It’s Festival Season!

The weather has warmed in Northwest Michigan, the tourists are rolling in and the cherry trees are taking on a definite red hue.  That can only mean one thing: festival season is upon us!  With the relatively short season at the 45th parallel, the next few months are going to be jammed full of activities.

On Saturday, Diana and I went to the Traverse City Wine and Art Festival with our friends Patti and Lane.  Earlier this month, on the day I was having our frame welded, Diana worked at the Leelanau Vintners Association to help them get ready for the event.  Our friend Camilla works there and needed assistance on decorations.  Diana also was able to enlist Patti and Lane to help. In exchange, we received tickets for the festival!

Here is the trio with a sampling of their handiwork.  It took them a fair amount of time to wrap each bottle in twine. They did a really nice job!

Each ticket got us a stemless wine glass, eight tasting tokens and a food ticket.  Additional tasting tokens and food tickets were available for purchase.

Here Patti is showing off her food choice.  Looks yummy!  

Each winery from the Leelanau Vintner’s Association had their own booth set up on the perimeter of the grounds.  There were also several local artists, along with a stage featuring four music acts.  We tasted several different wines, skipping some of the wineries that are close to our campground, as we get to them often enough.  After that, we took a special Chardonnay tour.  This was led by Jay Briggs, winemaker at 45 North Winery.

Jay took us to several different booths to sample different Chardonnay offerings.  Along the way, each winemaker explained their process, the types of barrels used to age the wine and so on.  It’s amazing the work that goes into making wine, and no two batches are ever the same.  While Leelanau is prime real estate for growing grapes…that’s why there are 26 wineries here…the dynamic weather on the peninsula can make or break a crop.

Another thing that is evident is how these folks all work together.  They share their ideas and are all friends with each other.  There aren’t many industries who can boast that sort of business model. 🙂

Another thing they do is the saberage ceremony, led again this year by Lee Lutes, winemaker from Black Star Farms.  He opens a bottle of Champagne with a saber, striking it on the neck of the bottle.

I was lucky enough to photograph the top of the bottle as it came off the end of the saber.  🙂

After that, Camilla gathered us all for a selfie.  🙂

The day was a lot of fun, and darned if we didn’t close the place down!

As an added bonus, our tickets included free tastings for the next week at the wineries.  That’s quite a bonus!  So on Tuesday afternoon, we went with Patti and Lane to three wineries near us.

First up was French Valley.  They are located on Suttons Bay, which is on the eastern side of the Leelanau Peninsula.  We sampled five of their wines and decided that we would be back to enjoy a bottle along with one of their wood-fired pizzas.

They have an outstanding view from their lawn.

Next up was Leelanau Cellars.

Their tasting room is a few miles north on Omena Bay.  Again, we sampled five wines and ended up buying a bottle from them.

They are in the same building as one of our favorite restaurants called Knot Just a Bar.  We’ve often commented that Omena Bay looks like it could be along the coast of Maine…but this is part of the Great Lakes, so no salt and no sharks. 🙂

Our last stop was farther north in the middle of the peninsula at Green Bird Organic Cellars and Farm.

Patti took this photo of their vineyard.  One of the owners explained to us how they purchased the 67 acre organic farm from the previous owner, Good Neighbor Organic.  He and his business partner changed the name and are raising their families on the land with their wives.  There is also a distillery on the property, owned by another friend.  Quite a bit is happening with these ambitious folks.

Here we are with one of the owners Ben, on the right and Bill, the owner of the distillery.  These people are passionate about what they are doing.  We sampled several of their products, including some of Bill’s rum.  We purchased a bottle of Green Bird’s pear cider.  That visit capped off a really great afternoon with our friends Patti and Lane!

Our tasting tickets are good through this coming weekend, so we hope to get back out and sample a few more of the peninsula’s offerings.  This weekend starts the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, so things will be extremely busy.

The Blue Angels are in town, putting on their first show since they lost one of their pilots in a crash earlier this year.  One of the planes was practicing over the campground yesterday doing barrel rolls and inside loops.  We are anticipating seeing more of them today.

It’s been a great start to a busy festival season in Leelanau, and we are really looking forward to the next few months.  If you are in the area, stop in and join the fun!

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A Solid Foundation

When Diana and I were fifth wheel shopping in 2011, we decided on a used mid-range unit that was affordable and fairly well built.  We felt that we could move to a bigger rig and truck at a later date, but we really liked the layout of the Colorado.  We had toured it at an RV show back in 2007 and immediately felt at home in it.

Our rig came with a 10″ I-beam frame and a Morryde shear spring equalizer between our 5400 pound rated leaf springs and axles.  We purposely travel light, as we know the trailer’s limits.  But RVs being subject to the constant pounding of the road, things are bound to give out now and then.  The key is to notice the warning signs before they become a disaster.  Lucky for us, Diana has a keen eye.  I was showing her something on the slide room  mechanism and she said “What is that rust on the frame from?”  We have a powder coated frame that is pretty much free of rust.  Yet there it was…a thin horizontal line of rust about one inch up from the spring mount.  I scratched at it with my fingernail and revealed this:

Well, by golly…THAT’S not good.  It turns out that we had three spots cracked in that fashion, and all were directly under the point where the cross beams were welded to the inside of the I-beam. I went into research mode and discovered that Lippert (the frame manufacturer) is well aware of this problem and has a recommended fix.  When a trailer with dual axles makes a turn, one axle is forced to one side of the trailer and the second axle is forced to the opposite side.  Those forces are transmitted upward into the frame through the springs and spring mounts.  The first thing to prevent that flexing motion are the bottoms of the crossbeams, and that’s where the cracks occurred.  A boxed frame eliminates that flexing, as there are two pieces of vertical steel instead of one.  Those frames are found on much more expensive trailers; something we prefer not to invest in at this time.

I discussed Lippert’s suggested repair with Terry at Ace Welding in Traverse City, and he agreed that it would indeed take care of the issue.  After removing the protective underbelly from the rig, Diana and I took it in to have the work done. 

The recommended solution addresses the problem from both sides of the frame.  On the outside, an angled piece of steel is welded over the frame, as seen below.

That piece re-establishes the integrity of the I-beam.  Note that Ace skip-welded, so as to not compromise the original beam with a continuous weld.  Lippert called for one long weld, and most welders will tell you that’s not a good idea.

The other part of the fix is what prevents it from happening again:

Ace ran three 2″ square tubes across the trailer, one between each leaf spring mount.  They also put in triangular gussets extending up onto the I-beam frame and down onto each spring mount as far as possible.  Kudos to Pat at Ace for the excellent welding job.  To boot, he had us in and out in one day!  🙂

While we were there, Pat showed me a travel trailer he was working on.  Instead of a true I-beam like we have on our Colorado, it had a 6″ assembled I-beam, made by welding three pieces of metal together in the shape of an “I”.  There were very few cross supports, and there were NONE near the wheels.  The frame had twisted to a point that the axles weren’t in alignment anymore.  He was doing the same sort of repair as he was doing on ours, so I knew from the start that he knew his stuff.  

When we returned to the campground, I nosed around beneath several different rigs to see if I saw the same issues.  The ones I looked at were different brands than ours, and Lippert had welded an additional piece on an angle to the I-beam at the spring mount.  Here is a photo of a 2005 Montana fifth wheel in our storage area:

There are several other brands of fifth wheels near us with the same setup.  While this piece of steel protects the I-beam from flexing, it really doesn’t protect the spring mount itself from twisting.  The square tube and triangular gussets that are now on our Colorado will take care of that.  If you are looking at your own trailer for signs of cracking, make sure the spring mounts are in good shape.  We also have an additional piece of “C” channel welded into each of our spring mounts (compare the last two photos) which offers some additional support at that point. I also noticed the heavy amount of rust on this unit. It appears it wasn’t powder-coated, or it spent time near salt water. 

Also, while I had the underbelly removed, I noticed that the manufacturer had run the trailer wiring loosely through the crossbeams:


That orange cable is our main power cable, and it had been rubbing on the top edge of a piece of angle iron.  It had not worn through, but it could have eventually.  I taped it and then bundled wires together with zip ties.  I also cut pieces of foam pipe insulation to fit over the angle iron.

When we returned home from Ace, I painted the steel with a Rustoleum primer, followed by a Rustoleum automotive grade paint.  I then reinstalled the underbelly.  The piece between the wheels hadn’t come out intact, so I purchased some plastic wall panels from the local home center to fashion new panels for that area.

I caulked and bolted those in, and I used expandable foam around the larger gaps near the spring mounts.  Total cost of the project, with welding, panels, foam and caulk:  less than $800.  Hopefully, we should be good to go for several more years.

As I stated earlier, we made a conscious decision to get a mid level fifth wheel as our first fulltiming unit. We still are confident that we made a good choice for us, as we have a decent rig for a fraction of the cost of an upper end RV.  Who knows what direction we will move in the future, but for now…we are happy campers!

Rolling Forward Through the Past

Sometimes a wonderful resource is born from misfortune.

In 1901, the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad  completed a spur from Traverse City to Northport, Michigan under the name Traverse City, Leelanau and Manistique Rail Road.  As part of the line, they also established a rail car ferry from Northport to Manistique in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Prior to that in 1874, they completed a rail spur from Traverse City back to their main north-south line (Cincinnati, Ohio to Mackinaw City, Michigan) at the tiny village of Walton, Michigan, later renamed Walton Junction.  That 1874 line began the immigration boom that Traverse City still sees to this day.  Diana and I had passed through Walton Junction for years on our way to her parent’s cottage on Fife Lake, never realizing that the name was derived from the meeting of theses two rail lines.

Competing with the already-established Ann Arbor Railroad for freight across the lake, it was quickly discovered that the ferry service wasn’t going to be profitable, so it was discontinued in 1908.  Freight and passenger service continued on through several different companies until 1975.  In 1989, the Leelanau Scenic Railway was established on the line, running to Suttons Bay until 1995, at which time the right-of-way was abandoned and the tracks were torn up.  All that was left of the railroad was the graded land, several bridges, and a handful of depot buildings.

The depot in Suttons Bay as it appeared in 1920…

…and repurposed as a law office today.

Meanwhile in Traverse City, the Traverse Area Recreational Trail had been built along an east/west rail corridor that ran through town.  With the success of that route, the Leelanau Trails Association purchased the 17 mile Leelanau Scenic Railway corridor from Traverse City to Suttons Bay….and work began on what was to become the Leelanau Trail. Asphalt paving was completed in 2013, and the pathway was designated as part of U.S. Bicycle Route 35.

Where trains struggled to get through the snow in winter…

…cross country ski trail groomers now run in the cold weather.

Where the passenger cars used to make their way northward…

…we now find ourselves riding along their former route, 115 years after the railroad was built.

Pedaling the Leelanau Trail (seen above in red) has become one of our favorite pastimes.  We started riding it in earnest last fall when we purchased our TerraTrikes.  Several wineries are located a short distance from the trail, so there isn’t a shortage of places to visit.  🙂    The scenery along the route is amazing.

During the spring, the cherry blossoms carpet the hillsides.

Here is Diana photographing a bank full of Forget-Me-Nots.

These little beauties were the theme we chose for her mom’s funeral guest book; as a result, seeing these made this day pretty darn special.  🙂

We enjoy seeing this draft horse and donkey along the way…

…as well as this huge cow that keeps them company.  🙂

While many of the railroads of northern Michigan were not able to sustain their businesses, the efforts of the railroad workers are being reused through the development of these trails.  We consider ourselves fortunate to be located so close to the Leelanau Trail this srummer, and we look forward to many more rides along this historical pathway before we leave this fall.

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