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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Even The Simple Things - Cutting Grease And Oil While Clening Your RV...Or YOU!

Clean-up Time
     As I have said, MANY times in the past, I hate cleaning. Of course, everything I LIKE doing usually ends in a clean-up. Cooking, Working on My RV's mechanical bits, modifying my RV's house systems...well you get the idea. Pretty much anything fun is going to require some kind of cleanup afterwards. (If it's fun, it's probably illegal, immoral or, at the very least, fattening!) I have tried many cleaners for all sorts of jobs. Some work great on one thing but not another. Some will damage certain surfaces, some are just hard to use. Whenever I get my hands dirty I always end up going back to the basics. Dawn dish washing liquid. I's a "name" brand, but when I can buy small containers at a dollar store for...umm.. a dollar, that's OK. This stuff cuts through grease and oil, better than anything else I have tried that doesn't strip paint and irritate skin as well.

Now I am not going to wax poetic about the product, it works, 'nuff said. But I am always astounded by how many things I can use it on. Need to wash your RV? Get all the waxy buildup off? Mix some into your wash pail. Just remember to re-wax afterwards! Well, unless you use an acrylic floor finish instead, I do! Need to wash some dishes without filling up the sink? Put some in a spray bottle mixed with water. Spray the dishes, utensils, etc and then wipe and rinse. Works great, saves water! Now that's a bonus. How about greasy, engine grime soaked hands? use it straight up...add a tiny bit of water and scrub off the dissolving dirt. So many things can be many things cleaned. it's a true RV multi-tasker. (You're Soaking in it! For my older friends.)

Of course, it will NOT work on everything. You can only play with the concentration so much. It's a gentle cleanser after all. No abrasives in it at all. That's part of its charm. if I need abrasives I'll use a powdered cleanser. I did that a few times to get greasy engine dirt off my hands and while it worked, I definitely took some skin with it! Just about the only thing you can't use it for is drinking! Yes, that's a joke. It would be bad if you tried. If you feel you must wash out someones mouth with soap, might I suggest Ivory as an alternative!?  What else? Works great on RV plastics too!

Try it....I always have a couple of bottles around for whatever I need to clean. It works. So many things these days just...don't. Nice that some do.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

How To Build A Flying Ornithopter - A What??

    Yes, you read that correctly. An Ornithopter. It's a flying machine that flaps its wings to create lift and achieve flight. Rumor has it the first Ornithopters were put together in the 12th Century. However, the first real documented flight of a device that flew with the "flapping motion of a bird" was attributed to a bunch of French guys in the 1870s. The one I found is based upon a design from 1884. I stumbled upon it while shopping at a liquidator store. (Where else?) Turns out there are quite a few of these to be had at quite reasonable prices. When I purchased it, there was a doubt in my mind as to whether it would actually fly at all. After a bit of a tedious assembly process, I wound it up flew! Really, it did. It's the perfect rainy day RV time killer. And fun too.

The model I found is made by a company called, NPW. With a tiny bit of searching, they can be had for as little as 3.99 per kit. It includes the wooden pieces, plastic for the wings and tail, tape to attach everything together, the drive system and a tiny metal crank. It doesn't look like much before it's assembled, but, believe me, it goes together and looks cool when finished. I have to admit, getting the incredibly skinny tape lined up and stuck down to the wings and tail surfaces and the wooden pieces was a challenge. But it will all fit together properly with a bit of finagling! Once complete, wind it up just a bit and make sure it's solid and will flap its wings properly. I really enjoy things that fly. Heck, I even braved a snow and ice storm/blizzard to pick up a flying machine.

Ready To Fly!
Next step is to get it in the air. Depending on the size of your RV (and whether you have deep slides!) you may be able to try it out inside. It can be set up to do a couple of lazy circles about 6 feet around, or straight for about 15 feet. Well, that was the best I could do. I was just amazed that it flew at all! Very cool to watch it flap its wings to stay aloft. As a side note, I did see some of these online that were actually bird shaped, but I liked this one better. Made me feel like Leonardo DaVinci! The instructions said to wind the rubber band two knots over, but I couldn't get it to flap more than a couple of times until I wound it to the triple knot position. then it FLEW! Nicely!

If you find yourself stuck inside (and maybe have kids or grandkids with you), these small and easily storable kits may be just the ticket.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Easiest Way To Adjust Your Engine Belts!

    I have a slipping power steering belt. After replacing my power steering pump last year, we found that the only way to adjust the tension is to have two people underneath the RV. One with a REALLY long pry bar and the other with two wrenches to tighten the bolts. This is not ideal. Because of the positioning of the pulleys and exhaust pipes it is almost impossible to get the correct tension. That's why it squeals when under heavy load. This is really bad for the belt and pulley. It will wear prematurely and may snap at a most inopportune time! I went looking for a better, less muscle-intensive solution and managed to actually find one that works!

It's got the grand name of, "Belt Tension Jack," but really it's a simple piece of equipment that works very well on MANY sizes of belts and pulleys. It's made up of two slender, slightly curved pieces that will fit in (or on) the inside of the pulley's rim and a solid piece that goes to a hexagonal adjuster bolt. There are several different length extensions you can add or subtract to get the correct fit. The whole thing is made from chrome plated steel and is decently constructed. Not perfect, but serviceable. It can be found online for less than $20.00 and doesn't take up much storage space.

Typical Use
It's pretty easy to use. Loosen the bolts that allow the belt to be tensioned. Usually it's one in a slot and another just in a hole to lock it down. Just figure out the distance between the two pulleys you are trying to adjust the belt on, insert the correct adapter (or none for short distances) and place the curved ends into the pulley grooves. Hand tighten till it stays put. Then get a 1/2" wrench and begin turning the adjuster until the belt is properly tightened. Make sure to get the factory tension specs as over-tightening is just as bad as under-tightening. Over-tightening could cause damage to the bearings in the pulleys or the device it's driving, like a power steering pump or alternator. Once tensioned, simply tighten the bolts on the adjuster and loosen the tension jack to remove. Done.

It's really easy to use and makes it a snap to make sure you have correctly tensioned belts. MUCH easier to put a belt on this way when you are having a roadside emergency due to a broken belt! Believe me, I know!

Be Seeing You...Down the Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Cleaning Narrow Necked Containers Easily - Great For Thermal Coffee Carafes!

    As everyone already knows...I like my coffee. Especially in the morning. When not traveling, I use a large thermal carafe (pot) so it's stays hot over a long period of time. The problem is, it has a small neck and is very difficult to clean. I've tried many brushes and sponge attachments, but they just didn't have the strength to really clean out the bottom of the pot. And everyone knows, one of the secrets to great coffee is a clean pot! I was browsing around the other day in a large housewares shop and came across a hybrid sponge/bristle brush that had the right idea. So I bought it. Did it work? Read on!

First off, it's built quite well. It has a large-ish handle for a good grip and stiff bristles. At the bottom is a "sea anemone" shaped sponge doo-hicky. Is that the correct term, doo-hicky? Anyway, it would fit down the tight opening and appeared to be able to take a fair amount of scrubbing force. If you press down vertically, the sponges are compressed enough that the bristles clean the residue off the bottom quite nicely. A good swirl while inside, with hot water and soap of course, will make short work of anything left inside. I haven't seen the inside of my aluminum carafe look this good since it was new! And all for only $3.99.

Once done, it simply rinses off under hot water, though you could put it in the dishwasher as well. So, how about having on on board the RV? I do have some small necked containers that would be a breeze to clean in my galley, so that's a plus. It also works nicely on tall glasses that you cannot get your hand deep enough to really clean the bottom. You could replace one of your other sink tools with this because it will do pretty much everything a regular brush will. The bristles are nylon and the "stem" is a solid but flexible plastic. No metal to rust in your sink. I leave my tools on one side of the double sink with the cover on when traveling, so that's a bonus.

As always it comes down to space available and personal preference. I absolutely will keep one at home, but the jury is still out about bringing one along. I suppose, after a trip I could always bring stuff home to clean...and everyone knows I hate cleaning!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A Portable, Size Adjustable Bag Dispenser - With Bags!

A Clean Galley Is A Happy Galley!
    Onboard my RV I use a lot of plastic bags. Most of the time I end up with lots of those cheap shopping bags from large chain stores. They are OK, but not all that durable. Many times I wished I had a better quality bag in a bunch of sizes that could be used where a small garbage bag would be overkill. I stumbled across this nifty gadget. It's a self-contained dispenser that allows you choose the length of your bag and then simply cut it to fit. Seemed like a pretty good idea and might fit the bill nicely in my case. So I bought one. At only 5.00 for the loaded dispenser and one refill it was worth the experiment.

Each bag refill has 32.5 feet (10 M) worth of bag material. They open out to 2 Feet around. So not all that big, but great for small uses. How many bags you can get out of a roll of bag material is really based on the size (length) of bags you make. Did I mention that the name is really cute? "Knot-A-Bag" Get it? It's NOT a bag until you tie a knot at one end. To use it, you simply flip the cap open (it's attached so you don't lose it) pull out the amount of bag material you want, cut it using the attached to the dispenser lip cutting blade, tie a knot in one end and use. Sounds like MUCH more work than it actually is!

Note The Small, Angled Razor Cutter
Refills are available after the one that is included, but I found that just buying another set is actually cheaper. Refilling the dispenser is pretty easy. Unscrew the cap, drop in the refill, pull the loose end through the cap and screw it back on. Ready for use. So what's it good for? The bags aren't huge, but for leftover food, wet bathing suits, long skinny objects like wet umbrellas, pet waste, you see where this is going...if you can fit it in the width of the bag it works great. I wish they would make several versions in different widths. That would be great. The whole device is about the size of a larger pill bottle and has a plastic hook on the back side. Looks like it was designed to be used with a strap or clipped on to your belt. Mine clipped on nicely to my back-of-seat pocket, so it's out of the way.

I have been using it to toss out nasty stuff, like hair from the drains or squashed bugs in paper towels/tissues. It's nice to have a bag handy that isn't wasteful, like throwing out a larger bag just to get something out of the RV. Fish entrails? Smelly food garbage from dinner. You could use it to extend your regular garbage storage by only putting dry items in that one and wet/nasty ones in a smaller bag. After tying they do seem pretty water and air tight. Of course, you can double knot if you like and be sure to pull the knot snug. You can use a twist tie on the top, but I've just been tying another knot. I'm getting pretty good at it by now. Very little wasted bag material on both knots.

I will try this out for the RV trip season and see what develops.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Get Rid Of Some Wires! - Bluetooth Speakers For Your Video Needs

My Pico Projector
    A while back I wrote an article about some rechargeable speakers I had purchased. They sounded GREAT when coupled with my pico projection system and screen. The only issue was I had to run a wire from the speakers to the projector's audio output. Not really a big deal, but it's another wire that I have cluttering up the place. Bluetooth speakers are all over the place now and finding one that would support more than just stereo AND be rechargeable was my new goal. Better, Stronger, Faster...I bet a bunch of you are hearing the theme from THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN in your heads right about now. Hopefully this speaker will cost less than that!

Chialstar (Weird Name, But Great Speaker!)
I began, as I always do, by doing lots of online research. I look at the major sites (Amazon, Newegg, E-bay, Walmart, etc, etc) not only for the products themselves, but the number sold and positive reviews. After all, if three people tell you you're drunk, lie down! Lots of negative reviews never bodes well when you are talking about cheap electronics. Lots of (real) positive reviews speaks volumes. I wanted one that would fit in front of my cabinet, under the table I place the projection screen on, so it couldn't be as large as a full length (37inch) sound bar but still had to sound great. The old one I have is only 10 watts. Fine for casual use, but really needed more punch for epic space battles and action films. Double that would probably work fine and would still give me enough built-in battery time to watch more than one movie without having to plug it into my house batteries. Besides, I could take the whole entertainment system outside if I wanted to!

Included Accessories
After a lot of research I found a few that would work, but after even more research the best ones were over 100.00, a bit rich for me. I only use it once in a while to be honest and that's just too much. Back online to keep looking. After a while I was getting a bit discouraged, but then, I finally found the perfect one! It's a CHIALSTAR 21 inch sound bar with a passive subwoofer. It has a 5000mAh battery and will run about 8-10 hours at full volume. That's actually way too loud in my RV, so I'm at about 75% for watching movies. It will probably last longer. It charges with a mini USB port so lots of your existing chargers will work, especially if you have 12V cigarette light outlet to USB adapters. Not only can you use it for movies, but since it has a microphone, if you pair it with your cell phone or smart device, you can talk to it and answer calls as well! It's got a MicroSD card slot for playing music as well (MP3's) so that's a bonus. It comes with a wireless remote and a storage bag as well as sets of RCA jack cables and a USB cable for charging. All for 66.99.

With more than twice the power of my old one 24W max, it does an excellent job in my small RV. I sit about 5 feet away from the sound bar, but it's below my line of sight pointing slightly upwards so the extra power makes a BIG difference. Now you can have Movie Night, on the road!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Reclaim Your Storage Space! - Vacuum Storage Bags

    A few weeks ago I wrote an article about using a vacuum sealer in your RV. While it definitely has its uses, the size of the bags in width is limited. Vacuum sealing works really well on items with lots of air in them. I figured what about stuff like pillows, blankets and quilts? Currently, I jam them into whatever storage will fit them, but if they were vacuum sealed the size would be MUCH smaller. After some research, it turns out I didn't have a "million dollar idea" -- there are lots of choices for that kind of thing. So, I ordered a few different sizes and waited until they arrived. Do they work? Is it worth the extra hassle?? Read on!

SmartDesign Magic Bag
Once they arrived, I opened the package and took a look. Simple, large, thick plastic bags with a wide "zip-lock" opening and a large 2" diameter vacuum port. You fold up what you want, slide it into the bag, zip the end closed and suck out all the air with your home vacuum hose using the port. That's it. It's like magic watching a large comforter/quilt go from its regular folded size to essentially flat! From around 18" high to 3" high. Wow! I can now store them in the bottom drawers in my RV's under-bed storage or even upright in the closet -- they get pretty rigid without air in the mix.

Since they are air- and water-tight, you could put them in basement storage without fear of getting them wet or mildew/mold smelling. The trick is in the one-way valve that allows air out but not back in when a vacuum is applied to it. They are NOT all created equal. The ones WITHOUT the snap-open cover work far better and maintain the compression for a LONG time. Look at the SmartDesign Magicbag line for an example.

Simple To Use!
They aren't all that expensive. I got a 4-piece variety pack with 2 MEDIUM, 1 LARGE, and 1 JUMBO bag for only $9.97. Though if you want REALLY large ones it's more expensive (36"x48" 4 for $19.88). Since they are reusable it's not all that terrible, pricing-wise.

I tested these with several home, shop-vac and canister style vacuum cleaners. Pretty much anything with a hose will work. I was surprised (and happy) that my 12 Volt shop-vac would do so great a job with them. That means I can pack (and repack) items on the road! Fantastic. I am going to be looking for other items that will compress, that aren't used all the time, to increase my available storage. Should be fun to see how much space I can reclaim.

I will definitely have all the sizes on board this season. Who knows what I can use them for! Hmmm...bulky sweaters and the like come to mind right away. I mean you (hopefully) won't need them in the Summer! As a bonus, without air, they stay really fresh. I've even seen folks put a dryer sheet in the bag before it's vacuumed out. Good idea!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

2019 REVISED (w/Links!) - How to Go From Winter's Slumber to Spring's Re-Awakening And Perform A Yearly Safety Check.

I had a few nicer days last week, so I have been slowly beginning my Spring Re-awakening started. It'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  (or Get a Fabric Hangar Building!)
Remove Cover (Did the building hold up this winter?)
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 Fire Extinguisher(s) for Expiration and Fill Level
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 on Gauges
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 Off Inverter
Switch to Shore Power
Check All 120V Outlets for Ground/Polarity

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 off 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 20, 2019

Does A Vacuum Sealer Do Anything Worthwhile On An RV?

    I store a lot of items on board my RV. I always wish I had more space for lots of things. I also like to prepare gourmet (semi!) meals in my galley and have to keep lots of ingredients handy. When preparing my RV for my yearly Spring awakening (Next week!! Stay tuned for the newest list!)  I noticed some stuff I just keep in there year to year, were going bad. Like the garlic powder that was more like a garlic brick! Years ago, I had purchased a vacuum sealer and bags to be able to store meats in the freezer for longer time periods without the dreaded "freezer burn." That worked pretty well. I also used it to package first aid supplies and items that couldn't get wet for storing in the trunks of my vehicles. That worked pretty nicely. I also prepackaged some snacks for emergency use. You know, like trail-mix , beef jerky or something similar. What about actually taking one along onboard your RV? Is there a reason to do it? What about energy usage? Read on!

A Typical Model Vacuum Sealer
It's a pretty decent question. There are quite a few uses for vacuum sealers. Mostly food related, but there are a few other things I had already done. First aid kits are a great example. Keeps stuff fresh and dry. I've put film in vacuum sealed bags too...but who uses film anymore? The actual vacuum sealer device is both a generator of vacuum as well as a bag sealer. It sucks the air out of the bag or container (more on that later) and then heat seals the open end. It's pretty easy to do. The bag material comes in a few widths and long lengths so you can vary the length of the bag by heat sealing one end, rolling out the length of bag you want then cutting it. You now have a bag. Fill it with stuff and then put it in the sealer, open side in. Hit the button and it pulls the air out and then seals the bag. Done.

Bags of Any Length
I was toying with the idea of pre-preparing meal items like say, a chicken stew. Then vacuum sealing it in bags and freezing. That way, they take up way less space, last a long time and can be reheated either in the microwave or, if you want to save battery power or generator use, on the stove in a pot of boiling water. Lots of meals could be done this way. Snacks too! I mean, you can always figure out a way to boil water, right? I can even do it with 12 Volts DC. Yes, it takes a while, but works fine. OK, maybe you don't like the food idea. Anything that gets ruined when too much moisture gets in is a likely candidate. Flour? Sugar? How about vacuum sealing important papers? Water and paper don't mix! This way, you don't let them. They even make plastic containers (like Tupperware) that have a vacuum valve built in. You could take these along after they were sealed. Then re-use after.

Some Of The Variety Of Containers
If you don't want to mess around with the bag making, there are MANY sizes of containers with vacuum valves on the lids. There is even an adapter to use regular sized Mason jars. To use these, you just plug in the clear hose to the sealer's vacuum port (mine's on top) and the other end to the container and press the sealing" button. Once it's finished, it stops. Pretty simple really. I'm not sure I would use glass Mason jars very often (if at all,) but it's an option. The containers are pretty easy to use and the variety of sizes means you can usually find one to fit. They can also be used to quickly marinate meats. Put in your meat of choice, add the liquid marinade, vacuum the container and let sit...longer the better (up to overnight in the fridge). Great idea if you know what you'll want to eat during a trip. You can pre-do the marination beforehand. Amazing flavor!

So what about using the vacuum sealer on board? It uses a pretty good amount of power. Around 110 Watts at 120V so about 9.167 Amps at 12 Volts (maybe another 15% if using an inverter). Not terrible, but significant. Plus, you have to find space for the device to live. My opinion? Leave it at home and take the packages with you. As always, Y.M.M.V. (Your Mileage May Vary!)

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Can You Put A WiFi Camera In Your RV And Look Inside While You're Out? YES!

    When I am traveling, I like to feel that my RV is secure when I am out. Some folks install alarm systems, but typically they go off and no one does anything about it. Sure, you could get one that calls your cell phone and you could return in a hurry or call 911, but that usually ends in a "barn door closed after the horse has already left" result. What if you could SEE what was going on in real time and had a recording of the perpetrators to give to the police? Or, simply see that nothing is going on at all? What about monitoring your RV in storage for the off-season? Well, you can. There are a few glitches, but nothing insurmountable. Read on!

Notice The USB Power Supply
The cost of WiFi cameras has been steadily dropping for a long time now. A model with Remote controlled Pan, Tilt, and Zoom (PTZ) can be had for $21.00 or so. They are pretty easy to set up and can run on your cell phone's data connection or a hotspot. If you set it up to only use your data when it "sees" something, you won't waste too much data at all. You'll be able to connect to it remotely and look at what's going on inside your RV. If you place it in the right place, you'll be able to see out the windows as well. Remember the PTZ will allow you to MOVE the camera's view around at will. There is no reason why you couldn't have more than one camera on this connection. They do not require much power at all, so that's not of major concern. You could even run them wired into your RV's 12V system. Some of the cameras even take 12V input via USB. But, to be sure, check the AC adapters voltage output...some are much lower!
Old Mobile Router And Dongle
Now, the issues to setting this up. First, you need to have an internet connection that is always on. Not much bandwidth nor data will be flowing when nothing is happening, but you need to be able to reach the cameras via the internet. If you have a cell phone, you could use it as a hotspot, but obviously you wouldn't be able to take it with you. So then you wouldn't be able to check the cameras! Catch-22! A second cell phone or stand-alone hotspot from a provider would work, but would likely cost extra each month (maybe even plus data). If you have two people with cell phones, one can leave the phone while the other takes over the monitoring portion. Of course, if you are in a location with WiFi already, you could set up a small (and cheap!) Mobile router to connect each time. Then you are all set.

I've got a few spare cameras that I purchased for home use, and have set up one in the RV. Since it's parked inside the fabric hangar and there is WiFi right inside the house, I have 24/7 access for storage. I can also see inside the fabric building through the windows when I Pan the camera around. Works really nicely! I've tried it through my cell phone hotspot and it's fine. If 720P movies will stream through it (They do!) this was a piece of cake. The cameras have SD Card slots, so they record internally AND when set up to be triggered by motion, you can have the cell phone application open automatically and record the video as well. Some of the cameras even include Audio! A permanent record of what happened to trigger it. Of course, it may have just have been a critter...but why take the chance?!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Clothes Pins - Not Just For Clothes Any More!

Wishful Thinking!
    Have you ever noticed that sometimes the most mundane items take on an almost mythical reverence? Like Duck Tape for instance. While I am not saying clothes pins should be raised to that level, I am saying there are far more uses for them than just hanging clothes on a line to dry. Who even DOES that anymore? I even have a drying rack that attaches to my roof ladder to dry clothes. No pins needed. So what's so good about them? Well, first off, they are really inexpensive. No, let's say it like it is. They are CHEAP. 36 of them for 1 dollar! Yes, but what can you DO with them? Read on!

Cheap And Effective!
It all started when the plastic snack bag clip broke. You've seen them, a 6-inch or so plastic clip with a metal spring designed to keep bags of snacks closed and (allegedly) fresh. It's pretty flimsy plastic, not to mention awkward to use. They break on me all the time. Probably why they come in sets of three. To add insult to injury, they don't fit in my silverware drawer. Terrible, I know. Well, when the last one broke, I decided to try something different. Yup, you guessed it, the lowly wooden clothes pin. I had a bunch at home and figured they would be useful for other things too so I had brought a few with me. Turns out, if you fold the bag down one corner at a time, then straight, it makes a perfect seal that a clothes pin will maintain. The bag is smaller and easier to store AND it won't open. Seems to be more airtight as well. Though I usually don't have a bag of snacks last long enough to know for sure.

Crossover And Fold Down, Then Clip
What else can you use them for? Well I use them for adding "gels" to lights, you know the colored transparent plastic that allows you to change light colors. Same goes for diffusion paper. Lots of other photographic uses too...Once in a while I still develop my own photos, you couldn't hang the prints to dry without the good old clothes pin. Holding things down or at an edge comes to mind. Like a table cloth on a thin table (like the one I have you can roll up to store). It works perfectly to keep those cheap plastic tablecloths on the table! How about holding your nose to prevent a bad smell from getting in? I'm kidding! But felt it needed to be in here as I've seen it so many times in cartoons! How about adding a tiny Velcro strip to one side of a few of them and using them to hang small bags of spices (or whatever) to your wall or even the ceiling. Sounds a bit crazy, but my ceiling and walls are carpeted.

You can come up with lots of other uses...just try, imagination is king. Come on, send me a few!

Be Seeing You... Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

How To Store Stick Butter Or Margarine - Is Tub Better?

    I haven't used butter in a while, been content with using tubs of margarine (some brands are WAY better than others in terms of flavor!). When traveling in an RV, it's easier to store opened butter or margarine that is in a tub with a snap on lid. That's pretty obvious. What if you like stick style? Sure, it's fine until you unwrap the stick, even partially. Then you have to find a place to store it in the fridge that won't fall and "dent" your stick. That being said, there are some distinct advantages for stick style butter or margarine. As long as you can figure out how to keep it in good shape without air getting to it and discoloring the surface after use. Take a look at what I found.

The Solution!
I like the way sticks look on the table at a meal. Whether it's breakfast, lunch or dinner,  there is something about a stick of butter on a dish that makes it feel, well, fancier somehow. Easy to do. Unwrap the stick, place it on a butter dish and place on the table. What could be easier than that? So, why not? Well, what do you do with the unused portion after the meal? No, even I don't use a whole stick at one sitting! You could attempt to put it back in the wrapper...but that usually doesn't work well and isn't really air-tight anyway. If you leave it on the butter dish and put it back in the fridge it will begin to turn a particularly ugly shade of yellow. That's because the surface is reacting with the oxygen in the air and changing the properties (Oxidation). What about a butter dish that seals tight to prevent this AND keeping the butter from getting all dented up in the fridge while you are underway? There are LOTS of these containers around, but I like to get a bit more for my buck so I chose this one. It's got an additional benefit as well.

A Simple Solution
While tub style is great, it's a pain to measure out tablespoons (or larger measures.) You have to find a measuring spoon (not hard) and then once it's measured, figure out how to get it OUT of the spoon and into your recipe. Of course, it also adds to "things that must be washed." Getting butter or margarine off of kitchen utensils without using an excess of water AND keeping the oily residue out of the grey tank is tough! Everyone KNOWS I hate cleaning. Stick butter, on the other hand, has a handy tablespoon scale printed on the wrapper and a simple cut will give you exactly what you need for your recipe. That's all well and good, but what if you have already used it on the table and the wrapper is gone?  Well, this one has measurements printed on the base and you can just pull it open cut what you need and put it back. Simple and with very little fuss.

On a vacation, I prefer to keep the fussing to a minimum (cleaning too!). If I have the extra room in the fridge, I'll likely take this along with me. Looks good on pancakes! A little pat will do ya!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Oh Summer, Where Art Thou! - Planning For The Warm Weather.

No Snow...Not Yet...But Soon!
    I just heard the weather forecast. They are calling for MORE snow tomorrow, followed by freezing rain for the next day. And to add insult to injury, after the weekend 10 DAYS of snow. I like snow, it's pretty when it begins and the first white covering makes everything look beautiful. But, that's about it. From then on, I watch the accumulation and wonder when I will be pushing the snow off the fabric building and all the cars. I wonder when they will plow my driveway so I can get to work. I wonder how many accident scenes I will be visiting in the middle of the night. And then when it's all over and it's a gray, brown and black slushy mess, I wonder just how long until it's all gone. In between bouts of "wondering" I am also thinking about "wandering." Since I KNOW that it will end at some point (Well at least I hope it will!) I am planning out my first trips of the RV season. I can't help it, I'm still an optimist (mostly.)

At An Aviation Museum
Where to go and what to see this year? I'd REALLY like to go to the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio as I have heard they'd done an amazing renovation. It's only 10 hours away, so doable with only a few days off. Since I am a member of Harvest Hosts, I like to plan trips that go past their locations. Often I stay for a night there (and have a meal and buy some goodies!) on the way to someplace I wanted to see or experience. It sure beats Walmart parking lots and you get to see some cool secondary roads and towns. Of course, if I'm fighting time, interstates and Walmarts, Cracker Barrels and the like are fine for a quick overnight rest. So what else? Well, I have the annual Rotorway Fly-in/Gathering in Lake City, FL, but that's in October. There's a lot of time between the beginning of the season and October! There's always my first shakedown trip to Cabela's in Hamburg, PA. Close enough and way interesting!

A Special Place!
I'm always looking for short trips. Between 2 and 4 days with travel miles at or below 400 miles or so. This way I have 1/2 a day's travel at either end and plenty of time to relax upon arrival. If you all have any ideas, I'm always looking for destinations. Perhaps, one day, when I retire...I'll just be able to wander at will. Not yet. Not soon...but eventually! So for the time being, I like to keep the radius relatively local. I found a cool Skiing mountain that is closed in the summer (Obviously!) that allows RV's at the summit parking lot for overnights. It's got amazing views and is very comfortable. You can hike 100's of miles of trails from there. or mountain bike. or not! It's trips like this I seek out. I really ought to compile a more formal list on notecards or something and randomly pull one out when i get a few days strung together that I can use to travel.

I guess the only thing beneficial, from an RV standpoint, to snowstorms is the ability to dream about RV trips when it's NOT snowing! I have a really great imagination for trips.....

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Fabric Building - Mid Winter Report. How's It Holding Up?

RV Inside!
    Well, it's snowing here in the Northeast. Again. Not as much as in the past, but enough. A few months ago I completed assembling my fabric building to house my RV and helicopter. I was (and still am!) concerned about snow and ice loading on the roof. Since the company does not publish any snow load numbers, we are left to our own devices to figure out what is safe. So far, I haven't had any issues. However, since it was put together in the cold weather, it really never became taut enough. I believe that is why it's accumulating more snow and ice than it should. Hopefully, I can adjust it when the weather gets warmer. Will it hold up?

It's Snowing Outside Now!
When it snows, I have been going out when accumulation is around 3 inches and pushing the snow off from the inside. The distance between the roof supports is about 8 feet and you can see a a distinct bowing of the fabric between them when there is any snow or ice on the roof. It is pretty easy to take a pole broom and gently push up, first at the bottom by the walls then further toward the top, to get the snow sliding off the peaked roof. When it's icy like freezing rain or sleet, it does not slide off as easily. While doing this it became VERY obvious that the first two sections (front and back) were not tight enough compared with the center sections. I believe that is caused by putting it together in the cold. It didn't shrink any more after it was put together like it would have if assembled in hot weather and then exposed to the cold. Hopefully, I can tighten it up this spring or summer.

Beats This Method, Hands Down!
Regular rain has NOT been an issue at all. Even torrential, frog strangling rain has had little effect on the fabric or frame. However, I did find a pinhole where the cover was folded tightly in the box. I'll fix that with either a patch or some tool handle liquid rubber. Even though it will be an easy fix, there should NOT have been any holes in the cover at all. It is brand new from the factory after all. Other than that, it has been faring quite well. The zippers are easy to open, even in the coldest weather and close back down without undue strain. The frame has not shifted at all, so the tie-downs I "engineered" are working well. So far. We have experienced some pretty high wind loads recently and I did not reach OZ.

For the price, I am quite pleased, with the notable exceptions during assembly phases 1 and 2, and maybe 3 as well!,  a few parts issues and a terrible, out of date manual. If I purchased one now, I would do many things differently. It would have been MUCH easier if we hadn't attempted to follow the steps in the manual. Even IKEA is better and that's knowing that my Swedish is non-existent!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

3D Printers Are COOL! - Make Parts And Accessories For Your RV And More!

Cannot Wait Until Spring!
    I finally broke down and bought a 3D printer. They have come down in price so much over the last few years it was really hard to resist. For only a few hundred dollars I now have a device that can print in various materials (more on that later) in 3 Dimensions! Yes, it makes Stuff rather than text on a page. Truly amazing. There is a bit of a learning curve. Heck, figuring out which one to buy in the first place took over a month of research! Worth it! I have already printed new cabinet and drawer latches to replace broken ones. Some knobs for electronics, a keychain and a Phaser. Yes, the last one was just for me. Yes, they are a bit fiddly, but with a bit of trial and error (much less than usual for me) and a little bit of patience you can be printing whatever you like in short order.

Anycubic I3 Mega 3D Printer
I remember the Star Trek: The Next Generation "Replicator". You walk up to it, say something like, "Tea, Earl Grey, Hot" and VOILA! You have a coaster and a mug filled with hot tea in a flash. Way cool! 3D printers are NOT like that, but it's a start. How do they work? Well most of them heat up filaments of plastic and squeeze them out through a nozzle. This nozzle is able to move and be controlled in three dimensions by a small computer running a few stepper motors. As the nozzle moves, more plastic is fed in to create an object layer by layer. These layers are THIN! -- 0.1 mm (give or take). The smaller the layer the more detailed the object. Each layer adheres to the one below and on and on until the object is finished. It takes a LONG time. My 4" long Phaser took about 5 HOURS to print. But it was amazing to come back and check on it once in a while to see the progress.

A Couple Of 1KG Spools Of Filament
The plastic itself comes in many colors (or just buy white and paint whatever color you like.) The standard is PLA (Polylactic Acid) which is mostly made from renewable materials like corn starch. It's the default material for most printers and does not require a heated bed -- that's the part material is deposited on. It's pretty strong and light and is fine for most projects.It does not like to be over stressed and will break. Especially if used on small parts.

Next up is ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene). This is a VERY common plastic and has been in use for decades. It's strong, lightweight and can handle a decent amount of stress. My Attex 6 Wheeler's body is made from it. It is UV resistant and works well outside. You can make gears and machine parts from it. I've seen screws and nuts used in various applications. It is a bit harder to work with and your 3D printer settings are critical to get a good output.

Nylon is next up. Incredibly tough and resilient, it is difficult to get good results, but if you can get past the trial and error phase, the parts and/or objects are REALLY tough wearing.

The Star Trek Phaser One
There are MANY "exotic" materials as well. TPE is flexible like soft rubber. You can make lots of stuff with this. It's a bit hard to feed properly, but works OK in my printer. Add to that, Ceramic, Metal, Wood, Carbon Fiber, Magnetic, Glow in the Dark, and even Conductive! There are so many materials you can use, the limit to what you can make is up to your imagination. I started with replacement parts and "trinkets." I am graduating to full on design and prototyping of products!

So what's the process to make something? Well, you first install some free 3D design software on your computer (Mac or PC) and create an object file. If you do not or can not draw, there are quite a few places online that you can choose and download from THOUSANDS of free files to print. I was/am amazed at what is available. This file is opened in the free Slicer software. I know, weird name, but it's what it does. It takes the object and cuts it in very thin "slices" of data that are then fed to the printer. Either directly via USB or indirectly by saving it to an SD card that you then insert into the printer. Most of what I have printed was downloaded. The Slicer software allows you to rotate, scale and perform various tweaks to the printing parameters.

These 3D printers are not for impatient people. I am not the greatest at waiting, but it is so cool that I wait patiently while it prints out my next...thing! Who knows, I may figure out a way to bring it along (it's attached to my laptop) and print out stuff on the road as a new source of income...hmmm. Maybe!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

More Low Carb "Cheats" - How To NOT Feel Like You Are Missing Out!

    Lately, I have been writing some articles about low-carb cooking, recipes and products. My goal is to replace the high carb versions of what I miss with low carb versions that still taste the same. That's the real trick. So many low carb versions of things just don't taste the same as their counterparts. You end up feeling like you are missing out on something. That leads (for me at least) to a nagging train of thought that keeps me thinking about what I am missing and trying to rationalize just having a small amount. It's a slippery slope for me! Next thing I know, I'm eating ice cream and pretzels (delicious by the way) out of a tub while watching TV. Let's explore a substitute for something I used to always take on RV trips. The simple and tasty granola bar.

Image result for nature valley protein barsTake a look at the calorie and carb counts for an average granola bar. Believe me, I was as shocked as you when I realized just how energy dense these things are. I don't care, I like them. They happen to be good as a snack with coffee, or on the run when you just need something to nibble on. For the last couple of years I have been reading granola bar labels and hoping for one that would be "guilt free." It's been a long wait, but new products have been rolling out over the last few months that fit the bill perfectly! The first one I came across in the supermarket was Nature Valley protein bars. They come in some pretty great varieties; Salted Caramel Nut,  Honey Peanut Almond, Coconut Almond and Peanut, Almond & Dark Chocolate. They really taste amazing and the texture is spot on. These are mid way between crispy and chewy bars.. Just the way I like them!

Image result for great value protein barsIf you are minding carbs, these are pretty low, especially if you subtract the dietary fiber (I do) 14 grams - 5 dietary fiber = 9 Total Carbs! (6 grams Sugars) I am eating around 65 grams a day to maintain my weight. Remember that's an average by the week, so I don't go crazy counting everything all the time. So these are a pretty guiltless snack. Be aware they do have 190 Calories as well. The main issue is price. They are around $5.68 for 10 or $3.89 for 5 bars. Not terrible, but significant. That being said, Walmart's brand, that just came out, is as good or perhaps a bit tastier than the originals and they are only $1.92 for 5. Right now there are only two varieties available, but they are good! Same nutritional values. I keep a few in the car and sometimes even one in my pocket for an afternoon snack.

You can avoid temptation and get to eat stuff you like without feeling guilty! It is possible. I'm proof. I'll keep finding substitutes and moving forward. In follow-up articles I will be writing about guilt-less pancakes, cookies, cakes, biscuits and yes...even pasta! Ice cream too!! Stay Tuned!

Rich "The Wanderman"