I know it has been over a month since my last post and most of you know this was because of an accident that totaled our King Ranch. However, before telling you that prolonged tale, there was some pleasant days that fit with our normal experiences. The week in northern Wisconsin started out nice enough with a three hour trip south from Ely, Minnesota, around Duluth and Superior to the Top O’ The Morn Resort about halfway from Superior to Ashland, Wisconsin. Top O’ The Morn Resort is a couple of miles south of US 2 winding along backroads that were at least paved, but there were adequate signs for the resort along the way so we were not too concerned about getting stuck without a place to get turned around. Once we got to the resort we found it was on the shores a very nice lake tucked back in the northwoods with large white pine, oaks, birches, and maples trees. Our site was down a little hill and backing into a nice site on the shores of the lake. The site was easy to back into since there was a large turn around at that point for boat trailers at their boat ramp. We found the owners to be very nice, especially when we found out their names were Gregg and Kathleen. Their free WiFi was not too bad and the TV reception was surprisingly good, although our phone reception with Verizon was terrible.
Our purpose in traveling back to Wisconsin was to visit the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on Lake Superior that we were unable to visit last year due to our extended stay traveling back and forth through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We knew the best way to see the Apostle Islands was by boat so we immediately booked a tour out of Bayfield, Wisconsin for Wednesday. We also saw a show on PBS about historic train rides in the country and learned about a neat Dinner Train on the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad in Trego, so we booked this trip for Thursday evening. We spent Tuesday doing laundry and cleaning the RV while making the reservations for the rest of the week.
We got an early start on Wednesday morning to catch our 10:00 reservation for the boat tour out of Bayfield. We took the scenic road by going north to the shores of Lake Superior and then east along the lake to Bayfield. We were there in plenty of time and the weather was beautiful and calm with very little chop on the lake. We learned that the Apostle Islands consist of 21 separate islands, all of which are part of the National Lakeshore, except for the largest island, Madelaine. This island was well settled by the time the National Lakeshore was established and has remained private. Thus the tour traveled close to most of the other islands. Some of the islands barely extend above the lake, while others are at least a hundred feet above the lake. They are all covered with trees, however, only a few were not logged during the timber boom in the 1800s. You get to see some of the old sandstone quarries where blocks of red sandstone were cut for construction purposes throughout the mid-West. There are a couple of the many fishing camps on the islands from back in the day when sturgeon were harvested in Lake Superior. There are a couple of lighthouses that were restored by the National Park Service. I was disappointed that we were not allowed to disembark to visit these lighthouses. You have to either have your own boat or charter a private trip in order to see them. The best part of the trip was the time we spent around Devil Island. The shore is littered with sea caves where the waves of Lake Superior have undercut the sandstone to create some spectacular caves. The waters of the lake were very calm while we there so we did not get the full experience of hearing the waves crashing into the caves. They are especially known for the winter wonderland that is created within the caves as the lake freezes in the winter coating the caves with spectacular icicles.
The boat tour lasted about 2.5 hours, so by the time we returned to Bayfield we were ready for lunch. We found a nice local bar in town that served a nice lunch along with a craft beer from the area. After lunch we spent a little time exploring the Apostle Island National Lakeshore Visitor Center, which we did not have time for before the boat tour. After this we headed south out of Bayfield towards Washburn on the way back to our campground. After only a few miles south of Bayfield there was a string of brightly colored vintage Corvettes turning onto the highway heading north towards Bayfield. Partly marveling at the number of old corvettes and partly concerned about them shooting across our lane ahead of us, we did not notice that the truck a little ways ahead of us had stopped to make a left turn waiting for the traffic heading north to clear. Kal hit the brakes very hard and we managed to stop in time. However, the RAM 3500 behind us didn’t!! I still recall looking in the rear view mirror I use to monitor traffic to our right and seeing the truck barreling down on us. At first, I thought they were going to swerve right, however, the truck ahead of us was just then making its turn off the highway and would have been in their way. Instead they slammed into the back of our truck going at least 40 mph. I only had time to shout “look out” before we were hit and shoved violently forward. I believe that Kal had already taken her foot off the brake getting ready to move when we got hit, since the truck was thrown forward. Kal was taken totally by surprise, but managed to keep control of the truck and pull off the highway onto the shoulder. Since we were thrown forward, the air bags did not deploy and the seat belts kept us from flying forward after the impact. However, the impact did break both front seats as they were now leaning back to almost a horizontal position. Kal’s glasses and hat were also thrown off her face and into the back seat. After taking a couple of minutes to access any injuries, none of which were obvious, we exited the truck to assess the damage. The entire box of the truck was smashed in up to the fifth wheel hitch. Since the other truck was of a comparable size it appeared their truck went up over the hitch to strike the box. It was possible the frame was not bent. They also sustained damage with their front end mashed in and leaking antifreeze. Nobody seemed to be seriously hurt except for Kal and I with sore necks from the whiplash. Thankfully, someone called 911 as the highway patrol and ambulances arrived quickly from Ashland. They took our insurance information and drivers license information and turned us over to the paramedics. Kal and I were both fitted with neck braces and put into separate ambulances to be taken to the hospital in Ashland. We were taken to the emergency room at the hospital where for the next three hours we were observed and monitored including CT scans of our necks. Once they determined there were no serious injuries we were allowed to leave to find out what happened to our truck. I have to say everyone was exceedingly nice and helpful in everyway possible! The nurse even offered us some cash to pay for there local bus service to take us to Ron’s Repair and Towing in Washburn where our truck was taken. The patrol woman even offered us a ride to the campground if we needed it. However, this was not needed as Ron was willing to loan us a small car for the night after he removed the truck from his trailer since he needed the key which we had naturally not left in the truck. I finally thought to take some pictures of the damage and we called the insurance company before we left for the evening. We were both still very shaken not knowing what was going to happen now.
Our goal for the next day was to secure a rental car and return the car Ron loaned us. However, first we informed Greg and Kathleen about our situation and they began trying to figure out where we could be moved to since the site we were in was booked for Labor Day weekend and did not have a sewer hookup. We obviously were going to be here for at least a couple of weeks. We then drove to the Duluth Airport to rent a car from Avis for the foreseeable future, which we started with a two week rental. Then it was a 2 hour drive back to Washburn to return Ron’s car. By this point we knew they were going to pick up the truck and take it to Milwaukee to get it assessed, supposedly not until Friday. As it turned out that did not pick the truck up until the next Tuesday!! In the meantime I asked Ron if he would remove the fifth wheel hitch and toolbox from the truck so he could install them in the new truck, if they totaled our truck. While we were there we got everything out of the truck including all my tools in the toolbox and wood we use to level the RV.
After we got the truck unloaded we had one more thing to do. We had made dinner reservations on the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad and these reservations were non-refundable. So it was back into our rental car for another 1.5 hour trip south to Spooner. We got there with a little time to spare before they loaded us onto the train. They have quite a collection of vintage railroad cars that have been restored and we got to see both their lounge car and dining car. As the train was pulling out of the station for its VERY slow trip north, which was only about 10 miles, we were treated to a live piano performance in the lounge car. While the piano player was not really that good, it was great to finally relax after the past two very trying days. We were then shown to our seats in the dining car where we enjoyed crab cakes and soup as the train moved along. You had a choice for the entree, Kal had steak and I had the ribs. While we ate the main course the train stopped at a nice overlook over River. Dessert of cheesecake was served while we started back to the station. It was a great way to spend 2.5 hours watching the scenery and eating a fancy meal. Those passengers that paid for the Bed and Breakfast trip were shown to their bedrooms for the evening to be followed up with breakfast in the morning. For us, we exited the train and got into our cars for the 1.5 hour trip back to the campground in the dark. Both of us had trouble staying awake for the trip.
On Friday we began the process of finding a replacement. After talking the situation over we had decided that even if they were to fix the truck we were going to trade it in on a new truck. I had been thinking of trading it in sometime next year anyway as it was starting to give us problems. This year we had already had to replace the high pressure fuel pump, alternators, and batteries, none of which we cheap. With our life style I just cannot afford to have problems that put the truck into some unknown repair facility every couple of months. Besides we had been putting away over $2000 a month from Social Security and had built up a sizeable nestegg to make a large down payment when combined with the value we found on NADA and KBB for the truck in very good condition. So we headed into Benna Ford to speak with Luke Darwin who Gregg and Kathleen had recommended. We set down with Luke and explained our situation. They had a nice 2019 Lariat that would be our dream vehicle, but the price tag was too high for the monthly amount we wanted to spend of less than $500, even with a 7 year loan and all the discounts and rebates they were interested in providing. So we left it with Luke to locate a F350 XLT that would fit our budget. We also dropped by the local Dodge dealership to have them look into a RAM 3500 that would also do the job, however, I loved our Ford King Ranch and wanted a comparable vehicle if Luke could find one.
Saturday and Sunday were just spent in the campground worrying over the situation and waiting to hear back from everyone. In fact, over the next month we spent a lot of time doing just hanging out in the campground waiting for people to get back to us. In fact, instead of giving a day by day accounting over the next month I am going to summarize each thread. To begin with, was the health insurance. Since the other vehicle was at fault, their insurance company quickly agreed to pay for the medical expenses. They contacted us the following Tuesday and we gave them the information about our time in the emergency room. At the same time we traveled into the hospital to give them the contact at the other insurance company as the primary insurer. Except for getting a bill a week later for the CT exam that was sent out through Nikki, which was for the doctor who read the CT Scan. In any case, a phone call to them got them the contact information with the other insurance company and we have yet to hear anything more. I expect we could still be dealing with this 6 months from now. Hopefully all bills will go to Nikki so we can deal with them as they come in.
Next was the accident insurance. As I mentioned earlier, they did not pick up the truck until the Tuesday after the accident and hauled it 6 hours away from our location. Thankfully, we had emptied out the truck the day we returned the car to Ron the day after the accident, including the license plate. We gave them a few days for the assessment process to proceed and after a week following the accident I gave them a call only to find out they had effectively “lost” the truck and nothing had been done!! It did not help that the insurance agent was in North Carolina and the truck was in Wisconsin. In any case, he assured us he had a priority on the assessment. The next weekend was the long Labor Day Weekend, so we gave him nearly another week to get back to us. On the following Wednesday I composed a nasty email and sent it to the our contact at the insurance company. Before receiving this email, our contact sent us an email to inform us that they determined the truck was totaled and our case was being forwarded to a “Total Vehicle Specialist.” I thanked him and now began patiently waiting for word from this “specialist”. By Friday we still had not heard from this specialist and our agent had not yet let us know how to contact him, so another nasty email was sent which finally got the contact information for the specialist. Another weekend went by and finally by the next Tuesday we got an initial estimate of the KBB value for our truck. I had a number of questions about the estimate. First, the estimate began with a KBB “base value” from which over $2000 was DEDUCTED for options. I still don’t understand this as I had never heard of missing options being deducted from a base value. I had always though options were an addition not a deduction. Regardless, all I ever learned from our “specialist” is this is the way it is done and they have no control over it!!? He did review our options, which I guess he got from the VIN number since he never saw the truck, and credited us for the dual wheels which was missed initially. He never could tell us what options we were missing, although I suspect it is mostly 4 wheel drive. Next, we were being paid for sales tax, which was a complete surprise since I have no idea how we are suppose to pay sales tax. He could not even explain what state gets paid the sales tax, Alabama, Wisconsin, or North Carolina. All he could say was that “no reporting was necessary.” Does this mean I am suppose to just keep the sales tax? Since he can’t tell us what to do with it, I suppose we will just keep it as part of the value for the truck. Next, was being charged our $500 deductible for the policy. Since they did not fix the truck, I was surprised by this, but again all I got back from our “specialist” is this is the way it is done. Finally, his base value was for a truck in “average” condition. I argued that the truck was in at least “very good” condition and sent him my spreadsheet that details all the work that has been done to it since we bought the truck. He accepted this and upgraded his estimate to “very good”. We waited another week without a response to my questions before I sent another email to find out my response had gone to his “junk” mail and he never saw it!! He did get back to us the next day, however, now our focus was to get our new truck and haul it Alabama so it was not until we had time in Birmingham that we sent in the title and received word that a check was in the mail. I am still not sure why this insurance company has a “Total Vehicle Specialist”. All he ever did for us was lose my email in his junk mail, enter the year, mileage, and options into a KBB program and send us the result, glance at a spreadsheet sent to him to upgrade the condition, and not know the answer to any of my questions about how KBB determines the value?? In my opinion, a new high school graduate could have done as much even without being a “specialist.”
Next was the situation with our RV. We had to get it moved to a different site that had a sewer hookup before Labor Day Weekend. As it turned out a long time seasonal camper had just vacated their site and after a couple of days leveling it out, it was available for us to use as long as we needed it. However, the question was how to get the RV moved. Obviously we did not have a truck and neither did Gregg. It sent word out to his seasonal campers that might be coming for the Labor Day weekend but could not find anyone with a big enough truck. It turns out that most of their seasonal campers do not even own a truck. They pay someone to haul their RV onto their site and it just sits there for years! In any case by Tuesday following the accident we had no way to move the RV by Thursday, as they had it booked for the weekend beginning on Friday. So we contracted with Link’s RV out of Haywood to move it from one site to another. I initially balked at the nearly $400 for this, but realized most of the cost was their travel time since it would take less than 30 minutes to move the RV. They showed up on Wednesday and we got the RV moved and hooked up to the sewer so we could empty the tanks after over a week. They were pretty full. The other major advantage was that now we were under white pine trees instead of oak trees that were dropping their acorns sounding like gunshots throughout the campground.
Finally, the new truck itself. As I mentioned previously, on the second day after the accident we went into Benna Ford in Superior to begin the process of finding a new truck. We decided against the Lariat or King Ranch as the price tag was just ridiculous and all you got in addition to the options on an XLT was leather seats. We discussed what we wanted in the truck, the main requirements being dual rear wheels, diesel, and back-up cameras. Everything else was negotiable. Of course, we had to settle for what they could find as we did not want to take the time to order a truck. It took them into the middle of the next week to locate an F350 XLT that would work, but after a couple of days the could not come to terms with the other dealership. So it was back searching for a truck which took until the following Monday before they located two trucks, either of which would have to be trailered in. We did not really care which one as they both met our minimums. It took until Thursday to get the truck brought in and we went into Benna Ford to purchase it. It how now been two weeks since the accident, but we would have our truck. We had just learned the day before that our old truck was totaled so we were clear to buy the new one. However, when we showed up at the dealership we were given two pieces of bad news. First, Alabama is the only state they are aware of that they could not title the truck themselves. Alabama required all vehicles to be presented for inspection in order to be titled! This meant they had to physically verify the VIN number of the vehicle. For us, this meant we had to travel back to Alabama and come to find out we only had 20 days to do it!! Our plans had certainly not included going back to Alabama again. However, we should be able to make it within the time limit. The second problem was that two days prior Ford had issued a Safety Recall on all trucks and SUV’s to fix a problem with the non-power seats which included our passenger seat. Benna could not release the truck until this was fixed. The problem was that the fix required a “special tool” which they would be a week obtaining from Ford. They assured us that their mechanics were creating their own tool (I never found out what was so special about this tool) and should have it fixed by Monday. Therefore, we decided to go ahead and do all the paperwork while we there on Thursday.
On Monday we found out they were not able to create their own tool and we would have to wait until Thursday, now three weeks after the accident. It was actually the following Monday that we finally decided to drive into Benna and insist something be done since the clock was ticking. Once we got to Benna, we found out that Luke had sent us an email that the truck was done and since Benna could not actually sell us the truck until it was done our paperwork had never been submitted, the clock had not started yet. We made an appointment for Thursday morning to redo the paperwork restarting the 20 day countdown. In addition, Luke had delivered our truck to Ron Repair and Towing to have the fifth wheel hitch and toolbox installed on Tuesday morning. Ron got started immediately on the hitch, only to find out that the bracket that goes under the bed from the old truck would not fit the new truck. He had to order the part and it would be Thursday afternoon before it could be delivered. It has now been four weeks since the accident. Once the new bracket and rails came in, Ron got to work on the truck and finished it by 7:00 that evening. We will be forever grateful to Ron for all he did for us, but there was just no way we were going to drive to Washburn that night. So first thing Friday morning, we finally got our new truck. I would never had dreamed it would take four weeks to buy a new truck!! We then had to drive all the way to Duluth to turn in the rental car. Since we were close we also stopped in at Benna Ford to have them run down all the new features, which were a lot! On Saturday we packed everything back into the truck and got ready to finally leave Wisconsin.
While I will admit most of the five weeks we spent near Lake Superior in Wisconsin was staying in the campground waiting on things to happen, we did get out a few times. Most of these trips included finding phone coverage so we could contact either the insurance company, Benna Ford, or to update Ron. Three times we traveled to Bad River Lodge and Casino just east of Ashland to play the slot machines. In total we came close to breaking even, with Kal winning a large jackpot on a couple of machines to make up for my terrible luck. On the Saturday after purchasing the truck and finding out the old truck was totaled we spent the day at Amnicon Falls State Park which is just outside of Superior. While there are an upper and lower falls on the Amnicon River as it descends into Lake Superior, they are really more a series of cascades, neither of the “falls” are more than 10 feet in height. Still it is a very nice set of cascades as the river cuts through the red sandstone to the black basalt rock. There are two very nice trails, one along the river and the other a nature trial with a nice set of interpretive signs. We had a very pleasant day away from all the headaches. We also spent a couple of afternoons and evenings having a couple of beers with Gregg and Kathleen, the owners of the campground. Their “office” doubles as a bar where they serve beer and pizzas, primarily during gamedays. We watched half of the opening Wisconsin game with a number of the seasonal campers having a party and watched the Auburn vs Texas A&M game the final Saturday before we left the next morning. We also enjoyed the festivities in the campground over Labor Day. They celebrate Halloween over Labor Day with all the children dressing up in costumes visiting selected RVs for Trick or Treat. It was a lot of fun watching all the kids running around. So it was not all just sitting around for a month, although we were not nearly as active as usual.
The date was now Sunday, September 22 and we were one day short of staying at the Top O’ The Morn campground for five weeks. Even though the 20 day clock was started on September 19, we still had to get to Birmingham by the end of the month. Kal had decided to wait until we got to Birmingham to renew our tags for the RV, which had to be done before the end of the month. Consequently, we planned some long days to get to Birmingham by the end of the week. On Sunday we drove all the way to Illinois to the Peal Lake Campground outside of South Beloit. Even though the owner’s manual suggested driving the new truck for 1000 miles before hauling a trailer, this was simply not an option. It took nearly 8 hours to get out of Wisconsin and a very long day. Monday, Kal got the laundry done and I worked on making reservations for the rest of the week. Mostly we rested up for the next day, since Tuesday was another long drive of nearly 7 hours to get to Paducah, Kentucky where we stayed at the Fern Lake Campground. Neither of these campgrounds were our favorite being nothing more than parking lots with full hookups, however, they were close to the Interstate. After resting up for a day in the campground we drove the final 6 hours to Birmingham to stay at the Birmingham South RV Park. This was the same campground we stayed in last February as we took care of Kal father’s estate. So we knew what to expect and it was close to both her brother and to the courthouse in Bessemer.
This quick trip got us into Birmingham on Thursday giving us Friday to head to the courthouse in Bessemer to renew the tags on the RV and title and tag the new truck. We got there early on Friday morning and the line was real short, so we soon found out that we did not have a “title application” which was suppose to be provided by the dealership. We went ahead and renewed the RV tags to eliminate this deadline. We quickly called Benna Ford who got right on it, this time contacting Alabama to find out they needed to send us the Wisconsin title and the courthouse would fill out the title application. In addition, it turned out that the bank would not accept the loan application since their printer misaligned the values on the form. So they were sending a new set of forms to be signed again and sent back to them. Although they overnighted the package, it was not until Monday before they arrived. In the meantime, we took care of some lingering issues with Kal father’s estate and had a great dinner with Phil and his family on Sunday evening. Thankfully, the package arrived mid-morning on Monday so we were able to get our hands on it and head back to the courthouse. Of course, now it was the last day of the month and there was a substantial line at the courthouse. The line moved reasonably well and within a half hour we were once again standing in front of the state clerk. As I mentioned before, the entire reason we had to come to Alabama was so they could verify the VIN number. As expected, a clerk went with us out to the truck. However, after opening up the truck, he did not actually look at the VIN number since getting the number off of our insurance card was easier. I could have hit him! We had to come all the way to Alabama in a short amount of time so he could read the VIN off of the insurance card?? However, it was done. I should also mention that since Benna Ford generally titles the vehicles themselves, they charge us for the title fee and ad valorem taxes. Since they did not do this work, they did send us a refund in the package which did not cover the cost in Alabama. My only complaint is this substantial fee became part of our loan which I would not have done if I had known about it.
We stayed in Birmingham for an entire week, suffering the sweltering 100 degree temperatures all week. This after enjoying the 60s and 70s in northern Wisconsin for a month. Talk about a shock to the system!! In Wisconsin, fall had certainly started while we were there with the aspen, birch, and maple turning bright colors and the white pine dropping a bed of needles everywhere. In Alabama, summer had not ended even though it should be in the 80s by the end of September. For this and other reasons we were not happy with having to come back to Alabama. Starting on Thursday, five weeks after the accident, we will finally be back to a more normal existence heading slowly west to Texas for the winter. Only this time we will have a new truck with a 7 year, 150,000 mile extended warranty on just about everything!