Monday, May 20, 2013

Itasca Comes Home

Odometer 32969
Trip miles 250 miles

Sunday May 19th.
Our truck stop overnight stay turned out to be very pleasant. We woke up at 7:30, started the generator and made coffee and a hot breakfast. Since we had not unhooked the car our checklist was fairly short, but that didn't keep up from driving off with the TV antenna up. Luckily we remembered before getting out of the parking lot and cranked it down. Our route today would take us across Wisconsin on Routes 21 and then 16 which cut straight west across the middle of the state and on an intercept with La Cross on the west border with Minnesota. Right off the get-go we started noticing military convoys heading down the road towards us- lots of humvees, deuces, and an occasional military tanker, or wrecker.

We thought maybe it was a National Guard annual training, but we soon found that we would drive right by the 60,000 acre Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, between Tomah and Sparta. First commissioned in 1909 it is one of the premier military training centers in the US.
A few miles past Fort McCoy, we rolled through Sparta, WI where Joan noticed this interesting landmark.

This giant 3 story tall fiberglass eyeball was created by artist Tony Tassert in 2007 for display in Chicago's Pritzkzer Park. Now his creation is on display in front of his studio in hopes someone will want to buy it.
Sparta is the self-proclaimed "Bicycling Capitol of America" based on being named a bicycle friendly town and being the first in Wisconsin to turn old railroad beds into bike trails.
At La Cross we had to jump onto Interstate 90 and cross the Mississippi River into La Crescent, Minnesota.

Of course the bridge was under construction!  At least it wasn't a toll bridge...

Once across the Mississippi, we turned south on Minnesota Route 26 which happily followed the river and gave us some more views of this mighty drainage.

We crossed over into Iowa a short distance past Reno, MN and we turned onto Iowa Route 9 heading due west at Lansing.

 Route 9 should take us west across the top of Iowa just below the Minnesota border.  Not being on the Interstate we got to see towns like Waukon, Decorah, Cresco, New Haven, and Manly.  I should point out that Route 9  isn't straight like a string- it kept Joan glued to the map with all the 90 degree turns; right at Waukon, slight left at Decorah, left just before Cresco- well you get the idea.  We were pretty sure the highway was designed as a test track for Winnebago with the potholes and the transverse ridges that sent us galloping and thuding down the road.  Just when we thought we ought to get out and re-tighten all the nuts and screws on the bus, we'd get a short reprieve with smoother paving- then more punishment.
At noon we pulled over in Cresco alongside Beadle park and made lunch.  Beadle park has a diesel locomotive and an authentic log cabin along with the normal swings, and playground equipment.  Good thing it has running water too- because as we were preparing lunch, we found out our tank was dry.  Note to self- fill up water tank at next overnight stop.

The rest of the afternoon went fairly smoothly and at 2 PM we turned onto Iowa 69 and drove south for 8 miles to Forest City, our destination for the next couple of nights.

The clouds ahead were getting very dark and threatening as we got close to Forest City.
We drove west of town to the 3 Fingers Campground.  I'm thinking I could do with 3 fingers of scotch- Mmm, but the 3 fingers refers to the small lake that the park surrounds.

The proprietor of the park met us in the driveway and told us to take a nearby pull-through and hold on before coming to the office to register.  Before we had the jacks down the rain broke and it dumped 2 inches in about 30 minutes.  I took a nap and when I woke up the rain  had quit- so I went out and hooked up.  Water was standing in huge puddles all around the park.

We registered in the office and got in the car to scope out the nearby town- the home town of Winnebago Industries.  We bought some fruit and some bottled water at the local market, before heading home for dinner.  After dinner we started out on a walk, but didn't get more than 1000 feet before a huge lightning bolt blasted the field next to us and we scampered back to the MH just in time for another torrential rain shower.

Monday May 20th

We woke up at 7 AM to the alarm clock at bedside and showered and dressed.  As we were making breakfast and planning our departure for the 9 AM tour through the Winnebago Plant we realized that the bedside clock had not been reset as we changed time zones- it was really just now 7 AM not 8 AM as we thought!  We got to town plenty early and were able to browse around the Winne Visitor's center which had displays of early Winnebago products and displays showing the early days.  Winnebago was the brainchild of a group of local businessmen who wanted to have a local industry where the young folks could stay and make a living wage rather than leave home at 18 and go to the big cities for jobs.  At first they set out to make travel trailers for Modernistic, a California firm that was already in operation.  The 5 locals bought out the operation in 1960 and changed the name to Winnebago.  Well- you know the rest- it is now the best know domestic RV, and enjoys a very good reputation for quality motorhomes and trailers.

Our tour lasted about 2 hours and we only saw a small part of the operation which is housed in 12 large buildings, the largest of which is 10 acres under one roof.

The tour was very interesting, and showed that hands-on fabrication is their hallmark.  Winnebago is determined to make as much of the RV as it possibly can, without subcontractors.  They have their own upholstery shop, cabinet shop, frame shop, they laminate their floors, walls and roofs with plywood, styrofoam, and fiberglass, they mold their own poly holding tanks ( and some for other vendors too) and their aluminum extrusion shop makes all the shapes they need, in addition to filling orders from other vendors.  Our guide told us the aluminum shop was what held Winnebago afloat during the last recession.  Overall the RV  business is slowly building back up to where they were before the last crash.  They are looking for good  fabricators and can't find enough good help these days.

After the tour Jeff headed for the parts and service departments.
Our high-mount brake light has been slowly going out and Jeff wanted to get a replacement for it along with a slde-out locking strap that we've never had, and a cartridge kit for the shower valve.

Joan and I also met with Eric in Customer Relations about our windshield situation, to see if we could get some help from the company.  I seems that the windshields in this era MH were set in mastic against a steel frame around the window opening, then the fiberglass cap was installed over that, with a rubber trim piece between the two.  The rubber trim allows water to sit against the metal, and the frame rusts quite badly.  The first thing the owner notices is that the rust grows enough to crack the glass.  The only fix is to take both windshields out and repair the rust damage and re-install the glass -IF the glass didn't break during the removal.
Bottom line is- there is no extended or "pocket" warranty from Winnie, and the cost is estimated at $700 each side plus new glass if necessary- another $700 per side.  Eric says we should have replaced the rubber trim as a maintenance issue every few years. 

We met Arnie and Wanda a couple spaces up the row from where we are parked and asked if they were here for the Winnie tour as we were.  No, they said, "we work there".  They just love having their RV out here at 3 Finger Lake, even though it's only a bike ride from their house in town- they come out here to get-away!
They told us that part of the road we took across the state yesterday washed out in a flash flood soon after we got here!  They told us that last year was a bad drought in this area- the lake in the RV park was a good 4 feet lower last year than it is now.
This year is quite different however-  Joan and I didn't have to look hard to see the effects of the rain we have had the last couple of days.
No- this isn't a river or creek- this is a farmer's field right up the road from us!

Joan and I are determined to get a walk in tonight, so we say good-bye to Arnie and Wanda and they tell us to hurry cause the sky is looking black to the west of us.

Joan snapped this photo just before the blackness obliterated the setting sun

This photo is only a part of the squall line we saw approaching.  One thing about Iowa is that with no mountains- you can see a lot of sky.
A few minutes after we reached the RV the skies opened up and the lightning flashed!

We are heading west again tomorrow and hope to put on a good 250 miles which should see us in South Dakota tomorrow night.

Your Traveling Friends,

Joan and Jeff

No comments:

Post a Comment