Saturday, October 14, 2017

Patience is Tough!

Last spring I placed a cache at one of the local fire stations. The discussion at that time was to place one, and if that proved to be successful, to place others to draw attention to the breadth and scope of their operations. With six months of good experience with the first cache, I attempted to communicate with them about placement of others.

Meanwhile, their organization was going through some significant, yet unclear, struggles. The board bought out the Chief's contract, but I can't find anything suggesting why. My previous, very helpful contact, provided me with the name and e-mail address of the person that should be my contact moving forward.

I immediately e-mailed the new contact but got no response. Figuring he might be on vacation, I waited a week and tried again.

With no response to the second e-mail, I did a bit of spelunking and found a phone number for the new contact. I'd expressly started with e-mail so that I didn't interrupt his work, desiring an appointment at his convenience. With no response from two e-mail attempts, I called but that rolled to voice mail.

I left a voice mail and left my phone number. When I didn't get a call back within the week, I stopped by their main office and asked the receptionist if the individual was on vacation or might be out sick, but her response was that he was 'very busy.' Three days after leaving the note with the receptionist, I finally got a call back.

I understand that the organization is going through some leadership challenges and that they're in the midst of a search for a new leader which means extra work for the remaining leadership team. I also understand that it shouldn't take over three weeks to get any sort of response.

I'm now assured that they'll look into the possibility of additional caches, but it could be awhile. So much for my hope of combining the release of these caches with an event celebrating our local first responders. Patience is so tough to learn!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Vista Solar, Part 1

With a couple years experience using solar in his travel trailer, I didn't have to spend any time discussing the issues related to installing a larger, true sine wave inverter to power the microwave since I knew it wasn't considered essential. Instead, I concentrated on those items that would be used while boondocking.

I was pleased to see that the inverter idle draw was only 10 watts. None the less, the inverter is not likely to be powered except when using one of the TVs.

The big draw will be the large TV which won't be used that much. It's quite likely that 200 watts of panels will be more than enough for their typical use patterns. We selected the same Renogy 100 watt monocrystalline panel that we used on his trailer because of its compact size and high Vmp. One will be configured for portable placement and the other will be roof mounted with tilting capabilities.

I brainstormed a shopping list and shortly thereafter, stuff magically started showing up at my door. Like the other systems I've put together, this one will use 8 AWG cable to reduce the line losses.

I did some of the stuff at home where tools were easily available. Some aluminum angle was used to create legs for the portable panel.

The secret to the legs is the plastic washer and self locking nut. With the plastic washer between the leg and the frame, the self locking nut can be tightened down enough to put some friction on the hinge angle.

The installation is using two different 8 AWG wire styles. The feed wire from the portable panel is 'zip cord' from PowerWerx. The red/black paired cable uses finer wire for more flexibility, which makes it much easier to use with the portable panel. The roof-mounted panel/s will use MC4 Solar cable. It has fewer strands of thicker wire resulting in a stiffer wire, but it also has a UV resistant cover.

The extension cable for the portable panel was permanently connected to the panel leads with waterproof, heat sink butt connectors. They're waterproof and serve as a strain relief across the connection.

The other end of the portable panel cable got an Anderson SB50 Power Pole connector. These connectors have beefy contacts and result in a connector that cannot be inserted with reverse polarity. We used these on Jeff's trailer project a couple years ago and it has served well.

Unlike last time, this time I spec'd the extra Tee handle to make it a bit easier to connect and disconnect the pair of Anderson connectors.

The rood top panel gets fitted with AM Solar's mounting system. This system is fabricated from stainless steel, and allows the panel to tilt in two directions. It's a quick and easy installation on the panel.

Each corner gets a bracket that is retained by one bolt with self-locking nut.

The mounting foot connects to the adapter with a threaded knob. The foot will be attached to the fiberglass roof with 3M Very High Bond tape and then sealed around the edges with 3M 5200 Marine Adhesive.

The Victron controller* and all the system connections have a home in the forward curb-side bay, as close as I could get to the coach batteries.

*We considered the TriMetric TM2030 / SC2030 combination, but the Victron combo got the nod because of the cleaner looking monitor. The MPPT controller is a bit of overkill, but will work nicely with the high Vmp of the Renogy panels.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Initial Mods for the Vista

I promised that I wasn't going to work full time on the mod list for the Vista since I had all winter to get them done. I started by cutting up a couple old 2x10 boards to create some ramps. The RV is low enough that I can't get under it from the sides using a creeper, so I decided to help it grow up.

Driving this rig from Iowa was like trying to herd cats in a rain storm. It wallowed badly and got worse in cross winds. Turns out, lots of other people had already experienced the same thing with this chassis which is essentially unchanged since the early 1990's. The inter web crowds had a cheap fix. I didn't think it would be enough, but decided to try it.  The upper mount remained untouched,

while the lower end of the front sway bar links were moved from the original placement at the outer end of the sway bar arm to the inner, pre-existing hole.

A super quick change that made an incredible improvement. Still not as good as I'd like to to be, but definitely much, much better.

Haven't done the rear ones yet since its reported that it doesn't make as much change, but I expect to do them before the rig heads north. The rear sway bar installation is the same except that it has the extra bracket to put the link bolt into a double shear situation.

The next project was to install the shunt for the Victron battery monitor. I put it in next to the existing fuse for the stock inverter. I needed to get this installed so that I could do an energy audit before determining how many panels would be needed for the solar installation.

With the inverter off, there was still 3 to 4 watts of phantom draw. I think it might be the propane detector, but I haven't taken the time to dig deep enough to temporarily discount it.

In the process of doing the energy audit, I discovered that several lights were still sporting incandescent bulbs. The three lights in the service bays, the porch light, and the two bulbs in the dinette light were all incandescent bulbs that draw about 18 watts each.

The dinette bulbs (with a T5 base) were replaced with LED lamps that draw 3 watts each. The other incandescent bulbs will be changed out in the near future.

I did a pretty complete power audit, but did skip testing the power draw on the furnace - with our temps still running above 90 degrees on average, I'm not really interested in adding more heat to the equation.

Next up will be starting on the solar installation and wiring.

Friday, September 29, 2017

New Mexico

Maverick Campground in
Cimarron Canyon State Park was our home for the night. Cimarron Canyon has three campgrounds in the park - Maverick is apparently the largest of the three.

The park is long and skinny, just a strip along the side of Highway 64 between Ute Park and Eagle Nest, New Mexico.

There are no hookups at this campground, so the rate is $10 per night as it is in all New Mexico state parks. The highway quiets down nicely at night.

The campground is sandwiched between the highway and three small lakes that were formed when gravel was removed for highway construction and then the Cimarron River was re routed through the resulting pits.

The next morning, we headed to Eagle Nest and points west and south.

Apparently, someone figured that the elevation of Palo Flechado Pass between Angel Fire and Taos should be targeted. Turns out, the elevation was 9,101 feet according to the sign.

Our targets for the day were to spend some time in Santa Fe before dropping Jeff at the Albuquerque airport.

We figured we didn't have enough time to visit both Los Alamos and Santa Fe so we decided on Santa Fe. What we didn't realize was that they would be celebrating Fiestas De Santa Fe which meant the cost of parking was a larcenous $30 for the RV. For geocachers, RV parking is across the street from the Travel Bug coffee and map shop.

We managed to find a restaurant with available seating and enjoyed the best Huevos Rancheros that I've ever had before wandering the streets around the plaza for a while.

With all the people clustered around the plaza, the side streets were relatively empty, unless you were trying to negotiate them with an RV when they suddenly became crammed with traffic.

Making our stop at the ABQ airport was also challenging. They have height restrictions, but the signs don't say what the maximum height is or how to route to avoid those restrictions. Turns out we had over a foot of clearance.

After dropping Jeff at the airport so he could go back to work, I headed south. My plans were to overnight at the Walmart in Socorro but it was too hot there so I headed west on Highway 60, looking to gain some elevation. I passed the Very Large Array. There are 27 of these large dishes interconnected to function as one massive antenna.

Home for the night was the Datil Well BLM campground. The regular price for this campground is $5. The sites tend to be quite sloped, but I found an available one that was close enough that I could get leveled up.

One of the reasons I chose this location was to position me for breakfast in Pie Town the next morning.

Unfortunately, every restaurant in Pie Town was closed when I went through. So much for world famous pie for breakfast!

Instead, I chased my shadow westward to Quemado where I found more Huevos Rancheros at the Largo Cafe. Not quite as good as the ones I enjoyed the previous morning at the Burrito Company in Santa Fe, but still very good.

The rest of the trip was all familiar roads, and I was home by noon. Over 1600 miles in less than 75 hours. The rig is officially broken in, and now it's time to start on the mod list.

Sunday, September 24, 2017


On the second day of our cross-country drive, we saw lots of grain silos - every town seemed to have a big row of silos and a rail siding.

We really did appreciate the windshield tours of the towns to break up the trip. Seemed like some of the towns had contests to see which had the biggest church.

Occasionally, we'd pass some older oil wells.

We did our fair share of bug control. It seemed to take as long to debug the windshield as it did to fill the tank.

We stopped in one little town because we spotted a sign advertising the local University - a school that shared a name with Jeff's dog. The school was rather non-descript, but I liked the mural on a downtown building. It seemed to be working!

I wanted to stop in Greensburg, Kansas because I'd seen a picture of the staircase in the World's Largest Handdug Well. There's a dearth of light houses in this part of the country, so this will have to do.

The staircase creates the inverse of the classic lighthouse stair picture. Often I play the 'cheap' card and bypass sites with entrance fees, but I'm really glad we stopped for the earth cache, the pictures, and the unanticipated 'rest of the story.'

Turns out, Greensburg was totally destroyed by an EF5 tornado just over ten years ago.

In addition to the well, the museum highlights the effects of the tornado and the rebuilding process that the town has undertaken since then. With the government buildings destroyed, the town took the opportunity to build all the replacements to LEED Platinum construction standards.

Throughout the town there are empty slabs and other reminders of the tornado that tried to wipe the town off the map, interspersed with top quality construction of new buildings.

This is all that's left of one of the town's churches.

Western Kansas had a number of wind farms. No surprise to us, given the winds we were experiencing.

We were a bit concerned about the roads, but the Kansas roads were wonderful. Oklahoma, on the other hand, will be circumnavigated the next time I'm in the neighborhood!

New Mexico welcomed us with about 15 minutes of rain just before we got to our campsite. We heartily appreciated the welcome windshield washing!