Category Archives: Texas

photo of Hart's Firehouse BBQ in Lampasas

On the Tasty Trail – Lunch at Hart’s Firehouse BBQ

Teardrop Trail log: June 10, 2017

photo of Smoked Turkey and Potato Salad

Smoked Turkey and Potato Salad

Traveling north on US 281, we began to search for lunch. I started looking on my phone for dining options. BBQ – after all we are still in Texas. Hart’s Firehouse BBQ popped up in the Google search. We were not far from Lampasas and spotted the restaurant as we rolled into town. We parked the Lady and the Ambassador behind a rather large RV and as soon as we opened the doors, we were greeted by the heavenly scent that brought back memories from my childhood in west Texas. We explored the quirky exterior, finding the entrance. Approaching the counter, we surveyed all the delicious options! It was hard to choose. The potato salad reminded me of my great grandmother, MaMaw’s recipe and was a must accompaniment for the pulled pork and brisket sandwiches. We placed our order and soon added sauce and selected a table inside. Although there were wonderful tables for outdoor dining under the spreading oaks, it was already summer so we chose air conditioning. Looking around the dining room, all the other diners were in BBQ heaven!

There were so many tantalizing options that we will definitely be back. Thank you Google. Finding amazing dining experiences is one of our special pleasures on the Teardrop Trail.

photo of Hart's Firehouse BBQ interior

Food and Fun!

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 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.

photo of First Aid preparedness kit

An Expert’s Take on Essential First Aid

A few weeks ago we attended the Mother Earth News Fair in Belton, Texas. This was our second year, and we always enjoy seeing the seminars and venders that support the varied community that this unique event attracts. We had just about “covered the waterfront” and were getting ready to leave when I spotted the AMP-3 booth. The amateur radio solar batteries, compact portable antennas and go-bags caught my attention and we began chatting with David Pruett, the proprietor.

As we talked, I noticed another line of products relating to first aid, and quickly learned that David is a practicing ER physician and began putting first aid kits together several years ago. His medical experience, as well as direct experience with two natural disasters in Northern California convinced him of the need for preparedness. I began thinking about our teardrop camping trips (not to mention our Roy Creek Ranch home) and how well prepared we were for emergencies when we’re away from an ER or other urgent care provider.

We have an American Red Cross First Aid Kit in the trailer, but David’s company, AMP-3 was offering the next step. While the Red Cross kit was a good start, it is focused on cuts, scrapes and minor pain. It wasn’t very expensive, and there is no reason not to have one or two for minor wound care.

photo of an individual first aid kit contents

iFAK contents

AMP-3 offers an “Individual First Aid Kit (iFAK)” that starts with more extensive wound care and adds tools, irrigation, adhesives and medications for managing wounds, bleeding, pain, digestive and some allergic distress. Best of all, David has a series of YouTube videos that describe building an individual first aid kit, what to include and how each item is used.

I bought one iFAK at the fair, and appreciate the guidance and peace of mind it provides. With both the Red Cross and AMP-3 kits in our teardrop trailer, we feel more prepared for many situations we might encounter on our travels — especially when we’re away from civilization.

Are you prepared?

Latching the Hatch

Teardrop Trail Log: April, 2017

We’ve been generally happy with our teardrop trailer, but have had one recurring problem. The galley hatch lid will not stay down. We encountered the problem on our very first trip to the Red Power Roundup in Huron, South Dakota in June of 2014.

The problem usually occurs when we hit a rough patch of road or rumble strips, and is more an annoyance than a real problem. I finally decided it was time to fix it, and found some chromed hood-latches on eBay that would do the trick. This video describes the installation process.

photo of 100 watt monocrystalline replacement panels

The Teardrop Gets a Solar Power Upgrade

Teardrop Trail Log: September 20, 2016

photo of MC4 solar branch connectors

MC4 solar branch connectors

After the unfortunate incident with the solar panel on our way to the Red Power Roundup, we were able to use shore power for the remainder of the trip. Disappointing, but not a show stopper. We had already determined that a single 100-watt panel was not enough for our needs, so I was planning an upgrade anyway. With a trip planned in late September, it was time to act. I ordered two new 100-watt panels, MC4 combiner connectors and additional MC4 crimp-on connectors. This would double our previous power capacity and allow for daytime use of a couple of small appliances including a crock-pot and solid-state cooler.

photo of Aluminum bar seals leading edge to teardrop

Aluminum bar seals leading edge to teardrop

Analysis of the incident and the remaining parts of the old panel made it clear that wind entering the leading edge had repeatedly flexed the panel causing it to fatigue and ultimately fail. It seemed to me that sealing the leading edge to the teardrop roof with a rigid mount would prevent this type of failure in the future. A trip to Home Depot secured an aluminum strip, and by drilling holes that matched the existing screw mounts, I could seal the leading panel to the teardrop skin. The leading panel then overlapped the other panel so it was also sealed to the wind.

photo of volt meter showing 13.2 volts

The new panels began working immediately

Once installed, the panels began producing power immediately. Although we currently only have about 80 Amp-hours of storage, the two panels can easily replace the day’s power use with 10 to 12 amp output in full sun. Also, by adding a 300-watt inverter, we are able to run a 1 1/2 quart crock pot during the day with power to spare. The next upgrade will be a larger battery.

The Ambassador was ready for a trip to Bob Sandlin State Park.

photo of solar panels on teardrop trailer

The panels overlap like shingles

photo of Trailer wheel

Leaf Spring Wear

Slip spring with shim installed

Rear of slipper spring with shim installed

When we were installing the tongue box on the Ambassador, we noticed some wear on the trailer leaf spring mounts. With long trips to Huron, South Dakota, Sedalia, Missouri and the Big Bend completed, it wasn’t surprising. Along with other trips around Texas, we probably had upwards of 5000 miles logged. I have always planned to upgrade the wheels to a larger size and make improvements to the suspension, but there wasn’t time before we left for Wisconsin. I didn’t think there was any real urgency, but being a “belt and suspenders” guy, a little insurance wouldn’t hurt either.

photo of a Shim

Shim ready for installation

The tongue box mount was installed at Vintage Motor Car near our home, and it was Jason who first noticed the problem. We chatted about various solutions, but Mike had the best idea. How about buffering the metal/metal contact between the leaf springs and slipper spring mount with a composite shim? He got one out of the shop, and it slipped in easily with the weight off the wheels. Best of all, it was held in place by an existing crossmember made of angle iron. Easy to install, easy to replace. But would it last?

After 3000 miles of additional travel to Wisconsin and back, I’m going to declare victory. Only minimal additional wear on the slipper spring and mount, and relatively little wear on the shim. I’ll replace them before our next trip just for grins (at about 50 cents each), and we can push the running gear upgrade off until next year. Besides I still have to find some cool retro fenders for the new larger wheels before we start!

photo of the solar panel. It was still there in Perry

There Be Dragons …

Teardrop Trail Log: June 13, 2016

I guess I should be grateful we didn’t have more problems. If you think about it, trailering is an unlikely pastime, wherein one drags a small metal box on wheels at high speed over sometimes nasty, bumpy roads and expects everything to arrive at the same time. Then there’s the summer heat, rain, and wind — all of which can be extreme. Top it off by camping in the woods with open campfires, animal encounters and rutted trails masquerading as roads, and it’s a wonder things go as smoothly as they do. It’s a testament to the essential hopefulness and naïveté of the average camper. Certainly it describes our view of staying in the woods.

photo of Jim Repairing the antenna tube

Repairing the antenna tube

Looking back, I understand our first several trips were usually trouble-free. Perhaps it was payback time. After a day of construction, rain, and detours, I thought we might have taken our lumps. As it turned out, we were just getting started. Day 2 dawned cool and overcast, and wonder of wonders, there was a Starbucks nearby. We went in and ordered, and within minutes I was in possession of the magic elixir. A Mocha. On the way back to the rig, I noticed that the antenna storage tube was askew. One of the supports had broken. Better fix it.

I decided to run our solar beer cooler while we were on the road. The day promised to be sunny, and I would have cold beer while setting up camp. Off we went through Paris, Texas, on our way to Joplin. Easy travel.

photo of Galley outlets

Dropping voltage

Since I was curious how much power we were generating and using with the beer cooler, I checked the voltage monitor every time we stopped. The battery voltage was falling slowly, suggesting the solar panel wasn’t keeping up, but nothing to worry about. Then during one of our stops, I noticed that the battery voltage had dropped by two volts. Not normal behavior. Considering the problem while we drove the next leg of the trip, I realized that one cell in the battery had catastrophically failed. This battery was toast.

We would have to find another. Marilyn got to work with the maps. As she plotted routes and queried the web, I mused on the rotten luck. What were the odds? Batteries don’t normally fail like this. On the other hand, it was over a year old. Maybe the battery maintainer wasn’t very good. Then, she announced her result. There was a Costco in southeast Kansas City, and going there would only take us a few miles out of our way. The camping gods had smiled.

We stopped at Costco, bought a replacement battery, and installed it in the parking lot to recover the core charge. Even so, we arrived at the Jacomo Campground by 7. Plenty of light to set up while Marilyn cooked a delicious dinner. Maybe we had finally paid our karma debt and could sail unconcerned into the adventure!

photo of A New Battery

A New Battery

map of the Route to Kansas City

Kansas City Bound

Teardrop Trail Log: June 13, 2016

The clerk touted the free Wi-Fi during check-in at Camp Motel 6. As we sorted through our soggy gear, anxious to catch up on email and other online delights after a challenging day on the road, we soon realized that the results were grim at best. Jim, who had lots of experience in many things tech, described it as a data dribble. Later I would read that we had encountered the perfect storm of hotel Wi-Fi problems – lack of workable access and very poor capacity. The “perfect” end to the “perfect” day – #WiFiFail. The outside world would have to wait. It was time to turn off the lights and drift off to sleep, listening to the sounds of the rain outside.

photo of the Classic IHOP breakfast

Classic IHOP breakfast

In the morning, we headed to IHOP, located conveniently across the parking lot. Normally, we would seek out the most amazing local eatery for a culinary adventure, but today we needed to go promptly. As we entered, a flood of memories returned – many road trips as a child with stops at IHOP. The chain started in 1958 and continues to offer predictability in each of its 1,650 restaurants around the world. Chow time! Bacon, eggs, hash browns and toast. Comfort food on the road.

We loaded the Ambassador and headed north. Paris, Texas, up through Oklahoma and on to Missouri. We had been in Missouri last summer for Red Power Round Up in Sedalia. Rather than exploring off the beaten path, this time we elected to hit Interstate 49 for Kansas City. We would be meeting Sarah Tucker, the editor of Cool Tears magazine. She had suggested a county campground near her home. Yes, we were on the Teardrop Trail again….

photo of Marilyn and Jim in front of a teardrop trailer

The Adventure Begins …

Teardrop Trail Log: June 12, 2016. Red Power Roundup trip start.

Building, modifying, cleaning, planning and packing complete, the day of departure finally arrived. If we didn’t have it, we didn’t need it. We left midday, intending to reach Lake Bob Sandlin State Park in northeast Texas by early evening. Marilyn had a route, and it looked like a great day for travel.

All went well for the first hour or two and we joined I-35 at Round Rock. It was Sunday and I commented on how well traffic was moving. I must have jinxed it, because we encountered the first construction shortly after around Salado, and it continued all the way to Waco. What should have been an hour took more that two. Not a great start.

photo of American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea)

American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea)

To avoid further construction, we turned onto Highway 31 towards Corsicana, reasoning we would see the back country, and go through a few quaint, small towns. The scenery was beautiful, and we encountered a vast expanse of American Water Lilies in Henderson County between Trinidad and Malakoff. We pulled into the roadside park to make photos. The sky was threatening however, with consequences later in the day.

photo of threatening sky

The sky threatened …

Turning north on Highway 19 at Athens, Texas, we were still making good time. Marilyn wanted to head northeast, more directly toward the state park. At Canton, we turned onto FM 17 (a two-lane “farm to market” road). More great scenery. Lush fields of hay with stands of tall pine trees dotted the landscape, set off by a dramatic sky. Although not Interstate speeds, we were sailing along when …

photo of car fire near Fruitvale, Texas

A fiery road-block near Fruitvale, Texas

We encountered a blazing car fire with traffic stopped in both directions. Sitting in the long line of cars for about 10 minutes, it was clear that it might be hours before the road opened. We had to go back. Now I had to turn our rig around on a narrow, two-lane road with no shoulders and no place to pull out — all with an audience of the several dozen.

Perfect.

Marshaling my best backing skills, I completed the U-turn in a few minutes. Thank goodness our rig is small. Anything larger and we would have been stuck. Retracing our steps back to Canton, we took I-20 West and re-joined Highway 19.

By now the light was fading, and we would have to set up in the dark. We’ve done it before, and it’s not so bad. Then it started to rain. Hard. Driving toward Sulphur Springs, the downpour worsened, with poor visibility as well. Perhaps a nice motel room would be best.

Reaching Sulphur Springs and I-30, we headed east toward Mount Pleasant. Marilyn called ahead and made a reservation. Arriving around 10, we loaded into the room in the pouring rain. Although low cost, a warm, dry room seems like a palace when compared with setting up in a dark, rainy campsite. Roughing it in a Motel 6 is still camping, right?

photo of car and trailer in the rain

Mt. Pleasant Motel