A winter overnight rest stop -the furnace is on and we are toasty

A winter overnight rest stop -the furnace is on and we are toasty
A winter overnight rest stop-the furnace is on and we are toasty

Sunset, January 9

Sunset, January 9
Sunset, January 9

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park

Norm's travel Videos


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Rv Wifi Issues

Checking internet speed using Fast.com

"Let's make campgrounds who say they offer wifi to actually provide wifi. I'm so tired of seeing "connected, no internet" or just not being able to connect at all, all the while that I'm looking at a campground's wifi information that I got when I paid them for it at check in...information that is useless."

So complained a full time RVer recently on a social media site. They have a point, but it isn't always the campground's fault. That internet connection has specific data restrictions and it is shared by many users.

We run into the issue frequently when trekking. I bit the bullet some years ago and got a jetpack on a Verizon plan. I saved my bandwidth (4 GB as I recall) for those times when I needed to get email, etc. and the campground internet connection was slooooow or non-existent. Back then I had a flip phone and it could not connect via the cellular network to the internet.

Today there are many "unlimited" plans available via cellular carriers, or at much better prices than a couple of years ago. So I now have a plan for 24 GB per month. Cellular isn't perfect, however. I had dual smart phones for a few years; one on Verizon and the other on AT&T. There were areas where I could get a good AT&T cellular connection but 0 Mbps internet! Just like at some campgrounds.

For one thing, connecting to wifi simply means one has connected to a wi-fi hotspot or router. That device is a bridge to the internet. Everyone who connects shares that internet pipeline. The more who connect, generally the slower the connection as those Mbps are parcelled out to all of the users. Eventually the internet connection slows to a crawl, or even 0 Mbps.

Sometimes disconnecting from the wireless network connection and then reconnecting will restore some bandwidth, but more usually this trick doesn't work. When the pipeline is down it is down!

I've been in campgrounds which seem to get throttled by the ISP after using all available bandwidth for a period of time. The connection works for a while in the morning, then as users connect it slows. Eventually it just stops (0Mbps). I have noticed the connection may not be restored until the wee hours. Then suddenly the Mbps return. I suspect the campground used it entire daily allotment of bits.

This doesn't happen everywhere. Some larger "resorts" have more sophisticated technology. This is affordable when there are hundreds (or a thousand) RVers who will share the technology cost. In such situations there is a dedicated login and password for each user. Of course, there is usually a seperate fee for this service. Some campgrounds or resorts offer a two-tiered service. Everyone connects via a single login and shares that data pipeline. However, there will also be a "wifi" room with special connection privileges for as many people as can fit at three or four tables. When within the room the speed is much faster, even if outside the room the wifi internet is creeping. And finally, some resorts offer a computer service area with volunteers and fast wifi within that room. One can even use the resort computers for about $1 an hour or so and there may be printers available and so on. Color and B&W.

Free WiFi
Many campgrounds offer free wifi. That can be confusing because they  don't promise unlimited internet connectivity. If you go to a campground in which everyone shares one login, then you and your neighbors also share bandwidth. In other words, that "free" wifi internet pipeline has only so much capacity. Get a bunch of streamers on it and it will choke as the pipeline fills with Netflix watchers, gamers and so on.

If you want dedicated internet access there are several ways to get it.

  1. Go to campgrounds which offer specific bandwidth to all users, or those who are willing to pay for it. You will find that you get your own login name and password. We pay about $30 a month for this at certain campgrounds with a 4 Mbps download speed or higher.
  2. Carry a Verizon jetpack with a 20+ GB monthly plan, or via the service provider of your choice. Then you can have your own internet connection. 
  3. Go to a nearby coffee shop and log in from their "free wifi." 
  4. Some campgrounds have the camp wide system but also have have a dedicated Wifi room, which offers higher speeds and dedicated login limited to about 8 users in that room. 

BTW, I dropped AT&T last year because their cellular system did exactly what some complain about; I could connect but the download speed was near 0 MBPS in some locations. "The internet is not free."

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Why do they call them "campervans"?

Bookmark and Share

Here's a walk down memory lane. It was our first campervan Class B experience. G is intolerant of the cold and we've since upgraded to a Class B with better heating systems which include a heat pump, 1500 W electric space heat, propane furnace and electric blanket.  I also have a 250 watt surface mount flat panel heater (about 1/2 inch thick) and a plug-in electrical thermostat. That could be mounted in the sleeping area and I've tried a 400 watt panel in the bedroom of a humongous 5th wheel and it is simply marvelous.

However, our first experience was in an all electric solar powered or 30A shore powered  Class B. It had no propane and that means no propane furnace and no propane stove top. The coach was dependent upon the batteries and that 30A shore power electrical connection.

 I would say it was wonderful above freezing, but when the temperatures in Utah dropped to about 20F at night it became chilly, with only a small space heater for comfort. And attempting to run the electric stove top with the space heater on was pushing it.  That's one of the things about a Class B. They have a maximum plug-in service available of 30A.

For some insights about how far a 30A 120V circuit will go, consider this. A 1500W small space heater requires 12.5A. A dual burner electric hot plate also requires about 1500W or another 12.5A. Add a 6 gallon electric hot water heater which requires 1650 watts or 13.75A and you have just connected 38.75A to a circuit with a maximum capacity of 30A. It is obvious that all of these things can't be used simultaneously in a Class B.

So the occupants of an all-electric such as the one we were in had to do some manual load shedding and decide what was most important at any point in time. This was complicated by the fact that the electric hot water heater did not have a readily accessible power "Off-On" switch.  When the temperatures were mild and no space heater required it was a breeze. With a single burner on the stove and the hot water heater on the system only required about 20A plus lights. Add the second burner of the stovetop and we still used a peak of about 26A plus lighting. Of course, if the coach batteries were "low" and no solar energy available, the mains powered charger could consume another 2-10 amperes. The all electric coach was not ideal at such low ambient temperatures.

Furthermore, the typical Class B has a lot of window area and these windows have an R-value of about 0.1. This means that the heat in the interior of the coach is constantly escaping to the outside world. And that world is really large, so with exterior temperatures below freezing and with little insulation the interior temperatures would plummet if some source of heat wasn't used.

In our first campervan experience we didn't have any Reflectix. While some diss that product, it does have an R-Value of about 1.0, which is 10 times better than glass. We now use it in all window but the side entry at night when winter trekking below freezing.

So our first Class B experience was a true "campervan" experience, with the emphasis on the word "camp" as in "camping."

On one particular morning we got up well before dawn for coffee and an oatmeal "starter". Just like camping in a tent! But we had shelter to cook in, whereas when tenting I usually cooked outdoors in rain, snow or shine.

I thought the use of the camp cookwear was an appropriate touch. After some coffee and oatmeal G actually took her mittens off for the above photo.  Do you think I'm kidding?

After this brief warm-up we left Mt. Carmel Junction, Utah and headed north on US 89 as we  headed to our next encounter (Arches National Park). En route we stopped for a real breakfast at the Cactus Cowboy Restaurant at the Riverside RV Park in Hatch, Utah and I had the opportunity to pose with some childhood friends. The food was very good and it was like dining in someone's home.

Ah, yes, the memories and the learning experiences. Here is a link to a very short video of our first cooking experience in the 19 ft. Class B with a dual electric burner. Soup!


Monday, February 27, 2017

Tire Carrier Surface Finish Issues - Rust!

Bookmark and Share

Comments March 1, 2017:
  1. A reader suggested I consider using "Corroseal" which is a rust inhibitor.  Thanks for the tip, Wanda!  "Corroseal® is a water based rust converter combined with a non pigmented high quality latex metal primer. The converter segments turn rust into a barrier layer of black non rusting magnetite. The metal primer acts as a bonding agent for oil-based intermediate and finish coatings of epoxy, enamel, acrylic, polyurethane and moisture-cured urethane...."  http://www.corroseal.com/technical/technicaldata.aspx
  2. I used Rust-Oleum® Stops Rust® Rusty Metal Primer. According to the manufacturer this "stops rust and prevents corrosion. Apply to heavily rusted metal (use Rust-Oleum® Stops Rust® Clean Metal Primer on clean or lightly rusted metal). Bonds tightly to rust to form a surface top coats can adhere to."
Original Post February 27, 2017
The surface of the metal tire carrier on my 210P began to show some distress about two years after purchase. Paint flaked off to show rust underneath. This became quite extensive by the third year.

I really don't know what grade of steel, or surface finishing was used. It appears that there was no metal primer, but that is difficult to determine. Let's just say that the black paint and the primer were identical, because the paint flakes were black throughout, with rusty metal beneath.

I prepared the surface by cleaning with mineral spirits. I then used a stiff wire brush and a wire wheel to remove as much loose or flaking paint as possible, and also removed as much surface rust as I could. However, it would take a lot of grinding to get to polished metal. I also did not want to disassemble the unit.

Here's what it looked like after the first pass of cleaning. The first was by hand with a stiff wire brush, to remove as much loose paint as possible:

Here is how it looked after using the wire wheel with a 3/8 drill and before cleaning. Soon I'll be applying a primer:

After doing this I cleaned the surface again with mineral spirits, allowed to dry and then with a tack cloth. I did have to open it and flip it several times, and I used a wooden shim to keep it from closing (going to a 90 degree position).

I wanted to assure that all loose rust and paint had been removed. I decided against using a spray primer, choosing a brush-on "Rusty metal primer". I painted it partially on a table, let that dry overnight and then completed by sliding it partially into the center hitch of the Roadtrek:

I let it dry in the horizontal position, then closed it partially and that allowed me to paint other areas. I used a wooden shim to hold the hitch in position (shim removed for this photo):

I used brush-on black enamel as the final coat of paint. I used a shim to hold the rack in the partially dropped position. The arrow in the photo points to the shim, which is a piece of scrap with partially black surface:

Here's the finished tire rack. I didn't put a finish coat on the section that slides into the receiver; it will simply be scraped off when inserting it:

While I was at it, I painted the hitch parts on the Roadtrek that were showing some rust. Same procedure as the rack; clean, wire brush, prime and then finish coat.

We'll see how well this does. I hope it slows the rust down.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Coach Battery Replacement

Bookmark and Share

My Roadtrek which I could name "Tried and true" or "Rock steady" continues to perform. But there is maintenance to do. Some of this is preventative.

It became apparent that I needed to replace the coach batteries when one of them dropped to 0 volts. It had shorted, I guess, because the bank was at 6.5 volts, which was the voltage across one of the batteries and also the voltage across both. One battery seemed to be doing okay and the other was a tag-along. Just like America, 50% are doing the work and the other 50% is contributing nothing. beyond lip service.

I was aware that the batteries were not able to deliver the designed capacity. Capacity is the ability of a battery to provide the required power (watts) or ampere-hours for the required amount of time. My coach battery capacity prior to the 0 volt failure was below 50%, even though they measured suitable voltage on the indicator in the Roadtrek.

My batteries achieved a life of 4 years. Well maintained AGM batteries can go for 6 years, or more. I use a 50 watt solar panel with de-sulfating controller to maintain the batteries when off of the grid. My measurements indicate this is sufficient when storing the Roadtrek. On a sunny day the batteries will reach peak voltage. After a couple of cloudy days the voltage might decrease to about 80% as an indicator of "state of charge." I take my measurements early in the morning, prior to sunrise and after sufficient time to dissipate any "surface charge."

I'd done a lot of research including opening a discussion via the FMCA Roadtrek International "cyberrally" email.

I'd also designed a LiFePO4 system, should I want to upgrade to a lithium battery system. However, I decided at this time that going with AGM battery replacement was the prudent thing to do. More on that decision in a future post.

I was spending some time in the Tucson AZ area, so I found a distributor who carried the 220Ah 6-volt AGMs I was interested in and would install them for an additional $30. The total price was irresistible.

One thing we observed was the ends of the crimp connectors showed some oxidation. Is that a problem? The oxidation is higher resistance than bright copper, and over time that oxidation will creep up the wire. Resistance is a voltage loss and a source of heat. After cleaning, the ends were again shiny copper.

The installer then applied liquid plastic via a glue gun to seal the end of the connector. This should prevent further oxidation.

The new batteries included lifting means. One of the reasons I didn't do this was the fact that the old batteries didn't have such a means. I was faced with either purchasing a strap, or wrestling with 63 pound batteries. I've stored the lifting means in the compartment with the batteries.

Here's the completed installation:

After several weeks of monitoring the battery voltage, and with the solar panel connected, it seems the new batteries are doing well, achieving maximum terminal voltage and sustaining it into darkness.

My Roadtrek which I could name "Tried and true" or "Rock steady" continues to perform.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Adding Interior LED Strip Lighting to RV

Bookmark and Share

We like the lighting of the 210P, which includes LED spots and fluorescents. But in the evening we wanted dimmable and "surround" light. So in June of 2016 I purchased and installed strip lighting.

I purchased a strip of LEDs 16.4 feet in length, with power supply, remote control and sensor for the remote. The cost was about $22 and today a similar strip can be purchased for less.

The first decision was where to mount the power supply. I could have gone direct DC, but decided on using the 120VAC supply that came with the strip. [Note: Some of the LEDs are designed for 12VDC and are intolerant of the higher voltages which can occur in RVs. I decided to use the AC/DC power supply which provides a stable DC voltage to the LEDs].

For the location of the power supply I had two easy choices. One location was above the entertainment center and the other above the kitchen galley. I chose the kitchen galley because it provided a better "line of site" for the remote.

As is true for all of my projects I determined what plugs into what before I attempted the install. I powered it up and confirmed operation on a tabletop. I also checked the length of the LED strip and how far it could reach. I'd made measurements prior to purchase, but the saying is "measure twice, cut once." This is before doing any drilling, etc. I had measured the length of the ceiling perimeter in the Roadtrek, The strip would reach from the extreme edge of the cabinet above the kitchen area, around the rear and to the armoire with about a foot to spare. I removed the plastic cover of the heat pump/AC so I could run the strip beneath it. The strip has a sticky back and adheres easily to the cabinetry.

Before installing I plugged it all together on a table and powered it up. I verified it all works before installing.

Here's the package:

Here are the electronics included in the package. Not shown is the remote or the spool of LEDs. This is a power supply and control module. The module includes a sensor which responds to the remote:

Here's the sensor that must have "line of sight" to the remote control. The sensor is one of the leads going to the white box in the above photo. The control included detailed instructions of what to plug into what, so I won't duplicate that here. The important this is this. The sensor must be installed outside of any cabinet so the remote will work.

Here's the second lead from the white control module. This lead goes to the LED strip. If you enlarge the photo you will notice a raised arrow. This must be aligned with a matching one on the mating connector of the LED strip. I needed to drill a hole large enough to accommodate this connector and the sensor.

Using a hand drill, I drilled a hole large enough through the cabinet to accommodate both connectors, but no larger than necessary so as not to reduce the strength of the cabinet. Here is what it looks like with the LED strip in place. The sensor was pushed into the hole from the rear and projects slightly into the room.

I also fed the LED connector through the hole and into the cabinet. It is probably easier to do the LED first. As I unrolled the LED strip I removed the backing about 3 inches at a time and pressed it onto the cabinet surface. The strip has a sticky back. At the heat pump/AC I removed the cover and ran the LED strip under it and around. It reached all the way to the armoire.

Here's a close-up. You can see the sensor projecting into the room:

Here's the cable and connector from the LED strip, Ready to install the control module and connect.

To get the strip around corners I used two techniques.  I used a razor knife to cut the plastic lens at exterior corners. This allowed for a sharp 90 degree bend. For interior corners I simply rounded the LED strip. Of course, I could have chamfered the inside corners, but I decided the benefits outweighed the time spent:

Ready to mount the electrical components:

Drilling the mounting holes for the screws to hold the electronic control module in place:

Connecting the LED strip to the control module. Be sure to observe the polarity markings:

Ready to mount the power supply:

I used sticky bases for cable ty-wraps to mount the power supply. These tend to loosen and perhaps one day I'll do this with screws. After mounting I plugged the power supply into the controller and into the AC outlet:

In the above photo, you will notice the sensor hanging in space. I simply pulled on the cable, drawing it back toward the hole. It projects about 1/4 inch from the front of the cabinet. Not noticeable,

Here's the remote:

Here's a close-up of the LED strip. It can be cut at the copper areas to shorten it, but I chose not to:

Here is the same strip illuminated as "white" and at maximum brightness:

Here we are, at night with the strip set to white light and moderate intensity:

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Onan RV Generator Set

Bookmark and Share

Oil fill cap and dipstick

Our RT included the optional gasoline powered Onan 2.8 kW generator set.  I'd read some negative comments about generators in RVs, including Roadtreks. In fact, the president of that company stated that the generators were their number one maintenance issue, or words to that effect.

I was concerned. So I read all of the Onan-Cummings documentation including the "Operator Manual" and "Installation Manual" and I decided to follow all of the recommendations. One concern I had was changing the engine oil. The generator is mounted under the vehicle and seemed to be difficult to get to.

Here's what I learned in the first three years. I have also been able to do my own engine oil changes. It wasn't as difficult as I expected.  In fact, my experience has been a very good one for three years. 

Here are some Onan recommendations for my generator set, which is a model 2.8KVFA26100K.

  1. The gasoline powered generator on my Roadtrek should be exercised two hours per month. Onan states that a two hour continuous run is better than several short duration runs. 
  2. Onan states that the generator should be exercised with a half load. 
  3. Onan recommended a "break-in" period with specific instructions. I followed them. The Onan manual is very specific about loading and oil viscosity during this period. 
  4. Onan recommended single weight oil over multi-viscosity. However, it also recommended several different oil viscosities as determined by minimum and peak ambient temperatures. 
  5. Onan recommends a gasoline additive. 
  6. Onan recommends an initial oil change at 20 hours, and thereafter at 100 hours, unless used under dusty conditions. In dusty conditions the oil is to be changed every 50 hours. 
  7. Onan recommends a general inspection every day of use.
  8. Onan recommends checking the engine oil every 8 hours of use. 
  9. Limit the cranking time with specific duration pauses. 
  10. Set the "altitude adjustment" to match the current altitude. 
  11. Onan recommends "Before the first start of the day....inspect the genset as instructed under CONDUCTING GENERAL INSPECTIONS..." I do as that list recommends. Actually easy.

I've followed Onan's recommendations, with one exception.
  1. I don't change the altitude adjustment from day to day. More on that later in this post.  

    Some things I do which might contribute to my experience:
    1. I followed the "break-in" recommendations.
    2. I add "seafoam" gasoline additive to the RT210 tank. I do this during fill-up when I expect to run the genset on that tank of gas. I purchase the seafoam in a large, one gallon container to save money. One gallon has made it for three years.
    3. I do exercise the generator frequently and attempt 1-1/2 to 2 hours per month.
    4. I do use the recommended oil viscosity and per Onan's manual I use single weight oil where practical.
    5. I change the oil with seasonal changes, whether I've reached the number of hours or not. I travel from below freezing temperatures to 100F with the anticipation of using the generator. 

    My longest period using the generator was overnight in New Mexico with a low of about 25F. I ran it all night. Not a problem. The only issue I have experienced to date (since December 2013) was running it to exercise it at temperatures below 20F. It did start, but it had the "break in oil" in it which might have contributed to the reluctance to start.

    Why exercise the genset drive? 
    The manual for my Onan generator set states "Exercising the genset drives off moisture, re-lubricates the engine, replaces stale fuel in fuel lines and carburetor and removes oxides from the electrical contacts and generator slip rings. The result is better starting, more reliable operation and longer engine life." (emphasis is mine).

    Reaching the genset to do maintenance

    Of course, to change the oil or to set the altitude adjustment requires getting to the genset. In my case it is mounted under the vehicle.  Initially I tried to do this in cold weather while wearing a moderate weight coat. It didn't seem possible. However, by removing the coat I was able to easily slide in from the side of the vehicle. Here is what I determined:

    1. Wear light weight clothing.
    2. Put a "blue" fiberglass tarp under the rear of the vehicle. This is "slippery" and makes it easy to slide in or out on one's back and with little effort. 

    Changing the oil or checking the oil level
    This is relatively easy in my 210P. There are two slide "tabs" which hold a removable access cover in place. Pushing them both up releases the cover. This provides access to the "oil fill cap and dipstick."

    Removing the cover also provides access to the "altitude adjustment."

    Tools required to change the oil in my genset:

    1. 14mm socket set
    2. Torque wrench 21 lbs-ft (27 N-m) if available. 
    3. Small crescent wrench (less than 6 inch); OPTIONAL
    4. Small plastic funnel

    Why the crescent wrench? I couldn't get enough torque with my left hand to rotate and loosen the "oil fill cap and dipstick." So I gingerly used a small 4 inch crescent wrench to provide some leverage. But that's a plastic cap, so I had to be careful.

    Steps for oil change (see photos)

    1. Run the genset as recommended by Onan to heat 
    2. Slide the access cover latches up. CAUTION. Some components will be hot!
    3. I first remove the "oil fill cap and dipstick." I do this because if I first dump the oil and then have difficulty and can't remove the oil cap, I'll have a generator with no oil. I would be committed and unable to run the genset until I found a way to remove the oil cap and add the required oil. Of course, accidentally running a generator without oil is a certain means of destruction. 
    4. Then I place a 1 quart container under the "oil drain plug." An old coffee container works well.
    5. Loosen the "oil drain plug" and let it flow into the container beneath.
    6. After the oil has drained tighten the drain plug (recommended 21 lbs-ft (27 N-m) per my Onan manual.
    7. Insert the small plastic funnel.
    8. Gradually pour fresh oil into the funnel until the proper amount is in the generator. In my case, 1 quart of 30W for temperatures "32F (0C) and higher." All according to the Onan manual. 
    9. Insert the "oil fill cap and dipstick" and confirm the oil level is proper. 
    10. Tighten the  "oil fill cap and dipstick."
    11. Replace the access cover.
    12. Dispose of the old oil responsibly. There are numerous recycling options available.
    Altitude adjustments
    Onan recommends setting the adjustment for the current altitude. I've left it in the position originally set by the Roadtrek factory, or the manufacturer. My bad? I've never use it above 4500ft or lower than 300ft above sea level.


    Onan nameplate - This is the model that is in my Roadtrek
    Oil fill cap and dipstick, after loosening

    Oil drain plug

    Loosening the oil drain plug

    Draining the oil
    Oil draining into the coffee can
    Oil fill point, with "oil fill cap and dipstick" removed
    Plastic funnel inserted into oil fill point

    Altitude adjustment