From the Vault: Our Tour of the Northern United States (1999)

Note: This journal is printed as it was shared on my previous website at It was updated periodically and followed by friends at (before it was a registered site). As a result, it is written in a present tense even though the voyage happened over 20 years ago. I duplicated the journey on this site because it was a good trip and still referenced as a basis for some of my travel-related decisions today. Enjoy! -Scott

May 12, 1999

Windmill in Buzzards Bay, MA.

On May 18, 1999, my wife and I will transfer from Cape Cod, MA to West Texas. Instead of making the transfer a four-day 2400-mile “Point A to Point B” drive, we decided to make it a 5000+ mile tour and see some sites while we’re on the road. Our main goal is to drive to Montana to meet family members I have not seen since I was a toddler (in other words, I’ve never met them). We simply plotted our course to West Texas via Montana and chose points in between to visit along the way (or slightly out of the way).

All of this was with us…

Our biggest challenge is traveling with our pets, two cats and a turtle. We decided to carry our baggage on a “wheel-free carrier” outside the car (pictured below). That way we can fold the rear seat down and give the cats free run of the trunk and backseat area. Sometimes they get a little scared while traveling. Having the trunk available for hiding will prove to be a good idea. We’re keeping the turtle in a 20-gallon aquarium with her usual mix of potting soil. The trick for her is that she requires full-spectrum lighting during the day and a 24-hour source of steady heat so she can thermoregulate (Yes, it takes more than a box to care for a box turtle). Therefore, we bought a voltage inverter so we can power her household lamps and heat sources from the car’s electrical system. We’ll keep her in the trunk so her perceived light and heat will remain consistent. A thermometer with a limit alarm will warn us of hazardous conditions for her. The voltage inverter also makes it possible for us to use the laptop computer without worrying about its battery life.

Our Intended Route: 5300 miles…

Our planned stops are:

Brewster NY, Pittsburgh PA, Lexington KY, Springfield MO, Kansas City KS, The Badlands SD, Mt Rushmore SD, Helena MT, Salt Lake City UT, Denver CO, Holloman AFB NM, and Carlsbad Caverns NM.

May 21

Hitch Haul Carrier with Travel Organizer.

Our first day didn’t go as smoothly as planned. The movers arrived about three hours late. They didn’t leave until about 5:00pm. Luckily, I was able to check out of housing before the movers actually left. Otherwise, we would have had to wait until the following day to check out. We were finally on the road by 7:00pm. We stopped at the ship to check out then drove the remainder of the 220 miles, arriving in Brewster, NY around 12:30am. We ran into rain after three hours of driving. Naturally, it rained while we were on the dark two-lane roads instead of the interstate. That slowed us considerably. I had wondered if the outside travel bag (above) was waterproof. I knew I didn’t get Goretex for $40. Still, only the side containers and a few other items got wet since the bag was in the car’s draft. We spent some of the day drying out those items and repackaging the cat food and litter. We’ve prepared for future rain by wrapping all of our baggage in plastic trash bags or Ziploc bags.

Our stay in Brewster was fairly relaxing. It was good to see an uncle. Brewster is one of a few places where the cats must stay outside. It rained most of the day so it was fairly cool. There are lots of trees, so parking in the shade was easy. “Hotel Jetta” served the pets well, staying below 72-degrees all day. “Hotel Jetta” is pictured below. The inset shows the turtle walking in the grass.

Callie and Cookie perched in and over the trunk. Inset is Mae wandering in the rain.

Our next stop was Pittsburgh, 450 miles down the road. What a nightmare! It’s been years since the last time I drove in the area. There was construction and detours everywhere. We didn’t get to Grandma’s place until 6:30pm. She invited us to stay with her and we gladly accepted. That allowed us to spend more time with her and avoided a late commute to the hotel. The cats stayed locked up in the bathroom, but that was much larger than the car (they had been in the car for 50 straight hours). One thing that really amazed her was the amount of stuff that came out of our car. “Are you sure you’re not driving a pickup truck?”, she asked. I guess it was sort of like the little circus clown car with dozens of clowns piling out of it. I shared a snapshot of the things we’re carrying in our car a few paragraphs up. The packed Travel Organizer is inset.

Clay with his Jetta TDI

Next, we drove 375 miles to Lexington, KY. Driving with the cats is possibly like traveling with kids. Okay, probably not. But they do get bored and demand attention. They also fight over any inch of space that the other may be occupying. “I want the sun… I want the lap…It’s too quiet… It’s too hot…” We stayed with an internet friend, Clay, while visiting Lexington. He and I share an interest in diesel-powered Volkswagens. He showed me his two modified VWs. My friends think I’M a techno-weenie. This guy’s got LOTS of goodies on his cars. His GTI-VR6 is frightfully fast. I have so many wants and so little money… the story of many lives. With 120 cars being stolen each week near my next duty station, it’s probably good that my car is not an eye-catcher.

May 24

This photo shows the copper deposits (green).

Our 580-mile drive to Springfield, MO was the longest day so far. Our intent was to get to Springfield to see the Crystal Caves the following morning. We saw billboard ads for dozens of caverns along I-64 and I-44. It may be worth a drive back someday to see them. The Crystal Cave was not quite what I expected, but it was definitely worth the visit. For starters, there are no billboard ads or beautiful color ads flooding the area to attract visitors. Most people learn of the Crystal Cave by word of mouth. Crystal Cave is a genuine “Mom and Pop” operation. The Mann sisters’ father discovered the caves in the mid-1880s. Then the Mann sisters inherited the caves. It’s been open to the public since 1893. The current owner knew the Mann sisters and used to visit the cave often. He never dreamed the cave would eventually be willed to his family, then owned by him and his wife. Much of the cave’s presentation is still as it was back then. The caves are very rustic. There are no colorful lights to enhance the cave’s natural look, no wide concrete paths to guide you though the tour, and no uniformed guides leading dozens of tours daily. Instead, there are simple light bulbs crudely hanging about the cave, narrow gravel paths with stone stairways and low underpasses leading the way through the cave, and comfortably clothed family members offering tours from 9:00am to 1:30pm.

This photo shows how close we were able to get to the live formations.

So what makes Crystal Caves so great? They’re constantly changing. We were guided by the owner as the only tourists. He told us about the history of the cave and pointed out areas that he was working on that were not yet open to the public. A lot of what we saw was not open to the public until recently. He was quite proud to have been able to give the public something that had not been available before. Most tours last about an hour and 20 minutes. Ours lasted almost two hours since he pointed us to the best photo opportunities. Another bonus is that the formations are up close and personal. Most cave systems have only a few “rooms” with wide paths that are 20-30 feet from the nearest rock formation. Crystal Cave has about 10 rooms and the formations are literally right in front of your face. I even had to get near the floor for a few of the ceiling photos to be far enough away. Best of all, the detailed tour cost only $5. Compare that to a cave up the road that offers a 30-minute electric car ride into a large single room at a cost of $14.50 and you’ll agree that a visit to the Crystal Cave is a good deal.

After our visit to the cave we checked out of the hotel and drove a short 250 miles to Lawrence, KS. A good friend of mine from the Coast Guard lives there. We stayed with her family for two nights. A lot has changed since we last met 10 years ago. Her son is now a teenager, she has two young daughters, and she’s no longer in the Coast Guard. Once again the cats enjoyed accommodations at “Hotel Jetta.” It was a little warmer in KS, so the “hotel” was moved into her garage. We visited an outlet mall and picked up a few things. We also rested up for our long drive to South Dakota.

May 30

Our next day’s drive was 660 miles to Kadoka, SD. Our goal was simply to get within striking distance of the Badlands and spend the night. The next morning we drove through Badlands National Park. The scenic drive through the Badlands was about 30 miles. The scenery was beautiful, but odd at the same time. A friend once described the Badlands as a “miniature Grand Canyon.” He’s right. Photos of the Badlands and the Grand Canyon appear quite similar. Even standing on the rim of one of the Badlands’ canyons provides a spectacular view of what seems to be a huge canyon. But once I visually “measured” the height of the canyon I figured it’s not really that deep. The layers of colors in the rocks are what provides the perception of tremendous depth. After we passed through the park we stopped briefly at “Wall Drug.” It’s much more than a drug store. In fact, it’s more of a shopping plaza. There were dozens of shops with souvenirs for nearly every attraction in the Black Hills. We decided not to purchase anything and to make our souvenir purchases at the actual attractions. Our 100-mile drive to Rapid City was met with plenty of rain. Most attractions we wanted to see are outdoors; therefore, we decided to call it a day.

Death Row Inhabitant.

The next day was beautiful. First we headed to REPTILE GARDENS, the world’s largest collection of reptiles. They had lots of snakes, including the inhabitants of “Death Row,” the most venomous snakes in the world. There was also a 200-lb alligator-Snapping Turtle. He was pretty boring, but impressive by his size alone. It was also my first time to come face to face with several Galapagos Tortoises. It was cool outside, so they were in their heated indoor area.

There was also a prairie dog habitat. They were calling across to each other as if they were saying, “People! People! Hide!” The center attraction was a large arboretum with approximately 40,000 flowers and orchids, several reptiles, exotic birds, and a few loose snakes. Our final stop at Reptile Gardens was the gift shop. We picked up some t-shirts and a few geodes.

Bear Country USA

Our next stop was BEAR COUNTRY USA. This was our first time to visit a drive-thru wildlife park. They had lots of different mammals there including Timber Wolfs, Arctic Wolves, bobcats, mountain lions, rams, reindeer, buffalo, and the world’s largest collection of black bears. The different species were cleverly divided by electric fences and cattle guards so they wouldn’t eat each other. The end of the tour featured “Babyland” with dozens of baby bears, foxes, and wolves. Naturally, there was a large gift shop. It featured just about every kind of teddy bear imaginable.

We were there!

Next, we headed toward Mt Rushmore. There was a turnoff for Rushmore Cave. We had seen dozens of billboards, so we decided to take a detour. The caves were nice, but nothing stood out as spectacular. Most of it consisted of passageways with one large room at the end. We had seen better, but each cave has its own features. We left quickly and went to Mt Rushmore. It was neat to see Mt Rushmore in person. The mountain really speaks for itself. Most interesting are the things that cannot be seen in the sculpture. For example,about 95% of the sculpting was done by blasting with dynamite. Also,did you know that Thomas Jefferson was originally supposed to be on George Washington’s right side? When it wasn’t working out, his image was blasted from the rock face and reblasted on Washington’s left side. Finally, the sculpture was originally planned as a waist-up sculpture. However, the artist died before the Memorial was dedicated. His son saw the completion of the project, but opted to leave the sculptures as neck-up sculptures. We returned after dark for the evening lighting ceremony.

Pigtail Bridges

We took a scenic drive between our two visits to Mt Rushmore. The road through the rugged mountains was extremely steep and windy. One of the most interesting road designs is a bridge network called the “Pigtail Bridges.” A way to reduce the grade of the climb was required so all vehicles could make it up. The pigtail design was laughed at and it was said the plan would never work. Given the fact that heavy RVs with trailers climb this area every day, I’d say it was quite successful. Our main reason for making the tour was to see how the tunnels “frame” Mt Rushmore.

Rare box formations at Wind Cave.

We were unable to see Wind and Jewel Caves in our planned stay. All hotels were already booked for Memorial Day weekend. Therefore, we couldn’t extend our stay. Instead, we packed up the car and made a drive to Wind Cave. We were able to leave the cats in the car during the tour. Wind Cave is the 8th largest (known) cave in the world. Other than its size, I was relatively unimpressed. The only items of interest were the “Box Formations.” These formations (pictured) are very rare. In fact, it is estimated that Wind Cave has about 90% of the world’s box formations. After touring Wind Cave we drove to Jewel Cave National Park. There were about 350 wild buffalo roaming the area as well as dozens of prairie dogs. It was far too warm to leave the cats in the car to tour Jewel Cave. Bummer! We decided to bypass the tour and continue toward Helena, MT.

Devil’s Tower with legend interpretation inset.

We detoured along the way to see Devil’s Tower in WY, made famous by the motion picture “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” We stopped, took photos, and visited the gift shop near the base of the tower. Legend says that Devil’s Tower was formed when a great bear chased a group of native children. The children stopped on top of a large rock and prayed for the rock to protect them. The rock sprouted to its current 1200+ feet, saving the children. The grooves in Devil’s Tower are said to have been made by the bear as he attempted to climb Devil’s Tower. The bear left when he had no more claws. The children were saved; but I’m sure they died of starvation and exposure to the elements since they didn’t have repelling equipment to get back to their homes. 😉

Driving on, we stopped in Sheridan, WY after my body said “Enough!” I had developed a head and chest cold and the long days had finally caught up with me. We got a good night’s sleep and made it to Helena by 4:30… one day late. Our plan is to get rested and meet the family. We’ll continue our tour on Tuesday.

June 4

Four Generations

After a good night’s sleep in Sheridan we made the relatively short, 360-mile drive to Helena, MT. This was a stop I had waited years to make. I was adopted by my step-father at age 3. I have no memory of my father. To make a long story short, 20 years passed before I saw my him again. I met him in Kodiak, AK and my grandfather in Bellingham, WA in 1992. This trip to Helena was to meet the rest of the family as well as to allow all of them to meet my wife. Most of them had not seen me since I was a toddler. Our greatest pleasure was in meeting my great-grandmother. She’s celebrating her 90th birthday next year. So we’re planning to return to Helena in the spring. We spent Memorial Day Weekend with them and continued our journey Tuesday morning.

Our next day was 500 miles to Salt Lake City, UT where we visited with some cousins. I first met them in 1989 and I had seen them only once since then. I’ve been in contact with them ever since. The trip was long overdue. I think my wife really enjoyed our stay there. I was still wiped out from my head and chest cold, retreating to bed each night at around 8 or 9pm. That gave her plenty of quality time with “the girls,” something she has not had much on this trip. We stayed two nights.

The Great Heart

The highlight of our stay was visiting the Timpanogos Caves. Being at an elevation of 7000 feet, we definitely got our share of exercise with this cave. The hike was about 1-1/2 miles with a vertical gain of over 1000 feet. To make matters worse,we got to make the climb in the rain. The cave was very much worth the climb. The Timpanogos Caves were the most beautiful yet. There were several large formations. But the most spectacular ones were the smaller, crystal formations. Like the Crystal Cave in MO, the formations were close and personal; plus the presentation was superb. The Timpanogos Caves are definitely worth another visit. Next time I’ll bring better photo equipment. Our trip continued the following day. Of course, the weather was wonderful.

June 10

All of this driving is beginning to get tiring. Our next leg was 530 miles to Denver, CO. Our primary focus was to visit my step-sister. It was good that this was our longest scheduled stop. We used the four days to rest and relax. I had reached the peak of my head and chest cold. It may have grown into mild bronchitis. But now it’s tapering off nicely. We visited several friends in the Denver area. Among them was a family that we met in Alameda, CA. It had been over six years since the last time I saw them. We went to church with them and spent the day at their home. I also got to see another Coast Guard friend. He left the Coast Guard in 1991, got married,and moved to Denver. We had barbecue and visited “Redrocks,” an amphitheater that’s built into dense red rock formation. The acoustics must be very nice during a concert.

Balanced Rock

We also managed to squeeze in the new Star Wars movie and the subsequent shopping associated with seeing a movie in a mall. We visited the “Butterfly Pavilion” on our last day. There was a huge collection of insects, spiders, and other creepy critters. They also had a few small aquariums with samples of sea life. The most spectacular part of the visit was the arboretum with tons of plants and thousands of butterflies. There were also several breeds of box turtles present, but we didn’t see any of them. Terrie was a little concerned that we didn’t get to see as much as we could have, but we were able to get some needed rest. We left the next morning and visited “Garden of the Gods” park near Colorado Springs. Garden of the Gods is popular for its many rock formations. We could have seen much more, but wanted to get to our next stop before sunset. “Balanced Rock” is pictured.

June 15

White Sands, NM, home of the world’s largest gypsum dune field. Inset is the Bleached Earless Lizard.

We didn’t make it to Holloman AFB, NM before sunset as we hoped. The drive through Garden of the Gods took longer than expected. We also ran into heavy traffic and reduced speed limits on the two-lane highways. We made it to Holloman at 9:00pm after 550 miles of driving. We stayed with good friends that we had met at a church in Virginia in 1994. We did lots of traveling around in southeast New Mexico. We visited the White Sands National Monument near the White Sands Missile Range. White Sands recently had success testing an anti-missile missile. I found it interesting that the missile range encompasses State Highways 54 and 70. Both highways are subject to routine closures while missile tests are in progress.

Giant Formation…

The final attraction on our trip was our visit to Carlsbad Cavern. Carlsbad Cavern is the grand-daddy of all caverns. Surprisingly, the vast majority of the cave is no longer growing. However, the formations are still extremely impressive. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to Carlsbad early enough for the guided tours. Instead, we took the self-guided tour of “The Big Room.” This room should have been named, “The Stadium.” It is over 750 feet under ground and simply massive, estimated at over four football fields in size. Luckily, we’ll live close enough to Carlsbad to return later in the summer and take the guided tour as well as the tour through the natural entrance. There are other attractions in Carlsbad such as a wildlife park. Another surprise about Carlsbad Cavern was that many of the most beautiful formations are not viewable by the public. That’s because these formations reside in Lechugilla Cave. Ranking among the largest caves in the world, Lechugilla Cave is still being mapped and explored. So far only geologists, scientists, and a few park rangers have been allowed to enter the cave. It is expected to remain that way for years to come since the growing formations within are made from gypsum which is very delicate. Our only views of Lechugilla were from a slide show and a few post cards.

350,000 Bats! The Maternity Ward is inset. Up to 300 bats have been counted in each square foot here.

Later that evening there was a Bat Ceremony. Approximately 350,000 Mexican free-tailed bats fly from Carlsbad Cavern each evening at sunset. The flight is preceded by a short presentation where a park ranger discusses the bats, their part in the ecosystem, and their danger of extinction due to ignorance on the part of humans. It turns out that bats are nearly everywhere worldwide and play a large part in perpetuating plant life and controlling the insect population. The bat population of Carlsbad Cavern lives about two miles into the cavern. They make their “indoor” flight in complete darkness. The entrance (or exit) to the cave is extremely steep. Therefore, they spiraled upward as they climbed to clear the walls of the entrance. After about 20 minutes the sky had clouds of bats in flight. We stayed for 30 minutes then left. Sometimes it takes hours for the bats to finally vacate the cave. The photos above show the bats. I chose to use the postcard instead of my own photos. This photo was taken from inside the cave. Those darn professional photographers always get the best perspective.

Conclusion (with some VW-nut stuff)

We found our home within a week of visiting Carlsbad. Our household goods will be delivered on June 17th. We’ve found a three bedroom house with two bathrooms that’ll work out nicely. It doesn’t have a basement, but it has an attached garage and three small utility rooms. Foot per foot it’s probably only slightly smaller than our old home. There is a shade tree in the front yard that covers the driveway and another in the back yard that shades the master bedroom. The only downside is the 53-mile one way commute to work. But that’s why I have a diesel. The overall location is great. We’ll be within a day’s drive of my family members near Houston and Austin as well as family members in Arizona. We’ll be two days’ drive from our family members in California.

Logbook Clipping

And now for the statistics my fellow VW nuts and I love. Our journey including local travel near each stop consisted of 6,317 miles in 29 days. We passed through 21 states: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming (twice), Montana, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and (finally) Texas. Our typical speeds were 65-mph to PA, 70-mph to KY, 75-mph to KS, then 80-mph everywhere else (except in reduced speed zones, of course). I’ve estimated our payload at about 700 pounds (200 in luggage on the rear rack; 200 in cargo inside the car, then 300 for our combined weight).

Even with such a load we only used 162 gallons of fuel, resulting in an average fuel mileage of 39 miles per gallon. Our best mileage was 47-mpg, our worst was 36-mpg. Most of our high-speed cruising through mountainous areas yielded about 37-mpg. Having the cargo in the car’s draft was the greatest contributor to this high fuel mileage. The cargo carrier turned out to be a nice addition. Its only pitfall was the 3-1/2″ clearance once the car was loaded. It did a little scraping in driveways and uneven intersections. The only loss was about 1/2″ from a replaceable bolt.

The TDI with cover removed. New clamps are identified.

The car performed almost flawlessly during the trip. Once we were in states that embraced a 75-mph speed limit, the tiny diesel held an 80-mph cruise over hill and dale without leaving 5th gear. The only hill that slowed the car was a long, steep grade just south of Colorado Springs. The car remained in 5th gear and maintained 65-mph. It immediately returned to 80-mph at the summit. I’m not sure if our elevation had anything to do with the lack of power. By the way, the highest known elevation we traveled was at 8,650 feet on the way to Carlsbad Cavern.

The car reached its 5000-mile oil change interval in Denver, CO (I used to drain every 5k when I used conventional motor oil… now I use 100% synthetic and drain every 10k). I had scheduled an oil change in advance, so I was in and out easily. Since the car had lost 1-quart of oil during the first 5000 miles of the trip I had the turbo inspected. I had discovered an oil leak near it before we left Cape Cod. The dealer cleaned the engine and told me to inspect it again in two weeks. Two days and 600 miles later, I removed the engine cover and discovered oil leakage on the valve cover. Apparently it was leaking from the crankcase vent to the back side of the engine and dripping from the turbo. It turns out that replacing a couple of hose clamps (pictured) solved the problem… much cheaper than a turbo replacement.

Well, enough of the techno-weenie stuff. We are satisfied with the time we spent on our tour. We have a nice photo album, souvenirs, and good memories to show for it. We thank those of you who have followed the site and provided feedback and encouragement via e-mail and guestbook entries. Perhaps we’ll do another tour soon. But the car will be packed differently next time… perhaps with a small trailer. Until then, perhaps we’ll meet at a Texas VW Show.

Take Care,


Being used to a car that needs gas every 350 miles, one thing that has always amazed me about our new car is its excellent fuel economy: 49-mpg on the highway. This Volkswagen advertisement sums up its mileage capabilities pretty well. The car puts an end to stopping because we need fuel. Now we stop because we’re hungry or need to stretch our legs. Putting fuel in the car is something that is done just once each evening.

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Tiny Cargo Trailer Conversion – Exterior

The exterior: The final stretch! I had initially sanded the original paint and had a plan to have it wrapped. I did that before a lot of other projects started. Lockdowns put the wrap on hold. My goal was to paint it to match my GTI. So, I decided to try a matching spray paint. It did not work well at all. I’ve spray-painted plenty of small projects in my life. But this was my first attempt at spraying a large surface. There were streaks everywhere, no matter how much I overlapped. Continue reading

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Tiny Cargo Trailer Conversion – The Interior

With the roof resealed and basic wiring done, it was time to work on the interior. I started with the insulation. A lot of DIY trailer converters like to use the pink stuff or the blue stuff. Unfortunately, the green stuff was all I could find, perhaps due to a variety of business shutdowns in 2020. So, I went with what I could find. I wasn’t going to lose time due to a minor insulation preference. Plus, I’m not fooling myself into believing that I’m going to camp in extreme heat or cold, especially in this tiny camper. As a result, I think nearly any insulation will be an improvement that’s “good enough.” Continue reading

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Tiny Cargo Trailer Conversion – Electrical

With the roof fan installed, I had some encouragement to rework the trailer wiring so that I could get some airflow while working inside. The factory wiring was terrible! It looked like this on both sides of the back door. It was disappointing to find this. However, in retrospect, I’m not sure what method “quality builders” are using in the same location. This area was covered by aluminum flashing and is probably never seen by the average owner. Still, as a career electronics man, it was unacceptable to me and one of the first things I wanted to address. The wiring harness enters the interior through and unsealed hole in the frame. Once inside, the harness quickly became a patchwork of what appeared to be whatever wire colors that the Homesteader crew had laying around, especially once the wires crossed over to the other side of the trailer. Continue reading

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Tiny Cargo Trailer Conversion – The Roof

In “The Problems,” I mentioned my need to reseal the roof after finding leaks inside the walls. In order to reseal the roof, I first had to strip away the existing sealant. I thought that would be easy enough with a scraper, a putty knife, and some heat. I was wrong! Sure, the bulk of the sealant did come up with scraping and heat. What I didn’t know is that there is at least a dozen screws which fasten the roof to the structure hidden under the sealant. There was also 50+ raised edges where Homesteader had kerfed the front end of the trim ring without trimming away the excess material. See the photo above for details. That kerf job made smooth operation of a scraper just about impossible. Continue reading

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Tiny Cargo Trailer Conversion – The Problems

Converting my Homesteader Fury tiny cargo trailer into a sleeper turned out to be a real challenge! It was easy to assume the job would go smoothly since the original owner only had it for a year and was using it to haul around products for a clothing business. So, it was very clean inside. I figured removing the walls to add insulation would be an easy feat. I was right… they came out fairly easily. It was at that point that I found evidence of leaks and subpar craftsmanship in the build. I figured I’d better tackle those concerns while I had already dug into the trailer. That’s when the trouble started. Continue reading

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Coast to Coast: Return Trip, The Final Stretch

We continued to Oklahoma City and checked in at our planned stop. It was a convention center. I knew unloading would be painful as soon as the receptionist gave me a map to the parking area. UGH! There was only one luggage cart. Thankfully, we were able to walk all the way back to the front desk, take the cart all the way back to the car, and then get to work. There was just one elevator for the whole place. It wasn’t busy, but it was far from the only ramp in the parking lot. It had me wondering why the accessible rooms are so far from the conference center… or why the parking spot is so far from the accessible rooms… Oh well, not my problem. Continue reading

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Coast to Coast: Return Trip, Pt 2

We hit the road very late after loading the cats and Mom’s effects, perhaps 2pm. So, we didn’t aim to get very far, just out of the area and into our first hotel at a decent time. We took at different route home than originally planned. The car’s engine problem, our one day delay, and reports of inclement weather (and visible slow-downs on I-80 in Google Maps) had me rethinking how much I wanted to risk being in the cold if I have further troubles. The potential for trouble had me thinking that I wanted to stay on the Interstates since services are more plentiful there. We had silly goals to “check-off” some of the middle states and to visit a few attractions. BUT, given what my brother saw in the Sequoias (snow and ice), there was a good chance that the Bonneville Salt Flats and Pike’s Peak would be inaccessible to my GTI and trailer, anyway. I had already canceled all of our hotel reservations along the previous return route when we were delayed a day. So, different hotel stays were in order. Plus, I wanted shorter travel days due to our fatigue. I removed NV, UT, WY, CO, and NE from our plan and decided to return along I-40. Continue reading

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Coast to Coast: Return Trip, Relearning to Pack

Our first order of business in the morning was to assemble the kennels and then repack the car without using any of the interior cargo space that we previously had. The three kennels took up everything but the floor behind the front seats. We bought shipping boxes and packing tape to temporarily hold some of the cargo while we figured out what to do with it. We quickly found ourselves out of time with the hotel and just put everything in the parking lot so that we could work there and figure out a new place for everything. This isn’t even all of it. Continue reading

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Coast to Coast: Dealer Visit and Memorial Service

I drove to the dealer to get a set of ignition coils, commonly referred to as “coil packs,” while the rest of the family went to Sequoia National Park. They were not in stock. So, I ordered them for pick-up the following day. I returned to the hotel and edited photos until it was time to get ready for Mom’s memorial service. When the others returned from the Sequoias, they told me that they didn’t make it to any of the attractions that I had been targeting. There was a lot of snow and ice at elevation. The park does not clear the roads of snow. Even better, snow chains were required beyond a certain point and the road was impassible in a 2WD car without them. There’s no way I was renting chains to chain-up my GTI! I felt a TINY bit better in knowing that I didn’t drive all the way out there to be disappointed. The others still had a good visit, saw ONE Sequoia, and played in the snow, something that doesn’t appeal to me. Continue reading

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Coast to Coast: Outbound Trip, Pt 2

We got settled in our hotel room in Alamogordo, NM plenty late and planned to shoot at White Sands the following morning. Getting sunrise or “golden hour” shots would’ve been great. But the park didn’t open until 7am, or after both of those events. It takes about 45 minutes to load the car and trailer each morning. Not wanting to delay our arrival at White Sands, we left without packing the car and visited to a car wash so that the photos would be pretty. 🙂 Then, it was off to the park. After shooting photos, we went back to the room, packed the car, and hit the road to head west. Of course, we had to stop at a Starbucks to get a New Mexico “Been There” mug. 😉 Continue reading

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Coast to Coast: Outbound Trip, Pt 1

Day 1 took us to Morrisville, TN. I wanted a short day so that we could practice the load and unload of the trailer, basically getting our act together for the longer haul. I lucked out and found a nice long parking spot for the night. Reloading in the morning took about 45 minutes. From there, we went to a car wash. To my wife, I was just being prissy about my beloved GTI. The truth was that I was sneaking her onto the Tail of the Dragon (TOTD), where I knew the car would be photographed. She had balked at riding on the TOTD in the past because she was certain that it’s a dangerous road that would make her sick. I took a risk and was on the Dragon before she could protest. HAHA! Her experience was good. Continue reading

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Coast to Coast: The Plan

My brother (from central Texas) and I recently visited my mother in central California for what we were certain would be our last chance to see her alive. She was 72 and had suffered from a rare neurological disorder for about seven years. Sure enough, she died two days after we left CA. We quickly made a plan to return for her memorial service. He and his wife would fly from Texas, but I made a plan to drive so that I could retrieve her cremains and some personal effects. My wife would join me. Continue reading

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Baun Performance Cat-Back Exhaust

If you’ve followed my site for a while, then you may know that I had almost no interest in upgrading my exhaust. I had even added a resonator to suppress the extra drone that resulted when I upgraded to an APR down pipe. Why the change of heart? Why mess with a good recipe for sound control on my car? When I added the resonator, the installer had to add some 3-inch pipe and a reducer to adapt it to the factory 2.75-inch pipe. His work was not as pretty as I had hoped, but the welds were someplace that almost no one would see. Then a sharp-eyed YouTube viewer noticed a leak at that new weld. That’s when my mind’s wheels began to turn… Continue reading

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Scorpion SA-680 Black Widow 10-80m Antenna

I’ve been a licensed ham radio operator since 1995. I had a long weekend commute from 2006-2009. So, surfing the HF bands was a great way to help the drive pass. I was using a Yaesu ATAS-120A. Performance-wise, it can be described as “adequate,” but  not great. With my Yaesu FT-857D, tuning the ATAS was as simple as pressing a “TUNE” button… or what could be called an “EASY” button.  😉  I made some distant contacts with that antenna, even toward the bottom of the solar cycle. I took a break from HF when I was stationed closer to home; my interest in ham radio comes and goes. Eventually, I decided I wanted a better antenna. Some say the Scorpion SA-680 is the best mobile HF antenna money can buy. I decided to find out. Continue reading

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Replacing the Manual Transmission Oil

I had a Mk3 Jetta TDI for 445,000 miles. I practiced 100,000-mile manual transmission drains, with the exception of one shorter interval during a differential upgrade. I decided to use the same drain interval on my GTI. Volkswagen does not specify a drain interval for the manual transmission. Regardless, there was no way I was going to just leave the “lifetime oil” in the car. I drained the oil at 101,000 miles and sent it for analysis. The results seemed average, with the exception of copper and iron content being a little high, but still healthy. Given the time and cost of the oil change, I think I will drain every 50,000 miles instead. Here are some notes that I will share about my manual transmission oil change: Continue reading

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I’ve Been Neglectful…

I can’t believe it’s been so long since my last post! One reason is because I had started a weight loss program. While it did not involve locking me up and taking away my computer, I endeavored to produce weekly or bi-weekly updates regarding my process on my bicycling YouTube channel. If you’re curious, I lost 58 lbs! See a video here. Around the same time, I was also striving to produce weekly videos for my StealthGTI YouTube channel. That kind of throughput was very time-consuming. I made my weight goal early in March, but I think we all know what else happened by March. Stay-at-home orders SHOULD have allowed me to spend more time writing for my blog. Instead, I spent much of my time either consuming or producing YouTube content. Now it’s time to play catch-up on my website! Continue reading

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100,000 Miles!

The 100,000-mile mark is a significant milestone for many car owners. I’m almost uncertain why that’s still true today. Even though the cars I grew up driving didn’t even have an odometer that counted past 99,999 miles, the majority of modern cars are capable of lasting far past that, especially with good care. Could it be that most of today’s car owners are too fickle to keep a car for long before moving on to something else? I’ve never had that problem. I kept my first new car, a 1988 Sentra, for eleven years and 120,000 miles. I could have kept it much longer, but it was a boring and gutless base model, which is why I’ve endeavored to make subsequent cars more interesting. I kept my 1998 Jetta TDI for 20 years and 445,000 miles. I loved that car, but it succumbed to hidden life-ending rust in key structural areas, a common problem with Mk3s. That was a blessing because I might not be in a GTI today if my Mk3 had endured. Continue reading

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More Changes to Ham Radio

If you follow my Facebook page, then you may remember that I relocated my Icom ID-5100A ham radio display to its third home about a year ago. It started in front of the gear shift in 2016, moved to the center vents in 2018, and then to the driver’s side vent in 2019. This location has been working well for me. However, I wanted to address the limitation of being able to use only use a tiny UHF antenna whenever I have a rooftop cargo box or basket mounted (see photo below). I devised a plan to remedy that. In the process, I decided to make other changes since I was already digging into things… Continue reading

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DIY Awning

It’s been almost a year since I since I shared my desire to do some camping, perhaps leaning toward overlanding, or what I might call “microlanding” in my GTI. See that article here. Even after a year, I haven’t set out on any camping trips. My schedule just hasn’t worked out. However, I’m still pursuing that goal, albeit very slowly. I recently started watching an overlanding channel called “Softroading The West.” The owner explores Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, state parks, and national forests in his Subaru Forester. He does quite well with his modest setup. He shared a DIY awning video that compelled me to try one of my own, with a few modifications to suit my needs. It turned out good; I even received kudos from @softroadingthewest himself. Continue reading

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ECS Street Shield Skid Plate and Tunnel Brace

It’s been over two years since I upgraded my factory plastic oil pan to a steel unit from USP. I went under the car to shoot footage for its three year anniversary video and discovered that the RTV gasket had been seeping. The leak wasn’t severe enough to drip to the ground; it was just enough to blow a mist all over the lower engine bay. I had already resealed a leaky steel pan on my daughter’s Golf. So, I was not interested in making a routine of removing the pan, scraping away old RTV, and then awaiting the cure time for a new installation. I decided to install an oil pan gasket that’s marketed for the Tiguan and see how it holds up (5500 miles and dry as of this writing). While preparing for the possibility that I may need to go back to the stock pan, I decided to order an ECS Street Shield skid plate with its accompanying brace. Continue reading

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Sonax and Carbon Collective Oracle Ceramic Coatings

I had my GTI’s paint corrected and ceramic coated last April. I had a lot going on last year and didn’t take time to talk about it here, other than a short paragraph in an unrelated post. Nevertheless, I’ve been thrilled with the new shine and have been quietly enjoying its benefits. It was an expensive job, but well worth it. The seemingly random photos that I’ve shared over the past eight months show an excellent shine, even in the photos where the car is quite filthy. Have I mentioned how much I love Reflex Silver? It looks great almost all of the time, even when it’s dirty.  🙂 Continue reading

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Homesteader Fury 4×6 Long-Term Review – Conversion Builders Beware!

I bought my 2016 Homesteader Fury 4×6′ cargo trailer second-hand on a whim during a casual morning drive on a nearby highway. The original owner had it for about a year and gently used it for a clothing business. It was in apparently-perfect condition. Read more about the trailer on this page. My goal was to use this trailer for some light camping and on rare occasions when I need to transport bulky items in a dry enclosure. I eventually began transforming the trailer for camping by removing the interior walls so that I could insulate them. That’s when the trouble began… Continue reading

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Three Years and 93,000 Miles: A Summary of Problems So Far

This entry is a bit overdue. Previously, I had focused on sharing my reports here in my blog and then followed-up with a supplemental video on my YouTube channel. This time, I shot the YouTube video first and had intended to write an accompanying blog entry after the video was published. But something surprised me: The video was far more popular than anything I had ever published before. Some described it as viral, but I don’t give it that much credit. Still, surpassing 100,000 views in less than two weeks was unprecedented on my channel, as were the hundreds of comments at that point. Responding to comments (engagement) improves video rankings. So, I spent A LOT of time engaging with the viewers, which left my blog neglected. The activity pushed my list of subscribers beyond the coveted 1000 and now has nearly 2000 subscribers. The activity on that video has since leveled-off to manageable traffic. It’s time to tell readers here about my three-year anniversary with the car. Continue reading

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“We Make Marines”

Note: This article is intentionally time-late and void of names in order to protect the privacy of our Marine. Everything written here is perishable info that is outdated.

Our daughter’s first job as a General Maintenance Technician (GST)…

My plans to take the car on more road trips and camping adventures hasn’t exactly come to fruition. Most of that is a result of procrastination and spending money on other interests/projects. Hot weather played a significant part in the decision, too. A change in my daughter’s career choice has impacted our ability to hit the road, as well. We had counted on her as a house and cat sitter when we’d leave for a few days. She made a sudden decision to join the Marines around the same time that I was kicking around the idea of camping and “microlanding.” She surprised everyone; now we have a Marine! Continue reading

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90,000 Miles and APR Update

Looking at the latest activity on my blog, I can see that there’s been hardly any activity at all! I’ve been busy doing other things: LIFE. 🙂  The car has surpassed 90,000 miles without any significant issues. It continues to be a great commuter car as well as a travel car and workhorse. One of my largest summer projects was to purchase a shed, place it, and then move everything into it from out of a storage unit. The baby trailer was definitely the hero of that endeavor, as was the Dutton-Lainson winch that I featured recently. I don’t think I’ve shared anything about the shed. So, I’ve shared a few photos in the album below. I’ve also done some work on my subwoofer system, supported a bicycle event, removed my “rear seat delete,” had the paint corrected and ceramic coated, and updated my APR software. I’ll share details below. Continue reading

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Dutton-Lainson Hand Winch for Baby Trailer

I’ve shared several stories and videos about how I put my baby trailer to use. One unsung hero of my setup is my Dutton-Lainson 2000-lb hand winch with 20-ft nylon strap. Calling this a “hand winch” is a bit of a misnomer. Yes, the winch can be operated manually using its included hand crank. But, with a 40:1 gear ratio, moving anything the 11-ft distance from the end of my ramp to the front of the trailer would take a LONG time, not to mention a LOT of cranking. Instead, I use a cordless drill on the winch’s hex drive, which makes the operation MUCH faster. It’s akin to having a light-duty power winch on my trailer, but without the electrical connection or load to the tow vehicle. Continue reading

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12V Battery Failure and Upgrade to Group 48 AGM

I experienced somewhat of a weak start one morning a few months ago. But it didn’t happen again. Weeks later, I was listening to music over my lunch break and the sound quit. That was strange. The stereo was still on and the time counter was still running. After a small amount of troubleshooting, I concluded that the battery voltage had fallen to a point that the Helix amp had shutdown and all I needed to do was start the car and recharge the battery. That was my hint that the battery was nearing the end of its lifespan… after just two and a half years. I went to a shop and saw that they carried Interstate batteries and asked about it a replacement. The shop owner said “If the car starts, then you don’t need a battery.” I heeded his advice to wait. Four months later, I got the dreaded “click” when I pressed the START button. Continue reading

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80,000 Miles and Rear Seat Delete!

It’s been a while since I last reported a milestone. I skipped the 70,000-mile report because I had just shared about my car’s second birthday. Time has flown and now I’m past 80,000 miles. I continue to enjoy my commute, not that commuting 35 miles each way in urban traffic is fun, but the car makes it more enjoyable. The driveline is holding up very well to the Stage 2 tune, even with regular towing. Having the extra power on tap for authoritative passes is a good thing, too! My modifications have slowed due to me being quite content with the car, but they haven’t completely ceased. I’ve gone and done the unthinkable… Continue reading

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Possible Changes to Content?

My blog and my YouTube channel are relatively slow-moving. I tend to believe it’s because I’m compelled to share stories or news as I do things with the car. I had more to say when I was modding the car, although I must admit that my mod-journey was slow, too. Once my mods were 99% complete (are they ever 100%?), the stories sort of halted since I don’t pursue many car-related activities such as autocrossing, drag racing, or car shows. I’m sure you don’t want to read about my commutes. But I’ve got an itch to travel and think my content may shift towards road trips and even camping, all with the GTI (of course). Continue reading

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Pros and Cons of Various Cargo Transport Methods

As I wrote about my hitch-mounted cargo carrier, why I bought it, and why I stopped using it, I felt compelled to create lists of the pros and cons of each cargo transport method that I have at my disposal. Each has its merits, drawbacks, and levels of planning required before use. Oddly enough, my “baby trailer” is the most convenient go-to option if my ball mount is already installed. Here is my list of  pros and cons between my three cargo carrying options, hitch-mounted cargo carrier, rooftop cargo box, and a small utility trailer. I’ve included price examples using the least expensive options available online as well as what I paid for my own selections. Keep in mind that these prices are for the cheapest combinations available, but don’t include tiny trailers from discount stores due to their dismal 45-mph speed rating. I suspect most will prefer more sturdy options, which are more expensive. I’ve also created a lengthy YouTube video, which I eventually broke into smaller segments linked below: Continue reading

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Pro Series 20×48″ Hitch-Mounted Cargo Carrier

As I make updates to streamline some of my web pages and menus, I found myself with orphaned information about my hitch-mounted cargo carrier. I used it a lot on earlier cars, but not so much with my GTI. I still have the carrier, but I don’t use it as much now that I have the rooftop cargo box and trailers as other options. How did I use my hitch carrier? Why did I stop using it? What do I use instead? Continue reading for my answers and to learn some pros and cons about hitch-mounted cargo carriers. Continue reading

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Cabin Blower Motor Replacement

I’ve enjoyed my GTI. Mechanically, it has been problem free, mile after mile. Sure, there have been a few minor issues that were no fault of the car itself. Other than those minor issues, the car has been perfect… until now. My interior blower motor (ventilation) started making some sickly noises around the 70,000-mile mark. It was disappointing on a car that was just over two years old, especially knowing that the blower motor on my Mk3 lasted nearly 14 years and over 375,000 miles. My Mk7’s fan speed began to fluctuate until it eventually became unreliable, working only from time to time. With January’s “Polar Vortex” heading our way, I knew I wanted that fan working and blowing heat for my early morning commutes. When I shopped for the new blower, I was very pleased to discover that it is removed and installed without tools. Continue reading

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Stuck in the Mud; Saved by the “More Power Puller”

Have you ever wanted to take to the mud with your summer performance tires and see what your Mk7 can do? Yeah, neither have I.    But it still happened. I’ve made a few references to my yard projects in earlier posts. One of those projects was the widening of the slab outside my rear garage door. I bought ten extra bags of Sakrete to make sure I didn’t run out during the job; but somehow I still wound up with 22 bags left over. With a week of bad weather on its way, I decided to move the leftover bags into my cargo trailer to keep them dry until I could decide whether to return them or use them on another project. The scene was set… Continue reading

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Yakima Showcase 15 Wrap-Up (Pun Intended, Leaks Resolved)

If you’ve read my Long-Term Review of the Showcase 15, then you know that I was extremely disappointed to discover that many of its rivets leak during even light rainfall, causing the bottom of the box to pool with water. Imagine my surprise to learn that the rivets are also made of plastic and have no sealing precautions whatsoever. That’s unacceptable in a $700 box! Sure, Yakima has its lifetime “We’ve Got Your Back Guarantee,” which includes free repair or possible replacement for the life of a cargo box. However, the customer is responsible for shipping to their facility in Washington State. That would cost me around $150 in freight charges for an item this large. And what if the “repair” is just more of the same leaky rivets? No thanks! Instead, I committed to finding a way to fix it on my own. Continue reading

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Getting Stoned With My GTI!

I’ve been working on a drainage project behind my house. My back yard slopes toward my house, which means that rainwater from the two homes uphill from me collects against my back door and eventually culminates into a river through the garage. Replacing what was likely a 30-60 year old wooden door was a great start. But I needed to divert water from the back of the house. Gravel-encapsulated drains, aka “French drains,” are a popular way to carry out that feat. My aggressive project required thousands of pounds of #57 stone. So I put my GTI and baby trailer to work. Continue reading

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Two Years Old Plus Turbo Weather!

Yes, it’s photoshopped from last year…  🙂

Time flies when I’m having fun! Veteran’s Day marked the second anniversary of my GTI purchase. It also happens to fall at the onset of “Turbo Weather.” Temperatures are in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, so my intake temperatures are ideal for making power. The car has been running great. Power is good, my alignment and ride comfort is good, and I haven’t had any problems. I’m on the verge of taking the car for its second annual inspection. The car has 66,000 miles, so I’ll check the brakes and suspension ahead of time just to make sure that the inspector doesn’t pull a fast one on me. Other than that, I’m sure everything is fine.   Continue reading

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Overheating Equipment in the Trunk?

My last few entries have been about changes to my stereo and ham radio projects. I’ll finish the series by answering a frequently asked question: “Doesn’t your equipment get hot or risk overheating under the trunk floor?” I considered that possibility after feeling a hot Helix amplifier and had even designed a forced ventilation system to help mitigate any unseen problems. I had some fans on hand, but decided to wait for the car’s first warm weather to assess the setup. The summer of 2017 came and went without a single problem. Sure, the amplifiers felt warm, one was even hot, but how bad was it? I added a remote temperature sensor to the trunk in 2018 to make a better analysis. The results were surprising… Continue reading

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Ham Radio Display Relocation

When I first bought my car, I chose to mount my Icom ID-5100A display down by the gearshift because I had become accustomed to having my smartphone mounted high on the dash. The display location certainly made for a good photograph, one that combines ham radio, the GTI (Plaid seat), and manual transmissions. But it was  not ideal for convenient operating. Eventually, I decided to try a D-Dock for my smartphone, which freed some real estate on my dash. I decided to use my existing ProClip mount to move my 5100 display to a more visible location (see the photo below). I like the improved visibility! Continue reading

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D-Dock Smartphone Dock and Android Auto

I’ve used smartphones in my cars for over 10 years. I don’t text and drive, but I like being aware of when I receive a message and will take a look at short messages. I WON’T read a message that’s more than a few words if I’m on the road. Instead, my family knows a simple “Call me” is usually enough to get my attention and allow me to make a one-touch call. I started using my phone for navigating as Google Maps and 4G LTE networks expanded and became more usable. Eventually, I could use travel-related apps and certain food apps while stopped. Having the phone mounted someplace visible was good for a lot of things. Then Volkswagen started equipping their cars with Car Play and Android Auto. Driving was bound to change… Continue reading

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