G has a "swell" time kayaking

G has a "swell" time kayaking
G has a "swell" time on Lake Michigan in an inflatable canoe

Dawn on the Gulf of Mexico

Dawn on the Gulf of Mexico
Dawn on the Gulf of Mexico

Warren Dunes Sunset

Warren Dunes Sunset
Warren Dunes Sunset

Friday, September 10, 2021

Practical Solar


Making coffee in the morning in the "Solar powered" Class B
Must turn off the hot water heater before using the burner!
Outside ambient: 20F,  Inside: chilly!

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Realistic expectations  

We trek and we have spent up to 100+ continuous days in our Roadtrek.  But first, we rented a "100% electric" solar powered Sprinter coach and took it to the National Parks in Utah.  It was mid-October 2013. Nighttime temperatures were about 20F.  It was a good test of how well a solar powered, electric coach would perform.  That was our purpose in choosing it, and I wanted to see how the BlueTec engine performed, etc. 

From a comfort perspective, it was not ideal, and G had to ask "How is it that one would spend $100K to buy this?" Adequate if the ambient temperature was in the range 50F to 80F and if one wasn't parked in the full sun during the daylight hours.  Otherwise uncomfortable. The Sprinter had sufficient batteries and solar, and a large inverter, but it did have power limitations. For example, we couldn't use the electric cooktop and simultaneously make hot water for bathing or cleaning. For comfort heat it had a 1500 W electric heater, which was not adequate at below freezing, nighttime temperatures. There was no propane. It was a Mercedes camping experience as we slept in sleeping bags.

However, that experience allowed us to make a more realistic list of "must haves" and after reviewing these and discussing the Sprinter and our experience, we purchased a Roadtrek 210P which uses multiple fuels for coach amenities.  After the Roadtrek financial bankruptcy, the 210P is no longer made, which is a shame. 

I'm not going to repeat my earlier posts, in particular the one about our experience and decision to purchase the 210P. I do have earlier posts on solar, batteries, etc. 

Solar Power and Batteries

We purchased a new Roadtrek a bit sooner than would have been ideal at the time. We were both working and had very limited time for trekking. On the other hand, the price in December 2013 was really good, with a steep discount.  So, we purchased it. Because we live in a HOA and our garage cannot accommodate the Roadtrek we had to store it, and the largest issue was keeping the chassis and coach batteries fully charged. I did run the generator monthly.  The 210P did not have solar.

To keep the chassis battery fully charged, I purchased a 50W solar panel and controller. That's documented in a earlier post. I selected a de-sulfating controller. That was in Spring of 2014. 

I mounted the solar controller adjacent to the coach batteries, and I decided I wanted a "portable" panel, because when it is hot it is preferable to park in the shade. My approach allowed us to charge the batteries during the day while we were comfy. The cable connecting the solar panel to the controller is about 20 ft long and is coiled and placed under the passenger seat when we are in movement.

The Coach Solar

The 24"  x 24" 50 watt panel is stored behind the drivers seat when we are travelling. Why only 50 watts?

I had evaluated our DC electrical power needs. Our Roadtrek 210P has a 2.8kW Onan gasoline generator. It also had multiple energy sources. For example, propane is the source for the furnace, hot water and a range top, as well as the third source for the 3-way refrigerator. All of the controls are 12VDC.

We have no interest in living "off the grid" for weeks while running the refrigerator and Air Conditioning or space heat using 3000 watts of batteries and solar panels. In fact, our 210P simply doesn't have enough roof space for all of those solar panels. 200W would be pushing the maximum roof space available. Our interest is charging the coach and chassis batteries, reducing but not replacing the amount of grid electricity we need and so on.  This is because of practical considerations. Those considerations include roof area available or size of portable panels, battery considerations and cost.

What can we get if we maximize the roof panel? For example, 100W solar panels can produce about 5.6A. Depending on the orientation of the panel, the intensity of sunlight and the hours of direct sunlight received in a day, a 100W panel can generate 20- to 30-amp hours (Ah) daily. In fact, the amount of energy may be only half of this because of clouds, panel orientation and hours of daylight. 200W could provide a maximum of about 60-amp hours each day. 

To charge the coach batteries using 120VAC and the Triplite charger-inverter requires anywhere from about 3.6A to 9.3A at 120VAC.  To fully charge 50% depleted batteries can take 12 hours.  At the lower charging rate using the Triplite 120VAC inverter-charger, 3.6A is a minimum used, or about 430 watts. I've measured the AC at the pole with everything off in the coach except charging via the Triplite.  At a typical seasonal campground where we pay $0.14 per kWh; that's $1.45 per day to keep the coach batteries fully charged. 

If the batteries are at 50% the AC required for charging can increase to 9.3A (1,116 Watts).   The 50 watt panel can't do that. It can provide about 4.2A at 12 VDC. 

The 50 watt solar panel is sufficient for my needs to keep the coach batteries fully charged under low load.   If we need more charging current I can run the Onan generator, or run the vehicle.  Running the vehicle will charge the chassis battery and, if the battery separator is closed the coach batteries will also charge. 

If we need more 120VAC than the 750 watt inverter and batteries can provide while off the grid, we run the Onan generator. The generator uses 0.3 gallons of gasoline at half load.  That's acceptable and in this manner we can recharge the coach batteries and run appliances. The Onan can provide sufficient AC for the heat pump/air conditioner. 

Why a Portable (detached) solar panel?

I preferred a portable solar panel because we can park the Roadtrek in the shade and put the solar in the sun, and I can orient the panel for maximum DC energy.  The de-sulfating solar controller I purchased is rated for 180W maximum panels.  I can always upgrade to more solar.  However, if I really want more solar, I'll probably mount a flexible panel on the roof and carry another 100W portable panel.  In that way I could get up to 200W if parked in the sun or, at a minimum 100W if parked in the shade with the portable panel in the sun.

I've written about batteries in earlier posts. I don't like the low temperature charging limitations of Lithium-Ion batteries.  Combined with the high cost, I don't see an overwhelming advantage for us. In my earlier posts I do go into greater detail about this.

50 Watt panel in full sun

Charging at MI campground

Coach battery voltage while charging in MI on 50W solar panel
Current (amperes) is not accurately displayed when charging;
the meter displays current draw (discharge) on the battery. 
While charging the current flow is in the other direction

50 Watt behind the windshield
The glass does reduce the efficiency, however, if facing the sun for half of the day the panel does keep the coach batteries fully charged. 

At the AZ "lily pad" the Roadtrek is under the roof.
  I place the portable solar panel on the roof.

The Roadtrek is in the shade, while the solar panel is directly above,
 on the the roof, in full sun.

Charging the Chassis Battery

The chassis battery also needs to be maintained.  My theft prevention device does increase the 12V DC power needs when the vehicle is stored. With the arrival of thin solar, or flexible solar panels I purchased a 30Watt for that purpose. The 30 watt panel can provide 2.5A at 12VDC.

The 30W panel can also be put inside, on the dashboard and facing outward.  This will charge the chassis battery when the vehicle is stationary and stored. 

Monitoring the batteries. 
I have two DC voltage indicators. One plugs into the accessory socket on the dashboard and it displays the chassis battery voltage. The other I added and is mounted inside. It provides coach battery voltage reading and current draw, when the battery is discharging. I added a power "Off-On" switch for the interior meter so as to conserve DC. I've included photos here. I have an earlier post on the coach battery monitor.

30 Watt solar panel

Chassis battery charging voltage on Solar, 13.1 VDC

(c) 2021 Roadtrek210.blogspot.com.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

A few consecutive years of photos taken in July


Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore - July 2012

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I've taken a lot of photos while camping, trekking, etc.  

I've been sharing some photos with a couple of campground and social media groups.  I began posting a representative photo for each month of the year going back several years. Here's a series of representative photos for each July. I was working full time and part time and so was G, so for one year we had no trek photos.  Instead I included a project photo, taken in July 2010. Montana was also taken while on a project, but I had some time to hike and so I did.

Groton, CT - July 2006

Libby Flats, Wyoming - July 2007

Crater Lake - July 2008

Jay Pritzker Pavilion Chicago - July 2009

Silo Project - July 2010
No trekking that month, was here, instead!

Bayou Sauvage Ridge Trail,  near New Orleans - July 2011
Damage remains years after Katrina

Sturgeon Bay, WI - July 2012

On the Illinois Prairie Path - July 2013

Herrick Lake - July 2014

Sawyer, MI - July 2015

Warren Dunes, MI - July 2016

Lake Michigan Sunset - July 2017

Kayaking at Weko Beach - July 2018

At the summer Lily Pad, G writing poetry while I soak corn in preparation for grilling - July 2019

Weko Beach Taps Stone - July 2020
Taps is played by a live trumpeter every Saturday evening May to October

Climbing the Michigan Dunes - July 2021

My current digital cameras are  Lumix model DMC-ZS50, a GoPro and a Samsung smart phone.

(c) 2021 Roadtrek210.blogspot.com.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Cook Station - Work Table project


Deck and cook station at dusk

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The summer of 2020 was unusual because of the CCP Covid-19 virus

I probably should have posted this in July 2020, but I had not yet decided to expand the blog with more coverage of our winter and summer "lily pads". In 2021 I decided to include all of our camping experiences, so, here it is, better late than never as the saying goes. 

In July 2020 we spent more time at our summer "lily pad" which is a travel trailer at a campground in Michigan.  We did not travel very much due to covid restrictions. I took the opportunity to build  a cook station - work table on the site. It was a CCP Covid-19 project. We have made a number of improvements at this annual site, including adding a deck and wooden stairs. Because we do a lot of outside grilling and other cooking I had wanted to do this. With things "slow" and Gov. Whitless of Michigan playing tyrant, it seemed like an opportunity.  The Home Depot was open for business as was the Ace Hardware.

I didn't tell G what I was up to.  I told her I was building a "Mystery Project".  I had a budget and so  I made it simple. I made some sketches and from that got the dimensions of the 2x4s and three - 4 ft x 4 ft. x 3/8 inch exterior plywood. I sized it for 24 inch deep shelving top and bottom.  I would cut several 4x4 ft pieces of 3/8 plywood; I wanted minimal waste. I also needed deck screws of two sizes, sanding sealer for the plywood, and a quart of royal blue Rust-oleum gloss enamel. I used left-over Cabot gray solid wood stain with which to paint the frame.


  • Circular saw
  • 3/8 inch electric drill
  • Screw drivers
  • Tape measure
  • Square
  • Pen
  • Paint brush
  • Note: All screws were drilled with a pilot hole. 

2x4 frame - on end, during assembly

After assembling the frame I set it in place to check overall fit and height. I then cut the shelving.  The photo was taken before the final small pieces were cut to make top and bottom shelves continuous. The top will be screwed into place and top and bottom rest on front to back 2x4 supports positioned at the seams. The bottom shelf will be set in place and be  removeable for winter.  The bottom shelf is three pieces and will be placed on top of the upper shelf during winter, then the grill folded and placed on that as well as an extra water hose. The topmost shelf ad contents are protected with a tarp during winter.  We did this for the the winter of 2020-2021 and it was fine in the Spring.  

Rough setup

I removed the shelves, which were simply set in place to check the fit.  I then set the frame on edge and stained it.  After staining the 2x4 frame will be rotated into the normal position. 

At this point G didn't have any idea of what it was, because she hadn't seen it set properly in position. I placed it at a corner of the deck and out of the way. After a coat of Minwax water-based sanding sealer on the shelves and a light sanding to knock off the shine I painted them with Rust-Oleum Royal Blue gloss enamel. The sanding sealer seals the grain and reduces the absorption of paint into the wood.  As a consequence less paint is used and there is a better, glossier finish:

Painting the shelving with Royal Blue enamel

I used deck screws to hold the 2x4 frame together. I used a shorter deck screw to hold the top shelves in position. All holes were pre-drilled before installing screws. The shelves cover the entire top and bottom surfaces. The 2x4 top frame provides a left and right "edge". 

After painting both sides of the shelves and the edges and allowing to dry overnight, I fasted the top shelf in place:

Using flush screws to hold the top shelf in place

I placed the fully assembled unit in place.  G said the really likes the height of the top surface, which is convenient for cooking.  It is of sufficient dimensions to facilitate serving and is near the 120VAC outlet on the side of the rig, which is necessary for the induction electric cooktop/ cast iron cooking. We purchased the propane BBQ in the photo from a camper who was selling their rig. It replaced the one that came with the Heartland travel trailer:

Cook station in position

After a full season of use (August 2020-2021), G says she really like it. We use it with the cast iron and inductive heater, toaster and so on.  I had considered a small cabinet on the lower shelf, but decided to build a separate cabinet and hang it from the side of the travel trailer, using the 3/8 inch tube shelf that held the Celano BBQ.

I also use it as a "work table" and it has been helpful.  

Original Material: Roadtrek210.Blogspot.com (c) 2021

Sunday, August 22, 2021

As Fall approaches, good times, some rain, lazy days


August 20, 2021 about 1:45pm - Weko Beach

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31 days to the Autumnal Equinox - "Lazy, hazy days of summer"

In 31 days Fall will arrive.  In the meantime everyone is enjoying most of August. It's been wet and humid with rain every three or four days.  That means hot (87F) and humid (70%).  The temperature of Lake Michigan has been about 62F while breezes are westerly.  The beachgoers are loving it.  On the weekend it has been crazy at the beaches.  The photo above was taken on Friday before the weekend crowd arrives.

The flower garden at the campground is beginning to wane.  The butterflies and bees have been very busy.  It is a bit early for the rush of yellow jackets.  We do have hummingbird visitors.  Many campers have emptied their bird feeders out of concern about the die-off of song birds this year.


Hummingbird at our campsite feeder

I took the opportunity to expand the cook station. I took some scrap wood and built a small cabinet for seasonings, olive oil and other stuff I would like to leave outdoors to facilitate BBQ and cooking. I set it on the removeable rack for a grill which hangs on the side of the travel trailer. I'll be adding screening.  When I took this photo G was setting up to make Marinara sauce................

Small cabinet made from wood scraps

With hot and humid weather, we bicycle to the lake early to beat the mid-day heat.  On our ride we encounter the occasional wild turkey.  They don't wait for me to stop and pull out the camera.  They head into the woods, scolding as they leave.  G is only a few yards behind me on the curve, but she can only hear them as she passes.  "What was that?" she asks.   Arriving at the shore, it is very quiet.

Peaceful with few sun worshippers at 10:00 am

It seems the annual Monarch butterfly migration has begun.  It seems early this year.  Perhaps the butterflies are expecting an early winter, or it is simply because of the recent cool nights.  We bike to the shore, sit and watch them drift by, travelling in a southerly direction along the shoreline.  

Monarch butterfly passes overhead, en-route to Mexico

We relax before bicycling back to the campground. 

Relaxing and counting butterflies

The occasional cloud and curious gulls fly overhead.  The gulls I have learned from my sailing days are attracted to royal blue, and that is the color of the shirt I am wearing.  There is a possibility of a stray shower, but it doesn't happen until nightfall.  

A gull checks us out while a few stray clouds pass overhead

Nights have been pleasant with lows of about 65F, aided by mild breezes off the lake. Excellent weather for campfires. The campground has been quiet during the week, but with the arrival of the weekend things will get busier.  After dinner we start a fire and watch hummingbirds at the feeder.  Life is good, they say.  I say it really beats the alternatives. I'm a very lucky guy......

9:00 pm August 19 - No bicycles were ignited - LOL

Original Material: Roadtrek210.Blogspot.com (c) 2021

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Care of the Fiberglass on our Heartland Caliber


Fiberglass Cap -  dull and needing a good waxing  in the Spring
Even after several years of cleaning and polishing

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Restoring the Fiberglass on our Heartland Caliber

Our "summer" lily pad is a Heartland Caliber travel trailer.  We purchased it used, and apparently the previous owner didn't keep up with the weathering of the fiberglass nose, or "cap".  As a consequence the gel coat had degraded.  This is not uncommon.

I've spent several years removing oxidation, polishing and waxing using Meguiar products.  Each year the fiberglass becomes more even in color with less streaking.  I compare the most recent "after" to the photos the year we purchased and I think the cap is now in better condition than when purchased. This post is about the specific steps I took this year after a couple of years of using "Oxidation Remover", polish and wax. Yes, these are different products, each has a purpose and I've used four different products in succession each year for several years. 

Close-up of Area before using Oxidation Remover
Old wax and some oxidation

Mottled Surface 2 years later - It had been cleaned and waxed, but the 
area the "For Sale" sign was taped is still apparent.
Photo in bright afternoon sun

Same Area -  After use of oxidation remover, but before any polish or wax
This is after several years of such cleaning
Color is "dull" in part because of solid overcast and the absence 
of any polish or wax. 

Each spring I clean and wax the entire area of the fiberglass nose cap.  I do this before it becomes too hot so I have better control over the evaporation and drying of the products.  These cannot be applied in full sun on hot surfaces. Of course, I'm more comfortable in the shade, too. This is an annual chore and in my opinion it is a necessary one for a rig such as this which is exposed to the weather 12 months of the year. Winters are harsh, and the afternoon sun is relentless because the Caliber is facing southwest.

I'm including a short video about the cleaning and polishing this year. There is an earlier post about the care of the Redwood Cypress.

Products Used and "Why?":

I began using Meguiar's products some years ago for the care of several fiberglass boats.  I've continued to use it, and today I use it on a Redwood Cypress and the Heartland Caliber.  These products can be purchased individually or in a kit.  I have used oxidation remover on the gel coat of fiberglass, including the Caliber. The "gel coat" is a translucent or colored gel fiberglass resin that is applied to the surface of fiberglass, such as the nose cap of the Caliber. That gray coloration of my Caliber is the gel coat, which is thin. When new it has a very high gloss surface, but that surface must be protected. If it isn't it will become dull, porous and pitted.

When a fiberglass gel coat becomes damaged it may require multiple applications of oxidation remover to restore it. In extreme cases wet sanding may be necessary, but I leave that to professionals. The gel coat is thin and is measured in mils. One mil is 1/1000 of an inch in thickness. That gel coat is usually between 15-20 mils thick (0.015-0.020”), or about 1/64 of an inch in thickness.  In no time at all an electric sander can easily remove the gel coat!

Take off too much gel coat or sand through the gel coat will expose the under surface of the fiberglass.  That under surface will be a pale yellow or some other unattractive color. 

I have never used oxidation remover on painted surfaces, and I won't do that.  It is abrasive. However, I have used it on the flat rear surface of the Redwood, which is an unusual product and is not the typical high polish fiberglass. On the Redwood the oxidation remover successfully stripped old wax and oxidation in a single pass, in preparation for polish and wax. Generally, polishes are less protective than waxes, which is why I apply a wax. A polish may provide a short-term gloss, but not much else. 

On the Caliber it seemed wax had been applied over the oxidation and over older wax. This contributed to the "shades of gray", mottled appearance and streaking.  Stripping and cleaning down to the fiberglass was an essential step. After that it was imperative to apply wax protection.  It took several years to get the appearance to where I was satisfied.  

In previous years for the fiberglass nose of the Caliber I have applied Meguiar's "Oxidation Remover (#49)" as a first step. The nose was very dull, was oxidized and actually several shades of gray. Oxidation Remover is a heavy duty cleaner. Always read and follow the manufacturer's directions for this and any abrasive product. 

This year, because of the improved condition achieved by several years of annual cleaning and waxing it was not necessary to use the Oxidation Remover - success!  I  first washed thoroughly and then I used the following products in succession over several consecutive mornings. The first two are essential. I was aware that weather might not cooperate for several consecutive days. As a consequence, "High Gloss Polish" is a necessity to protect the surface after using "Cleaner Wax". I consider "Pure Wax" to be something that could be applied later. However, I was able to clean and apply the following products in quick succession this year:

  • Meguiar's Cleaner Wax (#50
  • Meguiar's High Gloss Polish (#45
  • Meguiar's Pure Wax (#56) 
Each of the products has a specific purpose:
  • Oxidation Remover: Restores the original color of older fiberglass gel coat surfaces by effectively removing surface degradation.
  • Cleaner Wax: non-abrasive, removes light oxidation and provides UV protection.
  • High Gloss Polish: restore optimal gloss on gel coat and fiberglass surfaces.
  • Pure Wax: enhanced gloss and durable protection.

Application Method:

This work is to be done in the shade. However, my rigs are outdoors. I usually pick a partly cloudy day. The sun rises from the rear of the Caliber and moves overhead to the front, which is pointed southwest.  There are several large trees to the east, so I get partial shade early until about 11:00am.  As a consequence I have limited time to work on the fiberglass. Furthermore, the dew point is about 65F and with cool nighttime temperatures, the fiberglass is at the dewpoint in the morning.  That delays drying and the product should be applied to a clean and dry surface.
Morning Dew

I begin with a wash with warm, soapy water at about 8:00am as the temperatures rise above the dew point; this facilitates evaporation. I rinse with clean water and allow to drain for a few minutes. I then wipe the entire surface with a large micro-fiber cloth, drying the surface.  While the last of the water evaporates I set up a ladder and get the materials, set up the extension cord, put the applicator and soft polish buffer on the electric orbital buffers. I then climb on the roof and begin there, and once the area I can reach from the roof is complete I then go the the front and work my way all the way down.  I apply product to a small area, then buff, gradually covering the entire surface. Setup, the complete application of any one product, buffing and clean-up requires about 3 hours. 

I switch applicators as I move from product to product and I frequently inspect the applicators to assure that product is properly spread on the surface, and that the polishing buffer is sufficiently soft and clean.

When I first began doing this, I used one electric orbital buffer. However, because of time restraints I now use two.  It also is easier as I don't have to switch from applicator to polisher cloths.  It is imperative to complete application and polishing before the sun rises and heats the fiberglass.  I have a cheap no-name Chinese buffer and a Black & Decker. I use the cheap one as an applicator and for polishing I use the more costly B&D which has a handle and a grip.  That works better for polishing which requires more effort.

Black and Decker Random Orbital Polisher - Used for Polishing

Chinese No-Name Polisher - Used For Product Application

In addition to the two 6 inch circular electric buffer/polishers I use a soft cloth. To apply product in tight areas (such as behind the propane tanks, or along edges) I use Meguiar's sponge applicators.  These can be cleaned and re-used. 

Following manufacturer's directions I apply the product and allow to glaze if that is the recommendation.  I then buff lightly by hand with a soft cloth and polish using the second electric buffer. Using oxidation remover, cleaner wax and polishing it is important to follow manufacturer's directions and recommendations. It is important that no residue is left behind. Failure to do this can result in wax being applied over dirt or glazed wax in the future. This can contribute to streaking and uneven appearance.. 

Proper polishing is most important with the final step "Pure Wax (#56)". 

Cleaner Wax and Polish - Steps 2 & 3 of a 4-step process

Step 4 - Pure Wax - Only use on very clean surface
Otherwise, it will trap old wax, dirt and so on under the wax

When complete I look for streaking, etc. in bright sun. I check the integrity of the surface.  I spray with water and observe how the water beads and flows by gravity.  A porous or rough surface will inhibit water flow and beading.

Beading of water - After completion

Here's a short video:

Original Material: Roadtrek210.Blogspot.com (c) 2021