Sunday, August 18, 2019

Day 2 - Watson Lake, YT

The day started out fine in Tok though it did drop into the low 40s (°F). It was nice and clear coming into Whitehorse, YT, in the early afternoon. The weather started to deteriorate as I headed further east  with light snow on the trees. From The Continental Divide into Watson Lake, it snowed lightly though it was still above freezing. All of the rooms at Nugget City were taken so I headed into Watson Lake where I found a room behind the closed Chinese restaurant. At least it has WiFi so I don’t have to rely on Verizon to check the road conditions. This is the only picture I took on the 650 mile drive.

I’m using the SWConnect app which uploads to Spotwalla. Here is the link to my trip. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Day 1 - Tok, AK

I left around 1:30 for the relatively short 210 miles to Tok. When I arrived, my phone must’ve connected to WiFi somewhere as I received several text messages including one from Chris and Lori who were picking me up in Atlanta next week. There was confusion on the date so I needed to find WiFi so I could call. So I’m now having dinner at Fast Eddy’s and using their WiFi.

Not much else to report except 44 mpg.

All of a sudden I have three bars of Verizon 3G. So I added a picture of the wall tent at Thompson’s Eagles Claw motorcycle campground. I’ve stayed here numerous times before and it appears that I’m the only one here today. The motel parking lots have motorcycles in them. Maybe everyone is looking at all the fresh snow on the mountains.

Spotwalla Link

Almost Ready...

Two e-bikes, an inflatable kayak, kitchen stuff, tools, pillows, clothes, etc. The first things were the large items, followed by stuff that we didn’t care to purchase over again. Then whatever fit. I did decide to bring camping gear as I can think of a few places to stay along the way. I’m waiting to see what the weather forecast is before deciding on the Cassiar Hwy. I’m was originally planning on leaving on Sunday morning with an initial target of Whitehorse, YT, but it was difficult to find an appropriate stopping point. Everywhere is still super expensive. So now, I'm thinking of leaving on Saturday afternoon. This would allow me to stop in Tok at Thompson's Eagle's Claw even though I'm not on a motorcycle, she said it would be just fine. I reserved the wall tent so I don't have to deal with a wet tent in the morning.

Subsequent stops are Nugget City where they have tent camping if it's not raining but also have Atco type of rooms. These are rooms barely larger than the double bed with the bathroom in a separate building. Fort St. John could be the next stop. In 2017, I went from Fort Nelson to Prince George. So maybe Fort St. John to Williams Lake or Merrit may be do-able. Wednesday will see me (hopefully) back in the U.S. into southern Washington. Then, finally, a shorter day into Corvallis, OR. A total of 2,600 miles give or take. Two half-days plus four full days.

Today (Friday) has been mostly spent packing the Prius. And, it’s not stuffed full after we put everything in it. This will be our first real trip with the Prius. We'll see how it does. And the biggest challenge, for me, to clean up things in the garage enough to park the truck inside for the winter. A lot of stuff had to be moved as the truck hasn’t been parked in the garage for years...

Friday, August 16, 2019

Battery Reference

Just for reference, I took a picture of the batteries before pulling it all apart. I put the batteries in the garage, wired them back together (series-parallel) and put a charger on them. There are also a couple of small gauge wires attached to the battery bank. On the lower left negative terminal is the temperature sensor and the battery voltage sense for the solar charge controller is upper left to lower right. I took the picture just in case someone else needs to re-install the batteries. After lifting these batteries out of the box and into the car makes the LiFePO4 batteries look better and better. Less than half the weight for twice the useable capacity.

I take the batteries out of the RV since there is a very small parasitic drain which I could fix with some longer cables. The Progressive Dynamics converter is just attached to the catastrophic fuse and it appears to always draw a little bit of power. I also have a dc-dc converter to provide 5v to the Raspberry Pi that is collecting data from the charge controller. Today (Thursday) we went back to finish the winterization by pumping RV antifreeze through the water lines and pump. To power the pump, I just brought the small lithium jumper box I use on the Ural. I removed the dc-dc converter for the Raspberry Pi and the TPMS booster that I had installed in the battery compartment. I am bringing the TPMS system from the truck/5th wheel to use on the new-to-us RV. I don’t remember seeing any TPMS sensors. I have eight sensors but I may need to order a couple more if the system allows different tire pressure on the trailer. I don’t think it does so I can’t monitor the tow dolly tires and the Prius rear tires.

I picked up some 2/0 AWG arc welding cable and connectors to install the Victron battery monitor in the coach. I had also picked up a hydraulic crimp tool to use instead of the hammer crimp tool I used on the 5th wheel installation. The tool came with a large selection of die sizes and according to a table on the Internet, I would use a 70 die for the 2/0 AWG cable.

After stripping the insulation, you insert the wire and pump the handle to apply 16 tons of pressure making a hexagonal crimp. The wire was still a little loose so I switched to a smaller die. The crimp was tight but it looked "over-crimped". The recommendation is to look for heavier copper lugs.

After crimping, I covered the lug with heat shrink tubing for a nice finished lug. I had purchased 3' of the 2/0 AWG cable and for now, installed a lug on both ends. Once I actually install the shunt and a negative bus bar, I just need to cut the two cables to length and install two more lugs. I just wanted to try out the crimp tool and it worked great. What is now shown is the anti-oxidant that is put onto the bare copper before being crimped.

Over three years of activity tracking on the Apple Watch got me a virtual award. Exceeding my move goal 1000 times. Granted, I never increased it from the default but I did exceed it by 2x, 3x, or 4x almost 400 times during that period. 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Moved the 5th Wheel

The 5th wheel is put away for the winter unless it gets sold. It is being stored at Alaska RV and when I paid for storage, I asked about consignment. She mentioned that they have had multiple inquiries for cheaper 5th wheel RVs just in the past week. Today was a very tiring day for us. We moved the RV, emptied it out, cleaned it out, drained the fresh water tank, drained the water heater, blew out the water lines, and put on the cover including the tire covers. I turned off all of the power since the solar panels are covered but I still need to remove the batteries. It has been a long and tiring day. (The batteries were removed 08-13-2019)

We also transferred the title for the new-to-us RV and picked up the license plates with "Z" tags. The "Z" tags are license tags without an expiration. Pretty cool that the state has that option for older vehicles. Bridget had made an appointment at the DMV for the title transfer. We showed up, waited in a short line to check-in and received a number. Within 10 seconds of receiving the number slip, our number was called. Pretty amazing service at the DMV!

So, just in case you are looking for a 5th wheel RV in Fairbanks, AK, here is one that is set up decently for boondocking especially if you are looking for an older (cheaper) rig.

2001 Cedar Creek model 30RLFS. Rear living room, single large slide with the dining table w/4 chairs, and a hide-a-bed. Approximately 32' long, GVWR of 11900#, 1800# pin weight.

Standard features:
  • 8 ft3 gas-electric refrigerator/freezer
  • 3 burner gas stove/oven
  • 1000 watt microwave
  • gas-electric 6 gallon DSI water heater
  • 13.5 KW AC
  • Propane furnace
  • 45 gal fresh water
  • 30 gal galley tank
  • 22 gal grey tank
  • 30 gal black tank
  • 20' manual awning
Additions or changes:
  • 2x 30# propane tanks both w/current inspection dates
  • 4x GC2 6v golf cart batteries (430 amp-hours)
  • 2000 watt full sine-wave inverter
  • Auto transfer switch to all interior outlets
  • 580 watts of solar panels
  • 45 amp Tristar charge controller
  • Trimetric battery monitor
  • 30" Samsung LED Television
  • Almost all lights updated to LED interior and exterior
  • Fantastik fan w/remote, thermostat, and rain sensor in living room
  • Fantastik fan covers on both living room and bathroom
  • Progressive Dynamics EMS, hard-wired into 30 amp shore power
  • RV Lock. Combination lock for the entry door w/keyless entry remote
  • All remote tank valves replaced 2 years ago
  • TPO roof replaced in 2016
  • Tires replaced in 2017
  • Suspension rebuilt in 2019
  • Includes cover and tire covers
  • Queen memory foam mattress replaced 2017
  • Vinyl plank flooring installed 2018
My Apple Watch gave me an award for working today. It was an Ibuprofen day...

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Misc...

Sta-Bil has been added to the tank as well as to the 2 1/2 gallon gas can and the battery tender plugged in. That’s about it for the summer as far as the Ural is concerned. The forecast for next week is rain just about every day plus I need to be getting ready to head south with the Prius full of RV travel “stuff”. Stuff such as the two e-bikes, inflatable kayak, tools, Instant Pot, Induction burner, most of our clothes, a bunch of kitchen stuff, and whatever else that fits. Fortunately, the Prius holds a lot of stuff.

The group photo for the D2D get together was published on ADVrider. Pretty nice photo and it was taken just before midnight near the Summer Solstice in Dawson City, YT. If you stayed for the picture, you received a sticker for your bike's fender with "Dust to Dawson" and/or the year. I have it on the front fender of the Ural.

Saturday was the annual KL7KC amateur radio club hamfest. An all-day meeting with demonstrations, a general meeting, and presentations. The picture shows two members communicating with a VHF repeater satellite. The radios are just 5-watt handhelds and most of their contacts were with other hams in Alaska. Other talks were on emergency communications, digital voice modes, radio restoration, and 6M VHF. I ran the officer and board elections portion of the program and will continue on the board even though I'm out of the state for many of the meetings.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Feeling Better

Finally had a day when it wasn’t raining and I wasn’t coughing a lot or just wiped out. This summer cold really hung on a long time. I finished the decking on the front porch. I still need to order the bench brackets that I wanted to use in place of the railing. They used to carry them at Lowe’s but not anymore. Hmm, I wonder why? I used them on our rear deck and I like how it turned out.

This afternoon (Wednesday), Bridget and I went to the Tanana Valley State Fair. All of the Alaska fairs call themselves "State Fairs". This is basically the local county fair. Like all fairs, there is "fair food" available. This is the one item that sort of stood out to me. This is almost as bad as the Cheese-a-Saurus burger at the Food Factory that used two grilled cheese sandwiches to serve as the bun. I didn't try this.

There were several barbecue places. This one had a pretty cool smoker and was new to the fair. I don't remember seeing this one before. There were only a fraction of booths compared to previous years. I'm told that they raised the vendor rates to the point where many decided that they wouldn't make enough money.  Even most of the amusement park rides are gone. Actually, they set up at the Carlson Center since the fair was charging so much. Let's see if the competition improves things.

The weather was typical fair weather for here. In other words, we got rained on. I had some typical fair food (for me). Roasted corn-on-the-cob, some "Cowboy Fries" and a Dole Whip. The fries were too salty with too much barbecue sauce. The pulled pork was pretty good. And a Dole Whip is always good.

It's kind of sad to see how much the fair has shrunk over the years. It used to be a place that we would visit daily for the week it ran. Today, we were there for under 3 hours and had walked through it a couple of time. At least I got my moneys worth! (It was "senior day" so anyone over 60 was free!)

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Geeky Driveline Info

I've downloaded some information on the Caterpillar C7 engine and the Freightliner XC chassis just so I can learn a bit of maintenance. The 7.2 ℓ turbocharged, direct-injection diesel engine is pretty similar to the 5.9 ℓ engine in our 2005 Dodge 3500 and is the smallest engine that Caterpillar actually manufactures. Similar in weight at 1300#, a bit louder, and a similarly shaped torque curve to the 5.9 Cummins. The operating RPM range is narrower (1440 - 2400 RPM) with the torque peak of 860 ft-lbs at 1440 RPM. Cold starting is the same with a grid heater in the intake manifold. I will probably look for a large vehicle oil change place once I get on the road. Oil capacity is either 21 ℓ or 30 ℓ. The C7 uses the HEUI (Hydraulically-actuated Electronically-controlled Unit Injector) system so clean oil is essential to trouble-free operation as very high-pressure engine oil is used to inject the fuel. The HEUI system provides only a single injection event unlike the multiple events with the common rail systems so the engine is noisier. On the other hand, extra fuel isn't injected just to improve emissions or quiet the engine during operation. My first observation when I heard the engine running was that it sounds like a diesel should.

The Allison automatic is a bit different from one the GM uses in their pickup with the Duramax. Maybe it's just a different model. It has 6 speeds forward, neutral and reverse. No park. When stopped you need to use the parking brake. The display shows your selected high gear and which gear it is in currently. I was surprised that the transmission worked with the exhaust brake by automatically downshifting to slow down. There is an "Eco" mode which changes the shift points.

The air brakes are something new to learn. Basically, the service brakes are fully locked by default when there is no air pressure. When the engine is started, air pressure is built up in both a primary and secondary system. When pressure is over some threshold, the brakes are no longer locked unless the parking brake is on. Pressing the pedal lowers the air pressure to the actuators which allows the brake pads to re-engage. Kind of backwards from what you expect. I.e. depressing the pedal bleeds air from the brake lines. The parking/emergency brake completely releases the air pressure which locks the brakes. There is an air-drying system as part of the air system to remove moisture and a filter for the air intake of the compressor (one or two?). Air pressure is also used for the suspension airbags but is fed from the secondary air system.

So when you are an a campground and the diesel pusher in the next space starts their engine at 6am and just sits there idling, there may be a reason. They can’t move until air pressure is built up and, according to the owners manual, even bring in their slides. The suspension needs to be up pressurized. They are not (necessarily) doing it just to annoy you.

There are two hydraulic systems on the chassis. An engine-driven hydraulic pump for the power steering, like most other vehicles, but it also powers the radiator fan. The radiator is located on the drivers' side facing sideways. According to what I've read, this is preferable to the rear-mounted radiators as it cools better and doesn't blow debris onto a towed vehicle. The downside is an additional mechanical piece with the hydraulic fan. A separate hydraulic system powers the slide mechanism, the leveling jacks, and the generator tray. I believe that this system uses an electric pump but I wasn't able to locate the pump or reservoir when we looked at the coach.

Something else that surprised me. The wheel lug-nut torque is 450 to 500 ft-lbs. I guess I'm not going to be rotating the tires. And that explains why there isn't a jack or a spare tire...

Sunday, August 4, 2019

So the Upgrades Starts Again

So the process of adding things to the RV begins again though at a much slower pace. I believe that one of the first things added before upgrading batteries, adding solar, etc. is a battery monitor. On the 5th wheel, I installed a Bogart Engineering Trimetric TM-2025RV. This time, I picked the Victron BMV-712 Smart. Basically, it has the same functionality and once you add the type and capacity of your battery bank, it'll show you remaining battery capacity as a percentage. Also, like the Trimetric, you install a 500 amp shunt in series with the negative battery cable so all current running from or to your battery can be measured. The new feature this adds is Bluetooth connectivity.  This means that I can leave the meter in the battery bay and not try to figure how and where to install it inside of the coach. Just use the handy-dandy phone app.

Since I will be making battery cables again starting with the cable for the shunt for the Victron battery monitor, I picked up a crimp tool. The capacity is 4/0 AWG which is what I would be running if I opted to install LiFePO4 batteries this time around. The existing battery compartment isn't heated so the coach batteries would need to be relocated. The rearmost compartment on the passenger side is where the existing Magnum 2KW inverter-charger is located. So large cables for some of these runs between compartments will be needed. The limit for the hammer-crimp tool is 2/0 AWG which is what I used in the 5th wheel. It turns out that this made-in-China hydraulic tool was pretty inexpensive and the only negative reviews were complaining that it was made in China. I will probably stop by ABS Alaska, a local solar store, for the welding cable, shrink tubing and terminals.

Another purchase is a tow dolly. According to Toyota, the Prius can't be flat towed. But if the front wheels are on a tow dolly, then no problem. This model made by Acme (yes the same brand that the coyote always purchased from on the Roadrunner cartoons) has disc brakes and is a surge brake system. No brake controller needed and no brake adjustments. There is also no kingpin pivot. You just need to ensure that the steering wheel isn't locked. Since the Prius does not have a locking steering wheel, the kingpin units are not recommended. I was going to contact the company for information on whether the Prius was going to clear the ramps then I noticed that they used a Prius in their how-to video.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Why a Different RV - Part 2

This is a no-picture post as it just documents our search process.

When we were in Palm Springs last March, we went to an RV dealer next to the Thousand Trails park where we were staying. Our initial requirements were pretty minimal:
  • Diesel pusher, Class A
  • Around 2004 - 2007
  • Length around 35’
The salesman showed us an Itasca unit that met those requirements plus more. But we had just started looking. As a result, we added more items to our list based on what we learned and added "required" and "preferred":
  • fiberglass roof - required
  • basement A/C - preferred
  • minimal carpet - required
  • side radiator - required
A few weeks later while we were in Corvallis and my mom was willing to watch the dogs, we went down to Coburg and Junction City. Both locations are a few miles north of Eugene. We were shown multiple Monaco, Holiday Rambler, Newmar, and Tiffin models. Three were in the “premium brand” category in the Motorhome Comparison Guide and one was in the “above average” category. None really met all of the criteria and they showed a lot more wear and tear than the units we looked at in Palm Springs. You could easily tell which units were stored in either covered or indoors.

Since then, we added:
  • Cummins ISL over Caterpillar - preferred
  • engine brake over exhaust brake - preferred
  • independent front suspension - preferred
  • front disc brakes - required
  • tires < 5 years old
  • 10k towing capacity - required
  • over 4K carrying capacity - required
  • computer table style dining room instead of a booth - required
  • propane oven - preferred
  • residential refrigerator - preferred
  • Diesel generator hours < 750
  • Mileage < 75k
  • Heat pump - Preferred
  • Double pane windows. - required
  • Heated basement storage - required
  • Freshwater capacity >= 100 gallons
  • Aqua hot system - preferred (This was dropped after reading of problems)
  • Raised rail chassis - required
  • Aluminum wheels - required
  • At least one slide tray in the full pass-through basement storage - required
  • Hydraulic slide mechanism - preferred
  • Automatic leveling - preferred
  • Heated mirrors - required
  • Side hallway - preferred
  • Washer/dryer - required
  • TV not in the front - preferred
The Mandalay was in the “above average” category in the Motorhome Comparison Guide along with Winnebago, Itasca, Holiday Rambler and others. We would have preferred something from the “premium” category.

From the first requirements block, at 41.5’ it wasn’t around 35’.  Bigger is not necessarily better. Several of the models in the over 40’ group had a tag axle which is two more tires behind the dual rear wheels. These add stability and an additional 10k# in carrying capacity. I don’t think we need more carrying capacity than the 4,426# that the Mandalay has. Maybe if we were actually full-time. For comparison, we only have about 1400# of stuff in the 5th wheel which is well under its carrying capacity.

From the second block, it did not have basement A/C. I’ve since learned that Winnebago and Itasca are about the only ones that have the basement air at least during the years we are looking at. The benefit is that there are no A/C units on the roof so two fewer openings that have the potential to leak. And they are more efficient. The downside is that most shops don't know how to work on them.

In the third block, there were multiple “misses”. To me, a big one is that it has a Caterpillar C7 instead of Cummins ISL. My preference for the Cummins was potentially lower-cost service/maintenance as Caterpillar no longer provides engines to the RV market. I’ve been told that they didn’t want to deal with all the new emissions stuff. But it’s not like they don’t make engines anymore but only for the off-road market. Engine brakes didn’t seem very common in RVs until after 2008 and even then only in the larger Cummins engines. But a two-stage engine brake would’ve been nice. The rear tires are 6 years old but show no weather checking and have lots of tread life. They may be changed in the next year or so. It does not have a propane oven or a residential refrigerator. Like many RVs, it has a convection microwave which, obviously, needs electricity and don't work as well as a regular propane oven. For a long time, I have been opposed to residential refrigerators. Especially if you want to boondock. But the real benefit is no propane flame. The downside is you need a lot more battery capacity to keep it running. A compromise may be the 12VDC compressor system that can be retrofitted to many RV refrigerators. The Aqua hot preference was dropped after reading about expensive failures on systems that weren’t in everyday use. And the TV is mounted up front above the front windshield like just about every other class A of that age.

Some additional features that I didn’t expect but welcome are the power front window shades. Basically sun visors that are controllable from the driver's seat. The 50 amp, 220 VAC power cord is large and heavy. The Mandalay has a power cord reel to manage that awkward cord. Having 50 amp service allows you to draw 70% more power than the 30 amp service. No more tripping the breaker if you are running the A/C and the microwave at the same time. There is an extra flat-screen TV in one of the storage bays on an adjustable arm. I can see me moving that into the bedroom replacing the small TV. The 41.5’ length means that there is a lot of basement storage. According to the specs, 190 ft3. Window awnings are nice to have. And unlike many RVs we looked at, the colors of the upholstery and window treatments aren’t obnoxious.

There are some less welcome “features” but none were deal breakers. It has a macerator toilet which adds complexity and I’ve heard that they use more water. I wasn’t able to tell if the washer/dryer combo unit was vented or ventless without removing it. The swivel recliner is where we would have put the dog kennels and it’s a huge piece of furniture. The lighted curio cabinet is cute but not sure of its utility. And it’s missing a shelf. The salesman said that they will find one but I have my doubts that they will have a safety glass shelf made. It has a central vacuum system but I didn’t see any hose or attachments. It has a safe installed in the bedroom but I’m not confident that there is any documentation.

This post is probably long enough. It is mostly written to remind me of the decision process.