Be sure to sign up for the weekly RV Travel Newsletter, published continuously every Saturday since 2001. Click here.

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"

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Portable Battery Packs With Wireless Charging - Do they Work?

Too Many Wires!
    A while back I wrote an article about wirelessly charging your devices. Mostly USB (mini, micro, etc.). It involved either having a device that could take advantage of charging wirelessly or using an add-on charging coil to receive the power. I've been using several different wirelessly charged devices lately and it works pretty well. Mainly the issue is one of time, it takes longer to charge without wires since the amount of current is lower than that supplied with a solid piece of wire. That being said, to put my phone on the charging surface before I go to sleep and have it charged in the morning without plugging in a cable is pretty cool. Less wear and tear on your cable sockets. These days, with the tiny versions of USB phone manufacturers are using, too many plug-ins can damage the socket and then you have a real problem.  What about 12V charging when shore power isn't available?

Some of the wireless charging docks that plug in have their own transformers (that convert 120V AC into some type of DC) that connect to the dock itself. Many of them, if you look carefully at the specs, need around 12 Volts to power them. Many of them only need 5 Volts. If you have one that uses 12 Volts, and will accept a range close to it (11-15-ish Volts) then you can use an adapter to your RV's 12 Volt electrical system. That would involve getting a 12V cigarette lighter plug and the appropriate plug on the charger side and splicing them together. Even then, it's a bit of a gamble as your RV's 12V DC electrical system can vary voltage as the batteries discharge and charge. Many devices don't like variety at all.

With Its' Charging Cable Attached
Extra USB Outlet
If you look hard enough, you can find a wireless charger that uses a simple USB cord to charge itself. Add this to a standard (somewhat) 12V cigarette lighter to USB adapter and you have much safer and reliable charging. I've written a few articles covering USB adapters that have much more detailed information, but they work great and are available in various Amperages to support most of the newest devices. I found a cool charger that gets its power from a USB cord and has a built in charging coil for wireless devices to use. What makes it cool? It has its own built in battery so you can use it whether it's plugged into the RV or not. It will also charge other USB-based devices with a conventional USB port on the side. Its Lithium Ion battery holds 5000mAh of power which is enough to charge most phones more than once. It weighs a few ounces and is a tiny bit bigger than a deck of cards. Best of works. Without any "finagling."

All I do is put my device on the battery pack/charger and it starts charging, whether I have power going to it or not. Almost like magic. Well, after you turn the unit on...I've made that mistake a couple of times! We are getting closer to ditching our tethers...soon...very soon!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Faded And Cracked Decals Got You Down? - Make New Ones!

Simple Decals.
    When I read through threads on online forums I see many posts about faded and cracked decals. In fact, my 1991 Aero Cruiser has a 4" straight decal going most of the way around the belt-line with two smaller ones above and below. The bigger center one (especially in front) looks awful and I have been wanting to replace it...and perhaps add some unique touches in various places. After shining up the fiberglass gelcoat using an acrylic floor finish they look even worse than before. Add that to several harsh winters and sun exposure and you have a recipe for a much needed restoration. The trick is how do you get it done?

Simple 3 Color Blue Striping For The Sides.
The company that built my RV, Gardner Pacific, has been out of business for many years at this point, so NOS (New, Old Stock) decals would be tough to source. Besides, they'd likely be dried out and useless from age. I'm pretty lucky, since the bulk of the decals on my rig are simple stripes. Buy (or cut) a roll of decal material the correct size and apply. After proper removal and cleaning of the old stuff of course! For some of the other decals, they have to be custom cut. Well, I now know how to do this at home. A couple of years ago, I was tasked with striping up one of my work cars. I had NEVER done anything like that before so I did what I always do...RESEARCH! After a lot of learning I found that you could purchase a cutting machine that would cut out custom decals (including text) using all types of vinyl decal material. Including reflective. Add a little software and some basic computer art skills (which I really didn't (don't) have) and it was pretty easy to get them done.

My 36" Wide Decal Cutter
Much of the learning curve was trial and error (mostly error) figuring out the pressure and speed needed for the cutting machine to cut through each type of vinyl all the way through, without cutting through the backing, which was difficult. Once you "get it" it's easy to change materials and get them all right. Hint...Write Down your settings for different materials so you can go back and cut more. The software let's you pick fonts and type text easily. Using artwork was a bit tougher. You can import various pieces of art, but most of the time, they will need to be VECTOR Rather than RASTER formats. This really just means photos won't work. The art has to be in a computer readable format that describes the curves and outlines. There are programs out there that will convert from a photo or scan to VECTOR artwork, but they are finicky and require "tweaking" most of the time.  You can always draw the artwork on the computer screen (the software helps with curves and "swooshes") which makes basic RV-style side graphics pretty easy.

Screen Photo Of Vinyl Cutting Software
I had to make an "Aero Cruiser" text graphic because I didn't have a font that looked close, since the best version of the graphic is black on an off-white background (Rear of my RV). I took a good picture and used software to convert it to VECTOR, then zoomed in and fixed the small errors. The best part, when it's VECTOR you can re-size as much as you want without losing any quality. The same graphic is used on my RV multiple times in various sizes. The color of your decals is dependent on the color of the vinyl material you are cutting from. It comes in MANY colors and patterns. The cutter will only cut one color at a time since it's material based, so when you are trying to re-create a multi-color decal, you create it in many colors and have the software separate them for cutting. Once cut out, you reassemble them when applied to the RV.

Partially Weeded Decal (The "P" Isn't)
After the decal comes off the machine, you need to "weed" it. That just means taking all the stuff that's NOT your graphic off the backing before you can apply. If you do that carefully, you can have a nice stencil to paint with or use as a reverse (white or body color) outline decal. I never was able to remove it that cleanly...better luck next time for me! Once it's weeded, you can apply a tacky (not really all that sticky) transfer paper to the FRONT side. Now you carefully remove the paper backing to expose the REALLY sticky adhesive on the vinyl. Depending on the type of vinyl you bought, you can use the "wet method" to apply. You just spray (from a misting spray bottle) a small amount of water to the adhesive side, place the decal, adjust then squeegee out any air/water underneath. Then leave it alone to dry. This works best when it's warm out (above 60 F). The vinyl I have doesn't like being applied wet, so I only get one chance to get it in the correct spot and stuck down. Make sure it's LEVEL!! Once done, rub the decal down to make sure it stays down. Believe me, the adhesive is STRONG! I messed up a lot of them getting this correct.

Those are the basics. With some research you can find everything you need online and make your own. Depending on the size of the machine you buy, figure between $150 and $300 for everything you need. Granted, it isn't the easiest thing to do, but it's on par with scrapbooking. Cricut folks will have no problems coming up to speed. I never thought I would learn how to do this...but necessity is the mother of invention!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Even The Simple Things - Under Sink Soap Dispenser

My Tiny Lav Sink
    The world is a dirty place. Working on your RV can be greasy. Cooking with meat and poultry requires washing of hands to keep healthy. I used to use a bar of soap and/or squeeze some liquid soap out of a bottle each time I washed my hands and depending on which sink. Mainly, liquid cleanser in the kitchen and bar soap near the lav sink. It's not too bad using the squeeze bottle by the kitchen sink, there's one there for washing pots and dishes so it's easy to get to and it doesn't leave a mess when used. The down side is having to grab and squeeze the bottle with dirty hands. Especially if it's poultry related. Right now I solve that by simply washing the bottle when I'm done with my hands. In the Bathroom/Lav sink it's a different story. Bar soap is great, but when it's wet, it makes a mess no matter what you put it on. In the shower I have a vertical "bar soap drainer" that funnels the water down the drain, but that's not practical in the tiny sink. What to do?

My sticks and bricks house had an under the sink mounted soap dispenser. It has a chrome pump handle/nozzle above the sink and a screw on bottle reservoir underneath. You push down on the handle/nozzle and it dispenses some liquid soap. Easy! You pull the pump assembly out from the top and pour soap down into it to fill. Also very easy. Yes, I know the pump handle will get a bit dirty when pumped, but it's really small and easy to wipe clean. You could even use an anti-bacterial wipe. The best part? They are really easy to install.

Of course, you have to buy the dispenser. They are everywhere (Amazon, Walmart, Online) for around $10.00. When it arrives, unscrew the bottle from it and then disassemble the under-the -counter nut and washer. Pull the pump assembly out of the neck. If you are lucky, you have a pre-drilled hole with a plug or cap already adjacent to your sink. If not, you'll have to drill one in the counter surface. This is usually just a Formica like laminate with wood underneath, so it's easy to drill the hole. I do recommend using a hole drilling kit (cheap at a tool store, around $8.95). It will have lots of other uses for various sizes.

Once the hole is drilled, put some plumbers putty or a thin bead of silicone caulk around the perimeter of the hole. Feed the threaded neck into the hole and reach inside the cabinet to thread on the washer and retaining nut. Tighten hand tight only! It's usually just plastic and could break. The rubber washer will stop it from unscrewing while underway. Now just screw on the bottle underneath, fill with liquid soap and replace the pump assembly into the neck. Pump a few times to prime and you are done!

This is way simple and will work great. No more cleaning up the lav sink from bar soap residue or worse, looking for soap you left on the lav sink that flew halfway across the RV because you forgot to put it away before leaving. (Don't ask!)

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

What To Do In The RV When It Rains....And Rains...And Rains!

Pretty Dismal Out.
    It's been raining here in the Northeast for Days now. It's warmer than usual 60-70 degrees in February. Quite unusual. Hmmm.. Didn't Al Gore invent this thing called Global Warming? Never mind. It's really tough to find something to do outside when it's raining. Obviously, the typical maintenance tasks on the exterior, engine bay, storage compartments, house battery(ies) and the like will have to wait until nicer weather. Yes, there are MANY places that can be worked on and tidied up inside, but what if you really don't feel like doing any of that? How about just relaxing on the couch, watching out the windows and listening to the rain on the roof? Perhaps add a warm (or cold) beverage? Isn't this idea of shelter and comfort one of the main reasons we own RVs?

I'm well equipped for bad weather. I can amuse myself inside for hours and hours. First off, if there is internet access, I have the entire world to tour via the Web. Lots to read and investigate. Many of my projects begin just like that, with an idle tour online. What if there is no internet access? Well, you still have a about a game or some writing, maybe you have a movie stored on it? No? Well, what about a digital media device and USB hard drive or thumb drive? I know I have hundreds of hours of content ( maybe over a thousand now since I've been digitizing my DVD collection) that I can watch and enjoy.

Used With Or Without Amp Grabbing Heater.
I even have a warm and cozy fireplace I can place on my dashboard and really feel at home. Typically, I travel alone. When I don't and plans get rained out, there is always the extendable table and a deck of cards. I know, that won't use up that many hours, but usually the conversation in a comfortable atmosphere will!

Next up, cooking! When you are faced with a bunch of time and are stuck inside, why not try out some more complex recipes? Most of the cooking I do in the RV is of the one pan/skillet variety. Still quite tasty and "gourmet" but when I have some extra time, you can put all 4 burners to good use. if you have shore power or are going to run the generator, (and don't have a propane oven!) my convection microwave can make an excellent roast! Add some side dishes and some dessert and Voila! -- you have a feast.

Any and all of those ideas are great when watching the rain fall outside, all warm, dry and cozy inside. If it's a major storm, all the better! I know, I've been there!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Not-So-Useful Pancake Flipper.

Comfortable, Even In Winter
    As many of you already know, I have been on a low-carb pancake kick for a while now. I can't help it, I like pancakes, they freeze well and with the discovery of Carbquik (a substitute for Bisquick or other pancake/dough mixes) I can finally have a few in the morning without feeling too much guilt! One of the things I don't like about making pancakes is the individual "flip" while cooking them. You know, wait for the bubbles on top and slightly brown edge and flip over. The top is still wet and the flip needs to be precise, especially in a small pan. Over and over. There has to be a better way and I believed I had found one. Well, not so much.

See The Small "Lips" To Hold In The Batter
With the amazing rising pancake recipe I had found a ring shaped mold allowed them to rise to even greater heights. Pretty amazing, but carrying around old bottom-cut-out tuna cans or ring-shaped molds wasn't practical so I went looking for something better. After some online research I stumbled across a silicone pancake mold designed to be placed in the bottom of a skillet that had handles to allow for easy flipping of 7 pancakes at once. Add this to the fact they were about the correct serving size and the edges came up high enough to "corral" the rising pancakes. And it was "squishable" silicone so storage wouldn't be a problem. Sounded like a win. Again, not so much.

Even In A Flat Griddle I Got Leaks
The idea was simple, put the round silicone device at the bottom of a non-stick skillet and add batter to each mold hole. First issue, the handles that overhang the pan prevented the mold from sitting flat against the bottom of the pan. To fix that I used a square, thin-lipped griddle pan, but even this had leakage issues. The batter flowed out from underneath the mold and I had seven pancakes on top and one gigantic one on the bottom. What a mess. I hate wasting food, especially when I want to eat it in the first place!

Next I attempted to flip the contraption over, figuring I could separate the pancakes from the now top. I gently tried to lift the silicone mold and saw immediately that more of the uncooked batter  was leaking into the pan and a flip was just going to make a mess. Perhaps I didn't let it cook long enough (at 350 degrees) so I waited a bit longer. Nope, raw insides, overcooked bottom. Finally, I just gave up. Nothing was going to make the small, round and beautiful pancakes of my imagination. At least the leftovers would taste good. Well, after they were cooked through, by themselves, on the griddle.

Most of the time I find stuff that actually works. Often to my complete surprise and delight. Not always. Thankfully more often than not. This was not one of those times. You are welcome to try your hand at this silicone mold. If you figure it out, let me know.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Even The Simple Things - How To Freeze Stuff AND Have Them NOT Stick Together

Convection Microwave Below 4 Burner Stovetop
    Sometimes I like to prepare food before a long RV trip and freeze it. Often, I don't feel like cooking an entire meal and the frozen food reheats easily using microwaves, boiling water, or even on the stove, if you freeze it all in separate zip top bags and reheat them individually. I find that a bit wasteful. There is a better way. If you freeze items correctly, they won't stick together and can be tossed in a large bag and individual servings removed and reheated at your leisure. Want a little? Take a little. Want a lot? Take a lot. The trick is in the freezing technique.

Use A Plate That Fits In Your Freezer Flat!
Recently, I wrote about fantastic pancakes that rise to great heights. Pancakes are a lot of clean-up for an RV galley. Especially my tiny one. Also, cleanup uses a lot of water so I rarely make them onboard. That being said, they can be frozen and reheated easily and taste just as good when you do. If you freeze them correctly the first time, it's easy to take a few out to reheat. So, how do you do it? Easy, make the pancakes as you always do. Let them cool (I usually have a few and make extra to freeze later on.) Once cool, spread them out in a single layer on a plate or cookie sheet or whatever you have that will fit in the freezer and stay horizontal and flat while they freeze. Put them in the freezer until frozen solid. THEN take them off and place them in a zip top bag or bags and put back in the freezer.

They will not stick together and you can take out a few to reheat whenever you like. This doesn't only work on pancakes. Pretty much anything that you can freeze, but you want to be able to use separately can be frozen using this technique. I have done; strawberries, chicken parmigiana, chunks of beef roast and anything else I can think of! You can take out a single serving or enough for everyone. Reseal the bag and pop it back in the freezer. Having a freezer at all is one of the greatest things about having an RV in the first place!

To be honest, sometimes you just feel a bit lazy. I travel alone most of the time, so it's nice to come back to the RV and have the ability to create a quick meal when you're just not in the mood to cook anything. It can be quite a relief.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Do You Like Pancakes? - How Would You Like Them To Rise To New Insane Heights?

Have Skillet, Will Travel!
    Ever since I've been on this low-carb (NOT Atkins!) diet (lost 38 lbs and keeping it off, thank you!) I have been craving various high carb foods I love. One of the top contenders was pancakes. I miss having them in the RV for breakfast with some freshly acquired and made light maple syrup. Someone I know suggested a great low-carb substitute for pancake mix. It's called Carbquik, but that's another story. (Which I WILL write, I promise!) Pancakes are great, but what if you could get them to be the height of a souffle? Let's say a 6-inch diameter one would be around 4 or more inches tall. All fluffy inside. Would that interest you. It interested me! How do you get them to do it. Read on...

This is going to sound absolutely nuts, but you want to reach ultimate pancake heights? Add mayonnaise. Yes, that's right. I said, "mayonnaise!" Crazy right? Two tablespoons per 1 cup of pancake mix (or fresh ingredients) will make them rise to astonishing heights. I didn't believe it. So, I did what I always do, I tried it out. I mixed up a small batch, 1 cup of the mix and added 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise. Once lightly mixed in, you could see the difference in the batter. It was smoother and lighter looking. I ladled it out on a skillet heated to around 350 degrees. Oh MY! They immediately began to rise and expand. However, they were only about 2.5 times the height of the regular version, but did expand from a 4-inch to an 8-inch one. Hmm... Not like the pictures at all.

Eureka! I figured if I constrained the batter somehow, it would rise higher and not wider. So, I took an old tuna can and cut out the bottom to make a ring. (You can buy molds like this online, but tuna cans are cheaper!) Spray some non-stick around the inside of the ring and place at the bottom of the skillet to heat for a minute (about 350 degrees) or so. Fill with about 1/2 inch of batter. You may get some spillage out of the bottom if you fill it too fast. Don't rush! Let it cook until the top bubbles a bit then flip the whole contraption over and cook until golden brown and delicious. Remember the ring will be HOT, be careful when flipping. I know... It hurts. Amazing!

Almost Looks Like Cheesecake!
I decided if small was good, bigger would be better. I took a small saucepan and sprayed it with non-stick and filled it 1/3 full with batter. This time I used a cover. Same deal -- let it cook until bubbles form, then flip over and finish the other side. Now you have a pancake that's more like a cake. You can take wedge slices out of it and serve. Next time I will be putting blueberries in it ... I bet chocolate chips would be good too!

You'd think the vinegar in the mayonnaise would make for weird tasting pancakes, but it all evaporates when cooked. Besides, what's mayonnaise anyway? Eggs and oil in an emulsion. So, scientifically speaking, this extra rise makes perfect sense. Emotionally...mayonnaise... in pancakes??

Sometimes, recipes with simple tiny changes will surprise you. This one is way cool and will surprise your friends. Try it, you'll like it!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Ditch The DVD Player? - Is It Time Yet?

Know The Movie?
    I watch movies while boondocking. I like to. Especially when it's raining and miserable outside. I brew up a pot of coffee, or something cold if it's hot out, and kick back to watch a film. Or, to be honest, sometimes I just watch a few episodes of a favorite old TV series. Way back in the beginning I used VHS tapes. Bulky, not so great picture quality, but they worked. Then I installed a DVD player and "repopulated" all my favorite movies and TV series with their DVD versions. They took up much less space, still had cool cover art and looked pretty decent onscreen. When I upgraded my system to include Digital Media Playing from a USB "thumb" drive or an external USB portable hard drive I thought about ditching the DVD player and offloading all the DVDs. But I haven't done that yet. Why not?

Well, the main reason is I have a lot of DVDs! I have the ability at home to convert them to digital files and store them on digital media for playback, but it takes a long time per DVD and, to get it just right, a lot of tweaking of the settings. Much of the newest content coming out of Hollywood these days is already available digitally. And then there's streaming. With a good internet connection, you can stream the videos without even having them on board at all! Since internet connectivity on the road is so spotty, this is realistically a campground or WiFi available only option. This winter I have already converted 20 DVDs to digital versions. I have a small USB powered Hard drive that I have been storing them on. It has 2 Terabytes(!) of storage. Each hour of video takes up about 600Mb of space, so 2Tb=2000Gb and each Gb is worth 1024 Megabytes. That's a LOT of hours!

A Full Entertainment Cabinet
But I still like the DVDs. They exist in the real world, the artwork, the notes on the sleeve...all a nice addition to the pleasures of watching something on a rainy day. Eventually, I will have converted all the DVDs I carry and I'm reasonably sure my practical side will take over and say, "look, you can reclaim an entire overhead storage cabinet filled with DVDs AND half of a forward overhead that has the DVD player in it." It's kind of a no brainer. But I'll hate to see them go nonetheless. The question then becomes, what goes in that space. And THAT is one I rarely get to ask!

Who knows what the next iteration of content will bring? Memory cards? Movies on chips? Little glass cubes? Holographic storage on mylar? Who knows. I know that it all started with 8-tracks back in my car, and then cassettes, then CDs, now digital files on a USB drive (or phone.) Time marches on. Progress? Maybe. Then again, maybe not.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"