Saturday, May 30, 2009


Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

Each year in the month of April the Skagit Valley in Washington State celebrates a month long festival called the Tulip Festival. I believe I've read that there are more tulip bulbs supplied to the world's gardeners from here than from any other place except Holland. Sometimes, like this year, Mother Nature didn't see the schedule and the tulips arrive late, but the festival still goes on. Those of us who live in the area tend to try to avoid the tulip fields during the festival as the traffic can be a nightmare to get through. But the tourists love it and keep coming back and the area is beautiful, especially if the weather cooperates.

Last year in January, Pat's daughter, P, and I took a class on digital photography that is put on by the Digital Photo Academy, a group sponsored by Panasonic that offers classes in twenty-some cities around the country monthly. You do not have to have a camera made by Panasonic to take these classes. Check the link for where they are, what they offer and what they cost. P and I still get emailings from them and we probably will take some other classes in the future. You may enjoy taking one of them yourself.

This spring they offered one that was in our backyard, a photography trip to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Unfortunately neither P nor I were able to attend this one but I did find this, a short 3 minute video on that class. This shows some of our beautiful area, tulip and daffodil fields in bloom and some of those who were able to attend. Enjoy.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009


Icicle River RV Park, Leavenworth WA

Our first stop on our recent RV trip was one of our favorite RV parks, the Icicle River RV Park at the Bavarian town of Leavenworth, WA. This park is about three miles up the Icicle River Road which is the first road you come to as you enter the town from the west on highway US 2 after coming through Stevens Pass. We did stop at our candy store, The Alps, but knew they had a bad fire there over this past winter and the building was totally destroyed. They are operating from one (soon to be two) small buildings that have been setup near the location of the old building but they did not have room for anything but candy. I bought some divinity fudge, Pat bought some cashew bark, probably our two favorites, at least in what they carry. They will rebuild and hopefully by next season be returned to full operation. It has always been a good place to buy toads and I am married to a toad collector. The previous photos that I posted of our tow dolly were taken here in this park and here are a few more photos to show a bit more of the place.

Icicle River RV Park 00
This shows our RV parked in space 100 which is right on the river. Our VW Bug is shown behind the RV. We used to travel with a Saturn which can be flat towed behind the motorhome but I traded it in on the Smart Car. The VW is front wheel drive (ours has a diesel engine with an automatic transmission) but it has to have it's front wheels off the ground when being pulled behind the RV. So, we had to buy the dolly. More on that later in another post.

Icicle River RV Park 01
This is a view looking alongside the driver's side of our RV toward the river which was right in front of the rig. This is one of the most popular spaces in this park due to the fantastic view of the river. Right now the river is running fast and high due to snow melt in the mountains. Of course the water is also very cold. We went to sleep every night listening to the rapids outside our front door. This view shows our slideout extended. When we bought this rig I wasn't sure if I would like having a slideout or not. So far, I really do like it as it gives a lot more useful inside room. Ours isn't real large and there is only one so the weight added is not too bad. As long as it keeps working as it should, I'll like it.

Icicle River RV Park 02
This view is looking downstream from an RV site that is a couple to the right of ours as you were looking at the previous photo. I think this shows the general lay of the land pretty well and a bit broader view of the river. The elevation of Leavenworth is 1200 feet so it isn't way up in the mountains although it does look to be when you see them all around you.

Our first morning there I got up, turned on the furnace to bring up the temp inside to a more comfortable level and started the coffee pot. Electric heat turned was off as I always do while the coffee pot is brewing. This was just after 6am, about our usual time to get up. At about 6:20, while watching the news on TV (cable in the park) and enjoying a cup of coffee, all our power went off. The only things we had running were the fridge on electric power, the coffee pot but it was finished brewing so just keeping the hot plate hot, and the TV. I may have turned the electric heater back on but it would have been just idling as the propane furnace made quick work of bringing the inside temp up from 56 to 68.

I went outside to check the electrical breaker at our campsite post but it had not tripped. Next I checked the inside breakers in the rig but the only one that could have turned everything off was the main and it had not tripped. I looked around but the campers on each side of us were not yet up. However, the lights were on on the porch of the clubhouse, just behind our campsite. We listened to the radio running on our small inverter, drank our coffee and got ready to leave. In town, we had a wonderful breakfast at Sandy's Waffle Haus (remember this is a pretend Bavarian town and that is the way they spell it) and when back to the campground, I hunted up the guy who maintains the place. He said they had every campsite double fused and reset the breaker that had tripped. It was inside a locked box on the side of the clubhouse behind us.

Icicle River RV Park 03
Here is that clubhouse and you can see the large breaker box on the side of the building. We hoped that would solve our problem. We went back to town, did our usual shopping, managing to only buy one thing each. But we did enjoy a lunch at what is probably our favorite restaurant there, Cafe Christa and even went back later in the afternoon to share a decadent Kahlua chocolate mousse cake like thing. Pat knows the name of it but she isn't here right now so I can ask. But it was VERY good! We also had mochas at Starbucks.

We were intending to eat at the rig, heating things from our freezer in the microwave, for dinner. Pat started heating the one that would take the longest time while we also watched the news on the TV. After the microwave ran for about three minutes, that d@#n breaker blew again. Now it was about 17:30 and the office was closed but I managed to find the volunteer on duty, told him of the problem, and he came with the key to reset the breaker. Again. Remember that box has a padlock on it.

Back to the RV, Pat restarted the microwave, this time with nothing drawing AC power except the microwave, and it is only a 1000 watt appliance. We were on a 30amp service so should have been okay for up to something like 3600 watts (120v times 30 amps) but again after three minutes or so, it blew the breaker! Me back to the volunteer who unlocked the box, reset the breaker and this time left it unlocked. (The park was not very full this time of the year on a weeknight so this was pretty safe. I knew exactly which breaker tripped and needed to be reset by now.)

Back to the RV. Pat had been thinking and came up with the idea that it seemed to go after a steady draw of power for about three minutes. So, she cooked our dinner using just two minute bursts of the microwave. This time it didn't blow the breaker again, and we were able to use the TV, the fridge on electric mode, the heater (all night) and the converter that powers the 12v lights, etc all evening without it tripping again. It just seemed to go with the draw of the microwave after about three minutes of running.

The next morning (Friday), as we were getting ready to leave the park, the maintenance guy came down to ask about it. Our conclusion is that perhaps that specific breaker has grown weak. He has extras and was going to replace it in the main box before the next camper arrived to use space 100. I was almost tempted to just give up on the campground power and use our generator to cook that dinner, but didn't want to pollute the area with generator noise!

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Saturday, May 16, 2009


Finally, an RV trip!

We like to go to Eastern Washington State in the spring or fall as it is a bit hotter than we like in the summer. By May the weather there is good and we from the wet side of the mountains are more than ready for some dry, warm weather. This is our second year in a row making the trip around the North Cascades Loop drive but it was our first one taking the VW Bug as a tow vehicle on our new tow dolly. It has been an interesting experience.

I had never secured a car onto one of these so we asked Pat's son-in-law to help. It was done and we got away from Mt. Vernon about 10:30 Wednesday morning. We made it about ten miles when we discovered one of the straps securing the driver's side front wheel of the Bug to the dolly had come off, been drug for unknown miles along the freeway and pretty well torn up. Back to Mt. Vernon. Pat's SIL found another strap, it was installed a little differently and we were again underway, but this time we made many stops, the first after only about 2 miles, to check on those straps. They were fine.

We arrived in the Icicle River RV Park about 16:00, took the car off the dolly and parked the RV in our assigned space #100. Here is the dolly parked beside the RV:
May RV trip 01

Pat commented that the trailer light on the right side of the dolly didn't look right. Here is the one on the left side:
May RV trip 02

The right side light looked the same except it was turned 180 degrees to fit that side of the dolly. Here is a photo of that part of it now:
May RV trip 03
As you can see, she was right in that it didn't look right. In fact, it was gone. We have no idea where nor when it came off but it is totally gone. Now we will have to get another one when we get back home. But it has been working okay for us since then.

We spent two nights in Leavenworth, then yesterday drove to Manson, WA along Lake Chelan to visit our friends, R & D. Last year we stayed in a RV park in Chelan but this time are dry camping in their driveway. The house is out in the country on a former apple orchard. R likes to fish and Roses Lake is just below the house. The former apple orchard is now a grape vineyard and the winery is just beyond the vineyard. One of our favorite activities in this part of the state is to visit the various wineries and their tasting rooms. The nearest winery is that one just beyond the vineyard, a distance of about 500 feet from their house.

May RV trip 04
Here is a view from their deck looking across the vineyard to the winery with a part of Roses Lake beyond. This is a beautiful are.

Now I must stop as we are about to head off for a couple of more wine tasting rooms. More later.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Comparing two cars

I thought I would post similar photos of my Smart Car and the Wheego Whip that should be entering production this month. My car is a Smart 450 ForTwo, the original European model of the Smart Car. The Wheego Whip is an electric car based on a gasoline powered car that is built in China but imported to the US without an engine. An electric motor and battery pack is installed here and the car is sold as a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) which in Washington State where I live is limited to a top speed of 35mph, but to 25mph in most states. The manufacturer says the car is capable of over 50mph and once the necessary tests have been completed they plan to ask to have that NEV limitation removed so the governor can be removed. The car will then be more useful as it could be operated on most roadways legally in the USA. It will still have the limitation of how far it can go on a battery charge and I expect the higher speed will lower that range which I believe is listed as about 40 miles now as a NEV. The Smart Car holds a little over 8 gallons of gasoline and mine gives mileage between 45 and 55mpg so it has a cruising range around 400 miles between fill ups. The Smarts currently being imported by Roger Penske do not get that good of mileage, probably closer to 38 - 40mpg I think, due to them being slightly larger & heavier as well as having a larger engine and a 5 speed transmission VS the 6 speed unit in mine. These newer cars are known as Smart 451 ForTwo cars.

Here is my car, the Smart Passion Coupe 450 ForTwo:
Compare my Smart Car
Compare Wheego Whip
And here is a similar view of the Wheego Whip.

Mercedes Benz, the maker of the Smart Car, sued this Chinese manufacturer in an attempt to keep the gasoline powered vehicles out of Germany, claiming that they were a virtual copy of the Smart Car. They lost in the German courts but the cars sure look a lot alike to me. The Chinese company said there were only so many things that a designer could do in coming up with a car of this size and that no one would ever mistake the two with the considerable difference in the price they sell for.

Here is an interior view of my Smart Car:
My Smart Car 04
Wheego Whip 13
And here is a similar view of the interior of the Wheego Whip.

These two cars look very similar to me and I can sure see why you might think the Chinese car is a copy of the European one. Many of the features appear virtually identical. But there is a lot of difference between them mechanically, at least this Wheego Whip version that is being sold in the USA. I think the currently imported Smart Passion Coupe is being sold for around $16,000 and the Wheego Whip was expected to sell for about $19,000 with production in the USA to start this month, in May. I don't know how the accessories compare on the two cars at those prices although I don't think air conditioning is very viable on the electric car due to the amount of electrical power it would pull from the batteries. I'd have similar questions on how well a heater/defroster would work.

I really liked both of these cars and came very close to buying the Wheego Whip. The only thing that really held me back is the battery pack. I think there are some new battery designs that will be available and affordable in a couple of years that will make this car a lot more useful. Pat and I are finding that we use the Smart primarily as a town car. Pat still isn't comfortable in it going on the freeway although I have and it is fine. The electric car, even the NEV model with it's speed limitations, would work pretty well as a town car, if it could go farther between battery charges. They are coming but I just don't think they are quite here yet, at least in a package that the average person can afford.

For a look at an interesting electric car, go look at the Tesla Roadster roll out in this 3 minute U-Tube video. This car will go more than 35mph (about 100mph over that) and has a cruising range of over 200 miles. It's acceleration is very fast and it's a fun car to drive. But, you'd better have a spare $120,000 or so if you want to buy one.

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