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The drive from Ravenna to Chicago went swimmingly well.

I took a tiny side trip (just a jog off the highway) to drive through Taco’s birthplace, Elkhart Indiana – “RV capital of the World” (and apparently, “Band Instrument capital of the World”, who knew).  The RV Hall of Fame is worth a trip.

I made it into Chicago right at rush hour – the highway was bad enough, try towing a vintage camper  down the bumpy streets of the West side of Chicago.

I was meeting a friend of Kelly’s for dinner that night and parked my whole production at a Walmart on W North Ave and hopped on public transportation into the city.  I’m somewhat directionally impaired and transit systems are baffling to me (inbound, outbound, N,W,E,S…)  I finally made it into town to meet Kate at a bar on N Ashland Ave, The Cobra Lounge.  We had a few drinks, and then Kate took me to another cool hipster hotspot, Big Star, in Wicker Park.

“Tacos, Whiskey, Hillbilly Music…sounds like Heaven.” is their tag-line and very aptly describes the scene.

It was packed – the service was fantastic and the food was delish.

There's a hotdog in there, somewhere

We ended the night just before midnight (I had to move Taco to a 24 hour Walmart just outside of the city).  There is so much more to do and see – Chicago, you will be hearing from me again, soon.

Next stop – Camanche, IA!

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I awoke in the Walmart parking lot, grabbed a coffee and hit the road, a bit fearful that something else would go wrong…  I called ahead to a campground I had researched the night before – Hidden Valley in Ravenna, OH (about 25 miles northeast of Akron).  There was a vacancy and I made the 300+ miles in good time and without mishap!

Unfortunately, Hidden Valley doesn’t have a website, but it appeared on my AllStay app for iphone.  It’s a gorgeous RV park and campground – Even better, it’s only $25 dollars a night and that includes full use of the facilities, electrical and water hook-up.

The community largely consists of retirees – It’s very peaceful here (unlike the Walmart parking lot, which was noisy 24 hours with trucks, but free :)).  Bingo night might get a little rowdy – looks like I’ll miss it.

I took a much needed shower and headed into Akron for dinner and drinks with some new friends.  I have a few really good friends born and raised in Ohio, and now I’ve seen for myself – Ohio is full of really cool people.  I ate some yummy Mediterranean food at Aladdin’s Eatery, and then I met up with the gals at a little gay bar on West Market – Square Bar.  Really cute with an outdoor patio in back.  Boston needs more of these.

Thanks for showing me a good time, ladies!

Off to Chicago!

She’s been adapting surprisingly well to her mobile surroundings.  It’s nice having the camper as a constant.  Spending a full day in a tractor-trailer yard during the tire fiasco made her rethink this entire venture, though.  It was hotter than blazes in that wide open yard of black rubber.  While the guys were working on Taco, Sophie was forced to sit with me in the truck, or outside in the shade of the building.  Even in the shade, it had to have been at least 90 degrees.  Sophie started to pant and kind of hyperventilate and she wouldn’t drink any water, so I released her from my hold with the hope that she would figure out what she needed on her own.  In Equinunk, she roamed outside the camper – but she only ever stayed under the camper, too afraid to go anywhere else.  Instead of lying under the truck, she made a bee-line for one of the loading docks (there were several, with docked semis full of tires at each one).  I freaked and ran in after her.  It was super dark in each bay and I thought for sure she would end up on a cross-country adventure of her own.  I had a flashlight on me and caught the glint of her eyes amidst a giant pile of tires.  All sanity has been restored and Sophie is speaking to me again.

Oh, today…  It was a long one.

I got about 2 hours from Equinunk, took a pretty pic of Lackawanna Valley at a scenic stop, and then one of my camper tires blew to smithereens on the highway.  I was able to pull over onto the right shoulder immediately and call AAA to the rescue.   The state cops were there within minutes and gave me the number of the barracks just in case.  In the time it took AAA towing to get there (which was pretty speedy) the force of the big rigs whizzing by started to peel the aluminum siding from the back of Taco!  Tom, an absolute dreamboat savior, arrived to the scene only to point in horror at the back of the camper, wondering if I had been hit.  I, with my head between my knees in the highway brush, was too stunned to have even noticed Taco’s strip-tease.  Tom wrangled Taco up the ramp, secured her, and led the way to the nearest garage.  The first garage basically pointed and laughed and said that they wouldn’t even know where to start looking for a replacement wheel.  Tom led me to the next garage in Wilkes-Barre.

McCarthy Tire and Automotive Center took the challenge and called around until they located 2 old Chevy wheels that would fit my camper.  They spent all day tracking them down, switched the old ones out and gave everything a once over.  They even checked out my truck at no cost (everything was fine).  I spent the entire day there.  Mike Flynn, the manager of Tire Services, and an aficionado of campers and RVs, treated me like a daughter and wouldn’t let me leave until everything was running smoothly.

While I waited, I took a trip up the road to Wide World RV Center and shopped around for hitching needs.  They were super helpful and pointed out the Walmarts and the casino that I could park in overnight.

The casino was tempting, but I decided against it when I imagined sleeping in the parking lot.  Walmart it is!  I got a bunch of items in the “superstore” to tune-up my ride and had a burger and a beer at the Red Robin across the lot.  Starbucks in the morning and all systems go!

Akron, OH – take 2…

The first stop on my trek was to visit friends in Equinunk, PA – on the Delaware river.  Less than 300 miles from home, it was the perfect first leg for my little truck and camper to attempt.  I was anxious and white-knuckled through much of the drive, but arrived before dark and a NASTY thunder and lightning storm.  The only casualties were half a bottle of bourbon (no, I wasn’t drinking and driving – it toppled in the cabinet during the first 15 minutes, giving my camper the stench of a distillery), and a pane of glass in the camper that got poked out by my truck racks while trying to park the thing in the driveway.  I will say I parked like a champ up a hairpin turn on a dirt road (in the boonies!).

I slept like a baby.

Very early the next morning, Kinsley and Eva left for work at a nearby farm, so I made some coffee on my camper stove in my stove-top percolator and settled down to do some writing.  Not 10 minutes into my blogging, the power went out.  I thought I had overloaded the circuit and was chastising myself for breaking their house.  They don’t get cell phone reception and after checking the circuit breakers, I gave up and headed into town where I hoped to get a signal for my phone and make some calls to try to get everything fixed.  The last night’s storm was the culprit.  My drive into town was obstructed in several places by downed trees and workers trying to restore power – whew!

SIDENOTE:  During my first full day in Equinunk, I set up my portable solar panel to charge my power inverter battery pack.  It works like a charm and I am totally self sufficient in my camper.  There is enough charge to power my lights, laptop, and other essentials through the night!

In preparation for my trip, I had purchased a heavy-duty under-mount trailer hitch that I should have installed on my truck before I embarked, but of course I ran out of time and didn’t – figuring my factory hitch would do.  It didn’t.  I found a garage in Callicoon, NY (with power) and had them install the new hitch.  Roche’s Garage hooked me up in a jiffy and made sure I had all the parts I needed for a safe journey.  The waiting room of the office was filled with memorabilia of Roches past and present in addition to myriads of Ronald Reagan “pin-ups”.

Thanks Roche’s Garage!

My first task as Handyman was to make flower boxes for the patio –

Later that afternoon, I visited Willow Wisp Organic Farm, where Eva and Kinsley work.

And on to trail-blazing along the Delaware River.

The next day, we went thrifting and foraging in Caliicoon, NY.

Love this place and it’s “family” owned…

Callicoon Supply had the replacement plexi for my camper window, and then we went on to the farmer’s market in Callicoon Center.

Party time!

Thanks, Kinsley, Eva and Buddy, for an incredible start to my journey!

After much ado…  The renovation was more involved than I had anticipated (always is).  After I removed all of the rot and unwanted bits, I began reconstructing the floor and ceiling.

The floor had lots of water damage and after I had stripped it down to the metal pan in places, I decided not to put more rot-able wood down – instead, I used 2″ thick rigid foam insulation and covered it with 1/2″ plywood.  I put the bench seats back in (with storage and hiding places for Sophie, the cat), and sanded and painted all existing doors, cabinets and walls a cheery yellow-white (ginseng root by Benjamin Moore).  Accent walls were painted “Tropicana Cabana”!  I used some vinyl, stick-down tiles in the dining area and the bathroom; hickory stained floating laminate floor for the rest.

The ceiling had been stripped down to the “rafters” – curved 2 x 3’s that keep the roof domed and provide a substrate for the sheathing.  I filled the bays with cellulose insulation (a vapor barrier to hold it all in) and sheathed it all with 1/8″ luan plywood.  I found a product on line that provides a bit more insulation and is cute as all hell.  Styrofoam tiles (looking like take-out trays) with moon craters came 20″ x 20″, super light weight, and adhered fantastically to the luan with an adhesive designed for styrofoam.  The directions were in Russian (I think), but it was all very self explanatory. After the ceiling was in place, I added my light fixture and roof vent trimmings.  Once all that was in place, I coated the roof with an alkyd rubberized sealant to keep the weather out.

Next, my favorite – decor!

– Linda Ronstadt’s “Living In the USA” picture album clock 🙂

– Zulu short spear (given to me by my neighbor/”uncle”, Robert – along with a sack of survival goodies).

– “God Bless Our Camper” plate, gorgeous handcrafted quilt, and curtains by my honey bee, Kelly.

– Baby Greenman magnets (my sisters and I) by Mom (ages ago!)

– Odds and ends from IKEA

I salvaged all of the hardware, appliances (I did, however, upgrade the propane heater to a ventless, ceramic one) and most of the light fixtures.

Ready to roll!

Check out the full transformation on the “Metamorphosis” page!

I knew I would have my hands full, but it’s such a tiny space…  There was extensive water damage due to 2 busted roof vents and some missing panels of window glass.  I began by clearing as much of the nasty as I could without performing a complete gut job (my apologies, Taco, but you are the first of many and my resources are limited).  The camper is a structurally sound, canned ham with “framing” to hold all of the cosmetic parts in place.

NOTE:  I’ve been salvaging and re-using as much of the original Taco as possible.  The original lighting and hardware is pretty fab and will definitely remain.

The ceiling was a mess.  Leaking roof vents created a mulch-y turned driftwood effect beneath the vinyl sheathed surface (perfect for holding in moisture).   I cleared the decay.  New vents and a weather-proof roof sealant will prevent further damage.

Water damage from leaky roof vent

The leaky roof vents formed a tag team with some leaky windows and caused further damage to parts of the walls and floor.

More water damage

I decided to remove the permanent toilet and replace it with a portable unit from Fiamma.  The idea of pumping waste out of my camper didn’t appeal to me, so I opted for a smaller and more “manageable” operation.  We’ll see how that goes…

Future garden planter?

By the end of Phase 1, my spirits were knocked around a bit, but still optimistic.  Here are more shots of the interior.  Phase 2 will involve insulating and reinstalling the ceiling and damaged walls, replacing the roof vents, applying roof sealant, and dealing with the floor.

View from the boudoir

Progress

Floor stripped down to metal pan

Ceiling stripped to framing

Cleanup

In my research for this trip, I’ve come across some great websites, apps, clubs and vendors. Here are some of my faves:

Airbnb This trip is made possible by Airbnb. Travel anywhere in the world and find a couch, room, apartment, entire home, tree house, boat, yurt, geodesic dome… to stay on/in! Several months ago, I posted my property on this site and within days, I had packed six 20 gallon bins of my crap into storage and the rest to Goodwill. The place is furnished and complete with reading and music library. I’ve had the most wonderful experiences meeting people from all over the world through this site and I’m making money while I’m away. Check out Airbnb and never stay in a hotel again!

If traveling to Boston, check out my listing

Passport America – Great site – LOVE the iphone app. Find campgrounds all over the US, by name, city, state, popularity…

Truckster for iphone – My FAVORITE app. It gives listings of all truck stops, rest stops and Walmarts by state, rte and highway. Each stop has a list of ammenities (parking, shower, laundry, lounge) and even has notes from travelers who have been before.

AllStays – my NEW FAVORITE app. The filters for campgrounds and overnight parking are too numerous to list. The most thorough camping app I’ve found yet!

Tin Can Tourists – My girlfriend got us a year membership to this super cool club.

Tin Can Tourists is an all make and model vintage trailer and motor coach club. Our goal is to promote and preserve vintage trailers and motor coaches through gatherings and information exchange.

I can’t wait for the first rally!

Northern Tool + Equipment A fantastic catalog of just about anything a handyman could possibly yearn for. I will be outfitting Taco with items purchased from Northern Tool, Amazon and Ebay. Taco will be running on solar power as much as possible. Panels and batteries of any shape and size may be purchased through these sites and you can be sure to pick the right ones with the aid of customer reviews. The wish list is ever growing as I delve into restoration…

I’ll be adding more links as I discover them –

I researched tag-along campers for a while before adopting the one that would become my home. Craigslist was where I did most of my searching. I looked at sooooo many campers, it hurt – lusting after each and every one. Size and weight were limiting factors since I drive a smallish pick-up truck.

Here are a few of the ones that got away:

Too big and broke down

From the 50s and heavy as hell

This one was crashed in by a tree the day before I would have purchased it!

And this is Taco

“Taco” got her name from a dream that my friend, Craig, had one night – a dream that will not be recounted in the annals of this blog. I’ll tell you later.

I found Taco in Willimantic, CT and picked her up on my way back from a job in NYC. I had been talking to Taco’s owner, Mark (aka “Bear”), for the week prior to picking her up. He was the nicest guy and held onto her until I could get out there to check her out. Bear was working the night shift at a brewing company and met me after his shift, around mid day. He has a large property with trailers, motorcycles, cars and parts of all sorts salvaged and stored. Bear’s wife was not excited about this use of yard space, hence my appearance in their driveway with a case of beer and a smile.

Bear’s friends stopped by and we spent the rest of the day drinking beer under the carport, telling stories and hitching my new $300 purchase to the back of my little truck. Bear loaned me his trailer plate and I made it safely and comfortably back to Boston, the proud owner of a Yellowstone Camper! Thanks again, Bear!

Taco in Boston

Here are some “before” shots of the interior:

Dining area

The Kitchen - Fridge/X-ray viewer

Bedroom end

The Kitchen - Stove/Oven

Taco in Winter Storage - Ready for her metamorphosis

I’m renovating Taco this winter – she will emerge a beautiful butterfly this spring. Progress pics to follow!