This morning I drove over the Bay Bridge to meet up with my friend Brian at his new house, and from there we drove to a field behind an abandoned house to look at a short gray schoolbus that’s going to be the focus of much of my September. We crawled in, on top of, and underneath the whole thing, looking at what’s there and talking over what needs to happen in the next couple of weeks.
The first thing that needs to happen is a lot of demolition; the previous owner had done some modifications to the interior that aren’t going to stay—a janky bed frame in the back, a sink and cabinet made from 2×4’s, a set of seats cobbled together from a couple of minivans and the original bus seats, etc. When that’s all out, I’m going to rip up the hastily installed laminate flooring and the rubber bus matting underneath until we get to the marine plywood at the base. When the interior is gutted, we need to build a rack for the roof from box steel to hold a platform for a 4-person tent made by a guy in Colorado who doesn’t return phone calls, install a rooftop A/C unit, mount a portable diesel generator behind the rear wheels, and source and mount three underside storage boxes around the chassis. I have no idea how we’re going to do half of this, but we’re going to have fun making it work.
For a good portion of the day yesterday, this site and my other two were down due to some form of DNS failure at my web host. I don’t know what happened but it all came back up sometime this afternoon. That’s the first hiccup I’ve experienced in the last ten years or so; I wonder what happened.
Camping is a crapshoot. On a good trip, the conditions can be just right, the campsite ideal, the amenities perfect for keeping kids and parents occupied happily for the duration of the stay. On a bad trip, the people next to you are drunken bigots, the mosquitoes carry off your children, the lake is a swamp, and you’re miles from any ice cream stand. If you’ve got a shiny new trailer, you can hole up inside and pretend you’re at home on the couch watching Age of Ultron with the kids. When you’re tent camping, you’re at the mercy of pretty much everything. So you do the research, look at the pictures, ask for recommendations, and take a leap of faith a year in advance, hoping you made the right call and a hurricane with a stupid name doesn’t wipe your reservation off the map.
Early this year, I looked around for another Eastern Shore-based campground that had all of the cool stuff our last place did minus the live band and found Jane’s Island State Park, down at the bottom of Maryland before Maryland becomes Virginia. Reviews looked promising, the sites looked clean, and I was able to reserve a spot right on a canal, figuring the closer we were to moving water, the cooler we’d be.
I’ve spent the last week preparing for the trip, making piles of gear and then moving them around the house, paranoid I was going to forget something important. I upgraded our cooler. The Scout has new brakes, which are AMAZING and feel fantastic. I premade hobo stew for our first night at the campsite, figuring after I drove all the way down there, set up camp, and got the kids organized, easier dinner would taste better.
We were able to hit the road at 9:15 and got to the Bay Bridge by 10, slowing for some construction at the site of the old toll plaza. Once we made it over the span, we breezed into Easton, picked up Zachary, and continued south on 50 for the end of the earth. Stopping for food and gas, we made decent time, slowed only by the fact that the safari top needed to be up to keep Zachary’s hair from blowing all over his face.
The park is very well-run, and one of the cleanest and most well-equipped state parks I’ve been to. Our campsite was spotless and in a perfect spot to pick up breezes off the marsh. I got the site organized while I had the kids ride their bikes around to scout out the bathhouses, camp store, and marina.
Figuring we’d be hot overnight, I left the rain hood off the tent to keep us ventilated and started a fire. The hobo stew is in foil packets and was on the fire for 45 minutes before I got impatient, took it off and heated it in a pan. The kids were pretty cool about trying it (or, just extremely hungry) and we all made it disappear pretty quickly. Then, figuring we’d have nothing better to do, I drove us in to Crisfield to walk the pier and see what was there.
A century ago Crisfield was the epicenter of oyster fishing in the country, but the town has declined along with the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Most of what we saw was dark and quiet—an ice cream shop along the water actually had a sign saying they were closed due to lack of staff.
We found an ancient diner on Main Street and kept them open to enjoy their A/C and our ice cream for as long as was respectful, and then headed back to the campsite. I set the kids up with headlamps I’d bought and we lit off some sparklers by the canal before calling it a night.
On the pier at Crisfield we’d seen heat lightning flashing to the north, and my weather app showed big orange blobs on the radar heading our way. I made sure to get the rain cover ready and packed away all of our consumables in Tupperware tubs in the truck. Then we laid down for the hottest night in a tent I’ve spent since 1997. That time my ex and I had to wander the pier at Myrtle Beach until about 3AM, when exhaustion set in and we finally passed out in the tent for three hours—until planes started taking off from the airport directly over our heads.
This time we all tossed and turned until about midnight, when a blast of wind suddenly hit us and I knew I had precious minutes to get the rain cover on the tent. I scrambled outside to get the cover secured right as the first fat drops started hitting, and by the time I was able to get back inside, the wind was blowing the tent sideways and Finn was sitting up holding it in place.
It rained hard for half an hour, and then tapered off pretty quickly. The tent is a good one and kept all of the rain out both top and bottom—thank god. We all laid back down to try and sleep. It had cooled off but I couldn’t remove the rain cover to ventilate while the trees dripped on us, so things got muggy. Zachary found it impossible to sleep and was sitting up every half an hour, miserable. At about 4AM I told him if he couldn’t sleep we weren’t going to stay the second night and that I was totally OK with bailing out. That seemed to make him feel a little better, but didn’t help him sleep at all.
In the morning, he and I were up the earliest. I got coffee going and then made us some breakfast on Dad’s skillet while he talked to his Mom on my phone. We ate some food and let Finn sleep in until quarter of eight, then got ourselves ready to run over to the camp store to rent a canoe. I parked the truck in the sunlight to dry out and we filled the boat with our gear. Paddling out into the marsh, we followed a canal for a kilometer that led out into an area of open water and up to the beach separating marsh from bay. We were the first to pull our canoe up onto the sand, and we immediately got into the water to cool off.
Because it’s so shallow, the water was about 85˚ and very calm, so we stayed in for an hour and relaxed until the kids wanted to fish. We hiked back to a pier leading out into the open area of the marsh and I hung out with them for an hour while they dropped their lines in the water. While they were occupied, I took a side trip up the beach until I was away from everyone and spread some of Dad’s ashes out into the bay. Some of my strongest and best memories of him are from camping at the beach, and I was missing him a lot on Saturday.
The fish weren’t biting, so Finn got bored; we left Zachary at the pier and took the canoe back to the beach. He joined us after about 20 minutes, and we stayed in the water for about three straight hours laughing and splashing until our fingers were prunes and our stomachs were growling.
I got the kids hydrated and snacked, and then we got back in the canoe to paddle back to the marina. Thankfully the wind was at our back so it was pretty easy for me to paddle us back in—both kids ran out of steam about halfway back. Finn had applied sunblock 3 times but was still bright red and I think Zachary was suffering the lack of sleep. I got the zombies back to the campsite and sent them off to the bathhouse to wash off with their pre-selected clothes (DAD WIN) while I broke down camp and packed the truck up. After I got showered, I threw the bikes on the back of the truck, cleaned up our site, and hit the road for home.
About 5 miles out of the park we got hit with a rainstorm, so I put the hammer down until I could find a covered gas station and put the full top back up on the truck. Finn was up front slathered with aloe and Zachary was in back, so I think he only got a sprinkling. We put the rain behind us and stopped at a Hardee’s for a huge, well-deserved burger and fries, and continued on to Easton.
Dropping Zachary off at home, I noticed more storm clouds brewing north of us, so I hustled Finn out the door, put the bikini top back up, and floored it for home, hoping we could outrun the clouds moving southward. The Scout doesn’t currently have windshield wipers—it’s a long story—so I’ve coated the windshield with Rain-X. It works remarkably well on a summer day but at night in a thunderstorm I don’t want to test it out. Thankfully she’ll do 70mph with no effort, and with brand-new front brakes I’m not worried about stopping anymore.
We made it over the bridge with no problem—and as we got closer to home the clouds seemed to move off to the west. We pulled into the driveway at 8:30 dry as a bone and exhausted; I brought all of the consumables inside to the front porch and backed the truck into the garage.
Even though it wasn’t the full two-night three-day experience, I think we all had a lot of fun under the circumstances. Sometimes you roll the dice and get great weather, and sometimes the heat chases you home. I know we all slept like babies in our own air-conditioned beds last night, and with the kids going back to school tomorrow, that was the right call.
Part one of this story begins with the Scout in Annapolis, being looked over by my original Scout mechanic from 1997. To make a long story short, I needed new bearings and reached out to several mechanic friends, who were all backed up with work. My friend Mikey, who I know through a completely different set of friends, suggested Erick—another example of worlds colliding in amazing ways. I brought the truck down to him with the bearings and he had both the fronts replaced by about 6:30 Wednesday evening. I ran down there with Jen, picked the truck up, and hustled it back home in a light rainstorm. I’d already prepacked everything so it was fast to throw stuff in the truck, kiss the girls, and hit the road to meet Bennett at a park and ride out on Route 70.
From there we drove out to West Virginia to meet Brian at his family river house, and we cracked a beer on the porch before hitting the sack in a beautiful new air conditioned camp trailer they bought last year.
Thursday morning broke hot and only got hotter. The temperature was in the 90’s but the humidity pushed the index into the 100’s, so we checked fluids in the trucks, packed ice and water, had a quick bite to eat and headed west. We hit only one minor slowdown for construction, and stopped every hour or so to hydrate, gas up, and air out the backs of our shirts. Bennett kept the location of the barbecue joint we hit two years ago so we stopped in there for some lunch at about two, and it was worth the wait.
Back on the road, we navigated the evening rush hour around Columbus and then got cooled off in a downpour west of the city which then seemed to follow us. With the bikini top on the truck and a speed above 40mph, everything in the truck stayed bone dry through the worst of the thunderstorm. I’d prewashed the windshield with Rain-X before we left and that helped the visibility; I only had to use the wipers occasionally.
We rolled into the hotel by about 8PM and found the parking lot about 3/4 full of antique trucks. There were a bunch of folks to stop and chat with, and we finally broke off to drag some gear inside before it started raining again. We’d all agreed to avoid restaurants and as much indoor exposure as possible, so we ordered a pizza and had it delivered to the room while the rain passed. Then we headed back outside to meet up with friends and drink some beer.
Friday morning we got an early start, as a lot of the good parts would be fresh on the grass at entry, so we ate a quick breakfast, brushed our teeth, and hit the road for the airfield. After a brief stop at Tim Horton’s drivethrough we entered the grounds and made our way over to the rows, where Bennett and I set up next to each other and Brian got a sweet spot right across the lane from us. After checking in and picking up our swag we set up my EZ-UP (lifesaver) and wandered over to the parts area.
There were a lot of goodies to look over, and I tried to show some restraint for as long as possible. I got a ’72 emblem for the front of Peer Pressure’s grille (mine is missing) for $5, a day-night rearview mirror to replace my single-position mirror for $15, a $20 transmission mount (mine is toast) and a sweet shirt from GRC Fab for $15. There was a lot of other amazing stuff there that I would love to have bought.
We ran into a bunch of friends on the grounds and caught up with them, but by 1PM we were crispy and hungry. We retired to the tent to grill some hamburgers and chat with our neighbor Dave, who owns a last-day 1980 diesel Scout and who was happily eating some homemade ice cream from one of the vendors.
Sipping on a delicious chocolate milkshake from said vendor I heard the announcer offer a door prize to the first person who could produce an IH keychain. I hustled up to the podium and showed him my worn leather keyfob—the fob Chewbacca’s keys came on—and claimed a nice plastic ammo box to hold all of my new parts.
By about 4 we were thoroughly baked so we lowered the tent and headed back to the hotel. The tailgate party was just kicking off so we cracked some beers and I ran upstairs for a quick shower. Then we grilled some dinner on Peer Pressure and talked with friends.
We met a nice kid who parked an immaculate ’78 Rallye next to Brian’s truck and struck up a conversation; he’d spent the last two years working on it with his Dad and was obviously pretty proud of the results. Every nut and bolt was new. The paint gleamed. The engine was spotless. We complimented him on his work and told him to keep it out of the rain. Turns out he was from western Maryland and he’d trailered it in with his Dad that day.
Another man asked me a question about my grille, and I got to talking with he and his teenage daughter. She’d just bought a Scout and wanted to fix it up, and they’d driven four hours from Illinois to learn more about Scouts and how to do things. I talked with them for about a half an hour and answered as much as I could, then recommended a few more people to talk with. He said he was struck by how friendly everyone was at the show, and I assured him this was pretty normal.
Brian and I called it at about 11:30 and after downing some more water we crashed out.
Saturday we got up early to make sure we got our spot back, and after some lousy hotel food and a Clif bar we hit the road for the fairgrounds. Our spot was where we left it, as was the EZ-UP, and we set up camp for the day under cloudy skies and 65˚ temperatures. There were more vendors set up selling things so we hustled over to see what was newly available. I found a set of beautiful 2″ Stewart-Warner oil and amp gauges and got them for $15. Further down the line we stopped in at the Binder Boneyard and I bought a locking glove box latch for $20, which should work better than the wiggly hunk of metal I’m currently running. I hemmed and hawed over an incomplete chrome trim set without the clips and walked away, feeling good about my self control.
I then spied a set of fiberglas inner panels and noticed the third section for above the liftgate door—this one had the cutout for a switch like mine. We figured Howie at Binder Boys would have one in stock. His booth is amazing; one half of his setup is two tables of divided parts containers organized by fastener type, size, shape, and function). The other half is a trailer crammed with neatly organized large parts in racks and on shelves. He hustled into the trailer and within a minute handed me two to choose from, charging me $3 for it.
We headed back to the trucks to get some lunch, and then figured we should go over and check out IHPA’s booth up by the hangar. There we drooled over a lot of really nice stuff—including the brake kits we’d seen at Lee’s place. Brian struck up a deal and got a great price on one minus shipping. I got a decent deal on a set of liftgate struts for my truck and decided I’d hit my spending limit.
We visited with friends, got some more ice cream, and wandered through the rest of the show looking at the new arrivals. When they announced the raffle would start at 6 back at the hotel, we broke down camp and headed back there at about 4:30 to get our spots in the parking lot. I was fortunate enough to have a guy park a genuine SSII next to me, which we took time to drool over as the sun finally came out.
The raffle went off pretty quickly (I did not win anything, as usual) and the auction was lots of fun. There wasn’t a lot that I was interested in this year, so I kept my wallet in my pocket.
After the raffle, things broke up into smaller groups. I was feeling pretty worn down, so I called home and talked to Jen for a bit away from the crowds. We mingled a little and chatted with some folks, but were feeling pretty beat and headed upstairs at around 11.
Bennett and I had a long drive ahead of us (Brian was stopping off in West Virginia) so we bailed out of the hotel, ate some breakfast in the parking lot, and checked over fluids and fasteners. After topping off the important stuff we got on the road under cloudy skies. At the first service station a fellow with a crusty SSII on a trailer pulled up next to me, and I wished him luck with his restoration. Talking to him on Friday I learned he’d found one of only 50 Midas SSII’s in existence under a tarp out in the boonies, and he was going to rebuild the whole thing.
We drove into the morning gloom and soon it started drizzling. It was enough to cover the windshield but not enough to be dangerous, which was lucky for me because my wipers stopped working somewhere in Western Maryland. Again, with the bikini top up everything in back stayed bone dry. I think the worst part was that for the first hour I was cold— I was able to get to and put on my windbreaker but my legs were freezing until we stopped for a break and I could get under the hood to manually open my heater valve.
Beyond that, the ride home went off without a hitch. The roads were open, the rain let up right before Frederick, and for the final leg I drove with the top down and the sun on my back. I got into the house at 8PM and enjoyed some dinner with the girls in front of the TV.
Once again, our trusty old binders didn’t fail us. Once again, we had a great time getting out there, seeing friends, talking about trucks (and other stuff) and enjoying the summer in Ohio after it cooled off. We ate too much grilled meat off the tailgate, drank just enough beer, a lot more water, and avoided just enough rain to make it pleasant. Once again I had a great crew to enjoy the trip with, and I’m looking forward to next time.
On Monday I took a day off work and drove out to Lewes Delaware to visit a nice guy named Lee, who has been quietly working on Scouts exclusively for the past ten years. His bread and butter has been the wealthy beach clientele who can drop thousands on a rig each year for upgrades, but he’s helped average guys out like me as well. He was kind enough to take most of the day to talk with Brian and I, and I didn’t have enough space in my brain to hold all of the stuff we learned. His shop is stuffed full of IH parts and gear; he has two gleaming 392’s up on stands being rebuilt.
He was kind enough to put our rigs up on his lift, and we went over the mechanicals from the underside. Brian’s truck is, of course, in excellent shape (Lee had worked on it for the previous owner, and actually was trying to help him sell it at one point) and he showed us how to add rear disc brakes with the kit he and his son developed for one of the larger Light Line vendors. Then we put Peer Pressure up on the lift, and predictably he found some things that needed attention before driving to Ohio: both of the right side wheel bearings are in need of replacement, and the tie rod end is shot on the passenger side.
There was some little stuff that can get fixed later: when we put the front brakes on we put the hoses on backwards. At some point if I’m feeling sporty I can remove the shim on the starter motor; that’s only required for automatics. And I’m going to have to replace the transmission mounts pretty soon, as they are toast.
I also learned that the belt driven spaghetti-hosed lump next to my battery is an air pump, designed to thin out the particulates in the exhaust for 1970’s era emissions laws. Lee pointed out all of the smog hoses I can get rid of to plug vacuum leaks and help the engine run smoother. When that day comes, I bought eight specially-designed plugs to fill the holes left behind.
While we were there a bright yellow Scout came in on a flatbed from Colorado, freshly bought sight unseen from the internet. We walked out and looked it over with him, and even that was an education for us both. Dig that crazy chrome rollbar. It’s pretty incredible what Scouts are going for these days, and from what he says, some of the IH-specific parts are getting as thin on the ground as the trucks are. I mentioned what I had squirreled away in the garage and he told me I was sitting on a goldmine—and not to throw anything away.
We sat and shot the shit until about 5PM, and paid him what he asked; his time was worth much more but he refused to take anything beyond that.
I hit the road and was lucky enough to avoid all but about 3 minutes of a downpour in Glen Burnie, which actually cooled me off a little bit. The truck ran great both ways and I can’t be more pleased with the heat matting. According to the Googles I put 234 miles on the truck, although the odo says 194 for various reasons.
We had Zachary and Karean over the bridge for a day at the pool and an overnight together. While they were there I stayed with Hazel, smoked a 2.5lb. piece of tri-tip, and farted around the house doing odds and ends. The weather was perfect, and when they came home we were able to sit on the front porch and enjoy a cool breeze coming through the windows. I took no pictures and enjoyed just being in the moment with our friends.
I had a great weekend with friends, and today I drove 225 miles today in the Scout to meet a new friend with Brian. I’m whupped from being on the road, so I’ll write more tomorrow.
We enjoyed a somewhat quiet weekend with our friend Christopher visiting from New York, which meant there wasn’t a lot of movement other than switching from the living room to the porch. The weather kept flipping back and forth from sunny to overcast, but I was able to go rent a ladder from Home Depot—I have a 7′ stepladder and a 24′ extension ladder but nothing in between, which makes painting 12′ eaves difficult—and clean up the first floor trim. Then I brought the tools and a leaf blower up to the roof of the porch, scraped about seven of the bays in the eaves, and hit them with a coat of fresh white paint. Then I blew all of the paint chips off which made it look much cleaner. There are a bunch more to do but it already looks worlds better up there.
The tomatoes in the greenhouse are all looking very happy, and more of the plants are producing fruit. I’ve got to look in to proper fertilization to avoid blossom end rot and pull a couple of runty plants out to make way for the bigger ones.
Over the last couple of weeks, Jen and I have pored over three pages of calendar printouts—the next six months—penciling in plans and family events and trips. We’ve got a lot of it hammered out, some of it is still in flux, and other things are dependent on timing and circumstance. One of the things on the list is a camping trip I’ve been wanting to organize with Finn and Zachary for the last two years following our excellent trip in 2018. I’m a little nervous now that they’ve both fully embraced video games, and especially after a year and a half of COVID schooling, that they won’t be able to leave screens behind. Or that just as they are getting past that stuff and into being away, we’ll have to pack up and head home. I’ve got a reservation set up in late August to a state campground on the Eastern Shore for three days and two nights which should be a lot of fun; it’s near the water, has fishing and kayaking, and now that I’ve got a good hitch for the bikes we can take those along too. Now I’m thinking I should add another night to the trip so we’ve got a little more time to rough it. I also need to sort through the camping gear and make some upgrades and additions, especially around food planning and storage.
I think I’ve mentioned the Coffee Walk at some point: essentially an excuse to buy coffee and muffins, we walk downtown to the bakery and then make a long loop around the neighborhood before heading home. It’s about two miles and gives us an excuse to get more exercise, catch up with each other, tire out the dog, and most importantly, get muffins. Our local bakery makes what they call Triple Ginger muffins, which are fucking delicious, and uncharacteristic of all of their other dry, crumbly pastries. We’ve been hooked on these since they started making them, and this spring they’ve been especially good—we can often time it so that they’re still hot from the oven.
Well, all good things come to an end; the bakery makes “seasonal” pastries, and only offers two types of muffin at a time; they’ve now switched to chocolate chip-almond (not as good as it sounds and crumbly at the lightest touch) and strawberry cheesecake, which sounds like it might be good until it suddenly makes one feel sick.
Continuing around the corner, we came upon the Farmer’s Market, which looks to be busier than it’s ever been; I think they’ve been preparing for people to come crawling out of their homes looking for human contact and artisanal pickles since COVID began. One thing I was happy to see was a mobile knife sharpening van, and while we tried to scope out the rest of the offerings Hazel completely lost her mind in the presence of all the other dogs out for a walk, so we noped out of there and headed home. I grabbed up a handful of knives and headed back down there with Finn: two Schrade pocketknives I’ve had on my workbench—one 3″ I’ve had since high school, from a repo’d car, and a smaller 2″ blade that was Dad’s. I brought our Wusthof hollow edge from the kitchen, which has needed attention for the last couple of years, and finally Dad’s 6″ Dexter skinning knife from his days at Cornell when they taught him how to dress meat as part of the Agriculture program. For a total of $25 all four are back in shape and ready to be used again. He took a little more off the blades than I liked to see, but they were all in pretty rough shape. Sadly he doesn’t do chainsaw blades but I’ve got a couple of other knives around here that will need attention, so we’ll probably head back in two weeks.
Things in the greenhouse have slowed due to the iffy, ineffectual weather we’ve had for the last couple of weeks. Where there was a lot of growth in the hot weeks right after they got planted, they’re all stalled and are throwing out multiple suckers instead of producing flowering branches. I’ve got one Roma plant with about ten blooms but other than that it’s all show and no go. At the Farmer’s Market I saw a bunch of potted patio tomatoes that looked lush, carrying fruit, and it immediately made me feel like I was doing things wrong. But when I looked at other stands, I saw the same varieties we’ve planted for sale that were smaller than ours and had no fruit, which cheered me back up—it looks like we’re right on time.
A plan is hatching for the late summertime with Brian, who has asked me for some help with a project he’s got on his plate: he’s overhauling and outfitting a 25′ schoolbus for a family of six to drive across the country, and wanted to know if I could help him with the job. This is part of a larger plan he has to shift his business from home renovation to custom camper outfitting, and he’s asked me to join him.
There are a lot of considerations to be weighed here, and I’m taking none of them lightly. By nature and experience I’m extremely conservative when it comes to my career—having been laid off twice, I don’t like the feeling of operating without a safety net. I’m finally in a place where I’ve been able to put away solid retirement money year over year (and have it matched, no small benefit) but of course, I’d like to have more set aside. The idea of getting out from behind a computer and working with my hands and my head is extremely tempting, especially after having been stuck in one long Zoom call since last March. There are so many pros and cons to this idea that I can’t sort them all out right now, so we’re doing the smart thing: we’re going to tackle this first project, see how it goes, and reassess from that point. The basic plan is to use a bunch of my unpaid sabbatical during the month of September to work on the bus full time with Brian to see how far we can get, and surround that time with paid sabbatical vacation so I’m not wrung out when I go back to work. I’m upset our original plan to travel got completely torpedoed by COVID, but maybe we can make something good out of this.
It’s all very preliminary right now, but it should be a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to a break from my desk.