Sunday, November 18, 2018

More Power

Even with the new battery, you only have a couple of attempts for the engine to start when it's cold. By cold, I mean somewhere around 0°F not simply a cold-ish 40°F.  So I went ahead and installed the group 24 automotive battery in a marine battery box into the sidecar. This is the same setup that I've been using for years. The battery still seems to be in good shape or at least good enough for the Ural. After sitting around since last April, it still had 95% charge or at least that's what the display on the battery charger claimed. In the past, I removed the sidecar seat bottom for the battery box but even with the battery located here in front of the seat, the weight of the battery is still (barely) within the triangle formed by the contact patches of the three tires. I do have the three gallons of gas near the rear of the sidecar body. And that is behind the triangle.

3:32PM and the sun has already set. This was just shot from our back deck looking towards the southwest. I rode the Ural this morning and it sat out at 8°F for about five hours. It started up on the first compression though the enrichers had to be left on for about 30 sec. Normally, I only leave the enrichers on for a couple of seconds. The automotive battery is nice insurance to have.

The forecast for tomorrow is snow flurries but I do have some running around to do. I think I'm starting to get used to the temperatures again. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Fragile Heated Gloves

The wires in one of the Gerbing gloves broke again. This time, an inch from the last failure at the end of the heat shrink tubing supporting the previous repair. The next time, battery-powered gloves. I was all set to solder the wires back together and use heat shrink to support the wires when I remembered that all of my heat shrink tubing and the heat gun is in the RV. At least I did remember to bring the soldering iron and solder back with me but that's only because I needed them to install the OLED display onto the DMR hotspot.

Since I only needed the repair to work for a couple of weeks of occasional riding, I just insulated the repair with vinyl electrical tape. Tonight, I will be at the church for a couple of hours. This will be a good test of the battery. I will throw in one of the old (heavy) jumper boxes into the sidecar as the nice, compact LiFePO4 jumper pack is in the RV.

I took the rig out for a ride today and without the studded tires, it was more squirrelly when riding through deeper snow and 2WD was needed to get back up our subdivision road from the main road. Once on the main road, the rig ran fine. My temporary repair of the heated gloves seems to be working as are both heated grips. With both of them on, I had very warm hands in spite of the +1°F temperature.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Getting Ready for Winter Riding

A few more tasks done to get the Ural ready for cold weather riding. Added the gauntlets which cover the handlebar ends. They do a great job of blocking the wind from your hands and dramatically improve the effectiveness of the heated grips and/or heated gloves. The gauntlets do prevent you from seeing any of the handlebar controls so you do have to do everything from memory. The wiring for the left heated grip had come loose sometime this summer. Probably when I installed the horn as that involved running wires under the tank. It was a simple task to lift up the tank, locate the connector and plug things back together. Since I just replaced the battery last April, I'm going to try relying on that battery instead of installing the group 24 battery that I've used for the last couple of winter.

I swapped the two rear tires (and wheels) so the tire with the almost new tread from the sidecar is now the pusher. The last time I removed the rear wheel was to replace the rubber boot on the driveshaft. At that time, I noticed that one of the brake springs was broken again. In the picture, it's the spring on the lower right. The entire assembly was replaced under warranty about 25k km ago and that included the brakes.

Raceway didn't have any springs in stock when I was in Oregon so I ordered a couple from Ural Northwest. The shipping was almost as much as the parts and they were sitting on the counter when we arrived back in Fairbanks. I used the nice brake adjustment tool that I picked up from an independent Ural mechanic in Maryland who goes by Gobium on the Soviet Steeds Ural forum. This homemade tool made it a snap to adjust both shoes to provide even braking. BTW, the way Raceway had the brake shoes adjusted, one of the pusher brake shoes wasn't even touching the drum. It still looks brand new. Maybe Ural needs to add this tool to their tool roll.

I'm still debating whether to replace the front tire. I still have another brand new tire on the shelf. But the front tire still has some life left so, for now, I’ll leave it as is.

I think the last couple of months have made me feel the cold. I used to be able to work in the garage for hours at a time. Not any more. What should have taken one afternoon has taken me several days...

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Alaska Statewide DMR Net

Yesterday, as on most Monday evenings while we were on the road, I participated in the Alaska Statewide DMR Net hosted out of Homer, AK. Since Fairbanks does not have a DMR repeater, I use my Raspberry Pi hotspot. While on the road trip, I generally paired the hotspot with my iPhone. I probably could’ve actually used it while on the road as the Pi is powered through a micro-USB port. There were only ten participants on the net including two people from out of state. Ohio and New York.

One of the original justifications for the FCC to support amateur radio was to encourage skills that can be used during an emergency. The nets are for the same thing. Develop skills that can be used to maintain organized communication during emergencies. To me, this is less applicable to some of the digital modes such as DMR, D-Star, Fusion, etc. as these need Internet connectivity to function. Granted, very little bandwidth is needed but connectivity is still needed for use outside of the range of the local repeater.

This afternoon, I took the Ural out just up and down the unplowed subdivision road several times to warm up the engine oil. It's draining right now as I write this. After messaging Dom about the newer oil viscosity recommendations from the Ural docs, I picked up a gallon 5 qt jug of 5W40 full synthetic oil. It took three quarts to fill up the deep sump. I'll include the Ural graphic here so I don't forget. 31k km on the replacement odometer which means the rig now has a shade over 55k km.

After changing the oil, I ran the rig up and down the snow covered road a few more times and the engine really runs quiet and smooth. I don't have very many of the carbide studs as I had not ordered any this year. So I'm thinking of not studding the tires and just rely on 2WD to get up the hills. And just not riding when conditions are less than optimal. Such as now... 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Freezing in AZ and DMR Hotspot

Yep, I guess it was a good idea to winterize the RV. This is an iPad screen capture (I deleted the ads) from the Weather Channel app for Benson, AZ, the place we stayed just a few days ago. I wasn’t sure if I was wasting my time winterizing the rig but I guess it could get cold in any area. I just didn't expect it so soon. You can see that there is a freezing alert for the area.

I had ordered a small OLED display from Amazon before we left in September but it never arrived. I canceled the order and Amazon promptly refunded the money. I reordered from another supplier and deliberately looked for "Fulfilled by Amazon" and had it delivered to Corvallis, OR, and it arrived before we did. But I forgot to bring the 3D printed holder for the display that my son made. Now that I'm home and have the display, the tools, the 3D printed part, and some wire, I finally installed the display onto the Raspberry Pi. I mounted it to the top of the Pi case. It shows the call sign and first name of whoever last talked on the talk group that I have keyed up on the radio. I can get the same (and more) information on a web page being served up on the Pi.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Back Home

I think the dogs were more excited at seeing the snow than I was. Or at least they prefer to not riding in the belly of the plane. There isn't a lot of snow and the neighbor mentioned that this is the first snow that is probably going to "stick". We went to Alaska Coffee Roasters this morning and met with some from the usual crowd. Then we went to the yarn store that will be closing up shortly. After a little more running around, we are back home. Time to get going on some other projects.

Not a very interesting or exciting picture but I have three Raspberry Pi computers in the RV and two of them haven't had any updates applied since I put them into service. This is the one that has been continually collecting data from the Tristar solar charge controller. It ran continuously from around 3/2017 to 10/2017 and from 4/2018 to 11/2018. Not a single crash or hang during the entire time. I'm impressed with the Raspberry Pi computers.

The second Pi is running OpenElec and has been a media server connected to the TV in the RV. It hasn't been running continuously as I shut it down if we don't have sufficient Internet bandwidth. We mostly use it to watch YouTube videos. Instead of updating it, I am probably just going to install whatever the current version is.

The third Pi is my DMR hotspot and it is the previous generation Pi2B+ that I had lying around. It doesn't have built-in WiFi and Bluetooth that the Pi3 has but the metal case I have it installed in negates those features. It is current as it has the update process built into the Pi-Star distribution. I do have an OLED display that I'm going to install so it'll show real-time connection info. I have the display sent to me in OR but I neglected to bring the 3D printed display mount that my son made for me.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Day 56 - Returning to AK

Here we are waiting for the shuttle bus to the airport. Two dogs adds a lot of stuff but it all easily fit into the Ford Transit shuttle. There was a longish wait at the airport counter as TSA needed to send someone over to inspect the kennels. But after that, no issues. I hope there is no problems with either the truck or trailer while being parked/stored.


In an email this morning, Ural highlited an all electric sidecar rig. It used the Zero power plant and batteries so the hp and torque are almost double the stock engine. No clutch lever so I’m assuming no transmission and probably no geared reverse. It is going to be on display at the motorcycle show in Long Beach later this month. The same one I had attended last year. They list a range of about 100 miles. But it also looks like it uses a standard 15 amp outlet for charging. It would be better if it supported fast charging and more batteries. Especially since the battery technology has progressed far enough for lighter, smaller battery packs. But they are limited to what Zero uses. This is just a demonstration or proof of concept.

Now in Seattle. We moved from summer to fall with all of the orange trees seen on our approach. The gloom from the overcast and wet pavement just adds to the “fall” feeling. Fairbanks is supposed to be 15°F and snowing tonight when we get in.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Day 55 - Tucson, AZ

This was starting to resemble work. But fortunately, Bridget helped and it went much faster than the last time I used the cover. The cover is very bulky but carrying it on the cargo carrier worked well. Unzip the bag and start pulling the cover up onto the roof and towards the front. I know it’s an older rig but we still want to keep it in decent shape. If the cover helps, then it’s worth the trouble.  The AZ sun is hard on the roof and tires so trying to keep those covered. I guess we’re the exception as none of the other rigs in the lot were covered. “Winterizing” the fresh water system and the traps went pretty quick. I did remember to bypass and drain the hot water heater as well as shut off the A/C power. The larger air compressor made purging the water lines an easy task. This time, I think I remembered all of the lines including the kitchen sink sprayer and the outside shower.. Since the solar panels are covered, I turned all DC power off and disconnected the negative cable from the shunt. I’m definitely going to miss being on the road.

We are now resting at a pet friendly hotel that has a free shuttle to the airport and we can leave the truck in their parking lot. For every night you stay, you have 30 days free parking. Since we are staying here at both ends of our trip, we get 60 days free parking. We fly out tomorrow for Fairbanks. Now, where’s the ibuprofen... 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Day 54 - Benson, AZ - TT

Yet another clear, sunny day but today is a packing and cleaning day. The awning came out again as I had more digging around to do in the storage bay. Every day around 4 pm, the wind picks up and the awning gets put away. I take my cue from the newer RVs around us with wind sensors on their awnings. They retract automatically. Anything that could freeze, including cleaning supplies are being removed from the cabinets and storage bins. Bridget’s kayak will be moved inside the RV along with the bike since the dog kennels will be used for the trip to Fairbanks.

I topped up the water in the batteries again. I did not check after running the equalization cycle while we were at the Orange Grove RV Park in Bakersfield. They took around a quart of distilled water so not too low. Back in September, the batteries took around three quarts and the water was still above the plates. I’m still amazed at how clean that whole area is. No corrosion on any of the battery posts or connectors.

The Raspberry Pi that collects data from the charge controller will go back to Fairbanks with us so I can install updates to the OS. As will the one that is a media server. The Apple TV is an old series 2 and is essentially useless. AirPlay no longer works reliably anymore.

Since I plan on working on the DMR hotspot, that Raspberry Pi is also going back as well as the DMR handheld radio. Lots of electronics...

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Day 53 - Benson, AZ - TT

This fall RV trip is almost over. On Thursday, we will put the trailer and truck in storage and stay at a hotel near the Tucson airport for our flight to Fairbanks on Friday. This means that we need to essentially winterize the trailer, empty out the refrigerator and remove any food items. There isn’t much left in the freezer but a lot of condiments in the refrigerator.

I rode the bike into town this morning to get some stuff done. It’s nice to be able to cruise at 20 mph as there isn’t much of a shoulder once you get into Benson. Actually, there isn’t any shoulder but there are two lanes in each direction. No problems at all with traffic. I needed to dig through the storage compartment to get some stuff out that I’m going to need back home. Enough that I may be using an Action Packer as luggage. I think that I may be bringing more stuff back down here in January such as tools that I didn’t think I needed.

Now that we are almost done with our week at a TT RV park, I’d have to say that I’m more than satisfied with our TT experience so far. 24 nights so far using our membership plus 7 nights at an Encore park. Some have been more “campground” and some have been more “RV Park”. But I wouldn’t classify any of them as “glamping”. The first two didn’t have sewer connections at the site but it really wasn’t an issue. The Florence, OR, park didn’t have a working dumpstation. That could have been a problem if our next campground didn’t either. The Cottonwood park also didn’t have a working dump station but it was working by the time we checked out so no problem. The last two in AZ had the pool heater running and they’ve been great. So I’m more than satisfied with our TT experience and I’d really consider a regular membership for the longer stays, park to park, and 120 days advance reservation. Double what the Camping Pass that we currently have. The Trails Collection add-on for Encore is still a “maybe”.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Day 52 - Benson, AZ - TT

Kartchner Caverns is about ten miles south of Benson and is the town's premier attraction. It is also listed as Arizona's best attraction by USA Today for whatever that’s worth. They had two different tours available. The Rotunda/Throne Room or the Big Room. Both tours are guided, partly to control the number of people in the cave at any time and to help ensure that nothing is touched. It was warm and humid inside of the cave and no cameras including cell phone cameras were permitted. So no pictures from inside the cave. I included their promotional video at the bottom of this post.

The entire path of the tour is wheelchair accessible which means that it is paved and no stairs or steep grades. The paved walkway is designed to be washed down every evening after the tours and as you walk in, there is a fine mist to help any lint stay stuck to your clothes. The walkway is bordered by a short wall so the wash water is contained to the pathway. Since this is a horizontal cave, the temperature is about the same as the year-around average temperature of Benson or in the mid-70s. The humidity inside of the cave is 99%.

They did have rock drills on display outside of the visitors center including the chainsaw. We had tried using a rock drill to collect samples but since I worked for a remote sensing group, all they were concerned with was the surface. A hammer was more efficient for sample collection. The tour was about 1½ hours long and it was worth it. The cave is still in pristine condition as it is a relatively recent discovery. I believe that it was initially discovered in 1974 and the cave site was sold to the state in 1988. One of the conditions of sale is that the original property owners name, Kartchner, needed to remain attached to the site.

Since there are no pictures of the cave, here is a picture of a painting behind the front desk at the visitors center showing Kubla Kahn, the name given to this column inside of the throne room. The column is almost sixty feet high. If you ever find yourself in Benson, I would recommend this attraction.

Not much else for the rest of the day. Clear and 76°F. Another “pool” afternoon. No pool/palm tree pictures or any mention of a gentle breeze in this post. I could get used to this...


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Day 51 - Benson, AZ - TT

Not sure what kind of cactus this is but they all have these bright yellow on them. I'm thinking that it may be new growth inspired by the recent torrential rains. We have heard about the rain several times so it must've been unusual. We attended the small church located right next to the RV park and the first person we met was a UAF graduate back in the 70s. And her brother, who was also there, was a mining geologist in Anchorage and had moved here after trying the RV thing twelve years ago. Small world.

Today was another stay-at-home day. There is a walking path set up next door to the RV park. Since the “0” mark is on a small bridge to a business parking lot, I’d assume that they set it up as part of a wellness program for their employees as the path had signs every 300’ as well as the lawyer statement about using the trail at your own risk.

Another very pleasant afternoon sitting by the pool. Low 70s (°F) with a gentle breeze and just enough clouds so you don’t feel the direct heat from the sun. And, as expected, the A/C is working fine again. At least enough to cool the trailer down after cooking pancakes. Cooking on the induction burner still heats the trailer up. Just not as much as the propane stove. But since the induction burner is portable, I’ve used it outside on the picnic table more than once.

At 5:15, we walked on the road behind the campground to look for a sunset photo. No color at all in the sky. This is the view to the east at the mountains. But after we walked back to the campground and turned around, we finally saw a little bit of color.


Saturday, November 3, 2018

Day 50 - Benson, AZ - TT

Today being a Saturday, we opted to not visit any touristy locations. Instead, we started to get the trailer ready for storage. I filled any openings I could find in the plastic underbelly and floor with steel wool and pest-resistant, expanding foam. The expanding foam was pretty hard to work with. On the larger openings, I also used some metal screen cut to fit around the drain pipes. The screen is held in place with Gorilla Tape. Most of this was in the basement storage are near the front of the RV. The original plastic used to cover the larger openings around the drain pipes was plastic that became brittle and was cracked and broken.

The next task isn't really storage related but needed to be done sometime. The rubber hoses for the propane pigtails are really hard from age. Almost to the point of feeling brittle. And the automatic transfer valve and regulator slightly leak propane when one of the tanks is removed. While we were at Camping World yesterday, I picked up a new valve assembly and two pigtails. When I was getting ready to install it, I couldn't find my yellow ptfe tape which is designed for use on chemical connections such as propane. The normal white ptfe tape will dissolve over time.

A storage-related item with the propane is that I changed out one of the door latches for a locking one. A year and a half ago I had ordered enough of these cylinder locks, all keyed alike, for all of the storage compartments including the propane compartment. I just keep the propane one in the tool bag and swap it in for when the RV is in storage. Normally, you don't want a keyed locking latch on the propane door in case you need to get into it quickly.

Right as if on cue, the A/C stopped producing cold air this afternoon. Which is surprising since it really isn't that warm. I think today's high was somewhere around 73°F with a gentle breeze. I think the old unit is just tired like many other things on this trailer.

They recommend winterizing the water lines and drains as it could get below freezing in December/January. Unusual but it has been known to happen, I needed to pick up another blow-out plug. This is a schraeder valve that screws into the city water line on the trailer. After bypassing the water heater, you use air pressure to push the water out of the system. Water would still be in the pump so you then pump RV antifreeze through the water lines further displacing any water. The same antifreeze is poured into all of the traps and the toilet so they don't freeze. And the water heater needs to be emptied after turning off the breaker. Otherwise, the 110 VAC heating element would overheat in minutes. As a reminder, there is a shutoff switch on the water heater with a circlip to lock it in the off position. I may do that on the night before. I do need to drain the fresh water tank. I'm thinking that the easiest way may be to just turn off the "city water" and use the pump to just empty the tank into the sink or shower.

And, just like the last couple of days, I finish off the day in the pool and jacuzzi. Perfect weather for it....

Friday, November 2, 2018

Day 49 - Benson, AZ - TT

Today we visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum located southwest of Tucson about an hours drive from the campground. I had visited here a couple of times back in the early 1980s while still working for JPL and thought it was pretty nice back then. Now, the paths are mostly paved and a lot more has been added. It is now a combination between a zoo and an arboretum in addition to the museum.

 It is a very pleasant 73°F and not a cloud in the sky. The first picture is just an iPhone snapshot from the coffee shop in the afternoon. The second picture was taken in the morning from the trail at the museum. There were a number of loops in addition to the main path through all of the areas including a gravel path to see the javelinas and coyotes in a more natural setting. Essentially a fenced off area within the museum grounds.

There was a butterfly and moth section. I didn't see any moths but there were some butterflies. In addition to the butterfly pen, there were also netted in areas for hummingbirds and birds. I wasn't able to get any decent pictures of either as there were more people than birds. But I did get to see a number of hummingbirds.

The cactus "garden" was especially interesting. I didn't realize that there were so many varieties. While walking through the desert, all of the cholla look alike. But the saguaro looks pretty distinctive with their "arms". I knew that they grew slowly but, in reality, they grow very, very slowly. A fifteen-year-old saguaro is only about 6" tall.

This museum is a "must-see" if you are in the Tucson area. Assuming you like museum/zoo/arboretums.

There were so many different species, that it was very difficult to keep track. By noon, the place was getting more crowded with school and scout groups. In addition to a bunch of conference attendees all wearing their conference badges. It never got annoying or Disneyland crowded. We had lunch at the sit-down restaurant within the museum. Very good food, pleasant wait staff, but it seemed a bit unorganized and understaffed.

After the museum, I stopped at Camping World to get an estimate on getting some things installed or replaced. The A/C doesn't really cool well when its really hot like last summer and I asked about replacing it with a larger unit. The awning fabric is starting to tear at one end where it attaches to the trailer and you could see a couple of holes developing in the fabric. And, the RV doesn't have a slide topper installed which is like an awning that covers the top of the slide to keep debris such as leaves and acorns off. For all of this, it's around $2500 mostly parts and a 3-year warranty. The labor was less than I expected.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Day 48 - Benson, AZ - TT

A short drive today to Valley Vista RV Park in Benson, AZ. It is an Encore park that we have access to through the Trails Collection option on our TT camping pass. It is pretty much like the other TT parks though not as crowded. The sites are all gravel and, based on the shape of the office building, it probably used to be a KOA. The pool is heated, it has a nice hot tub and not in town but on the highway towards Tombstone. 

The staff at the campground recommended an RV storage place down the road which turns out to be half the price as Tucson. The staff also checked to see if they had space here in the RV park for when we return in January. For a 30 amp site, there’s plenty of space. I just need to remember to make a reservation through the TT system. We can only make reservations 60 days in advance. I also have a hotel booked for the day before flying out and for the day we return to AZ. They have secure parking at the hotel for the truck while we are gone. Total cost for parking, $12 since we are staying at the pet-friendly hotel.