Monday, December 3, 2018

The Perfect Christmas Gift.

I must have been about 10 years old. That was the Christmas of the year that brother, Mickey, and me were living with Aunt Nina and Uncle Ed in Prescott. Coincidentally, cousins Gary, Sherry and Patty were also staying with them. And, to top that off, cousins Nancy and Frank were their own kids. Now if you do the math on that, you’ll conclude there were seven kids under their roof at that time.

You might think they must have had a big plush house to accommodate such a clan of kids but actually not. In fact, the house was an old converted barn with a red rolled roof and it set next to grandmothers’ house, also with a red rolled roof with a tin roof garage between them. The property belonged to my Grandmother and set directly across Iron Springs Road from the Pioneer Cemetery which, incidentally, is the only thing from those days that is still there today.

We were poor. I realize that as a retrospective anecdote though, since at the time I didn’t really think of us as being poor. But we were and that Christmas yielded but one gift for each kid. Oddly, each kid knew what all the other kids were going to get but, of course, not what they themselves were going to get. This is mostly because we kids all wrapped each others gifts.

You could be imagining a tree with seven boxes underneath all neatly wrapped with customary Santa and reindeer designed red and green wrapping paper sporting fancy blue bows and white tassels. Not! Our family saw no sense wasting money on that sort of thing. Wrapping for us was more a proposition of just ‘covering up’ the gift so the person getting it didn’t know what it was till they opened it.

Now kids will tend toward doing things in more of a fun, if not downright mischievous, way and ‘wrapping’ these gifts was no exception. Let me exemplify this notion by explaining how we ‘wrapped’ cousin Gary’s gift. That year it was a basketball which I only remember because of how we wrapped it. A basketball is less than one cubic foot in volume. We put it in a box that was probably about 3 foot by 3 foot by 2 foot which is on the order of 18 cubic feet. Naturally you need to take up all that extra space in the box which was done mostly by stuffing paper, card board and such in the extra space. ( They didn’t have styrofoam peanuts or bubble wrap back in those days although, as you might have guessed, we wouldn’t have used them anyway for lack of funds.) But somebody, I don’t remember who, got the devilish idea of going out to the pasture and collecting up dried remnants that had been extruded from the south end of north bound animals, basically cow pies and road apples. Not being completely without mercy we only used specimens that were totally dried out and scattered them liberally though the box with the basketball and the other more benign packaging materials.

 As I remember Gary wasn’t particularly thrilled with the whole effort when he opened it but the rest of us sure thought it was funny. Worse yet, although he was pretty tall he didn’t particularly like basketball or any other sport for that matter as he was a total book worm. ( He read incessantly and he would even read encyclopedias just for fun.) Thus the gift itself was disappointing to him as well I’m sure. ( However, he grew up to be the most successful of that ‘magnificent seven of cousins’ as he graduated from the ASU school of business and worked for thriving companies in high level management and even VP capacities I'm told. There is another kid adventure that includes him in my Arizona Flash Flood Story. )

But this article is about the ‘Perfect Christmas Gift’ which happened to be my gift that year. It was a cylindrical tube shape about three feet long and 3 or 4 inches in diameter wrapped in tar paper. ( That would be the black felt that comes in a three foot roll and is used as an underlayment on roofs.) As I remember “To: Kenny” was written in white caulk on it lengthwise. It was placed leaning against the wall in the corner behind the tree and other presents like a broom or mop might be.

Of course, I spent the days leading up to Christmas as all kids would, speculating about what might be in that tar paper cylinder. Maybe it was a telescope! That would be the best but I knew we couldn’t afford that. How about a kaleidoscope which would be pretty cool but the package was too big. Oh wait, package size can be totally misleading when it comes to contents, don’t we know it. ;-) At the age of 10 anticipation is a pretty big deal.

As it turns out it was a Daisy lever action Bee Bee gun. That was about the best thing you could give a 10 year old country boy back in the 50’s. Why? You have no idea how many hours of my childhood were spent target practicing, shooting tin cans, scaring birds and other critters, hunting imaginary grizzlies, play Audie Murphy, and the like.

You see the perfect gift is not really about the gift at all. It’s about the time, experiences and memories that collect around it.

If you have any campers on your list, here are my suggestions - camping gifts. I'm sure they still have a 10 year old kid living somewhere inside them and don't we know kids just love camping!

Go Camping.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

REI Teaches Campers How NOT TO BUILD a Chuckbox. ( without knowing it )

Google Ranks REI as the Top Listing for the Term “Build Chuck Box” thus Weighing Popularity Over Relevance. 

You literally spend half your life  learning and pioneering how to build chuckboxes. You write a book about it. You do videos on it. And what do you get? Lost in the Internet  mud. Honestly it’s nothing short of down right frustrating!

I made the mistake of Googling “build your own camp kitchen chuckbox “. The first listing was an REI chuckbox made out of 1/2” plywood.  That thing has to weigh 50 pounds before you even put so much as a fork in it.

The next listing was of the Boys Life Magazine chuck box. ( That’s the Boy Scouts. ) And their box specifies 9/16” plywood which is worse yet on weight. At least they would have a troop of boy scouts to lug the thing around for them. I’ve seen pictures of scouts carrying those kinds of boxes. You have four boys, each with a corner propped on his shoulder, so they look like pallbearers at a burial. For this reason, I call those types of boxes ‘coffin boxes’. They require either a Boy Scout troop or a fork lift to carry one.

At least my Build Your Own Chuckbox video and  Chuckbox 101 web page show up in the Google first page listings too. The video has been there since 2009 and has had over 220K views. If you watch it you will notice “weight” is the focus of the video.

Then why are builders still using half inch plywood?  The reason for this never ending onslaught of  ‘Spruce Goose ‘ chuckboxes is that the people building them are woodworkers not campers. Woodworkers tend toward building cabinets that bolt to walls thus the word ‘portable’ doesn’t really register for them.

For many years I have watched You Tube as woodworkers have demonstrated their notions of how to build a chuckbox. And for many years it’s been mildly amusing watching the proud designers of these monstrosities exude the virtues of their devices. On that level it is understandable as most of us have to build and use one or two to figure out how stupid we really are. I had to build three boxes to get to one that actually  worked under real camping conditions and met all the requirements. ( That was way back in the 1980’s by the way.)

In the case of the REI Chuck Box, though this is really not excusable. While their box does look cool it also breaks the first rule of chuckboxes. It’s too heavy! You can’t build a box of any significant size, out of 1/2” plywood without it being too heavy. My question is what is REI doing trying to teach people how to do something they obviously don’t know how to do themselves?

However, I will say, it’s harder than you might think to build  a portable box that is both strong and lite. If you want to know how to do that and a whole lot more about chuck boxes, get the design and build book from my website. It’s also available as an EPUB  on Amazon.

Note to REI - Historically, I have bought many products from you and always really appreciate your customer service. However, you do a disservice to your customer and insult your own credibility by venturing into areas you know nothing about. You should really stick with what you do well.

Note to Google - Please get back to giving us relevant results not popular results.  Or at least give use a button where we can drop the big companies out of the results so we can find the folks who really know the niche.

Yeeeeesh..... I hate big companies.

Go Camping.

P. S. Here is a more recent builder video:

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

For Immediate Release

Contact: Ken Ralston, owner
Phone: (928) 301-9004
Email: introduces

“made for the car camping vacation”

Paulden Arizona, 5/3/2018 has taken the camp kitchen size and weigh down another level with it’s new “Mini-Grub” chuck box. It has external dimensions of 24” x 16” x 13 1/2” and weighs in at about 15lbs empty. This product has been designed specifically for the vacationing car and tent campers. It stores camp kitchen devices and provides clean level surfaces for food preparation and cleanup.

The internal shelf space can store wash tubs and dish drainer that can double as drawers for large item storage such as plates, pots and pans etc.. There are also two drawers for storing silverware and utensils. The doors detach completely to offer portable work surfaces.

Box ends are configured with racks for spices and personal items with cup hooks on one end and a tooth brush holder on the other.

The box can be used on a standard campsite table or your portable table.

Options include a stand to make the whole kitchen a self contained unit. It is possible to store a standard camp stove between the box and the stand making for very compact storage of the entire camp kitchen.

For product pricing, specifications and demonstration see:

High resolution product images available at: has been pioneering the camp kitchen chuck box market since 1988. It offers several highly evolved camp kitchen product options in configurations ranging from woodworking plans, to ‘assemble-your-own’ kits, to ‘DIY unfinished and ‘ready-to-outfit’ finished products. Press Kit

“all about chuck boxes, grub boxes and camp kitchens”

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Monday, May 14, 2018

How to cure the Big Data Blues

They are watching! Click on that Youtube cat video and you get included in a subset. What’s that you ask? I have no idea but it probably means you are going to get a call from a donation seeker for the local animal shelter. ‘Like’ your friends post about the new shotgun he bought and the NRA might very well send you a new member packet. Watch a crime movie on Netflix and, who knows, your could end up on an FBI ‘Dexter’ watch list.

This whole thing has just gotten ridiculous and it’s not just government organizations. Scarier yet are big companies, like Apple, Google, Facebook etc.. Their middle names are data and they have taken this to an esoteric level - Big Data.

That’s where you collect every piece of information known to mankind on every individual, organization, group, club, location, time, blade of grass etc. and put it all into a brew pot with special herbs,  snake heads and large doses of artificial intelligence. Then you bring it to a boil for a few microseconds ( Things happen fast in the world of data. ). Let it congeal for a few more microseconds and mystically the names ( and emails, addresses, phone numbers, gender etc. ) of all those with ‘blue eyes’ stratify in a layer at the top of the concoction. All those names of people with big smelly feet will be at the bottom, ( I hope). And us pot bellied old geezers, somewhat fittingly, end up in the middle.

Now why would anyone what to do this, you might be wondering? In a word - advertising.  Let’s consider advertisements that might precede the cat video we alluded to earlier. A pretty ’blue eyed’  maiden might see an ad for a blue sapphire necklace that would grace her beautiful eyes. A big stinky foot athlete would get an ad for Air Jordan athletic shoes and us pot-bellied old geezers will see belts and suspenders commercials.

So the real value of Big Data is to present different highly selected information to individuals based on how they congealed in the artificial intelligence potion! It’s brilliant! Each person gets exactly the ad they need. Well..... assuming you trust special herbs, snake heads and artificial intelligence. I am not sure I do but look for Big Data marketing tactics in my next newsletter.

For now though, my advice is to turn off that stupid Big Data collection device ( cell phone ) and go camping! ( You have to turn it off or else Google will Geo-locate your favorite camp spot and, of course, their mission is to ‘tell the world’ about it. )

Also, as soon as you go ‘dark’ don’t be surprised if the NSA classifies you as a gun toting, right wing, bubba redneck on a survivalist mission. After all, who else could actually get along without Facebook or Youtube for  a whole weekend?

Of course, I’m just kidding about all this ..... I think ;-)  - Go Camping!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Camping Vacations - The 2018 battle cry.

I had so much fun with my eclipse trip camping vacation last year that I actually designed the Mini-Grub chuck box specifically for camping out of the car. It's small and lite and can carry pretty much everything you need for your camp kitchen assuming you have a table, as most camp sites do. Here is the new demonstration video for the Mini-Grub:

I don't know why it took me so long to understand that there is a big difference between primitive camping ( where you have to take everything ) and improved camping ( camp grounds with amenities). What a revelation that has been to me! The big deal is it's cheap to car camp your way around the country. I don't think it cost us $50.00 a day on gas and campsites. Additionally, you just don't need near as much gear.

This year we are planning a Death Valley, Yosemite and Yellowstone trip. I'm thinking reservations will be in order here but I was surprised we didn't need any on our trip last year even at the very popular Mount Rushmore or Devils Tower. 

So be sure to download our camping free stuff which includes our calendar/planner and get your camping trips and vacations planned out now. 

Go Camping!