Wednesday, December 19, 2018

LED Headlight Upgrade - Easy AND Beneficial!

    A few years ago, I had begun an article that would talk about upgrading old style headlight bulbs with "new fangled" HID (High Intensity Discharge) bulbs and ballasts. Wrote a good portion of it, then never got around to installing them to test! Since then, the cost of LED bulbs has dropped, and dropped AND dropped! So a set to replace your aging headlights (and other fixtures) has become inexpensive enough to give it a whirl. I did, and am MUCH impressed. It was pretty easy and went well...sort of. There were some teething pains. I'm going to save you the trouble I experienced. Read on!

First, of course, is the cost. The high power ones (around 8000 Lumens) can be had for around 27.00 a set! That is crazy inexpensive. I looked on Amazon for my bulb type and ordered them. Almost every conceivable type is represented, so you shouldn't have any problems finding your specific one. READ THE SPECS! Not all of the LED bubs are created equal. Lumens, Color Temperature and cooling fans will vary, as will the way it mounts in your headlight housing. For me, I like the warmer color of incandescent bulbs, so I looked for ones with a lower number (<4000K) If you want bluer light, go higher. Daylight is 5600K. I wrote up a whole explanation of this when I replaced my inside lights with LEDs.

Comes Complete.
Once you've received the correct ones for your RV, installation is next. Take out your old bulbs. Typically there is a cover over the back of the bulb housing then a plug must be removed before you can unclip or unscrew the bulb retaining mechanism. On mine, there was a rubber cover over the plug, which I removed, then pulled out the plug. Next was a spring wire clip holding the bulb in the housing. I simply pressed it down and left to remove the spring tension and gently removed the bulb. Try not to touch the glass as the oils in your fingers will cause uneven heating/cooling of the bulb and it will crack and end up useless. That is, IF you will ever use them again. I carry my old ones as spares. Just put them in the box the LED's came in. Nicely padded and secure.

Another Set. Hey, I Bought Two!
Installation was easy. The LEDs have male wire pigtails on them which plug into the female headlight wiring harness connectors the old bulbs used. Insert the bulbs back into the existing holes, reattach the mechanism and you are done. Well..almost. Here's where I ran into some trouble. Once I had them both installed, I made the mistake of remarking to my friend how easy it was to do! I flipped on the lights and realized the pattern was perfect on one side, but backwards on the other. What I mean, is that the pattern of light projected toward the road was upside down, the "sweet spot" was great in the left side, but the right side had the spot off the road. There is a tiny Allen head set screw holding the bulb assembly into the specific mount, so all you have to do is loosen the screw, rotate the light and put it back in. Of course, it would have been nice for the instructions to TELL you that before everything is buttoned up...but was cheap enough.

The difference is nothing short of amazing. More light without gaps in coverage, better aim and it does not blind oncoming driver...or folks in front of you. The high beams have an extended range for those really dark and lonely highways. Bottom line? They work. 'Nuff Said.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Fire Safety! - Do On-Board Fire Extinguishers Expire?

    While I was in my RV a few days ago checking my smoke detector's battery, I figured I should make sure that the fire extinguisher was still "in the green" on the gauge. It was. Then I got to thinking, "I've had this fire extinguisher for at least 7 years." It's a common ABC dry chemical style available at most big box stores. It got me wondering, "Is it still good?" I mean, they aren't all that expensive to replace. So if you believe in the "better safe than sorry" school of thought, why not replace it? Is there anything on the market that's better? After a bunch of research I found some things out. Read on!

See The Fire Extinguisher, Bottom Left
Most manufacturers recommend inspecting each extinguisher at least once a year for damage and constant pressure. It's easy to do. Look at the extinguisher: Is it dented, the handle broken or perhaps the nozzle cracked? If so, replace it. That's obvious. Look at the gauge: Is it still indicating the same as when you purchased it? Is it at least in the green? If not...replace it.  Also recommended is to flip the extinguisher over and give it a good shake and "thump" to loosen the powder inside and prevent caking. All that being said, most manufacturers recommend replacing it when it is between 5 years and 15 years old. I am not so sure I would trust my or my RV's safety to a 15-year-old (or even a 10-year-old!) fire extinguisher. For around $20.00 or so, you can easily purchase a new one.

Which one to buy? Well, the least expensive is the dry chemical (powder) style. They will put a fire out (HINT-Aim at the base of the flames,) but do make a pretty big mess. The powder itself is very fine and gets into everything. But it sure beats the alternative! There are quite a few other types. As a pilot I've used various mixes of HALON fire extinguishers for decades. Unfortunately, they are hard to get now since Halon hurts the ozone layer. Halotron is similar but even more expensive. The other issue is they only work on Class B and C fires. What does that mean?

In the world of fire safety, Class A is trash, wood, and paper, Class B is liquids and gases, and Class C is electrical fires. In our RVs you really need all three. Look at it this way: If you have a fire and must discharge your extinguisher inside, it WILL make a mess. But letting it burn would cause MANY more issues, not to mention being life threatening!! After my almost battery fire, I became a firm believer in fire extinguishers as a precautionary measure.  Be safe. Replace!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

No Cover This Winter - I Bought A Big Fabric Building! - Was It Worth It? Part - 2

 Well, let's start off by saying this installation session did not go as well as I would have liked. Instead of a fully functional, completely covered fabric building, I have a frame. Anchored to the ground with one end attached, but not well. That end panel took 3+ hours to get on! Why? Why was this so difficult? I followed the instruction manual carefully and measured at least twice for each step. That's when I discovered some issues with the manual/instructions and the contents of the kit. I'm not saying NOT to purchase, but be aware of the problems BEFORE you get in too deep.

The manual I had downloaded from their website was one version, the one in the box was another. The pictures don't always match the instructions. That's really not all that terrible. The instructions really need to be rewritten to include the changes in the kit contents. The worst part of it? The manual is often NOT in the order it should be. So, for example, it says to do one thing and in the line AFTER it says to do something else BEFORE you do the first thing! Sometimes multiple sentences down. That's an issue, if you are trying to put it together step by step. I must have read through the manual 25 times and I still had problems remembering the steps.

Sometimes the instruction manual would explain how to do something that wasn't there. For example, there is a wind brace mounted on a diagonal across the end two arches. Good idea! When you put the end/door assemble on it says to remove the wind bracket bolts and slide the end of the brace through the slit in the end fabric. No problem, sounds simple. Except there aren't any slits! It never mentions you have to cut them yourself. It's an easy thing to do, but scary when you have to take a leap of faith and decide to do it yourself! There ARE three slits in the fabric to accommodate the top center rail and the two side rails. Of course, after putting the center one together, the other two will not line up. They were several inches off. Why???

Then there was the turnbuckle debacle. On either side of the end fabric installation there is a place to hook a turnbuckle that you tie the rope that goes through the door/end. It's already installed in the end panel, but you have to be able to pull it tight enough so when you tighten the turnbuckle it snugs the door down and prevents it from rolling over and off the frame. Good luck with that. The rope is almost impossible to get tight enough and the fabric slides off the frame as you pull on it. In any case, the slits in the fabric that WERE precut would not line up at all. After much angst and stress, we managed to get it close enough to put the bolts back in and snug it down.There HAS to be a better way. And if there is, it should be in the manual or at least online in a FAQ or TIPS section on their website.
In order to close the zippers on the two roll up doors at this end, the frame had to be pushed in from both sides and manipulated until it wouldn't break the zipper. This was all AFTER we measured, as the manual tells you to, 22 feet across from vertical to vertical. We were EXACTLY at 22 feet on each set and the diagonal measurements matched. So, what was the problem? I still haven't figured it out. Maybe when I start putting the other double door end panel on I will find it's a bit different and fits better. Who knows, maybe it was a manufacturing goof.

Well, this is now going to go into a THIRD week. Stay tuned...should be fun to watch us try and finish this in the rapidly dropping temperatures and significantly colder weather!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

No Cover This Winter - I Bought A Big Fabric Building! - Was It Worth It? Part - 1

    The main bummer of living in the North East is having to put the RV away for the Winter season. I do have a cover, which is a bit of a P.I.T.A. to put on, but does the job of weather protection decently. I had looked into building a pole type building and even priced out a 30 x 60 foot one. Not bad all in (including the concrete pad) at around $15,000. Still a bit too rich for my blood. Not to mention that my taxes would go up pretty significantly! That route was out. While I was researching steel buildings, I came across a couple of companies that made fabric ones. Basically, they are a galvanized steel frame with 10 oz (or higher) vinyl layered fabric covers. They have zippered roll up doors and are designed for storage. Seemed like a good idea....they came in all sizes. I was mainly interested in the 24' x 22' x 12' or as they call it, "2 car garage."

Right away, I knew there was a risk involved. It is NOT rated for snow loading. In fact the manufacturer recommends you push snow off by lifting sections of the roof from the inside with a broom or something similar to reduce problems. They DO sell them all over the North East including Maine and Massachusetts, so if there was a bad review to be found regarding snow, I couldn't find one that pointed at manufacturing rather than improper installation. The one I was interested in (24'x22'x12') was under $2000.00 delivered! I am about 100 miles from the factory, so shipping, while high...was manageable. If I had picked it up it would have been less expensive, but you then have to pay sales tax so it was about $100.00 extra to have it delivered. Gas would have cost that much! So I ordered one.

Pre Site Prep
You have to prepare the installation site. Since I was installing it on pavement, it was mostly cleaning up and making sure I had the correct anchors for the frame. I did have to cut back some tree limbs, but I was going to do that anyway since that particular tree had broken my skylight a few years back. Bad tree!Once clean and ready, the frame is laid out in separate "arches." Each of those is comprised of 7 pieces. Once each arch is ground assembled and loosely bolted together with the supplied carriage bolts, nuts and curved washers, each is lifted into place and the horizontal rails attached. The first two are the most difficult as they won't stand up by themselves until the cross-members are bolted in place. Once that's done on the first two, it has four legs and can stand on its own for each of the subsequent arches to be attached. When all of them are assembled you have to attach the pipe sections at the peak of the roof between each arch. Have a big ladder handy! They are over 12 feet in the air.

Leveled And Squared!
Now that the frame is all put together it has to be leveled and squared so that all the sides are equal. If you skip this step, the cover will not fit properly. Begin by aligning one side with a string pulled taught at the base. That will get you one side straight. Make sure the whole thing is in the position you want it when you are done!! Once that was complete, I held them down with sandbags so I could go on to the next step. Each side has to be 22 ft. from the bottom of the verticals on one long side to the verticals on the other. Once that measurement is done I placed more sandbags to hold it in place so I could measure diagonally from one corner to the other to make sure it was square. It's finicky and takes a while to get it right. Once it's all level and square it has to be anchored to the ground.

Re-Used Dirt Anchor Cable
The kit comes with dirt anchors, so I had to source some that would work on pavement, blacktop specifically, without cutting really big holes in the surface. I could re-use the cable tie downs as the loops would fit over the anchors, even with the "duck-bills" attached. I found some at Tractor Supply that would work, sort of. The anchors I found require a 1/2" hole to be hammer drilled into the blacktop and then they are set in the hole, up to the threads with a hammer. Once set, the washer and nut are screwed on pulling the bottom of the anchor up and expanding to hold fast in the hole. Sounded easy enough. In practice, drilling the holes was easy. Getting the anchors to expand without turning was not. My pavement is a bit brittle in spots and it isn't all that deep. The requirement for holding down the building meant I needed relatively large 1/2" anchors so they were also pretty long. Eventually, I got them all to expand enough to stay in the ground. I will be filling in the holes and adding threaded female ends into the pavement for threaded eyelets in the spring!

Once the anchors are in, you have to pull everything tight so it stays firmly on the ground. Believe me, doing this alone is a real challenge. Better to have two (or more!) folks to assist. It would have gone MUCH faster! Eventually (in the dark) the frame was up and ready for the end and main covers.

Next week, we'll get the covers on and everything tightened up. I had to split this operation up because it was snowing when I stopped building the frame! Stay tuned for the completion of this project and my honest opinion on the building itself.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Rain, Rain Go Away...And Never Come Back So Often!

Rain. Bleh.
    It's been months. And more months. I haven't had a day off in 5 Months that hasn't rained. My maintenance tasks around the house and RV have gotten pushed back over and over again. Some may blame global warming. Maybe, but nonetheless it's disheartening to not be able to get anything accomplished.

For example, I began writing an article last week about purchasing and assembling a 24'x22'12' two-car fabric garage just so I can work inside, out of the weather for the off season. It finally arrived. Today. Guess what? It's RAINING! I know, it was a holiday yesterday and no deliveries were made, but come on! Now that article has to be postponed until next week so I can take photos of the assembly process. Not to mention not being able to work on anything...again! Moving South (or West!) is beginning to become more enticing.

It's not that I don't like rain. When I am in the RV and the raindrops are falling, it's beautiful. Warm, dry and comfortable. Make some coffee, maybe a some video, play a game. pressure...well, unless you have a leak! I've spent time in the RV during major storms, where power has gone out for over a week and the weather was not just nasty -- it was downright dangerous! A safe haven. On the other end of the scale were days that were so hot that without the air conditioning and refrigerator in the RV it would have been far more uncomfortable.

Call Mario!
We all have projects to accomplish. Bad weather puts a "damper" on things. On my last trip to Florida, we had sporadic rain showers that slowed all the events and work down to a crawl. At least it wasn't cold! Of course I had to winterize in the rain this year. Fun. Well, not really. I've got to look into figuring out how to efficiently heat the new garage (or just the RV) to keep the pipes from bursting over the winter. No way to really enclose them... I looked into heat pads (120V relatively low wattage) for the tanks themselves, but so many pipes are close to the outside, I'm not sure I could make them all warm enough. Besides, they are the older gray pipe (not PEX) that is prone to cracking.

I don't usually complain...well, OK, maybe a little bit. But this is getting ridiculous. I did hear that we are going to have a mild winter...allegedly. I'll believe it when I see it. I wish I could send a good portion of this rain out California where it would do some good!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Last Trip Of The Season - And It Was A Doozy!

Almost Ready To Depart
    A couple of weeks ago I embarked on my last trip of the season. Sad, I know, but it was most memorable. Some good, some bad, all...ummm...interesting. If you've been following these columns, the first few days didn't go so well (Breakdown #1 and Breakdown #2). I eventually arrived at the Helicopter Gathering in Florida 1100 miles from my home base in New York. Of course, I was two-and-a- half days late, so a lot of what I wanted/needed to get done was delayed. (More on that later!) All in all it was fun, AND I lost another 4 1/2 pounds. The "No sleep, No food, all work diet" works very well, but I wouldn't recommend it! So, what exactly happened?

Early Morning On The Flight Line
Long before I leave for an extended trip (well, extended for me anyway) I try and make sure all my maintenance and servicing is completed. That way I don't have any surprises. Works pretty well when I do the work myself. Not so good when you leave it to someone else. I admit, I should have checked the work, but I didn't. My bad. This time it cost me. In time and money. Ah well. Live and learn. Once the breakdown saga was over, and we arrived in Lake City, Florida, things began to look up. We had a beautiful spot parked right on the flight line along the runway, along with other fellow Helicopter owners. There was water for refilling tanks and my newest version Solar Charging system kept pace with energy demands. The only thing missing was a dump station, but there were public bathrooms and trips to town to mitigate that.

Ready To Disassemble!
After unloading the helicopter from my trailer and moving it to the maintenance hangar I set up camp in the RV. The first couple of days were 90 degrees PLUS! So the Mylar bubble foil window reflectors were an absolute necessity! I left the two fantastic fans running all day (on solar, of course!). One set to Intake and the Other on Exhaust make a wonderful breeze throughout the RV. To be honest, there were a few hours the first two days where the generator got started up and the Air Conditioner used. Hey, I believe in Solar, but I have a Generator and am NOT afraid to use it! That being said, it did need half a quart of oil....I should really exercise it more often. After those two first hot and humid nights, the temps dropped into the high 70's low 80's with nights getting into the 50's. Perfect!! Temperature control inside the RV was easily achieved with vents and fans alone.

Have To Do Part of This Job Again!
Then the rain came. A lot. It's a good thing I was mostly working in the hangar because the flight line was a muddy mess. Just to make matters a bit worse, I discovered a tiny leak on my rear vent/fan unit and had to put a small tarp over it to keep the water out of the ceiling. So much damage can be done by water getting into the ceiling it's VERY important to stop it ASAP! I believe it's a loose screw under the eternabond tape that will have to be addressed in the spring. I've removed and reinstalled both the front and back ones over the years. Road vibration loosens EVERYTHING! Make sure you check your screws before you leave or after each trip. Not too hard to do, but will save you lots of tedious repair overall.

The event was scheduled to end Sunday afternoon, but because of my late arrival and the amount of work I wanted to get done, we elected to stay past Sunday afternoon. We relocated to a half concrete/half dirt section next to the maintenance hangar. There was water to fill the tanks and shore power if needed. But still no dump facilities. The weather held out for the most part, though it did rain quite hard on and off for the next few days. Finally, all was in readiness, we pushed the helicopter out in front of the hangar and started it up. All was good. Once warmed up and having no leaks or other flew. Yes, only a hover, but for the amount of work done (a whole new drive system!) this was unexplored territory. Many thanks to the skilled and brilliant folks that helped out, I couldn't have done such a great job without them! Lots of flying to be done when I got home!

It was really nice having a place to retreat to for a snack or coffee or just a quick rest while working. RV's are awesome! I know, I'm biased. I'm already looking forward to next year's gathering. This time I will be better prepared with the RV ready to go and all systems checked (and re-checked.)

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

How To Winterize And Pre-Clean For Next Season - Work Smarter NOT Harder! 2018

Getting Ready For Winter
    After my last trip of the season a day ago, it came time to shut down all the RV systems. Drain and winterize the water system, unpack the fridge and move all the food out. In addition, I like to clean and sanitize the interior so it's mostly ready to go next season. You would be surprised, or maybe you wouldn't(!), at the amount of mold and mildew that can develop inside an RV over the winter season. I do my VERY best to prevent anything like that from happening and also include critter intrusion prevention to the mix. What works? What doesn't work? And, most importantly, what are the easiest methods to do all of the above?

So Much For My Nice Black Hooded Sweatshirt!
Once the hard core winterizing of all the major RV systems is done I move on to the "pre-prep" items. Let's start with the easiest, and for me, the one I hate the I get a bleach-based cleanser and some gloves and begin wiping down the inside of the fridge. Pull all the shelves both on the door and inside. Make sure you wipe down any residue you can find and make sure the bleach mixture gets into the nooks and crannies, then make sure it's wiped off. Careful of your clothing as bleach will...well...BLEACH out colors pretty easily. I ruined a brand-new, expensive hooded sweatshirt this year. So I know all about it! Next wipe down the walls, "ceilings" and "floors" of both the fresh and frozen compartments. Once done, wipe down the seals and the outside. Figure out a way to hold the fridge slightly open over the winter months as the air circulation will help reduce mold and mildew growth and keep smells to a minimum. I also have an activated charcoal cube hanging inside as well as a box of baking soda to be extra sure!

Next, work on the toilet. Clean the inside and outside with your bleach cleanser. Make sure you get under the seat and cover as well as the entire outside housing down to the floor. I have a smooth floor surrounding mine, so I wipe all that down as well. Getting to the back can be a bit of a problem, but do your best. Mine had a lot of accumulated dirt and grime back there. It will also give you a chance to check for leaks from the hoses leading to the toilet. Once done, pour in some RV antifreeze over the blade valve to keep it moist and lubricated. Move on to the shower stall. Clean the entire thing, top to bottom. Pull the rubber mats, if you have them, and clean underneath. Lots can grow on and under them! Check around the window (if you have one) for any growths or dirt and clean. Clean the lavatory sink and cabinets. I usually end up with toothpaste remnants in places I didn't know could have them!

In the main living area and bedrooms, wipe down the cabinets and walls to get rid of dust and dirt buildup. Then I move on to the carpets. Vacuum everything you can! So much dirt gets tracked in during your trips, you will be surprised how full your vacuum will get just doing this simple cleaning. Make sure you empty it and clean the filter to maintain maximum suction. This will save you the time of going back over the carpets again and again. I use a 12 Volt canister vacuum that I wrote about a while back. It works great and I really don't have that much floor for carpet anyway. It's also A LOT easier to do the walls and floors with it.

As for Critter prevention...while you are cleaning, check for any leavings and points of ingress. Fill those with steel wool or patch the hole with silicone sealant if it's small enough. Later on, I'll write up an entire article about critter proofing and prevention both during the RV season and in between. Stay Tuned! It's always sad to perform this cleanup, but if you do it now it will be easier to get going again in the spring. I can't wait!

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Emergency Roadside Repair! - Part 2

    Last week I began a trip I believed would be wonderful and relaxing. Likely the last one of the season for me. It started with a bang, and not in a good way! A hose ruptured and put me on the side of the road. Well, that was just the beginning of what the universe had in store. Next up, the incredible disintegrating rear brake. I made it another 400 miles down the road before I decided to stop for the night at a mountaintop rest area someplace in South Carolina. About 500 miles from my destination. While slowing down, my brake warning light lit up and my pedal went to the floor. Now what?

After getting some sleep, I awoke and began to try and figure out what happened. Seemed like my vacuum brake booster had stopped working and the pedal was at the floor. I thought that since I could still stop, but I pulled off the hose at the booster and tested for vacuum with the engine running it was fine. The brake reservoirs were very low on the back circuit and BEHOLD I had a stream and puddle of fluid behind one of the back wheels. Well, that was it, the rear left brake was toast. I followed the emergency guys back to their shop and worked out a repair schedule. Little did we know that it would be our erstwhile home for 2 days!

Typical Auto Parts Supplier
It wasn't that they weren't nice nor accommodating, rather the surroundings were...well a bit "repo yard." After a long disassembly period and short diagnosis time, a bunch of parts were needed, Problem was none would get there until the following morning so, stuck again. This time, we had power, but not enough to run the air conditioner. The pace in the shop, was...well...leisurely at best. All I wanted to do was get back on the road. The parts (most of them) arrived near the agreed to time, (most of them anyways) We were then stuck waiting for the mechanics to finish and we waited and waited. Nothing I could do would speed up up the  process, so we waited some more, hoping for a fix to get us moving quick;y. Not to be. After two days most of the parts arrived, bit some didn't. We  finally got out of there and got onto our destination without delay.

The bottom line is not everything that needed to be fixed was. I am still riding on worn bearings (inner and outer) on the rear passenger side. They could fail at any time. I MAY have purchased the correct bearing from an auto parts store but no guarantee they are correct for my Aero Cruiser.

Wish me luck!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Emergency Roadside Repair! - Part 1

After The First Repair, Before The Second
    As many of you know, I am traveling down to Florida from New York this week with my helicopter in tow. Unfortunately, this trip hasn't been going all that well, mechanically speaking. After getting everything ready and then starting out late we got about 1.5 hours down the road and into the State park lands in Pennsylvania and the rubber hose on my engine water pump ruptured. This was quite a surprise. First the huge vapor cloud that obscured my rearward vision, and the fact it happened at all. You see, I had just had someone replace the pump and I had told them to replace the bypass hose as well. Obviously, they didn't and I didn't check their work. Sad that I would have to...but there it is.

The Offending Hose!
Once stopped on a stretch of I84 at the crest of a hill with my lights/emergency flashers on, I attempted to diagnose the problem. I looked underneath the engine and was dismayed at the large quantity of coolant everywhere. Especially under the BRAND NEW water pump. Of course, the first thing that came to mind was it wasn't sealed properly and had failed. Back up inside the RV I removed the engine doghouse/cover and got a huge cloud of coolant vapor all throughout the RV. Great, I remember how difficult that stuff is to clean off windows. *SIGH* Anyway, as the engine cooled down, I was able to figure out that the underside of the water pump bypass hose at the 90 degree bend had ruptured and sprayed piping hot fluid all over the engine and underside of the cover. What a mess. Usually, I have a spare for every hose. Not this time. Of course, Murphy is the eternal optimist.

The Bypass Hose
After calling the PA State Troopers to apprise them of the situation, they assured me that they could get help to call me in the next few minutes. They did. Outstanding job guys!! A mobile tow/repair person called me straightaway and I explained the problem, he showed up within 20 minutes with an assortment of hoses and extra coolant. Of course, the ONLY one we needed for the fix, he didn't have. He then proceeded to REPAIR the existing hose to get me off the road and to a lot by his repair facility. A new part would be ordered and at his facility by 8:30AM. It got there at 8AM! He was incredibly professional and had an exceptionally friendly demeanor. I was back on the road by 9:30 AM with a freshly bled coolant system and a new friend.

I've been saying (and writing) for MANY years about the importance of carrying spare parts and enough tools to work with them while traveling. Dark and desolate roads with no cell service will leave you to fend for it was in the "olden days" of motor travel. It's a good idea to be prepared. Better to "Have it and not need it, than need it and not have it." Don't suffer "tripus interruptus" like I just did. All over a small $1.45 (plus shipping) part.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Bulb Check! - Sometimes They Are Out And You Don't Even Know.

Nice Tail!
    I only had one tail light working. I don't know when it stopped working, but since we have yearly DMV inspections and mine is due by the end of October, it could have been almost a year! Yup..never noticed. That's bad. I know I should check all my lights (and oil/fluids/air) before each trip, but sometimes I only do SOME of those items. I know...I'm bad. From now on, I will be fully checking my rig before I move out. It's a smart thing to do. Well, what about changing light bulbs in RV lights? Sometimes it's really easy. Sometime it's not. My tail lights between. Here's what to do.

Big Chunk Of The Tail
Take a look at your tail lights. Are they separate lenses, one big lens, are there screws holding lenses on to a separate assembly? None of the above? Well, the first thing to do is gain access to the bulb itself. In my case, it was a bit more complicated. I had to remove the entire tail light assembly from the back of the RV, lens, reflector, everything! They are about 2 feet long, with 4 sections of wire harness coming out, so that was awkward. Thankfully, they aren't all that heavy. Once removed, I could see a bunch of sockets on the back that push in and twist to remove. As long as you line up the curved slots properly. Mine have 2 smaller curved pieces and one larger one, so they will only come out when everything is lined up. Even then it required a bit of...finesse.

I should have found a small table or something to lay the lights on after they were removed so I didn't have to keep holding them up. Ah well, next time. I managed to get all the light bulb holders and bulbs out of the fixture. HINT: Remember which bulb socket goes in which hole! (Don't ask.) It was pretty obvious which one wasn't working. The bulb was broken. And sharp. (Again, Don't ask.) After the bleeding stopped, I found another 1157 type bulb and replaced it. Didn't work! Hmmm...Upon closer inspection, the bent metal strip that makes contact with the metal ground of the bulb was broken off. I soldered on a small piece of wire to make contact and it was fine. I SHOULD have replaced the socket, but my tail lights are sourced from a 1989 Mercury Sable (mounted upside down!) So I would have to research a bit to even find out what socket it was! The fix should hold for a while. At least until I get back from my long trip next week. Of course, I will be checking operation each time I stop. Well, maybe not EACH time, but more frequently for sure!

With everything working, I put all the light sockets back in the lens/reflector housing and gently put it back on the RV. All done. Mostly. After putting the acorn nuts back on the assembly, I noticed one side was dimmer than the other! Huh?!? took it back off and looked at the terminal. No difference at all, voltage wise. After fiddling a while it turned out to be a bad/loose ground coming out of the trailer hitch wiring! That was a couple of hours of hunting... So I fixed the ground and (since the tail lights were back off, I replaced all the bulbs with LED versions. MUCH brighter now and less Amp draw to boot.

All in all...pretty easy. You can bet I will be checking my lights/signal before EVERY trip! Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...shame on me!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Electric/Induction Stove Tops - Better Than Propane?

Typical Propane Burner
    Recently, I had to replace the 240 Volt AC electric stove top in my house. The glass surface had cracked at some point and the crack had finally expanded across the whole face of the stove top. Ah did last 25 years, so I got my money's worth. While removing and replacing it with a newer model (still with a glass top) I noticed it could run on either 120 or 240V. Of course, at the lower voltage it wouldn't heat as fast, but would work. What about using these in an RV (without a glass surface obviously!) -- is that possible or even desirable? Or do you prefer a propane gas model?

Vintage Stove Elements
In the old days, electric stove tops were pretty simple, a coil of heavy  gauge metal that heated up when you passed electric current through it. You adjusted the temperature by changing the amount of electricity going through the coil. Later on, they began mounting the coils below a glass top so the surface was smooth and uninterrupted. Later still, you were given a choice of traditional knobs or touch controls. All this is great and works well. But what about in an RV setting? First of all, these type of stove tops use a lot of power. Usually between 1000 and 3000 watts of power! That isn't feasible in an RV unless you are going to run a decent sized generator or always connect to shore power. That, in and of itself, would put the kibosh on electric stove tops for RV use. But wait! There is another type that may be worth a look.

My Small Induction Cooktop
Induction cook tops are VERY efficient: 84% energy transfer versus, best case, 74% for traditional electric cook tops. The efficiency translates to faster cooking times which reduce the overall energy use. A 2000 watt electric stove element uses about 320 watt-hours to boil 2 quarts of water in about 10 minutes.  A 2800 watt induction unit boils 2 quarts in about 5 minutes, using 225 watt-hours. If you reduce the power level to 1300 watts it just about doubles the time back to 10 minutes, so it is a bit more efficient. Compare this to a propane burner. It will do the same job in 8 minutes or so and requires about twice the power overall. Of course, you need to convert from BTU's to watt-hours since it's gas.

My Newly Installed Glass Cook Top
For me, the replacement would be useless. I rarely have that much power to spare while boondocking and propane stoves require no electricity. I already have a large, frame mounted propane tank on board so I'm good. It is way cool to watch an induction cook top boil water quickly even if you need a ferrous or magnetic bottom on the pot to get the ideal energy transfer. It's also really neat from a technology aspect. That's why I have a portable one. I like to cook in my RV, from simple recipes to complex meals. Breakfast is always a favorite! You can't beat the almost infinite temperature control of a gas valve. You can get close with induction.... Still, not ready for prime time on board my RV. 

As always....YMMV!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Sticky Stuff - Tape And Its Myriad Of Uses

Close To The End Of The Season...Sad!
    Duck Tape. Yes, "DUCK" not "Duct." In the ancient history of war, a company came up with an adhesive-backed cloth strip that was watertight, mainly used to seal ammo cases during WWII. The cotton cloth was known as cotton "duck." Much later on HVAC workers used this stuff to seal the joints in air ducting to prevent leakages. Hence the DUCT name. Worked pretty well and the name stuck. For years I had been gently correcting folks who called it DUCK tape. Not any more! Over the years this stuff has become one of the most useful and versatile things on the planet. If you search around, you'll find some fascinating jobs it's been used on. I've even seen Clothing made of the stuff that doesn't look half bad. I always keep a few different types around the RV...comes in handy...a lot!

For any aspiring MacGyvers out there, the ability to fix something on the fly is a time-honored tradition. This tape makes many of those spontaneous repairs possible. Got a sliding window that won't stay closed, a strip of tape along the top and bottom will hold it until you can buy a new latch. Have a piece of fiberglass or plastic that's falling off your RV body? Tape it! Have a crack in a skylight or vent cover and rain is coming in? Tape it! Of course there are places that it will not work. If it doesn't stick to the surface, it's not going to do you any good. For everything else you can imagine, I'll wager it will.

There Are Lots More Colors Available!
There are MANY brands of this stuff available. Some are very basic and can be used to make quick, temporary repairs. Some are much more robust, 100 in./lbs. of adhesive (or more) and almost impossible to tear. I've seen that stuff used to repair airplane wings and fuselages! Some may remember the nickname "100 mile-an-hour" tape. It was. Maybe even faster! There was a TV show named "Mythbusters" that really liked duck tape. There were several episodes about it. They even built a working sailboat that they sailed in open water. Well, in the San Francisco Bay anyway. Pretty impressive, if you ask me. Not impressive enough? How about a working Black Powder Cannon. Yes, I said CANNON! It launched full-sized bowling balls 700+ yards! Wow! Now that's amazing. Not that I would ever NEED a duck tape cannon, but it's still pretty amazing for a simple piece of tape.

I always keep several rolls of various strength on-board the RV. You never know when you might need some.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Pests Be Gone! Electronic Repellers -- Do They Work?

Safely Stored
    Just because I don't really enjoy cleaning at all, doesn't mean I have a dirty RV. I've figured out how to minimize cleaning time by doing a bit at a time. Small bites, you know! So I was dismayed to discover I had a critter sharing the tiny space that is my RV, with me. Quite a shock to see it peek out in the passenger foot well while driving. I had just two questions. How did it get in and how can I get rid of!

Hunting the rodent down inside the RV and killing it was really not an option. They are tough to find and it seemed a bit overly violent to me. Besides, I'd have to clean up the mess. Far easier to make the space less comfortable for it and "persuade" it to move out. I had heard about Ultrasonic pest repellers, but was (and still am) skeptical about their effectiveness. When a coupon code arrived in my email inbox making the cost of one of them only $9, I figured, "Why not?" So I ordered it.

The Generic Box
When it arrived, it was obviously from a non-English speaking country as all the labeling was, essentially, indecipherable English sentences. How about this one; "The upgraded reinforced type repeller applies the physical principle to repel rats, bats, mosquitoes, flies and cockroaches." Ummm, I sort of get what they are writing about, but since there were no instructions inside the box, it was difficult to figure out how to actually USE the device. It has a single button that, when held for a couple of seconds, turns the device on. Subsequent clicks change modes(?)...maybe. There are all sorts of lights that flash or burn steady when various numbers of clicks are tried. I have no idea what they actually do. I can barely hear differences in the sound it emits if I get VERY close to the speaker. There are only two different sounds, so I figure the lights are only for show. I finally figured out that the two sounds were, CF or Constant Frequency, good for Rodents and other small mammals, and VF or Variable Frequency for Insects.

Note The Speaker Grill
Now be aware this device only works on 120V house power. For me, that's OK, since when I store my RV near the house I always leave it plugged into shore power. Besides, that's where it picks up hitchhiking critters in the first place. Likely, from the shore power cord opening. I recently put some steel wool around the slender opening. Hopefully that will help as well. Keeping them out in the first place. There are several versions available that run on 12 Volts as well, so can be installed and hard wired into your RV to work even when 120V isn't available. They are far more expensive, and I don't like using anything that is powered on all the time. Conservation is a good thing when boondocking!

Doing Its Thing
So, does it work? In a word, maybe. Scientifically, it has been proven that mice and other small mammals can get used to any sound over a long period of time. So for ongoing pest control, probably not going to work. To get rid of a single critter or a few...maybe. Just make sure you find the point of entry and plug it up so you don't get them back. I will be testing this gizmo over the next few weeks and update this article accordingly. My expectations are low, so if anything happens at all I will be a bit surprised. Even if it doesn't make them run screaming from the RV, at least the light show can be entertaining.

I've got my fingers crossed!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Importance Of Backing Up - Your Computer!

    I just avoided a catastrophe....barely. I had an old laptop that had a bunch of documents and software on it that need an older version of Windows. I keep it around to program radios and other older devices I still use. A few days ago, I needed to add a channel to a few radios and when I booted up the laptop it warned me that the hard drive was going to fail...soon. I'd never seen that exact message, so I thought backing up would be a prudent thing to do. Boy, was I ever right! Sometimes the universe smiles upon us and the stars align to avoid a major hassle. This was one of those times. I am most grateful!

Since it is an older laptop and I don't have many applications on it, there was only about 43 gigabytes of data on its small internal drive. So I attached an external 500 megabyte USB drive I had around and went to do a backup. This laptop gets some additional attention since it is required to program some devices that won't work with later versions of Windows and REALLY want a regular old-fashioned serial port. Not one of those Serial to USB adapters. The built-in backup tool from Windows XP is awful. I needed something a bit more robust that would allow me to restore the entire drive when the old one finally fails. That's where this adventure begins.

Typical Backup Screen.
Picking the right backup tool is critical. A quick search online for "Free Windows XP (or whatever version you have) backup" will garner MANY results. I narrowed it down to two of them. EaseUS Todo and Macrium Reflect. After researching both the back up AND the restore processes I chose EasUS Todo. Why? Well, because when I really need to get back up and running after a catastrophic failure, I don't want to have any additional stress. It's bad enough to have the hard drive fail. It's another thing to have the restore process cause extra problems. It should go smoothly with the least amount of pain possible.

Now on to the backup process. With EaseUS it was mostly point and click. Download and install the program. Start it up, choose a drive to backup and a destination for the data. Click start. That's it. It will take a while to finish. A lot longer if you have a very large hard drive to backup. I suggest you make an emergency disk or Flash drive in case you need to restore in a...well...emergency! Coincidentally, the following day when I went to boot the laptop to finish the radio reprogramming it wouldn't boot! I had a spare 512gb 2.5" laptop drive so I pulled the failed one and installed the new one. Booted from the emergency disk and restored.

Bingo, I was back up and running in about an hour, with additional hard drive storage space as a bonus. I can't tell you how nice that was. I mean, it's always a hassle when a hard drive fails, but when you plan for it...not so bad. Of course I didn't lose ANY data because I had JUST backed up... but depending upon how often you make a backup, you may lose something. Believe me, it will be better to have the majority of your programs and data available for the restore than none at all!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"