Visiting Family in Missouri – New Dash Camera and Upgrading RV Suspension

We stopped in Kansas City Missouri for a month to visit our daughter and ended up taking a two week trip without the RV to Howell Michigan to visit Karen’s elderly mom. The RV park in Kansas City, Basswood Resort, gave us a good deal on a monthly spot. One of the employees we know kept an eye on our trailer. I always let management know if we are going to be gone longer than overnight. We have placed the RV in storage in the past while taking an extended trip without it. If the price is right, compared to the storage lot cost, I prefer to leave it in the campground.

We then traveled to central Missouri for a wonderful campout with family on Lake Pomme De Terre outside Hermitage Missouri. Site H413 is one of the best in the loop which I reserved about two months earlier. My sister Mary setup her vintage camper next to ours and family came from miles around as they pleased. We celebrated everyone’s birthday at once, enjoyed the conversations and lake front fun. Missouri passed a special tax in 1976 for conservation which has resulted in some of the best, and affordable, state parks in the nation. It’s 7:00 am here at the campground as I type this. There was a storm overnight. Everything is peaceful now. The dog and I just came inside after an early morning walk. There are only six campers in the park, the lake is smooth with early morning sun reflections. Can’t live anywhere better for $20 a night.

Site H413 Hermitage Campground Pomme De Terre State Park Missouri. 50 amp only. We used our 30 gallon water bladder and portable “blue boy” waste tank in order to extend our stay. All worked wonderfully.
Wyatt is now 17 months old. His swimming skills are much improved.

Installed a Dash Camera in the Truck

After more than two years of travel, I decided to install a dash camera for two reason. Of course to capture images of anyone who cuts us off on the highway that could result in a crash. Secondly, after our trip out west in Montana and Wyoming we really wish we had better video of the landscape. Karen can record on her phone but who wants to ride around holding a phone out the window just in case you see a once in a lifetime view.

I began researching cameras under $50 but found I’d need to spend closer to $100 for the options I wanted. This includes a camera that does not have lithium batteries that get hot in the sun. I wanted one that fits behind the rearview mirror, out of the driver’s view. All dash cameras will save video in the event of a crash. This one also has a button to push should you want to save a video such as the scenery. Karen pushes the button from the passenger seat or, as our camera is expandable, I can order a $20 remote button that links the camera via bluetooth. The camera has a WIFI feature where I can change settings or review video using my cell phone. A long USB cord came with the package so the camera is hardwired to an outlet. The power cord was easily cancelled behind the trucks interior trim. I purchased the VIOFO A129 without the rear camera option. I did not purchase the add on power cable that allows for a parking feature whereby if the camera senses something touches the truck the recorder will start.

The camera attaches to a small clip on the windshield and can easily be removed to check video using a cord and laptop or from a memory card. I can remove the camera in order to use a front windshield shade screen when parked in the sun without the camera being in the way. The base of camera has a GPS feature that records the location of videos. For now, I’ve disabled the interior microphone feature.

Here is an RV tip: While planning a route and wondering about the condition of roadways, driving through cities, elevations or whatever, go online and watch other’s video while they drive down specific highways. I’m amazed by the volume of videos out there.

Camera lens is on the other side and is adjustable up and down.
Baseplate where I slide the camera on. I take the camera off if I want to use a solar shade or I suppose to stop someone from stealing the camera. Although my truck has an alarm system and you can barely see the camera from the outside.
Karen saved a video of cloud formations by pressing a button. The camera saves those videos in a separate directory so they are not overwritten by other video.
Location on Google Earth based on camera GPS coordinates where Karen saved the video of cloud formations.

I’ll Be Upgrading our Fifthwheel RV Suspension

If you don’t have 12 things to fix, change or upgrade on an RV then you are not using it enough! If planning for a future traveling fulltime in an RV don’t be fooled thinking buying a rig is a one time expenditure. You will be replacing parts more often than you planned for.

Back in the 1980’s there was a recession and RV sales plummeted with many companies going out of business. Lippert bought up 80 percent of the patents so now every RV trailer on the road has plenty of parts in common all provided by Lippert. Each RV brand manufacturer adds their own construction parts based on their capabilities and buys the remainder to install on their rigs. For example, many buy a single chassis consisting of the frame, tires, suspension, brakes and more. Then the RV manufacturer bolts on their walls, slides, water tanks and more. Televisions, air conditioners, microwaves or whatever are purchased and installed. There are several different companies you might have to contact for warranty work, especially after the first year of ownership. Joining an owner’s forum online for whatever brand of camper you have is a must. Others who own your particular RV brand are the best source for help! When you are researching to buy an RV and can’t find a decent online owner’s forum, for example on Facebook, then don’t buy that brand!

RV repair and maintenance is just as concerning as finding all the RV parks reserved during a holiday. Many have stopped long-term RV travel because of broken rigs which can be safety issues. You better be mechanically inclined if traveling fulltime. We lost our brakes this past year on our fifthwheel while on a trip. I called around and no one could help us within three weeks. We were stuck but fixed it ourselves in order to continue the trip. It’s a hollow feeling to be stuck in a strange place with a busted rig. Getting used to thinking outside the box and going with the flow will be required to survive the lifestyle. Beware however if you become a knowledge junkie and want to know everything that could potentially break on an RV because it’s downright scary. Sometimes I think it would be better to drag this trailer around totally unware that a single suspension part could fail, breaking a spring, losing one side of an axle or worse. I’ll write more about our suspension upgrade after it’s completed hopefully later this month. For now I’ll pass along what I know to date.

Below are a few photos and explanations about what suspension parts to keep an eye on. I took some time to narrow this down. I’ll also mention improper tire inflation is the leading cause of tire blow outs. Get a pump, check your tires before every move.

On a fifth wheel or travel trailer are hangers that extend down on both sides of the RV undercarriage. Use your fingers and eyes to check the welds. There are heavy forces put on these hangers for example when backing into a camping spot. As the trailer turns the suspension pushes on these hangers, side to side. There are add-on components to improve their durability and safety.
These are U-bolt nuts. It is absolutely important to know the torque values and keep these bolts tight. If they loosen at all then the trailer axle will move. If you ever remove the U-bolts they should be replaced with new ones as over time the bolts, for lack of better words, reshape themselves when tightened. It is imperative to check the bolts with a torque wrench when new and after a few hundred miles of travel. I visually check everything at every stop.
These are shackles, and in my case they are the thin ones. Reputable RV manufacturers are now installing thicker shackles, which now includes our brand of RV. In our case, there are bolts that hold all this together that must be lubed. Sometimes you have to take the weight off the trailer to get any grease in. There is lots of discussion on what type of bolts to use, specifically about the type of bushings. I trust Morryde engineers and have to think bronze is best. They all fail over time. Lippert offers a “Never Fail” bushing that requires no maintenance. Well, at least they used to but now have stopped selling them. Their technical support folks tell me they are not sure why they stopped selling them but suggested it might have been a falling out between Lippert and the company that built the Never Fail bushings. Believe me when I say if you are a full time traveler all these parts have a chance of failing because we haul and drive our rigs 6,000 miles a year.
This is a photo where two of our tires make occasional contact with the underside of the RV, probably when going over pumps. Our clearance when the trailer is under load (not stopped and leveled on a site) is down to 2.5 inches on one side. Probably our springs are flattening out. Lippert springs use inferior steel in the opinion of far more knowledgably repair techs who don’t sell springs. All the suspension parts work together in spreading the energy of bumps in the road to various places on the trailer.
This photo is for Debbie and Steve. Some companies are welding cross members inside the spring hangers to reinforce them from side to side. Some who own heavier rigs are buying bolt on beams that run under the trailer from one side to the other between the hangers. Those upgrades have been proven not to interfere with the normal operation of the suspension systems.

I’m doing away with the shackles, bolts and bushings for the most part by having our factory service center install the Roadmaster Comfort Ride System with Slipper Springs and Shocks. Several others who own our brand trailer have done the same over the past two years. I’ve yet to find a negative review. Roadmaster has been building parts for a long time and bought the patent to the system. Some have suggested money would be better spent upgrading to disc brakes but I’m fine with what we have and our trucks ability to help stop the trailer. The Roadmaster system is as close to an independent suspension as I can afford. I’m not wanting to add the better and highly praised Morryde Independent suspension which add a lot of weight to the trailer.

Lippert will want to send out a new set of the same springs to replace the old ones under warranty. Maybe going to 4,000 pound springs from 3,500 would help as well but the ride would be worse. All this after just 13,000 miles of usage. Not to get technical but our trailer brand had a recall where they replaced shorter shackles with longer ones. I suspect that might have allowed for more travel distance between the top of the tires and the bottom of the trailer when going over bumps. I’d also not want longer spring hangers to allow for more clearance as longer hangers might be less durable. Vanleigh has been good to work with and Lippert answers the phone when called. They are a huge company and so far I like their customer service. We can discuss all this in the comments section if you are interested.

Roadmaster Comfort Ride with Slipper Springs and Shocks – Everyone is having trouble getting parts so order well in advance of installation date. We have to double back 200 miles to the Mississippi factory service center once our parts arrive – which includes new U-bolts as we are removing the old ones and you should not reuse them per E-Trailer and others. I also liked the Morryde 4000 equalizers with heavy duty shackles which are shorter than what we have now.

Here is a video with two guys actually riding in the back of a fifthwheel comparing basic equalizers against the Roadmaster Comfort System (previously called the Liberty Rider). I noted there are better equalizers than the stock one of this trailer such as the Morryde 4000 and some say the newer Lippert Road Armor. Here is an E-Trailer video review. Additional E-Trailer information can be found at this link.

One word of caution if you decide to start replacing suspension components when the trailer is still under the Lippert three year frame warranty. They may deny a warranty claim if Lippert parts were not installed. We will have four months left on our frame warranty when we start changing suspension components.

I can see why dealerships have trouble getting parts which delays RV repairs, sometimes for months. It was a nightmare to negotiate the process of identifying what parts I’m having delivered to the repair center in advance. I suggest if you order parts that you compare them against images of what is already on the trailer as there are slight, but important differences. In my case Lippert suggested I order a kit to replace the U-bolts which I noted have flanged nuts. I was worried flanged nuts require a different torque value than what we have now which is nuts with washers. Vanleigh has a parts person one can call who knows everything about what’s on our particular rig and told me what to buy.

In my humble opinion, no one builds an RV for fulltime travel. Some just build better rigs than the others with parts that hold up better with extreme usage. That’s why they are called recreational vehicles, built to stay together through the one year warranty period and good enough to keep the government from regulating their business. And also for what people are willing to spend. I’ll bet a lot of rigs are sold because of floor plan and what the customer can see when they walk in. I can tell you, for sure with less expensive toy haulers, not many get underneath and look at the suspension in detail. As a new customer I knew very little myself. Costs money to go to college! Paying for trailer repairs and upgrades sure has taught me a few things. As well as good neighbors who don’t think it’s strange when I ask to climb under their rigs to see if anyone is using better suspension parts compared to even 2019 when we bought ours.

We are currently parked in southern Missouri and will be heading to Laura Ingles Campground east of Springfield Missouri.

Abilene Kansas – Visit Dwight Eisenhower and More

From Scotts Bluff Nebraska we went east on Interstate 80, turned south from North Platte Nebraska to US 36 (the Pony Express Route) then eventually went south to I 70 at Hays Kansas, eastward to Abilene. Don’t be fooled, there is plenty to see in Kansas.

Drive from Scotts Bluff Nebraska to Abilene Kansas

Why Abilene Kansas? Because we have taken a more northern route in the past over US Highway 36 from St. Joseph Missouri through Kansas and this time we wanted to see roads we have not traveled while Rving. If we were eventually headed over I-70 towards Kansas City, why not stop and see the President Dwight Eisenhower exhibits in Abilene. Pay our respects to the man, not only because he lead the country through WW2 in Europe but because he was the father of the US Interstate System that we all now enjoy from our RVs. If I recall the stories correctly, Eisenhower was impressed with the German Army’s usage of highway systems to quickly move their troops from battlefield to battlefield. He pushed for an improved interstate system here in the United States for both military and commercial usage. I’d read where interstates had to be designed in a way that aircraft could land on them every so many miles of roadway.

From Scotts Bluff Nebraska we stayed at two locations we have camped at in the past. One in Ogallala Nebraska and then on the high prairie near Norton Kansas at Prairie Dog State Park.

We love Prairie Dog State Park in Norton Kansas because the area is secluded. The reservoir with surrounding trees is an oasis among the tall grassland prairie. They have a conventional RV park and then several areas scattered out in more remote areas. Among which are six grass RV spots overlooking the landscape. We camped in site 304 which was 50 amp and water but a little hard to level the RV. Last visit we stayed in site 302 with only 30 amp and water but was easier to level the RV.

We had a great drive along I-80 with no wind. We did not stop at North Platte Nebraska but had considered a day trip to see the home of Buffalo Bill Cody. I’m not sure why Wyoming thinks they can make such a big deal of Buffalo Bill being a local legend. He is actually more from Kansas where he got his start on the Pony Express, Stagecoaches, working with the railroad and army. His parents had moved the family to Leavenworth (Kansas Territory) from Iowa.

We also did not stop to see anything in Hays Kansas where there is a lot of roadwork just before an I-70 on-ramp that will include the wildest ride through several roundabouts. You know, those roadways they install which supposedly help with traffic flow and reduce the number of stoplights! I’ve gotten to the point when we come up to a two lane roundabout I tow the trailer down the center, taking up most of the space in both lanes thereby leaving enough room on the sides of the trailer in case we need to turn left or right. I do my best never to allow more than four feet of room to the side of me when I’m taking up an extra lane, thereby preventing any cars from thinking they can pass me in the narrowed lanes. If you tow/drive a large RV I’m sure you understand the concept of taking up more roadway to make sure you can take a curve without hitting the curb and damaging tire sidewalls.

If you are planning a drive across I-70 through Kansas then do some research about the Flint Hills. I’m getting ahead of myself, but want to pass along the interstate through the State Capital in Topeka is no big deal other than a tight curve where there are warning signs well in advance. We would later pay about $6 at the toll booth east of Topeka towards Kansas City. The turnpike roadway is very smooth with places to stop for food or fuel. But – 70 miles west of Topeka is perhaps the best stop on the route – Abilene!

Abilene Kansas – Boyhood Home of President Dwight Eisenhower

We camped for a week at Walt’s Four Season Campground in Abilene. Nice camp store, to include meats. Plenty to do with a large swimming pool and miniature golf. Karen and I prefer to stay home at least every other day and see the sites outside the campground once we are well rested. Personally, I don’t like having anything on my calendar two days in a row. For Gods sake I’m retired!

Two feathery friends that quickly figure out which campers will feed them. One morning I got up to find them taking a bath in our dog Wyatt’s water dish. I turned the outside faucet on for a few minutes so the ducks could finish their shower.

A couple months prior to arrival I found out the Dwight Eisenhower complex was closed due to the pandemic. At the same time President Beidon had also issued mask mandates for federal property which are within any area where they have a breakout infection. Well, one day after the “mask mandate” we were in the middle of nowhere Montana at a national monument and had to wear a mask inside the visitor’s center. The locals had not heard anything about a virus breakout. When we arrived later in Abilene we found the Eisenhower exhibit still closed with not even the chapel where he is buried being open for limited viewing. I thought, why the heck did I get vaccinated with an experimental drug back in April if I now can’t even stand over a president’s grave? The grounds are owned by the federal government. The entire town was open for business, but not the federal site. This is the fifth time since January 2021 we have experienced a closed federal facility when everything around it was open.

When Dwight Eisenhower decided to run for president, both the republican and democratic parties asked him to run on their ticket. He was that popular with the American people. Now I can’t get in the church to pay my respects at his graveside. I told another visitor, while standing outside the church door, that I could get a pry bar out of my truck if he would watch for the park ranger ๐Ÿ™‚ The ranger must have been on break. I went looking for him and his key to get in. The fed’s spent over two million dollars during the pandemic renovating parts of the facility. No one has been able to see the results. Hope the workers did not get COVID. Oh well, there was plenty to see outside the buildings and the dog had a good time walking in the large areas of grass.

President Eisenhower is buried inside with his wife and son.
Through a crack in the the door of the chapel I was able to snap a photo with my phone. No – I did not use a pry bar. From research I knew which side of the chapel the President was buried on so I went to that corner outside for a moment of silence.

So having been upset the Feds, or at least some high-ranking asshole, believing the buildings should be shut down at the Eisenhower facility, I needed a way to get past the stress of it. Russell Stover Candy to the rescue. The business is based in Kansas City Missouri and has two factories in Kansas, one of which is in Abilene. Everything is about half off the retail prices and even more if you buy a bag of candy that did not come out right on the factory line. Even the ice cream with chunks of chocolate was different than I’ve ever had. The next day, Karen rode with me back to the Russell Stover Candy factory to make sure I developed diabetes. They have RV and bus parking so don’t miss it if you come down I-70.

Dickinson County Historical Museum and Independent Telephony Exhibits

In the same area of town as the Eisenhower facility are several other things to do. I visited the Greyhound (Dog) Hall of Fame, there is a train exhibit to include taking a ride, old Abilene buildings and the Dickinson County Museum.

Within the Dickinson County Museum is something for everyone to include the kids. On the grounds are many buildings that were moved to the location to include an enclosed carousel, like they have at carnivals. This carousel is actually a registered national landmark anyone can ride if you ask them to turn it on. The county museum is well worth the $7 admittance fee. Check out the photos below:

On the right side of screen is a quarter to judge the size of this tooth.
Probably should not let the dog chase the chickens.
A huge building full of antique farm equipment
Dozens of antique containers inside the old store.
Working lumber mill. Powered by a belt attached to a tractor.
Belt driven blacksmith shop

History of the Telephone

A large portion of the Dickinson County Museum included the history of the telephone. In the late 1800’s Alexander Bell’s patents ran out. Small independent phone companies sprang up to include Dickinson County’s Brown Telephone. This small company would grow into what we know today as Sprint. I worked for the company at one time in Corporate Security. I had always wanted the chance to visit Abilene just to see the phone history.

Like so many other’s at Sprint, I really respected Chairman Paul Henson. He retired and a new Chairman took over at which time the corporate culture changed. Once early in the morning I was walking down the hallway where the top executives have their offices in Westwood Kansas (suburb of KC). It was not uncommon for Paul to be in the office well before the building opened for general business. He was supposed to be in Europe with his wife and there was noise coming from his office. I walked in as Paul was coming out of the bathroom located in his office. He was suffering from cancer and I could tell was not having a good morning. We talked. He was always approachable. I believe he created the term “open door policy” meaning any employee was welcome to talk to anyone in the company despite their position, to include bringing up complaints. I asked why he was not in Europe with his wife Betty. He joked and then said he missed work. Knowing he was under doctor’s orders to work half days I asked if he was going to be okay and added he should take the time off. Paul gave me some of the best advise I ever received regarding work. He said people should work at jobs they would do without pay. He said that was why he was in the office. Well, that advise stuck. I had been working as a part-time police officer. Later I left the corporate world for a job I loved so much I’d do it without pay and became a fulltime cop.

Mr. Henson was a fine person. He was totally against laying anyone off within the huge corporation, preferring to make sure the job was absolutely needed before anyone was hired into a position. His vision of the telecommunication industry forged the technology we all enjoy today. I recall his speech to employees at what would be his last company Christmas party. In the room full of hundreds Henson talked about telecommunications and its future. He had already bet the farm on the world’s largest fiber optics network. Having clearance to corporate labs because of my position in security, I knew what they were working on and a few potential applications. Paul described the amazing future of the industry in what some thought were impossible expectations. I had been asked to give him a ride back to headquarters so he could met up with his buddy Charlie Brown, the AT&T Chairman. The two took trips together bird hunting every year, often leaving after the Christmas party. I had been standing on the sidelines waiting for him to finish his annual speech and overheard a conversation where one employee commented the cancer must be effecting the Chairman’s mind saying what Paul was describing seemed impossible and that his speech was not well organized. I knew the Chairman did not feel well but powered through the speech. We got back to headquarters where he livened up, moving his shotgun from the trunk of the Cadillac to a rental SUV Mr. Brown was driving. The two left on their hunting trip. This was another fawn memory of Paul I had. You see he always acted like the common man, at least around employees at my level. Years later wireless broadband became part of our everyday technology. And like Paul said, accessible from a handheld devise we call cell phones. Paul passed away. It was good to see his photo among the others at the history museum.

For my friends at Sprint I recorded a walk through the museum. I want to also take this time to say it should have been Sprint acquiring T-Mobile, not the other way around. Executive management after Paul just was not up to the task. I’m sure they have excuses why Sprint did not do better but I’ll not be excepting those excuses. The culture changed for the worst. In his retirement office at the Corinth building, before I left the company, I used the open door policy one more time and told Mr. Henson I noticed the culture change and named the man I thought responsible. Paul was gracious, even though I had criticized one of his decisions in hiring a person. He said he was no longer the Chairman and made the best decision he could at the time. I feel honored to have known the man for any length of time. I was a lowly employee that got lucky to have had access to the wisdom of a better man.

Here are some interesting photos from the museum:

Brown Telephone of Abilene would become United Telephone/Telecom. Then after a partnership out of Texas would have a name change to Sprint
Old truck with United Telephone of Indiana printed on the side.
Paul worked his way up in the company becoming President at the age of 38.

For more amazing and unexpected history of the company started by Brown and the man’s history read this article.

More information about Paul Henson. His death was reported in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. More importantly, he is missed by thousands.

We are currently stopped near Platte City Missouri for a month visiting family. Karen and I will be taking a short trip without the RV to Michigan to see her elderly mother. Then on to our fall trip through Mississippi and eventually Florida.


Scotts Bluff Nebraska

What drives our urge to visit locations of national wonders and history? Could it be seeking a reason for individual existence beyond love or being a character within the story of anotherโ€™s life experience? Could these places link us to the creation of earth itself, the history of mankind and plant the DNA of our own existence, scattered wherever we touch?

I found myself sitting outside in view of the national monument at Scotts Bluff Nebraska in quiet moments of thought. What have I been getting from our travels to historic landmarks? The sheer size of the landscape is impressive. We all know you canโ€™t take a picture that does a view justice.   You must be here using all your senses to take it in. Something as little as hearing the patterns of blowing winds.  Catching the stray smell of wet rock near a meadow of flowers. Looking as the view fades to a blurry tunnel on the horizon, miles beyond where you are standing. Finally leaning against a boulder millions of years old. Drinking a bottle of iced water, having lunch after an exhilarating climb to an elevated place or down into a valley at the center point of the experience.

Scientists believe earth was created about four billion years ago. The bible and geological processes explain the creation. It was finally determined that Yellowstone National Park sits upon a super volcano that has had a large-scale eruption at least three times. The volcano stays put as the earth above moves as part of plate tectonics. This super volcano has had a massive eruption on average about every 600,000 to 800,000 years. And could be 40,000 years past due to erupt. The geology of Scotts Bluff and beyond has been affected by Yellowstone as volcanic ash covered the landscape, just as it will do again. Over millions of years the landscape was twisted and turned by erosion as well. The geology of Scotts Bluff offers a view of the Wildcat Hills area that spans a time period between 33 and 22 million years to the present.

In what I call recent history, mankind migrated to this continent, probably from several different directions. During modern history between 1840 to 1860 half a million people traversed over the Oregon Trail using ancient monuments such as Scotts Bluff for trail markers along the way. This trail branches off to California and was also the highway used by Mormons traveling to Utah or gold seekers heading to Montana linked to the Bozeman Trail.

Then in 1963 simple me was born. And now I stand in the pathway of a tiny portion of human history, between points within bluffs through which families migrated. Up to 30,000 died on this pathway. If stretched out along the 2000 mile trail, there would be a grave every 352 feet. Someday, as it has always happened, this place will once again be covered by geological forces. The landscape will change and maybe thousands of years later someone will visit here. Nearly all those who died on this trail have no markers. I will remember them. Not by name but through shared experience. They and I are a link in the chain.

View from National Monument Visitor’s Center. There is no fee to see the park!

There is a walking trail that takes you through a pedestrian tunnel to the summit. You can also drive to the top.

Photo on display in visitors center. Not sure what year it was taken but it was in color. There is a deep ravine in the trail which was common as thousands of wagons passed over it, rutting the pathway.

Robidoux RV Park – City of Gering Nebraska

At $23 a night with the weekly rate, Robidoux RV Park was a great find. All roads are paved and your spot has a concrete pad and patio. Full hookup utilities and some spots offer cable TV. Operated by the City of Gering which is a community next to Scottsbluff within view of the National Monument. An interesting comment is the City of Scottsbluff is spelled different than the monument (two words – Scotts Bluff). The city waters the lawn where campers have a thick carpet of grass with plenty of space between campers. Highways into the area, to include scenic US 26 Highway, are easy to navigate. We found plenty to do during the week to include eating at a couple local drive-ins and venturing out into the countryside. We also checked out the Riverside Park Campground but highly recommend Robidoux.

Our yard of thick grass at Robidoux RV Park
Views at dusk are interesting as the clouds pass over the Scotts Bluff Monument, in this case, backlit by the sun.

Day trip to Rebecca Winter’s Grave and Lake Minatare

On the way to Lake Minatare we stopped at a hard to find grave along the Oregon/Mormon Trail. You might know the Oregon Trail starts in Independence Missouri which is the home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. We Have toured the church and area several times as Independence is a suburb of Kansas City where we lived. Lots of history in Independence to include the Mormons starting off on the trail to Zion in Utah. Rebecca’s grave is outside Scotts Bluff near the transcontinental railway.

Lake Minatare is a state park. A local resident said it was worth the drive just to check out the inland lighthouse, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corp. The lighthouse was built to give people hope during the great depression. The lake sits between what looks like sand bluffs. The beaches are huge along the lakeshore.

Drive to Robidoux Pass Through the Wildcat Hills and Trail Crossing

The title of this section sums up an interesting day spent in the truck, sometimes in four wheel drive, discovering less visited spots along the Oregon/California Trail. As wagon train after wagon train made it to Scotts Bluff each marked the occasion as a waypoint, knowing if they made it by July 4th they probably could make it over the Rocky Mountains before snow closed the passes. Just like those trails we hike today, sometimes they veer a little off course for better trail conditions. Pioneers traveled maybe 16 to 20 miles a day at this point in the trail. They avoided long detours when possible. The detours they did take, for example to an easier river crossing or between an opening in a mountain chain, would become the most established portions of the trail. Grazing land was hard to find at times. Mules and oxen were the preferred animals to tow trailers as they could live off prairie grass when horses had problems with it. Pioneers would move their livestock off the trail for a mile or more to find grazing land. Wagon trains might also select a spot well off the trail to avoid human waste and disease left behind by earlier travelers.

Louis and Clark forged the first trail (not the Oregon Trail) from the United States to the west coast but that trail was unusable by wagons. Fur traders had been using other trails, so did the buffalo and Native Americans which became parts of the Oregon trail. This route to the west was actually blazed beginning in Oregon, not Independence Missouri.

One could pass between the hills at Scotts Bluff or Robidoux Pass where the Robidoux family established a trading post, later moving it to another location. The military established a small fort in the area. Pioneers would continue on their way to larger Fort Laramie for repairs and resupply. They have been following the North Platte River.

An hour drive with the truck passed over land it would have taken the pioneers more than a day to travel. The roadways for us was sometimes gravel and sometimes thick dust that turns to mud just like it did for the pioneers. We drove through areas where I felt we were trespassing, but signs said just stay on the road through private lands. We never found a pioneer graveyard we were searching for but did find the intersection of the actual Oregon Trail and California Trail. This was mostly located in areas where cattle free-range even today.

Hmm, name spelled different “Roubadeau” vs. Robidoux as in Robidoux Pass and Trading Post – and RV Park.
A gold mine for us. We found where the California Trail split off from the Oregon Trail.

Day Trip to Agate Fossil Beds

Sioux County Nebraska is comprised of 2100 square miles and contains just one town. Imagine all the water nearly gone, save for a few watering holes. Animals, in this case dinosaurs, naturally flocked to those remaining water holes. The National Monument at Agate Fossil Beds was one of those remaining water holes. Bones were preserved, having not been crushed by glacier activity during various ice ages. As an added benefit, the park tells the story and displays American Indian artifacts during an age of friendship between rancher James Cook and Chief Red Cloud of the Lakota (Sioux) Indian Tribe.

A treaty was signed, giving safe passage to settlers traveling the Oregon Trail. The peace pipe they smoked is here at the visitor’s center. Artifacts from Red Cloud and his wife are here. The sister of Chief Crazy Horse helped bury him after his death at Fort Robinson Nebraska. She had only one item left from him. It’s here at the visitors center. I’m not much for American Indian History but admit the darkened room full of information and artifacts was a great experience added to the fossil displays. We skipped the walking trail to a couple mounds where fossils had been found as the heat was horrendous. This is the site where “smaller” dinosaurs roamed. The larger ones most of us know are out in Montana and other states.

Chief Red Cloud Clothing
Mounds where bones were located. There is a walking trail to the dig site.
For those that believe Nebraska is a fly-over state with not much to see. On this map of western Nebraska I can see many locations worth a stop, several within a reasonable drive from one another. Scottsbluff, Fort Laramie and Guernsey State Park, Alliance with Car Hinge, Agate Fossil Beds, Chadron State Park and National Forest with view of the foothills of the Black Hills, Fort Robinson west of Chadron. One could easily spend a month in the area of western Nebraska.

We are currently camped on the high plains of Kansas, having spent four nights in Ogallala Nebraska on the way here. We are heading towards Abilene Kansas to visit Dwight Eisenhower, then on to Kansas City by September 7th just after the last major camping holiday when spots are easier to get.

R.I.P – Sgt. Scott Boyum has died at the age of 54 from a long illness. We were co-workers. I’ll visit his grave along with Don Mansell’s when we return to Kansas City.

Buffalo Wyoming

We moved from Montana traveling down I-90/US87 to I-25 along the east side of the Bighorn Mountains, arriving in Buffalo Wyoming the last day of the county fair. This trip included no mountain driving or tunnels. I reserved our week long stay at Indian Campground and RV Park two months earlier, having no problem locking into a full hookup pull-through spot under shade trees. At about 4,600 feet in elevation we found the daytime temperatures still warm but at least the night time temps came down. Buffalo was on our radar for a visit as long ago as 2013 when Karen decided touring he Occidental Hotel was a must see event. There is plenty to do in the area.

Our Stay at the Indian Campground and RV Park

At about $44 a night this might be the most expensive park we have stayed at in the past two years. It was a rare occasion that I made use of a swimming pool. Karen appreciated the commercial size laundry room with plenty of machines, a decent office/gift store and a huge dog area off a small mountain stream where Wyatt could play and run through the water. Our section of the park was mostly occupied by those staying over-night or for a few days. Many stop here before going over the mountain on US 16 Highway towards Cody Wyoming and eventually Yellowstone National Park. Neighbors brought their motorcycles having come from the Black Hills and Sturgis in South Dakota. Rides into scenic countryside are plentiful.

Red arrow points to Buffalo Wyoming. Not far from several popular destinations.
Site E03

Visiting Downtown Buffalo and the Occidental Hotel

Shortly after arriving in Buffalo we headed downtown to visit the hotel and try and find a fishing guide so Karen could check off a bucket list item which was learning to fly fish – in Wyoming. We had checked several sources online earlier with no luck. It seems seeking out a spot to fish somewhere up in the mountains was what individuals do. Neither of us have ever touched a fly pole and would need a guide. The campground manager recommended stopping at the local sporting goods store and ask about guided trips. At the store we learned the guides were not working because it is so hot the fish are not biting. I had checked different areas of Wyoming known for fly fishing and in the back of my mind I knew someday we should travel west of the Bighorns into more popular tourist and fishing areas. Unfortunately, there would be no fishing on this trip.

Downtown sporting goods store
This is Clear Creek. The river walk begins outside of town.

Buffalo Wyoming is the county seat of Johnson County. If you are a western movie fan you probably have heard of the county. Home of much western history to include the Johnson County Wars. Wyoming remains the least populated state in the country. In the early days the land was public domain where ranchers allowed cattle to roam free. In time there was competition for grazing land and water. Cattle rustling was common and a “war” would erupt and hired gunmen were brought in. The US Army put an end to it. The cattle barons had gone too far and lost a lot of their power after the war. Because the cattle barons no longer had as much power, smaller ranchers and homesteaders were able to flourish.

Ranching included sheep

According to Webster’s, the word Occidental derives from the Latin occident-occidens, meaning “the west” or “the part of the sky where the sun sets. The Occidental Hotel was established in 1880 and became known as the place to stay near the Bozeman Trail which connected the gold mine area of southern Montana to the the Oregon Trail in eastern Wyoming. You will recognize photos or names of its famous guests scattered among the hotel walls. Buffalo Bill Cody, Calamity Jane, Teddy Roosevelt, Tom Horn, Earnest Hemmingway, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to name a few. Over time the hotel was rebuilt and remodeled. During our visit we found the hotel attached to a restaurant and salon. You can still rent a room!

Photo from

Karen headed into the salon to check it out and get a couple dark beers for us to go while I walked our dog Wyatt (Earp) outside. She returned to announce management says we can bring the dog through the salon then out the back door to a wonderful seating area along the mountain creek. We had the entire yard to ourselves.

Early 1900’s salon
Two wonderful dark beers enjoyed along Clear Creeks mountain stream.

Day Trips Near Buffalo

Good thing the interstate speed limit is 80 MPH as there is plenty to see miles from town. I should add we pulled the camper at 65 MPH through sparsely populated Montana and Wyoming with no issue. We have seen no highway vehicles working in the area and for the first time in hundreds of miles saw our first state troopers – at a Mexican restaurant. As a side note, our truck has a fuel range when towing of about 320 miles. We have had no problem finding refuel points if needed.

A short list of possible day trips from Buffalo Wyoming could have included: TA Ranch where the final shootout happened during the Johnson County Range War, drive over the Bighorn Mountains to the Thermopolis hot springs or Ten Sleep, some will drive back to the Little Bighorn Battlefield, Hole in the Wall (gang) lookout point, Crazy Women Canyon up the mountain and Dry Creek Petrified Forrest. We took time for two trips that are not among this list.

US 16 goes over the Bighorn Mountains and is considered a safe route. We did see one rig broken down on a hill climb and another at the RV park waiting for parts having not made the climb. Both were older tow vehicles. Semi trucks made their way down the steeper grades at a low speed with their flasher on. You can also take US 14 further to the north. Although peeks can reach to just over 13,000 feet, the pass on US 16 maxes out at 9,666 feet. Along the drive up from the east side of the mountain we found just one runaway truck lane. Karen and I also discovered we did not feel well once we went over about 8,000 feet. I’ve been worried about the effects of elevation as later in life I’ve experienced dizziness when flying and the doctors can’t find the source of the problem other than to say it’s caused by anxiety. Personally, I think its an inner ear or pressure issue I’ve developed over time. On this trip we have been living at around 5,000 feet and last year we were at the same elevation with little issue. Common sense dictates that I keep this all in mind should we find ourselves pulling the trailer at higher elevations. Fine – now I know elevations over 8,000 are an issue and I don’t like tunnels! I’ll work around it. I doubt I’ll find enough opportunities to just get used to it.

The views were amazing and varied on the mountain. There are plenty of side trips down mountain roads. It took some time but I found an excellent mountain guide in PDF form:

Yes, that’s snow on the peeks in August.
Entering Bighorn National Forrest. Plenty of camping spots if interested.
Boondocking. Gas station in town has an RV dump station near diesel pumps.

Our second day trip was spent in small town Kaycee Wyoming. From here some will drive out to the Hole in the Wall lookout point but after researching the drive and how far away we would be from the actual entrance to the Hole in the Wall Pass we decided it was not worth the trip. I wanted to see a small but informative museum in town. By chance we arrived the day before their annual bus tour of historic sites surrounding the Johnson County Ranch War, lead by the man that wrote the book. At $90 to include lunch at TA Ranch would have been worth it but I could not fit it into the next days schedule. As is usually the case, as I entered the museum I asked an employee what was the most fascinating article in the place. She said there are at least three items not to miss. She had time and gave me a personal tour. What luck….

Hoofprints of the Past Museum in Kaycee Wyoming. Get a beer and lunch across the street.

I told the museum employee I was not much interested in American Indian artifacts (they had several displays) but was most interesting in the the Hole in the Wall Gang and ranch wars. In photos, here was my personal tour.

This skull was found in the area. It has an arrowhead embedded in the eye socket. A co-worker and good friend back in Kansas City (Detective Ford) is from Buffalo Wyoming and I’ll bet is reading this post. Kat, you can be sure I had a conversation with the museum employee that this wound most likely did not kill the person the day he received it. I’d like to know where the skull fractures came from. The calcium buildup at the base of the arrowhead grew over time after the wound and was noted in the displays description.
Modified weapon. Over time the barrel was cut off, it’s a flint-lock and the stock is handmade.
This handgun was shot out of a mans hand while he was shooting from his horse during the Johnson County Ranch War
Tom Horn was hung as a result of the ranch war. I had seen his photo in the museum and other places. They had some of his personal property.
Ha – no need to go to Hole in the Wall. This is a photo of the place.
I’ve read the bodies of soldiers killed at Little Bighorn were looted. Some think there remains a stash of weapons in a long lost cave. The US Army would fight some of the same Indians later, just outside Kaycee Wyoming. Found were weapons from Little Bighorn. They also found Tom Custer’s hat (he is George Custer’s brother and killed at Little Bighorn beside him). The museum thinks the hat made its way to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. I appreciated the display of recovered weapons and ammunition here in Kaycee.

Located within walking distance of the museum is a well landscaped pocket park featuring country singer and rodeo champion Chris LaDoux who is from Kaycee. This is a small town, so about everything is within walking distance. There was a local motel – its a doublewide trailer.

RV Tip for this Post – Bugs

I might have issues with driving through tunnels or elevations above 8,000 feet, but I’m thankful the fear of bugs is not among my concerns. Over the past two years our home has been infested by mites, nates and other small flying insects. So far, we have been lucky and the ants have not made it inside with great numbers. With trial and error I’ve come up with the best defense for us. Although I try hard to limit chemicals we haul around, anything goes for bugs. Sprays that kill on contact are best. I bought a tiny handheld sprayer to mix chemicals and think I’ve found the best ant traps with the help of friends. We vacuum bugs inside the trailer, in the worst cases using our one gallon shop vac with a bag. All flies die ASAP by way of a fly swatter. I try and not leave outside basement doors open where insects can get in and every now and then spray grass/weeds or around any place where the camper touches the ground. Some say Comet powder cleaner helps to prevent ants from moving up the campers leveling jacks but I’ve not used it. I’ve thought about getting disposable hanging fly traps for outside when we are stops for a week or longer. We have not found a way to stop the nats outside, especially when parked near trees. When the bugs bite its usually time to go inside.

Bugs hate bleach. We do keep a trash can outside but don’t put food scraps in it. A couple of sprays of bleach water keeps bugs away. Karen keeps bleach for laundry anyway, otherwise I’d not haul it around as a cleaning agent.

After our weeklong stay in Buffalo, we moved the RV to a tiny RV park (Peak View) near I-25 and US Highway 26 along the Oregon Trail. Peak View is best described as a homeless camp for RVers. But the view of Laramie Mountain was nice. New owner who I suppose will improve the place. We decided to skip finding the wagon ruts along the Oregon Trail and tour of Fort Laramie near Wheatland Wyoming. We are currently in Scottsbluff Nebraska.

Four Days in Montana – Weeks of Planning to Get Here

If you are just interested in our short stay in Montana please feel free to skip forward in the post. I find the need to over-explain why Montana and the planning process to get here.

Planning to Get to Montana

Most of what RV bloggers write about is no secret, it’s information that can be found in hundreds of websites if one searches long enough. We want to keep your attention, no matter if you are new to traveling or have been at it for years. We often don’t know if that one single sentence hit home, where the reader was surprised, moved emotionally or says to themselves “I had no idea.” For me, blogging has to include the notion that someone can start reading from the very first post on this site to the last and get something out of every page. Not necessarily a go-to place to learn it all, but a place where they can read the story of our journey and all it took to get here beginning years before we left the driveway. I hate to leave out anything important or depend upon – well they (reader) will just figure it out on their own eventually. I’m thankful to all who have provided guidance to me in any form.

Often I meet folks at campsites who are interested in long-term or full-time RVing and rather than spew out all the details beyond answering their questions, I hand them a business card with my blog address and suggest they take time to read it from the beginning just as I did with plenty of other blogs while planning for our future in an RV. I began following blogs in 2013, many of which the travelers are a group of friends who began their journey at roughly the same time. I am now seeing them, one by one, begin the next journey by coming off the road, building homes or whatever their idea of living is beyond RVing. And, unfortunately, a couple bloggers I started to follow have died or are in poor health. I appreciate reading about their lives regardless if they are traveling or not. Yet there are others that began traveling years before I began reading blogs and they have no intention of ever coming off the road. Here I am, two years into actual travel added to around six years of planning and I feel like I am the next generation, the torch is handed off and it will not be long before we are the “experts”, especially as only 20% who begin a life on the road will stay there more than five years. Two years is a long time in this lifestyle, especially the first two years, those that know it don’t require an explanation.

The hard part of this post is having to think back months and recall why the heck we decided to take this route and why was Montana part of it. Route planning is no simple thing and probably the most important step when you are dragging a 15,000 pound camper around the country safely and prefer not to cover the same ground at $3.44 or more a gallon, wear out expensive tires or break yet another part on the RV.

Planning this summer trip began during the winter months. Not to be confusing but our spring trip, that got us to Michigan, was planned in detail while at the time I was drafting what-if plans for the summer. I’m currently doing what-if planning for next spring having completed most of the fall and winter plans.

We knew we wanted to explore the upper peninsula of Michigan and see family in Howell Michigan. So I booked two weeks near family as soon as we all agreed on the best dates for the visit which included average temperatures and avoiding black fly issues up north. I found several unreserved spots in each of two state park campgrounds with space for our rig. I then let my trip planner (RV Trip Wizard) suggest a route between Florida and the first spot in Michigan. Then we decided to visit friends in Traverse City Michigan we had meet during our winter stay in Florida, so I added that stop on the route and booked our camping spot as soon as possible, sometimes leaving weeks of unscheduled time between booked stops for travel. I checked my go-to sources which quickly revealed four places in the upper peninsula of Michigan that were must-see locations. I called a campground to book our first stop in the Upper Peninsula where the campground manager alerted me to reserve our spots quickly as the Upper Peninsula is the summer vacation spot for all of Michigan. Darn, I now had to book four more stops way in advance, again letting the route planner suggest what highways to take. I prefer just to book a couple major stops and fill in the remainder as we travel but not more than two months in advance other than when kids are out of school on summer vacations or during a few holidays.

At this point in the story all our main stops in Michigan are booked. During the actual trip, I’ll be changing what highways we take to each destination as I learn more about the area and roads. We talked about going to Yellowstone Wyoming and making a north to south run down to a couple other national parks before turning east back towards next winters location. Why? Well frankly because Yellowstone seems to be a place everyone else takes their RV as a must see location. So what was the best way to Yellowstone for us which might add several interesting places along the way? Knowing we would be taking off from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan we would most likely travel along I-94. I called a campground in Billings Montana as soon as we knew we would be coming that way. The campground manger laughed and said don’t come. The park was full for the entire season and she has never seen it this busy. Damn, now what. Good thing there are plenty of interesting stops in this country. But to be sure, I checked a map of potential places I’ve been keeping for future visits.

My spreadsheet of ideas of where to go will place blue markers within Google Maps. We are trying to find alternatives to visiting busy Yellowstone this year. Well heck, we have already been in the Black Hills around Rapid City South Dakota. I discover others have recommended stops mostly in the Yellowstone Wyoming area but there were a few along the east side of the Bighorn Mountains. I knew little about the Bighorn Valley area, where mostly I’ve noted over the years just a few campsites others have recommended. You see, one is never a couple hundred miles between great places but you have to turn around at some point or just add them to a great big endless loop of places. Or one can drive north to south along a line, jump over a couple hundred miles and do it again – probably all the way to the Pacific.

So I Guess Southeastern Montana Is the Place to Go – On the Way Elsewhere

I’d heard about Theodore Roosevelt National Park as being one that is not crowded. So I added that to the trip as a major destination and quickly reserved a campground months in advance, again leaving weeks in the schedule for the drive with at the time, unreserved campgrounds. I had to study up on the Bighorn Mountain area and was not comfortable with winging it in terms of elevations along the route. I wanted to know what highways had major mountains as this would have been my first ever experience pulling a heavy RV as high as 9,666 feet in elevation had we wanted to jump over the Bighorns for a short trip into say Cody Wyoming. I decided to stay in the foothills of the mountains and take day trips which turned out to be a great idea. More on that when I get to our Wyoming post in a few days. Now remember, at this point in planning we still had not left our winter spot in Florida. We would be in Michigan, having planned all the interesting points in between on a refined route before I confirmed many other camping spots along this summer trip.

I had no issue with breaking our general rule of no more than 200 miles of travel each day. We were going to be on interstates for the longest period in the last two years. Our longest daily drive would turn out to be 240 miles.

Okay, so now we know Roosevelt National Park is along the way to the Bighorn Mountains. So, I ask myself, what’s about 200 miles from there which might have interesting places for 50 mile day trips without the RV? I checked sources and called a campground. Custer’s last stand at Little Bighorn River and Pompeys Pillar National Monument. We could also drive to Billings Montana or look for unplanned beauty along the Yellowstone River from The Fort at 49 RV Campground, Custer Montana.

I described the RV park to Karen, wanting to set realistic expectations and get her buy-in to stop there. It is in the middle of beautiful nowhere at the fork of two roads. Access to a state highway will save us miles as we cut over from I-94 to I-90 on the way to I-25. Altitude is about 2,500 feet at the RV Park. The drive from North Dakota would reveal unanticipated beauty. I’ll describe the trip over to Montana in one sentence. When you leave westward from Roosevelt National Park the views along I-94 are like you never left the national park. I can’t take a photo while driving but downloaded a couple from Google Earth. Here is a YouTube link to someone’s video along the route if you are interested.

Google Earth view – Drive from Roosevelt National Park to Montana over I-94 westbound

Custer Montana Area With Day Trips

Just a warning to readers who prefer concrete pads, no dust and no wind for camping spots. You will not find that spot in this area. Like so many travelers, we have been putting up with views through the haze of forest fire smoke. Even saw a couple burnt grass areas along this drive. Ranger in western North Dakota said the area was in drought last year, and severe drought conditions this year. They expect next year to be worse.

The Fort at 49 (exit 49) RV Park has six power poles next to water and sewer hookups. Management will tell ya to park at a pole number which are not labeled. You can face your camper whatever direction gives you the best view. There are 12 camping spots with each pole having one 50 amp and one 30 amp side. So get there early if you want a 50 amp spot. Most folks we met were traveling through for an over-night stop. Wow, we unexpectedly enjoyed our stay. We spent more $$ eating meals in the campground restaurant than on the camping spot. Management are very fine chefs. On Friday and Saturday nights it’s best to make a restaurant reservation. As I think back there are maybe three small buildings in view of the campground for 10 miles in any direction. Locals love this place. We met several RV’ers who are traveling to and from Washington State. We had a restaurant meal with Beverly, a solo-traveler. I noticed the ladies dressed up for dinner. Lucky me had two very attractive gals at my table. Wonder what the cowboys at the other tables thought about that. We enjoyed listening to Beverly’s story which includes many miles of travel in a motorhome. She and her husband owned and sold a resort. He has passed away. Sounds like she has owned and driven about one of everything motorhome related and now travels in a Class B plus. Beverly – We hope you are enjoying time with your family in Minnesota and arrived safe and sound! Karen says hello. As usual I did not get a photo of our new friend for the blog. Beverly had come over to our camping spot looking for her cat. I got Wyatt out of the RV and figured he would track it down. I spotted the cat in the shade under an RV. Beverly leaves a window open with a ladder next to it so the cat can come and go as needed.

Fort at 49 (exit 49) RV Park. All long pull-throughs. Easy in, easy out with full hookups. No problem finding fuel down the road in Custer. Clouds every night so we never saw that Big Montana Sky with view of stars. The Yellowstone River is across the street. The interstate noise at night is minimal.

Pompey’s Pillar National Monument

Louis and Clark split up on their Journey with Clark exploring the Yellowstone River. Sacagawea was with him. She showed him a high rock area that he would name Pompey’s Pillar. He named it after her infant whom he called Pomp. Take some bug spray with you. There are vending machines for water. More than 250 steps will lead you to the top. Half way up is Clark’s signature among hundreds of other’s to include Native American rock carvings. This must be the only green lawn for miles as it’s irrigated with water from the Yellowstone River which you can walk to as well. Here is a YouTube video I posted from the top. A volunteer (workcamper) described the area as having been a shallow sea at one time. Some believe the cliffs of the Yellowstone were the edge of the sea. Some believe the sea had barrier islands and this area was just one of them, hence the large areas of sandstone.

This is Clark’s real signature. He describes carving it in the rock within his journal.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

My sister Lisa gave me a book about Custer two years ago which included his Indian fighting days. I also read a book months ago regarding the investigation into what happened at the battle. Later in Wyoming we would visit a museum where artifacts and weapons the Indians took from the soldiers were recovered at yet another battle. More on that in my Wyoming post.

I’ll not go into much detail about the battlefield other than to mention a few take-ways I found notable after visiting the park. First, the battlefield is huge. No wonder troops had trouble moving around and rejoining. Markers are set out along walking and driving paths. Locations of Indian dead are red while soldiers are white. The attached National Cemetery holds many graves of those killed during the Indian Wars. Over the years the American Indian tribes have complained about not being property represented at the battlefield so there have been changes. You get here through the Crow Reservation area and pass through private land within the park to get to its extremes along the Little Bighorn River. The visitors center was not that good, probably because I had read so much prior to arrival. At the top of a hill is where Custer and his remaining 40 plus troops were killed, to include his brother. As you drive back towards it along the vehicle tour, you can see a long string of white markers (dead soldiers) leading up to the last stand hill as the soldiers retreated and were killed along he way. It will take at least six hours to see it all if you know little about the battle. We spent about three hours there. At the top of last stand hill are three handicapped parking spots, otherwise you walk a long path uphill from the visitor’s center.

National Cemetery. Soldiers with families.
Interesting monument listing those killed out west, where and when.
This battlefield is huge. See the roadway between hills. I can see now why Reno and others wandered about shooting in the distance which eventually stopped.
They had time to setup a field hospital. This is the marker.
Crazy Horse attack area, just below last stand hill. White markers of soldiers strung out along the path to the hill. We have seem Crazy Horse’s place of death at Fort Robinson Nebraska. His image on the mountain in South Dakota and know where he gained fame.

I’ll end this post where I started – route planning and why go this way in Montana. So way back in 2013 Karen told me to put a stop on the spreadsheet for the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo Wyoming. She prioritized it as a 1, mean drive there no mater what. Well the route from Custer Montana took us south to Buffalo. Later, while thinking about what route to take back towards our 2021 winter spot I figured why not drive southeast and take the Oregon Trail. We have been rewarded with great views of Montana and like so many other states, we will most likely come back.

We are currently stopped in Wheatland Wyoming with US 26 (the Oregon Trail) directly in front of us. I’m heading outside to start the generator. They have cut the power off a second time to work on the lines.

North Dakota and Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Our scheduled stay in North Dakota was 12 nights. We drove further than our usual 200 mile daily limit between stops as the entire drive was over interstates. The drive through the cities of Fargo and Bismarck was a none event. I don’t recall the speed on the interstate even changed while passing through. First stop was Jamestown ND which just happened to have an RV park a reasonable distance from our last stop along the drive to our destination at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We skipped stopping in Wisconsin as we intend to explore that state later. We spent four nights in Jamestown and visited the National Buffalo Museum with nearby western street. Author Louis Lamour was born here, but buried in California. I’m sure the town influenced the nature of his writings. I swapped out a book for one of his at a campground book exchange as I’ve never read one of his.

Our Spot at Jamestown ND Campround

We lucked out and was assigned the best spot at the Jamestown Campgrounds. The frontage road off Interstate 94 that leads to the park is roughly graded gravel but fine if you take it slow. We had lots of space on the awning side of the camper and an easy walk to very large fields where the dog was able to run off-leash over wide mowed paths through the grass. Wonderful place to stay just to take a break from travels.

For sure the National Buffalo Museum was worth a visit only because we were in town. There is a small street of old western buildings the city has setup in the same area with shops. You will learn everything you want to know about buffalo in this smaller unique museum. The site is not a National Historic location or anything similar in size. But they do have the worlds largest buffalo statue.

Funny sign outside the National Buffalo Museum. They have a few head of Buffalo fenced in to view. I had no idea they could run so fast for up to 30 minutes at a time. Adds a new meaning to warnings inside National Parks not to exit vehicles and approach buffalo. A male can, and at certain times of the year will, easily run you down before you make it back to the car.
This is a rare one. Raised on the museum grounds, died and stuffed.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

I’ve heard more than once that Roosevelt National Park is under-rated. Before we planned the trip I wondered if it was any different than the South Dakota Badlands off Interstate 90 which we have yet to see. Looking at photos I say the two are different in at least colors. If you have traveled east or west on I-90 in South Dakota, why not make the next trip just to the north over I-94 in North Dakota.

Roosevelt National Park actually covers three sections of area which are not attached to one another. One section is Roosevelt’s old ranch, then you have a south and north section of badlands with paved roads to tour the park. We skipped his old ranch section where nothing remains other than a few stones from a foundation. Roosevelt sold the property which would have been altered.

I’ll skip most of the history lesson, knowing those interested will look it up if they ever come here. In short, Roosevelt was a sickly child. As he grew up he compensated for his weaknesses, and to build his body up, by participating in sports. I came away with the opinion he was a kid that might easily have been picked on by bullies and he did his utmost to prove he would not become someone to be messed with. He was born into a rich New York family and liked to hunt. He came out west to shoot a buffalo before they were extinct. He arrived in the Medora North Dakota area and shot one. He also fell in love with the area and after further reflection he figured the buffalo needed to be saved. He also said North Dakota took the New York snob out of him. He recognized you have to get out of the city to learn about the America people. Well he bought some land and decided to try his hand at cattle ranching, traveling back and fourth to New York where he was a politician. His wife and mom died, in the same house on the same day in July. Heartbroken he came back to his ranch in North Dakota to heal. This was before his time in history involving the Rough Riders that he organized to fight in Cuba (lots of cowboys in that group) or as Governor of New York or the President.

I got to wondering why his image is among George Washington’s, Abraham Lincoln’s and Thomas Jefferson’s at Mount Rushmore. Well the folks out here in the Dakota Territory are proud of Roosevelt and his personality. As President of the Unites States he would become known as the “conservation president.” Those that hunt and fish are often the most vocal when it comes to preserving those lands and water. Roosevelt used his authority to protect wildlife and public lands by creating the United States Forest Service and establishing 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments. The stated reason why his image is on Mount Rushmore has to do with his leadership during a time of rapid growth in the United States.

Okay, what about the three units of the park. They are separated by miles. The north unit is 68 miles from the south over a state highway outside the south unit. Roosevelt’s old ranch was added as the park formed. I can’t possibly describe the geology and beauty of the area because I lack the required writing skills. We drove the distance and visited the north unit. It’s worth it as the valleys are deeper and the colors are different than the south unit. The north unit also has only one tenth the visitors as the south unit. Staying in the area a week allowed us to spend a couple days inside the south unit and even on a Friday it was not terribly busy.

There was a time in the not so distant past I had very little experience touring nationals parks. I’ll assume readers might also lack experience. Therefore I’ll take a moment to describe what “busy” means in a national park. Knowing 2021 would be a year of record attendance at national parks, we are skipping the Yellowstone area, even if we are close to the most famous parks in western Montana and Wyoming. From my experience so far, National Parks and Monuments include long paved roads folks drive around and stop at various interesting viewpoints. Parking lots and pullouts along the roads are limited in capacity. There are boardwalks and trails galore and during the busy season you might be hiking with a lot of others which takes away from the overall would-be peaceful solitude. The visitor centers will have some RV parking which is shared with all the other dozens, if not hundreds, of cars. You might have to stand in line to see an interesting display. I suppose a lot of this crowding can be overcome if you tour at the right time of year which I’m starting to think is the month the park opens and the month it closes. September has become one of our favorite months to travel.

We stayed down the street from the south entrance at Red Trail Campground which has been a family owned campground for over 40 years. Mary took my reservation months ago over the phone when at the time she recognized our home address in Livingston Texas, saying we must be fulltimers. A couple other campers said the ladies in the office were not that friendly. Others said they are efficient and easy going. I asked Mary about her family and how the RV park was built. She was offered two million dollars recently to sell out but says no, she has a daughter in college that wants to run it. She is proud that her father took no personal income from the park for the first 12 years he owned it. Frankly, the park is somewhat crowded by spaces close to the neighbor, dusty at times with very few amenities. In other words, fairly typical to what we have found now in three states out west. We came here to tour the National Park and our camper was backed up to an area that could have easily been part of the National Park. The views were fascinating. This history of Medora North Dakota offers nearly as many interesting spots as does the National Park. The town is small and was busy one weekend (we stayed a full week and recommend it) as there were two weddings and a bike race. Otherwise the crowds thinned out during weekdays to include to refuel at the single gas station which has one unleaded and one diesel pump. The beer prices were way over priced – so bring you own. The fuel prices were reasonable as I suppose the locals would have not tolerated unfair gas prices and traveled 20 miles down the road to buy at a better price.

I’ll be included more photos of the north section of the park compared to the south as it really was that much more interesting, to Karen and me anyway. Before the photos, I want to comment about a couple other interesting experiences. You can walk from the RV park to downtown. I stopped to buy nuts at a specialty shop. The elderly lady working alone and said she was 95 years of age, the oldest person in town. Raised here and later moved on to be educated in New York and elsewhere. I asked what was the most interesting thing in town I should not miss. She says, as the towns historian, she recommends two places, one of which without knowing I most likely have already experienced. Other than the obvious, Roosevelt National Park, don’t miss the history of Chateu De Mores State Historic Site (we skipped it) and the second, and most important experience I should not miss, is the people of North Dakota. Where old fashion family values are more than a buzz word. She had a way of using words and I certainly got the meaning and respected her opinion as an elder and a native of North Dakota. Not fifteen minutes later, I walked towards the only convenience store in town. A man is entering at the same time and holds the door wide open for me, saying his grandmother would rise from her grave if he ever failed to hold the door open for a stranger. I held my hand out, introducing myself as Mark from Texas. He says wow, an out-of-towner willing to shake a mans hand regardless of the virus thing. He says come by the restaurant next door, he wants to buy me dinner. He works there as a dish washer. I told him, how about if I can make it I buy him dinner and he can buy mine. I regret not making time for that meal or seeking out a more personal town event where I could have met more locals. Mary, back at the RV park, might seem direct and efficiently unpleasant to some. Ask her about her family and why she keeps running the park, just make sure you have 30 minutes to talk.

Medora is located about 30 minutes west of the larger town of Dickinson which is the place where the very last trainload of buffalo skins were transported from the Dakota grasslands.

And now the photos – I’ll include a simple but important RV tip afterwards…

Our spot at Red Trail Campground. The campground host will escort you to your tight spot. A retired truck driver that knows how to get you in without issue.
North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. If you enjoy rodeo events, takes some tissue because your mouth will be watering. The place is packed full of stuff to include amazing artwork.
All original cowboy guns from the 1800’s forward.
World Champions put their buckles and saddles on display within the museum.
Roosevelts cabin, one of two, had been moved around the country for viewing in the early 1900’s, then moved back here to the visitor’s center.

Images from South Unit of Roosevelt National Park – Medora ND

Little Missouri River as seen from a short hike beginning a the Paradise Valley Ranch inside the South Unit.
Yes, the South Unit includes wild horses

Images of North Unit – Roosevelt National Park – 68 Miles from South Unit

I’d describe the North Unit as more of a mountain chain compared to the South Unit which are a series of hills, for lack of better words. In the north large rivers that form here and run south, like I know from the Midwest such as the Missouri River, are just a trickle of water compared with their arrival in St. Louis. River’s like the Yellowstone and Big Horn will be the big ones we encounter more than once. Heck, if you move a little more to the north, water starts to run northward rather than southward like we are used to.

Ranger talk about Buffalo. During the general questions section, I asked why we had experienced closed Federal visitor’s centers in the south in the past few months. Closed with signs stating it was pandemic related while the state sites were wide open. He says many of the national parks and monuments are staffed by summer labor. For two years they did not know if they would have a job that summer so to be safe, they took employment elsewhere this year. As a side note, I found later in Montana there were mask mandates only inside Federal park buildings even though Montana is not a hotspot. I suspect the Feds are trying to set an example and can only truly control what happens on Federal property.
These balls, also seen in photo above, are not formed by water. They are formed by minerals massing in one area and growing upon one another.

Down and Dirty RV Tip

A few months ago I received a tip from a fellow Rver. I had been thinking I might need to replace a toilet bowl gasket after two years of usage…. It’s the gasket that keeps water in the bowl rather than dripping into the black tank.

It’s a nasty job but worth it. Put on a glove and use a finger to clean all the grunge off the gasket, to include the thin groove where the ball sets within. I sometimes also add a little Lube Tube Lubricant and Sealant. No more leaks.

We are currently located near the base of the Big Horn Mountains in Buffalo Wyoming.

Porcupine Mountains Michigan to Crosby (Brainerd) Minnesota

One of many waterfalls at Porcupine Mountains State Park – Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

While route planning for this trip months ago I decided to cut up to a more northern highway in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to avoid big city traffic on the way to North Dakota. I’ve been to Minneapolis/St Paul in another life so there was no reason to fight our way around their interstates had we taken a more southern route to I-94. We found the roads up north well maintained and the scenery was awesome.

Much of this RV lifestyles involves what could be stressful driving. We burn through maybe $60 – $70 in fuel each time we move, usually less than 200 miles away. The drives are hardly ever boring as there is much to see out the window. This northern route is popular for RVs.

Michigan 28 to US 2 then Highway 210/US 10. Duluth has major interstate work where they are moving ramps from the left hand lane to the right. We were detoured towards southbound I-35 via Superior Minnesota. No worries, the detour south of Duluth was fine as was the 1950s bridge over the bay. We went through Duluth on a Sunday by chance. The drive took us through a business area that was not busy and was on a truck route.

Unfortunately the schedule did not allow more than an overnight stay near Marquette Michigan and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore which are on the route before passing through Duluth. We would not be able to tour the sites without having a full day. I picked an easy park to get in and out of, along with full hookups to avoid time at the dump station the next morning. We stayed at Country Village RV Park (site 100 was perfect) in Ishpeming Michigan. I believe this was only the second time we spent just one night in a park during the past year of travel.

We would be moving from the eastern time zone to central time, gaining an hour which has to be factored in given most campgrounds have rules regarding arrival time. Although I’ve never had a campground office complain if we showed up perhaps an hour after the person that had our spot was due to check out. The larger campgrounds and state parks are more likely to have a person in the office fulltime. Staff in the smaller parks are often out doing other things, counting on RVs not to show up until a certain time. I’ve called ahead if we were going to be way early just to make sure it was okay. We hardly ever stay at a park which is first come first serve. But when we have, we showed up early, sometimes to find people still occupying spots they should have already left. That entire first come first serve thing is a little worrisome to me just in case the park is full and we don’t have a backup plan. Being able to arrive midweek.. I know some state parks leave spaces unassigned but so far we have not taken advantage of that. If you know any unusual secrets regarding first come first serve parks, let us know please.

Porcupine Mountains

Our next stop was a city park in Wakefield Michigan. I had no high hopes for the area with a planned tour of Porcupine Mountains, figuring they would be similar to the Ozarks of Missouri where we have spent much time. We were surprised. The visitors center sign was labeled “Wilderness Visitor Center” for a reason. At one point we took a 25 mile road through said wilderness. Yes, the Ozarks of Missouri/Arkansas include wilderness but not like this. Much of the park was along the shoreline of Lake Superior, included numerous waterfalls and a long deep valley viewed from a great height. We stayed at Eddy City Park and Campground. This city park, as many we have so far found, were occupied primarily by seasonal campers who live in the area and rent a spot for the spring and summer.

Our spot at Eddy City Park, Wakefield Michigan. The campground host was the best. He was apologetic that he assigned a different spot prior to our arrival as another camper was held over and occupying our previously assigned space. He offered to provide our spot free of charge but I insisted we pay. The spot we were moved to turned out to be one of the best in the park.
This can happen at a city park campground. Seasonal campers who brought their basketball goal from home. I assume so they could yell at passing motorist when they thought they were driving too fast. What I like most about city owned RV parks is they are often attached to, well, a city park with lots of open grass fields. The price is right and they are a good alternative to include during the summer when state and commercial RV parks are full.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness is Michigan’s largest state park and offers exceptional opportunities for secluded types of recreation. Visitors can rent cabins that are in the middle of the woods and require they pack in their belongings. One can walk an extensive boardwalk along the banks of a stream and view waterfalls at many locations. A trail from the stream leads to a rocky beach on Lake Superior where the dog had a fun time running off-leash. A very short hike lead us to a lookout point with a view of a mountain lake.

The Porcupine Mountains were named by the native Ojibwa people, supposedly because their silhouette had the shape of a crouching porcupine. The visitor’s center was interesting and included details of copper mining and the parks creation as a result of volcanic activity. The park is the home to the most extensive stand of old growth hardwood forest in North America west of the Adirondack Mountains.

Lake in the Clouds
Cool museum display idea. Stuffed animal in front of a three dimensional forest photo.
Extensive boardwalk along the river bank with several stops to view waterfalls.
One of several Lake Superior beaches within the state park.
The rock colors have been changing the further we went from Lake Michigan. Our next stop is the iron ore territory of Minnesota.

Crosby and the Minnesota Iron Range

My high school class in geology was boring. We learned how to identify minerals and rocks. The final test, as I recall was a box of rocks which we had to identify. I took a four hour elective geology coarse in college which was a little more interesting then the high school class. We learned about different geological events that shaped the earth. I have to admit, spending time on the road has been a learning experience and has perked my interest as to why the places we visit came to be. I think it would be good to bone up on geology as part of preparing for fulltime RV travel.

During the drive to northern Minnesota Karen and I joked about trying to find a used blood covered woodchipper. At a rest stop a man commented we could stop in Fargo North Dakota and have a photo taken next to a woodchipper with a fake human leg. The movie Fargo included scenes supposedly from Brainerd Minnesota – don’t ya know. Actually the entire movie was filmed around Minneapolis to include the woodchipper scene.

Crosby Minnesota was a short stop at a city owned RV park. Just two rows of spaces alongside a city park and lake. Darn it – I can’t recall reading a single post in an RV blog about the wonders of Minnesota’s iron ore mining history. It’s so big I’d beat we would have had trouble winning World War 2 without Minnesota iron, yet alone building the massive steal skyscrapers throughout the nation. Wish I would have worked in a short side trip further north for more mining research.

I recall as a child my father talking about being part of the war effort as a child himself, running around his small community of Mt. Vernon Missouri collecting anything metal which could be turned into armaments to fight the Japs. It was his patriotic duty. In more recent times, some may recall the ship Edmund Fitzgerald (watch the movie). She started her final voyage from Superior, Wisconsin, in November of 1975 with cargo of iron ore pellets. By the next day, the Fitzgerald was caught in a severe storm with near hurricane-force winds, and waves 35 feet in height and sank. That is the same Superior we drove through, south of Duluth, to get here.

Crosby is part of the Cuyuna Iron Range. Although mining is no longer conducted here, it sure is alive further north to include the countries largest open-pit mining operation in Hibbing Minnesota. A neighbor was on vacation and interesting in RVing as part of his future retirement. I was interesting in what he had to say about working in the mines. The Hibbing operation is huge as seen in these Google Earth photos:

That’s Lake Superior on the right and Hibbing MN on the left. The brown cleared areas are the iron ore mines.
Open pit mines. Personally, I think the earth will fix itself someday and am glade we have mining technology/machinery that keeps men from crawling around in dangerous underground mines.

I’ve written it before; every RV park has something fascinating and unplanned to see in the area. In the case of Crosby City RV Park this would be the sight of Minnesota’s worst mining accident. Forty-one miners lost their lives, thirty-eight women lost their husband and eighty-three children lost their father in 1924 at the Milford Mine. This small county in Minnesota raised the money and built a truly well done memorial to those that died.

Old photos of the Milford Mine near Crosby Minnesota. Company housing was built around the mine where immigrants from many nations lived with their families.

If you want a look into the soul of an American, it can be found in the stories of these miners. They came from Finland, Sweden, Austria while some were second generation Americans. Having work in a mine was an opportunity they appreciated, far better than what they had back in their homeland. I read where many miners actually did not speak the same language but learned to get along and communicate as necessary. Kind of makes me think about where the accent came from when the locals speak around here.

The Milford Mine memorial includes a long boardwalk with a short story about each who died posted along the trail. What happened was an iron ore mine tunnel extended into a wet area of soil. Water pumps were standard equipment in mines. Unfortunately, one tunnel came too close to a local lake which in one catastrophic moment, drained into the mine shaft, drowning the workers. Help came in from area mines to recover the bodies. It was nine months before the last was found, even with men working 24 hours a day during the recovery.

Along the boardwalk are the names of those that dies and those that survived.
Markers of each that died. I read every one.
Location of the original mine shaft. Elsewhere on the property were foundations of older buildings and out in a lake, the location where water penetrated the shaft.

We are currently located just outside Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Wow – a really underrated park for sure. The American history is a fascinating as the geology of the place. We will be heading west into Montana shortly.

Our First Three Days in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – Just Over the Bridge

Hitch-itch had set-in, time to hookup the fifth wheel and take off for the next leg of this 2700 mile summer drive. Planning started months ago to include reading friend’s blog pages for ideas of what to see and where to stay. Every state has multiple routes that take you by great stops, no wonder so many maps of where we have traveled look like ant trails separated by a few hundred miles. Up one highway and down another never fails to reveal places we could have missed depending on what road we decided to take. In the case of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula the route would include driving over “the bridge” then across US Highway 2 in the south and up to Michigan 28 in the north.

St. Ignace – Just North of the Bridge

Weeks ago locals asked “have you been over the bridge before.” I said no, wondering to myself what’s the big deal with a bridge. I’m more worried about the condition of roads given the Upper Peninsula is 30% of the states landmass with only 3% of its population. Surely the ice of its Canadian winters destroys roads and the budget to fix them would be small as is the number of vehicles that travel through the wilderness. Just before leaving across two lane state highways east from Traverse City, our Michigan neighbor commented his wife was crying by the time they got over “the bridge.” But, according to him, we would be okay as long as there is little wind. He drove it during a winter storm – at night. I pushed thoughts of “the bridge” to the back of my mind. I’ve been over bridges on I-10 along the Gulf Coast that looked like rollercoaster rides as you approach them at a distance. Never has been a problem. But I’ve also never heard of a state offering a service where highway employees drive customer vehicles over a bridge if requested.

The Travel Gods were with us once again. A fine day to move our home, sunny with little wind. As we approached the point of no return, interstate signs became more frequent, ticking down the miles until we would cross over the Straits of Mackinac, a five mile wide waterway joining Lakes Michigan and Huron, traversed by the Mackinac Bridge. All 24,000 pounds of RV, truck and passengers would be 20 stories above the water while perhaps boats loaded with iron ore from the west traveled beneath us. We set the radio to a local FM station providing up to the minute bridge conditions. “No stopping on the Mackinac Bridge. In the event of a flat tire or motor failure, please remain in your vehicle. Bridge personnel on duty will investigate and assist.” Of the four lanes (two in each direction), one would be closed for construction at some point. Maximum speed is 45 miles per hour and we could drive twenty behind the semi trucks with our emergency flashers on.

Construction was completed in 1957. No shoulders adds to the view of the water next to the passenger door.

We come around the corner and there it is the bridge. Fortunately my mind processes hazardous situations quickly. I also ate a sandwich before we began this trip so hunger could not possibly add to any form of anxiety or light-headiness ๐Ÿ™‚ This trip across the bridge was going to end as quickly as this paragraph. Lower roadways over water lead to and from the main bridge spans. I could see it’s only the center of the bridge that has the real height. At the top of the ride, with Karen taking photos, I decided this is a good time to relax and go with the flow. At 45 miles an hour, driving the lane with the steel grates that provide a view through to the surface of the water, I felt safe. Looking left and right was wide open water. This was a Why Moment! Meaning this is Why we travel fulltime in an RV. “The bridge” turned out to be a fascinating opportunity. We would discover well maintained roads beyond it.

Karen’s Photo While On Bridge – From Passenger Seat

We had three nights booked at Lakeshore RV Park and Campground. Wow – management assigned us spot 108. What a view of Lake Michigan we have outside the living room window. The folks next to us are in a motorhome, parked facing the lake. They have been coming here for 10 years and finally managed to secure the best view. Utilities are located on both sides of the camper so visitors along the lake view can park in whatever direction they want. You can see the walkway down to the water leading to the campground’s private beach. Thirty-eight dollars a night on full hookups! Great price on the north side of the bridge in Saint Ignace. Our time is limited so I utilize the best sources of tourist information which will be campground management and those parked around us with Michigan license plates.

Outside the campground office is a poster with information regarding Shepler’s ferry boat service to arguably one of the Midwest’s main attractions – Historic Mackinac Island. What – Shepler’s has a free shuttle service from the campground to their boats! Then they will bring us home! I told management we had been delayed and unfortunately don’t have time in the schedule to camp near the Soo Locks at Sault Ste Marie to watch the ships go through on their way to the Atlantic Ocean. No worries, they say it’s only a short 54 mile drive up to the northeast corner of the Peninsula to Soo Locks in our truck. No time for the day trip which would have included visiting a nearby shipwreck museum. There was no way we were going to miss visiting Mackinac Island.

Lakeshore RV Park and Campground has their own beach. Plenty of benches to watch the sunsets.
“The Bridge” in the background. I began noticing changes in the rock colors. This area was formed by glaciers. Later, I would notice the iron colors in the rocks on the west end of the Peninsula and definitely in upper Minnesota which at the time of this posting we have visited.
Hauling iron ore from western mines to cities along the Great Lakes. I downloaded a phone app which maps ships around the world to include right in front of us on Lake Michigan. Fun to see the ship names, where they came from and where they were going along with cargo type.
Finally tried a pasty – warm with gravy. Also everything made from maple syrup is a local treat.

Karen and I celebrated a wedding anniversary while in Saint Ignace (population 2,450). The shore-lined town had quite a few restaurants that were shutdown. While later shuttling us to the boat ferry the driver said a few of the restaurants were already on their way out prior to the pandemic. The hot spot restaurant was a drive-in just outside the RV park. We were disappointed the parking lot was full. I suppose not eating at a restaurant on our anniversary was in the cards. I picked up some local food, a bottle of Champaign and local chocolate. We dragged our campground picnic table to the rear of the RV and had our meal together, looking out over Lake Michigan. I personally will remember this one. I suspect the south side of the bridge, in Mackinaw City may have better restaurant options.

Mackinac Island

The Shepler’s Ferry Boat Shuttle arrived 15 minutes after I phoned them. The driver was a wealth of information as he was a long time resident. Rain was in the forecast the next day so the island would be crowded on this sunny day. The company was transporting 500 people every 45 minutes to the island, with boats leaving from Saint Ignace and Mackinaw City. The 20 minute ferry ride was over choppy water and worth the price to see the lake from another view. Had we left earlier in the day we could have taken the no-extra-charge tour under the bridge.

We stepped off the ferry onto Mackinac Island, following the hordes of people already on Main Street. I figured this must be what it was like for the immigrants arriving in New York. Both Karen and I quickly scanned for any nearby green space, weaving our way through the crowds. Most of the island is a state park and people do live here fulltime. It’s a small community where in 1898 they outlawed motorized vehicles. Horses, bikes and your feet are the only way to cover the four and a half square mile landmass. In 1670 a Jesuit priest wintered here. The British in 1781 made it a military post while the Americans took over in 1796. The island was also involved during the War of 1812. During the peak of fur trade Market Street was full of activity where each July and August Indians, traders and trappers came here from the northwest. In 1817 American Fur Company was headquartered here, by 1834 the fur trade moved westward and the island was already becoming a popular resort area. Lots to see to include two forts, scenic views from hillsides, the original island landing location for the British Army, walks through tree-lined streets to old graveyards and more. On a shady hillside we found a relatively quite place for lunch. Karen walked downtown to shop for our meal while I stayed behind with the dog. We ate while watching the harbor activity. Back in lower Michigan, Karen’s mom’s house has many photos of this area hanging from the walls. Her father was a fine photographer. I felt closer to the family having walked within the same views where her parents spent vacation time.

Line to Get on the Ferry to Island
View From Ferry Boat
View From Ferry Boat
The Grand Hotel
Main Street on the Island. Keep Your Dog on a Short Leash to Avoid the Bikes.
Climb a Hill to Get to the Forts.
View From Hillside to the Island Bay

We are currently parked off I-94 in Jamestown North Dakota, on our way to Roosevelt National Park. My next post will wrap-up our stay in Michigan and the trip here.

Tour of Northern Michigan and Upper Peninsula – First Stop Traverse City

As we decided to begin the 2021 travel season with a trip from Florida to central Michigan to visit family this was a good opportunity to camp Up North in Traverse City. And then drive further over a 20 story high bridge to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Traverse City is the first stop along our twenty-four day journey encompassing northern Michigan. The photo above is to get your attention. This is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore located a short drive from our campground near Traverse City.

The trailer brake wiring issue detailed in my last post is now a memory and well behind us. I went back and edited the post for clarity. We are currently camped in northern Minnesota. I’m happy to report the trailer brakes have performed good as new. I was even able to lower the gain on the truck brake controller. I highly recommend those using a trailer fulltime should have their brakes and wheel bearings inspected annually. My friend Ray from Traverse City, who helped with the repair, will be happy to hear the report. Maybe I can return the favor with your assistance.. He has a class A motorhome and twice has had the front windshield replaced because of a flaw where in his line of sight, as he looks through the windshield to the left of the driver’s side, there is a blurry area in the glass. His eyes refocus as he looks at road signs and then back ahead. Searches for information will state to replace the windshield with an original part (windshield). Any readers here that have worked through the same issue with their motorhome windshield have any ideas? My two cents are worth less than a penny on this one. Seems to me the issue is a flawed windshield during manufacture.

Trip planning had to include where to stay for the fourth of July weekend. We intended to be just south of the Mackinac Bridge on the fourth but were delayed. Are you getting the same question? How far out are you planning given the number of people now Rving? My answer to the question has become: The locals get the good spots way before us as they book them the day the campground opens reservations for the new season. I plan further ahead during the summer when kids are out of school or there is a holiday. I also plan further out if we want a spot for a week or more, and certainly for a monthly stay. I plan further out for our destination spots, in other words, where we intend to end the last leg of the trip such as at a key National Park. I often plan further out if we are going to be camped near a larger city where there is more demand for camping spots. That’s a long answer for sure. You get used to factoring in all this the more you route plan. It somewhat becomes second nature. And as I have written before. No worries if you don’t get he exact campground you want. No matter where you land, there is an RV campground in the area because there is something to see or do. Some of our best discoveries are near campgrounds we had not planned to stay in.

A couple points for new fulltimers: Leave unscheduled space every now and then on your calendar. For example, later on this summer trip we have two weeks to get from Buffalo Wyoming to northern Kansas. I’ve not scheduled those two weeks of campgrounds which allow space to adjust our plans if we want. I read an article recently where a fulltimer said he has no problem with getting a hotel room if the weekend camping spots are full. Personally, I’m discovering city parks, fairgrounds and might take a swing at a casino campground. Later in this post I’ll write about a few items we purchased to help with flexibility when selecting a campground. But now on to the visit in Traverse City.

Traverse City is the county seat of Grand Traverse County although a small portion extends into Leelanau County which also has much to offer. It is the largest city in the area as well as the largest producer of tart cherries in the United States. It is estimated 500,000 people visit the National Cherry Festival which was being held during our visit. We did not go to festival but did drive around town where it’s hard to take a left turn because of all the traffic. Locals says the roads are busy all summer long and visitors drive like they are still in the big city they came from ๐Ÿ™‚ I enjoyed reading up on the local history with picture books friends loaned us. This is a great area to enjoy Lake Michigan.
I’m not about to spend big money on a campsite just to be four miles closer to town. Especially as we did not intend to be home much. We camped at Northwest Michigan Fairgrounds. Most of the spots were empty as you just take the one you want upon arrival. Food vendors for the Cherry Festival were here and described the festival and their travels.
Here is a map into the campground. Follow the red line off Blair Town Hall Road. They are constructing a new roundabout on the highway at the Blair Town Hall Road turn. Fairgrounds and City Parks sometimes require more advanced driving skills as you negotiate city streets or gravel drives. We drove US and State Highways to Traverse City where you will meet other RVs on two lane roads, also followed by a line of impatient drivers wanting to speed past you. The State does a good job of building passing lanes where needed. We walked within the fairgrounds wonderful buildings. I looked in on a horse show and a BMX bike race.
$2.50 a pound for the best cherries one will ever eat.
Satellite photo from a public domain website.

You know me, I’ve got to throw in a short history lesson. If you want more here is a link to a fascinating video regarding how the Great Lakes were formed. I’m loving Lake Michigan the more we visit it. The water clarity and color is amazing. It’s not cold along the shore in the summer either. The area was once an ocean. Did you know the entire lake and more have the largest salt mine in the world beneath it. The ground above a limestone layer has harder rocks which were shaped in a bowl as the glaciers receded during the last ice age about 13,000 years ago. The harder rock remains in place as they mine all the salt under the lake.

Lake Michigan was formed by glacial activity while Lake Superior was shaped by volcanic activity. Water drains to Niagara Falls. In simple terms, deep lake dives revealed a river system which made it easier for the glacier to carve out a few of the lakes. I’ve visited the falls from the Canadian side. The rock at the edge of the falls is being broken off at a rate of three feet per year. The landmass that separate the falls from the lakes will eventually erode and the Great Lakes will suddenly drain. Geologist can predict the future based upon past events. They say no worries, another ice age will come and will carve out even larger lakes. Well, maybe the north half of the United States will worry because it will be covered by ice again. We passed a sign on the drive up which welcomed us to the 45th parallel “halfway between the equator and north pole.” The ice that formed most of the Great Lakes was as deep as a mile. That was enough weight to crush layers of earth. The current landmass is still growing in elevation as the earth underneath rebounds from having been crushed. The lakes drain roughly from west to east, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean through the St. Lawrence lowlands. Except for Lakes Michigan and Huron, which are hydrologically one lake, their altitudes drop with each lake, usually causing a progressively increasing rate of flow. Man-made locks have been built which enable ships to enter and be lowered or raised to the next lake level while coming to and from the St. Lawrence Seaway. I’ll probably mention it further in my next post, but many of the ships we saw passing are hauling iron ore from the mines out west. Geological events that formed the Lake Superior region, which now holds 10% of the earths freshwater, also produced iron and copper mines. About 85% of the iron ore used domestically come from the area.

We would discover radical differences in water, sand and rock color while traveling through areas of Lake Michigan towards Lake Superior. I can’t wait to tell you in a future post about spending time in the pristine wilderness remaining in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Hundreds of miles of different tree species, unlike any masses of forest we have experienced in the past. We came here to see different topography and Pure Michigan did not disappoint.

Mother Nature provided fascinating places to visit. There were several driving tours from Traverse City we did not have time for. We did seek out a couple sandier beaches and of course the huge Dunes at Sleeping Bear. Our friends suggested we check out the Grand Traverse Commons which is an old state hospital being converted to shopping and living area.

South of Sleeping Bear Dunes is a town called Empire. They have a great public beach with extra parking.
Empire City Beach is partial sand and these rounded smaller rocks. Glacial activity and flowing water I presume shaped the rocks. The water clarity is amazing.
There are an abundance of light houses to tour in northern Michigan. This is a model on Empire Beach. I included the photo so no one can ask why I did not tour a light house ๐Ÿ™‚

We found a sandy beach in Traverse City which is located on a bay. North Beach only had about 20 parking spots. We arrived early and get a spot. You can also park elsewhere and take a walk through a grass lined path running from the downtown area.

View from North Beach in Traverse City. Dog friendly… Glad we stayed a few extra days as many were spent waiting for the rain to leave.

Here is a link to a video I took of a guy riding a hoverboard over the water at North Beach in Traverse City. He rode it out about 75 yards and returned to shore.

This is a photo of our friends, Ray and Charlotte’s yard, outside Traverse City. Beautiful place they have and we really appreciate the time we spent having meals in the backyard. It was also nice for our dog Wyatt to experience for the first time being able to run around a large yard off leash while chasing his friend Dixie whom he still remembered from our winter stay in Florida. These trees are typical of Michigan. Folks live on smaller lakes in the area which I learned were man-made to stop flooding into Traverse City. We were invited to their longtime friend’s home for an annual cookout. Ray and I drove to the cookout while Charlotte and Karen remained behind. Glad we all know it’s okay and necessary in this lifestyle not to do everything together.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore

Located to the west of Traverse City over a scenic drive through the country is Sleeping Bear Dunes. Portions are actually a National Park where we used our America the Beautiful Pass for free admission at two locations. Legend has it that a momma bear and two cubs set out swimming across Lake Michigan. Unfortunately the two cubs tired and drowned. Mom made it to shore where she now rests looking out over the water for her cubs who would eventually rise forming two islands.

The scenic seven mile drive inside the park is worth the trip. Located off Michigan Highway 119 north of the visitors center which is closer to Empire Michigan. There are pull-outs where you can park and walk to views or quiet places to eat a sack lunch. We have started packing lunches when we take tours just because of how many picnic spots we stumble upon. Following are a few photos from the driving tour. These dunes are tall and steep. Signs warn if you try and run down to the lake shore and can’t climb back up the fee is $3,000 to rescue you.

Karen was born in Missouri while her father was in the Army. Her family settled a town in Wisconsin and migrated to Michigan. Traverse City and much of north Michigan were her stomping grounds and places for family vacations. If you ask someone from Michigan where they are going on vacation you are likely to hear “up north.” I listened as she described the area while we passed through, noting the differences from when she visited as a child. Roads that were once narrow lanes now have become heavily traveled tourists routes. Other than a developed parking lot, one place has stayed the same. The Dune Climb which is also part of the National Park, includes a long developed bicycle and walking path. Karen’s family also spent a lot of time in the Crystal Lake area and recommends anywhere along the coast of Lake Michigan as a place to visit. We spent a little time back in 2015 touring the the southwest portion of the lake.

I took a video where after kids make it to the top of the dune, they line up for a race down. Here is a link.

A Few Items That Might Increase Flexibility When Selecting a Campground.

I mentioned campground crowding and how I answer the question “how far ahead do you plan.” Flexibility is something to add to the comments. When we selected our fifth wheel we did so with the idea of avoiding a trailer that would limit where we stay any more than necessary. We could not find a floor plan under 35′ we wanted to live in fulltime. Height is often of more concern than the length but we make due with our tall rig which is 13′ at the top of the air conditioners. We went with a gas/electric fridge which so far we have not depended on for camping without electricity. Our truck holds a 3500 watt generator that we hardly ever use. But there are now items we depend upon in allowing us to book electric only sites. This increases the chances of getting a spot in an area we want to stay. Well, at least two of the items help. The other is just for safety and piece of mind.

We own a 30 amp, 25′ foot extension cord but have never used it. Our rig is 50 amps and we have booked spots in the past that warned in the reviews bring an extra cord. Our main electrical cord is 30′ long and located in the center of the RV. I can run it to the generator in the back of the truck without the extension cord as well as to campground electrical boxes located at the back of the trailer.

I generally advise when you first start out to buy as few camping items as possible until you figure out what you actually need. Plus others you meet will have great ideas. You will start to notice those around you that are big time researchers based on the accessories they have selected. One item I use somewhat frequently is a 30 gallon collapsible water bladder. Place it in the back of the truck, drive to a source and fill up. I drive home and use a 110 volt water pump and hose to fill the camper. No more worries about getting a campsite with a water connection. I went with the Aquatank brand because of it’s durability. Our combined black and grey tank capacity exceeds our fresh water tank size by 30 gallons which is why I went with the 30 gallon model. That way I can top off the tank without moving the RV.

I should mention a goal we had was to finally prevent us from moving the RV to add water or to dump our waste tanks while being able to book two week or longer stays in parks without sewer and water hookups at the camping spot. We have had a system to stay for nine and eleven day periods without having to dump our waste tanks. But those methods are not enjoyable such as always using the public shower and bathroom or washing dishes outside at the utility side of the trailer. Storage space and weight are always a concern. But sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and buy something to make life a little easier in this lifestyle.

So I finally bought a portable sewer tote. Some call these blue boys which is the color of the original tote made by Barker. There are several brands to select from. I’ll skip writing about my research other than to say I wanted something easy to move when full, of reasonable size compared to our trailers waste tank capacity and something that would fit in the back of the truck. Initially I thought about mounting the tank on the back of the trailers ladder but the sides of the tote would stick out beyond the sides of the trailer and create wind drag. Also totes are ugly. I could only find two brands where we happened to be stopped. I went with the Barker brand with four nomadic (inflatable) tires. Ours is 32 gallons and I can easily drag it to the truck to use the hitch, hauling the full tote to the dump station. If the dump station is near, I can wheel the tote to the dump station without using the truck. On a paved road when full I can move the tot with two fingers. It’s that easy to move.

Barker 32 gallon portable sewer tote stored in our truck – no more worries if the campsite has a sewer connection if we are staying more than six days.

The next item might seem trivial but it gives me piece of mind when parked at campgrounds with a lot of foot traffic from outsiders or maybe folks visiting others in the campground – locks… I can honestly say we have never stayed in a campground where we felt unsafe. But, especially now that we are staying at fairgrounds and city parks close to town, I use our locks more often. I have one for the king pin hitch, a 15′ and 6′ cable, secured with round locks that are keyed alike. I also have two other locks where you can set the combination. The photos below depict how I use them. We took a two week break from the camper and left it in storage. I was glad to have the lock for the king pin. We take longer day trips with no worries a random person might walk by and think they can quickly steal expensive stuff left outside. Harden the target (make it difficult to steal) and they will just move on to an easier target. Most don’t carry bolt cutters around a park where everyone can see them.

Rather than hauling yet another propane tank, I simply use one of the spare two already held in our campers propane storage areas. I should add I almost never put the grill on the campgrounds picnic table as it’s something most campgrounds do not allow. I place the grill on a portable table or just set it on top of the large plastic tote I store it in. Chain it all together with a six foot cable and lock. Good luck stealing any one item without dragging the rest with you.
This is how I sometimes secure our portable electric power surge protector connected to the campground electricity. I could have bought a hardwired model that’s kept in the basement area and avoided any chance of it being stolen. Portable and hardwired units have reasons to buy each type or not.

We are currently camped at a city park in Crosby Minnesota. Heading out to Brainerd Minnesota to shop and do the laundry. Thanks for reading our blog.

Delayed With Trailer Brake Issue

Well, I can’t think of a better place to extend our stay other than along Lake Michigan at Traverse City because of a trailer brake issue. Especially as we have dear friends we met in Florida who live here and our campground could care less how many times we extend our stay as they have plenty of parking. More on that in the next post. Ray and Charlotte – you guys are the best. Had we lived near each other back in Missouri, we would have been friends for life. That may be the case now…. Can’t wait to see you again in Florida!

Anyone planning to travel fulltime in an RV needs to know this. You will met the most fantastic people. Folks you never would have had a chance of getting to know without being on this journey. I have told others about all the friends we have met – you know who you are and we are thinking about you. Those friends are planted all over the United States. When we have a chance to text, call or meet up that unfortunately has to be good enough, for now, even if we want to live next to you forever.

The following photo might not make sense unless you happen to own an RV with electric brakes and can climb under it to see what I’m writing about. I’ll post the photo as a introduction regarding our trailer brake issue.

This is a set of brake wires that come out of the underbelly near the wheels/axles. These wires feed the power and ground wire leading to both axles and all four wheel brakes. They move up and down with the suspension system as you move down the road. Those two wires are connected to the main trailer brake wires that run from the front of the camper to the back. No worries, I’ll explain further in this article. In our case, the butt connectors used at the factory were adequate, but not installed correctly. Some asshole on the assembly line decided his/her/they wiring was adequate. They caused much delay, expense and worry because the extra 10 minutes to do the job correctly was not on their mind. This is not an over-reaction. Trailer brake failure on all four wheels could kill you and those around you. I also know for sure the Tiffin family, who build our fifth wheel, would not be proud of this. “Built for fulltime travel” is a slogan used by some manufacturers. To me this now means simple things like expert brake wiring needs to be included with the package.

If I had to summarize this in two sentences I would write: If you have intermittent brakes then go to the underside of the trailer at the axles and check the connections up inside the trailer underbelly to see if any of the wires are broken or not connected. I believe the brakes were shorting out as the positive electrical wire, with exposed wire, was rubbing against the nearby metal frame of the trailer.

For this lifestyle, you better have average skills for mechanical work. If you don’t have the skill, moving around the country fulltime in an RV might not be the best place to be. Because, as was the case for us, it might be a holiday in a smaller town when you break down with limited services. You may be stuck with a major issue and no one to repair it for weeks – other than doing it yourself. I suspect, however, many of us are used to figuring it out.

Following is the background on this issue: We ordered our 320GK Vanleigh (Tiffin) Vilano in 2019. Picked it up at the dealership a week after it arrived from the factory. About a year later we were in a campground and our then 2018 Ram truck brake controller gave a warning across the dash that our brakes were disconnected. Karen checked online and advised shut the truck off and restart. That worked and we were on our merry way.

About a year later, to now, we were traveling down the highway in the rain. Truck said (across the dash) “check brake wire” “brakes disconnected”. This was an intermittent problem and we limped into the campground for DAYS of future investigation into the matter. I would never tow a 16,000 pound trailer with no trailer brakes…. That’s not safe for my family nor anyone moving around me. This is serous folks. Its not like a slide being stuck out on the day you plan to move from a campground or an awning that will not retract all the way. Thankfully we have a dually diesel truck with plenty of stopping power, rated for a much heavy trailer. Tow with a barely capable truck and you might be facing a danger you never suspected. Not to get off track, but this example supports what I learned earlier in terms of selecting a truck. Get one with plenty or towing capacity.

So we arrived to Traverse City Michigan, with big plans to travel the northern parts of Michigan’s upper peninsula. The trailer brake issue now became the priority. Called around and no RV dealership could see us for weeks. Thinking outside the box, I called trailer repair companies. After all, this might be an RV but it’s on a trailer. Received recommendations to various mobile techs from the trailer repair facilities but not the RV dealerships. Had a tech that could make it out a week later, despite being backed up 50 service calls as the northern portions of Michigan are backed with vacationers. He knew we were stranded and God Bless felt for us. He found what I believed to be an unrelated issue which was a single brake magnet not connecting very well with the brake drum. The mobile tech believed his fix had a 50/50 chance of being the issue and knew electrical problems are hard to track down.

I was not going to move this heavy trailer without a surety we had found the problem. That lead to hours of searching online, finding bits and pieces of advise. I called a 30 year trailer guy back in Texas, called the factory service center and got a couple technicians on the phone from dealerships. This revealed there could be several issues associated with the error code my truck’s built-in trailer brake controller was telling me on the dash.

Logical thinking was going to be required in order to troubleshot the problem, starting with the most likely issue. And I was intent on avoiding a situation where a RAM truck dealership would say the problem was the trailer or an RV dealership saying it was the truck. That’s no help… I can say we did find a dealership here in Traverse City who cared even though we they had not bought the trailer from them. They wanted to help but just could not guarantee a fix anytime soon. They could “look at it” on July 5th after the holiday but part shipments and labor shortages could delay the fix.

Getting ahead of myself I’ll add although there were numerous places to shop for wires, connectors and more, many of the shops I visited did not have recommendations where to find what part I might need. No idea if this was because of inexperienced employees or not. For example, I need 18 gauge wires that were shielded. Trailer supply company had none. Found the best wire at a marine supply store after my friend Bill in Florida said marine wire is the best and found a supplier in Traverse City.

So now I’m armed with a big bag of various wires and connectors. As well as advise from at least five people as to what they would check first. My friend from Traverse City (Ray) is better to have around than me because his attitude is to fix things better than new. I also wanted to fix the problem on a permanent bases but knew there might have to be a temporary fix for now. Such as if you can’t find double strand 14 gauge wire readily available. Think outside the box. Electrical extension cords are found in 14 gauge and will work even if you only need to use two of the three wires. Okay – best stop here and explain what I learned about electric trailer brake wiring. I’m committed to explaining this further as others will be reading this article after I posted the issue on our brands Facebook page.

I’ve got no fancy diagrams to post for those that learn visually. You will have to read closely at my attempt to explain electric trailer brakes on a two axle trailer. Inside your tow vehicle is a brake controller. This sends power to the trailer brakes based on how hard you press on the brake pedal. In our case, the truck also sends a signal every four seconds down the wires to make sure there is no trailer brake problems. In our case it found both a wire problem and warned the brakes had disconnected. At highway speeds, when the trailer was bouncing over pumps the most, we had a trailer brake disconnect warning. At low speeds there was no problem although I still left plenty of room between us and the next vehicle.

There is a plug that connects the tow vehicle to the trailer. No shit you say… Some are seven pin connectors like ours where the bottom two pins are for trailer brakes and a ground wire. That plug runs to the hitch area where one ground wire (usually white in color) and a blue wire providing the electricity for the brakes and run back to the axle area. It is possible to have trailer lights but not brakes as each of the seven pins control different areas.

The wiring system is not sensitive to polarity where it finally connects to electro magnets inside each brake drum that cause the brakes to work. You can hook up the power wire and ground wire in any order and still have “continuity” meaning there is a closed circuit. Okay, that’s a technical as this gets so don’t worry. I’m an idiot about electrical stuff and my friend Ray was not, so I felt comfortable. I also spent a lot of time finally learning how to use a multimeter to test wires for continuity and more. Get one now for future use. The mobile tech that came out to look at our brakes never got a meter out which was a warning sign he hoped to just find a problem somewhere and say it was good to go. In our case, a brake magnet that did not have a good connection.

So the wires that go from the front of the trailer to the back obviously should be connected somewhere. The white wire is a ground and we found it connected to a place on the king pin and inside the front basement on a metal grounding bar. Then the ground runs to the axles along with the positive blue wire that provides three amps of power for each of the four brakes. In our case, Tiffin runs both those critical wires in a plastic conduit all the way back to the axles. Great feature to avoid damage. They do this on all their wires running throughout the trailer. Sign of a rig built for fulltime travel!

We have two axles and four wheels. Each wheel has an electric brake. Inside the brake drum is a magnet that causes the brakes to work when power is sent from the truck. In our case, there is a setting in the truck we can dial up or down to send more or less power depending on how much braking we want which is dependent on road conditions and trailer weight. Remember, we had intermittent brakes warnings from the truck and to check the wiring.

At the back of the trailer at the axles is where the two brake wires end up leading all the way from the truck connection. Our ground wires a the front of the trailer were perfect. As was the power wire which was blue.

At the axle inside the underbelly of the trailer is a splice in both the ground wire and power wire. Because we have two axles they have to feed the opposite side of the trailer with brake wire. In or case, this required the factory place two wires inside a butt connector which is normally used for just one wire. This is common. This connection is the one shown in the photo above. Here is the photo again for reference.

You can see the underbelly of the trailer in the photo. The holes surrounding the two wires I have been mentioning had foam insulation around them. Remove the insulation and pull down on the wires so you can see if the two wires are connected. Ours were not. Those two yellow connectors are called butt connectors. One is for the ground wire (white in color) and the power wire (blue/white). These connectors are intended to be used based on wire size. Because we have two axles they must place an extra wire on each side of each connector to feed the brakes on the opposite side of the trailer. So they put two wires on one side of the connector which is usually used for just one wire. There is a professional way to do that which was part of my fix.

When I pulled down on wire from the underbelly I found the ground wire just dropped out of the butt connector. That ground wire had not been pinched inside the connector and was held in place with black electrical tape. The person that installed this wire knew the connection was poor and decided to tape the ground wire inside the connector. The power wire was located alongside the trailers metal frame and I believe bare wire was contacted the metal, causing a possible short. The power wire only had half the wire strands inside the connector and over time, with the trailer suspension moving up and down over bumps, the remaining wire inside the connector were in poor condition. I’m thinking this is why we had brakes sometimes and sometimes not. A poor connection.

With two axles you will have two sets of wires dropping down from the underbelly. One is for each side of the trailer. They feed the wires from the brakes on the opposite side through small holes in the axles. Some others have had those wires frayed when rubbing inside the axle, especially where they exit out the hole of the axle. Ours were fine but I replaced them with better wire. The originals were 18 gauge and not shielded by an outer layer of wire insulation.

I post this because I want to pass along there will be times in this journey when stuff happens that cause much stress and delay. Our future in an RV will be laced with problems. But this is a way of life and not a vacation. Slow down, stay longer and work it out.

I’ll be testing the brakes individually and not while towing. Raise each side of the trailer, have the wife press down on the trucks brake pedal. Spin each tire separately to make sure each has brakes.

So now you know one of several reasons you may loose brakes…. Still want to haul this thing around the country daily?