Destination Michigan UP, Campfire Starter Tip, How to Find Water Damage in Your RV

On this week's show, with summer here and fall not far around the corner, we take another look at a great place to visit before winter sets in, Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Then, as Scouts, we learn all about starting campfires. Now that we're older and looking for easier way to do things, Jeff shows us his surefire way to get that campfire going in no time.

Later, Mark and Dawn Polk from RV Education 101 give us some expert advice on how to inspect your RV for water damage.

Destination - Michigan UP

Jeff Johnston: Michigan's Upper Peninsula has long been one of our favorite RV travel destinations. Its scenery, history, food, and fun people add up to a region that's ripe for RV exploration. The trip starts with a run across the straits of Mackinac Bridge on US 75.

And there's something truly magical and fun about the UP that makes us want to keep coming back. And for us, the official start of our UP trip starts when we're crossing the Mighty Mack, the big bridge over the Mackinac Strait. It's a fun drive, you've got great scenery out there, and when we cross the Big Mack, it means the Upper Peninsula magic is about to start.

We reached Manistique a bit late, but we were in time to see the full moon rising near the city's historic water tower. We headed to Indian Lake State Park for the night. Our home for this journey was a Jayco Melbourne motorhome, a compact rig that was just right for UP wandering and comfortable living. Easy access sites and the usual amenities made for a fast setup, and the adjacent Indian Lake was a gorgeous backdrop for the evening.

It's our first night here in the UP. We're at Indian Lake State Park in Manistique, Michigan. We arrived a little bit too late to cook outside, so naturally we stopped and picked something up along the way. And when you're in the UP, the normal thing to pick up is pasties. Got a couple of pasties, local beer, Escanaba Black Beer, gin and tonic. So, it looks to me like we're pretty well set for the night. It's been a beautiful trip so far, sunny, cool weather, beautiful, little bit windy. Just the kind of day that really gets you fired up about visiting the UP.

Our next destination is Kitch-iti-kipi Big Spring in Palms Book State Park near Manistique. Easy access RV parking is plentiful. This site is Michigan's largest spring, and it's a fascinating natural attraction. The tethered people-powered observation raft is designed for easy viewing of the features visible through the crystal clear water. This is a beautiful natural feature. With a raft, you go out on the springs, and you get to look down through this wonderful clear water and the fascinating geology and animal life down below. It's a cool place to visit. More than 10,000 gallons of water per minute enter the pool through the limestone rocks below. The water remains at 45 degrees all year, so the spring never freezes, and the gushing water helps keep the sandy bottom in constant motion. Fat trout and ancient lime-encrusted trees and branches can also be seen in the crystal clear water. Kitch-iti-kipi is definitely worth the stop if Mantistique is in your UP agenda.

Next up was Fayette Historic State Park. This 1867 era town includes many restored buildings and historic displays that help a visitor envision life in an early day iron smelting community.

Aaron Thill: Fayette State Park is an iron smelting village. In its heyday, it was in operation from 1867 to 1891, and there was 500 residents in and around Fayette. We encompass 711 acres. They made pig iron.

They shipped in iron ore from Negaunee by rail to Escanaba, and then it was shipped by--shipped over to Escanaba, to Fayette with the abundance of hardwood on the peninsula that was brought in from locally, and made pig iron, and then that was shipped out to the Great Lakes. The hardwood was used to make the charcoal to fire--to fire the blast furnaces. Today, one of the kilns still stands in the park. The rest of them, you can see the ruins of some of them. And then on the peninsula, there's different sites where you can still see the ruins of old kilns. A lot of the buildings still stand today, and they've got displays set up in them where you can walk into them and see how they lived back in that day. The hotel, the bottom floor of the hotel is open, the superintendent's house. Most of the buildings today still stand.

Jeff: This is one of the casting rooms here at Fayette Park. The iron ore was drawn out of the furnaces, ran down through troughs in the floor, and cast into pig iron. It was then shipped out for later use. Pig iron very much like this guy here, oof. They weigh--some were over 100 pounds apiece. All day long casting these guys and shipping them out, life was not easy here at Fayette Park back in those days. Between the brutal winters and dangerous working conditions, well, it's what you did to make a living, I guess, and to make the pig iron that helped to build the country. Fayette State Historic Park is one of those wonderful places where the preservation efforts of all concerned, combined with the presence of all these fantastic original structures, helps to bring a little bit of Michigan history to life.

Fayette State Park Campground is just a few miles south of the historic park, and a great place to camp when touring the area. This is kind of off the beaten path, but it's easy to find places like this. Next, we head north to the crossroads town of Shingleton, and stop by a small family run company building a classic product that's well suited to the north country.

Winter sports and winter recreation are really important here in the UP. After all, they have an awful lot of winter up here. We're going to be paying a visit here to a company whose products help to support winter sports. It's Iverson Snowshoe Company. And what makes them unique is that they do things the old fashioned way. They build their snowshoes entirely in the US out of locally sourced products. And their craftsmanship and the way the products look, it kind of harkens back to a different time in winter recreation.

Here in the showroom, they have a little bit of a display, so you can take a look and see what kind of products they make. They have over 22 different styles of snowshoes typically made out of rawhide or neoprene, made with a white ash wood frame. And they also have really nice looking, very artistic fishnets. The factory isn't running yet here at Iverson, but they've still got a little bit of stock backed up for when they can get started. This one is called a 10 by 36 Green Mountain. It's been bent, it's made out of the bent white ash which they steam in order to bend like this, and it still has to be laced up and so on, but it's well on its way to becoming another pair of classic Iverson snowshoes. Look for these at L.L. Bean, sporting good retailers, and so on nationwide.

Tourism is a very important industry here in the UP. There's all kinds of tourist destinations, some would say tourist traps. But there is in fact only one genuine tourist trap here in the UP. The Da Yoopers Tourist Trap was started by Jim Hoolie deCaire, the head guy at the Yoopers comedy and music group.

Jim deCaire: Well, you know, I always--I always got a kick out of when I travelled on the road and stuff. We'd go to a lot of rock and mineral shows all over the country and stuff, and do buying for our store. And we're traveling back in the 70s, when all the hippies were out there on the road, and you know, so we saw a lot of--you know, we stopped to see the world's largest ball of twine and the plastic dinosaur, and so does everybody else. You know, so I said, "Well, you know, that would be kind of--we have to have something here. Not only a store with gifts, but something to look at." I was so impressed with Wall Drugs, you know, with the signs and all that, and along the highway, and I'm thinking, "Yeah, you know, people come travel, they want to stop." So, we advertised free admission and free bathrooms. And the free bathroom thing is important. It may be a joke, but it's important. People would say, "Who created all this stuff? This is just wonderful." I said, "A D student created all this because an A student could never think of the stuff like this." And I was the guy in the back of the class that was doing all the bird calls. So, I had nothing else to do but think about this stuff. So, we started, and then some people started bringing in stuff. "Oh, this was my father's, he just loved this. You know, it'd be so nice if you put his name on it." So, when they have people coming up, they take them here to see their father's sculptures or their father's--I think someone--it's kind of cool to have people come here and thank you, you know. And I'm thanking them. "Well, thanks for thinking about us."

To learn more about anything you've seen during our UP journey, log on to our

Campfire Starting Tip

Jeff: Well, it’s campfire time again, and I for one am really glad for it. Been a long winter. But getting started in the spring means sometimes where we wind up using firewood that’s a little less than optimum, maybe it’s a bit wet or green or a little bit punky, well, there’s something you can do that can make starting up this fire a whole lot easier.

Some people really struggle with that, use a lot of newspaper, starting fluid even worse, something like that. But there’s a really simple little tool you can make that helps you start a fire like this with one match every time. Let’s take a look. We’re doing the project out on the driveway for fire safety reasons. We set up a double boiler arrangement for safety. The melting pot is a can with a wood handle screwed to it, and it’s loaded with scrap candle chunks we’ve accumulated. The double boiler is critical when melting wax. While the wax melts, we set up the egg carton that we trimmed down to just the lower part. Use cardboard only. Do not use a Styrofoam egg carton for this. We filled the carton with sawdust and wood shavings. Next up is pouring the melted wax into the sawdust-filled egg carton. No need to completely fill the cups, just enough to get the sawdust moist with wax is good. But if they're filled somewhat, that’s okay too. After the wax cools, cut them up into individual cups and they're ready to pack into a storage bag. Keep away from heat or they’ll try and recycle themselves.

I start a fire with newspaper down first because the extra wax can melt and run all over. If it’s on newspaper, it can still burn and help start the fire. Pile up your kindling, light the waxy starter, and you're on the road. The extra heat from the burning wax helps get even the most stubborn wood going. Takes just one of these little fire starters. They're easier to store in your RV, toss them in a compartment and no matter what kind of wood you run into, dry, wet, maybe a little green and punky, one of these guys will get them started for sure. And you know, this isn't rocket science, but it’s one of those things you learn in the boy scouts. Give it a try, might make your camping a little bit easier.

How to Inspect an RV for Water Damage

Hi, I'm Mark Polk with RV Education 101, and I’d like to welcome you to another segment of RV 101: Understanding Your RV. Today’s topic is how to inspect an RV for water damage.

Whether you're purchasing a used RV or you already own an RV, it’s a good idea to periodically inspect for any indications of water damage. If you catch a water leak early, it’s easier and less expensive to repair as opposed to a water leak that had time to spread.

Let’s take a closer look. I would list water damage as the number one problem with RVs. There are a couple reasons for this. When an RV travels down the road, all the movement and flexing can cause sealants to separate. Another problem is over time, sealants dry out, crack, and start to separate, especially when the RV is constantly exposed to the elements.

Inspecting your RV for water damage can save you lots of money if you find a leak early and take care of the problem. My goal today is to give you a logical process to follow so you can properly inspect your RV for water damage. The first thing you need to understand is that ever seam and sealant on your RV and anywhere the RV manufacturer cut a hole in the RV has a potential to let water in. It’s important that you take your time and really inspect all of these seams and sealants on the RV. I always say water damage on an RV is similar to internal damage to a tire. The outside of the tire looks fine, but the internal damage over a period of time causes the tire to fail without any warning. So, the outside of your RV could look okay, but the internal damage caused by water over a period of time can result in the entire roof, floor, or wall rotting away without you knowing it.

Here’s how I inspect an RV for water damage. To stop a water leak early requires thorough periodic inspections of all the RV roof and body seams and sealants. Always consult your RV owner’s manual and/or your local RV dealer for sealants compatible with the different types of materials and surfaces on your RV. Look for any discoloration and feel for any soft spots on the ceiling around all roof vents, air conditioners, TV antenna, plumbing vents, and any other openings that were cut into the RV roof. Discoloration and soft spots indicate there is already advanced water damage. Look for any discoloration or wrinkles in the wallpaper and feel for any soft spots on the walls around all windows, doors, slideouts, and any other openings that were cut into the RV sidewalls.

Identify the location of items like the water heater, furnace, outside shower, potable water fill, and city water inlet on the outside of the RV, and then access those same areas on the inside of the RV and look closely for any indications of water damage around all of these openings.

Open all overhead cabinets and look into the top corner where the walls meet the ceiling for any discoloration and feel for any soft spots. This would indicate a leak at the seam where the sidewall and the roof attach. Some type B and type C motorhomes are notorious for leaks in the cab overbed area above the driver and passenger seats. Look for any signs of discoloration and feel for soft spots. The best way to do this is to remove the mattress and physically get in the cab over section to look and feel for moisture, water, or soft spots.

Look in all outside storage compartments for any indications of water leaks or water damage. Replace any worn or damaged seals that allow water to get into these areas. Caution, always keep safety in mind when you're working on the roof of your RV. A slip or fall can result in serious injury or worse.

Check for any soft spots on the roof itself, especially around the roof’s seams at the front and rear of the RV. Thoroughly inspect all sealants on the roof around every opening. Look closely for any cracked or separated sealants that would allow water to penetrate the roof’s surface. Repair as required.

Look and feel on the outside of the RV for any signs of delamination. Delamination is caused by water getting between the exterior fiberglass and the RV sidewall. When this happens, the exterior fiberglass starts to separate from the sidewall of the RV. You can stand at the front or rear of the RV and look down the side for any noticeable ripples or what looks like a bubble in the fiberglass. You can also press on the sidewalls to feel for any soft spots or air pockets. If you feel the exterior fiberglass move, it is delaminating. In most cases, delamination starts around openings that were cut into the sidewall like a window or the water heater. Repairing delamination can be very expensive, so inspecting these areas on a regular basis will help identify a potential problem before delamination starts.

When a component is installed in the sidewall of the RV like a window, a bead of sealant is added around the top and the corners to let water run off and prevent leaks. Inspect all of these sealants and add sealant as required. The key is to thoroughly inspect your RV for water damage. Take your time and look closely for anywhere water can potentially find its way past the surface of the RV and take the necessary measures to correct the problem as soon as it’s detected. In most situations when you find a crack or sealant that’s starting to separate, you can simply clean the area, remove any loose sealant, and add the correct type of sealant to the area. If you do these inspections on a regular basis, you can locate and repair the source of potential water leaks before it has a chance to develop into extensive water damage. To learn more about using and maintaining your RV, visit Happy camping.

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