Archive | Homebuilt RSS feed for this section

Come Fly With Me!

14 Jul

We finally got home on Monday after spending 5 days at the Arlington Fly-In. Arlington is in Washington State, just off the I-5, south of Seattle and is the 3rd largest air show of it’s kind in North America.  We on the other hand, coming from Penticton, came over the Cascade Mountains.  They sure were pretty!

One of the many peaks of the Cascades

We found many small towns along the road including this one. A beautiful representation of the old west as seen in the movies.

The whole town looked like this!

Now, you will notice I said, “of it’s kind”, because this type of show is a little different than the shows that most folks have seen.

Never did figure out what this one was.

First, it’s called a fly-in because more that half of those attending, fly in, in their own small planes. Second, this type of show celebrates, home-built, experimental and antique air craft. Not to mention antique cars and military equipment. There is a military camp called Camp Adams, set up at the very edge of the grounds and they showcase everything from cars and motorcycles, to guns, tanks and planes, with nothing younger than the Vietnam War. Most of this stuff was from WW2, with lots of folks in costume appropriate to the time frame.

These folks spent the entire show living in Camp Adam and dressing the part.

Do these guys look like they were getting ready for their next mission? Perhaps they were waiting to board the B-17 that came and spent the week with us.

Crews on board and she's ready for one last mission!

This old beauty was parked with the antique bi-planes.

There were lots of antique cars, one of a kind planes and most interestingly a few that were the only survivors of their type left in existence like this restored Bi-plane below.

A Boeing 40, the only one in existence!

A Fly-in is the place where those who want to learn more, can, since there are many workshops available, as well as venders selling everything an aviator could possibly want to or need to build or outfit their newest projects. Those who don’t have planes but enjoy them, can come onto the grounds and camp for 5 days while the shows and displays go on all day.

The Grummy in at the very top of the photo, see if you can find her. Look for the green shade. There's only a small number of RV's showing as this was the last day!

Traditional air shows usually involve military planes doing formation acrobatics as well as purpose built planes doing their shows, with static displays that you never actually get to touch.

This beautifully restored Spitfire was one of the few you couldn't get up close and personal with

There was a little of that at Arlington, with a few purpose built acrobatic planes, and a couple of antique war birds doing simple fly overs, but most of the shows were done by average guys flying home built planes or older WW2 Trainers. Plus all the planes that had been flown in were parked in groupings of their type, where everyone could look at them, and in lots of cases touch or even get inside of, with the proud owners available to answer questions.

A group of like minded individuals who own the same plane and work hard to have fun!

We were treated to fairly impromptu shows like this one for the entire 5 days! Not only that but Camp Adam wasn’t just a pretty face. These folks came loaded for bear and were more than happy to show off their wares. Nothing like a little tank battle and flak gun shoot to give you some idea of what the sights and sounds actually were during the latter stages of WW 2.

One of the many types of tanks and support equipment on display.

These guys were having just too much fun!

Just so you know, these were all my photos, but it just seemed apropos to present some of them in the era appropriate format.


This flak gun was fired, giving us all a sense of the drama those in the sky must have felt when approaching their bombing targets.

There were a couple of these old Harvard Trainers and this gorgeous DC-2. The DC-2 was fully restored and open to walk through. Apparently there are only 2 left flying in the world.

This was one of the more interesting acrobatic participants. She was amazingly graceful!

This old girl looked like she had just taken a break from her usual route to come and visit for a while!

On the last evening, these folks turned up and gave us quite the show, called a Light Up. The wind was a little too high for flying but that certainly didn’t stop all of us from being highly impressed with the beauty of Hot Air Balloons.

First one up and lit.

Going for the full burn.

Trying to coordinate the light up

The last thing I did, was go for a ride in a 1929 barnstorming bi-plane. It was quite the exciting end to a terrific time. Next time we’ll head over to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the biggest fly-in there is. You know the saying, “Go big, or go home!”

My ride has arrived!


Full timing it on the cheap, Part 2

13 Oct

All right, so how to travel on a budget?

Well, first of all I have to explain about our van. Our gummy is a reconfigured commercial delivery truck, and due to the way Richard built, it still looks that way. There are no windows in the sides, all our light comes from the huge front windows and the large skylights.  It had original decals on the outside that had at sometime been painted over, so we left it that way. For all intents and purposes we became essentially invisible. No one pays much attention to an average looking commercial truck. So….

We can park just about anywhere for free, as long as we don’t over stay our welcome.

Pretty much everyone who RV’s is aware that Wal Mart will allow you to park in their parking lots and if you’re travelling on any  major highway in Canada or the US most rest areas allow an 8 hour  or overnight stay.

Buying strawberries at the local market - 150 pesos per box

When we hit the road, it’s never on to the next RV Park, it’s just on. When we get tired or want to stop to eat or have a coffee, we look for a rest stop, a parking lot, a wide gravel shoulder, a dead end road, or any place where other large trucks are in evidence. No one notices one more truck. We can even park on city streets and have done so, but then we’re not worried about a little graffiti. Just adds to the commercial look.

Now RV Parks have got a lot going for them usually. They have pull throughs, electrical hookups, fresh, clean water, hot showers, sewage dumps, some have Wifi, and laundry facilities. There’s also the social aspect of them. Lots of folks from lots of different places, together for a while, can make for a fun time. They are also expensive when you’re trying to live the way we do on a very strict budge.

Most parks average 25-30 dollars per night, with laundry extra. Since we live in our van full time, there is no way we can afford to stay in these parks, though that doesn’t mean that we don’t use them. When we need to dump our tanks, and we can’t find a free municipal or county one (And there are lots of those) we’ll use one. Most parks charge about $5.00 per dump and will quite happily let you use their facilities as long as you are dumping only grey and black water tanks.

I mention this only because due to our looks, we’ve been questioned a few times as to what we were dumping from our tanks. People see what they want to see and when they see a commercial truck dumping waste I’m sure the first thought must be,”Illegal toxic waste”, hence the questions.

If you live in BC, and don’t stay in RV Parks make sure you pay to dump in them and retain your receipts. ICBC insurance is invalid in Mexico, you need special Mexican insurance to drive there. You can apply to ICBC for a partial refund, based on how long you were out of the country, and you need receipts for this. We hang on to our fuel, and dump receipts which we write the vehicle VIN numbers on and when we get home we submit them to ICBC. It’s never the full amount for the time out of country, but something is always better than nothing right?

Laundry facilities are widely available all through North America, even in Baja and we’ve found that they, on the most part, are cheaper than those available in RV parks.  In Baja, you can take your laundry to a “Lavamatica” where the owners will wash, dry and fold your clothes for about 4-5 dollars a load. The only problem is you have to leave it overnight, but hey, if you’re being a tourist, it just gives you reason to hang around for another day. It’s times like this that you find something spectacular or memorable, even if it’s just having a taco at the local street stand with the rest of the neighbourhood.

The only RV site we ever stay in, is a place called San Quintin. It’s about 150 Km south of Ensenada, and it’s the first glimpse of the beauty to come. It’s a very simple place that offers spectacular views of the west coast beaches, hot showers with brackish water, and a place to dump our tanks.  Richard has mentioned it in his “First Years Accounts”. The cost is $12 per night and this place truly is worth the cost. We generally stay 2 nights both coming and going. The tienda up the road has internet, there’s a place in the local town to get laundry done, and the local fishermen land their boats right on the beach in front of our rig, talk about fresh seafood!

This is our first stop in Baja where we can slow down and relax after driving full bore to get here. After a couple of days of sun, surf, sand and seafood, we are refreshed and relaxed enough to continue our journey south to our destination, Rattlesnake Beach,(Playa Quemada as the locals call it) south of Loreto, Baja Sur.

Rattlesnake beach, our winter home. We're the first white rig on the left hand side.

Once we reach our destination we quickly settle into our usual spot and activities. Living in Baja is extremely cheap compared to Vancouver Island, especially food. The average wage in Baja is less than $150.00 per month so the cost of living is comparable. Fresh food is available either at the local, once a week market, or any of the big or small grocery stores and you are likely to find the cost is about 1/10 of what it costs at home. There are also vendors who bring their products to the Anglo enclaves. Most of that stuff is going to be tourist junk, blankets, beads, and trinkets, but there is usually a vegetable and fruit vendor, if not others selling tortillas, bread, beer, even scallops, clams and lobsters.

The catch of the day

Food is cheap here and I find if I spend $50.00 per week, I’ve been extravagant and we’re going to eat very well!

Now because we live in our van full time, we pay no mortgage, no rent, no pad site fees and we are blessed with 2 daughters, as well as other relatives and friends who have areas big enough and flat enough for us to park our rig. They also like us to come visit and stay for a while, which we do!

Our lives consist of travelling to Baja and spending 4 – 6 months revelling in the warm sunshine, clear waters, abundant, inexpensive fresh food and the friendliness of both the locals and the other travellers we share our beach with. Then back to our own country, slowly taking in the view all the way. Once we get home, we visit with our family and friends who are loath to let us leave, spend a little time on our own travelling to places we haven’t visited before, then preparing to do it all over again.

The story so far…..

17 Sep

We were just a couple of blue collar workers, who met working for the Canadian Coast Guard, fell in love and got married. We moved to Campbell River, B.C., where we bought a home and raised a family. Richard working in the local pulp mill and me, the only female salmon fishing guide on the east coast of Vancouver Island, that however is another story altogether.

We had planned on retiring at 55, and wanted to travel by road.  All of the commercial built RV’s that we looked at were poorly built, too small and crowded, didn’t have a big enough bed, or it was in the wrong place, and they wanted way too much money for them, so Richard decided he could build our own. He did all the work and a fine job he did too. We bought a used 26 foot, 1986 Grumman Step van that had been used as a Frito Lay delivery truck and customize it. All I asked for were a queen size bed and a full working shower and bathroom.

Grummy's smile

From the front, it has captains chairs, including building a platform for the passenger seat because all they come with is a jump seat, if there’s a spot for a passenger at all. The passenger seat swivels completely around and there is a full length and width blackout curtain that zippers and snaps into place with the passenger seat behind it. Looking in, all you can see in the front compartment is a drivers seat so it still looks like a delivery van, You would actually have to look long and hard to notice the cupboards above the front windows and the roller blinds on all 4 windows. Who needs sun visors that are built for giants, when the rollers can be lowered to any height  to reflect the sun.

I guess the first thing folks notice as you move through the curtain, is that there are no windows in the body of the van, but it’s full of light. That’s because there are two skylights that can be opened in any direction, one in the middle of the van the other in the back. Both are 2 feet square, built out of Plexiglas and held in place by cam locks. These are also our emergency exits. We have all the privacy one could want as well as all the light one needs.

Curtain cuts off the rear from the world, and the sun for those who like to sleep late.

On the driver’s side, is a Dickinson marine propane heater. When it’s cold outside, this little baby keeps us warm and toasty. Next is a love seat with lots of dry storage underneath it, then the bathroom. On the wall outside the bathroom is a Bosch demand hot water heater. The bathroom has a fully functioning toilet and shower, but no sink. Inside the bathroom carefully hidden away in it’s own compartment is the water pump which services the toilet, hot water heater and the kitchen sink.

Bright colours, yea! Demand hot water on the left, fireplace on the right

On the passenger side,  the passenger seat can be turned completely around, to face the end of the counter. In the counter sits the Dickinson stove, again propane powered, and the sink. Below the counter sits the 12 volt fridge, cupboards with shelves on sliders, three large sliding drawers, and of course the ubiquitous “cupboard under the sink”. Above all of this sits large cupboards with dishes, more dried goods and the electrical cupboard with a 300 watt inverter in it, because everything is run by two large 123 watt solar panels mounted on the roof. There is also a 1000 watt inverter at the front of the van. We have more than enough power to run all our toys, which includes two Apple laptops, 11 different  LED lights, and the vacuum cleaner. Throughout the Grummy are small but powerful 12 volt fans. Three are set to move air around the rig, and one acts as the stove fan, blowing the smoke from cooking out the skylight.

Bright colours make the inside look so nice. See the bed folding down in the back?

The back compartment looks like it’s only storage, with large cupboards for clothes and lift up lid boxes where the water tanks are. This is actually the bedroom and the queen size bed is the left hand wall. It folds down and fills the entire room, but at night who cares? It’s not like one of us is going to get up and dance.

At the very back is a door that opens into the rear of the van and we have a two foot wide storage area back there for tools,  and other things that we don’t want in the vehicle itself.

Tools bike ladder you name it

I mentioned water tanks earlier. We carry two 25 gallon fibreglass tanks built inside where they can’t freeze. We also have the same amount of storage capacity for black and grey water, so we can boon-dock for up to 10 days at a time before we need to dump the tanks and refill the fresh water.

I told you we had decided that we were going to retire at 55, but at 52, Richard and I were looking at our property tax bill and realized that the house, which had long since been paid for, had appreciated considerably in the last few years. As well, both our daughters were grown and had no intentions of returning to the family house. Both had announced that they would consider themselves failures if they had to move back home to Mommy and Daddy. So we started talking. We had no debts, (thanks to a bequest from my late sister) and working for the next 4 years was only marking time till we could retire. I crunched the numbers and with the value of our home in the bank, plus our RRSP’s, we could make enough interest, if invested wisely, to see us through until we could collect Richard’s pension.

Neither of us had ever put down deep roots and the only reason we had stayed where we were for so long was so the girls could grow up in one place, with life long friends and a feeling of familiarity and continuity.  Selling the house was a simple decision, and neither of the girls were too upset about it. We had always taught them that memories were in the mind, not in things and as long as you’re  alive, and remember, you keep the past alive. The next step was selling everything  we owned.

You see, we planned on moving into our RV and making that our home until such time as we could no longer physically do it , so leaving anything in storage was a waste of money and space. What were we going to do? Come back once a year, open the door to the storage bay and say,”Hi stuff.” ?  All the childhood memorabilia, that we had carefully collected over the years was sorted into boxes for each child and it was all given back. Here was every picture, card, tooth, even the hospital bands from their birth. They took great joy in rediscovering all of the things that had been part of their growing up.

Family heirlooms were offered to any in the family that cared to have them. Some were taken, some not. What wasn’t wanted by anyone, went to auction. We were amazed at how much money we made from just “Stuff”. The only thing we didn’t sell was an original acrylic painting of me, in the early morning,  heading to the fishing grounds, which proudly hangs in our daughters living room.

We set sail on October 18th, 2006 and headed south fast. We were under deadline because Richard had promised his Dad that we would arrive in Juncolito at the same time he arrived to help him fix his car. We made it, fixed the car, then headed off to explore. I should explain that at the same time we were preparing to leave Campbell River, we were also in the process of selling our home and the deal was finalized on October 15th. The realtor told us that we would be able to do the closing, which was to happen on January 5th 2007 from Mexico. We were soon to discover that wasn’t going to happen.

While we hit the paths less travelled, we also tried to find a way to complete the sale of our home via the internet, and phone, which in the Baja was a hit or miss proposition at the best of times. I finally contacted the family lawyers and they suggested we give Power of Attorney to our youngest daughter Elizabeth and she could sign on our behalf. We agreed and were told the only person who could sign the prerequisite forms was the Canadian Consul in San Jose del Cabo as the Mexican legal system was totally different than the Canadian one. So we set out for the bottom of the peninsula and got 30 miles away when the transmission blew.  My stress level started to reach volcanic proportions and I’m sure Richard’s wasn’t doing very well either.

Ruben Montoya, wonder mechanic

We asked around and were told by a retired Baja 1000 racer that the best guy for the job lived in Loreto and so we met Ruben Montoya. He told us to come back a week later and allowed us to live in our rig inside his walled compound, while he fixed it. Ruben was quite the character. He spoke broken English, enough to to make himself understood, but  he was obviously a very smart man. He rebuilt his first car engine at 7 and his first transmission at 11, and when he was finished with our rig it was probably better than new, and a whole lot more heavy duty than anything we could have found at home.

Finally on the road again, we made it down to San Jose del Cabo,  got the papers signed, and shipped off via courier. However we were not finished with the repairs. In what seemed like a continuing saga, we replaced the sway bar bushings, the bushings in the rear leaf springs, the shock absorbers, two new tires, muffler hangers, repaired the leaf springs, new ball joints, got new brake anti rattle clips and had the muffler welded for the second time.

While we spent our time waiting for one repair or another we also found great places to just simply be. Beautiful beaches, great celebrations, wild races, wonderful, friendly people and a place we wanted to come back to.

This is going to be that continuing story. We’re going to tell you about the places we go, people we meet, the food we eat, the fun we’re having and how we managed to retire and continue to have fun on not a lot of money.