Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Archive for the tag “Mods”

Gags, Humor, and Solar Power

The Morningstar Sunsaver MPPT.

The Morningstar Sunsaver MPPT.

I recently managed to replace the misbehaving Outback SmartHarvest 20A MPPT solar charge controller with a proper Morningstar controller, and now all is right with the world. The Outback was exceptionally naughty right out of the box, and its replacement was no better. The USA office of Outback appeared to be manned only with sales types and customer service reps, with no technical staff on board. The sole solution seemed to be trying another unit. So I did, but opted for the Sunsaver. Since I could not in good conscience sell or even give the SmartHarvest away, it is now residing in the local landfill, where it belongs.

With Morningstar’s remote temperature sender attached to one of my batteries, the Sunsaver now operates in tandem with their TriStar MPPT 45A. The Tristar handles everything coming in from the 360W roof panels, while the Sunsaver serves to feed power in from the 200W ground panels via the external rear wall plug that comes standard with the Four Wheel camper. (A simple internal wiring harness change was needed to feed both of these units to the same battery pack for my installation.) Four Wheel uses the less expensive Read more…

A Little Camper Humor


There are few darker subjects than terrorism, which is acting out rage against innocents because you cannot or will not act it out against what actually inspires it. It’s beating up your neighbor’s kid and proudly running away, when you know you don’t stand the wisp of a chance against your neighbor himself. It’s passive-aggressive behavior – an avoidance of direct confrontation – on steroids. It’s a weird combination of murderous anger, helplessness and hopelessness. It is a psyche inspired by bloodshed and violence, fired by a perception of injustice that seemingly can only be repaid with more injustice. It can be a contribution to the betterment of mankind gone horribly askew, but in most cases, is simply a way to earn a living that feeds one’s love of hate. The psychopathic serial killer, utterly devoid of empathy, is the amateur hobbyist version, while the terrorist is one turned pro. Rallying under banners of religion or politics or activism is mere window dressing, an attempt to Read more…

Going to Bed

Everything must go! ...Somewhere.

Everything must go! …Somewhere.

This week was largely comprised of dealing with the Ford’s 8-foot bed. It had to be cleared, including the 140 gallons-worth of Tankmin water/waste system. The one guy who had expressed an interest in the Tankmin, on impulse, regained his senses the next day and thought better of it. No takers. Well, there were three scam artists from Craigslist, but those don’t count. So, having previously checked out whether the local landfill would take it, I cleared all the stuff out of the truck bed and got to work unbolting the Tankmin’s floor mounts. The potential problem is not the tank – it’s that I’m not a resident and therefore do not pay taxes, but that’s another debate. Part of my annual fee is for garbage removal, which winds up at the very same place.

Lessee, gotta keep this, not gonna need that...

Lessee, gotta keep this, not gonna need that…

I had envisioned a heap of frustration for this, since each bolt perforating the truck bed must be held at both top and bottom, and perhaps you may have some experience with what time and moisture do to tight fasteners. The upper freshwater section is bolted to the lower, and the lower to a couple of fabricated frames bolted to the bed. It was required to start at the top and work downward, the only significance of this being that Read more…

The Mighty Furd Returns

Quick! Take a picture while they're still clean!

Quick! Take a picture while they’re still clean!

Today was a painful day on a couple of counts, but the Mighty Furd is now mechanically ready to handle the future Intrepid truck camper. The bed has yet to be cleared, but something stood out recently which impressed upon me that it was time to replace the original shock absorbers, which have crossed over the 80K-mile mark. This is normally easy to diagnose on a softly-sprung vehicle, but it gets progressively more difficult as spring rates go up.

I’d long ago noticed that the rear axle was twisting under power, a trait called “axle hop”. That’s when you apply power on a poor-traction surface, and the rear axle immediately begins jumping around, shaking the rear of the vehicle. That is a trait of leaf spring suspensions that’s tough on the rear U-joint, but I’ve lived with it for quite awhile, being careful to shift into 4WD-High as soon as it began. As originally delivered, no such trait existed, the axle staying steady as a rock. In fact, given the engine’s bottom-end torque, the only way to tell that you didn’t have traction was that the truck was not moving as quickly as it should for a given throttle setting. With one shock mounted in front of the axle and the other behind, such shenanigans are prevented.

The other tell-tale trait stood out with new vigor when I eased slowly over a speed bump at a border crossing on my way to Prescott to see the new Granby. I’d noticed that the front end kept bouncing a few times some 20,000 miles ago, but this recent event was positively embarrassing. The considerable weight penalty of the diesel engine exaggerates it, there for all to see. Is it possible to be shamed into new shocks? Time to make an appointment.

This was driven home on the winding pavement along route 89 just short of Prescott, which is sports car territory. On this twisty patch of asphalt, the Ford’s springs are too stiff to allow much lean, but the sensation of rubbing all the shoulder rubber off the front tires is there. The tall, squirmy tread on the Coopers certainly doesn’t help any here, but things just weren’t right for such a foray.

I’ve driven low-speed autocross in my misspent youth, and this section of 89 was somewhat similar. There was a certain rhythm that the pavement wanted, kind of a smooth touch of brake, dive in, find the apex within the constraints of one lane, and throttle briskly out of the exit to prep for the next turn. One might reason that, hey, a tall, heavy 4WD pickup truck is no sports car, but as delivered, the Mighty Furd was (astoundingly) the full equal of a then-new Mazda RX8 quasi-sports car I had, at least for pulling steady-state G’s. And that had sticky tires. The Mazda’s weight let itself be known at the same speed as the Super Duty, and the latter still had just a little more suds left. I kid you not. Sure, the physics make it impossible, but the speedo doesn’t lie.

So here I was on 89 with a nice couple in some kind of nondescript Toyota sedan in back of me. It’s not like I was going to try to lose him, but simply hold my end up so that the end of the thing could eventually come calling. It’s a respectability thing. You don’t want to be the slowpoke creeping along in the water wagon, but the Ford wasn’t having it. Goosing the throttle and dabbing the brakes went okay – I even chugged away on some of the uphill sections, but those long turns were excruciating. I was thankful to come upon a widened passing section so he could go on about his business. Last straw. I wasn’t heartened by some clown in a clapped-out Toyota truck-with-cap lurching around a turn headed in the opposite direction. He was doing the TV version of Kojak, well off the proper line and very nearly skidding over into my lane as he did his impression of driving fast. The goal is to be brisk and competent, not threatening other traffic.

The truck was struggling, and loading 1,500 pounds of aluminum into the bed wasn’t going to help. Time for shocks all around. That was finally accomplished today, and in 1972 dollars, the cost was a bit traumatic. I chose old-school shocks that are stiff and stay that way, as opposed to the more sophisticated (and more expensive) sensor-type shocks that try to go limp on smooth roads, and then firm up on bigger bumps. I want control, not a smooth ride. That can’t happen with such stiff springs, anyhow. Once they removed the defibrillator paddles and I hit the road, I found the end result to be a relief. She’s back to normal, such as you may choose to define that.



A problem I spotted on arriving home is a concern. I’d gone to the local LTVA camping area to visit, made a tight turn to get on the paved road, and found that a metal sawhorse was hidden under my passenger window. Never saw it as I idled around almost 150 degrees at full lock. It flopped over, I noted the scratch in the paint in the door (since patched), and set the thing back up again. Back at the ranch, I noticed a slice in the sidewall of the right rear tire. It’s down to the cords in some spots, so now I’m ruminating on the most appropriate all-weather substance to seal it off again. It’s so dry here that I have a little time, and if I can seal off the cords from air in a timely way, I won’t have to worry about rust or rot of the cords. There’s still heaps of tread left, so making a game try of it can prevent considerable heartache later. I know what you’re thinkin’, Virginia: duct tape, and I even have some in black! I’m gonna keep looking though. Might call the tire dealer tomorrow. He might have an opinion on that black goop they use around patching plugs.

[Update: a local tire dealer who specializes in retreads and vulcanizing for the local ag folk took a look at it and said, “Nope, don’t worry about it. It’s not down to the cords. That just a surface rubber cut. Not a problem. Doesn’t make any difference.” That simplifies my life a bit! I was a bit confused when I pulled in, as they had a ton of people at picnic tables under a huge permanent canopy, and wandering around masses of pickups scattered all over. Piles of BBQ’d meats, the works. It was customer appreciation day. They know how to do it right. My son does a different form of the same thing for his business, so maybe he’s onto something there.]

Problems Solved!

Problem Solved

My good bud Matt sent me this photo as a tongue-in-cheek solution to the Defiant’s issues with getting into the rough stuff. After all, who needs a cramped truck camper when a truck and luxo-camper fix is so easily available? I’m Googling for tires, wheels and lift kits right now…

The Three-Pound Bag

The wide lens shot tends to exaggerate space. Stand in the back doorway and keel forward, and you'll solidly kiss that tabletop!

The wide lens shot tends to exaggerate space. Stand in the back doorway and keel forward, and you’ll solidly kiss that tabletop!

Truck campers may be among the most space-efficient forms of RV, but once you get into the rough-terrain, compact pop-ups, even amazing efficiency doesn’t make up for not having much space to work with. I mean, the Four Wheel Grandby’s floor from front to back is a half-foot shorter than the Defiant’s width!

As I’ve mentioned earlier, since this pop-up folds down to just 56-1/2 inches to the roof, you can forget about stowing stuff in nonexistent overhead cabinets, or throwing things on top of the bed – the roof folds down to rest right on top of it. What you do with that firm pillow is your business. You can also forget about under-bed storage, where you lever up the mattress edge to reveal a flat but expansive storage tray suitable for clothing and fairly flat items. In the hard-tack world of no-compromises overlanding, where the priority challenges are from the terrain and not from within, creating such an under-bed space would compromise the Four Wheel’s extraordinarily low stowed roof height. Remember that earlier photo of a downtown overpass in Billings, Montana? It works the same for trees and overhanging rock and sometimes, inches make the difference. They especially make a difference when you’ve decided to jack up your truck’s suspension to improve its ground clearance and/or improve its muy macho aura.

Help one thing, hurt another.

Help one thing, hurt another. Two Happy Campers is a blog I recommend that you read.

In many ways, Four Wheel’s no-nonsense approach to be able to get a durable camping shelter from one obscure point on the terrain map to another is overkill for me. I mean, this is serious hardware, as such campers go. I’m not leading an expedition, goring the doors of the Super Duty on jagged rocks along the edge of a 500-foot drop, or fording rivers, or winching out of foot-deep goo, or filming a mini-documentary of a perilous journey. These campers are not built Read more…

Intrepid Solar Solutions

This 100W panel offered by Windy Nation appears to be identical, but comes with additional connectors.

This 100W panel offered by Windy Nation appears to be identical to Renogy’s, but comes with additional connectors. Its 20% efficiency is considered pretty good.

When it comes to angst in planning mods to the Four Wheel Granby, AKA Intrepid, fitting it out for solar comes right behind dealing with its lack of interior space. On the face of it, adding solar to the Granby is unusually easy: it comes prewired for solar whether you want it or not. There’s an SAE socket installed on the roof, and another on the back wall for plugging in ground-based solar panels. Order Four Wheel’s battery option, and you get your choice of one or two 80Ah (amp-hour) AGM batteries, as well as a battery separator to keep you from running down your truck’s starting battery. You can order their solar panels, whether roof-mounted, ground, or both, with a charge controller that comes along. It’s easy, it works well, and you’re rolling the instant you take delivery.

Four Wheel's 100W roof panel is one option that's light enough to cause no issues.

Four Wheel’s 100W roof panel is one option that’s light enough to cause no issues.

Heck, with 240 watts of panels available from the factory powering an optional 160-some Ah of batteries, it’s all anyone could want. I mean, it’s enough to run the compressor fridge and a laptop, as long as weather conditions are decent and you don’t overdo it. And, it’s a “top-heavy” system: there’s enough Read more…

Just in Case

The Solartech 10 watt panel is left loose to to keep it potentially efficient no matter what the parking situation is.

The Solartech 10 watt panel is left loose to to keep it potentially efficient no matter what the parking situation is.

Having replaced the Ford’s dual batteries this year (for the first time), their cost was such that I decided to apply a small solar panel and charge controller to keep them topped up while the Ford sits unused for a couple of weeks at a stretch. Not that I can complain about getting seven years off a set, but if I can expand that without losing too much bread in the process, so much the better. Modern vehicles tend to use power when they sit unused, and the drain adds up over time. Starting batteries do not like

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Roll-Down Trailer Windows

The window. Fixed.

The window. Fixed.

Just before a major trip to town yesterday, I discovered that the window on the trailer door had somehow slipped down about an inch, opening an impromptu 1/4″x12″ fresh air slot at the top of the window. That explained the draft during the cold, high wind here the day before. Repairs would have to wait though, since a combination laundry and grocery run would prevent taking the time to disassemble the thing and figure out what would be needed to fix it.

So today, I removed the screws squeezing the inner and outer plastic window frames together. Ugh. Small pins molded into both frames that retain the edges of the glass had sheared off at the bottom, letting the glass slowly slide down from its own weight. I’m not sure why, though the door has had an unhappy existence in terms of sag, and takes some shoving now

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Taking Cheapskate Seriously

Yowza! A customized old Toyota pickup goes streamliner for mileage, not speed.

Yowza! A customized old Toyota pickup goes streamliner for mileage, not speed.

Riding the Aurora e-bike on the way to Wendover, Utah one day, I came across a streamliner of sorts, parked at the Sinclair truck stop at the fringes of the Bonneville Salt Flats. It differs considerably from other streamliners in two respects. First, it is streetable, if impractical. Second, this streamliner is not built for speed, but for fuel mileage.

Based on an older Toyota T100 pickup truck, its owner has made serious modifications to its body. Functionally speaking, it is no longer a pickup truck, but a car. He was at Bonneville to hopefully wade through the brine and make a run on the salt, but that isn’t as exciting as it seems. Its little four-cylinder engine can, given enough distance, push this newly-slippery shape along at just over 100 MPH, if it has to. That may be fast for a stock T100 four-banger. I don’t know, but I assume it is. Pickup trucks are bluff boxes that force

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