Thursday, November 29, 2012

Class Wars! - How To Narrow Your RV Choices

1991 Aero Cruiser RBa
    Everyone who has considered buying an RV of some sort has had to make a choice, often with great compromise. I'm included in that "everyone." When I first began my quest for the perfect RV I really didn't know all that much about them. Sure, I had rented several 40ft Diesel Pushers and gas powered RVs and had owned (briefly) a small travel trailer but past that I was woefully unprepared to face the the myriad choices out there.

It's a Class A

After some basic research into the various Classes of RV....A, B, C and Travel Trailer with info about the "in-between" B+ styles thrown in, I was more confused than when I started! Obviously, I had to make some choices about how I wanted to use the RV and what features were must haves versus wants. This wasn't as simple as it sounds (not that it sounds simple at all, mind you!) I really had to sit down and think about what was important to me and how and where I would be travelling.

After much rumination I finally had a short list, culled from the incredibly long one I started with.

Interior Forward View
  • Small and Low profile (Height) enough to go anywhere
  • Self propelled (this took out travel trailers)
  • Separate Shower and Toilet ("Dry Bath")
  • A fully equipped kitchen (galley) with decent counter space
  • Large comfortable bed
  • Good gas mileage
  • Easy to repair and source parts
  • Large enough tanks for a minimum of 7 Days boondocking use.
  • Ability to become self sufficient (Solar)

That being said, what would I be willing to compromise on? Obviously, if the RV itself were small, space would be at a premium.
Interior Aft View
  • Storage. More is better, but as long as I could fit what I wanted to take with me that would be OK.
  • Internal space. While it had to be comfortable  I could live with a smaller more efficient space.
  • Engine power. I could deal with a smaller engine if it wouldn't struggle with hills/passing.
  • Model year wasn't critical.
  • I could spend the time to find the right RV.
  • I could update systems as needed.
  • I could repair/replace some items depending on cost and availability.

The Bed
Once I had these basic decisions made I could begin researching the various types, manufacturers, styles and models. While still a HUGE list of possibles, I had managed to bring down the size to something approaching manageable. There is a saying, "Y.M.M.V." this stands for Your Mileage May Vary. What I was looking for may not be what YOU are looking for, but the basic decisions and process remain the same.  The internet is a great resource for research on everything, but the sheer volume of information can be quite overwhelming! Don't try and do everything the first day. Browse around...start with Class A's (or B's or C's) and try to get a feel for what you'd like to have.

Let's take a moment to talk about what those "Classes" actually mean. To most this is pretty obvious, but to new folks it can be confusing! Here's the scoop:  

a typical Class A RV starts with a pre-built chassis and driveline, adds in water/propane tanks, a generator, the exterior body and interior fittings (appliances, cabinets, etc.) Usually these are front engine when using gasoline engines and rear when using diesel (DP or Diesel Pusher) The body fully encloses the chassis, engine and cockpit. 

a typical Class B RV begins with a van chassis (or the whole van) and at least the front end of the host vehicle and builds on top from there. At the most simple it can be a raised roof on an existing factory van. On the higher end models it can be very much like a lightweight Class C. It has the same, albeit smaller, basics as it's Class C brethren but usually at a cost of smaller interior space, less tank capacity and smaller appliances.

a typical Class C RV starts with a large pickup truck or van chassis and adds the entire living area on top. Usually there is a bed above the "cab" of the truck and the rest of the layout overhangs the chassis from side to side and over the back. They are fully equipped with generators, tanks and all the comforts of home, just like a Class A, but can suffer from the limitations of the host vehicle's weight restrictions and are usually not as aerodynamic as a Class A. Since the host vehicle is carrying a lot of weight, often close to it's normal gross (max) weight, the handling can be a bit...well...ponderous.

Of course there are also travel trailers, these are designed to be towed by another vehicle and come in all shapes, sizes, configurations and costs. We'll talk about them in another article. Believe me, there are some REALLY cool ones if you want to tow your RV.

There are also versions that are in-between the main classes. They can be a bit bigger than their counterparts, i.e. a "B+" or have some variation on the way it's built. I have seen Class B RVs that the entire body is built by the manufacturer like a Class A...take a look at the Winnebago Via/Itasca Reyo from this year as an example. Many of these are built on the "Sprinter Chassis."

Overwhelmed yet?
 I was. If you are limiting yourself to new vehicles only, the choice is more about 
Be Happy With Your Choice!
floorplans and features...I wasn't, so I had a lot of years to go through. Luckily, I had stumbled upon a few RVs that fit my basic decisions within the first few months. The next step was to find out all I could about them. One, the Winnebago Rialta was perfect....or so I thought! It seems that the bathroom isn't a room at all, but an accordion folding wall Rube Goldberg contraption that just wasn't going to work for me.  The process of elimination really led me to my final choice. I went through Europas, Maucks, Mallards and all sorts of oddities before I found the Aero Cruiser.
All in all, it took me two years to finally find and buy my perfect RV. Yes, I know mine was a hard to find "orphan" so it should be a bit less time consuming for you! I'm quite happy with the decision and will likely enjoy tinkering with it for the foreseeable future. of course there is this Spectrum 2000 that Winnebago made in the late 80's that's pretty cool.....

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,
Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Taking Up Time & Space - Air & Space Museum - The OTHER One!

Parked Out Front Of the Outdoor Display

    Recently, a friend and I took a quick trip to a place I'd never even heard about, The Empire State Aerosciences Museum (ESAM) at Schenectady County Airport in the Town of Glenville, N.Y. Being a long time pilot, I was amazed to have never even heard of this place. Especially since it is at the site of the former General Electric flight test center. After a quick call to their office confirming that they were open we set off on Saturday morning from my base 90 miles North East of NYC or about 1.5 hours away. Arrived without any incidents at all! Likely a first for me.... We set up in a small "offshoot" parking lot in front of the outdoor aircraft display.

Electra Interior
Amelia Earhart Lockheed Electra 
The Museum itself spans two complete buildings and a very large section of the tarmac. They have some amazing displays inside including a full size Lockheed Electra as flown by Amelia Earhart. There are several interactive exhibits that you play with. Many of them are electrically powered aircraft you can "fly." I'm pretty far from being a kid these days, but they were a blast to mess with.

Hughes OH-6
Inside, are many old and newer aircraft; kits, military, civilian and antique. You can sit in most of them and there are no ropes preventing you from closely examining most of the exhibits. Being a helicopter pilot, I naturally liked the Hughes OH-6 chopper.

In the second museum building there is an entire exhibit showing several space missions with NASA memorabilia and a large interactive moonscape. In the second room there is a 20foot+ model of a World War II Japanese aircraft carrier. The detail level was/is AMAZING! Thery were showing "TORA! TORA! TORA!" on a video monitor to set the right "atmosphere."

Outside, their display is outstanding. There are aircraft from all over the world, from every branch of the armed services and many from other nations as well. Jets, Turboprops and Helicopters you can get up close and personal with. There were quite a few families there and the kids appeared to be having a great time. There's even a Mig 15 (Ex-Soviet era Chinese version) that kids can sit in and wear a fighter jock helmet for a great photo-op.

Mere words cannot do justice to the myriad of sights at this "off the beaten path" destination. Here are some photos to give you an idea of what I mean! Be aware that the formatting of this article will get all funky when it's published. Sadly, I have no real control as to the layout that you'll see. But hey, the pictures are neat!
Mig 15

So many things to see, we had to stay overnight to get a close look at everything.

I highly recommend this as a stop on any trip through the area. The folks are incredibly nice and the museum is interesting and informative.

If you enjoy aircraft served with a bit of history. You can't go wrong here.

Besides, it's pretty neat to stay overnight at a large airport. Well, at least I think so!
If you have any suggestions for similar stops, let me know. I'm starting to compile a "destinations" book now. Hey, I have to keep myself occupied during the winter No-RV season. You know?

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Road Trip: 1 MILLION Square Feet of Stuff AND Free Overnights!

The Approach 
    The Road Trip, a great way to get something done while enjoying the amenities provided by our "homes on wheels." If given the choice of driving my RV or flying to a destination, or even driving there and staying in a hotel, I will always choose the RV. There just isn't any other way to have such a secure feeling. I mean, you have your own "stuff," your own bed, your own bathroom and shower and get to eat whatever you want. Of course, it can be a great cost savings as well, depending on the distance and the time you are staying there. Personally, I hate packing and unpacking so having my own closet and drawers is a great thing.

A Mountain!
This past season, I finally had the opportunity to take a road trip to the Cabela's flagship store in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. For those of you who don't know, Cabela's is a large national retail and catalog seller of all things outdoor. From camping to hunting to clothing they really have an enormous selection. I've been receiving their catalog for years. Catalogs are great, but there is no substitute for actually seeing, touching and handling something you want to buy. Enter the Mega Store! Cabela's opened this flagship store a few years back, it sits on a hill off US Route 78 and PA Routes 22/61 (100 Cabela's Drive) and is easily accessible. The parking lot is HUGE and, get ready, they offer free overnight RV parking AND a Fresh Water/Dump  station! There's also a free set of dog kennels and a horse paddock (!) for the use of their customers. Wow, wouldn't it be nice if more businesses cared so much about their RV customers!

Adjacent to the store itself (across the street, down a perimeter road) are several gas stations, a Cracker Barrel and a Large RV/Boat Retailer with parts and service as well as a Propane refilling station.

Enough about the outside....once you enter the store (and get over the shock) you'll see a well planned maze of outdoor merchandise. Depending on what your interests are you'll likely find it here. I, being the "frugal" (that's a nice way of saying cheap) guy I am, make a bee-line for the Clearance section. This part of the store is always worth a look. The merchandise changes often and there are bargains to be had for the smart shopper. Of course it's the size of a regular sporting goods store all by itself.

From Second Floor Balcony
I try and work my way around the first floor from there, hitting the sections I like. If you are into firearms of ANY type, be prepared to spend a lot more time here. There is even an entire antique arms "library" you can peruse with every conceivable vintage firearm.Then I go upstairs to the restaurant for a snack and the candy/sweet shop for more snacks (for later of course.) Then on to the second floor camping and cooking sections. There's also an electronic shooting arcade on this floor. Be prepared to take MANY hours to go through the whole thing. I usually get there in the evening on the first day and then finish up the following morning before going on my way.

Did I mention it isn't just shopping? There is a full sized Aquarium in the store. Oh, and a mountain in the middle that has tons of taxidermy animals all over/around/beside it...with a stream/pond complete with fish and bridges. This place is unbelievable. Besides those attractions, there is a big game museum in one corner with Lion's, Gazelles, Elephants, and a bunch of other Safari-type trophies and a separate museum for North American big game. This one has an animatronic storyteller sitting in a rocking chair in front of his rustic cabin. Press a button and he'll entertain you for a while.

I try and make this a return stop for any trips I take going to the South. It's really on my way home and is simply a great area to check out. I can refill my water tank and stay for the night. I'm not really all that outdoorsy...I don't fish or hunt, but I do like camping gear and gadgets, lots of nice clothing and food. I am in NO way affiliated with Cabela's at all, with the exception of spending too much money there! I just like the place is all. Yes, I know that's obvious. Trust'll like it too.

Early Morning in The Lot
Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Getting INTO Tight Spots - Wireless Backup Camera Install

Note Fresnel Lens On The Lower Right Corner
    Backing Up. We all have to do it. It's a P.I.T.A. (if you don't know that abbreviation ... think about it a second ..... it starts with "Pain In The...") Most newer RVs are equipped with a backup camera of some sort. When I bought mine it wasn't. It DID have a rear window with a fresnel lens. What the heck is a fresnel lens, you ask. Simple, it's a piece of plastic that has concentric ring grooves cut or molded into it so it acts as a lens. In the case of the one glued to the rear window of my RV it lets me see a much wider angle of the stuff behind me. (Warning: Objects in this lens are WAY closer than they appear!) The window and lens combination are great when you a driving along, not so great when you are trying to back up into a tight spot.

7" Backup Camera Kit
 I'd used backup cameras before and liked the guidelines on the screen that showed how close you are to obstacles.  Back then, they came with old style TV or C.R.T. monitors in mostly black & white. Nowadays you can get cool LCD color displays that use very little power and are much easier to find a place to mount! I looked around a bit and found that you could purchase wired versions and wireless versions. While you would likely get less interference and static on the screen with a wired version, you have to run a cable from the camera, all the way in the back to the monitor, all the way in the front. This is not fun. I do not recommend it as a recreational activity and I actually LIKE wiring up gizmos! I decided to go for the wireless version. Since my RV is only 23' 8" long I was pretty sure the signal strength would be OK. After some copious internet research I came upon a 7" Color LCD display wireless backup camera system on sale. It was pretty neat and had an additional video input should I ever decide to add another camera. I have no idea WHERE I would add one, but it's nice to have the option!

Display/Receiver Installed
Once it arrived, the only issue I had was the cable for power. The LCD Display/Receiver was designed to be installed on a mounting bracket on top of the dash, and the power cable gets plugged into the cigarette lighter. I was going to hard-wire it into my electrical system anyway, so I cut off the cigarette lighter plug. The problem? It came out of the SIDE of the unit, and since I was going to install it on the dash itself, I needed the power to come in from the BACK. Seemed easy at the time. I opened up the display unit, found the power wiring and then realized there wasn't room inside to simply pull them out the back! I ended up going to smaller wire (it uses VERY little power so the smaller gauge (AWG) didn't matter) and soldering it directly to the circuit board inside. if you aren't comfortable doing this kind of thing....DON'T. It WILL void your warranty and you could end up with an expensive paperweight. Once that was done I used some of the heavy duty hard plastic "Velcro" to affix it to the dash itself. I was covering up the hole for the already removed ashtray so I had room to hide the wiring. The hard plastic Velcro is strong stuff! The LCD Display doesn't move at all!

Mounted On The Roof To Body Seam
Next up, the camera itself. The backup system I bought came with a camera that is designed to fit on the license plate mounting bracket on most vehicles. It would probably be OK on my RV, but I really wanted more of a downward view of the rear of the RV. This way I could see how close I was to an object when backing up. It would also have to be angled in such a way as to provide a side-to-side picture as well. My RV has a seam that goes all the way around the one piece fiberglass roof and connects to the fiberglass body. It has a vinylr strip that covers all the screws. I could easily mount the unit to this assembly.

Clearance Light With Camera 12V Power Lead
The camera still requires 12V power even though it transmits it's signal without wires to the display. I chose to tap into the parking/clearance lights for this juice. I COULD have ran a wire inside the rear cap to the trailer hitch 12V positive, but that was a MUCH harder job. The light is very close to the camera's position and the wiring would be very short and it would put the transmitter.antenna unit inside a rear cabinet, right on the shelf. I drilled a hole through the base of the light fixture (Avoiding contacts and wiring) through the rear cap and straight into the top of the cabinet the shelf is in. The main issue with doing it this way is the parking lights have to be on when you use the camera! Not a big deal, really. I tapped the inside of the clearance light and soldered the wire ends to the terminals inside. I put a dollop of silicone over each connection to ensure less corrosion and a bit of water resistance, then replaced the lens. This silicone will also cover the hole into the cabinet. On the inside, I had to place the transmitter/antenna box (about the size of half a deck of cards), like everything else in my RV the inside of the cabinet is carpeted I simple put some non-fuzzy sided Velcro on the back of the unit and stuck it on. I coiled up the extra cable and used a plastic tie to secure it out of the way.

Camera Installed
The camera arrived from the factory in black plastic, it was painted to match the RV using multiple coats of automotive spray paint. Once I had the placement and angle correct, using a good silicone based adhesive caulk I adhered the entire unit to the seam and used tape and little bits of wood (shims) to hold it in the correct place as it dried. Not the prettiest install, but very secure. One final test of the system and a bit of adjusting of the transmitter antenna and the install was done!

This system works quite well and will assist you day or night with the sometimes tedious task of backing up into a confined space.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Why An RV is Awesome During a Major Storm!

Tree Down!
Here I sit in a comfortable chair, working on this article. The lights are on, the heater humming away and food cooking on the stove. Meanwhile, outside there are high winds, steady rain and most of the town around me is dark. Last week I was complaining about having to winterize my RV, this week I am awfully glad I didn't! We here in the Northeast had a bit of a storm come through and the damage levels were high. I have my RV near my house which is about 90 miles northeast of New York City. Thankfully, we didn't receive the full brunt of the storm, but there were power lines and trees down everywhere. My house is dark, the heat won't work, but I have an oasis in the middle of this crisis.

Comfy, Warm Bed
An RV can be many things to many people: an escape from day to day life, a treasured vacation memory creator, or even a 24/7 full-time home. I'm grateful I have one. I've had some time to sit here over the last couple of days and really appreciate what an RV means to me. It's more than just a "home away from home." It's a shelter, a place you can go to when the rest of the world isn't running correctly. 

On a more practical note, we are not immune to outside elements. My shower skylight, a non-standard size and shape (of course!) was smashed by a flying piece of debris. I've covered the big hole with some stiff plastic signage (at least politicians are worth SOMETHING!) and some "100 MPH" tape. I'll admit it was already very brittle from sun UV exposure and age and I was already doing the research on just how I would get a replacement. Mother Nature just accelerated the process. No luck figuring out how to replace it yet, though I have some ideas. Stay tuned for that article.

I'll stay here in the RV until I see power come back on at the house (I left a few outside lights on just for that purpose) then I'll somewhat reluctantly move back in. I'm amazed at how often I find something else to like about RVing in general.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"