Saturday, July 27, 2019

Review of our new Bigfoot Leveling System, and a Catch-up Post

I wanted to wait until we had tried them out at several different parks, before I posted my thoughts about the Bigfoot Hydraulic Leveling Jacks, which we had installed by Quadra Manufacturing in White Pigeon Michigan.   Our old Atwood Electric jacks made such horrid grinding noises whenever we tried to retract them from any position even close to full extension, that they just had to go.

In the eight years that we have had the Alfa, we have replaced three of the Atwood jacks when they failed. Also, Atwood is out of business, and replacement legs are hard to find. 

For my non-rving friends, an RV should be level when parked. Not only for the comfort of the occupants, and for frying eggs in a pan, but for the operation of an absorption (electric/gas) refrigerator. It is less important if you have a residential electric refrigerator, which some RVs have.  

The four legs also stabilize the coach so you don't bounce around when someone is walking inside, and an egg won't roll off the counter if left unattended.

Our first campground after White Pigeon had a nice firm, fairly level gravel pad. The legs went down quietly with just a press of the control panel buttons, and Craig had no problem correcting the programed level position with a few manual tweaks. (They set the program at the factory, but it is not quite right and eventually when he gets more familiar with them, Craig will reprogram it.)

Our second campground, in Chippewa Falls, was more challenging. It was a somewhat rough grass spot and since they had had a lot of rain recently, the ground was soggy and soft.

With the Atwood legs, Craig would have had to put blocks on the ground under the feet so the coach didn't sink and get stuck. At the Sioux Falls Fairgrounds, he had to dig the blocks out of the ground when we were leaving! 

We bought the optional snap pads for the feet. They are made of a "tuff stuff" type material and stay on permanently. No need to kneel in the mud to slide blocks under the coach! 

We are not sure how long they will last, but replacements are only $50 each and can be installed by the coach owner.

After we pulled out of the spot in Chippewa Falls, I went back and looked at the impressions left in the soft ground. The Bigfeet had come up easily. By the time we were at the next campground all the mud had dried and blown off, so they looked as good as new.

Our next park, in Saginaw MN, was pretty level, but Craig still had to make a few manual adjustments.

Finally our spot at Indian Point in Duluth, was a bit uneven with grass and older gravel. It too would have required the use of extra blocks with the Atwood. No problem with the Bigfoot system. 

We know there will be more challenging locations in the future, but for now I think we have a pretty good sample, and arrival or departure is far less stressful without the worry of "will the jacks go up or down one more time?"

[From Craig] My main complaint about the Bigfoot system also applied to the Atwood Levelegs.  I don't believe that there is any one "level reference" setting that I can accept for "fully automatic" leveling at all sites. What I think is the fault of both systems is that when they compute the jack extensions necessary to level the coach, both systems seem to do MOST BUT NOT ALL of the necessary extension(s).  For example, on both systems, if what's needed is raising the back and the passenger side, in order to achieve good leveling I have to manually do a little more extension on the back and a little more on the passenger side.  Considering how corporations use common technology nowadays, I wouldn't be surprised if this similar behavior is because Bigfoot's leveling is descended from Atwood's. Before I get sued, I don't mean that Bigfoot copied stuff from Atwood. But the Atwood control module that I removed to send to another Alfa owner, looked really similar to the Bigfoot control module that I see under my dashboard.

So, all in all we are satisfied with our decision to replace our leveling system. However, our installation experience was not the best. The factory tech tried repeatedly to get the program to level the coach. Since we were not hooked up at the time, and the area was in the midst of the heatwave, the coach kept getting hotter and hotter as they tried to tweak it. Craig finally accepted it as "good enough", knowing he could reprogram it himself in the future.

Then, after the techs left, he discovered a couple of wiring problems in the coach dash. Both our phone dock and our Tire Pressure Monitor system were dead. Craig traced the phone dock problem to a blown fuse. He had another and was able to change it. But the TPS wiring had been disconnected from the power connection and was just hanging loosely from a piece of electrical tape. Fortunately Craig knew how to fix it.  He has a small soldering iron among his onboard tools, and was able to rewire it.  I suggested he call the tech back, but he didn't want them to touch anything else. 

I hope that in time we will come to love these jacks. 

Back to our RV travels:

It took us a couple of days to drive to the Duluth MN area,  our next destination.  We ran into a horrendous rain storm while I was driving through the south end of the Chicago area. I hate when that happens. I was driving in a very tight freeway area with semis on either side, when I inadvertently caused my side mirror to clack into that of an adjacent truck. No damage, but the driver was not happy with me. He really blasted me with his horn as he sped up to pass us! The plus was the rain washed the bugs off the windshield!

This seems like a month for things breaking. This time it was the monitor screen on Craig's Apple laptop. We ended up driving 150 miles, from Duluth to the Apple Store in Minneapolis (in the Jeep). That was on Monday, Craig had to go back for it on Saturday, but there was no charge for this repair, as for the previous keyboard replacement in Colorado.

Before our appointment, we had time to go downtown and see the Mill City Flour Museum in Minneapolis. Neither of us had known what a big flour mill center the city had been. The Flour museum was in an old Gold Medal mill that had exploded and been rebuilt. 

Lots of old machines were on display along with some excellent information about the milling process.

A look into the past

We took a glass elevator up to an observation deck overlooking the walls of the old mill, which had burned out after it had been closed.

We had a beautiful view of the bridges and river. One of the complexes on the other side was Pillsbury. Not much milling is done in Minneapolis anymore. But many of the wheat silos still stand. I don't know if they are still used.

The next day, back in Duluth, we went to the Duluth Railroad Museum.
It is housed in the old depot, and the outside architecture was charming.

Many of the old engines and cars have been maintained in working order by numerous volunteers.

This snow removal equipment made us glad we do not live in the Northern states!

Park of our visit to the Railroad Musem included a 90 minute ride along the shoreline in an old train.

After boarding, we walked through several newer cars that were air-conditioned. They were pretty full, and the fogged-up windows did not open.

Further back there were several older cars that were not cooled, but the windows opened for much better views and photography.

Half way through the ride the engine is detached and is run back on a siding to the other end of the train. After it is reattached it pulls the train back to the depot.


I was able to hold the camera outside the open window for these shots as the engine came alongside.

After an ice cream treat back at the depot, we walked across the bridge over the freeway to the Lake Superior Aquarium.

It had some very nice tanks and interesting fish. I was a bit disappointed that it didn't have many educational displays about the changes and environmental disasters that have occurred in the Great Lakes.  Thje priome cause is the invasion of non-native species into the lakes through the St. Lawrence Seaway and in the ballast tanks of large ships. This spring I read a lot about this in  "The Death and Life of the Great Lakes" by Dan Egan.

Another highlight of our days in Duluth was a visit to a "Super 1" grocery store, where we were able to buy several things that we had eaten as Milwaukee children. Marrow bones, several kinds of sauerkraut (I only bought one), turkey thighs in July (sometimes found elsewhere close to Thanksgiving), smoked fish, and fresh,  fresh, fresh Lake Superior white fish.

Thunderstorms are common in the afternoons. The above image should have been a movie. I watched this huge plume of clouds grow in a very short time. 


I hope this is not a sign of our future. I recently read the value of the dollar has gone down a bit, but is still strong. All I see is increased prices so that a dollar doesn't go as far as it did a few years ago.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Shipshewana and Elkhart

The drive over to the North Park Campground and Amish Log Cabins, in Shipshewana Indiana, was smooth and uneventful. I thought the campground might be manned by a nice Amish couple, but the man and woman at the office were both from India. The campground was small, a bit worn around the edges, but otherwise quite ordinary. On one of the three nights we were there, we sat outside playing Gin while listening to the clip-clop of the horse-drawn buggies going past. 

Pretty much everything is closed in Shipshewana on Sundays, so we decided to go over and see the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart. 

I have seen pictures of some of the classic RVs they had on display, and it was fun to see them in person.

They were all open for inspection, some with a rope across the door, but many that you could go into and "feel" their space.

This was touted as the "oldest" RV in the world, from 1913.  
The display did not include any newer models. Most were trailers, but a few early motorhomes were included.

Our modern cushioned leather drivers lounges are a great improvement over these wooden seats.

Notice the stove pipe above Craig's head. The heat in this truck-like vehicle was provided by a miniature cast iron woodstove.

This was the longest trailer on display. It even had bunk beds.

The RV Hall of Fame was interesting, and they are working on a large expansion. I would have liked to see more about the future of the industry. Perhaps it will be in their new wing.

I didn't take any pictures around Shipshewana. I just didn't feel like carrying the camera around.

Image from web
Monday we went to the Menno-Hof center. It is not really a museum, in that it does not display artifacts and collections. It is a very well done series of rooms with visual presentations about the history of the Anabaptist movement, which includes the Amish, the Mennonite and Hutterites. 

Picture from Trip Advisor on Web
In the evening, we had an excellent Amish  buffet dinner at Das Dutchman Essenhaus restaurant in Middlebury.

The food was good, plentiful, and reasonable.

On Tuesday, we went over to the Shipshewana Flea Market for a little while.

It is very large and it was starting to rain so we didn't walk it all. I didn't need anything, and just shopping is not one of my interests. 

We did buy some fresh Georgia peaches and took them back to the Alfa, where we ate them with ice cream for breakfast!

So now, on Tuesday afternoon, after an eleven mile drive, we are parked and hooked up in the Quadra Manufacturing parking lot, ready for our Wednesday morning appointment to get our new Big Foot leveling jacks installed.

The Midwest weather has been somewhat hot and humid, but we may be getting used to it. Well, not really. We usually turn off the air conditioning and open the windows at night, and this morning I felt very hot and sweaty when I first woke up. The air seemed almost "thick".  [From Craig] She felt that way because I had to close the windows in the night, when heavy rain started falling. I turned the air conditioning back on, but it can't produce that nice summer-morning feeling when cool 6 AM air comes in the windows.

If you ever want breakfast in White Pigeon MI, the Country Kitchen has nice home-style food. We both had Breakfast Burritos, so can't talk about any other offerings. Travel well or stay well, whichever applies to you.

Sunday, July 14, 2019


I want to start this post with a big THANK YOU for all my RV friends that have been following along and leaving comments. I write the blog to keep my memories, and to give us a good reason to take pictures as we go. But reading your comments is "the frosting on the cake" so to speak. Welcome aboard, it's more fun to have friends along than to travel alone. 

After our awning failed, and our neighbors at the Iowa State Fair Park Campground helped us secure it with Gorilla tape and ropes, Craig started calling RV repair shops, and found one about ten miles down the road that could help us remove and stow it.

We held our breath and successfully got there without any further disaster.

The guys at Plaza RV in Bondurant, IA got it off and helped us get the 17 foot awning, on its roller, into the Alfa through the side window in the slide. The arms fit into one of the bays. 

We bundled it up in bubble wrap, and will be stepping over it until we can arrange for a repair or replacement. That probably won't happen until fall. The awkward part is that we will have to move it every time we bring in the slide. The picture to the right is when the slide is out. 

The travel position, when the slide is in,  is up against the recliner chair and the kitchen cabinets. I can't cook or use the chair with it there! 

Oh well, just one more little thing to do before each move. Not wonderful but manageable. 

Just a note: I bought these Kokopelli Rugs from a roadside vendor last fall in Salt Lake City. There is one more in the bathroom. 

The drive to Davenport was uneventful, except for getting a bit lost when making the last turn to get to the park. My map showed a right turn, but Craig saw a sign that he thought was for our campground that indicated a left turn. We turned left and ended up having to make about a five mile detour. 

Eventually we did find the West Lake Campground and happily settled in. It is a very nice county park. We had full hook-ups for only $24 per night. The only drawback was that it is "first come first serve" and you have to have your rig parked on a site before registering. This was fine for a Tuesday arrival, but we noted that by Friday the park was full for the weekend.

The next morning, on recommendation of Flowergirl, we went for a nice country breakfast at the Machine Shed.

It reminded us of a Cracker Barrel. Good down home food. 

One of our morning adventures was a walk along the Mississippi River. 

No walking, no river?  Craig was just waiting for me to catch up, and he looked so relaxed I had to capture the moment.

Here's the river view! This was one big barge, made up of several smaller ones, that we watched go downriver.

Then we spent some time wandering around Davenport's 2nd street where several recommended places were located. The weather has been very hot and humid, and we just don't seem to have very much energy. The Sky Walk was closed for repairs, and one of the pubs near the river was closed because it had been flooded this spring.

The Chocolate Manor shop was on the "things to do list" so we stopped in and had yummy chocolate treats.

The Figge Art Museum was wonderful. We appreciated the free admission that extends through August of this year. The air conditioning was more than welcome as well.

I really enjoyed the Vanessa German exhibit. It was unique, playful, but had meaningful punch. 

These figures were a takeoff of the "Washington Crossing the Delaware" scene.

I like "fun" art. The museum also had a nice variety of classics, and some wonderful photography.

Fried pickles and portobello mushrooms at the Barrel House.

A good day of playing tourist ended with some interesting eats at the Barrel House. Each of these huge plates of food was just a "starter". But for us it was a filling lunch, and although very tasty, they have satisfied our desire for deep-fried goodies for a long time to come.

There is one thing no RVer wants to see while driving their rig:

There are many low clearance railroad bridges in the Davenport downtown area. Not all are as well marked as this one was.

Fortunately we were only driving the Jeep. But from the dings and dents, it was apparent that some taller vehicles have not made it under this one without making an impact.

We wrapped up our time in Davenport with a wash day at a local laundromat and the discovery of a Hy-Vee grocery chain store. We find Walmart Supercenters to be reliable places to shop, and I'm glad to see them all over, but it is nice to find a "better" store from time to time. Hy-Vee had some pretty good quality fresh produce and meats.

Our next stop is in Shipshewana Indiana, before we go to White Pigeon MI for new jacks!  

Gotta love those names "Shipshewana and White Pigeon."

What is your favorite place name?

Monday, July 8, 2019

RV Plans are Written In JELLO

I'm a planner.  Always have been, and probably always will be. I always read the reservation cancellation policies carefully, and accept the payment of a penalty from time to time.

Plans are made to be changed.

We had planned to head north out of Sioux Falls to the lake country in Northern Minnesota. Instead we have headed east and are heading for a small town called White Pigeon, Michigan.

Both of these pictures are from the web. I just enjoyed the total immersion into the greenness of the land as we drove along. I avoid taking pictures from a moving vehicle.

Although I find rock formations interesting and mountain peaks breathtaking, there is nothing like the vast rich green fields of corn and soy that blanket the Midwest in summer. I am a Wisconsin girl at heart, and green is the color that soothes my soul.

While we were in Loveland Colorado, we went to a very large RV dealership to look at some newer motorhomes. Our Alfa requires a few rather pricy repairs, and we wanted to be sure we were going to keep her for a long time before we did them.

We look at a half dozen very nice newer rigs, including a couple that were 2019s. Not only did we not like anything we saw, for a variety of reasons, but it would have cost us lots more money for a newer, bigger, but still used class A diesel motorhome.

We feel our Alfa is so much better when it come to storage, light, and odd little things like the large double stainless steel sink, the three burner stove with oven, the in-counter trash compartment, and the comfortable floor plan. 

I don't really need or want a dishwasher, and honestly I personally don't care if I have a washing machine on board. I am trying to use the convection oven in the microwave more now, but I like to pop a par-bake loaf of bread into the gas oven when we want a crusty side.  (Craig is a bread lover.)

So we're keeping the 2007 Alfa, and will fix or replace what she needs. We started that process in Sioux Falls with four new rear tires. Our next investment will be to have new Big Foot leveling jacks installed by Quadra Manufacturing in White Pigeon MI next week.

The dash AC is limping along with the recharge we got in Utah last month, but we are looking at some serious $$$ in fall for a more complete repair.

Meanwhile, we had a disaster here at the Iowa State Fairground Campground. On Sunday afternoon it was not seriously windy, and we had the awning extended. Without warning the top of the awning fabric on the roller suddenly ripped end-to-end, so that the awning fabric was left hanging from the roller, which was still supported by the awning arms. Fortunately a nice couple that we had met earlier in the day, and were about to leave the park, came to help us get it back up and secure it with Gorilla Tape. We have contacted a repair place that is less than 15 miles from here, and we have an appointment Tuesday for them to remove the awning for us.

We know the arms will fit in a bay, and the 17' roller and awning can ride in the center of the living area of the rig. It's a pain in the butt, however we have done this before. We will ask about stopping in at the Carefree plant in Colorado in fall on our way south. If not, we will get it fixed in California.

Meanwhile, we have spent a couple of days in Des Moines at the Iowa State Fairgrounds Campground. When we arrived, there was a classic car event going on, and the place was fairly full.  The camp host told us that most of them would be gone by Sunday evening.

And so they were! The ISFC offers 2,334 RV sites with electric and water, of which about 700 have sewer hookups. So, the next time you're feeling put-upon by the crowding in the campgrounds you've been visiting or considering, you might want to come to Des Moines!  🙂

This is the view uphill from our site on Monday
This is the view downhill to our lonesome coach

We looked up "things to do in Des Moines" and came up with the Papa John's Sculpture Garden, St. John's Basilica, and the State Capitol building.

Papa John's Sculpture Garden is in downtown Des Moines. It is not very large, but the displayed sculptures were delightful.

Craig communing with a giant rabbit sculpture

These two were fun

Don't worry, be happy

We had seen the signs for St. John's Basilica, so we headed there next. It was a disappointment because it was all locked up. It seemed odd that a church would be closed on a Sunday, but it was.

We also went to the Capitol Building. The day before, when we saw it from the freeway, I thought it was the Basilica because of the golden dome. 

It does seem to have a cross at the top.  Maybe it's a lightning rod. 

We  didn't go inside because it too was closed.

All in all, Des Moines reminded me of my home town of Milwaukee Wisconsin. The older houses looked familiar, and the brick buildings could be anywhere in the Midwest. 

Our next stop with be in Davenport, another place we have never been. Have you?