Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Archive for the tag “Mods”

Solar Article Update


For those who saw the “Ingenuous Modular Solar Power System” post on the Cheap RV Living Blog, you may want to know that it was the Reader’s Digest abridged version of Solar of the Absurd, which contains more technical information as well as useless trivia. Should you be considering a solar system, you may want to saw through it. An update on it, based on constant use in the boonies, will follow on this blog.

Batten the Hatches Again!

A gorgeous day...with high winds.

A gorgeous day…with high winds.

Not a fascinating post, but it’s all part of daily life in this rig. The heat wave of 90+ degrees in Quartzsite is over, and it’s expected to be a long spate of low-80’s for quite a while, which is the top of my Ultimate Comfort Zone. The new temperature front moving in is expected to produce southwest wind gusts in the  45 MPH range though. That means take all precautions, so I staked down the telescoping poles supporting the solar panels, and added the tie-down ropes, two to a panel. None of it should be needed in a wind hitting the trailer at the southwest corner (the trailer, as always, is aimed straight west) because it tends to merely drive the panels downward instead of lifting them. Since I don’t plan to move a thing for many months though, I figured now is better than later. The highest winds should arrive in a couple of hours and continue through until suppertime. That isn’t preventing the Enterprise from rocking a bit right now, however.

A larger concern has been the relatively ineffective rubber wheel chocks. They seemingly were designed for smaller-diameter tires, because they don’t allow these tires any chance to Read more…

Starting Out With a Whimper

My nondescript but level campsite at Hi Jolly in Quartzsite, AZ.

My nondescript but level campsite at Hi Jolly in Quartzsite, AZ.

Before posting about the trip down here (which was notable), I’ll bring you up to speed on current info, which I’m sure you will find riveting. Sure. After running by the Lifestyle RV dealership in Quartzsite and making an appointment for the next day, I rolled into a nearby 14-day site for the overnight. BLM sites within Quartzsite are unusual in that they require sign-ins with volunteer camp hosts. That’s because they want to keep tabs on the crush of visitors that come in for the Winter gatherings. With the government out of action, the camp host was present but not authorized to do anything, so one can wander in and out as one pleases – for now.

The next day, Tuesday, I hauled the Enterprise in for repairs to the refrigerator. The fridge thought it was fine, but actually refused to cool, and left propane flowing even though the electronic pilot ignitor never sparked to fire things up. Fortunately for me, the issues turned out to be Read more…

Oh, You Kidde!

New pump above, old pump below. Notice the gyrations the water had to go through to get to the old pump.

New pump above, old pump below. Notice the gyrations the water had to go through to get to the old pump.

Yesterday was not a good day, mechanically speaking. The day before at 11PM, the newish Kidde combination smoke & CO detector went off. That was odd, because nothing was going on that should have triggered it. It was signaling its smoke alarm. What’s more, pushing the “hush” button only made it hiccup, but not reset for the 10 minutes its supposed to. I paid a pretty penny for it, and it contains a lithium battery that’s supposed to last for 10 years. I set it outside for awhile to give it a change of scenery and some fresh air, but that made no difference, either. The only way to silence it was to turn a screw in the back that permanently grounded out the battery, so now it’s out of action. Hopefully, I can find my receipt and get Kidde to send me a new one.

The next day at mid-morning, the water stopped. That is, turning on a faucet did nothing. The water pump is Read more…

In Tribute to Rube Goldberg

Do you know what this is without reading below? Neither do I.

Do you know what this is without reading below? Neither do I.

On the way back to Illinois last Spring, I was looking at passing traffic in the side mirror of the truck, and noticed the main side window of the office seemingly trying to open. It’s configured as an emergency exit, and has a long hinge at the top with two inside catches or releases at the bottom. The forwardmost catch had released, throwing all the strain of vacuum caused by sidewind and trailer speed onto the sole remaining catch at the rear.

A prompt stop at the next roadside parking area showed that it now barely caught and was easily released, so I broke out my trusty duct tape. Its grip and the needed surfaces were good, but further driving still tended to loosen the tape and allow the window to flex with its forward edge bending outward. It was disconcerting, but there was nothing else to be done at the time.  Strapping the catch closed would make no difference, as its edge would still slip off the corresponding bracket on the window itself.  A fix would need to be made by experimenting to find out the exact cause of the problem, and possibly breaking out the 110V grinder or Dremel at the commercial campsite in Illinois.

Playing with it in Illinois showed that the top hinge was fine and had not appeared to allow the window and its catch bracket to drop even a little. The catch itself was not deformed at all. And unfortunately, there was no way to modify the catch so its working tip could be lowered, which was what was needed. Inserting things to increased tension and try to get it to bind were ineffective, too.

I seemed to have two practical choices. I could superglue the window shut along its forward edge and end that window’s function as an emergency escape hatch. I didn’t care for that option. The only reason these things have been added to campers (at extra expense) is because they have proven to be necessary, on occasion.

My other option was to hold the window closed with a suction device, and use a wood slat to pull that device toward the inside, using the permanent window frame as the anchor. Not pretty, not especially safe because it slows the process of bailing out, and who knew if it would hold? Northern Tool offers a 4-cup suction grip designed to lift and carry such things as window glass and solar panels. I ordered one, and when it arrived grabbed and cut a length of 1×2 scrap from the bed of the truck. Voila!

It’s overkill but effective, maintains its grip (so far for 2 months), and everything seems to fit just right. It’s removed by releasing the levers on the suction cups, or by simply knocking the left end of the slat upward or downward to let it slip out of the window frame. Yank the stick free, unlatch the rear catch, and swing the window out. Not great, not attractive, but cheap and effective. It’s only in place while I’m on the move, since there’s no need for it to stay there while parked for extended periods. Then I can have my office picture window back again.

I’m not proud of this one but hey, it’s good enough for who it’s for.

Getting a Handle on Rest

Exit from the bunkbed is made much easier with high handles.

Exit from the bunkbed is made much easier with high handles mounted on the underside of the upper bunk.

This barely qualifies as a “mod” that should be written about, but here it is anyway. Scooching out of the lower bunkbed can be a clumsy affair, especially if one’s back is acting up. A stop at the hardware store for utility handles solved the problem. I cheated, because I also have an electronic studfinder. That made locating the exact boundaries of the few skinny overhead beams easy. Mark the desired locations, break out the DeWalt power drill, and three minutes later, and BAM! – there’s a world of difference in the ease of rising in the morning. I don’t think I’d dare do pull-ups with these handles because of the short screws, but they more than do the job in actual use.

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!

Hittin’ the Skids

View from the rear: one bolt removed, and the other stripped and locked in place.

View from the rear: one bolt removed, and the other stripped and locked in place.

The skids on the rear of the trailer have been a problem. In use, they have shifted up on the “V” of the angle iron they’re mounted to, allowing the tip of the iron strap to contact the ground directly. That’s tough on the strap, and will soon result in an unusable skid. The cause is that the wheel assemblies were mounted on the rearmost angle of the strap, causing them to shift back and up, out of the way. Given a spindly 3/8″ bolt with a locknut, the bolts bent easily from the side load applied to them.

One bolt was removable, while the other rusted in place and snapped off when torque was applied.

One bolt was removable, while the other rusted in place and snapped off when torque was applied.

A fix was needed. Either that, or use the grinder to take the entire contraption off completely and let the bumper take a beating. As far as a fix was concerned, it was made more difficult in that the pair of bolts on each bracket were badly bent from the sideways force applied to them. Bolts aren’t made for that. With the help of a high-speed grinder, Kroil penetrating oil and Vise-Grips, the bolts were removed. I decided that maybe less bolt-bending would occur if I Read more…

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…

She’s Doon, Captain!

The Enterprise at her last port of call, where the equipment failure occurred.

The Enterprise at her last port of call, where the equipment failure occurred.

06.24.2013 – Communications Bay on the Enterprise has reported via emergency channels that its cellular data link equipment is no longer operational, due to a severe overheat condition in an onboard lithium battery power pack. No incidents have been reported. The ship also reported that its cellular voice equipment remains on standby, and that limited data transfer may be handled by its Portable iPad ATT-RIPOFF backup system.

The Enterprise is currently on schedule for its 06.03.2012 arrival at Federation Dock 60152, at which time repairs to the affected equipment will take place as part of the NTF (Normal Refitting Procedures). As a result of this data equipment failure and the necessary transition of the ship to warp speed commencing 05.27.2013, the regularly scheduled publication of blog posts on this website has been temporarily suspended. Publications, if any, may commence only in the event that the ship comes into the range of WiFi communications terminal ports during its return. Except for a brief visit to the planet “Lavaland RV Park” on 5.26.2013, such proximity is not expected due to routing via unexplored territories.

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