May 2017 – Dover, Tennessee

After having to spend an extended period waiting for the truck to be repaired, we had only five days at our next location, Bumpus Mills Campground.  This is another Corps of Engineer campground, this time on the shores of Barkley Lake on the Cumberland River.  Just across the river and in between Barkley and Kentucky Lake (on the Tennessee River) is the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.  For those of you that are aware of this area, you know that we were now in the extreme northwest part of Tennessee, just a few miles from Kentucky and Illinois.  The drive from Nashville took over 3 hours, although most of it was along I-24.  Thankfully, the traffic through Nashville was not to bad mid-morning and there were no traffic accidents to slow us down.  When we pulled into Bumpus Mills we were disappointed not to find anyone working at the check-in station, so we had to find our own way to our site.  Fortunately, we knew our site number from the reservation and it was open.  In fact, there was only two other campers in the campground when we arrived.  This is a very small campground, with only 15 sites and all of them need some work.  They obviously do not spend a lot of time and resources on keeping up the campground, however, the bathroom was kept clean and the view of the lake from the campsite was nice.  It was a back-in site and even with a tree across the road that I had to be careful of, I was able to get into the site with little effort.  After the pressures of the previous week, it was sure nice to be in a new and quiet location.  By the way, we did see the staff working the campground the following morning when they drove by to drop off our hang tag.

Campsite

There was a reason for us to travel to this location, as Fort Donelson National Battlefield was a short drive away on the other side of the lake.  However, this was going to have to wait as it had been over 1.5 weeks since we had done any laundry and we were both running out of undergarments to wear.  There was a fairly new washing machine and dryer outside the bathrooms, however, Kal had only enough change for a single load.  So we picked out what we had to have washed and I cleaned the RV while Kal did a little laundry.  This was the extent of our efforts for Thursday.

On Friday, the weather turned stormy so we once again stayed in the campgrounds.  Once again we found ourselves far from any major towns, so our internet service was non-existent and TV reception was limited to a single analog station out of Cape Girardeau, Illinois.  It is VERY unusual to receive an analog station as they have all gone to digital.  This has its advantages, since the signal was very snowy it was still much better than a broken picture and sound you get when you are out of range of digital stations.  At least we could watch it!!  However, this also meant we were just outside of their weather coverage, so it was not of much use during the storms.  Fortunately, they were not too severe.

By Saturday, we were both more than ready to get out of the RV for a while, so we headed out to explore Fort Donelson National Battlefield.  This Civil War battle also took place in 1862, but preceded Shiloh.  In fact, it was due to the Union victory here that led to General Grant being able to move his army up the Tennessee River in April.  At the beginning of the Civil War, the Confederacy controlled all of Tennessee and had established a defensive line along the southern border of Kentucky anchored at Columbus, Kentucky on the west to Bowling Green, Kentucky on the east.  In between were Forts Henry and Donelson along the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, respectively.  These forts are only separated by some 12 miles at this point, so constituted a single command.  The problem for the south was that Fort Henry was located right on the Tennessee River and was prone to floods and during the battle in February was nearly underwater.  The Confederates were in the process of constructing a new fort, Fort Heiman, on the Kentucky side of the river and the Union knew that there best chance for a victory relied on attacking before it was completed.  President Lincoln was still waiting for a Union victory in the war, where all the major encounters in the east had been won by the Confederacy and was pressing for something before Washington’s Birthday on February 22.  Thus General Grant got the approval to attack the forts in late January.  Not wasting any time, he moved his troops into position by February 4 along with Flag Officer’s Foote gunboat flotilla.  This flotilla consisted of both ironclad and lumberclad gunboats that were still new to the war.  Plans were to begin with Fort Henry by bombarding the fort from the river while the troops moved up.  However, Foote’s flotilla was so successful that Fort Henry had surrendered before Grant’s soldiers could fire a shot.  Of course, Fort Henry was largely underwater and the Confederates made only a token resistance before retreating to Fort Donelson.  It took Grant over a week to consolidate his position and begin moving his troops the 12 miles to Fort Donelson.  Of course the weather did not cooperate.  Have you ever noticed that the weather NEVER cooperated during the Civil War?  Part of the story of every major battle we have seen has been the terrible condition of the muddy roads, heavy downpours, and in this case a blizzard that hit the night of February 13.  By this point Grant had surrounded three sides of Fort Donelson with the Cumberland River to their back.  Up to this point there had been some fighting as the Confederates kept the Union beyond their first defensive line.  On February 14, Foote once again brought his flotilla to attack the water batteries of the fort.  However, unlike Fort Henry, the river batteries at Fort Donelson commanded a much higher location and were able to fire their seacoast cannon down into the relatively unprotected wooden upper decks of the gunboats.  After nearly 1.5 hours 3 out of the 4 ironclad gunboats were severely damaged or sunk and they had to withdraw.  It was interesting to note that this barrage became known as “Iron Valentines” since the battle occurred on Valentine’s Day, 1862.  Even with this victory, the Confederate Generals knew they could not withstand a siege, so on February 15 they executed a surprise attack on the Union right flank to open up an escape route to the east towards Nashville.  This attack was initially successful, nearly routing the Union forces on the right flank.  However, instead of holding this position, General Pillow ordered his men back to their trenches to resupply for the escape.  In the meantime, General Buckner had pulled most of his men from the Confederate right flank to begin the evacuation.  Thus there was only light resistance when General Grant ordered General Smith to attack the Confederate right believing the strong attack on his right must have left them vulnerable.  This attack was initially successful forcing the Confederates back to their second defensive line of trenches, but was stopped when General Buckner quickly turned his men around once he realized that General Pillow was not holding the escape route open.   By the end of the day, the Union had retaken its position on the right flank, once again cutting off any escape, and had advanced to the first defensive line on the left flank.  In the meantime, the Confederate Generals knew they were in serious trouble.  The overall commander was General Floyd, who had only a political appointment that began two days before the battle when he took over command of the fort.  He turned over command to General Pillow and escaped with his personal battalion of 2000 soldiers across the Cumberland River.  General Pillow also relinquished command to General Buckner and escaped with General Floyd.  Therefore, it was up to General Buckner, who was the only West Point trained commander at the fort, to seek offers of surrender.  When asked for terms, General Grant replied that the surrender had to be unconditional, which led to his nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant in lieu of his initials, U.S.  They met the next morning to work out the details at the Dover Hotel and although the surrender was “unconditional”, General Grant did allow the nearly 13,000 Confederate troops to keep their dignity and personal possessions.  The outcome of this battle was the opening of an invasion route to the heart of the Confederacy, who had to give up all control of Kentucky and most of northern and western Tennessee.  They also abandoned Nashville, which became the major supply depot for the Union army in the west.

It is not surprising that Fort Henry is today completely covered by Kentucky Lake, since it was often flooded due to its location right on the river.  Also the exact location of Fort Heiman has also been lost.  Therefore, the only remains of the battlefields are around Fort Donelson.  They have a nice driving tour that takes in the major locations of the two day battle.  The most notable, of course, is Fort Donelson itself.  For some reason, I had expected to see a brick and mortar fort like you see all along the coast.  Fort Donelson was actually only an earthen fort with 10-12 foot moats in front of the earth walls.  This was for two reasons.  First, its main purpose was to protect the water batteries from land attack, so major fortifications were not necessary.  Second, earthen forts are better able to withstand the pounding of cannon, which you can easily understand after looking at the damage to the coastal forts such as Fort Pulaski in Georgia.  The remains of the fort are in surprisingly good condition as you can easily see the walls surrounding the fort.  Even though a battle was fought here, all of it occurred well outside the fort in the defensive trenches.  The fort itself was never actually attacked from the land and the naval barrage was aimed at the water batteries, which suffered only minor damage.  They also have a replica of the crude wooden huts used by the Confederates both within and outside the fort.  While crude, with canvas roofs, these huts were much better protection during the blizzard that hit then the canvas tents of the Union army, if they even had that.  Part of the tour is also the Dover Hotel which is the only surviving building where a surrender occurred during the war.  For those of you that think Appomattox Courthouse also qualifies, the present day building is a reconstruction as the original building was taken down to be moved to Washington D.C. as a tourist attraction.  This idea fell through, but the wood was left to rot on the ground.  Finally, the tour ends at the National Cemetery where the Union soldiers were re-interred after the war.   As with other battlefields, the losing side was left in mass graves on the battlefield.  It was interesting to find out that the cemetery was also the location of a new Fort Donelson built by the Union army to protect Dover instead of using the old fort since protecting the waterway was no longer a priority.  The Confederates tried to retake Dover twice over the next two years of the war, eventually completely destroying the town.

On our last day in the area we decided to explore the Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday.  This NWR was established in 1962 when Barkley Lake was formed and extends along the new lakefront along the Cumberland River.  They is a 10 mile road, mostly along the river and the wetlands created by the lake.  It is a very pretty drive with many views of the lake and surrounding wetlands, often on both sides of the road.  There is a nesting Bald Eagle pair along the drive, however, we were not fortunate enough to see them and the nest is now hidden by the leaves.  We did see a racoon on the one-mile loop trail on the refuge and a Barred owl in the trees alongside the road.  We also found a very nice place for a picnic lunch before heading back the way we came along the river.  It was a very pleasant day and much better then relaxing in the campgrounds!!  So much for Tennessee this spring as we will now be heading into Kentucky.

May 2017 – Nashville, Tennessee

Since we were staying at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, which is only a few miles north of I-40, the trip to Nashville was along the interstate and even had a rest stop that we took advantage of about half way. For the next week, we would once again be in a Corps of Engineer’s campground, this time to the southeast of Nashville, just northwest of Murfreesboro on J. Percy Priest Lake, part of the Cumberland River. Poole Knobs Campground is an older COE campground, which means the roads through the campgrounds are narrow and windy. I was surprised to find out that 54 of the 64 RV campsites are pull-through, with a number of them being “buddy” sites that could be shared between two RVs. Unfortunately, the only site available when I made the reservations was a back-in site. When we pulled up to our reserved site, I was not sure we would be able to back our RV into it. Not only was the approach down-hill, which meant I would not be able to see the RV, but the trees and ditch across the road was going to make it nearly impossible to swing the truck around. An expert might have done it, but I am no expert. Thankfully, the staff showed us the site and offered to less us use the site across the road which would be much easier to get into. I gave it a couple of tries, but could not get the truck swung around. By this point we had two RVs waiting patiently to get by us, so I drove the RV all the way around the campgrounds to line up for another shot and let them by. On the way around I ran into the staff in his golf cart again and he informed me that this new site was only available through Thursday. So I pulled the RV back to the entrance gate to see what else we could find. Even though there were very few RVs currently in the campgrounds, all of the other sites were reserved for the weekend. So our choices were to either go back to our reserved site, or use this other site, leaving on Friday. With the trouble I had already had, I was fairly certain that I would not be able to get the RV into the original site. So with the staff’s assistance, we decided to try and put the RV into the site across the road. With his help I was able to steer the RV into the site after two tries, however, there was a dip in the approach apron that tilted the RV just enough to put the left side right up against a black walnut tree that was leaning in. I pulled the RV back forward and we got out our leveling boards to shore up the dip. However, This only allowed me to get more into a bind with the tree which eventually touched the side of the RV, bending in the gain channels along the edge of the roof. Thankfully, by this point I had managed to get the truck pretty much in front of the RV, so I was able to pull the RV forward again and take a new angle into the site that was away from the tree. After more than a half hour of maneuvering, we were finally in our new site for the next four days. I then spent some time finding a commercial campground near Clarksville, Tennessee and made reservations for the weekend. Since this was very close to our next planned stop, it should work.

Since we had already visited the only National Park in the area, Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro, last spring, there was nothing we were trying to visit in the area. There are some other Civil War Battlefields owned by the state in the area and, of course, Kal was interested in seeing the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Other than that our only plans were to visit one of Nikki’s high school friends, Charlotte, and her family that live only about 10 miles from our campground. Other than that our only plans were to get the truck serviced at the Ford dealership in Murfreesboro, less than 20 miles away. We had made reservations with them a couple of weeks earlier, so first thing Tuesday morning we drove the truck in for service. Besides changing the oil, fuel filters, and air filters, we also asked them to find the leak in the air conditioning and check out a noise we were hearing in the rear end over the past few weeks. Fully expecting to have the work finished that afternoon, we planned on crossing the street to a nice Mexican Restaurant for lunch and set down in the nice waiting area to wait. This was by far the nicest, largest, and cleanest service department we have ever been in, so is was no problem waiting with our Kindles or TV to provide entertainment. After a couple of hours, we got the bad news. The noise in the rear end was our differential tearing itself up and they were surprised that we had not been towed, much less that we had twice towed our RV with it in this condition. Obviously, we had to get this fixed right away and the cost was now going to be over $2500. We went to lunch while they tried to locate a loner for us since it would now be Thursday before we got the truck back. After lunch, they finally gave up on the loner and had Enterprise pick us up to get a rental. Thankfully, they had a corporate rate of $35/day instead of the normal rate of $55/day. We got our rental and went back to the campground to wait.

RentalCar

On Wednesday, we got further bad news that they were able to find the leak in the air conditioning using a fiber optic camera. They leak was in the central coil, which is buried in the dash. This meant a lot of labor as they had to take out everything under the dash in order to get to it. This would add at least another $1500 to the cost of the repairs and would delay them until Friday. Since we had to leave on Friday, this was going to be a problem for the campgrounds. However, they were not overly concerned as we could move to their “emergency site” that they keep available for just such a problem, since ALL of their sites were reserved for the weekend. Obviously, this would mean I would have to borrow their truck for the move, which I was not comfortable with. However, we both realized that the better solution would be to check with the incoming party to see if they would be willing to use the emergency site instead. By the way, this emergency site is actually a better site, since it is a pull-through site with a view of the lake. So we left it at that and continued our wait. Neither of us were willing to take any risk with the rental, so did not plan on going anywhere, except to Walmart which was less than 10 miles away. However, we did meet up with Charlotte, Jeff, and their two children for dinner at Marvin’s, a local barbecue restaurant that was very good. We had an enjoyable evening, which was a nice break from sitting in the campground worrying about the truck.

On Thursday, we found out they had a supply issue getting the correct parts for the differential, which would delay them until sometime Friday at the earliest. So it was another day sitting in the campground. I could not even do some minor repairs in the RV I had planned, as Kal is convinced we still have a small leak in the front boot, since all my tools were in the truck.

Check-out time at the campground was 3:00, so we had some time on Friday to see if they would finish the truck. Come to find out the differential was giving them problems, so we found out around noon that it would now be Saturday. So we updated the campground staff, who were doing everything they could to help out. As it was now certain that we would have to be there through the weekend, they called the incoming guests to make sure it was alright to move their reservation. As they were tent campers, they had no problem switching, thank goodness, so we were set for the weekend. So I cancelled our reservations in Clarksville. As it turned out, the weather was stormy and cold with temperatures dipping into the low 40s at night and over half of the campers either did not show or canceled their reservations. We could have stayed in any number of campsites that were better than the one we had, but we were glad to have it for the weekend.

On Saturday, the bad news just kept on coming. They had finished the A/C, but were still having issues with the differential. Now they needed a “Shim Kit” which they were having trouble locating, as it is rarely used. This news really worried us, as it made it sound like we had serious problems that went beyond the differential. I just could not understand how they could drop the differential out, fix the interior, and then need shims in order to reinstall it under the truck. If it would not go back in where it came out, then what other problems were there? Kal and I seriously began to talk about whether we would have to trade the truck in, years before we had planned. In any case, it would now be Monday before it was ready.

Sunday was spent worrying around the campground and it was not until noon on Monday that we got any further information about the truck. Now they had two people working on the differential and were hoping to have it finished early on Tuesday!! So we extended our stay another night, which was not a problem as nobody had it reserved until Tuesday.

As you can probably guess by now, Tuesday was yet another delay with the truck which now they were hoping to have done by closing time. We had to again extend our stay another night and the campground staff had to contact another incoming guest to change them to the emergency site. I am sure they were happy to be moved, since they came in after dark and this pull-through site would have been much easier to pull their rig in. The only good outcome of all this was that we were able to watch our Tuesday night line-up on CBS, including NCIS, where we had good TV reception.

We got a call first thing Wednesday morning that they truck was finally finished. We got ourselves around and went to get the truck. Especially since it was early in the day, I intended to sit down and begin the process figuring out whether it would be better to trade the truck in over the next month. First, I had the opportunity to talk with the mechanic about the differential. It turns out that the problem they were having was all internal to the differential. No two bearings are exactly the same and the new bearings would not seat properly. After attempting it multiple times, they had to get this shim kit, which turned out to be difficult to find and delayed them a day in the repair. However, there are some strict tolerances required by Ford for the repair that had to be met, so they kept at it. It certainly took a lot longer than they anticipated, but since the cost is set by their book value, the cost to me was just the car rental. He convinced me that there was no reason to be concerned with the differential and since the repair comes with a two year warranty with unlimited miles, we have decided to once again trust the truck. The total cost for all the repairs and maintenance we had done was just over $5100, which was a lot more than we thought we would be spending at the first of the week. So we had to show off our truck to the campground staff to prove to them we still owned a truck.

While this experience is one every full-timer can relate to, it is not an enjoyable experience. We can be thankful that it did not begin with the truck broken down on the highway, having to have it and the RV towed. While we did not have the opportunity to do any exploring, we were staying in a very nice campground in the woods. We also got to know the campground staff very well, who also had experience with full-timing and met a delightful couple also staying in the campgrounds, Tom & Nancy. For the first time, we found another couple our own ages who have just recently began full-timing. They tend to travel further between stops, which means they have been further west then we have been yet. They are also Escapees members and had stayed a month at Rainbow Plantation in Alabama, although it was after we had left this year. In addition, they are both enthusiastic disc golf players, which was a surprise for all of us. I believe we have met kindred spirits and we have exchanged information to keep in contact in the future.

April, 2017 – Hurricane Mills, Tennessee

The trip north from Hohenwald to Loretta Lynn’s Ranch on I-40 was just over an hour in length and was a good trip until the end.  Rather then getting on I-40 west to the next exit, our GPS took us across the interstate, traveling 7 miles on a bad county road.  The pavement was rough and the road was very narrow in places.  In addition, it got very close to the Duck River in two places where the river was flooding almost to the road bed from all the rain the previous week.  When we left the following Monday, it again wanted us to take this county road instead of going an extra mile to the interstate.  We figured out why when it told us to take I-40 west to the next exit and turn around instead of taking the entrance for I-40 east.  The reason for all this became clear once we got to the interstate where they were working on the exit ramps.  However, all of the ramps were open, so the GPS was just out of date.  I don’t know what we can do about this, except to keep it’s maps updated and continue to question whether we can trust it or not.

Campsite

As you might have guessed Loretta Lynn’s Ranch is the home of the country music legend Loretta Lynn.  It is not where she grew up, which was in the coal country of east Kentucky.  Instead it is the site of the plantation house and land they bought once she made enough money.  For her the location was perfect as Nashville is less than an hour to the east.  Loretta Lynn still lives there when not on tour, although the big plantation house is now a museum for tours.  They have built a smaller home behind the plantation where she lives now, along with all her cats.  They main attraction for the Ranch is the restored small town of Hurricane Mills with shops and museums for the public.  The Ranch is also the host of a major Motorcross event every year.  The RV park itself is near the entrance of the ranch, up on a ridge.  It was nice to be up on a ridge for a change, since all of the COE campgrounds over the past few months have been near a river, canal, or lake.  It also meant we had better TV reception, picking up a combined CBS/ABC station out of Jackson.  However, we were far enough from the interstate that our phone reception was very spotty.  This also meant our internet service was intermittent until we obtained the password for their free WiFi service which was very stable, if not real fast.  In comparison to other campgrounds we have stayed in over the past two years, this was certainly one of the fancier and most expensive.  We decided to spend a week finding out how the other half lives and it was nice, although questionable whether it was worth over twice the expense.  The sites were all paved and we had our choice of any open site after we checked in.  We choose a pull-through site that was easy to get into, although we should have paid attention to how we would get out of it.  The RV park was built back in the 1970s when the RVs were not nearly as long as they are today.  To exit our pull-through site we would have to make a sharp left turn onto a narrow road.  With the slope dropping away immediately on the other side, you could not swing the truck wide to make the turn.  Consequently, the RV was going to run over some medium sized rocks they used to line both sides of the site.  Backing up was not going to be easy with the trees and decorative fences they had along the center road.  We debated the problem all week and decided to cut the truck and RV across the gravel over to the next site where we did not have to make the left turn onto their narrow road.

Besides this problem, the site was beautiful with a wooden patio for the picnic table and full hookups.  On Friday and Saturday evenings the ranch staff hosted a campfire after dark with bingo and trivia games along with snacks.  In addition, during the day on Friday and Saturday they played Loretta Lynn music out of the campstore, which was just close enough that it provided nice background music.  The bathrooms and laundry facilities were also very nice and clean, so for an expensive week it was a nice change.  I would not mind staying in these upscale parks, except for the cost.

After all the rain the previous weekend, Monday was just cloudy for our trip and Tuesday was a beautiful, cool spring day.  When I was lifting the front end of the RV to hookup to the truck on Monday, we watched as about a gallon of water emptied out of the front boot of the RV.  We obviously had a leak somewhere that was letting water in!  This could be a serious problem, especially if not fixed.  We checked the closet on the inside of the RV and could find no evidence of any water getting into the RV.  However, it needed to be fixed, so this was my task on Tuesday.  After cleaning the seam on the roof, I could find no obvious place that was leaking although it was possible that the corner of the roof was the problem area.  I added silicone caulk in both corners and also a new bead of caulk along the leading edge of the seam.  For good measure I also cleaned and caulked the back corners and seam as well.  We then waited on it to rain later in the week and although it did not rain very much, Kal was still convinced that it was leaking out the boot, the bottom of which I have not sealed until we fix the leak.  The next most likely problem are the reflectors and lights along the side and the front of the boot.  Although these are supposed to be sealed with a rubber gasket around the reflectors, next week I plan to add some silicone caulk to provide, hopefully, a better seal.

We really did not do anything else all week except stay in the campgrounds doing laundry, cleaning, and working on getting this blog caught up.  We did spend part of the afternoon on Wednesday, exploring Hurricane Mills.  Kal did not want to spend the $25/person for the tours of the house, museum, and simulated coal mine as neither of us are big Loretta Lynn fans.  Thus, exploring the town only took a couple of hours.  There is a grist mill and doll museum you can visit for free and three shops where you can buy just about anything you can imagine with Loretta Lynn’s name and/or picture on it.  The Western Store was pretty overwhelming with all the Loretta Lynn souvenirs right down to cowboy boots.  We did buy a couple of food items in the General Store, once again with Loretta Lynn’s name on them.  Except for a refrigerator magnet with her picture on it that I won playing bingo on Friday night, we managed to not come away overloaded with Loretta Lynn.