The T2

I take delivery of a newer, smaller truck camper.

Regular readers might remember that I spent this past winter in Arizona and California, doing my best to avoid the dark and dreary winters of north central Washington state where I normally live. I had sold my big fifth wheel camper, the Mobile Mansion late in the summer of 2016 after purchasing my first truck camper, the Turtleback. I took the Turtleback south just before Thanksgiving and spent the winter living in a friend’s guest house, camping on mostly BLM land with friends, and traveling around Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, and California.

The Turtleback was pretty deluxe. It had basically every single feature you can cram into a truck camper, including a slide to give me lots of space. It was huge for what it was and although it was comfortable, it was also heavy. I decided, on my trip south, that I’d keep an eye out for a replacement and, if I found one, I’d trade it in. I wanted something slightly smaller — certainly without the slide, which I didn’t need — and perhaps a little newer. (The Turtleback, although in near new condition, was a 2005 model.)

Finding a Replacement for the Turtleback

The standard 2007 Lance 950 floorpan.

I found the Turtleback’s replacement on the last day of my trip. I stopped by the Lance dealer in Yakima to see what they had among the used truck campers. They only had one — and it was one of the ones I’d seen there on my way south.

Camper Kitchen
The kitchen is compact but the sink is bigger and the propane stove includes an oven so I can bake without running a generator.

Food prep area
The “food prep” area is beside the 6 cubic foot refrigerator with separate freezer.

It was the same physical size as the Turtleback, but 400 pounds lighter, mostly because it didn’t have a slide. It had an oven and a microwave — the Turtleback had a convection microwave so I needed power to bake — and a lot more interior storage space, including cabinets over the dining area and a much larger pantry. And although the kitchen area was just as tiny as the Turtleback’s it did have a “food prep” area beside the refrigerator.

It had two 5-gallon propane tanks instead of two 7-gallon ones; that was actually good for me because the 7-gallon tanks are wicked heavy when full and tough for me to lift into place. It even had the sunroof over the sleeping area, which I’d grown to love.

T2 Overview
The view from the dining area.

The only weird thing: it had two narrow twin beds instead of a standard queen bed. The mattresses could be zipped together to make a queen bed if I wanted one. But the setup actually added more functionality — I could travel with someone I didn’t want to sleep with without turning the dining area into a bed.

It has two twin beds with a moveable night table between them. The mattresses zip together to make a queen bed if I find the perfect travel companion. Until then, I’ll likely leave them like this.

Dining AreaBecause the dining area isn’t on a slide, there’s storage overhead. That cabinet actually folds down to be used as a bunk for kids or a huge storage shelf. (And yes, I already hung my solar Chinese lanterns.)

It didn’t have a generator or solar panel, but I have a 2KW Honda generator I bought years ago and the portable solar panel I’d bought in Quartzsite in January. And instead of a satellite dish, which was useless to me because I don’t subscribe to satellite or cable TV, it had a regular RV TV antenna.

The bathroom was about the same microscopic size. Maybe an inch bigger.

And although it was a 2007 model, it was in very good condition.

In all, it was pretty much exactly what I was looking for. Smaller, lighter, and better designed.

For some reason — probably the beds — it wasn’t selling. Since their lot was crammed with new units, they were eager to get rid of it. They offered me a deal I couldn’t refuse. The only drawback was that the trade-in deal they offered absolutely sucked. I knew I could get a lot more for the Turtleback if I sold it on my own. They kindly offered to hold it for two months with a $500 deposit. I gave them a check and went home.

Selling the Turtleback

It took a week or two to clean out the Turtleback and get it ready for sale. Since my garage was still full of boats, I parked it near my shed. I put an ad on Craig’s List. The calls started coming almost immediately. The only problem was, folks were calling from Montana, Idaho, and the Olympic Peninsula — 5 or more hours away. I honestly don’t know why they bothered if they didn’t intend to come take a look. I certainly wasn’t about to deliver.

One guy told me he’d take it sight unseen. He’d come on Monday. By Sunday, however, he’d changed his mind. His wife had talked him into looking for a pull trailer.

A few days went by I still had more than a month to sell it, but when the calls suddenly stopped coming, I started getting worried. But then another call came. I answered questions. He was definitely interested but would be coming from the west side near Seattle. A few more phone calls and he and his wife arrived.

I showed them everything. They asked lots of questions. They tried everything — including the air conditioner, which wasn’t easy to get going when the outside temperatures were around 50°F. They talked it over in private. They offered $2K less than I was asking. I told them I really needed more and countered for $1K higher. They handed me a stack of $100 bills that had already been counted. I recounted them and it was right.

A while later, they drove away with the Turtleback on the back of their pickup. They’d gotten a good deal. I’d gotten $1,000 more for the Turtleback than I needed for its replacement — and $5,000 more than the trade-in offer had been for.

Picking Up Turtleback 2

Although I still had a whole month to get the new camper, I was eager to take possession. Cherry season would start soon and I was hoping to take it on a shakedown trip before I was stuck here. (I can’t travel during cherry season because I’m on standby for work.)

I scheduled a date to pick it up and drove down to Yakima to get it. I wound up spending about three hours, mostly chatting with the two brothers that own the place while their guys put the camper on my truck, inflated the air bags on my truck’s back end to level it, and strapped it down. Then I got the unit tour, which included an overview of everything on the camper. When I voiced disappointment that the TV/DVD player was AC rather than DC, the younger brother, Mike, gave me a 375 watt inverter. (Since the TV only draws 38 watts, I’ve since replaced it with a fanless 100 watt inverter.) So yes, I can still watch movies when I’m off-the-grid.

It felt the same as the Turtleback on the way home, although the brochure says the center of gravity is three inches higher.

Of course, I needed a name for it. Since it was my second Turtleback camper, I called it Turtleback 2 or just T2.

Plans for T2

It was parked in my driveway for about a week. Some overnight guests camped out in there. It was nice to have a place to put them.

I finally put it away in the garage yesterday. I’d planned on going on a trip down to Palouse Falls, but other things popped up on my calendar and it made sense to put it away rather than leave it out in the sun.

I’ll be using it in about 10 days on a Puget Sound Mycological Society weekend-long field trip to Silver Falls. Then maybe again on Memorial Day weekend. And likely the first weekend in June for another mushroom hunting field trip before cherry season starts.

Last summer, the Turtleback was a home for three different pilots who worked for me in Quincy. Although I don’t think I’ll need it for that duty this summer, it will be available.

And there’s a slight chance I’ll get a contract job in the Yakima area in September; if I do, I’ll stay down there in the T2.

Of course, I’ll be taking it south with me again next winter. And this time, I’ll bring along my boat.

More about the Wind Machines

A few new videos.

Back in April 2015, I blogged about the wind machines commonly used for frost control in the Wenatchee Valley. Resembling tall fans, different versions of these machines can be found in agricultural areas throughout the west wherever frost — especially early spring frost — is an issue. Around here, they’re often in low areas subject to thermal inversions.

Wind Machine
The wind machines that were running this morning. That’s the Mission Ridge Ski resort in the background. Photo shot with my Mavic Pro.

The machines are fans that generate wind. The blades spin fast — faster than you might think watching the video below — to circulate the air. The fan heads rotate to constantly change the direction of the wind. The net result is that the air is circulated, bringing warm air from above down into the crops.

In the almond orchards of California, they use helicopters to do this. I think it’s because the orchards are so big that they simply can’t install and maintain as many wind machines as they need. The helicopters are likely a lot cheaper in the long run, especially when you have a few years in a row when they’re not needed. I’ve been on frost control contracts for the past five winters now and have yet to turn a rotor blade over an almond tree. (Global climate change?)

This winter was particularly long, setting the tree fruit back two to four weeks. The cherry trees are still blooming around here; last year, the cherries were already beginning to redden in the orchards closest to my home. Nighttime temperatures at my home have been in the low 40s. But in the orchards below me, pockets of colder air form. And this morning, they got cold enough to trigger the temperature-set auto start feature on the wind machines in the closest orchards.

I don’t know exactly when they started. I was up at 4:30, reading before getting out of bed, and I didn’t hear them. But by the time I made my coffee at 5 AM, I could hear them faintly through the walls and windows of my my home. I stepped out on the deck for a better look in the predawn light. The sound was louder and I could see two of the machines to the west spinning. My ears told me that one to the northeast, which I can only see from a handful of spots on my deck, was also spinning.

Here’s the zoomed in video I shot with my phone. When I shut up, you can hear the wind machines.

I did a Periscope — that’s a live Twitter video — of the wind machines. A handful of people tuned in and I answered questions as they came up. I was frustrated that I couldn’t zoom in. I signed off, used the video feature on my phone to capture a short zoomed-in clip, and posted it on Twitter. Then the sun rose and the light got good and I did another Periscope that was mostly to show off how beautiful the area was. The wind machines droned in the background of my voice as I described various things and answered questions.

I went inside, washed some pots from cheesemaking, and listened to the radio. I could hear the wind machines faintly through the walls and windows. I was sort of bummed out that I couldn’t give people a better view.

And then I remembered my Mavic Pro.

It took only two or three minutes to set it up. I launched it from my deck, got the video camera going, and sent it to the wind machines, stopping before it got so close that the wind could affect it. The light was beautiful and the image the Mavic sent back to me was clear. I hovered for a while to capture a good clip and then flew around a little, just taking in the view with the camera running. I stopped the video camera, took some stills, and then flew home for some more video of my home and the area around it.

Back inside, I made a fresh cup of coffee and spent a few minutes editing the video and setting it to music. It’s unfortunate that the Mavic doesn’t capture sound, but I understand why: it would be capturing its own buzzing sound, which isn’t pleasant. So music will have to do.

A side note here: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much I like living here. I realized — and I think I mentioned in one of those Periscope videos — that I like it here more than anywhere else I’ve lived. I’m not sure if it’s because of the place itself or the fact that I have a home with an amazing view built to exactly meet my needs or because after a stifling relationship that went on a lot longer than it should have I finally have the freedom to do what I want to do with my life and time.

Whatever the reason, I just want to remind readers that we all have just one life and it will eventually end. Don’t waste it stuck in a rut or in a place you’re not happy.

My Flying M Nightshirt

A bittersweet story.

It’s true: I have a nightshirt with a Flying M logo on it. But there’s a story behind it and I thought I’d take a moment to tell it.

It all started back when I made a visit to my family back in New Jersey. It had to be in the early 2000s, but certainly after I got my first helicopter, an R22. This was back in the days when my mother’s brother’s family was still on good terms with all of us. It may have been when my grandmother was still alive or not long after her death in 2001 or 2002. (I don’t remember death dates; I see no reason to.)

My Uncle Frankie and Aunt Julie lived in Bergenfield, NJ in a typical suburban home on a narrow street. My uncle, who had been in the army during the Korean War, based in Alaska, had worked in a print shop before getting certified as a 100% disabled vet due to a back injury he’d suffered while in the Army. His wife was a typical old-school Italian homemaker. In fact, their household was very Italian in the New York kind of way, despite the fact their families had been in America since at least the 1920s.

They had two kids, Ernest (named after my grandfather) and Madelyn (named after my mother), who were a little younger than me and my sister. Ernest had been in the Marines right out of high school, married someone he’d met when he was in boot camp, had two sons, got divorced, left in the middle of his second tour of duty, and promptly got into serious trouble with the law. Madelyn married and had two daughters.

My Aunt Julie and her daughter Madelyn never really liked me or my sister. Simply said, our grandmother favored us over my aunt’s kids and she did a pretty poor job hiding it. I’m sure everyone has family dynamics like this and they always cause jealousies. My aunt and cousin were jealous of us and there was nothing we could do to head it off. They manifested their jealousies by talking down to us, criticizing us, and ridiculing us whenever they could. We dealt with it. They were family and although we didn’t like it much, we let it slide like water off a duck’s back.

We — I think I can speak for my sister, too — really loved our uncle, who was loud and outrageous and a lot of fun. I remember him staging a mock fight with my cousin Ernest on a visit I made with my first boyfriend back when I was about 18. Ernest had gone down into the basement and my uncle was yelling at him from the door in the kitchen at the top of the stairs. Then he pulled out a gun and fired a round down the stairs. It really freaked out my boyfriend, but the rest of us just laughed and laughed. The gun was filled with blanks.

But because of the friction from my aunt — which got worse and worse as time went on — I didn’t visit often.

We did visit one day in 2001 or 2002 and sat around the kitchen table for a nice Italian meal. My aunt was a good cook, although in later years she was a bit heavy on the spices. (The Italian word agita comes to mind.) She made a great eggplant parmesan, which might be one of the reasons it’s my favorite Italian dish. Making a good Italian eggplant parmesan is a lot of work, but if you want to taste one that’s just like my aunt’s (or mine), try Michael Angelo’s in the supermarket freezer section. I’ve tried a lot of eggplant and this is, by far, the best.)

Flying M LogoThe Flying M logo includes both of my initials. Cool, no?

I was likely wearing one of the Flying M logo shirts I’d had made. The logo was designed by Gary-Paul Prince, based on a idea my wasband had come up with that incorporated my first initial in the design of a helicopter. Gary-Paul had managed to get both initials in. Back in those days, I was near the height of my writing career and had a lot of money to burn so I’d had the logo embroidered on a bunch of henley t-shirts, which I really liked to wear. My uncle liked the shirt and asked me for one.

Now at the time, my uncle probably weighed in at 350 pounds — at least. I obviously didn’t have a shirt at home that would fit him. So I told him I’d have one made and send it to him.

I got back to Arizona (where I lived at the time) and had another batch of shirts made. I made sure the embroidery people included one sized 3XL, which I was pretty sure would fit my uncle. After a week or two, I picked up the shirts, which came in a plastic shopping bag. I likely set it down near the door to my home and it likely sat there for a few weeks — I’m terrible about putting things away.

And then I forgot about them. For years.

You see, back then I had a cleaning lady who came every two weeks. She had apparently seen the bag near the door and decided it was better off about six feet north, on the other side of the door to the garage. She’d moved the bag into the garage where it was quickly hidden under other things that wound up in the garage. Out of sight, out of mind. I completely forgot about the shirts.

Time went on. My uncle died. I went to his funeral. It was the last time I saw my aunt and cousins. My aunt died a year or two later but I didn’t go to her funeral. I don’t think she would have wanted to see me anyway. I think my sister has been in touch with Ernest, but I haven’t communicated with either of my cousins since my aunt died.

Flying M Nightshirt
My Flying M nightshirt, now starting to show its age.

One day I was looking through a pile of stuff in the garage and came across a grocery bag with its handles tied tightly around something soft. I opened it up and found the shirts — including the gigantic heather gray one I’d had made for my uncle. I knew immediately what had happened.

I don’t throw away anything that has a use. Since I didn’t know any 3XL sized people, I decided to put the shirt into use as a nightshirt. It was comfortable and soft and very loose fitting.

And it’s still in my nightshirt rotation to this day.

The fabric is thinning and it isn’t quite as soft after so many trips through the laundry. The embroidered logo is puckered and there are tiny holes starting to form here and there in the cotton t-shirt fabric. I suspect that one of these days, I’ll have to throw it away.

But until then, it’s a reminder of my Uncle Frankie and some crazy good old days with family in New Jersey.