The Homer Spit

It was about a 5-mile drive out to the campground on the spit.   The spit is pretty long and you can’t help but notice the many Tsunami zone warning signs.   It would not be a good spot to be after a large earthquake.  We kept our fingers crossed while we were there.

After deploying we, drove the rest of the way out the spit.  We passed lots of boats, tourist traps, restaurants, and businesses that cater to the fishing industry.

While all the way at the end of the spit, there was a small parking area and just offshore on the inside of the spit were thousands of birds making quite a ruckus.   We couldn’t see what was going on in the water, but we guessed there were a lot of fish near the surface that we could not see due to the angle and short distance to them.

Our site at Heritage RV Park was very nice.  50 amp FHU.  You do not find 50 amp that often once you pass the border into Canada and into Alaska.   Most places are 30 amp maximum, and some only had 20 amp service.   They all work for us as long as we don’t need a lot of air-conditioning.  But the best part about this park was the sites along the water were pull-in, not back-in sites,  so our windshield looked directly out onto the Kachemak Bay.  It was a delightful place to camp for a couple nights and the weather was gorgeous.

The first morning we headed out fairly early to do some shopping in the tourist traps, and after spending a while there we headed further on down the spit to the next touristy area, but by then all the parking was taken.  We drove around there for a bit, but there were plenty of other cars hovering to also find a spot if someone was leaving, and after a while we drove off.

Then we headed back up off the spit into old town and found Bishop Beach where they allow you to drive your car onto the beach, but not very far.  They keep you to a small area with large boulders.  We walked around there for a few minutes as it was a lot windier there, making it very blustery!!

We did have the water pump lights in the kitchen go out while in Homer, so I called around to see if I could find a replacement.  There was a “Gear Shed” that said they had some, but when I got there it was not one that would fit my unit.   Called some other marine supply places, but I was not successful.  I moved the working light from the bedroom sink area into the kitchen so we could tell if the pump was left latched.   I’m wondering if the water pump control unit is going bad as if we leave the pump latched on, it uses 10 amps most of the time, even when it’s not pumping water.   So we have been keeping it turned off till it’s needed when not connected to city water.

First Boondocking experiences after installing Solar on the RV

Let the testing begin!    Our first camping trip after I installed 640 watts of flexible Renogy solar panels and a Victron 100/50 charge controller was at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta campground October 3rd till the 14th.     We had signed up for an Escapee’s HOP (Head Out Program)  late last year when I couldn’t find more than a couple days in a row of available reservations.  Turns out they open the Balloon Fiesta Camping reservations up about a week after the last one ends so I was a couple months late to the party.  Luckily I found the ad for the HOP and they had a few openings.  I reserved a spot right then.

Fast forward ten months and we were camping there with our barely tested new solar panels charging our house batteries.    First thing I noticed was around noon the first full day there, they stopped charging the battery.  I checked the side compartment with the charge controller and I saw that one of the breakers on the battery side of the controller had tripped.  The devices I bought were supposed to be 50 amp breakers,  but from what I could tell, it tripped around 30 amps.  Not a good sign.  I clicked it back on and we started charging again.  

I started researching breakers and determined that I probably should have bought 60 amp breakers for that part of the circuit and better quality ones.   So I started calling local distributors, but none had them in stock, so I gave up for a bit.  

Next day it happened again, the same breaker tripped.  I could see this was going to be a chronic problem unless I replaced it.  Again I started looking online for a replacement and at the same time wondered where I could have it delivered.   After all, I was in a sea of RV’s.  No way for UPS to find us. 

A few  days went by while I called just about every electronic and electrical supply house within 90 miles of Albuquerque.    I also kept googling.  And then unexpectedly about 30 pages of results later, I found an ad for a 60amp breaker at an unlikely place called Sportsman’s Warehouse.   I called their local store, and to my surprise, they had a bunch in stock!   That afternoon I drove over and bought one immediately.   Turns out they were in the fishing section of the store for trolling motors, MinnKota MKR-19 Circuit Breaker 60A.   I replaced the faulty breaker that afternoon.  

Of course, once that was in place, the next day the breaker I had previously installed on the negative side of the circuit tripped.  I had only put that breaker on there as a switch so I could turn off both the negative and positive sides of the circuit.  Humbug!  So I went back to the store and bought a second one and installed that on the negative side of the circuit.   The issue with these particular breakers for me was no button to trip them manually, which is one of the main reasons I bought the problematic ones.  They had a button to press to trip them, so in effect they were also a switch.   I had seen other solar install pictures online where those same cheap breakers were used for solar hookups, so I figured they would work.   Geez,  was that a wrong assumption.

By now we are just a couple days from the end of the fiesta, so I decided to shop for one online that had the manual trip lever to install prior to us leaving for our next trip.   I eventually pulled the trigger on the Bussmann CB185-60 breaker and had it shipped to the house once we arrived back home.   I will be leaving the MinnKota on the other side of the circuit till I can find a suitable surface mount switch.

Now that I was no longer tripping breakers, I could really see what the panels were capable of.   One of the days I happened to look at the console and see over 540 watts of power being generated and almost 40 amps going to the batteries.  That was pretty amazing because the panels are flat mounted on the RV roof and the sun was getting low in the sky as it’s the middle of October.    Solar panels should be angled toward the sun for optimum production, but I decided early on in my research that I wasn’t climbing up on the roof to tilt them up and put them down each time we moved.   Once I committed to flexible panels that was fairly moot anyway.

While we were there, I experimented using the generator in the morning to charge the batteries up to around 80% SOC (state of charge), which is around the point the onboard charger drops out of bulk charging mode.  At that point I shut the generator down to let the solar panels attempt to top the batteries off during the rest of the sunny day.  Only using the generator while the charger is in bulk mode should be the most efficient use of the diesel generator.   Once the charging switches from bulk into the absorb charging mode, the charge amperage drops fairly quickly.  Even when the charger is only pushing 10 amps into the batteries, the generator seems to be under the same load as when it’s charging them at 125 amps in bulk.

I am now starting to more fully understand the difficulty of fully charging our batteries via solar . Adding more panels will help, but in reality I probably can’t fit enough panels on the roof of my RV to get it done in the middle of winter. 

The chemistry of batteries prevent them accepting the full amperage of the panels once they get above 80% charged state where the controller shifts into absorption mode.   More panels will get you to 80% quicker, but then the battery chemistry kicks in and effectively starts pushing back and the controller starts dropping the amperage going to them.  So if you calculated you could push 40 amps for 4-6 hours of the day (240 AH) and less AH before and after those hours, then in theory I figured we can push all those AH into the batteries during those six hours,  but that’s not reality.  As soon as those batteries hit around 80% SOC, the amount of charge accepted quickly drops.  So if your batteries are depleted below 80% SOC,  say at 60% SOC, you can really push in those amps for a while; but when they hit that 80% threshold, the amps  drop, and they drop in an almost linear line down to just a few amps and then hit float charging.

My experiment running the generator in the morning was my charge controller switched from bulk charging to float charging way too quickly, almost no time was spent in the absorb phase of charging from the panels, which should be the bread and butter of solar.   I started to search for an answer to that, and what I found out so far was the amount of time the charge controller stays in absorb is determined by the voltage the charge controller sees when it wakes up due to first sunlight in the morning.  The higher the voltage it sees when it wakes up, the shorter the time it stays in the absorb phase; and the generator made the controller see much higher voltage when it woke up, so the absorption time was cut to almost nothing.  

But that was learned a bit too late in the game, so this will continue when we dry camp in Quartzsite the middle of January.

 

Salem, Oregon: tow bar service at the Airstream rally

We headed toward Salem as I wanted our tow bar serviced by the factory tech after reading it should be done every 10,000 miles and I was close to 17,000 miles since I had done it myself right after purchasing it used off Craigslist early last year.    I had called the factory to see what rallies they would be attending this year near me.   Salem was the only one, and it was an Airstream rally.  I was thinking that might be an issue to get into.   Turns out, It wasn’t.

I drove down to Salem Monday morning, and after a bit was able to find the entrance to the facility.   There was no one at the gate, so I drove in, not having a clue where to go.   I saw a guy in a cart a couple of fenced lots to my right and drove over to him and asked where I could get a day pass.   He told me that wasn’t necessary and pointed to a white building and said I should pull my car over to there and nose it in.

After parking it I walked thru another building and over to the area with more Airstreams.    I had to ask where the vendor building was as there wasn’t a sign to be seen, and that included out on the roads getting in.    Once I was pointed in the right direction, I found the Blue Ox booth and asked the guy if I could get my tow bar serviced.  He said, “Absolutely!” and had me fill out the service sheet.

At that point I was figuring I was going to have to carry that heavy thing all the way from the car, which was probably a half mile.  He told me they normally just come to your coach and service it while still attached to the receiver.    Just then the service tech walked in and I was added to his list after a couple other service calls.   To my suprise, the tech named Josh, had me get into his cart and we drove right to my car, and he attached my tow bar to the receiver on his golf cart and within 15 minutes I was on my way.

Now, I had done almost the same service he was doing last year, but it took me about 3 hours to do what he did in 15 minutes.   I never thought of installing it in the coach’s receiver to unbolt everything.   The perfect workbench for that job, it turns out.    So I was done so fast I couldn’t believe it.   I thought I would need to drop off my bar and come back some other day as it seemed was the norm in Quartzsite.  I had gone there, but they were already fully booked for tow bar service when I arrived.   The sales guy mentioned that in Quartzsite, folks are spread out over a huge area and the techs would have no way to find anyone’s coach, so only there do they require you to bring it to them.   Normal rallies are in a very small area like a fairground.

Unfortunately I was in and out of there so quickly, I never thought to take a picture with all the shiny Airstreams.  There were about 1,000 of them shining in the sun!

 

 

 

 

Coos Bay, Oregon

At Klamath Lake, since we were right on the river, there wasn’t a sewer hookup on that row of campsites, requiring us to drive over to a dump site closer to the office at 7:30 in the morning.    The not so good part of the morning was that the airbags didn’t fill up, which makes for an interesting ride.   Pretty bumpy driving that few hundred feet on what looked like a smooth gravel driveway.  By the time we finished dumping, the bags filled up, thank goodness!  So I knew I would need to find someone in Coos Bay to help me troubleshoot what was happening.

We took Oregon Highway 138 west off US 97 toward Roseburg, Oregon.  It wasn’t listed in the Trucking Road Map book, so the night before I used www.routeview.org to “drive” it from my laptop.   It looked fine and it was.   The most interesting part was it was all downhill,  about 90 miles of downhill; so the Jake brake got quite a workout,  four and a half hours with lots of 25-35 MPH corners to navigate after downhill straightaways.

We made it to Coos Bay in the early afternoon.  The rally folks lead us to a spot very close to the 101,  with three RVs between us and the highway.   Those logging trucks start really early in the morning and they don’t appear to require working mufflers.    We booked a spot with 30amp electric, but no water or sewer; so we arrived with empty grey/black tanks and full fresh water tanks for the Tuesday thru Sunday gathering.

The afternoon we arrived, we were booked on the harbor tour, which turned out to be a small fishing boat.    It was a nice cruise around the bay, but the tour guide was probably  19 years old and had no knowledge of Coos Bay at all, although he did seem to know about rock fish…  What I noticed about the bay was lots of tugboats,  from very small to very large.   I have no idea why they need so many as I only saw one ship arrive during the 6 days we were there.  It was a freighter that loads sawdust for shipment to Japan to make paper products.   There was the largest pile of sawdust I’ve ever seen right on the side of the 101 a couple of blocks from The Mill Casino,  where the rally was being held.

We were attending an Family Motor Coach Association rally, the first we had been to.   I think I now know why they opened up the organization to trailers.   Most of the folks, about 90+ percent at the rally, were very old, late 70’s, early 80’s.   And from what I gathered from the speeches, the rally attendance has been dropping dramatically over the last few years.    I didn’t see anyone there that appeared to be much younger than me, which was kind of odd to me.

The FCOC rally we went to in Tucson was probably 40% very old folks, a lot of folks my age.    It will be interesting to see what the Escapee’s rally will look like this fall, or even the 49er’s rally in Death Valley this winter if we go.

The casino was a very nice facility, except we had to walk thru it to get to the meeting rooms and it was a pretty smokey place.   Living in SoCal has really increased my intolerance for smoke-filled rooms.     There were a few good seminars, but to me, most were given by vendors hawking products for you to purchase while you were there.   I was hoping for them to be more instructional about our coaches.   I wasn’t really looking for infomercials, although a few were helpful.

Now that I think back, there were a few of those at the FCOC rally too.

The second day we were onsite, I had a mechanic from a local RV/truck shop stop by to look at the air leveling system, and of course it worked perfectly then.   After him poking around underneath, he thought the right front air leveling valve seemed way to easy to make it leak air with even the slightest touch.   I had him replace it, and of course after the fix, the coach also worked perfectly again.

The next morning I had one of the vendors do a suspension inspection.  Par for the course, it took some time to air up.  It finally did and he was able to proceed and found nothing wrong.   He did have some suggestions:   new shocks, an extra rear sway bar, and to put in those small in-line air restriction devices to slow the movement of air into and out of the air bags.  All things I will probably do prior to heading for Alaska next year.

We signed up for the wine walk and to my surprise there were no wineries involved.   Our first stop was a brewery (so I could have a beer!), then a museum, then across the street to a used clothing/musical instrument store.   Eventually we toured a democratic candidate’s HQ (their name and seat they were running for escapes me), and after that we went over to a mattress store, and then into a small hole-in-the-wall  live theater pretty much across the street from the Egyptian Theater where a young buck was going to sing like Frank that evening.  When we went in there, I had no idea what the place was.   Prior to there we had also perused an appliance store pouring wine.  Each place had a couple of wine offerings and I figured they hoped you would buy something while you were there.   None of the washer/dryers looked like they would fit into my coach.

While at the brewery, we hooked up with two couples: Tami and Scott along with Bob and Susan.    Turns out Tami and Scott were from Carlsbad,  very close to home for us.    They retired, sold their house and took to the road in a 37′ foot motorhome.   Something I aspire to do!

After the walk we all headed for dinner in the casino for burgers.    We were hungry after that many servings of wine and very little in the way of appetizers!

On Saturday we went to a few more seminars and then met for dinner Saturday night at the big tent.  The highlight of that last evening was the Foxes won the table centerpiece which consisted of a small slab cut from a tree complete with the bark and an old circular saw blade mounted vertically on it.  An odd prize to give us as we would have to carry it around in a moving vehicle.  The blades were sharp!!

And I just had to include this picture.   It’s got to be the most odd thing we’ve seen in our travels.   That’s a cat in what looks to be a modified birdcage bolted to the side of an RV parked in the RV campground on The Mill Casino’s property. It even has a cat door so he can get back inside the RV.   That was a first.

Scott showed me some mods to their moving house to channel roof water away from the windshield and front side windows.   I will be making that mod to our rig soon.   That was an awesome idea .   Also his slide wiper gasket flippers were a cool idea too.  I liked them so much I went out Saturday morning and picked up a piece of door molding, tried it on one of my slide gaskets that wasn’t flipping over correctly to seal out the elements, and at our next stop it worked like a charm.   Now I have to find more of that molding!   And I added the gutter material to my Amazon wish list.

We exchanged cards so we can keep in touch, and on Sunday morning we headed north toward Salem, Oregon, for an attempt to have our BlueOx towbar serviced at a large Airstream Rally.

 

 

 

 

 

Heading for a week at the beach

I’ve spent the time since getting back from Tucson checking into maintenance items I learned about during the Camp Freightliner class, and other chores, like  working on the sprinkler system and putting in some flowers and new plants in the renovated front yard.

I watched a video and proceeded to drain my generator’s coolant and replaced that and the radiator cap.  I then decided to look into why the power steering was acting a bit odd when parking and turning the wheels to their stops.  Turns out I was very low on power-steering fluid.   This diesel actually uses motor oil for its power steering fluid.  That was very odd sounding to me and I was concerned that might be incorrect.  After a bunch of phone calls and a post on a Tiffin forum, I was assured it did use motor oil.  I also confirmed that by opening the reservoir and dipping in a paper towel.

That tank was very low, almost no oil around the newly discovered filter in there.   I bought a new filter and a gallon of oil, changed the filter out and poured the gallon of oil in.   Hmm.  Looks like I need another gallon of oil to fill it.. (not quarts).   I went back to the store and bought two more gallons.  Geez, in a car you are usually talking pints…

I filled it up, ran the engine for a bit and turned the wheel a bit to get the fluid moving around.

Today we are loading up the coach to head out.   I had just unloaded it completely as we thought the next adventure wasn’t until June.   But a buddy had reserved a site at San Elijo State Beach and now would be out of town.  He knew I had never camped there and offered the reservation.  I drove up there to look at the site as the max length listed was 35′ and that wouldn’t work for our coach.   I scoped out the site.  It was very large and overlooked the water.   But I wasn’t sure I could fit my RV in there and was about to send a text explaining I probably couldn’t use his reservation.  Just then as I was driving away, I spotted a large Prevost bus driving in, so I turned around and followed him.   He pulled it into the site next to the one that could be mine.  That Prevost looked as long as my coach, so I got out and knocked on the door, asking the driver how long he was.  His reply was 40′, and that he has camped there many times and he thinks most of the sites will fit his coach.

Needless to say,  I texted my buddy and bought that reservation from him.    It’s dry camping, no electric, water or sewer, but a beautiful view!

Red Bay Alabama

A stop at Tiffinville…   Our coach is a Tiffin and I decided to stop at their service facility a mile from the factory in Red Bay.   I wanted to get a few things fixed I didn’t feel qualified to do myself and to have the windshield replaced.   I had been hearing it was extremely difficult to get a spot there and that arriving early on a Saturday gave you the best chance of being able to camp there.   The campground holds about 100 large diesel pushers and was an old airstrip in town prior to them building a very large service center with about 50 service bays.

Saturday was the day.   We drove up and the sign said they had sites!  (We were there a week, no other days did they have that written on the board again. )  We got a lot of paperwork to fill in and bring back to the office prior to 5pm that evening.   You basically fill everything out and then prioritize what you want fixed.   I had never seen that many Class A coaches in one spot before.

Sunday was the day for Hurricane Nate’s remnants to hit us.  It was a non- starter.  It barely rained and there were maybe 10 mph wind gusts.  Kathy was really worried for nothing that we were going to be in the hurricane or tornadoes!

It was still raining a bit at 6:50 am on Monday morning when I heard a lot of rumbling and got up, looked out front only to see about 50 coaches making their way to the service bay doors as they were being opened in the fading darkness.   I was told later that day, it’s called the Elephant Walk.

We had a leisurely breakfast when all of a sudden there was a loud banging on the coach, wham, wham, wham!!  Turns out every morning someone from the service center inspects any new coaches that have arrived.  That is what they were doing to ours.   They were hammering a screw driver into the wet bay and slide floors to determine if there was any rot.   (They used wood it appears)  And to check the roof rails for cracking.   Turns out ours had a bad wet bay floor.  (That’s under the tanks in the basement)  So glad they found that before it rotted out on the freeway!!

The following day we were in Mussel Shoals overnight to get that flooring replaced early the next day.   They finished it in less than 4 hours and we were off to Red Bay again to find out when we could get the 3-hour express bay appointment .  (aka The Three Hour Tour).  That is where the priority list comes into play.   Late that day, we received a call to be at Bay 7 at 7 am.

Wednesday morning we got to participate in the Elephant Walk as we headed to Bay 7.   I had a complete list, but two of the top priorities were to have the front door adjusted so it wouldn’t pop open when it was cold, and to adjust the driver side front slide.

After about two hours, the techs were finished.  It was then that I found out they were out of windshields for my coach.  That was one of the issues I wanted repaired while we were there.   (A rock cracked our windshield outside of Salt Lake City back in June.)

We brought the coach back to our spot and Kathy noticed the slide they adjusted was sticking out an inch or so in the front.  I walked back to the bay and let the tech who worked on it know there was a problem.  A couple hours later he came by and adjusted the stop bolt.  We thought all was good with the world.   Later that day it was still cold in Red Bay and my front door popped open again as I tried to close it.   I again walked back to the bay to let the other tech that fixed it know.   He came by a couple hours later and fixed it.

Thursday morning it popped open again.   I asked the scheduler if I could have someone else look at it.   Nope.  Had to go back to the same guys.  (Wanda is the service scheduler and it seems her favorite word is NO)   As I was leaving her office, I overheard someone doing tech support on the phone in a cube around the corner.   I decided to ask him about it.  He told me how to fix it.  I did it, and so far, a week later, the issue hasn’t come back.

Friday morning we drove over to the Tiffin Factory to take the tour of them building the RVs.  What a tour that was.   Unbelievable access to everything on the factory floor.  I couldn’t believe it.  There were coaches everywhere in various states of the build process from the chassis being driven in without even a floor to them to being ready to drive to the paint shop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not long after we got back from the factory, around 11 am Friday morning, I got the call that the glass was in and could I bring the coach to Bay 46 at noon.  I said yes, of course.   About twenty minutes before I had to be there, I closed up the coach to be ready to drive and the slide that they adjusted would only come in on one side.  OMG.  I coaxed it in and drove to the glass bay, then went back to the guys that worked on it, and they said they wouldn’t have time as there was a coach in their bay for the rest of the day.   They told me to talk to Wanda as I didn’t want to stay over the weekend again.   Wanda said NO,  I had to use them again to fix it.  (three strikes anyone?)

I wandered over to the tech support guy that had helped me the day before, asked him if there was anyone I could appeal that to.  He suggested Pete.  I found Pete, told him my plight.  He said to give him a bit and he would see what he could do.  About 20 minutes later another tech showed up in the glass bay and looked at the issue and said a drive bolt had snapped.    He left to find a place to fix it.

About an hour later he called the glass manager and asked me to bring it into bay 9.    I have never seen a crew work so well together.   They pulled it all apart,  changed out the drive shaft and put in a new bolt.   Then they adjusted the slide to within a sixteenth of an inch.   Now it works better than it ever has for me.

Thanks to Pete and his guys on the A team!!

We were on our way to New Orleans in the morning, thank god.  It was fun to talk with all the people that have Tiffin RVs, but a week on the tarmack was plenty!!!

Iron Mountain in the UP of Michigan

The roads in Wisconsin are pretty rough compared to both Minnesota and Michigan.   I guess fewer tax dollars are coming out of Washington for them, or they are being diverted somewhere else.   Currently we are staying on US 2 while trekking from Minnesota to Michigan and it appears it goes into Canada from Michigan, so we will probably head south toward Detroit.

We stopped in this town to get our fridge’s sensor replaced but that didn’t work out as planned.  Brought it over to an RV place in the next town over, but they didn’t read the requirement instructions prior to me getting there and only then did they realize they needed litmus paper as part of the diagnostics to get the new part from Norcold.   No one they or I could find had litmus paper.   So back to the campground I went.  Doubting I will hear from them, I choose a service center a few hundred miles away in Gaylord, MI, and made an appointment for the middle of next week.  (earliest they had, and I had to lay a guilt trip on the service manager to get that appointment)

While we were in Duluth, Kathy decided the central vacuum wasn’t working to her satisfaction.  [[Actually I have been telling him that all along!]  After a bit I agreed and went into the basement to check the bag and it was fine.  I noticed the flex pipe was kind of collapsing when turned on, but also realized it was hopeless as the angles were too severe and the pipe was collapsing at the 90 degree turn.

I ordered a new Dirt Devil Central Vacuum system while we were there to be delivered to our next stop in Iron Mountain.   And I finally got Intel to help me replace our Motorhome’s DVR server  NUC that crapped out about a month ago.   They offered to refund the price so I could buy a new one.   That turned out to be good for me as I purchased a new one for the same price but the CPU speed had doubled since I had bought it.

So repairs on the road..   The new DVR is up and running and the central vacuum was replaced last night.  What a difference that made,  Kathy was afraid the new one might suck the tiles off the floor. 🙂   I had been anticipating a tough job to replace it, but it was much easier than expected.   [Except a lot of time on the floor and knees, ouch!]  The new unit included a new wall receptacle and a much larger hose from that to the unit mounted in the basement.   Luckily I was able to use the old hose to fish the new hose thru the opening way back underneath the fridge.   That new hose was also a lot more ridged, so it is not going to collapse like the old one.

Thankfully I had my cordless multi-tool with me so I could cut the opening in the wall a bit larger to accommodate the new wall receptacle.  Only took one extra charge of the battery to finish it.  Harbor Freight Rocks!

 

 

Heading for De Tour Village in the morning.