Sunday, September 30, 2018

Day 16 - Corvallis, OR

I installed the rear view camera this morning. When I initially tested it, I used a 12volt jump starter to power the camera and it worked over 100 yards away from the truck. It should work fine on the rear of a fiberglass trailer. The power leads were run into the running light wiring so the camera turns on whenever the tail lights are on.

It was a little more challenging to find a good spot for the 7" monitor on the dashboard. It came with a multitude of mounts and wiring options but we'll try this first. It's in the center of the dash using a suction cup to hold it to the windshield. It doesn't block your view as all you can normally see is the hood. The kit came with several pieces which I didn't end up using such as a magnetic mount antenna for the receiver. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Day 15 - Corvallis, OR

It threatened to rain for most of today. We went to the soccer fields in Lebanon, which is about twenty miles east of Corvallis, for my niece’s soccer game. It was a pretty good game with just about all of the parents behaving. One did try bribery yelling out “$40 if you score a goal”. I think it was a joke…

This swampy area is Cheadle Lake located behind the soccer fields. Lots of algae and a few birds. I don’t think I ever spent much time in the area. It’s on the way to Bend from Corvallis.

After the game, we had lunch with my sister and her family at a middle eastern place in Corvallis and spent the afternoon at my mom’s home.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Day 13, 14 - Corvallis, OR

Day 13 - Thursday was a very relaxing day. I replaced most of the incandescent running/clearance  lights with amber LEDs (pictured on the left). I still have the two clearance lights on the top front to replace. Probably tomorrow morning. The five lights across the back are red so I picked up some red LEDs as well. I also ordered a backup camera to mount on the back of the trailer. Power for the camera is coming from the middle running light so I’ll change them after the camera arrives. Amazon claims tomorrow afternoon.

Day 14 - This morning, Troubadour stopped by the RV park to visit. We had lunch at a Vietnamese sandwich shop and later, we had dinner with Troubadour and Trobairitz in Salem after getting a tour of their new home. Visiting with them is always wonderful. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Day 12 - Corvallis, OR

We left the Sunriver RV Park at about 9:30 this morning. Since all of their campsites were just electric and water, the first task was to empty the tanks. This was the first actual test of our tank valves since they were replaced last year. No issues after six days of use. Along Hwy 97, there was smoke from a brush fire along the highway east of Crescent. It looks like it just started this morning. Otherwise, it was an uneventful drive. I opted to head south on 97 then take Hwy 58 into Eugene instead of going through Bend and Sisters as Google was recommending since it is a much more RV friendly road.

I had ordered different LED bulbs from Amazon. The original ones had a color temperature of 3000K and the new ones are 5000K. But they are supposedly three times brighter. The color is definitely whiter but definitely brighter. And only $8 for a pack of ten bulbs. When I had the tail light apart, I checked out the bulbs and also ordered red tail/brake bulbs and some super bright backup bulbs. While I was at it, I ordered amber and red bulbs for all of the marker lamps.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Day 11 - Sunriver, OR - TT

Another beautiful, sunny day in Sunriver. I could get used to this weather. If there is one negative to this campground it is the lack of wifi within the campground. Wifi is available in the public areas. I suspect that's the reason all of the campsites near the pavilion are full. We are near the back since it is quieter and less dusty. During the last five days, I had Ubiquity radio tethered to the iPad and, according to Verizon, we are using about 2 GB of data per day. Even though we are on one of their "Unlimited" plans, tethering is throttled once the iPad reaches 15 GB.

This morning, I messed around with the stuff on the hitch mounted cargo carrier so I could get the bicycle covered with a tarp. Part of the challenge was figuring out how to lock it to the RV while being covered. Like most things, you end up with a compromise. We head out tomorrow morning for Corvallis. Not only to visit but to pick up some stuff we left there last June before heading back to AK. 

With the Thousand Trails (TT) zone pass that we purchased, if we stay at one of their campgrounds for more than four nights, we need to stay out of their network for at least seven days before going to another of their campgrounds. Not very confusing though it does take some planning to make the most of the membership. So, for the next week, we will be in Corvallis, OR, at a non-TT campground. For most of our upcoming TT stays, we are planning on four nights before moving on. Unlike last summers trip or even the trip at the beginning of the summer, we will be staying in some places for longer periods of time. Less driving.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Day 10 - Sunriver, OR - TT

Last night, the temperature dropped into the mid-20s (°F). Around 1am, went out and disconnected our water hose but I think it was already frozen. This morning, the hose was put on the tonneau cover to thaw as it was pretty warm. I took the pressure regulator inside to thaw. The water filter wasn’t frozen probably since it had more mass. In under 30 minutes, everything was back to normal. The trees are starting to turn so maybe it's about time to move on. I took this while waiting to get another 30# propane tank filled. It was close to full when we arrived so it lasted only four days with the furnace running. Granted, three of those days were with one of the windows not closing but I think that's about our consumption when the temps are down.

We went to Pilot Butte located in the middle of Bend as it is supposed to have one of the best mountain views in the area. It was a bit hazy as we didn't get there until almost noon. I believe that this is Mt. Jefferson, the second highest peak in Oregon. Just a bit south were the Three Sisters pictured below. This is the first time I've used the DSLR in quite a while. The first picture of the tree was an iPhone picture. The second two are with the DSLR. Both have similar resolution, 10 megapixels for the D60 and 12 megapixels for the iPhone.

We stopped at Fred Meyer for some groceries and I took advantage of our fuel discount. 28 gallons for only $2.299/gallon with the discount. I wish every fill up was like this.

The forecast for tonight is for 38°F so hopefully things won't freeze. I did manage to get the pedal assist bicycle to fit on the rear cargo carrier and somewhat securely locked. I just need to get it covered with a tarp to try and keep some of the grime off. I removed the battery and the seat to reduce the weight and the height. Now, it is about the same height as the large bag holding the RV cover.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Days 8, 9 - Sunriver, OR -TT

Saturday was spent relaxing. It was overcast for most of the morning so no real effort working on the trailer. This afternoon, I went into Redmond to “help” Dave set up for a gig. He is the drummer for a small group playing a lot of classic rock mixed with some original pieces. We initially set up on the outside patio of a golf course but shortly before they were scheduled to start, the wind came up blowing everything around.

They quickly re-deployed inside of the dining room and their first song ended up being the sound check since everything had to be ripped out and reconnected. In spite of it all, they sounded great and the Hawaiian themed dinner, including a whole roast pig, came out pretty good. With the exception of one dish. It seems that for the potato mac salad they neglected to cook the potatoes. Raw potatoes in a salad don't taste very good.

On Sunday after church, we went out to lunch at 10 Barrel Brewery. Fantastic food and they had this vending machine inside their corporate space i.e. not on the customer side. It kind of struck us as odd but then again, this is Bend, OR. Maybe this is the norm.

Outside of the restaurant was this bicycle repair stand including common tools for making adjustments and repairing flat tires. I hear that cycling is very popular in this area. But not to the extent of building new bike paths instead of maintaining roads like some other towns in the Pacific Northwest. Mostly on the other side of the mountains.

Today's repair project was fixing a window on the RV. I'm not really sure when it broke but the rivets used to attach the window frame to the opening mechanism had pulled out of the frame allowing the window to flop open and closed. My solution was a couple of mild steel, plated mending plates from Ace Hardware. The plates are attached to the window frame with two stainless 6-32 screws and the rivet was replaced with an 8-32 stainless screw. All with nylock nuts. The window now closes tightly. Something it hasn't done since we picked up the trailer. Gradually knocking these things out one at a time.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Day 7 - Sunriver, OR - TT

Last night, we went out for dinner at the Pine Tavern Restaurant. So named for the two pine trees growing through the dining room. Congratulations Ginny and Dave on your anniversary! On the way back to the truck, we passed a pedal-powered bar. All of the patrons sitting along the sides provide the pedal power while the bartender is in the middle steering. An odd thing but apparently normal in this town of microbreweries.

This morning, we stocked up on some groceries at the Walmart and Albertsons at the south end of Bend. This afternoons project was sorting through the basement storage and relocating the trailer license plate and light next to the right tail light. This location was chosen as it was easy to get access to the back and ready access to taillight wiring. The wiring is old and corroded so it took longer to make the connections than anticipated. But I did manage to get rid of some of the Scotch Lock connectors. They were corroded and I'm surprised that they were still working. The new connections are soldered with heat shrink tubing. Too bad I couldn't find any of the heat shrink with a sealant on the inside.

I filled the batteries back in May and this seemed like a good time to fill them again. The battery fluid was about ¼" above the plates and all four batteries took about 3 quarts of distilled water. It's probably overdue for an equalization cycle but I'll need at least a day of full sun. The blue/gray pitcher is made specifically to fill batteries. You just insert the spout and push down which opens a valve to allow water to slowly flow in. The flow stops automatically when the fluid is at the correct level.

Our campsite is mostly shaded as evidenced by the power  output from the charge controller in this graph. It looks like very little power is generated except for about an hour starting at 11am.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Day 6 - Sunriver, OR - TT

I guess all of my worrying about the RV was for naught. No issues at all as far as I can tell. The batteries were still about 96% charged as of 8:30 this morning and the temperature-controlled fan was still running fine. There were a ton of campsites available and even though check-in wasn't until noon, the desk clerk gave me all of the paperwork, gate codes, etc. and told me to feel free to select a site. There was a recommendation to disconnect your water hose at night due to freezing temperatures. The high is over 70°F during the day so no complaints from me.

This is our first stay at a Thousand Trails campground. After looking at the campground last June, I went ahead and purchased a two-year membership with two zones. The two zones are the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest. Essentially you can stay at their campgrounds for free but subject to some stay restrictions and time in/out of their network. We currently have almost a month of reservations all of it for no extra charge besides the membership. With each stay the average cost per night keeps dropping. There is a lot of criticism of the Thousand Trails membership but there are also a lot of people who like the system. We'll try it out and see how it goes. The solar panels are pretty shaded at this site so the converter may need to be switched on. Especially since the furnace only runs off of the batteries.

I still have a few chores to do yet. One of the window controls is broken. Both rivets from the control arms to the window frame pulled out of the frame. And I still need to put the shutoff valve on the water tank overflow hose. For some reason, the overflow isn't run to the fill spout as is the norm but just drains below the fresh water tank next to the drain. It could be that it froze sometime as you can't really blow that line out in the winter. I moved the hitch mounted carrier from the truck to the trailer and we moved the RV cover onto the carrier. I will need to move the trailer license plate and light higher up on the back of the trailer as it would be blocked by the carrier. I had thought that the license plate was mounted higher up. Fortunately, I have all of the tools to get this done. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Day 5 - Sunriver, OR

One more “no picture” day. Princeton, BC, to Sunriver, OR was about 10 hours of driving. Only one stop for gas in East Wenatchee, WA, and two rest areas. The second was about fifty miles south of the Oregon border. I don’t remember where The first one was. 

This was our destination as the trailer is being stored here at an RV park. Tomorrow we check to see how the trailer fared while in storage. Hopefully no mice or ants. And hopefully the solar charge controller kept the batteries topped up. I had left a temperature controlled fan running. We’ll see how that worked. 

And after today, the truck fuel economy average is 23.8 mpg. Can’t complain about that. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Day 4 - Princeton, BC

Another “no picture” day. These long driving days translates to no stops. We sailed on passed 2k miles today since leaving Fairbanks. And the average fuel mileage so far is 23.5mpg. A bit less than a year and a half ago. A headwind from Delta Junction to Watson Lake probably accounts for the difference. This could translate to too many miles between gas stations as I could go over 800 miles on a tank. But that isn’t what usually happens. Gas stations are a convenient reason to stop. And the Shell station on the south side of Prince George just wasn’t that picturesque. We didn’t quite make it to the border. But driving after dark brings risks. The last two days, deer on the road and the truck needs better headlights. As was the case yesterday, for pictures, maybe check out Bridget’s blog.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Day 3 - Chetwynd, BC

No pictures today. Anytime we stopped there really wasn’t anything to take a picture of. If you want pictures, check out Bridget’s blog. 1020 km today and we didn’t arrive in Chetwynd until after 8pm. A long day. Tomorrow is another long day but we should be across the border. Today’s highlight was probably Muncho Lake. We passed a lot of areas with a dusting of snow and saw lots of animals. Again, for pictures, check out Bridget’s blog. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Day 2 - Watson Lake, YT

Just in case you missed yesterdays post...

This morning, we left Beaver Creek. This is the Yukon River crossing as it exits from Marsh Lake just west of Whitehorse. I think that I end up stopping at this rest area just about every time I pass by. There is a dam just to the right. Compared to the size of the Yukon River in other locations, I'm always amazed at its modest size here.

This is Johnson's Crossing. One of the notable things is the number of birds that nest under the bridge. The other notable thing is the size of the cinnamon rolls made here. Supposedly, they are the size of your head. I think it's an exaggeration.

Today, we made it down to Watson Lake which is barely still in the Yukon Territory. When we went to dinner, we met Steve and Carol. They had left Fairbanks on Friday on their way home. We were all pretty surprised...

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Day 1, Beaver Creek, Yukon.

Hello!  We're back on the road!  Today is Saturday, September 15, 2018.  Several friends wanted me to blog again, so here we go.

Last week was beautiful in Fairbanks.

I had plans this morning to go to a crochet class, but it was cancelled because I was the only one who signed up.  So that meant we were able to leave Fairbanks sooner.   For the 2 hours we were finalizing packing Leinen was crying and watching me.  Especially when the Berkey left.  That was always a sign when traveling that they would be going in the truck.  Then out went their dishes and blankets.  Finally, after hugs with Reuben, who is house sitting, we were on our way at 11AM.  Leaving at that time meant no dinner at Fast Eddy's in Tok.  Sad face.

Here we are in Delta Junction.  Beginning of the highway?  or end of the highway?  It's all in your perspective. 

Alaskans may remember the big fires near Tok, Alaska.  You can see burnt trees here

This is a river.  Forget which one.  I wish it was sunny to show you the colors.

This is pretty much my view.  Artie was on my lap at this time, but didn't get in the picture.  I see bugs carcases, the GPS, and the dashboard.  

It was sunny for awhile, so I was able to get this pic.  Any mountains were on the shady side,  I hope to get better pictures in the next few days.  I really love the yellow leaves with the dark green spruce with the burgundy of the undergrowth.  I think those 3 colors together match real well.

I got pictures of both this time!  

We now use Verizon.  One reason was because it is free in Canada.  This is a message I got on my watch shortly after crossing the border.  Welcome to Canada, Enjoy your trip.
I still feel like I'm Dick Tracy's sister........

We drove until 6PM Yukon time, 5PM Alaska time.  Tomorrow we hope to go about 10-12 hours.

I have recently seen a naturopathic doctor to find help with weight control, and find out ideas on how to get rid of eczema.  Skin conditions are frequently caused by gut issues, so I got a food sensitivity test done.  The dairy, no eggs, no bananas, no green beans, no kidney beans for two months.  Highly limit sugar and almonds.  I can have meat, vegetables, bread without eggs.  No sweets or donuts on this trip!  I can have lots of rice.  I can have coffee!!!!!!!!!!   Tonight's dinner was hamburg without the bun and french fries.  Last time I'll eat those for a month.

Are you health conscious?  Do you want to lose weight?  Do you like apps?  My doctor has me using the cronometer.  First of all it tracks my calorie intake.  I can take a picture of a bar code and it will put in the calories and nutrients of the food.  It tracks a whole bunch of stuff besides calories.  What can I eat for breakfast?  I have been having those powdered protein drinks.  I bought a 2 month supply, only to find out they have white egg powder.  The only milk I could mix it with is rice milk, that I'm told tastes like water.  So what we've decided is oatmeal!  For the trip I purchased some of the oatmal boxes that you can put hot water in for breakfast.  Downside, these boxes have some sugar.  When we are with the RV I'll get regular oatmeal for breakfast.

Day 1 - Beaver Creek, YT

We are finally back on the road again. We passed through Delta Junction and the visitor's center was closed. Bridget thinks that this will be a regular occurrence on our trip south. I suspect that she is right. Traffic was really light all the way down though there was a line of vehicles at the border crossing with a number of vehicles who were pulled over for further inspection. One had rifles and the other dumped what looked like a lot of food or something. Maybe frozen fish or something. It turns out that wild meat of any kind can't be brought through Canada. A Fish and Wildlife officer was at the U.S. border as well.

We stopped in Beaver Creek at the Beaver Creek RV Park & Motel. They had a "pet" room available and didn't charge anything extra for the dogs. I'm not going to complain about that. We had dinner at Buckshot Betty's next door to the RV Park. This was the sky looking south from the restaurant parking lot. The hotel is what used to be the Westmark hotel. Kind of dingy compared to the other Westmark hotels in Fairbanks.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Almost On the Road (Again)

Much of the last several days have been spent sorting through stuff, trying to find things, and making some attempt at identifying what may be needed. While working in the garage, I had the Raspberry Pi DMR hotspot running in the truck tethered to either my cell phone or iPad. Both are on Verizon and share the same "unlimited data". The iPad is not rate limited when tethering as are the phones. The hotspot data requirements are fairly minimal but I should really get some samples.

I installed some reflectors and reflective tape on the hitch mounted cargo carrier since it hangs out quite a ways behind the vehicle. After some thought, I decided to order a light kit for the carrier. This would add tail, brake and turn signals. I may still leave the reflectors and reflective tape installed. I don't plan on having anything on the carrier on our way down the highway or else I would need a license plate bracket and light. The truck license would be blocked by just about anything on the carrier. The trailer license plate is high enough not to be blocked.

I also ordered an anti-rattle hitch stabilizer. Without this, the cargo carrier does move around a bit with some noise. Especially if it is empty or lightly loaded. The folks at Trailer Craft mentioned that some people just jam wooden shims into the receiver between the hitch and the drawbar. This clamp is simple enough and I won't have to fight when pulling out the drawbar. When installed, there is no more movement or rattle. It works great.

It took some time to sort out the tools again. I've been using them all summer on a variety of projects. Unlike last time, I now have them sorted out in three tool bags. Electrical tools, hand tools, and power driver and drill items. The computer gear increased since the DMR radio requires a Windows PC. I thought about running a VM on the Mac but I would then need to purchase a Windows license.

I partially disassembled the bicycle so it fits more easily under the tonneau cover and takes less space, but between the bicycle, the RV cover and the inflatable raft, there isn't a lot of space left. Fortunately, we don't need to bring down a lot of stuff.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Denali VIew

On Friday, we drove down to Anchorage. The trip started out cloudy and rainy in Fairbanks but one we passed the Denali Natl Park, the weather improved dramatically. This picture was taken from the south viewpoint just north of Mary’s McKinley View Lodge at mile 134.5 Parks Highway. It was a pretty nice view.  The traffic got pretty heavy as we approached Anchorage. Between the normal rush hour traffic and the ones escaping for the weekend, the line of trucks was almost continuous. I think that the many were hunters out for the now elusive moose as the season just opened at the beginning of the month. This is just a quick weekend trip.This started out as a BlogTouch Pro post but I found a workaround to not using their photo post mechanism. Not being able to “click” on photos is a major shortcoming of the software. Or maybe I haven’t figured it out...

Thursday, September 6, 2018

More Trip Prep

The days are getting shorter and shorter. I just noticed that sunset is before 9pm and the low temperature for Saturday is forecast to be freezing. It looks like it's time to leave the state. At least for a while.

I generally follow the Schedule "B" service intervals on the truck, a 2005 5.9 liter CTD (Cummins turbo diesel). This is recommended for frequent short trips, towing, temperatures below 32°F, or other "severe" use. It looks like I qualify on several counts. This means oil changes at 7,500 miles, oil and fuel filters every 15,000 miles, and coolant every 100,000 miles.

I've been putting the fuel filter replacement task off all summer since it was a real mess the last time I did it myself. This time, no mess at all. I guess I must be learning something. The fuel filter is a cartridge in a clear plastic housing. You first drain the filter housing using the provided water drain valve, then using a 6-pointed socket you remove the plastic top of the housing. The 6-pointed socket is to prevent damage to the plastic "nut" on the top of the housing. The filter is clipped into the bottom of the plastic top. Replace the filter and the "O"-ring which is included with the fuel filter if you get a good filter. Last time, I picked a filter up at the local auto parts store and it didn't clip into the top nor did it include the "O"-ring or the rubber gasket at the bottom of the filter. These had to be scavenged from the old filter. Hence, the mess. This time, I picked up a Fleetguard filter from the local Cummins shop. The whole job was maybe ten minutes. The engine needed to crank for a bit to allow the filter housing to refill. The moral of the story is don't buy filters at the local auto parts store.

The oil change was a simple job. The system holds 12 quarts and I drain the oil directly into gallon jugs for disposal using a 1/4 turn ball valve that I installed back in 2005 at the first oil change. Almost 12 quarts drained out except for maybe 1 cup. Essentially, no oil consumption since the last oil change. The new oil filter is also a Fleetgaurd item that I picked up at the same time as the fuel filter.

I will pick up another fuel and oil filter to have with me on the trip. Back around 1996, I had a filter clog up on my 1991 Ford 7.3 liter diesel just about 2 miles from Watson Lake. I limped into town at about 10 mph, picked up a filter at the local Napa store and replaced it in the mall parking lot. After that, I started carrying spare filters.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Steep Learning Curve

Since I can't afford to get an HF (High Frequency) radio plus antenna at this point in time, I'm looking into Digital Mobile Radio aka DMR. This mode uses low bandwidth digital transmissions over UHF (Ultra High Frequency) and VHF (Very High Frequency) radio frequencies to a local repeater. The repeater is connected to the Internet and your digitized voice is sent out as an IP data packet. You use globally assigned talk groups to communicate kind of like a digital party line. Anyone who is keyed up on that talk group can communicate with the voice data traversing the Internet.

To use DMR, I needed a radio that has the proper digital capability. Two Chinese companies, Radioddity and Baofeng, worked together to bring out a very affordable tier 2 DMR radio. The RD-5R. The case looks like the very common (and cheap) Baofeng UV-5R but the innards, programming software, and commands are Radioddity. It is dual-band i.e. 2m and 70cm and supports analog in addition to DMR. Right now, I'm just monitoring the Ester Dome analog repeater at 146.880 MHz. One of the challenges for me is that the Radioddity programming software is Windows only. And DMR is too cumbersome to even try and do manually. If that’s even possible.

The other necessary piece is access to a DMR repeater. Unfortunately, there are no DMR repeaters in Fairbanks. In fact, the only one in Alaska appears to be in Homer. UHF frequencies are strictly line of sight so not a chance of reaching more than 20 miles or so. The solution is a hotspot such as a Raspberry Pi with a radio "hat". The Raspberry Pi is a small, cheap single board computer that was developed to teach computer programming skills. It has built-in Ethernet, HDMI video, 4xUSB ports, audio out, and a camera connection. The Pi 3 has built-in WiFi and Bluetooth. Since I only plan on running DMR, I'm using an older Pi 2 and a WiFi USB dongle that I've had lying around. The "hat" is a daughter card which, in this case, has a 70cm radio and is made by DVMEGA. The transmit power is only a tenth of a watt so this is strictly a local device. But local could be in the RV tethered to my phone.

The software image that I'm using is called Pi-Star and the download includes Raspian, the Linux operating system for the Raspberry Pi hardware so all I needed to do was copy the bootable image to a micro SD card and plug that into the Pi. With the DVMEGA hardware, it supports not only DMR but also D-Star and Yaesu System Fusion. These are two other digital modes. DMR seems to be a more open standard i.e. supported by cheaper radios, that's the one I opted to mess around with try. I now have the Raspberry Pi/DVMEGA hotspot running but needed to order a small 70cm antenna for the daughter board. The screenshot on the left is the Pi-Star software running my hotspot. 

DMR is somewhat confusing since it is a commercial system being adapted for amateur radio. It's far from a perfect fit. It took me a couple of days but I think that I finally have the digital part of the radio configuration worked out. On Thursday afternoon, I connected through the hotspot to talk group Tac-310, which is listed as North America, and talked to several guys in MN, CA, AZ and TX. And this was with the hotspot paired with my phone. I had the hotspot sort of working on Tuesday but couldn't hear any audio from the radio. At that point, I wasn't sure if it was the configuration of the radio or the hotspot. It turned out to be one checkbox on the channel config of the radio. There isn't a lot of documentation or information on this stuff except on the Internet. The last picture is the completed hotspot. I found a nice aluminum case on Amazon for only $7 and I just needed to cut a small hole for the antenna.

I haven't tested the range of the hotspot but it's now usable throughout the house. The limitations to the range are the gain of the antenna and the output power of the hotspot radio.

Sunday Afternoon Update - I updated from the Raspberry Pi 2B to the Pi 3B which has built-in WiFi. The CPU load is now about 1/10th of what it was but the metal case was limiting the WiFi range. This isn't really a problem as I'm planning on having this sit right next to the AP anyway. I plugged in the little USB dongle and the link quality jumped up to 100/100 from 40/100. The data needs of this system is pretty low but the reduced load and temperature is significant.