DID YOU MAKE A WRONG TURN BACK THERE?
Note that the bureaucratic details of getting an RV across the border into Canada are covered in a collateral webpage.
Marguerite and Stan are not your normal, run-of-the-mill grandparents. We have a skeleton in our closet and you can find out what it is by visiting our home page and following the links to The Tarantula Keeper's Guide. (Obviously you can short-circuit all that by clicking the direct link, too. But, you'll miss a lot of the ambience!)
One of our most favourite pets (pictured on the cover of the first edition) was a Mexican redleg tarantula (Brachypelma emilia (White)) that we called the Duchess. We acquired her in July of 1972 and had her for almost nineteen years. We suspect that she was full grown and at least twenty years old when we bought her, thus she may easily have lived 39 or more years. Yes, many species do live that long.
In memory of that fabulous spider, and because we prize both so highly, Marguerite named our Dolphin "The Duchess."
About keeping spiders and tarantulas as pets, let us merely say that 99.9% of the readers of this page know absolutely nothing about them, but are steeped in half-truths, outright lies and flagrant misconceptions that were passed down from generation to generation by otherwise good people who couldn't appreciate the magnitude of their ignorance. If you really want to find out what tarantulas really are all about, read the book.
We are fully aware that many municipal jurisdictions have ordinances that prohibit overnight "camping" so it comes as no surprise that Georgetown would have such an ordinance. What puzzles us is the attitude that people who are obviously not indigents or without means of self support who are staying in a motorhome (not their 15 year old Buick!) that's built for the purpose and worth a sizable fraction, if not more than the value of the average home should be considered "gypsies!"
Obviously, the Georgetown police officers who were called to deal with the situation also understood the problem and handled it in a very equitable way even though they were actually caught in the middle.
A tip of the hat and a big gold star to the Georgetown Police Department!
In retrospect, it would have been wiser to have contacted the Police Department in advance to check on local laws and perhaps ask where a good place to park might be found. We've done this other times, in other places, and on one occasion were allowed to park at the curb right in front of the police chief's home! We were not bothered by anybody that evening.
AN ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT MARKETING STRATEGY!
If you didn't know already, RVs are commonly allowed to park overnight in Wal-Mart parking lots under the following conditions.
There are exceptions to this policy, particularly if a given Wal-Mart has had too much trouble from overnight guests in the past or if the neighbourhood is unsafe. It is considered good form to check with Wal-Mart's management first, just in case. It's also considered good form to send Wal-Mart's management a "Thank You" card after the fact. (Need we remind you that Wal-Mart just happens to sell "Thank You" cards?)
It turns out that this is an absolutely brilliant marketing strategy! For example, because we flew down to Austin with literally two suitcases and two carry-ons, we had nearly nothing with which to live in the Duchess. We easily spent US $200 in basic life support items the first two days we stayed there. Had we stayed longer we surely would have spent more.
Don't tell us that you've never heard of deer whistles? Okay, these are small plastic thingamabobs that stick to your vehicle's bumper or someplace else that produce an ultrasound blast whenever you drive faster than a certain minimal speed down country roads. The party line is that this noise alerts deer that you're coming, whereupon they do either one of two things:
Under any circumstances, whether they really work or not, many of us who come from deer/elk/moose country swear by them. After all is said and done, they can't do any harm and if they really do fend off a deer, they could save an RVer many thousands of dollars in the replacement of the front end cap! Ten dollars is not bad insurance. Besides, it helps keep the economy moving.
FLEET AS THE WIND
Strong west winds in northwestern Montana and southern Alberta are neither uncommon nor to be taken lightly. That area is one of the windiest places in North America with the prevailing westerlies and Chinook winds being channelled through the mountain passes and aimed directly into the area. It's also the home of one of the better publicized "wind farms" (wind powered, electric generating installations). In fact, those trees growing in exposed situations in Lethbridge, Alberta actually LEAN eastward. We kid you not! We didn't believe it either, until we boondocked on the west edge of town one evening next to such trees.
For those of you who've never thought about it, the awnings on recreational vehicles work a lot like the old-fashioned window shades that grandma used to have. (Surprise! A lot of them are still being used even in up-scale, new homes!) Except, the "shade" on an RV is mounted upside down and is built a tad heavier because of the heavier awning. With an RV awning, the recoil spring assembly isn't attached to the vehicle (like Grandma's shade was attached to the window frame), but rather is part of the frame that you pull out and over the real estate next to your RV.
It turns out that this recoil spring assembly is an awning's Achilles' heal. If a gust of wind manages to get into the furled awning and pulls hard enough, it unfurls the awning, stripping the anti-recoil mechanism in the process. After that, any sort of breeze is capable of completely unfurling the awning and your RV suddenly develops a drogue chute just like a landing space shuttle!
There are at least two solutions to prevent the unfurling of an awning at high speed or in strong headwinds.
There surely are other solutions available. We suggest you check the ads in various RV magazines (especially the classified sections), do a web search and visit your favourite RV parts department. Then consider all your options before making a decision.
There were a few days between the time that we paid for the Duchess (see the sidebar), received the clear Title, got temporary plates and finally left the Austin/Round Rock/Georgetown area. We spent the evenings in the Duchess in several different places. We stayed at a new Wal-Mart Superstore the first evening (September 29, 2003) without incident. There was an older, now empty Wal-Mart several miles away where we parked the second evening, also without incident. The third evening we were back at the Wal-Mart Superstore, again without incident.
When parking in the Superstore parking lot, as soon as Stan had the Duchess parked and settled in he would run into the Wal-Mart to pick up a few more basic living necessities like food, cooking utensils, even a set of deer whistles!
But we had some trouble the fourth evening. We parked on a desolate, dead end road that served as a rear access route to Wal-Mart and a neighbouring Home Depot. We pulled to the very end, and backed up to the terminal barricade for the evening so as to be as far out of the way and as unobtrusive as possible. About 1:00 in the morning we were woken up by the police! It seems that Georgetown has an ordinance that prohibits people from sleeping in motor vehicles, never mind that the motor vehicle is built expressly for the purpose and worth about as much as the average home in the city. The lady officer was very nice and explained that she'd allow us to stay there that evening, but we really should find a legal spot (e.g., outside the city limits) if we planned to stay in the area any longer. We thanked her for her consideration and went back to bed.
We were just preparing breakfast the next morning when we were approached by yet another police officer. She also warned us that it was illegal to stay in a motor vehicle within the city limits of Georgetown. We assured her that we'd already been told about the problem the evening before, that we were told we could stay the evening but had to find another spot for tonight and would be moving as soon as we had finished breakfast. Then the officer informed us that one of the local resident's had complained about "gypsies" parking behind their neighbourhood. Otherwise the officer couldn't care less. Through the cactus and scrub mesquite we could see the rear of some houses perhaps 300 feet to the east. We assured the officer that we were not going to steal anyone's chickens or carry off anyone's daughter, that we'd be moving within the hour. The officer bid us good day.
The last evening we gained permission from the Home Depot management to stay in their parking lot overnight.
We left Georgetown that Saturday morning (October 4, 2003) after gassing up at the Wal-Mart gas bar. (That's Canadian for "Self Serve Gas Station.") Next stop: sister Betty and her husband Ken in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. You remember Betty, don't you? Of the deposit for the motorhome to a voice on the phone, neither of which we could vouch existed or was real?
We arrived at their home that afternoon. Everybody was impressed with the Duchess (no surprise here) and we had to run what eventually became a sort of a dog and pony show. "This is how the slides work. This is what the place looks like with the slides open. This is...) We'd be fibbing if we said we weren't very proud and immensely flattered at the reception and interest in our new toy.
There was one problem, however. (There's always one more problem, it seems.) In looking over the exterior of the motorhome Ken noticed a serious oil slick on the right rear wheel. It appeared that oil (rear end grease?) had leaked out and centrifugal force had sprayed it outward from the hub. Ken immediately got some paper towels and a bottle of spray cleaner and carefully washed it all up. "Now you'd best watch that. If you see any more you might stop someplace and have them check it out, to see what's wrong.)
Several thousands of miles later, in Calgary, there didn't seem to be any additional grease or oil leaking out. But, when we have the Duchess serviced after being taken out of storage we're going to ask the mechanic to check that axle, bearing and wheel over carefully.
As we headed north out of the Ft. Worth area and into Oklahoma we began to notice a persistent squeal coming from somewhere in the coach. At first, Stan thought it was the wind whistling around one of the mirrors or through the grill up front. We passed through Oklahoma City, then Wichita and turned west at Salina heading for Denver. (We'd stayed overnight somewhere in there, but we don't remember where.)
As we headed west, Stan noticed the whistle again, only this time it started at a slower speed, about 45 or 50 mph. Strange. What was it? Maybe a bearing was going bad? A transmission problem? Not on what was effectively a new vehicle, surely! Just the wind whistling through the grill up front? We slowed a little to 55 or 60 miles per hour (88 to 97 kilometres per hour), but when we slowed below 55 mph, it stopped! Most strange. At some little burg whose name we've forgotten we pulled off and turned into a gas station to use their phone to call Workhorse, the chassis' manufacturer.
We must congratulate Workhorse's customer service department for their service and attention. Especially, "Lori" was a real champ. After a lengthy discussion we decided that the best strategy would be for us to drive slowly to Denver where we should stop and have the Duchess carefully looked over by their authorized service associate, any of no less than 3 GMC dealerships. We were put on hold for a few moments while they arranged an appointment with one of them.
When Lori came back on line there was no joy in Mudville. None of the GMC dealerships in the Denver area or even as far away as Cheyenne, Wyoming had time to look at our problem. The best that could be done was to schedule a date for two weeks from then! Two weeks was unacceptable. We had to be crossing the border in two days and Stan had to be back at work in four days. Surely there was something better to be had. Lori was sorry, but she'd done all she could.
Marguerite and Stan held a short, intense, executive session, then decided to drive the rest of the way to Denver to try to shoehorn our way into a quicky service at a GMC dealership that seemed to be right on our route.
We arrived in Denver about noon, hunted up the dealership of choice, and Stan strode in to talk with someone about identifying that squeal. The only person to be found was a young pup in a white shirt and a tie sitting behind a desk in their drive-in service area. The best he could do was schedule us an appointment in 10 days. "After all, we've three of our own coaches parked out back waiting as it is. That's the best I can do." (It turns out that this particular GMC dealership also had its own RV dealership as well, a few miles away.) That wasn't good enough. We had to be in Canada in two or three days. "Let me speak with your supervisor, please."
After a brief check they determined that the supervisor was not in the office. He was off someplace entertaining some visiting big wheels from the GMC headquarters in Detroit. But he should be back shortly.
"Well, I need to speak with him fairly urgently. I'm going to grab some lunch in the motorhome out there in your parking lot. Could you please ask him to come get me when he gets back? We should only require a moment or two of his time."
He never showed. After about an hour, Stan went back into the service area to find out what happened and was told that the supervisor had returned and immediately left with his guests instead. We had been snubbed.
Now what do we do? Let's think this through logically. We've got a vehicle that we think may be developing some sort of mechanical problem, but is still perambulatory. If it had broken down the very first person we'd have called would probably have been a tow truck. In fact, if there was anyone in the whole city of Denver who'd know who could fix a semi-broken down motorhome, a tow truck driver almost surely would. After all, who else deals with broken down vehicles more then they?
So, Stan went into the dealership's waiting room and used their complimentary phone to hunt up the competition. After a very few calls, Mr. McClain of the McClain Towing Service (303-287-4514, if you're in the area) answered the phone. Stan explained his plight and asked him who might be able to look after us, keeping in mind that this vehicle was approximately equal to a five ton delivery truck rather than a pickup or a van. He at first recommended taking it to the very same GMC dealership whose phone we were using. "Sorry. These people are as useless as t*ts on a boar hog!" There was absolute dead silence in the waiting area and at the parts desk! At that point Mr. McClain chuckled and gave us the name and phone number for Jim Ingersoll of Ingersoll Truck Repair (303-289-1689, if you ever need his help). "He does big rigs but should be able to help you."
We called Ingersoll and got Jim straightaway. We explained our problem. He gave us directions. We got lost. We called again. This time he flagged us down on the roadside and sent us down the correct turnoff.
Jim got under the Duchess and gave it a quick perusal. Nothing wrong. We showed him the oily wheel. He popped the wheel cover and declared that everything looked okay there. He got in the Duchess and we took her for a spin on Denver's (extremely congested) freeway system. We sped around at 65 and seventy miles per hour in 4:00 traffic. Jim could hear the whine, it seemed to be up front but couldn't localize it beyond that. We returned to his garage and he went under the coach again, but still couldn't see anything wrong.
"If I were you I'd just get on the highway and drive her normally. If it gets worse, I'd stop in the next town and see if someone can find anything wrong. If it doesn't get worse, drive all the way home, then have someone there take their time and go over it really carefully."
We paid him US $75 for spending an hour-and-a-half with us, and left. (Incidentally, we judge that to be an entirely fair fee considering that we took him away from another job on a semi tractor for the purpose of dealing with our whining.)
The next day, as we were driving through Wyoming or Montana listening to the whine, we saw a few pronghorn antelope on the range some distance from the highway. Marguerite made some remark about deer and Stan almost lost control of the Duchess! "How bloody stupid of me! It's the d**n deer whistles! The deer whistles are making the whining sound! That's why it stops when we slow below 55 miles per hour. There's not enough air pressure to make them whine at slower speeds! That's why it started at slower speeds after we turned onto I-70. We were driving into the wind then! I just paid somebody $75 to diagnose a set of $8 deer whistles! Aaarrrggghhh!"
In defence, the advertising says that the sound is supposed to be "ultrasonic," that is, that humans aren't supposed to be able to hear it. Thus we had subconsciously discounted the deer whistles as a possible source. Mass marketing at its best and worst, no? How many times have you heard a vehicle racing down the highway, all the while emitting a shrill whistle? Now that we think about it, fairly commonly! Now we know.
As we drew near the border with Canada a strong west wind picked up. After we crossed the border it became fierce. As long as we were headed north and the wind was headed east we had little problem. With it's weight and 22 inch wheels the Duchess glided like a cloud over the pavement and the wind, while making its presence known, had little serious effect on our speed or ability to handle the vehicle. What a great ride!
However, all that changed as the highway approached Lethbridge and turned to the west. Then we were speeding into the wind at 100 kilometres an hour (62 mph) while it was speeding towards us at sixty kilometres per hour (37 mph). It was like driving into a hurricane! Almost immediately we began to hear a clattering from the passenger side of the coach and Stan looked through the right wing mirrors to discover a billowing canvas bubble alongside the motorhome. "Sweet mother of pearl. The awning's come unfurled!" It looked exactly like we were trailing a drogue chute.
We decided to pull into a Wal-Mart parking lot (Yeah. We have them up here, too!) and turn away from the wind. Then, Stan could get out and refurl the awning. We did. Stan couldn't. The wind, even on the leeward side of the Duchess was too strong and unpredictable. We decided to wait out the windstorm. After all, we were already in Canada so we didn't have any further serious deadlines to meet, and we could use a restful evening before arriving home. Besides, if the wind died down at sunset, maybe Stan could refurl it this evening and we could be on our way early in the morning.
So much for that plan! First, the wind didn't die down until something like 3:00 AM. Stan was not about to go out in the dark and cold in a Wal-Mart parking lot at 3:00 in the morning to play bo's'n's mate! At a more civilized hour (actually about 9:00 AM) Stan put on a jacket and went out to survey the damage. He'd looked over the operator's manual for the awning the evening before, then reviewed it cursorily that morning and was fairly certain he knew how to deal with the problem. Except that the lanyard was nowhere to be found. That lanyard was key to properly unfurling and refurling the awning. Now what to do? If he did anything to it now and it became completely unfurled it might drag on the ground or get wound around the wheels.
Marguerite and Stan held another short, intense, executive session, then got back on the highway and drove (VERY slowly!) a kilometre or two back up the way they had come to an RV dealership (the Skyline Travel Centre) that they'd known about for years. Maybe they could help. They could indeed. Stan walked in and explained his problem. The service manager went out to the Duchess to look it over, then directed us to pull around to the back of the building. He was pretty sure he knew what the problem was. The recoil assembly was stripped.
The good news is that the Skyline technicians could easily replace the recoil assembly. In fact, the service manager said that they always keep one or two in stock because they have to replace about a dozen a year in that area. The bad news is that it was going to cost us about CDN $180. But there was more good news. The newer model assembly had been upgraded with better gears and probably would never have to be replaced again.
Ninety minutes later and $180 lighter we were on our way to Calgary again.
Just a couple of hours later, we pulled the Duchess into the alley behind our home and gave a big sigh of relief. Marguerite looked at Stan, then looked at the house, then back at Stan, then said "You go sell the house. I'll stay here!" In her usual cryptic, allusive fashion, she'd given her approval of the whole odyssey and the purchase of the Duchess.
We were finally home at last!
We'd covered a lot of territory on this page so we thought it best to offer a summary of how well the various players had performed their parts.
|Wal-Mart in Georgetown, Texas||A tip of the hat and a gold star|
|One Georgetown suburbanite for their display of great Texan hospitality||A big black mark after their name and one fresh cow patty on their doorstep!|
|Georgetown City Police Department in Georgetown, Texas||A tip of the hat and a gold star|
|Home Depot in Georgetown, Texas||A tip of the hat and a gold star|
|Betty and Ken in Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas for being such great in-laws!||A tip of the hat and a gold star|
|Workhorse Customer service, and most especially Lori, even if the people they'd contracted with for customer support left them flat||A tip of the hat and a gold star|
|Denver and Cheyenne's GMC dealerships who weren't there when we needed them most, with special mention for the service manager in Denver||A big black mark after their name and enough fresh cow patties for everybody!|
|Mr. McClain of McClain's Towing Service in Denver, Colorado||A tip of the hat and a gold star|
|Jim Ingersoll of Ingersoll Truck Repair in Denver, Colorado||A tip of the hat and a gold star|
|Skyline Travel Centre in Lethbridge, Alberta||A tip of the hat and a gold star|
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Copyright © 2004, Stanley A. Schultz and Marguerite J. Schultz.
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This page was initially created on 2004-March-16.
The last revision occurred on 2005-December-19.