Saturday, November 30, 2019

Day 21 - Quartzsite, AZ

I can’t believe that it’s already been three weeks since I was in Fairbanks. The days seem to pass quickly.

Last night, the temperature dropped into the high 30s (°F) and we ran both furnaces. The thermostats set to 66°F. At 8:30 in the morning, the SOC was at 60% and we had used 178 amp-hours from the batteries. RV furnaces do use a lot of power to operate the blower. One popular solution are the catalytic propane heaters. Most are radiant heaters and a few have fans to help circulate the heat. Since we have the animals loose, running something with an open flame doesn’t seem to be a good idea. More useable battery capacity may be a better option.

I had mentioned in yesterday’s post that we visited with a couple whom we had met in Alaska. He was upgrading his batteries from six six-volt Trojan T-105 golf cart batteries to three 12-volt LiFePO4 batteries. The 20-hour capacity of the 6 volt T-105 is 225ah so, when they were new, 675ah @12 vdc or 337ah useable for the bank of six batteries. The three LiFePO4 batteries have a total and useable capacity of 300ah. But going from 372lbs to under 90lbs is a huge weight savings. He is currently using a MorningStar Tristar MPPT solar charge controller and with custom programming, it can be used for these batteries.

At some point, I’m thinking that at least three LiFePO4 batteries may be a step in the right direction given our consumption. Especially if the Magnum inverter/charger can be configured appropriately. The real question is before or after solar...

Friday, November 29, 2019

Day 20 - Quartzsite, AZ

If I said that I wasn’t nervous I’d be lying. Just a little earlier, the NWS put out a high wind alert with gusts up to 50mph. We did get some gusty winds but I think it was closer to 30mph. I did pull in all the slides and I was tempted to pull up the jacks and move closer to the highway. But Bridget doesn’t seem to be the least bit concerned.

About 8:30pm I went out and looked at the dry wash. It was far from dry and my stress level went up. Bridget humored me and I moved the coach away from the creek to slightly higher ground. To me, just being away from the wash was sufficient. Stress level down it was time for pumpkin pie and vanilla ice cream...

The next morning was clear (and cold!) as the rain had ended around 4am. Last night, we had just moved to a somewhat flat spot but it was not very good and kind of close to some others. We moved back to where we were before as there was no more rain in the forecast. Based on the wet ground in the wash, it had filled up maybe ¾ of the way. I’m still glad we moved especially since it was easy as I already had all of the slides in due to the wind forecast. simply retract the jacks and go.

The battery bank was at 55% this morning. I had both furnaces running plus the inverter. It was only at 85% yesterday evening so we used about 30% of the capacity or about 130 amp-hours. Based on our power usage over the last couple of days, we would need to recover about 220 amp-hours per day. If we assume 5 hours of useable sun at this time of year, we would need a minimum of 570 watts of solar panels. And given the lower sun angle and cloudy days, I’m going to stick with my initial guesstimate of 1000 watts of solar. In multiples two panels. The ones high on the list are 210watt panels for $189. A pretty good price compared to the 5th wheel installation.

This morning, we drove up to the casino in Parker, AZ, to meet Camper Van Kevin. We have been watching his YouTube channel for a while. He travels around the country with his 3 dogs in a class A motor home with a Honda dirt bike on the back. Pretty entertaining videos.

This afternoon we visited with Chip and Ruth whom we previously met at the campout at Eklutna Lake last 4th of July.

Since we were having leftovers today, I had the generator running for a couple of hours this evening. As a result, the charger actually switched to float mode. This was sensed by the Victron battery monitor and it did a synchronization as to what was fully charged. The SOC jumped from 88% to 100%. 

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Day 19 - Quartzsite, AZ - Thanksgiving

The forecast is for thunderstorms with a flash flood warning. I am somewhat concerned as we are parked next to a wash but others in the area said that it could get too deep to drive through but it stays in the wash. Bridget is unconcerned. We will bring the drivers side slides in as the forecasted SW wind is 24mph with much higher gusts. The drivers side is facing roughly WSW. The slide toppers flap a lot in high winds.

The menu for today’s Thanksgiving dinner:
  • Sous vide turkey breast
  • Mashed potatoes 
  • Homemade turkey gravy
  • Brussels sprouts in a balsamic reduction 
  • Stuffing/dressing out of a box
  • Whole berry cranberry sauce
  • Heat & serve rolls
  • Store bought pumpkin pie w/ice cream
The one I’m looking forward to is the experiment. The sous vide turkey cooked at 141° for 6 hours. The recommended cooking times range from 2 to 24 hours. The sous vide device does “exercise” the inverter based on the current and voltage graph. This graph is from the Victron battery monitor. Not really useful as you can only display live data not historical data. It shows that the sous vide wand is continuously cycling the heater on and off to maintain the water temperature. You can see the battery voltage fluctuation in the LED lights. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Day 18 - Quartzsite, AZ

The new routine seems to be run the generator starting around 8 am for a couple of hours then again around 4pm for an hour. This is usually sufficient to charge the batteries up to over 90%. With lead acid batteries, the charger goes into absorption mode and the charging current drops significantly. From around 75amps to under 30amps. That last 10% takes a long time. I’m told that one benefit of Lithium batteries is that there is no absorption phase. Bulk charge at max current until they reach 100%. A nice feature.

Yesterday’s Sunset
Last year, we kind of did the same thing even with the 400watts of solar panels. The solar would leave us about 10% short every day. So, to get the most out of our generator run time, we would use the generator in the morning to get the batteries back up to about 85% then let the solar finish them off. This was before I upgraded the converter so max current while running the generator was only about 40amps.

By the way, note that the max charging rate on this RV is set to 83 amps. A commonly referred to max charging rate for lead acid batteries is 0.1c or 10% of the battery capacity. This bank is 430 amp-hours so the “commonly accepted” max charge rate is 43 amps. But, what is usually not stated is that the 0.1c number is for sealed lead acid or AGM batteries. For flooded lead acid batteries, the max rate is 0.2c to 0.25c depending on the battery construction. This coach and our 5th wheel both have flooded lead acid batteries golf cart batteries so the max charge rate ranges from 86 amps to 108 amps. I was initially concerned that the setting on the Magnum inverter/charger may ruin the batteries from the high charge rate. But after doing more research, not an issue.

The blinds over these windows in the above aren’t open very often. But they do let in a lot of light (and heat) and are one of the features of this RV that we like. This morning, I ran the generator a long time (3 hours) as the SOC was 58%. We started at 90% yesterday evening and ran the inverter and both furnaces until around 11pm. The rest of the night we just used the inverter and the rear furnace as it just heats the living space. The front furnace heats the storage bays and tank spaces in addition to the living room/kitchen area. I’ll run the generator again while I’m making dinner as I need to use the convection oven. It will run off of the inverter but sucks a lot of power. The 3 hours of generator running this morning only got the batteries up to 86%. Propane gauge is just a little under ⅝.

I went to the local grocery store and it was very busy. Four checkers all of them with lines! I must not be the only one with a last minute shopping list...

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Day 17 - Quartzsite, AZ

 We went back into Quartzsite this morning as I wanted to go to the discount grocery store (ahead and on the left). We left with two bags of groceries for under $20 with most items priced at around $1. I even found a container that I can use for the sous vide device as the pans I’ve been using just weren’t quite tall enough. Good prices! At the RV supply tent, I picked up a couple of led bulbs for the reading lights in the bedroom. They had the 4K color temperature bulbs that I’ve been using everywhere else. I also picked up a replacement 12vdc accessory plug. The one on the air compressor fell apart.

After the marketplace, we stopped at the Hi Jolly Cemetery where there is a monument to the U.S. Army camel herder Hi Jolly aka Hadji Ali aka Philip Tedro where the use of camels was an experiment. After the Camel Corp was disbanded, Hi Jolly returned to Quartzsite as a civilian.

Yesterday, I received a call from RWC Group in Tucson. It appears that they left the engine diagnostic cable plugged into the connector under the dash. The shop foreman, who was the one I communicated with the most, was driving through Quartzsite yesterday evening so I was able to meet him at the Pilot gas station.

This is the container that I picked up at the discount grocery store. I used the Dremel to cut a circular opening in the lid of the container to fit the sous vide appliance. The lid will be used to keep evaporation to a minimum. The problem will be that the sous vide device will need to be shut off after heating the water up to temperature to get the food into the hot water.

The mural below was on the back of a building in Ajo. We stayed there a several days ago. It’s unrelated to the rest of this post.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Day 16 - Quartzsite, AZ

Dinner took about 60 amp-hours of power. That was 2½ hours of the sous vide and 7½ minutes of the microwave. (Plus I watched TV for about 45 min). I had the sous vide plugged into the Kill-a-watt to measure its power consumption but when it was finished, I unplugged it before reading the display. Oh well, that just means I need to repeat the experiment. I’m curious to see if we are still above 50% in the morning with the power hungry propane furnace running. For tonight, I just have the rear furnace set to 66°F.

Monday Morning - At 8:00 this morning, the SOC (state of charge) of the coach batteries was 67% or about 143 amp-hours used. I cranked up the generator, which is a 7.5kw Cummins/Onan diesel unit mounted up front, and the Magnum inverter/charger was generating 83amps of which about 75amps were going back into the battery. It’ll take several hours for the generator to recharge the batteries. I’ll probably shut the generator off when the current starts to drop. I’ll fire it up again late afternoon.

Assuming there was about 4 hours of good sun, we would need about 500 watts to recover. Given the inefficiencies in charging, 600 watts. Which is what we had on the 5th wheel. The nice thing about solar is you start the evening with a fully charged battery bank.

We went to the local grocery store here in Quartzsite and I was hoping to pick up a turkey breast to sous vide for Thanksgiving but they didn’t have any. I did pick up a small whole turkey which I separated into about four meals. So that was a bargain. Today, I have the dark meat ready to go in the hot water set at 148°F for 6 hours or so. This time I’ll be sure to look at the power consumption on the Kill-a-watt.

It’s windy today so I brought in one of the slides as the worn out slide topper was really flapping. And the forecast was for double the wind speed this afternoon.

4:00 - Fired up the generator again as the SOC was down to 66% again as I’ve been running the sous vide for over 5 hours. This is not really a boondocking friendly cooking appliance as it draws a modest amount of power for a long time. But, since I wanted to use it for turkey on Thursday, I wanted to “practice”. Since dark meat cooks to a higher temperature, they shouldn’t be cooked at the same time. It’s interesting looking up some of the sous vide recipes. E.g. turkey thighs. Time varied from two hours to two days. But temperature was pretty consistent at 148°F.

Still windy. May leave the living room slide in until tomorrow. Since I had used about 250 amp-hours in one 24 hour period, I may need at least 1000 watts just to stay even...

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Day 15 - Quartzsite, AZ

Quartzsite is a pretty “safe” place for us to try boondocking aka extended dry camping. The desert is pretty flat and hard packed and there is a ton of space. No issues getting into this spot though it was a pretty tight turn. The site is pretty level and not too many people around us. A lot different than when we were last here in January.

This is the view to the east from our “patio” on the shady side of the rig. We will be here for a week. Our water and tanks should last that long and now that we have a battery monitor, we’ll not only know when we need to start the generator but also have an idea on how much power we actually use. If we choose to install solar, we’ll have a better idea on how much we need.

But, to start things off, I want to see how much power the sous vide device uses with a 2½ hour cooking time. In know that it draws a max of 800 watts but not continuously. I have a hunch that it draws more power than the Instant Pot but that’s just a guess. What I really need is an insulated container with a lid. Hmmm...

Just so I remember, the gauge on the propane tank says 11/16.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Day 14 - Organ Pipe Cactus Natl’ Monument

We left the RV at the rv park in Ajo, AZ, and drove south about 35 miles to the Kris Eggle Visitors Center. After getting the National Park Passport book stamped, we went for a walk on a trail to the park campground. Lots of saguaro and cholla cactus but the organ pipe cactus were higher up on the hills.

At the visitors center, they said that this was the northern limit for the organ pipe cactus. This national monument has been designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. According to Wikipedia, a biosphere reserve is:

Biosphere reserves are ‘Science for Sustainability support sites’ – special places for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and management of biodiversity.

It was a nice walk and we returned along the road as there was very little traffic. According to signs in the campground, the RV size limit is 40’ so, theoretically, we are too long. I don’t think it would matter too much but the roads within the campground are really narrow.

After our hike, we headed back to Ajo and had to go through a border patrol checkpoint. The agent asked us why we had an extension cord hanging out the front of the car. I’m guessing that he doesn’t spend much time in cold climates.

Anyway, from here we are heading to Quartzsite to see how this rig does boondocking. And we can measure how much battery power we use on average. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Day 12, 13 - Tucson, AK

Thursday -  Still in Tucson, still at the motel, and the rv is still in the shop. This afternoon, I stopped by the shop to see how things were going and was told that they were just starting to put everything back together. The radiator was cleaned inside and out. The fins of the charge air cooler (intercooler) were cleaned and the regulators (thermostats) were replaced. I wonder why Caterpillar chose the odd terms. They just need to fill the cooling system with twelve quarts of coolant, purge the air out of the system, and take it for a test drive. I’m optimistic.

The mechanic also said that he will turn the automatic transmission cooling lines and zip tie them up so they are not aimed at the ground. A little more clearance would be good. He was wondering how all that stuff got between the radiator and the intercooler as there is a rubber flap around the perimeter. They work on a lot of rear engine buses for the city and they all have side radiators to avoid this particular problem.

Otherwise, I didn’t do much of anything today. We can’t leave the animals in the room so Bridget has been picking up prepared food from Denny’s, which is in the parking lot, or today’s lunch from Sprouts. At least there is free WiFi at the hotel and it’s reasonably fast. About 5 down and 2 up. Or fast enough that my iPad and phone update iOS and all of the apps…

Friday, 11am - We are back to the shop, RWC Group in South Tucson, and the rig was sitting near the entrance. It was completed but had not yet been test driven. The driver mentioned that he was headed for AZ-83 east of here up into the mountains. The parts cost for this visit is pretty minimal and mostly labor. The driver stopped and asked about the smoke. I guess they ticket for excess smoke in AZ. I explained that it was only after a cold start. And he took off again. By the time he hit the intersection leaving the shop, the smoke was gone.
2:30 - It’s looking good! We are gone about an hour west of Tucson with some mild grades and averaging about 65mph. The water temperature never budged above ~190°F. Before, even some mild 2% grades required me to slow down and downshift.

6:00 - We are now at Ajo, AZ, about 30 min north of Organ Pipes Natl’ Monument. No issues!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Day 11 - Tucson, AZ

Back at the shop again just a little after 7am. The Desert Diamond Casino had quite a few RVs parked there last night. We were asked to visit the security office and they gave us a paper to put in the window. We had a minimal dinner at the snack bar and I then had an audio conference call that evening. I’m on the board for the Arctic Amateur Radio Club, AARC, again this year. Initially, we thought it would be noisy as the casino is right across the street from the Tucson International Airport but by late evening, no flights. It rained on and off all night and today is supposed to be more of the same.

This morning, the service manager came over and mentioned that he talked to their Cat engine expert in TX. He had sent the log and data they collected yesterday. He verified that 28psi boost is perfect. The high egt code is meaningless and to focus on the cooling system. He mentioned the thermostats but to also check for dirty coolant.

11:00 - They are removing the radiator stack (radiator, intercooler, air conditioning condenser) as there is a lot of grease and dirt in the stack blocking air so the coolant will be drained and replaced (12 gallons). They’ll see how dirty the radiator core is using a bore scope. If it’s really clogged, the radiator will need to be sent to a radiator shop to be thoroughly cleaned. The thermostats will both be replaced. So at least a couple of days in the shop.

Bridget found a pet-friendly hotel only ½ mile down the road. No extra charge for pets!

5:00 - I stopped by before closing and the intercooler was ready to come out (above). After they removed it, you can see the intake side of the radiator. Lots of junk. And about the lower third of the radiator had dirt packed in. The lower third of the intercooler also had a lot of dirt between the fins. The coolant also looked pretty dirty and even syrupy. The mechanic thought that my guess that it was “factory” was probably accurate. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Day 10 - Tucson, AZ

We were up at 6 and left the fairgrounds by 6:40am since service is in the order of arrival. They said that will start the assessment around 10-11 and we can stay in the RV until then. We unloaded the car and parked the tow dolly out of the way in their back lot. At their suggestion, we packed stuff in case they needed to keep it overnight. That would be inconvenient but probably inevitable. The overheating is the only issue that really limits our travel.

Rain was forecast for 1:00pm and a bit after 1:00, it started to pour. Pretty good forecasting. For now, we are in the Prius as they have the coach backed into a bay. We went to a park before the storm then had lunch at In-N-Out. Right now I’m in the customer lounge while it’s pouring outside.

The forecast doesn’t look very promising for the next couple of days. Flash flood warnings are out and there was a lot of water on the streets after only half an hour. Plus some pretty strong winds.

2:45 - Still waiting…

4:00 - Well, the good news is that we don’t need to look for a hotel tonight. But we need to bring it back tomorrow morning. The engine computer reported low boost, high egt (exhaust gas temperature), and overheating. So far, three test drives.

6:00 - We are parked at a local Casino (found on AllStays) that I somehow missed yesterday. Only about 5 miles away. Their computer log reported 28psi boost which sounds normal to me. It’s hard to find info on the Cat engine but what I did find were reports of boost pressures of 26psi from other individuals who installed gauges on their engines. Another article I found stated that there are a lot of reports of C7 engines overheating on steep grades due to emissions regen. I think that’s only the more recent models. I hope that this isn’t something that we have to live with. I still think it’s a problem with the cooling system.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Day 9 - Tucson, AZ

We were originally planning to stay at either a diner parking lot or a casino tonight before taking the coach to a shop tomorrow morning. The casino that allows free parking is south of Tucson so we headed for the diner I found on AllStays. The diner was closed with “For Sale” signs so we opted not to stay there though there were several trucks in the parking lot. Instead of the casino, we opted to just go back to the Pima County Fairgrounds which was only a couple of miles down the road. The Escapee’s discount was 15% making the full hookup cost $25.50. We would probably spend almost that much in diesel running the generator to be able to operate the A/C. Yeah, I’m spoiled. It’s 83°F and feels really hot.

We are in a different section than we were last time. I think this is a more transient area so it’s a much more open parking lot type of area. Still, it has 50amp power. And our site is once again close to the dog park. An amenity that we didn’t use at all the last time we were here since it would’ve been quite a walk. The only thing on “the schedule” for today was picking up some stuff at the pet store and a few groceries.

I used the sous vide gadget again with boneless, skinless chicken thighs. 148°F for 2 hours. Very tender and juicy. Perfect for a salad. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Day 8 - Benson, AZ - TT

When we leave tomorrow, we will have been at this RV park for two weeks. And this is the third time we’ve stayed here each time for two weeks at a time. Initially, I reserved at this place because it wasn’t too “resorty” like some of the other Encore Resorts in Arizona. So easier to get a reservation and not a lot of rules. The pool and jacuzzi are nice and the people seem really friendly. There are enough stores in Benson to get most of what we need. Ace Hardware, Tractor Supply, Safeway, and Walmart. And there is a quick stop type market right next to the RV park. Tucson is only about 45 minutes away and would have anything else we might need.

There is a mix of full-timers, seasonal, and travelers. A few are doing the 4-day park-to-park hopping within the Thousand Trail system. That’s a lot of moving around as we did that for a while. With the TT Camping Pass, we can either do the 4-day thing or stay up to two weeks then stay elsewhere for a week. Most of the RV parks in AZ are actually Encore so we have the Trails Collection add-on to get access. Our next Thousand Trail (actually Encore) reservation is on December 1st so we could be out of the system for 13 days. Or we could find another park within the system anytime next week (7 days out) for up to 4 days. The plan for tomorrow is dry camping at a location outside of Tucson then heading into a diesel shop early on Tuesday morning. The shop opens at 7:00am and I didn’t want to try and get there from here as there is a steady grade heading west out of Benson. Hopefully they can get us in and out in one day.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Day 7 - Pima Air & Space Museum

 Today’s tourist activity was the Pima Air & Space Museum outside of Tucson. I didn’t see any “space” things but there were a number of NASA planes. Maybe the space side of the museum will be a future addition. I had originally visited the museum in the late 70s and it is very different now. Nice modern exhibits.

I had seen an announcement for the Wings & Wheels event at the museum with a display by the Southern Arizona Military Vehicle Collectors but they had a pretty dismal turnout. A couple of MB Jeeps, a couple of Kübelwagens, and a 2007 Ural. I talked to the Ural owner for a while. He has around 25k km on it, owned it since new, and the only upgrade has been the deep sump pan with an oil temperature gauge installed. No problems, no breakdowns, no major repairs.

The indoor hangers had a lot of the nicely refurbished aircraft and ones that were on loan from other organizations. There were also models of planes not on display, submarines, and carriers. Including a model of the carrier and fighter from Battle Star Galactica. Someone has a sense of humor.

Here is one of the Kübelwagens. It looked unrestored but did run though not street legal. The owner was sitting with the Ural owner in the shade of a wing. Pretty nice. I had never seen one up close before. It would have been cool if it was one of the super rare 4wd versions.

The outdoor display area was huge with a large number of aircraft such as this B-52D Stratofortress. I remember as a kid seeing these fly over the farm my father grew up on in Sacramento. Pretty impressive. They also had an SR-71 on display inside the hanger with recordings of startup, taxi, takeoff, landing, etc. Pretty cool. I saw one during refueling and subsequent takeoff at Edwards Air Force Base while in college. We were there to see the 747 set up to transport the space shuttle. This was during the initial unpowered flight tests before the first launch.

I had never seen or heard of this bomber with six engines. It is a B-36J strategic bomber from the Cold War era. In use from 1947 to 1959. All of the planes in outside storage have their windows covered to keep out the sun.

This is a KC-135 that was used by NASA for flight training. Known as the “Vomit Comet”. By flying the parabolic path, you get 15 - 20 seconds of weightlessness. I got a chance to fly in the commercial version operated by Zero G in 2010 which was a modified 727. Essentially the same plane. Click on the link to see that blog post including a short YouTube video.

Lastly, there was a C-130 on skis. These a still in use today and DavidR, who comments on my posts occasionally, had worked with the Coast Guard to get a rack of equipment up to Barrow aka Utqiaġvik on one of their daily flights north. No commercial carrier was able to transport the rack as the manufacturer required.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Day 6 - Saguaro Natl’ Park

We went to the West Saguaro Natl’ Park this morning. We visited the eastern park on the other side of Tucson a couple of weeks ago. This park was on the same road as the Desert Museum we visited last year. On the right is the top of a Saguaro which has white needles. The lower part has black so I’m guessing that this may be new growth. But that’s just a guess.

We went on a couple of short hikes. This one was inundated with a school field trip. Not necessarily bad as there were several rangers and a number of parents with the kids.
I think this is a barrel cactus. A little bit of color in the dry area. Fortunately, the temperatures were pretty mild. Somewhere around 80°F by noon. We also went on a nature trail with a number of signs explaining the interaction between insects, mammals, and birds.

One of the walks was to Signal Hill which had a number of petroglyphs on the rocks. These weren’t part of a cliff or protected from the elements at all. There were steel railings suggesting that you stay on the trail and not venture into the area.

This is typical of the Signal Hill trail. Lots of steps. If it was flat, then there was sand. Bridget mentioned that the trails were either very short or pretty long. Not many in the middle.

If the railings weren’t enough to keep people from venturing off the trail, maybe the threat of rattlesnakes helped. The only reptiles I saw were a number of small, very fast lizards. And a number of birds.