Friday, October 21, 2016

Dana - Thomas House and Springfield

Let me start by saying having repairs done on Opus while on the road is the biggest frustration we have with our fulltiming lifestyle. When you are in a stix and brix you can use the same repair people all the time, but on the road you are at the mercy of people who know you will be hundreds of miles away soon after the work is done. This has resulted in more bad than good experiences and often means having the same problem recur, requiring more than one repair stop.  The AC is the latest example.  In July of last year the fan stopped working in the back AC. We had it replaced in North Carolina. Then in August while in Eastern PA both ACs stopped working.  A repairman changed a board and they worked until this August.  A mobile repairman in WashPA had no idea what was wrong so we made an appointment at Duncan, a repair service in Elkhart. We have used them in the past with positive results. So we left WashPA with two RV service stops scheduled, one in Michigan at Spartan for annual engine maintenance and inspection of the chassis and the other in Elkhart at Duncan for the AC and several other RV issues.  The inspection at Spartan found the suspension air bags on our 12 year old rig were showing wear and needed changed.  That was something we did not plan on, but not totally unexpected because Opus is getting old. After the work was done in Michigan we headed to Duncan with a list of items that needed worked on including the AC-heat pumps, broken toilet spring, batteries, broken dead-bolt door lock and bathroom exhaust fan. Most repairs went as expected, but as always there was a couple surprises; the cost of the dead-bolt and the fact a whole new toilet would cost only $20.00 more than the cost to repair the spring. The biggest surprise was we needed new batteries.  We had new AGMs installed three years ago and they were cooked. I think this goes back to an inverter problem we had a couple years ago. Another example of something not corrected the first time.  The biggest issue for us was the AC-heat pumps, and Steve at Duncan was shocked when he took the cover off the roof top unit and found loose wires. Turned out, the fix was to reattach the wires and replace a bad connection.  While all the repairs have lightened our wallet, it was not nearly as expensive as we had planned, so life is good!

After all that it was time to get back to what we love about our lifestyle, traveling America's highways and experiencing new things along the way. Our first stop was in Springfield, Illinois to tour the capitol and  to visit Frank Lloyd Wright's Dana-Thomas House. Here is the link to our earlier visit to Springfield when we visited the Lincoln sites. On that visit the Dana-Thomas House was closed and we had not yet put capitol tours on our to do list. 
You never know what you will see along the road. On the way to Springfield we got behind this huge windmill blade. Believe it or not, this truck was making the turn. We sure have seen a big increase in the number of windmills and when you see them you need to be aware of high winds while driving a high profile RV.
We went to Obed & Isaacs brew pub in Springfield where the food was very good and they have cans of fresh brews to go.  You pick the beer you want, they fill a quart can and then seal the pop top with this spinning machine.
I opted for the Isaacs IPA which I had the next evening at home. This is the first time we have seen the use of what they call a crawler. For me it is better than a growler that does not fit well into the RV fridge.
While at dinner one evening we met  Pam, one of the locals, and she told us that her sister and brother-in-law's diner, Charles Parker's, was not to be missed while in Springfield. So, of course, the next day we went for breakfast.  I had the "pony," the small version of the "shoe," a dish with toast, eggs, meat and potatoes in a pile all covered with gravy, cheese or both. It was very yummy.
A panoramic shot of Charlie Parker's. This unique place has been featured on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives and in addition to having great food and very cool 50's style interior, it is located in an old Quonset hut and definitely worth a visit.
We search out Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in our travels and the Dana-Thomas house is one of the best we have toured. In 1902 Susan Lawrence Dana gave Wright, who had just started his own architectural firm, a blank check commission to remodel her 2,000 square foot Victorian home. 
The end result was this 12,000 square foot, 35 room Prairie Style home with 3 main levels and 16 varying levels that was designed to be used for entertaining, as well as Susan's home. While this house was the 72nd designed by Wright, at $50,000 it was by far the most expensive at that point in his long career.
The entrance through the arched door was unusual for a Wright home where doors are usually placed around corners or hidden behind walls. Susan wanted a welcoming door, as she had guests for parties at least twice a week. The arch theme is carried on inside with an arched fireplace and a couple arched ceiling rooms. 
The dining room has a table that expands to seat up to forty guests. Notice the chair backs with every other one having a low back to make it easier for the servers to serve and clear the table. No interior photos are allowed. I was able to find these interior pictures on line.
This room, designed exclusively for entertaining, includes one of three band boxes in the house, this one located on the balcony. The tables were used to display Susan's art collection because Wright did not want art hung on the walls, as he considered his buildings works of art.
The library is an exact replica of the one that Susan's father built in the Springfield High School. She often opened it to local children who came for games, readings and to borrow her books.
The living room, like much of the house, has many windows.  While it was wired for electric lights in 1902, they were very low power and dim.  After living here for 24 years Susan sold the house to Charles C. Thomas in 1924. He used it as the headquarters for his medical publication business, but made sure the original furnishings were preserved. In 1981 he sold the house and all the furnishings to the state of Illinois for $1,000,000. An example of what a great deal it was is the lamp on the desk which was originally in the home but was later bought at auction for $750,000.
One theme throughout the house is the butterfly pattern. This light projected a butterfly on the wall and ceiling, a great example of the detail in Wright's buildings.
The other theme, sumac trees, is found in the wood and stained glass windows.  
The courtyard of the house is near the railroad tracks and Susan often had guests arrive by special train. While the house was very large and Susan entertained a great deal, she did not have overnight guest bedrooms and there was only one very small bathroom for guests.  
With so much of the original furnishings still in the home, this has to be one of the most important Wright homes that is open to the public. We had a nice time in Springfield and still have a blog post to write about our tour of the state capitol.

Since we are moving cross country I'm a bit behind with the blog. We are presently in Dodge City, KS and have a reservation for four days at the Ojo Caliente Spa in New Mexico early next week. We will then be going to the Good Life RV Park in Mesa and staying until the beginning of the year.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Michigan Capitol Building Tour

We have been in this part of Michigan several times for RV service but never toured the Michigan capitol. With this one we have now toured 21 capitols.
This building is Michigan's third capitol building.  Construction started in 1872 and the building was completed in 1878 at the cost of $1,427,738.78.  It was built in the Neoclassical style that includes both Greek and Roman architecture.
In the rotunda on the first floor is a display of replicas of battle flags carried by Michigan regiments during the Civil War.  The originals are now in the Michigan Historical Museum where they are being preserved.
Portrait of Gerald Ford, the only Michiganer to serve as president.  He is also the only person to become president without being elected as part of the presidential ticket.  He was appointed as vice president when Spiro Agnew was forced to resign and then became president when Richard Nixon resigned.  He lost his reelection bid to Jimmy Carter.
On the walls of the rotunda on the second and third floors is the Gallery of Governors.  Each governor pays for their portrait.  On the left is the most unusual Governor, John Swainson who at 35 was the youngest ever elected.  He deliberately had his painted with the unfinished look because at his young age he felt his career was unfinished.
There is only room for 14 portraits in the rotunda, so as new portraits are added the oldest one is moved to another location in the building.  Pictured right is Jennifer Granholm who was born in Canada and served as governor from 2003 to 2011. 
The dome is 160 feet above the floor of the rotunda.  The eight paintings depict the muses of Greek and Roman mythology and represent art, agriculture, law, science, justice, industry, commerce and education.  The dome and walls of the capitol have over nine acres of hand painted surfaces.  Until the renovation in the early 90's, most of the walls had been painted white covering the original works of art.  Today there is an artist on staff to touch up the beautiful paintings as needed. 
The floor of the rotunda is made with 976 pieces of 5/8 inch thick glass that is lit by lights from the ground floor.  It is designed to give the illusion of a bowl from above.
The House of Representatives has 110 members who are elected to two-year terms.  This is another wonderful example of the 1990's restoration. The walls of the chamber had been painted white, covering the original paint.  Great effort was made to insure the new colors where the same as the old.   All of the desks are original with new wiring for modern computers.
The ceilings of both the House and Senate chambers have etched glass panels.  In the House they are the state seals of all 50 states.  Before the restoration they had been pieces of wood painted white. 
The detail goes all the way to the door hinges and knobs which have the Michigan state seal that includes the state motto in Latin and translates to, "If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you."   Pictured in the background is the marble floor which contains many fossils.  We have seen this in other capitols.
The rostrum is for the presiding official who, in Michigan, is the lieutenant governor. Like the U.S. Senate they only vote if there is a tie. In both chambers the members are seated by party with Democrats on the left and Republicans on the right (how appropriate) facing the rostrum.
Since we were on a self guided tour we lucked out and were allowed on the rostrum to gavel in the session. You never know what you may get to do on these tours.
The Senate has 38 members who are elected to four-year terms. The desks in this chamber were also restored and the floor was raised to accommodate the wiring.   Each desk here has a large chair for the senator and a smaller one facing back for their secretary or assistant.
The old Supreme Court Chamber, now the meeting room for the Senate Appropriations Committee, has also been restored to its original grandeur.
There is only one statue on the grounds of a specific person. It is Austin Blair who was the Civil War Governor. Blair was very popular long after is term ended in 1864 and was a great hero until his death in 1894. Left is a catalpa tree that was growing on the grounds when the building was dedicated almost 130 years ago. This was one of the nicest capitols we have toured, especially since it has been restored to its original appearance.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

RV Projects -- Remove Diamond Shield -- Install new Microwave / Oven

During our time in WashPA I usually try to get at least one major RV project out of the way.  It can be anything from a very good waxing to replacing the old TVs. My plan this year was to remove the Diamond Shield from the front of Opus.  In addition, while we were in Vermont the old microwave convection oven died so I ended up with two big jobs this year.    
The front of the rig has looked pretty bad the last couple of years.  This is the result of nicks in the clear cover that allowed moisture to get between it and the paint.  The moisture turned to mold and as you can see it has been spreading. I did some research on the removal of the Diamond Shield protective cover and learned that in most cases the paint under it will still be in good shape.
Not knowing how long it would take I started on the bottom where it was the worst.  It was a very slow process pealing the cover off, but I was very happy to find the paint was in very good shape.
This was all I needed to do the job.  I ended up using the plastic scrapers to loosen an edge and then pulling it off with my fingers.  Sometimes it helped to heat it first with the hair dryer and sometimes it did not seem to matter.  On the first part the Goo Gone worked very well in removing the glue, spraying it on and then using the plastic razor blades to remove it.
This is a good before and after shot. It was a long slow process. To have this done professionally I had heard of people paying from $1,000 to $1,500. After doing it myself, I can tell you it was worth saving that much money, but I would not do it for someone else even if they offered me double that much. So don't even ask.
I found that using the Goof Off a couple times and scraping the residue off the the razor blade, then finishing with the Goo Gone wiping the last bit of glue with a rag worked the best. From my research I knew to remove the glue from each small area, maybe two square feet, as you went or the glue would harden in the sun and be more difficult to remove. 
After completing the lower worst part, I moved on to conquer the rest of it. That is when I started using the Goof Off because for some reason the Goo Gone was not doing the job on this part. 
The front hood was the only place where I had a problem with the paint peeling.  Fortunately, the worst peel was on the sides where it does not show.  The only peel that you can see is one small area on the red paint.  I think it was from a stone hitting it hard enough that the Diamond shield did not do the job.
 There were a few small nicks in the paint that even the Diamond Shield did not prevent. After each big area was done I waxed it with Meguiar's paste wax. That got the seal of approval from Nanc.  
The final section was the dark brown paint at the top.  I had read that it could be harder to remove the film on the darker colors and it proved to be true.  I was very happy that the paint did not peel in this area, an issue that some people have had with the darker colors.
When the whole front was done I gave it a good washing and put four or five coats of wax on it.  Overall, we are very happy with the results and I do not plan on replacing the Diamond Shield.  The worse problem will be bugs, so I will have to be diligent in removing them after each day of driving.
The next project was removing the old and installing the new GE Profile microwave convection oven.  I called Newmar to ask how it was installed and the information they gave me was wrong.  Go figure.  The old one was put on the back plate (shown here) but in the front they just put screws through the side of the oven cover, There was no board on top to hang it from or enough room to get the required bolts in if there had been one. Their original method would not work for the new oven.
One reason I do these kinds of jobs while we are in WashPA is I can call on my friend Tom who has the tools and the knowledge to help get the job done.  We had to removed the old back plate because, of course, it did not match the new oven.  
Other than that, the new oven was a great fit. Even the vent matched so no modifications were needed. 
 Since there was no board to bolt it to, we had to attach boards to the oven before putting it into place.  The back sits on the plate and screws through the board into the 2 X 4 and 2 X 6 support the front.
After one false start, it was not level front to back so we had to raise the back plate and then it was in the right place, good news.  Bad news, when we plugged it in and turned it on it did not work and it said "damper stuck service may be needed".
Service arrived on Monday, our last in WashPA, and the oven needed to be removed to be worked on.  We were not real happy with GE at this point, but Tim the repair guy was very good.
Here is our new microwave spread out on the floor.  Guess what?  Someone had failed to attach a wire that controls the damper which opens when using as a microwave and closes when using as a convection oven.  Tim attached it, heated a cup of water in the microwave and it worked just fine.
With the oven back in place and the fascia board attached this should be the end of the story, it's not.  On Saturday, our first day on the road, we were heating the convection oven to make a pizza when suddenly the smoke alarm went off followed quickly by the oven shutting down.  No oven, no fan, no clock, no light.  We quickly unplugged it and were relieved that it did not burst into flames. We called GE to tell them what happened and that we were traveling and would not be in one place for more than a few days until we get to Arizona. So when we arrive in Mesa we will have to schedule a service appointment.  I'm hoping they can fix it without removing it again, but I have my doubts.  

Oh, by the way, Nanc was quite busy during this time too.  She was cleaning the inside of the motorhome from top to bottom.  Slowly we are getting all the projects done.  Hopefully, the oven won't turn into a problem.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Our Last Week in WashPA

Our last week in WashPA was very busy, finishing our last medical tests, spending time with friends, eating at our favorite local places one last time and Nanc running the Great Race.  It seems like we are on the go constantly when we are here and have talked about staying a little longer, so maybe the future will hold some changes for us.
Anytime we are here at the end of September Nanc tries to run the Great Race.  It is one of the largest 10K runs in the country with well over 9,000 racers.  They also have a 5K that draws close to 15,000, so it is a big deal.  As you can see for some people it is all about having fun.
Nanc as she sprints to the finish line.  Her goal was to finish the 6.2 miles in under an hour and was happy with her 58:18 time and pace of 9:23 a mile.  This was a bit slower than last year but still good enough for fifth place out of the 23 women in her age group, (people who are eligible for Medicare).  
She had a support group at the finish: Rick, Tom, Georgie and me.  She does not even look winded.
Of course while she was running, Tom, Georgie and I went to Pamela's for her world famous pancakes.  They are the best and always on my to do list when we are in the Burgh.  They are so great that Obama invited her to the White House to make them the first day he was president.
After the race we were invited to John's for some of his wonderful wood fired pizza.  I don't know who enjoys this the most, John doing the cooking or the friends who get to eat his wonderful creations.
He had several people over for the pizza and to watch the Steelers game.  On this Sunday the pizza was way, way better than the Steelers.  In one of those small world happenings, one of the couples who was there visiting from Indiana had been neighbors of Denny and Sue Orr who we know from their work with Escapees.
John even cooked wings with onions, a creation from Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza that he has mastered.  Like I said, the man loves to cook and we reap the benefits.
One of his pizzas.  The wood fire heats the oven to over 700 degrees and the pizza cooks in about three minutes.  We are already looking forward to more pizza next summer.
On another day Rosemary invited us to her new place for lunch.  She is also an incredible cook and she prepared for us a delicious Seafood Linguine.  She has had a really tough year losing both her husband, Pete and her nineteen year old grandson, Luke to cancer.  She is an amazingly resilient woman and it was great seeing her and getting caught up with all that has been happening with her, her many family members and friends. 
On Tuesday evening we went to Al'an Rubens with our old euchre club and got to listen to some music, always one of our favorite things to do.  These two had a great variety of tunes.
After dinner we went to Tim and Di's to play euchre.  Here are Sherri, Georgie, Di, Tom and Mike.......
......along with Tim, Bentley, Nanc and Mary Lou.  I'm happy to report that the person not pictured was the big winner for the evening coming in first and collecting a whopping $9.00 in winnings.  The old euchre club is another of those things we really miss when we are on the road.
Wednesday we attended our last lunch bunch gathering at Open, a new to us place and loved the food.  Here are Jim, Nanc, Reggie, Bill, Jackie, Becky, John, Linda, Ron, Dave, Gail, Pat, Joy and Charlie.  They must have known we were old teachers because they put us in the corner where we could be as loud as we pleased, and we were.  It is always great seeing this bunch.
One last visit to Al'an Rubens to hear Josh on sax and Dan on guitar who are former students.  We love their music and hearing them is high on our Wednesday evening to do list when we are in WashPA.
Nanc, Jim, Georgie and Tom at the Back Porch to celebrate Tom's birthday.  This has become a tradition for us near the end of every stay here.

We had a great two months stay and loved seeing so many friends and family.  While it is a very busy time squeezing so many things in to two months, we always have fun when we are back in WashPA.

As I write we are at Spartan Chassis in Michigan for annual service and to repair a couple of problems they discovered during their inspection.  Having a twelve year old motorhome means things are going to wear out and need fixed, but it is still a lot less expensive than buying a new one.  Good news is we should be getting better gas mileage as our wallets will be lighter.