I’ve see seen a lot of road and lots of stuff on our retirment tour; almost six thousand miles and many, many dozens of cities and sites. Surely, so far, we have chosen our favorite sites, parks, campgrounds, restaurant’s and roads. But we have also had fun and emotional experiences along the way.

I must tell you about this one event, not that you need to know, but more that I may remember. I must tell you how much I love poor people. I know this could sound upish, philosophical, religious or even arrogantly superior, but just hear me out!

The scriptures say “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The lesson is not, “blessed are the poor!” I try not to get these concepts mixed up! To be clear, to be dirt poor is not a blessing, it’s more like a state of being and if you agree I think you’re spot on. But also remember the scriptures say, it is extremely hard for the rich person, in his or her state of being, to enter heaven! Since I’m presently in Louisiana, and historically it’s a bit French here, please remember the bourgeoisie, those with perceived materialistic values who typically have the same conventional attitudes as most Americans. You and I may actually be included along with the rich, comparativly speaking. In fact, in a worldly sense, most of us middle class and rich folks alike think we are badly designed by circumstance. We think we deserve more! Some of us think only the poor, who live in poverty, cannot help themselves. I think it is us who cannot help ourselves and it is God who allows so many of us to live priviledged although to be unsatisfied lives. So we must ask, who among us is truly blessed?

This is where our Metro van joins the story. That crazy odd, old, delivery van created for noble purposes has brought us in contact with all kinds and classes of people. Now let me say again, I love the poor, but this time I’ll add, the “poor in spirit,” (please note it is usually the poor who have the “spirit” part). Yes, it is ironic fun to have people in million dollar RV’s wander over to our campsite to tell us how cool our van is. And it is nice to relate with people on familiar grounds or interests. However, for Jackie and I, it is immensely more gratifying to have the poorest of the poor run up to us with the most satisfying grin and tell us how much they like our van and share a bit of their lives. Toothless and dressed in the sloppiest rags the poor are. And we have met the most joy filled of these folks ever; and all because we have a silly looking old van. Can you understand this? It is actually humbling! What have we done to reach out to such people as these? It’s not that we have not tried. We just don’t live where they live. We only see the ones with cardboard signs at Home Depot begging for money or in tent village’s in big cities, places we would rightfuly avoid. It’s our opinion that most of these are not happy. I’m not trying to belittle their situations or make a political statement. We simply don’t, intentionally, drive to ghetto’s or bad sections in cities: come on, I live in Montana!

Along the way on this journey it was rather important to stop in the “bad sections” of towns. When we need gas or need to eat we often end up in minority and/or poor states, counties and neighborhoods. Our van has provided us with cover and an open door to meet and converse with all sorts, but I must say the happiest smiles and the biggest grins have come in these places, and from the most joyous of souls, the poor in spirit!

To further describe what I have seen with my own eyes take this one fellow we met in Gulfport Mississippi. We needed gas, and just before we reached the coast (where all the nice million dollar houses are), we pulled into a gas station. Within seconds a lady appeared to the rear of my van as I was about to put my credit card into the pump. She said, “Excuse me sir, I’m not homeless, but could you spare me some money to get home, I’m out of gas?” I noticed she only had two front teeth, the rest had rotted out. She appeared to be my age, but I would guess she was probably much younger. She said, “I’ll give you this neckless, I don’t want to just take your money.” She repeated, “You know I’m not a homeless person, my husband is across the street at the auto parts store in our car. I just need enough money to make it back home to Ocean Springs.” I looked at her with what must have been curious eyes, I’d not heard this one before. I gave her five dollars and in a few seconds she was gone. I didn’t think much more about it, scammed or not, it was only five bucks. I then proceeded to put my credit card into the pump. It wouldn’t take. The pump displayed in bold type that I had to pre-pay inside (note when this happens, you are probally not in a great neighborhood). I was starting to think the neighborhood could need some love. I went inside and talked with the cashier. She was cold, uncaring, and miserably unfriendly. She said I could pre pay my gas and if I overpaid the prepay the balance the difference would be credited to my card. I bought it! But later we checked our bank statement and found out it did not work that way. Luckily, I only overpaid by six bucks.

Now the relative story. Just as I finished pumping my premium gas, a short black man appeared next to me. I was now in my van seat, door open. “Man! What kind of vehicle is dat?” he asked. This is the guy with the big smile, the grin from ear to ear. He went on and we had a great conversation about our van. It didn’t last too long and he didn’t have an agenda, he was simply joy filled and was an interesting character. He responded like he had just seen a famous vehicle from his favorite childhood movie. I wanted to know this guy! He had that “poor in spirit” thing going on.

After our conversation and as we pulled away our new acquaintance got back to merrily searching for and collecting aluminum cans from the garbage bins. It was at that moment, just as we pulled away from the pump that my eyes teared up, and I said to Jackie, “I love poor people.”

In a strange sort of way the poor in spirit have rich lives. Every day is an adventure. They live, they laugh, they hunger and thirst. Most have a joy indescribable, and when you meet them they somehow make you happy and sad at the very same moment.

From that gas station, it was not more than a few blocks to the “scenic Old Spanish Trail Hwy on the gulf coast where all the huge mansions lined street and they went on and on for miles and miles. We could not see the poor, dirty, neighborhoods just a few blocks deep behind these fantastic, beautiful homes; but I knew that was were there true happiness, even real holiness often resides.

My prayer this easter sunday is for the Lord to help me to better understand and experience this kind of joy. Help me to lay aside bitterness and not judge unfairly the circumstances of others. Yes, I am grateful for my blessings, but help me become more like the man at the gas station, the one who stood out from the rest, the man poor in spirt and full of joy!

We are not sure where we are heading next, it will probably be somewhere near Galveston. Then on to San Antonio, Austin, Waco, then Dallas. After that, Steve and Sandy, Brownwood. See you soon!

The Journey Begins 3.04.19

Well….After a mad flurry of preparations and long hours in my cold garage working on my Metro van, I’m heading out from Polebridge Montana to pick up Jackie, my love, in Wisconsin Monday morning. From Polebridge, our home, to Glendive Montana is 571 miles, the first leg. It’s an absolutely beautiful, but barren drive. In winter it can be also very dangerous and I’m not sure I can still do 11 hour non stop, knuckle busting, road trips. But I think the adrenaline will help.

Ready to go!

This past month we have had unusually cold weather and lots of snow. On the plains and tonight, Saturday March 2nd, in Lewistown Montana (on route) it’s currently -21° below with wind chills of -41°. It is forcasted to get even colder, down to -29° later tonight.

Monday I’ll be too busy trying to say warm and on the road to post pictures; and cell service is spotty. So, today I went on the State of Montana Road Conditions website and copied some photos from their live road cam’s.

The new bridge in Hungry Horse

These photo’s should give you an idea of the terrain and current road conditions I’ll be experiencing Monday. I’m sure I’ll stop and take a few pictures myself and I’ll share them when I have time, but for now these will do, they are pretty good!

Geyser Montana on Hwy 200 3.2.19
Along my route a little bit after Great Falls at sunrise! 3.02.19

Before I say anytimg more, please pray for a safe journey. The old van has only two shorter “summer journey” experiences. I don’t have a clue how it will do in below zero temps and icy, snow covered highways, but I’m optimistic and have faith.

Lewistown Montana the morning of 3.02.19
Lufborough, about 150 miles from Glendive.

The same people who constantly threaten us with global warming and can’t get each day’s weather right, are projecting more cold and windy conditions, but a clear and sunny Monday March 4th. I hope they are right on this one! I told my mom, “We Montana’s are adventurous and I’ll just enjoy the ride!”

I’ve pretty much done all I can do to be safe. I’ll be filling my tank with gas at every opportunity and I’m carrying 7 gallons in spare plastic gas cans just in case. Gas stations are few and far in between along Hwy’s 87, 89, and 200 and “conditions” can change quickly.

Towns with populations of twenty are 100 miles apart. You cannot very well break down and walk to the farmers house without freezing to death. I’ve called all the gas stations along the route and I asked about the road and how late they stay open. Some said 8 O’clock others said 10 p.m “maybe”. The longest stretch without gas, if they are open, is 150 miles. I think/hope I’ll get 200 miles out of my van’s tanks and with the extra 7 gallons I should be fine. I only got about 11 mpg this last summer; and fuel efficency goes down in cold winter weather. I’m also bringing extra gas in case I get into a wind whiteout and have to wait it out idling; it doesn’t need to be snowing to get a whiteout. But just in case all fails, I also bought and installed myself a really interesting diesel heater that works independently of my engine. I installed it just last week and tested it. It works great! It’s a Chinese brand. It has a glow plug and a diesel drip pump. It heats the glow plug then drips diesel fuel into a housing with fins.

Chinese Heater in my van

A fire inside the housing produces heat and the fins warm up. A small 12 volt fan kicks on and blows air past the fins and it produces 5kw of heat at full power. The inlet sucks outside air and the outlet vents the diesel air outside the van so no smelly fumes or exhaust dangers. The only issue I see is that it runs off an auxiliary battery. I’ve only tested it for four hours. It worked great for four hours on my old battery until it shut off when the voltage dropped too low (a safety feature). Now, with a brand new AGM auxillary battery, it can be charged by my alternator and protected by a battery isolator when the enginge is off, it has a 105 amp hour capacity. I think the heating unit draws about 30 watts continually and about 400 watts on start up to heat the glow plug. I’m hoping It will run 6 plus hours before having to recharge the battery. I’m hoping because the company did not specify the actual wattage used or how long it will run, those are my numbers based on info I gathered from website bulletins boards. One hint nobody mentioned, for those who may want to buy one of these heaters is, it’s best to start the heater with the engine running and charging the alternate battery. Basically letting the alternator heat up the glow plug. This way the glow plug startup process won’t drain the battery. The start up of one of these heaters can remove as much as 20% of your storage capacity and reducing your run time significantly. So, besides the diesel heater, I have a Buddy Heater and 3 canisters of Propane. This could give me 3+ hours of heat in an emergency. I’ll also have a lightwight synthetic comforter, two fleece blankets, two cheap Kmart 40+ degree sleeping bags, my winter jacket, all my clothes for the long tour, and my 119 lb dog. I hope that’s enough because there is not room in the van for another thing!

Because it is the van’s first big, untested, winter journey I also felt like had to bring a bunch of tools, wrenches, sockets, spare fuel filter, my honda generator, an impact driver, a battery charger, a solar panel, and a goal zero lithium “generator.” They call the Yeti Goal Zero a generator, but it is actually just a battery with a built in inverter. I can use it to power my electronics and it recharges by shore power, 12 volt cig lighter, or solar.

So here is the routine I expect to do at each below zero start up. First I’ll try to stay at a hotel in Glendive if I make it that far. In the morning it’s supposed to be about -14°. So I will bring my generator into the hotel to keep it warm. In the morning I’ll bring the generator out to the van, chain it up, start it, and hook it up to the installed 100 watt block heater I added to the engine. I’ll let that run for about an hour to heat the oil. Many cars can start at below zero temps, and mine probably could too if it did not have a new engine. The enginge is still in the “break in phase” so I had to add Lucus Oil Stabilizer. “It allows motor oils a higher degree of lubricity which reduces oil consumption and operating temperatures.” It is a must for new “older” engines along with a zinc additive. The problem with the Lucus Oil is that the stablizer is really thick and needs at least 5° temps to flow properly, per the manufacturer. Anyway, hopefully the engine will start and I’ll be on my second leg of my journey. From Glendive I’ll head across North Dakota, again in freezing, below zero temps, through Bismarck, through Fargo, and hopefully bed down somewhere near Minneapolis. All this travel will be on interstate so not as much to worry about after Glendive. I can do rest stop breaks and bathroom breaks pretty much at will. From Minneapolis to Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin, that too should not be very eventful?

So, there you have it! Preparation will meet opportunity Monday morning, but God is always in charge and my wishes are not always His. Wish me through prayer God’s speed and the wisdom to make this a safe journey. Thanks for helping me write by giving me somebody to write to; thanks for letting me share our journey.

Retirement Tour- In a 1961 Metro Van

Our van in the Polebridge July 4th Parade

We’re only days away from beginning our tour. I’ve only yet to set the timing, hook up the vacuum advance, air up the tires, install a cheap Chinese diesel cab heater, and pack up.

Eight degrees of initial timing and no more than 34 degrees of total timing at 3000 rpm will do just fine, I hope! Though I can always make adjustments along the way I’d like to get it right before I leave. I’m picking up my bride in Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin. She’s flying there tonight and landing God willing, tonight. A hole in a snow storm here in Montana was her delight and she got off the ground safely. So now she can see her mother before our trip. The plan is to let Jackie, my wife, visit mom for a couple weeks, then head out!

The first leg of the journey I’ve done many times but never in an old under powered, poorly heated van. I should not give you the impression that the van is an old jalopy. It was however a sight to see when I bought it at a vacant lot in Columbia Falls Montana. The owner said his father, or grandfather, I don’t recall which, had parked it in a field at least 20 yrs before and it had been parked there ever since. He said he used it as a camper van, and the old man traveled to Mexico many times in it. On the windshield and the back windows were authoritative Mexican government stickers all about. It was cute, but truly in rough shape. At first sight I only saw potential and asked if it ran. The answer was, “not sure!” So I gathered up a gas can and an old battery, did some wire tying and cranked it over. It fired up to everybody’s surprise. “I’ll take it,” I said. An hour later it was sitting at our business. I had it towed because it didn’t have plates, but more so because I didnt know what else might not work.

Sure, it was one of those impluse buys. But we bought it for only $1,400, it was not much of a risk. We could just paint our business name on it and plant it in front of our shop if all else failed; a big cute sign that we could write off.

Sleeping Quarters

But it wasn’t long before I had it running good enough to get around town. And boy was it fun to drive. Fun because it reminded me of the old days of driving a stick on the column. The manly smell of oil burning, and the lifters rhythmicly clanking brought back many feelings and good memories. For this was not the first old vehilcle I would own. My first car was a 1936 Plymouth Coope. I cut my teeth on that old girl. Learned about popping gears, and timming, and hotwiring to get it to go. Then it was all I could afford and all my mom could loan me to buy a car. This time I wanted a project, I needed a project. But I soon found the old Diamond six cylinder, the transmission and parts to work on the old Metro were almost extinct. International Harvester was the brand but back then they used parts from Chevy and from whoever they could find them to build their vehicles. The only aftermarket parts I could find was a master brake cylinder. But the kicker for me was the day I drove it to town and lost a hubcap. I retaced my route, even walked it for several miles in search of the hubcap. It was gone! Somebody must have nabbed it. And so were gone my hopes of having an original classic vehicle.

Kitchen Area

I searched online and in magazines and came to the realization I’d have to buy several vehicle’s of the same make and year along with having things custom built at exhorbitant prices to make the dream come true.

The Cockpit

I didn’t take long to conceed and began thinking about other options. I heard from a friend that there was a good mechanic in the valley that did restorations. I thought maybe he could put in a completely new drive train and convert it to a four wheel drive. But at what cost? You see I usually do things myself. I’m generally pretty cheep or frugal if you like nicer words. I built my own home and it took nine years if that gives you perspective. But this time was different. We had a good year financially and I was getting a little too old to learn all the things needed to do such a conversion, besides it had been since high school that I turned a mechanics wrench. Krell Jones of Krell’s Customs got the job! He was very patient with me and let me come over to watch, help, and talk about his progress. He normally does complete, body off, restorations of vehicles he’s familiar with, so for him this was a treet as well as a challenge. A low budget challenge to boot. It took, if I remember right, about 8 months of off and on again work to get it running. He did not do it the right way, the way he wanted to. That was to take off the body, scrap the old and install the new. He had to pull the engine from inside the cab, figure out how things would fit, weld in motor mounts and install a new short block Chevy 350 crate engine that I had built and bought from Pheonix Engines. I can’t remember the torque ratio or many details beyond it having a beefy crank shaft and 326 horsepower off the dyno. We decided on a bomb proof turbo 400 automatic transmission and a rebuilt 205 transfer case. I also had him install a new steering column, wiring harness, custom gauges, and a Vintage Air heat and a/c (I havent hooked up the a/c yet). After some overheating issues, i also had a custom dual core aluminum radiator built.

As you can imagine by this point I was committed. The money was pouring out of our savings and into a classic old van that still had no proposed use except to run well enough to drive in Montana and beyond.

New Seats

Here is where van life and retirment converge. Why not make it again into a classic travel van? A new Mercedes Sprinter Van would cost way more than what I had into the Metro. Jackie agreed! Besides she thought it looked cool too. You see, we are both peas in a pod when it comes to liking different sorts of unique things. In a way it’s a curse. Furniture at Ikea is cheap and everybody buys it. But that’s exactly why we can’t. Of course we like the cheap part, but what usually comes with unique is expensive! For some things like underwear, socks, and maybe a winter jacket we can go to Costco and buy what 400 others have bought that day. But like unique door hardware and screen doors (former business we owned), being different was the draw. The same would be true for this old van.

Driving the old looking, but good running Metro gets all kinds of attention. It has become a game we play while traveling to count the number of waves, thumbs up, peace signs, and hang loose’s we get between waypoints. Of course we also get some strange looks but they are always happy strange looks. Jackie describes our van as like something out of the movie Cars. It’s cartoonish. It also has that “rat rod” look. It’s quite original on the outside besides the crappy paint job I put on it just to stop the rust. When I purchased it the former owner had painted it with brown and beige house paint – with a brush – and it had flying ducks painted on it’s side panels. Then it was ugly cute. Now it’s just cute!

Since we got it running and since Jackie finally decided to retire with me, I’ve been working on the inside making it into the travel van we can’t afford except by sweat equity. This is also a curse; and a blessing. Doing things yourself saves a lot of money, but learning how is also a challenge.. Usually more than half of everything you build or repair is labor. Sometimes it doesn’t look as good as a professional would do it or the materials need to be sewn or crafted to “make it work.” But in the end the joy can be had by the preparation, the learning, the effort, and the savings. And let’s face it, the pride that comes with the joy in seeing an 8 year old giving us a thumbs up as he’s driven by in his mom’s Escalade is priceless.

Well, besides describing the sunroof installation, electrical system, solar panel set up, roof rack installation, and describing how we will be staying warm, sleeping, cooking, showering and using the porta potty, that’s it for now. When our journey begins I’ll be updating my blog between campsites and interesting places. I hope you enjoy the journey too.

Bob and Jackie