Bringing Home the 917

California to Colorado – September 2017 

After selling our Tiger in the spring of 2017, we looked around for a different vehicle, one which would give us a little more storage space and permit us to use the high sulphur diesel fuel found in Central America.  In the fall, we decided to purchase a Mercedes Benz 917, a former fire truck from Austria, which had been converted into an overland camper by XPCamper. (http://xpcamper.com)

 

So, armed with a couple of boxes of enough camping equipment to get us home, we flew to Grass Valley, California, the home of XPCampers, to pick it up.  We had previously seen the XP and knew we would love the camper part.  After a few tweeks and a few additional purchases, we set off over the Sierra Nevada towards Route 50, through Nevada and Utah.  This was a route we had taken and enjoyed in 2016.  We even managed to stay at the Cave State Park Campground just east of Ely, Nevada, so we could have dinner in the Chinese restaurant on Main Street.  We had enjoyed our lunch there on our previous visit to Ely in 2016.   In Utah we took a detour off road, down Route 21 towards I-15 to so we could test our new vehicle on dirt.  It drove beautifully and we were pleased.

 

We had made plans to visit La Junta, Colorado to get some work done at Rob Pickering’s shop, Terry Lee Enterprises.  (http://www.terryleeenterprises.com ) Rob is an expert on Unimogs and old European trucks and, because of the 917’s age, we had arranged that it be completely inspected and overhauled.  We had no idea when such basics as an oil change had last been done and were sure that other issues would come to light.  As indeed they did, although somewhat sooner than we expected!

 

While on I-70, about ten miles from the Colorado border, just west of Grand Junction the truck began to swerve violently.  Huge clouds of smoke appeared in the rear view mirror and keeping the vehicle on the road was a major challenge, especially as we were being passed by a tractor-trailer at the time. Things were quite sporting for a moment, but Fred was finally able to pull over to the side.  We got out to take stock of the situation.  We had a shredded and burned tire, minimal tools, and only one jack.  Fortunately, we had good cell phone service so we called for roadside assistance and with the aid of the charming gentleman who responded, we mounted the spare.  A this point we discovered that the problem was not a defective tire, but rather that four of the 40 bolts which held the two halves of the wheel together had sheared off.  And we still had Monarch Pass ahead of us. The manufacturer of the wheels basically told us that it was our fault, implying that we kept driving on a flat tire – NOT a company that we would ever recommend! Grrr!

Denise points to the missing bolts.

We continued very cautiously towards La Junta, checking the wheels every hour or so.  We replaced several more bolts on other wheels as they sheared off, before arriving at the KOA campsite in La Junta on the Sunday evening.  The next morning we presented ourselves bright and early at Rob’s shop and set out the list of what was needed, which now included new wheels, as we could not drive further with the current ones.

 

We spent about four days in La Junta, waiting for the wheels to be delivered and planning the truck’s renovation.  Among other tasks, all fluids and filters were changed, the spare tire was moved to the rear, and, to Denise’s delight, we installed swing away steps on the cab. We also ordered air conditioning for the cab and the camper.

The 917 on the lift at Terry Lee Enterprises.

While waiting, we borrowed Rob’s truck and had a wonderful visit to the Bent’s Old Fort, a National Historic Site run by the National Park Service. Bent’s fort was a trading post on the Santa Fe Trail.  Built in 1833 in adobe it is of considerable historical significance.  A most interesting place with costumed interpreters explaining the life and times of the era. https://www.nps.gov/beol/index.htm

Towards the Fort

Inner courtyard

Rob managed to find five wheels for us but it became clear that the wheels would not arrive in a time for us to make it to Overland EXPO East on time, so we decided to fly back to DC from Colorado Springs and return when everything was closer to completion. So we gave our money to Frontier Airlines and flew home.

 

Following the Arkansas River – November 2017

 

We discovered that the final direct flight from Washington to Colorado Springs on Frontier Airlines (ever or for the season, it was unclear!) would be on October 31. As we were flying with our cat, who, as a rescue, had probably never flown before, we wanted to make the transit as simple as possible.  So we booked our flights and packed up a bit more camping equipment and headed off to pick up the 917, which was still not quite finished, but would be soon! Staying in it this time was impractical, so we headed to the Midtown Motel, which was in easy walking distance.  (http://midtownlajunta.com) We ended up staying a week and now feel we know La Junta very well!  It was a pleasant week, the motel was friendly and helpful and as a fridge and microwave were provided, we were quite comfortable.  We did eat at the three best restaurants at least twice each!  Meanwhile, the wheels had arrived and the tires mounted, the air conditioning installed and the camper battery charging system upgraded.

Our patented “Twisted Sister” charing system – 24v to 12v and vice versa!

During the weekend, we again borrowed the pick up and went exploring locally.  One day we went to Boggsville, one of the first non-military settlements in southeastern Colorado.  It was most prominent in the early 1860’s to the 70’s.  The inhabitants were a mixture of Spanish, European and Cheyenne.  It was also the last home of Kit Carson, who died there in 1868. Several homes remain and the location is interesting, on the banks of the Arkansas River and on the Santa Fe Trail.

The next day we went southwest of La Junta to the Comanche Natural Grasslands and Vogel Canyon.  We enjoyed two short hikes within the canyon, one of which gave us a good view of the canyon as a whole and one of which led to some Indian pictographs on the cliffs.

Then we set off, back on Route 50, heading indirectly south en route to Orlando, Florida. After getting interested in the Santa Fe Trail, we stopped briefly at the Santa Fe wagon track site, just west of Dodge City in Kansas.  The grass was high at the end of summer so it was hard to see the tracks, just the irregularities in the earth showed where the wagons had been.

The old wagon ruts are well eroded and hard to see

We went looking for the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Foraker, Oklahoma. After wandering the countryside, courtesy of the GPS, we reverted to Siri and found it.  Definitely a low-key site, it was fascinating to see what the prairie looked like when the first Europeans arrived.  You can also see what your lawn would look like if you allowed it to revert to its natural state.  We did not see many of the bison, which roam the prairie there, but we enjoyed the short walks laid out nearby. https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/oklahoma/placesweprotect/tallgrass-prairie-preserve.xml

We had a strict timetable for this trip so we were not able to discover Arkansas, though we were still following the river!  We shall reserve that for a future trip.  We did stop at the Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi on our way south.  We drove the battlefield, which is huge and of course visited the museum.

Cannon on the battlements

We also liked the display of the remains of the USS Cairo, an ironclad, which sank nearby.  The most fascinating was the selection of personal items, retrieved from the sunken ship, which are now displayed in a separate museum, definitely a site worth visiting. (https://www.nps.gov/vick/u-s-s-cairo-gunboat.htm)

After an overnight at a favorite campground on the banks of the Mississippi in Natchez, we continued south.

 

Our next goal was New Orleans, which Denise had long wanted to visit. We were able to get a reservation at the French Quarter RV Resort, which, while expensive, worked out beautifully as we could walk everywhere.  ( http://fqrv.com)  And walk we did….We wandered the French Quarter enjoying the architecture and eating beignets at the Café du Monde.  (http://www.neworleansonline.com/directory/location.php?locationID=1347  )

Fountain in Jackson Square

Classic French Quarter building

We visited the Cemetery as part of a fascinating carriage ride.

We discovered a wonderful courtyard restaurant

We sailed on the Creole Queen paddlewheel boat to the Chalmette Battlefield (https://www.nps.gov/jela/chalmette-battlefield.htm) to learn about the defense of New Orleans during the War of 1812.

New Orleans is famous for many historic homes that you can visit. The 1850 house, on Jackson Square is an interesting example of a town house, built above a store. (http://www.neworleansonline.com/directory/location.php?locationID=1347)

 

We shall most certainly be returning to New Orleans, there is a lot more to see!

 

After visiting our son for a week or so in Orlando and spending Thanksgiving there, we returned to DC after making a fascinating stop at the Fort McAllister State Park in Georgia.  The campground at the park was lovely but the Fort itself, a State Historic Park, was most interesting.  It is a massive earthwork with seven gun emplacements and a mortar battery built by the Confederacy and guarding the Great Ogeechee River as well as local plantations. (https://gastateparks.org/FortMcAllister)

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