Great Falls, MT

One of the recurring issues we have is with how NOT well locals tend to have accurate knowledge of their towns and surroundings. We got ready to hit the road out of Glacier N.P. headed for Great Falls. We planned on heading down Hwy. 89 straight into Great Falls, but got dissuaded by some of the local folk who said the construction on Hwy. 89 was horrible, with excruciatingly long waits. So we altered our route, circling around about 60 miles out of our way further south before hooking up with Hwy. 200 into Great Falls. When we got set up at our destination we ran into a couple of fellow RVers who had also just left the W. Glacier KOA. They did take Hwy. 89 and it was clear as clear can be, smooth sailing all the way. Harumph! Harumph!

Our new homesite was Dick’s RV Park, Great Falls, MT. The park was not great, but had level gravel roads and sites with FHU’s, albeit a bit beat up. Many of the water spigots looked to have lost battles with RV’s, and ours leaked from it’s handle. But the price was half that of the local KOA, with not much else around to choose from.

There was a bicycle trail just outside the driveway for the RV park, which hooked up to the River’s Edge Trail. That trail is paved to Crooked Falls, then dirt/gravel to Ryan Dam. We gave it a go for about 20 miles, round trip, out to Crooked Falls and back. Black Eagle Dam/Black Eagle Falls, Rainbow Dam/Rainbow Falls, and Crooked Falls were scenic views, all kinda parts of the “Great Falls” system of falls on Big Muddy (the Missouri River).

We met up with our friends Zane & Theda Shaulis, whom we met at the Allegro Rally in Casa Grande, AZ, a few years ago. They are residents of Great Falls and showed us around during our stay. Their son-in-law Zack works at Jeremiah Johnson Brewery in town and we got a tour of his facilities. Jeremiah Johnson Brewery is a microbrewery for the area, not widely distributed (yet), and their flagship brew, Mountain Man Scotch Ale, is very tasty. They brew a vanilla porter that is also a must-try.

Great Falls holds a pretty large Farmer’s Market downtown on Saturdays, so we met up with Zane & Theda and strolled the market. It was a spread out affair, occupying several closed streets. They had all kinds of crafts booths besides a large contingent of produce booths, but the strange ones were a couple of booths selling “wands” and spell related things, I didn’t get the gist of them. I had no idea sorcery or witchcraft were popular themes in Montana of all places, I would have thought them more suitable for somewhere in Oregon or San Francisco…

Next stop on our Great Falls tour was a free car show at Giant Springs State Park. There were a couple of dollars on display there, here are a few pics.

Zane & Theda had charge of their young grandson, Hunter, so we stepped across the road from the car show to the Giant Springs and the fish hatchery they have there. Jeanne & Hunter fed the fish at the hatchery and we got to check out Giant Springs. The springs are the source for the Roe River, one of the world’s shortest rivers at 201’, emptying into Big Muddy. The springs water could not be any clearer, with a whole lotta green shrubbery growing under water.

We took Woody out for a walkabout along the Northshore trail near Ryan Dam & the Great Falls of the Missouri, namesake for the town. I can only imagine what all these falls we have seen here would have looked like before civilization put in all the hydroelectric dams. Even with the dams, they are quite scenic. At this dam there is an “island” area (Ryan Island) with nice viewing areas, picnic areas for families, and a sway bridge to access those areas. It was pretty cool.

Well, tomorrow is moving day. Still not sure where we will land, somewhere between here and Cody, WY. A very BIG thank you to Zane & Theda for all the good times and the steak dinner they hosted at their home. As usual, stay tuned until next post…

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Glacier National Park 2019

Boy, howdy, this will be a very short narrative. Pictures do little justice and words do no justice to the spectacular scenery found at Glacier National Park. I’m just gonna post pictures, some with captions and some without, and let that tell the story. Before I get to that, a couple of things…We got here the week after the 4th of July and met with a little disappointment in that rangers informed us that several of our intended hiking trails were only partially open because of snow. It looks like if you want to visit here, best be done around August or later. The traffic was horrible, just like Yellowstone. The parking areas for popular places like Logan Pass, Many Glaciers and Avalanche Creek fill up extremely early in the day, Logan’s was full by 8:30 daily. And we tried to get into the Many Glaciers area at noon one day but there was no parking available in the whole state of Montana (or so it seemed)! But we did get a hike or two between sightseeing. The park really recommends and encourages use of the free shuttles but for us that would be tough having to coordinate with leaving Woody in the bus and getting back to let him out. So without further ado, here’s some photos…

Hope you enjoyed them. Until next post…

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Kalispell 2019

Our stay in Kalispell took us to the Kalispell Elks Lodge. They have several W/E gravel sites (30A) and the lodge has a gym like I have never seen at any Elks Lodge so far. There are 3, count ‘em, 3 racquetball courts, a room with stationary bikes/treadmills, etc., and a pumping iron room with free weights. A real locker room offering lockers, showers, a dry sauna, even a trainer’s table. Rustic, at best, but my kinda gym, not for yuppies to be strutting around, flexing for the mirrors and looking suave and “dee-boner”. 

The weather was not all that great during our 8-day stay in Kalispell. Most days had rain, overcast, and/or thunder & lightning, but at least it was not cold. Between rainstorms we did manage to get out and “see stuff”. We spent a couple of days checking out Whitefish, MT, home to Whitefish Lake & Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort. We walked around downtown old town and fought the crowds at the Whitefish Arts Festival. We also paid a visit to the Bonsai Brewing Project, a local micro-brewery, and sampled their wares, adult beverage-wise. Sorry, BBP, nothing to write home about.

One day we took a walkabout around downtown old town Kalispell. They like their “climbing” art in Kalispell, there were a few “climbers” on the sides of some of the old buildings. We stopped in at Kalispell Brewing Co. for a taster (sorry Kalispell Brewing, nothing to write home about here, either). We tried Bias Brewing Co., also in the downtown old town area, also an underwhelming experience. Jeanne found the Wheat Montana Bakery and Deli where we just HAD to try one of their huckleberry cinnamon rolls. What a big ol’ gob of gooey goodness that thing was, it was HUGE!

Another road trip took us out to the Libby Dam and Kootenai Falls, a roughly 90 minute drive out of Kalispell. There was about a 6 mile stretch of Hwy. 2 where they were tearing it up for reconstruction, so the going was slow through all that gravel & dirt. I’d hate to drive the bus through there, although it is passable as evidenced by all the big-rig truckers going through. The Libby Dam creates Lake Koocanusa on the Kootenay River. Kootenai Falls is a little farther west on Hwy. 2, between Libby and Troy, MT. Near the falls there is a swinging bridge which I enjoyed watching Jeanne nervously navigate. The falls were very scenic with a deep green color to the Kootenay River. 

Kalispell put on a 4th of July parade through Main St., so we leashed up Woody, grabbed our chairs, and hoofed it down to Main St. to set up for the parade. The parade drew quite a crowd and lasted for about 90 minutes. The parade participants threw candy to all the kids, creating quite the scramble amongst the little ones.

One of the few fairly clear days we grabbed Woodrow Wilson and headed out to hike to the Foy’s Overlook, one of many trails found at Herron Park near Foy Lake. It was a moderate uphill hike that got Jeanne a-huffin’ and a-puffin’, but some of the views were very nice and the downhill return was a plus. My experience with Murphy’s Laws is, if I got to hike uphill to get there, then I have to hike uphill to return as well! 

Kalispell, like many towns here, does a Farmer’s Market every week. We ventured down, daring the rain, and did a little produce shopping. This was a real farmer’s market, albeit a smaller version, with many “grown product” booths to choose from.

The town of Kalispell lays claim to the Conrad Mansion, in which they sell guided tours but we passed on the tour. From the looks of the outside, a tour of the interior would pale in comparison to some of the antebellum mansions we saw in Natchez, MS. But we did walk the exterior and learned from signage that it was built in 1895 for the Charles Conrad family, he being the founder of the town of Kalispell. The mansion, now museum, is situated in a neighborhood of historical older homes that reminded us a lot like the old McDonald mansion district in Santa Rosa, CA (for those of you back there that actually read this blog!)

We took a drive, again daring the rain, out to the Hungry Horse area to scope out the Hungry Horse Dam, areas of the Flathead River, and the Hungry Horse Reservoir. The 4 mile drive out to the dam from Hwy. 2 was very scenic, with some spectacular views of the Flathead River. The dam was supposedly the 2nd highest concrete arch dam in the world when it was completed. It was certainly huge. A quick stop at the visitor’s center and it was off to do a little Jeepin’ on some of the USFS roads. We got some pretty nice “bird’s-eye views” of the reservoir and surrounding mountains, even with the limited sun.

On our last day in Kalispell we needed to do some forward recon for doggie day care for the time we will be in Glacier N.P. There are numerous trails for hiking (no dogs) throughout that park, a few of which will be in the 8 hour (or better) range. That puts a strain on our “leaving Woody in the bus” time frame, he is generally good for 5-6 hours before we have to get back and let him out to do business. So we found Columbia Mountain Kennels in the Columbia Falls area, which we were able to set up a  couple of days for Woody for the exhorbinant price of $15 per day, 0700-1900 hrs. Since we were in the area…Columbia Mountain Trail was calling our names. We let Woodrow Wilson lead our excursion up the mountain to the tune of a 6+ mile hike. We’re already up here in the clouds, but this hike took us up another 1600’ in elevation. We were rewarded when we came upon one of the waterfalls on the mountain (I don’t think the waterfalls are named). And after the hike we stopped off at the Sacred Waters Brewery for a taster and some “linner”.

Our time in Kalispell done for now, tomorrow it is onward to the West Glacier KOA for our tour of duty at Glacier N.P. Until next post…

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Lolo Hot Springs and Rollins, MT

Lolo Hot Springs is a tiny little nowhere about 20 minutes outside of Lolo, MT. They have created a small resort area along the Lolo Creek with a restaurant/bar, the hot springs and pool area, a lodge for those allergic to camping, horse riding trails, and the RV/tent area across the road. The RV sites leave a lot to be desired, rutted grass/mud and not delineated at all, with W/E only (30A) and a dilapidated dump station on site. Prairie dogs are everywhere! But it is a very scenic canyon area with a great possibility for critter sightings. We passed a herd of Elk on our way out from Lolo.

We took the opportunity to soak in the hot springs. They built a concrete pool around the natural springs and enclosed it in a wood frame structure. The water was definitely hot and relaxing on those tense neck muscles…

The only place to ride bicycles here was along Hwy. 93. We quickly ruled that out based on the way the locals drive out here – you would think they are racing at the Daytona 500!  So we settled on a road trip into Lolo & Missoula for some urban exploring. In Lolo we found the Lolo Peak Brewing Co. for a little brew tasting. We were underwhelmed there, but made up for it at our next find. The Lolo Creek Distillery is a new venture and right now they are producing gin and vodka in various flavors. Their honey-huckleberry vodka was very tasty, I could use it as a “sippin’ vodka”. While there, I just had to try the “Rip ’N’ Lips”, a Lolo Creek Distillery relative to a Moscow Mule. Tasty, not too much jalapeno…

Another road trip day for us took us farther west along the Lolo Creek and the Lochsa River to the Lolo Pass Visitor Center. As usual, scenery was not lacking, and we got fleeting glimpses of a moose and a black bear…so fleeting we had no time to snap a photo. They did a nice job on this visitor center, there are some displays, a short nature trail, souvenir shop, and overall rest stop. The ground squirrels were colorful and plentiful. On our way back we stopped at the DeVoto Memorial Cedar Grove and took the short walk through the cedars and along the river.

Moving day we headed back north on Hwy. 93 to the megalopolis of Rollins, MT, which is right on Flathead Lake. Rollins Restaurant & RV Park was home for a week. It was a very nice facility, not real big (43 RV sites, 7 tent sites), with the restaurant and a meat shop on site. The meat shop offered, among other things, various meats (beef, buffalo, elk mostly), varieties of jerky, and varieties of cheese curds. 

Not a lot of bicycle paths around here, but Jeanne did manage to find a section of The Great Northern Historical Trail, part of Rails To Trails of Northern Montana, that runs from Somers to Kila (22 miles one way). We got a clear day and got ready to load up for a bike ride, but I got tangled up with a bicycle pump and my low air front tire & wouldn’t you know it, brute strength and awkwardness led me to rip the stem from the tube. Minor change in plans, time for a road trip to the nearest bicycle shop which happened to be all the way into downtown Kalispell, Wheaton’s Cycle. If you ever happen to be in the area and in need of anything bicycle related, the folks at Wheaton’s are outstanding as far as customer service. They got us right in for an inner tube change and “bada-bing, bada-boom”, problem resolved. We hooked up with one of the Kalispell trailheads for the Great Northern Historical Trail and proceeded out along Hwy. 2 to the big city of Kila, about 11 miles one way. The trail was OK, paved at least, but I was kinda hoping for a little more wilderness and a lot less civilization. They do a nice job on their bicycle trails here, there were plenty of benches for rest stops, a picnic area, a port-o-potty and a pit toilet along the way. If we were expecting some wildlife sightings, we got disappointed in a big way. But hey, the blood got pumping and the air was fresh.

On our last day at Rollins, it just happened to be the best weather day for our whole stay, temps in the 70’s and low wind. KAYAK TIME!!! I say “low wind” before we ever set oar on the water at Flathead Lake. But once we got our Sea Eagle inflatable kayak under way, we quickly found out the “swirly” nature of the winds over the lake. After spinning a few donuts (not by choice), we figured out the rhythm and spent the next couple of hours cruising the shoreline between Rollins and Lakeside. It was a nice counter to the leg workout we got on the bikes the day before.

So tomorrow we suck up the jacks and we’re off to Kalispell. Until next post…

(Tech notes, part dieux…I have no idea how I did it but it looks like I replaced my missing photos from some of those earlier blog posts 2014-2015-ish. I still need to continue through to ensure no further pix are missing. Granted, my sharp-as-a-marble memory may have replaced some of the original pix with different ones, I just hope I did not post photos from Nevada that were actually from Wyoming!)

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Into Montana We Go…

Success! We managed to fill in all the gaps (even during the dreaded 4th of July week) with reservations for our stays leading up to our time at Glacier N.P. From St. George it was north for a few days’ return stay at the Springville KOA (Provo, UT). We wanted to drive the Alpine Loop and check out some of the trails off the loop, but weather gods were not looking favorably upon us, the Alpine Loop was actually closed (snow). So we settled on a little bicycle riding through downtown (the Provo/Orem area has very nice bike paths throughout the downtown areas). In fact, the trail along University Av (Hwy. 189) continues as the Provo River Trail. This takes one through Mt. Timpanogos Park, Canyon View Park, Canyon Glen Park, Nunn’s Park, Bridal Veil Falls, and into Vivian Park. We broke it up into 2 rides, about 25 miles and 10 miles respectively. Bridal Veil Falls was very scenic, as usual, and the Provo River was raging pretty good on this visit. Provo had a farmer’s market one day which we just had to attend. It turned out most of the “farmer’s market” was food tents (of the cooked/prepared type) and crafts. Jeanne managed to find the only booth that actually had produce for sale and appropriately ordered up some of their lettuce & kale.

Northward ho and into Jerome, ID for a couple night’s stay at the Snake River Elks Lodge while we waited to pick up our general delivery mail. The Elks Lodge is on an 18-hole golf course, very green, but otherwise the Jerome area is kinda dumpy, tons of farmland, not much to do. We had already checked out the Snake River area a few years back and this was mainly just a mail stop for us.

Next stop…Dillon, MT at the Countryside RV Park for a few days. Dillon sits in a big bowl surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The area is very large and green, with cattle ranching seemingly the big agricultural endeavor here. We are starting to see more interesting critters now. Near the ID/MT border we saw a massive Golden Eagle take off from its perch on a fence. We saw what we both agreed was a badger scooting along near the roadway. And we are now in the middle of prairie dog country where the little yappers go non-stop. Pronghorn deer are also becoming more common sights. Jeanne also identified our avian neighbors as Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

Our big outing for this stop we decided to visit Bannack State Park, home to the ghost town of Bannack, the first territorial Capitol of Montana. The state does a nice job of maintaining the 50-60 buildings still remaining. We the people are even allowed to enter many of the buildings, some of them still containing artifacts from the mining town days. It was an interesting experience, however the state does such an outstanding job of maintaining the town, it was “too clean” as far as ghost towns go. The ghost town of Bodie, CA, is still at the top of my all-time favorite ghost towns, nationwide.

Our last day here we drove the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway between Wise River and Dillon. It was very scenic, however we missed out on the little side trip to the ghost town of Coolidge and the Elkhorn Mine & Mill due to the road closure. Oh well, we got to see critters (badger, pronghorn, deer) as well as receiving a very light dusting of snow. 

So, we’re jacks-up tomorrow continuing our way north, hopefully with little to no snow. Until next post…

(Tech notes: My cyber-incompetence just drives me nuts sometimes, OK, most-times. It seems a few years back, leading up to 2015, I managed to make a whole bunch of photos disappear from my blog posts. The captions remained, just no photos to view. I don’t know how, but I may have figured out how to fix it, it took a lot of trial-and-error, not to mention a few bottles of bourbon and cases of beer. I will slowly but surely be working on replacing all the missing pix, so bear with me. I just hope I can get the right pix in the right spots…)

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St. George, Utah

We made one more trip back to Atascadero, CA, to visit Chad, Crissy, and the 2 granddaughters Hailey & Ellie. Another week at the Elks Lodge there, we managed to donate some blood at the Elks blood drive, babysit Hailey & Ellie while mom and dad had a date day at the day spa, and loaded up all to go see the Strawberry Festival in nearby Arroyo Grande. And, of course, Hailey got a little more fun time staying with Oma and Opa in “the camping bus”.

But when it came time to flee Kalifornia once again, it was “pedal to the metal”, “east bound and down”, or any other famous quote you care to apply to it. Hwy. 58 through the Tehachapi Pass was our chosen pathway of escape. Our destination was St. George, UT, but we did not wish to do the long distance dance, so Jeanne found a nice OHV recreation area in the Mojave desert, the Jawbone Canyon OHV Area just north of California City and right off of Hwy. 58, just a short jaunt up Hwy. 14. It was easy access paved road into the area, with large open areas and plenty of room to keep the toad hooked up while maneuvering around into our chosen site for the night. We overnighted all by our lonesome in a large canyon, then headed out bright and early the next morning. 

We chose to do one more overnighter enroute to St. George, so we picked Buffalo Bill’s Casino in Primm, NV. They allow overnight RV’s and truckers out in the back lot (no charge). From Primm, we finished the drive into St. George, where we stayed at the Temple View RV Resort. The mountain views were very nice, as well as the Temple’s tower (this would be the Church of Jesus Christ & Latter Day Saints, St. George Temple).

St. George is a very nice city in Utah just over the border from Nevada. Only 90 minutes or so from Vegas, they are very outdoor oriented here. We took Woody on a walkabout around historic old town and the Temple. St. George has a lot of art scattered about old town as part of a program called, “Art Around The Corner”. Brigham Young’s winter home is here as well, which they give tours through but we passed on the tour. There are bicycle trails all over the place whether you like city trails or trails along the Virgin River. We made use of about 14 miles of this trail, stretched from St. George to Bloomington, just enough for my butt to regret it…

Jeanne found a slot canyon trail to torture me on, the Kanarra Falls slot canyon trail just outside of Kanarraville. We loaded up our mini backpacks and headed out. I don’t know how far you can go on this hike, the common hike takes one to the second set of falls in the canyon, some say it is a 3-4 mile hike. The “fun” part is the trail zig-zags across the Kanarra Creek and then the creek becomes the trail through the canyon. Currently, the flow of the creek is pretty strong with snowmelt, gets to about knee-high depth, and just to make it interesting, the water is about 48 degrees! We waded our way to the first waterfall in about 2 1/2 hours. At that point my feet and shins were fully numb and I found myself stumbling too much. That made our decision for us…time to turn around. It made it easier to accept the decision in that Woody had to be left behind at the bus (no dogs on trail) and because of that our non-Woody excursions are usually limited to about 5 hours.  Even though we were forced to cut it short, this was a very scenic and well-worth-it hike. The hike requires a purchased permit ($12 person/ 150 permits per day only) which is easy to do on-line and then the kid at the kiosk just scans it off your phone.

Our time in St. George gave us an opportunity to further evaluate the area as a possible “landing zone” for when we make that decision. There are quite a few small suburbs to St. George, we really liked a few of them, and you never know, St. George might just beat out the Boise, Idaho area in our search for a “final resting place”. And, for those of you “literal vocabularians”, no, we are not searching for our gravesites.

This has been a true test, trying to plan out and get RV spots along our path to Glacier N.P., especially since the time encompasses the 4th of July holiday period and since many of the RV parks in this area of Montana are booked already. It seems here they have short seasons just as the northeast has. For those of us who try not to operate on the reservation system, it can be nerve-racking in certain parts of the country at particular times. But, hey, we persevere and plug along…That about catches us up for now. Until next post…

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Hit The Road, Jack! Oops, Not So Fast!

We made the best of things while enjoying our week’s stay at the Boulder City Elks Lodge. Woody enjoyed a walk down through historic downtown, in and amongst all the street art. They also had an annual happening there called the Boulder City Spring Jamboree which included a number of hot rods on display.

Jeanne’s sister Cindy joined us for a stroll at Hoover Dam and the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. I half expected Lake Mead to be closer to full than it was, but it wasn’t much different than the last time we were here.

Jeanne located Bootleg Canyon Park on the north side of town. We took Woodrow Wilson on a stroll along a trail filled with various statues of desert critters and a little descriptive plaque for each. Not a long walk, but there happens to be a nice paved bicycle path which is a 30-something miles stretch; I’m told you can ride it all the way back into Vegas. Unfortunately we ran out of time before we could give the bike trail a go.

We got our house back, rebuilt engine, all parts working and ready to rock. The only snag, while we were still waiting for the SCR catalyst to be replaced, Jeanne got the phone call, her mom (who lives in Coarsegold, CA) was taken to the hospital due to severe reaction to her current round of chemotherapy. Needless to say, Jeanne was chomping at the bit to get finished at Cummins. Then, it was back to Coarsegold, CA for us. About 8 hours on the road, heavy rain and pea soup fog, not one warning light or siren, and we were settling in to our new temporary home at Park Sierra, the Escapees RV Park in that area. It really is a nice park just outside Yosemite NP, and you can’t beat the weekly rate of $16/night for FHU’s and all the squirrels and rabbits you can stand.

So for now, that pretty much catches us up. We planned on a return jaunt through Yosemite NP, but the weather gods are angry with us and steady rain is upon us, with our departure from the area due this week. So, no updated photos of El Capitan, Half Dome, etc.

Still no update on our “barely there” battle with Cummins corporate. We did garner the attention of one of the higher-ups, who is currently still looking into our situation. But I hold my breath NOT for a positive outcome on our behalf.

Until next post… As usual, my lack of computer tech skills leads me to apologize if any of the photos are sideways. My displeasure with WordPress as a blog platform continues to grow as it continues to prove to me its user-unfriendliness.

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Oh, Woe is Us (Engine Woes, That Is)!

I will go ahead and apologize right now. If you do not own a Cummins diesel engine, this will be about as boring as a blog post can be, unless you want to laugh along with us since that is about all we can do at this point without going batshit crazy. For you Cummins engine owners, you may want to continue the read. We have the Cummins ISL-9 RV motor which utilizes what are called wet cylinders where the coolant direct contacts with the cylinder liners.

The short version for background: We are full-time RVers. We have had Rosie (the MH) in to Cummins & Freightliner shops 7 times scattered over the past 5 years for infrequent bouts of all the warning lights and sirens going off while cruising the highways, lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to 90 minutes. The MH operability was never affected, never lost power, lights just going on and off whenever they felt like it. The problem has never been completely remedied, in fact at several of the shops we were sent on our way with just notes made that we were there because they could not duplicate the occurences.

So, on our way to Redding for our supplemental brake system the good ol’ “check engine” icon (not the actual phrase) came on again with a single ping. Based on our history of an inability to trust our warning lights, we finished the 200+ mile drive to Redding. All Wheel Alignment completed our brake system and had the equipment to hook us up and do the diagnostics on the check engine light. They found our crankcase filter was clogged and replaced it to the tune of $800. 

So, S/B we were, heading towards I-15 through Lost Wages, NV. Well I’ll be, now our “check engine” icon & phrase popped up again. But this time it was accompanied by the “coolant-low level” phrase. “$%#&*@{ !!!!!!” I said to Jeanne. Against my better judgement, I continued and limped Rosie into the Bakersfield Cummins Service Center. At that point, we still had about 30 days left on our original Cummins engine 5-year warranty. The nightmare begins.

It’s becoming an all-too-familiar sight for us. Home, at Bakersfield Cummins.

We stayed in our home in the Bakersfield Cummins lot with W/E until they took it into the bay for diagnosis. Their insurance does not allow folks to remain inside their rigs while inside the shop, so we grabbed limited clothing for what we thought should be a short motel stay.

Me and Murphy have become inseparable, I cannot evade his laws. If you’ve never been to Bakersfield, CA, I will tell you it is truly a very large shit hole. If the Earth had hemmorhoids they would be called “Bakersfield”. Our first night in the hotel (a Marriott’s outfit) we got woke by the desk informing me I had to step outside in the parking lot because some POS tried to steal my bicycle which was locked to the rack on the back of the Jeep. It seems the POS cut my cables, effectively ruining the $600 Thule bicycle rack, then tried to ride off into the night. The hotel security guard saw the theft in progress and chased shithead down with a vehicle and rammed him, destroying my back wheel, knocking said shithead to the pavement where he got up and foot bailed out of sight. $655 + $125 later we were back up in business with a new bike rack and rear wheel, with a renewed INTENSE hatred for thieves and predators.

Jerry, the service manager at the Cummins, called us and said they pulled our #2 cylinder liner and found liner pitting and rust. He then dropped the hammer —- without knowing our maintenance history, he said this issue was not going to be covered by Cummins’ engine warranty due to “lack of proper maintenance by the owner”. At that time he gave us a 2-3 week estimate to finish the repairs, telling us they had “regular customers” to tend to besides us. We made a mad dash back to the MH to empty the fridge and get ready to relocate to Jeanne’s brother David’s house in Anderson, CA, 7 hours north in the Redding area. While in the MH, we found a nice chip in the tile covering the access hatch to the engine. It appeared the tech tried to pry up the hatch from the wrong side, causing the chip. On our way out I asked Jerry about the chipped tile and what they were going to do to repair it. He said they would not cover the damage they did to the tile, blaming it on Tiffin Motorhomes for their “faulty” design of the access hatch. He said I was not the only one with this issue, it happened often and their techs are very careful in and around motorhomes.  

We told him we were going to take our issues to Cummins corporate, including our appeal to his decision to deny our warranty claim, and he cheerfully encouraged us to do so. Jerry then said there “may” be a day or two delay in beginning the repairs until he heard from corporate regarding the warranty claim. He explained that if the warranty was granted, Bakersfield Cummins would “only do a minimal repair vs. an over-repair” on our rig.  This gave us pause, our impression from Jerry was that they would repair the one pitted liner and patch us up, send us on our way.  I gave Jeanne an in-depth lesson in 4-letter vocabulary all the way to Redding.

Let the confusion begin. The Cummins owner’s manual absolutely does say the coolant concentration/SCA  “must be checked every six months”. We have not had that done every six months. Neither Jeanne nor I are mechanics or mechanically inclined. When we purchased the Phaeton in 2014 I sifted through the voluminous paperwork/owner’s manuals, trying to learn and make sense of things, but I will say it was a bit confusing for me. The maintenance recommendations began at the break-in first 6,000 miles. We used Freightliner affiliate Bay Diesel in Red Bay, AL, and I spoke with the mechanic about routine maintenance. He said they recommend maintenance at least annually or every 8,000-10,000 miles.  Since then we have taken Rosie to Freightliner or Cummins exclusively for maintenance and every year without fail. 

We started out with what Cummins calls their Customer Advocacy Leader, John. We explained our situation and he wanted all of our maintenance service invoices. Since we left all paperwork inside Rosie, we had to try to recall all the Freightliner and Cummins shops we’ve been to, then called and had copies of invoices emailed to us where we  forwarded them to John. He then referred them to the engineers for review.  He also said they would approve the repair of the chipped tile previously mentioned. John later emailed to advise Cummins denied our warranty claim, standing firm on our lack of proof of getting the antifreeze concentration and SCA (supplemental coolant additive) checked “every 6 months and 15,000 miles”. I guess every 12 months and 10,000 miles is not good enough, obviously. In all of our annual services there was never a mention of problems related to possible liner-pitting. And make no mistake, liner-pitting is a huge problem for motors with wet cylinders. None of our service mechanics even ever broached the subject, giving a helpful hint, nothing. With this last rejection, Jeanne started calling several randomly selected Freightliner and Cummins service centers scattered across the country, speaking with their service department personnel. She specifically asked each what is the recommended service interval for checking the coolant concentration/SCA levels and without exception each one stated annually and that it was done routinely with the maintenance service. This is contradictory to Cummins owner’s manual. We also found a Cummins Service Bulletin that said the coolant concentration/SCA testing every 6 months was “recommended”, not required.

We were not satisfied with John’s final decision. Jeanne telephoned Cummins corporate office and spoke with the phone person. She requested to be transferred to a manager and the phone person refused to transfer the call. Jeanne gave the phone person full recap of our situation and was responded to with the insinuation that she was being untruthful about conversations with various Freightliner and Cummins shops, “…if you even made those phone calls…” . No resolution with that one, as you can imagine. Next stop for me was the Tiffin RV Network forum on Cummins engines where I posted a Reader’s Digest version of this disaster as a sort of PSA for Cummins owners. That seems to have stirred the hornet’s nest, at last count I think there were about 90 responses and 2,000+ views, many with very interesting information regarding possible causes of liner-pitting. We also called The Man himself, Bob Tiffin, to see if he had any inside contacts at Cummins corporate management. We gave him a short version of our nightmare and he said he would talk with his Cummins sales rep and see what he could do. 

In the meantime, we telephoned Jerry at Bakersfield Cummins to confirm the repairs were under way. We also made sure to request they check all 6 liners for pitting (what I like to refer to as the “over-repair” version Jerry previously mentioned), not just #2. Good thing I did that, all 6 liners had pitting. With the warranty claim still denied, I penned a letter to Rich Freeland, COO of Cummins, Inc. expressing our dissatisfaction with Cummins and the Bakersfield Cummins Service Center.

In all of our on-going research into causes of liner-pitting, we have learned there are many reasons besides “lack of proper maintenance”. Things such as faulty ground, electrolysis caused by static electricity in the coolant system, loose liner fitting, stuck thermostat, and mixing incompatable coolants are forefront. We have no idea if any of the service centers, particularly Bakersfield Cummins, have tested for any of those reasons for pitting.

Time to fast-forward. With our dispute still alive but hanging by a very thin thread, we got a finish date from Jerry in Bakersfield. 4 full weeks in the shop while we were displaced from our home. No sense of urgency or even continuity on Bakersfield Cummins’ part. We returned to Bakersfield after 3 weeks of mooching off Jeanne’s very patient, Saint of a brother, Dave and his son Alex. We overnighted inside our home at the Cummins lot until morning to settle the bill, our burden still to this point. Jerry showed me the 6 liners they removed/replaced and I took photos of the damage. With all we had learned about coolants and maintenance, all of which we relayed to Jerry (particularly the manual’s “must” requirement for testing coolant concentration every 6 months) we were somewhat taken aback when we asked Jerry what Bakersfield Cummins recommends for service intervals for testing coolant concentrations. He responded with the unanimous consensus of all the other Freightliner and Cummins service personnel, annually. 

When it came time to settle up, I had a series of questions I wanted answered regarding coolants, test strips, and general maintenance inquiries. As I was paying the $8,300+ bill I started to ask Jerry my first question. He abruptly stopped me and said my wife had mentioned talking to an attorney about lemon laws and such. Jerry refused to answer any of my questions that were not related to the actual work they did, saying everything from that point had to be submitted in writing. I paid the bill and left a real happy camper (sarcasm inserted here).

It seems I could not escape California, particularly Bakersfield, fast enough. It was hold our breath time as we headed over the Tehachapi Pass on Hwy. 58, staring at the instrument warning light panel and temperature gauge all the way. Got to the top, smooth sailing, Rosie purring like a champ. We caught I-15 in Barstow and settled in for the last leg to Vegas. @%#$^&*, as we got near Primm, NV, up pops my friend, check enging icon (not the phrase). But as a special added bonus, my temperature gauge started fluctuating slowly between one quarter to just over one half, which it has never done before. It never got to the red zone, but I pulled over to a rest area and we called Bakersfield Cummins. I spoke with the service department (not Jerry) and advised her what happened, we were about 60 miles from the nearest Cummins Service Center in No. Las Vegas. She made sure to stress that if this problem was shown to be related to just the work they performed, they would take care of it, but if not I was responsible for any repairs. Gee, I never would have thought of that, but seeing they just basically rebuilt my engine and tore apart the entire cooling system, coupled with the fact this new issue involved my coolant system temps, I thought it should have gone without saying. I chose to limp Rosie on into Vegas, staring at mirrors for smoke and temp gauge for red zone violations the whole way. Before we got there Jerry at Bakersfield called Jeanne back and again started in with the “if it is related to what we just did… otherwise it is your responsiblity” spiel. Jeanne got frustrated and ended up hanging up on Jerry.

We made it to the No. Las Vegas Cummins Service Center. We again overnighted in their lot with E hookups, they were able to get us in the following morning. During the rest of the day we continued to inspect the interior and exterior of Rosie for damages. Jeanne was flustered by the amount of grease smudges left inside, she dang near used a whole box of wipes to clean the vertical hand rail next to the door. She also found a couple of nasty scuff marks on our Flexsteel couch where the tech(s) evidently squeezed through the living area and scraped the corners of the sofa, only expanding the bedroom slide-outs to access the rear bathroom. 

The next day we got in at 0700 on the button for diagnostics. Let me tell you, Clinton Shepherd, the Service Adviser at No. Vegas Cummins, was night and day different from Jerry in Bakersfield. Clinton actually possesses a high level of customer service skills. They got Rosie right in and plugged her in for diagnostics. No problems with excessive temperatures, but they found what is called our SCR Catalyst failed. I’m guessing that is the diesel version of some sort of catalytic converter. He said that repair could run upwards to about $16,000. But God is taking pity on us this go-around. Clinton said Cummins has what is called a Temporary Repair Practice regarding this issue. The TRP is not a campaign (Cummins’ term for a recall), but nevertheless is a warrantable repair. So yippee kayay, I don’t have to go sell my body parts and blood for this one.

While waiting in the lounge, I sent John the Advocacy Leader more information regarding Rosie’s history for their further review, seemingly a last ditch effort to save our request for warranty coverage. Jeanne also sent photos of the couch scuffs with her complaint. As of now we still wait for the final warranty claim decision, but not holding my breath for a favorable outcome. John did return an email with their offer to pay for upholstery cleaning or 50% pay for re-upholstery (both direct pay to the provider, not us). Unfortunately, Flexsteel has discontinued our upholstery material. He also offered $500 credit toward our next maintenance service on Rosie at Cummins, “as an act of goodwill for you given your frustration with the entire process…”.

So, final act. Here we sit at the Boulder City Elks Lodge, waiting for the SCR catalyst parts to arrive (1-4 day estimate). Clinton said it would be a full day needed for the repair and reprogramming of all the computer crap involved in these systems. But hey, we should be driving off knowing we basically have a new engine starting from square one. But research continues, trying to save that warranty claim. Time will tell…in the meantime I will close out with a few photos of happier times during this Cummins disaster. Pardon me if they turn out sideways or upside down or without caption. I am still fired up over WordPress and their extremely un-user-friendly media system for these blogs. They were edited for proper aspect and captioning, but don’t show in my edit mode. Until next post…

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Countdown to Alaska Launch

We left SoCal and headed back up to the central coast for a couple of days more with Little Miss Hailey and Little Miss Ellie (& their mommy and daddy, of course), before making our way back to Sonoma County for hopefully my final bout with the surgeon’s knife. The whole family loaded up and we headed to Montana de Oro beach on a nice sunny day. We found a nice little protected cove/beach where Little Miss Hailey could romp at the water’s edge and even explore a small cave that can only be accessed by a lower tide.