Postcard from Arizona- 4

29 March 2015

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!

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Postcard from Arizona- 3

30 November 2012


It’s almost Rabbit! Rabbit! day (the first day of a new month) and I am still trying to get my new Samsung laptop computer to the point I can call it “usable”. It’s been almost a month of screwing with this thing! Takes awhile when you have to start all over again: at one point I had to contact Samsung who told me how to use a Function key option when powering-on to restore the computer to an earlier or even not-yet-installed Windows configuration. This is the new Windows 8 operating system and I’m constantly wondering if it’s me, the computer hardware, or the OS.

There are no instructions; the only Help is on-line which pre-supposes you don’t have a problem getting connected. Well guess what Mr. Microsoft and Mr. Samsung, when you click on “Get Help With Connecting to the Internet“, you probably don’t have a *&^%#$# connection! The problem was intermittent and seems to occur daily sometime during the mid-morning (‘morning sickness’ I guess). I’m blaming it on the park’s internet service, but I really don’t know for sure.

With the internet connection problem sorted (make that ‘ignored’!), I got started again and must admit it went much quicker the 2nd time (though the Admiral emphatically does not agree!).

Sierra Vista hasn’t moved

We drove both vehicles over to Sierra Vista (sure enough… it’s still there) to Sierra Toyota to have the Highlander serviced and to get its windshield washer repaired. While we were off to Maine for the summer, a critter had taken up residence in the engine compartment and needed some building material. Or maybe a low-cal lunch. I guess the hoses were handy and he was sure we wouldn’t mind. Sorry dude… wrong!

Surprisingly,  the bill at this particular Toyota dealer was very reasonable for service and repairs. Looks like they have a $70/hr billing rate which is significantly less than we seen elsewhere.

Update on our truck

Just for the record: nothing has broken on our F-350 truck since we arrived. Still running great; still getting good mileage; and the exhaust is still smelly when we idle.

This reminds me of an old Postscript that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post around 1952. It went something like this:

During WW-II, a merchant marine captain was disgusted with his First Officer’s drinking habits. To build a case for dismissing him, he decided to record the incidents in the ship’s log:
“Today the First Officer was drunk.”
When the First Officer next came on duty, he read the Captain’s entry, thought about it, and then added an entry of his own:
“Tonight the Captain was sober.”

Channel 43

I think I mentioned earlier that I’ve volunteered to help with Channel 43 (the SKP Saguaro Co-op RV Park‘s private cable channel). It’s been fun learning something new, creating the weekly playlists that schedule the video files and play them into the park’s video feed. I may have to learn about creating videos as well. Bryan & Mike have been patient teachers!

The key s/w that makes this all work is Playlist Manager from It’s an SQL-based product that costs all of $29 which, if you forgive a few quirky behaviors, is a bargain for what it does. The previous freeware program they were using was causing more work than you can imagine. They have photos of the guys laying on the floor in the park’s video feed room as they entered new playlists and added videos. No thanks! Call me a prima dona, but Mrs. Bowman’s little boy doesn’t do laying-on-the-floor-doing-updates-cuz-of-crappy-software-from-China. Bryan and his wife Susan worked on those problems the entire summer and his effort has made the production job nearly routine this fall. What a guy!

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Postcard from Arizona- 2

14 November 2012

Catching up. Again.

Not sure why I let this happen, but here I am behind again. I think this may have happened before in an earlier life. But I really do have an excuse: we’re having too much fun. I think. Is that possible? to have too much fun? Nah!

Did you vote? Everybody needs to vote. I did- I voted for the end of political rhetoric and accusatory BS. Apparently others of you voted the same way cuz it has finally ended. Or maybe they just ran out of $$$. What a relief! Now where do I vote to stop the tele-marketing and the robo-marketing?!

And we have a lot of gas these days. You know… the kind that comes in a big tank and runs the furnace. Since we were already in their system, Barnett’s was out to our site in a matter of 3 or 4 days. Last year it took 3 weeks before they brought the tank plus another 2 weeks before they filled it.

The timing was good as the temperatures dropped a couple days after we were hooked up. Got as low as 25° F where we are on the outer reaches of the park. On the plus side, the daytime highs are down in the 70’s now and it’s incredibly comfortable outside during the day.

Computers and software.

My (not very!) old HP laptop packed it in. It’s not like I didn’t have some warning: the touch-pad had died a couple months after I bought it; some keys didn’t work right, though that was intermittent and infrequent; then the eSATA connector (connects to my 2 TB external drive) literally fell apart and I had to switch to the very slow USB 2.0 port; and finally about 2 months ago the wireless connection died. Fortunately the latter was only an annoyance as I had a spare NetGear WiFi device that plugs in to a USB port. A separate but really big issue was something associated with the CPU and memory. Processing images started taking longer and longer. I had thought it was maybe a virus, but McAfee Virus Scan and Microsoft malware s/w insisted all was well. I decided it was time to move on, but I held off till we got settled here in Benson. Almost as soon as we arrived I ordered a replacement laptop.

But what to buy?

  • The old Sony we had on the boat did really well, though it was shot by the time we moved into the Santa Fe house. It worked well and I felt OK with getting another except anything with a Sony logo is pricey.
  • I wore out the Dell replacement for the Sony… it didn’t last 3 years and it was in a friendly environment.
  • I learned over 15 years ago that Gateway is not anything I want to own again.
  • The HP that replaced the Dell has lasted only 23 months, so I didn’t want to go there again. Plus HP says they’re getting out of the PC business.
  • There are a ton of choices out there, but I’ve never heard of 90% of the brands.
  • I decided I wanted to try a Lenovo. Their ThnkPad model was recommended by photographers who process all their images on them (they use a 2nd monitor so they can calibrate color). I think Lenovo is the old IBM PC machines which always had a good reputation (created by the Point of Sale Division of IBM). But they ended their 2-day 20% discount special during the 2 hour period between configuring a machine and checkout. So screw ’em.

I was whining to myself about my lousy timing when I happened to notice the TV and home theater electronics in our Montana: all Samsung equipment. Hmm… this stuff has survived road shock, vibration, altitude changes, high-/low-humidity, and extravagent (though not extreme) temperature swings. This stuff just keeps on keeping on.

So I went to and there was a Samsung Series 7 (it’s considered a gaming machine) configured pretty much as I wanted it for about $800 less than the discounted Lenovo I had just tried to order. Plus it had an optical disk drive which reads Blu-Ray & reads/writes multiple format data CDs (for some odd reason Lenovo doesn’t offer ODDs on their work station laptops… ???). Amazon had the laptop in my hands in 2 days. Then things got hard…

Getting ‘stuff’ off the old machine is always the biggest challenge and this time is no exception. What a pain, especially when my 2 TB external hard drive decided it’s going to join the rush to retirement! Fortunately I managed to move my images (all 18,000 of them) plus my genealogy, text, spreadsheet & tax files before the external drive died. Sadly I failed to get the last full back-up on the HP restored to the Samsung since my external hard drive also died! It wouldn’t have reinstalled executable files, of course, but I had a lot of things I wanted to keep like the goose– and web site source files and all my saved e-Mails which, among other things, had activation codes for downloaded s/w, receipts for purchases (for warranty claims), all my Contacts and all my Bookmarks. But that’s how it is. I’ll just have to move on from here (if you haven’t already, seend me an e-Mail so I can get your address back in the Contacts!).

At this point I have installed 3 earlier generations of Adobe Creative Suites (CS includes Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Acrobat, etc.), bought and installed the upgrade to CS 6, then uninstalled CS 4 thru CS 5.5 (in hindsight it was unnecessary to install these before the upgrade as Adobe allows typing the qualifying activation codes); my 2 favorite image managing & editing programs are installed: DxO Optics Pro Elite 8 and Adobe Lightroom 4; Microsoft Office 2010 is up and running; I’ve installed Mozilla’s Firefox browser and Thunderbird e-Mail programs (I refuse to use IE or Outlook); and Family Tree Maker 2012 (from is up and running and can read my family history file. Still have to deal with H&R Block‘s TaxCut s/w which I’ll need soon.

Btw, it may be nothing but growing pains, but I think Windows 8 (vs. the older Windows 7) may have been a mistake. I have essentially thrown away 20 years experience with prior Windows systems as the user interface (aimed at the touch-screen market) has no relationship to prior versions. For instance, none of the utilities like Notepad or Windows Backup or Disk Manager are to be found anywhere. Even the venerable Solitaire & Minesweeper games are gone. I guess with the truck pretty much fixed I now have something new to whine about!

Goings on

We’ve made it to dinner a couple times with friends Mike & Susan and we made it to the Day of the Dead celebration in Tucson with friends Doug & Linda (I can finally  process the images!). Celia has gotten back into line dance (no surprise there) plus she volunteered to do Channel 5 updates (daily announcements). And I’ve volunteered to work on Channel 43 here in the park. Mostly we’ve tried to keep a lid on eating so at the very minimum we don’t gain.

Oh… and we bought and have started using a Bissel Green Machine which both vacuums and shampoos the carpets and hard floors. It’s a beast (heavy, uses water for filtration), but it has dual use and works pretty well. Timely addition as our now 3 years old Kenmore Intuition vacuum is starting to die. Hmm… this seems to be a recurring theme: replace things at 3 years old. That’s pretty poor!

So that’s it for now. Here’s the photo from Day of the Dead…

Perhaps the most patient
person I’ve met, Doug
volunteered to drive through
what turned out to be ugly
The celebrants sort of milled their way past us…
…and just seemed to keep coming.
There were a lot of interesting
figures that had to be done by
art students at Univ. of Arizona
here in Tucson.
Most were in costume or had some theme
… like this one that made me believe Monalisa
was back from the dead. With a black eye!
The Admiral was having a
great time!
Many remembrances for family
members that are gone like this
guys mother…
…and someone’s father.
Someone had to have seen the Chinese New
Year parade in San Francisco… looks like a
dragon to me!
Not everyone was in costume…
…but these mariachis certainly were.
Mmm… try to keep up kids!
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Truck repairs and changes

1 November 2012

“Hey, dude… what did you have to do to get your mileage to improve so much?”

If reading technical details about our truck (repairs, mods, whatever) is b-o-r-i-n-g and if hearing again my obsessive rhetoric about fuel mileage makes your eyes glaze over, you’ll want to skip this post.

To anyone left, if you’ve read through our year-and-a-half of whining and up & down emotions with each mod or repair, you know we’ve spent a lot of $$$ to get to 13+ mpg when pulling our 15,000# Montana over fairly level ground. What’s more, we’re now getting about 20 mpg running solo (not pulling the trailer) on level ground at 55-60 mph (as you might expect, fuel economy is very speed & grade sensitive!). What we have now works well for our needs, but there are cheaper ways to get to this point.

We started in late 2010 with nearly everything Banks Engineering makes for our truck (6 Gun tuner & iQ display, air cleaner, DPF-back exhaust and inter-cooler). It helped improve fuel economy by 15-20% and it was all CARB-approved mods (it could pass a pollution inspection in California). It was not, however, the dramatic improvement in mileage I had hoped for. In fact, the firmware mod Ford supplied in 2011 produced about the same result and that was free.

A little about Ford’s f/w mod – While the mod probably addressed several things, the part of Ford’s f/w mod that improved fuel economy did so by simply reducing the amount of cleaning being done to the DPF (less frequent; shorter duration). Basically, if you don’t clean the DPF as much, you don’t use as much fuel. It was clear to me we weren’t going to materially affect our fuel economy until we stopped having to clean the DPF.

Then on the way back from the east coast an EGR system temperature sensor in the DPF died in the middle of Oklahoma. I couldn’t start the truck. I found a Ford dealer in Sayre, OK to do the repair on short notice, but the resulting Ford-designed repair nearly destroyed the truck. That experience left me prejudiced about the hazards of DPF and EGR systems in general. It was time to do something about the EGR system.

This is the hardware we ended up with

In our case we already had a Banks 6-Gun Tuner and all the other Banks hardware. Here’s what we ended up with when all was said and done:

  • Banks 6 Gun Tuner, air intake system, DPF-back exhaust, inter-cooler
  • DPF-delete kit (about 30″ piece of stainless pipe)
  • H&S MiniMax tuner

The Banks system doesn’t change anything in the Ford ECM; it lives between the ECM and the engine and functions by increasing or reducing the fueling commands sent to the engine from the ECM. With Banks equipment, the EGR (exhaust gas regeneration) system continues to operate and you can pass a CARB (California Air Resources Board) inspection in California (CARB has approved the Banks 6-Gun and a sticker with the permit number is supplied by Banks). No matter what Banks has done to improve mileage, the stock ECM still goes into the regeneration cycle and any fuel saving goes right out the tail pipe. If you just install a DPF-delete kit without doing anything about the f/w to eliminate cleaning cycles, the  ECM will fail to work because at least 3 sensors are no longer operating as expected.

Since the Banks tuner doesn’t change anything within the Ford ECM to disable EGR, we needed a different tuner (ECM-simulator) that would turn off EGR. Plus we needed a DPF-delete kit (simply a piece of 4″ stainless exhaust tubing). With that tuner installed first, then the Banks tuner can be “piggy-backed” on it and continue to modify fuel flow as it always has. Scott steered us toward the H&S Mini-Max tuner as it’s been proven in this application. The Mini-Max replaces the stock Ford ECM firmware with something similar except it has no EGR functions. At this point your warranty is dead and you’ve got an off-road vehicle… you can never go back.

The Mini-Max must be installed in a specific way prior to re-connecting the Banks 6-Gun tuner. Normally the Mini-Max display and cable is used to install new firmware in the Ford ECM and then left in place so you can see truck/engine operating parameters as well as choose any of the 3 power levels. In our case we just wanted the firmware installed then left in the Stock setting (0 HP gain; the Mini-Max is capable of boosting power as much as +500 HP!) where it will stay as long as we own the truck.

With the new f/w installed, the tiny Mini-Max display and cable are removed (and saved!)and the Banks is re-connected between the ECM and engine. Both tuning systems (Banks 6-Gun Tuner and display as well as the H&S Mini-Max ECM firmware) are installed and operating simultaneously, i.e. the Banks is “piggy-backed” on the Mini-Max… the Banks thinks it’s listening to the stock ECM and the Mini-Max thinks it’s controlling everything.

The tech doing the mod really needs to have been down this road before- it’s complicated! Doing something out of sequence can leave you with a dead truck. Done properly – ours was, thanks to Scott Spear at Spear’s Auto Center – I would expect another 6.4L PowerStroke diesel to produce a similar improvement in fuel economy to what we have seen. But again, their are no guarantees. Eliminating the DPF cleaning cycle and the associated 150# DPF, providing cooler inlet air (that’s what the inter-cooler does for us), and less-restricted intake and exhaust are all involved in making the engine more efficient.

We’ve never felt a need for more power from our 2008 Ford F-350. It has plenty of torque just as it comes from the factory. Yes, we still have the option to dial up an extra 50-185 HP, but what for? If it reduces our fuel economy, we’re not interested. The Banks tech support folks will tell you, though, that the best economy may not come from the lowest power setting. Yet I continue to avoid those higher settings because my greater concern has always been that significantly more power may cause transmission or differential damage.

On the down side, the exhaust odor while idling is stronger than when the DPF was installed and we’ve found we’re getting a little diesel exhaust inside the Montana while we’re pulling. I guess the latter explains why some owners install vertical exhaust stacks on their pickups. Plus we’re at risk of being cited and fined for having tampered with the EPA-approved exhaust system.

I’d love to see numbers which compare emissions caused by the stock system (including the ash blown out during cleaning) vs. a system that defeats pollution controls while using 40% – 50% less fuel. To my knowledge, that sort of data is unavailable… ???

A word of caution

Before you get too enthused about seeing your mileage jump from under 9 mpg up to over 13 mpg while pulling a 15,000 lb. load on level ground, there are a few things you need to inform yourself about- there are more issues than just fuel consumption. Here’s a few talking-points to start considering:

  • There’s no guaranty from anyone you’ll get improved fuel economy. Period. The after-market equipment suppliers won’t even talk to you about mileage. DPF-delete plus a compatible tuner is strictly an off-road system.
  • You’re left with a truck that will never pass a pollution inspection, so understand what your state requires.
  • Examine your feelings about driving a truck that may cause more pollution. Your personal cost of fuel isn’t the only issue.
  • Installing the necessary non-Ford firmware from an after-market supplier in your truck’s ECM will end any warranty coverage (our warranty had already expired July 2012).
  • I’m told some (most?) dealers won’t work on a truck with these mods even if the repair is unrelated to the mod. That may be urban myth, but you should ask your local dealer if you think you may need their help at some point, like to repair the transmission or change the oil.
  • Diesels have smelly exhaust, but our exhaust seems stronger than when the truck was stock.

So do your homework to understand the ramifications, both legal and practical. Installing a DPF-delete kit in the exhaust and loading 3rd party firmware in the Ford engine control module (ECM) is a slippery slope. There are traps, trade-offs and the potential for damage to your wallet and your truck.

If you decide to attack the fuel economy issues with your truck, get a good diesel tech to help you and to do the work, or at the very least guide you. That ain’t me, but if you’re near central New Mexico, Scott Spear is your man!

Similar mods are available for all recent American diesel powered trucks (Dodge, GMC/Chevy, other Fords). In fact, I got launched on this path by a guy with a 2006 Dodge with a 6.5L Cummins diesel. Do your homework for your truck. I’m just highlighting one way to peel this onion called fuel economy. I will never recommend anyone else do what we’ve done.

There are a few forums where you can get info from other owners… Google is your friend. Lots to be found out there. Just remember that along with all the good info is a lot of stuff that’s flat wrong! It’s your job to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Update: Scott isn’t currently working at his dad’s shop (Spear’s Auto Center) in Cedar Crest, NM (though the shop still does repairs on Banks systems). Now days you can find Scott at Car Crafters in Albuquerque.

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Postcard from Arizona- 1

28-31 October 2012

Santa Fe

We retrieved the truck on the 27th (Sat) and the 28th was supposed to be a ‘drive it and see if it’s OK’ sort of day. Well, it was a good plan, but life got in the way. Instead of a test drive, Sunday saw the truck doing some hauling to get a few things from the house to the Montana. Then Monday the 29th we returned the rental car (btw, the Kia Forte we rented was excellent!), aired the tires, cleaned all the glass in the truck, and fueled up. Then we discovered the Admiral’s favorite Key West hat was missing, so back to Budget Car Rental. I’m not sure I actually finished what needed doing or if I just got tired and quit. Airing up the tires always kicks my butt!

I had either of 2 first-nite destinations in mind:

    Las Cruces KOA (290 mi) or
    Road Runner RV Park in Deming (345 mi).

When the Admiral heard more than 300 miles to get to Deming she told me where to go! So I drove to Las Cruces.

We’ve been to Las Cruces KOA several times and know what to expect. Staying more than a single night means you have to deal with the dust from raking the gravel late the next morning. So there was no choice but to make it a 1-niter. The park is pristine, but keeping it that way raises dust even with the watering system on the back of the small tractor.

Other than a 1-hr delay in Albuquerque for an accident, the trip went well and we managed to get 12.7 mpg… a first for us while pulling. The next day we pulled to the SKP Saguaro Co-op in Benson and… Yikes! 13.2 mpg! What an incredible drop in fuel usage


We have arrived safe and sound in Benson, AZ on 2 November. The last leg was about 215 mi and, as I mentioned above, this time we saw 13.2 mpg. We ended up at close to the same elevation, but the trip was anything but level: we started at 4,600′ and ended at almost 4,400′. In between we dropped to under 3,400′, went over 3 low passes before climbing to 5,000′ as we traversed the pass into Texas Canyon, and finally ended up at 4,385′ here in our site. The route had everything: steep grades both up and down as well as long flat stretches. Made me feel a lot better about trying to tackle Alaska next year: 13 mpg for much of the 10,000 mi means a saving of $1,500 – $2,000 compared to 10.5 mpg.

Old friends

The best part of arriving in the park was getting to connect with old friends. We’d been in touch with Mike & Susan while we were on the road, so it was no surprise to them when we pulled in. Naturally we had to do dinner out so we could get caught up and that meant a trip into town to Reb’s. Great meal, great conversation, great to be back!

Summary for the summer

Benson, AZ to Trenton, ME via Elkhart, IN, upstate NY, southern VT & NH, including day trips was 4,600 mi. Trenton, ME to Benson, AZ via Asheville, NC, Louisville, KY and St. Louis, MO including day trips was another 4,000 mi.

We left Benson 8 April, stopped in Santa Fe for 31 nites, took 34 days to get to Maine, spent from 16 June thru 13 September in Maine, then spent from 14 September to 16 October getting to Santa Fe where we stayed for 2 weeks. We left Santa Fe on 31 October and spent 2 more days to get to Benson, AZ on 2 November. That’s about a week short of 7 months on the move, and our truck runs better than before we left. The coach, however, looks like it’s just traveled 8,600 miles. We need to get scheduled with Hooper so it’s not an embarrassment to us and the park!


Still haven’t got this resolved. Looks like I’ll be getting a new laptop… maybe a Lenovo? Dunno. Too many choices and it’s easy to get Analysis Paralysis.

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Postcard from New Mexico- 3

27 October 2012

Santa Fe

It took over a week to get in the queue, but on Thursday 10/25 we drove the truck to Spear’s Auto Center in Cedar Crest, NM to get the exhaust system fixed. I had talked quite awhile to Scott and took his advice to install a DPF-delete kit plus an H&S XRT-PRO tuner. The great part about this approach is that all of the Banks gear stays in tact. The XRT-PRO, as setup by Scott, operates in the Ford tuner to shut off regen. The Banks system still adds/reduces the fuel flow as an adjustment to what the engine is commanding. He set the XRT-PRO to 0 HP gain (stock) so that I can run all 6 Banks power settings as we have always done. Very interesting concept. H&S has many optional tunes available (all the way to over 500 HP) if you don’t have a Banks system already, but I don’t want to make any smoke out the exhaust, so he kept it conservative. For us, it’s all about fuel conservation.

Edit: H&S makes it clear on their site to not “stack” tuners (e.g. Ford + H&S + Banks) as we have in our F-350 unless you know what you’re doing. You really need someone involved who has worked this out already because a misstep will lead you to a dead end where you can’t operate the truck.


We wanted to get the truck serviced while Scott was doing everything else, so I asked for that to be added to the service order without really knowing what that might entail. When The Day arrived, Scott stripped out the old parts, then when he received & installed the delete kit and tuner, road tested everything before the day was over, then was ready to start the maintenance work at the end of the day. Great start.

Then Michelle handed him the printed 75,000 mile service instructions… all 18 pages. Yikes!

As he went thru the service he discovered that our rear shocks were leaking. Typical shock life is 50,000 miles on these trucks, so they did good. I asked that he replace just the rear shocks and he got them on order along with any filters he needed. And that’s when things started getting messy.

The first set of shocks they sent were for a Jeep, so they had to re-order. They also ordered the internal transmission filter which was a challenge cuz there are 10 different filters used for this transmission. The right one depends on the truck’s VIN. Our truck was built the day they started using the 2nd choice, but the filter turned out to be the wrong one. We needed the oldest filter choice which was supposed to be for the day before our truck was built. By the time Scott had to leave (he also races radio controlled cars professionally!) the filter hadn’t arrived. But he said if it arrived before Michelle went home on Friday, he would come in on Saturday and finish up. And that he did.

Btw, when he walked me around the truck before we left he said the Banks exhaust (the last section of tail pipe) was so blue and dark, it had to have been heated to well over 1,500° F, maybe even 1,700° F. That’s pretty scarey! I think what saved us is that the exhaust hit those temps while we were moving which helped dissipate some of the heat. Still, it points out the danger of the recommended repair that Ford wants done when the sensor is corroded in place.

The bottom line

We retrieved the truck mid-day Saturday for a grand total of almost $3,500: $2,000 for the exhaust/tuner mods; $1,500 for maintenance. Don’t ever let anyone mislead you- diesel trucks are expensive to operate!! But if you need torque for pulling/hauling, nothing else will do.

We happily paid the bill- what a relief when Scott assured us there is nothing wrong with the twin-turbo. We had lunch at the Greenside Cafe in town (try their Sangre de Cristo sandwich!) then drove back to the RV park.

I reset the mileage calculator on the dash as we took off. There was no issue whatever with the engine… ran like a noisey top! Also, I heard no strange turbo noises like I heard on the way over. The exhaust note is not loud which is a relief. And by the time we had covered the 40+ miles of constant grade change the calculator was reading 20.1 mpg. That’s a great number for the 6.4L F-350 when running solo (no load; Ford says maybe 9-13 mpg), but the number we want to know is mileage under load. That will have to wait till we head for Benson on Tuesday morning. We’ve got our fingers crossed!

Btw, I always ask that the engine get full synthetic motor oil (AMSOIL if I can get it- 15W-40 CJ-6). I was shocked the first time I drove our truck after having it installed… the engine becomes much quieter!

Computer issues

You probably noticed there haven’t been any photos recently. My laptop is struggling and I haven’t been able to process images for a couple weeks now. Like everything else, it’ll get fixed in Benson!

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Postcard from New Mexico- 2

16-19 October 2012

Santa Fe, NM

It was a white knuckle flight all the way from Tucumcari, but the truck made it with flying colors. As a precaution before leaving Tucumcari, I called Spear’s Auto Center (Crestview, NM) to see if I was doing the wrong thing by towing the rig to Santa Fe. The folks at Spear’s are the ones that got our Banks tuner, etc. working for us last May. The mechanic who answered the phone said he understood the circumstance and that we should do the least damage by keeping the exhaust gas temps (EGT) below 1,200°.

So that’s what I tried to do: I limited our speed to 50 mph initially, then later to 45 mph with the emergency flashers going. But there’s a 3,200 foot grade change from Tucumcari to Santa Fe and speed had little effect on the EGT. It was still better than it would have been otherwise had I not made the adjustments I did. It’ll be a long time before we know for sure.

Setting up repairs

I rented a car right away so we could do errands without having to drive the truck.

Then on Wednesday I called Spears Auto Center and talked to Scott. I explained everything again and asked what he thought we should consider doing. His suggestion was to install a DPF-delete kit which will  eliminate regeneration altogether and just side-step the problem. To help me make a decision I asked Scott to give me an estimate to replace the DPF (which is now apparently leaking exhaust gases) and another to install the DPF-delete kit. It was about $3,700 to replace the DPF (DPF, sensors, clip (?), labor) vs. $2,000 for the DPF-delete kit (pipes, S and C tuning kit, labor). So it looks like we’re going to go with the DPF-delete kit and hope for the best. Not only is it cheaper initially, it will provide another boost in fuel economy and will avoid future engine shut-downs from a bad sensor (I’m told they are a frequent failure, though this was our first occurrence in over 30,000 miles).

The work isn’t scheduled yet, but hopefully we’ll get it started next week. Scott just needs to receive the parts.

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