Getting ready for this Summers trip..

After getting the bus back home, I had to get the TV Lift/Bench/Fireplace moved to the top of the to-do list as I had sold the couch on Craigslist that originally filled that spot.

I finished up the drawing and bought the needed Cherry wood.   I went for quarter sawn as I really love the straight grain.  I ripped it down to get rid of the sapwood and realized I didn’t have access to a joiner anymore.  I started researching where I could use one.   I discovered MakerBook.io and was able to schedule a joiner use session less than 10 miles from my house the next morning.   It worked out great and I think cost me $50 for about an hour with a helper.

After the boards were jointed, I was able to glue them up and use my hand planer to flatten them.   I was used to a wide planer and wide-belt sanders, so this was a real chore to get the glued-up boards flat.

While in the middle of that, I had to order new casters for my table saw and miter saw cabinet.  The 20+ year old phenolic wheels had just been disintegrating for years, and  as I moved them out for this work, they totally broke.  I ended up buying steel wheels this time, so hopefully they will be the last I need to buy and install.

I built the cabinet and installed it in the RV.  So we now have a fireplace (that can produce heat too, what a novel concept) and a TV lift that works much better than my old one.  And the best part is when the slides are in, like during travel, there is plenty of room to walk by another person.

 

During the winter I had completely redone the wet bay’s fresh water piping and also the black tank wash connection so it doesn’t route up into the living quarters. I moved the vacuum break to the hose end.   While doing that, I decided to add a second water filter in the bay to give me a 5 Micron and .5 Micron filter.  When I finished that part and tested it a while back, the fittings in the filter housings leaked like a sieve.  I was so bummed as the engineering required to get two into that small area,  no small feat.

So now that the TV lift was completed, I needed to get those fittings fixed.   I was googling a bit, trying to find out if I should be using something other than Teflon tape to wrap the threads, and that’s when I discovered that I was supposed to wrap them 5-7 times, not the 2 times I had always done during my life.  Who knew?  I’m not a plumber and have never worked with one.   This winter I will probably replace the existing L-bracket concoction I made with standard L-brackets I could find in stores with a single L-bracket with steel thick enough to hold them.  I will also remake the top brackets with something more substantial than the Simpson ties I used.  They worked for this summer but are not sturdy enough to last many years.

I took it all back apart, re-wrapped the fitting threads, and then tried to buy new wall brackets for them as the original brackets that came with them prevented a really tight fit for the water fittings.  I ordered a couple and none of them were the correct size, so I bought a few Simpson ties, drilled and sawed openings for fittings to fit, and they are working to hold them up.

The wet bay is finally completely dry again!   Check out these pictures of what someone had done to add an accumulator to the system.  I had never seen stainless hose clamps rust and start flaking apart before.  I only thought stainless turned brownish in color, nothing like these.   They had used the wrong inside diameter flex tubing.  I found the right stuff so was able to use the normal Pex cinch clamps and they should outlast me.

We got on the road Thursday, the 2nd of June, a little late in the afternoon.   That lateness added a couple hours to the drive to our stop for the night in Barstow, bumper-to-bumper traffic once we hit Riverside, and almost all the way up the Cajon Pass.

But we were on the road again!

I also replaced the chassis batteries, and while doing that, added a heating pad below the lithium house batteries to use if needed in the future.

And we replaced the potable water hose on the reel as the old one kept springing leaks and had been cut back a few times to get rid of the holes.  It had gotten pretty short over the years.   The new hose seemed great till we got to the cool weather in Colorado this summer and it’s almost too stiff to reel up and out.  I will need to find another one.  Maybe I will go with one of the collapsible fabric ones if I can find one safe for potable water.

 

 

 

Picking up the painted Bus.

Our Bus has been in Puerto Penasco for the last 6 weeks (as of the middle of March 2022),  and today, after driving 8 hours to get here, I am in the bus waiting on my painter to finish the final steps of the paint job:  polishing all the clear coat, touching up areas like inside the fuel filler doors, any small crevices that didn’t get the color coat, etc., then on to caulking all the seams/joints with clear silicon, reinstalling the myriad of parts that had been removed prior to sanding and painting, too.

Something I already notice is the difference in the heat radiated into the coach from the sunshine on the sides of the motorhome.  The top half is pearl white now, not the original browns, blacks and tans of its last 15 years.  The bottom is a deep blue.   It reminds me of my old BMW K-Bike Motosport!    I am really loving the new look!   And now, having the inside walls stay cool instead of the inside wall getting hot because of the sun on the outside is very nice.  I can imagine that the roof A/C’s won’t have to work as hard to keep the inside temp down on a hot, sunny summer day.

Antonio’s crew is reinstalling all the “stuff” that was mounted on the exterior that had been removed for sanding and painting.   He is also using a large buffer to polish the clear coat now that its been curing for over a week of sunshine in his driveway.  That really looks like hard work as I watch a bit.  When he is not doing that, he is using a small air brush to touch up any place that didn’t get painted, like behind the fuel fill door, etc.  I’ve never seen anyone use an air brush, so that is a bit fascinating to watch.   Since his passion is probably the murals he does, he is really good with that air brush!

Antonio had also replaced the small plastic wind deflector by the front door with a metal one.  The original one had broken in a few spots and I had replaced it with another one I purchased from the manufacturer, but it seemed a bit flimsy to me.  I wondered how long it would last.  Now I am not concerned it will crack off like the original anytime soon.

When Antonio’s tio started installing the lights and other things around the coach, I pulled out my new headlights, the over-door sensor light, and new patio sensor lights from Gregg Wilson designs.

After a couple days, Antonio asked when I wanted to leave.  My reply was “When you are done  and not a minute before.”  He seemed happy that he had time to finish it.   Within a couple days of that conversation, he told me it was ready to go.   I dug out the cash from my hidey hole and paid him.  I printed out a receipt and he signed it.   It was March 22nd, 2022,  six weeks to the day after getting it into the paint building.

Within the hour I had pulled the bus out onto the dirt street in front of his home and hooked up the car.  We took a few pictures and I headed for the border.   And that proved to be an interesting adventure.   I will continue that below the pictures.

Here are a few more pictures that you can click on to make the thumbnail larger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The drive north to the border was uneventful, got passed by lots of cars probably doing 80+ mph on a road that the maximum speed limit was               55 mph.   Almost all were Arizona plates.  But things changed as I got to the US side of the border crossing.

I immediately noticed all the US border buildings’ overhead clearance signs said 12’3″.  That stopped me in my tracks,  much to the chagrin of the agent in the booth.  My coach is 12’7″ high.  I saw that all the openings had the same height restrictions, and all the pipes with that height-stenciled warning were hanging from chains, and the pipes themselves were VERY scratched up with lots of paint transfer from taller vehicles going thru.   I was frozen in that spot wondering how I was getting out of this predicament.  The whole time, (2 minutes that seemed like days), the border guard in the gate house was waving me forward.

I started forward at about 1/2 mph, waiting for the sounds of the pipe dragging over things on my roof; but I got up to the guard shack and there were no sounds.  I had not dragged on anything!  I have measured my coach and it IS 12’7″ fully aired up.   Now I know that those signs are wrong.

The CBP officer asked for my passport and after a few seconds gave it back and told me to drive fast through the tunnel/machine in the left lane.  It was some sort of scanning machine for trucks & RV’s.  He told me to keep the speed up going thru at 5-7 mph.  When I got to the entrance, it was tight, maybe a few inches wider than my mirrors on each side, so driving at 5 mph was going to be a white-knuckle experience with my newly painted rig.  It was not fun, but I got through it unscathed.

After we were out of that machine, the next CBP officer stopped me and asked me the year of the coach and for the registration.  Then after hearing the answer, he asked if it was just painted.  I told him yes.  Then he asked how long it had been down there.  I told him 6 weeks.  Then he asked if I was with it the whole time.  I replied no, I had just driven back to retrieve it.  Then he asked what year it was again, which seemed odd, but I answered him again.

Then he asked me to get out of the bus.  Once I was outside, he asked how full the tanks were.  I wasn’t sure if he meant fuel or water/waste tanks, so I answered with both.   I asked about the low-clearance signs, and he made some remark about “stupid people bringing oversized vehicles into Mexico.”   Then he called over to a couple other guards to come over, and they proceeded to go through the car.  I had to open everything up.  It seemed a bit odd to me as the car had only been there a few days with me the whole time, but the bus was there for many weeks without me.   They never looked inside the bus.   I figured they would want to look into every opening in the bus, but that wasn’t the case.

After about 5 minutes of looking through the car, they told me to lock it up and go.    The first CBP officer moved the big plastic K-Rails out of the way and had me drive off.    No odor detector dogs, nothing.  I guess that machine can see what they need to see.  Not sure why they needed to closely inspect the car I was towing, but that’s what happened.

Once across the border into Lukeville, AZ,  I was a lot more relaxed and headed up the small two-lane highway toward Gila Bend, which is about 80 miles and takes about 80 minutes to drive.   I had researched campgrounds from Gila Bend to Yuma for stopping for the night as I didn’t know what time of day I would be leaving Rocky Point.   I passed the first turnoff of I-8 and determined I would stop near Tacna, which was about another hour of driving.  That turned out to be perfect.   I had mapped out a Passport America place (that was also a Good Sam campground) and it was only $21 a night for a full-hookup, pull-thru site for the night.  It was about an hour before sunset so the timing was excellent.  The pull-thrus were pretty close to a truck stop, but once inside the bus I didn’t notice the noise from them.  Outside you could hear the truck stop, freeway, and even occasionally a long train going by about 1/4 mile north of us.

 

 

The next morning I drove to Yuma, filled up the tank with cheap diesel fuel before heading back into California (and their $1 diesel tax)  and uneventfully drove home from there.

Once I got home, I installed the Tiffin door medallion and the Allegro Bus decal for the front cap.  After seeing the front decal, I ordered a couple more for the sides.  I am probably not going to put one on the rear as the rock guard has it on there; and I will also add the “Roughing It Smoothly” decal on the back cap when I get out the rolling staircase to start cleaning the roof top.

The weeks waiting to go back and pick up the painted bus.

Since deciding I was bringing my coach to Mexico, I had been researching tracking devices to install on the coach.   In the end I had three.  Redundancy is a good thing!  Something to look for is one that either uses satellite or cellular to update the map.  If cellular, make sure it’s 4G, as 3G is being turned off.  AT&T’s 3G went away just this last February.

The first one was a Linxup Asset Tracker.  It only uses VHB tape to stick it to the roof and has a small solar panel that keeps the battery charged.  I had worked with the vendor for a few weeks after getting it to make sure it was working as intended.   I drove it around San Diego while checking the tracking and found it was updating every 20 minutes instead of every 10 minutes as it was supposed to do.  It took a few phone calls to figure out what was happening.

Turns out on their new builds, they changed that to every 20 minutes so long-haul truckers (driving 24 hours a day) didn’t kill the batteries in the winters.   Once we figured that out, they reversed the firmware in my tracker to update every 10 minutes while moving.  (It updates every 3 hours when stationary.)  Linxup Solar Asset Tracker    After I saw it working, I glued it down to the roof of our Bus.

Second tracker was just adding a $32 GPS antenna to my existing Cerbo GX device and that was as easy as plugging it in; but that required having a way to update the VRM website, meaning I had to leave my cellular router in and active in the coach.   GPS antenna I added to Cerbo GX.   I placed this inside the coach as close to the ceiling as I could.  It works perfectly.  I was not sure it would work without being on the roof, but it does!

The third tracker was an impulse buy of an Apple Air Tag.   I wasn’t sure it  would work, but it worked so well I have since bought 4 more and added one to each of our vehicles in case they ever get stolen.  They are cheap, $29, and no monthly fee like the Asset Tracker.  Apple AirTag

Antonio, my painter, provided a 50-amp outlet to plug my motorhome into inside the building, so I did because my solar panels weren’t going to help keep the batteries charged while inside that building.  That allowed me to keep the inverter on and the 120v cameras turned on.  (Note to self:  in hindsight, putting a camera on the wall pointing at the coach would have been a great way to see what was happening while I was back home, but I didn’t think of that until I was almost to the house when driving back.  Next time — err, I hope there isn’t a next time!)   They also had WiFi available, pretty slow, but it worked. 

My Cerbo GX  allowed me to monitor the RV’s power and batteries while it was down there.   The solar asset tracker had no sun for charging for about 5 weeks.  It was down to about 49% battery remaining when the bus got moved into the sun to allow the clear coat to cure.  The folks at Linxup didn’t think the battery could last that long without charging, but thankfully they were incorrect!

The Cerbo GX allowed me to keep track of the batteries while I was away from the bus.  I have it set up to send all the solar/battery & temperature information to their free VRM web dashboard available to me from any device or web browser (and now it had GPS built in).

A few weeks into the job, the Cerbo battery information stopped updating the website, but the cameras were still available to view and hear.   Still, I am not sure exactly why that happened.  The Cerbo stopped sending data on 2/23 @ 6pm and started sending it again on 3/10 @10am when it was being moved outside for the clear coat to cure in the sun.  So for two weeks I was in the dark about the battery’s condition.  I also did not know it had lost shore power.  I will be installing a new Hughes hardwired Power Watchdog  this summer to enable  tracking our shore power.

The Wyze Cams I have installed in the bus allowed me to see things inside the coach and, most importantly, allowed me to hear what was going on.  Since all the window openings and windshield were papered over, the cameras weren’t very useful for video at that time.   A few times a week I connected to one of the cameras and listened to what was going on.  It seemed to me someone was sanding the bus for three weeks, 6 days a week.  I started to wonder if there would be any fiberglass left when they finished.  🙂

Along the way I would message Antonio to send pics and he would send some that night.

The morning the bus was moved, I got a lot of alerts that something was happening and I went to the cameras to see what was going on.  Antonio was driving the bus from the paint building to his home and I could see him going down the road, so I knew what was going on.  Later that evening I called him to turn on the solar controllers allowing the batteries to charge again.  (I had turned them off as they consume about 25 watts and due to being inside did not provide any power to offset that draw.)   It took a bit to communicate that to Antonio’s tio so that Antonio could turn them on in the correct order.

Once the bus cured in the sun for about a week, they started the process of polishing the paint.   It looked good in the pics when unpolished; but once a section was polished, it look amazing!  (I had no idea what a difference that would make.)

I communicated with Antonio mostly via FB Messenger to get an approximate date I should come down.  I picked a day as we got closer so I could be around when all the “stuff” was getting reinstalled on the exterior, including the windows.

I will finish this up in another post.

 

 

The Quest to paint our Bus

I had been researching fixing the peeling paint on my bus for a couple years as the clear coat was failing and it was looking pretty ugly.  I had a couple quotes.  One guy said he could do it in the street in front of my house for around $15k,  a truck paint shop in San Diego quoted me $45k, and a place in Texas quoted $33k and 6 weeks of work.   I even talked to Barney over at Discount RV, and he said they just didn’t have the time to do the job right.

Getting it done outside in front of my house sounded like an awful plan and the other quotes were a lot more than I would consider paying.    I even had a wrap company quote $11k for a wrap, but that didn’t include the required sanding and removal of all the external parts.  (They said the wrap could last 5-7 years)

Then last fall I saw a before and after picture of what was essentially my coach having been painted in a Facebook post.   It had similar issues as mine with the clear coat peeling.   The paint job looked pretty good; so I contacted the coach owner and asked about the paint job and found out they only lived a couple hours north of us.  Later I made up my mind to investigate getting my bus painted by the guy that painted theirs, and I asked if I could come by and look at it.

They agreed to my request.  A couple weeks later we drove up to Chino to look at the job.  It was a really good job!  It wasn’t perfect and the owner pointed out a few issues, but I couldn’t see a couple of them with my eye.  I did notice the striping wasn’t perfect if you look very close, but in truth I wasn’t sure the $33k job would be any better.  For what they paid, it was an incredible job.   And at the time I didn’t really understand what painting these things actually entailed.

I found a graphic artist on Craigslist and sent her off a couple pics and a picture of a rudimentary sketch of what I was looking for.   I should have known that it wasn’t going to work out based on how hard it was to explain to her what I wanted done.   It went bad real quick.  Her end product looked like something an 8-year-old would produce.  Here is her finished product I was supposed to give to the painter.   She had received the exact same sample picture as a starting point as the next designer, but the difference in the deliverable was astonishing.  

 

 

After that first ugly designer experience, I started searching for someone who had previously done design work for other motorhomes.   I found a few, but most were too busy working for companies to do anything for me.   Then I found Xtreme Paint & Graphics in the small town of Nacogdoches, TX.  They told me they could make a design for $650.   I had found this picture and liked some of it, but wanted the white on the top instead of the bottom.   I gave this to the designer and told her I wanted it much simpler and it to be dark blue on the bottom and pearl white on the top. 

 

Her first draft was perfection to me!  That was just prior to Thanksgiving.    Exactly what I wanted.  I told her to finalize that (which took way too many weeks for some reason).  I did have to call her after Christmas to finally get the invoice and final drawings done.

 

I messaged the painter with the pic and negotiated a price.   Setting the date was not as straight forward as expected.  And that ended up working out well for me as right after New Years I caught the flu and was feeling crummy for three weeks.  Once better,  I attempted to get a date from the painter via messenger but received the same vague responses.   So then I just set a date and he said “sure”.

The painter doesn’t speak a lot of English but can get the gist.  The day prior to me heading there (it’s about an 8-hour drive from my home) I wanted to get the exact address to bring the bus.  He kept sending me his home address; and when Google street viewing, I could see there wasn’t a building to put it inside at that address.  It took a bit, but then I did get the right address and could see a building that looked like it could fit the bus inside.

The weekend prior to going, I also bought Mexican insurance as our US coverage isn’t worth the paper it’s written on down there.  My AARP/Hartford motorhome insurance is basically no coverage in Mexico at all,  so I needed full coverage for it.  Turns out 6 months of coverage cost less than 2 months of coverage by a lot of money, so I took the 6 months of coverage.  I also had to negotiate the value.  NADA guide said it was worth $118k and the insurance company would only go to $75k of value.  After some negotiation they upped it to $100k.  It alone cost about $650 to insure.  My car is covered by our home/auto policy and they covered it all down to Senora, Mexico, where I was going; but Mexico doesn’t recognize their Liability coverage, so I had to add that with a Mexican company:  $50 for 5 days.

Also, a note, if you plan on staying in Mexico for more than 7 days, you must buy a tourist visa (FMM).  That was difficult to determine by reading everything I could online.  Luckily for me, a club I belong to had just finished having a rally down in Puerto Penasco the week before I was heading there and I was able to get the requirements confirmed by the leader of that rally.

I was planning on removing the windows when I got down there so the paint would cover everything.  Prior to leaving home, I removed all the valances and the attached roller shades (no small feat in itself!) and stored them in the guest bedroom till I got it back home.

I also wanted/needed to replace a couple of exterior lights (over the door and the patio light).  I also ordered two new headlights to replace the original ones  (exact same look, not projectors as I was thinking about).   I had purchased the new light last year from Gregg Wilson LED’s prior to deciding to paint the coach white and had bought a black one.   I talked to Gregg and purchased one to replace the patio light (including his brand-new patio cover fixture plate) in white and mentioned I had a black one for over the door.  He offered to exchange the black one for a white one.  He was wintering in Yuma, which was on my way toward Gila Bend, and I stopped by his RV and swapped them.  That’s what I call customer service!  I hadn’t even asked for that.  I was asking him if I could paint it white.   I am glad that happened as they blend into the new white paint perfectly.   Saved me from having to try to paint it.

I am driving to be in Rocky Point so I can be there on Tuesday around Noon.  Monday morning I am finally ready to go.  I head toward Yuma for fuel and the light fixture swap, then on to Gila Bend and will make a sharp right and head south to Rocky Point (Puerto Penasco, Senora, Mexico)  I researched a few campgrounds near Ajo, Az (that is really the middle of nowhere) and I lucked out finding a newly remodeled campground at a golf course just out of town.  I say I lucked out because it was great, had brand-new full hookups and had pull-thru’s available.  The other two places had no pull-thru’s, and I really didn’t want to detach and reattach the car the next morning.   And even better, when I drove past the other two campgrounds, they were Dumps.  Yes, with a capital D.

I got there a bit after hours that evening, forgot about the time difference between home and Arizona; but the camp host left his cocktail party and guided me in and told me we could settle up in the AM so he could go back to the cocktail hour with some friends.  Camping there was a bit like being in a fish bowl as I had no shades to pull down (they were all back at home).   The place was very quiet and I apparently passed out as soon as my head hit the pillow at 9pm.

The next morning I noticed I hadn’t brought much for breakfast with me.  I had coffee and toast, but butter had been forgotten.  I did have hotdogs, but I didn’t want to think about that for breakfast, so coffee was breakfast.

I headed for the border and got there about 11 am.  After I got to the Mexican side, I was stopped and they asked for my passport and both vehicle registrations.  I had to go back to the car to get its registration.  One of the border officers came into the RV and walked to the back and opened a couple of drawers, then told me I could drive off.

That border town was just as bad, possibly worse than I had imagined.  (I spent a few years working in Maquiladoras for Sony in a prior life)  Tijuana was WAY nicer than this place.   Prior to getting out of the town, there was a police roadblock with a few men holding machine guns.  That got my undivided attention.  But as I stopped for them, they just waved me on through.

As I drove south, I started seeing these signs and wasn’t really sure what to make of them.   They were posted about every 10 Kilometers along the road to Rocky Point.   I got used to seeing them, and I had no issues with anyone on the way down; so I started thinking the signs were a good thing for us north of the border folks, as they sort of implied.

I got to the building sometime after noon.  I was a bit surprised to find all but the main roads in the town were dirt.   Very few paved roads where the locals live.    Antonio (the painter) met me there a few minutes later.  One thing I noticed again, when traveling out of the US, our phones require using different prefixes depending on where you are calling.  It was odd.  I could call home without doing anything different, but for the life of me, I could not call or text Antonio no matter what I tried while I was south of the border.  No issue once back in the US to call him.  I tried every prefix and suffix I could find by googling what to use.  I had switched to Cricket Wireless for phone service before heading to Alaska in 2019, Cricket advertised they allowed roaming in Canada and Mexico.   I worked well in Canada, and now Mexico has been tested and deemed worthy.   Although calling locals isn’t something I could figure out.

I drove the coach into the building through the smallish door, but we fit in.  Something else I noticed, as I missed the correct turn-off for the building and had to go past the turn and took the next right and right again to come back, the overhead wires were very low on the right side of that street.  My radio antenna did its Boing Boing sound, and I immediately stopped, got out and noticed the wires hanging were a bit lower than my roof ACs, but still high enough that the front curve of the AC covers would help them ride up and over.   Note to self:  next time stay left, toward the side of the road with the telephone poles where the wires are a lot higher.

Antonio’s crew got to work within minutes of me leveling the coach and putting out the slides inside his building.   He had two of his guys help with taking out the windows, which was great as there are 15 of them.  It’s kind of amazing how stuff seems to get heavier each year…

By the end of Tuesday, all the windows were removed. There was a bit of confusion on where to put them.  In the end, if you have this done, make sure they get put outside the RV along the wall where they can cover them with plastic prior to the start of the painting process.

Another thing of note:  They will put paper in the windows, and even after I mentioned that the prior coach had a bit of over-spray inside, they didn’t do a very good job and I was cleaning over-spray of the counters and furniture for a couple weeks.  Note to self:  Do that job yourself.  Buy lots of rolls of wide blue tape and thick plastic and double it up.

Here is what the bus looked like with the windows out that Tuesday evening, my first night there.

 

 

 

 

 

And the picture below is the second day after the windows were taped up and the sanding had started.  On the other side, the awnings were being removed and the slide toppers were already off over there.

 

 

 

 

And below is the morning I headed home, the slide toppers are off and sanding has begun on this side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will add another post detailing more happenings after the first day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upgrades to the Bus prior to our Winter Trip to the Desert and Summer 2020 trip

I had quite a long list of changes needed when we got home from Alaska last Fall and I started earnestly on them in November.


The list:
Replace the absorption fridge with a residential electric model.
Replace the lead acid batteries with Lithium Ion batteries.
Double up on the amount of solar panels & Controllers.
Replace the Smart Battery Sense (SBS) with newer Long range SBS.
Swap out the uncomfortable Living room chairs with Theater Seating.
Add a battery monitor with Bluetooth capability. 
Hook it all up with a Raspberry Pi to upload all the Solar and Battery information to an internet web page.
Replace the bedroom TV with a slightly smaller one to fit the space better.
Move that larger TV to over the windshield, make a heavy duty frame to hold it.
Install a second cargo bay rolling tray
Install a shelf over that tray in cargo bay for more storage space.
Install a weather station
New Windshield
Replace windshield camera that died during Alaska trip.
Replace all window shades with new MCD day/night roller shades.

Replace the drivers console tray with new cherry one.

 

Geez, we will be much poorer when done. 

to Calgary and beyond..

From Milk River we drove to Claresholm and stayed for one night.   It was a really nice community park in the middle of the small town.   Lush mowed grass all around,  a couple baseball diamonds and 22 RV sites.   It was Memorial Day in the States, but this little gem was practically empty.   The town provided the WiFi there, so it was pretty good till it dropped around 5 pm then showed back up at 8 pm.  I guess the AP’s needed a reboot or something.  Anyway, I was planning on staying there for a couple nights, but Kathy had a different idea.  She wanted to get to somewhere we could sightsee.  So the next morning we drove the couple hours to Calgary and are currently staying in a big grass field across the street from the Grey Eagle Casino.   We are boondocking in a pretty large field.  Lots of grass and practically no one here either.   Last night there was one 5th wheel trailer sans truck and two minivans.  This morning we woke up, only 1 minivan left and a Nissan SUV of some sort.   After touring the city, the other minivan is gone, so just the SUV and the trailer are here.

The first morning there, we drove downtown to check out the sky tower and Stephen Avenue.  Parking in downtown Calgary near Stephen Avenue is difficult.  We eventually got a space on the street only a block south and a block from the sky tower. The tower didn’t allow pets, so they weren’t getting our $36 entrance fee.  So we walked over to Stephen Avenue.  It is a few blocks long and mostly blocked off to cars. Oddly it’s not all blocked off though. One of the blocks in the middle had a car pass by us.

We arrived right at lunch hour and the street was packed with office workers heading out for lunch. There are lots of restaurants on both sides of the street and almost everyone had an outdoor patio.  Each one we passed had no empty tables and the food looked delicious!

We found this nice large park at the eastern terminus of the street.  There were lots of kids wading into the huge water feature/fountain.   After all, it was 25 degrees celsius  and everyone was walking around like it was mid summer.   One gal I talked to said we had just missed a snow storm.  (I’m thankful for that!!)

 

 

I did get to stop and talk to the local constable.  I noticed he was packing a Glock and a taser that also looked similar to his Glock.  It appeared to me he was carrying two pistols.  He said they all (the police) carry guns in Canada and are allowed to carry them off duty, but not really.  He mentioned if you do carry it off duty, you will get into all sorts of trouble with the bosses.  Sort of odd, I bet if they stumble upon a robbery while off duty and don’t have their service weapon, they would also catch hell for not having it..  🙂

All the highways in Calgary are under major construction.  At least that is how it seems.  It’s a real mess.  I guess due to the weather it all must happen the few months of the year that it’s warm enough to work outside, but this is over the top.   We were planning on spending tomorrow at the Heritage Park Historical Village, but Kathy just read no pets allowed there either.  Darn, another $58 I am not able to add to the local economy.   Geez, but we liked the free camping.   I really like Calgary… just not all the road construction and detours that go with it.

After we came back to the RV, I decided to get started on the rock guard I am making that goes between the rear of the RV and the front of Kathy’s car we pull behind us.   For today I just painted the 6′ x 1″ square steel tubing, and after that dried I installed a rubber foot on each end so that when it’s mounted and I bang into it, I won’t tear my clothes or legs..   Next I have to drill 7 holes thru it to mount the large U bolt that will hold it to the hitch receiver and 5 eye bolts that will hold down the nylon mesh via many feet of bungee cord I brought.

Drilling the holes is going to be interesting as I don’t have a vice to hold the bar to drill thru it.   Now I am thinking I need to replace my drop receiver with a double receiver so I could mount a vice on the second receiver.   (maybe when we get home.)

I then moved on to hooking the Raspberry Pi (RPI) to the coach’s network so whenever the coach has internet, the RPI will be able to upload all the solar information gathered to the web portal.

Speaking of solar..  Today was really sunny and the roof-mounted panels created all the power to charge the battery to 100% by 7 pm.   Last night the sun didn’t go down here till around 9:40 pm.   If the sun never sets in Alaska, I guess it will keep charging all night.  Now wouldn’t that be really cool!

 

 

Lost Wages to Salt Lake City

We drove from Vegas to Beaver, UT on Sunday.  It’s at about 6,000′ elevation.  Pretty cold for us San Diegans.  Was 33 when we got up that morning.  I haven’t seen temps below 44 in San Diego except once when it got down to 32 degrees and killed my Heliotrope plant in the front yard.  It was purple and red one day, the next morning it was brown and never revived.

Anyway, prior to leaving San Diego I had two of the three Air Dump valves replaced as they were getting stuck open occasionally and it was irritating to wait for the air bags to fill so we could drive.   I was just replacing the one that was leaking, but par for the course, as soon as that was replaced, another one could be heard purging air when it wasn’t supposed to.   I drove all around town to locate another valve and could only get one.  But I had the guy order one from LA so I could swing by some other day and have it on hand if needed.

All seemed well after the second one was installed till the morning we were leaving on the trip.   I hadn’t made time to pick the other one up, so as we were exiting San Diego I had to drive to El Cajon and get it.  (about 20 miles out of the way)

Monday morning in Beaver the rear bags were fairly slow to fill; so while I waited, I called Freightliner in Salt Lake City to find out about having the last one replaced.   They told me I would need to wait till the 30th., 10 days from now!

So I googled Diesel Mechanics around Beaver, UT.   There was one with almost five stars on Google’s Reviews.   I called them.  They said to bring it right over and explained to me they were 1,000 feet from me.   We drove over, showed the mechanic the part.  He crawled under the coach, said it would be a quick swap, and had me drop the air and raise the coach on the jacks.

He had it replaced in 35 minutes.   The last guy took 2 hours to do it.  Paid them $110 (1 hr minimum) and we were on our way in less than an hour.   That was utterly amazing to me.  I’ve got to make sure I write up a review of them!

So we headed across the mountains toward Salt Lake City and then the rains came.  Then they turned to sleet and hail to make it a bit of an edgy ride.   When it started to sleet, I slowed to 50 mph; but I was getting passed by lots of trucks still doing the 80 mph they allow there.   Seemed nuts to me as it was very steep downgrades and climbs thru long curves during all of it.   I never felt the coach slip, but I was waiting for it to occur.

Once out of the winter weather, it was smooth sailing into downtown Salt Lake City to a KOA we stayed at on our way to Yellowstone back in 2017.   It was one of Kathy’s favorite parks, lots of grass for Dusty! Thankfully it’s a lot cooler here than it was in June of that year and a lot less crowded.

Drove over to the big temple that’s in the middle of downtown and got pizza for dinner!   The next morning it was raining pretty good and continued all day.  So I spent a lot of the day redoing my playlists on my local pc in the front of the coach so we can have tunes in the great white north where an internet connection may be difficult to find.

We switched our cell phones to Cricket Wireless as it appears AT&T has more connectivity in Canada and we could get an unlimited plan that includes Canada and Mexico for $40 each.    Our current Verizon and AT&T hotspot plans don’t include any data outside the USA.   So we are good in Alaska, but Canada will probably find us looking for WiFi when camping.   I installed a new omni-directional WiFi antenna from Mikrotik Metal AC Router on my crank-up TV antenna.

I still have my NanoStation with us for longer range WiFi acquisition situations.

Reducing the 24×7 power draw on the RV batteries

During our 8 days of boondocking in Tucson last month I was monitoring the constant power draws on the batteries.   One thing I noticed was the Inverter was drawing a constant 6 amps of power from the battery 24 hours a day.   The inverter is what creates 120v AC power from the 12 volts of power the house batteries produce.  It has a few amps of overhead and there is also a conversion loss there, not to mention the power conversion loss that also happens at low power devices we have plugged via wall warts.  (those little black transformers you plug into wall outlets)

My solution was to find DC-DC power converters that will use the 12v direct from the batteries to change it to the voltage a particular device needs.   Some examples are:  8 Port Gigabit Switch   It actually runs on 5v so removed the wall wart and used one of these 5.5mm Power Adapter barrel connector coupled with a 5v power supply and also tied in our HDhomerun to that same power supply via another 5.5mm barrel connector.

A note on that power supply, the width around the terminal screws was so small I had to grind down the crimp on connectors.  And they were the smallest (Red) connectors I have seen.

I also switched out my 120v POE supply with one of these 12v models:  Gig DC-DC POE power supply My WiFi device is passive POE (24v) and this device converts 12v to 24v and injects it into the Gig Ethernet cable to power my  Mikrotik Metal CPE   The Mikrotik is a CPE WiFi device with an Omni Directional antenna attached that I use to grab WiFi signals when near WiFi Access Points I can logon to.    That WiFi signal, once connected to the internet provides a connection to my internal  TP-Link AC750 WiFi Access Point via Ethernet cable thru the gig switch.  That access point also runs from 5v, but it uses a micro USB cable for power.   I power that from one of these 12v to 5v power micro usb output

My DVR (Sage-TV) runs on an Intel NUC  in the RV.  I found this 12v NUC power supply

I tied these all together with this Fuse Box. I also added one of these 3 port 12v power outlet switch box to allow for the Dash-cam and new NUC power supply to connect.    I have one left over to power the NVIDIA Shield Android TV device if I ever find a 12v adapter.   Is appears that no one makes one yet.  And no one makes a decent replacement remote for it either.

In its current form it appears I have reduced the current draw from 6amps to about 2.5amps.   A reduction of about 80 amp hours per day from the always on stuff.  That’s a lot of amps to replace when not connected to shore power!

Other things I want to change out will be the two TV’s.   Until then we will need to run the Inverter only when we use them.  Or maybe look into a couple low wattage individual inverters.   For now we can just turn on the main inverter to sit in front of the boob tube…

 

 

 

Updating my Solar install to allow Web Portal Access

Having the Bluetooth (BT) connectivity to my solar controllers was to me a necessity so I went with the Victron line of controllers after looking at what was available.   The issue that came up was very short range for the Bluetooth connectivity.  This was due to mounting them inside the electronics bay, a metal compartment at the rear of the bus!  That all aluminum bay is acting as a Faraday cage which made the connection from a phone or tablet a very short range affair.   Basically I can only connect to it from the RV’s bedroom located right above that bay.  I found that I could also add a Victron Bluetooth Dongle to one of the charge controllers and mount that up inside a bedroom cabinet allowing my phone to access it from the front seat of the coach.  That was nice but now that we have two controllers and the Victron Connect App cannot view both controller screens at the same time.  The App allows only one connection at a time.  That’s very limiting in my opinion when you have two controllers charging one set of batteries.

I had read about the Victron VRM portal that allowed a couple of their accessory devices, the Venus GX or the Victron Color Control GX to upload the solar data from multiple devices like controllers, battery monitors and many other devices Victron Energy produces to a website that you can access from anywhere with an internet connection.

I looked at buying one of those devices but they are pretty costly and didn’t feel the need to spend that kind of money just for the convenience.  So I starting looking around to see if there was another way to do the same thing.

Turns out there is.  Those devices firmware (actually their OS) is in the public domain. (GNU) so I looked around and found to find a device someone has ported it to.  I found it ported to Raspberry Pi (RPI).   Currently they are $38 so I pulled the trigger and ordered one to see if I could make this work for me.

I had a few old 2 GB microSD card (had a bunch of them from over the years laying around)  So I downloaded the Venus OS from a repository on the web.  I then burned it to a microSD card and once the RPI arrived I pushed it into the slot on the underside of the little board (RPI) and then plugged in a micro USB adapters power cord into the power port and an Ethernet cable into its port and powered it up.

Bamm, it booted up and finished with the Victron Logo on the screen and stopped at the command prompt.  I typed in ifconfig hit enter and it showed me the IP address it had received from my home networks router.   I walked back to my desk and put that address into my web browser and connected to the device.   (It was a bit more complicated for me because at first I downloaded a version of the OS that didn’t support that new RPI device.  v2.30 or above is needed)

That is the required version to run on the B+ device (newest device available when I did this, early 2019) is here in the development folder:   https://updates.victronenergy.com/feeds/venus/develop/images/raspberrypi2/   Those files change often so by the time you read this the working version may have been release to production and be here: https://updates.victronenergy.com/feeds/venus/release/images/raspberrypi2/ in the Released area.

I also had to get a couple USB to VE Direct cables that connect from the RPI’s USB ports directly to the Victron Controllers.   I used a phone power supply i had laying around to power it until I could get a power supply to hard wire into the bay.     Hard wired 12v to 5v power supply

In order to burn the image I downloaded I needed a minimum of a 2 GB microSD card.  If you don’t have any lying around this link will give you two cards for very little money.  SanDisk 32GB MicroSD HC Ultra Uhs-1 Memory Card, Class 10   2 GB cards might be found on EBAY.  But these new 32 GB ones are extremely cheap.

First thing I had to do to the card is format it, I used SD Card Formatter, the  newest one from there. I always scan new downloads with all my virus and malware scanners prior to running and unzipping them to my laptop.  After a  successful card format I used this free tool to burn the downloaded VenusOS image to that card.  Win 32 Disk Imager.   In all, I have $109 into the install now that its done.  1/3rd the cost of a Venus GX and 1/5th the cost of a Color Control GX device.   There may be a way to use Bluetooth to connect to the controllers negating the need for the special USB cables but I am not sure how to do that yet.  Maybe someone else can try and let me know.   We were leaving for the 59th Escapade the following week so I took the easy way and bought the two inexpensive cables from Bay Marine here in San Diego.

I was able to look at my charging information while attending seminars at the Escapade in Tucson.   I had setup my device to upload info every 5 minutes, you can lower that to every 1 minute but I only did that while testing it, then I moved it back to every 5 minutes.    Now I want to get my battery monitor talking to it before we head for Alaska this summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.