Batteries Not Included . . .

Where’s the only place with worse government bureaucracy than the US Federal Government.

Try the Chinese Consulate.

Chinese Consulate

We got there about 10:30 to drop off the visa paperwork for my great-nieces, Darby and Stahlie for their upcoming trip to China. First off, it would help if the clerks handling my paperwork spoke better English than I speak Chinese. And I think most of my Chinese would probably get me slapped. It was funny though, that there were a lot of Asians in line who were having the same language problems that I was.

It would also help if the instructions on the Chinese website about how to get a visa actually matched up with what the clerks want.

We had planned to do a same day pickup, but despite what the website says, they don’t offer that anymore. And since this was not a last minute application, we were told to pick up the visas next Wednesday. So we’ll have to make other arrangements to pick them up.

Finally leaving the Consulate, we drove a few blocks away to have lunch at Katz’s Deli, a Houston tradition.

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A spinoff from the famous Katz’s Deli in New York City, it’s a favorite of ours here in Houston.

Katz

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Where else can you get a real Rueben like this? And this is only the half sandwich lunch special.

Katzs Reuben

Now that’s a Heart Attack on a Plate.

Our next stop was the Interstate Batteries store. Both my engine batteries and my house batteries started to die at pretty much the same time. My engine batteries were AC-Delco 1150’s and were in the coach when we bought it in December of 2007. They appear to have been installed a couple of years earlier.

My house batteries were installed by me in March 2008 to replace the weak Trojan 105’s that were in the coach when we purchased it. At that time I installed 4 Interstate U2400’s that I’ve been very happy with. So based on this experience, I wanted to use Interstate’s again.

First up, before replacing the engine batteries, I switched off the master disconnect in the engine compartment.

Engine Master Switch

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My engine batteries are on a swing-out frame that makes them easy to get to. And the coach has these connection buss’ that make it really easy to disconnect the wires.

Engine Battery Change 1

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Just unscrew the four nuts and you can lift off the connections.

Engine Battery Change 2

Engine Battery Change 4

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Next, I removed the old batteries and cleaned the frame.

Engine Battery Change 5

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Then it was just a matter of setting the new batteries in place, made easier by the built-in carry straps. Next I fastened down the retaining frame.

I’m replacing the AC-Delco’s with Interstate 31-MHD’s. They’re a little lighter, slightly smaller, but have 925 CCA (Cold Cranking Amps) instead of the 700 CCA of the AC-Delco’s. Smaller, lighter, and more power. You can’t beat that.

Engine Battery Change 7

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After getting everything tightened down, and the Master Disconnect back on, I went inside and fired up the Cummins 350 to be sure it’s ready to go on Friday.

Engine Battery Change 8

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These are the 4 Interstate U2400 6V batteries. Since we very seldom boondock and I’m cheap, I’m going to try it for a while with only 2 batteries.

Chassis Battery Change 1

I  pulled all four out (these suckers are heavy at 75 pounds a piece.) and then cleaned the plastic tray.

Chassis Battery Change 2

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Getting the batteries out and separated, I discovered something interesting. Only one of the four is really bad. Three of them read 6.2 volts, but the fourth one read 4.5, and it’s kind of swollen.

Chassis Battery Change 3

I had already planned to keep two of the old ones as placeholders, so I kept two of the good ones. You’re normally not supposed to put old and new ones together, so I just wired the two new ones into the system. But I may experiment a little when I have time. All I have to do is connect two cables to add them back online. We’ll see how it goes.

About 6pm Jan and I headed up the road to have dinner at Hruska’s. We’d heard how good their burgers were, so good that they were even written up in Texas Monthly. So we had to give them a try.

Hruska's Burger

On one level they were very good. I mean this Double Bacon Cheeseburger was over 5 inches high, and it was all fresh and hot.

But the disappointment was that it was overcooked to the point of the meat being almost crumblely. Jan had ask for hers well-done and the clerk said they’re all cooked well-done. So I don’t know if we just got ones that way overcooked, or this is the way they all are.

Maybe we’ll have chance to try them another time.

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Thought for the Day:

I had the right to remain silent… but I didn’t have the ability.” ― Ron White 

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A Travesty . . .

We left the rig about 11 heading down to Clear Lake for Jan and Piper’s get-together and my afternoon of errands. While they played, I worked, well, drove around, anyway.

Things like Sam’s for prescriptions, the storeroom to drop off the last of the storage bins, a truck wash at our favorite place, and the bank for deposits. I finished up with a client stopover for a while.before heading back over to Chris’. Jan and Piper had just gotten back so we waited around while Chris finished installing a new garage door opener.

Then about 4:30 we all drove over to King Food for one last get-together at one of our favorite places. After a great meal, we said our goodbyes and got our hugs, and then Jan and I headed down to Krogers for a few things, as well as gas for the truck.

I was happy to see that my magic Fred Meyers/Krogers loyalty card is still giving me the .10 a gallon discount as long as I buy something that month. Normally you have to buy $100 in groceries before you get one fill-up at the .10 discount.. But this card which we got in Fairbanks, AK in 2008 gives it every time.

Next up was a quick stop-over to say goodbye to some friends. Then it was on back up to the Katy area to stop at Brandi’s to pick up the visa paperwork for my niece’s visit to China next month.

By the time we got home, it was almost 9pm,  a long day. Then we get to do it tomorrow to drop off the visa apps at the Chinese Consulate in Houston.

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As I was heading back to Chris’ earlier today, I saw a crowd as I was crossing the railroad tracks at NASA Rd. 1 and Hwy 3. Looking over to my right, I saw a 747 sitting there. Well, pieces of a 747, anyway.

Shuttle Carrier 4

Shuttle Carrier 5

This is one of the two NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) that were used to transport the Space Shuttles back to Kennedy after landings at Edwards AFB in California and White Sands in New Mexico.

This SCA made its final flight into Ellington Field about 5 miles north of Johnson Space Center. Then it was partially disassembled (which took 38 days) and moved down to SpaceCenter Houston where it will be put on permanent display.

Shuttle Carrier 1

Because of its size, 200 feet long, 35 feet high, and 25 feet wide, the 7.75 mile trip had to be spread over two nights. This is because power lines have to raised, signs moved, and the roads completely shut down

Shuttle Carrier 2

Shuttle Carrier 3

So tonight about 9pm, they will finish the last 2 miles of the move to Johnson Space Center where it will be put on display with a Shuttle on top in flight position.

Shuttle on 747

The ‘Travesty’ is the fact that due to murky politics, the Shuttle mounted on top will only be a mockup, not a real Shuttle.

JSC was the only Flight Center not to get a real one. Apparently, the powers-that-be decided that ‘NEW YORK CITY’ had more to do with the Shuttle program than Houston.

But if it’s any consolation, New York didn’t get a ‘real’ flight Shuttle either. They got the Enterprise, the Shuttle that did the Approach and Landing Tests where it was taken up on a 747 and then released to glide back to earth. But at least theirs FLEW.

It should have been an easy decision: Three Flight Centers, Three Flying Shuttles.
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Thought for the Day:

Beware the man with only one gun; he probably knows how to use it.

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High Road to China . . .

As we’ve done for the last several days, Jan and I sat outside this morning with our coffee and muffins, but not for very long. The last several mornings have either been partly cloudy or even overcast, but there was not a cloud in the sky today, and the sun was hot. In fact today was our high for the year with 92 degrees.

Time to head north.

On another front, my great nieces, Darby

Darby Calvin 2

and Stahlie Calvin

Stahlie Calvin 2

are going to be traveling to China in the next few weeks. These two beautiful young ladies are going to be volunteering at an American-run Special Needs Orphanage outside of Bejing for the summer, and then spend some time touring the country.

Our part in this comes about because the Chinese Consulate here in Houston is where you go to get your visas, so Jan and I are going to expedite things by handling it on this end.

Darby is overnighting the paperwork that should be here tomorrow. Then on Wednesday, Jan and I will take it down to the Consulate. If we get it in before 11:30, then we should be able to pick it up before 3pm.

One of my chores today was to install an additional support on the rig’s tailpipe. I noticed recently that the tailpipe that comes out of the muffler was loose at the joint. So I got some pipe hanging strap and ran a loop from the chassis down around the pipe and back up. I then put a bolt through the strapping to tighten it down around the pipe.

Tailpipe Hanger 2

The pipe is now solid and doesn’t move anymore, so this should take care of the problem.

Tomorrow we’re going down to the Clear Lake area to take care of some errands and get together with Chris, Linda, and Piper for a last dinner before we hit the road on Friday. Jan and Piper are also going to get mani/pedi’s.
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Thought for the Day:

"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." — Karl Popper

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and Good Food . . .

Once again Jan and I sat outside and enjoyed our coffee and Buc-ee’s muffins. It was more overcast than yesterday, and a little windier, but still very nice. Mister always enjoys us being out there with him, since he can crawl all over us and annoy us. And he really enjoys his work.

After we finally came inside I unbungeed the drawer I repaired yesterday, put it back under the fridge and replaced all the pots and pans. Hopefully it’ll last another 15 years.

Today was a Red Letter Day. I finally finished up the last of the bins and got everything sorted away. We’ll take the empty bins down to our storeroom in Clear Lake later this week. on one of our last trips.

Tuesday night we’re getting together with Chris, Linda, and Piper down in Clear Lake for a last meal together before we leave this coming Friday. Then on Thursday night we’re getting together with Brandi, Lowell, and Landon up here in Katy. Because everyone is so busy it’s hard to get us all together in the middle of the week.

About 4 pm we picked up Maxine and Cliff Phillips next door and headed down to Columbus to have dinner at Los Cabos. This was Maxine and Cliff’s first visit and our 3rd or 4th, and it was as good as before. And they thought it was as good as we do.

Maxine and Cliff Phillips

It’s always kind of dicey taking friends to a restaurant you really like, and then the place has an off-day. But it was all good tonight.

Maxine and Cliff are leaving for the New Braunfels area tomorrow morning, so hopefully they’ll keep in touch and we can meet up down the road somewhere.

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Thought for the Day:

You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred. – Woody Allen

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New Friends . . .

After our busy day yesterday, this morning it was really nice to just sit outside on the patio, drink our coffee, and enjoy the view.

Colorado River Backyard

While we were out there, our neighbor Maxine Phillips came by and invited us over for wine after supper, and we readily accepted.

Later I got back to my chore list.

First up was a drawer repair. Recently Jan tried to open the big drawer under the fridge that holds the big pots and pans, and when she did, the drawer front started to pull off.

So I emptied it out, pulled it off the slides, and took it outside to the picnic table.

Drawer Repair 1

I was happy to see that, like the rest of the wood cabinetry in our coach, the drawer was all wood with dovetail joints and an inset for the drawer bottom.

Drawer Repair 2

It looked like either the original glue had dried out, or was applied a little skimpily. So I dug out my bottle of Elmer’s Wood Glue and applied it to all the joints and dovetails.

Drawer Repair 3

Then I used some bungee cords to clamp it all together. I’ll let it dry overnight and put it back in service.tomorrow.

Drawer Repair 4

Later I spent some time going through the last of our plastic bins, pretty much just sorting things into my other bins. I also finished empting some bags of books and tapes and also getting them sorted out.

Later for dinner, we heated up the leftover catfish, shrimp, oysters, and fries from our Sealand Seafood visit a few days ago. Along with a salad, it was a nice meal. Using the convection oven keeps everything crispy, almost as good as at the restaurant.

After dinner we grabbed a bottle of Sutter Home Moscato and a couple of wine glasses and headed next door to sit outside with Maxine and Cliff Phillips. They’re from Tennessee and some of the areas where I grew up, and are heading out west on Monday, so we spent some time talking about places to see, and especially, to eat. We finally gave up when the sun went down, and made a date to have dinner tomorrow night at Los Cabos down in Columbus.

We’re looking forward to it.
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Thought for the Day:

Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.

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Needed: 60,000 cows . . . A Day!

Today was time for another daytrip so we headed out a little before10 am, but didn’t go far, only a few miles north on US71 to our first stop, the Industrial Country Market. We’ve passed this place a bunch of times, but never stopped. But blog reader Rob Nixon said we really needed to check the place out. And he was right.

Industrial Country Market 1
Take a hardware store, a toy store, a gadget store, a solar power supply store, and an ammo store, then throw in water and hydroponic vegetable gardens, add a lot of garden art and solar panels, run the whole thing completely off the grid, and you’ve got the Industrial Country Market.

Industrial Country Market 2

You could actually spend hours walking up and down the aisles of the ‘non-general, general store’.

Industrial Country Market 3

Toys, clothing, jewelry. ammo.

Industrial Country Market 4

Spices, electronics, tools, puppets, 1500 Watt Pure Sine Wave Inverters. and more.

Industrial Country Market 5

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And outside  you find all sorts of gardens and plants.

Industrial Country Market 6

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As well as a forest of Bottle Trees.

Industrial Country Market 7

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Water gardens with fountains and waterfalls.

Industrial Country Market 8

Industrial Country Market 9

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And ingenious art gardens made from a little bit of everything.

Industrial Country Market 16

Industrial Country Market 10

Industrial Country Market 11

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Even a number of hydroponic gardens growing vegetables and ornamental plants.

Industrial Country Market 12

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And it’s all run completely off the electrical grid.

Industrial Country Market 13

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These 24 volt batteries come from telephone company Central Offices, which is why your landline phone keeps working even when the power is out. It’s all powered from the phone office.

Industrial Country Market 14

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These and other solar panels provide an amazing 25KW of both 120VAC and 240VAC electrical power

Industrial Country Market 15

Jan and I really enjoyed our visit and we’ll probably go back again the next time we’re in the area.

Our next stop was a few more miles up the road at Hruska’s.

Hruska's

We’ve been stopping here for a long time and have watched the place grow into what it is today, a major operation. The place started out as general store/market in 1912 and has been in the family ever since. And they still have the best kolaches around.

Jan and I stopped for a couple of kolaches, but we noticed a lot of locals having their double-cheeseburgers, and it turns out that Texas Monthly Magazine says they have one of the best burgers in the state. Hopefully we can check them out before we leave.

Then it was back on the road, heading up to Brenham and the Blue Bell Ice Cream Factory Tour. We’ve been trying to take this tour for almost 35 years and we finally made it.

Blue Bell Creameries

The problem was that the tour is only given Monday through Friday, and it seems we were always up that way on the weekend.

Unfortunately I can’t show you any pictures because they don’t allow photos on the tour, but they do give you free ice cream at the end, so no pictures for you, but free ice cream for us.

That sound fair.

One of the most interesting facts given on the tour is that this one plant (they have two more. one in Sylacauga, AL, and one in Broken Arrow, OK) uses the milk from 60,000 cows . . .  a day. Now that’s squeezing a lot of cows.

After finishing up our ice cream (Jan had Rocky Mountain Road and I had Salt Caramel Vanilla) we head back toward home, but in a roundabout way, via Giddings, rather than the most direct way.

But going this way let us stop off at the Buc-ee’s there for a bathroom break and some of their Cranberry Nut muffins to bring home.

But the day wasn’t over yet. We had timed things so that we would be back at Peter’s BBQ in Ellinger about 4:30. Just in time for our last shot at their great Friday Night BBQ and Seafood Buffet. As always, really, really good.

Tomorrow looks to be a work-around-the-rig day.
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Thought for the Day:

"Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought." – Basho, 17th Century Japanese Poet

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The WayBack Machine . . .

I came across this website that has almost 200 photos taken between 1887 and 1892, mostly in the Black Hills of South Dakota that I thought you might like to see.

Ever wonder what Sturgis looked like before motorcycles clogged the streets? Well, back then it was teams of oxen, the 1880’s equivalent of today’s semi’s, moving freight across the plains.

Title: Ox teams at Sturgis, D.T. [i.e. Dakota Territory]
Line of oxen and wagons along main street. [between 1887 and 1892]
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540

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This is not a wagon train of settlers, but a line of ‘freighter’s’ moving between Sturgis and Deadwood. It turns out that there were long lines of these teams moving goods back and forth across the country.

Title: Freighting in "The Black Hills". Photographed between Sturgis and Deadwood
Full view of ox trains, between Sturgis and Deadwood, S.D. 1891.
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540

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And here’s the Devil’s Tower taken in 1888. Note the bulge on the left side of the base.

Title: Devil's Tower
Distant view of Devils Tower and reflection of tower in stream in foreground. 1890.
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540

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And here’s our photo taken 120 years later in 2008. I took this from the RV park where we spent the night before visiting the Tower the next day. Looks like we were kind of close to the same position.

Devil's Tower 2008

You can view all these photos here. South Dakota 1888

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On another note, some of you might be interested in checking out this book.

The Knowledge Book

The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch

It’s a survivor’s guidebook, not covering actual survival skills, but it’s a discussion on ‘how to orchestrate the rebuilding of a technologically advanced civilization’ after a world-wide catastrophe, i.e., asteroid impact, global plague, nuclear war, etc. I just started it today, but I like it so far. Very interesting.

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I don’t know where our niece Christina keeps digging up these old photos, but they bring back a lot of memories.

White and Robinson Kids

These are our kids, Chris and Brandi, in the back, and Jan’s sister Debbie’s kids, Tana and Christina sitting on their laps, and Jason in the foreground. Jan thinks this was taken here in Houston when they visited us in July 1983. We think.
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I came across this article talking about a 2 year technical school education being worth a lot more money than a 4 year liberal arts college degree, especially in the old fields.

A company working in the Ohio Marcellus Shale area has 60 pipeline welders making over $150,000 a year, and 2 making over $200,000. And they don’t have enough welders to cover all the work they have. And that’s just one company.

I’ve always thought it was a mistake for high schools to drop the many technical classes they used to give. Most people have no idea how much money a good mechanic, plumber, electrician, or an HVAC guy can make. And in many cases, if you show an aptitude, the company will train you.

Tomorrow Jan and I are going to do a daytrip up through the Brenham-Hempstead area to check out the bluebonnets, and of course, the Blue Bell Ice Cream factory.
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Thought for the Day:

“Moderation in temper is always a virtue; moderation in principle is always a vice.” – Thomas Paine

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