Missouri – Touring North Arkansas

Yes, Branson Missouri does have a bit of carnival feel to it in terms of tourist stops such as go-cart rides, wax museums and such. We enjoy the diversity beyond the corporate sites like the Titanic Museum or Ripley’s. Two unique amusement parks showcasing the history of the place have been here for years, the Shepherd of the Hills and Silver Dollar City. Although live music shows prevail. Outdoor sports such as trout fishing, hiking in the Ozark Hills and driving across the state line to the Natural State of northern Arkansas allow for a change of pace.

Campgrounds are plentiful, located near tourist attractions a state park or the other side of Table Rock Lake in a more rural environment. Branson itself is a smaller downtown area surrounded by fulltime and seasonal homes somewhat centered between the main tourist areas, all of which are easily navigated on a well-thought-out system of roadways. Banson is an older example of Missouri history, occupied by “hillbillies” for generations with a strong belief in family values and patriotic support of our veterans. With a little planning one can spend a season of camping throughout the state of Missouri while other Rv’ers unknowingly miss it, thinking Missouri is one of the fly-over states with little to offer. Missouri was the Gateway to the West with many cultures having established themselves here before migrating westward. I encourage the reader to explore the state beyond Kansas City or St. Louis.

Downtown Branson. Resting alongside Lake Taneycomo known for trout fishing which begins at the Table Rock Lake Damn. The city run Lakeside RV Park is in the area and within walking distance of downtown.
Downtown outside the Five and Dime store which is a must visit.
Branson Landing near downtown
Hollister Missouri downtown area down the street from Branson. Hollister would be a good community to live within.
I know, not much worth posting, but a picture of a unique indoor mini-golf course indoors and out of the heat. It was attached to a restaurant my mother enjoyed during her last trip to Branson before she passed away. My sister Mary and I took a day to drive around and remember.
The main tourist area on 76 Highway. One long road that is easy to avoid (traffic) taking other routes around town.
Just throwing this in for those that know Branson. This was a unique place we had not visited before. Shrine of the Holy Spirit.

We toured communities in Northern Arkansas as well, all within an hours drive of Branson. Don’t miss Eureka Springs if you are near.

Beach at Holiday Island Arkansas, about five miles from Eureka Springs. Karen really liked the condos for sale here. This is west of Branson about an hour. Scenic drive and plenty to do in the area.
Flippin Arkansas, home of Ranger Boats. I had to stop for a photo and stick my head inside the open door to the factory. We both want to settle down near a lake after this part of our journey is done. So far either in Texas, northern Arkansas or Southern Missouri.
View of Bull Shoals Arkansas Lake. Big, quiet and scenic lake. About 10 miles outside Mountain Home Arkansas which is a remote retirement home area. This is east of Branson and no reason to really come here other than to go to the lake or retirement communities.
White River below Bull Shoals Damn Arkansas. Several damns make up a chain of lakes along the White River where my great-grandfather was a well-known sport fisherman.

Karen Finally Got to take a Fly-Fishing Trip

Last year while in Buffalo Wyoming we tried to hook up with a local guide to take a fishing trip up in the mountains. The water was so low the guides were not working. So, Karen’s bucket list item to use a fly rod had to wait. For her birthday I arranged a one-on-one trip with just her and the guide as he would also be teaching her to use a fly rod. Lake Taneycomo outside Branson is more like a wide shallow river which is cooled as water comes off deep Table Rock Lake Damn. I asked her to keep four trout which we had for dinner that night.

Girl Power!!!! Karen spent five hours with a guide learning to catch trout with a fly rod.

Moved to Pomme de Terre Lake in Central Missouri and then back south to Carthage Missouri where we are parked for five weeks.

Because we had the opportunity, we arranged a small family get together near Hermitage Missouri at Pomme de Terre State Park. My sister Mary also joined us during the two week stay in her vintage camper. My sister Donna and family came out on several occasions. Michael and his lovely wife from Branson came up for a day. Michael is a staff member at America’s Best Campground in Branson where he had stayed and became friends. Spent the $$ and bought a yearly out-of-state fishing license which paid off as the white bass ran closer to the shore at dark. I had no luck, but had fun, fishing out of the inflatable Sea Eagle kayak as well. This may be our favorite lake in Missouri although its small with little to do in town.

Site 405 Hermitage Area, Pomme de Terre Lake State Park. Missouri was first explored by the Spanish then the French settled in before selling out during the Louisiana Purchase. Pomme de Terre is “potato” in French. Someday I’d like to visit Ste. Genevieve Missouri far east from here along the Mississippi River. That’s a very old French settlement with many remaining buildings.
Full gallon of fresh fish for the wonderful fish fry we had before leaving.
We met new friends! Terri and Chris came to the lake for a short and well-deserved vacation. They have spent 30 years traveling to Pomme de Terre and told us about the local area and places to visit. Thank you for taking us out on your boat, the campfire conversation and enjoying a meal together.

Final thoughts and RV tips

As I said, we are parked in Carthage Missouri until November 1st. We will take some time to find a local RV storage just in case we have to go to Michigan over part of the winter. This has been a good town for us in the past as there is easy access back to Kansas City where I’m headed for a short time to attend court – again – as part of my prior life as a police detective. We hope to meet up with other friends while in the area.

Normal outside awning maintenance includes checking to make sure no screws have loosened nor are any wires used for lighting rubbing on anything. Found a couple places on the awning fabric that need attention at the seams.
Clear awning tape. Has held up excellent now for two months. It is also used repair tears which thankfully we have none.
Please click here if you need to buy any repair tape. Amazon gives me a small reward if anyone clicks on a link from my blog to Amazon and then buys something.
Noticed these bags used to attract and kill flies while we were parked at a horse camp years ago in South Dakota. They work very well but be warned they start to smell like a dead body after a few days so may be best to hang away from camp.

Branson Missouri – First of Two Month Stay

Branson Missouri is located 45 minutes south of Springfield Missouri off US 65. It is just north of the Arkansas border and next to Missouri’s largest lake which is Table Rock. This is part of a region called the Ozarks.

We moved into America’s Best Campground about a month ago and are enjoying the longer stay. Plenty of time to visit family, tour sites and take extended day trips across northwest and north central Arkansas through the beautiful Ozark Mountain Region. There are plenty of choices for RV campground throughout the city and I know from experience that travel from here down to Texas for winter is an easy drive. Even if your style of travel is constant moving, I’d still suggest booking a monthly stay here which for us reduced the per-night cost with electricity to about $25 on full hookups. I’ve been all over Tennesse to include destinations similar to Branson such as Chattanooga, Sevierville or Pigeon Forge. If I had to choose one to visit, it would be Branson because of the diversity of what it has to offer.

Site 112 America’s Best Campground. No problem getting a monthly spot here. The campground is managed by a family who recently bought it. Easy access to town. They are currently putting in a major internet upgrade. Leveling can sometimes be challenging but that’s to be expected when camped in the hills. Roads are paved, parking spots are gravel with a concrete patio. Monthly rate added to 50 amp metered electric charge comes out at about $25 a night which is a huge discount. I’ve seen several RVs parked near cabins scattered around the campground spending time with family who don’t own an RV. Campground staff are the best. So good, Karen, myself and sister Mary are buying pizza for the crew on a Friday when most are here.
Big storm – got to love sideways rain! Good thing the trailer weighs half again as much as the truck. My sister Mary was at another campground at the time and sheltered in her vehicle behind a bathhouse. No tornados this time of the year but the temperatures have been in in the upper 80’s or low 90’s most of this past month. You get used to it and the swimming pool is refreshing. Lots to do indoors in Branson to stay out of the heat.

Some may be unfamiliar with the Ozarks Region, so I’ll summarize what the area is. First the Ozarks are a region of the country extending to east Oklahoma, across portions of south and central Missouri, with the tallest hills and most natural areas being northern Arkansas. Geologists have a definite criterion for what they call the Ozarks. Locals call themselves Ozarkians or not, depending on family history or what the town they live in believes. The area was settled by Germans and Scotch Irish, like my family who came here in the 1850’s. Mountain music and traditions, as well as sometimes the accent in their speech and slang words are somewhat unique but similar to Tennessee where many migrated from.

The Ozark Mountain area formed millions of years ago and is older than the Rocky Mountains. Portions were uplifted from below by the earths building process and some was folded over forming mountains. Over time the area was eroded by water and wind creating hilly areas and deep valleys. Springfield Missouri remained a flat plateau. No worries about mountain driving now as they eroded down with enough remains to make the wooded forests and tall hills an interesting site to experience. Locals can’t wait for the fall colors as most of south Missouri and northern Arkansas forests remain. Here are a few of the views in the area of Branson:

As I recall, there are three larger hills when traveling between Springfield and Branson on US 65.
Several lakes were created along the White River to include Table Rock. In view is Lake Taneycomo or what I call a wide spot in the White River. Taneycomo is known for trout fishing. More on that sometime in the future. If things work out as planned, we are staying on the river part of November.

We were blessed with visits from family with more to come. My sister Lisa brought my niece and her new Class B to a campsite. My big sister Mary has been camped next to us for an extended time in her renovated 1960’s RV. It had been 10 months since we last camped in Missouri. We made a day trip to Springfield to visit a civil war battlefield and a niece in town. COVID shut down the past two organized family reunions in Mount Vernon Missouri but not this year. Although the gathering was smaller than usual, it was nice to see those who could attend. The reunion for this side of the family (Orr descendants) has been held annually since 1937.

My sister moved her rig to Old 86 Corp of Engineer Campground on Table Rock Lake. Was nice to spend the day at the campground visiting without moving our rig. We can book a spot at any National Park or Corp. of Engineer Campground at a 50% discount using our lifetime America the Beautiful Pass. Also, free admission to National Parks and Monuments for everyone in the car. Old 86 Campground is big rig friendly but there is a steep hill getting in and out for a short distance which does not stop anyone.
Old 86 Corp of Engineer Campground Table Rock Lake
Family reunion location – Ozark Prairie Church outside Mount Vernon Missouri about an hour from Branson.
Behind the church is my eventual and six generations of family burial sites. I bought six spots a few years ago. Karen and I are to be buried sideways to take up all the spots and piss off the guy that mows around tombstones as ours will be positioned sideways 🙂 As a child at the reunion I recall eating off the back of a hay wagon. Now we have an airconditioned meeting room attached to the church. Sad the new generation of kids will never know the difference.

Branson is a befitting place to spend our third anniversary of fulltime RV travel as it was one of our earliest stops after selling the house in August of 2019. Here is the post from that visit. I hinted last month we are looking at stops a little different these days. Every place may be a place we want to settle down. I’m of the opinion, based on lifes experiences, most will retire close to the grandchildren because that’s the only way they will see them with any regularity. Some may stay in an area familiar to them. We don’t have any grandchildren and prefer to be within at a few hours of driving time from family.

I lived 56 years in the Kansas City Missouri Metro area. Other than visiting our daughter I care never to set foot inside the city limits again. New journeys are my thing. I got to thinking, too deep for a shallow brain like mine I’m sure, but why bother to take these journeys when they will become a faded memory or eventually, I’ll be planted at Ozark Presbyterian Church with the rest of the family. Because life can be hard to live through. Stumbling upon joyful moments when traveling and new experiences makes life more bearable.

While stopped this month we have taken day trips between northwest and north central Arkansas looking at communities as possible places to call home someday. As well as all the towns within proximity of Table Rock Lake or Branson. So far, I’m thinking Karen and I most liked Bull Shoal or Holiday Island Arkansas. Branson would be okay if we lived in a lake environment just out of town. But not this year or maybe not even this place. There is hopefully a little more to do and see before we slow down. At this point our winter plans would be moving around Texas and are watching for any changes in Karen’s mom’s health up in Michigan.

Branson had 9.1 million visitors in 2019 compared to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park at 12.5 million or the Grand Canyon at 5.97 million the same year. That’s a lot of visitors in a town of 11,000. You might think the roads are packed. That’s not the case. The city and state have done a wonderful job building routes around congestion much of which is scenic. We attended one show, hiked, spent time at the pool and drove north 45 minutes to see a Civil War battlefield this past month. In addition to putting miles on the truck on tour through hilly roads in north Arkansas which unfortunately I have little photos of.

Site and Sound Theater – For the Story of Jesus. This is a main attraction in the area and only a couple miles from our campsite.
Had to grab this photo from the internet as none are allowed during the theatrical performance. At the stage area is the world’s largest LCD screen where video is woven into the live performance as the two-story set extends down both sides of the theater. Amazing….

After the theater – To Fall Creek Restaurant which has the most amazing catfish meals and live entertainment. We had a window view by the water. It would take a year to dine at all the places in the Branson area, many of which are unique or themed.

Two and a half mile paved walking trail from the Table Rock Dam Visitors Center, a site to see in itself, along the lake coast to the State Park. We are meeting friends from Michigan at the State Park in November when we return to Branson after a trip to central Missouri. I’d think we would walk the trail and maybe, if they want, catch a cruise on the large paddle boat docked in the same area.

Wilson’s Creek Battlefield – Springfield MO Area

Before I get into visiting Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, I’d like to thank all the readers for spending money at Cabela’s, Bass Pro, Ranger/Tracker/Triton Boats. Because all companies are owned by the same parent company headquartered in Springfield Missouri. The founding owner of Bass Pro spends the earnings creating the most unique and scenic destinations here in the Ozarks. It would take a full blog post to list the locations. And for those looking to send a child to college with zero debt you might check out the College of the Ozarks where kids work their way through school. This area is proud of its Christian values.

April 4, 1861, the first shots are fired at Fort Sumter. Just two months later a battle is held on 6/17/61 in Boonville Missouri where Union General Nathaniel Lyon moved into the area hell bent to take the state capital in Jefferson City Missouri where martial law was declared so that Missouri would not enter the Confederacy. Lyon was not very popular after a public statement when he said he would rather see every man, women and child dead in Missouri before they left the Union. It was rumored that President Lincoln stated he may not have God on his side, but he must have Missouri. Then on 7/21/61 the first major battle is fought outside Washington at the first Battle of Bull Run. Two months later on 8/10/21 the first major battle west of the Mississippi was held at Wilson’s Creek Missouri.

Caisson, or ammo wagon, for a cannon. Nice full display of all the parts. I was a member of an artillery crew for a couple years reenacting civil war battles in my youth. Fun to fire those monsters.
Asked a Ranger what was the most interesting artifact. This was John Brown’s telescope. Then Major Robert E. Lee of the United States Army hung John Brown in Virginia. Brown was part of the Bleeding Kansas activity which led to fighting between Missouri and Kansas well before the official war started. John Brown now resides in hell.
Cool hay bales wrapped in US flag.
Near here is where a great-great uncle of mine, John Essary, claimed he was one of three Confederate sharpshooters tasked with shooting down Nathanial Lyon who earned the right to be the first Union General killed in the Civil War. His army, in full retreat, left the body on the battlefield. But the Confederates gave it back for burial elsewhere – I would think so that Lyon’s evilness would not infect the ground water. My father passed on a family story which was John Essary being so upset when the Confederacy surrendered that he refused to take off his hat at the table or cut his hair for the remainder of his life. The army in Missouri was not part of the surrender and moved to Mexico, attempting but failing to reform their ranks. Don’t get me wrong, I had family fighting on both sides. I’m glad things turned out the way they did with the end of slavery and perhaps a little more focus on states’ rights.
At the end of the fence row is an original well house. There are a couple structures on the battlefield to tour as well.

Minor RV Repairs and Maintenance

And finally, as usual, a couple RV related items.

If your RV Gas/Electric refrigerator is located in a slide out, there may be ventilation fans behind it. Those not in a slide are vented above rather than out the side of the slides so don’t require fans. Don’t think ours ever worked. The fans are loud so I might run a switch inside the RV. The fans are installed to be controlled by a heat sensitive relay outside.
Ram truck and most all others I’m sure, have holes in this area near the wiper blades where water drains into the wheel well. Fulltime RVing means parking under a lot of trees and these holes get clogged, allowing water to run inside the truck onto the carpet. I drilled the holes slightly larger and make a point to keep the area clean. Problem solved after twice replacing cabin air filters that were wet and blocked the flow of ventilation where our truck AC was not working very well.

As we are parked for two months, I’ve been checking off maintenance items. I’ve got an involved list. This will save you a lot of time if drafting your own. For those who don’t have a copy, here is the most recent version. From the menu you can print or save it:

Our current plan has us leaving Branson on September 11th for central Missouri. Then back to Branson before heading south to Texas.

Tennessee to Michigan to Missouri

Here on July 20, 2022, I’m sitting at our daughter’s kitchen table in Kansas City Missouri making use of her Google Fiber internet. We took a side trip from Branson for a quick visit. It was a long road to get here beginning in Nashville Tennesse with a five-week side trip without the RV to Michigan, back to Nashville then on to Branson Missouri where we are staying for two months. Got to love it. What other lifestyle allows one to remain in a popular area or with family for as long as you want?

After the side trip to Michigan, we would begin the trip to Missouri from the north side of Nashville, we traveled I-24 into southern Kentucky. You have to watch the bridge crossings around Paducah Kentucky when towing a big RV. I suggest taking the interstate bridges and not the local highways across the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. We always try and take US 60 in Missouri beginning at Sikeston Missouri off I-55 west through the Ozarks which is a very pleasant drive all the way into Springfield Missouri. If you are traveling south from St. Louis and want to see wonderful views in south Missouri over an easy highway, I highly suggest the US 60 route which takes you through the Ozark hills and valleys beginning in Popular Bluff.

From Nashville to Howell Michigan on Family Business

“Family comes first” is a phrase I’ve heard more than once spoken by fulltime travelers. Sometimes plans got to change. I mentioned in the last post we came to Howell Michigan (45 minutes west of Detroit) as Karen’s mom moved to assisted living. She was involved in a motor vehicle crash some time ago and for the most part recovered back to her usual self. However, there was enough injury to her brain things were just not to be the same as before. Karen’s sister is an amazing person and stepped up as usual to take care of her mom. I suggested we uproot and go to Michigan; canceling travel plans we can always recreate later. So, we parked the RV at a safe lot on the north side of Nashville and drove the truck to Michigan where we ended up extending our stay for five weeks.

Karen’s mom is living in a wonderful place in a newly constructed assisted living facility with progressive care as needed. She is happy and attends almost all the buildings events meeting new friends. We can keep tabs on her as the facility post everything on Facebook for family. I’ll summarize by saying we should all be as lucky to find as wonderful final home someday. We were there for Karen’s sister, the caregiver, as well and I think we helped. We completed a goal which was to prepare her mom’s condo for sale should they need the finances. We plan to be back for an extended stay after next year’s spring RV trip. On a personal note, during the entire visit I thought of Karen’s father, Don, who passed away some time ago. I’m married into the family of course and would never want to voice my opinion during family decisions beyond what is appropriate. I thought of Don often and hoped I was doing right by him and being as respectful as possible.

The trip to Michigan turned out to have an unexpected benefit. Karen and I had not thought about it prior to arrival but spending five weeks in a sticks and bricks home was a way to judge if we missed it. In short, we were glad to be back in our “real home” later which is our RV. We did enjoy the community and visits with neighbors while in Michigan. Karen misses being part of a community and I don’t particularly enjoy route planning/driving and move days in the RV, often being happiest when we have arrived at a destination for an extended stay.

Front yard of the condo. The truck has not been parked outside a sticks and bricks for this long in the past three years.
Back yard at the condo. Who knew Michigan had birds this big this far from the lakes? These walked through every now and then.
Got lucky in being able to watch the annual balloon competition from the front yard.
Last year, one of the balloons crash landed in the street. We got to know the neighbors and the community during the five weeks stay, one provided the photo.

Michigan War Dog Memorial

I searched Atlis Obscura and found the Michigan War Dog Memorial was close to our location. The neighbor was from the area originally and had never heard of it. What a great find. Some of the messages on the various working dog tombstones was emotional. I had no idea 4,000 dogs were used during the Vietnam War and never came home. Someone that reads this blog had one of those dogs. This one is for you Russ!

Names of every dog left behind in Vietnam

Dog lovers can relate. I can’t imagine spending a year at war with a faithful dog by your side, only to step on a plane home leaving him behind.

Back to Nashville for the RV and then on to Missouri

Well, we spent as much time in Michigan as possible causing us to travel fast (for us) from Nashville to Branson Missouri. Two stops to include an over-nighter. Others I’m sure would have made the drive straight through. We missed out on a lot moving so quickly but did discover south Illinios is nothing like we imagined. We stayed near the Shawnee National Forest. The area was similar to the hills of Kentucky. Sorry for the lack of photos. Here is a link to their tourist site in case you happen to be in the area.

Our first stop was the Shawnee Forest Campground (RV Park) in Vienna Illinois.
Wyatt had a chance to chase his frisbee at Shawnee Forest Campground. We had a nice corner lot with real grass!

Then on for just one night in Willow Springs Missouri in the Ozarks. For those who know US 60 through the Missouri Ozarks many stay at the Lauria Ingalls Campground in Mansfield or the not so nice a place in Popular Bluff. Here is another option – The new Campground at Willow Springs. This used to be KOA park that set vacant for 20 years and was recently reopened. The owner is gradually making improvements.

Yup, no big mountains or shinny lakes in view, but a good place to stop for the night. If anyone is traveling through Missouri and should want travel advice, feel free to ask.

I’ve got a lot to pass along in my next post to include we finally have the urge to start looking at places as being somewhere we might want to settle down someday or not. Day trips to northwest Arkansas as well.

While we were in town a North Kansas City Police Officer was gunned down on a traffic stop. Rest in peace Officer Daniel Vasquez. You are a hero and will be missed by a community, thousands of officers and your family.

The “Secret City” – Oak Ridge Tennessee

There were three locations around the country involved in design of the atomic bomb known as the Manhattan Project. Oak Ridge Tennessee was one of those locations and still remains an area for nuclear development.

We made our way west from Bristol Tennessee on I-81, eventually picking up westbound I-40 through Knoxville. I’d been warned Knoxville traffic can be terrible. We took the interstate directly through town rather than the north loop around town. It was bearable but for sure was a crowded highway with heavy truck traffic. The hills up and down were no problem. Later we would make our way on to Nashville where we found the decent down the mountains into the Cumberland Plateau area to be no issue for the truck nor my nerves.

We stayed at the Soaring Eagle Campground west of Knoxville. Originally built in the 1970’s for campers coming to the World Fair held in Knoxville, the sites are close together and the interstate noise from nearby I-40 was terrible. But the campground is well run by the family who built it. A large tent area in the woods was not being used and offered a relaxing hike. Our dog Wyatt also had an opportunity to swim in the small lake attached to the campground.

Oak Ridge for us was not a destination stop, it just happened to be within our daily travel limit of 200 miles and showed up on our radar as a place to visit. Oak Ridge is about 75 miles from the Cumberland Gap if you care to visit there as well. I looked into staying between Oak Ridge and the Gap for day trips but decided against it for no particular reason other than we wanted to head west sooner, so we spent less time in the area.

I recommend your first stop in Oak Ridge Tennessee should be the Visitors Center located inside an old elementary school. You will find an informative children’s museum and the park office which is a single desk with an employee. Grab a map of the town which highlights the many locations scattered around as well a description of what is at each stop. Get in the car and drive to whatever looks interesting. I asked the staff to show me where the restricted access areas were located around town so I would not take any roads that led to contact with security officers. That turned out not to be an issue. We skipped most of the old buildings in town but enjoyed the drive into neighborhoods full of 1940 style homes. Unfortunately, several sites were closed such as a scenic look-out as you enter town and the city’s museum.

Inside the Children’s Museum/National Park Visitors Center. Had to use the men’s room which was the old boy’s restroom full of short stalls.
Outside the Visitor’s Center – A place to walk the dog.

Of course, the Manhattan project was secret government work to build the atomic bomb during World War 2. Oak Ridge was a small town at the time and was selected as the place to locate 30,000 employees, their families and everything they needed to live in a community such as homes, schools, shopping and churches. Along with facilities for atomic research and nuclear reactors. Existing families were relocated to quickly build a new town within the 59,000-acre area. The Atomic Heritage Foundation web site located at this link, explains it all.

After driving around, we stopped for lunch and then found the Museum of Science and Energy which can take a couple hours to see all the displays in detail.

This is an example of how sites to visit are scattered around town. I should have done more research before we arrived or at the visitor’s center in order to better select sites of interest.
This gentleman was a scientist in Oak Ridge for 30 years and answered every question less, I suppose, the top-secret stuff. He explained how at Oak Ridge today they are using a modern reactor to create nuclear energy from what was nuclear waste material.
I was surprised not to see hydrogen listed as an energy source. I suppose because it is hard to quantified what is required in terms of resources.

I am a member of the same Masonic Lodge President Truman attended. An older lodge member once told me the story about having met the President after he left office and returned to Independence Missouri (outside Kansas City). The lodge member went to see Truman at his office as the President wanted to donate money to construct a new lodge building. He wanted to thank the President for making the hard decision to drop the bombs. He was one of many on ships waiting to invade the Japanese homeland where we were expected to lose 100,000 soldiers. He thanked Truman for saving his life. The President then said had he not ordered the bombs to be dropped, he could never have faced the American people if they knew he had a chance to end the war without the cost of so many American lives. I’ll add, if you know the history, the allies had already been firebombing Japanese cities in mass which was terrible but necessary. Between 80,000 and 100,000 Japanese were killed just in Tokyo as a result of the firebombing which involves dropping incendiary bombs and starting massive firestorms as the wood cities were burnt. Wish they would have surrendered earlier.

And yes, the Oak Ridge Boys are from the area. The original band members entertained the town during World War 2.

As usual, I’ll include a tip for RV travel. In this case the best video I’ve ever seen teaching one to back up a trailer. It is worth the time to view even for experienced folks.

We are currently located in Howell Michigan (west of Detroit) visiting family. We left the 5th wheel in storage in Nashville and drove up as Karen’s mom was moving to assisted care. We are leaving in a few days, then on to Branson Missouri for the summer. Regrettably, we had to re-route and missed three meetups with RV friends in order to extend our stay in Michigan. As they say “family comes first” in this lifestyle.

Bristol, Sullivan County, Tennessee – Seneker Family Genealogy

Most of this post will be more interesting to family! – Make sure and click on links listed in blue type as I have imbedded PDF files for family or whoever is interested to learn more.

The Tennessee state flag was designed by LeRoy Reeves of the Third Regiment, Tennessee Infantry, who made the following explanation of his design:

“The three stars are of pure white, representing the three grand divisions of the state. They are bound together by the endless circle of the blue field, the symbol being three bound together in
one—an indissoluble trinity. 

The three divisions of the state described by Reeves are the western portion of the state, along the Mississippi River, central region with Nashville as the current capital and the east which includes Bristol Tennessee. Living full time in an RV allows us to experience the distinct cultural difference and topography within each state’s boarders. I’d have to summarize Tennessee as being a strong representation of the American pioneer spirit. From which Danial Boone cut trails west, Davy Crockett was born, Sam Houston took with him to Texas, and where the Carter family transformed mountain music in the undisputed Home of County Music in Bristol Tennesse. Perhaps more significant than the Oregon Trail’s route to western expansion are the pathways from which early American’s migrated through the state of Tennessee.

God, I love this country! I’m proud that my own family traveled the same pathways as they spread out from the original colonies to open territory in Missouri. Chances are if your family has history dating back to the Revolutionary War period, and are of German or Scotch/Irish decent, they may very well have traveled the same path.

Continue reading

Fort Chiswell Virginia – Enroute to Bristol Tennessee

I’d like to welcome a few new readers whom we had met in campgrounds. Click here for a list of older posts to see if there is a topic you are most interested in. I don’t advertise to increase readership of the blog as it remains just a place to make a record of our travels for ourselves, keep family and friends updated or refer new friends interested in getting started in living their future in an RV. And for those long-time readers, I’m starting to use more headlines in my posts so you can quickly scan the subjects and read what might interest you.

Changed Travel Plans

We changed our travel plans for this spring/summer trip for two reasons.

We have visited a couple larger cities on this trip when our normal travel style is to avoid heavily populated areas. Karan and I talked after leaving Charleston South Carolina. We agreed we want to go places we enjoy with as little hassle as possible and big cities are no fun for us. The second reason to change plans is her mom up in Michigan is moving to assisted care living which we are excited about and are most likely heading that way.

So, we decided to skip the trip to Washington DC, reroute and spend more time at several locations as we drift towards St. Louis Missouri (6/26/22) and down to Branson (7/10/22) for a longer stay. Today, we plan to stick the RV in storage for two weeks in Nashville where we have done it before and drive up to Michigan to see Karen’s mom. Things could change in the next couple of days, however. Not particularly a reason to change plans but we cut out maybe 500 miles of towing. I’m hearing there are possible diesel fuel shortages along the east coast as well but that would not be concerning to us as we have grown in experience on the road and take things as they come. Really sorry we are going to miss Bill and Kelly in Pennsylvania. Their blog is called Bill & Kelly’s American Odyssey. They posted a wonderful video which reveals why we all travel fulltime.

Video posted at Bill and Kelly’s American Odyssey Blog.

Short Stay in Southwest Viginia

On the way to Bristol Tennessee, I decided to climb over the mountain following Fancy Gap on I-77 north of Charlotte North Carolina into Virginia rather than going over on I-26 north of Ashville North Carolina were most would go to visit wonderful Ashville. Along with being an easier route in my opinion, this also gave us a chance to experience a little bit of Virgina. The truck did great on the 12-mile climb and shorter decent. I decided to run with the truck at 55 miles per hour during the 4%-5% grades and was happy to never notice the truck engine above 2,000 RPM and no added heat on the transmission. Using the tow/haul mode along with the full exhaust brake was the thing to do as I only hit our brakes one time going down the hill.

Downloaded the video from our dash cam of the climb up to Fancy Gap on I-77 towards I-81. Sorry, no sound as I have spent zero time learning to add music and turned off the microphone on the camera in case I cuss about being cut off by a small smashable car or other idiot things we see. Also, I might get a little panicky as we travel into the unknown frontier with big hills and don’t want to embarrass myself with the audio. Fancy Gap is known for possible high winds in areas or sudden fog. I checked the Virginia and North Carolina Department of Transportation sites, to include real time traffic cameras along I-77 the morning we left.

Fort Chiswell Virginia

Fort Chiswell is at the intersection of I-77 and I-81 in Southwest Virginia. It’s a popular spot to overnight while on a trip in the valley within the Appalachian Mountains.

We stayed four nights at Fort Chiswell RV Park Virginia which is located at the first exit after turning westbound from I-77 to I-81. It’s a quick exit where we did not even have to change lanes. Lots of history around there with some believing this was the start of the Wilderness Road Danial Boone was hired to carve out of the forests to the west towards the Cumberland Gap. This is along the migration route down which figures such as Sam Houston would have taken. Born nearby was Stephen Austin, also a founding father of Texas. Austin first moved to Missouri where lead mines had been located. His father had arranged to move families to Mexican Territory into what we call Texas with the blessing of Mexico’s President. Stephen completed his father’s dream. Then the attitude changed in “Texas”. Austin was placed in prison for two years in Mexico and only lived a short time after Texas gained its independence.

View from Fort Chiswell RV Park
View from our campground. Was a wonderful place to just sit outside or walk the campground for a few days.

Electric Vehicles Showing up in Parks and RV Tips

Anyone else started see electric cars being charged at RV parks? This was the second sighting in two months. Wonder if there will be a new rule added at campgrounds in our future. I sent a letter to the editor of a popular RV newsletter, not to be a party pooper but believing it would be a good article.

Over the years Karen and I have continued to fine tune the way we live on the road. The simplest changes can make a world of difference if it involves something you do almost daily. For example, I don’t place the folding camping chairs in their bags for storage any longer because we are just getting them out at the next stop. Small deal but I hope that makes sense.

I’ve always coated my fingers with goop while putting oil and seasoning on meat to be grilled. Now I’m brushing it on and consider my grill setup nearing perfection. Ya, real cooks will say that’s a no brainer. I brush the oil and seasoning on while the meat is on the grill and have also been making better use of aluminum foil to reduce cleanup.

On the springs of a fifth wheel, and probably a trailer trailer, is a silver band which is shown on the right where the spring attaches to the shackle. The band is not tight around the springs which concerned me. I know the springs are kept in place where they mount at the axle and held down by the U-bolts shown on the left. After researching and finding someone I trusted, I’ve come to the conclusion the silver bands do nothing other than contain a part number and I’m not worrying about them anymore.

We are currently camped west of Knoxville Tennessee near Oak Ridge hoping not to become radioactive. We spent three weeks in Bristol Tennessee which will be the topic of my next post.


4 Paws Kingdom Campground and Dog Retreat- Rutherfordton NC

It is rare that a specific campground becomes a destination location for us. In July of 2015 my wife Karen asked to put 4 Paws Kingdom Campground and Dog Retreat on the must-see list. So here we are, at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains living among the trees with dogs and their owners. We booked a two week stay as during this spring/summer trip we are doing our best to stay at least a week at each stop and two if it is a destination. I’ll have to say the longer stays with shorter drives between each has been wonderful. If I had no desire to return “home” the preferred way of travel for me would be take off in a direction, never look back and stay for a week or two everywhere while circling the United States with maybe a two month stay for the winter.

Stop to Visit Family on the Way to 4 Paws

On the way to 4 Paws, we stayed for a week in Spartanburg South Carolina. From Spartanburg we made a day trip without the RV to the west side of busy Charlotte to visit Karen’s Uncle Dave and Aunt Rose whom she had not seen for many years. They live on a wooded lot near a residential lake. We much enjoyed the conversation, lunch and walk around the property. I sat there looking at Karen’s uncle and marveled at how much Dave’s gestures and features reminded me of Karen’s mom. You can tell Dave and Karen’s mom grew up in the same house. Rose is a sweetheart and any man would be privileged to have her in their life. We did take a photo, but I never got a copy from Karen.

Uncle Dave and Rose’s backyard on the South Carolina side of Charlotte.
Our spot at Cunningham RV Park in Spartanburg SC off I-26. Read the reviews before staying here.

While stopped in Spartanburg with nothing to tour in the area I had plenty of time to review our upcoming route and decided from 4 Paws Kingdom I’d be taking I-77 north through Fancy Gap rather than the higher elevations on I-26 north of Asheville. By the way Asheville North Carolina is the main reason folks come to this area so if you are near, I’d suggest researching Asheville.

4 Paws Campground and Dog Retreat

Site 13 – Pull through completely enclosed by a fence! Our dog Wyatt has never had a fenced yard. This was a welcome break for us as well. Wyatt was free to do what he wanted without close supervision. Yes, dogs bark at other dogs when they walked by. Owners don’t mind and the noise was never a problem. All the campers are dog lovers and because of mutual interests are very easy to make friends with.

4 Paws Campground has resort level customer service. We were met in the street during check-in, a park employee showed us to our site and helped us navigate the hillside location to include guided service into our spot. They picked up trash every morning at our site, office staff were amazing, and Karen could even get her fancy coffee at times at the pavilion. If you come here, follow the campground’s direction listed on their website! This is a hilly area with truck routes and narrow country roads. There are plenty of day trips to take from the park if you’re interested. They have done a great job with the campground which includes something like 24 dog waste locations to pick up after your dog. They advertise this is a dog retreat but it’s okay to bring their human friends. Of course, they have lots for the humans to do and enjoy while here. This is the only campground in the United States built from the ground up as a dog retreat! With eight themed dog parks, pet grooming stations and more set in a quiet wooded area. Dogs barking was never an issue.

Wyatt gets his summer haircut and then later bath in the park’s airconditioned dog wash.
Wyatt gets to swim off leash with friends at the big pond. There are eight dog parks here that are fenced, each having a specific purpose.
Getting ready for fun at the chase park every Saturday morning. Nope – they don’t chase each other. See the next photo
This is a plastic bag on a wire which is chased by the dogs. Wyatt did a wonderful job as the crowd cheered him along.
Easter weekend the park was full. This is getting ready for the dog’s easter egg hunt. There are no breed restrictions nor limit on the number of dogs folks can bring. They have permanent rental RVs under shelters and plenty of cabins if you don’t own an RV.
Road to our spot. The park is located between a couple hills. The drive in revealed the peaks of the Smoky Mountains between the trees at times but you can’t see them from the park itself.
They name the camping spots. I took this photo of site 10 – “Dixie” is the name of Wyatt’s best friend.

A couple Interesting RV Tips

Have you ever walked around a campground and noticed some RVers are better prepared than others? Us careful researchers can spot another in a second just by what accessories they bought. Everyone at 4 Paws were fantastic to meet. Campers get along always, but I’d have to say there was something different here. Folks stopped to talk always… Everyone was outside more often…. We had the best mutual bond which is the love of dogs…

ProPride 3P Hitch

I was staring over at our neighbor Kathy’s travel trailer hitch, noting it was a serious setup. I could see she had done her research. Next thing you know we are talking, and she emails information from her research in selecting a travel trailer hitch to help prevent the serious sway problem they can have while towing. Having a fifth wheel has spoiled me in terms of it feels more controllable in the wind. If I ever went back to a travel trailer, I’d consider the ProPride 3 P Hitch. Read all about it and trailer sway at this link.

Alliance Toy Hauler with a canvas room on the deck.

In case your toy hauler needs another room, apparently there are options to buy an enclosed room for the deck area. We don’t see many toy haulers with the back deck down inside RV parks as they just don’t fit the space. The guys who started Keystone RV Company sold out then started Grand Design then sold out to Winnebago. I heard at least one of them started Alliance.

We are currently stopped outside Bristol Tennessee/Virginia where my family settled in the late 1700’s. In my next post I’ll show you the video of the drive up the mountain and through Fancy Gap on I-77. The truck and my nerves did fine.

Preparing for the Appalachian Mountains

Our route so far as displayed on RV Trip Wizard: Briefly on the flat part I-40 in North Carolina, north on I-77 up a big hill called Fancy Gap to Virginia and then travel most of the valley on I-81, taking a right towards Washington DC and later west on I-70 through the mountains of Pennsylvania to the foothills in Ohio if my nerves can handle it.

Here is the short version of this post: When going down big hills use the tow/haul mode along with full exhaust brake if you have it. When towing normal I’m thinking I’ll leave tow/haul on and either the full or auto exhaust brake when going through towns with lots of traffic lights or stop and go traffic.

Appalachian Mountains

The rocks at the core of the Appalachian Mountains formed billions of years ago, according to the US Geological Survey. At one time all of the continents were still joined as one supercontinent surrounded by one ocean. About 540 million years ago the supercontinent began to break apart and seawater began spreading into low areas between the new individual land masses forming new oceans. God’s work for sure.

Throughout our travels we have been amazed at how much of the United States was once an inland sea. Experiencing the geology has been wonderful.

Geologists can prove the chain of mountains we call the Appalachians had been pushed up from the center of the earth roughly 480 million years ago, rising to elevations above the present-day Rocky Mountains which are still growing and much younger than the Appalachians. Over millions of years the Appalachians were eroded down to the current highest point being Mount Mitchell at 6,684 feet located north of Asheville North Carolina. Today I-26 takes you through that area and links up to I-81 in Tennessee. The Appalachians tend to be more round at the top or flatter because of wind and water erosion. One can’t see the jagged areas through the forests now growing within the lowered elevations.

I lived 56 years of my life in the heartland of glorious America on a flat area at roughly 700 feet sea level and visiting family in the Ozarks at about 1700 feet sea level. Typical vacations might include the lower elevations of the Appalachians to tourist areas near Knoxville Tennessee. And maybe we might make our way through a gorge between the mountains (I-40) heading to Florida if we decided not to head south and cut across flat Interstate 10.

I had never driven eastward far enough to experience the Appalachians and had little idea they form so many barriers to the east coast. I can speak for other flatlanders who live at lower sea levels that mountains are mountains, regardless of how tall, and make us nervous to drive through them. Thirteen miles of 6%, or especially 7%, grades driving down or up an interstate highway between two mountain peaks is a long way regardless of if we are in the Rockies, Bighorns, Appalachians or wherever. I suppose we would have built up confidence had we lived in states like West Virginia and became accustomed to mountain tunnels and hills on Interstates like I-77. We are going to be within the mountain chain for weeks (gulp).

As a side note, researching my family’s migration history during and after the colonial period in Virgina and Tennesse has been enlightening. The British outlawed settlement west of the Appalachians because they would lose control of the population and ability to tax them. After the Revolution folks started migrating over just a few ancient paths as they dealt with the same barriers we have today through the mountains. I had no idea the Cumberland Gap was created when a large meteorite struck Kentucky. I’d heard about Daniel Boone as he and his son had roots in Missouri where I’m from. He defied British law and in 1769 took off on his journey which included discovering a trail west through the Cumberland Gap while facing Indian resistance. Or course, Native Americans had forged many of those paths over thousands of years as they spread out on the continent.

My own family traveled down a migration path that is now the general area of Interstate 81 from Pennsylvania. I’m still researching how they made it to Missouri through Ohio during times that appear to be maybe 10 years after the migration routes became more widely known out east. And some got lucky to have come from Europe directly to the Midwest well after establishment of shipping lanes, improved roads and railroads. For me, all this research about my family’s migration has added a clearer understand to what Karen and I have discovered while in the areas of the Oregon Trail further west. You might want to click on this link for more about that.

This trip through mountainous areas has been front and center in my mind since last December where I talked to easterners while at winter camp in St. Augustine Florida. I’m doing my best not to let anxiety of the pending drive ruin the trip. We are currently stopped at the foothills in Rutherfordton North Carolina for two weeks. I can see the big mountains in the distance. The first week of this stop I had to tell myself that I would let concern over the route go for the week and just enjoy where we are now. I’ll worry about the drive a couple days before it happens and know I’ll build confidence in the weeks to come. Glad to have RV Trip Wizzard as a tool in planning the route which includes elevations and road grades. Even more happy with the decision to purchase Mountain Directory East (I have the West version as well).

Here is a page out of Mountain Directory East for Pennsylvania. All those yellow triangles are warnings about particular areas on mountain roads. Each triangle has a number where you can look up the written warning in the directory. I was totally caught off guard when first finding out even Pennsylvania has so many mountain areas. No wonder some drive into the state well north on I-90. Keep in mind once we are in the mountains, we will be taking day trips up and down the sides of them.

I appreciate the advice I got from other’s months ago who have been through the same areas. But I needed more information than they offered before making my own decisions. The perceived difficulty of the route is relative to if you live or travel routinely through mountains or not. Many say just staying on interstates, which have standardized road grades, is safe enough. Wrong – some of those interstates are just improved state highways in my opinion, having been built decades ago. And some folks don’t have newer tow vehicles which I’m glad we do. One gentleman said I-26 over the mountains north of Ashville North Carolina is no big deal. Damn, I searched the IRV2 web forums and found out that would be highest point in the mountains. What the heck…. So, as we are not in a hurry, I’m traveling east to go over at Fancy Gap well north of Charlotte North Carolina on I-77. Hope the wind and well-known development of sudden fog decide to stay out of the way the day we make the climb. I’ve been in contact with a trusted local resident, and fulltime RV traveler, in Pennsylvania regarding two routes I’m thinking about once we head back west.

Using Our Ram Diesel Truck Features in the Mountains

I will put a few videos at the bottom of the page where heavy duty trucks were compared for uphill and downhill performance and more.

Eagle Scout, Over-Planner me has never routinely used the exhaust brakes on our truck in over 15,000 miles of travel. I’ve never studied the owner’s manual for that feature either. I’ve been happy enough with using tow/haul mode and occasionally pushing the exhaust brake button because it seemed to slow down the truck when going down taller hills. So, for this next section of the blog post I’m assuming some might be as stupid as I’ve admitted being regarding using truck towing features. And I’ll hopefully provide ammunition for those trying to talk their spouse into getting a new truck:)

The best advice I ever received before purchasing the truck to tow our 16,000-pound (gross weight capacity) fifth wheel camper was to forget about the difficulty of driving it on a daily basis when not towing. Get the truck you need while towing as there will be times it is not safe to drive anything less. For my fulltime traveling family, that meant a 3500 dually diesel with an upgraded transmission. I would have purchased less truck and less trailer if only using it while on vacation. Chevy/GMC/Ford/Ram truck brands are all good for heavy towing and offer the same warranties. Get the one you like. Just make sure it can handle the weight in terms of rear axle rating and combined gross weight capacity. Click here for more about weight capacity which I consider to be the most important info I ever posted about selecting a truck.

On our Ram truck dash are two buttons for towing features. The truck also has a selector to manually control the transmission gears but that’s not necessarily needed when using tow/haul or engine exhaust braking. Some say whatever gear you are in when going up a hill is the same gear you should be in when going down. Again, our truck features handle this automatically.

Tow Haul mode is available on trucks with diesel engines and as I understand on some gas engine rigs. Push the button and the truck will automatically adjust the transmission shifting to best benefit towing and coming to a stop.

Exhaust braking is available on diesel vehicles and probably a main reason folks buy a diesel. On our truck there are two settings. Push the button once and the truck exhaust is used to slow the truck full-on, meaning the truck will reduce its speed, stopping, if possible, just using the exhaust system. There is a warning to make sure no one will hit you from behind should the truck suddenly reduce speed. Hit the button again and the truck exhaust braking enters an automatic mode which will keep the truck at the same speed it was at when you last took your foot of the accelerator or brake pedal.

The tow/haul mode and exhaust brake can be used at the same time. I should write that again. I have found if I put the truck in tow/haul and automatic exhaust braking (or full when going down big hills) then it handles everything on its own and I can concentrate on watching the turns in the road as we descend. If for some reason the truck’s speed goes much above what I want, I’ve been told to push the brake pedal sharply to bring it down to speed and then let up. Never ride the brakes or they could over-heat. I should add the exhaust brake system uses the trucks engine/exhaust not the brake pads on the truck’s wheels. (Update – many have been telling me they just use the full exhaust brake, not the automatic when going down long steep hills)

Semi-trucks use air brakes although I wonder if some also have added exhaust brakes. One of the reasons you see runaway truck lanes on downhill mountain roads is just in case a semi runs out of compressed air for the long trip down and can no longer brake. That’s not an issue with an exhaust brake.

We recently had our trailer brakes inspected and wheel bearings repacked. I replaced the tires and upgraded part of the suspension which is a decision we are happy with. Our truck service is not due. We are safe to travel.

I have also started trying to understand and talking to others about anxiety when driving. I’m thinking being older and more out of shape has changed my breathing and I’m probably drinking too much caffeine the day before traveling or not getting enough rest.  In my 20’s I went up Pike’s Peak and can’t remember ever feeling anxiety. More recently the five-mile bridge to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula proved to be no issue but other tall bridges have. Probably because they look scarier when approaching from the side when you can see the entire bridge versus driving straight onto a bridge without a curve before it.  Tunnels are another story… Then again, I used to have anxiety at other times while towing but no longer do, presumably because experience is building confidence.

I’ll post next about our current stay here in Rutherfordton North Carolina at the countries only RV park designed from the ground up for dogs and their human companions.

The Fast Lane Truck videos are excellent. In this one they compare new 3500/350 Cummins, Duramax and Power Stroke while towing 30,000 pounds up the Ike Gauntlet in Colorado. This is a 7% grade over 8 miles to 11,158 feet in elevation. This is the road to the Eisenhower Tunnel.
Technical stuff: 2014 video explaining of full vs automatic exhaust brake and how both turn off below 1200 RPM which is one reason one might have to down-shift the truck. I don’t have enough experience yet to know how often the truck might drop below 1200 RPM when using the tow/haul (for transmission shifting) and the exhaust brake together. For sure if both are turned on the truck will once again take over when the engine returns to 1200 or above RPM. On my truck, the first time you press the exhaust brake button to turn it on it goes directly to full which I assume is for a reason.
Super C RV, diesel Cummins. Combined weight 26,000 going across Continental Divide in Rockies with 6% grade using exhaust brake and never touching his regular brakes. Note what he says about Rockies vs Appalachians in that the Rockies ups and downs are shorter than the Appalachians. Curves make a difference I’m finding out.