Our Chalet Truck Camper

Our Chalet Truck Camper

Monday, May 16, 2011

May 12 -15 Ashland NE to Home

May 12 and 13 – Ashland, NE to Fayette, OH

These were pure travel days with stops at state parks and a visit to Classy Chassis in Valparaiso, IN. We are both ready to turn around and head west again to those open roads where you can go a very long time and not see another vehicle. I’d forgotten what our eastern roads can be like.

Crossing the Mississippi River at Moline we were able to see that at least in the upper stretches it was still within its banks.

Lots of road miles over the last two days but sometimes it is necessary. Holed up at Kewanee, IL at the Johnson-SaukTrail State Recreation area. It’s a small campground with almost no one there. It was a good, quiet place to decompress, clean out the junk that always seems to accumulate and not be moving. We have bugs splattered on the Chalet from Maine to Oregon to OH but they’ll be there when we get home.

Ever seen a round barn? This one wasn’t open. They are quite common in VT and we’ve toured a few.

Today we travelled up I-80 -- save me from heavy traffic on commuter roads with pot holes, cracks, work crews, and the idiots going either 40 or 80 mph. We headed to Valparaiso, IN so Joe could visit Classy Chassis and talk about one of their low utility body boxes built to carry a truck camper. Look down their web site www.classychassistrucks.com/ and you will find photos of trucks with campers. Nice dream and it would take a lottery win to make it happen.

We’re in another state park tonight – Harrison Lake Park near Fayette, OH. The state parks are so underused it’s sad. Course it is early for school to be out but the only other person here is a very wet couple in a small tent. I was watching the sky pretty hard when the thunderstorm rolled in.

May 14 and 15 –

Again pure travel days, the longest ones of all with 480 miles on the 14th. Too tired to get creative on a place to overnight and pulled into the Walmart in Oneida, NY. We’d driven through the Turning Leaf Indian Casino looking for other RVs to herd with. They must have changed their overnight policy as none were there and one guard pointed us to the Casino campground down the road. We were so tired, Walmart was a quiet oasis.

Stopped in at TC Warehouse in W. Chesterfield, NH to have Bill look at one of the Chalet’s slides. Couple of the screws holding one flange had loosened and though Joe kept tightening them, they would get loose again. Bill pulled the screws, caulked and put in longer, stainless ones. Got his advice on cleaning all the road grunge off the camper and we headed home.

Home looks great thanks to our house sitter, cat will ignore us for another week or so, Joe’s mom is overjoyed we are back. I’ll put some thought into the best and worse parts of the trip and drop another note later.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May 10 and 11 - Geology and a Tornado

May 10 – Custer SD to Ogalla, NE

Custer State Park again lived up to its reputation as a superb place to visit. The day started off with a herd of mountain goats right outside the camper. We had breakfast watching them jump back and forth over the campground fence. Even the smallest one made it over easily.

We’d planned on making this a geology day and headed off for Toadstool Geologic Park Trail off Route 2 as you enter Nebraska. After three miles of bone jarring, dusty, very unpleasant travel over a corrugated road, we decided the other 10 miles would not be worth it and managed a turn around. Hard turning on a road that is one car width!

On to Fort Robinson, a historic recreation of a fort that went from Indian wars to the Phillipines. Too early in the tourist season so the buildings were closed. We did drive the Smiley Canyon Trail and got out to walk in among the horses. I don’t know if they are truly wild as they were quite curious and kept approaching. Fortunately the fellow with horns was fenced in.

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument was next. A rancher found a 2 foot thick slab of bones back up in the hills and had sense enough to call in a few scientists. Skeletal remains and the Indian artifacts and old crafts were quite interesting.

Followed a lonely road down to Ogalla to camp.

We got up in the middle of the night to pull in the dinette slider since the wind was actually rocking the camper. Don’t know the mph but it was pretty scary with thunder, lightning, etc. Camper did well, no leaks, no damage.

May 11 – Ogalla to Ashland, NE – via a tornado

A bit of philosophy (?) to start with. Everyone of us has had times when we wondered what would have happened if we had been a minute earlier or a minute later arriving at a certain space or situation in our lives. Today was one of those days to wonder.

Stopped in Grand Island, NE for a oil and filter change. They took us in earlier than we had been told and got us out quickly. Off we go down I-80 headed east. There was obviously weather clouds ahead of us so we kept looking at the I-Phone app for weather.

Just after looking at this map

look what dropped down RIGHT BESIDE US. Nowhere to go, not trained in what to do, no shelter, no nearby underpass and I’m driving.

Stop? Slow down? Speed up? Hmmmm…. Can I drive fast enough to get past it before it arrives over I-80? Is this one of life’s moments when one minute earlier or one minute later would make all the difference?

Do you know how fast you can get a heavy camper and a F350 diesel going in a short time? I We didn’t dare glance down at the speed but had to have been 80-85mph.

It gets closer.

Joe’s yelling faster and I’m yelling “Take Pictures”. The photos are blurred because the camera wasn’t on sports setting and we were really moving.

This is a tornado. Yes it’s small and probably weak as these things go but sure didn’t look or feel like it at the time. Truck actually moved sideways at one point.

It passed behind us but the winds and rain bands took a long time to slow down. First overpass we got to that had room under it, we stopped and gave thanks and checked the camper and truck. Other than a very small amount of water under the propane tank door, camper did great.

Give me a blizzard any time - snow, cold, wind, howling gale, no power, feet of snow. You folks who live out here in tornado country can keep it.

Tonight we are at Mahoney State Park near Omaha. It’s quiet, no wind, and amazingly the state park has wifi. Wonder what’s next for tomorrow?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

May 7, 8,9 - Missoula to Billings MT to Custer State Park SD

Got wifi again! We are usually on such back roads it is far between.

May 7 and 8 - Missoula to Billings MT

Were travel days in the rain to do distance and not penalize ourselves missing the outdoors trekking. Took Route 90 out of Missoula but got over onto Route 12 as soon as we could at Garrison. The railroad tracks follow 90 and you frequently see long coal trains. There are some fairly steep grades along here also.

Love the names of the tiny towns along Rte. 12 such as Checkboard and TwoDot. Rte. 12 follows a pass through the mountains in the Helena National Forest and the Lewis & Clark National Forest and a good thing since we could see it snowing higher up. Even at roughly 5000 feet the snow was close to slush.

So many roads beckon like Sixteen Mile Road which was just a loop off and onto Route 12. It was corrugated gravel and we skipped it. We did stop quite often at the Montana Fish & Game Sportsman Access sites. These are little turnoffs that lead to water access either stream or lake for fishing. Turning around was a challenge a few times but we made it and enjoyed walking along the water with no one, no buildings, nothing in sight but scenery and cattle.

Western people seem so much friendlier than our eastern folk. At Harlowton, an elderly lady (relative term!) was trying to pump her own gas. It was obvious she had never done so and was totally confused. Three people came out of the store to help her before we could even get out of the truck. Most everyone waves hi on the back country roads. We always wave or flick our lights at truck campers. Amazing how many Arctic Fox we have seen on this trip and they always seem to be hauling either a boat or ATVs.

We’d planned on going from Missoula down into Yellowstone entering at W. Yellowstone. However the weather was for a total of 6-8” of snow with temps in the 30s. Since we had enough snow this past winter, we are headed in the general direction of Custer State Park in South Dakota. That is hands down the best state park I’ve ever been in.

We ended the day trekking down a sixteen mile corrugated road after all. This is the shake down cruise for the Chalet TC and we have been shaking it a lot. The road is called Shepherd Acton Road and runs between Acton and Route 87 just outside of Billings. I’ve finally seen the Montana cowboy countryside I’ve read of. It takes hearty people to live in there in the winter.

May 9 – Billings MT to Custer, SD

Heavy rain all day but no snow. This was another travel day but very easy since the roads in the west are long, straight and mostly empty except close to the “big cities”. We dread driving in the east around a city again.

We skirted through the top left corner of Wyoming which is a real injustice since there is so much to see and do in this vast and varied state. I-90 was empty and at Moorcroft we cut over to Rte 16 to head into South Dakota and Custer State Park. Again we saw long trains pulling mostly coal cars. All along I-90 there are well heads and small pumps on service roads that look like a tic tac toe game. We never found anyone to ask if these were for propane, oil or water but they must make up a significant industry in this region.

Our first west trip we spent several days in Custer State Park. If you have never been here it is a must see.

The park is huge and wildlife is varied and abundant. There is something just so fascinating about buffalo and I never tire of watching them – from the safety of the truck. This year it is pre tourist season and it was easy to park by the road, turn off the engine and just watch.

This enormous buffalo kept getting closer and closer along the side of the road. He was keeping an eye on Joe but seemed to know we weren’t about to get closer.

There are also donkey, elk, deer, turkeys, eagles and blue birds.

Tonight we are in Game Lodge Campground, part of the campground system within Custer. Pretty fancy sites with paved parking, aluminum picnic tables and hot water for the showers. There are only six other people camped here and the quiet is absolute – except for the turkeys gobbling. Unfortunately it is raining again so we can’t see the night sky. Of those six others, two are fellow truck campers. We are everywhere!

Sunday, May 08, 2011

May 6 and 7 Torklift to Missoula MT

May 6 Torklift to Burbank, WA

Torklift Central is a VERY busy place. As a truck camper, I’d only looked at their web site looking for items for campers. We had no idea of the depth of what they do from welding to fifth wheel attachments, trailer hitches, utility trailers to brake systems and towing rigs. The place reminded me of a pit stop for an Indy race car. We were taken in right on schedule and unloaded the camper in the work yard. Cassie and a helper showed us how the Wobble Stoppers work and how easy they were to install. I was worried that the dually fenders would not clear but they did so easily.

Here’s the Wobble Stopper in the position for using when the camper is off the truck.

Here it is in the travel position.

Since the camper was way up in the air (not in the normal off position) it would sway easily when pushed. Wobbles stopped the sway dead.

Off we went headed out into Washington State. We knew WA grew apples, pears, cherries and asparagus. We had no idea of the extent of the wine making business. The grape vines go for miles and miles interspaced with fruit trees. So often we just go to the grocery store to pick up produce, dairy and protein and forget the amount of land, work, time and luck /skill it takes to grow it all. America is truly one big grocery store.

The Wenatchee Mountains were beautiful. All western mountains are so different from our soft, old, round eastern mountains.

From the direction of travel you can probably tell that we are not going to make it to Alaska this trip. Elder care concerns for Joe’s mom are increasing and it’s not wise at this time to extend the trip by the 6-8 weeks for Alaska. We won’t race home as we are travelling fast enough as it is, but will head east. Alaska has endured for a long time and should be there the next time we try for it. We’re disappointed but have to be realistic as her care comes first. Bet a lot of us retired TCers have the same life occurrences.

We ended the day camped at Camp Hood on the Snake River, a Corps of Engineers park. TCs are so common out west, there were six in sight from where we camped.

May 7 Burbank, WA to Missoula, MT

Western WA must grow as much wheat as the bread bowl states. We had cut over to the Palouse Scenic Byway off of Route 12 to see more of the geology of the region. Ice dams formed state sized lakes in prehistoric times. The dams broke free and water drowned the land from MT down through ID and OR to the ocean. Over time this caused the land to lay in big hill sized ripples that exist today. Wheat farmers have to be pretty skilled to use machinery to plow and plant this land but they do it in contours.

Got old farm machinery wheels? Build a fence!

A lot of what we follow is the Lewis & Clark route and there are a lot of trail markers, guide posts and historic sights along the way.

Route 12 runs from Lewiston, ID to Missoula, Mt and we followed that route. What a twisting, turning climb and then long slide downhill. From Kooskia, ID to LoLo, MT is over 100 miles of following alongside a wild, scenic series of rivers. Photos cannot do this justice and you also cannot capture the mountains you are passing through. Fortunately it wasn’t snowing today but there was a lot on the ground at the high point of 5,000 + feet.

Even at the cold water temps, river rafters and kayakers were out in force.

Smart people bring their TC while rafting so they have warmth, dry and perhaps a brew or two to warm up.

Tonight will be a catch up night – sleep, laundry, supplies. Tomorrow we will head in the general direction of Yellowstone. Weather report shows snow up in Cooke City but 50s in the valley.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Albany OR to Astoria OR to Kent OR

Internet access is spotty so forgive not answering a lot of the great replies. This AM I’m in a Safeway grocery store which amazingly has free wifi.

May 4 – Chalet in Albany OR to Astoria, OR

Had a great visit at Chalet RV today. We wanted them to see the changes we had made to the camper, to answer a few questions and get an interior slide fixed. We were greeted by Gary and staff who swarmed the camper to double check caulking, etc. etc. after our 5,000 plus mile shakedown cruise. They even checked the roof. The structural designer spent time with us talking about what we liked and didn’t like about the design. Gary had his team take out the extension to the dinette which could have had better “feet” under it. They came back quickly with these two wide rollers attached to the underside of the drawer. Does it ever work great now and no more sticking on the floor. We had a great time debating the merits of bathroom storage, outside compartments, etc. We showed him the propane tank latch that Mike at Extreme designed for us and they were quite impressed. Nice to see a company that is so responsive to its customer’s thoughts.

Travelled Route 20 to Newport, OR and then drove up the coast on 101. This route travels through many tiny unspoiled towns, a few touristy towns and lots of gorgeous scenery.

We live on the Atlantic ocean but it is a totally different beast from east to west. We cannot drive the edge of the ocean in Maine except in a very few spots. Here the ocean rolls beside you for miles and miles and you feel one tiny mistake in driving and you will join it.

Tonight we are at Fort Stevens State Park to catch up on “household” chores. It’s a large park set in amongst towering fir trees. Tomorrow we’ll tour the fort and then go into Astoria to the Columbia River Maritime Museum. Joe wants to see the exhibits on the Coast Guard. Afterwards on to Torklift in Kent, WA.

May 5 Astoria to Torklift

If you ever get a chance, stop at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, OR. It’s one of the top maritime museums we’ve ever been in and we’ve been in lots. For Joe the real treat was a film on the waves created when the Columbia meets the ocean during certain weather conditions. The Coast Guard performs over 600 rescues a year on this ocean bar. There is a real rescue boat inside the museum set at an impossible angle on top of a wave. We wanted a photo of this but no photography is allowed inside the museum.

He also spent time behind the museum talking with several Coast Guardsmen serving on an active 210 foot medium endurance cutter like he used to serve on. Memories!

The side exhibit was on sailors and tattoos and the photos from Hawaii during WWII were fascinating. Sailors would line up for blocks to get a tattoo, passing by bars every few store fronts. Quite the industry!

Our TC has been performing well on the mountains, hills and deep dips of this coast land. Oregon has a mandatory “pull over” law if you have vehicles stuck behind you but they have created frequent turn out points. We normally don’t need them but have learned to get out of the way of these guys.

They are everywhere, all headed for the log yards along the Columbia River. Timber is a major crop in OR and is treated as such with clear cutting, stump removal and then replanting. We did not see a lot of land slides or run off from the cuts.

Our goal after the museum was to go to Torklift in Kent, OR. We had talked with the main office and they suggested we come to Kent. After our SuperSprings were installed, it didn’t seem to take long for one of the Stable Loads to crack in half. We replaced them with the original Ford rubber auxiliary spring bumpers. Truck has been riding fine, no rock/roll but we wanted Torklift to take a look and see if they could figure out what went wrong. Casey examined the truck, Stable Loads, etc. and then had Jack Kay come out and look it over. What incredible customer service to have a company executive involved. Final determination – the weight of the camper and the thinner footprint of the Supersprings gave a narrower overload contact and too much stress. As we told Mr. Kay, we have no blame with either Torklift or SuperSprings – or Chalet. With the camper weight, we’ll work out another solution.

Tomorrow we are going to have the new Torklift Wobble Stoppers installed. They are not heavy (think weight!) and will make Joe more comfortable with the front legs when the camper is off the truck all winter. I think Torklift knows we like their products. Pretty easy to see looking at the truck with the tie downs, Fast guns and Stable Loads.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

May 1 - 3 Ely, NV to Mount Hood, OR

May 1 and 2 Ely, NV to Hagerman, ID
May 2 Hagerman, ID to La Grande, OR

These were almost purely travel days. Route 93 out of Ely, NV is one of the most gorgeous 250 miles of country we have ever travelled. It is also one of the least travelled. Two lane, narrow, no shoulders, drop offs into the desert, fields or whatever, it is not a road to nod off on.

If you have not driven the roads in the west it is impossible to explain just how vast this land is.



The views on each side into vast mountain ranges are just like a travel movie. It wasn’t windy for the first time in a long time and the temps were mid 50s. There was one mountain named “Hole in the Wall Mountain” that was like a beacon in the sun. We talked so often about the brave people who walked from the east coast and settled this land. Sooner or later they got tired and stopped and settled into these ranches, farms and small communities. We were reminded often that the Mormons had a great deal to do with this land as most tiny towns have huge churches.



We were headed to Hagerman, ID to visit the Hagerman Horse fossils, a National Monument. It is one of the few fossil beds ever found of prehistoric American horses. Don’t know about the rest of you but there are days that end on the “cranky” side just from the amount of driving. We were shooting for a state park in Idaho that ended up being a day use only area. Finally found a resting place by the Snake River which seemed pretty high. Later another camper pulled in who was a local. She told us the fossils had been moved to a museum and nothing left to view but signs! AARRGGG. We decided to skip it. These falls were across the Snake from where we were camped and we could hear them all night long.


May 2 – Hagerman, ID to La Grande, OR

Route 93 continues north and we stayed on it until Route 20 headed over to the Craters of the Moon National Monument.

We always stop at the visitor center first to pick up the National Park brochure. I’ve got quite a collection and often refer to them. The rangers were particularly chatty and we found that there aren’t many visitors this time of year. Worked well for us as later we were able to walk the paths into the lava fields and climb up to the spatter cones alone. The photos don’t show the huge area of lava or the different types. Here is ripple lava, pillow like lava and a Chalet in lava.




We did NOT hike the 1.8 mile trail as first it was covered in snow and secondly 28% of the trail was from 8 to 62% grade. Yikes!

You can stand on the remains of one volcano and look out on the horizon to another large volcano mountain cone that hasn’t self destructed yet. I thought of those who live in Seattle.

I had many of Idaho’s Scenic Roads marked on my map to explore. There is the Sawtooth, Ponderosa Pines, and Wildlife Canyon loops reached from Craters of the Moon up through Arco. Looking up at those huge mountains covered in snow, we decided to leave that for a summer trip in the future.

We drove Route 20 to I-84 to La Grange, OR. It felt odd to be on a highway again with the heavy truck traffic. I wish we had taken the time to plan ahead and try to meet up with DJ and others who live in the Boise area but we really have no idea of where we will be when. Only appointment the whole trip is one to go see the Chalet factory. We Took route 20 to I-84 through Boise to La Grange, OR. It felt odd to be on a highway again with the heavy truck traffic. We hit a rain storm coming through the mountains around North Powder. There are some seriously long upgrades in this area and mileage dropped like a rock. We gained over 2000+ feet. How the road crews even find this road in winter takes a lot of planning. Warnings on mandatory use of chains are posted often with pull outs to put chains on.

Tomorrow we’ll head towards Albany, OR for our appointment with Chalet. After that, we’ll make the decision on Alaska or not and which way to roam.

May 3 – Over the Oregon Trail to Chalet RV

We left Camp Denny’s after being given permission to stay in the lot overnight. Joe foraged in the morning and came back to the camper with hot scrambled eggs and coffee. We had the whole camp to ourselves (smile).

Can you imagine the mental and physical stamina it must have taken to trek the Oregon Trail? Here’s a more modern road shown covering the same path – uphill, against a head wind at 3700 feet and still climbing. It’s hard enough fighting the wind in a TC knowing the power of a diesel engine behind you. Hats off to those early pioneers. Once you finish the climb there is a six mile 6% drop to a huge valley.


As you approach the Columbia Gorge you start to see windmills. Oregon must be very dedicated to wind power as these windmill farms continue for probably 30-40 miles all along the river on both sides. They were really churning as the wind through this area is high. Again today we lost mileage as it was coming straight at up. River was running to the sea, wind was coming inland and the waves were impressive. Had to think of the Lewis and Clark expedition who fought their way to the sea down this river. Today it is probably tamer with two dams we passed but it’s still pretty wild. Stopped for diesel and a fellow told us they’d sold lots of ice to fishermen packing down salmon.


We left I-84 finally and headed off on the Mount Hood Scenic Byway which skirts the base of the mountain. You see glimpses of it from afar, especially when the top is in clouds which I bet is often. The mountain stands alone and is enormous, probably making its own weather system. There were early glimpses of it through the fruit trees which were all in bud.


Then suddenly there it was.


By the time we had circled the mountain, the weather on the southwest side had changed and it was both snowing and sending up ground fog. Shades of New England


We’re now “camped” at Chalet RV overnight. Tomorrow we’ll go over a few minor issues and give them some ideas we’ve had on the design, then head for the Oregon coast and a visit with relatives.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

April 30 Bryce Canyon to Ely, NV

What a pleasure to spend time with truck camper friends. Here we are camped next to each other at Bryce Canyon National Park. Roughly 2500 miles from our home in Maine we bump into friends from NH. Cell phones, IPhones, etc. etc. make it pretty easy but it’s still pretty unusual we would have been so close on this vast planet.

Usually when we see FarcticOx (Ted and Cheryl) it is in a group so we don’t always have time to chat. We met for coffee this morning and dragged out map books, map software, log books, Scenic Road brochures and plotted our way to new adventures. We didn’t really want to drive through big cities for a while and you have to admit that Salt Lake City is big. Found a great way to skirt the area and get to our next paleontology/geology destination.

They were staying a few days in Bryce to hike the more remote trails. We visited Sunset, Sunrise and Inspiration Points for a final look before wandering off. If you have never been to Bryce, it is one of the must see National Parks. If you are like us and “senior”, the entry fee with your senior pass is free and the camping is $6.50. Hard to beat!

We journeyed up to Utah route 50 over to route 6 and from there to Ely, NV. They don’t call 50/6 lonely roads for nothing. It is pretty rare to meet another vehicle coming towards you. Even travelling at our usual 55-62 depending on the roads, it’s rare to be passed.

We had planned on camping at the Great Basin National Park but had already hit snow a couple of times. The Great Basin is just that, a valley/depression between two mountain ranges, great in size and used for cattle ranches. Even on a Saturday afternoon we saw ranch hands out on ATVs riding the fence lines and stopping for repairs. Guess the days of carrying all that repair gear on horses is gone. The mountains just shine.

By the time we got to the visitor center to get campground info, there was a pretty good sized snowstorm up in the mountains where the camps were. We get enough snow in Maine so decided to go down to Ely, NV and try a casino for overnight. We did and laundry is done, slots played and lost and wifi is fast and available. Tomorrow off to Hagerman Fossile Beds and then a camp at Craters of the Moon in Idaho. Hopefully the weather will clear, warm up and we can spend a couple of days on the craters for walking and resting.