Saturday, May 23, 2020

Day 107, 108 - A Few More Boards

Friday (107) - It really does take an RV freezer a long time to get cold. Ignore the steep curve as that was moving the sensor from room temperature to being zip-tied to a shelf (though not touching the shelf). The little blips are from opening the freezer door. Each door opening was just to take something in/out. Maybe 10sec or so.

Saturday (108) - I built up a board for the wet bay. This is the location for the freshwater fill as well as dumping the holding tanks. I added two temperature sensors and placed one on the holding tank outlet and the second one on the freshwater tank about 5" from the bottom. It is taped up for now since I am testing the location to see if I get reliable WiFi down here since it is under the tile floor in the hallway. The signal strength is -62db which is actually better than the other one mounted in the refrigerator plastic facia. Not what I expected. I soldered this board and plan on finding some sort of plastic box. For testing, I'm just powering it through the micro-USB port but next week I'll install a buck convertor and power it from the 12VDC light.

So, the Gorilla tape is back for a couple of days. Arriving from Amazon are some PC board screw connectors for heavier gauge wiring and some more Anderson Powerpole connectors. I've sort of "standardized" on them for my 12VDC additions and used up most of my supply.

And just to see if/how it works, I built up another D1 Mini which drives a relay through an opto-isolator.  Once I could simply turn the relay on and off, I am trying out automation within Home Assistant. At sunset, it turns on the relay and turns it off at sunset plus 90 minutes (for the test, I’m doing 30 minutes). Local sunset is determined by your location within the software. The Raspberry Pi does not have a GPS so the location needs to be manually set. Another option instead of a relay is a FET but these were back-ordered. They should be delivered at home by the time I get there. The advantage of the FET is the brightness can be controlled using PWM (pulse width modulation). But for now, I'll try simply on/off. If it works, I’m going to set it up on the step light.

This really is fun (for me)!

Update - Both parts of the automation worked!

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Day 106 - More D1 Mini

A little bit better installation. At least there isn't any duct tape involved. I'm still using the breadboard as I'm thinking of adding another sensor and possibly a relay to this board. There is a thermostatically controlled fan installed above the refrigerator coils and a small switch to turn it off completely. I'm thinking of using a relay to turn it on if the outside temperature is warm in case the manual switch is still turned off. Also, if the refrigerator is off, the fan circuit will also be off. (That's not the way it's powered now)

This circuit board is powered by 12VDC from the control board so when the refrigerator is powered off, so is the monitoring board.

I have been using this small OLED display on the DMR hotspot but thought about using one like it with this project. It is 128x64 pixels and I'm thinking of just mounting the tiny display into a cutout on the refrigerator control panel. The display only uses two of the digital I/O pins on the D1 Mini and you have full control of font, size, and location of the text. It is a blue monochrome display and the upper 16 rows are yellow. I'm displaying the time on the top row which it retrieves from the Home Assistant server. Note that this D1 Mini is retrieving the temperatures from the network as it is not the same one that is collecting the data.

Obviously, we aren't really doing much else. This is giving me something to do besides watching YouTube videos.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Day 104, 105 - Wemos D1 Mini

Tuesday (104) - More of the same overcast w/occasional showers. At 56°F, the temperature is the same as Fairbanks right now.

The Wemos D1 Mini microprocessors arrived today so I can start playing with them for my "SmartRV" project. I first connected one to the Raspberry Pi using one of the USB ports. This allowed me to upload a minimal configuration which included WiFi info and static IP address along with other network info. After that, it no longer needs to be plugged into the Raspberry Pi. Right now it is plugged into a phone charger and I can access the device using WiFi through the web server on the Pi.

Since I don’t have any sensors or relays yet (they should arrive tomorrow, Friday, or Saturday) I just played around with the built-in LED. From my phone connected to the Home Assistant website on the Pi, I can turn the LED on/off and vary the brightness using PWM. This whole process took about 20 minutes which included soldering the header pins to the D1 Mini.

Power for the boards will be from some tiny buck converters that are rated at 3amps at 5VDC with a 12VDC input. And they are really tiny. 0.5” x 0.7” and can be mounted directly to the circuit board. The first project will be temperature monitoring for the freezer and refrigerator. And an almost identical one will be monitoring the temperature in the wet bay.

Wednesday (105) - The temperature sensors I decided to use are DS18B20 digital sensors mounted in waterproof SS probes. The specs say that they are accurate to 0.5°C. Kind of overkill for my application but they were only $12 for 5 sensors. The sensors are designed to work on a buss so multiple sensors can share a single data line. Each sensor has a unique 64-bit address. The other option was the popular DHT sensors but they weren’t in the waterproof probes.

The disadvantage to the DS18B20 sensors is that I needed a 4.7KΩ pull-up resister. I don’t happen to have any lying around here (I do have a package at home!) so another Amazon order for 1,350 assorted resistors for $12. This is one of those times when I miss places like Radio Shack. Since I didn't have any resistors right now, I went ahead and tried out plugging the sensors in. The board has ~100KΩ pull-up resistors built-in but the spec sheet for the sensors said to use a 4.7KΩ resistor. And it looks like they work without the pull-up resistor. The next step is to "package" this so it fits behind the plastic panel on the refrigerator including the buck converter. For now, I'll just run the wires past the gasket. I may also run a temperature probe behind the refrigerator so I can monitor the temperature of the ammonia coils.

Of course, I had to see if it was going to work. The breadboard is taped to the door and the sensors are draped on the shelves. This is starting to get fun!

I have made airline reservations to head back home on June 4th. I also was able to schedule doctor and dentist visits for then. This is shortly after the expected end of the Alaska 14-day quarantine for out of state travelers. Hopefully, it won’t get extended again!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Day 102, 103 - Pendleton, OR

Sunday (102) - Rain this afternoon but it was nice enough this morning for me to wash 1200 miles of grime off the Prius. It really does get filthy traveling behind this coach. I think rain is in the forecast for at least the first half of the week. Should I have expected anything different from Oregon?

Since we are able to receive packages at this RV park for free, I have microprocessors, temperature sensors, buck converters, relays, etc. coming from Amazon. Now that things are starting to get back to normal, the delivery times are less than a week for these “non-essential” items. I’m sure Bridget is getting tired of all of the YouTube videos on home automation.

Monday (103) - Another “blue sky” morning but rain is in the forecast for the afternoon again. One neighbor is pulling out today with his class A towing his ¾ ton work truck. He’s been here working and is now heading for the Colorado River for a few days of vacation before heading to his next job.

I had originally put the Raspberry Pi 3 that was running Home Assistant in the space behind the front TV. The assumption was that I never really to access it. The assumption was kind of wrong. There are several ways to initially configure one of the Wemos D1 Mini microprocessor boards but one of the easiest ways is to plug into the Pi via USB. This way you can assign WiFi info as well as  static IP addresses. Once the boards are on WiFi, they can be configured over the air (OTA). So I could’ve just run a micro USB cable out of the cabinet but I simply just moved it over to the media cabinet which has the Apple TV and the audio amplifier for the TV.

One other addition to the RV was finally setting up the Bluetooth to FM modulator so I can listen to podcasts from my phone over the in-dash stereo while we are traveling. I’ve had the FM modulator for months but never got around to trying it out in this RV. I used it in the truck during our previous trips. The actual setup of the in-dash stereo is odd. The rear speakers are above the bed all the way in the rear of the RV.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Day 101 - Pendleton River Walk

There is a walkway along the dike next to the Umatilla River that flows through the town of Pendleton. We parked near the deserted and padlocked Little League fields which is at the southern end of the path. We walked up to the halfway point just past Main Street before turning around back to the car. It was a nice trail with nice views of the river. It looks like the dike is to keep flood waters out of town and there is evidence that the water level gets high enough to almost flood the town.

Halfway and back was 3.58 miles. Rain is in the forecast for most of the next week so we will do the other half of the trail later on. After all, we are here for a month. We picked up some groceries at Walmart and, like in AZ, all of the employees wore masks and just a small percentage of the other shoppers. And most people ignored the direction arrows in the aisles.

We looked for a car wash in town but didn’t find any that was still in operation. Maybe tomorrow’s project if it isn’t banned by the RV park. This blue heron sculpture was downtown right around the halfway point of the river walk. 

Friday, May 15, 2020

Day 100 - Pendleton, OR

The Verizon speed here seems to be plenty fast. I attended a AARC board meeting via Zoom last night. Before all of this, I hadn’t even heard of Zoom before. I think that they are getting pretty well established. For a while, the Fairbanks ham club will be having all of their meetings via Zoom as their meeting place is shut down for the Summer. They are even working on ways to do their annual Hamfest virtually.

This RV park has cable but the over-the-air digital channels are much better and over half of them are HD. The analog cable looked like TV in the early ‘70s. I just disconnected the cable. The front turn signal lens is still solidly glued so it survived the heavy rain that was intermittent all day yesterday. We went by the Pendleton Wool factory and was surprised that the store was open. Today is their first day back open.

Today, the governor of Alaska extended the mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone arriving from outside the state until June 2nd. The change added 2 weeks.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Day 99 - Pendleton, OR

Another long driving day. I think it was about 556 miles or so. All on one tank of fuel. I filled up a couple of miles down the road from the campground and the display said 13%. It took 82 gallons. When I filled up in Fallon, it said 14% but only took 76 gallons. I think it’s actually full this time. Even there were a lot of steep grades today, the engine temperature never varied from 195°F. The outside air temperature hovered in the low to mid-50s all day. This RV just doesn’t like “hot”. Kind of like us. Though Bridget did keep asking if I had the dash heater on (I did).

The free WiFi here at the campground doesn’t work very well but it looks like there is a monthly option. I’ll look into that tomorrow. We have a nice view but it is pretty crowded. Everyone here is monthly or longer. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Day 97, 98 - Pahrump and Fallon, NV

Tuesday (97) - Kind of a long driving day (512 miles) since I wanted to not go through Phoenix during the morning rush hour but we ended up going through Las Vegas rush hour. The generator and air conditioners were run from about 11am until after 5. But it never went above the mid-90s. The picture is a rest area along hwy 95 shortly after we entered Nevada. We are at the Nevada Treasure RV Resort and it lives up to the label “Resort”. Huge fitness room, sauna, jacuzzi, massage therapist on staff… Of course, all of this is shut down.

Wednesday (98) - Today was a relatively modest 340 miles with two stops for diesel. The first was at place sort of in the middle of nowhere called Area 51, and diesel was $2.999/gal. So I only got $100 which was enough to get us to Fallon. There was another small station called Golden Gate Petroleum but they are part of the TSD Logistics fuel card program and their price was $2.079. The fuel gauge said 14% but I could only get 76 gallons into the 100 gallon tank. On this RV, you get a low fuel warning when you are down to 24%.

Today, we are staying at Lattin Farms in Fallon, NV. They have a large parking lot which was nice and flat. We picked up some fresh asparagus for dinner as well as some fabulous sweet potato pecan butter. It is fabulous. Thanksgiving in a bottle! Farms are one of our favorite places to stay with Harvest Hosts.

When I was filling up in Fallon, I noticed that one of the turn signal lenses was loose. It looks like it has been repaired before using caulk. I scraped out some of the caulk and glued it with 5-min epoxy. I’ll remove the light fixture completely in Pendleton and seal all the way around the lens. It’s always something...

Monday, May 11, 2020

Day 96 - Casa Grande, AZ

We went to Walmart this morning. The number of people wearing masks was interesting. 100% of the staff and maybe 15% of the customers. Even though the majority of those customers were in the group that should be concerned.

We sort of have a plan beyond head for anywhere cooler than here. Tomorrow, we are stopping at Pahrump just for one night. I wanted to check out the park that we had made reservations back at the end of March. Then canceled them since we were stuck in Texas. The plan is to continue north through Nevada. Bridget got campground recommendations from Lori of Tom and Lori RV Life and Jen of Dan and Jen Nevada. Both used to live in Nevada before going full time and have traveled this route often. Just having an outline of a plan seems to feel better. Nevada has a 14-day quarantine which, we were told, means stay in your RV. If we don’t hear from the RV park in Pendleton by the end of the week, we will probably stay in Nevada at least through Memorial Day weekend.

Later in the afternoon - I just got off the phone with the RV park in Pendleton, OR. They have a monthly spot for us!

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Day 94, 95 - Casa Grande, AZ

Saturday (94) - I went to sit outside this morning around 7:30 to have my coffee and it was already almost 80°F. Today’s high is only supposed to be 99°F so that would be an improvement from the last couple of days. I went for a walk to take out the trash and walked by the cactus garden near the entrance. This is a relatively new park so most of the RVs and park models were pretty new. I think their 10 year rule applies to these units. This picture is actually taken from the cactus garden looking across the entrance road. The cloud cover is keeping the temperature down.

I thought the steel sculpture was interesting. Two people having a shootout in front of the “Welcome Home” sign. Is this typical Arizona? This place is very well kept with much wider lots and streets compared to older parks like Fiesta Grande. There were a few flowers on some of the cactuses in the garden. But it was starting to get hot standing around in the sun.

So, where to from here. At the moment, all we know is that we are heading north. We have a reservation at the RV park in Sunriver for the end of May but I don’t have a lot of faith that it will still be there. The Oregon governor already announced that the “State of Emergency” was being extended for 60 days. This would put it past the July 4th weekend. I had called the KOA in Pendleton, OR, and we are on the waiting list for a month stay starting near the end of next week. I haven’t heard back from them.

I think that Oregon and Washington May be out for a while. Oregon even closed all dispersed camping. Private RV parks are still accepting new arrivals on a limited basis but we are running into Memorial Day. And most places are already booked solid for that weekend. So still looking.

Sunday (95) - Another hot day though not as bad as a few days ago. It’s 11:22am and 94°F. So I went for a walk through the park. It really is a long-term stay place with park models in most of the spaces with a few motor homes and 5th wheels scattered around. The number of transients like us is a small percentage. It looks like there are a large number of activities normally including some that I haven’t seen before such as rooms to work on ceramics or stained glass.

After my short 1 mile walk, I’m cooling off in the breezeways near the pool which isn’t bad at all. There is a nice breeze blowing through.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Day 93 - Windshield Repair

The mobile windshield repair crew arrived around 10:30. I had thought that they would prefer mornings due to the temperature but they said you get used to the heat. They removed the drivers side glass first and noticed a small chip about 6” from the bottom. They filled the chip before moving on to the passenger side. We left the rear A/C on and left the cat back there. The dogs are sitting in the Prius with the A/C running.

I went ahead and anchored the awning down so that there was some shade. There is a light breeze causing the awning to flap. I used the light rope to anchor it in Lake Texoma and it seemed to hold it in place. Actually, sitting out here in the shade with a light breeze blowing isn’t too bad. As long as you stay hydrated. At noon, it’s 99°F.

Once both halves of the windshield were removed, all of the old bedding compound and adhesive had to be removed before the new gasket is installed. Rubber bedding compound, somewhat like caulk goes into the groove on the gasket before installation onto the body. The same compound goes into the gasket groove before the glass is installed. A hard plastic lock strip is then installed into another groove in the gasket to hold everything in place.

He said that the front end fiberglass was thin and flexible possibly from water. Sounds ominous. At 3pm, its 99°F and they are putting in the locking strip. Not an easy task especially working out in the sun. The corners are both looking a lot better than they were before. Both the glass and fiberglass look fully seated into the gasket. Before you could see unpainted areas showing next to the gasket. The job took them 5½ hours and they were on the phone for quite a while getting additional info from others in their network.

The tech said that we shouldn’t move for at least two days. We are here until Tuesday. It’s 6pm and still 99°F!


Thursday, May 7, 2020

Day 92 - Casa Grande, AZ

Thursday (92) - We we’re out before 9 in the morning and it was already 90°F. It’s not supposed to be as hot today. In reality, this is a parking space with utilities. This park is also pretty new, is 55+, and no RVs older than ten years old. We needed to send in pictures before they would approve our reservation. Given the emptiness, I don’t think they are that picky at this time of year.

This morning, there was one other RV. A 5th wheel from Alaska. And he knew my brother from when they lived in Nome. Small world. But they left this morning headed for cooler temperatures north of here. Starting Saturday, the highs were going to be in the 90s (°F) so that will be nicer. We are using our Passport America membership here so our stay is half-price of the already discounted off-season rate. We are in the transient area for short term stays. The half-price rate is only good for six days.

There are numerous decorations around the park including a large cactus garden near the entrance. Maybe I’ll wander over some morning. Like most RV parks catering to retirees, there would normally be quite a few activities plus access to things like wood shops, computers, and sewing rooms. The Internet is reasonable but it is $15 for the week that we are here. It’s fast enough for streaming media.

Too bad the pool is still closed. There is a sign saying that the closure was ordered by the governor of AZ. It does look nice with a outside area and you can see the pool continuing indoors on the left.

Day 90, 91 - Bowie to Casa Grande, AZ

Tuesday (90) - Didn’t do much of anything. Got some things ready to go for tomorrow. Bridget firmed up our reservation in Casa Grande starting tomorrow for six days. I spent most of the day vegging out on Netflix. It’s starting to get too hot for much else.

Wednesday (91) - We arrived at the RV park in Casa Grande a little after 11am and it was in the mid-90s (°F). By mid-afternoon, the temperature had climbed significantly. From Tucson to the RV park, I had the generator running, partially since I just wanted to see the Hobbs meter working but it was starting to feel warm in the front of the coach. And no matter how low the humidity is, it still feels really hot.

At 9:30pm, it’s still 87°F!

Monday, May 4, 2020

Day 89 - Bowie, AZ

Right around now, I should have been back in Alaska at least for a bit. Some things I need to get done. But this whole pandemic has really thrown a wrench into the works. The current plan is to fly back as soon as Alaska get’s rid of the 14-day quarantine requirement. The rumor is somewhere around the latter half of the month. We’ll see.

This morning, I messed around with the awning that caused us problems yesterday. It turns out that if the material is completely flat, the awning rolls up properly. I guess, I was in a hurry when I last rolled up the awning and one side had a couple of inches of awning folded over. It caused it to roll up crooked.

The other project For the day was the non-functional Hobbs meter (hour meter) for the generator. I plugged in my small 12V booster and the meter worked just fine. The wiring from the meter runs through the Magnum auto gen-start module so that is the next place I need to look. Fortunately, we do have the manual for the gen-start module. The annoying thing is that we really have no idea how many hours the generator actually has on it. When we purchased the RV, I just assumed that the Hobbs meter was working and the displayed run time was accurate.

Later that day - Success! From the auto gen-start manual, I figured out that the installation was completely botched by whomever installed the module. The original +12VDC signal wire from the generator to the Hobbs meter was connected to the negative terminal of the meter and the positive terminal went to the “Stop” terminal of the gen-start module. I removed the connection to the module and made a new ground wire for the meter and swapped the signal wire to the positive terminal. It now works fine. The neighbor here at the RV park is probably wondering why I had started the generator. The auto gen-start module still doesn’t work properly and I’ll address that some other time. Maybe in cooler weather. BTW, enabling the gen-start function on the Magnum remote just causes the generator to start. It’s supposed to start based on interior temperature or battery voltage. I’m not sure where the temperature sensor is since the wiring just disappears into the wiring harness.

The disappointing thing is that someone probably paid a dealer somewhere a ton of money to install this module. From the wiring (crimp on connectors and Scotch-Loks), it wasn’t from the factory.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Day 88 - Bowie, AZ

A somewhat short driving day, about 260 miles or so. We left with about ¼ tank and only 85 miles to the next fuel stop. What I didn’t know is that there was a steep grade just north of Las Cruces. The gps said it was around 8% in places. It was 82°F and the water temperature climbed and peaked at around 222°F which was less than when we had problems in the past. But still kind of disappointing. We made it to the Love’s truck stop without any problem and it only took 80 gallons. I guess that there is some reserve though the “low fuel” warning came on at ¼ tank. The discounted price was $1.342/gal which saved us $82 on just this fill from the listed price of $2.399/gal.

This campground is only $17/night with full hookups using the Passport America discount. Pretty reasonable especially since the A/C units will probably be running 18 hours per day. Some friends suggested this place as being very reasonable plus the free WiFi works pretty well. Not as well as the KOA but good enough for being included in the price. Bridget is planning to call the non-Encore RV park in Casa Grande as their office is closed until tomorrow. The person she talked to said it wasn’t going to be a problem. After all, it’s 100°F in the Phoenix area. RVs are leaving in droves. For now, we are planning on staying here for three nights. Mostly because it is cheaper than the RV park in Casa Grande.

Starting from CDT to MDT to MST is a lot of time changes in only three days. Over 900 miles. It’ll be nice to not move for a bit...

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Day 87 - Alamogordo, NM

We left Amarillo right around 9am and ended up stopping almost immediately on an exit because the rear awning arm wasn’t fully folded. It turns out that the awning isn’t rolled up properly since it was a bit windy when I retracted it. I secured the awning arm with a couple of zip ties. Once we get a non-windy location, I’ll straighten out the fabric. We stopped again a couple of times due to wind noise from the windshield. The first time, I just added more Gorilla tape as the existing tape must be over two months old. The second time, I couldn’t find any reason for the noise. The tape was in good shape.

We stopped at Alamogordo, NM, at the KOA after a 360 miles. No sewer but that’s fine. All I really cared about was plenty of electricity as it was 92°F when we arrived. The road climbed to over 6000’ today and the engine ran just fine. There was a crosswind from the north and by the afternoon, it was a quartering headwind from the southwest. Climbing up the hills with a headwind meant leisurely speeds and horrible fuel mileage.

I finally remembered to stop at a CAT scale. Used the iPhone app. A little sluggish but it worked fine. The weight of the coach is 32,120 lbs and the Prius plus dolly is 3,820. So the coach is still 2,200 under GVWR and 6,410 under the GCWR. Most of the available cargo capacity is available on the front axle, 1860 lbs. With a full-ish water tank and a partially full black tank, the available cargo capacity on the rear axle is only 340 lbs. If we switched to LiFePO4 batteries, that would almost double the available rear axle cargo capacity. But we are way under weight so cargo capacity isn’t really an issue. The Prius is heavier than I thought…

This chart is from the Michelin truck tire site for the “H” rated tires we have on the front. Based on this chart, we need about 105psi in the front tires and only 85psi in the rear tires. This is cold inflation pressure. This is significantly lower than was we are currently running in the rear. The front tires aren’t that far off. Food for thought…

Friday, May 1, 2020

Day 85, 86 - Gordonville and Amarillo, TX - TT

Thursday (85) - In preparation for a couple of days of possibly dry camping on our way out of Texas, I am preparing some quick meals. One is an experiment that I’ve heard about which is slow cooking pork in Dr. Pepper. Basically pulled pork. We’ll see how it turns out. The other is two vacuum sealed packages of boneless chicken thighs with salt, pepper, garlic, unsalted butter, and herbs de provence spice blend. These can be used for things like tacos or salads. Given that we are heading into blistering heat, I think that either we find small (cheap) RV parks with at least electricity or the generator will get more than a little use.

When I stopped at a Dollar General store to pick up a Dr. Pepper, they actually had small bottles of hand sanitizer on the shelf. Pretty shocked at that. While in this part of Texas, I’ve been using Brookshire Brothers grocery stores. Smaller but usually carrying most of the things we use on a regular basis. And they take Apple Pay. Super convenient and much more secure than simply using a debit or credit card.

Friday (86) - Today was a hot driving day. From about noon until we stopped for fuel outside of Amarillo, we had the generator running to power both roof air conditioners. There were some grades on 287 from the southeast and at 96°F and cruising at 63mph, I turned off the dash air to keep the engine temperature lower.   The norm is just under 200°F but it would climb to 210°F if the dash air was on. The temperature dropped right back after the dash air was turned off. Marginal cooling system.

Bridget found a small, full hookup RV park in Amarillo so we can have the a/c running. This is not the weather for dry camping or lot docking. Plus, the 50amp electric will allow not only both a/c units but the electric water heater, instant pot, and the convection oven all at the same time. I had picked up some cookies that need to be made.

BTW, using the TSD Logistics fuel program, diesel was $1.267/gallon. The price on the sign and the pump was $2.399/gallon. A 47% discount!

We got the dreaded call from Encore/TT this afternoon. The Arizona governor extended the shelter-in-place until May 15th so our Casa Grande reservation was cancelled. Bridget got on line and found another non-TT/Encore RV park in Casa Grande that was still allowing check-ins and the Passport America price is $26/night. Not too bad at all. So it looks like we’ll still be able to get the windshield fixed!