Saturday, May 22, 2010

Back “Home” at Hart Ranch

As full-time RVers, we have to claim a home address even though we travel from place to place and live in our motorhome. For readers who aren’t RVers, this is called a legal “domicile.” I established my domicile in South Dakota while traveling solo about 6 years ago when I bought a membership in Hart Ranch Resort in Rapid City, SD. At first I used the resort as my mail forwarding service also, but I later switched that to Pak ‘N Mail in Rapid City. Voter registration in SD requires a street address, not a personal mail box (PMB) or post office box, so Hart Ranch still serves as my physical address.

When Don was traveling solo, he used the Escapees mail forwarding service in Livingston, TX. After we got married he switched to my SD addresses. Vehicle insurance, registration, driver license fees, inheritance tax and personal income tax are some of the monetary reasons for full-time RVers to choose either SD or TX (or a few other states with similar fees). When I chose SD, it was a little less expensive here than TX, and I enjoyed coming here in the summertime, whereas most areas of Texas are pretty hot in the summer.

So, there’s always a feeling of “coming home” when I return to Hart Ranch, even though our true home is the one on wheels.DSCN2203  Hart Ranch is a beautiful 5-star resort, where we could stay all summer, or even all year if we wanted to be here for winter sports, as the resort keeps a portion open even during the cold months. But, no thanks, we prefer to be somewhere warm in the winter.

The sites are large and lawns are beautifully manicured. There’s an Olympic size pool with water aerobics, three hot tubs, mini golf, pickle ball and tennis courts, sand volleyball court, fire ring, restaurant (with delivery service to your RV) and snack bar, game rooms and puzzles, comfortable seating in the lodge with magazines and daily newspaper, live entertainment in the pavilion every weekend during the summer, junior camper programs, a resident massage therapist, movie night, potluck dinners, craft and rummage sales, church services and inspirational singing on Sundays, jam sessions, quilters and crafters groups, etc. Anyone who comes to Hart Ranch and is bored just isn’t paying attention!

Plus, this is the heart of the famed Black Hills with attractions such as Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Monument, Custer State Park, multiple caves open for tours, lakes and scenic mountain roads, a wild horse sanctuary, the historic towns of Lead (pronounced ‘leed’) and Deadwood, Kevin Costner’s Tatanka – Story of the Bison, Sturgis – home of the famed motorcycle rally every August, and many more nearby places to explore. After coming here for 6 years, I still haven’t seen everything there is to see!

When we left Chamberlain Friday morning, we got an early start and we would gain an hour by going from Central to Mountain time zone. So we took the time for a couple of stops along the way.

The first stop was at South Dakota's Original 1880 Town, about 20 miles west of Murdo, SD. The entrance, gift shop and part of the huge collection of memorabilia are in this 14-sided barn, built in 1919.DSCN2132

The tour begins and ends through the barn. Exiting the tour through the back door takes visitors through the gift shop, naturally!DSCN2160

The barn was moved to its present location from 45 miles away, near Draper, SD. The move cost thousands of dollars and took 3 days. Other portions of the town came from a movie set used for filming that was abandoned when winter arrived in the early 1970’s. The collection of more than 30 buildings is historically correct for an early South Dakota town.

Included are the Fire Station,DSCN2162

the Blacksmith and Emporium (general store),DSCN2187

the Bank,DSCN2166

the Hotel,DSCN2169

the Saloon,DSCN2177

with stage and operational player piano,DSCN2178

and a bar with brass rail,DSCN2179

the Church,DSCN2182

the Train Station,DSCN2183

the Feed Store,DSCN2185

several Pioneer Homes,DSCN2192

and many more! We took a break at the end, and a friendly stranger snapped our picture on this interesting porch swing.DSCN2193

The other stop wasn’t nearly as much fun, but we can say we did it. Wall Drug Store is a popular tourist stop, and both of us have stopped there before. But we didn’t realize how much they charge for a relatively simple lunch. I had a hamburger, Don had a hot dog and onion rings, we each had a small drink, and the total was $19.00! There was no table service; we stood in line to place our order, waited to hear our number called and went back to pick up our food, and had to hunt for napkins and condiments. And it didn’t taste all that good, either. Next time we’ll go to Burger King or Taco Bell!

We walked through the backyard of the complex, and Don talked me into climbing onto the giant jackalope for a photo. I had to wait my turn until all the children in the area did the same thing, with Grandmas taking their pictures.DSCN2199

Wall Drug’s history is interesting, beginning with this statement: “It was December 1931. Dorothy and I had just bought the only drugstore in a town called Wall on the edge of the South Dakota Badlands. We'd been open a few days, and business had been bad.” Dorothy came up with the notion of offering free ice water to travelers, and it was the brilliant idea that turned the business around. Now, it’s a thriving tourist spot with many shops all linked by doorways and halls, that attracts many visitors every day. DSCN2201 Based on our lunch, and a few things we saw in some of the shops, everything seems overpriced. I guess everybody should go to Wall Drug at least once, but I’m not sure I’d recommend a return visit.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

From South Dakota

The Blue Ox folks refurbished both our TruCenter steering control and our tow bar yesterday, returning the latter about 5:30 p.m. There was no charge for either service, and we had two free nights in their full-hookup RV park. So, our only cost was going about 500 miles out of our way to go to Pender, NE on our way from Benson, AZ to Rapid City, SD.

The tow bar is clean and shiny and has two new handles, with all the hinge points tightened and checked for safety. I’m very pleased with this service.

The TruCenter is another matter. When we left Pender this morning, I was anxious to see if it worked. We’ve had this device for almost a year and have never been able to feel its effect. The initial installation last July was done incorrectly, which caused the wiring to pull out. After the wiring was re-routed by a second RV shop, we still couldn’t feel any discernable effect. We had it checked by two other shops, both of which confirmed that it was installed right. Blue Ox techs took it apart, found some water inside, replaced a solenoid and a few other parts, and re-installed it.

With a mild cross-wind, I pressed the button. I felt a slight improvement in the steering, but I was still having to pull the wheel to the right against the wind. I tried it several times on different roads and going against the wind in a different direction. Still, I couldn’t feel a real effect on the steering. When Don took the wheel, he said he could feel it working. Oh, well, maybe I’m expecting too much. But for a $1300 purchase and 4 service calls, I think I should really know that it’s working!

We’re spending tonight at the American Creek Campground on the Missouri River in Chamberlain, SD. I stayed here about 6 years ago in my Montana 5th wheel. We have some nice views of the river from our windows.DSCN2109 DSCN2111

Below is the site originally assigned to us when we checked in. But the manager’s bifocals weren’t working very well in reading his computer monitor; he didn’t realize the Alfa had already been given the site.DSCN2112

We had dinner across the river at Al’s Oasis. This family-owned restaurant/market/gift shop has an interesting history. Read about it at

The sun is peeking out from behind the clouds, and there’s a little wind, but this is one of the prettier days we’ve had recently.

Tomorrow we have about 215 miles to go to Hart Ranch, our legal “home base,” where we’ll be for 2 weeks. We will have driven almost 2,000 miles since leaving Benson, AZ on May 6, about 2 weeks ago. It’s time to sit still for awhile!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pender and Blue Ox

Today was a short travel day, just over 100 miles, from Bellevue to Pender, NE, home of Blue Ox, with a brief stop to get two rock chips on the windshield repaired. Blue Ox entry

If you Google “blue ox” the first thing that appears is a link to the company’s home page, with the statement: Blue Ox Towing Products is the leading manufacturer of towbars, baseplates, braking systems, towing accessories, hitches, and steering controls.

Upon our arrival in Pender, we had no trouble finding Blue Ox. We had been pre-assigned site #9 in their very nice, full-hookup RV park adjacent to the manufacturing plant. However, site #9 seemed to have been appropriated for another purpose. Site 9 

I walked across the grassy berm to the building.Blue Ox side entry

Laura apologized about the mulch being on our site, and gave us site #12 instead. A walk back to the campground showed that site to be in use also.Site 12

I decided it was time to unhitch Carrie (the car) and drive around to talk with Laura again. She couldn’t believe that site #12 was occupied – it was supposed to be empty! I assured her it was indeed occupied. I should explain that the RV park has 14 full hookup sites, and only 3 of them had RVs on them, so it shouldn’t have been so difficult to find us an available site! Anyway, Laura really apologized and asked if we minded having to back in to a site. Mind? No, we do it all the time! So she gave us site #6, which is just fine. (I still don’t know what was wrong with sites #11, 13 and 14, all of which are pull-in sites…Oh Well! Anyhow, I like our back-in site better because we have shade from the motorhome on our patio side, and the pull-in sites don’t.)

Site 6

Shadow loves the grass here!Grass He *really* loves it!Grass2

You might have noticed that most of the sites are fairly level gravel, with very nice grass in between. They’re quite large with plenty of room between sites. If we had been able to stay in site #9, it has a concrete slab and patio. But we’re fine where we are. However, we couldn’t help but notice that site #8 is evidently occupied by a company VIP, given the looks of the RV and its site.


The Essex is a high-end diesel pusher made by Newmar. I found a 2008 (used) now for sale for just over twice what we paid for our 2008 Phaeton motorhome when we bought it new 2 1/2 years ago. Now, that’s what I call high-end $$$$$$! This site’s landscaping, patio furniture and elaborate grilling area, along with the full concrete pad and patio told us the place is for someone special! We have yet to talk with the occupant, but he drove up a few minutes after 5:00 pm in an SUV with a South Dakota license plate “BLUEOX03.”

Upon touring the company and reading about its history, we learned that the roots of the company go back to 1926, producing agricultural products. To read more about the history of the company, visit:

The Kar-Tote was developed in 1984. We saw an example of this first car dolly manufactured by an automatic machine on our company tour. Dolly

Mark, from HR, led our personalized tour. He offers tours at 10:30 am and 2:30 pm daily.Mark and Don

Later, we took a drive through the town of Pender, a pretty little midwest town of about 1100 people.Pender sign Although Welsh’s advertises in the RV park’s brochure, we decided not to eat there.Welsh's

This cafe was ruled out, too.Cafe

Our lunch at PoPo’s was nice, though, and we may go back for more onion straws tomorrow. Yumm!Popo's Popo's 2

I love small town residential districts. People seem to take pride in the appearance and upkeep of their homes and neighborhoods.Pender residential Church

The supermarket was, as warned, not easy to identify as a supermarket.Supermarket

It’s in an 1892 building being restored. Super facade

It’s small and not as resourceful as a Wal-Mart Supercenter, but adequate for what we needed. And there was no waiting at the check-out. Supermarket inside

By the way, Don’s getting really good at putting on the Magne Shades. He only needs about 25 seconds to put on the windshield shade, and about 5 seconds for the side windows. Magne Shade 1 Magne Shade 2Magne Shade 3

Tomorrow, we hope to find this Heritage Museum open so we can learn more about the area.Heritage Museum

And a real plus – today’s travel was uneventful and the weather was beautiful! Life is good.

P.S. The SUV and Essex belong to the company president; the license plate on the Essex is BLUEOX01, and I’ll bet his wife’s car is BLUEOX02.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bad Luck Ends, So Does Most of Bad Weather

After four days of travel (not our usual pattern), we’re spending two nights in Omaha. As a retired Navy Master Chief, Don gets access to the Family Campgrounds (FamCamps) at military bases. The one here, actually in Bellevue just south of Omaha, is one of the nicer ones. FamCamp site

The lake you see in the background is imaginatively named “Base Lake.” It’s not on the gated portion of Offutt Air Force Base, so it’s technically open to the public. However, to stay at the FamCamp, reserve the Pavilion, rent boats, etc., you must be military active/retired/affiliated.Pavilion Picnic areas Calm lake Lake boats Playground

It stopped raining after we arrived in this area, but the humidity is still at or near 100%, and often we get wet from the mist. It’s a good thing temps aren’t high, or it would be quite uncomfortable, even miserable. But with the cloud cover and highs in the low 60’s, it’s not a good day for kayaking. Personal boats aren’t allowed on the lake, anyway. And there are a whole lot of other restrictions!Restrictions

So, we’re just taking care of a few errands, talking with neighbors, playing computer games and generally taking life easy. Oh, yes, we also washed the motorhome and car. We’ll get the MH windshield chip repaired on our way out of town tomorrow morning, and hope we don’t have to travel through any more rainstorms.