Philly Tech






Just a few steps from City Hall is the Comcast Building.  A friend (thanks Jason) had suggested we pop into the lobby if we were in the area.  Well, we were in the area so we popped in.

The first think we noticed was the massive video wall covering the back half of the lobby. It is so large at first it appears to be a banner or painting….until something moves. There are 10 million pixels in that wall.

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Video Wall

The video slowly rotated between scenes of nature – a birds nest, a waterfall, a sunset – and architecture..  We watched it for a few minutes and as the wonderment quickly wore off I though how technologically jaded we have all become.  Or maybe just how fast technology is advancing.

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I still remember as a kid getting our first touch-tone phone and thinking how high-tech it was not to have to spin that old rotary dial.

Fun game: ask a kid of today to explain why we say “dial” a phone and see them squirm as they try to explain it. 

I also remember watching TV not THAT long ago at my grandparents house on a 21 inch tube display – which seemed large at the time –  and enjoying shows like “I Love Lucy,” “Leave it to Beaver,” and “Andy Griffith” all of which were black-and-white.

Black-and-white was broadcast at approx. 0.3 million pixels.

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Just a short two decades ago the notion of an entire wall – let alone one of the Comcast Center’s size – acting as a single video screen would have been something straight out of science fiction.  Especially one with 10 million pixels!  10 million!

Today, it is neat but hardly earth shaking or mind boggling. Nobody walks into the lobby, looks at this, and thinks they saw something truly spectacular. (Having said that, if you are here, step in and look anyway.  Not every meal has to be a feast.)

To put that 10 million into perspective, Best Buy was selling a 4k TV for $199 on black Friday that displayed 8 million pixels on its panel. Just about every cell phone camera made in the last 3 years captures 12 million pixels (or more). The 8k video standard, for which cameras already exist, captures a whopping 33 million pixels!

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Another 20 years from now we’ll be unrolling sheets of OLED film like wallpaper and turning entire walls in our houses into transparent magic portals to anyplace we can imagine.  You heard it here first.

Anyway, back to the lobby.

The lobby is massively open inside. It is mostly steel and glass, at least 6 or 8 stories tall. The empty space above the floor is  crisscrossed by some somewhat random looking support beams.  Aside from being somewhat random, something else is different about those beams. Or rather, what is ON the beams!

Sculptures (statues?  I’m not an art major…when does a sculpture become a statue and vis versa) of people walking the beams fill the sky.  When I first saw one I had to do an immediate double-take because I couldn’t believe someone was walking on those beams!

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Walking on, we headed to the Benjamin Franklin Science Museum. I was quickly beginning to realize that Philadelphia is full of a very large number of world-class museums.  Far more than I expected.

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We had intended to visit the museum because Google had sponsored a robotics exhibit that sounded really interesting and they were also heavily promoting a virtual reality display.

When we arrived, the lobby was empty but for the purposes of crowd control through the Google Robotics exhibit our entry was at a specific time.  We were told that several groups of school children were there and we could go in at 2pm. So we had some time to kill.

Fortunately, our ticket gave us access to the entire museum.

Near the lobby was a display of mechanics and simple machines.  Levers, pulleys, motors, etc. One sort of non-descript display looking a bit like something from a carnival machine or the Victorian idea of a robot caught our eye.

Called simply “The Automaton,” it was made by Henri Maillardet around 1800. It is a mechanized arm connected to a memory bank made not of silicon and transistors but of incredibly intricate brass cams and gears.

Photo of Automaton

Inside the brass memory bank are the plans for seven different sketches. Three poems and four drawings.

Photo of One of Maillardet's Automaton's seven sketches.

Photo of One of Maillardet's Automaton's seven sketches.

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The automaton had just finished the drawing of the ship you see in the photo. I think what captivated me most about the contraption was not its fiendish complexity but its extremely lifelike and natural movements.  Far from the jerky “robotic” motions I imagined.  It really looked like a living thing.  You can see in the video below what I mean.

After seeing the Automaton, we were eager to see the modern robots.  The time was nearly 2pm and we made our way up to the Google Robotics exhibit.  These digital and electronic beasts would have to be pretty impressive to outdo their 1800s Great Great Great Grandaddy.

Outside the entry was a 10 foot tall robot pointing the way inside. It wasn’t actually doing anything so I’m not sure if it was a true robot or just a plastic statue which looked like a robot.  I couldn’t resist a selfie with it though.

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Hall Monitor

Inside were a variety of robots.  Most of them were either single-purpose or industrial style. For example, this one would take a Rubik’s Cube that was inserted into a slot, analyze it with a camera, then solve it.  I sped up the roughly 2 minute operation into 12 seconds.  It is far more interesting to watch when sped up.

Of course, I couldn’t solve a Rubik’s Cube in 2 minutes so I shouldn’t be making too much fun.

Displays of robots were setup, most of which were not animated though. Some, like the drones visible here, clearly are “real” but not powered on.  Others like the bipedal robot to the right of the drones could just as easily have been models rather than working mechanisms.

20161031_144456Not all were static though.  This very animated robotic poker dealer/player robot would play against 3 human opponents in a live game of poker. It used suction cups on its “hands” to grab the cards and move them around. Unlike the Rubik’s Cube robot, the poker robot moved pretty fast and it was impressive to watch its heavy metal arms whirling around the table.

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Poker anyone?

So far we had mostly seen industrial-style robots.  Modern equivalents of the Automaton which could repeat very fixed motions over and over and over. Sure, the Rubik’s cube robot had to contend with a new arrangement of the cube to solve, but its motions were always identical and it had very little real challenge.  All of these robots could have been built 30 years ago.

I wanted to see a modern display – something that advanced the autonomy along with the mechanics!

Fortunately, a display of autonomous robots playing soccer was about to start!

These robots, working in two teams of 2 robots each, competed to either score a goal or defend the goalbox.  Using a golf ball as a soccer ball, they played each other. All 4 robots were autonomous but clearly needed to be aware of each other, their mission, and the random movements of the ball. It was actually very impressive to see them play. They almost looked like small children and their movements were far from “robotic.”

There was more to see so we continued on. Spoiler alert – the VR exhibit which was so heavily promoted?  A joke.  They had 2 VR headsets. I don’t mean two types.  I mean two total. An Oculus rift and an HTC Vive.  Fortunately there was no line so we tried both.  The Microsoft store at the mall or any Best Buy has at least as good a VR demo as this.

I’m told that there were 2 additional units on each floor of the museum.  However, on the main floor they used iPod Touch devices as the screen which is beyond pathetic. Since VR cuts the effective number of pixels by about 60%, using an iPod touch would make the resolution roughly equivalent to standing 6 inches away from an old DVD movie. Still something, but far from “immersive.”

The life sciences portion of the museum is equally impressive.  One interactive exhibit, mainly for kids, features a model of a neural network that kids can actually climb inside!

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Climb inside the brain

There is a human heart model large enough to walk through. For adults and kids alike!  Its a bit like a funhouse maze following the path of the blood as it goes through the heart to the lungs and back.

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A massive monument to Ben Franklin, Philly’s “spirit animal” sits in quiet repose in the rotunda just off the lobby.  Fortunately, its in actual reality and not virtual reality so it looked pretty damn impressive!

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Franklin rotunda

Except for the lame and completely over-hyped VR exhibit, the museum was fantastic!  I always enjoy a good science museum but Heather also liked this one very much which says a lot!

 




Heading to Philadelphia






We knew we had pushed our luck as far as we could in the Northeast and set out to make a dash down the east coast toward the South. We planned to head toward North Carolina with short visits in Philly and DC.  Driving from Boston to Philly was too much for one day so we stopped for one night in New York state just across the Connecticut border.

Why couldn’t we make the whole trip in a day?  To put the East and West coasts into perspective for friends on both coasts, here is how California compares.

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California would cover territory from the Canadian border down to South Carolina, as far East as New Hampshire and as far west as Kentucky.  So for the people who think you can drive anywhere in Cali in a few hours, now you know why that doesn’t happen.  And for the Cali crew, this is how we can cover 5 east coast states in such a short time.

Stopping halfway between Boston and Philly was great because we were able to meetup with our good friend Aster!  He was driving back from Albany and so we sort of met in the middle!

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Aster

So we wanted to breakup the drive but we knew we needed to head south quickly.

Sure enough, temperatures dropped down into the mid 20s and we woke to a light dusting of snow.  Definitely nature telling us we need to follow the birds South!

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Time to fly south

We brushed off the snow and hooked up our Jeep. The trip today is roughly the equivalent of Sacramento to the Monterey.  Basically New York State just north of New York City down to Philadelphia, through New Jersey.

How hard could that be?

As the first low bridge loomed larger and larger in our panoramic windshield and our RV GPS kept repeating “height violation – height violation – height violation,” we realized the answer to that question is pretty damn hard!!!

The GPS was complaining like a teenager. We didn’t need to be told what we already knew.  We needed it to get us a safe route!

Instead of rerouting, though, it decided to just pack up and quit. Well, it quit routing, anyway.  While it decided we didn’t need other driving options, we did still need to be reminded – constantly – that we were screwed.

“Height violation, height violation” it said, over and over and over, in case we missed it the first 500 times.

At some point I think its only goal was to taunt us!

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Thanks for nothing, Rand McNally

See, a bit earlier, just after we cleared the toll booth (for a $24 toll I might add) road signs started to inform us that there were 7 bridges in 6 miles that had height issues.

Did the toll booth operator at the start of the Garden State Turnpike say anything as we pulled on?  Nope.  Were there any signs directing us to a different route?  Nope. Did anyone at the NJ DOT think it might be a good idea to warn tall vehicles BEFORE they got on the Turnpike?  Nope.

But now that we were ON the road of terror, the signs appeared.  Basically, to tell us how much of our roof we would loose.

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Not only were there few exits on the route, we couldn’t just assume we could take one of the exits that we did see.  It might put us into an even worse situation with height or weight. Without our GPS giving us an alternate route, we would just be guessing and we might guess badly.

So, we pulled into the center lanes, slowed down, and watched the bridge height signs like hawks.  We changed our lane position to maximize clearance as needed.

The lowest bridge was this one, which is 12’9″ of clearance in the right and left lanes!!  Since our height is 12’10”, driving in either of these lanes would shave the extra inch off our roof in a very loud, very painful, and very expensive way.

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Low bridge #3 out of 7

Not all of the bridges were arched.  Some were slanted and we aimed for the tallest section we could see. We  needed every an inch of clearance we could get.

Visions of our RV ripped open like a sardine can while traffic backed up behind us flashed through my head.  I could almost see the policeman ready with his ticket book, the tow truck driver pulling us out, and the news crew filming it all for the nightly news!

Fortunately, we cleared the bridges! It took us about 15 minutes to get through this section, but it felt like a lifetime.  It took me about 2 hours to fully calm down again though.  Wow!  Not the kind of adventure we wanted.

It didn’t help that our destination – an old truck loading dock and commuter parking lot converted into a makeshift RV park – was right in the middle of Philly and a tough drive on urban roads.  So the tense driving continued.

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Fortunately we made it and settled into our spot.  At first, the idea of parking at a loading dock seemed ridiculous to me. The sites have electricity and water, but no sewer.  Instead, they had a dump station.

But, I quickly realized this is genius!  First, unlike the uneven dirt and gravel spaces we’ve been used to, this is fully paved and flat. Next, the dock was designed for big trucks so it was easy to back into. Nobody behind us meant it was relatively quiet. And, with no trees our dish worked just fine!  They even had decent WiFi!

campus-park-and-rideThe biggest bonus though was the location.  An $8 uber ride got us to just about anywhere in Philly we wanted to go. We paid more than that just in tolls driving into Boston, and we had to drive ourselves for hours in traffic!!  This was great!  We could go into Philly every day, easily, in less than 15 minutes.

My first stop – and really the only reason I wanted to go to Philly – was to run up the “Rocky Steps” at the Philidelphia Art Museum.  I didn’t know that much about Philly, and the only real thing I had always wanted to do/see were those famous steps I had seen over and over in the movies.

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Philadelphia Art Museum

Weather was beautiful as we made our run up the steps!  I could hear the Rocky theme in my head as I went up the stairs!

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Gonna Fly now

It turns out that the steps aren’t much of a workout. Its only about 5 flights of stairs.  But what a view!  Downtown Philly is lined up along the steps and the view is amazing!

In Rocky 3 the bronze statue of Rocky was erected at the top of these steps. After the movie, the statue was relocated to the bottom of the stairs.  Its still there!

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So my Philly bucket list was complete!  Yeah, yeah…not much of a Philly bucket list.

Fortunately, we had a couple of extra days to explore the city.  And what a city!  It feels like 80% of the goodness of New York with only 20% of the downsides.  People in Philly are nice and not nearly as frantic as they are in Manhattan.  Yet there are museums, restaurants, shopping, arts, and entertainment just like in NYC.



One of the cool spots is Reading Terminal Market. Its kind of like Chelsea Market but larger and way less crowded.  It is a mix of food vendors, artisans, and local food producers.  Everything from homemade ice cream and cheese to organic Brussels sprouts to barbeque are available here.

Of course, we made a beeline for one of Philly’s treasures – the Cheesesteak!  Carmen’s is located in the Market and is well known for its awesome cheesesteaks.

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Carmen’s

We ordered a couple of cheesesteaks and took up our seats at the counter while the food was made right in front of us!

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Mmmmm….tasty

The cheesesteaks were literally hot off the grill when they were handed to us.  Delicious!

Just a few blocks from the Reading Terminal Market is the famous Macy’s next to City Hall.  Macy’s occupies the Wanamaker building, an iconic Philly location.

Wanamaker building

The building was built between 1904 and 1911 on the former location of the Reading Railroad Central terminal. The building is 12 floors and over 2 million square feet of retail space.  It was the first department store in Philly and one of the first in the whole country.  It also features the largest playable pipe organ in the entire world!

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We walked in and the Christmas decorations were going up.  The tree was already mounted, but no lights or decorations had been added. However, something about this building instantly looked familiar. I thought about it and realized this building looked just like the store in the 1980s movie Mannequin.

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Sure enough, Google confirmed that the Wanamaker building WAS the setting for the 1987 movie and the fictional Prince and Co. store. It was cool to see it in real life!  And it looks exactly like it did in the move which was filmed almost 30 years ago.

Just across the street is the Philadelphia city hall building.  Certainly this is one of  the most impressive city hall buildings in the entire country!

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City Hall

City Hall was named #27 on the list of the most architecturally impressive 150 buildings in America.  Its gorgeous.  At 528 feet, its tower is also the largest unreinforced masonry tower in the world.  There was some debate about whether it was the tallest or second tallest building.

The Mole Antonelliana in Italy claimed that honor as well.  Fortunately for Philly, a tornado hit the Mole Antonellia and collapsed part of its spire. When it was rebuilt, it was reinforced with steel thus ending its claim to unreinforced height.

20161030_135640Designed by a Scotsman (of course) John McArthur Jr to be the tallest and largest building in the world, it has over 700 rooms and offices and was the tallest structure when it was completed. Walls of City Hall are up to 22 feet thick to support all that weight. It was this thickness which saved the building.

In the 1950s, the madness that caused the destruction of so many historic structures infected the City Fathers of Philadelphia.  They judged the building to be an outdated eyesore lacking in modern virtues and decided to demolish the building.  The replacement would have been a soulless slab-sided monstrosity.  However, when the estimates for the demolition came back the costs for tearing down the formidable structure actually exceeded the construction costs of a new building and the city dropped its plans.

Today, I can’t imagine anyone would want to tear down the building.

At this point I was really starting to fall in love with Philadelphia.  Having not expected anything much except some steps from a movie, I was very pleasantly surprised to see a city with real depth and character and soul!  I can’t wait to keep exploring!



Boston






Boston. 

Largest city in Massachusetts and in all of New England. 

One of the oldest and most well-known US cities as well (founded in 1630).  Its population is around 670,000, but the greater metro area is estimated to have over 4.5 million people.  There is something even larger called “Greater Boston Commuting Area” which is said to have 8.1 million people.

I gotta say, those poor 4 or 8 million people who drive in and out of Boston every day are truly dedicated.  Still, I bet they sit in their cars in that God-awful traffic and dream of a better life in places like Chechnya or Mogadishu.

We drove into Boston from Bellingham. It is only 43.1 miles.  However, that 43.1 miles took us through 4 toll booths and well over an hour of driving even during the middle of the day.

boston-driveWhy so far away?  Well, like most east coast cities, there are no RV campgrounds in Boston or even close by.  Yet in spite of the distance, we were paying over $55/night for one of the worst campgrounds we have stayed at during the trip.

We are here for two weeks so we will have plenty of time to let the nasty campground wash over us. That two weeks should let us explore everything in the area though since our Campground is about halfway between Boston, Plymouth, Providence, and the Cape.

We start with the Freedom Trail.

The Freedom trail traces a path through 16 locations that are instrumental to Boston or American history.  Places like Independence Hall, the Old North Church, Paul Revere’s house, and Bunker Hill.

 

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The trail is actually a brick trail that runs through the city and is therefore very easy to follow.  Just keep walking on the red bricks!

Starting at the furthest end from downtown at Boston Common has us beginning the walk in Charlestown across the river. Bunker Hill.

What American didn’t grow up hearing about the great battle at Bunker Hill where the valiant patriots of the Continental Army faced off against the Redcoats?

“Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”
Of course, like most Americans, about all I knew of the battle was that it happened, and that it was famous. Visiting the actual site was a good (re)education.

During the Siege of Boston in June 1775 British troops began to take up positions on the hilltops around the city to ensure they controlled access to Boston Harbor.  A group of about 1200 Colonial troops led by William Prescott stealthily snuck  onto Bunker Hill and nearby Breed’s hill during the night.

When morning light dawned, the British saw the Colonials and decided to launch a series of attacks to dislodge them from the hilltops. British attacks commenced with relatively little preparation since the British had a very low opinion of the Colonial military skill and therefore saw little threat or challenge.Image result for bunker hill battle

Imagine their surprise when the first British attack was repulsed!

British troops redoubled their efforts and launched a second attack, which was also repulsed! 

Colonists retreated from Bunker Hill to Breeds Hill where they were hit by a third attack from the British. The third attack broke the Colonial resistance and the Colonials retreated to Cambridge leaving the British in control of the peninsula.

However, while the battle was a tactical victory for the British, they paid a very heavy price.  The British suffered a much higher number of casualties compared to the Americans.  Even more damaging, many of the British casualties were officers.

The Battle of Bunker Hill showed the British that supposedly “untrained” Colonial troops could stand up to regular British army troops.  Never again would the British rush into the face of Colonial troops in well-defended positions.

Today, a massive stone monument marks the battle.

Bunker Hill monument
Hiking up the hill itself is nothing compared to the walk up to the top of the monument.  Just shy of 300 twisting steps led us from the base up to the observation level at the top.

Fortunately, step counts are painted about every 50 feet. Which is both a blessing and also torture.

 Whew!! The view from the top is pretty good, but it is very crowded and the “windows” are very small. Since it is so dark inside and the light outside is so bright, it was hard to get a decent shot.  This is the best I could do.  You can see downtown Boston in the distance. It is quite a walk from there to here.

Near Bunker Hill is the Old North Church.

Old North Church
The Old North Church is famous as being the place where Paul Revere hung signal lanterns warning of the British troops moving on Concord and Lexington.

Today, a plaque memorializes the hanging of the lanterns.

 Speaking of Paul Revere, his house is still standing.  It is open and tourists can visit the house for a fee.  We continued walking past the house and saved our money.  I’m not sure what the interior is like, but I can tell you that the house is not large.  

Even though Paul Revere was a wealthy silver smith who could afford a large home, most Americans today probably live in a house this large or larger. Plus, it didn’t even appear to have a garage or outdoor BBQ.  C’mon Paul. 

 

Paul Revere House



This is an interesting sight that is repeated all over Boston – namely a very old historic building right next to a Modern Building.

I took this shot near the downtown as the spire of a historic church is framed between two modern glass high-rise buildings. I thought it was a good example of modern Boston.

Something old, something new
Continuing on the Freedom Trail, we passed Boston’s oldest Tavern, the Bell In Hand (1795). While it is old, regular readers of this fact-filled blog will know that 1795 is nowhere near the oldest tavern in the US.  That would be in Newport Rhode Island. Not too far away.

Bell in Hand Tavern
Nearby is Independence Hall which is surrounded by massive high-rise buildings.  Independence Hall was the site of many meetings influential to the Revolution.  It was also the site of the Boston Massacre.  That took place in 1770, right where the crowd of people is standing in this photo.

Independence Hall and site of the Boston Massacre
British governors and government officials stood on the second floor platform to read new laws and regulations to the public.  After a series of unpopular legislative edicts, a crowd formed and began harassing one of the British sentries posted to guard the building.  

Eight additional British soldiers came to the aid of their comrade and tensions between the troops and the crowd reached a boiling point.  British troops fired into the crowd, instantly killing three people and wounding others, two of whom would die in subsequent days.

The incident was used to stir up revolutionary spirit against the British.  Future president John Adams defended the troops, 6 of whom were acquitted and 2 were found guilty.  The guilty troops were branded on their hands as their sole punishment. The Massacre became a rallying cry throughout the colonies.

Today the building is a museum dedicated to Colonial history.  It is also fee-based entry and is very busy during the tourist season.  We chose to save our visit for another day.

Closeby is a building I had to photograph.  The Old Corner Bookstore at the corner of Church and Washington Street.

Old Corner Bookstore
Built in 1718, the Old Corner Bookstore has had a long and distinguished history.  Once the location of the publisher of “The Scarlett Letter,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and “Walden,” today the building hosts Chipotle. Instead of getting a book, visitors can now get a burrito. 

Down the street from Burrito Books is the King’s Chapel.  Originally built in 1688 and expanded several times since, King’s Chapel remains an active church.  It also houses the oldest wooden pulpit in America.

The oldest wooden pulpit in America
It was interesting to see the church seating layout.  Unlike the pews we had seen in every other church, King’s Chapel had boxes that were reserved for specific families. These boxes meant that churchgoers had assigned seating for each service.  It also meant that everyone would know if someone was missing.

I will say that while Kings Church is extremely historic and has a long history, it isn’t particularly impressive inside or outside.  At least, not compared to large cathedrals in places like New York City, Montreal, New Orleans, Charleston, or Savannah.  And certainly not like the National Cathedral in Washington DC.

The last stop for us on the Freedom Trail was the Massachusetts State House, located just adjacent to the Boston Common park. The State House was finished in 1798 and was one of the finest public buildings in America at that time.  Perhaps THE finest. It still looks incredible today.

20161015_112341The dome was not always gold. Originally it was just plain wood but Paul Revere covered it in copper shortly after completion.  In 1874 it was covered in gold and has remained gilded since that time.  During WWII it was painted dull grey to prevent it from being used as a bomb target by the Nazis.

We clocked about 6 miles of walking on the Freedom Trail.  I applaud Boston for creating it.  I don’t think I have ever seen a self guided tour as extensive. Or as easy to follow!  We saw parts of Boston that we would not have seen otherwise, and walking the trail was a completely different experience than driving or doing a double-decker tour.

Next stop on our exploration of Boston was not on the Freedom Trail.  In fact, it is a completely different kind of place.

The Liberty Hotel.

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Liberty Hotel
The Liberty Hotel is a somewhat ironic name for a hotel that is – quite literally – a jail.

The Liberty Hotel is a remodel of the Suffolk County Jail, built in 1851.  It was a model facility which embraced a new design of four 3-story wings converging on a massive central atrium.  Prisoners were segregated in the wings by type of crime, at least in the early years. The jail had 220 cells of 8×10 granite and concrete blocks.

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By Martin Stupich – Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress), Survey number HABS MA-1259, Call Number HABS MASS,13-BOST,143-1. This image is in the public domain because it is an original work of the US Federal Government.
It housed some famous prisoners including Malcom X and WWII prisoners of war.  Conditions were harsh in the jail, with little comfort.  In 1973 after years of intense overcrowding, the jail was found to violate the constitutional rights of its inmates.  Still, it wasn’t completely closed until 1990.

The empty shell sat unused as its incredibly robust construction meant any attempts to demolish it would be expensive and time consuming.  Improbably, a group of developers thought they could create a luxury hotel out of the jail.  Plans were approved, investors were found, and construction began.

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The Liberty atria
The project was successful and the Liberty Hotel now operates inside the old jail.  The once famed – and once feared – atria is preserved and is a lounge and meeting area. Rooms go off into the cellblocks.

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One of the prisoner processing areas is now a high-end restaurant and bar, serving food and drink inmates could only dream about.  I’m sure many former inmates have returned to tour the property, wandering in disbelief as they reflect on what the jail has become.  Its a cool site and I highly recommend stopping if you can.

Of course, we couldn’t leave Boston without a trip to see one of the most famous and iconic monuments to human achievement and history in the city.  I’m talking of course about Fenway Park – home of the Boston Red Sox!  Built in 1912, remodeled in 1934.

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Red Sox, lead feet
Now I have to admit I’m a Yankees fan, and the Red Sox are the historic rival of the Yankees.  But I put that aside as we toured this temple of baseball.  I mean, it was really nice of Boston to build a stadium for the Yankees to have a place to win games while they are away from home.

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Fenway Park and its original wooden seats
Aside from a nearly non-stop stream of Yankee bashing, the tour guide was very entertaining and gave a fabulous tour of America’s oldest baseball park. Its also America’s second smallest capacity park.  Those red seats are the original seats from 1934. They can’t be replaced because they don’t meet current code and if the seats were replaced Fenway Park would loose over 4,000 seats making it the smallest capacity park in the country.  So, they remain original.

The scoreboard is also still the original and still updated by hand.  I love that!

We saw the visiting team locker room.  The empty locker right next to the door on the right was Derek Jeter’s locker when the Yankees were visiting.

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Visiting team locker room
Without a doubt the most famous feature of Fenway Park is the “Green Monster.”  The Green Monster is a towering wall beyond the left outfield

20161025_133017The Green Monster is just over 37 feet tall and some of the most sought-after seats in Fenway Park are on top of it.  However, the most famous seat at Fenway is not on the Green Monster.

That seat would be Section 42, Row 37, Seat 21.

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The furthest hit ever at Fenway
See that sole red seat?  On June 9th, 1946 Joseph A. Boucher was sitting in that seat watching a game. Tired from a late night, Boucher slid his straw hat over his eyes and squinted into the sun.  502 feet away Ted Williams stepped up to home plate.  The pitch came in, straight and over the plate.  Williams swung and a mighty crack echoed off the walls of the press box.  The ball went flying toward the outfield where it crashed through Boucher’s straw hat and bounced off his head!

To this day, no ball has gone further at Fenway and the lone red seat marks its distance.  The seat is available and costs as much as any other seat in the outfield.  It is not available for season ticket sales however.

At the other end of the park, we sat in the pressbox high above the field.  I couldn’t see the Ted Williams seat from here.

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Fenway pressbox
But what a view!! The field, the seats, the Monster all with Boston’s downtown in the background!

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View from the pressbox
4 tolls and nearly 2 hours of driving later we returned to our campground.

The area that the campground staff had spent hours with leaf blowers a few days ago – creating the Great Dustbowl of Bellingham – was back to looking like nature had reclaimed the area. So much for all that hard work!

wp-image-393643109jpg.jpgI thought I would dump the black tank before the rainstorm being forecast arrived.  I went outside and hooked up our flush hose, filled the black tank until full, and pulled the dump valve.

Everything was ok at first. Then the smell hit. That wasn’t typical.  Shortly thereafter the sound of air hissing out of the sewer pipe around the connection for the sewer hose took on a sharp note. And then, a horrific demonstration of Newton’s third law of motion.

Remember those water bottle rockets you had as a kid?

web%20water%20rocket2Well, we made one only instead of tapwater this one used pure foul muck from our black tank.

spindletopI called the campground office who acted like this was a regular occurrence around here. Which is at least somewhat due to the fact that it IS a regular occurrence around here.

It seems the campground has individual cisterns for each of the sewer sites (most of their sites don’t have sewer).  The cistern is 200 gallons. They did not empty it before we arrived.  That would have been good information to have.

20161014_180750A very nice old guy arrived with the honey wagon to pump out our cistern. (Aside.  Honey wagon?  Honey wagon? Talk about some seriously creative marketing)

After he was done, he sprinkled lime around the sewer hose to help sanitize the area.  I felt like I was in that scene from Meet the Parents where the septic tank overflowed at the wedding and ….. ewww.  Where is the biohazard tape?

This campground was the first and only time anything like that has ever happened.  But now I know to ask about any capacity issues with dumping when we arrive at new RV campgrounds.

Good thing too because a massive storm came in the next night.  Flooding alerts popped up on our phones and we started to get nervous.  Our campground was in the bottom of a drainage and looked like flooding might be a real issue.

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I went outside in the howling storm to watch the water.  Levels were rising and several campsites flooded.  Heather was ready to pull in the slides and I was prepared to unhook us.  I didn’t want to leave in the middle of a storm, and wasn’t even sure where we would go.

Standing outside, I noticed a giant bullfrog had taken up shelter under our MoHo.  He was the size of a grapefruit!  Together, we watched the storm rage.

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Fortunately, the water drained through the spot next to ours and we stayed safe.  Had we been in one of the other spots, we would have been in six inches (or more) of water!

The storm dropped the remaining leaves from the trees and our roof was completely covered.  Add that to the list to clean off before we leave.

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The next day I looked out the window at the campground and thought about Boston.  It was an interesting town to see.  The contrast between old and new was more apparent and abrupt than we’ve seen in other cities.

Sure Santa Fe and New Orleans are as old (or older) and both have historic buildings and new buildings just like Boston.  But generally their historic buildings are in historic areas and the new buildings are located outside of those areas.  In Boston, a brand new glass-and-steel high rise could be 5 feet away from a wood and stone building that is hundreds of years old.

In some ways I think Boston has done a better job than any other city in the mix of old and new. In other ways, I think Boston has a strange mix of old and new that doesn’t “flow” very well.

Ultimately you will have to be the judge of whether they pulled off the right blend or not.

Meanwhile, we’re ready to brave our next adventure -the trip to Harvard!



Newport 






Rhode Island is a small state.  The smallest state in the USA actually. Apparently, Rhode Island is compensating for its size complex by having the longest official name of any USA state though – State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations – so put that in your back pocket for your next pub trivia night!!

Rhode Island – I’m using the abbreviated name now – is only 1,214 square miles. That’s tiny!  There are 11 CITIES that are larger than the entire state (including Houston, Nashville, Phoenix, Jacksonville, Anchorage, and Oklahoma City). Los Angeles is one square mile smaller than Rhode Island. Think about that for a minute.  It ain’t big.

In spite of the small size of Rhode Island, Providence is not the only major city in the state. Newport, in the southeastern corner of the state,  is also well known.  Newport is about 40 miles away from Providence and roughly 75 miles from Boston.  Newport is one of the oldest cities on the east coast, having been founded in 1636. As a result, it is full of historic buildings, houses, and cemeteries.

Location of Newport in Newport County, Rhode IslandIn fact, the oldest bar in the entire United States is located in Newport.  The White Horse Tavern, founded in 1673, is still here and still open for business! So at that same pub trivia night where you impress with your knowledge of long state names, you know the state with the oldest tavern is in the same state with the longest name!

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The White Horse Tavern was over 90 years old when the second-oldest tavern in the USA (The Fraunces Tavern in NYC) opened. To put that date into perspective, 1673 is the year the first European explorers entered the mouth of the Mississippi river to start exploring and New York was  was still a Dutch colony called New Nederland.

Put another way, for any Millennials reading this, that was 319 years before text messages were invented.

Newport’s claim to fame is not the age of its taverns, however.  It is the presence of the famous Gilded Age mansions built by the 1% of their day.

Mark Twain coined the term “the Gilded Age” and it wasn’t a compliment.  He was referring to the massive income inequality and gap between the rich and poor,all covered by a thin gold film hiding the problems. Glad that’s not a problem today.

Also the gilded age was a reference to the fact that the rich of the era were fond of decorating with gilded items.

the%20gilded%20ageThe Gilded Age was roughly from 1870 to 1900, although some argue it lasted up until the start of the Great Depression in 1929.   The American economy of this time was rapidly expanding, particularly in manufacturing and railroads. This economic expansion created mega millionaires with names we still know today. Vanderbilt. Rockefeller. Carnegie.  Mellon.  JP. Morgan. Stanford. Guggenheim.

The wealthy elites adhered to a social code dictating how their enormous fortunes must be spent. That code included the acquisition of property which displayed not only the wealth of the owner but did so in a very particular way.

At this time, American Industrialists were very (newly) wealthy but they lacked the titles and pedigree of their European peers.  So they sought to reproduce the opulence and grandeur that they had seen in European castles, chateaux, and villas, trying to show they had their own nobility.

Consequently, Newport became the one of the main locations that the rich chose to build these incredible summer “cottages” (never homes) where they entertained each other. For only 12 weeks each year. That’s right.  These buildings you are about to see were only used for a small part of the year.  Mostly for parties.  Its good to be rich!

The crown jewel in this collection of massive properties built along the cliffs overlooking the ocean is called “The Breakers.”

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The Breakers from the side
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The Breakers Rear View

The Breakers was built for Cornelius Vanderbilt, the uber-wealthy railroad tycoon.  It was finished in 1895 and upon completion it became the largest of the Newport Mansions. The Breakers is over 125,000 square feet of space – 62,000sq feet of living space –  with 70 bedrooms spread across 5 floors.

Vanderbilt was deeply afraid of fire so the Breakers is built with solid materials including marble, granite, concrete, and steel. He even required the boiler to be located away from the main building (it is buried below the front lawn). Imported materials were used heavily including marble from Italy and Africa, rare woods from around the world.

wp-image-1271927790jpg.jpgwp-image-465542027jpg.jpgwp-image-1316330487jpg.jpgThe interior rivals anything seen in Europe or the finest hotels of the day. While it looks a bit like a Vegas casino, all of the craftsmanship is authentic as are the materials.

The Breakers has the best of everything including this hand-carved marble bathtub with faucets for hot and cold running water….and hot and cold running SEAWATER.  Saltwater baths were supposed to be stimulating and so of course Mr. Vanderbilt needed the option to have that piped in.

wp-image-2019668798jpg.jpgThe view off the main ballroom is stunning, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean.

wp-image-577084567jpg.jpgRemember – these are temporary residences meant for entertaining.  As summer set in, the wealthy descended on Newport to throw extravagant balls and cotillions for each other.  Consequently, the houses are primarily designed for entertaining. Of the 70 bedrooms in The Breakers, 65 of the bedrooms are used for staff and only 5 for the owners.

That’s important to keep in mind.

The houses were supposed to run “as if by magic” meaning that a small army of servants kept the house operating but were rarely seen.  Dishes quickly cleared themselves and reappeared in the china cabinets washed and ready for the next meal. Food was always stocked (delivery entrances were hidden from all view). Floors were always clean.  Furniture was always dust-free. Linens were magically fresh on the beds…which made themselves. Fresh clothes were somehow magically set out at the right times.

That last bit is important as the dress code of the period dictated as many as five different outfits PER DAY.  Someone described living in this time as part of the upper society was like in being a cast member in a day-long play, with costumes changed for each act.

Just down the street from the Breakers is Rosecliff.

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Rosecliff

Rosecliff was even more focused on entertaining than The Breakers.  While not as large, it features an enormous central ballroom used for such movies as “The Great Gatsby,” “True Lies,” and “Amistad.”

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Rosecliff ballroom

Rosecliff is just as detailed inside as the other mansions, with hand-carved items everywhere.

wp-image-889910269jpg.jpgRosecliff has a grand central staircase where the owners could descend to make their appearance for their party guests.  Today, the mansion is the venue for many weddings and is generally booked each weekend.  If you want to get married here, book in advance. wp-image-991985171jpg.jpgRosecliff has a sad story.  Its owner was Theresa Fair Oelrichs, wife of Hermann Oelrichs.  Hermann was one of the original 4 partners in the Comstock Lode, the rich sliver mine in Nevada.  She and her husband soon parted company but never divorced, and unlike many of the Newport mansions Theresa lived here much of the year.

She threw herself deeply into the Newport social scene and was the hostess of lavish parties with important guests. Sadly, public opinion turned against the excesses of the wealthy and Newport mansions fell out of favor in the early 1900s.

By 1905, party season in Newport had ended for good.  Theresa never recovered, and spent her last few years at Rosecliff wandering the empty house hosting parties for imaginary guests. She died in 1907.

Rosecliff fell into disrepair.  It traded owners, one of whom bought the house for her daughter for the paltry sum of $20,000.  The daughter left as fall descended, not winterizing the house.  Pipes froze, and when they thawed they flooded the house – including that amazing ballroom – under six inches of standing water.

Rosecliff was eventually purchased by the Monroe family, a wealthy businessman from New Orleans.  They brought new life to the property and resumed entertaining with their purchase in 1947.  They didn’t care that the Newport mansions were unfashionable and continued hosting Mardi Gras -themed parties until the late 1960s.  In 1972, they donated the property to the Newport Preservation Society.

Newport Preservation Society had begun buying the old mansions and preserving them as historical treasures. It seems that by the 1920s, the mansions were seen as vulgar, gaudy, tacky, and trashy buildings with no historical or architectural value.  Developers often bought the buildings, demolishing them and erecting apartment buildings or parking lots. This was the fate of many iconic Newport properties.

Fortunately some have been preserved by the Newport Preservation Society and are now open to the public.

Obviously The Breakers is impressive, but Marble House is equally over the top.  Marble house was built for Ava Vanderbilt as a 39th birthday gift from her husband William Vanderbilt.

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Marble House

The front of Marble house resembles the White House but the interior is completely different. 50 rooms make up the interior, although like other Newport mansions only 6 of those rooms are bedrooms for family and guests (5 family 1 guest). The rest house the nearly 40 servants, cooks, butlers, maids, footmen, and other workers.

What sets Marble House apart from the other Beaux-Arts buildings is the interior.  500,000 square feet of warm yellow marble covers nearly every surface.wp-image-53105233jpg.jpg wp-image-1231815100jpg.jpgThe surfaces which are NOT marble are just as ornate, with gilded frames around ceiling paintings that span entire rooms.wp-image-2032492492jpg.jpg wp-image-1908284492jpg.jpgMarble House rivals any of the castles and chateau I have seen in the UK or France.  As was its intent.

Another spectacular mansion is the Elms. Finished in 1901 and modelled after a French chateau, the Elms was owned by the Berwind Family.  The Elms is notable for several reasons. First, Edward Berwind (who made his money in coal) was very interested in technology so the Elms was one of the first homes in America to be wired completely for electricity with no backup.  The Breakers, Rosecliff, and Marble House all had electrical wiring as well, but had redundant gas systems in case the electricity failed.

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wp-image-1072700246jpg.jpgSince the lighting was entirely electric, Berwind had one of the first residential electric ice makers installed.  Other houses still relied on ice cut from frozen ponds which was delivered by the ice companies to the houses.  Berwind only visited on the weekends, and not most of the weekends.  wp-image-300210296jpg.jpg wp-image-1975270452jpg.jpg wp-image-1967506419jpg.jpg wp-image-656885246jpg.jpgThe bathrooms give a taste of the wealth and expense.  At a time when most American houses had no running water, the Elms had custom hand-woven toilet cases.  wp-image-1148827334jpg.jpgThe Elms was the only gilded age mansion to have an indoor atrium with fountains and tropical plants.  The grounds were modelled after a French chateau and were considered the most ornate in all of Newport.  Like other Newport homes, the Elms was put up for auction and was expected to become a parking lot.  The Preservation Society purchased it and has added it to their collection.

One interesting house that is somewhat different is the Chateau Sur Mer.  This home was lived in year round by the Wetmore family.  Built in 1852, it was the most impressive house in Newport until the Vanderbilt houses of the late 1890s.

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Chateau-sur-Mer

To me, the house looks like it belongs in the Addams Family lineage. And that’s just the exterior.  Unlike the other Beaux-Arts mansions, Chateau-sur-Mer is dark and choppy inside. It could easily stand in for Disney’s Haunted House.

Its floors were wood – not marble. Very ornate though, as you can see in the photo below.

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The interior is quite dark, partially due to the lack of large windows and partially due to the choice of colors.

Dark brown wood, green wallcoverings, and lots of leather dominate the decorating of Chateau-sur-Mer.  As a year-round residence and a home, it was not designed as a party palace the way other Newport mansions were. It was also built almost 40 years earlier than those other buildings.

Much of the families original furniture and decorating are still here.  The descendents of the family actually lived here until the last owner passed away in 1967.  The house was put up for sale and the Preservation Society purchased it in 1969.  Because of the history, many of the rooms remained untouched for over 50 years, having been basically closed off and abandoned by the family.  Due to this, they were like miniature time capsules!

We toured 5 mansions, which took most of the day. Chateau-sur-Mer is very different than the others, a little creepy by day and I’m quite sure I would not want to spend a night there.  But all were over-the-top spectacular.

The city has constructed a walking trail along the seacliffs behind the mansions called – wait for it – Cliff Walk.

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Cliff Walk

Cliff Walk is well worth the time, traversing a seacliff that looks more like central California than other East Coast oceanfront we have seen.

Honestly it is worth a trip way out of your way to go to Newport.  In addition to the mansions, unique in the USA, there is so much history in Newport that it is worth the trip.




Plymouth






We headed toward a place every American schoolchild grows up hearding about.  Plymouth!  Place where the Mayflower landed.  Home of the Pilgrims.  And apparently there is a big rock there.

First, we decided to tour a cranberry farm.  Everyone who has seen the Ocean Spray commercials has seen the cranberry bogs, and we wanted to see one in person.  Since it is cranberry harvest season, we hoped to see more than just a really big pond.

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Future cranberry farmers

Sure enough, when we reached the first cranberry bog, the farmers were in the middle of the cranberry harvest.  wp-image-1338913159jpg.jpgThe farmers were using these machines which looked like Zamboni ice machines, except that they were for cranberries.  Apparently the berries float, so the machines shake them free of the cranberry vines.  Once the berries are free they float up to the surface of the pond. wp-image-179639681jpg.jpgThe machines go over the pond like big lawn mowers, shaking the berries loose.   Rather than leaving short grass behind though, they left berries.   wp-image-376317581jpg.jpgOnce the “mowing” is done, the field is covered with floating cranberries.  Time to round them up!  The farmers use floating rubber booms kind of like what we see used to clean up oil spills.  These sections can be linked together to expand the size of the boom.

wp-image-524212791jpg.jpgThere were a LOT of cranberries to corral. About 2/3 of the pond surface was empty water and 1/3 was nothing but floating cranberries!wp-image-1524583056jpg.jpgFarmers direct the cranberries to an intake pump which is specially designed to pump the berries without damaging them. The berries are vacuumed up into a hose where the stems and leaves are separated from the berries.  The berries end up in a big truck which we could see on the right. wp-image-1834052743jpg.jpgBerries exit the sorting process and cascade into the truck.   The field we saw will fill over 8 full trucks.  wp-image-342857451jpg.jpgWe learned that wet harvests like the one we saw lead to berries which must be quickly processed.  So those berries are used for cranberry juice and cranberry jam.  What we didn’t know is that plenty of cranberries are also grown in dry settings.  These cranberries are harvested by hand and the dry berries last much longer.  The dry-harvest berries tend to be used for eating.  Example: Craisins.

After our tour, we were on to Plymouth.  We parked downtown and almost immediately saw Mayflower 2.  She is a completely accurate replica of the original Mayflower.  The first think I noticed is that the ship is quite a bit smaller than I had imagined.  How 100 pilgrims plus crew lived on this is beyond me.  Some of the pilgrims were actually on the ship for almost 9 months before landing in the New World.

The pilgrims were seeking a place to practice their own form of religious practice.  Since the Church of England is the official religion of the UK, the Puritans were not welcome to practice their religion there.  They relocated to Holland where they were free to practice their religion. Unfortunately as immigrants they found themselves forced to work less desirable jobs.  After a short time in Holland they decided to seek out a new life in America.

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On September 6th, 1620 the Mayflower set sail from Southhampton in England for America with 100 pilgrims on board.  Many of them had already been living on the Mayflower for nearly 2 months before the real journey even began.  The trip would take 2-3 months depending on weather.  It ended up taking 66 days.

Voyage to America

They were aiming for the Hudson river near what is today modern New York City.  However, they were off a bit and actually landed in what is now Massachusetts.  They spotted Cape Cod on November 9, 1620.  At first, they though they would head south.  However, after a rough crossing due to storms and more storms as they ventured south, they decided to just stay in the area around Cape Cod. on December 25, 1620 they finalized their choice of Plymouth.

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By this point, the Mayflower had been home for nearly six months.  A long time to be cramped below decks in an unheated drafty ship with limited space and no creature comforts.

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In spite of coming ashore right into the heart of the New England winter, the colony was ultimately successful. Due to peace with the Native Americans in the area, the colony not only avoided conflicts it actually established the Thanksgiving tradition we still observe today.

The colony was combined with the Massachusetts colony in 1691.

Today, Mayflower 2 carries on the experience.  Costumed docents and actors tell and retell the stories of the voyage for tourists like us. They really put their hearts into it and while it is a little cheesy, it is mostly entertaining and informative.     wp-image-651535134jpg.jpgMayflower 2 remains seaworthy and every year it goes out to sea on a voyage down the coast.

The other famous item is “Plymouth Rock.”  It is purportedly the rock onto which the first pilgrims set foot on Plymouth.  Over the years, the rock has been broken and shrunken.  A monument has been built around one of the larger remnants of the original rock. The rock itself has been carved with 1620 (that carving happened in 1880).   wp-image-1999113782jpg.jpgWhen we looked down, the rock was totally submerged in seawater.  This was due to a freak “King Tide” which had rolled in. Between sea level rise in this area and the unusually high tide, the rock was completely invisible.wp-image-140963557jpg.jpgSince the rock was not visible, we walked into town toward a park and gardens we had read about. The King Tide had rolled all the way into the park, making the trails impassable.

wp-image-1396269226jpg.jpg  This was a good opportunity to walk around admiring the local lobster sculptures which are individual decorated.  Much like Norfolk has its mermaids, Plymouth has its lobsters. wp-image-522220841jpg.jpg wp-image-551117429jpg.jpg wp-image-270478953jpg.jpgwp-image-1825379828jpg.jpgHaving time to kill, we walked to the old flour mill.  This mill has been around for hundreds of years – literally.  It still operates to this day, producing small amounts of artisan flour including wheat flour, corn grits, and corn flour. wp-image-1796593096jpg.jpg The grinding wheel has been in use since the early 1800s and is still powered by the water wheel. wp-image-1412361942jpg.jpgThe rotation of the water wheel turns a series of wooden gears, taking the 10rpm of the water wheel and increasing it to around 120rpm. The gears are authentic and nearly 100 years old themselves.   I didn’t realize wood gears would last so long, but they do. wp-image-2054284723jpg.jpgThe mill has a fish ladder that dates back to the 1800s.  I was impressed that the town though of fish ladders from that long ago.   wp-image-1482653166jpg.jpgAfter we finished with the mill, we walked back to Plymouth Rock.  The King Tide had retreated and the rock was visible.  Hundreds of little fish that got stranded as the tide went out were trapped inside the enclosure. That was kind of sad to see.  wp-image-1846935584jpg.jpgFog had started to clear, although it was definitely still hanging around in pockets.  Still, we had enough sunlight to snap a selfie like the tourists we are.  wp-image-1323330745jpg.jpgWith the Mayflower 2, the Mill, and the Rock all seen, we headed into the downtown to see what modern Plymouth is all about.  It is a very cute downtown area full of shops and small restaurants.  wp-image-1718192699jpg.jpgOutside a bakery, we saw the most sensible commentary on our election and political process that we have seen so far. Kind of like Vermont where the Presidential choices were A) Hillary B) Trump C) Pizza with Pizza being the winner.   Most days, I think we’d all be better checking box #3. wp-image-109615467jpg.jpg

Plymouth isn’t very close to anything, which was kind of surprising considering how old it is.  It is worth a drive for the history, but honestly the rock is not very impressive, the mill is a quick visit, and the Mayflower is also pretty small.  You can see everything you need to see in Plymouth in 2-3 hours.



Providence






We decided to drive down to Providence and explore that area.

Our first stop was the Rhode Island state house.  Modelled after the US Congress building in Washington DC, the Rhode Island state house building is very impressive.

After going through a metal detector, we entered the lobby. Not quite like Vermont’s state house were we just walked through the front door, but still pretty easy to enter.

The interior is undergoing refurbishment so scaffolding was built up in the central rotunda.  It reached all the way to the ceiling, 3 stories above us.

 

Our tour started in the library, an incredibly ornate room on the second floor.  All of Rhode Island’s laws and regulations are here, along with documents dating all the way back to the 1600s.

Our tour took us to the Rhode Island Senate chamber.  A bit larger, but perhaps not quite as ornate as the Vermont senate chamber.

We also saw the house chamber, which was quite large, but not as large as the Vermont house chamber.  That was a bit surprising.

The most memorable item we saw wasn’t part of the building.  Instead, it was a cannon.

This cannon was used by the Rhode Island troops in the Civil War at Gettysburg.  The cannon was firing down at troops in Pickett’s Charge (we were there!) and the Confederate gunners specifically targeted the Union cannon positions.

A Confederate cannonball hit this Union cannon almost dead center, leaving that big dent in the lower left side of the barrel.  Two Union cannoneers were killed, but replacement troops lept into action.  They filled the cannon with gunpowder and then attempted to put a cannonball down the muzzle.

The cannonball got stuck on the edge of the dent.  The Union troops used a shovel, or some say an axe, to try and pound the cannonball past the dent and into the belly of the cannon. The ball wouldn’t budge.  And as the cannon barrel cooled (it was hot from firing), the metal contracted forever locking the cannonball in place.

Years later the cannot was moved to the Rhode Island state house lobby. Not long after, someone mentioned to the Governor that the cannon was probably still full of gunpowder.  Uh oh.

Workers carefully drilled a hole into the cannon and extracted a pound and a half of gunpower!

We moved on to the Federal Hill area, Providence’s Little Italy.

 

Great Italian restaurants are everywhere, along with architecture that would fit right into an Italian City.  We stopped to eat at Andino’s.  Behind us rose a spire that looked like it had been transported straight from Venice!  Even though temperatures were in the low 60s, we sat outside on the back patio.

Food was delicious!  I especially enjoyed this appetizer made with eggplant used like a wrapper.  Paired with a nice Chianti and their fra diavolo sauce and we were in Italian food heaven!

Food was not just Italian, it was Mediterranean.  That means in addition to pasta and familiar Italian dishes Andinos offered a wide range of seafood and shellfish.  I would have to say that this is the best Little Italy I’ve seen, and that includes New York City.

With the good comes the bad, I guess. We got back to the campground after a great day in Providence and I set about the job of taking care of our RV business.  I began dumping and flushing our black tanks.

Partway through the process, the sewer drain “backed up” and lets just say the results weren’t pretty.  Or freshly scented.

I called the campground and it turns out we didn’t actually have a sewer connection. Instead, there is a 200 gallon holding tank for our campsite. That would have been good to know before we dumped 100 gallons of our black tank in there.

They sent out the honey wagon to pump out their holding tank.  He put a white PVC pipe down into their holding tank and then started the pump. The guy was nice enough, but this is the first time in over 180 days of RV living that we’ve ever had a situation like this.

I certainly hope a lot more than 180 days go by before we have this issue again.   Since our grey tank holds 75 gallons, and flushing our black tanks is 100 gallons, we’re going to have to have the campground holding tank pumped out a few times before we leave in a couple of weeks.



Hiking Maine






We wrapped up our last few days in Maine with some hiking.

The Rachel Carson wilderness has many trails between Wells and Kennebunkport.

Fall colors were finally starting to appear, and we enjoyed walking various paths – over 8 miles in all!

I won’t put a lot of time into trying to narrate these photos.  Instead, just enjoy the view…as we did!





FreePortland






Today we are not going to Deer Valley Utah for business meetings.  Today we are driving to Portland Maine to see what it is all about and possibly sample some of its famous microbrews.

Trees along the freeway have really started to change color!  Finally!

If only their non-highway cousins could catch up!

Pretty much everywhere else is still green.  Still, it was nice to see the fall foliage we’d heard so much about, even if it was flying by at 70mph.

Now, a few fun facts about Portland to keep us busy on the 30 minute drive from Wells.

Fun Fact 1 – yes, the city in Oregon was named after Portland Maine. It seems the founders of Portland Oregon, Francis Pettygrove and Asa Lovejoy, both from New England, wanted to name the new Oregon city after their respective hometowns.

Neither could agree to the others choice,  so they decided a coin flip was the most fair way to settle the decision. Pettygrove won, and Portland Oregon was born.  If the flip had gone the other way, Portland Oregon would today be called Boston.

Fun Fact 2 – Portland Maine is the microbrewery capital of the USA, and in fact the entire world, with one microbrewery for every 4000 citizens. Over 25 microbreweries currently operate inside city limits. This is somewhat ironic because the first Total Abstinence society was formed in Portland in 1815.  By 1851 they had convinced Maine to go totally dry. Maine became the first state to do so.

Temperance laws slowly passed in other states. They became known as “Maine Laws.” As a result Portland did not have a drop of (legal) liquor until US Prohibition was repealed in 1934.

I wonder how the temperance movement founders would feel knowing their prized dry town has made a complete about-face, actually becoming THE beer capital of the entire nation?

I guess Portland’s citizens are making up for lost time.

Portland of today is a bustling city which is officially home to around 67,000 people. However, that number is very misleading because the Portland metro area is the home of about half a million people.

That’s right….

Fun fact 3 – Half of Maine’s entire population lives in – or around – Portland. Maine could be divided in half. Portland in one half and the entire rest of the state as the other half.

Which makes the choice of Augusta as Capitol even more confusing.

Not being the capitol city has not stopped Portland from becoming a very hip place.

In May 2016, Thrillist Magazine ranked Portland the “best city in American to spend a weekend in.”  After spending a few days here, I couldn’t disagree.

Most tourist activity happens around the Old Port area.  Cruise ships regularly arrive here and disgorge thousands of passengers.  Those who don’t go to Kennebunkport on a tour bus walk the streets of Portland.  While that sounds like it would make Portland just as busy as Kennebunkport, Portland is large enough it can absorb the tourists much more effectively.

Oh, there are still tourists everywhere, but its not a Disney-seque crush of them like Kennebunkport.

The Old Port area is very historic with cobblestone streets and red brick buildings everywhere. I was actually reminded of the Upper West Side in New York City, and perhaps also of parts of the Lower East Side too.

Portland is very much a microbrewery scene as we have already established.  It is also a foodie scene.  Pubs and restaurants are everywhere, luring tourists and locals alike with fresh food and the latest local brews.

Much like New York, and refreshingly unlike cities including LA and Houston, people actually live above the restaurants and shops.  It is hard to describe the difference between a real city like Portland or New York City and a commuting town with businesses in the center but most people living in the suburbs like Los Angeles or Denver.

Oh, I’m sure someone just said “wait, downtown Denver now has some apartments.”  It probably does. But it is not the same as an actual city.  I think the difference is whether the city center was built before – or after – the automobile.

Little cafes, coffee shops, and restaurants are tucked into old warehouses and behind alleyways.  Very much like NYC.

One of the most fun and most original is the Holy Donut.  Holy Donut makes unique donuts with potatoes.  Not potato flour, mind you.  Plain old mashed potatoes.

Holy Donut offers 19 flavors of donuts including bacon cheddar, maple, fresh lemon, dark chocolate with sea salt, potato ginger, and triple berry.  The donuts are very dense, not as sweet as a “regular” donut, and absolutely full of flavor.

Most donuts seem to use the donut as a delivery vehicle for the flavoring and glaze.  Not these.  Even a plain potato donut is rich with flavor.

Holy potato donuts at Holy Donut

After sampling the donuts, we walked to the Shipyard Brewery and sampled their various brews.  We were able to taste 9 beers in all, ranging from heifiwizen to pale ale to IPA to pumpkin.  Pumpkin sounds nasty but it was delicious!

Taster’s choice

Our 9 samples were not a full range either.  Shipyard makes 20 different brews and all but one were available for tasting.  Sadly, we did not have the stamina to try all of them.  I guess we will just have to go back!

20 beers on tap

After sampling the beers at Shipyard and walking around the Old Port and downtown areas, we decided to walk off some of the calories and head toward East End.  This is a neighborhood of old Victorian style homes that reminded me very much of San Francisco. Brick buildings gave way to wood, and apartments morphed into homes.  Some of these homes are so large, they have become apartments though.

East End

The Eastern end of East End is the Atlantic Ocean.   The very edge is a nice park with broad expanses of grass, walking paths, bike paths, a ferry landing, and a mooring for sailboats.

We walked along the path, which was far more walkers than riders.  Views of the bay on this crystal-clear day were incredible!  Islands off in the distance dotted the horizon.  Most of these islands are inhabited and are reachable by ferry boat.

Near the park, a sailing class was underway.  We watched the students learning to tack and turn into the wind.  Several times I was sure their little boats would overturn, but somehow they never did.

Along the park is the Maine Narrow Gauge railroad.  In the late 1800s, Maine towns were serviced by this narrow-gauge railroad system.  The tracks are only 2 feet apart!  It was the narrowest gauge railroad system in the US. As paved roads and automobiles grew in popularity the train system gradually shrunk until today where just a small part of the railway has been persevered and is operated for tourists who travel 1.5 miles along the East End and back.





Our last stop was in Freeport, about 20 miles north of Portland.  Clouds had moved in and the weather was damp.  Our destination was the LL Bean store.  LL Bean is headquartered in Freeport, Maine.

In 1912, Leon Leonwood Bean found himself on a hunting trip in the Maine woods.  Weather was typically Maine-ish and he grew frustrated by his cold, wet feet.

Surely there was a solution, he thought. Well,  something inspired him, and he had the idea to sew a leather boot upper onto a rubber workman’s boot lower.

He returned to Freeport where his brother owned an apparel shop. As good at marketing as he was at footwear design, he obtained a list of hunters and sent them advertisements for his new “Maine hunting shoe.”

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Almost immediately, he sold 100 pairs of the boots.  Not long after, the rubber bottom separated from the leather uppers and 90 of the boots were returned. LL Bean, now nearly bankrupt, borrowed money to refund the customers purchases and simultaneously set out to fix the design.

He corrected the problem, having learned the importance of personally testing his products, and relaunched the updated boot to great success.

Word soon spread of his boots AND his customer service.  Bean poured every drop of his profits into advertising and soon his famous catalogs were in mailboxes around the country.  He focused on top quality products and top-notch service.  This wining combination made LL Bean a household name and one of the most successful businesses of its kind.  Customers were known to drop by his factory in Freeport and he would open the doors any time of the day or night.

Today, a massive 3 story store with nearly every item in the catalog is open to the public in Freeport. In keeping with tradition, the store is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

To give you an idea how large that boot is, here we are standing next to it!

LL Bean also has the bootmobile, a fully road-legal drivable boot that makes appearances at special events.

 

The inside of the store is very impressive.  Part hunting lodge, part sports outfitter, part clothing store.  If LL Bean sells it, chances are you will find it in stock.

I visited this store back in 1997, and in the nearly 20 years since then Freeport has turned into a very high end factory outlet center.  Upscale brands like Ann Taylor, Coach, Vineyard Vines, J. Crew, Ralph Lauren have joined brands like Nike, Old Navy, and Bass to form a downtown area that is essentially all outlet shops.  Many tourists from the cruise ships in Portland come north (vs. going south to Kennebunkport) and the stores and sidewalks were busy with shoppers.

There didn’t appear to be much else in Freeport, but it would be very easy to spend a day here just shopping at the stores.

Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised at the sophistication of this part of Maine.  Portland is a great food and drink town with walkable city center and neighborhoods in a beautiful seaside setting.  Freeport is one of the highest-end factory outlets I’ve seen anchored by the incomparable LL Bean center.

Compared to what I was doing last year at this time, I think I’m holding my own just fine.  It has been a wonderful adventure!




A walk down memory lane






As I woke this morning Google Photos decided I needed to be reminded of what I was doing a year ago. It turns out one year ago I was also travelling. I was attending the Vista CxO summit in Deer Valley Utah.

Why Google thought I needed my memory refreshed of this weekend a year ago is beyond me.  But it was a stark reminder of how much can change in a year.  When those photos were taken I was a senior executive at a rocket-ship software company with a house in California, 2 electric BMWs a convertible BMW roadster, a motorcycle, and more frequent flyer miles and hotel points than I knew what to do with.

A year later, I’m unemployed, homeless, driving a Jeep and living in a van. Everything I now own would fit into my old guest bedroom. With room to spare. I haven’t been at an airport, let alone on an airplane, in almost 9 months.  I don’t know where I will be sleeping two weeks from now.

Ok, that’s a little dramatic.  I chose to take a break from work. My “van” is a 39′ diesel pusher Fleetwood Discovery with tile floors and nicer countertops than my house.  I don’t miss flying or airports at all but have put 10,000 miles on my Jeep and 8,000 on my MoHo.  The only board meetings I have these days are with myself when I contemplate how many boards to put under my hydraulic leveling jacks. And the only reason I don’t know where I will be sleeping in two weeks is because I haven’t reserved a campground spot yet.

In that time, really just six months of truly being on the road, I’ve seen places I had only read about before.

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I’ve eaten green chile in New Mexico, barbeque in Charleston, gumbo in New Orleans, shrimp in Florida, fried catfish and okra in Texas, cheese grits in Savannah, steak in Washington DC (across from the White House), pasture cheese in Vermont, and fresh lobster in Maine.

I flew in an open cockpit helicopter over Fort Sumter.  I sat in an airboat over a swamp in Florida. I touched a 1000 year old Indian pueblo. I descended 900 feet into the Earth and walked through one of the most amazing caves in the world.  I watched a million bats boil up from the same cave and fly off into the sunset. I saw the Grand Canyon emerge from the fog right in front of my eyes. I walked on the edge of the biggest meteor crater on Earth.  I stood on the corner in Winslow Arizona too. I paddled a kayak on the Guadalupe River.  I’ve been on a boat on Lake Champlain. I visited the Mardi Gras float factory.  I walked on the whitest sand I have ever seen and jumped into the most amazing emerald-color water.  I stood next to a rocket and I touched the moon.

I’ve been caught in an unexpected snowstorm and grazed by a lightning strike that made my skin tingle. I have been whipped by a thunderstorm, blasted by blowing dirt, baked in 100+ degree heat, frozen in cold weather, and learned more about watching the weather than I ever had to do before.

I met old friends/family in Vegas, Williams, FloridaNew Hampshire, Maine, and New York. I met some new ones too, like these in Albuquerque.  I saw both sets of my parents too in White Rock and Albuquerque which was really nice.

And I did it all with the best travelling companion ever!  Heather, I love ya lots!!  It wouldn’t be the same trip without you!

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So it has been quite the change since one year ago! I miss my friends at PowerSchool. And the thrill of building amazing software, meeting a customer, or working on a marking campaign. Heck, sometimes I even miss budgets. But I wouldn’t trade these experiences for anything!

Thanks Google for triggering the walk down memory lane!



Coping with cold weather






As weather turns colder and temperatures drop, we have to begin modifying our plans a bit.  Many people have asked us about how our MoHo handles cold weather, so I put this little overview together.

There are two primary areas of concern with cold weather:

  1.  Personal comfort for ourselves and our birdies.  We can bundle up but the birds really can’t tolerate cold temperatures.
  2. Mechanical comfort for our MoHo and its various systems.  Of particular concern is the prevention of freezing in the water systems.

I will talk about each of these comfort types, but first, I need to introduce a term called BTU.  British Thermal Unit. It is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water (about a pint) one degree Fahrenheit. So bringing a gallon of water (about 8 pounds) to a boil from room temperature (70 degrees) would require about 1200 BTUs.  Put another way, a 100-watt light bulb puts out about 300 BTUs.

Keeping our MoHo warm is simply  a matter of replacing BTUs lost to the cold outside air with warm air BTUs. BTUs out to nature balanced by BTUs in from a heat source.

So one way to help manage heat is to prevent BTUs from getting out. Just like putting on a wool hat slows heat loss from a bald head like mine, keeping the MoHo tightly closed keeps BTUs from escaping into the wild.

You have undoubtedly seen this concept for a typical house.

Image result for heat loss around door infraredOur Fleetwood is pretty well insulated for an RV.  Walls are Styrofoam core, and we have 5″ of insulation in the ceiling.  Our windows shut tight and leak very little air, and the slideout seals are surprisingly good at keeping air from leaking. Except one of the bedroom slides at the bottom, which may be by design.

To prepare for cold weather, first make sure your MoHo isn’t leaking BTUs anywhere.  A leak around a slideout seal that lets 5,000 BTUs escape just means you need to find 5,000 extra BTUs of heat to put back in.  Let’s face it. Even the best insulated RV is still very poorly insulated compared to a house, and each little leak of air just makes that worse.

Now that we’ve considered heat loss, let’s figure out how to put some heat back in.  Bring on the BTUs, baby!

First lets review the sources of heat in our MoHo. Our MoHo has 2 built in sources of heat, plus an optional 3rd system.  These systems are 2 separate propane furnaces, a rooftop air conditioner with heat pump function, and the ability to use electric space heaters.

Let’s talk about the heat pump first.  Our “bedroom” AC unit – which is really located mid-ship – is also a heat pump.  What’s a heat pump?  Glad you asked!

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Rear heat pump
A heat pump simply moves warm air from one set of coils to another. You’re familiar with heat pumps because your air conditioner is a heat pump.

It moves the hot air inside your house past a set of coils where the heat is absorbed. This heat is then transferred to another set of coils outside your house where it is expelled. That’s the reason the air blowing from your outside “air conditioner” is so hot! That heat has just been pumped out of your hot house!

Voila.  A heat pump.

Well then, if that system were run in reverse, wouldn’t heat from outside air be moved INTO the house?  Yep.

Image result for how does a heat pump work

Sounds perfect right?  Use the AC unit already on the roof as a heater?  Well, it is pretty awesome. However, it requires the AC unit be designed to run forward (pump heat out of the MoHo) and backward (pump heat into the MoHo).  This adds cost and complexity so only one of our AC units has this capability.

The heat pump is capable of up to 15,000 BTUs of heat. Ours is a bit uprated, many heat pumps in RVs can produce only 10,000 BTUs.  As long as our heat loss is less than 15,000 BTUs, the heat pump can keep us warm.

The heat pump runs on electricity which is great since our campgrounds also offer electricity. As long as we are connected to shore power, we can run the heat pump forever. However, if we were boondocking, we would have to start the generator in order to run the heat pump.

Hmmm…that sounds like a potential disadvantage.  Are there others?

Yes.  One big disadvantage of a heat pump are that as the outside temperatures get lower, there is less heat in the air to pump into the MoHo.  Below a particular point, probably about 45 degrees, there just isn’t enough heat in the outside air to generate much warmth at all.

Image result for heat pump won't work belwo what temp

So heat pumps are wonderful down to about 45-50 degrees. Any colder and they just don’t work.  Its a catch 22, because there is less heat in the outside air to pump into the MoHo AND at the same time we need more heat to offset heat leaking out of the MoHo.  Its a double-whammy.  More BTUs out than in.

One last disadvantage is that heat pump heat blows from the ceiling vents.  This means the floor never gets warm AND it means the mechanicals under the floor don’t get any heat at all. So the heat pump is good for keeping people/pets warm in cool -not cold – weather, but it doesn’t help the mechanicals at all.




This brings us to our second heating system. Propane. LPG.  Now we’re cookin’ with gas!

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Our MoHo has 2 propane furnaces, one in the middle of the coach and one in the bedroom.  Each one can produce up to 25,000 BTUs. Combined they can crank out 50,000 BTUs of heat.  Compared to our 15,000 BTU heat pump, these babies really warm things up!

There are other benefits to our propane heat.

The furnaces blow at floor level which helps keep the floor warm.  And since hot air rises, the heat mixes inside the MoHo better in general than if it comes from the ceiling. The one exception is that the front of the bus has no heat vents so the driver area gets pretty chilly even when the propane is on.

Second, it heats FAST.  The heat pump takes a while to get going and then it blows warm (never hot) air.  The furnaces blow HOT air. They ain’t fooling around.

Third, some of the heat from the propane furnaces is ducted down below into the mechanical spaces specifically to prevent the freezing up of plumbing and holding tanks.

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Living room propane heat vents
The colder the weather, the more we use the furnaces and the more they heat the pipes and tanks. Even if our heat pump worked below freezing, we would have to use the propane to keep our mechanicals from freezing.

So the propane heat is faster, more powerful, works at any outside temperature, heats the floor, and heats the mechanical spaces. It keeps the creatures and the mechanicals comfortable.  Why not just use it all the time?

Image result for moeny

Simple.  Cost and convenience. Electricity for the heat pump is free (included in our campground fees) and never runs out.  Propane is about $5/gallon and we have to find a propane filling station.  Many – but not all- RV campgrounds will fill propane tanks.  Usually at a higher price than a fuel station.  Convenience isn’t free.

Our propane tank is 38.7 gallons. However, as you will learn, a propane tank cannot legally be filled to capacity.  It can only be filled to 80% of capacity.  You can see this on our gauge.

Notice that Full is just beyond the 3/4 mark?

This is because propane, specifically LPG, will expand with heat and so buffer space must be left in the tank to prevent explosions. Preventing explosions is generally considered “a good idea.”

So our 38.7 gallon tank will really only hold about 30 gallons of propane. Still, that’s quite a bit of propane.

If you plan to be in cold weather much, or if you are boondocking a lot in cooler weather, you really should choose a MoHo that has a large propane tank.  It will save you a lot of trips to fill up on propane and minimize the chances you will run out on a cold weekend night when you can’t get more.

We filled our tank in Gallup New Mexico in May.  We filled it again in Burlington on Oct 1. During that time (5 months)  we had used 7 gallons.  Mostly for cooking (our stovetop is propane) but some for heating.  At that rate, 30 gallons would last us 2 years.

However, that was during summer.

How much propane will we use in cold weather?

Finding the answer to that involves a little math.  Our furnaces each generate 25,000 BTU per hour. Together generate 50,000 BTU per hour if they run nonstop.

One gallon of LPG (propane) has roughly 90,000 BTU. So, if we ran our furnaces nonstop, we’d burn 5/9s gallon of propane per hour. Or, about 60% of a gallon of propane per hour.

That means 30 gallons of propane should last about 50 hours.

50 hours.  Two days. We could run both furnaces for two days and then we would be burning the furniture for warmth.

Fortunately, it would have to be REALLY cold to require our furnaces to both run non-stop. Way colder than we hopefully ever experience.

More typical would be running about 25% of the time in freezing weather.  Maybe 10% of the time if the temps are in the upper 40s.

So if the outside temps stayed around 30 degrees 24 hours a day and we didn’t absorb any heat from the sun, we would exhaust our propane every 7-8 days.

That’s $1 50 in propane costs per week.

You can see why we like electric heat!  It never has to get refilled, and is free!

Image result for heat from sun

Heat from the sun, by the way, should not be underestimated. You know how hot your car gets sitting in the sun?  Well, MoHos can be a little like that.  Its a big pain in the summer, but welcome in the winter months.

The last source of heat is electric. Now, you might think the heat pump is electric heat, and it definitely requires electricity to work.  But the heat pump isn’t using that electricity to create heat, its only using electricity to move heat around (outside to inside).

Electric heaters create heat directly.  Electric heaters use a LOT of electricity for a comparatively small amount of heat, but they are important to talk about.

Some RVs come with a fake electric fireplace that simulates a real wood-burning fire.  They can range from extremely cheesy looking to somewhat authentic. Most of the time, they are a decoration feature that just takes the place of storage. Our MoHo had one as an option but instead we use that space to store a case of wine.

Image result for rv electric fireplace

These fireplaces are also electric space heaters.  Most are around 1500 watts which is around 12.5-13 amps. Keep in mind that is the absolute limit of most 15amp circuits so hope your RV builder put in a 20amp line to that area instead of just plugging into a 15amp outlet.

Why can’t a 15amp outlet handle a 12.5 amp load, you ask?  Simple. Residential wiring is only rated to sustain 80% of its maximum value.

15 x 0.8 = 12.

So a 15amp plug shouldn’t have more than 12 amps steadily pulling power for any length of time. 12.5 amps is just slightly higher than that and your wiring itself could get unacceptably warm.

This will also come out of your total household amp draw.  Hopefully you have 50amps to work with, but you might be stuck with only 30amps.

  • Electric fireplace = 13
  • Electric water heater = 12
  • Electric heat pump = 12 (surge to 30)
  • Interior lights = 3
  • TV – 3 amps
  • MacBook charger = 2 amps
  • iPad charger = 2 amps
  • Hair dryer/ coffee maker = 12 amps and OH NO I JUST BLEW THE BREAKER

Still, assuming that electric fireplace isn’t any kind of a safety hazard, you have a 1500 watt heater.  Since we’ve been talking BTUs, that’s about 5000 BTUs.  This shows the value of a heat pump, by the way.  A 15,000 BTU heat pump uses about the same amount of electricity as one of these fireplaces, but the heat pump generates 3 times more heat!

Only you can decide if you want one of these fireplaces in your MoHo.

If you don’t, you can use a small electric space heater which you store away when not in use.  We have one similar to this and we use it about 5 months out of the year.

Between the small space heater and the heat pump, we can generally avoid using propane unless temps get below 45 degrees.  One we hit 45 degrees, we’re loosing too many BTUs, the heat pump stops working, AND we need to worry about freezing the mechanicals.

There is an alternative heating system to what I mentioned.  Hydronic heating.  

These systems work by heating water in a boiler and then circulating that hot water around the coach.  Aqua Hot and Oasis are the two most well-known hydronic heating systems.

Hydronic heat systems are available on high-end coaches as an option. Usually a fairly expensive option.

As I mentioned, hydronic heat systems use a water heater to heat water that runs under the floors and behind heat registers to generate their heat.  Generally they will use a combination of propane or diesel fuel and electricity to heat the water.  In cool temps, electricity may be enough. In really cold temps, electricity plus propane or diesel fuel might be required.

Because the systems are constantly creating hot water, they can also provide limitless hot water for showering, washing clothes, doing dishes, etc. They can also circulate warm water into the engine to keep it warm and ready to start on cold days.

We have an electric engine block heater that does the same thing. (10 amps).

Also, the diesel systems benefit from using regular engine fuel meaning no more stops to fill propane.  And, no tunnel restrictions.  Many tunnels will not allow compressed propane through the tunnel and our propane tank definitely counts.  Aqua-Hot systems with diesel backup do not have that issue.  As I’ve also covered before, diesel is very safe as it does not give off explosive fumes and is not pressurized.

I would definitely consider hydronic heat in a coach.  Keep in mind Aqua-Hot requires an annual servicing of its diesel fuel filter and burner by a certified technician that will cost a minimum of $200.  Oasis filters can be easily changed by the owner and the burner only needs service every 3 years. My RV mentor and dad Rex has had both systems and says th Oasis is superior, in no small part because it generates more heat on electricity than the Aqua-Hot system did.

Only you can decide if it is worth the extra money.  Keep in mind too that if anything happens to the boiler, you may not have a secondary heating system to kick in.

The last item of cold-weather concern, and its a big one, is the external water hose connection.  It will be the first thing to freeze, since its exposed to the elements and gets no heat from anywhere.  If this freezes,  you will likely need a new water hose (no big deal) and the campground will charge you to fix the frozen faucet (big deal).

So how do you solve THAT problem?  Propane or electric?

The answer is neither.  If it is going to get below freezing over night, we fill our fresh water tank and unhook the fresh water hose completely.  Our fresh water tank holds 100 gallons, more than enough for multiple days if need be.

We actually tested this in New Mexico and we can go for 5 days before we run out of water IF we aren’t doing laundry.

This, by the way, is a good reason to keep your fresh water tank and plumbing system sanitized. We do that at least every six months.  More often if we suspect bad water or the weather has been really hot.  Sanitizing water systems is a topic for another post though.

Speaking of water, there is one more factor to consider when the weather turns cold.  Condensation.

Image result for cold toilet tank condensation

Since RVs are not particularly well insulated and since they are small spaces, moisture from living in them raises the humidity of the interior very rapidly.  Taking a shower for example dramatically increases the humidity inside the MoHo.

If it is cold, that moisture will condense on the cold areas of your MoHo. Some areas you can see, like windows and interior walls.  Other areas you cannot see like behind cabinets and inside walls. Over time, this moisture can lead to the growth of mold, rotting of wood, softening of glue, rusting of parts, etc.

So even though I said one of the best ways to keep warm is to prevent BTUs (heat) from escaping in the first place?  Well, you will have to vent your MoHo regularly to keep moisture from building up.  Run the fan when you take a shower.  Yes, it will suck all that heat right out of your MoHo but the moist air will go along for the ride.

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Trust me on this.  You are better off loosing some of your heat for a few minutes than you are learning your wood trim is warping and mold is growing on your walls.

Everything I said is true of a house as well. It just happens sooner and takes more effort to manage in a MoHo.  But, you’ll get the hang of it quickly and while I wouldn’t recommend wintering in Maine in an RV, you should be fine in some chilly weather.  As you head south.

Nights getting below about 25 degrees is no place for a MoHo.

There are some people who have spent truly cold winters in an RV, and they will talk about things like skirting the RV, electric pipe heater wraps, multiple electric space heaters, etc.

If that kind of winter weather is in your plans, I would suggest you reconsider your plans. And if you can’t you should look for those who have done it and see how they coped.

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Good luck and stay warm!!