Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Archive for the tag “Camper”

Adventures in RVing!

The mighty Defiant in Marengo, Illinois last summer.

The mighty Defiant in Marengo, Illinois last summer.

This isn’t about my adventure. It’s about Dave’s Adventure. See, Dave is this guy in a mid-sized older motorhome, a real nice guy just out to see what RVing is all about, same as me. He was parked directly in back of my TT, and the photo above doesn’t show that because it was taken just before he arrived. Otherwise, it’d be in the photo because it was no more than ten feet away. There were a few trees and a powerline close by, too. I left Sept 3rd to head for the Bonneville Salt Flats, and he stayed behind for awhile.

Before you ask “so what”, I’ll tell you. Sometimes, what doesn’t happen to you is as important as what does happen. I got the “doesn’t”, he got the “does”. I’ll let Dave tell you:

“…Looks like you have had your trials and tribulations but have succeeded in your quest so far.  As for me, since you left I have had my own trials and tribulations.
First off, shortly after you left I took a direct lightning strike Read more…

Update to “Spartan Luxury”


Remember this little gem? I talked to the owner!

Remember the recent post Spartan Luxury? I was biking some trash to the LTVA’s dumpsters today and found the above rig parked near the dump station, waiting for another in order to begin a trip. The owner was sitting in the Jeep and was happy to answer questions for as long as his friend was holding up the show.

A former Seabee and electrical engineer, it turns out he was disabled and in a wheelchair for 22-1/2 years. He is now ambulatory but says there’s “still more for them to do” and he occasionally uses either the wheelchair or two forearm crutches to get around.

As for the trailer, it boasts bed, A/C, catalytic propane heater, TV, satellite dish, microwave, and toaster oven. The gasoline generator can run for 13 hours on a single fill. A sink is being installed, as well as an exterior shower head that will pull and pump water from a stream or other source. His RVing friends, a couple, have eight children and he claims they were all packed into the tiny trailer yesterday to watch the TV! He said it was quite a sight. I believe him, and it must have been quite a sanity break for the parents!

The roof rack seen in the photos are now gone. Why? He’s a bit of a sun worshipper and the rack and spare wheels and tires it held were too much like a roof for him, blocking the open air and sunlight. Gone. He doesn’t even own a roof tarp any more, and drives wet or dry. He’s been to 46 of the 50 states so far with this rig, pretty much as you see it. Rain? Jeep dash switches have long since gone normal and aren’t waterproof, but he just lets things misbehave and dry out for awhile, then keeps going. (By the way, he says the best and fastest way to get an immersed cellphone dried and operational is to immediately remove the battery, then throw it all on some uncooked rice for an hour or more.) The oddest part of this story is that the rack was extremely sturdy and cost him about $300 to build. He sold the build plans to J.C.Whitney, and claims that they now offer a greatly whimpified version of it for around $900 or so.

When I pointed out the off-road orientation of his rig, he admitted that camping at the LTVA is not his usual style, but he’s waiting for some special-order tires to come in before he heads into the hills. He mentioned the black rocks that can be seen scattered all over this area, and pointed out that they are volcanic. “They will cut into a tire easier than you can believe it,” he said, “they’ll just strip the rubber right off, and these I got now are worn too thin. When I get the new ones I’ll be camping up in the hills.” It also turns out that the massive front bumper with winch is actually a lockable toolbox, too. Clever, this hardy soul. He says he’ll be back in a few days, so I’ll see if I can spot him again then. Got any questions for him?

Spartan Luxury

Here's a rig that will redefine your concept of "independent living".

Here’s a rig that will redefine your concept of “independent living”.

There was a rig in camp that stayed for a week or so, and caught my attention. You will soon see why. Jeeps are formidable off-road vehicles, but are very limited as to what they can tow. This one was serious without the bravado of glamour pieces: massive front bumper with built-in power winch, four auxiliary off-roading lights, no top, overhead rack holding at least two spare tires and a spare steel wheel for the Jeep, plus the standard spare on its factory rear carrier. The front bumper projected outward far enough that a fiberglass rod was mounted at each corner to help gauge clearance in tight spaces – a sign that the thing wasn’t just there to impress others. Another clue of actual usage: nobody but nobody spends money on this many extra spare tires just for show. Were they there to offer a more aggressive tread design instead? I didn’t notice, but it’s unlikely.

Okay, the sky is pretty distracting here, but it just highlights the goal of what this rig is all about.

Okay, the sky is pretty distracting here, but it just highlights the goal of what this rig is all about.

If the Jeep was notable, what was behind it was arresting – it was a tiny Read more…

Camp Swankie, LLC


Camp Swankie offers amenities found only in the most exclusive homes.

The good life can be yours! The recent fad to spend big bucks for outdoor kitchens and living spaces for sticks & bricks residences has always struck me as odd. Why pay huge amounts of money to regress? You want to go outside – then go outside. Then I realized why as I viewed Camp Swankie, located several miles east of the Enterprise. Camp Swankie is the real thing: a true outdoor kitchen area, with a separate 3-season living area. Seeing this camp made those posh homes seem like they were struggling to get vestigial camping experiences built into them. Actually, I guess Swankie’s screened canopy qualifies as a 4-season room, because it is “location-adjustable”. To be able to comfortably use it in winter or summer, you change altitude.

But these amenities here are not just for show. Today’s exercise was to add Read more…

Oh, Correction to “Van or RV”

Watch your speed there, buddy!

Watch your speed there, buddy!

It seems I’ve entirely missed one other category in the motive choices available to wander through the beauty of Nature: pack mules. Some thirty years ago, a man decided to wander the West just as some of past generations had – on foot, with livestock in tow. In this case it was a mule. But these are modern times. Now he has three mules, and his lifestyle is freer than anyone in a car, van or RV – at least until the law hassles him. The Atlantic ran a very informative article about him and his mission to keep public lands available to the public. His Facebook page is here. Although he receives occasional donations of equipment and equine supplies, he does have monthly expenses which he carefully documents and shows. They’re about a tenth or less of what mine are, and his transport lends new meaning to the term “biofuel”.

Van or RV?

When this represents "very cloudy", you know you’re going to like it here. What will you reside in while you’re here?

When this represents “very cloudy”, you know you’re going to like it here. What will you reside in while you’re here?

When a few hardy souls, by circumstance or free choice, decide that a mobile lifestyle is the way to go for them, the choice of what type of contraption they will live in can seem like a difficult puzzle to put together. That’s only because it is. The options are wide, and small differences can make or break a choice.

What to choose, oh what to choose?

What to choose, oh what to choose?

I’ll claim right here that I’m not going to deliberately try to steer you toward the one solution that I prefer myself, though my feature preferences will leak into this post, of course. It helps that I’m not living in the type of rig I actually prefer, but what I do have does work quite well for me. I think you’ll know when to filter out what doesn’t apply to you, and so know whenever a particular type of rig may not be such great shakes for you, because you’re not me. Thank your lucky stars for that! Personally, I consider a converted van to be just another form of RV, but for the sake of this article, I’m pretending it’s not.

The major caveat is that I’m going to babble on here about full-timing only, and having no other housing available in the foreseeable future. Anyone can make do in anything when you have friends or relatives to stay at now and then, or some other form of Read more…

More Trouble Than It’s Worth Dept.

Floating Trailer

The above is from a January 1954 issue of Popular Mechanics, showing a teardrop trailer loaded onto pontoons. Submerged wheel bearings and flexing pontoons aside, it’s an idea that captures the essence of the Forties and Fifties, don’t you think? It’s that “try anything” attitude. What a silly, impractical idea! Ha ha! Still, if you increased tube diameters, added a central one and boosted length a little, let’s see, the Enterprise, at 26′ weighs 7,000 pounds, and I could…

Labor-Intensive Camping

IMGP5960 (1)

I spent yesterday goofing with the trailer, since the Top Speed Shootout event I missed has now been rescheduled for October 10-14.  With the SCTA World Finals going October 1-4, I decided to stick it out here in spite of Wendover’s relative lack of amenities – like oh, say, a barber shop. I’d normally stay only the 2-week limit and move a distance away, then return for the next event, but another camper assured me that the BLM is well aware of the needs of running these events, and will not hassle people staying longer as long as they don’t present problems. Good campers = a local blind eye to the systemwide rules.

A longer stay means that the trailer really needed to be repositioned true east-west to allow maximum exposure for the solar panels. It does make a difference, because at this time of year, the sun never goes straight overhead and a true E-W position will grab considerably more sun than being off-kilter and either resetting the panels a couple of times a day or leaving them horizontal. I can tell by the voltage readings I’m getting. The frequent clouds don’t help, since I’m grinding the iMac pretty heavily each day.

The other motive for relocating is that I’m on a slight slope, and the fridge uses more propane if it’s off level just a tad. So, I hitched up and weaseled around a few feet this way and that until I reached trailer nirvana. Too bad I didn’t get sufficiently paranoid about solar power cables and ropes while doing it, since I ran over a Read more…

The Case of the Failing Fridge

The nerve center of the 1994 Dometic Model 2611 refrigerator freezer.

The nerve center of the 1994 Dometic Model 2611 refrigerator freezer.

I could put it off no longer. I hate doing repairs where the odds of screwing up guarantees additional cost. The Enterprise’s fridge was sporadically shutting down when fueled with propane, and the only signal was a “check” LED light on the control panel. Fail to notice in a timely manner, and your food supply is at risk.

Word on the Web was that the problem was common to Dometic units, with the most common mantra being that any failure of a ground wire or any connections to the board could trigger a shutdown. The purported solution was a replacement board made by Dinosaur Electronics, which was specifically geared toward a double ground connection. I ordered and promptly received one a month ago, but hesitated to get into the actual repair work. But, the time came when I had to step up to the plate, because I’d need to let it run for quite awhile to made sure that this was in fact the fix.

After struggling off and on for an hour to solve the mystery of just how to remove the OEM protective circuit board cover, I finally succeeded. Dinosaur Electronics was careful to provide a schematic of old and new connections along with its installation instructions, but it quickly because apparent that my Dometic board did not fully match the schematic, and was different enough to invite disaster. What to do? It was now about 4 PM.

I went to Dinosaur’s website and clicked on their customer service form to send an e-mail. That merely sent me to a page declaring an internal server error, which means that e-mail was out. What the heck. I dialed the tech help phone number and it was immediately picked up by a gentleman who turned out to be the founder and owner of the company! As he explained, only he would be crazy enough to still be in the office so late on a Saturday. Saturday! I’d lost track of days and had thought maybe it was Friday. This was momentous! But there he was.

I explained my dilemma, assuming that the board I had was some no-name replacement patched in along the way. Not so, he explained. What I actually had was a fairly rare OEM board, now vintage, made before Dometic issued an engineering change that led to the “bad ground” boards that followed. It seems that my board had proven so problematic that Dometic, without publicly acknowledging anything, simply changed the design to one that they felt would work more reliably. It only partially shared connections with the later boards. There were so few of my type of boards left that Dinosaur had not bothered to issue a schematic that included it, but I think I convinced him to get one of his boys to make one up, because he did say that they still got plenty of calls from customers confused about how their old board didn’t match the schematic supplied. They sell a ton of boards, so even a few percent means a lot of calls that could be prevented by one more page of instructions.

This guy basically told me more about my board and the industry than I ever wanted to know, but in the end I had specific point-to-point wiring instructions to replace old with new. There was no excess of wire lengths inside the outside-access compartment, but there was just enough to allow transfer of the connectors one by one. At my hesitant pace, it probably took less than five minutes. I hooked power back up, and nothing smoked or threw sparks. I fired up the fridge, and it seemed to operate okay. Now, several days later, it’s been running like a…well, like a refrigerator. I keep a special thermometer hanging inside the lower compartment, and temps are just as they were before, which is good. I’ll need a couple of weeks of running to feel completely good about the Dinosaur board, but it sure looks good so far! I of course hated the $100 replacement cost, but the greater reliability will have easily paid for itself within a couple of years (in ending prematurely spoiled food). Bon Appetit!

Solar of the Absurd

Ummm, aren't solar panels supposed to be mounted on the roof? Normally, yes.

Ummm, aren’t solar panels supposed to be mounted on the roof? Normally, yes.

I receive questions about the Enterprise’s peculiar solar power system, and peculiar it is. One would like to think that my solar system is being presented here for you because it’s unusual, and might give you something to learn or to think about. True enough. It may inspire you to consider unusual options when suddenly confronted by major obstacles. It may also convince you of the real value of both diligence and thoughtful learning. It will also underscore that haste makes waste, and that ignorance can derail even the best laid plans.

My original goal was to quickly acquire an old, mid-sized travel trailer having a certain floorplan that I needed. Then I would slightly modify the interior space, install solar power for full-time boondocking, and hit the road before cold weather set in. I’d never done anything remotely like this, and am not particularly “handy”. Time was exceedingly short, and I’m not above trading away sophistication and elegance for whatever is workable. When a rain cloud is overhead, a tarp and a stick is often better than a pile of arched steel spans, roofing materials, bricks, and bags of mortar.

The Master Plan

Think of my system as “modular”. One solar panel, one solar charge controller, and one battery pack – nothing unusual about that. Each component is closely matched to the other to maximize performance and minimize cost. The only difference is that, to get much more power than it can produce, you don’t then start upsizing the individual components. Instead, you simply add more of these modular solar assemblies to your project, placing them where you need them. I’ll be the first to admit that upsizing is usually the least expensive way to scale up power. A bigger solar panel usually costs less than two smaller ones. A higher capacity charge controller normally costs less than two smaller ones. Same for batteries.

But, I’d stumbled upon a sweet-spot for my purposes: Read more…

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