This is always the hardest part of any remodel I think. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is traditional home based or a home on wheels. At some point in the process, there is a period of time where you are just waiting. You fill your hands with busy work that needs to be done but honestly you are pretty much just waiting.
We cannot move forward until the chassis repairs are made. We have had trouble finding a welder. Turns out, this area is a bit old fashioned about welding and no-one would respond to my calls all last week. Over the weekend, I told Daniel that he would need to call since I wasn’t getting anywhere. It was probably a combination of luck and timing that he made one call and was able to immediately speak to a mobile welder (I sent him the number) who will be coming out later this week. Arg. I am very glad we finally have someone coming out to take a look at the job but so very frustrated that it took Daniel to get someone out here. Regardless, the important fact is we will be able to move forward.
During this slow period Daniel has been treating the steel with rust reformer. We didn’t have any terrible rust but a significant enough amount that we wanted to treat it. With the entire undercarriage protected against water, salt, and grime, our home will last that much longer. Xander and I have been spending time scraping off the old butylated rubber from around the windows. Talk about a thankless task! We don’t want to use a chemical solvent since Xander is helping with this task, so we are doing it the old fashioned way. A flathead screw driver and patience. First you scrape with the screwdriver and get the sticky black stuff to release. Then you just grab it. Turns out, once you get a nice sized ball in your fingers, you use that to ‘grab’ the rest. Lifts right out and leaves the metal as clean as can be. Your fingers are stickier than all get out, but it does the trick and no chemicals needed. Thank heavens for goop hand cleaner!
Next week I should have more news for you but for now, we are just keeping busy. Thanks for stopping by!
YAY! We finally got the last of the old flooring out. Now there is just the frame and the chassis of the trailer. We have some wood cobbled together in-case we need to make the RV street safe but that is off to the side.
WOW! Just had to get that off my chest. OK. Here is what we found.
- We found both steel beams bent by the passenger side rear dullies. Not sure what would have caused this kind of damage in this spot. Massive over burden? Improperly placed jacks? Accident? These will need to be removed and replaced.
- Rust – a bunch of rust but fortunately less than we were expecting. You can tell this rig was not an East Coast vehicle. I was terrified we would get everything off only to discover that road salt had eaten away the very base of our home. At that point, we would be game over and homeless. There is a reason I haven’t been sleeping very well at night. The rust that we did find is treatable. PHEW!
- The back steel beam going across the rear of the RV is slightly bowed up. You can see from the pictures. Again, not sure what would have caused this damage. We know from the people we bought the RV from there was extensive back end damage from them backing into something. I can’t remember what. This damage could have been caused by that. It looks like something we can hammer back into place but I will defer that to the hubby and a body shop.
- We still have that one steel beam that is broken off the ‘C’ bracket extension. I showed that image previously but will edit the photo to make it a bit more obvious.
Otherwise, things look good! Everything from this point forward is a step towards putting Winnie back together. Stronger, and Better than before. When we are done, we will have a custom brand new 2017 RV. 🙂
Ok. We have made it to our construction destination – now it’s time to break everything down. These are our goals in breakdown:
- Take a good look at the metal frame that is supposed to exist and make sure it is in good condition. We plan to stabilize/repair/or replace what we need to.
- Start from scratch so we can build what we want. Ripping the walls and ceiling off will give us a better idea of the space we have to work with.
- Finalize our floorplan based on what we find and what we want.
Our needs for living in Winnie long-term are as follows:
- Have space to live and not feel like we are living in 176sqft of space.
- Have room for Daniel to work.
- Have homeschool room.
- Have a usable, workable kitchen that will support our love of baking and visiting.
- Have room for Xan to play and mom to craft.
BIG goals considering our space! However, we think we can do it. It took us about two days to get the RV empty. I have a large tent that I purchased last Fall. We set that up and discovered in the manual that the tent has an interior that is 200sqft. That is more space than our RV has! Needless to say, everything we had to move easily fit into the tent. I posted pictures of that earlier.
We started breakdown about four days ago and it’s going well. The frame is MUCH less substantial than we were expecting. Kinda scary when you REALLY see what is between you and the rest of the world. Not much. However, I am supremely impressed by Winnebago’s wallpaper. What is that stuff? While the luan wood broke easily, that wallpaper held on so tightly I am convinced it was part of the construction design to keep everything held together. Thus far we have one whole wall removed and the back is unattached. The filon on the back wall extends onto the roof so although the back is unattached, it’s still dangling there until we disconnect the roof. We have been doing this as a family affair and I am so proud of Xan. He knows how to use a power screwdriver like a pro, uses his own hammer (it’s real) to help break down the walls and is our pro screw picker-upper (we are using this cool long magnet thing on a pole). I tell him often, we couldn’t do this without his help and input.
We each stated what we really wanted in the rig.
- Xan wants a gypsy pull down bed, and he wants Internet antennae on the roof. He says they will make us look like a robot transformer.
- Daniel wants some private office space so he can close himself off if he needs to and he wants a real kitchen where he has the counterspace needed to really cook!
- Paula (me) really wants to add tile to our design in the bathroom and a bathtub, no matter how small. (I think this has more to do with the fact that Xander has some cool Playmobile and Octonaut bath toys that I just can’t bear to give away.)
For Xan’s bed, we have found the space and can reinforce the wall to make sure his gypsy pull down bunk bed is as he wants. I mapped out the painted interior of the bed and gave him a few designs on how we can paint it (gypsy beds are always very decorated) so he is pretty stoked.
We decided to add an additional 3′ onto the back of our RV. Our Minnie is a rare, diesel 28′. We have heard so many people say that it can’t possibly be a diesel and that Winnebago didn’t make a 28′ rig. Well, they did and we have one. But – it gave us the idea. Since most of the longer Minnie Winnie’s are 31′ – why not just extend ours? Voila! Daniel will have a hidden room at the back of the RV 3’L x 7 3/4″ W where we have extended the rig. In the back, there will be a floor to ceiling cabinet to help stabilize the RV. There will be two other floor to ceiling items that will form a triangle in the RV to provide equal support to the frame as a whole. His desk will be behind the wall of the shower. We will add a small opening window to the space so he has some airflow and natural light. This fulfills his major need to be able to work separate from the family. We have designed our kitchen to have a nice work space by the stove and convection over, with the refrigerator near-by and a place for his spices. It will be an ‘L’ shape with an extendable counter on one side and he wants a double sink where before we had a single. We will use the traditional RV design where we have a cover for the sinks to turn the space into workable counter space.
The bathroom and my vision. In a small space, every opportunity to be alone is a treasure. The bathroom is one of those places where you can satisfy a bodily function AND get some alone time. In our old bathroom, it was so small, it was hard to use, impossible to relax in and dark. YUCK! In our remodel, we will have a real bathroom. How are we planning to do this? We are rotating the toilet so it sits at an angle on a raised platform (think squatty potty). We have to have the platform to get over the wheel well. Before, only the toilet was raised so high your legs would dangle cutting off circulation to your feet and was very uncomfortable. You were not encouraged to linger. The solution, a nice rounded platform to support the height of the angled toilet and our knees will no longer be hitting the door as we sit, and our legs won’t be dangling anymore. Our knees will be at the appropriate height for comfort. There will be a nice sized small vanity where I can put bathroom things. Our hand hammered copper sink will go there. This was something from the original time we remodeled. Then, the shower/tub. Originally I was thinking a walk in shower where we tile the floor and a wee bit up the wall. They frown on tile in a rig because they don’t think the tile will adhere to the wall with all the driving vibrations and bumps. However, I am seeing tile on counter-tops on newer models so we are going for it! We will tile the floor of the walk in shower and treat the heck out of the walls to ensure they remain waterproof in as many ways as we can find.
I have been brainstorming different ways to get a tub of any shape in there until I did the math. Originally I was thinking we could extend the height of the shower rim to something a bit bigger. Maybe 8″ to 12″ high? This wouldn’t be a soaking tub but would be enough for a kid to play, to wash a dog or rinse something out. Weight is always a concern. The volume of our walk in shower if we go to the full foot in height for a rim would be 12 cubic feet which works out to about 89 gallons of water. That’s 742 lbs. And that’s just the water. Not the weight of the tile, person, supports, etc., etc., etc.. Hummm… Nope! No tub for us! I HAVE found another person who tiled their shower and kept the weight down by using alternative materials. I was very excited to find that! So I can have my tiled shower, just no tub.
Here is a rough – not perfectly to scale floorplan. We need to go out and measure everything again so I can start the different view plans and we can put in the electrical and plumping details. Under the master bed we are building a lazy susan dresser thing where our clothes will go. The cabinet you see in the back is a floor to ceiling as is the pantry you see by the door and there will be a cabinet thing on top of the bookcases.
Looks like we will be able to get almost all of our ‘WANTS’ in this remodel. We have started breaking her down. We have the back wall disconnected and dangling by the skin. One whole side is off and we are almost ready to pull off the other. We have discovered how little of a frame there is which is a bit disconcerting and have plans to beef it up a bit. Check out the pictures and let us know your thoughts.
Here is a quick video of Daniel driving Winnie to bed. She has a nice covered shelter that she goes into. Night Winnie! More pictures to come and everything is down. Woo-Hoo!
Just a quick interruption of the story of our travel’s to say we have started the remodel process on the rig. We are in Spokane right now. It took us two days to empty the rig. Turns out the tent I bought to use at Standing Rock actually has more square footage than the RV so we were easily able to move tons of stuff into the tent. The rest we had to bring inside the house we are staying at. WE HAVE INVADED! Ever tried to fit your stuff – like bookcases, your clothes – all of them that you have with you, books, toys, home-office and various misc into someone elses already furnished home? It’s a bit cluttered right now but my goal is to really try and get that organized today so it doesn’t look like an explosion went through down here!
Once the RV was empty, Daniel and Xander started initial break-down. This means removing all the exterior & interior lights, the flashing, screw pick-up (you will be hearing that a lot) and the most fun – RIPPING THE WALLS OFF! So – here we are folks. The beginning! We are going to rip all the walls and ceiling off the metal frame of the rig. We will have the floor of the rig and the metal cab of the truck when we are down with tear-down. When we are finished, we will have raised the roof by a foot giving us more head-space. We will have a fully enclosed full bathroom, possibly with a small tub if we can work out the logistics. We will have a nice ‘L’ shaped kitchen space with good counter space,a double sink, a convection over and an induction stove top. There will be seating space on the other side of the island with the option of a flip-up table to provide additional seating as needed. We are removing some big windows so we are no longer a gallery on display to the world (YAY). We are squaring off the angle in the front of the RV in the cab-over so that we are no longer squishing our feet or banging our heads. Plus it will mean we can sit-up in bed which is something we cannot do now.
WANT LIST (but haven’t quite figured out how we are going to do it):
- Xander would like a gypsy bed that folds out from the wall. Not a murphy bed to the floor kind but one that is like the top half of a bunk bed.
- The tub. Hummmmm….
- A place for a grow tower so we can have our garden with us.
- More space
For additional space, we have come up with some ideas. A loft, a pull-back vrs pull-out, or the over used pull-out idea. So, if some clever person has an idea, make a comment and let us know! Otherwise keep tuned during the demolition process to see possible floor plans. Enjoy!
Sometimes I think my life is a book that is being written by some balding guy in a dark smokey room somewhere. Events happen and I look back and see how perhaps if I looked at things just a bit more distantly, I would see the foreshadowing. Every good book has foreshadowing.
A few days before we left Ogallala, NE we introduced the movie, ‘The Wizard of Oz’ to Xander. It took us two days to watch it – I always forget how long it is. Anyway, Xander loved it! FORESHADOWING! We decided to head South first before heading North. I am an Usborne Books & More representative and am attending the convention this year in Tulsa, OK. I had planned on flying in but we were already halfway there. Why not just drive down, camp out and then head North? I called my friend who will be hosting us while we do this crazy remodel and she was cool with the delay so we made the decision. South we go! It saved the cost of a last minute airline ticket and my hotel costs. Plus, since we had time to kill before the convention, we could visit our adult kids in Austin! SCORE!
Our day of departure was a bit soggy. The rain had come back. Nothing serious, but annoying when you are trying to pack things up. I think it is part of that rule book.
- 1 – If you wash your car, it will rain.
- 2 – If you go camping, you will put your tent up in the rain.
- 3 – When you break down your tent, it will rain.
etc, etc, etc…
I was trying to do laundry before our check-out time so had gotten up at what I consider the crack of dawn (around 8) and run out to get started. We only had two loads so I wasn’t worried about it, the park has two machines. Well, the machines were much smaller than I was anticipating so my two loads became four. Of course the last load I washed were the sheets, so I was chomping at the bit for the dryer to complete so we could leave. Daniel ended up getting distracted be the extra time he had and started fidgeting. Never a good thing. Here I was, pushing for us to get on the road and Daniel hadn’t made the cab ready to move and was, in my eyes at least – fidgeting. My brain was exploding. “Let’s Go!” I kept saying. Then he got frustrated because of course what he was doing was important and necessary, it just wasn’t what I wanted him to be doing. Xander had been told to go get in his seat so many times, he was just tuning us out and playing so that drove me crazy. Needless to say, it was not a smooth departure. Finally, we waived good-bye to our new friends and got on the road. I think it was something like 1.
All was well. I had our route planned out, our reservations made and new exactly where we were going. Between puppy potty stops and kid movement stops we were making no time. I was just hoping to get to our RV park before dark at that point. We were leaving Oakley, KS when I noticed Daniel had pulled over in the rig. “I felt something ‘POP'” he said, “We need to find someplace to stop so I can check it out. Is there an open autoparts store around here?”
Here we were, driving in rural Kansas on Memorial Weekend and it’s after 6. My response was something like, “Uuuuhhh, no.” DUH! There was a campground sign I had noticed a mile or so back and after verifying that at least there were a few auto shops in town, we limped to the RV Park I had found and paid for the night. Our friend the Internet said that some of the shops would be open the next day so we crossed our fingers and got settled.
The woman who took my call when I asked if they had space for us was a very matter-of-fact people. Didn’t sound like she took any nonsense. I was as specific as I could be in answering her questions. “Do you have RV spaces?” I asked?
“We are a campground aren’t we?” was her reply.
“Not all campgrounds accept, RV’s but I am happy to hear that you do! Do you have space for a 28′ Minnie Winnie for tonight?” I asked?
“How many toads?” she asked, RV lingo for are you towing anything.
“None.” was my reply. We don’t, we aren’t towing anything. RV’s with a tow need a longer slip or sometimes a pull-through spot. We get into more places because we are small and don’t need a pull-through. We can back in if needed.
When we got to the park, she saw the van and said dryly, “I thought you said ‘No Toads!’.”
“We don’t. I drive the van.”
“So that’s 2 vehicles then!”
She went on to explain the particulars of the park, of which there were many. This looks like a lot of fun to stay a while – no really! I am being serious! The store has over 700 DVD’s you can borrow for free and was well stocked. There is a big dog park, a great view of green grassy fields and pretty impressive sky, a hot tub, horse-shoes, a pizza place, a pub, and more features I am forgetting. One of the important things she informed me about was the following, “If at any time, we are experiencing a storm and you don’t feel safe, go to the Men’s Room. If you have dogs that you are bringing with you, you go into the Women’s Room.”
We went over to the pub for dinner. Jack’s Pub serves just about everything and it’s all made on-site from scratch. The prices are super reasonable and the food was great! Nice staff and Jack himself stopped by to see how things were. They import blue crap and fresh caught fish from the Atlantic. Jack prepares the fish and ships it to Denver to specific restaurants. There is escargot from a specialty farm in France, and you can have a burger that is angus, Kobe beef, elk or buffalo! Of course they also have basic stuff as well – all handmade onsite. Pretty cool! The waitress was telling us about how they had a tornado warning the night before. “It was pretty exciting!” she said. “We all had to go to the shelter.”
We had a wonderful dinner and left for the rig in high spirits. We felt like if nothing else, we had an awesome place to spend some time if the repairs to Winnie were intensive. The town looked large enough that we would be able to find the parts we needed and a service place. We got Xanman ready for bed as the storm started and went through our regular routine. The wind started really picking up and were prepped to enjoy a nice storm.
By the time the wind really started, I was in my nightgown and in bed with Xander. The RV was rocking so violently I looked at Daniel and asked him if our rig was heavy enough to stay upright. Right after I asked that, we noticed that the people in the RV next to us were heading for the bathrooms. Then the hail started. Daniel had pulled up the radar on his phone and stated flatly, “We need to get out of here.” Then the hail started.
I have NEVER heard such hail, and I’m from Colorado where hail damage is a normal part of living there. It sounded like we were being shot at. A barrage of unrelenting shots hitting the RV from all angles. Xander’s hands were covering his ears and he looked at me wondering if he should be really scared. I was getting out of bed and pulling him down to me. Daniel was getting the dogs hooked up. We were yelling at each other because there was no other way to be heard in the noise. We grabbed whatever jackets were close and opened the door. The dogs did not want to leave the rig and had to be pushed out the door. I pulled Xan as close to my body as I could and lifted a hand to protect my face, shielding his with my body and coat, pushing the dogs in front of me. Instantly we were drenched with the rain pouring down, hail battering at every exposed part of the body. We ran. We made it safely to the women’s room, the rest of the park’s patrons safely ensconced in the men’s room. We went to the deepest part of the bathroom and huddled taking a moment to gather our thoughts and wonder what was next. We were soaking wet, dripping onto the tile floor. Turns out I did a pretty good job of protecting Xander, only his pants and shoes were wet. His head and body were dry – ‘Mommy Shield to the Rescue!’ We found chairs and pulled them close. It wasn’t until we had been sitting a while that the shivers started and the processing began. Daniel was glued to his phone watching as the storm intensified. “It’s tornadic.” he said quietly. We stayed gathered together, the pups at our feet and listened to the storm. After a while, the sound seemed to calm. Daniel announced he would go ‘next-door’ to the men’s room and see what was up with the other campers. He came back shortly saying we needed to stay put. The tornado warning was still in effect. He made a quick and reckless run to the RV to fetch a blanket. The rain was not as heavy he reported. More like a normal storm would be. We stripped the little guy and turned him into boy burrito. I snuggled into my coat and tried to squeeze as much as the water out of my nightgown. Xander and I had long since taken off our shoes. They were so full of water, they squished with every movement. I got paper towels and wiped off the pups and dried them as well as I was able. Then went to work on drying the floor some. We had puddles everywhere from when we ran in. Then we waited. Daniel giving periodic updates from his phone, Xander and I telling stories and talking. Anything to keep him feeling as safe and secure as possible under the circumstances. I joked with him that he would have some major street cred with is friends after this storm, and a pretty awesome story to tell. But mostly, we snuggled. We were ready to head back to the rig when we were informed another two storm cells were headed our way so we should sit tight. OK.
At 3:00am, we finally went back out to the RV. We discovered a nice waterfall in the center dripping on our brand new floor. Daniels ceiling patch held but water was coming in from somewhere on the roof. Honestly I was not surprised. That hail was so incredible, I was expecting the entire roof to be Swiss cheese. We found buckets to put under the leaks for the rest of the morning (Well, at least where the leaks were dripping), wiped up the water off the floor, got dry clothes on and went to sleep. Check out time was at 11 after all.
The next dawned with a dramatic overcast sky. Just enough sun peeking through to give drama to the clouds. The wind was still blowing but nothing like the night before. We walked around Winnie and Princess to inspect any damage. Princess appeared to be OK but now has these weird spots where somehow the paint was lifted off. You can see the paint kinda sagging below these spots and then nothing (no paint) in the center. Winnie’s damage assessment would have to wait until we could find a ladder and get to the roof. One of the owners told Daniel that all the paint had been stripped from the back exterior wall of Jack’s Pub. Said it looked like it had been sand blasted….
We took off and got the parts we thought we needed for the engine and were directed to a mechanic that everyone raved about. We drove to his shop only to discover that the shop was closed for the weekend because of the holiday. We were told there was a shop that is always open, holiday or not but it was about 10 miles away. We had no choice – we went.
Turns out the shop was in Grainfield, KS. A nice little town that likes to keep things simple. There is one bank, appropriately named ‘Bank’, a small market, a post office, a VFW hall, a few shops (all closed of course) and Jack’s Auto Repair and Tow/NAPA Auto. Jack told us he could fit us in later that day so honestly, I napped in the van. Daniel and Xan were probably doing the same in the rig. We were exhausted. When it was time for the repair, I went into the shop to ask if they had a restroom I could use. “Nope, out here in the country, we go outside.” said the woman behind the counter dryly. Sleep exhaustion had me looking at her stupidly trying to make sense of her words.
Her co-worker seeing my face busted out laughing, “She’s only kidding, it’s back here.” He went off still chuckling and shaking his head while I stared after him not sure if I should move or not.
“Do I follow?” I asked?
She was not done teasing me, as she responded, “No.” Then seeing my face try to process this answer, started laughing herself. “Yes! Yes! Come-on back here. You go through that door and it’s on the right.” She all but pushed me towards the room, which at that point I wasn’t sure I wanted to use. I was too tired for humor and would probably burst out into tears if there was another practical joke in store for me. Turns out all was good. It was just a restroom.
We never sit around when we have time to spend in a place. You won’t see us hanging out in waiting rooms, or twiddling our thumbs on a bench. We took off to explore. We found a wonderful festival going on. The annual BBQ & Pulled Pork contest. There was music, food vendors you could vote for, a kiddie train to ride, photo ops, bag toss games set up and even horseshoes. This park also boasted one of the best equipt playgrounds I have seen. This was awesome! The train was free so once Xander found out, he happily hopped on and settled himself to ride as long as the driver would let him. This train was hysterical! The driver simply kept driving following the instructions of the kids or any parent who walked by. Kids were draped everywhere. Sitting on the edges, in-between the cars, hopping on and off as whim dictated. Dirty smiling faces from melting snow cones looked happily at one another and the world around them. It was awesome! “SPIN! SPIN!” the kids were cry – the driver would head over to the basketball court where they players would just move aside, no questions asked while the train gently spun to the squeals of delighted children. Through the park, in-between the trees, around the playground went the train stopping and starting at the direction of the kids. “Stop! I dropped my shoe!” was one cry and the driver obligingly stopped so the little girl could hop off to get her flip-flop and then hop back on. Xander was in heaven.
Daniel walking around in his kilt made quite the impression. You can imagine not many residents in this small town have seen a man wearing a Utilikilt. Of course I had to get him a t-shirt boasting this years theme for the event. “I like Pig Butts!” with of course a pig bottom filling the body of the shirt.
Jack was able to get the rig fixed-up by the end of the day. He also checked our tire inflation and installed a new tire stem for one of the duallys that was slowly loosing air. His prices were beyond reasonable and the town and people were great! He even let Daniel borrow a ladder so he could check out the hail damage on the roof. Some history: when we first bought the rig, there was a rack up there. We took it off when we remodeled the first time which left screw holes in the sections of the roof that we didn’t replace. We put flashing tape over those holes to keep the roof water safe. That tape has lasted through 6 Tucson summers and monsoons, and 2 years of storms in Colorado Springs. The hail chewed through it like cotton candy. Just shredded it. Hence the waterfall inside. Daniel went up there with more tape. Not much else we can do at this point. We are headed North to replace the roof so anything more extensive is just a waste. Hopefully we won’t run into any more tornadoes.
We got on the road late – after 5 and our sole goal was to get the heck out of Kansas and into Texas. Of course we ran into more storms. In Liberal, KS we had to stop and wait for the storms ahead of us to clear. The wind was getting strong enough that it wasn’t really safe to drive the rig. Nothing like the night before but better safe than sorry! We got some dinner and hung out until Daniel gave that all clear according to radar. We headed out of town and after a few miles noticed an emergency vehicle ahead with it’s lights flashing. Wondering what was up we approached slowly. Mind you, it’s pitch black outside. Late at night and overcast with thick storm clouds. We didn’t really have that far to go but keep having to pull over because of wind and storm activity ahead of us. This short drive was taking forever! Lightening was flashing all around us in the distance and we just wanted to be out of Kansas already and to our stop. The camp was already paid for – we just needed to get to it. Turns out the emergency vehicle was there empty. Our side of the highway was covered in water with no way to see how deep. We had to wait for clear spots in on-coming traffic to go around. Finally, about an hour from our destination for the night, we had to stop. We were so tired. Fortunately Texas has 9 million ‘rest’ stops. They don’t have any amenities but they are spaces for you to pull over and at least get some rest.
Pull over we did. We walked the dogs, and went to bed.
Needless to say Kansas was exciting. They say peak tornado season is from May to July. Of course we had to cross during peak season! Note to self, stay away from tornado alley! I am including some of the pictures from Daniel’s iphone with the storm alerts. Pretty intense! Headed to bed for now but will continue our journey later! Take care!
We spent a wonderful week in Ogallala, NE. After we left my dad’s house, we decided that we needed to take some time to vet our new/old home. Thus far we had been primarily living in peoples houses, or at least having the homes close-by as fail safe. We hadn’t actually ‘lived’ in the RV since we left Colorado Springs. It was time we bit-the-bullet and really moved in. We decided we would go check out Lake McConaughy in central NE for a while.
The RV Camp we found to stay at was Country View RV Park. It wasn’t right on the lake (Ogallala is where the amazing Lake McConaughy is) but, it does have Internet which since Daniel works from home is very necessary. It’s a fairly small park with amazing reviews on the web. At first, I wasn’t terribly excited about the place. The views aren’t great. A power substation on one side, and then fields everywhere else with a highway about a block away. However, this park was awesome. Right away it felt like home. The owner is out and about and truly loves and cares for his park. Everyone is looked out for. There is a playground for the kids, a nice restroom/shower facility that is clean and stocked and checked frequently! There is a pool on-site and some barbecue grills you can use if you don’t have your own. The employees are friendly and the feeling of safety just permeates the property. Xanman felt comfortable running to the playground on his own and I felt comfortable letting him do it. Other kids were there, as well as some solo old-timers hanging out. There is a simple store selling camping supplies as well as interesting knickknacks. We were able to refresh our water bottles from a reverse osmosis filtered water spigot in the laundry room. Like I said, this park was amazing and a perfect safe place for us to test out our full-timer status. Plus it is perfectly situated to get into town, head to the lake or get back on the Interstate.
When you haven’t really lived someplace, you don’t know how things are going to work. How would we cook? Is it going to be a major pain because we don’t have a kitchen or a bathroom or will we be able to work around these things fairly simply? How will we live? The basics. In this week we organized and then organized some more. We added a table, sorted through boxes we still had about, I reorganized the bookshelves so that we could better access the books we needed for homeschooling and got more room by organizing the other bookcases left over from the original RV remodel. Finally it felt like everything had a place and the amount of things we needed to reorganize for moving the rig was minimized. We had living space. A sort-of routine started and Daniel was able to get some actual work done for his real paying job. Feeling more confident with our living situation, we decided to venture out to see this Lake we had heard so much about but hadn’t yet seen.
Lake McConaughy is really cool. For the first four days we were at Ogallala, it was pretty much non-stop rain. It was cold and pretty damp. That didn’t daunt us though. Xander is well prepared with two sets of galoshes and a nice rain coat. Daniel and I, while not as well equipt, are prepared to handle a bit of rain easily. Off we went! We decided to navigate the old fashioned way and just explore. Follow our noses so to speak. We headed generally west following the signs directing us to the lake. We hit a highway and decided to go straight across instead of turning towards one campground or another. We ended up in a small community, very hoity-toity sounding. We ventured in thinking we might find a neat private lake access point. The gravel roads were so bad in this community, we turned around. LOL – guess all the community money went to their private driveways and houses and not the main access road. Just before the community, we found a dirt road directing us to public access to the lake. Ironically this one was well packed and fairly easy to get down. I mentioned earlier that it had been raining a lot so everything was pretty wet. I had a bit of anxiety in getting stuck in some thick mud in our van but Daniel assured me we have good tires and it wouldn’t be a problem….’Okaaaayyyy…’ – LOL! Sure enough, the road was packed enough that wet or not, we got down and up fine and were able to park. No-one else was crazy enough to venture out in the cold, cold weather so we had the beach to ourselves. The doggies were let out to run and they were in heaven. AnnaBelle has a nice thick coat. She is a total water dog and immediately jumped into the lake to frolic. Gelert is 14 and has no such protection. He steered clear of the water after an initial test. Xander had fun rock-hopping, and chasing the dogs. We all got to enjoy this seemingly endless lake. We couldn’t see the other side, the clouds were so low so we had no idea how big or small this lake was. For all we knew, this was the amazing beach written about online. I got some amazing photos that day though – rain or not!
We made regular visits to the Lake going to the main state park entrance as well as our new ‘private’ beach. We checked out different routes until we found our favorite spot – No Name Bay; and one morning we were there, it was actually sleeting! We were freezing and yes, we were the only ones out there. Later that afternoon, the sun finally came out so we rushed back to the lake! These pictures were taken the same day – morning and late afternoon. Quite the change and we could finally see the other side of the lake. Unfortunately as you can see, there is a bit of plastic floating about. Each time we went, whether it was to our small private beach or to No Name Bay, we hauled out plastic garbage bags, cans, glass bottles, and whatever else we found. Please, if you go to a lake, or river or ANYWHERE – don’t just throw your garbage out. The people behind you don’t want to see it, and the items you toss casually are seriously impacting wildlife. DON’T DO IT!
We checked out the visitor center which has some cool displays on how the dam was built. Some random facts about Lake McConaughy: Did you know that it is the largest reservoir in Nebraska? At full storage, McConaughy is 20 miles long, four miles wide and 142 feet deep at the dam. The dam is among the largest of its type in the world, and the fish grow to trophy proportions, accounting for several state records. They list the records in the visitors center. The construction of the dam was unique in how they chose to build it. Instead of using trucks to move the earth, they created a slurry. Using the earth they were removing, they mixed it with water and pumped it along the length of the dam literally ‘creating’ the dam. Pretty cool stuff! The soil enough was not enough to hold the dam so they had to import rocks from Wyoming and stabilize the earth. Voila! Now you have an incredible earth dam! At the time of construction (between 1936 and 1941) it was the second largest earthen dam in the world. If you go there, definitely check out the visitors center.
There is more to do around Ogallala than just the lake if fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, camping and such don’t appeal to you. Did you know that Ogallala was the meeting point of three amazing trails?
- The Great Western Cattle Trail
- The Oregon Trail
- and for a brief time, the Pony Express Route
How cool is that!? There are brochures talking about Tri-Trails Park. Interestingly enough, there isn’t very much on the flyer. I was hoping for an elaborate display. A large trail system allowing you to walk a quarter mile or so of each trail with interesting displays, anecdotes from the cowboys driving the cattle by day and chatting over the campfire by night, and stories about the terrific exploits of those brave young pony express riders. We went to the park hoping for a nice afternoon activity and all I can say is, at least the trails are marked. Instead of a large trail system, what you have is a small rectangular park with a post for each trail. That’s it. Xander was able to run it’s length in 13 seconds and it’s width in 8 seconds just to give you an idea. They could do so much more with this!
Ogallala was known as a bit of a rough and tumble place with shoot-outs and bad guys. Apparently they had some trouble getting any reputable law enforcement to work out there for some time. Ogallala has made ‘Boot Hill’ a nice area to visit. This is where they buried people with no local family who wanted them in the cemetery, or people who were unclaimed or unknown. They have a really nice write-up at the bottom of Boot Hill by the stairs so make sure to stop and grab a brochure. I was up on the hill taking pictures and when I looked at the brochure I discovered all the info I needed from the plaques up top were there. Please stay on the trail and keep your pets managed if you visit. Remember, you are stepping on someone’s remains. Many of them have no marking so you never know who you might disturb!
They also have a re-enactment of one of their more famous shootouts. They say this is a family event so you should be pretty safe to take your kids. They have a saloon, a jail, a blacksmith shop and some other stuff. We were driving around and saw the building mock-ups. We pulled over just in time to see the cast come out and rehearse being shot. It was interesting and macabre at the same time AND we didn’t have to pay to see it. LOL – check it out. Looks like a bunch of fun!
I think “Don’t Sqaut with Spurs On!” might become my new catch phrase!
If you don’t mind a drive, check out Ash Hollow. This was one of the last stops for a while for those headed West on the Oregon Trail. If you want to see actual wagon ruts, and get a glimpse of history – go see it. One of the locals at the RV camp told me about this place when I voiced my frustration over the Tri-Trails Park. It was well worth the 30 minute drive AND we discovered a wonderful farm/shop we never would have found if we hadn’t gone.
There are two sections of Ash Hollow. The main state park where there is a nature center, a schoolhouse, a cave tour and a lovely area for a picnic. There are hiking trails throughout as well, so a nice place to easily spend the day. Then there is an off the road area where the majority of the Oregon Trail info is. BE PREPARED TO HIKE! No worries, its not like you will be going miles, but it IS a fairly steep trail. I was trying to get Xander to imaging trying to push a full wagon with straining oxen up the hill. He is 7, so old enough that he would have been working with his dad and the other menfolk. I tried to describe the cracking of the whip as the oxen were urged up the hill. The fear that would have been palpable if that wagon got loose. The heat and the sweat and the driving determination that pushed these people west in search of a better life. The idea that ALL your worldly belongings plus food and water for at least a month if not more would be in that wagon. No luxury items would have been brought. There was no room. He could sort-of get that, I mean we do live in an RV, but I don’t think he understood the overall picture. After all, in a time of space ships and tablets, it it a bit hard to imagine oxen and wagons. At the top of Windlass Hill, you can see the ruts the wagon wheels left in the earth both approaching the hills and as they left, slowly climbing them. At one point, the wagon wheels eroded the hillside to such a degree that they literally changed the landscape creating a ravine where rolling hillside used to exist. Looking at the landscape, knowing what was ahead of them as they journeyed ever Westward, I was in awe at the level of determination these people had. To leave everything they knew with nothing but hope to drive them on. What grit. What strength! What incredible conviction! Was it their only hope, life being too hard in the civilized East to make a living? Did their spirit simply strive for something more? Something wild? Adventure? Was it the need to create something; a legacy perhaps for their family that drove them forward? What about the people already there, did they think about that or were they just assured the redskins were savages? Animals that should be shot on sight? Whatever their thoughts, we can be assured of one thing. Our ancestors were seriously tough! Ash Hollow was one of the last places the emigrants could fill up on fresh spring water for a while. By the time they reached here, they had been travelling for about two months. They had to cross some major rivers to get here and more were still ahead. The river crossings were so dangerous, most of the deaths occurring on the trail were from the river crossings themselves. Not from the Indians, starvation, dehydration or other maladies that occurred on the trip.
The main section of Ash Hollow State Park goes into more of the geological particulars of the area, as well as some important archaeological discoveries made here. The visitors center was closed when we got there – it was scheduled to open three days later, so we just walked around outside. There are period re-enactments at the Visitor Center and out at the Windlass Hill site so if you are planning to be at the lake this summer, make sure to check out their calendar!
Ash Hollow State Park Calendar
On our way back from Ash Hollow, we discovered an alpaca farm. Yup. In the middle of no-where Nebraska. We drove into the wide drive and were welcomed by one of the farmers. His wife is the one who owns the alpaca’s and she was supervising the sheering. Did we want to see? YAH! We tumbled out the car and he walked us over to where they had the alpaca’s of all colors being carefully tied down so they could be shorn. Many videos of sheep sheering shows bleeding sheep. These guys were amazing, careful and smooth! Not one nick, or crying alpaca. We learned that the alpaca’s are shorn bottom of the belly up as that is the best fiber (we also learned it’s not hair or fur but fiber. Good to know!). Once they have shorn the highest quality fiber off the alpaca, the remaining fiber is shorn. The face is never touched. Alpaca’s are normally shorn mid-Spring but this year the cold has been persistent so the sheering was taking place a bit later than normal. Farmers from several hours away had brought their alpacas to be shorn are well. This is fairly normal. One farmer generally doesn’t have enough animals to bring in the sheering people themselves. So they will put out the info they are bringing a team in. Generally several farmers will chip in and bring their animals. There is only so long you can watch alpaca sheering if you are not personally involved. Laurie (the alpaca owner) suggested we go and look at the baby alpacas that had been born two days previous. Of course we said yes, and Darryl took us down to the pasture.
BABIES! Oh my gosh, pretty much anything as a baby is cute and alpacas are no exception. Xander loved looking at them but they weren’t really open to being petted that day. Fortunately there was a giant mound of dirt which of course he had to play on. While Xander happily ran up and down the dirt pile, Darryl and I got to chat about all kinds of things. He is super proud of his wife and shared that all the animals are hers. He takes care of the fields and the farm in general. Like most farmers these days, he rents his land. He doesn’t own it. We talked about so many things and I found him to be a wonderful conversationalist. Interesting, intelligent, honest, engaging and deeply in love with his land, his family and his farm. I felt so blessed to have found this farm and be given this time to just make a connection. Who knows if he will remember Xander and I years to come, but I think I will certainly remember him. We got to see goats (who did let Xander pet them), the alpacas, chickens and the sheep. Laurie has a nice alpaca shop on-site. I loved it! You walk in from this dusty well loved working farm to a lovely boutique. It smells wonderful (she makes her own goats milk soaps and creams) and there is pretty stuff everywhere. It was such a nice surprise to walk into. I couldn’t contain my squeal of delight and just walked around for a few seconds taking everything in. Everything there is alpaca. Not all of it from their farm. Laurie explained that she sends the fiber into the Alpca Exchange (Laurie please post of I have the name wrong). The Alpaca Exchange gathers the fiber from alpaca farmers all over the country. They fiber is cleaned and processed and things made. Yarns, sweaters, scarves, socks, hats, etc. They also import fair trade garments made of alpaca fiber from Peru. She has some scarves there that I am lusting over. At the time we had like two dollars to our name so I couldn’t really get anything but some lip balm but oh what lip balm! If you have a chance, stop by the Alpaca Shack. 2450 RD 207, Big Springs, NE 69122. (308) 778-6300 Tell her Paula and Xander say, “Hi!” She doesn’t have a website, you’ll just have to go on an adventure to find the farm! It is clearly posted as the Alpaca Shack. If you are lucky, she or Darryl will take you back to see the animals!
A nice little nature park in Ogallala looks like the nature park time forgot. The grass was overgrown and the trail was a bit wild looking. It made it a lot of fun to explore! Right off the highway, maybe a mile from the Country View RV Park lies the Ogallala Nature Park. This little gem of a park features a nice arboretum, an outdoor classroom, river access (walking only), bat houses, wild flowers and, well, nature! The grass was almost as tall as Xander! There were benches placed periodically throughout the trails so you could sit and ponder for a bit. We followed a trail that took us through the woods to the river and found two downed trees with beaver teeth markings in them. We saw the beaver burrow behind us. We saw deer tracks and coyote tracks (they could have been dog but we are going with coyote). Xander even saw a red worm snake! A small park that definitely needs some love but it sure is cool. I hope the plans to get it back in shape take shape. Check it out!
After Xander and I left the Nature Park, we still had the exploring hiking itch so we took off down a dirt road. We found this really cool old barn in tall grass. It had a windmill, was in fairly decent shape and just begged to be explored! Not to mention it was a photographers dream! The clouds, the wind, the grass and a cute boy. PERFECT! We didn’t go into the building, that would not have been safe but we did walk around a bit. Gorgeous space! Nebraska is quite lovely actually.
Needless to say, there is a lot to do in Ogallala and the surrounding countryside. Adventure is definitely out there if you look for it. If you have made it this long in this post – YAY! I meant to break this up into multiple posts but I am already a week or so behind so have bundled everything here. I will be better about posting more often.
We decided while in Ogallala that we would head South instead of heading North. I am an Usborne Books & More representative and will be attending the convention in June. Daniel and I started talking and decided that it wouldn’t make sense for us to drive to WA and then have me immediately fly south to OK. Instead, we would drive south, visit the adult kids and granddaughter in Austin, TX and then head to Tulsa, OK. Lots happened on that trip but that’s another post. For now, I will leave you with another couple gorgeous lake shots.