Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pretty Much Narrowed it Down

For this camping trip I am aiming for a spot along a river. The three rivers I know of which have nice riverbank camping are the Crooked River, south of Prineville; the north fork of the John Day, NE of Kimberly; and the lower Deschutes, near Maupin.

Thinking about where I want to go, I finished up the work I needed to do on Mellow Yellow, our 1894 VW camper van, this morning. The "low oil pressure" lamp on the dash stopped working sometime back . . . I don't know when, which is kind of stupid considering how quickly a failed oil pump can result in a destroyed engine. So had to remove the cooling tin on the engine's underside to inspect the switch that lights the lamp.

The switch was a goner. Fortunately, O'Reilly Auto Parts on 3rd Street had a generic replacement.

So with the new switch on hand, I installed a second kit I got from Chris Corkins (same guy that made the oil cooler kit I installed last weekend, writeup here) which not only provided a handier place to mount the new switch so I won't need to do so much work to replace it, if it ever fails, but also gives me a spot to mount an oil pressure sender for the new gauges I'll be putting on later this month.

With that done, the van is ready to go. And so am I.

I think I'll head up to Maupin because the sites along the river there are at the lowest elevation. Lower means warmer. Warmer is good. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

She Loves Me

Mrs Elliott hit the road this morning. She's on her way to San Francisco for a conference and a visit with her kids and grandkids. She'll be gone for over a week.

She gave me a big kiss on the way out.

This afternoon I found a Post-It note on the shower door: I (heart) U, it said. On my pillow is another: I Miss You.

She loves me.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ramping up to Camping

I'm starting to get the itch. Mrs Elliott will be out of town for a week. The weather is starting to look decent (decent enough for me, anyway). There will be staff here keeping an eye on the house. So I'm free to go.

This time of year, camping at elevation is not a good idea. What I want is lower elevations and lots of sun. That means away from the forests, where the shade can be deep and cold, and out in the open: the grasslands, BLM open desert, and places like that.

Bruce Miller and Bob "Woody" Woodward have suggested some sites to consider. There are potentially nice campgrounds on the lower John Day river north of Kimberly, there are places along the lower Deschutes north of Maupin, and I hear rumors of nice, primitive (read: secluded and quiet) camping areas in the Maury Mountains.

I'll have to hustle this weekend to finalize some work I've been doing on Mellow Yellow, our 1984 VW poptop camper, but this is a three-day weekend so there is plenty of time. No point in heading out before Monday anyway, as campgrounds are generally full up over three-day weekends, and besides, I have two tickets for The Decemberists's show on Sunday which I hope will have good-enough weather (crosses fingers).

Two tickets and no Mrs Elliott to go to the concert with me. Maybe my son will go with me.

But that's a minor detail. It's camping I'm talking about here. Laid-back camping. A book, some soft tunes on the iPod, some barbecue, a little (or lot) of wine, maybe a bit of photography, some birding . . . and not a lot more.

I'm excited.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Driveway Auto Mechanics in Bend

One thing you gotta say about working on a car on the driveway in Bend, is that you won't know whether you'll be rained on or sunned on. Or both at the same time.

My son, Jim, came over on the weekend to help his old man make some modifications on our 1984 VW camper van.

On Saturday we installed a new transmission cooler and swapped a part on the transmission called the "governor" with a modified one that Ken over at German Transaxle on 2nd Street gave me.

German Transaxle is fairly famous among the VW crowd for their excellent transmission rebuild work, and I'm lucky to have them within 5 minutes of our house because the other good transmission house is located near Seattle.

Before the swap, the van was pretty sluggish. It upshifted too soon. Anyone who drives a stick knows you don't upshift from 1st to 2nd when the engine is at 2,600 rpm, which is what this transmission was set up to do. Upshifting that soon results in poor acceleration, and the van's 1.9 liter engine is capable of better than that.

It was a stupid design. I shifted manually when pulling into traffic and let the engine wind up to at least 4,000 rpm.

With the modified governor the transmission now upshifts around 3,400 rpm, which is more like it.

The transmission cooler we installed was a kit from GoWesty, a company in Santa Cruz, California. GW is one of the premier vendors helping us keep these lovably-unattractive yet practical camping machines alive and making them better and better.

Automatic transmissions can get very hot pulling a heavy van (and me with a trailer behind filled with camping gear) up long grades in the desert heat, as I found on last year's trip through southeastern Washington on my way back from Flathead Lake, Mont. So anything a fellow can do to help his transmission stay cool will prolong its life.

Likewise for the engine.

VW designed -- some say "overdesigned" -- a great cooling system for the engine, but the engine oil itself can still get too hot -- your good oils are starting to degrade at 230F -- so on the next day, Sunday, instead of resting, the son and I installed a very fine oil cooling kit from Chris Corkins, who hails from New Mexico. He goes by the handle "tencentlife" on the Intertubes (

Chris's kit came with very clear instructions and the parts quality was excellent. We had very little difficulty installing it. There was a bit of confusion about which hose to use where, but that was due to my kit being a custom one with a couple extra bits added so I could hook up an oil temperature gauge while the instructions were for your generic kit.

One good sign after working on anything that involves fluids is that the fluids stay where they are supposed to and don't drip all over the driveway. We were fortunate -- no drips on the driveway to disturb Mrs Elliott.

And finally, I modified the linkage to the gas pedal yesterday so I can more easily swing the throttle from idle to wide open with the limited range of motion my fused right ankle provides.

BRUCE MILLER recently observed that I like my camping van.

It's true. I do. I enjoy it for how swell it is for camping, and I do love me some camping.

But even more importantly, that thing is gonna save our ass when the imminent zombie apocalypse happens. If movies teach us anything, it's that a zombie outbreak is inevitable. And when it does happen, Mrs Elliott and I are heading to the hills in a totally cushed-out and reliable* camping vehicle set up with stove, refrigerator, a warm bed, and solar-powered lighting and music. I'm listening to hip hip right now, Mrs Elliott, not so much.

We will be ready for a very long stay along some desert river in the shade of sycamore trees while the outbreak burns itself out.

At least that's what I tell myself when I'm laying under the van, chunks of schmutz falling into my eyes, torquing a bolt, my feet getting wet from a shower while the sun shines so brightly that I have to squint when I come out.

* "Reliable" is a relative term. After all, this is a Volkswagen product.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Our Man in Klamath Falls

Jack is writing this post for later uploading from Waldo's, a downtown Klamath Falls bar. Mrs Elliott and I came to town this morning to work with a video guy on some ads -- YouTube kind of stuff -- that she is putting together to promote her business. I drove, helped set up the lights (I have some portrait photography experience), held the cue cards, and checked the audio. I can help with that kind of stuff.

The morning started pretty early. I woke up at 3:30am for some unknown reason, and was unable to fall asleep. Fortunately my Kindle was at hand and I brought a novel from 24% done to completion by 6:30, rolled onto my side to see if I could snag a z or two, sinuses promptly filled up with boogies so I said fuck it and got up.

Watching myself gaffering, gripping, and best boying on monitor this afternoon I found that I was pretty pleased with my new svelte figure, but high-def does not favor older men. What a geezer, I thought, seeing my age spots. So while Mrs Elliott and the video guy are holing up and editing, I'm moodily reflecting on aging over a couple of fifty-cent happy hour tacos and soda water.

There are no salubrious places in town with free wi-fi that I could find. Our usual place in town, the Daily Bagel where we eat lunch when en route to the Bay Area for the holidays, close in mid-afternoon so I had to find some other place to wi-fi hobo and do that moody reflection on aging thing.

The memory of decades of cigarette smoke lingers in this bar. An unfamiliar style of rock and roll is playing on the CD player. Who are these artists? After two hours I didn't hear a song I recognized. There are three sports channels on the TVs showing no games of interest, a large semicircular bar notable for its height surrounded by oddly short stools, some tables and chairs of black wrought iron and expanded metal, and a general dark funkiness, the kind of ominous ambiance that tends to attract vaguely threatening men.

This place, I feel, has seen its share of bloodshed.

We'll probably get a room and spend the night. One December winter night a couple years ago we stayed at another motel at the south end of town when the weather was too bad to continue to Bend. It was dismal, an cinder blocks and Cool-White fluorescent lights affair sited at the south end of town. But it was cheap, and that's an essential quality for "business route" motels in towns with depressed economies and no reason for tourists to visit.

The video guy tells us that the Best Western Olympic Inn is the premier hotel, so we'll give it a try.

Klamath Falls does not give the appearance of a town that was formerly prosperous. The most expensive-looking building here seems to be the First National Bank building, now the home of El Palacio *KARAOKE* Restaurant and Bar.

Time for another soda and lime.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Another Goddam Sunny Day

... just kidding. I love getting up to blue skies and sunlight.

Forecasting weather here is difficult. Back when KOHD-TV had their local news, meteorologist Adam Clark explained to me how the Cascades between us and most incoming fronts really throw a monkey wrench into predictions. And not having a NEXRAD radar that covers Central Oregon doesn't help matters.

Most of the time it looks like the results that come from even the most careful examination of the data and models are about as accurate as throwing a dart at a board.

So I don't envy anyone who has the job of going on-air to tell folks what to expect over the next few days. Even getting tomorrow's weather right looks nearly impossible.

For example, two days ago, KTVZ's Ben Burkel warned us that following Tuesday's lovely weather, the next several days were going to get ugly.

But yesterday was actually kind of nice, even during mid afternoon when it clouded over and the rain kind of spit in a half-hearted way. At least it was warm: the thermometer in front of the 3rd street branch of the Bank of the Cascades showed 70 degrees. Late afternoon was spectacular, to me. A bit breezy, but sunny, mild, with brilliant sunshine. Today has started out lovely.

Now, Ben seems an affable sort. He does smile a lot. And he's not to be blamed for getting predictions so consistently wrong. Even the supercomputers that run the models seldom get it right for where we live.

But I wish he'd just spend a moment to explain why yesterday's prediction didn't happen, rather than just acting as if it never happened. I'd like that.

And I'm not alone.

The fellows at the Bond Street Barber Shop and I were talking about this a couple weeks ago while I was getting my hair cut (I get the "easy money" haircut: a number 3-and-a-half clipper buzz). We agreed that it would be right nice if Ben were to say, "Yesterday I said it would rain, but it didn't. Here's why," and then went on to give a few words about what screwed up the prediction.

This would not only give us a little insight into the factors that make his job so difficult, but would allow us to more easily forgive him for smilingly telling us yesterday that it would be raining today, when we are looking at a sunny sky.

Not that this morning's weather means anything. It could change in a heartbeat. It could be snowing in 30 minutes.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Okay, They Ask, I deliver

Michael R pdx asked for some explicit Vanagon LED strip lighting porn. Here gives.
For the true fetishist, click on the image for a larger version . . . 

Tinkering, Mellow Yellow style, Pt. 1

Before camping season gets underway I have various projects I want to complete on Mellow Yellow, our 1984 VW camper van. Today's task was to install LED strip lighting in the living quarters. I mean, what the heck: Mrs Elliott is out of town, down in San Diego visiting her mother until Monday. It's either do something productive or spend a whole lot of money paying for that erotic house cleaning service I see advertised on the back page of The Source Weekly!

Tempting though that may be, the van isn't going to light itself.

Mind, we already have lighting in the van, in the form of a couple fluorescent fixtures and two LED reading lights; and though the reading lights draw close to zero power from the battery, they are spotlights so they don't light things up well, and the fluorescent lights draw more power than I wish they did, so I am parsimonious with their usage. Because of that, we use a kerosene lantern for "fill" lighting, but even with a properly trimmed wick, the roof area above the lantern builds up a thin, grimy film of soot.

So earlier this year I purchased a 16-foot reel of flexible LED light strips and four low-voltage dimmers from Ledlightsworld Ltd. The strips have 18 lights per foot and are wonderful to work with: they can be cut to length with a pair of scissors, are only 8mm wide (about 3/8'') and have adhesive backing so they can be laid into place and stay stuck. Only $60 for the reel. The little dimmers are inexpensive and come in a nice beige color that suits the existing color scheme in the van. Once trimmed to length, it only takes a little bit of soldering to connect 'em up.

I spent most of the morning driving around town, collecting the other necessary bits and pieces: mounting hardware for the dimmers from Ace Hardware; a couple spools of wire from O'Reilly's auto parts; vinyl grommets to protect the wires where they pass through holes I would need to drill through sheet metal from Radio Shack; then finally, shrink tubing and cable ties from Home Depot. I could have gotten the latter from Radio Shack or the auto parts store, but I needed to go to Home Depot anyway to get a new drill to replace this piece of crap Black and Decker drill of mine that failed after only one year, got a Ryobi to replace it, and I also needed to pick up some lawn seed mix to do a little top-seeding on the north terrace of our estate where snow mold left bald spots in the lawn.

I got properly started by noon, and the installation went without a hitch although most of the work was in figuring out where to put the lights and how to get the wires to them in the least ugly way. I'll post a few photos at a later date when the van isn't full of tools and various interior panels aren't partially taken apart.

Now, if I could figure out how to make the lamps chase, I could have a proper disco van!

Right now I've got a glass of Riesling, 50 Cent on the Pandora, and that nice feeling one gets from a job that went well without anything embarrassing happening, like an electrical fire. Tomorrow's project is to mount a Rotopax brand 3 gallon spare fuel tank atop the van, so there's still an opportunity for that catching on fire thing.

Or I might try that house cleaning service.

Monday, May 2, 2011


It's a commonly-used term when reporting on how pols react to things. E.g., "Meanwhile, Democrats are expressing outrage that their GOP counterparts would even consider the bill..."


I can see objecting loudly to a bill or waving papers around and claiming that the passage of said bill will cause the end of the world, but outrage seems a bit strong for grownups to go about expressing every time they are not happy with something.

Besides, I'm not even certain that the word is being used correctly.* Wiktionary offers these four definitions of "outrage":

outrage (plural outrages)
  1. An excessively violent or vicious attack; an atrocity.
  2. An offensiveimmoral or indecent act.
  3. The resentful anger aroused by such acts.
  4. (obsolete) A destructive rampage.

Which of these definitions makes the most sense when used in the example sentence? Probably "resentful anger." But plug that into the sample sentence and it makes the outragee look pretty childish.

(Outrage: another in a series of words that look stranger and stranger the more I look at them. "Snorkel" and "energy" fall into that category.)

* Other words I often see used incorrectly:

"Decimate" means to kill every tenth person, it does not mean to kill most of them.

"Fold" as in "four-fold" does not mean to increase by four times, it means to increase by 16 times. Take a sheet of paper and fold it in half, then fold that in half again. Do that two more times for a total of four folds. How many layers do you now have? Expressed mathematically, it's 24 times.

I'm glad I got that off my chest. You may now return to your regularly-schedule programming.

The Bend Temperature Derby

Local curmudgeon and grumbler H. Bruce Miller, who never fails to point out what he sees as Bend's flaws, has decided to find out how many days Bend will see daytime high temperatures in the "comfortable" range (self-defined as being at or above 70 degrees) over the course of the coming year.

And he's making it a contest!

I urge my five or six readers to pop over to Bend Sux and make a guess. Let's see who can come closest to correctly predicting that number.
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