Tuesday, February 20, 2018

RV Lifestyle - Maintenance

After a half year on the road, it's time for some maintenance! Our motorcycle, an 1100 Shadow Spirit, needed an oil change.
We also needed to look into the RV brakes. One of the things that came up on the initial inspection of our Sundancer was we would need to replace the brake pads at some time - we had some usable pads left, but not much. Well, on the way down to Summerdale, the idiot light came on for the brakes. 
We checked the manual, which told us it was the ABS system and just 'needed to be checked'. Since it was driving fine, we waited until February to take it in. Residents suggested we use Countryman's. We took it in, expecting a brake job and maybe an ABS sensor or two. It turns out we had a locked up caliper - and the back brake pads were the original pads!
We opted to go for the expensive fix, which meant new lines, new calipers, new pads, and new rotors for the back brakes. It may be overkill to zero out all the brake maintenance and start over, but since we are 8 tons with trailer and bike...
Countryman's did an excellent job and even managed to get all the work done in  4 hours. Just as importantly, they took the time to take us back into the bay, show us the brakes and the rotors, and discuss options. We appreciate it when a repair shop takes the extra time to make sure we make an informed decision.

Fortunately, the oil change was not as big of a deal (or bill!)  Motor Sports Freaks, in fact, wins for the quickest oil change. The price was reasonable, and their mechanic not only has three decades of working on bikes, but still rides the dirt trails  - in his 60s!

Thank you, Countryman and Motor Sports Freaks!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Pensacola National Naval Museum - Free!

(due to very flaky internet, blog posts will be sporadic for February)

The weather finally warms up into the 60s - so, of course, rain rolls in. That's OK, though! Freddy & Debbie invite us to tag along with them the National Naval Museum in Pensacola. Freddy was in the Navy for 21 years and was a plane mechanic, so he is also an awesome tour guide. 

Know before you go: The museum is free, but is on a naval base. Museum visitors must have a valid photo ID and can only enter through one gate. We recommend checking the museum's website for any last minute rule changes for entering the base. Also? Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk. This place is huge!

Tours: If you want to take the guided tour, the tours start at 9:30am, 11am, 1pm, 2:30pm, and can take a couple of hours. (We understand the best day to take the tour is Friday at 11am, but its best to come fed and well-rested. Friday's tour guide is well-known for his three hour tour!) There's also a 20 minute Fight Line Bus Tour that explores over 40 aircraft stored outside the museum.

IMAX: The museum has several movies. Click here for price and schedule

You can also plan your visit to see the Blue Angels practice. The schedule is here.

Finally, we strongly suggest downloading the Self Guided Tour before you go!
The museum has 150 restored aircraft, as well as other aircraft on loan from other United States military organizations, such as the Coast Guard.
Many of the sculptures and paintings in the museum were created by the former museum director, Captain Robert L. Rasmussen (who retired in 2014).

The plane above the sculptures is the A-1 Triad, the Navy's first aircraft.
There are also quite a few exhibits. This jeep is part of  the World War I exhibit.
We learned these early planes had no way to recycle the castor oil used to lubricate engine parts. The oil went through the engine, into the air - and onto the pilot. Pilots wore scarves to keep the spray of oil out of their mouths.
The USS Texas is probably the Navy's most interesting ship, and is currently a floating museum in Houston.  It is one of only seven still floating battleships to have served in both WWI and WWII.  It was one of the biggest ships floating when it was launched during WWI. In fact, the Texas was such a juggernaut the Japanese found it impossible to sink her in WWII. 

Many of the Navy's firsts happened aboard this ship, including an analog system which was the forerunner become today's computer guided weapon systems, and the first ship to use the Navy's new radar system. It was also the first ship to launch airplanes off its deck.  One of its guns was refitted to be a hydraulic launcher.
An F6C Hawk, which was made by Curtis Aeroplanes. These were used in the 20s and 30s by the Navy.
This is a very hands on museum, with many displays designed to be touched.
Several planes have clear panels, so the inside structure could be seen.
There is also quite a few planes and helicopters set up so you can climb in - although many of them are a tight squeeze!
According to my notes, this is a F3H Demon.
Another touchable engine. This a Wasp engine, which was used in the 20s.
This is a much more modern plane engine. The orange paint shows where the engine has been cut, to show the interior of the chambers.
The Blue Angels Atrium. These are A-4 Skyhawks, and were used extensively in Vietnam. The first pilot captured was flying a Skyhawk when he was shot down.
A Photo Banshee. This plane was filled with concrete and used in a children's playground for many years. It was eventually rescued and restored.

The museum has been restoring planes for years, especially ones pulled out of Lake Michigan. The Navy used to use Lake Michigan for training, which explains why there are so many planes at the bottom!
The one and only VH-3 Marine One, a modified helicopter that flew Presidents Nixon and Ford.
This is the Coast Guard exhibit in Hanger Bay One.  We were bad bloggers and don't have any notes on either plane. Oops.
A modern plane engine. F explained to us how these engines work: suck, squeeze, bang, and blow. The engine sucks in air as the fan blades spin, squeezes (compresses) it, then bang, the air is mixed with fuel and ignited, an the air blows out the back, which creates thrust.
E-2C Hawkeye. These planes have been used by the Navy for over 50 years.
This is a FG-1D Corsair,best known as being the plane flown by the Misfits of the Black Sheep Squadron.
FJ-2 Fury  Apparently, there were problems launching these from flight decks, so the FJ-2 wound up being used by the Marines instead.
Nope, not an aircraft! This is a fascinating display of how the Navy recovered the Apollo capsules.  Although we spent all morning exploring this museum, we barely scratched the surface. It's a good thing this museum is free, because we need to make another trip to see the rest!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Gulf Shores Beach and History Museum - Free!

(our apologies - the internet continues to be flaky, so posting will be a bit sporadic for February)

After a rather blustery Tuesday, we wake up to a gorgeous Wednesday, and the temperature is hovering in the high 50s. Riding weather! The Gulf Shores Museum is free, so we hop on the bike and head down to the island -

with a quick stop to see the shark that marks the front door of Souvenir City - and a large, if slightly inaccurate, dinosaur holding court in the toy area.

Yes, random dinosaur digression - back to the blog. The Alabama gulf was originally home to several Native American tribes. Later, the Spanish explored the area, and supposed found the bones of 8 feet tall giants. There was an attempt to establish orange groves in nearby Orange Beach, but these groves were wiped out in the 20's when a salesman sold nursery stock with a blight to residents in the area.

Gulf Shores, meanwhile, was home to a few families of shrimpers until 1937, when the  Gulf Intracoastal Waterway was completed. Gulf Shores was incorporated in 1958. In 1979, Gulf Shores was devastated by Hurricane Frederic, but the devastation became an opportunity to create a more modern beach front, with condos and tourist attractions.

Know before you go: We believe the museum's hours depends on the season, so make sure to check the museum's current hours before you go.
The museum is tiny, crammed into a small one-story house, that was once the  the beach house of the Cole family. The house was donated to the city after the hurricane, and moved to its current spot. The old steeple from the Oyster Bay Baptist Church sits in the small garden, while a 40 foot mast from the Sea Biscuit (a local shrimp boat that won first place for decorations in the very first Shrimp Festival) is used as a flag display.
We loved this museum - but um, not for the right reasons.
As you wander the rooms, you can practically feel the curator's bafflement on what to do with the town's donated treasures. Mayoral memorabilia shares space with someone's sea shell collection, and  

a display of fishing knots is parked next to a random assortment of pot shards. One room is entirely dedicated to Gulf Shore time capsules - or possibly the advertising prowess of the chamber of business. We weren't really sure. 

Our personal favorite is the main room, where a display of Miss Sunny beauty pageant sashes sits directly across from a printed history of the town's local legend, whose two claims to fame seemed to be that he was 1) a Confederate soldier and 2) a bear hunter. We're not sure if we learned much about Gulf Shores, but at least the museum was absurdly entertaining.

(If you are curious, you can see Miss Sunny 2016 in the museum's photo gallery here)

Talking about photos...

As we were about to leave, a museum docent noticed our phone and camera and came unglued. She insisted we needed to delete our photos, especially the ones of the military preparations of the gulf, the WPA poster exhibit, and the postcard exhibit.

Wait - what??

We totally and completely support museums who have no photography rules to protect their artists but art commissioned by government agencies? Are in the public domain. 

WPA posters? Definitely qualify. Source

Photography taken by government agencies?
Also in the public domain.
These tourist postcards? Also, also in the public domain. Source

The museum's docent did make sure to point out both exhibits could not be photographed is because the postcards and WPA posters had been lent to the museum by the University of Alabama.

Which is interesting, because if Alabama does what most states do, and supports its university through taxes, then UA's ownership of these items pretty much puts these items in - wait for it - the public domain. We might have a theme going here...

After a fun few hours at the museum, we headed to Sea and Suds, a restaurant recommended to us by a local.

The proportions are definitely lunch size, but it's hard to quibble when the fish sandwich is freshly caught, the tartar sauce is homemade and tasty  - and it only costs $6.50.  For a place that is sitting directly on the beach, with a great ocean view. We will definitely be back!

After lunch, we strolled between dunes of sea oats, and went down to the beach.

Alabama's gulf is 32 miles of soft white sand,

with a definite 70s vibe in its condos and high rises.

There was a few brave souls enjoying the bracing January wind,

as well as quite a few birds. This is probably a stilt,

and we're guessing these little fellows are sandpipers.

There were also quite a few sea gulls

Although we didn't have time on this trip, the Audubon Bird Sanctuary is just east of this beach on Duaphin Island.

We'll leave you with a few things you may not know about about John Audubon. Audubon was born Jean Rabin in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) and was of mixed race.  He was later raised in France under the name Jean-Jacques. To avoid being conscripted into Napolean's army, his father arranged for Jean-Jacques to immigrate to the United States, where he changed his name again - to John James!