Sunday, July 5, 2015

June 11 - 20, 2015 - Our trip home from Kansas

The circus came to town before we headed home from Kansas.  Scott had never been to one so we thought it would be fun to take him.  Except for when the people rode the motorcycles inside the steel ball he wasn't real impressed with the main show.  He did like the cotton candy and managed to talk us into buying him a plastic sword from a vendor.  He had the most fun on the rides outside the big tent.  So, lesson learned for next time is use the money for admission on rides instead!

Scott loves trains and rode this one several times.

The elephant ride was his favorite though but at $5.00 per passenger for each ride we decided once was enough.

We get tired of driving like mad to get to our destination and then driving like mad again to get home so this time we decided to take our time and see some sites on the way home. We've also thought about riding bicycles across the country and took one of the routes we were looking at to see if it was feasible for bicycling.

We kind of followed the Oregon Trail through Nebraska and most of the parks had sod houses on display.  While sod would make a good insulator from the heat and cold and good protection from the wind none of them appealed to us as a permanent shelter.  All were dark and smelly and since there'd been a lot of rain they all had water inside as well.  Perhaps if someone was actually living in them things might have been different but we'll wait for someone else to check that out for us.

This monument points out Windlass Hill.  This was a steep portion of the Oregon Trail where people had to take some special precautions to descend it.  Historians question whether wagons were let down by windlasses yet there was no doubt that the path down was steep and treacherous.  The brakes on those old wagons left a lot to be desired and the steel rimmed wheels were prone to sliding.  In many cases the pioneers would tie the wheels with ropes so that they couldn't turn or wedge poles inside the spokes to accomplish the same thing.  Also wagons could be emptied of part of their load to lighten them and make them easier to control.  In any case, there are no windlass "remains" in the area to corroborate the hills title.  (But that doesn't prove it didn't happen either!)

This marker was near the top of the  hill.

This is Chimney Rock in Nebraska.  It was one of the markers people looked for on the Oregon Trail.  Once they saw it they'd still need a day or two to get there by wagon.

This had my heart beating fast!  It's part of the largest tractor/farm implement salvage yard I've ever seen.  Acres and acres and acres of old tractors and machinery!

We spent one night in a Forest Service Campground in Nebraska.  To the left of the photo there was a swing and a teeter-totter for Scott to play on.  There were only a couple of people at the campground so we had lots of privacy.

This was one of my favorite stops in Nebraska.  We were disappointed at many stops because after paying admission prices, the quality or quantity of whatever they were showing was very low.  This outfit was a very nice exception.  There's a lot to see inside and outside and it's worth the time it takes to stop and every cent of the admission charged.  They have a website at; where you can get more information but if you're interested in the fur trade era and are in that part of the state (Chadron, Nebraska) stop in to look around.

One of our stops was at the Fort Robinson State Park in Nebraska.  You have to buy a $5.00 pass to get into the park but to our disappointment you still had to pay for most everything else you did there (except walk).  We didn't mind paying for the stagecoach ride or the trail rides but even the "museum" charged a fee to go inside.  Probably or dismay was more cumulative than just being at this park.  Everywhere we stopped they charged extra fees for nearly everything they offered.  At one national monument they wanted $3.00 each to view their "museum" which was about three exhibits.  We declined.  At another place we had driven by several times in our travels and always desired to stop it would have cost us over $30.00 to see the museum.  We passed on that one too.

This was our first stagecoach ride.  Roomy and smooth it is not!  It was fun though.  Scott took this photo of Susan and I.

Scott had a blast and alternated with his head out one window then the next.  We crossed a couple of small streams which he really liked.  After all the problems we'd had with the car in Kansas we asked the driver if we could hire him to take us on to Montana in his stagecoach.  He said he was available if the money was right.  We almost made him an offer!

These are some of the old barracks and buildings at the fort.

Now we're at Toadstool Geologic Area.  We inadvertently set our tent up in a small depression in the grass.  That night we had one of the most impressive thunderstorms I've ever seen (and I'm from Kansas and I've seen a lot of thunderstorms!).  It rained hard for hours.  At one point in the night when the rain slacked off for a couple of minutes Susan looked out and our tent was standing in a puddle of water about two inches deep.  We were still dry inside which is a real testimonial to the quality of the tent.  We just purchased this tent on the way out of Nevada at the Sportsman's Warehouse in Las Vegas.  It was over $200.00 with the sales tax but so far it's been a great tent.  

In the evening before the thunderstorm we barbecued some corn and pork chops.  We had a couple of the pork chops and the corn for dinner then wrapped up and stored the other pork chops in the cooler.  We eat them while on the road to avoid going to restaurants.  It saves a bunch of money while travelling and they are good even cold.

The morning after the storm. We didn't think too much about it on the way in but the "graveled" road we drove in on was now mostly clayish mud.  We were glad to have four-wheel-drive on the Expedition.  In some places you could see where the water had been over the top wire of the rancher's fences.  One place was so deep in mud that we almost dragged the bottom of the Expedition while going through it.  (In 4WD Low the air suspension raises the vehicle an extra four inches for better ground clearance.) We met some road workers coming in as we were going out.  One had a grader and the other was driving a backhoe.  We had just come through the place we believe they were heading!

We spent a couple of days at Rapid City.  This is a dinosaur park Scott liked.  We went there the evening we arrived in town and again the next day before we hit the road again.

At Storybook Island in Rapid City, SD.  Another favorite stop of Scott's!  They have a bunch of things for kids to play on.  All of them have Disney character themes.  You'd have to go to Susan's Facebook page at: for more photos.  (June 18, 2015)

Then we went to Ellsworth AFB in Rapid City, SD.  Another place Scott loved.  They have a bunch of planes on display outside and more stuff inside.  Here Scott is trying out a trainer used by the AF before they'll give the fledgling pilots a real plane to fly.

We couldn't resist getting him this model of the space shuttle and the bomber's jacket.  Naturally we got it in a slightly larger size so he would still fit in it when winter arrives.

We started getting homesick and cut our trip short.  We stopped at Devil's Tower and spent the morning there.  Our advice is to get there early in the day.  There was no line and parking was easy to find when we arrived but a couple of hours later when we left there was almost no parking left and when we went past the gate there were cars lined up for a half-mile.

Home again and the grass did a fine job growing while we were gone.  The work begins!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

1-10 June, 2015 Big lawns, vehicle repairs, playgrounds and more...

We are still in Kansas and still keeping busy.  After my stepfather died I stayed here to help my mother go through his stuff and sort it out for an auction to be held this fall.  He was a journeyman electrician and a jack of all other trades.  They had several rental properties at one time and he  was always willing to lend a hand anywhere it was needed.  On top of that he was somewhat of a scrounger and never threw anything away. It appears he also changed out the lock sets on several apartment buildings since he had several boxes of used lock sets.  If he'd have been a good organizer the "after" part would have been a breeze.  But he wasn't a good organizer and that's why my mother needed the help.  He had stacks of plumbing and electrical supplies (new and used) for those times when he needed parts.  He also had a layer of small fasteners in almost every box he used for storage.  On top of that he had a good supply of tools for automotive, electrical, plumbing and general home repairs scattered about in boxes, crates, tables and floors.  It took about three days to just get the stuff sorted out in major categories (tools, plumbing and electrical) and I still have hours of work left to sort the tools out even more.  When I come back prior to the auction I plan on sorting out the electrical and plumbing supplies into more refined categories.  There are also some shop tools like a bandsaw, drill press, electric jig saw, and more) in new condition (boxes never opened). Anyway, it should make a great auction this fall for anyone who is handy with tools.

In the "tween times" we did some mowing over at my sister's house.  She has seven acres with about two of them in yard space.  She has two riding mowers and one walking mower.  Susan and I took turns on one of the riders.

It's been a rainy spring so when the grass finally dried enough to mow there were people everywhere cutting grass.  Here Susan is mowing the back yard after I did the front yard.  I'm finished mowing for the rest of my life.  It took a couple of days to recover from the asthma problems associated with mowing!  I had the same problem last year at home after returning from our spring journey across the US.  That time I nearly ended up in the hospital.

Scott used the time to try out some new toys he doesn't have at home.

This is one of his favorite cousins.

He alternated with his glove on both left and right hands but usually threw the ball with his left hand.

Susan took Scott to an event at the library and nearly froze in the air-conditioning.  I rode down with a jacket after finishing up tool sorting for the day.  My mother is an early riser and we usually sorted stuff in the basement from about 6:15 to noon.

Scott was a perpetual motion machine outside, making probably a hundred laps back and forth on the brick retaining wall!

The train at the park opened up the first week in June so Scott was there to help them start the season.  That's his great-grandma (my mother) seated behind him.

Emporia, Kansas is a city rich in parks.  I'd be willing to bet that they have more parks per-capita than 90 percent of the cities in the US.  Scott does his best to hit them all every time we come!

When we need internet access we usually end up at either McDonalds or Hardees for their free wifi.  Here Scott watches a movie on his tablet while Susan and I work on blogs at Hardees.

When my mother got out her riding mower it had a flat tire that wouldn't hold air.  I took the tube out and checked for leaks.

It was torn at the base of the valve stem.  this type of damage is usually due to driving it with the tire flat.  The tire slips on the rim and tears the rubber around the base of the valve stem.

Our vehicle saga isn't over yet.  I replaced the left front wheel bearing assembly because it was making noise.  After replacing it it was still making the same noise.  So I swapped it with the right front wheel bearing assembly.

After getting the bearing out I noticed it had evidence of rust in the bearings.  I hoped that would take care of the noise but it didn't.

We took it out again and I drove it hard.  I was going to be sure the bad part was going to be "findable" by the time I stopped.  It took us a while (thought we were going to need a tow truck to get back to base!) even then to determine that the noise was coming from the left rear wheel and not from a front wheel.  So we bought a new rear bearing assembly and I put it in.  When I took the old one out it was obviously bad so I put the new one in and the noise was eliminated.  To be fair I found evidence that the right front bearing assembly was going bad when I took it apart too (evidence of rust in the bearings)and the wire for the ABS sensor had rubbed through the insulation and was grounding against the frame.  So, in the last three weeks we've had $250 in brakes and $450 in bearings and another $20 for a 36 mm axle nut socket plus $340 in property taxes (6 months) and a $250 penalty from the IRS for a form I didn't get filed on time and a 25 dollar filing fee for an annual report due the state of Montana and about $700 in gasoline for our round trip from MT to KS.  Then there was the $400 for my new bicycle! It's been an expensive month!  I'm glad they aren't all like that.  

Anyway, the Expedition is good to go again and we'll be heading back to Montana soon.  But we are taking our time going home and seeing some sights along the way!  If the Expedition gives us any more grief I will junk it out and we'll ride bicycles the rest of the way home.  Should take us about a month but we have nothing pressing on the schedule anyway.

Scott kind of wore himself out for the day and drifted off to sleep while wearing a shopping bag for a hat.

A toy fire engine at one of the parks.

Our time here is almost over.  We'll be back for the auction this fall and bring the U-Haul camper that time so we can stay with the comforts of home before heading south for the winter.  It'll be nice to escape the heat and humidity.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

May 13-31, 2015 Back to Montana then on the road to Kansas.

Got a friend of mine that's recently put up his own blog at:  With lots of informative articles it's definitely worth reading so give it a try.

One of the first things done when we got home was to change the angle on the solar panels to their
summer position.  Because the sun is lower on the horizon in winter we set the panels almost vertical. (It also helps the snow to slide off.)  By the time we return in the spring it's time to reset them to the summer position to get the most benefit from the angle of the summer sun.

All it involves it removing two small bolts then re-positioning them and the brace in the upper holes in the frame.

The battery was low on the pickup so I hooked up our portable battery charger (our 65 watt solar panel).

It was having issues last fall so when I parked it I knew I'd have some work to do this spring.  Turns out the alternator's voltage regulator went bad and burned out the fusible link.  I replaced the fusible link with a 50 amp breaker but have not replaced the regulator yet.  That will have to wait for our return.

We have several stumps that need removal in the yard so I thought I'd take some photos of how we do it.  This one has about a 14 inch base.  It's been dead for several years now.  the first thing I did was dig out around the base a little bit.

I then anchored one end of the chain to another stump about ten feet away.  I need to remove this one too so at this point I don't care if it holds or not.

I hooked the chains to my 4-ton rated come-along.

As I applied tension my "anchor" stump gave up first.  That didn't really bother me since it had to come up anyway.  

My new anchor was a live tree a little farther away.  I placed some 2X4's around the base then fastened the chain around them.  That's to protect the tree from the anchor chain.  

The first stump finally gave way.  Now I have a couple of more holes to fill in.

Our old chicken run needed to come out too.  Later in the summer the grass would have grown through the wire and made it nearly impossible to pull the wire up and away from the ground.

I rolled up the old wire sections and threw them on the burn pile. Once the dead grass is burned away I can flatten it and haul it to the dump.

Scott's Power Ranger costume came in finally and he was one happy little boy.  We ordered a size 4 and they sent one for years 8-12.  He is still happy with it though so I guess we'll keep it.

We are doing some major spring cleaning around here.  This is the front corner of the Shack where we store extra stuff.  The more you have the more cluttered it gets and this is pretty bad..

A couple of hours of work is shown here.  I bunch of stuff is in the trash pile outside the shack and a trailer load is waiting fr a trip to the Salvation Army donation box..

My daughter and SIL needed a new clutch put in their pickup so I made a trip down to Kalispell.

All the pieces removed and the flywheel needs to be machined.

Since it was late int eh afternoon that meant another trip to Kalispell the next day.  While I was working on it the next day my mother called to tell me that my stepfather had died after losing his battle to cancer.  So ... it's off to Kansas we go.

It was Susan's birthday so we stoppd for a quick birthday party on the way through Kalispell.  This is Scott's dad with his son (Scott's little brother).

One of Scott's uncles.

A couple of hours later we are on the road to Kansas again.  Scott is "reading" a Spiderman comic book."

A few miles outside of Kalispell on Hwy. 93.

Still in Montana!

In Montana still!!!! 

When we stopped at a rest area Scott just kind of exploded out of the car.  Here he's playing a game of Hide and Seek with me.

Nebraska had some problems with excessive surface water.

We drove the last 150 miles with horrible noises emanating from the front of the Expedition.  I initially thought it was a wheel bearing then thought it was brakes.  It needed new front brakes anyway so I put a set of brake pads, both new rotors, and the left front brake line on then tried driving it.  The noise was still there. I then replaced the left front wheel bearing/hub assembly.  At $200.00 for the bearing assembly and about $250.00 in brake parts the arrival in Kansas was kind of expensive.  The problem is that I still have the noise and am hampered on properly diagnosing it due to not having a good place to work.  Oh well.  I'll get back on it tomorrow.  

The funeral went well with a large crowd present.  My stepfather was pretty well known.  He was a good man in a world where good men are in short supply.  He will be missed.

New rotor, brake line and brake pads on the left side ...

New pads and rotor on the right side.  The brake line was replaced last summer.

It hasn't been all work since our arrival.  Here we tied the bikes off across from the entrance to the 
Emporia zoo.

While Scott likes seeing the animals he also likes playing on some of the playground equipment.  The spider web is one of his favorites.

We also went to the Oak Park Mall on Sunday Afternoon.  They have an indoor carousel that the kids and adult can ride.  He alternated between the carousel and the play area next to it.  The play area has plastic cars the kids can climb on and lots of kids.  He played for a couple of hours until the mall closed then we went over to McDonalds and he played in the playland for another hour.  

This is at the Sonic drive-in in Emporia after a week of rain.

Obviously the kids were having a blast.  We didn't bring any extra clothes for Scott so Susan rode her bike over to the Dollar General store a couple of blocks over and bought him some dry clothing to wear.

One of our major purchases was a new bicycle for me.  My old mountain bike was left in Nevada along with hers.  We're getting tired of packing so much to head south each fall so we left our bicycles there.  She had another one in MT but I didn't so we were going to buy me a new bike when we got back to MT.  Since we never had a chance in MT we decided to get one here in Kansas.  We've been giving it a good workout around town but I can't wait to put some serious miles on it soon.