Wednesday, August 22, 2007


On August 3, we listened to the weather folks warn us of yet another thunderstorm (the computer voice of NOAA says to stay away from winDOWS). It was traveling north of us so we figured we were only getting fringes. But a piece of it apparently looked south, saw all the RVs at Hart Ranch and slobbering with greed, wound it self up and headed our way.

We heard the wind come up violently and the rain, and thunder and lightning, but except for the dog, remained calm.

BANG. BANG. What ? BANG, BANG. Hailstones as big as baseballs and softballs were coming down out of these nasty green clouds, bouncing 15-20 feet in the air. They weren’t as thick as smaller hailstones, didn’t cover the ground. They seemed to be about 10 feet apart as they came down. We were all terrified. It was probably about 5 minutes of the most appalling violence on our roof, a plague in Egypt, Thor or Zeus in an epic rage. Any intellectual understanding of the physics of a hail storm was flattened into a quivering howling panic. And I’m not talking about the dog. We expected them to come right through the roof and brain us, and began searching our consciences for what we might have done to offend who up there.

I was worrying about my Airstream, lonely off in the storage area, probably pulverized, and worrying about the cattle out on the hillside. I remember on one of my early trips to Wyoming that some old cowboy told me that if I was ever in a hail storm while I was riding, to get right off, take off the saddle, lie down and drag the saddle over my head. Innocent that I was, I probably said “what about the poor horse?” Now I know why. A hit on the head with one of these bombs would kill you.

Once it was over, everyone ran out to pick one up and hold it, just to be sure they really were that big. And some of us ( including me…) put some in the freezer, as if no one would ever believe us.

Damage to our rigs was minimal, the worst being the 5th wheel’s roof. It has 25 good dents in it and although it doesn’t leak, it will have to be replaced, fortunately by Don’s insurance. Neither of our trucks got more than a few extra dents, and the Airstream is completely unscathed. A miracle, although I think the big 5th wheel that it is parked right next to protected it pretty much.

Damage in the rest of the park was substantial. Worst hit were cars and truck, there are at least a hundred with smashed windshields or rear windows. A lot of RV’s have dents, broken roof fans, busted Acs and in some cases the very thing I envisioned: holes smashed right through the roof into the interior. We had 8 broken windows in buildings in the park, which kept us up late vacuuming up broken glass so people could go to sleep in the cabins. The windows just exploded inward, glass everywhere.

There are now flocks of insurance adjusters wandering around with clipboards, climbing up on top of RVs, while anxious owners worry how much they will get. There are several other Airstreams in the park, and two of them are new ones. One got at least one huge dent, and the other has, tragically, a lot of them and smashed solar panels too, perhaps to the point of being totaled. I don’t have that kind of insurance, since the premiums on the trailer would quickly add up to another vintage trailer. And the truck is a truck of considerable experience and shows it.

Now, except for more people up on RV roofs than normal, we are back to baking in the sun, 103 yesterday. We have broken several daily heat records, and for July, eleven days of 100 or more, and those of us who must work in it, especially outside, are wilting and getting grumpy and feeling sort of bleached out. I do prefer heat to cold, but this is ridiculous. I better get a desk job if this is the new summer. It is hard to watch the guests soaking in the pool while I am up on a roof changing out AC filters.

It is bike week here again, when thousands of motor cycles descend on the area to drink beer, reaffirm their wild thing image by dressing dangerously and thundering around the roads in gangs of chrome and black. There are rock concerts to go to, and one of them featured ZZ Top,( can they really be still playing ?) one of my favorites. It saddens me to realize that although I sort of want to, I am afraid I have outgrown putting on a scare-the-grown-ups outfit and making a spectacle of myself, dancing and drinking and generally showing off. Very sad thought. Sic transit gloria mundi. Good old Gloria, she was a wild one while she lasted.

In the paper, they listed all those killed in motorcycle accidents (4) and some of the seriously injured. This seems to me a relatively small number compared to the saturation of folks on bikes who have to drive like demented Roman drivers (no signals, too fast, with brio, and a short temper) as part of the role playing game they’re in. To my surprise, nearly all the accident victims listed in the article are in their 40’s and 50’s, not the young and restless you would think. Of course a new Harley or a big Honda will run you $30,000, and some of the custom choppers that look like something out of a comic book can cost up to $100,000. It would be amusing to somehow take down the license numbers of say 50 bikes, and run the plates and find out who they are. Are those tattoos temporary? Does the patch on the back of the cut off jean jacket say the name of a real bad bike club or does it say Greater Peoria Driving Dentists?

We suffered through a week of summer flu, first Don, then me. Sad belly, and for me a whopping back ache. I ended up in bed for 3 days, missed Don’s friends from Ireland, missed judging the artsy stuff for 4H at the Custer Co Fair with a good and funny lady, missed going to Sturgis to at least look upon the spectacle. All of which makes me feel very sorry for myself.

I have a new side business of repairing RV day/night shades. These are a pleated shade, opaque on the upper part, sheer on the bottom that are held in considerable tension by very thin nylon strings. The strings soon wear out and have to be replaced. The magic trick that the strings do inside involves criss-crossing through the 4 metal channels that separate the blind’s two materials and the top and bottom. Actually, figuring out how to replace the string is not all that bad, but getting the blinds out and then in again can be difficult and embarrassing. I’m supposed to be an expert, right? but there I am sprawled on their sofa with both hands up under the valance trying to feel how to get it down or up.( screws? Brackets ? where, what ?) And wrestling with getting the tension correct while needing three or four hands to hold two or three strings and screw the little holder into the wall. So far my customers have been deeply grateful, since new shades are very expensive and most of them would have no idea, much less the tools, how to put them up.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Last weekend I had a bad time with keys, heading to Montana to visit my dear friend on her ranch.

The first dumb thing I did was not to check that Darth Vader ( the big black Dodge diesel) had working AC. It has been a problem before and it is hot, hot, hot here. So we got all hitched up and only then did I try it. Nada.

So we switched trucks which involved much bolt moving on the hitch with huge wrenches. Don's truck pulls a 5th wheel and the trailer plug for the 5th wheel up front works, but when we plugged into the outlet at the back bumper, no brakes. Circuit tested OK, but intermittent. I noticed that the prong for brakes was corroded, and when I was cleaning it, it was loose. Inside we discovered that the whole prong and its screw were one big mass of blue corrosion, in fact the screw was eaten completely. So we put on a new plug.

Finally we take off, and drive to our overnight stop in Broadus MT. And where are the keys to the trailer? Nowhere to be found. On our return, I found them on the dash of my truck back in Rapid City, just below where the spare trailer keys hang on the visor. After I shed a few weary tears, and a phone call to a locksmith didn't work, we decided to see if we could get in.

The lock on the door latch opened with another key that went to I don't know what. So much for security. The dead bolt that I installed would not submit to our feeble lock picking attempts. I began to check the windows, and discovered that the front window was latched but not locked ! We stuffed a hacksaw blade up in, turned the latch, pushed in the screen and I climbed over the tanks and in. I was praying that the table would hold my teeny body, it did, and that got me to the back of the dead bolt and we were in!

The next day the chief engineer rigged a door bar with the handle to his 5th wheel hitch two bungee cords and some string.

We had a great weekend and came home without a problem. ( well, actually, the 15 year old water heater is toast, but I've been expecting that )

Moral of the story ? Redundancy. There is going to be a set of keys in a hide a key on the trailer. I'm told it is safer if on a horizontal surface. There will be another set in his pickup too. and the latch on the front window will never be locked !

We made it to Hardin MT without further difficulties and had a grand time. Our friends there are very funny and feed us way too much food. The dog gets to run loose with the two other dogs and she is thrilled. Their big log house made of really big logs over looks the Big Horn River below and you can see for miles. One night on the big porch we watched a mad spray pilot putting something on a field in the near dark, very dangerous. Spray pilots were the original barnstormer pilots, and still take terrible chances.

You may remember that last year Don helped Harry bring up the two halves of an enormous earthmover’s tire, 12’ in diameter, that had been sliced in half to make tanks for cattle water. This year we got to see one just built, as well as watch the process of getting water up into the dry hills.

Apparently, the Feds will pay for a lot of this water project, but one of the requirements is a bird bath. Like most ranchers, the wild ideas of the Feds are viewed here with at least skepticism and more likely derision. A standard cattle tank is hard for birds and smaller wildlife to drink out of, and they sometimes end up drowned instead, since they can’t get out. So next to a regular, half tire water tank, which is fenced so the cattle can’t stand around in it, is another tire. This one is set at an angle so it won’t get too deep, and has some artistic rocks stuck in the cement in the middle. I guess it will get a ramp too, and will also be fenced so the cows can’t go stand around in it either. (Cows do love to stand around in the water, but they tend to poop in it too).

The lady Fed hasn’t come to inspect yet, but she is already thinking Harry is pretty good because he put up a fence to keep the cattle out of a corner and calls it the Pocket Creek National Wildlife Refuge ( it is probably 20 acres- laughable around here) and he also rescued a wounded Golden Eagle and actually got a plaque for that tree hugger gesture.

Although all this makes everyone giggle pretty much, ranchers have to be good stewards of their land and the creatures there or they will go bust. And also, during the winter when the cattle are in the smaller home fields with their hay or up at the feed lot getting really fat, guides pay the ranchers to take hunting parties back into the hills. We can see the deer and elk fattening up on the alfalfa, they are a sort of crop themselves.

It was sad to leave, we both love it there, and it was a relief to get away from the resort.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Meadows

We have moved down to a less glamorous area, know as the Meadows. It is sort of in a meadow, but since the whole area is one vast hayfield or pasture, it sounds better than it is. Someone did get a good crop of big fat round bales from the fields around the resort in May while it was raining. Now it is all crunchy stubble, dried and straw colored. There are occasional patches of green weeds, I can’t imagine what they do for moisture, but mostly it is grass that has wisely gone dormant. We are down here for our 9 days out, a rule here that you can only stay on a real site, with sewer, for 21 days. I still don’t know why.

We have to pay attention to our washing water. We would probably be made to leave the park if we put it out on the ground that so badly needs it. Other than that, it is actually a nicer place than up there in the suburbia of the regular sites. I can see out across the dry creek bed onto more pale grasses and the hills beyond. The black cattle are out there, I guess grass dried up is the same as hay. They look very dramatic on the light dried grass. It is much quieter down here, and there are no street lights, so it is almost like…..camping!

We have been geocaching even in the heat, a lot along the nifty bike trail that runs alongside Rapid Creek, through golf courses, baseball fields and just plain park area. I think probably the huge flood of 1972 did a serious urban renewal job on everything along its banks, leaving open areas that can’t be built on. We have bought two used bikes, and used them to find one of the caches. I like riding the bike, although I didn’t ride at all as a kid or a grown up. I did take one mighty fall trying to get off. I don’t know why I didn’t think to hold onto the brakes as I was dismounting…I am getting more and more confident and learning to use the gears, and my butt is gradually getting used to the seat. I still don’t think much of riding on the road, the cars and trucks scare me and make me wobble which is NOT safe. I got a basket and ride up to do the laundry, and ride up to the snack bar for Ice Cream and ride up to the lodge to trade my books in for new ones.

We went to a baseball game. This is the American Legion league, which I had never heard of. It is for boys 15 –20. Rapid City has two teams, one of which is regularly a state champion. The ball park has seats and actual boxes and a great snack bar, probably room for 1500 people which is pretty cozy compared to major league parks or even AAA parks. There were a lot of families there, it was clearly a social event with people visiting all over the seating and kids running amok everywhere. Nice to see a sort of “perfect America”, Norman Rockwell kind of evening. The baseball was really good, much to my surprise. I guess I was remembering the disasters of Little League.

We have had two big fires so far in the area, one down in Custer State Park, that burned 2,000 acres of forest and grass land, and another down near Hot Springs,10,000 acres that burned 20 houses and killed one man who ran back into his house for one more last minute grab before the house went up. Another is burning about 15 miles north of here, known as the Box Elder Fire. We saw the first smoke on Saturday, and in a few hours it was so hot that it created a huge thunderstorm. This dumped a bunch of rain on the area and slowed it down some, but it is in steep hills and canyons and impossible to fight. If we get a hot windy day it will blow up again. These fires are scary, once they get rolling they can get up to speeds of 15 or 20 miles an hour, leaping from tree to tree and generating so much heat that everything in the area just explodes. Most of them are caused by lighting. The fires would probably be a good thing for the forests and the grasslands, but there are too many people and houses so they have to fight them. There are all sorts of helicopters with buckets and planes spreading magenta fire retardant powder that do most of the work, while the hundreds of men (and women) on the ground mostly make back fires to starve the main fire and try to make breaks to stop it.

The heat is amazing, we have had 4 days in a row where the temperature is over 100, and there are 4 more forecast. We have become like desert creatures, doing the outside stuff in the early morning or after the sun goes down, and hiding in the maintenance barn or in the trailer most of the day. Last year we only had 3 or 4 days of 100+. Today I looked at the temperature map and Rapid City is the hottest place in the whole USA. Lucky me.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Camping as the Last Resort

A gentleman came to the Maintenance Shop and said that there were ants on his campsite, and they couldn’t even sit outside. Another came to say that the picnic table was too rough to put a cloth on.

The big indoor riding arena next door, which used to be part of the ranch, offering riding and etc, has been sold to a private Christian school that will make it into all school buildings,playing fields etc. Right now the rodeo program of a local university is there and there are lots of horses. The horses have lost their lease and will have to go elsewhere. When this was announced at the general membership meeting last week, the crowd heaved a sigh of pleasure and relief. Now we don’t have to smell the horses or have flies.

Since the name of this place is Hart Ranch Camping Resort, it seems to me that they are demanding a sanitized and citified version of both camping and of a ranch. Actually the Ranch part is because this was once a huge cattle ranch, it must have been well over 20,000 acres in its prime. It was bought out by a wealthy developer who put in this campground, condos, a golf course, the riding arena and so on. So, I suppose that the ranch part is historical and with the horses gone, we only have the neighbor’s cattle to look at on the rolling hills.

I think it is the word resort that feeds this behavior. Apparently from the French resortir, to go out again, its meanings include resorting to violence, asking for help only as a last resort, and here, as a place to come for recreation and relaxation. It implies a sort of full service get-away local that caters to your every need on site, and drinks and snacks brought right to you pool side,(by a person of dark complexion in a white coat) and formal dinners and every kind of sport or hobby provided. A stationary cruise ship. The difference between a ski hill and a ski resort would be that the hill just provides skiing and maybe lunch, whereas the resort has rooms, chalets, restaurants, bars, shopping , hot tubs, skating, sleigh rides. And so on. Lots of liveried servants, fluffy towels and 5 star hotel rooms.

Clearly calling yourself a resort sounds better than a campground, and since there are no rules about this, anyone running a campground can call themselves a resort, and hope people will be sucked in. Hart Ranch does qualify as a resort, you pretty much can get it all here, although no booze is served at the pool or anywhere else. We have an enormous pool and three hot tubs, tennis courts, shuffleboard, miniature golf etc etc. But we are not that upscale. The cabins are just that, small and rustic. The camping sites are all level, all paved, all have plenty of room and water, electric, sewer, and cable, and there is WIFI. The big fat book that you can look up campgrounds in, Woodalls, gives us 5 stars, the top rating and only maybe 50 campgrounds in the US are as good.

So what’s not to like ? I am secretly beginning to think that the absence of the liveried servants is what leads some people to make demands that don’t seem to quite fit what we’re doing here. If it is a resort, goes the thought, then I get to order people around and find fault with anything I can come up with.

We went to a cabin to replace the AC filters, something we have to do a lot because of the dust and because the units are not quite up to the heat or the size of the cabin. The guest said someone was taking a nap, so we decided to come back later. Then he went on to tell us that he had pulled up all the weeds around the cabin, and asked why they had not been tended to. Apparently, there are a lot of people who think that if we just tried harder, there would only be lush grass everywhere. We have a crew of 10 guys who do nothing but mow and spray and weed whack, and another guy who does nothing but irrigate.

Recently, the drought and the unrelenting 100+ temperatures have brought the management to their senses about water. There will be no more irrigating, no more washing of campers or cars. I am much relieved, the senseless waste of water to clean already clean rigs, and to maintain green grass while the hills all around are the color of old straw was beginning to make me angry. One person told me that the water supply for the resort was getting low, don’t know about that for sure.

I haven’t heard that people are ignoring the ban, or that they are complaining. Maybe people do realize the cost of all that water. As the guests leave, they drop off a comment card, the results of which get compiled so we can see how we are doing. It will be interesting to see what the comments will be.

Lush lawns have always seemed to me to be a total waste of time, money and natural resources. A lush lawn is the ultimate conspicuous consumption garden, probably from days when devoting acreage to anything but crops, or pasture was a big, visible luxury. Not only was the space non productive but it required gardeners to care for it. And don’t even get me started about Chem-lawn and what all ends up in the ground water.

We are both working pretty hard, a 40 hour week of fixing, painting and the usual campground jobs. We had an exciting day when a major water leak occurred. The radio was full of reports of low water pressure, and soon the leak was found, underground. The elderly backhoe was brought out, and in the excitement of trying to dig up the water main break, the backhoe snagged two of the three legs of the power supply to the resort. The radio came alive again as parts of the park blinked and went dark. 6 hours later, after hiring a better backhoe, a better driver, and calling in the electric company, all is back to normal. We used my generator and Don’s big halogen work light to finish up in the dark. Our water bill was way high for this month, nearly double, probably due to the water break, or maybe just too many people washing campers.

As the temperature rises the electrical use does too. We had two more power outages in the heat. Since we have a new restroom/ laundry building and 5 new cabins we need more power, and apparently the load was not balanced across the three legs. Finally the power company did the 440v equivalent of putting pennies in the fuses. They assure us that our sub stations will protect us.