Our Eclipse Trip (Part 1)

The total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 was the first one that we would be able to get to and view.  Buffalo had an annular  eclipse (the moon is farther from the Earth, producing a ‘Ring of Fire’) in 1994, but it was too overcast to see, and the previous visible total eclipse was in 1925!   So we had planned for this for a couple of years to get the right place to be to see it well.

LOOK BACK: Walter Cronkite covers the 1979 eclipse

I had scoped out the Dixon Springs State Park in Illinois as a nearly perfect place to stay.  It was about midway between the point of maximum coverage and maximum duration.  I emailed back and forth with one of the park officials who identified the best sites to fit our bus, and let me know that the site reservation window would open on January 1, 2017 for the August reservations.

However, when I logged into ReserveAmerica to grab one of the sites, I found them ALL booked.  It turns out that the state of Illinois had decided to capitalize on the eclipse for tourism, and had rolled their reservation window back to November and promoted their state sites!  Scrambling a bit, I found the Fort Massac State Park, adjacent to Metropolis, Illinois.

French Fort De L’Ascension/Massac on the left and reconstructed American Fort Massac on the right.

Fort Massac was originally founded by the French in 1757 as Fort De L’Ascension, and was rebuilt and renamed Massac during the end of the French and Indian War.  While the British nominally owned the territory afterward, the fort itself was burned by the local Cherokee by the time the British got there.

Reconstructed American Fort Massac (minus the log palisades).

The Americans got into the act when General George Washington ordered the fort reconstructed in 1794, and for the next 20 years it served as a military post, sometimes called the ‘Gibraltar of the Ohio’ due to it’s elevation and view of the river. Notable figures of Merriweather Lewis and William Clark camped at Fort Massac in 1803 as they made preparations for their Corps of Discovery expedition to the newly purchased Louisiana Territory.

The sign says it all …

Metropolis was laid out as a formal town in 1839, and it was hoped that it would be a transportation and commerce hub. It is now a city of about 6000 people, and is best known as the home of Superman (this is official, both from DC Comics and the Illinois State Legislature!).

 

A tiny fraction of the stone tool collection at Fort Massac.

As we were to find out, the Fort Massac Visitor Center there is mostly museum! They have a great collection of native american stone artifacts (from all over Illinois), and French and American artifacts recovered from the forts.

But most important for me was the fact that Fort Massac was still within the band of totality for the eclipse, and was only about 16 miles from Dixon Springs, so we wouldn’t lose much (about 10 seconds of totality) from being dead-center along the eclipse line. Within a few minutes, I had a site chosen and booked.  We had a place to camp for the eclipse!

Then we had to get there.  The longest trip that we’d taken the bus on was from Buffalo to Ohiopyle, PA (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) and back which was a measly 600 miles or so.  This was going to be some 1600 miles, so it would be our biggest foray to date.

Our (rather grainy) route map for the Eclipse Trip

We had limited time to make the trip, and decided on a few key places to stop on our trip.  We had some friends in Cincinnati, OH who we could stop and see, the Embroiderer’s Guild of America Headquarters were in Louisville, KY, as was the Bulleit Bourbon Distillery tour (at the historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery), all on the way to Fort Massac.  On the way back, we could stop at Mammoth Caves and Big Bone Lick (where we could camp for the night).

With all this planned out, the next thing was packing and provisioning the bus. And then, of course, setting out on the journey …

(Continued in Part 2)

 

Storage and work space …

One of the things that’s super important in building a skoolie is to use your space wisely. We really worked to figure out our floor plan, and even that has changed as we’ve learned through trial, error, and working in the space we have.  One of the obvious changes is that we’ve eliminated the plan for the door between the galley and the bunks, and the other door and wall between the bunks and the ‘master’ bedroom area, which gives a more open, light- and air-filled space in the back.

Planning (and subflooring) around those pesky wheelwells …

But one of the things you just can’t change are those wheelwells. Well, I say that and I know there are people who cut them down, but I worry about bumps and the tires having enough travelspace, so that’s not an option for us, at least.

The wheelwell 2×3 ‘cage’ is all the way to the left, behind the bed platforms that I’m finishing in this picture.

The driver’s side wheelwell was nicely covered by the bunks, leaving about 14 inches of space for underbunk drawers, but the passenger side one was only partially covered by the fridge, so I had built a framework to provide a flat space over it.  It took a while to get a piece of plywood on there, so the curved space with 2×3’s making a cage was a sort of catch-all space for small items to go so they wouldn’t slide around, while bigger items (like our water-cooler or folding chairs) could sit atop the cage and be bungee-secured to the wall along the fridge. (Not surprisingly, I don’t have many pictures of this.)

With some 1/2″ plywood atop the cage, the now-platform sat just below the seat-rail, some 19″ below the window.  My plan was to put in drawers, and after some discussion, we settled on two big drawers, rather than three or four smaller ones.  But without the little wall between the bunks and ‘master’ bedroom, there was actually some work-space possible, instead of just space to tuck things in, or stand off to the side so someone could get by.  In order to use that space, I decided to put in a ‘hidden’ wing.

The view from the bunk across the way …

The drawers are about 31″ by 23″ and just about 7 3/4″ deep.  The top surface, with the wing closed, is about 33×24″, covering the space over the wheelwell, and bringing it up flush with the base of the window.

The aft-facing panel side.

While the main ‘dresser’ portion of this rests just over the platform and cage that surrounds the wheelwell, and the sides of the carcass are plywood (oak-faced in the aft-side), the raised panel side that faces aft runs all the way from the floor to the base of the windows, helping to hide the evidence of the wheelwell.

With the support out and a view of the pull-ring for the wing.

The raised-panel section houses two things – first, the threaded eyes that allow us to attach a bungee and strap in the folding chairs (and perhaps other things) just like we had done on the platform.  The second is the angled bit that some of you may have noticed in the picture.  It’s hinged with a couple of small steel pins to swing out and become a support for the wing!  A magnet set into the wing and #10 woodscrew in the side of the ‘dresser’ keeps it in place when not in use, and the fact that it’s only rounded on one side of the back allows it to swing, and stop when it’s perpendicular to the dresser.

The dresser with the wing out.

The wing itself is some 3/4″ oak-faced plywood with some 1/4″ oak facing around the sides to hide the layers.  I put in a flat-fold brass finger-pull ring, so that it could be folded out or, conversely, left nice and flat depending on what we wanted to do.  The wing fits in really tightly into the surface of the dresser, making it almost hidden. Some brass middle hinges allow it to flip out into place.

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This allows for a chair to be placed behind it and voila, a workspace with handy windows, and it’s out of the travel-lane.  When the awning it out, the emergency window can be propped open and even allow that wing to be accessed from outside (if you’re tall enough, that is).

A thing that could be overlooked in this is the fact that I’ve left the wall between the dresser and the fridge unfinished.  Granted, there’s a lot of unfinished in the bus, but this was actually intentional.  The space provided in the wall cavity serves as a perfect storage spot for long thin things, like our axe and hatchet (with the heads resting on the dresser surface), fire-tending equipment, supports for holding the emergency windows open, sticks for marshmallows, and a kid-sized cricket set (because of course we do).

We’ve just used this on a shakedown camping trip, and it got thumbs-up, so I was a happy camper!