Monday, July 31, 2017

The Mechanically Inept Is Still Working on the Rebuild of a Hyd. Cylinder

OK, once I verified the size and ordered a rebuild kit I thought I was done messing with this hydraulic cylinder until the USPS delivers my parts.

I was wrong.

After shining a headlamp down into the cylinder and seeing stuff I didn’t much like, I checked in with The Brother, the real mechanic in the family. When he finally stopped laughing at my misguided efforts, he advised that before I start messing around with the rebuild kit I better take a Scotch-bright to the inside of the cylinder to clean it up as best I can.

And here I was thinking that I could take a break while those neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night people did their thing (OK, full disclosure here, they may be pretty good about delivering mail in bad weather, but what stops our local Post Office in its tracks is anything that smacks of decent customer service. The very thought of it horrifies them!!)

So instead of moving on to less stressful things, I found myself still standing there at the bench confronted with the scattered bits (My bench looked a whole lot like a big-city emergency room floor at the end of a long Saturday night.) that once used to be my hydraulic cylinder; my expensive hydraulic cylinder. 

Since I can only get in through one end of this cylinder in order to 'Scotch-pad' it, I went and fetched a short length of pipe from the scrap bin, then had second thoughts about the advisability of banging around inside what is supposed to be a highly polished and flaw-free bore with something as hard as a metal pipe, so I put the pipe away and found a wooden stick in another scrap pile.

Going my brother one better, (because - well - that's in the how to be a brother rule book.) I decided to swab out the cylinder with a rag soaked in mineral spirits first, just in case there were any little bits of hard particles lurking inside that might score the bore in combination with a Scotch-bright.

I don’t know for a fact that it actually did any good, but seeing the gunk that came out made me feel better anyway.

Now it was time for the Scotch-bright

Although it wasn’t an exact match, all that stroking and turning and stroking reminded me of a favorite teenage-boy activity, probably because my arm soon got tired in pretty much the same way.

While that memory was entertaining, I realized cleaning up the bore like this was going to take forever,

so I came up with an alternative solution.

Once the exposed screw-head was chucked into my drill things went much faster.

While I never did make the ring in the bore where the outer O-ring of the gland rests disappear completely, it did get a whole lot smoother and I figured that was good enough since that O-ring is not where the leak was anyway. (It was leaking where the shaft comes through the gland.)

So with one final swipe of a clean rag down the bore, I sealed up the end

And was finally able to set all the bits aside

to wait for the new parts to arrive. Which probably won’t be long since within an hour of placing my order with Circle G Tractor Parts they had pulled my order, packaged it up, got it out the door and emailed me a tracking number.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Rebuild of a Hyd. Cylinder by the Mechanically Inept

Doesn’t matter how many into-the-sun glamor shots I take, nothing is going to change the fact that this cylinder on our tractor is dribbling hydraulic fluid all over the front tire at an ever increasing rate.

I’ve managed to go 63 years without having to rebuild a hydraulic cylinder, which, given my general mechanical ineptitude is a good thing, but life has caught up to me and now I have no choice.  At least no fiscally responsible choice since a new cylinder costs 7 times what a rebuild kit does. (Yep, I checked.)

So after going on-line and reading up on rebuilding hydraulic cylinders (I avoid the YouTube stuff because of our limited monthly data allowance out here in the sticks.) I stuffed one pocket full of rags, tucked a headlamp in the other, grabbed my ‘mechanics box’ (That's what Chanel Lock calls it and I figure they should know, though I've owned this set for over 30 years and it has done little to improve my mechanical aptitude. . . Maybe that's revenge for running over it with the tractor once.) and, rather cleverly I thought, a set of Chanel locks for grabbing the ends of the cylinder pins to pull them out, then set off down the hill to the tractor-barn.

That was about the end of things going smoothly.

First I needed an adjustable wrench (I played that smart by bringing two down with me) then I needed a magnetic pickup (I’ll get to that in a moment) then it was a screwdriver to pry the pins out far enough so I could get ahold of them with the Chanel locks, then it was – well, you get the idea.

All and all I made the trip from tractor-barn, past the well-house, and up to the main barn and back a good dozen times before I was finished (Finished with this stage, not finished with rebuilding the cylinder, not by a long shot!!)

First step was to remove the hydraulic hoses from the cylinder

I’m assuming keeping things clean is somehow important when messing with hydraulics, but since I don’t have any fancy caps laying around I improvised. Crude and maybe not all that effective, but it makes me feel better anyway. . .

Next step is to remove the bolts that hold the pins that hold the cylinder.

Here’s where I found I needed a screwdriver to pry on the far end of the pins to slide them out far enough to grab with the Chanel locks. One pin was easy to reach but the back-side of the other pin is butted up against some quarter-inch steel structure that keeps the front-end loader from crumbling to the ground, or worse, onto the operator, under load and that one was a bit more difficult to finagle out.

And remember that comment about keeping things clean?? At this point that went all to hell when I dropped one of the pins on the sandy floor of the tractor-barn. (easy to find but very gritty because of all the grease on it.)  Then I promptly turned around and dropped one of the nuts for the bolt that retains the pin!

That sand floor is not anywhere near a hard-packed surface, in fact it’s more like a fine beach just above the high-tide mark, and that nut buried itself in the sand faster than a flounder in mud, so the wages for that little screw-up was to tramp all the way up to the main barn and back to fetch my magnetic dumb-ass saver.

Hopefully I’m done dropping things, but – well – probably not. . .

Eventually I got the cylinder removed, went back up to the main barn to fetch a bucket to carry all the crap I had brought down on my various trips, and finally got the cylinder onto the workbench up in the main barn.

It was right about now that I noticed the two pins that hold the cylinder in place are different lengths and I didn’t make note of which was which. Oh well, I’ll figure that out when I get there, probably by discovering that the pin I just finished installing and bolting in place actually goes on the other end. . .

Here’s where I gloved up, grabbed some mineral oil, rags and pipe cleaners, and cleaned up the outside of the cylinder, the pins and the threads of the hose nipples and pin-retaining nuts and bolts.

It’s also where I discovered that I had no fixed and only one adjustable wrench in all my shop that would fit the gland, and it was totally the wrong kind of wrench for this job!

But what the hell! Work with what you have. That’s my impatient and penny-pinching philosophy!

So back down to the tractor-barn with the cleaned-up cylinder and my oh-so-wrong wrench to temporarily mount the cylinder end back in the tractor, (Fair warning!! Those mechanics out there that are sensitive and easily upset should skip the next photo!!!!)

so I could slap my big-honking pipe-wrench on the flats of the gland and twist it out of the cylinder far enough to turn by hand. (Hey, I gave you fair warning!)

Then it was cart everything back up to the main barn where I pulled the gland the rest of the way out and let the cylinder drain for a while. (If you noticed several photos back, my waste-oil pan is busy hanging out under the steering cylinder of the tractor which has a slow drip (One every 10 minutes or so) at one of the hose connections, hence the tiny little catch-pan here.)

With the cylinder (mostly) drained I could finally pull the shaft and piston out of it.

The thrill of victory was short lived once I saw all that gunk piled up there on the piston. I’m pretty sure that’s not right!!

But there’s no turning back now!

So I cleaned up the shaft/piston assembly and made the hike back down to the tractor-barn so I could remove the piston retention nut. Although I don’t have a 15/16’s socket, or open-end wrench for that matter, in my tool arsenal, at least this time I had a proper adjustable wrench that would fit.

I was a little leery of this step after reading about thread-lock, torches and impact wrenches to get this nut loose, but in actuality the nut only took about ¾ effort to break loose.


Back up at the main barn I finished removing the nut and pulled the piston off the shaft.

Clearly the O-ring has seen better days.

With the piston out of the way I was now able to slide the gland off the shaft.

And it immediately became clear why the dang thing was leaking.

You can see here that the second seal is crumbling away, big time,

leaving all sorts of debris hanging around.

I’m trying hard not to think about the fact that I’ve got three more identical cylinders on this tractor, all the same age, all with the same work and load history. Right now I’m just trying to get through this first cylinder with all of us in one piece and functioning!

Anyway – now that I have been able to verify the dimensions of my cylinder to confirm I was ordering the proper rebuild kit, it’s on its way and the saga will continue once the USPS does its thing.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Not Even Trying to Hide!

At least the small one that snuck into the barn a few days ago made some attempt at being clandestine!

This 4 footer apparently doesn't give a damn, hanging there down the side of a clay bank just behind the bird-feeders.

I'm not sure what he thought he was going to find under the feeders. The Tiger-frog living in the container is way to big for this guy and the birds are too fast, but he hung out here for a good half hour. Eventually though he figured it out and made a U-turn back up the bank and went looking for better hunting elsewhere.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

That Time Of Year: Un Poco De Calor

You know it's summer in Central Texas when you walk outside first thing in the morning, throw your arms wide, and suck in a lungful of refreshingly cool 78 degree air!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Living with the IOTA

About a month ago I wrote this post about dumping the wounded TripLite inverter/charger (The inverter part was dead but the 40 amp charger still worked.) and replacing it with a puny little 15 amp IOTA charger with 4-stage smart-charge module.

Now that I’ve had some real-world experience with it, the IOTA that is, this follow-up post is about the realities of living with it. At least in my experience.

Truth be told, with the solar on the roof propping the battery up every day, at least to some degree, and my style of camping where I have shore-power available to run the IOTA infrequently, (I just did a quick tally of the last 32 nights on the road and I had shore-power 8 of those, the other 24 were dry-camps. And 4 of the 8 shore-power nights were because the only sites available were water/electric and 2 more of those 8 nights were because I was visiting people that were staying in a private, full-service campground.) so I’m not exactly giving the IOTA much of a workout, but I have used it enough to know what it’s capable of.

First and foremost, getting rid of a 40 amp charger in favor of a 15 amp charger has, as predicted, been no hardship at all. By the time I do hook up to shore-power the solar has usually had a good chunk of the day to shove some juice into the batteries so it’s not like I’m asking the IOTA to carry the full burden of my electrical consumption of about 30 amp-hours a day. In fact normally, even on moderately cloudy days, the solar has fully charged the batteries sometime between lunch and late afternoon. But even on the couple of occasions I turned the solar off for the day to give the IOTA a chance at a decent workout, in the twelve or so hours I’m hooked up to shore-power the IOTA has had plenty of time to shove a full charge into the batteries.

Both the TripLite and the IOTA use a thermally controlled fan to keep the innards cool, but there's a big difference between the two! First the TripLite, even when throttled down to ‘slow-charge mode’, put out nearly 30 amps of charge current which is much hotter work than the IOTA’s 15 amps, (In reality my IOTA is putting out just over 16 amps at full bore.) so its fan kicked in more often. And when it did kick in it was on like right now, loud, proud, and balls-to-the-wall! The services of the IOTA’s fan are not needed quite so often and when it does run it starts up slow and mostly unnoticed then runs proportionally so if only a little bit of cooling is needed only a little bit of fan-speed is used. In other words it’s not nearly as obtrusive or noisy as the TripLite fan was.

But the reality is that normally, even when shore-power is available, I leave the IOTA off and let the solar take care of the batteries.

In these days of smart houses, web-access, and blue-tooth connected devices (Yep. There’s an app for that!) turning the IOTA on and off by plugging and unplugging it seems like a pretty archaic way of doing things, but it works for me, and since there’s not much that can go wrong with a plug and socket it will likely work trouble free for a long time. (How many times have you plugged and unplugged your coffee-maker with no problems?)

And as you can see in the photos above, the plug for the IOTA is easily accessible yet tucked out of the way under the edge of the gaucho, whether plugged in or not, and when in the stowed position, the first photo, it stays put even when I’m driving some pretty ratty roads.

But I have to admit that not everything about the IOTA has been peaches and cream.

The internal smart-charge module installed in mine has an external LED. You’re supposed to be able to tell what mode the charger is in by the rate this little green light is flashing. I guess it’s better than nothing as long as the charger is mounted where the LED can be seen (And how often does that happen? These kinds of things are usually buried in out-of-the-way corners somewhere. Yet another example of a desk-bound jockey with no field experience doing the design work.) but turns out that this LED is doing its thing whether the charger is plugged in or not! It clearly operates off of battery voltage and not directly off of charger output.

Now you might think this is no big deal. After all, my IOTA is buried under the gaucho so who cares what that tiny LED is doing, right?  Well – wrong.  Go back to the first or second photo for a moment. See that big vent-cover I have over the only slightly less big hole in the side of the gaucho? I put that there because the TripLite would get hot, especially during a Texas summer, so I wanted to give it all the ventilation I could.  Now that LED seems pretty small doesn’t it? But at night, with the lights off and me trying to sleep, it still manages to throw a whole lot of light through that vent cover and I end up with a magazine sized patch of glowing green light there on the floor next to the vent, a patch of pulsating glowing green light.

Now I can sleep through truck engines, both idling and pulling in/out of truck-stops, through a row of 6 screaming 150 ton screw-compressors driving the data center air-conditioning, (For ten years I lived in The Van behind the data center during the week.) through cars pulling in and out around me in Walmart or rest area parking lots, (Yet I have no trouble hearing an alarm which is kind of weird.) but for my entire geekish working life I’ve been conditioned to various indicator and warning lights, so, like I’ve had to do with smoke, CO, and LP detectors, with charging devices and laptops, with TV’s, microwaves and modems (Yes, those last three are only at the house but remember that we live in a single room so all that stuff is right there with us at night.) if I want to get any sleep I’ve got to do something about the stray lights that technology has been insidiously slipping into our lives. (They say blue is the worst and, of course, that’s the color of the only LED on my phone that I can’t turn off, so I have to make sure the phone is laying on its face to hide that little sucker.)

Fortunately ‘doing something about the lights’ is usually as simple as cutting off a short bit of electrical tape and slapping it over the offender, which is what I’ve done to the IOTA.

If that turns out to be the worst thing about my IOTA experience I think I have a winner on my hands.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Not Very Good at Hide-N-Seek

I don't think this guy quite gets the concept of hide-n-seek!

This smallish, (about 24") young (I can tell because he's skinny for his length)  Texas Rat Snake (harmless to people) snuck in the barn door without realizing I was standing right there. This happens to me sometimes with animals and people. The Wife claims I have a cloak of invisibility. Regardless, when I reached for the camera he slipped into the crap under one of my storage shelves but wasn't completely successful at hiding.

Always good to have a snake in the barn. They don't chew on things: mice do.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Critter Update

Jump to real-time!

Unlike yesterday's post which actually happened a few days before Easter, this one is real time. OK, so there's a 20 minute delay but that's close enough!

As you can see, Mom and The Little One are doing fine.

They have been showing up every couple days for the past few weeks.

They surprised me today by showing up at 3:45 which is right at the hottest part of the day. Right now the thermometer at my workstation where I'm standing reads 99. Normally they are bedded down in the shade somewhere around here for another couple-three hours.

But this is new! (See the split in The Little One's right ear?)

Now don't go all freaking out on me here! Stuff like this happens and he/she (Still a little early to tell though it is tempting to think those dark spots on his/her head are antler buds, even though markings like this come and go on all deer hides.) was alert, curious and not favoring or messing with that ear at all.

This just means I'll be able to positively identify him/her for years to come!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Bluff Springs and Big Spring

After messing around on the Trestle Recreation Area trails until well past lunch, I just had time to quickly check out Bluff Springs, another spot the Lincoln National Forest ranger had told me about.

And I’m glad I did.

From the turn onto Sunspot Highway off of SR130 just south of Cloudcroft, I continued south about 8.5 miles and turned left onto Upper Rio Penasco Road. (Also known as County Road 17.)

A little more than 3.5 miles later Bluff Springs is on the right.

Upper Rio Penasco Road follows along – you guessed it! – the Rio Penasco which is a major west-to east watershed out of the Sacramento Mountains, though up here it’s just getting started so looks a little humble. Note that I took the photo above as well as the next photo while driving west so the river is actually on the south side of the road, the right side when driving it east towards Bluff Springs.

Initially the road is paved

But soon becomes a single lane of gravel.

Although wet in some spots from seeps coming down out of the mountain the road was in good shape when I was on it and any type of car short of a ground-hugging performance rocket could have made it to the springs without dinging up the ground-spoilers too bad.

With the exception of a single block of private land that was very well posted, the MVUM indicates that dispersed camping is allowed along the road anywhere between Sunspot Highway and the springs but there are actually only a few spots where it’s possible to get off the road.

A steep slope drops down right next to the north side of the road and while it may look like a person could pull off the south side and camp there next to the river, there are two problems with that. First, ever since my Boy Scout days I’ve always been taught not to camp within two hundred feet of water so as to not disturb the delicate eco-system too much nor unduly disturb the wildlife. Second, as usual the camera has flattened things out, but there is quite a drop there from the road to that bench along the river and I would have spent the entire sleepless night worrying about getting back up onto the road in the morning.

By the way, the road I'm driving on, Upper Rio Penasco Rd. sits on top of what used to be the Southwest Lumber Company's railroad.

This company-owned logging railroad connected to the rest of the world via the Alamogordo & Sacramento Mountain Railroad at Russia Canyon, which is about where FR 257 turns east off of Sunspot Highway today. If you look to the left at this intersection when southbound on Sunspot you can see a little ways down this canyon, now called Pierce Canyon, I would guess because after about 1950 all things Russia were verboten.

Back along the Rio Penasco, just east of Bluff Springs a branch of the SWLCo railroad looped around the end of the ridge and climbed up into Willie White Canyon then used a series of 5 switchbacks (Yep, 5 is a strange number since it leaves the engine on the wrong end of the train but that's what's on the maps. . .) to climb up and over the ridge into Hubbell Canyon, and then another series of 6 switchbacks to climb up and over into Hay Canyon.

Next time I'm in the area it's on my list to hike the general route of this railroad into Willie White Canyon and up over the first ridge via Forest Trails T113 and T5008.

This railroad started up in 1920 and wrapped up operations in 1942. That might not sound very long to us today, but in terms of logging railroads that made it the old man of the mountain, operating longer than any other logging company railroad in the area.

Even the demise of this railroad has a fascinating story behind it that involves a missed water-stop and abandoned engines, and I quote directly from the document:

It was not until 1945 that the railroad and logging equipment remaining at Marcia (My note: Marcia, very much a company town, used to be about 1.5 miles west of Bluff springs, right where FR 5009, also known as Telephone Canyon Rd. intersects with Upper Rio Penasco Rd. today. It used to be an important point on their railroad where short 'woods trains' were consolidated into longer 'road trains' for the run up to the interchange at Russia and had it's own post office from 1923 to 1942, Not much there now except a wide spot where two roads meet.) was brought up to Russia. One of the rusty Shay locomotives was fired up for the chore. During 1946, several SP trains carefully traversed the now little used track to Russia to bring out the SWLCo equipment for salvage.
P. S. Peterson, an SP engineer, and brakeman Wilbur Fifer had the job of bringing the remaining SWLCo locomotives down the railroad to Alamogordo. With locomotive 2510, they formed a train at Russia, with ancient logging locomotives separated by empty flatcars for added braking power. Peterson pulled the cumbersome affair down to Cloudcroft, and coasted right on by the water tank. The 2510 needed water, but lacked the power to back up the train to get back to the tank. And there was not time, under the Hours of Service Act, to cut off the locomotive and run down to Wooten for water and return. So he chained the whole outfit to the rails at the Cloudcroft depot and left with the 2510 for Alamogordo. In consideration of the risk in bringing the decrepit string down the steepest part of the mountain by rail, it was decided to leave the train where it stood. The entire outfit was cut up at the depot and trucked out (Neal 1966:66).(My note again: At the time this happened the road down into the basin more or less followed a parallel route between Cloudcroft and High Roles so shared the canyon with the railroad, unlike today where US 82 sits right on top of the original railroad route between these two towns. You can hike the Old Cloudcroft Road today by following T5002 from the Trestle Recreation Area.)

I realize that most people that drive Upper Rio Penasco Rd. have no idea that they are driving on the bones of a railroad and the backs of the men who built it, but who says railroads aren't fascinating!!!

This photo, taken from part-way up the bluff of Bluff Springs, shows the county road up there on the left just below the trees, and below that an overflow parking area edged with boulders to keep vehicles out of the river.

With some careful parking (On days without crowds, but if there weren’t crowds why the big parking area in the first place??) a person could get fairly level here and my interpretation of the MVUM along with a perusal of the notices on the board in front of the pit-toilets finds nothing saying you can’t camp here, but that sounds a little fishy to me so I don’t know. Besides, it’s still within the 200 foot exclusion area. (I've since learned that people do camp there but it's likely to be a noisy camp on weekends.)

So why all the hoopla about Bluff Springs??

Well by all accounts it’s the only ‘drive-up’ waterfall in this district of the National Forest and one thing we Americans just love is a drive-up, drive-in, drive-through anything.

Our predilection to finding 'faces' in things is evolutionary, but still, did you notice the two faces in the bluff there, one stacked on top of the other? 

This would be a challenging photo in the best of circumstances what with it being mid-day and the foreground in deep shadow while the background is in bright sun, but since I wasn’t paying attention I only made it worse and managed to blow out the highlights, the sunny areas, by not setting my camera properly. (The way digital works, if the shadows look too dark they can be fixed since the data is still there, but if the highlights are blown out, too bright, there’s nothing you can do to fix that since the data just isn’t there.) I’m only using it here because it’s the one photo I have that gives an idea of the general layout here.

I’m standing at the top of the falls here and the overflow parking is mostly out of sight there behind the brush in the upper center. Off the top right corner of the photo is the top of a set of timber steps leading up from the main parking area. You can see the path to the lower end of these steps there beside The Van and there’s a bridge across the river so you can keep your feet dry on the way up.

But if dry feet are a priority be careful about where you wander once on top of the bluff!

There are large patches of lush looking pasture up here that are actually more water than solid ground, at least at this time of year (Mid-April)

But you will want to wander this natural park-like setting once you’re up here!

The steps up might look challenging from the parking-lot level, but one big behemoth of a guy as wide as he was tall that I was sure would be staying down by the river when I saw him haul himself out of the car on tree-trunk sized legs (The car shuddered, straightened up, and heaved a sigh of relief when he got out!) made it to the top so they can’t be too bad.

From here you can also connect with the Willie White and Wills Canyon trail systems.

The bluff is along one edge of a gorgeous Alpine bench that just begs to be explored and picnicked on.

And cutting through the middle like something out of a Hallmark movie or a Thomas Kinkade painting is the small creek that eventually becomes the waterfall.

This trickle isn’t very long,

bubbling out of the side of the mountain there at that dark patch,

but it does its part to grow the Rio Penasco which will eventually empty out of the mountains near Elk, some 40 miles away, as a full-blown river.

I hung around in the gentle ambiance of Bluff Springs for several hours, snacking, wandering, sitting, just being, but eventually it was getting late enough that I needed to head off to a boondocking site that I had scouted out along FR206C nearly a week ago.

It had been dry for most of that week so I figured I wouldn’t have any trouble getting The Van into it, and I was right.

My only company all night was a pair of mountain bikers that came flying down the mountain from the left, right past a sign warning that this was an illegal trail and users are subject to fines, and disappeared just as quickly off to the right just after I shot this photo.

Once again I woke to snow, a sleety snow this time, but had no problem getting out to the highway to begin my long trek back home, though the next 40 miles were on slick, snow and sleet dusted roads. Normally I would have just stayed put until later but the forecast called for an all-day event and I had already used up any leeway I might have had in my schedule so I just took it easy until I got down low enough to leave the snow behind.

My route that day took me across the oil-fields of eastern New Mexico and far west Texas as the storm, now pretty much toothless but not giving up just yet, chased along behind me. At one point signs warning me of construction delays on NM 529 tempted me onto NM 360 instead, but shortly after making the turn I passed another sign warning me that NM 360 was subject to subsidence and sudden sink-holes because so much oil has been pumped out of the ground under it!!

But despite the potential consequences of this conspicuous consumption I made it safely to US 62 which took me through middle-of-nowhere Hobbs NM where there is a tiny little Air Force base.

Among Air Force members, getting stationed here is considered worse than being stationed in Minot North Dakota!! Not sure I agree with them. No crowds, no tourists, no snow, and a 10 minute, three-car rush hour. What’s not to like??

My destination for the day was Big Spring Texas. I got there in time to drive up the hill to the Big Spring State Park that sits on top of a rocky hill above town and is a favorite with joggers and bicyclists circling the one-way road through the park. 

There’s no camping in this park and the gate is closed at sunset, but that still gave me plenty of time to back into a quiet spot and have dinner before heading down the hill to find a parking-lot somewhere.

As I was cleaning up after dinner a ranger drove up in his pickup, parked in front of me and commenced talking on the radio.

Uh oh!!

I don’t care how guiltless you are, this is when you start running your life back through your head trying to figure out just what the hell you did wrong and how bad it’s going to be!

Now I read almost every week in the 6 page, twice-a-week local paper where Deputy Sheriff (Name redacted because it would give too much of a hint about where I live.) and his K9 partner (Name redacted because ditto.) stopped a vehicle for a ‘traffic violation’ (for some reason they never say just what the violation might have been. . .) and after making contact with the occupants noticed ‘criminal indicators’ that resulted in a search of the vehicle which resulted in arrest. Dammit, right about now I wish I knew just what criminal indicators are so I could avoid them!!!

Eventually the ranger got out of the truck and we started talking. You know, just normal everyday conversation stuff, no hands-behind-the-head, body-searches, handcuffs, or anything exciting like that. . .

Turns out this wasn’t just a ranger. He was the head ranger, the park superintendent, and after talking for a few minutes about different state parks he and I have both been to and what it’s like to be a ranger here at Big Spring, he very graciously offered to let me camp right where I was for the night.

I wasn’t expecting that!  That would be breaking the rules! (though he pointed out that he’s the one that makes the rules up here.)

Normally I would have jumped on the offer. After all, camp all by myself up here on the hill far above the bustle of town, who wouldn’t chose that? But the gates would be locked until 8 the next morning and tomorrow, Thursday, was the day the Good Friday road-madness would start, and I was still a long way from home and the only way to get there before the hoards were released was to get a pre-dawn start.

So with regret I had to decline his extremely kind offer and slink dejectedly back down the hill to spend the last night of this trip at Walmart. . . Acceptable, but not nearly as good as a whole state park to myself!!