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.
I was beginning to wonder if I was going to hear back from Kodak about the 8mm reels I’d sent off for digitizing in early July, and while I was sweating my nuts off in a tent in Southern Maryland, I got an email from them. They sent me links to download all four videos, which were all between 500-600MB in size. I was pleasantly surprised with all four of the videos.
Dad had issues with his Super-8 camera back in the day where the light meter didn’t expose the film correctly, so some of the footage is dark, but the folks at Kodak did their best to work with what they were given, and they actually pulled a lot of the detail back out. I think my biggest criticism would be the sharpness of the footage—I wonder if there’s a way I can take the footage I’ve got and put it through some kind of enhancement to pull more detail out.
For the price, it’s fantastic, and when I get these reels back I’ll have to figure out what the next four will be.
I’ve mentioned my disappearing sunglasses previously, so when my brown pair went missing again earlier this spring, I figured they were gone for good this time and it wasn’t worth writing about. I got along fine with the black pair and actually grew to like them just as much as the brown ones. Yesterday as I was cleaning sand out of the Scout I found the brown ones, having fallen in between the passenger seat and the transmission tunnel; they’d gone unnoticed all summer, even as I was cutting and installing heat matting, thankfully landing lenses up so that the glass wasn’t scratched.
Jen and I pulled the trigger on a closet organization system a while back, and it was delivered several weeks ago. The boxes are piled up in the bathroom waiting for me to get started assembling. One of the first things I needed to do was address the outlet left in the closet, which was still hanging out of the wall. It was old enough to date back to the Doctor, and I used that box to jump a line out to install a spotlight over the driveway. During demo I found that it had just been attached to the paneling and nothing behind that, so it was left hanging out of the wall. I found a blue plastic new work box and cut the drywall wider on one side until I could tuck the box flap between the drywall and the wood sheathing behind it, then screwed it in place. Then I did a drywall repair job on the remainder of the opening. With that complete, I can now start measuring and installing racks and MDF for the closet system.
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.
I used the first day of my sabbatical to get some long-delayed errands done. One of these was to return a pair of Gap jeans I’d bought in April to the store all the way up in Towson. I’d written earlier about how they closed the store down in our local mall, and an attempt to return it at a Gap Outlet nearby was also unsuccessful—apparently the two brands do not mingle. Happily, the woman at the counter in Towson was cheerful and quickly charged the money back to my card, which was very much appreciated.
I used that money to spring for an RTIC cooler to replace the 20+ year old Coleman coolers moldering in our garage. YETI coolers are the Hotness but are pricy as hell; I’ve seen a lot of comparisons between rotomolded coolers and RTIC came out equal at 2/3 of the price. Given that we’re going to be at a remote campsite for three days and I need our food to remain cold, I figured it was time for an upgrade. Plus, the hinges and drain plugs on the Colemans all disintegrated years ago and they’re held together with duct tape. Appearances must be maintained.
Other preparations for camping are coming along. Both fishing poles are out and cleaned up. Finn and I will be putting the tent up to air it out this afternoon. The Scout is at a local shop getting brake work done this morning. The pile of gear in the basement grows by the day. I have some food to buy and prepare, and some last-minute camp stuff to get (skeeter repellent, a cheap rechargeable phone battery, a frying pan from the Goodwill) but it’s all coming together.
I got back from Nationals with shitty front brakes, a leaky gas tank, and a bunch of new parts to play with. First, I made a couple of calls and got brake work under control.
The gas vent line was probably the easiest win, so I sourced a brass barb fitting from Lowe’s and 4′ of 3/8″ gas line from NAPA with a new plastic filter. Swapping out the brass plug for the barb was easy, and the gas line went on quickly. I brought the line up into the driver’s rear fender, gaining access through the cover behind the spare tire, and lopped off about 1′ of the hose. Capping that with the filter, I zip-tied it to the other vent hose to keep it upright and buttoned everything up. Hopefully the tank will vent a bit smoother now, at least until I can sort out the larger issue with the sender.
At Nats, Brian and I brainstormed a way to add snap barrels to the back of the tailgate so that I can snap the back of the soft top closed, and after I sourced the small hardware (6/32″ stainless screws and nylock nuts) I drilled into the aftermarket aluminum diamond plate. There’s a divot in the top of the tailgate that the nuts tuck into neatly without touching the sheet metal; it wasn’t until Brian pointed that out that I realized the solution was that simple. D’oh! (Now I have to get the zippers fixed).
That left the windshield wiper issue as the next big problem, which I was not looking forward to diagnosing. I also needed to re-align the wiper arms on the windshield, and a little research revealed they are simple to remove and easy to reinstall. Taking the cowl cover off confirmed my suspicion that the linkage from the motor to the wiper arm had come loose—this has happened before.
A trip to the Ace Hardware provided a quintet of e-clips in the right size, and I pulled the motor out completely to reattach the arm. Years ago I’d pulled it out and was never able to get it back in completely, so this time I focused on figuring out the secret trick of tucking the end of the bracket around the mount under the cowl. It’s now snugged tight with two bolts in the correct position. Then I had to fight to re-attach the first arm to the second linkage, which is always a treat.
With that done, I started diagnosing the wipers themselves; there is no response in the motor when I turn the switch at all. I have a 12-volt bench tester, so while the motor was out I confirmed that it’s not smoked; it revolved freely. A voltage tester hooked to the ground wire shows there’s no power coming through from the switch on the dash, so now I’m trying to pull the switch out and source a replacement.
While I was out on errands I stopped at the Harbor Freight to pick up a cheap stepped drill bit that went wider than 1″ diameter. The new glove box lockset from Binder Boneyard is a plastic barrel that’s much wider than the stock metal unit, so I had to open up the factory hole and grind off the two threaded studs on the backside of the glove box door. (Fun fact: I realized I have four spare glovebox doors when I went looking for another part in my bins).
This took all of about 15 minutes. Then I had to adjust the crappy metal tab I’d made to replace the catch on the inside of the glove box; apparently my dash is from a particularly boozy Friday shift in Fort Wayne, and does not feature the same loop catch found in all of the other Scout II’s I’ve ever seen or parted out. Once that was done and I had it fastened in the right place, the door closes snug to the dashboard and now features a lock! I’d like it a little more if it was made out of metal but for the price it can’t be beat, and anything that’s truly valuable is going to get locked into the Tuffy console or the ammo box in back anyway.
The final thing I did was to drill a single hole in the grille for my new (used) INTERNATIONAL badge, add some good 3M double-sided auto tape, and mount it to the sheetmetal in the proper position. She looks like a whole new truck!
I’m not a fan of Black Shoegaze or whatever they call it, and I wasn’t into Sunbather, but this is a great fucking song.
I’ve been at WRI for almost eight years—the longest I’ve ever been at any job in my life—and I’m about to take advantage of one of the excellent perqs of the job: a sabbatical. It’s offered after the fifth and tenth years of employment as a way to recharge, and I’ve been looking forward to taking advantage of it for a long time.
It’s been a sort of circuitous route to get to this point; my fifth year was cancer, my sixth year was recovery from cancer, and we all know what happened last year. I was lucky the HR people let me take this one before I became ineligible and had to wait for the 10-year. We had discussed going to Europe as a family in 2020, but it was difficult getting the finances organized to do so and in hindsight I’m so very glad we didn’t prepay for a bunch of tickets and hotels we wouldn’t have been able to stay at anyway. We were lucky enough to sneak down to Harry Potter minutes before they shut everything down for COVID—it’s a miracle we didn’t come home with anything worse than Finley’s flu—and counted our blessings during the lockdown.
Looking forward into 2021, all hope of a family vacation was again out the window; there was no point spending cash we don’t have on the chance things might open up in the future. When Brian asked me to help with the schoolbus, it sounded like a great idea; I’d be away from a computer, working with my hands, solving different problems, and learning some new skills.
Problem is, there are several huge projects happening at WRI that come to a head in September, and they involve my skillset and input. I’ll be checking in occasionally on some things and putting in a couple days’ work on a big report because I am responsible to my team to finish it.
And most importantly, we’re not getting away to anywhere to recharge as a family. Finley will be 15 when I’m eligible for my next sabbatical, and if I’m still at WRI we can take advantage of it with some more careful planning—and refundable tickets.
My records say I put 925 miles on the Scout, which means it’s actually around 1187 if I do the math, but Google figures it’s about 1050. I used roughly 77.6 gallons of gas this time, which puts my mileage somewhere around 13.5 mpg—which seems a little odd. I got about 12 on the last trip, and our route was almost exactly the same.
Some various reflections:
- My front brakes are scraping. I sourced a new local mechanic who can handle brake work quickly through another Scout guy in Ellicott City, and ordered rotors and pads today. I’m going to take the Scout camping in a week and a half, so I want them working right, and I don’t have time to futz with it myself.
- This was the most rain I’ve ever driven my Scout in. We were wet for 3/4 of the trip home, but everything worked as it should have. My wipers crapped out on the second half of the way back, so I’ll have to pull the cowl and replace the motor with a known good unit. While I’m in there I have to adjust the linkage to align correctly on the window.
- The gas tank is still a pain in my ass. I was dribbling gas after every fill up. This will require several fixes: I have to buy some gas-rated hose and rig up an overflow vent with a filter at the end to vent the extra air. Jim, one of the mechanics at Super Scouts, showed me how to do this on his pretty red Travelall. Then I’ll have to drop the tank and properly seal up the sender so that it doesn’t escape out the top. I said I was going to do this two years ago.
- In the fall when the soft top comes off I need to find a sail repair service in Annapolis and see if they can sew my zippers back on. The right one gave way on Saturday night when I was closing up the truck, so now both of them are shot.
- Brian helped me think of a way to install snap barrels on the aluminum sheet overlaying the tailgate so that I can snap down the soft top; this might actually work…