Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ram Trucks--The Good Part One

There is nothing like a dog in the pick-up bed to symbolize the freedom of the open road.  Well, in Snowpatch's case it helps if the truck is not moving.  Otherwise those ten pounds would be blown all over the road.  

usbackroads product-Ram 1-ton Diesel Truck

Well, the first posting was about the bad and ugly about the Ram Truck.  However, as mentioned in that discussion I do LIKE the truck.  The previous post was about what I did NOT like about the truck.  The following two posts are what I LIKE about the truck.

I have driven trucks my entire professional life and my first new vehicle was a truck.  However, I have never been a TRUCK guy.   But I have always owned a truck since spring of 1973 and there were extended periods when I had TWO.

This is all that guy stuff about trucks.  The first is that I have always been leary about spending money on gas and what I call the junk of living.  I prefer to spend my money on big ticket items.  So gas mileage in a diesel truck??  Well, my previous Ram was a 96 gas truck that got 12 MPG.  Coming down from Wenatchee to Eugene the one-ton Ram gave mileage of 18.5 at 65 mph (our Honda Pilot is at 20 mpg).  I also did not fill up until we got to Eugene.  Towing the 30.5 foot Cameo we get 14 mpg at 55 and 12 mpg at 65. 

The rear end.  An issue that I agonized on for years.  My 96 Ram had a 4:10 rear end for towing and I hated it.  So when it was time to buy the diesel I went with the 3.73 rear end.  I am sure that the diesel mileage is much better.  I have not noticed much difference in towing ability.  I do think the 4:10 feels more positive at take-off, but towing down the road there has been no noticeable difference.

The exhaust brake!!!  This is a clear winner.  I would never, ever buy another truck without an exhaust brake.  I have pulled over on mountain roads whenever I have noticed brake fade.   There are some spectacular, scenic places to die in the west by having your brakes fail.  I want to die like my father.  In bed, asleep. 

Towing downhill with the exhaust brake is a dream!!  Set your speed, set your gear and cruise on down and a safe and sensible speed without touching your brakes!!  At Camas our road drops over 2500 feet in under three miles.  No more brake jobs for this kid!!

Clearly, the best part of the Ram truck.

The truck also has a turbo.  I suspect that is how the exhaust brake works, but read the manual.  The turbo kicks in and the truck moves out rather quickly.  It is a one-ton truck, but sometimes just for giggles it is fun to floor it!

On the rear bumper there is a seven pin AND a four pin plug for lights.  No more looking for adapters for the lights!!  What a brilliant idea!!  This is worth a LOT on money in traffic tickets and just general aggravation in life.

The truck steers and holds the road well for such a big (it is 21 feet long) and tall truck.  I did floor it once while rounding a corner and that was NOT a fun experience.  It is big and not a sports car or one of those little red 1/4 ton pick-up trucks so drive it like a bus.

The other fun part about owning such a large rig is driving up behind a Prius until you totally fill their rear window.  From end to end all they can see is grill work.  Of course, I quickly use the turbo to whip around them so they can read my bumper sticker.

This vehicles carbon emissions are off-set by my solar house.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ram Trucks-The Good Part Two

usbackroads--Ram Trucks Part Two

Ok, every guy knows that we pick the trucks based on horsepower, rear end ratio's (hmmm, I will have to think more on this one), and rear slip differential (is that a SF thing??).   In the picture above Snowpatch is shown for scale.

The Federal Government is the largest purchaser of vehicles in the United States.  And it is low bid.  So you can imagine what the BLM and Forest Service rigs were outfitted with in the 1970's.  AM radios??  Well, that was a luxury item that the Federal Government was NOT going to pay for in a vehicle.  Air conditioning.....in your dreams.  So on dusty roads there was more dust IN THE VEHICLE than behind the vehicle!!

This all changed with the energy crises in the late 1970's.  All of the sudden Detroit could NOT sell anything, but to the Federal Government.  So all the sudden, BLM had rigs with air conditioning and AM radio's.  So did all the BLM employees fight over horsepower, rear end ratio's and slip differentials??  Nope, they all wanted an AM radio and AIR CONDITIONING not to mention the BUCKET SEATS. 

Think about it.  Most trucks are fairly similar in terms of ability go down the road or trail.  Well, I had a three speed automatic with BLM.  You DO NOT want a truck like that.  It shifted into second at 20 mph's and had NO low end torque.  That will tell you where I fit in the BLM pecking order.

Given similar tires, rear end ratio's, etc. most trucks will be more than adequate in the woods or on the road.

That leaves you the interior package and the all important sound system.  I admit that we waited a year for the new Ram interior redesign and it was worth the wait.

Ok, everybody knows about heated seats.  The Ram comes with COOLED seats.  Now I thought that was the dumbest thing, until I turned them on.  Even with the dry heat of the west.....worth it.  I have not tried the heated steering wheel after a year.  That might be a bit much.

Finally a zone cooling system.  Worth the wait.  One for me, one for Susie, and one for Bugaboo and Snowpatch in the backseat.

Stereo system is pretty cool.  Two glove boxes.  Ipod connector in one.  Fewer cup holders than in the 96 Ram, but better locations. 

Bucket seats are comfortable, though Susie hates the headrest on her seat.  Those infamous FOB's from hell do have the ability to reset all drivers seats, mirrors, etc based on which key is inserted into the ignition.  That might be important if two of you drive the same vehicle and are of significantly different heights.

It has TWO 12-volt outputs and one 120 volt output.  So your laptop can just be plugged into the dash.  There are really more gizmo's and settings that I have not bothered to learn them all in the year that I have owned the truck.

Where the interior is lacking is where to put the GPS, phone, laptop, satellite phone, work folders, pens, pencils, etc. etc.  The original RAM design was a "working" truck.  Dodge should continue that train of thought.  If I have a plug for a laptop, it means I need a place for the laptop.  Maybe a velcro patch where the GPS antenna can sit.  Maybe a spot for a two-way radio??   A way to port video to the "multi-media" screen?  All that stuff goes into a truck these days and it will be somewhere.  So design a place for it.

Stick a  200 watt marine solar panel on the roof.  Keeps the battery charged.   Lets you do all sorts of things.  It is just wasted space on that roof.

 I was excited about the box storage in the cab.  I put the chains and tightners in there and promptly forgot about them.  But it is nice to have a place where they are out of sight.  Way back in the 1980's I had a special rack built behind the truck seat for my speakers, chains, shotgun, etc.  It worked great, but nobody has really followed up on that concept.  Make the rear seats removable.  The dogs don't care and there would be more room for work equipment.  The extended cab, the new frontier in industrial design!

We were excited about the RamBox, but it did not come in the one-ton trucks at that time.  Looks like a great idea.  Maybe somebody should redesign the entire pickup bed.

The Ram has a good interior,  I preferred it to the Ford interior.  Never did look at a Chevy, but that is a different story.  You live in the inside of your truck.  And like those BLM employees it did make a difference to which truck they picked.

We waited a year for the new interior in the Ram and are glad we waited.  The 2011 Ram Truck.  I would buy it again.  Stay tuned for Part 3 where we will cover those "unimportant" things like engine, transmission, and other stuff.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Dodge Trucks....the Good, Bad, and Ugly

usbackroads products--Dodge Ram Trucks....the bad and ugly

I have owned four pickups trucks in the last forty years.  Obviously, I keep them a long time.  I have driven and used virtually every pick-up truck made while working as a professional Forester over those last 40 years.  Pick-up trucks for me have always been a tool to get the job done.  They have to take me out into the woods and back again.  Well, I take that back my first little red Datsun pick-up was a kick in the pants.  I enjoyed driving that vehicle from 1973 until I finally sold it in 1988.  I do regret selling that little pick-up.

In August of 2011, I went to Kellog, Idaho and purchased a 2011 one-ton Dodge Ram Diesel truck.  So this is a review of this truck.  Today's section is on the bad and ugly.  I do like the truck.  However, there are some "features" that drive me totally nuts,  So we will cover those in this posting.

We will start with the downright ugly the US Government spent billions and billions of dollars to bailout Chrysler.  According to the new owners of Chrysler the only viable part of the company was the Ram truck division. 

Well, your tax dollars and mine went to pay an Italian company so they could own the company.  The truck plants in the US were closed and my truck was made in Mexico.  In my view the problem is the CAFE standards.  The Dodge Ram division would be a fine viable company by itself.  But, the CAFE standards make it impossible for them to exists independently.  For those with auto industry background is my take correct on this??

So let us move from the ugly to the merely bad.  The truck comes with a security and alarm system from hell.  American auto's are designed in Detroit where everybody is out to steal your vehicle!  Out in the rural west, the major concern I have is locking the keys IN THE VEHICLE in the middle of somewhere.

Early on the alarm system seemed to go off every day.  It seems opening the truck with a key after closing with the FOB would set up the alarm!  The dealer recommended opening in the same manner as closing it!  What??

The truck has the habit of once or twice just locking itself.  Now in the middle of somewhere that is a concern.  Since I have gotten in the habit of leaving the keys in the truck while working, this can be an issue.  So now I always leave the window down just in case the truck will pitch a fit.

FOB's??  What ever happened to a simple key?  The FOB's are the keys designed in hell.  Bulky, easy to fall out of your pocket.  Impossible to hide a second key on the vehicle.  I learned that if you ORDER a truck you can order with standard keys rather than the FOB.  That would be my choice.  I wonder if you can get rid of that security and alarm system??  If I had known that I would have ordered a truck just for the key and security setup to be gone.

The next issue was more serious and did cost us a lot more money.  On the 4X4 model the rear of the truck is WAY to high.  Yeah, I know it looks cool and sells more trucks, but most 5th wheels will not fit since there is not enough room between the bottom of the 5th wheel and the top of the bed rails.  So we ended up with a larger 5th wheel simply because it was the only one we could raise the axle and get the combination to fit.  The rear end of the truck sits 58 inches high in the 4X4 model.  Get out your tape measure and see how high this truck rides!

The Dodge Ram truck is really made for towing so this oversight is criminal.  So check this out before getting a truck.  I should have ordered a flat-bed and then bought a custom box that would fit current 5th wheel models out there.  Dodge, of course, could offer an RV package for the bed already set-up for towing and make plenty of money.  However, I suspect there is a reason they are now owned by a foreign company through the good graces of the US government.

Another issue is the the downshifting is electronic and on the stalk next to the steering wheel.  When driving mountain roads downshifting is awkward.  It is easy to find the shift column and much more difficult to find the button on the stalk when you eyes are on the road.  They should have just left the the downshift controls on the shift column.  Bad design.

On previous models Ram offered the fold-flat rear floor.  That option is no longer available.  They really should have an option for removable rear seats.  Lots of working trucks would be better outfitted with the rear seats removed and used for tool and equipment storage.

Other minor issues.  The touch screen radio in several modes requires you to burrow in the the menu's.  Well, you think a cell phone is distracting wait till you try this radio!   Pull over to the side of the road to operate the radio!!

Well, that covers most of the bad and ugly.  I do like the truck, so next posting we will move onto the good.  And there are some good and great features to the truck.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Black Butte Lake, Orland, California

usbackroads destination-black butte lake, orland, california

We are back at Black Butte Lake for the third time in four years.  This tells you something about the quality of the area.  The campground fees have gone from eight dollars to SIXTEEN dollars this year.  Half-price with a Golden or Inter-Agency Pass.  Wow, if there is no inflation why is the Federal government increasing prices for campgrounds EVERY year??

We finally left Medford in-between weather fronts.  I kept watching the conditions around Shasta City and kept thinking that the weather man was wrong with winter storm warnings and watches for the area.  Well, there was snow alongside of I-5 almost into Redding!  Wet pavement, but no snow or ice for our 47 feet of rolling stock.

We did see a bumper sticker on the way into California.  It said..."Help the Third World.....Vacation in California".  A sad commentary on the decline of a great state over the past thirty years.  However, the mountain areas of California remain....what California was once.   A former great state, now becoming what it has always been critical of since its creation.  If the song was written today.  Would it be "Texas Dreaming"?.

Black Butte Lake has been our FIRST winter stop in California and it has always come through.  We arrived to sunny skies and temperatures of 60 degrees.  The campground is totally empty.  Yep, four hosts and one camper.

So we have taken this opportunity to dry out the 5th wheel, further test the electric bicycles, and let the dogs get some needed exercise.  Seems the Corps of Engineers have come up with a handy-dandy stake for keeping your dogs on a leash while allowing them some freedom.

Seems a bit much for a dog like Snowpatch, however, if we had tied Bugaboo to that stake there is a chance that he would have managed to rip it out of the ground.

For years we have picked activities around our kid.  All of you know the drill.  Swim practices, piano, and any other activity.  Your friends become those folks going through the same life experiences that you are going through.

So your retired.  And your pick campgrounds and activities based on your dogs needs!!  Well Buckhorn Campground has a great hiking trail right next to the campground for the dogs!!

This is the first spot that we have been able to ride the electric bicycles.  Sunny and no rain!!  Complete report coming in a future blog.   Yes, there are some interesting differences between bicycling and electric bicycling.

Here is the view of our campsite.  Complete with two kennels for the dogs and a fancy Camping World carpet for the front steps.  We thought we were buying two smaller carpets, but the package contained ONE large carpet.  Oh well, check out that folding rocking chair sitting on the carpet.  Isn't that what retirement is about??

Now the US Corp of Engineers is world renown for their concrete work.  Well, there is nothing like a little bit of concrete to save a dying tree!!

For some reason this was never covered in my Forestry education.  Must have been a horticultural thing.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Valley of the Rogue State Park, Oregon

 usbackroads destination--Valley of the Rogue State Park, Oregon

We are back for our yearly stop at the Valley of the Rogue State Park in Oregon.  Last year we noted that it was cool, rainy, and of course cloudy.  Well, this time it is just plain wet.  It has rained for the past two days constantly and it looks like we are headed for day three.  The pitter patter of raindrops on the roof has become the equivalent of a chinese water torture!

I-5 is totally snow covered around Shasta City so we will wait out the storm once again.  There are also high wind warnings for folks towing trailers.

At least this is a nice campground and most importantly a great bicycle and walking trail along the river.  The picture above is the trail next to the campground loop.  Bugaboo and I went for a several mile walk towards Grants Pass today.  Wet, and more wet.  It does not seem to bother Bugaboo.  We thought about getting out the electric bicycles but the steady downpour indicates that it might be a totally bad idea.  So here we sit.

It looks like a window of opportunity tomorrow (no opportunity, though checking the web cams perhaps we should have made the run).  However, if that does not work it does look like early next week before we get to finally leave Oregon.  Next year, we might need to stage the 5th wheel farther south!!

So e-books to read.  Just finished July Collins autobiography on her life.  Need to find something more uplifting for the next book.

Watch the dogs sleep and take some long naps in the grey days.  And they are good at it.

One good about being stuck in the Rogue River Valley is FM 94.7 KKRM.  Real country and western music and bluegrass.  Sorry no internet streaming.  So you have to camp in the Rogue River Valley for the real thing.

Take it from somebody named Vladimir this is REAL American country and western music.  It does not get any better than this on the airwaves.

Now why would somebody named Vladimir know anything about American country music.   Well, while in Russia on a forestry exchange trip with regard to the recovery of the Siberian Tiger  I kept telling my Russian interpreters that I knew I had a accent when I spoke Russian, but what was it?  They stalled and avoided an answer.  Russians are very class conscious.  They definitely respected my degree from Berkeley, and somehow their avoidance of the question raised those class issues in my mind.  

Finally, one of the interpreters said "Vladimir, your accent is a very soft Georgian drawl".  That's the Georgia that is 12 time zones opposite of Atlanta.  So there you have it.  Uh, that also translates to country.  You might say that I have the original "soft Georgian drawl".  So this is where my expertise in country music has its roots.

Throughout this country there are great radio stations with great programming.  Somebody could make himself an awful lot of money broadcasting these stations on satellite complete with commercials.  KKRM might be country.  But there are others like KPIG for hippie cowboys and cowgirls out of Freedom, California.  Of course, KPIG has sold out to their capitalist masters and now you have to pay to get their stream!!!  I am sure there are blues, cajun, texas swing, folk, soul, jazz, and even some of those stations that play noise like rap that could use the exposure on satellite.

Oh, well better Merle, Bob, and Pasty than the pitter patter of raindrops.

Saturday, we went into Medford to shop for food and do the laundry.   On a whim we stopped by The Wharf seafood market and restaurant.  What a surprise!  An informal place where you can wear your orange ball cap during lunch.  The wine list is decent and very reasonable priced.  Susie had the spearfish and clam chowder, while I had halibut.  Great food, well prepared.  A very special find.  It is now on our mandatory stop list while passing through Medford.  There is a community center across the street with plenty of parking.  Access is good from the freeway, but make sure it is in your GPS.  The Wharf, 827 W Jackson St., Medford, Oregon, 97501.  The phone number is 541 858 0200.  Great stop along the usbackroads.

Don't get fooled by the shadows and blue sky patch.  That was the first in four or five days!!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Silver Wings.....glistening in the sunshine. Trek Electric Bicycles

usbackroads--Trek electric bicycles

One of my favorite songs is Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings"He was singing about jet airplanes, but Monday we picked up our own versions of "Silver Wings".  Two brand new, shiny silver electric bicycles.

In my 20's I quit my job, applied for graduate school and took off across Europe on a bicycle for 2000 miles of touring on "Big Red".  I should have gone to New Zealand, but that is a different story.  A 531 double-butted Reynolds tube bicycle outfitted with campy gear and Holdsworth stenciled on the down tube.  The bicycle was designed for racing, not touring.  And in my 20's I could step on it and accelerate just by pedaling.

Well, time has way of taking away muscle strength and tone.  So those memories of "stepping on it" and pulling away on a bicycle have just become fond memories until yesterday.  Yes, with an electric bicycle when you step on it it is a quick trip back to your 20's.  It looks like each level of power assist takes a decade off your personal aging process.  So level 1 gets me back to 50, and so forth.  That means level 4 gets me all the way back to 20!  I suppose I "wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then....",  but at least with the electric bikes you can get help Running Against the Wind.

The Trek Electric bicycles are BICYCLES.  Many electric bicycles are really scooters with pedals.  The Trek's MUST be pedaled for them to move.  The electric boost has four levels including a ZERO level.  So it really feels like riding a bicycle on steroids.  And if you rode when younger it will bring back that excitement of riding a high performance bike.

They also have four regenerative modes where the electric motor is used to charge the battery.  This also slows the bicycle on steep downgrades.  It works like an exhaust brake on steep downgrades.  Handy for running with full panniers.  To keep within most state laws the Trek assist is turned off at 19 mph.  The battery has a range of 40 miles and recharging take 3 to 4 hours.

Hard core bicyclists view electric bicycles as cheating.  I prefer to view it as "cheating time".  The best part is the Trek bicycles are totally silent with a small battery that is hardly visible.  So most people assume that you are one hell of a bicyclist as you whiz past them.

Here is a link to a bicycle tour around the western states on a Trek Electric bicycle.  The author is a Dr. of Veterinary Medicine and her partner due to illness was no longer able to keep up with her on a regular bicycle.  So he did the tour on an electric.  Great read.  Here is her link:  http://bicyclelife.topicwise.com/doc/?o=1&doc_id=9261&v=23O.

So hopefully, the plan is one of these days is too tour New Zealand on the electric bicycles.  A little bit of fly fishing, maybe some mountain bike trails,  some bed and breakfast nights, and the company of New Zealander's and their beautiful country.

This spring shakedown cruises up the Stehekin Valley up to high bridge.  My only trips to Stehekin have always been "business trips" either on forest fires or as a stop over on the way to Forest Service managed lands in the area.  Those work days are slowly receding in the memory banks.  And it was still a job, so now it will fishing and photography.

Other trips are the Hiawatha Trail, the John Wayne Trail (no, not that John Wayne) and the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes.  See my postings for information on these trails:  Lower Coeur d' Alene River, Hiawatha Trail

We are looking forward to exploring the area around our cabin with the electric bicycles,  Camas Meadows.

The bicycles are stored in the rear of the 5th wheel for now.  It looks like we will have to get a hitch put on so they can ride in back.  We will be riding the trails of Black Butte Lake, hopefully by the weekend.  Yosemite National Park and the valley floor are also on the agenda for the Silver Eagle!  Susie is waiting to knowing her bicycle better before naming it.

If is snows tonight we are staying in Eugene for another night.  No snow we are headed to Medford at mid-morning.

Here is the link to Part II:   Trek Electric Bicycles--Part Two

We have great plans for those "Silver Wings".

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Oh Lord, Stuck in Eugene again.....

usbackroads-stuck in Eugene, once again.

Well, it might not be as famous as Lodi, but here we are stuck in Eugene, Oregon.

I think the tune goes like this:  Stuck in Lodi

We came down to pick up our 5th wheel and see a few friends, buy a few things and then head further south for warmer climes.  

Well, those of that travel the open road looking for "climate that suits your clothes" know the tune.  Things got bad and then things got worse.  First, we had moisture build-up from the storage for two months.  Then the water line froze when the temperature hit 17F.  So the next night we let the kitchen faucet drip slowly through the night and woke up to water backing up through our gray water tank into the shower.  Stuck in Eugene, drying out the 5th wheel!!

We thought we were passing through just for week.  See few friends, buy a few things and then head south for warmer climes.  Then the weatherman said snow is headed your way.  The escape route to the coast is covered in snow.  The escape route down I-5 is covered in snow.  Stuck in Eugene, again.

The GPS said we were well on our way.  But somewhere along the way we ran out of dry pavement.  So it looks like our plans have fallen through once again.  And we are stuck in Eugene once again.

And you know when those roads clear we are headed down I-5 to warmer climes where the weather suits the clothes we have packed.  Where the weather suits the clothes we have packed.

So given the choice....stuck in Lodi or Eugene.  We take Lodi for the weather and Eugene for the shopping and general cool factor.  But why Lord, did you not make Eugene warm and sunny so we do not have to be stuck in the weather waiting for the roads to clear??

Stuck in Eugene.  There are worst things.  Pass the coffee and the Bailey's Irish Creme.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

On the Road.....Finally

usbackroads-On The Road...Again.

We celebrated Christmas Day on Saturday  (Orthodox Christmas) and promptly left Wenatchee to pick up the 5th wheel in Eugene, Oregon.  When I was growing up the gift giving was on December 25th, but the religious significance was on Jan. 7th.   The Orthodox Church still uses the Julian calendar as does the astronomical community since there is NO gap of 14 days when the western world switched to the Gregorian calendar.  This could explain why I have been "out of sync" my entire life.

The first order of business was to get a haircut for the dogs since the weather SHOULD be warmer farther south.

So Bugaboo got his field cut.  If you get rid of THAT tail he does look like a German Shorthair Pointer!.  Tonight a couple asked "Well, he certainly looks like a German Shorthair Pointer; what was the other half"?
The life of a purebred German Longhair Pointer, always mistaken for the indiscretions of his younger, upstart German Shorthair Pointers.

Look on the ads at the right.  Bugaboo baby carriages in England.  High end stuff.  Oh well, it could be worse to think that much of the world thinks you were named after a expensive baby carriage!!  However, Columbia Sportsware did name a clothing line after him!!  Both Bugaboo and Snowpatch were named about spires in the Canadian Rockies.  Baby carriages, oh my!

We were also concerned about Snowpatch and his "hair".  So he got a foo-foo cut while Bugaboo was getting his field cut.  The groomer, bless her heart, raved about Buggy and ranted about Snowpatch.  Well, Snowpatch does look like a....well, ah.....maybe a....I give up.  You decide.

For the past couple of nights we have witness the Bugaboo "bug-a-loo" and the Snowpatch "bichon buzz" in a 30 foot trailer.  Entertainment at a cheap price.  Ninety pounds chasing 10 pounds and then the reverse!!

So we are in Eugene drying out the trailer.  It seems the slides admitted some water into the 5th wheel while it was in storage.  Everything else works fine.  A couple of days getting ready for the trip southward.   The weather is predicted to stay sunny and somewhat warm until Saturday, which is our departure date for California.

Like I said....always out of sync.