Sunday, June 27, 2021

Yard Work (Ugh…)

Saturday - This is the slope between the road and our house. Over the years, a lot of trees and brush have grown. After arguing with the 30-year-old two-cycle chainsaw this morning, I was prompted to get a new battery-operated model. I picked up a Ryobi with a 4AH, 40V battery, and a 14” bar. I have no plans to tackle trees so this was a suitable size chainsaw for me. I got about half done and will tackle the rest later. 

I’ve never needed to clear trees and brush while in the RV. Nor mow the lawn or use the string trimmer and brush cutter. All were activities of the day between the two ham radio test sessions. 

 - More playing with the chainsaw clearing trees off of the hill. Today, I tackled some of the larger trees at the other end. Getting them to fall where I wanted them to was the challenge. Less so today as there was no wind. None hit the house so I'll call that a win. I put them in a couple of piles. I'm thinking of renting a chipper so I can just shred them. But that's for another time. I still need to cut the stumps down closer to the ground.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021


Tuesday - I’ve been back home for almost three weeks and fell right back into the routine. Coffee on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. I guess the ham radio tests are a change. Those are up to six days per week and could be twice per day. It's still a nice diversion. The two riders on BMWs are headed for a ride somewhere around the state. No firm plans or schedules, just follow nice weather.

Cooking outside has become common partly because it’s not in the house. Maybe some people really enjoy "homeownership" or having a “home base” but I don’t think I’m one of them. Sure, it’s nice to visit old friends and acquaintances and, I’ll admit, that it’s been wonderful to ride the Ural again. 

 - We went to the Farmer's Market and picked up lunch at our favorite Chinese food stall. The menu hasn't changed from when they had a storefront near the university. The prices have gone up dramatically over the years. They closed off a significant portion of the parking lot to allow more room for the vendors so the parking lot was kind of crowded but not the Farmer's Market itself. 

Tonight is a motorcycle ride leaving from the Harley shop. I may go down there to at least see where they plan on going. In the past, it was a challenge to keep up with the group as most were on large dual-sport machines.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Tow Equipment and Solstice

Saturday - I just ordered the tow bar and baseplate for our tow vehicle. For the tow bar, I had seen several installations of the Ready Brute Elite II which has a mechanical surge brake integrated into the tow bar. There is a cable connected to the brake pedal of the towed vehicle which runs to the front bumper. A cable is clipped from there to a lever on the tow bar. When the towed vehicle pushes on the tow bar, the lever pulls the cable which applies the brakes on the towed vehicle. I like the simplicity. For emergency breakaway, you connect a separate cable from the pedal to the front bumper, and a separate cable is clipped from there to some point on the frame of the motorhome. If there is a failure of any part of the hitch setup, the brakes on the towed vehicle will apply and will stop. An emergency breakaway is required in most states.

This is the baseplate for the tow vehicle. the arms are removable and are completely hidden from the casual viewer. If you know what you are looking for, it's still easy to spot. The claimed installation time is only a couple of hours but projects like this seem to take longer than expected. Additional tasks are integrating the lights so the towed vehicle lights always match the RV lights. The normal way to do this is to install diodes. But I think a better way is to install relays in the tail light housings to switch the bulbs between the RV and the built-in wiring. More on this when it's time to install. There is a 0.6VDC drop when using the diodes. Not an issue if the lights are LED but could affect the brightness with incandescent.

Sunday - No chores were done. Nothing to report...

 - Well, it’s the beginning of the end. We are starting to lose daylight as of today. At first only a minute or so per day though soon, it’ll be seven minutes per day. Winter is coming… 

This morning, I have been receiving alerts on my phone from the thermostat in the RV. If it is over 85°F, I'll receive alerts for when we leave the animals inside the RV while we are galavanting around out and about. I changed the notification to 95°F to minimize the alerts. It's a nice feature as I could, potentially, start the generator and the A/C remotely though I don't have the generator start function wired up to the thermostat.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

A Week or So in Fbks

The task of the day (Wednesday) was a physical. In December, the doc asked when my last physical was. I had no idea and if they didn’t have a record of it so it was before the invention of paper. So, I guess I'm overdue. 

I  filled up the Ural based on the trip odometer and it only took 3.8 gallons. I guess it’s been a while and maybe I don’t remember what the range actually is these days. Based on my Fuelly log, the gas mileage has been in the low 30s during the summers. 

Last Friday, the Ural was used for a quick shopping run to Costco and a stop at the university. My free university parking pass had expired and I needed to fill out a physical paper form to get it renewed. The local copy place, Dateline, wanted $5 to print out the one page I needed to sign so I went to my office and printed it out there. Dateline has closed their self-serve copiers and printers due to Covid so $5 is their minimum charge for counter service. They did suggest the UPS store for self-serve printing. Anyway, now I can park "legally" even though the parking pass can't be displayed on the dashboard.

On Sunday, we had found a Jeep at the BMW dealer in Anchorage. I called them just before closing so I called this morning. The Jeep had been sold yesterday afternoon. I did get a follow-up call from Dave Smith in Idaho and we talked about what we were looking for. He suggested a couple of 2020 models (still new unsold inventory) which were priced attractively but the wrong color (all black w/black interiors) and all automatic transmissions hardtops. It turns out that we may just order a new vehicle and get it set up the way we want it. Lightweight with few luxury options. 

On Thursday, I was the lead VE (volunteer examiner) for one of the amateur radio test. This was the first time I tried it since we have good, stable, fast Internet. I think it went well and the applicant passed. He was prepared.

This morning, there were quite a few errands to run around town. When I left, it was pouring rain but the Roadcrafter Light kept me completely dry. I had forgotten how convenient it was to get in/out of it. One of the errands was to print out one sheet of paper, sign it, scan and email it back to a Jeep dealer in Idaho. Now we just wait.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Good Bye Truck

One of the tasks for the summer was to sell the 5th wheel RV and the truck. The main reason the truck was purchased in the first place was to tow an RV. We did it for several years and had decided that a driveable RV was the direction we wanted to go. I had looked on (Kelley Blue Book) and after entering the mileage, accessories, and condition of the truck, it came up with estimates for trade-in and retail sale. There was another tab called "sell it now" where you get an offer for immediate sale. I went ahead and clicked on that tab and within five minutes got an estimated offer from a local dealer. We stopped by there and after they looked at the truck, they confirmed the offer. So the truck was sold. I'm sure that we could've sold it for more as a private sale but we would have to deal with the general public. I was not looking forward to that. 

The 5th wheel was being stored at an RV dealer and they sold it. I had made a crack about selling it for whatever just to get rid of it. And it sold this afternoon. Bridget didn't care for the selling price that I had agreed to but I view it as we got our use out of it. And given the physical damage to the rear cap and the minimal insulation, I was happy to just get something out of it so we didn't have to continue paying storage fees. 

Now, we need to look for a tow vehicle. A manual transmission Jeep would be ideal but I think we need to expand our search as Jeeps don't seem to depreciate. A five-year-old Wrangler is almost the same price as a new one. Most of them on Craigslist seems to be modified to past the point of reliable transportation. So, for now, the Ural is my daily driver.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Back Home

In other words, now the work begins. I removed the rusted Westin step bars from the truck as they were ready to fall apart. I'm disappointed in these as they came highly recommended back then and the powder coating was supposed to last. They didn't last. I also cleaned out the truck, vacuumed the floors, and emptied out all of the compartments including the toolbox in the bed. One of the front tires was only 40psi (minimum is 75psi) but all of the others were still holding.

The four golf cart batteries are back in the 5th wheel and charging just fine from the solar panels. Even with the overcast, they were getting 22 amps. The batteries were at around 30 SOC according to the charge controller so we'll see how they hold a charge. I did turn on the temperature-controlled fan to 80°F to keep it ventilated. I looked around and there is no evidence of water damage or rodents. For some reason, the slide was not in all the way. After I installed the batteries, I tried the slide and it went in/out just fine. I also put batteries back in the RVLock and it worked. It even retained our code. I wish they made a model for Class A motorhomes. 

The Ural started up just fine after putting the petcock on prime for a minute or so to allow the carburetor bowls to fill. 

I rode the Ural to the gas station to get its first fill-up since July 2019. At least that's what I have in the Fuelly app. Sunday's task was to mow the "lawn". Or at least trim back the dandelions. Now on to some Ural maintenance. Valves, rear brakes, tire pressure. I discovered that one of the aluminum angles that I used to mount the top box had cracked. Probably from me pushing the Ural around in the garage using the box. I made a new piece using some aluminum angle that I had lying around the garage. I think it's even sturdier this time around since I used angle instead of flat stock. The picture is from the monthly BMW Airhead get-together. The Ural is last one on the left.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

2019-2021 Trip Summary - RV

I’m not really sure the term “road trip” is accurate as the focus hasn’t really been on the typical vacation activities associated with a road trip. I’ve heard some describe it as just occasionally changing the view from our front door. The RV is just the method that we chose to accomplish this. The “RVing” part is secondary. I guess a more accurate description may be “mobile lifestyle”. A secondary motivation was pursuing 70°F. You may have noticed that we aren’t very good at this as it has been much warmer and colder than this quite a few times. For us, it was desired but not absolutely essential as we still have two propane furnaces and two air conditioners one of which has a heat pump. Something I mention when talking to others is that I sold the snowplow back in July 2019. No more snowy winters. 

We also really enjoy visiting friends along the way and have made a few more as part of our traveling. I enjoy visiting new places and areas but that doesn’t necessarily mean visiting attractions. The occasional attraction is nice but, for me, a hike in the area is just as enjoyable. I do enjoy trying out foods that are unique to the area but not if it costs an arm and a leg.

This trip started in the middle of August, 2019, when I drove the Prius down to Oregon with the stuff that we thought we needed for the next season of traveling. A month before, we had purchased the 2005 Mandalay model 40E from Parkway RV in northern Georgia. Thankfully, Chris and Lori let me stay with them while the motorhome was getting ready to be picked up. The refrigerator wasn’t working and they ended up replacing the entire back with a new, aftermarket unit. I wish they would’ve just replaced it with the 12volt compressor unit made by the same aftermarket supplier. Oh well. After it was repaired, I picked it up and immediately started a cross-country trek back to Oregon.

On that initial trip, problems observed were hard starting when cold with a lot of smoke after starting and the engine running hotter than it should when climbing grades. Since I had never driven anything like this before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Also the tire valves had balance beads jammed in them.

The front tires were fixed by a tire shop in Oregon though they were unable to balance them. A Freightliner shop in Bend replaced the engine block heater cord which was shredded. At least this helped with the cold starts but not the smoke. 

The more serious overheating problem showed up when towing the car in AZ. The radiator/intercooler/transmission cooler/Air conditioning condenser stack needed to be cleaned as dirt was packed between the fins. This caused the engine to overheat and go into limp-mode. A diesel shop in Tucson took care of that repair though they weren’t sure how that much debris got in there. This mostly addressed the overheating. 

The windshield popping out was an unexpected problem that occurred three times. It turns out that there really isn’t a permanent solution as the problem is caused by too many slides which reduce the torsional rigidity of the body. A recommended solution is an X-braces added to the frame. This RV already has the X-bracing installed. As long as we make sure the frame isn’t twisted before putting out the slides I think we can avoid it happening again. 

A year later the water pump failed just west of Kingman, AZ. This would be considered a normal wear component. A mobile mechanic replaced the water pump at the RV park. And the overheating problem is pretty much gone. It’ll still get as high as 217°F on 8% grades but that is still within the operational specs. No more limp mode on grades. 

The next problem was cold starting. I debugged the problem to be a failed intake manifold grid heater. The Freightliner shop in Coburg, OR, claimed that the system was working just fine. Incompetent. I took it to a Caterpillar shop in Albany, OR, and they said it looked like someone used starting fluid as neither grid heater was working. They replaced both and our cold starting problem was resolved. And, this helped the smoke problem considerably as the grid heaters would cycle on-off until the water temperature warmed a bit. 

The only other engine related repair was replacing the chassis batteries. I think we may need a front passenger side airbag as that corner seems to droop and the front air pressure is usually at zero after sitting for a while. Unfortunately, this is a Freightliner repair. I guess I shouldn’t blast the chain due to the performance at one location. 

Besides the windshield, coach related problems were minimal by comparison. The slide toppers were starting to rip so we replaced all of them last December. The rear furnace and A/C behaved erratically and I debugged that to not reading the temperature sensor properly. Later, the control board in the rear A/C (which also controls the rear furnace) failed completely. I replaced the control board and it started working again but still didn’t control temperature all the time. I tested the temperature sensor and it worked sometimes. It turns out that there is a bad electrical connection but I need to cut the bedroom cabinet open to get to the wiring. The fuses on the refrigerator control board have blown multiple times though it still works. I just carry spare fuses. Other coach related problems are failed latches and drawer slides, and the mirrors fell off of the cabinet doors in the bedroom. There was a moisture problem but that seems to have gone away when the slide topper was replaced. I think the water pump needs replacement and possibly the front A/C unit. But this thing is over 16 years old and I suspect that these were original to the rig. I also plan on replacing the stock modified sine wave inverter with a Victron full sine inverter that also has multiple other features giving us more power flexibility.

Once we decided to keep the motorhome, I started to add upgrades such as 630 watts of solar and a Victron MPPT charge controller. A new digital thermostat that allows remote monitoring and control. I installed a Raspberry Pi running the Venus OS that was released by Victron. This allows me to remotely monitor the status of the batteries and the charge controller and eventually the new Inverter. It also supports a cool 7” touch screen that I have installed in the wall near the refrigerator. I installed another Raspberry Pi running HomeAssistant which is an open source “Smart Home” software. Supporting this are six small, cheap WiFi equipped microprocessors with temperature and humidity sensors as well as relays and FETs to control lights. The software supports automation. Far more than I have set up. We also replace the four rear tires as they were starting to get old. Something that we wouldn’t have done unless we were keeping the rig.

In the last paragraph I mention keeping the motorhome. After the third windshield incident, we seriously considered dumping the motorhome and chalk it up as a bad purchase. At this point we had just learned from the Caterpillar shop in Albany that there was an engine problem that was ridiculously expensive to repair and we just needed to live with cold engine smoke and low engine compression. The mechanic said that this was caused by improper operation by the initial owner and the repair requires removing the engine. This engine problem was possibly known by Parkway RV and they hid the symptoms from us. Don’t ever purchase anything from them. I’m not sure if it was just a sleazy salesman or was this practice condoned by management. 

We haven’t had any other engine problems with the RV since last Fall. Maintenance is needed next Fall when we return.

One of the summer tasks is selling the truck and the 5th wheel RV. Having the Prius along was fantastic but needing to use a tow dolly was a major hassle that I want to eliminate. So we are looking for a vehicle that we can flat tow. An additional need is for a vehicle that has some clearance. I can’t tell you how many times the bottom of the Prius has scraped. And we’ve even avoided places that looked interesting but signs said high clearance vehicles only. Finding a suitable vehicle and getting it set up for flat towing sounds like it could be challenging.

The last picture is waiting for our turn to drive through the train tunnel in Whittier, AK. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Whittier, AK

The last day on the ferry, and the one that I wasn’t really looking forward to. Yesterday afternoon we were passing Glacier Bay. I had never seen it before so I found a great seat on the Sun Deck. And the weather was nice and sunny. After passing it, I went in to get ready for 20+ hours of pitching and rocking as we were leaving the shelter of the coastal islands. It wasn’t that bad but I definitely felt better while lying down. 

By 1pm, we were near Valdez and the water was very calm again. I had lunch in the Cafe (general tso chicken) and when passengers were allowed on the car deck at 2:30, I went ahead and took all of my bags to the car. It looks like we will arrive in Whittier a couple of hours early. This will be great as I am planning to stay with my nephew and his family in Anchorage. It’ll be nice to arrive at a decent time. 

That’s Whittier. Kind of a wet evening…

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Day 79 - Ferry

Today’s Internet is in Juneau. We arrived here at 5:30am, an hour and a half early. I hope we get into Whittier early as well. Yesterday was rain all day and, in spite of the promising view, I think rain is forecast for the rest of the week.

The Verizon signal lasted for about an hour after leaving Ketchikan. Not too bad. I met a couple of others from the RVing to Alaska 2021 FB group today. Primarily from seeing their posts. Since I’m not in an RV, I haven’t posted in that group. 

I took another half hour walk on the boat deck and selected “Outdoor Walk” on the Apple Watch. It must use the GPS on the phone as it states that I walked 9.24miles and under 4 min miles. The green is when I was walking towards the bow (in the same direction) and red was walking towards the stern. 

Lunch was simply dry salami on Triscuit crackers, a fruity granola bar, and a Granny Smith apple. More of a hiking or motorcycle trip type of lunch.  But more than adequate. 

This was the view last night around 9pm. No hint of the sun and since we were kind of in open water, there was some pitching. At least the wind and waves were from the back. Dinner was fish and chips from the cafe.

BTW, the showers on the ferry are phenomenal. Not in appearance as they are a simple SS box but the water pressure will blow you away. And this isn’t just because I’ve been in an RV for the last 20 months or so.