St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Minnesota through Arkansas Days 1-7 on the Road

We left Wisconsin Sunday afternoon, January 22, headed out on the 2017 Road Trip to Louisiana.  Cold, snow, and winter -- unbroken until March maple syrup season seemed too long to endure.  
So we hooked up the 91 Olds (the only car with a trailer hitch) and the 1990 Jayco pop-up tent camper, all loaded with tools, camping, sleeping stuff and headed south to Pine Island MN for the first leg of the trip.  

"If the Olds works OK to Pine Island, we will take it south," I told Margo, "but if we get there and it has trouble, we will buy one of those rust free 10 year old cars down there to replace it."  

  Here is the daily log from my Facebook pages:

Just at freezing and a small coating of white frosty snow at the Pine Island MN house as we get ready to drive to Branson MO today. Listening on the radio to the Packers lose yesterday as drove from the Farm here (120 miles) we tested out the combination of the 91 Olds and 90 Jayco camper. Seemed to pull fine even at 65mph on Hwy 52. Nothing to make us nervous about continuing. 
So we are preparing for a few weeks away. 
Many Amish in southern IA and northern MO.  The snow disappeared by mid Iowa.  

The first open ponds are always exciting -- Missouri

There is just enough snowy frost on the car and driveway to hint of slick morning driving, so will stick to the main roads and go slow. 
Did find out that the cigarette lighter socket was dead, so couldn't plug in the gps -- but our first route is just drive to Hwy 35 and take it to Branson. 
Branson is supposed to be 53F for a high today and the forecast south after that is a week of sunny days and 60s if we go another day's travel south.
Checked in at the almost newly remodeled Budget Inn on the south side of Sedalia, MO for the night. Nice room, fresh everything, but no chairs and no bedside lamp and no clothes hangers. Very slow wi-fi. 
Budget Inn $66 OK

Sedalia is just about 600 south of the Farm. We drove 118 miles Sunday to Pine Island, MN and started at 7:30 this morning headed for Branson. However about 5:30pm as it got dark, we pulled into this motel (which we stayed in many years ago under the name of Starlight). $66 total for the night. Adequate. 
We took Hwy 14 to I35 and then through Des Moines IA and switched to 2-lane Hwy 65 (a nice peaceful and decent road through IA and MO as far as we have traveled. 
No snow on the ground after Ames, Iowa and open ponds by 100 miles into MO with about 41F and sunny by late afternoon--felt very nice. 
On the way here, as we crossed from IA into MO, the right front brake was noticeably noisy when we went very slowly through an old downtown street--noise went away if I stepped lightly on the brake pedal. Not a problem, I figured as we cruised on down Hwy 65 for another 40 miles, and then a sudden wrenching sound and continuous rumbling. "Flat tire" I wondered although it rode OK. Pulling over as soon as I found a shoulder on top of a hill checked everything and no flats or obvious problems. The brake had gotten sort of spongy too as it noise started, so I figured something in the brake broke (i.e. pad came loose or something). 
Drove slowly (30 mph) along about a mile headed for the next town a few miles ahead with the throbbing/grinding noise and suddenly a clunk, a piece of the car flew out the back, and the noise quit totally and all sounded fine. I didn't try to turn the rig around to find out what came out--but it was about the size of a bratworst I thought. 
Anyway, the brakes worked mostly, but grinding and pulsing that seemed to be coming from the front right. 
We drove on a few more hours, ignoring it as we still had decent brakes (not perfect, but adequate). My guess is a brake pad broke loose or something on the caliper broke -- so the front right brake is mostly not working, but not really bothering. If we make another day OK, and setup camp somewhere, I will pull off the wheel and see what is wrong -- and likely take it in somewhere for a front brake job. 
We got about 18 miles per gallon pulling the camper, vs about 28 we get without it--running about 60-65 mph. 
A decent day all in all!

Very nice at 70F, but a little cool at 32F even with the windows zipped, the heater on.  

Chicot State Park along the Mississippi River backwaters

70F this afternoon as we cruised into Lake Village and parked the camper at Chicot State park, sort of the SE corner of AR, across the Mississippi from Greenville, MS, and just north of Louisiana. 
Decided to stay here a couple of days as it started feeling to hot for us (and we found the car air conditioner doesn't work this year). Supposed to be sunny for a full week, with 50s-60s and lows in the 30s, so that seems about right. 
The brake is grinding on the Olds, so visited Lake Village to find a repair shop. Stopped at a Truck repair place and asked Melvin, a mechanic about my age, where I could take the car to get front brake work. 
We do that too, over at our auto shop, Wayne Edwards Parts and services. Then we started talking about a 91 Olds from MN and what the part that flew out the back might be. A brake pad? or ? And then about MN salt, rust and those kind of problems. 
The folks here in the south are always perturbed by older Northern cars, as they get to work on mostly rust-free cars down here. Anyway, at 9 am, I drive it into the shop and Melvin (a black man about my age or maybe less) will see what flew off, and whether or not what is left is easily fixed. He was wearing a spiffy blue uniform with the Wayne Edwards Logo and his name, Melvin. He thought Russ Hanson was a good MN name. 
Melvin liked to talk, and so I learned he came from W Virginia, where salt is used too, but nothing like MN and WI! 
Inoperable Rust

A 2007 Torrent with 100k miles for $5000?

Or a lower priced model?

We drove over to the main repair shop and told the lady behind the desk we were sent over by Melvin to set up a 9 am front brake check/repair appointment. "Well, if Mel sent you over, we better do it," drawled the pleasant lady behind the desk. Everyone in the shop and most of the folks in town are black. The town is on Hwy 65, the route we took from Des Moine IA south. Today we turned over 1000 miles! 
Pecan trees, pines, cypress, bayous, holly, magnolias, pansies cotton fields, and along the Mississippi miles of flat, flat, very flat wet fields. A neighbor here is fishing for white perch -- no luck tonight.

Well, Melvin took a look at the rusty bottom and sort of threw up his hands. "My impact wrench wouldn't even remove the nuts holding the wheel on. And the bolts holding the caliper, which looks bad and should be replaced, is likely to break off when I try to take it out." 
I know up north the mechanics are used to this stuff, and I even have my own 3/4 heavy duty socket wrench with the 3-foot pipe extension to take off the nuts (and had done that on the two passenger side wheels just before we left).
Part of the trip south was keeping in mind that we might want to try to find a rust-free older vehicle here to bring back. 
"I could spend a day or more and a $1000 if nothing breaks and I can get the parts, but if it breaks then even more work" commented Mel, obviously not looking forward to a day of rusty work.
Then Wayne Edwards, the owner of the shop came over, a fellow about my size and shape agreed, "questionable whether you want fix it up."
"So do you have something for sale that would pull a 1000lb load trailer?" I asked. 
"Two 2011 Impala's from the state prison with 100,000 miles and good shape and a nice 2007 Pontiac Torrent with 100,000 miles." 
He showed me the Torrent (the others were at a different location). Absolutely rust free, very clean, smooth running, but the electric steering had just stopped working. "I have to take it to the GM dealer in town and get the computer code read out so we know what is wrong before I can sell it. Price is $4995 and in very good condition! Adding a trailer hitch is about $300. I will know more about the steering tomorrow -- maybe just a fuse or something"
"I will bring Margo over tomorrow afternoon and we will check it out then, and if she likes it, and you can take the 91 Olds in trade for decent amount, we probably are interested." 
"No trade in!!!!!!!," he replied, "but the junk dealer is across the road."
It is amazing when you look under a 10 year old car from AR, and don't see any rust. interior is immaculate, and so we will stay here at the park into next week and see what develops. The alternate plans are -- do nothing and keep driving the Olds; get rid of the Olds and rent a vehicle; or move to Lake Village AR and take the bus.
I gave Wayne and Melvin each a bottle of maple syrup from Wisconsin in return for the physical exam that resulted in one of those "just sew 'em back up--cancer has spread too much and nothing we can do." Back in MN, where the Mayo Clinic of car mechanics work, a different prognosis and treatment would be likely.
Tulip tree ready to bloom


Paid for campsite through the weekend as we consider the automobile dilemma. Margo looked over the Torrent and thought it was OK, so tomorrow we visit Wayne and see if we can reach a deal with trailer hitch added. Otherwise we did look at other cars today too--photo of one here. 
A nice day with some blooms here and there to view.

Worrying tonight about the 91 Olds disposal if we buy a different car. The title is still in MN and we are down here, so can't sell it and pass on the title--even need that for junking it I think. 
So right now the plan is to buy a hammer and chisel, then chisel of the VIN (identification numbers), wipe it clean for fingerprints, and drive it into the Mississippi at one of the scenic overlooks like they do on those TV cop shows with the accelerator stuck down. 
Or maybe one one of the back roads where hillbillies live in AR and there are already 100 old cars in the woods. Just stick a Confederate flag on it first and let it return to nature.
Cones for Sweet Gum tree

Pecan harvesting (picking up from the ground by hand) underway

32F, sunny, calm and no snow here in Chicot State Park on the edge of the Mississippi River. Big vees of various colored noisily honking high flying birds, robins, blackbirds, a cardinal, squirrels and the usual assortment of squawking, pecking, hooting, and other rackety birds wake us early. 
The land around here is absolutely flat and likely to give you wet feet if you stray off the roads and paths. The only hill is the big levee just out of the park to keep the wet side wet and the dry side dry should the Missippissippissipi get some runoff from Wisconsin and MN. 
No farming underway as the soil is drenched from rains last week. 
Today is car shopping for us. We plan to try a few local spots looking for that ideal vehicle -- under 100,000 miles, absolutely no rust or damage, mechanically sound, trailer hitchable (most don't have them unless they are pickups or SUV's--so must be able to add one), excellent gas mileage, no more than 10 years old, and in the $3k - 6k range. Something we can immediately hook on to the camper and go another 300 miles south next week where instead of 32F overnight with 50F in the camper, it will be 42F overnight and 60F in the camper in the early morning. 
Maybe still buy the Torrent, but we need to study some more after I spent the evening checking out the Torrent complaints online -- excellent vehicle if the computer and sensors would ever let it run for a while without turning things off or scaring the driver with warning messages-- mostly in something called "Stabiltrak" lights coming on for things like not putting the groceries in the exact center of the back seat. Also as the 2007 one has a steering failure right now (the electric motor assist) have to see if it is fixed. Read up on that too--and not a big complaint as it is a replaceable unit. 
Anyway, shopping for cars is on the agenda. It is very much like dating, or maybe electing a president, you take in a few impressions, facts and with a car and date --a trial run, and then make a decision that for most people,
lasts a long time. It is easy to make a bad decision because the saleperson is out to sell to folks who live far away and can't come back to complain. You have to be careful of those salespeople who say 100,000 miles and when you actually look at the gauge it is 200,000 miles -- some folks seem unable to tell the truth ever. 
At the moment, I am hopeful that my very great need for change doesn't push me into a decision I regret. However, unlike electing a president, I don't have to wait 4 years to make a change. Over the 55 years I have had a car or truck, I have really only bought about half a dozen starting with my 1937 Chev Truck at age 14, so this is still a stressful time for me. It is why I am still married to my first wife--too stressful to think about change.

Not much luck at car shopping today-- too expensive, too old, too worn out, etc. Wayne didn't have the steering fixed on the Torrent -- "looks like the computer has to be re-programmed, and the earliest I can get it in to the GM dealer is next Monday morning. I got it after it had been vandalized -- one side had the lights broken the windows broken and scratched--not an accident, but a vandal. So it has new lights, windows, etc., on the passenger side and a new paint job there. Nothing structural. Anyway, when we had it in the body shop, I left it with the door open and the battery went dead and then the power steering electric motor quit." He called the GM dealer in the next town 22 miles away -- who told him to bring it up and they would try to "reprogram it." I wonder if it was previously used by a cult of Southern Trumpist Baptists and needs to be de-programmed rather than re-programmed so I can drive it. 
The Impala's Wayne had for sale are federal prison cars --2011 Impala's bought at an auction, but a few thousand more--and cars rather than the sort of suv-ish Torrent and messy to add a trailer hitch--looks like I would have to hack-saw some of the plastic bumper away. 
Spent some time looking online at adding a trailer hitch -- extremely simple for the Torrent--a plug in for the wiring and with the right hitch -- bolt holes already threaded and a snap out plastic bumper insert. Probably an hour to put it on myself and the hitch costs about $125 but takes a couple of days to order. 
So Monday at 1 pm, we can stop in and see if it is still for sale and we decide to buy it, or if we just hook up the Olds and camper and head to our next stop in Ville Platte, LA 300 miles south. 
The Olds runs smoothly until you want to stop and then grinds and crunches to a stop. My strategy is pulling it into low (automatic transmission) as I ease up to a stop sign so I don't scare all the folks nearby as the brakes moan to a stop. Driving it back home via the Freeway wouldn't be much of a problem as only about 3 stops per day. The brakes do work, but metal on metal is surely not likely to last very long. 
Friday was laundry day; food shopping day; and car shopping day. The first two went fine.

33F, clear, calm and an expected high of 54F today with tomorrow expected to be 60F at Chicot State Park on the backwaters of the Mississippi River in the nearly deep south. 
Many trees, bushes and plants with green shiny leaves all winter here including giant Magnolias, LIve Oaks (I think), Holly, Camelias (beginning to bloom) and others, especially right along the lake shore where the never-freezing ox-bow lake moderates the climate a little. We appear to be out of the floodable area thanks to the high levee between us and the River. 
Today, I think we will venture the 25 miles to Greenville MS where Riverboat Gambling is actually on a Riverboat, and there is a bigger town to look for a used car. If you imagine walking into the casino at Danbury WI across a large wide gangplank, and then once inside see the same thing only with a slight nautical look, you will get the idea. We were there in 2010 and did well other than the mortgage we had to place on our MN house when Margo put it all on Red. 
In the evening we headed to the laundromat here in Lake Village. Now you have to know about the small city here. It has moved almost 100% from the old rather quaint downtown to a strip along Hwy 65. The few blocks of big old brick stores downtown are virtually all empty on both sides of mainstreet which ends at the lake, a park and a tall statue of some Confederate general. Down here the losing side put up endless amounts of statues to remind folks that they fought for what was right, and don't forget it -- slavery, racism and later Jim Crow laws, only now replaced by Trump/Pence signs here and there while the population is at least half black, and very friendly, helpful black folks at that.
"1861-1865 CSA 
The signs of poverty are prevalent in the whole town from small old decaying lived in houses to boarded up buildings. However along Hwy 65 we see the McDonalds and the stripmall mentality that has completely killed the old downtown.

A Visit to the Laundromat
Having gone through the week's set of clothes we brought along, it was time to hit the laundromat. The park has a nice laundromat building but it is shut down for winter when the only visitors they get are weekend fishermen and boaters and a few straggling northerners who think 30 - 60s are paradise. 
The Laundromat is behind the very nice US Postoffice, in an old freshly painted large red brick building. Very nice looking until we get inside where 3 black bachelor's are washing and drying clothes--one young man (20s), one about 45 and one as old as me, waiting on the dryers to finish. It is 5:00 pm. 
The inside is old, dingy, with rows of washers and dryers that one is uncertain whether the machines will work or not. Using the laundromat strategy of opening each machine and checking if it feels warm (same for the dryers) from a recent batch is the best way to know if it works. We loaded two and set on the bench along the wall and listened to the two older men talk in a very southern accent. 
Having worked with all sorts of accents and people from all around the world while at Mayo Clinic, I am much better at understanding folks than Margo. 
The two men were talking about the younger man's work on the tows pulling barges up and down the Mississippi river, something he had done for years, but now appeared to have moved on. Being curious about the life and job, I asked "We're from MN, near St Paul. Have you ever gone that far north?" 
"Yes, been everywhere on the River including some of the side routes -- into Chicago, on the Arkansas and other routes. Got a nieces that lives in Hennipen -- way too cold up there!' The accent was heavy! 
Anyway the two talked about river boat work until the younger man's clothes were all hung and neatly folded. "Like these flannel lined work pants," he commented which started a thread of flannel shirts and how to get a decent one. 
Then the younger man left and the older man asked "what brings you here?" and I gave my story of the broken brakes and looking for a new car, and he gave me some advice -- and was unbelieving of an undercarriage that was so rusty it the car shop wouldn't do a brake job. 
"My 87 Ford truck is still fixable," he said as I took him out to see the 91 Olds. His truck didn't have any rust on the body and looked quite nice underneath. 
"When you headed back?" he asked. 
"In March to make maple syrup." And as he didn't know what that was, I explained it and gave him a bottle to take home from the case we brought along to sweeten up the neighbors and auto repair folks we meet along the way. 
Friendly folks, who live in an area where good jobs are scarce, and people are used to doing without.

Beautiful sunny morning; birds are tweeting, boaters on the Lake and Margo is up about. Have been worrying about her back, sleeping in the camper and whether or not she will have problems. She won't admit to anything wrong so I count the pain pills in the bottle each evening to see if they are going down faster than usual. She is not complaining, seems to be enjoying things, although maybe a touch of hypothermia when the mornings are 32F outside and 45F inside. This trip was an experiment to see if we could still do the old style roughing it camping we were used to or if we needed to upgrade to a hard shell RV with furnace, bathroom, and amenities.
Here we use the very nice bathroom and shower facility -- and with only one other camper in the park, no crowds. The other camper is one of those big pull behind ones that are more comfortable than your own home. 
We use an electric blanket and an electric space heater to keep the cold at bay -- although with single layer thin canvas walls heating the inside is not very successful in the mornings before the sun comes in. 
We got down here and realized we didn't have the step up into the camper. Trying to find one with a railing to make it easier than to take a run and jump in or hop out. 
The car parts places in town said "you need to go to an RV dealer" and point out they are an hour or more away, and we are limiting our travels right now. So I think a camper spare tire might work for the step for now. Probably should try to remove the rustly bolts holding it on today anyway.

With a beautiful Saturday morning, and deciding to actually stay at the park and enjoy the weather today, I decided it was time to really inspect the brakes close up. 
Melvin had complained he couldn't get the wheel lug nuts off with his air impact wrench, so I took off the right front wheel with my penetrating oil, 3/4 Craftsman socket with the 3-foot pipe extension. 
Came off easily. However I forgot my maul and couldn't budge the wheel to come loose from the hub. So left the lug nuts a little loose and told Margo to go out and drive around awhile making lots of turns (but not using the brakes) to see if the hub might break loose from driving it while I jacked up the camper and loosened the wheels nuts on it--just in case of a flat tire there. 
She balked -- no spirit of adventure, I guess. Having closely inspected the undercarriage, I made a firm decision not to drive it back home, not to get it fixed, but just rid ourselves of the car Aunt Lou (God rest her soul) bought cheaply almost new in 1992 because it was returned under the WI Lemon Law and the dealer was mostly unable to get the computer to behave consistently.
We bought it from her the summer of 2009 when she passed away and Margo was staying with her to help out -- Lou couldn't drive anymore and wanted to reward Margo. The Olds then was 18 years old and had 50,000 miles. Margo paid $500 for it and it gave us 7 years of a great ride and good service (after I replaced the computer with a newer version). It likely would continue doing well except for the need for a whole undercarriage transplant.
So, the plan is to push Wayne into getting the Torrent steering fixed (just the computer he says). We studied it some more close up and it is really clean and nice inside, outside and underneath and runs wonderfully except for steering like the M Farmall. Great tires, great ride, and the brakes work fine). Monday at 1 pm, we will find out what the GM dealer says -- a computer re-program is what the over-the-phone dealer diagnosis was after an hour of readouts and phone and tester device readouts. Not really a good sign when the computer runs amuck!!! 
The main problem down here is that southern Arkansas runs on a different schedule, sort of laid back with nothing much in a hurry. We have been here only a few days, and haven't accommodated ourselves yet -- between the stress of car problems that I completely cover up not to worry Margo, and our intentions to go a little more south, and the unwinding from the Farm schedule of everyday up at 5:30 to milk the cows and clean the barns and work on the buildings to a real retired folks schedule, it is our problem more than Wayne's. 
I reassembled the car and came in to get the computer and go back out and sip a mint julep under the shady Magnolia tree here on the banks of the Old Mississippi, while the penetrating oil does its job and before I swim across the bayou to borrow a maul from the cotton farmer working on his giant land leveler machine across the way.