Postcard from Arizona- 4

29 March 2015
Benson

It’s been 2.5 years since the last time I posted and it probably looks like we’ve done nothing for all that time. Which is pretty much the case. But even doing nothing leaves a trail, so I’ll travel that old ground again with y’all…

April-June 2013
We’re Leaseholders!

We’d been on the Hot List since April 2010. At the time we signed up we were #428. Normally it takes about 7 years to work your way down to where you can call in with an expectation of getting the lot you want. But the rules say the lot goes to the lowest number on the hot list of the people who call in. So if you want a lot earlier than 7 years, you better plan on haunting the park’s website to know when a lot becomes available. Then you have to call promptly on Saturday morning to get your name on the list.

We had traveled back to Santa Fe for spring/summer. I did the usual call-in and Bingo!  We got lot #154. The casita on the lot was in desperate need of interior painting and, at $42,000 for the lifetime lease, it was very pricey. Our plan was to take whatever we could get in order to become leaseholders, then trade lots till we were happy with the location. Plus there were no required repairs to be done by the new leaseholder. 6 weeks after I signed the contract for #154, and before we ever got to Benson from Santa Fe to do some painting, another lot became available. It had a small shop (50 sq ft) which is a big appeal to me. And it was cheaper by about $15,000. No one was on the Wish List for it, so we asked to trade lots. That went through without a hitch and we were suddenly leaseholders of lot #265.

The Santa Fe House

We still have the house, but not cuz we want it that way. In the spring of 2013 we traveled to Santa Fe with the rig with strong motivation to get the house on the market. We usually stay at Santa Fe Skies RV Park which is 15-20 miles (?) from the house. We soon realized the day-to-day demands of just living and maintaining the rig pretty much took care of the available time; spring & summer came and went without material progress toward selling the house. Yeah, we got a few things packed and I sent some things to the family in Maine, but… If there was a lesson to be learned here it was that if we really want to get things done so we can hand the house off to a realtor, we better leave the rig in Benson and stay at the house. Next year!

October 2013 thru March 2014
Winter Season in Benson

We returned to SKP Saguaro Co-op at the end of September. We immediately arranged with a local contractor, Philip McFate of McFate Construction, to do a number of things like install a metal roof (we were required to replace the shingle roof as part of the new lease agreement; th repair clauses has since been changed requiring the departing owner to do the work before it becomes available to a new leaseholder). We also wanted him to modify the plumbing so we could install a washer & dryer, paint inside & out (also required as part of our new lease), install a heat pump so we could remove the noisy window-style AC and get rid of the propane heater, and run a propane line from the storage tank at the rear of the casita over to the parking pad. And since I was slinging gravel everywhere trying to park the Montana, we also had Philip extend the concrete out to the road plus widen the pad. By the time we were done we were still at a lower total cost ($37,000) than the first lot and we ended up with something that better fits our needs.

We also got back into the routine of the committees we were on. The first thing that welcomed me back was a very dead Channel 43. My claims that the SprintBit software was great? Total crap! Initially a few videos wouldn’t play, but then the number not playing started growing till it was beyond embarrassing. Oddly the software ran OK when we used Bryan Lavender’s laptop. However, using the dedicated computer located in what we’ve come to call The Bat Cave we had a terrible time.

Bryan found some very pricey software (for an RVer, “pricey” means anything over $25) from MicroVideo TV in Calgary, Alberta. Bryan arranged a one month trial and we were suddenly as rock solid as any commercial TV station. Not as slick, but as solid. The ‘legacy’ version of the software has all we need, so that dropped the price substantially. Unfortunately that also means there’s no support for bugs since he no longer has a compiler to make changes. But the s/w has been running on many platforms in the US & Canada for several years, so the risk was small enough we jumped in. What a difference. Now we have a server playing the videos and another hand-me-down computer, donated by a park resident, which we use for administration of the system. This 2-computer configuration means we can now update schedules without taking the system off line.

February 2014
New Cooling Unit for the Norcold

Our Montana came with a 4-door Norcold fridge. When it worked it was a decent unit in terms of accessibility and the convenience of electric or propane operation. Periodically, however, it started not cooling sufficiently that anything in the freezer started to melt. We would defrost and it would start working again. We were told “that’s life with a Norcold! You need a residential fridge.”

Well, there is another option and that’s to replace the cooling unit with ‘the Amish cooling unit’. That cooling unit turned out to be a unit manufactured in Shipshewana, Indiana (hence the reference to the Amish) by Pine Refrigeration. A replacement fridge from Norcold is about $4,000; a Norcold replacement cooling unit is about $2,000; in Feb 2014 the ‘Amish cooling unit’ was $1,100. I ordered through a guy in Arkansas (Pine Refrigeration doesn’t sell direct) and had it drop-shipped to us in Benson. A local repair guy, Wayne Tedford, did the install with some help from me. It took some grunting and groaning to get the fridge disconnected and out onto the patio where we removed and replaced the cooling unit from the back of the fridge. Then we needed some volunteer muscle to get the fridge back up into the Montana (10 guys showed up which gave us 9 supervisors and one guy lifting!). Supposedly the cooling unit tubes are 30% thicker than what Norcold uses and cooling capacity is about 50% greater than the Norcold unit; I have no reason to believe otherwise. It just plain works and I don’t hesitate to recommend it (there’s one caveat- you really do need a new cooling unit and you don’t have some other cooling problem like ventilation blockage or a bad controller).

Btw, I had been told that running the fridge on propane would shorten the life of the cooling unit because the exhaust gases corrode the cooling unit. Total nonsense! The chimney of the propane burner is completely separate from the cooling unit refrigerant tubes. In fact, the chimney serves both as the exhaust for the burned gases and conducts the heat from the electric heating elements.

April thru September 2014
Spring & Summer in Santa Fe

We left the Montana in Benson and headed back to Santa Fe to settle into a house that hadn’t been lived in for 4 years. Took a lot of cleaning and boxing of ‘stuff’ (to be taken back to Benson), but by July we had done all we could do without help. By the end of June I had called our friend Daniel Tellez who agreed to do the work- replace the tile floor in the back bathroom, paint the office, replace the closet doors in both bedrooms, repair a banco (bench seat) in the middle patio, replace the clear plastic roof covering the outside storage sheds, and repair the roofing where it had pulled away from the chimney. The initial estimate was 2 weeks, maybe 3 if they found something hidden. I should have known better- this is a 150 year old house.

3 months later we had found & repaired…

  • repaired dry rot around the toilet,
  • replaced the tile in that same bathroom,
  • repaired roofing where it had pulled away from the parapets,
  • found water damage in the office from a leaking canale,
  • replace the viga that was rotted beneath the water leak (the rotted center of the viga was stuffed with rolled up newspaper dated 1990),
  • replaced a floor joist in the office,
  • re-plastered the office walls,
  • leveled the office floor to match the hallway,
  • covered the wood office flooring with saltillo tile,
  • replaced the canale over the office,
  • replaced 2 more canales outside the kitchen that were also leaking,
  • installed new down-spouts outside the kitchen,
  • leveled the rain gutter on the den roof,
  • plastered one outside wall of the den (the last exterior wood… everything is plaster now),
  • installed brick in the carport in lieu of replacing the freeze & salt damaged concrete,
  • replaced the plastic see-through roofing at the outside storage shed with metal (the clear plastic had softened in the summer heat),
  • replaced 20 feet of retaining wall beside the carport,
  • replaced the broken closet doors in the 2 bedrooms,
  • replaced the damaged door for the boiler compartment,
  • replaced the delaminated door at the rear of the house,
  • replaced all the thermostats with programmable thermostats,
  • replaced a leaking shower floor,
  • repaired plaster throughout the house,
  • replaced a bad wire in the living room (in an adobe house this means cutting through the plaster to the adobe, routing a new wire, then replaster the damage),
  • installed heat tapes on water lines (we’ve had 3 broken waterlines in 4 years which cumulatively  cost about $2,500 in excess water charges)
  • replaced wood banco in middle patio

And probably a dozen more things I’ve forgotten. Most of these items were obviously in need of repair once looked at closely. Each item had possibly needed attention for years, but, like the bathroom floor and the office wall, the full extent was only discovered after peeling the onion down to the real issue. It was a lot of $$$, but it’s done now and, should the house not sell, we feel OK about continuing to live there. And the new brick in the carport, besides being cheaper than removing and replacing the damaged concrete, really looks good! There are a couple more items like repairing the dishwasher, but I believe we are about ready to talk to a realtor.

October to May 2014
Back to Benson

We headed south in early October and were looking forward to a relaxing fall and winter. We should know better.

We managed to get all the crap we packed in Santa Fe into the casita, but there’s essentially no room for anything else.

Celia returned to find she was suddenly the ‘sponsor’ of the line dance classes. She never did figure out what that meant except that somehow she’s responsible for the class even though she’s not teaching it.

And I found that Channel 43 was dead. The story I got was there had been a nearby lightning strike and the park had lost power for awhile. Whatever, the administrator computer was running unreasonably slow (1/2 hour to boot up) and no longer talked to the server. The only way to get things running was to go back to shutting down the channel for an hour or so mid-day Sunday while we loaded videos and and scheduled the programming.

It took months, but everything is running again. We’re now networked with the office LAN (thank you John Gill!), and we have a new server  computer with the old server now doing duty as the administrator. I had to ask for help from the s/w vendor in Canada so he could (re)install the license and get the server to play the videos (the old ‘CODEC problem’ again), but thankfully this time there were no communications issues between the computers.

A few medical problems (sort of)…

I had planned on making an appointment with my doctor, Dr. Glenn Robertson, when we got back to Benson. I was disappointed to learn he was no longer with the local practice, so I had to find someone else. I finally made an appointment with San Pedro Family Medical Care which has worked out fine as they have 3 nurse practitioners as well as the 2 (very busy!) doctors (the Mayberry brothers).

Then in late February I learned that in June 2014 Dr. Robertson had opened his own practice in Sierra Vista. Sometime afterward he had a stroke. Yikes! This guy is way younger than I am (maybe 40ish?) with young kids. On top of that he’s now got the same problem the rest of America has- the cost of medical care has completely wiped him out financially because he had no medical insurance. I’ll make a wild guess there was no $$$ left after paying for his malpractice insurance. Now he’s in re-hab working at getting hands and arms to do what he nneds and he’s paying off some of the expenses by working for free at Benson Regional Hospital. He’s a good doctor and I really hated hearing about his set-back.

A few days before Halloween we had the dogs into the vet for a health check. The vet asked if we’d ever considered having them ‘tacked’ to reduce the chance of developing bloat (caused by the stomach flipping over and twisting the bowel) since the breed is susceptible to that. How’s this for Halloween-spooky: 3 days later, on Halloween, Kelly suddenly developed bloat. Her belly was distended and rock hard- the classic symptoms. We loaded her (and Annie) into the car and headed for Tucson. Celia called as we drove and learned the emergency vet that’s closest had 22 waiting patients. They sent us to their affiliate in west Tucson where she had surgery to straighten out the stomach and to have a ‘pexy’ (sp?). The latter is the name of the procedure to tack the stomach to the abdominal wall to keep the stomach from flipping. Should have been done when she was spayed.

After Kelly was home we arranged to have Annie tacked as well. As a result of the pre-surgery exam and then the surgery itself I’ve learned that the stomach pain Annie has been experiencing in fact had nothing to do with her gut. Annie has been having joint pain occasionally when she tries to stretch. Adding 1 more glucosamin (3 instead of 2) has eliminated those symptoms. I’ve been told by more than one doctor that glucosamin is useless- “save your money- any relief we might feel is just our imagination”. Somehow I doubt a dog who gets relief from glucosamin ‘imagines’ they have less pain.

Internet stuff

For internet access we had been using Millenicom’s wireless system. Millenicom bought access from Verizon and resold it to users like us. Wireless internet access is expensive, especially 4G. So 20 GB for $70/mo was a bargain. Verizon thought so too so they solved their dilemma by buying Millenicom’s service (though apparently not the name). It’s no longer a bargain.

  • Update 4/2017: Millenicom is back and offering similar services though not thru Verizon’s network. Don’t know who they buy bandwidth from. I don’t have the details- no clue if it’s a bargain or a rip off, but if you’re looking for this kind of service try checking out the new Millenicom. They also now offer mobile phone service.

Without Millenicom, we did what others in the park have done- we signed up for service from Wi-Power through Sulphur Springs Valley Electrical Co-op. Gives us unlimited data for about the same $70/mo as long as we’re in Benson. We’ll keep our 4G Verizon cards for when we’re on the road.

Wi-Power is a wireless internet service of TransWorld Network Corp and service is sold locally by Sulphur Springs Valley EC. Wi-Power antennas are about 15 miles away on one of the mountains of the Dragoons, so we have a dish mounted on the rear of our casita to receive a signal.

We’ve been way too busy this winter season. We managed to get to Tucson for a couple doctor appointments, but other than that we’ve been stuck in the park. Need to change that next year!

About bruce10b

An RVer, on the road full time and wintering in Benson, AZ.
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