Thursday, February 28, 2013

One Thing Leads to Another - A Bicycle Story

Have you ever tried to save money by doing one thing and end up spending more than you would have if you'd just done what you should have done in the first place? Well that's the story of my life. I always think I can't afford something but I can do something cheaper that will be almost as good. Generally it ends up costing as much or more as what I wanted in the first place.

I've had an off and on history with bicycles since I was a kid. I remember that my oldest brother had a cool bike with a stick shift that we weren't allowed to touch. Don't know if it was a Schwinn Stingray or some other brand, or maybe I imagined the whole thing. I do know that my dad used to buy bicycles at the police auction to fix up. My first memory of actually riding a bike was being pushed down a hill by one of my brothers at the church yard. Kind of like teaching someone to swim by pushing them into the water. I don't remember how that worked out but it must have worked and I didn't have any broken bones. After that, I don't remember riding bikes much until we moved to Pine Valley in 1972. There we had miles of roads with little to no traffic and lots of space to explore. Then one time we were jumping off a homemade ramp and I crashed and hit my head on the pavement (which might explain a lot today). I don't remember riding so much after that. Our friend that lived up the street did the same thing but ended up in the hospital and permanently disabled.

My next memory of bike riding came in 1978 when I got a job at Christmas working at Toys-R-Us selling of all things, bicycles. Seems you didn't need to know anything about them, you just had to be tall enough to get them off the racks. I basically handled anything too big to put on a shelf. I bought a 10 speed bike when I worked there. I rode that bike for a while and at some point my brother John got it and used to ride it to work. One time I asked about the bike and he said that at some point he had gotten a flat tire and chained the bike to something and never went back to get it.

My next bicycle encounter came along in 1994. In 1992 I got an office job and started putting on excess weight from sitting around and all the food available in an office environment at the time, especially all the birthday cakes. The office was in the middle of a wooded park-like property with walking trails and many coworkers would walk on their breaks. I started doing that and would walk the 1-mile route twice a day. That started making a difference and I started dropping pounds. A couple months into it, I started walking around a local lake after work which was an additional 6 miles. Unfortunately I developed a problem with my feet and had to cut back the walking and this is when my next bicycle came into the picture. I checked around and went to a local bicycle shop to look for a mountain/road bike. I wanted something comfortable and versatile. I bought a Specialized Hard Rock that had a special large frame for tall riders. I rode that around the lake every day (except for heavy rain days which there weren't many in that period) for 6 months. I would go around 4 times each day. In the end, I lost 80 pounds in 9 months.

Anyway, life changes and I gradually rode less and less. Still have the office job (less the birthday cake bonanza) and the weight slowly came back on. Every couple years I'd get the old mountain bike out and try to get back to riding. I tried the gym too but not my thing and couldn't stick to it.

I know, I know, get to the point! It's coming, I promise...

So fast forward to now, if you're still actually reading this drivel. For the past 10 years or so I've been camping with my 1947 Ken-Skill teardrop trailer. Mostly at teardrop and vintage trailer rallies. At some of these rallies there would be more bicycles than trailers. I thought about taking my mountain bike but didn't really have a way to haul it with the trailer. Plus people were mostly riding cool beach cruisers. Especially at Pismo and Buellton. The Buellton meet even has a morning pajama ride that looked to be fun. At the last Buellton meet I saw one of the coolest bicycles I'd ever seen. It was a Felt Chief. Red bike with gold lettering and big fat cream colored tires.

When I got home from the campout, I decided I was going to find me a cool cruiser to bring to the next event. First thing I looked for was the Felt Chief. Turns out it was an $500+ bicycle that was no longer in production. Also because of my height it was probably too small. Same problem with vintage cruisers or those sold at local stores. After more searching I found several styles that work for taller riders but most of these bikes were fairly expensive new. One of the ones that I found that was really cool was the Project 346 Basman, but they started at over $1000 and being a Dutch bike, are fairly rare in the U.S. This bike is long and the pedals are further forward than normal. Most bikes have the pedals at the bottom of the seat post. So now that became the dream bike but I had to look for something I could actually afford.

I started looking on Craigslist for used bikes hoping I'd find a cheap Basman. Basically I couldn't find any at all at any price. But in November I did find a bike that might work. This bike is called a Sixthreezero In The Barrel (where do they come up with this stuff?). This bike is like a regular cruiser but with a longer frame and the pedals moved forward about 6 inches. It also had a 3 speed rear axle. I got an OK deal on it but knew I would want to customize it. This is where the concept of buying something cheap to save money falls apart. Bicycles can be money pits just like old cars. I signed up for a forum called Rat Rod Bikes because the members there have so many cool bikes and cool ideas, I figured I could learn something and get some ideas for my own bike. I also joined a second forum called The Scrapers Forum. Soon I had changed the fork, handlebars, tires, seat, handlebars, tires again, added a rear fender and a motorcycle headlight converted to LEDs and some other small stuff. So now I could have bought that Felt Chief  for what I spent after all. Oh well, the bike is fun to ride and I like it.

From Sixthreezero In The Barrel

From Sixthreezero In The Barrel

I kept looking at bikes on Craigslist just in case something interesting came up. One day I found an interesting stretch cruiser at a great price. A stretch cruiser is a different style where the frame is extra long and the lines are exaggerated. The pedals are really far forward so you can sit lower. This one was a 2005 American Flyer Coupe Deluxe and 7 feet long. Wouldn't fit well on my bike rack but I got it home. I actually got it before I finished the first one so it sat around for a while. I figured if I didn't like it I could always resell it. But it turns out it's actually really fun to ride and comfortable. So again I started changing things. I ended up changing the forks (twice), seat, fenders, tires, wheels, tires again, kickstand, chain, handlebars and again added a motorcycle headlight converted to LEDs.

From American Flyer Coupe Deluxe

From American Flyer Coupe Deluxe

Ok, so now I have two nice bikes customized to my taste and still spent less than my dream Basman, but I might have been able to buy something else nice already done. I also now have a supply of extra wheels, tires, handlebars, seats and other stuff. Oh, and a cheap Huffy bike I bought to get the wheels for the American Flyer. Oops I forgot the new bike rack I had to buy because the stretch wouldn't fit on my old one. I think I stopped counting. I need to sell the Huffy and some of the extra parts so maybe I'll get a few bucks back. At least I'm now ready to go cruising at the next trailer meet and also have been riding around the neighborhood as well as down at the beach. So you think I'd be all set and no longer need to look at bikes for sale, right? Well...

Every time I'd see someone on the forum post a picture of a Basman or I'd look at the collection of pictures of them that I saved off the net, I'd get the itch to look for one again. There has been one for sale in L.A. for a long time but it was the shorter model they made and I really wanted the longer one. Last Friday I was on the bike forum during my lunch break and plugged in my usual Craigslist Basman search. The L.A. one came up again but there was a new add for one in Orange County. The ad was confusing because the description said they had the short model but they had pictures of both styles. And they had a great price listed. So I sent them an e-mail and found out it was bicycle shop selling it. She sent me pictures of the actual bike and it turns out it was the long model afterall.

Now I'm thinking I shouldn't be spending money on another bike since I already have two but I started thinking that if I got it and didn't like it, I could at least get my money back out of it. After a couple phone calls the deal was done and the bike was mine. Just had to drive 100 miles the next day to pick it up.

From Project 346 Basman

I picked it up on Saturday and on the way home stopped in Oceanside for a ride along the beach (picture above). Then headed south for home and stopped at my normal riding spot at the Mission Beach boardwalk in San Diego. Great riding bike and hopefully I won't go crazy customizing it. Not going to change much but I will be adding a motorcycle headlight to it before too long. And I need to decide if (and where) I'm going to keep 3 bikes. They're in the living room now. The mountain bike is hanging in the garage. Also need to decide which bike to take to which campout. I can probably only take one even though I have the van now. Oh and I need to find some funny pajamas for the pajama ride in September.

If you read all of this, I congratulate you on having so much free time available.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Buellton Vintage Trailer Bash 2012

From Buellton Vintage Trailer Bash 2012
Another fun weekend camping with old trailers. This time in Buellton California which is just north of Santa Barbara. This was the first time towing with my new tow vehicle, which worked out great. Click on one of the photos here to see more. And you can see quite a few on the Vintage Trailer Bash Facebook page (requires Facebook account).

From Buellton Vintage Trailer Bash 2012

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why free water isn't cheap.

For many years I've been growing orchids and other plants as a hobby. Over the years I've killed many plants for various reasons but one of the worst reasons is that city water is bad for some plants. Now some plants really don't care and do quite well but the minerals and chemicals in city water can be very harsh for delicate plants like orchids and eventually can kill them. In some cases you will quickly kill some species by just watering them a few times with city water. A lot of people will use distilled water or reverse osmosis water systems just so they can grow those types.

Another thing about city water is that it's expensive and not getting cheaper. Also in San Diego where I live, the more water you use for any reason increases your sewer bill. So as a single person with a garden, I'm paying sewer rates as high as a family with no garden. So for many years I've thought about collecting rainwater to water my plants. Rainwater is naturally clean and free from harmful chemicals and minerals. San Diego is basically a coastal desert that has been turned green with irrigation. We get a good amount of rain but almost all of it comes during winter and then it can be dry for many months. We can go all summer without a rain storm of any consequence. This means that collecting rainwater is not a very common thing here. You kind of think about it when it's raining but then you think it won't rain for a long time so is it really going to work?

So you think you would just stick some barrels out in the yard and point the downspout at them. Well it can be that simple but and that is fine for pouring water on trees or lawns but not what I needed to water my orchids. I did a lot or research online into what people were doing for rain collection and also looked at various commercial products available. As it turns out, it's not cheap to collect free water. I decided I was going to try and do as much of the design myself.

The first flush is very important.

One of the first things you learn about rain harvesting is that the surface you're collecting the rain from is very important. In my case, I'm collecting the rain from the roof of a room addition on the back of my house. This roof is only about 240 square feet. As you can imagine a roof gets dirty between rain storms. So when it first starts raining, you don't want to collect that water as it will have dirt and contaminants that can undo what you're trying to accomplish. Because of this, you need to install some sort of diverter to let the first amount of water bypass your rain barrels.

There are multiple ways to do this. The simplest system is a manual bypass in your downspout that just diverts the dirty water past your barrels. Once it has rained for a while, you switch it over so the water goes into the barrels. Beyond that, there are many systems that have been devised to automatically perform this task. I was originally going to use a design that has a pipe that the first water goes into and there is a ball that floats up and then causes the water to be diverted to the barrels. After adding up how much it was going to cost to put this together, I decided to use a commercial diverter made in Australia called the Clean Rain Ultra. This system works pretty well.

The next important part is the barrels. Again there are a lot of choices. I decided I wanted to use recycled barrels since they are readily available and reasonably priced. After doing a lot of research, I settled on some 50 gallon terra cotta colored plastic food grade barrels. I found San Diego Drums & Totes through a craigslist ad. They have various types of barrels. You have to stay away from white barrels to avoid algae problems. Originally I bought two barrels to get my system going and then decided to expand to six. Or course when I went back to get more, the ones they had were different from the first ones. So in the end, I bought six new ones so that they would all match and work together. The first two will be added on later.

As you can see in the pictures, I've lined up the barrels behind my lath house so that they'll be close to the plants. I ran piping below ground to get the water from the house to the barrels. I also connected the downspout into the yard drain so that the first flush water goes there instead of onto the ground. I had to install a new gutter on the house as well and added screens on top to keep large debris out. I first started my system in January and finished it in the middle of March. Since the middle of January, I've only watered my Orchids and other potted plants with rain water. So far I haven't killed anything and the plants are doing well. So far I'm very happy with how it's going. I may expand the system to collect rain from the main house roof so that I can do all my landscape watering without city water. Below is a video showing how the system works and additional pictures.

A note about rebates.

As I was working on my system, I found out that the City of San Diego has a Rain Harvesting Rebate Program. I thought great, this will help me offset the cost of my system. Well it turns out there is a slight hitch. Homemade rain barrels are not eligible. That's not to say that you can't use recycled barrels, they just have to be sold by business that has converted them into rain barrels. Basically if you pay someone else to drill a hole in the bottom, they qualify. I appealed to the city and they didn't seem to care. But if you want to buy commercial rain barrels in San Diego, please do take advantage of the rebate. At least it will help someone. For me, the rebate doesn't bring down the cost of barrels cheaper than what I paid.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Goodbye My Sweet Julie...

1991 - 2012

Today was one of the hardest days I've had to endure in a long time. Today was the day I had to decide to have my Julie put to rest due to her failing health. She's been dealing with canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) for at least the last year and a half. This is basically doggie Alzheimers with all of the same symptoms and problems. In the past few months she has rapidly deteriorated to the point where she was having problems walking or standing. She lost her hearing a couple years ago and now her eyesight was almost gone. She'd lost most of her muscle mass and her heart was also failing. While she didn't seem to be in any physical pain, at times she would get very confused and somewhat frightened.

My close friends know I've been putting this off for a while but I was afraid in her current condition she might get into a situation when I wasn't at home that would have her trapped outside somewhere and die in a panic. I had to decide that it was better for her to go peacefully, but anyone who has gone through this before knows how agonizing a decision this is. Selfishly you want them to live forever but it just isn't possible. I spent the day with her today giving her lots of love and plenty of her favorite cookies. I was a blubbering idiot at the vet but they were very kind as usual and I know that they made it as peaceful and painless as they could. I was too big of a coward to be there for it. In the end I hope I made the right decision.

Julie came into my life in April of 1998. She was supposed to be 7 years old at the time but I did not know her exact birth date. She had three homes before mine and was a wonderful companion the entire time. She was smart and loving and the most important thing in my life all this time, and I was grateful to have her every day. I'll miss her every day and hope I gave as much to her life as she gave to mine.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Buckskin Mountain Camping

From Buckskin Mountain 2011

This weekend I went camping in Arizona at a vintage trailer and teardrop gathering. This was at Buckskin Mountain State Park on the Colorado River in Arizona. My friend John Drake from Ventura brought his 1940 Ratzlaff tent trailer although his wife Debbie wasn't able to attend because of work obiligations. There were quite a few teardrop trailers as well as various larger trailers.

As you can see by the picture above I had my 1979 Brougham motorhome and my Ken-Skill teardrop trailer. I didn't intend on driving the motorhome but my PT Cruiser broke down about 45 miles from home. This happens to be near where my parents live in Pine Valley so I limped to their house. The car was overheating when going up hills and since there were a lot of hills between home and the campground I wasn't going to be able to continue with that. My first thought was to borrow my dad's Ford Explorer which he doesn't drive much anymore. Of course the battery was dead in that plus it has a big wheelchair lift on the back I would have had to remove. I've had my Brougham parked at their house for a while so I decided to take that. Of course even that wasn't a simple affair.

At some point I needed some towing stuff out of the Brougham so I had brought home the box that also contained the draw bar and other stuff. Well my dad had a draw bar in the back of his Explorer I could use but it had the wrong size ball and the ball from the PT Cruiser wouldn't fit that draw bar. My parents live in a small town without a hardware store but a few miles away is a small one so I gave them a call. They assured me they had what I needed. I hopped in my dad's Impala and headed off. When I get there, of course they don't have the right thing. I figured I'd have to go 15 miles to the next town but then decided to take another look. They happened to have a drawbar that might fit the ball from the PT Cruiser. Well it kind of fit.

So I get the hitch situation taken care of and now have to hook up the trailer and transfer all my stuff from the car to the motorhome. All this puts me a couple of hours behind. So much for getting to the campground way before dark. Next thing I have to do is get gas. The station in town charges $4.17 a gallon for regular so I head east thinking I'll find something more reasonable along the highway. Since the gas gauge in the motorhome isn't that accurate I decide to opt for the station at the Golden Acorn casino. It's only 4 bucks a gallon and the motorhome took 15 gallons. Other than some rain and a whole lot of wind, the rest of the drive was uneventful. I stopped at a truck stop just over the border in Arizona and filled up at $3.299 a gallon. Another 56 miles to go to get to the campground.

I got to the campground about 5:30 Arizona time. John was already there and setting up his trailer. I backed into my spot and unhooked the teardrop and pulled the stuff out of it and set up a bit. After saying hello to a few people and kind of checking out the campground we decided to watch a movie in John's trailer. Now the Ratzlaff is a tent trailer and one with several holes in the old canvas. John had a big tarp covering up the trailer to keep the wind and any rain out. He had two heaters in there and I brought him an oil radiator to help out. It was actually quite comfortable in there. After a while we could hear it starting to rain outside. It was forecasted so not a surprise and as long as it wasn't a hard rain, my teardrop would be ok. Well when it was time for bed I went out and it was still raining and I decided I would open the awning on the motorhome and put the teardrop under it. Good thing I did because it ended up raining most of the night.

Of course people thought I had slept in the motorhome but the teardrop trailer is more comfortable to sleep in and since I hadn't planned on taking it, all the bedding and such was at home in San Diego. The rest of the weekend was pretty lazy. We went for a drive to Lake Havasu and over Parker Dam. We got back late on Saturday and missed the potluck although we could have showed up late anyway. Watched a few more movies and just hung out. John offered to straighten out my Ken-Skill fenders so we took them off Sunday before heading home. My little trailer had to go all the way back to San Diego with uncovered tires but it didn't seem to be a problem. I stopped at my parent's house to switch vehicles, which of course meant transferring all the camping stuff and trailer again. The car still is still getting hot going up hills but it's mostly down hill to get home so I decided to drive it. It made it home OK. I'm going to change the thermostat and see if that fixes it.

I didn't take many pictures this trip but you can click on the one above to see the ones I did take. For some reason I didn't take any of the other trailers at the gathering. Other people did and I'll add a link or two later.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

You never know what's going to happen when you fly kites...

So this weekend is the first weekend I've been home in a couple months and the chores have piled up. I started out at breakfast with the family, then over to Harbor Freight to pick up some good deals and then to get dog food. After getting home I started looking at the list of things needing to be done. The first thing needing done was to pot some plants and then I needed to mow in the back. While I was out there I noticed that it was getting a bit windy. Of course that gave me the itch to go to the park and fly some kites. I had to go get my hair cut anyway so I was going to be half way there.

There weren't a lot of people at the park, which is a good thing. Only one guy flying a kite so I got out my Prism Quantum Stunt Kite and the 100 foot Gomberg tube tail. There was just enough wind to fly with the long tail. After I started flying, a guy showed up with his two daughters and they got out some classic plastic Gayla delta kites. After a while, the dad came over to talk to me about my kite. He was telling me that he had found the Gayla delta kites at a discount store for a dollar a piece. He got 13 of them! The Gayla Sky Spy kite was one of my favorites when I was a kid and that's what he was flying. He had an extra one with him and actually gave it to me. It happens to be my birthday and that was one pretty cool birthday present. I'll probably leave it in the package and never fly it. The date on the package is 1975. Like I said, you never know what's going to happen when you fly kites.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Buellton Vintage Trailer Bash 2011

From Buellton Vintage Trailer Bash 2011

Julie and I attended the 2nd Annual Vintage Trailer Bash in Buellton, CA at the Flying Flags RV Resort. We didn't go to this last year because it conflicted with the Spam Rehab meet. They had about 150 spots and there was a wide variety of campers. We camped with friends John and Debra from Ventura and Steve and Tony from Pomona. John and Debra brought their new Ratzlaff Camp Trailer (picture above), which they had bought the previous weekend. Steve and Tony brought their 1948 home built trailer.

I posted a picture and video of the Ratzlaff since everyone has already seen my trailer before. John and Debra also have a 1956 VW with a custom made matching teardrop trailer but due to circumstances beyond their control, they needed a trailer older than 1985. They've looked at a variety of trailers and last weekend I thought they were on their way to buy a Cardinal canned ham style trailer. I was camping at Woods Valley last weekend and John was having me look at several trailers online. They went to look at a Cardinal but it was rotten and would have had to have been rebuilt. Then I got a call from John that he had bought a trailer and that it was a 1940 Ratzlaff. A what???

It turns out that the Ratzlaff is a folding tent trailer and that we had seen a similar version of at the Pismo Beach rally in May. The trailer has many clever features and to set it up you crank up the top and then fold out the beds. This trailer is very complete and in decent shape. The biggest thing it needs right away is new canvas. View the video below to see how it works.

Because we were only camping at the event for two nights, I drove to John and Debra's house in Ventura the day before and camped in their driveway. This also let me get an early look at their new trailer and I'd get to the campground much earlier. The next morning we packed up and headed for Buellton. When we got there the place was already full of vintage trailers, we checked in, found our spots, and started setting up. Steve and Tony were already there and our spots were very nice. Next to the road but well separated from it with a green space. Nice shade and big spots.

We had a great time checking out all the old rigs and just hanging out for the weekend. One of my favorites was a 1948 GMC bus conversion that was done in 1959. One of the best old bus conversions I've seen. There was a big potluck on Saturday. The weather was pretty nice. A bit on the breezy side and cool at night but about perfect during the day. On Friday there was a spectacular lightning show in the sky to the east and north. Fortunately no rain.

Julie at 20 years old is dealing with canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) which is basically doggy alzheimers. She kept getting tangled up in stuff on her leash and would also wake up early in the morning jumping around the trailer wanting to pace. Her eyesight is also fading so any time you get near her she thinks you're going to give her a treat so it looks like she's trying to bite you. She's not really enjoying camping anymore so this will be her last trip. She also is not doing well in the car anymore. She constantly tries to jump out of her car bed and doesn't know where she's going. She's been a great camping companion but it's not fair to her to make her go through it when she's just happier to be at home where she knows the surroundings.

We're already planning to return to Buellton next year and get the same spots. Click here for more pictures from the event.