Archive for Owner’s Guide

Roughing it smoothly

Ray Whyte is a Canadian handyman with a Prowler. He’s put together a 122 page book (PDF) available for free on his website. The book is well worth the download and probably even a donation as requested. There are a lot of pictures, personal anecdotes, tips and tricks, suggestions, and just plain good advice. Whether you want to see how to weld on an additional entry step or sew together a tire cover, Ray has his story, with pictures and sometimes links to YouTube videos.

Books like this are enjoyable for the pictures,  the sharing of common experiences, and the many ideas to peruse and consider. The price on this one can’t be beat.

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Caveat Emptor: Les Schwab Tire Store

The saga started with the TPMS going to alarm about 5 miles out from the rally site. The flat tire suffered from old age and that meant replacement was needed. The Les Schwab Tire store 954 in Fallon was among the closest I could find that had the tires I needed in stock and was able to replace them on a Friday afternoon. Having a friend who knew people who worked there and a store with a big regional brand added confidence that the store could take care of my tire problem.

Strike one was the error rate. Tires were not inflated to either tire or vehicle manufacturer’s specifications. This is a safety issue. The valve stems billed on the invoice were not on the tires. This is a proper service issue and a reason to suspect consumer fraud. The odometer was misread. This is a potential warranty problem. The tire DOT date indicated that the tires had spent 10% of their expected lifetime on the shelf. That reduces the value of the product purchased.

Strike two was response to notification of these errors. I sent a letter to the store manager describing the issues and suggesting that procedures and policies might be changed to reduce the odds of them happening again. The manager called in response to my letter and asserted that the errors were insignificant or just matters of judgment. The ‘computer did it’ was the reason why billing for product not delivered shouldn’t be considered fraud. My concerns were shrugged off.

Strike three was the response to suggestion for improving the store’s quality of service. The idea of fixing the invoicing system was met with laughter. The idea that things might be done differently to reduce errors was dismissed. There seemed to be no interest in quality of service improvements.

Caveat Emptor! (wikipedia) You are not likely to be at the top of your game when out on the road and you don’t need added burdens. Yes, you should always carefully check what you purchase but you are on their home turf, not yours. You need commercial partners you can trust to help you get things right. You don’t need to work with vendors who add to your concerns or issues that might need to be addressed later. 

The issues raised about tire inflation, tire age, and RV issues are worth a review. Posts on these topics to follow!

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Don Featherstone, R.I.P.

U.S. News reports that Don Featherstone, creator of pink plastic lawn flamingo, dies in Massachusetts at 79.

Featherstone, a trained sculptor with a classical art background, created the flamingo in 1957 for plastics company Union Products, modeling it after a bird he saw in National Geographic. Millions of the birds have been sold.

His legacy lives on at many Airstream gatherings. What is about the pink flamingo yard decoration and an RV rally is something to ponder – some other time, some other place.

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Minimize the problem: Mosquitos and other “Protection against arthropod bites”

Indefinitely Wild has a good rundown on What You Can Do About Mosquitos.

On that turkey hunt in a mosquito-infested valley in the eastern Sierra foothills, I applied a 50 percent DEET lotion to my baseball cap and, during the day, wore permethrin-impregnated, full-coverage clothing. At night, I slept unprotected, first in a stand of trees next to the river that enjoyed a constant breeze, then the next night on the ground, in still air next to the car. Before going to bed, I placed the Thermacell on a rock a few feet away and made sure it was fitted with a fresh pad. I was armed with a head net, just in case, but didn’t use it.

The result? After two nights and two days in mosquito central, I found two bites on my right wrist. I guess nothing’s a 100 percent guarantee, but there absolutely are effective methods and products to keep mosquitoes from sucking your blood.

Your RV is a partial solution, too, but have you checked for your supply of repellent to make sure it is fresh for the coming season? What other precautions are appropriate so you can (a) enjoy the outdoors and (b) protect the inside for a good night’s sleep?

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Batteries

The English isn’t all that polished but the message about how to get best lead acid battery life is good. See Maintenance-free lead batteries Panasonic will surprise by their lifetime at the Electronics Lab Blog. It does appear to be a Panasonic battery press release but that only means you need to be careful about what is hype and what isn’t.

“However those are things, which can be easily checked up from available internet source or even better from satisfied users. Instead of it, we better bring you a few advices for usage of VRLA/ SLA batteries to serve you as long as possible”

This list is similar to what you’ll find posted in the archives here: “number of cycles (thus a battery lifetime) is very strongly dependent on a level of discharge before consequent recharging.” … “real capacity of a battery (amount of energy, which we´ll get out of it) is strongly dependent on a discharge current.” … “real capacity of a battery also depends on temperature.” Also note the comments about number of cycles.

Hype? Perhaps the best example is the claim that “top quality AGM VRLA batteries last you up to 15 years.” Maybe. The issue is that lead acid batteries gradually lose capacity as they age. If you use and maintain batteries properly, this will be a gradual degradation. The end of life decision then becomes a matter of when deciding the reduction in capacity is sufficient to warrant replacement.

Lead acid batteries are so common for RV and automotive use because they are inexpensive, do the job, and reasonably tolerant of abuse. As a contrast, lithium ion rechargeable batteries have ten times the energy capacity by weight, cost ten times as much for energy storage, and are very intolerant of abuse – so intolerant that Li0ion battery cells often have their own integrated electronics to make sure they are not overcharged, discharged too far, and protected from excess current. Now, if you want life, the NiFe battery might be for you (see BeUtilityFree.com NiFe FAQ or Wikippedia) but the trade-off for lifespan is weight.

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For the survivalist or some interesting reading of classic home how-to literature

The Survivor Library says it is about how to survive when technology doesn’t – classic survivalist meme. The Library Index includes 106 categories of ‘how-to’ out of copyright books. The cookbooks collection has an extensive collection mostly from the 19th century up to about 1922. The books are available in both PDF and epub versions. The epub version works for your eBook reader but sometimes the conversion has glitches.

If you are interested in science, technology, and home-making as it was 150 years ago, this library should provide many interesting resources.

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RV Composting Toilet Thoughts

The Wynn’s YouTube channel has several videos about their RV composting toilet experience. Composting Toilet Secret Tips and Tricks is a good place to start if considering this option. Nature’s Head Dry Composting Toilet / Standard Crank Handle (Amazon affiliate link) is a popular example of the appliance. There are a few things to consider about composting toilets in an RV:

  • The RV composting toilet costs 3 times (or more) that of a typical RV toilet.
  • Proper composting requires aeration, 50F or better temperatures, 50% (+/- 10%) moisture content, and weeks to months of time.
  • Disposal of waste remains an issue. The Wynn’s experience is that they need to dump the urine bottle every 2 or 3 days and the compost bucket every 2 to 3 weeks.
  • The RV toilet needs a continuous electrical supply to keep its ventilation running. That is key to smell management, aeration, and moisture removal.
  • Water use may be a bit less. The typical RV toilet needs enough water to keep solid waste in the tank covered. A composting toilet only needs enough to clean the bowl.
  • A composting toilet needs to be ‘primed’ with peat moss or something like Worm Factory COIR250G10 Coconut Coir Growing Medium 250g – 10 pack (Amazon) to help aerate the feces and optimize decomposition.
  • Flushing the RV composting toilet involves cranking the aeration and maceration paddles.

Some cabin and house type composting toilets can get really sophisticated. The big issues that complicate the operation are that of removing moisture, allowing for a proper composting time, managing temperature, and facilitating final disposal.The RV toilet manages moisture by operator attention to separating feces and urine into separate containers, depending upon mild ambient temperatures, forced continuous ventilation, and removal of waste prior to complete decomposition. 

The comments I see indicate some of the same issues and attitudes regarding waste disposal as occur with gray water. With regulations and laws getting ever more strict, disposal of any biologic waste outside of specially designated places should be assumed to be prohibited. You might get away with dumping the urine bottle in a privy or toilet but the compost is another issue.

RV toilet compost should be handled and treated much the same way as cat litter. It should be considered dried out rather than composted. Some toilets allow rotating compost buckets to help further composting but the RV situation with a total bucket time of only a week or two with additions within a day or two of disposal isn’t going to do much other than start the initial phases of composting. The week or two does provide a good composting start and does remove a lot of moisture and that tends to reduce the volume and weight of the waste. The result isn’t the sort of thing to put in a privy or other toilet. It also isn’t the sort of thing to spread out in the open. That leaves bag and trash or shallow burying (if allowed).

There are a number of DIY composing projects out there. The RV provides a few opportunities for such a system. For example, the air feed for the toilet could come from the top of the refrigerator heat exchanger. That would help refrigerator efficiency as well as provide pre-warmed air for the compost pile. Both the compost pile air exhaust and the urine bottle could be routed into the RV black tank to reduce the necessary waste disposal intervals. 

The standard RV toilet works well for most RV needs and provides a fairly high barrier for competing technologies. What seems to give composting toilets an edge for some are ideological fantasies. These center on ‘green’ ideas like saving water or recycling or personalized waste handling. Perhaps the old style gopher hole should be considered for comparison. As with all waste, the issue is really more a problem of concentration than it is with where it goes.

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RV swamp cooler on the cheap

Burning Man fallout: DIY portable camping PVC pipe evap air conditioner by graywolf.

What he built is a tube framed by PVC pipe with a Fantastic Endless Breeze fan at the top, a tub at the bottom, wrapped in cooler pad material, and a small 12v water pump to circulate water. The fan runs about $70 and the pump under $15. Tub, pipe, and pad are common hardware store items and should run well under $50 with the pads the most expensive item (e.g. Dial Mfg. 3072 Dura-Cool Pads at ~$16 ea).

If you are looking at the RV Motorhome Solar Battery 12-Volt Evaporative Swamp Air Conditioning Cooler that runs nearly $600 and want to see what evaporative cooling will do in your RV and what it takes, the DIY project makes for an inexpensive experimental apparatus. The most expensive part of the DIY swamp cooler is the Fan-Tastic Vent 01100WH Endless Breeze 12V Fan and that is a nice item to have even as just an RV table fan.  The KEEDOX® DC30A-1230 12V DC 2 Phase CPU Cooling Car Brushless Water Pump Waterproof Submersible isn’t that expensive and appears to be a general purpose submersible 12v low volume water pump. (note: Amazon affiliate links – check ’em out and support this site!).

You might start the experimenting using the bathtub as a water reservoir. If you want automatic water filling, add a standard cooler float valve connected to the RV water supply. The two variables you will want to watch are water and power consumption. A few amps and a gallon or two of water per hour can make a big dent in an RV reserves over a hot afternoon.

Note: waste water is an attractive source for an evaporative cooler. The Burning Man have worked on that, too (see the Zyphers post on the evapotron). To use gray water for indoor cooling would require a water treatment plant to filter the waste water, apply a disinfectant, and, perhaps, a bit of perfume. — Possible but needs a bit of effort and care.

Power needs could be handled with a 100 watt or better solar system. The cost of that (think $4 per watt as a good guide) could be shared with other RV electrical power needs.

Another basic cooling device is shade. Awnings are a good start. Putting one of those 10×10 tent gazebos over the RV might also help. The problem with any of these is the afternoon Zephyrs as they can come with strong enough gusts at times to cause havoc with awnings and light structures.

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Trailering, 1952

Josh dug up Living in a Trailer by James Jones from the July 1952 edition of Holiday Magazine. Some things haven’t changed much in 63 years — some have.

“THE FIRST TIME you tow a house trailer you keep jerking the wheel to compensate for that crazy sway in the back end. It takes a long time to get enough used to it to ignore it. The first haul I ever made with mine—a trip that, although I didn’t know it then, turned out to be the first leg of a junket that would take me clear across the country and back and consume a year and a half—was to Memphis, Tennessee, from my home in Illinois. That’s about 400 miles, and it took me four days to make it. A year and a half later, on my way home from California, I hauled from Tucson, Arizona, to El Paso in one day. I had left a green-eared neophyte, and I was coming back a veteran. There is no pride in the world more rabid than that of a confirmed and dedicated trailerite. The next winter I took my trailer to Florida in four days, just about 1,200 miles.”

check it out. People, parks, and tours back when.

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Coffee water

There is a page on Coffee in the Owner’s Guide that mentions the key ingredient but that ingredient is often overlooked in the obsession about beans and roasting and procedures and protocols. The science behind the perfect coffee is a report on research to find out just how the water can influence the taste of coffee. Here are some highlights from the report.

“Hendon used computational chemistry methods to look at how different compositions of water affect the extraction of six chemicals that contribute to the flavour of coffee, along with caffeine. The study, published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, found that water composition can make a dramatic difference to the taste of coffee made from the same bean.

“Hendon explained: “Coffee beans contain hundreds of chemicals; the precise composition depends on the type of bean and how it is roasted. The flavour of the resulting coffee is determined by how much of these chemicals are extracted by the water, which is influenced by roast time, grind, temperature, pressure and brew time.

“We’ve found that the water composition is key to the proportions of sugars, starches, bases and acids extracted from a particular roast.”

“The coffee industry uses guidelines on the ideal water for coffee extraction from the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE), which measures ionic conductivity to quantify the total dissolved solids, however the researchers found that it was the proportions of these ions that Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, co-author on the paper, said: “Unfortunately most of the time you are limited by the source water available. Water from the tap varies regionally and from day to day depending on how much it rains affected the extraction and therefore the taste of the coffee.

It seems a bit of magnesium is better than sodium but they key to keep in mind is that this taste stuff is getting into the weeds. Both the water minerals and the coffee taste chemicals are in very small amounts and you don’t have a whole lot of control over them. In an RV, you deal with what you can get as you travel. Use the tastes you encounter as another local phenomena to enjoy like the scenery and other attractions.

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Popcorn with an aluminum can

There are those hot air type popcorn poppers but electricity and special gear aren’t necessarily a good thing in the RV. There are those Jiffy Pop (Jiffy Pop – Amazon Affiliate link) but you can also use an aluminum can and a few kernels. Eric Ravencraft describes how to turn an aluminum can into a DIY popcorn popper. Cut a flap for a popped corn deflecter and make a handfull with minimal hassle.

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Squirrels

Some call them rats with PR. They don’t hibernate but they do hunker down when it’s cold or the weather is bad. Since they live off nuts with an occasional bird or bird egg and insects and whatnot, we probably ought to avoid putting out peanuts for the Blue Jays. Most of those peanuts get stashed and that means the squirrels can probably get a good meal robbing the Blue Jay stash. They are ‘cute’ but there are reasons people don’t like them around. GruntDoc has a nice picture about why the War on Squirrels got started. They chew on wires and other things.

A few years ago, some squirrels built a nest in the V of my B-Van V-8 engine. The smell of roasting sagebrush on the annual spring trip to the smog and lube center was quite nice but also quite a fire hazard. It took a bit of doing to get into the area to remove all the debris and clean things out. Now, its just another item on pre-trip the checkoff list.

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Sale on! Cameco leveling blocks and chocks at Amazon

Amazon has a sale on today for Camco leveling blocks and chocks. The yellow Camco blocks are $25 on sale while the Tri-Lynx 00015 Lynx Levelers, (Pack of 10) orange blocks are running at $32. The Tri-Lynx seems to have a slight edge in user ratings. (affiliate links – check the links and support the website!)

Note that Amazon is now collecting sales tax for Nevada.

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Spring cleaning: 25 tips

Paul Michael has 25 Essential Tricks for Quick and Easy Cleaning over at WiseBread. These are mostly about uses of vinegar and baking soda and similar well tried recipes with a few techniques and hints. Examples:

“Use a tube sock on your hand, soaked in warm water, to wash your blinds. You can do both sides at once and balance the blind.”

“Simple dryer sheets, like Bounce, rubbed onto your baseboards will clean them up a treat. And as a bonus side effect, they coat them in a way that repels dust and pet hair.”

“Repair Hardwood Floor Scratches – All you need is a walnut. By rubbing a walnut into the shallow scratches, their natural oils help hide the flaw. It’s an age-old carpenter’s trick.”

It’s always handy to keep a list like this easy to find – sometimes it might just make life a bit easier, a bit cleaner, and better smelling!

For books on the subject, see Household cleaning recipes on Amazon (affiliate link). Many have Kindle editions so you can take them along without cluttering your RV!

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Read cheap; take it with you

The University of California Press has made 700 books available for reading free of charge. OpenCulture has the story.

“The University of California Press e-books collection holds books published by UCP (and a select few printed by other academic presses) between 1982-2004. The general public currently has access to 770 books through this initiative. The collection is dynamic, with new titles being added over time.”

The University of Chicago Press also provides some free material.

The OpenCulture page also has a number of links to other resouces that provide free media including eBooks, audio books, and movies.

If you have a Kindle reader, check out dailyfreebooks for thousands of free eBooks including promotional copies as well as copyright expired material.

Of course, don’t forget Project Gutenberg, the “first producer of free ebooks” based on volunteer efforts.

Then there is the local library. Did you know many loan books for eBook readers? For example, you can find a book at the Washoe County Library website and it will not only tell you which branch has the book available or allow you to place a hold on the book, it will also tell you if the book is available in the electronic edition. To help you out, there are even workshops such as the one at the North Valleys Library branch on January 18.

What is nice about the electronics media revolution is that you can haul around significant personal libraries and not burden your RV. Thousands of books or movies will fit in a typical backup drive or eBook reader or tablet.

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Firearms in camp court decision

Eugene Volokh reports that “Today’s Morris v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (D. Idaho Jan. 10, 2014) strikes down an Army Corps of Engineers regulation barring possession of loaded guns in recreation areas surrounding Corps dams.” In this case, a tent was considered akin to a home. Second amendment rights are protected in homes.

“The court also holds that the Second Amendment protects the right to carry guns as well as to possess them at homes, so that the regulation is unconstitutional even as to carrying outside tents. And the court rejects the argument that the government may restrict such gun possession and carrying on the grounds that the government owns the property, and has no obligation to open the property to the public in the first place.”

An RV is also “akin to a home” so a firearm you have in it should fall under the same judgment.

It used to be that having a firearm handy for protection while camping was no big deal. The comments to Volokh’s post show how this has changed. There is still a need in the wilds for protection and self defense but some folks think there is a danger from firearms that outweighs this need. Sometimes that thinking is so strong it results in court cases. The courts are a bit confused which is why Volokh warns that “It’s not clear how the opinion will fare on appeal, but the case should be interesting to watch.

Whatever your opinion, if you do have firearms with you on your RV experience, make sure you maintain your shooting skills, keep up to date with laws and regulations where you travel, maintain the equipment in good condition, and store it properly for travel.

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Smoothies at camp with tools at hand

lifehacker notes a video about making watermelon smoothies with just a drill, a coat hanger, and, of course, the watermelon.

You may have a cordless drill driver for the stablizer jacks on your trailer and a coat hanger or other stiff wire isn’t that difficult to find. All you need to do is to cut a hole in the watermelon to allow you to get the wire bent into a beater shape inside. Then use the drill to blend the insides. Finally, fix a spout to poor out the smoothies. (food safe rated coat hangers, anyone?)

“the whole process takes seconds and leaves no messy cleanup behind. Just watch out for the seeds in that pulpy watermelon puree you’re about to enjoy. If you want to amp up the flavor a little bit, you could probably pour a little something into the watermelon after you’ve pulled the drill back out”

I wonder if it works and tastes as good as it sounds easy to do.

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Fire and Wind

The fire season is looking towards a season change to winter. Fires and winds can make a difference in your travel plans. A couple of websites that provide useful information are from ESRI and HINT.FM

ESRI, a company that develops geographic information systems (GIS) has a public information map that shows the database of wildland fires, winds, and air quality alerts. Click on a marker and you get a popup with additional information.

The wind map is a personal art project. It shows wind data from the National Digital Forecast Database for the continental U.S. The winds are flowing lines whose intensity indicates the winds speed. If you are looking for a synoptic overview of what the winds on the continent are doing, this work of art can be fascinating.

For a more traditional view of weather along a planned route, don’t forget the wunderground road trip planner. If you’ve got your route set up in Google Maps, GmapToGPX might help you transfer the route to your GPS.

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A hammock on the hitch

If you unhitch and remove the ball mount from your tow vehicle, you’ve got an empty receiver that makes a solid mounting point. One use for that is a bit expensive but looks interesting (Amazon affiliate link) for those who like hammocks. – Green Eggs and Hammocks HamX2Go Trailer Hitch Hammock Chair Stand

Another option is a flagpole mount. The Camco 51611 Hitch Mount Flagpole Holder is about a tenth the cost of the hammock but you’d need to add your own flag pole and flag.

The problem with leaving the hitch ball mount assembly or a hammock or a flag pole attached to your tow vehicle is that the vehicle tends to become a part of the camp rather than an errands running or touring accessory.

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The non sewage waste water (grey, gray?) if the dump won’t do

The Burners have a rather severe problem when it comes to waste disposal. RV’s are very popular out on the playa but most don’t have waste tanks that will handle a full week’s worth of washing. Evaporative ponds for waste wash water have been superceded and newer technologies developed. The Gray-B-Gon is a wind powered device that fits in well with the Burning Man ethos. Flying Saucer evaporation also works well but uses a pump. The term ‘evapotron’ has been appropriated to name these devices and a web site put up to describe the devices – see evapotrons.

These ‘evapotrons’ are active devices that wet a tulle fabric or burlap cloth or something similar to promote evaporation. Besides the mechanics, there are two issues that are worth considering in normal RV practice. These are filtration and disinfecting. Oasis design has good discussion on Common grey water mistakes about these issues. Some more advanced efforts at treating waste wash water can make it somewhat acceptable for cooling devices (wikipedia). It is probably a better (safer) bet to put mechanical art on top of the RV to evaporate the waste. It appears that even a modest system can take care of ten gallons or more per day at Black Rock City.

It used to be that you could let RV wash water waste drain directly to plant covered absorbent soil away from any pond or stream and any traffic or use. That was reasonably safe. Most camping places prohibit such practice these days. There are some creative and portable solutions available if you need to safely handle waste wash water and an RV dump isn’t handy.

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