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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

To Plug Or Not To Plug, That Is The Question - Are Tire Plugs OK?

Only Four Tires!
    Because my RV only has 4 tires, I am very sensitive to all things tire related. Obviously, temperature and pressure are very important. As is the age of your tires. When you only have four, losing one can be pretty dangerous and lead to a possibly nasty accident. What I'm saying is, check your tires! If you've ever had a puncture in your tires and wondered whether it was OK to plug the puncture and continue using the tire, you are not alone. I was wondering that same thing. After a lot of research and after contacting several tire manufacturers for their opinions I have come to a conclusion for myself.

Check The Date Code!
When you get a puncture in the tread of your tire, it's usually a nail or screw that's found itself on the road somehow. I've seen long pieces of stiff wire (like from a coat hangar) also embedded in car/truck/RV tires. What are the rules for repairing an RV tire puncture? Well, the most important thing to remember is to NEVER, EVER try and repair a puncture to the sidewall. It isn't at all safe and will not hold for very long or at all. So, if you have a sidewall puncture, GET ANOTHER TIRE! Let's say that your puncture is limited to the tire tread. These you CAN fix, but there are specific guidelines on just HOW they get repaired.

The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), a government agency, says you must remove the tire from the wheel, inspect the tire for problems internally, plug the hole and and patch the area around it on the inside of the tire. If the tire has been run any distance when flat, much damage can be done to the tire itself and it may not be safe to use, even if patched properly. The government isn't alone in this advice. Pretty much ALL the major manufacturers suggest following these guidelines. The ones that don't, suggest you buy a new tire. Hmm, I wonder why?

Most tire repair places won't dismount the tire and inspect, patch, and then plug. They'll simply plug the hole from the outside and fill with air. As far as I am concerned, that's too much of a risk. If you cannot see the damage inside, how do you know what's going on in there? That being said, I have NO problem plugging/patching a tire if it's done correctly. Especially if I JUST bought 4 new tires!

As with any decision involving risk, only you can determine what risk you are willing to undertake. How much is your life and/or property worth?? YMMV!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Are You Getting The Best Gas Mileage You Can? - How To Find Out!

The Long Road Home
    I admit it, I am obsessed with getting the best mileage I can on my RV trips. With fuel prices going up (again!) this season, I want to eke out as much as I can from each and every gallon. Now that's not to say I'll be traveling in the slow lane at 50 MPH on the highway...I'm not THAT guy! But I will be dialing it back to an efficient cruise speed. When I first purchased my RV, 3 hours North of San Fransisco, and drove it back to New York heavily loaded, I averaged 14.2 miles per gallon over the entire trip. On shorter trips, especially in hilly terrain, I average between 10.5 and 12.5 MPG. I was pretty sure it could do better. The question was, "why wasn't I?" The answer was to gather more information about how my RV's engine is performing in real time. Here's how I did can too!

The $3000 Chrysler Tool
First off, my RV is an older model. It was built in 1991, so predates most of the OBD2 electronic engine management computing power that anything past 1996 would likely have. If you are lucky enough to have an regular OBD2 connector under your dash, figuring out what's going on under the hood will be MUCH simpler! There are any number of diagnostic tools that plug right in. In my case, it wasn't. While I do have a single board engine computer, it's rudimentary at best. I have a Chrysler V8 with Throttle Body Fuel injection (TBI) that's not so efficient and is sluggish to respond to changes ordered by the computer. That just means, when it calls for more (or less) fuel, it take a bit of time to happen. So there is a good chance I am running too rich at any given moment. That just means I am using up more fuel than I need to get down the road.

Bosch O2 Sensor
How do I prove that and perhaps make it better? Anyone who has a late model automobile these days has heard the dreaded words, your O2 sensor(s) need to be replaced. That usually means a few hundred dollars out of the travel budget. What the heck is an O2 sensor anyway? In the simplest system it just reads the amount of Oxygen left in the exhaust stream. You know, the stuff coming out of the tailpipe. If there is extra Oxygen then the combustion process wasn't complete. The goal is to put in just enough fuel for the amount of oxygen and have no oxygen or unburnt fuel left. There's a fancy scientific word for this, "stoichiometric." In modern cars, the computers vary the ratios of fuel and air to get as close as possible to perfect, therefore getting you the best gas mileage you can have.

The Kit!
Sometimes O2 sensors go bad and the computer has no idea what the right mixture is, so defaults to a very rich condition, lest your engine go very lean, overheat and burn up things inside. Very expensive things. So, all this explanation just to get to what I did to monitor my Air/Fuel ratio. In post-1996 vehicles, you can buy a plug-in dash display that will read out all sorts of information (in real time) about your engine performance and all the numbers from all the sensors it's looking at. That is way cool. My system is too simple (and old) for that. While I do have a diagnostic port, it's pre-OBD1 (not 2...but 1) that reads rudimentary data and figures out what to do based on hard coded data. Not the best, but better than a old school carburetor. Since I wanted to monitor the Air/Fuel mixture in real time, I purchased a Wideband Digital/Analog display gauge with an included Bosch O2 Sensor. It was around $157.00 shipped. It was a kit with all the wiring harnesses  and sensor included.

The Bung, Installed
I had to drill a hole in my exhaust and install a "bung" which is a weird term for a collar with threads inside so you can screw in the sensor. You could also use a clamp-on version, but I worried about exhaust leaks. Once done, I ran the wiring up front, zip tied it away from hot areas and spinning mechanical bits and connected the gauge. It was pretty easy. Only two wires to connect, 12 Volt power and Ground at the gauge. A snap to do under the dash. The sensor has a built in pre-heater that gets it ready to read your exhaust gases and it takes about 10 seconds to warm up. I started up the engine, let everything warm up and began watching the gauge. It will read from about 6.0 to 22.0 AFR (Air Fuel Ratio) you'll see different numbers at different engine loads. Lower numbers mean MORE Fuel and Higher numbers mean LESS Fuel. The goal is to stay as close to 14.6 which is complete combustion. This will likely never happen since performance will vary the amount of fuel all the time.

Colored Lights Around The Edge Too!
At idle, I was seeing 13.7 which is a bit rich, but about right for an idling engine with no load. A bit lower would be better, perhaps 13.5. Once in gear and moving forward slowly, I saw around 14.5, which is pretty close to perfect. Though there is some room for improvement. Once running at around 60 MPH, on a flat surface at top gear overdrive, I saw 14.8. That's OK, but we could lean it out a but, using less fuel and tune it to about 15.1 (just a little less fuel) to get better MPG. Depending upon your engine, it's cooling system and normal efficiency you may be able to go even leaner for best economy cruising, but I would get an exhaust gas temperature gauge and sensor to make sure I wasn't going too lean and burning a piston up. You would be sacrificing instant performance, but we're not drag racing!

When I am cruising steadily and gently press the accelerator, you can see the effect of more fuel introduced into the engine as the gauge will drop to 12-12.5 as the onboard computer senses the need for more fuel (or your carburetor simply adds it). Releasing the throttle back to steady cruise should get it back to where you were before. Wide open throttle, something I don't usually do, will run extremely rich, around 11.5 for best torque. Great for hills, not so great for mileage! Gathering data to be able to modify the mixture for your terrain and driving style would be invaluable. Bear in mind, it's not always possible to change the value in your computer or adjust your fuel system at all. Proper maintenance goes a long way towards efficient running.

My Engine Bay
So, now that we have all this information, what can we do with it? The simplest use is to modify your right foot behavior to keep the AFR at the most economical number you can. In my case, I started looking for issues with my fuel system and found a bunch of small air/vacuum leaks that were confusing my computer into thinking I was leaner than I actually was. It was dumping more fuel in to compensate and that wasn't doing my mileage any favors. Easily fixed. There are many fuel injection systems that can be modified. Some by simply adjusting some screws (potentiometers or physical) and some you will need to purchase or program a chip to modify how the computer thinks. That's a completely different story!

So, how did I do? On the surface, it appears that I have made my engine a bit more efficient. I'll have to wait until my next longer trip to see if that's true. It didn't take too long to add the AFR gauge and sensor and it will give you more information to work with. If it gets my mileage's worth it!

Be Seeing You...Down the Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Even The Simple Things - Bowls For Everything

    Last week I was on a short trip in my RV and had stopped for the night. As I usually do, I prepared a meal. Since I was by myself, the quantities were going to be smaller. Then it occurred to me...I really don't have enough bowls to cook with at all. For example, I have a cool collapsible salad spinner that does multiple duty as a colander and a large cooking/serving bowl. But it's Big...too big for one person. I realized that I don't have any other bowls, aside from tableware and plastic/paper disposables, to use for cooking or serving....especially for one person. Hmmm, what to do?

Simple, find some durable nesting bowls that take up very little space and can be used for a lot of things. A tall order, that! Well, after perusing the aisles at various shops -- you know, my typical haunts, Walmart, Outlet stores, freight liquidators and the like -- I found the perfect bowl! In fact it was sold as a set of three! With snap-on lids! Score! They were $1.99 at K-mart of all places. I thought those were gone, but no, a few still exist. Way cool! The lids actually have a small gripper with a notch to attach them to the bowl edge when not in use. I just stack them all up with all three lids on top and I'm good to go.

They are a bit small. Perfect for single servings or multi-ingredient recipe prep. I'm also going to use them to make my "Mock Mousse." Should be great! They will also be great for storing leftovers from larger meals. The lids fit VERY tightly and will likely survive a fall or flip in the RV fridge if the road conditions get nasty. They are a simple aluminum alloy construction so should last a very long time. I wouldn't put them in the dish washer (dish washer detergent for machines can do horrible things to aluminum). Not that I HAVE a dish washer on board. Well I do, but his name's Rich!

These bowls are the very definition of a Simple Thing. Try a few -- at this price they are usable for all sorts of things in addition to cooking. How about nut and bolt storage? Or sorting various bits....hobbies maybe? Anyway, they are quite useful and have earned a spot on board my RV.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Portable Hot Sauce - Variety Is The Spice Of Life

Compact Kitchen
    Sometimes, when cooking, I like to spice things up a bit. There are any number of hot sauces available, probably in the hundreds of thousands at this point. Obviously, we can't carry them all. My basic rule regarding hot sauce and spicy food is this: "If I can't taste the underlying flavors, only the heat...that's too much!" That being said, a bit of heat, mixed with some extra flavor, is a welcome change to daily favorites. I love to add a few drops of Chipotle flavored Tabasco sauce to my morning eggs. Delicious. Adding regular Tabasco to other dishes makes them into something else...easily and with no real effort. Of course, you can use Sriracha as well...different flavor profile, but just as delicious. I am sure you all have your favorites too. I know I am leaving a lot of them out...ones I like too...but you have to be selective when you have very little storage space. Here's how I keep a variety around.

Cute, Right?
Small Bottles...REALLY small bottles. Enough for a recipe or two. I keep finding assortment packs of hot sauces that include a few different recipes in the various close-out shops I haunt. A few days ago I found a Tabasco"sampler" pack. While not the smallest bottles I have seen (those were in Military MRE's back in the day), they are just the right size for a dash of flavor in your RV recipes. This one included, Original, Chipotle and Jalapeno (though not "on-a-stick," for all you Jeff Dunham fans!) All in a cute little box. How much? A single buck. 1 Dollar for about 6 (OK maybe 9) meal additions. I couldn't resist. So, I bough a few of them to have "reloads."

Now, if you, like me, enjoy the odd squirt of Sriracha to liven up a meal...amazing with Asian inspired dishes!... you'll love the handy tiny sizes that are available. You can even get two different keychain with carabiner styles as empties that you fill yourself. Perfect for on-board use. You could even use it as a keychain, but I'd hate to have it open in my pocket! Ouch!  Believe wouldn't let that happen again....ever! Here's an awesome tip...add Sriracha to Ramen noodles and some leftover vegetables. WOW! Quite warming and fantastic on a rainy (or snowy) day. It's also great with leftover chicken and fresh spinach. Just stir some in when you heat it up in a skillet. Whenever I have leftover stir fry, I'll make an omelette the following morning. A couple of shakes of this stuff will definitely wake you up in the AM.

If you like your food crazy hot, these tiny versions aren't for you. Unless you can find a Ghost pepper extract that comes in the eyedropper bottle. No joke! It's insanely hot...could damage mucous membranes hot. If you're into that kind of thing. Personally, I like less actual pain with my meals!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Even The Simple Things - Removing Labels, Gunk, And Stuff

Crazy, Huh?
    How often have you purchased something only to notice a bunch of adhesive labels all over it? Usually on the bottom. Ever try to scrape one off with a finger nail and end up with little bits of label and a bunch of excess glue still on your shiny new item? This kind of thing happens to me all the time. Getting the glue off is usually pretty easy. Some kind of citrus based cleaner will do the trick, but what about getting the label off in the first place. Wouldn't it be easier if you had a small tool that would get underneath it and remove it quickly and easily in the first place? What about cooked-on gunk in a Teflon-coated pan? You know, as soon as you get a scratch on one it's useless to cook in. No metal tools, ever! Well, after a long time using my nails, I can honestly say I found a better way to do it that won't scratch the finish on anything (within reason!).

Simple AND Handy!
It's one of those crazy simple ideas that I wish I'd thought of (and marketed!) myself. But I didn't. Ah well, at least I can share the knowledge and save some of you some time and aggravation. A week ago I was in a Bed, Bath and Beyond. No, I'm not a regular there...just visiting! While wandering around I noticed a bunch of little kitchen tools in baskets. One drew my eye. It was/is called a "Thumb Scraper." Just a soft silicone covered handle with a depression for your...well...umm..thumb! And a thin, stiff plastic scraper end. It seemed way too simple (and cheap at 1.99) to work. So I bought a clearance aisle glass with a bunch of labels on the bottom and removed them...quickly! I was sold.

When I got it back home I made myself a, purposefully, cheesy and messy omelette in a regular Teflon pan. Made sure the cheese was nice and stuck to the bottom. Pulled out the scraper and, voila!, all the mess was scraped off with no damage to the pan at all. Double win!

This thing is pretty tough, looks like it could be used to pry apart small electronics as well. Like a cell phone's case. I'll be trying it on a few more things. Who knows how many uses I'll be able to come up with.  Drop me a line... let me know if you come up with any nifty uses! Hey, how about decal removal...or maybe just the small leftover pieces?

I love inexpensive items that solve multiple problems and take up very little storage space. Seems like they are tailor made for our RVs. If it speeds cleanup...double win!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Check Your AC Outlets! - Right Voltage? Polarity? Ground? - It's Easy!

    When I have access to 120 Volt AC power, whether by using my generator or connecting a shore power cable, I ALWAYS make sure the power I am receiving/using is up to snuff. Does it have the correct Voltage? The correct Polarity? Is it Grounded? In extreme cases, improper wiring at a campground or other power source could fry your electrical system and lots of expensive components. It's easy to check before you connect so....why risk it?If you think it's a P.I.T.A. (Sound it out...Pain In The A...) then these two inexpensive simple devices will make it easy!

First off is a $4.75 Polarity and ground checker. These come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Mine is Yellow, don't you know. They have three lights on them and a small diagram telling you what those lights mean. Typically, you get the two right most ones lit and instantly know the receptacle is wired correctly. It's really easy to use. Just plug it in to the outlet and look at the lights that illuminate. For me, ANYTHING that isn't "CORRECT" won't be receiving my shore power plug any time soon. Some incorrectly wired receptacles are worse than others. It really never pays to gamble with your expensive electrical system. A few seconds of testing could save you a whole lot of grief and money.

Once the wiring has been checked and is OK to use. I test the actual electricity coming out of the socket. Namely, the Voltage and the Frequency. Everyone knows about what the correct voltage is. It should be around 120V, sometimes as high as 124V or as low as 110V. Anything above or below those numbers could very likely damage things plugged in and operating. Frequency is a bit more complicated. In the United States we use 60Hz power. Not to get overly technical, that just means that the power oscillates back and forth (Alternates) from the power station to you. 60Hz just means 60 times per second. Some of the rest of the world uses 50Hz. Most modern power supplies can use either. If it's WAY off you shouldn't use it. This can be an issue with your generator as its speed will directly affect the voltage and frequency. I use a Kill-A-Watt meter to check both. As a bonus, it will tell you how much power (amps) your device  (that's plugged into it) is drawing among other features. At about $20.00, it's well worth it!

Again, a tiny bit of work before you plug in, can save you a world of hurt. I'm all about enjoying my RV and each and every minute of each and every trip. If I can prevent something from going wrong, I'm way ahead. Every moment I get to travel is precious to me. What's that worth in dollars?? Priceless!!!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Whoa!! - Slowing Down A Trailer Properly...Use A Brake Controller!

The Sun Sets...
    A few weeks ago, I towed a trailer a long way over various roads including some big hills with steep descents. It all worked out OK, but when I arrived home I noticed a significant amount of additional brake pad wear. Hmmm...Why was that? I'll tell you, I made a mistake. One that could have cost me dearly. I was under the impression that the trailer had surge brakes. These are actuated when you slow down the towing vehicle. They work pretty much on their own. Not the best solution, but they do not require any additional hardware. The trouble was, I was wrong. This trailer did NOT have surge brakes but rather ELECTRICALLY actuated ones. These REQUIRE a separate brake controller be installed in the tow vehicle/RV. If they are not hooked up, you have ZERO braking from your trailer. Your tow vehicle brakes do all the work. This is a dangerous condition! Well, hindsight is most always 20/20 so I ordered up a brake controller and installed it post haste! It's not all that difficult to do and may save your...well, bits you'd like to keep.

The P3!
How do you choose what kind of controller to buy? Well, after some basic research, it boils down to two main types. Time Delayed and Proportional. To begin with, Time Delayed tends to be much less expensive. So what's the difference? In a nutshell, a Proportional controller applies braking to the trailer in the manner you apply braking to the towing vehicle. You gently slow down, the trailer gently slows down a proportional amount. You slam on the brakes in a panic stop and the trailer brakes get applied as aggressively. There is some setup involved to "tweak" the proportions, but it's not all that difficult. The time delay version simply waits a set amount of time and applies the trailer brakes at a single setting. The amount of delay and the amount of braking force applied is adjustable. Because of the way it is wired, there could be some pulsing of the brakes when you hazard flashers are on.

Complete Kit!
To me, it was a no brainer. I found the best Proportional controller I could, based upon reviews and features and ordered one. (I got the Tekonsha P3 and paid 115.00 incl. shipping) The install wasn't really difficult at all. It came with a wire harness with bare ends to splice into my existing wiring. Only 4 wires needed to be connected. 12V Negative, 12V Positive, A Ground and a single wire to the trailer brake wire in the hitch connector. While you can buy prefabricated harnesses with connectors for various vehicles, mine (being as old as it is and an "orphan") didn't have that option. The first three were easy and obvious. I did put an inline fuse rated to protect the wire on the positive 12V connection. The last one required me to run a wire from the hitch connector at the back of the RV all the way up to the left side of the driver's footwell. That's about 26 feet of wire. Not difficult, I used good quality outdoor rated automotive wire and lots of wire ties (of the "zip" variety) to keep it tucked up out of harms way.

Next up is locating an appropriate spot to mount the controller itself. The instructions said I could  mount it in essentially any orientation with ethe exception that proportional brake controllers need to be mounted inline with the direction of travel. Some vehicles have a spot that's made for one. Mine didn't. I wanted to be able to see the screen when I wanted to and have access to the manual braking lever and settings on the fly so I mounted it down under my dash above my left knee. Well a bit further outboard as I didn't want to smash my knee into it all the time! Believe me, that would be a really...well.. P.I.T.A. (figure that one out for yourselves!)

Nifty Little LED Screen
Once connected up and mounted, the fun begins! On mine (which has a nifty LCD computer screen) I went to the setup page and selected the brake type. Mine were electric, but you could have hydraulic as well. Then you have to tweak the basic braking effect the controller applies. Your brake controller may be different, but mine suggests a default of "6" (somewhere in the middle) then you drive the trailer and tow vehicle 25 MPH and use the MANUAL lever to apply the trailer brakes. If they lockup go to a lower setting and repeat. If they don't, go to a higher setting. The idea being to set them up so it applies the brakes at a maximum level WITHOUT locking them up. Once that's done, use your tow vehicle brake pedal to make a few low speed stops to check the "feel." Mine worked out well on the first try.

There are a few other settings on mine, color and contrast of the display. A "Boost" feature that changes the amount of initial braking and force, to adjust for various weights of the trailer and the ability to store settings for 3 different trailers. It's also got a nifty Voltage gauge and lots of troubleshooting messages to let you know if something is connected wrong or malfunctioning.

Anything that increases safety and ease of use is all right in my book. This addition surely fits the bill!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Made It!! - Flipped The Odometer. I've Begun Again

Miserable Driving Weather.
    On my last trip out to retrieve my helicopter and trailer I had a milestone event occur. I watched my odometer flip over and begin again at zero! This is a momentous occasion. I mean, it's not as grand as starting from factory fresh zero miles and rolling through back to zero, but it was pretty special to me. I purchased the RV with 62,000 Miles on it and promptly put on 2500 more driving it back from north of San Fransisco to my home base in New York. Since then, I've had lots of trips and lots of "smiles per gallon" seeing places and meeting people along the way. There have been trials and tribulations, failures and follies. I wouldn't trade any of it for a second. Here I am, looking at my next mileage rollover, wondering where the next block of miles will take me. Wherever it is, you're welcome to join me!

Getting Close!
To be honest, my odometer only has 5 digits plus a tenth of a mile counter. So a rollover is really only 100,000 miles in total. I'm not sure I'll be around to hit the Million mile mark, but I can hope to be able to! Still, it's fascinating to watch the digits slowly creep up from 99990 to 99999. You start get fixated on the clicks of the tenth counter. Not so great on the highway at speed, mind you! I kept looking down more and more often because I didn't want to miss it happening. Add that to the fact that I wanted photos of the event for posterity's sake and I ran the risk of not being able to go much past the rollover. In fact, with all the camera juggling I could have had a rollover of another kind entirely. But let's not dwell on the "coulda's."

Made It!!!!
100,000.0 Miles! At 60 MPH. A done deal. I made it. There were a couple of shouted "whoops!" and it was over. I watched for a while as it began to climb back up. I had been thinking how cool this trip had been. Even though I was STILL driving in horrible weather with the trailer in tow. I mean, what other way is there to travel to a destination, relax in comfort, pick up a trailer, drive back semi-leisurely with comfortable overnights along the way? None that I could think of. Car or Truck? Ever sleep in a car? A truck? Not so comfortable. Sure you could sleep in a motel....well...I've seen lots of roadside motels. In a word....yuck! I like having my own stuff, my own shower and bathroom. You could fly out, buy/rent a truck and drive back. Not for me...think of the logistics nightmares with that one!

I'll take my RV anytime. Can't beat it for going on trips and adventures. And this last one was definitely an adventure! Perhaps we'll meet sometime out on the road or camped someplace. Feel free to stop by and chat. I've usually got some kind of conversation starter ready to go!

Be Seeing You...Down the Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Most Grueling But Rewarding RV Trip I Have Ever Taken - Picking Up A Helicopter

Not Its Natural Environment!
    I just got back. Normally, I'm fully bummed out that my RV adventure is over. This time I am glad it's done. Here in the North East we are usually just getting into Spring weather around the beginning of April. I start the process of de-winterizing and stocking the RV for the season's travels. Well, this time I got the opportunity to buy a Helicopter that I had been looking for, but the catch was I had to pick it up in Wisconsin. OK...sounded like a perfect time for an RV trip, problem was the weather hadn't been cooperating and it had been well below freezing for most of the days leading up to my departure date. The day before, I had warm enough weather that I was able to get the fresh water system operational and do some basic startup maintenance. Then the morning came and off we went. In the rain. More on this a bit later.

The helicopter is a Rotorway Exec 90 (heavily modified). It seats two people and will fly about 2 hours or 200 miles between fill ups. I had built an older version with a friend in the late '80s early '90s and was familiar with the issues and benefits associated with this particular type of aircraft. I've been flying helicopters (and airplanes) for Many, many years and it was time for me to mix flying with my RV. When everything is set up, I will be going to events around the country with the helicopter in tow. You know, fly-ins, Oshkosh, aviation related events. Great people, fun events with good food and a place to sleep comfortably. What else could one ask of an RV trip!

Yes, Rain All The Way There!
So off I went to Black Falls River, Wisconsin, on a rainy Thursday morning. Expected trip time was 16 hours and some number of minutes. All was going well until it wasn't. I received a call that the delivery wouldn't take place on the appointed day, but a day later. No worries as I had built in an extra day for travel stops and to see some interesting sights both ways. We arrived in a rainstorm to the Walmart parking lot in Black River Falls and went inside for some supplies and to notify them we were staying until the following day. Then the rain became Ice, the parking lot was completely covered, as was the RV. The temperatures were dropping fast. I began to worry about freezing pipes and water damage. The furnace was running...a lot! Thankfully the inside temperatures remained a comfortable 68 degrees thanks to the extra insulation of the window covers.

Overnight, you could hear the ice and snow hitting the roof and sideways into the glass. The RV was rocking from the gusts of wind. I'm happy to report no leaks at all! At least that's a good thing. I've also discovered exactly where the air comes in.When it's that cold, you find them pretty quick! Definitely going to get some weatherstripping under the main door and under the dashboard. In the morning we awoke to 1/2" of ice all over the RV and frigid temps. Ice was still coming down in tiny pellets. Felt like riding my motorcycle in the rain, little pin pricks all over your face.

Ready To Swap Tow Vehicles
Then the truck towing the helicopter on its trailer arrived. No lull in the weather. The cover came off the helicopter and the moving blankets secured with bungees and layers of 20" wide stretch wrap (U-haul about $20 for 1000 ft.) went on. That stuff is AMAZING. Covered everything (the most important being the front windscreen "bubble"), holding the doors closed and protecting from stones and road debris. Though putting it on in frigid temperatures and high winds isn't much fun at all. Especially while being pelted by tiny ice pellets! Finally it was done and the trailer ready to be switched over to the RV. Of course, the hitch ball I had was 2" and the proper one for the trailer was 2 15/16" So, back into Walmart to buy one. THAT'S why it was good to meet there. Lots of Trailer components, just in case! Also got some RV sewage tank treatment as I was running low. Oh, and a few extra snacks too!

Ready To Roll!
Once the hitch ball issue was fixed and everything hooked up (thankfully I had the right trailer connector!) the ride home began. In an ice/snow storm. My RV wasn't designed with this weather in mind, but really performed admirably in the harsh weather and icy road conditions, even towing the trailer! Color me impressed. Then, the wipers stopped wiping. About 2 miles down the dark road. Nowhere to pull over as construction had removed the shoulders from the list of choices. So, driving without wipers for a few miles to find the next reasonably safe spot to fix them was, needless to say, a challenge. Once found, it was a simple matter of removing ice buildup from the blades and getting underway as quickly as possible. The ice had built up on the roadway and was like hitting inverted nasty potholes. Every bang had me groaning with the equipment waiting for something to break.

Still Raining!
The snow lasted for many hours, slowly turning into freezing rain, then just a hard downpour as we neared Ohio. Not fun at all. We spent the next night in a truck stop, noisy...very noisy. But I was grateful for the break and the long rig was easy to park in the long, well marked spot. In the AM, it was still raining, and ice was on our tail, so I left at 6AM and got as far as I could. We had missed the ice, and pulled in to refuel in merely a rainstorm.  Back on the road again, lots and lots of rain with no end in sight. Made it most of the way home, spent the last night only 314 miles from home. Yes, in the rain. In the morning we made a leisurely breakfast and finished the ride home. Still in the rain!

Finally arriving home, I had to switch vehicles to get the trailer where it belonged and back the RV down the long driveway into its regular space. I was proud of how well it drove and handled the rather harsh conditions. Made me happy I had the RV and got me thinking of the RV/Helicopter adventures to follow.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Too Much Paper! - What To Do When Your Manuals Take Up More Space Than Anything

Almost Ready To Roll!
    I know I'm a packrat. I save things forever. Many times this has saved my bacon as I had something on hand that I needed RIGHT NOW and didn't have to go find it at a shop or online. This includes saving all manuals and instructions from whatever I buy. Sometimes it's a single page, but often it's multiple books. I even save them for stuff I don't even have anymore. Crazy right? Perhaps... I don't mind keeping a library handy, but there had to be a better way. Being the computer and technology fan that I am, I figured why not turn them into electronic data and store them in a USB Thumb drive? You could just get a scanner (or even take photos of each page) and store them as pictures. Sure...but why not go that extra step and make them searchable? This way, you could find the info in any manual easily. There would be an extra step, but it's not that hard. besides, the payoff would be well worth it!

How's THAT For A Mess Of Old Manuals?
So, how do you get it done? Well, first begin by deciding how you are going to get the image of each page into the computer. You could scan them on an old fashioned flatbed scanner (SLOW!) or use one of the newer Multifunction printer/scanner/FAX machines. The benefit to those is they often come with a document feeder that automates much of the process. In the case of manuals, not so much. They are typically bound or in booklet form, so not great candidates for automated document feeding. what. Well, most of us have a very sophisticated handheld computer we use everyday. Yes, I am speaking about your cell phone. Most (if not all) smartphones have a camera. A very good camera. If you look around, you can easily find a PHOTO TO PDF application for your phone. They are available for iPhones as well as Android and are quite amazing.

How It Works!
You simply run the application, aim the camera at the page you want scanned in and take a photo. The Software does the rest. It will convert and format the document, so it looks like what you see all while allowing it to be searchable. Even the pictures will be transferred. Yes, it will take a while to do them one page at a time, but you don't need all of them at once. Do a few at a time (or one manual at a sitting.)

 I love it! It's going to take me a while to get through several decades of manuals, but they will all fit on a tiny USB drive and I can just have access to it whenever/wherever I like. Pretty cool. That's why I like technology. Not always...mind you...but for this kind of's great!!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Even The Simple Things - Rapid Multiple Egg Cooker

Compact Kitchen!
    I like eggs. Ever since the powers that be decided (again) that they aren't bad for you I have been enjoying them again. With my Carb restricted diet (Lost 46+ lbs and keeping them off!) I try and keep to protein rich foods. Eggs are incredibly versatile. I have a whole bunch of breakfast recipes that are delicious and keep the cleanup to a minimum. What about the most basic egg recipe, hard boiled? Soft boiled? Poached? Omelettes? They are great to keep in the fridge, are good by themselves (with a pinch of salt) or sliced up onto a salad or sandwich. I even put them in the center of my meatloaf. Delicious! Sure, you can boil up some water and make them on the stove, but what about an easier way? A way that adds a bunch of other, much more difficult to get correct styles of egg cookery. I found it!

Look, A Pretty Box!
Typically I don't write too much about appliances that run on 120V AC house current. I try and stay in the 12 Volt realm since I have a great solar panel charging system and do most of my trips to boondocking destinations. That being said, this little gizmo does so many things with eggs, so easily...I couldn't resist! The cooker comes with a water measuring cup with an eggshell piercer on the bottom under a safety cap, an omelette pan and a soft/poached container.  First off is the aforementioned hard boiled eggs. In the model I selected, you can cook 6 eggs at a time on the handy removable (with handle) platform.

Ready To Cook
I'm only one person, that's plenty! The instructions both in and on the box tell me for 6 eggs, hard boiled I add water up to the HARD BOILED line on the measuring cup, pour it in and pierce the big end of each egg before being placed on the cooker's removable egg tray.  Cover the cooker and twist a bit to lock the cover in place. Then simply press the button and walk away. The finished buzzer is loud enough to be scary! Press the button again to turn off and let cool. Perfect eggs every time. And, since it's small, I can store it under the sink in a tiny extra space I had available. I did wrap it in a towel to make sure it doesn't get smashed, but the box would work fine too.

So aside from hard boiled eggs what's this thing good for? Well, it's really just a heating element that boils water to make steam in a housing, so you could make an omelette easily with the included plastic pan. I find mixing in various leftovers to be a great breakfast. For those of you that like Soft boiled eggs of various softness levels you will love this gizmo! It will make perfect soft boiled eggs in their shells (of course) and make them in multiples. There is an additional set of lines on the measuring cup to let you determine the amount of water (and therefore time) that the eggs cook. More water for more done eggs, less for softer, runnier ones. Once you find your sweet spot, mark a line with a sharpie or other indelible marker to lock in your "recipe."  You'll have one amount with up to 3 eggs and a slightly larger amount of water for up to 6 eggs. A tiny bit of experimentation will zero in on the perfect egg(s). And besides, you can eat the mistakes too!

If you are a fan of poached eggs, this will make those as well, in the included poaching plastic container. Bear in mind you can only make 2 poached eggs at a time. They will retain the shape of the poaching container, so it may look a bit odd, but will cook very nicely and taste exactly (eggs-actly?) as you would expect them to. Cleanup has been a breeze, take out the plastic bits and wash, then, when it's cool, wipe off the metal base with a paper towel. Done.  Almost all of you know how much i hate cleaning, so when it's this easy...I'm OK with it. Well mostly OK!

Eggs are low calorie, low carb and delicious. This gizmo make it easy to have them on hand. I wish it was available in 12V, but it's still valuable! If you'd like to order one the one I have, it's a Dash Rapid Egg Cooker and it was found on Amazon. There are MANY different kinds and capacities to choose from.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

2018 REVISED (w/Links!) - How to Go From Winter's Slumber to Spring's Re-Awakening And Perform A Yearly Safety Check.

While the weather is getting better's getting close to the RV Season here so it's time to think about getting your RV ready to travel! I know I'M ready to travel!

Look Ma...No Snow!

    Time to wake the slumbering beast (well, my RV is more like a tame house cat than a beast). I'm going to de-winterize, inspect and repair for the upcoming season. Winter was great for planning and researching projects, not so great for actually DOING them! If you plan ahead and prepare, getting your RV ready for the season or checking it once a year if you are blessed to live in a warmer climate, should go smoothly and easily. Yes, I know NOTHING ever goes smoothly and easily. Let's hope this Spring's charmed.

**Many of the tasks below have links to articles on that subject. Click and find out more!**

Start with a list of basic tasks. The list below can be modified to suit your particular RV, but is a good guideline. Mine reads as follows:

Remove Cover Straps (guess who forgot to undo the straps AGAIN last year!)
Remove Cover
Inspect Cover for Rips and Tears, Repair if Needed/Possible
Roll and Fold Cover and Store. (In a Dry Place!)
Walk Around Outside Look For Obvious Defects
Inspect/Clean Windshield Wiper Blades - Replace If Needed
Inspect Windshield Washer Nozzle and Hoses (Cracks, Breaks, Dry Rot.)
Inspect/Repair Running Lights
Inspect Front/Rear Lights/Headlights
Inspect Mirrors!
Inspect Backup Camera
Inspect Underneath For Leaks, Puddles, Dry Rotted Hoses, Excessive Rust, Cracked Gas Pipe Joints, Frame Problems, etc.
Inspect Tires and Inflate to proper pressure (Check Dates!)
Check TPMS Sensors (Tightness and Battery Replacement, if needed)
Wash RV and Inspect for cracks, chips, glass breaks, leaks, etc. Repair if needed.
Check For Mold/Mildew on Exterior Seals (Clean As Needed)
Open Outside Engine Compartment, Check for Leaks and Nests.
Open Storage Compartments and Inspect Doors, Seals, & Locks(leaks, bugs, critters, etc.)
Clean Outside Refrigerator Compartment (Spiderwebs, Leaves, Nests, etc.)
Clean Outside Furnace Compartment (Spiderwebs, Leaves, Nests, etc.)
Clean Outside Water Heater Compartment (Spiderwebs, Leaves, Nests, etc.)
Replace Water Heater Drain Plug and/or Anode.
Clean Battery(ies) and Terminals if Needed. (Chassis, House and Generator)
Check Coach and Chassis Battery Water Level, Refill if needed. (Distilled Water ONLY!)
Check Hitch Receiver
Check Hitch/Trailer Wiring

Open Door(s) Test Operation. Lubricate if Needed.
Test Operation of Electric Stairs (Lubricate/Repair as Needed)
Turn On Lights, Replace Any Bad Bulbs/Fluorescents
Check All LED Bulbs and Fixtures
Open Vents, Test Seals and Operation
Clean Pop-Locks On Vents
Open Blinds - Check Function (Adjust If Needed), Clean
Open Windows, Test Seals and Operation. Check Locking Mechanisms
Close and Clean Blinds
Open Cabinets (Upper and Lower) Organize Shifted Contents
Check for Leaks; Roof, Doors, Vents, etc.
Check for Critters. (Bugs, Mammals, Gremlins, etc.)
Check & Clean Interior (Carpets, Walls, Floors, Cabinets, Fridge, etc.)
Check LP/Propane/CO Detector Operation
Check Smoke Detector Battery and Operation
Check Monitor Panel, Tanks and Propane
Check Converter/Charger For 12 Volt Output
Check All Fuses and Breakers (12V and 120V)
Confirm Solar Charging System Voltage and Amperage (If Applicable)
Check Bathroom Skylight for leaks and cracks.
Check Bathroom Vent for Operation and Seal.
Check All Flashlights (Batteries, Charged? and Bulbs)
Check and Tighten ALL screws and fasteners Everywhere!

Check Oil Level, Fill if Needed
Check Coolant Level, Fill if Needed
Check Brake Fluid Level, Fill if Needed
Check Power Steering Fluid Level, Fill if Needed
Check Transmission Fluid Level, Fill if Needed
Check Windshield Wiper Blades Replace If Needed.
Check Windshield Washer Nozzles, Replace if Needed
Check Windshield Fluid Level, Fill if Needed
Check All Hoses and Tighten Clamps
Check Airbag Compressor for operation and leaks.
Check Air Bag System Pressure
Check Air bag System for Leaks

Check Fuel Levels
Check Battery Volts
Start Engine
Check for Oil Pressure Rise
Listen to Idle (Sound OK?)
Check Idle Speed RPM
Check for Battery Charging (Volts/Amps)
Check TPMS Monitor for Operation and Correct Pressures
Check Temperature Gauge for Rise
Listen for "strange" noises. Clangs, Bonks, Whistles, Squeals, Chattering, Rattles, Clunks etc.
Shift Into Each Gear (Foot on Brake!!)
When In Reverse, Check Backup Camera Monitor
Switch On Dash Air Conditioner (Got Cold Air?)
Select Dash Heat and Defrost (Got Hot Air?)
Shutdown After Everything Warms Up to Operating Temperature
Re-Check Oil Level, Fill if Needed
Re-Check Transmission Fluid Level, Fill if Needed
Go Outside, Look Under RV..Any New Leaks?

Check Shore Power Cord & Plugs
Unplug Shore Power Cord
Check Generator Compartment for Oil Leaks
Check generator and Wiring for Obvious Problems
Check Oil Level, Fill if Needed (Coolant too! If you have it)
Start Generator
Check for leaks
Check for Transfer Switch Operation
Run for 30 minutes (or so)
Check Voltage at Sockets without Load
Check Voltage at Sockets with Load
Shutdown Generator
Turn On Inverter (If You Have One!)
Check AC Power From Inverter

Turn On Gas at Main Tank Valve
Listen and Check for Leaks (Use handheld detector)
Check for leaks in Refrigerator, Furnace and Water heater Compartments
Check for leaks Inside (Stove, Water Heater, Furnace, Refrigerator)
Check & Clean Stove Vent System
Light 1 Burner, Check for Blue Flame and Even Burn
Turn Off
Check Other Burners.
Turn Off Stove Valves
Set Thermostat to Heat
Confirm Furnace Ignition
Confirm Heater Vent Airflow and Temperature
Shut Off Thermostat
Confirm No Leaks from All Stove Valves in the OFF Position

APPLIANCE CHECKS (On Both Shore Power AND Generator/Inverter)
Attach Shore Power (or use Generator)
Check and Clean Air Conditioner Filters
Turn on Air Conditioner, Wait for it to engage
Check for Cool Air
Check for Heat Strip Operation (if installed)
Shutdown Air Conditioner
Inspect Microwave
Set Clock
Run for 1 Minute (heat something up!)
Check Coffee Maker Operation (VERY Important!)
Remove and Store Refrigerator Door Spacer
Inspect And Clean Refrigerator Interior
Check Fridge DC Control Panel Operation
Turn On Refrigerator (on AC Power)
Clean Out Refrigerator Chimney/Fan/Cooling Fins/Tubes and Check for Debris/Nests/Bugs
Confirm Refrigerator Heating Element is Warming Boiler in Outside Compartment)
Switch Refrigerator to Propane (LP Gas)
Confirm Flame Ignition (By Sound AND Visually Outside In Compartment)
Switch Back to Electric (or AUTO)
Check Refrigerator Door Seals and Lock(s)
Replace Refrigerator/Freezer Thermometer Batteries
Turn On Entertainment System
Replace Remote Control Batteries (As Needed)
Check Inputs (Antenna/VCR/DVD/Satellite/VGA/HDMI)
Check Bluetooth (If Applicable!)
Check Sound
Raise/Lower TV/Satellite Antenna
Turn Everything Off.

WATER SYSTEM (without Sanitize) 
Re-Connect Water Pump to Tank
Set Valves to Tank Fill
Re-Insert Water Heater Drain Plug
Close Low Point Hot and Cold Water Drains
Check All Fittings
Close Faucets
Partially Fill Water Tank (Hose or Connect City Water)
Set Valves To Operating Position
Turn of Water Heater Bypass (If You Have One!)
Pressurize System (Pump and City Water, One at a time)
Check For Leaks
Open Each Faucet Until It Runs Clear(to Remove Antifreeze and Air)
Check Toilet Main Drain. (Holding Antifreeze?)
Check Flush Fill and Drain
Fill Fresh Water Tank (and/or Use City Water)
Check Faucet Water Filter
Check For Leaks (Look in All Cabinets! Under Coach as Well!)
Open Faucets and Run Water until Clear
Check For Leaks AGAIN!!
Make Sure Water Heater Emergency Pressure Relief Valve is Closed!
Turn On Water Heater (Propane)
Check for Ignition
Wait At Least 10 Minutes (Water Has to Heat Up You Know!)
Confirm Hot Water and Flow
Check For Leaks (Inside Hot Side Plumbing AND Outside Water Heater Compartment)
Switch Water Heater to Electric (If You Have It Installed)
Confirm Hot Water and Flow
Clean and Inspect Water Drains and Pipes
Shut Everything Down

Close All Windows
Shut Off All Appliances
Shut Down Propane Gas Flow
Turn Off Lights
Close and Lock Doors.

While this list is geared toward my coach, most of it will likely apply to yours. Hopefully, it will start you off safely and with some peace of mind this season.

Feel free to send me new items to add or ask questions!

Be Seeing You....Down The Road

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Mini, Battery Powered, Engine Jump Starters And Power Banks

    I wrote an article last week about wireless and USB charging battery packs. They work pretty well, all things considered. Some nice folks commented about Lithium Ion battery based engine jump starters and I promised them an article about them. Well, here it is. Everyone knows I tend to be an early adopter of new technology. A couple of years ago I purchased a very small Li-Ion jump starter from a (mostly) reputable source. It was tiny and boasted it could easily start a V8 engine, though not a diesel. I was sold. Did it work as advertised?

It's Only 1/2" Thick!
Let's take a look at the one I bought first then move on to much newer (and better) versions. The one I have has an 8000mAh batter (8Ah) and in addition to regular jumper cables on a 1 foot cord it had a port to charge any device via full size USB. Add that to a bright white LED flashlight all in a package a bit bigger than a deck of playing cards and you have the idea. I carried it in my motorcycle "trunk." Yes, I said, "trunk!" I have a Honda PC800 Pacific Coast, look it up! It lived there unless I was taking a trip in another vehicle, then I brought along just in case. It all fit in a small neoprene bag with a Velcro closure that I had sitting around. I have NO idea what that bag came with...

The White Dot Is A Super-Bright Flashlight
To charge it, they provided a wall charger and a cable to charge from your computer's USB port. It took a long time to charge...about 14 hours from dead. I made sure it was charged regularly. That was allegedly easy, as it had 4 blue lights on the side that all illuminated when it was full. The first time I used it, it worked OK. Not great...but it did start a 3.9L V6. Then I didn't use it for a few months after recharge. I was off to pick up an SUV in Pennsylvania, about three hours away. When we wouldn't start, so the seller jump started it from a conventional lead-acid battery pack, no problem there. We figured it would charge from the alternator on the trip back. After 1.5 hours we made a gas stop. Shut it down (First Mistake) and it had a dead battery. Aha! Perfect time to use my micro sized jump box. Except after it was hooked up (it indicated it had a full charge) no start. power coming from it at all.

Very aggravating. We managed to borrow a full sized jump pack from a tractor-trailer driver. Started right up. The rest of the trip was uneventful. When I got home, I immediately plugged in the battery pack and left it to charge. It wouldn't. Looked OK...voltage from the charger was just didn't work. I'll be taking it apart soon enough to try and fix it (or, at least figure out what failed). Now I was on the hunt for another one. Bear in mind this is two years later and many large companies are offering them at reasonable prices (between $30 and $80). I've been looking at ones with decent warranty periods. Of course, many of these will be made in China. Not a problem in and of itself, but quality is usually a bit spotty. If you get a good one, it's great. If not...return it and try again.

This time, I will be buying one with a larger capacity. I have a V8 Gasoline engine (360cu. in/5.9L) in my RV, so the extra capacity will be useful, especially if my engine battery fails in cold weather. Of course, most RVs let you connect your house batteries to your engine battery temporarily for a boost, but this is a "just in case" scenario. Basically, it's peace of mind, with the added bonus of being able to charge (or run) your USB powered devices away from your RV.

Seems like a good idea, and since they are so small and lightweight, storing them will be a snap. I'll let you know when I finish my research and purchase an upgraded, more reliable unit. I still believe they are a great idea!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"