A Railroad Tycoon’s RV

February 21st, 2009

Jay Gould's Exquisite Railway Car

What do you get when you combine one of Jenn’s favorite games (Railroad Tycoon) and the RV lifestyle? You get a railroad car fitted out for fulltiming! That’s just what we found as we were passing through Jefferson, Texas a couple of weeks ago. The Garden Club has acquired the personal car of Jay Gould, a railroad tycoon, and restored it to something close to it’s original splendor.

The car had four staterooms for passengers, two of which were adjoining with a bathroom, including tub and shower between them. The others all had their own plumbing, even if a bit primitive by modern standards. There was a couch as well as a pullman bed in each of the staterooms. The car would be able to take on water at the same water depots that the train used. We didn’t ask, but I assume the black and gray water would have been simply dumped along the tracks as soon as it was generated.

There were two rooms devoted to cooking with a pass through between them. Based on the layout, I would assume that the car originally had bunks for two servants, but only one of the kitchen cars still had a pullman berth at the ceiling. The icebox had something I think we could all use today, a glass door. How often have you opened the fridge and stared at what was there while deciding what you wanted?

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Vicksburg

February 11th, 2009

ms_Vicksburg1.jpg

During our trip down the Natchez Trace, we took a daytrip a bit west towards Vicksburg. Jenn and I are both into museums and historic attractions, but neither of us is all that into the nuts and bolts of particular battles. So, why would we go to Vicksburg, where you spend several hours driving around the battlefield and reading about the intricate details of the battle including the number of casualties at each battery of guns? Well, mostly because we have an America the Beautiful pass and hate to pass up a chance to get into something for free that might entertain us for the day.

The military park really is a pretty drive and not a bad way to spend the day. However, after the first six or eight miles, I think we were both pretty well bored with the dry descriptions of troop movements and casualty counts. Don’t get me wrong, this era of our history is very important and shouldn’t be discounted, but I really had a hard time reading similar descriptions repeatedly, none of which you could really sink your teeth into except perhaps the description of tunneling into earthworks in order to blow them up, which is something I thought had died out a few hundred years earlier. This same area had the wonderfully colorful description of a slave who was ‘blown to freedom’ when a mine was touched off below him.

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That Old Mississippi Mud!

February 3rd, 2009

Mississippi Mud - Stuck

Internet connectivity has been spotty, but not as spotty as the sides of the truck. About a week ago, we stopped overnight at a horse trail in the national forest just off the Natchez Trace. On pulling in, we saw a rather deep looking mud puddle and in our infinite wisdom, decided to try and keep the truck clean. A few words of advice: in Mississippi, if the road looks bad, the ground around it is awful. Fifteen feet off the road, the ground sunk in bad enough that we needed to put the truck in 4WD and lock the hubs to get out.

Now this is the point where everybody tells you that 4WD allows you to get stuck deeper in. The smart course of action, would have been to back out. However, I looked at the ruts we’d already made and looked ahead. No big deal, just a little 10″ deep ditch. Nothing the truck can’t handle, right? At this point, the ditch, with water running through it, somehow, looked better than the foot deep mud behind us. I guess everybody that’s spent much time in the mud is giggling about now. I hadn’t taken into account that a ditch, WITH WATER IN IT, is likely to be at least as gooey as the ground around it.

So, long story short, another fifteen feet of driving put us in quite a bit of nasty crud and the poor, overloaded truck refused to budge any direction but down. I got out and started digging in some hope of flattening the area out. Jenn decided it was a great time to snap a picture. Women! I can’t fault her too much though, by the time the night was over, she did her share of digging.

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Life in the back of a truck (part 2)

January 25th, 2009

This is part of an ongoing series on what it’s like to live in a truck camper fulltime. You may read other articles here:

  1. Part One – The fulltime lifestyle
  2. Part Two – Why a truck camper?
  3. Part Three – Weights & Dealing with them
  4. Part Four – Boondocking resource conservation

Why a truck camper when you could have something much larger?

True, a bus conversion or a 5th wheel would give quite a bit more space than a truck camper, but if you can deal with the smaller size, a truck camper has a lot going for it. For starters, you can take it places that just aren’t practical in most rigs that are suitable for fulltiming. Sure, a popup trailer or an especially small travel trailer might make it down a particular nasty stretch of dirt road, but even those are going to have issues if it turns out backing out is required. A smallish Class C is as manueverable as a truck camper, but they’re awfully hard to find in 4 wheel drive models with the kind of clearance you get from a full size truck.

Another bonus to truck campers is that you don’t really need to tow along a second vehicle for running around. Many Class A owners tow a dinghy vehicle for sightseeing in order to avoid moving their RV once its parked. While, we also haul around a scooter for short trips, we often just move the entire truck and camper if the trip requires it. Better yet, if we’re going to be somewhere more than a few days and know we’ll need to run around in the truck a lot, we can just drop the camper and have a separate vehicle to drive. It takes a bit more effort than dropping or loading a trailer, but the truck can easily be loaded or unloaded in around 30 minutes.

A final reason we really like the truck camper option is that the camper and drivetrain are not married as they are in Class A’s or C’s. If you decide you’d prefer a different floorplan or the truck experiences catastrophic failure, you can always change truck or camper with a minimum of hassle and keep the one you’re still happy with. For that matter, you can dump the camping lifestyle altogether and keep the truck. Not having the RV and truck married is what allows you to have a 4wd, diesel RV with good clearance at a reasonable price. It’s also an excellent choice for anyone that would like to pull a boat. Many states prohibit double towing, and I can’t imagine it being particularly fun even in those that allow it.

But, isn’t a truck camper way too small to live in fulltime?

I guess that depends on your lifestyle and what you want and need out of life. There are probably more people living in vans than truck campers by an order of magnitude. I can stand up fully, stretch out fully and have considerably more room to move around than any van I’ve ever seen except perhaps the shuttle buses, which I imagine would make a nice little rolling house with some work.

Personally, I find there is plenty of living space, but I’ve always liked living in smaller spaces. They prevent me from accumulating too much junk and I can usually find things I’ve mislaid without much trouble. Jenn and I as well as two cats have been living in the camper for 12 of the last 14 months and I feel much more comfortable to be back in our camper than I felt while we had the run of her parent’s place the past couple of months.

The one real constriction I feel about living in something the size of a truck camper is making a concious effort not to accumulate too much junk and finding a place to store the things we need. Anytime you consider picking up a new item, you have to think about just how often you’re going to use it, whether or not you can get along without it and where you’re going to store it. On top of that, you should consider whether it will be able to replace something you already have or if you already have something that can do the same thing. This problem actually helps me to save money by not buying things just because they’re shiny!

A few family recipes

November 27th, 2008

This will probably be our last week in Tennessee before we head out for warmer climes sometime next week. Jenn’s aunt and uncle have invited us to Thanksgiving dinner, and there’s no way we can refuse, considering the spread they put out. In the spirit of traditional Thanksgivings, we figured we’d share a few more homemade recipes: my grandmother’s chocolate pie recipe and Jenn’s uncle’s recipe for limoncello.

Grandma’s Chocolate Pie

  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 6 teaspoons of cocoa
  • 1/2 cup of corn starch
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 cups of milk
  • 1 stick of butter (or margarine if you insist)
  • dash of salt
  • 1 8 ounce container of Cool Whip (thawed)
  • 2 baked pie crusts
  • Grab a medium sized pot and toss in everything but the pie crusts (duh!), Cool Whip and butter. Set your stove to medium or medium high heat and begin mixing it together. Once the mixture seems to be warming up a bit, toss the stick of butter in and keep stirring. You’re going to do a lot of stirring. Basically, you want to keep stirring until it achieves the consistency of a thick pudding. I recommend a whisk for this… or even a small hand mixer if you can keep it from splashing all over.

    Once the mixture thickens up, remove it from heat and pour into a couple of pie shells. Personally, I like Oreo or graham cracker pie crusts, but it’s pretty hard to ruin this pie by picking the wrong crust. Next, I like to leave the pies sitting out under a paper towel so that the steam doesn’t form condensation and make the crust soggy. About an hour should do it. Once they’ve cooled a bit, toss them in the fridge or freezer to cool further. Before serving, cover them with Cool Whip and grab your own fork and plate so as to be sure of getting a slice.

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