Showing posts with label Wagoneer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wagoneer. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

New (to me) Truck

I'm now the owner of a Nissan D21 pickup truck (1992, 4x4, v6, automatic, King Cab, in Midnight Blue Pearl with 139k miles and pretty new Goodyear tires). I bought it for a really great price. I stumbled across it when looking for something to drive while my old Wagoneer was being repaired and repainted. The plan I sold Darla was that I would not have to rush my paint and body guy and I could just sell the truck after the Wagoneer was done, which is much better than renting a car (or burdening someone by borrowing their's). Well, I'm afraid I'm growing attached to it! I think it just may be a keeper (shhh! Don't tell Darla). It runs really great and is just so handy.

I always loved these Hardbodies. They came out the year I graduated high school. I had friends who had them (I was a GM and Toyota truck guy back then) and I thought they were really cool. I had forgotten how easy/fun/economical these little trucks are. I've enjoyed zipping around in it and having the useful bed in the back (taking the trash and hauling wood is a little more of a hassle in the Wagoneer because I have to hook up the little trailer—it's hard to beat a truck!).

I'm not a mechanic, but can do most low- and mid-level work in my garage. I totally have respect for you experts out there! I like piddling around with it and learning about how to do stuff. And for the first time in my life (with a few exceptions), I've learned that it's freeing to have a car to drive while working on another! I've always felt the pressure to get my projects finished quickly because I've depended on the car for transportation!!

So far I've changed the oil & filter, the spark plugs & wires, the belts (they were in horrendous shape), the thermostat (I had virtually no heat), and air filter. I also fixed a speedometer problem (previous owner said it worked before I bought it) and replaced all a/c vents (that were brittle and sun-baked).

Issues it has:
•The transmission seems to want to shift nearer the rpm redline than seems right. I'm going to change the fluid and filter and see if that helps.
•The cruise control doesn't work. Switch is on and light is too. No engage. Guys on the "Infamous Nissan" Hardbody Forum online have suggested a couple of fixes that I'm going to try today.
•The body is great except for a palm-of-your-hand-sized dent in the front of the hood and some peeling factory clear coat on the hood and roof. But there's no rust on body or frame!
•The driver's seat has a small crack in the vinyl part (just above the recline handle) and a cigarette burn right in the middle. I'll just look for a replacement seat from time-to-time at the junkyard, but I'm not worried about this. It looks like the skin on the the dash has become unglued in places. And the cover of center console is showing age. It, like the top of the steering wheel, is deteriorating.

Fun stuff to work on! Or NOT work on (it's an old truck so it doesn't need to be perfect)!

Now to come up with a name. I'm thinking, "Buster."

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Christmas Tree CAMPING Adventure

That's right. We've taken the Sparks family Christmas tree adventure to new heights. We decided to take one more trip in Miss Daisy (the camper) before putting her up for the winter the weekend after Thanksgiving to our favorite Christmas tree farm in White Top Virginia.
Miss Daisy has been an ongoing project since May, and has probably been one of the reasons I've blogged less since May. We've redone almost everything and we have camped!
After a great Thanksgiving Day with my dad, sister, step brother, and families we finished packing up; and went with our good friends the Hicks from Mississippi (yes, the "Mississippi Hicks"), who we camp with every year in Elkmont. They drove all the way up to get a tree! 

We hooked up Miss Daisy to the Wag and went. All five of us with both dogs. Yes, we all slept in Daisy. Even the dogs. The nights saw temperatures dip down to the low 20s. All water and drinks left outside were frozen solid! The camper was warm, but it was a little rough to go outside in the mornings and cook breakfast (which begins with melting ice for coffee)! 

We were saddened to learn that Charlie, the Christmas tree farm owner, died a couple of weeks ago. Now his daughter was selling trees. There were more people buying than we have seen in previous years (that doesn't mean many–we're usually the only ones!). She was there making wreaths and taking money. We took our time to find a tree, taking lots of pictures. The dogs love running free as we look. This year they had a couple of farm hands who cut your tree for you and take it to the old tree binder for you.

Here are some pictures of our time there. Notice that the girls even dressed up the dogs in sweaters. Not entirely impractical. It was below freezing there. Mo is cold natured and Sparky has lost lots of hair in his old age.

After getting lunch at the Whitetop Store, we drove up to Grayson Highlands. It was cold and windy. But the wind was really whipping at the top. It seems to always be windy there, but this was the strongest wind I've seen there. Like 60-80 mph constant. You had to lean into it to stand, and you had to yell to be heard. Cuttingly cold! Darla and Duncan hunkered down in a cleft of the rock while we went to the top.

After spending the night back at Grindstone Campground, we packed up and headed home. We stopped in Abingdon for lunch. People were taking pictures of the Wag and Miss Daisy like we were celebrities and waved at us like we were a one-car parade! One lady gleefully ran out of a building and asked to take a selfie with our family and the Wag & camper! So funny.

Okay, I feel compelled to dispel the "Pinterest Perfection" images here and remind readers that all is not perfect! The Wagoneer SUCKS gas, especially when pulling the trailer at interstate speeds. Also my pictures (intentionally) do not show the damage to the back bumper and right rear quarter panel sustained in the recent wreck I had. In addition, Darla and the kids (not Dara, who drives a Jeep truck) were complaining of the loud, droning, exhaust sound that now is even louder due to the damage in the back. I'm getting the Wag fixed and repainted soon, but it still leaks oil and has a tired engine with over 225k miles. This is evident on long, steep uphill climbs. Daisy's not the perfect camper either. We don't have a working oven, refrigerator, or any air conditioning. And wow, it's tight with five adults and two dogs! We had our share of bickering and patience-wearing-thin. So don't be fooled by the pictures. Know that we are a family of sinners who are in process, and we have limited funds to try to stretch and still have fun experiences together. Thankfully, there were no breakdowns.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Hit and Run...and CHASE!

So I was the victim of a hit and run. Crazy! I was stopped at the red light at Cedar Bluff Road and Bob Gray Road, in the turning lane, when BAM! I was hit hard in the rear. So hard...that a two-liter Diet Pepsi from my back seat hit me in the back of the head. I was momentarily stunned when I realized what had happened and the guy who hit me fled the scene in his black Ford F-150 truck. Adrenaline flowed. Without hesitation, I instinctively gave chase!
Here I must explain a couple of things: First: I have noticed that when I am in an adrenalin-induced state, I think much more clearly. In fact, things seem to go in slow motion to me. I am able to multi-task and I am able to think ahead and consider different scenarios. Oh, to be this way all the time!
Second: I have always secretly wanted to be in a car chase. Perhaps it is irresponsible, but every boy wants to experience the Dukes of Hazzard, Smokey and the Bandit, Fast and Furious, and, my personal favorite, Bullitt with Steve McQueen. It's like living out a childhood dream! Besides, I didn't want this guy to get away before I got his license plate number! I was thinking about my insurance rate skyrocketing!
Me, in high-speed pursuit. Kidding.
Wagoneers are made for racing! Kidding.
Back to the story: I ran the red light at which I was stopped and chased him to Middlebrook, and to Chert Pit. I had already grabbed my phone and was dialing 911. The Pepsi was rolling around in the floor at my feet. The guy turned on several back roads and I was chasing him, hoping to get close enough to see his plate. The 911 operator answered. As often as I could truthfully, I told him we were driving safe and legally (I was afraid he would make me stop chasing!). Truth is, the moment I told him that, it was the truth. But on other moments during the chase (many other moments) I was barking and squealing the tires, pushing the Wagoneer as hard as possible. This was especially challenging due to the fact that the back seat and cargo area were full of heavy stuff—like the 80-pound vintage camper refrigerator that was banging around back there as I was virtually on two wheels around corners.
Success! I caught up with the pickup. At one point, the guy had to stop for traffic. I was honking. The perp actually got out of his truck and began walking back toward me! I was thinking what I would do if he pulled a gun. "Simple," I thought. "I'll just run him over." I rolled down the window to ask him to pull over. As soon as I told him that I was speaking with 911 he jumped back in the truck and sped off even faster! I now had a complete look at his face, even the color of his eyes! Again, the Wag held it's ground. I have wondered if he must have thought, "I can't shake this Wagoneer!!" Yeah, baby. That's right. Don't mess with the Wag. 360 cubic inches of American Motors iron. (Sorry...I drifted off there for a second.) Truth is I realized that I was about to run out of gas. I stayed on his tail until Emory Road in Powell! That's when my Wagoneer stalled. The tank was empty. I was still on the phone with 911. The guy was great. He sent a deputy to me. I put gas in my tank from the can of gas I had in the back. The damage was way less than I thought it would be by the force of the collision. Did I mention American Steel? They don't make 'em like they used to. The deputy asked for my info, license, registration, proof of insurance, etc. I asked him, "Did any of the six or so people who were at the traffic light who saw the accident call in and report it?" He answered, "No, but several called in about the car chase." My still-adrenalin-filled response was a quote from Buford T. Justice in Smokey and the Bandit: "I was in high-speed pursuit of a MANIAC!" The very professional deputy could not help it. He laughed. The license plate number I provided made it possible for them to find the perp. He lived with his dad and/or grandfather on Emory Rd. The officer wanted me to follow him there and sit in a driveway up the street until he needed me (I assume so that I could identify him).
By the time the deputy needed me, I had begun to realize that God may have allowed me to be hit by this guy for a reason. Maybe God wanted me to help him somehow, or at least start a relationship.
The deputy told me, "We got him. He confessed to everything. He's going to jail." Turns out he'd been in trouble before. I explained to the deputy that I was a Christian, and harbor no hard feelings. I asked if there was a chance I could meet with him at the County Jail? He said he'd see what he could do.
Long story short, the damage was worse than what the images below show. The frame was bent and the passenger-side doors were very hard to open and the back fender and quarter panel were bent and bowed. Also the bumper was bent and cracked. But you should have seen the perp's truck!

So the good news is that because I gave chase the insurance company didn't charge me with liability. The adjuster (a really nice guy) came out and they totaled the Wagoneer, and I get to keep it minus a buy back amount. Looks like I should have enough to get the whole thing repainted! That was something I was hoping to be able to do due to the small rust spots and scratches it has. I'm thankful!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Glamping in Miss Daisy

Most summers have a theme that just kinda happens. For us, this is the summer of Miss Daisy. Daisy is our 1967 (we think, the previous owners thought it was a 1969) Field & Stream vintage camper that we bought and refurbished in less than 3 weeks. What that essentially means is for every waking minute, from virtually sun up to midnight, when I wasn't doing my job as a pastor, I was working on that camper (and so was Darla, and sometimes our kids). And it happened to be during the hottest week of the year so far.

Here's Daisy on Memorial Day as we were stripping her down to the bear metal. Duncan taped off all the aluminum window frames before scrubbing and painting them silver. You can't really see it, but the frame/tongue/rear bumper was rusted and needed much work.

Here's the family giving Daisy her new coat of paint. We put a thick rubberized coat of waterproof roof sealer on the top, and a high-performance marine-grade acrylic on the rest of the body. I used Rust-Oleum black paint from a rattle can on the hitch and new bumper after removing at least three previous coats of old paint, sanding and grinding it to the bare metal.
Here's the camper in fresh white paint, before we put on the yellow stripe. We also had to remove and clean all the old louvered window glass, and repair the windows.
Here's the other side. Notice the ugly rusty wheels.
Duncan did most of the work on the yellow stripe. She gave guidance in picking the right shade, too. I wanted to match the camper's color with that of my Wagoneer (maroon with a wooden stripe), that was summarily vetoed. The yellow color came from the color of the faux wood molding on my Wagoneer. I wouldn't consider that a compromise. More like a not-so-veiled attempt at placating me!

Here's Daisy's old bumper. It was mangled and rusty. I designed a new one that would also serve as a spare tire carrier. I bought the metal pieces and took them to a welder so he could cut off the old bumper and weld on the new. Afterward, I painted it with several coats of Rust-Oleum. Darla wanted it white for looks, but I campaigned for black because I'm afraid white would show rust pretty soon, no matter how hard I tried to get rid of it all. I don't regret it, at the vintage camper rally, I saw several nicely done trailers with white on the bumper/hitch, and they had rust and dirt that marred the camper's looks.

Yes, that's a receiver hitch welded in the new bumper. That's for a cargo cage or bike holder. And yes, if we courageously (stupidly?) wanted to tandem-tow a small trailer, we could (we actually met some folks at the vintage camper rally who did!) but we wouldn't be able to go in reverse.
After the painting was done, we resealed all the windows and other joints and openings so that NO WATER CAN GET IN. After several rains, some quite hard, it seems we were successful. So far, so good.
Here's the finished camper! New "steelie" wheels (that I bought, sanded, and painted yellow to match). I tell you, by the time we drove to Elkmont, getting this thing ready kicked my tail.

Here are some pictures of the inside. We put in new faux wood floors, ripped out any water-damaged surfaces, and repainted or re-surfaced everything. This includes tile backstops, plastic antique-tin-looking wall covering, re-stained original birch ceiling, and aluminum trim. We tried to keep the vintage countertops and appliances (and many of them required repairs).

Thankfully, the previous owners reupholstered the seats and made expensive new curtains. They also tried to salvage the original stuff. Daisy's whole color scheme

Here's the backsplash tile. Also notice the original stove and ice box. I just bought an old gas-powered refrigerator that I plan on fixing and installing where the ice box is. Note also the original gas lamp on the wall above the stove.
One of my favorite parts of the trailer is the birch ceiling. I'm so glad we were able to keep it. There were some rough places where previous owners had peeled chunks of it off, and some areas that had been stained by water. We did our best to either hide or re-stain the damaged parts.

Notice the antique fan on the shelf, the baskets we turned into handy shelves, and all the vintage daisy-themed stuff. It's kind of been fun to look for daisy stuff at yard sales, thrift stores, and online for cheap.

Perhaps the hardest job of all for me on the camper was cutting and attaching the new wall surface. All pieces of the white tin-looking tile had to be perfectly matched and cutting to fit the rounded-corner ceiling was really hard. It looks great, though.
Here's the sink area. Darla did a great job decorating. Duncan painted all the cabinet drawers and doors grey. Darla bought a new hand pump online for the faucet, installed it herself, and it works! It's for when we camp places where there is no hook-ups. We camp more where there are no hookups more than where there are. That's another reason we want to get a gas refrigerator. Then we will have water, light, and refrigeration for food.

After working to fix all these things, we still have some small leakage in the "hook-up" water pipe, and in the drain pipe, but not much.

Other tasks we accomplished include rewiring all the trailer harness lighting and some of the 110-volt system (thanks Drew Sparks), repairing the gas lines, removing the rusty old double-LP-gas-tank-holder and restoring the original one-tank holder.

As I write this, it's the end of August and we've camped in Miss Daisy 4 times. Here's a brief recap:

June 20-25 at Elkmont near Gatlinburg, TN.
After speaking at a marriage retreat for Coaches Outreach in Black Mountain, NC, Darla and I brought Miss Daisy for her inaugural (with us) trip to our favorite family campsite. We put up the usual huge brown tarp (which requires some engineering prowess on my part with ropes and trees). We decided we needed to retire the tarps. Too much hassle and time.

We camped next to the Hicks and the Childresses as we have for the last several years. We miss the Sanders family who moved to Washington state.

July 1-2 Elkmont
My sister had reserved more days than she could use, so instead of canceling the extras, we paid her for them and spent a couple more days (without kids) in Elkmont, moving only a few spaces upstream from our usual spot.
As you can see, we didn't have an awning yet. We had ordered one, but it was being made.

July 17th at Gee Creek Campground between Delano and Reliance, TN.
Darla and I escaped for a weekend next to one of my favorite rivers. The Hiwassee. Darla was gracious and allowed me some time to fish. Both days I caught a limit of trout! Thanks for that good time, God (and Darla).
We had a few new additions with us: a new canopy from Walmart, and an awning we'd ordered from California, and a Dutch Oven. The oven was fantastic! The awning, on the other hand, while practical, was really the wrong color of yellow. This didn't bother me, but Darla couldn't stand it. She thought it clashed. So she sold it on eBay, and bought one made by a lady in Georgia for less!

Thankfully, we haven't needed air conditioning yet. Elkmont is always cool, but we were afraid we would be hot at the Hiwassee. All turned out well. We couldn't have used it even if we had it (because there were no hook-ups). Gee creek is clean and pretty nice. But there's no easy access to the river, and there's poison ivy everywhere.

August 25-27 Near Hiwassee, GA.
We did our first vintage camper rally at the North Georgia Vintage Trailer Rally at the Riverbend Campground.

As God would have it, we got a spot between two senior couples, on one side was the lady who made our new green awning!! Everyone was nice (with a few exceptions), and we learned so much. I got most of my questions answered, like: how do I install an air conditioner without cutting a hole in the side of the camper. We don't want a roof camper, we want one that can sit inconspicuously under the bed or somewhere else.

I also got ideas on how to build a wooden screen door. I will have to fabricate some hinges, but that's going to be a fun challenge.
We went all out and brought old stuff to glam up the camper: vintage suitcases, old-fashioned lawn chairs that we got cheap (that I have re-webbed twice), and several other things. We also had a new green rug to match the awning, and a new coleman canopy over the picnic table.

Most of the day on Saturday, people from all over came to the campground for the show. Hundreds walked through our and others' campers.

Having power and water was pretty convenient. But now we know we need air conditioning! My list is growing of future improvements for Daisy! Stay tuned.

Monday, March 14, 2016

One of My Favorite Places...and People!

This weekend was just great. Dara got some backpacking equipment for Christmas, and spring break is when she was determined to try it all out. Well, spring break is here! Amid a questionable (if not threatening) weather forecast, we decided to take a chance and go for it. I am soooo glad we did.

We went to one of our favorite hiking spots—where incidentally Dara hiked when she was just three years old—the Shining Rock Wilderness area in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

So we packed our gear and loaded up the Wagoneer (our "family adventure mobile") and left on Friday. We got to the Blue Ridge Parkway, only to find that it was closed! Uh-oh. Back down the mountain we drove until we found a trailhead that would lead us to Black Balsam Knob and Flower Gap from the eastern base of Little Sam Knob. That means we had to walk several miles further than we had planned! As Dara said, it was totally worth it. The day was unseasonably warm and the hike up the old rail bed and up Flat Laurel Creek was beautiful. It took us between Sam Knob and Little Sam Knob (yes, I too wonder who Sam was). We ate lunch and were drawn to the rocky peak of Sam Knob (elevation 6,045 feet), so we decided to climb it, lightening our load by hiding our packs at the base before ascending.

Wow. Beautiful 360-degree mountain view. Perhaps one of the best I've seen. While gawking at the vista, we noticed the wind increasing and the temperature dropping. We descended, found our packs, and headed toward Black Balsam Knob. The trail was lonely (read: awesome!). We felt as if we owned it all! That's the way the mountains are supposed to be. I think the threatening weather reports had scared away all the spring breakers, and the closed parkway made access even more difficult. All good with me!!

We filled our water bottles and crested Black Balsam Knob as the wind was getting more gusty. We continued on to the northern slope where there is a great little flat grassy spot I found 25 years ago in the midst of a laurel and blueberry thicket. It's a perfect campsite. You can see the sunset, there is a great little fire ring, and the bushes form a wind shelter. I told Dara, this is exactly the same spot where we camped when she was three.

Memory flashback...that trip was also on spring break. Darla and I backpacked with all three kids and hiked up to Black Balsam Knob. Drew was eight and Duncan had just turned seven. It was an inexpensive vacation, and we were poor and adventuresome. Darla gave in to my enthusiasm to do the backpacking trip (she's a hiker, but not a backpacker or a camper). So we packed our big six-man tent from Wal-mart and gave the kids a load. Our greatest concern: little Dara. She had a little pink Dora The Explorer backpack that matched her hand-me-down pink coat, and she wanted to share the load. We filled it with her blanket and some stuffed animals. Would she make it? Were we cruel to try?

That was when I first learned about her trademark toughness and positive spirit. She NEVER complained. She just sang while we walked and had the time of her life! After setting up camp, Darla was stressing. It was unexpectedly cold. Snow was on the ground in places. Duncan and Dara's "Disney princess" sleeping bags weren't up for this. So we doubled them up for Duncan and Dara ended up sleeping with Daddy. I must say, one of the top 5 favorite memories of my life was that night. Dara snuggled next to me SO happy. She told me how much fun she was having and that she loved me. She and I held hands all night. We were warm and slept like two rocks. Unfortunately, Mamma didn't. In addition to the cold and wind, there were coyotes yelping and howling all night long.

Ok, returning to 2016. Our first night was uneventful. We set up the tent (oops! I only had 2 tent stakes!) and ate Jambalaya. After sleeping well, we ate hot oatmeal for breakfast, packed up and hiked over Tennant Mountain, through Ivestor Gap, over what we call "Hippy Mountain" and by "Redneck Tarp City" (our affectionate nickname given to a spot where the rednecks drive their 4x4 trucks and camp in August for blueberry season) and on to Flower Gap. We did make one wrong move when we took a short cut (or so we thought) and ended up on the side of a mountain in some of the thickest brush I've ever been in. We decided to sit under  a grove of fir trees and eat lunch to get out the map and think about how we would get out of the brambles. We finally made it to Flower Gap, set up camp, and went to fill up all our water bottles in the spring (a half of a mile further) and gather firewood. Upon our return, we discovered a Raven that had grabbed our freeze-dried meal, had torn open the bag and helped itself to some of the contents. That didn't stop us from eating what was left.

The evening was crisp, breezy and beautiful, and the fire was welcome. It was a perfect evening if there ever was one. This is why we go to all the trouble to backpack.

I made 8 additional stakes out of wood and found another one, and secured the tent and rainfly well. A boy scout troop we passed earlier in the day had told us rain was expected that night.

Never doubt a scout.

As SOON as we got in the tent, it began to rain. And the rain never stopped. All night long the weather got worse and worse. Monsoon rains and wind battered the tent all night. At 7AM the dripping started as my seams hadn't been sealed in quite a while. Dara's little sleeping pad got soaked, and so did her bag. She said she was warm, so I said that we should try to sleep out the storm (it's miserable to pack while it's raining). But she was going stir crazy. So we got up and packed around 9AM and hoisted our significantly heavier packs to our backs and started the long trip back—in the rain. Finally, the rain slowed then stopped, and the the haze finally cleared revealing Big Sam Knob!

Decisions, decisions. Should [we] stay or should [we] go now? We both decided to in home. Virtually everything was soaked. Not cool (actually...quite cold!). Sleeping would now be a struggle. As we passed between the Sam Knobs, the visibility continued to improve, and by the time we saw the glorious Wagoneer, it was clearing pretty well with some occasional spots of sunshine.

The BIGGEST disappointment of the trip? The whole hike, Dara talked about eating at a restaurant called "Juke Box Junction" on our way home. It's a favorite of ours any time we hike in this area. You know how it goes: we were hungry, cold, and obsessing over what we were going to eat. I was dreaming of that big hamburger, crinkle fries, and a huge chocolate malt. Dara was talking about how their chocolate chip cookie dough milkshake was the best she'd ever had. We got there and were relieved to see cars in the parking lot (meaning, it's actually open on Sunday!). We excitedly went to the door and were met by a waitress who said, "I'm sorry, we're closed." What?!?! It was 42 minutes before the closing time that was on the door! I began to protest. Then it hit me...daylight savings time had begun early that very day. We were actually 18 minutes late. Doggonnit!

Dara was so heartbroken...and blamed me for wanting to sleep that couple of hours longer hoping for a break in the rain!!

Oh well, we ended up finding a pretty good burger joint in Waynesville. Have I said how much I love rednecks? Here's just another reason why: Dejected after missing Juke Box Junction, I told Dara, "If we can find one redneck or fat guy, he'll know where we can find a good burger joint." Within one mile, we spotted our redneck. I wish I could describe this guy, but I shall refrain. Upon hearing my accent, he dropped his guard (my legit country boy slang is handy at times) and told me we needed to turn around and go to Juke Box Junction! That's when he revealed his distinguished burger connoisseur credentials. I explained our predicament (without using words like "predicament") and he told us of another joint adding, "I'll tell ya, they gotta big 'ole burger 'bout 'dis big (making a circle with his hands bigger than the circumference of his head) and stacked way up high like 'is" (separating his hands vertically about a foot apart). Then he gave me complicated, detailed directions there. I asked him the name (I'm not sure he'd heard of Google maps). He said, "Ammons."

We went without hesitation and he was right. I had the "hamburger steak" bacon burger, which was about a half pound patty with all the trimmings. Dara got a burger, tater tots, and hot fudge cake that was to die for.

The sun was out. We walked around downtown Waynesville before heading home.

I love that girl. I'm so thankful to God for all my kids!