Preface: Welcome to the new format of our travel log! We hope you like it and find it easy to navagate. The following entry will explain why we got so very behind with posting our camping trip logs, and we hope you will forgive us for the hiatus in keeping you up to speed. Because of the “pause” in posting we also thought this was a good opportunity to take a fresh approach to the travel log and step into a new era. We hope you continue to enjoy it!

As we related in our Holiday 2010 travel log entry, we left Picacho Peak State Park on Monday, 3 January 2011 around noon and headed to Tucson and home. We had enjoyed a wonderful stay at Lost Dutchman State Park over Christmas, followed by the annual Four Corners Unit New Year’s Rally at Picacho Peak State Park. After an extremely cold New Year’s Rally and celebration, we were ready for the brand new year with anticipation.

We parked the Bambi across the street from our house as always, got Sadie out of the back seat and headed to the house to put her inside and get on with our unloading process. But as we approached the front door, there was something wrong. We could hear the smoke alarms going off inside and there was a sound of running water. From all outward appearances, there was nothing amiss, but …

But when we unlocked the front door and entered the house, we walked into a muggy atmosphere, water dripping from the ceiling in the studio, and the unnerving beeps of the smoke detectors. The rush of water was even louder. This couldn’t be good.

As we entered the kitchen we were stunned to find a large water-filled “bubble” of paint hanging from one side of the skylight filled with water gushing out of it onto the kitchen utility cart in the middle of the room. Water was covering the floor. As we made our way into the dining area beyond the kitchen we found a large section of the ceiling had collapsed, leaving the pink insulation hanging down, a square run of track lighting hanging by one corner over the dining room table, and more water gushing from the ceiling, falling directly into a large hurricane glass candle holder on the dining room table. Bits and chunks of plaster and dry wall were everywhere … on the table and chairs and floating in the water. The dining area is a step-down from the kitchen … there was 5” of water in the entire room running the length of the house.

We couldn’t believe our eyes. Terry made his way across the dining room to unlock the back door of the house, and as he did, water from the dining area began to drain out into the back yard, carrying debris with it. First, we threw the breakers in the power box on the side of the house to turn the power off to the house. The water in the dining area and den had not yet reached the height of the wall outlets or we might have been stepping into an electrified pool. We also disconnected the smoke alarms to stop the incessant beeping.

Next, Terry went out to the alley to turn the water supply to the house off to stop the flow of water. With the water finally off, the silence was deafening, save for intermittent drips from the ceilings, residual water draining from the rafters…and the sound of us sloshing through the water. Sadie was freaked out, wading up to her belly in the mess.

Needless to say, it was overwhelming, but we immediately began to act. Terry got the phone number for our homeowner’s insurance and called in to report the situation. We assumed a water pipe in the ceiling had burst from the hard freeze that had occurred on Friday night (New Year’s Eve) while we were keeping warm around the bonfire at the rally. But we would not know the cause for sure until we could get to the source of the water. They said, “No problem,” and not to worry about that at this point in time. They gave us a claim number and told us that an adjuster would be in touch with us very soon to meet with us at the property and assess the situation. First they asked if we had a place to stay, and we said yes, as we could stay in the Bambi in the driveway. In the meantime, they told us to go ahead and arrange for cleanup and dry out immediately, and not to worry about getting anything pre-approved … just get it started as soon as possible.

So the next step was to contact one of those companies that deals with cleanup from floods, fire damage, etc. Of course we had never had to do this, so it was simply a matter of choosing one from the phone book. By this time it was late afternoon and it would be dark soon. The cleanup company we called said they would be there as soon as possible and to do what we could in the meantime to remove whatever water we could, and to make sure the power was off.

Most of the water on the floors had run toward the back of the house into the dining area, so we got push-brooms to push the water out into the yard. We managed to get most of it out, but the obvious damage to everything was overwhelming. The wooden dining room table was warped and cracked … water had soaked up into the body of the sectional in the den area, and the shelves in the dining area containing much of our pottery collections were soaked and dripping … many pieces of the pottery and dinnerware were filled with water that had run down the shelves from the ceiling.

The kitchen and back area of the house — the dining area and living area/den — sustained the worst damage because that’s where the water was coming from and that’s where it accumulated the most. But the entire house was dripping wet. Everything was, at its worst, wet … or at its best, damp from the sheer moisture in the air. We presumed that the muggy air was responsible for the smoke alarms screaming.

We had done what we could for the moment and started taking pictures for evidence of damage, still pretty much in shock at the state of our home. Then we went back outside and parked the Bambi in the driveway and hooked it up to our 30-amp service … and with most of the water out of the house, returned power to the house, confident that we weren’t going to be electrocuted … and waited for the cleanup crew. There wasn’t mush else we could do.

By the time they arrived it was dark. We were apparently not the only ones in the city that had experienced problems due to the sudden deep freeze we had had. It had gotten down to about 19 degrees we were told, and pipes had burst all over town. The guys in the cleanup crew were obviously running on fumes by the time our crisis came to them.

But they got right to work, assessing the immediate needs and getting us “stabilized” until the next day when they would take further steps. First, they removed the track lighting and dry wall that were hanging by a thread in the dining room. Had it let go, a major part of our Fiestaware collection would have been lost … the entire dining area is surrounded by shelving filled with vintage Fiesta. When we were able to take stock later, we were relieved to find that we only lost 3 or 4 pieces of Fiesta … out of a collection of over 500 pieces. We were lucky in that respect ... though “lucky” wasn’t a word that came to mind at the time.

Next they assessed the water damage to the walls and ceilings in all the rooms with a moisture meter gizmo that is used to detect moisture in drywall. All the rooms were affected. Fortunately we have no carpeting — only saltillo tile throughout the house. We had no soaked carpet, but the finish on all the tile would have to be removed, the tile dried, and resealed.

The crew set up huge driers/blowers in all the rooms of the house and asked us to turn the furnace up to aid in the drying-out process. They said it was very important to get the moisture out as quickly as possible to avoid mold and mildew development.

That was about all they could do for the time being. They were very empathetic of our predicament and, at the same time, reassuring that everything would be all right in the end. But from where we stood, that seemed almost impossible. They left for the night and we shut down the house with the blowers blowing, and retreated to the Bambi to gather our wits.

This was the start of what turned out to be a 3-month-long ordeal of navigating the unfriendly waters (no pun intended) of a major-loss insurance claim, personal property reclamation, and contract construction worker issues — all while trying to maintain our usual life, work and activities. Little did we know what lay ahead. But there was no choice but to move forward.

The rest of that first week is mostly a blur at this point, but it was largely consumed by continued efforts to stabilize the situation at the house, continuing to get the place dried out and arranging all the insurance inspections, repair and recovery estimates, and figuring out the overwhelming logistics of being forced from our home for an indefinite period. We did manage to move the Bambi into the yard in front of the house so that we could still access the 30-amp hookup while also accessing the sewer clean-out drain to get hooked up to the sewer system. That also positioned us near to a water source once our water was turned back on (over a month later). In the meantime, we were within 50 feet (barely) of our neighbor’s water, so they graciously allowed us to fill our fresh water tank periodically as long as we needed it.

Our first challenge, once over the initial panic of the situation, was the initial dealings with the insurance company. One of the things that made our situation especially difficult is that none of the demolition or preparation for repairs could happen until all our personal property was removed from the house. Because the water pipes in question where in the ceiling, and not the walls, the ceilings in both the kitchen and the dining area/den areas would have to come down. And before that could happen all our personal property had to be moved our of the way and stored elsewhere. The other reason everything had to be removed from the house is that all the floors would have to be cleaned, dried, resealed and refinished. Nothing could remain in the house.

The company we had enlisted to deal with the dry-out and eventual demolition … was concerned (and rightly so) about not delaying the demolition any longer than absolutely necessary because of the potential mold issues. But demolition could not begin until everything was removed. And the true cause of the situation could not be determined until the demolition could begin to access the area where the water was coming from. It was a sort of “cart in front of the horse” situation.

At this point in the process, the insurance company was not being very helpful. It seemed they could not grasp the gravity of our situation. We were having trouble getting the insurance agent assigned to our claim to contact us to get authorization to get the ball rolling. Because we live in Tucson, he (being on the east coast and not familiar with the West) apparently was having trouble understanding why were we had an issue with frozen pipes. From his perspective, presumably, our claim could not be all that serious … so we were not high on his list of priorities. The company had also been inundated with winter storm claims from other parts of the country, so us lucky folks in the Southwest Sunbelt could wait. It was very frustrating. After a week of failing to get return calls from the agent assigned to us, Terry finally contacted the Arizona State Department of Insurance for advice. The agent we spoke with gave us a name and number within the bureaucracy of the insurance company we were dealing with, and told us to call that person to explain our situation.  If this did not get action, then we could file a grievance, but we were told it would be faster and better all around if we could avoid that route. So we called and explained that we were sitting on a bad situation and could not get a response from our claims agent … and we needed to get him involved to begin the process of moving forward. It worked! We got a call that very afternoon. (We learned later that the person was a lawyer in their legal department. Hmmm. We suspect someone got their butt kicked. Can you say “law suit”?)

Finally having the agent in the loop we could begin the real work. We told them we were able to stay in the Bambi in the yard, and we actually preferred that. But he said we couldn’t do that and be compensated. They would have to put us up in a hotel. We told him we’d think about that and get back to him. We explained in more detail what the situation was and that what we really needed to get going was the removal of our belongings so that the demolition could begin. Again, he balked at that prospect as being a bit extreme and said he’d get back to us.

The next day we had a call from a new claims agent. The insurance company had bumped the claim up from a simple burst pipe claim with minor damage and turned it over to a major-loss claims agent. Finally, we were talking to someone who would work with us. (There’s a lesson in here about he proverbial “squeaky wheel”.) That’s the day things began to happen more smoothly between the insurance company and us.

Once they understood the situation we were in and our claim had been transferred to a more appropriate level, things could happen. For instance, the agent said they would, of course, work with us to stay in the Bambi during the repairs, etc. We came to an agreement on a per diem allowance which we were happy with … and frankly, it saved them a lot of money since this was all happening during the Tucson Gem and Mineral show and every accommodation in town doubles in cost … if you can even find accommodations. We also insisted that we pack up our belongings ourselves because we have several collections of pottery, dinnerware, etc., which are fragile and we did not want anyone else handling them. So we came to a per-hour rate to be compensated for that. They authorized the cleanup company to drop a storage container in our driveway and provide packing materials for us, and we could do the packing ourselves. Larger items, like shelving and furniture, beds, etc. would be taken to the company’s storage warehouse for safekeeping. And we got authorization to begin the demolition as soon as possible and to get to the root of the source of the water … so that a cause could be determined and repairs could begin. They cut us a check for the first month of living expense compensation and a few other things … we had the check before the week was out. Finally we were moving in a positive direction, and things were looking less bleak.

Without going into a blow-by-blow description of what happened over the next four months, suffice it to say that we got the packing done. It took us almost two weeks, with the driers blowing all the while. We had no water so none of the items that had been wet could be cleaned before packing them. Just “dry” had to be good enough. All our furniture, most of which had some level of damage, was put into storage. The garage had not flooded so we were able to put Terry’s studio furniture, business files and surviving electronic equipment in the garage (he works from home), along with our freezer and refrigerator … so we could make use of them. The cleanup company handled all the demolition and storage, and we acquired an estimate from a contractor to coordinate and manage all the repairs to be made, including the plumbing, dry wall, floors and patching/painting.

Once the demolition was done to the point where the cause of the flood could be determined, we arranged for a local adjustor to meet with us. A pipe in the ceiling near the wall between the kitchen and the dining room had frozen and burst, shooting water in both directions … back toward the kitchen, and into the dining area rafters. We have a flat-roof bungalow built in the early 50s. At that time code required very little insulation in the roofs of homes. It’s Arizona, you know. But when we tore into the ceiling we found that the water pipe was at the top of the rafters, up against the roof materials with no insulation other than a layer of tinfoil. Of course it froze in 19-degree weather … despite the fact that we had the furnace set to 65 degrees while we were gone. At that time we had no ability to turn the water off to the house short of turning it off at the ally and we had left water on so the yard could be drip-irrigated while we were gone for our 3-week trip. Who knew it would get that cold?

One of our neighbors comes into the house to bring in our mail, etc. But the night the hard freeze happened was Friday night, New Year’s Eve; Saturday was a holiday, so there was no mail. And then it was Sunday with no mail, of course. So we figured the pipe had burst Friday night and had been gushing full on since Friday night, all day Saturday, Sunday and Monday … until we arrived home. Very little water had leaked out the back door, and none through the front door because the back of the house is a step-down.

Once the demolition was done and the drying was completed, the repairs began. Fortunately, we had not suffered any mold. The insurance company accepted the estimate from the contractors and we received more compensation from them to get the construction underway.

We were very pleased that we were able to be at the house 24/7 to manage the construction and repairs from the homeowner’s perspective. We don’t recommend leaving all decisions up to the workers or even the managers because without doubt they will take the route of least resistance and shoddy workmanship and cut corners will happen. Even with us present we had several situations that we found unacceptable, and had to intervene to get the work done correctly.

While the structural and plumbing repairs were being made we were kept busy with the task of making the claim for the personal property loss portion of our claim. That was a separate nightmare. We went back and forth with the insurance company about several points, especially when it came to the loss of vintage furniture which could not practically be replaced, damage to other furniture, and damaged pottery and other collectibles. Even the cabinetry in our kitchen had to be replaced because it was warped and water damaged. The insurance folks repeatedly wanted to base “replacement value” on new items which, of course, was not acceptable. After much documentation and insistence, they relented and we settled on our personal properly losses, including the replacement and repair costs for furniture that was ruined, some of Terry’s electronic equipment, and so on. We were also compensated for the higher utility charges resultant from the flood … the spike in the water bill from the flood itself, the exaggerated electric and gas bills as the result of the drying process. In the end the insurance came through for us, but it was not without strong wills and the sheer refusal to settle for less that what we were due. All told the claim was approaching $100,000 between the home repairs (which alone was over over $53K), compensation for living expense, etc., and property loss … and that doesn’t include charges from the company that provided the dry-out, storage container and demolition … they billed the insurance company directly so we never even saw that cost.

We did take the opportunity to make some minor enhancements and upgrades to the house, which we paid for ourselves … we added a few new skylights, recessed lighting in the kitchen and dining/living areas, new doors, added ceiling fan to the bedroom, upgraded some electrical, etc. …  small things that were all more easily done while the ceilings and walls were being patched, repaired and repainted because of flood damage.

We finally were to a point where we could sleep in the house for the first time on 17 April 2011. We’d lived in the Bambi since we left for our holiday trip on 22 December 2010… basically four months. Of course, we spent much much more time unpacking everything and getting our lives back to normal, whatever that is. It was done over several months’ time, actually. We didn’t get the garage cleared enough to put the truck back into it again until Labor Day weekend of 2011. We still have quite a few boxes in one of the bedrooms, filled with items that we decided not to unpack and will probably eventually sell.

During the time we were in the Bambi in the yard, we did make a couple of rally trips … the Dead Horse Rally in February, and The Spring Break at the Lake Rally in early April. (Both “side-trips” are included later in the travel log.)

In retrospect, we realized a number of things: we never want to have to go through this sort of thing again — ever; we all should be required to completely empty our home at least once every 25 years if for no other reason than to cull what is not needed; to be grateful and appreciative of the kindness of friends, neighbors and fellow travelers who had us over for a meal, brought meals on wheels to us, offered a “laundry day” at their house, let us use their water until ours was available again, checked on our progress and lent an ear or a shoulder. Also we learned that we can “fulltime” in the Bambi if we have to … and that we were so very lucky to have the Bambi to use as a retreat from the craziness of those months … where we could live, eat, sleep, work and carry on our daily lives.

Oh…we also realized that we never ever want to have to deal with an insurance company for a major loss of this nature or to deal with contractors at that level again. We came out OK on both accounts, but it was not without battle scars, moments of high blood pressure, and developing the thick skin to not accept less that what was expected or deserved.

Following are some pictures that will show some of the details of what we found in our home when we initially arrived home. To give you a sense of what the rooms that were affected the most, the kitchen and the dining/living and sitting room areas, we’ve started off with a few “before pictures”. These will help you understand our shock. Following initial photos of damage and ruin, we’ve included a series of progress pictures taken along the way. Here’s hoping none of you ever have to go through anything like this. If you do, we wish you strength and fortitude! You’ll need both.


Full-Timing in Our Front Yard, 3 Jan - 17 Apr 2011 - Slideshow Below Text

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