Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Even The Simple Things - Food Saving Hand Pump Vacuum Sealing

    When I travel, I am usually just one person. Even with two, I often have leftovers or only use a small portion of a freshly opened store container. Yes, I am thinking of coffee. One of the best things on Earth is the aroma of a freshly opened can or bag of coffee. Beans or really doesn't matter. It's an eye opener! Of course, brewing and drinking it is an eye opener too! Things like coffee and other vacuum packed or fresh perishables only last a finite amount of time after they are unsealed. What about produce from farm stands you come across while travelling? What can you do about it? Vacuum Pack them!

My Big Vacuum Sealer
At home (my non-movable one) I have an electrically powered vacuum sealer. It uses a roll of plastic that can be sized to any length and also comes with several sizes of plastic containers that have special vacuum lids with valves on them. It works amazingly well. I can save perishable items for a long time when they aren't exposed to air. When frozen, stuff doesn't get freezer burned! Things in the containers last at least twice as long as un-vacuum packed items. It's a pretty large device (about 18" Long by 6 " Wide by 4" deep) and it only vacuum packs. It also uses a pretty good amount of power since it vacuums out the air and then uses heat to seal the bag. Even without the sealer it uses quite a few amps for a pretty long duration. Add those drawbacks together and I wouldn't want one on-board. I use it...but not all the time. Storage space is always at a premium. if you don't need it don't bring it!

Store Bought Hand Vacuum System With Special Bags what? I found a hand pumped vacuum sealer that actually works quite well. Yes, it's a bit more work, but it still saves food items just as well. It's relatively easy to use...not as "push button" friendly as the electric one, but it still works great. Best of all, it uses no power except your muscles. How's it work? Well there are a few different kinds to choose from. Some use specially designed Ziploc bags for storage and some use the same vacuum packing containers as the electrically powered ones.  You can buy them as sets with several containers or as separates. I like the simplest versions the best. Just a small hand pump and a hose to connect to whatever you are sealing.

Then there is a DIY one that uses your mechanics toolbox vacuum tester! Since I already have that tool onboard the RV, I have been using that to create the vacuum to seal the containers (Which I bought online.) You can actually see how much vacuum pressure you are making with these as they come with a gauge. I really prefer things that have multiple uses when packing the RV. less stuff equals less weight equals better performance. Both gas mileage and performance can be improved by simply reducing what you carry. Multi-tasking items can go a long way to reducing the amount of "stuff" you carry along.

There are lots of accessories for vacuum sealing. If you look online, you can find a product that seals mason jars! As long as you have a vacuum source that can get to around 25 in. vacuum, you can seal just about anything with the right attachment. I've even tried vacuum sealing with regular plastic bags. Either zip or press seal. It works....well sort of. The vacuum isn't as good and will leak out after a while but it will extend the life of what's inside for a while. Marinating is a great use for a vacuum sealer. Place whatever you are marinating (meat, fish, vegetables, etc.) in a bag or container with the marinade and vacuum the air out. Let it sit for a while and it's done. No more overnight marathon marination. Try it! The results will speak (taste?) for themselves.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Even The Simple Things - The Easiest Way to Add Water To Your Batteries

    Over the last few weeks I have been working on "de-winterizing" my RV. There are lots of big and small jobs to perform and most of them are pretty easy. Well, except for the cleaning. I hate cleaning. Even if it's easy it seems to take forever to finish. One of the things I do on a regular basis is check the water levels in my Lead-Acid batteries. I have two of them in a pull out drawer. If they need any distilled water added I usually use a funnel and a gallon jug of distilled water and pour away. The front battery cells are very easy to reach. The rear ones...not so much. Lots of spilling and water wasting. Until now!

Acid "Proof!"
There are several kinds of automatic and semi-automatic battery refill systems on the market. Lots of hoses and/or caps to install and maintain and to be honest...they are pretty pricey. While shopping for miscellaneous gadgets at a local tool emporium I stumbled on a "Bulb Type Battery Filler." Looks like a large bulb turkey baster with a much narrower neck. It's also immune to the acid used in batteries. It was only $1.99! The idea is simple, open your gallon jug of distilled water, squeeze the bulb then insert the end in the liquid and release the bulb. A good amount of distilled water will be drawn up into the bulb and you can easily insert the end into each battery cell and give a little squeeze to dispense as much or as little as you need. No muss, no fuss. And no mess!

When I used the funnel and gallon jug approach I often spilled distilled water while filling every cell. Since it was hard to control the amount AND the funnel blocked the opening I often found that I had overfilled the cell.Mainly because I couldn't see into it. That's not good. With this little gizmo, I get exactly the amount I need and because the nozzle is so small, I can see how much I put in at any given time. Today, I filled all 12 cells in under 2 minutes. It took longer to get to the batteries and remove the caps then it did to fill them up properly! Now that it is so easy, I'll probably check them more often. That could lead to longer lasting batteries. We all know how expensive they can get!

This will work on any Flooded (Wet) Cell Lead Acid battery. If it was designed to be filled/refilled with distilled water, this is the tool for the job! You could even use it to remove some liquid from overfilled cells. As usual, the simplest things can work miracles.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

2016 REVISED (w/Links!) - How to Go From Winter's Slumber to Spring's Re-Awakening And Perform A Yearly Safety Check! It's TIME!

Look Ma...No Snow!
    I cannot believe Winter is finally over. Time to wake the slumbering beast (well my RV is  more like a tame housecat than a beast.) I am going to de-winterize, inspect and repair for the upcoming season! It's about time!! I have SO many projects to get moving on. Winter is 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 I do 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 changed 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)
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 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)
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
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!!
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
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 items to add or ask questions!

Be Seeing You....Down The Road

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Useful Headlights - For YOUR Head!

    I like flashlights. I like low power consumption LED flashlights even more. Today while doing some shopping at Wally world I stumbled upon a cool 3 LED light that you can wear on your head or place on a surface. It came with batteries and was only ONE dollar! I don't know how they manage that, but I bought two. This little thing is awesome. I've used it twice already. OK, so maybe it doesn't take all that much to get me revved about something like this, but it really is amazing. Sure it's plastic, and may or may not be waterproof. But, for the really cannot go wrong.

So Nice, I Bought Two!
In case you were wondering, it is available in lots of colors, I just preferred the grey ones. They are about the size of a thick matchbox and have three "Cree" style LEDs. On the front is a large rubberized button that turns the flashlight on and off with a good solid "click." Behind the LEDs is a shiny metalized reflector. Attached to the light itself, via a hinge, is a flat plate which holds the elastic strap that you can wear around your head (or whatever else you can get it around.) The strap is fully adjustable. Once you are wearing it, you can use the hinge to aim the light downwards to illuminate anything you are working on or up to shine outwards like a flashlight. It's bright! There is no way to dim the light and it's always on in high power mode. I would guess a few hours of light before the batteries are exhausted.

This Photo Doesn't DO The Brightness Level Justice.
There are no tools required to replace the batteries. Simply unfold the aiming platform and pull on the two tabs on either side of the light itself. It takes VERY little force to pop them open. Be careful, this is the weakest link on this light. But, for only a dollar each, they can almost be considered disposable! Inside you will find two CR2032 batteries. I've found these for around .78 cents each, so two would be $1.56! The batteries cost more than the light! If you buy them in bulk, likely you can get the price down. They are very easy to replace, the old ones pop right out and the new ones snap right in. No muss, no fuss. Inside, there is a label that reads "Ozark Trail" -- probably the manufacturer.

For such a small amount of $$$ it's a great little light. Very useful for lots of projects. There have been so many times I wish I had one of these while working in the deep recesses of my RV. Would have saved me much cursing and fuming, not to mention I really hate holding a flashlight in my mouth! Try it, you'll like it!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Gas Powered Lanterns/Stoves? - How to NEVER Pump Them Again!

I Love To BBQ..Even with Propane!
    A long, long time ago I used to really enjoy tent camping. OK, well not exactly tent camping. I would drive a 4 Wheel Drive vehicle way up into the woods (sometimes in a large group) and we'd all camp around/in our vehicles. I did it so often, I built a "kitchen" that fit nicely into the tail-gate. For cooking I would use an older Coleman-style duel fuel (white gas/gasoline) stove. These are the ones you put liquid fuel in and then pump up the pressure in the tank to keep the fuel flowing. Every once in a while you would have to pump it up again to maintain pressure. I still have it. It works GREAT. Of course, in an RV with a full, actual, kitchen it really isn't needed. However, I still have some lanterns that work the same way. Maybe I've become lazy? (more lazy?) but the idea of running around to pump up the pressure seems like a pain. But what can you do? Read on!

While beginning my spring cleaning, (OK, it's not really spring yet, but if I spread out the cleaning over many feels like a less massive amount of cleaning) I found an old box from my camping days. In it was an odd little device (two of them, actually!) that purported to eliminate any pumping needed on gas stoves, lanterns, or anything else that used pressurized liquid fuel when camping. Interesting. It looked solidly made and seemed like a good idea. I must have bought this MANY years ago. The marked price was only $3.95! Such a deal! No idea what one might cost today? Of course it had to have a standard size cap to work..... How does it work? Easy, CO2.

Huh? CO2, Carbon Dioxide. There are these small cartridges that hold Carbon Dioxide gas under pressure. They are used in MANY applications. Most big box stores and even Wally World carry a bunch of different ones. They get used on all sorts of things like BB/Pellet/Paint guns and boating life preservers. This little doo-hicky replaces the filler cap and uses a single CO2 cartridge to maintain pressure in the tank. Allegedly, it will work through an entire tank of fuel. That's likely many hours of use. The package claims 10-15 hours. Of course, you cannot remove it once the CO2 cylinder is punctured, so make sure your tank is full!

The only issue I saw, was one of my stoves had a cap that faced the stove itself, and when the tank was properly attached the device wouldn't fit. It's about 3" long so you should check your stove/lantern/whatever for adequate clearance before buying one. Can you even buy one anymore? Well, I did find lots on Ebay and other online sites. Some were going for big money...$30+. But if you look around, you can find them for around $5 each. Many times you can buy a used lantern with one already attached for much less than the device itself. Obviously, you get the lantern or stove as well.

Not sure if it has any long-term practical application for my RV travels, but it's a very cool little gadget nonetheless. An elegant solution to a (non-existent?) problem. At the very least, it would be a great conversation starter at a campground!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"