Category Archives: Iowa

photo of Camp Des Moines

Navigating Des Moines

Teardrop Trail Log: June 14, 2017

As we drove into Des Moines, we started looking for our destination. Centrally located just off I-80 and I-35 in Des Moines, the Fairgrounds are located at East 30th Street and East University Avenue. We found the entrance.

Iowa State Fair Logo

Since our first Red Power Round Up in Huron, South Dakota in 2014, we had decided that it was a distinct advantage to camp on the fairgrounds. The convenience of walking to a parade or even going back to the teardrop for a nap after lunch was much easier that driving back and forth from a hotel somewhere in the city.

One year, I booked our campsite for the next year even before we broke camp. This year, I started by calling the Iowa State Fair for information on camping. I finally got through to a very nice lady, and learned that there were 160 acres of camping!

Although we had printed out a map, finding our way around the Fairgrounds was no easy task. One-way streets, blocked off sections, locked gates, dodging tractors and people contributed to the difficulty. Eventually we made it to check in. Armed with a map we finally located a site, close to one of the bathhouses but not crowded in amongst other campers. Setting up our camp is always a pleasure. We found a large tree to provide shade during the hotter part of the day.

Since we had been visiting friends and family in Omaha, we decided to put off the purchase meat and other food stuffs that needed refrigeration until we reached Des Moines. We pointed the Lady in the direction of the exit. Jon, Jim’s brother, provided an address of a new market. How simple can this be? We were already on University Avenue so we assumed that we could drive to another destination on University Avenue without problems. We watched the street numbers as we traveled. When we reached the number provided, there was no market in the neighborhood. Out of frustration, we finally ended up asking “The Girl” for directions. The market was in West Des Moines which has its own numbering system for University Avenue. Back on course, we were finally able to buy food for the next few days.

Map of the Iowa State Fair Campgrounds

Map of the Iowa State Fair Campgrounds

photo of Wind Power in Rural Iowa

On to Des Moines: Windpower in Adair

Teardrop Trail Log: June 14, 2017

I’ve been across Iowa many times. My friend Bob and I used to promote the Surplus Sales business at area Hamfests, and there were big annual gatherings in Cedar Rapids and Chicago. It has been 20 years or more since then and things have changed. Wind farms. Since Iowa produces corn, which was once called the fuel of the future when used to make gasohol, I assumed it was the main renewable energy industry in Iowa. Poor assumption. What a great surprise!

A little research around the Web told the story. Although Texas has the largest capacity of wind power generation in the nation (20,321 megawatts at the start of 2017), Iowa is second with a capacity of 6917 megawatts. The real surprise, it leads the nation in percentage of generation by wind — supplying over 36 % of the state’s power needs (as of 2016).

There are several reasons for this. First, Iowa is located in the wide swath of land reaching from South Texas up through North Dakota blessed with ample, year round wind. This includes other states located east of the Rocky Mountains and west of the Mississippi River. These states enjoy 50 to 100% more wind than most other states with Iowa coming in as the seventh-windiest.

Second, the Renewable Electricity Portfolio Standard, signed into law by then-governer Terry Branstad in 1983.  It required utilities to purchase electricity from renewable sources at a fixed price. The state was in a farm crisis, and this was seen as a way to provide extra income to farmers who really needed it. The law was the first of its kind in the nation and was the first guaranteed market for wind energy.

On top of that, Iowa has available land, and practical farmers who saw wind “farming” as just another crop. The icing on the cake? The state attracted companies that manufacture turbine components.

When we arrived at the Iowa State Fair later that day, the first thing I noticed was the giant wind turbine on the hill next to the campsites. I never fail to learn new and inspiring things about our country as we travel in our teardrop trailer.

photo of Wind Turbine at the Iowa State Fair

Wind Turbine at the Iowa State Fair

photo of Our Rig at the Somervell Roadside Park

On the Road Again!

Teardrop Trail Log: June 10, 2017

Omaha, Nebraska, where I grew up, sits astride the famed east/west Union Pacific Railroad mainline and is midway between New York City and San Francisco on Interstate 80 — the ninth busiest highway of the Interstate system. When combined with the Nebraska attitude of getting things done, I’ve always favored traveling on major roads. Let’s not waste any time driving!

Map of 281 to Wichita Falls

Map of 281 to Wichita Falls

A move to Austin, Texas in the mid-80’s began to change my thinking. Austin is on Interstate 35, the main north/south artery between Larado, Texas and Duluth, Minnesota. With all the border-to-border truck traffic, and major cities like Dallas/Fort Worth and Oklahoma City  along its path,  it is one of the most congested highways in the Interstate system. The faster Interstate speeds are usually offset by traffic and the ever-present construction needed to maintain this vital artery.

Texas is full of historic and eccentric towns connected by scenic highways however, and I have gradually learned to love the sometimes slower, but much more interesting trips they offer. Our route to Des Moines, Iowa for the Red Power Roundup was another opportunity to enjoy the backroads of Texas.

Although I enjoy laid-back travel more and more, I still like our modern conveniences — Google and Apple Maps have transformed our travel. A quick search produced routes for one of our favorite Texas roads, Highway 281 from just south of Johnson City to Wichita Falls, Texas. It varies between two and four-lane highway, interrupted by small towns and cities along the way. Each provides a chance to stop, stretch your legs and take in an attraction or two.

The Highland Lake culture near Marble Falls and Burnet, aviation enthusiasts in Lampasas, the beautiful courthouse in Hamilton (most of Texas’ 254 counties have preserved historic and beautiful courthouses), farming around the unique town of Hico, a Depression-Era roadside park near Stephenville and re-entering more urban travel (with the promise of a Starbuck’s Mocha!) in Wichita Falls. Surprisingly, the route clocks in with a faster travel time than Interstate 35 — as long as you don’t dawdle too much!

The remainder of the route to our first stop, Edmond, Oklahoma is Interstate 44. A toll road, it is new and fast. After all that Texas sightseeing, it’s time for a nice dinner and a bed.

photo of burros along the route

Local color

photo of Cutting 5/8-inch threaded rod

A New Way to Level a Teardrop

photo of Original scissors-jack handle

Original scissors-jack handle

Teardrop Trail Log: June 8, 2017

After three seasons of Teardropping, I still wasn’t happy with my trailer leveling solution. I originally purchased a pair of scissors jacks, but the folding handles they came with were frustrating to use. Also, the jacks had a tendency to fall over before they came in contact with both the ground and the trailer.

Stabilizers Aren’t Perfect

Next I tried stabilizers, and although they had advantages, they didn’t work as well with uneven ground. They were perfect in combination with a scissors jack though. By lifting each trailer corner where a stabilizer was attached, they could be easily extended and provided a rock-solid platform once set.

So, back to the scissors jack. What could I do to improve on the basic Harbor Freight design? I didn’t want to modify the actual jack, but wanted an adapter that would allow the use of a cordless drill instead of the wacky and hard-to-use folding handle.

An Improved Scissors Jack

photo of The scissors jack adapter

The scissors jack adapter

The solution turned out to be very simple. The handle receptacle, a “U”-shaped piece of metal the connects with the handle hook, was large enough to receive a 5/8-inch piece of threaded rod, and then capture a 5/8-inch nut inside the handle receptacle. A 9/16-bolt welded perpendicular to one face of the 5/8-inch nut, would then turn the handle receptacle when captured by the 5-8-inch rod.

photo of Drill driving the scissors jack

Drill driving the scissors jack

I talked with my friends at Vintage Auto, and they had it welded up in a few minutes, and even painted it. Back at the house, I found I could easily run the scissors jack up and down with a 12-volt DeWalt cordless drill. A test on the trailer was successful also — the combination easily lifted the trailer.

We would use it camping for the first time at the Red Power Roundup in Des Moines, Iowa (that’s why the bolt has an International Harvester Red head), and I had the trailer leveled and on the stabilizers in about 20-minutes. A new record!

photo of the scissors jack adapter in use

Scissors jack adapter in use

photo of maps and brochures

Des Moines – Here We Come

Teardrop Trail Log: May 2017

Planning for our trips on the Teardrop Trail is always an essential part of my experience. I love exploring the possibilities. This year, Red Power Round Up, the annual gathering of the International Harvester collectors, would take place at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines from June 15 through 17. We discussed places and events we might want to see before and after the event. Trying to limit the driving to around 6 hours a day, we prefer to take the scenic route, including time to stop and stretch, grab a photo or try a local eatery when time permits. Several months before our scheduled departure, I began an intensive Internet search of websites, blogs and travel emails that would inform our route. I even tried a few on-line planning tools. Hard to believe this would be the fourth year traveling in the Ambassador, our teardrop.

We’ve been part of the Teardrop online community for quite some time, so I began posting inquiries about campgrounds, restaurants and points of interest on several groups’ Facebook pages. Members of Heartland Tear Jerkers had some great suggestions and even extended an invitation to a gathering in Rock Creek State Park, just prior to RPRU. I also reached out to Sarah Tucker of Cool Tears magazine and Marsha Corbin, the Executive Director at Old Trails Region in central Missouri. We had seen a television program of the Flint Hills in Kansas and Jim had seen an event featuring video woodworkers he followed online in Skiatook, Oklahoma. so I started researching the possibilities and contacting organizations along the route requesting brochures.

Armed with our trusty National Geographic Road Atlas, Adventure Edition,  I began to compile our wish list and enlisted Google Maps to get the mileage from point to point and answer the inevitable question, “Are we there yet?” As the itinerary came together, Jim and I reviewed options. I printed out the notes that would be clipped to the cover of the atlas for quick reference. Next step –- the to-do list.