Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Nebraska, oh my... Oh Dear...

Long story short....  Lots of corn fields (genetically engineered corn, ickh), TONS of wind, and no more awning, and a wall of text to tell the story (no actual pictures)....

Google maps showed me a couple of routes from Sioux Falls to the Farmington, NM area.  One had slightly more highway than the other and both routes brought me through the corn fields of Nebraska, southern South Dakota, and Colorado, before getting into New Mexico.  They both avoided going the full highway route, which would've led me through Omaha, Nebraska.

This path led me through some highs, and not surprisingly, some low lows.  Not exceedingly low lows, but significant.

Although I generally didn't stop, the highlight was going through the small towns of Nebraska.  It is always amazing to see the rural side of America, all the hard working farmers, and just a different way of life.  They live closer to nature than most people do, with exception of the GMO crops.

One place did stop, and it was pretty darned great, was a casino for breakfast.  Believe this is the casino, but stumbled upon it as was toodling down the road.  Was getting hungry and it just came up at the right time.  Forget exactly what I had, but there were some eggs involved as well as some type of pan fried bread that was simply awesome.  It was almost like a pancake but not really, yellowish, and very tasty.  Just by the texture could tell it was some type of unleavened bread but the name still baffles me, even after a few searches on Startpage, as well as looking directly at the casino's website.

Another neat thing was going over the levee / dam that is near Pickstown, SD.  It's actually an Army Corp of Engineers site.  Was nice to see the reservoir and the power generation they have at this site.  Well, seemed like power was generated at least.  Didn't stop to investigate as the wind was pushing me around quite a bit here, and wasn't even in Nebraska yet.

Now......  let's "chat" about Nebraska..  I say "chat" because I'll be the one doing all the talking / writing...

Much the same as southern South Dakota, rolling hills, huge winds, and the like.  However, this is where my awning decided to develop an attitude, in more ways than one.  Most of the day, up to this point, the wind was just hammering away at the side of the RV, so much so that, once got to New Mexico, noticed that one of the tires on my Swivel Wheel was completely bald, and angled a little bit as it wore.  This Swivel Wheel is directly connected to the RV frame'ish (technically the hitch, which is connected to frame).

Example hay stack
Where this took a deadly turn (for the awning) is after making a turn (pun intended).  Immediately prior to the turn the wind was heading towards back of the RV, pushing me along.

I had followed this large 18 wheeler for a mile or two and he was having a rough time with the wind and the heavy load he had.  On the back of his flatbed trailer, there were these big round bales of hay, very similar in stacking to the picture on the right.  So, imagine following this big rig, and he was super slow on the take-off, and could tell that even the engine was struggling as clouds of thick black diesel exhaust trailed off rapidly after the turn.

I took this to my advantage, get some distance behind him and me, then gave it some gas to get up speed and pass him, and that I did.  However, it didn't go as smoothly as had anticipated.....

About a third of the way into passing this semi, loaded with all the round hay bales, my awning became unhooked and started to come out......  It seemed like was watching this happen both in slow motion and real time.    Until I passed the truck is was going in and out a little bit at a time, not all the way, and it didn't balloon up, just came unhooked.

My guess is that the gust of wind that goes over the hay bales came down and snapped loose the latch with sudden force.  This caused the awning to come out ever so slightly.  What surprised me is that it didn't take all the fabric and unwind it all over the top of my roof.  I attribute this slightly to having an older awning and the springs in there are a little creaky and hard to move.  Am still baffled by this whole turn of events happened.

As I couldn't pull over right then and there (state road, no shoulder), slowed down after passing the semi and kept going for about a mile until saw a gas station.  The whole time was driving the awning was acting like an accordion, going out, coming in, going out, coming in.  Almost like it was trying to create baby awnings.  It so happened that the side of the gas station had enough room for me to park and there were no cars or trucks that I'd be blocking, so took advantage of it.  The parking area was also on the downwind side, so while it was a little windy, nothing like the steady wind experienced.

At this point, the awning was rolled back up, mostly, and my whole point now was to get it seated again so can continue.  Suffice to say, that didn't happen.

The problem now was that the awning had a little kink in it at the front.  Logic told me that to remove the kink had to unroll the awning ever so slighlty so that it could fix itself.  Am unsure how it got the kink, but it was really there.  Unhooked my trusty, and rickety, wooden step ladder from back of the RV, and set to work.

This work didn't last long.  Started pulling out the awning and pushing it back in, but the kink wouldn't straighten out with the little bit have moved it so far.  I then took the additional step by pulling it out, getting off the ladder, and pulling it out every so slightly, and lightly, more.  However, the awning material had another thought in mind..

Soon as went this extra step and brought it out a little more, the whole awning material ripped, at the top, 3/4 of the way down......  To say I was stunned is an understatement.  Can't recall exactly how this happened, but it was a combination of factors, the wind, the old awning fabric, and sudden movements on may part.

When the fabric ripped, it also brought the whole front awning arm down, broke it off the base, and also snapped a rivet or two in the big round thing that is the outer edge of the awning when it's pulled out.  A catastrophic failure happened and at this stage it was unrecoverable.  Not as bad as Fukushima, but along the same lines on a much smaller scale.

The front arm could've been salvaged, but not in the parking lot.  The awning fabric itself was beyond repair.  The back awning arm was still intact and connected to the big round thing that is width / length of awning.  The fabric that's connected to top of RV was torn down the side by about 80%.

To get an idea of what the awning is supposed to look at, take a look at this page.  It is from the manufacturer, and it looks like the awning I "had".  The manufacturer is Carefree of Colorado, and have no idea what the original model is.  It is my guess that one of the factors which led to the complete failure of the fabric is age of the fabric itself.  Am under the assumption that it was the original awning, and at the point of failure (up along the roof), it was all dry rotted, brittle, and the like.  This is also most likely why the awning fabric was "crinkled" just prior to this.

At this point, instead of a quick fix thing now I started thinking about recovery and how will at least get on the road again.  It is against my nature just to unhook everything and just leave it, had to figure out the best way to safely decouple everything and bring it with me.

Removing the front arm was already mostly done.  One piece of it was still hanging from the top, but that is a minor thing.  The major piece I had to worry about was how to unhook the big roller thingie from the back arm.  Thankfully the back arm was still fully locked in place and undamaged so that was one less thing to worry about.

After taking stock of the situation, had to move into action.  First order of business was to remove the big long round thing.  To do this had to cut the remaining 20% of the awning, which did.  Then investigated how it is connected to the awning arm.  Turns out there's a big long rivet, which was quite unexpected at this stage.  To remove rivets one generally has to drill one side out.  Only thing I had to drill it out with was an electric drill, but needed power, and an extension cord.  So, to drill out these rivets the easiest solution was just to start the generator and drill away.

After drilling one side of the rivet out, used pliers on the other side to pull the rivet completely out, this allowed me to lay the big round awning thing on the ground, still wrapped in the awning fabric.  While had the drill out, also removed the rivet from the front arm, as that is what was holding the one piece in place.  Same process, drill out one side, use pliers to pull the rest through, and that aluminum arm part was also laid to the ground.  Also had to drill out the rivet for the front arm that was connected to the big round thing.  That was a piece of cake at this stage.

With the drill useage all done, and things starting to take shape, surveyed the rear arm one more time and it was solid and sturdy enough to leave alone.  Did put a cheap chinese zip tie around it, well, a couple of them.  The first one broke and the second one held.

Now we're at the stage where traveling as a single person isn't truly useful.  The stage where had to put the big round thing in the RV, by any means possible.  This piece was about 18 feet long and couldn't tie it to the side, nor tie it to the roof, nor hook it onto the scooter and let it just toodle along behind the RV.  The only option left was to put it inside, or simply leave it on the ground.  Leaving on the ground wasn't an option.

Had to open the side door and finangle it into place, lifting it up and trying to shove it back.  It wouldn't go all the way in, no matter what I tried, from crawling in and moving it around from the inside, pulling, pushing, prodding, nothing at all worked.  Am sure if tried some sort of lubrication it still wouldn't work as it it had to either pass through the bathroom, or pass through one of my wardrobes.  And, I wasn't going to cut holes in any of those for this big round thing.

So, the next alternative was to just hacksaw it so would fit in place, and that's what I did.  Cut off about four feet, well, almost exactly four feet, and that was enough to get both pieces inside, still with the awning wrapped around it.  It was painful in a way to cut this big round awning thing, but it had to be done.

The final step, after those main awning pieces were inside, was to clean up my little slice of parking lot, put away the power tools, extension cord, and the like.  Found a couple little bits and bobs on the pavement that fell off, and those were just haphazardly thrown in the door.

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Now, the above writing does seem a little hap hazard, and random thoughts, and that's exactly what it was while trying to recover the awning.  Really didn't expect to have the awning pop out, then didn't expect to have the fabric tear and render it useless, and finally didn't expect to have to use power tools and/or cut the big round awning thing just to get on the road again.  It was a huge mess in a way, but relatively easy to overcome, in hindsight.  At the time it seemed insurmountable, and by breaking everything into smaller pieces it's easy to see over the mountain in front.

Now, if I want to replace the awning, it's just over a thousand dollars for the materials, plus couple hundred if have someone install it.  To get a general idea of the cost, went to the Camping World website where they have a configurator.  The configurator shows me, for an 18 foot awning, that it'll cost me about $1,400.00, which includes the awning hardware, awning fabric, and a power switch.  Oh, and this is electric versus the manual one I had, but a different manufacturer.  The manual Dometic version is only a hundred or two cheaper.

Can get the same stuff from other websites, for a couple hundred cheaper, such as from Tweety's.  While Tweety's website isn't as intuitive, the prices are slightly more reasonable.  Out of the parts I linked, not exactly sure what to order, but when, and if, I do replace the awning, will call them up.  Tweety's is located around San Antonio, TX., and I'll be there end of January, 2017.

And, that is the story of my awning loss...  But a gain in personal experiences...

BTW, no cats were harmed in this process.  They all hunkered down and had to find all of them before setting off again.

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