Monthly Archives: December 2014

2014/12/26-31 (F-W) Wrapping Up 2014

Note: This post covers the last six days of 2014. It is long and there are no pictures.  Sorry.  🙁

2014/12/26 (F) Cool Letters

When we woke up at 7 AM the temperature was 41 degrees F but by 8:30 it had dropped to 35.  According to the Weather Channel app on our iPads we have a freeze warning posted for the overnight hours tonight (Saturday 0000-0800).  The 12-day forecast is for an extended period of cooler temperatures with highs in the 50s and lows in the 30s, including a few nights near freezing, but that is normal for Q at this time of year.  Desert regions are not always hot and actually experience an extreme range of temperatures.  The forecast back home has lows dropping into the teens with one night forecast at 13 degrees F.  Burrrrr.

Connie was apparently tracking the weather in Q as well, even though she and Joe are back in Nevada for most of the winter, as she called to ask me to turn the water off at the street if the temps got down to freezing.  The city water system here has supply pipes that come straight up out of the ground near the street, turn horizontal, go through a valve, then through a pressure regulator or small meter (not sure which or both), go through another valve, and then turn 90 degrees and go back down into the ground.  Joe and Connie keep all of this covered under a wooden box and we have noticed other properties doing the same thing, but not all.  Although the temperatures here can/do drop below freezing in December and January it is never for more than a few hours just before sunrise.

Presumably the city water lines are deep enough to avoid ever having freezing problems, but I do not know how deeply the pipes are buried on Joe and Connie’s property.  The main thing at risk are the stand pipes that come up out of the ground at each RV site and any hoses that are attached to them. I discussed all of this with Butch as it seemed to me that it would have to get below freezing and stay there for quite some time before we would have any problems.  It also seemed to me that if we were going to turn the main water supply off we should open a faucet on each of the supply risers so the water would have somewhere to go as it expanded.  (Water expands as it cools, reaching a maximum volume at around 34 degrees F.  As it changes state from liquid to solid it actually contracts slightly in volume.)  To be really safe we would need to drain all of the flexible hoses.  That struck both of us as unnecessary.

The aisle lights did not work again last night.  It’s always something with a RV and you have to be psychologically prepared for that or the lifestyle will drive you crazy.  This problem has occurred before and the usual reason is that the (3-way?) switch by the dinette gets toggled and renders the push switch in the bedroom inoperative but that was not the case this time.  One of the three wires that go to that switch was only attached by a few strands and broke when I checked it.  None of the connectors are in good shape so repairing those connections moved to the top of my bus project list today.  I did not get to this today, I only moved it to the top of my list.

While I made our morning coffee Linda put together an Amazon order.  Amazon Prime has worked well for us and Butch has already successfully received a UPS shipment here, so it was easier to order a bag of Science Diet cat food for delivery to our bus than to deal with the limited hours and selection of the local veterinarian or drive to one of the larger surrounding cities in the hope that a pet supply store that might stock the specific formulation we feed our cats.  She also ordered two bottles of Hach SofChek water hardness test strips and some additional silicon utensils.

Linda had our holiday letters stuffed and addressed on Christmas Eve, but not in time to get to the post office before it closed at noon, so she went today, bought stamps, and sent them on their way.  Hopefully they will arrive by New Year’s Eve while folks are still in the holiday spirit.

Sometime during the morning we got a visit from missionaries of the (local) Jehovah’s Witnesses cult.  Our conversation did not last long.  After they left I was pondering this day after Christmas visit and it occurred to me that perhaps they do an inventory of Quartzsite and the surrounding BLM camping areas so they know when someone knew has pulled into town.  I guess saving souls can be a lot of work.

Linda was doing the dishes and the Black & Decker SpaceMaker coffee carafe broke.  She checked online and was going to order a generic replacement but decided she should check the model of our unit.  When we lifted it up to look for the model number we discovered water on the shelf underneath it.  Ugh.  Suddenly we were no longer looking for a carafe but a new coffee maker.  We removed the cabinet door, latch, and lower front retaining bar and pulled the unit out.  I then removed the shelf, wiped it off, and took it outside to dry in the sun.  There are definite advantages to being someplace with bright sunshine and low humidity.

We spent a long time researching a replacement.  The particular model/style of SpaceMaker we have has not been made for years (of course), was only available used (naturally), and only for exorbitant prices (can you believe $300?) on Ebay.  To add insult to injury all of the reviews were negative, noting in particular that the unit tends to develop leaks.  Ya think?  We looked instead for something we could install, or at least store, in the same cabinet cubby as the old one.  Most of the countertop models were too tall and most of the built-ins and under cabinet models were too big, and very expensive.  We ended up ordering a simple Proctor-Silex non-programmable countertop unit without a clock for under $20 on Amazon Prime so the price included the shipping.  The reviews were good and it will store in the corner cabinet with room to spare for coffee canisters, freeing up space in the pantry for other things.  We will have to take it out and set it on the counter to use it, but that’s OK.

As noted in a previous post, there are quite a few houses and RVs around town with Over-The-Air (OTA) TV antennas on top of 20-30 foot poles and pointed approximately NNE.  There is one antenna in particular that we have seen a lot, a high-gain (directional) rotatable unit, and there are several vendors selling it as part of a kit.  The unit has an integrated amplifier and rotor and includes the rotor controller and power supply, plus 50 feet of coax and control cables.  All of the vendors are selling this kit for $70.  That’s a lot of stuff for that price, which suggests something about its quality (not good).  Another vendor is selling the poles and fittings that all of the other vendors use to build their “booths” (tents).  They have a huge assortment of connectors and will cut the sections to length if asked.  Getting the antenna 20-30 feet in the air would cost about $35.  We have been pondering whether it is worth it to us to spend this money as our bus-mounted antennas have always worked in the past and this is the first place we have been where they will not pick up even a trace of a signal.  We do not have an OTA TV antenna set up at home and it occurred to me that buying one here made more sense if it could be used back at the house.  I spent quite some time online researching long-range DTV antennas but did not come to any conclusions.

I needed a break from working at my computer and drove over to K & B Tools to see if they had shorter poles.  In the 1″ diameter they had 10′ and 8′.  The 8′ length would work well for us.  Three sections with two connectors would get an antenna 20-25 feet up depending on the mounting and we can store 8′ lengths in the front bay of the bus or in the car for transport.  We would use a base section with a flange by the driver side mirror, put a couple of long spikes through the base to keep it from moving sideways, slip the bottom pole section in it, and bungee cord the next section to the mirror support arm after wrapping it with something to keep it from scratching the paint.  Before making a purchase, however, I decided to do some more online research.

The unit being sold by several vendors is the Vortex HD from so I checked their website.  The unit is discontinued and they are selling the same kit online for $25.  That means the unit is of even cheaper construction than I originally thought and the $70 asking price suddenly seemed very excessive.  Many of the online reviews confirmed that this was not a serious antenna.  Another vendor had the Vortex and two competing units all for the same $70 price and I have concluded that they are all equally junk.

One of the websites I spent some time at was They appeared to have some serious antennas, with prices to match.  One of the challenges in this situation is that it appears we need to pull in OTA TV signals from a very long way away here in Q (70+ miles), whereas at home the distances are more like 40 miles.  Here in Q all of the signals appear to be coming from the same direction (although no one can explain why) so a high-gain, highly directional antenna is ideal and does not need to be rotated once it is aimed.  At home the TV signals potentially come from 270 degrees and the correct solution is an antenna with a broader reception pattern combined with an accurate and repeatable rotor.  If we do not need the rotor in Q we can forego that expense and technical complication until we get home.

One of the websites directed me to  This site is sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB).  You enter your ZIP code, and optionally your address, and it tells you what TV stations you might be able to receive and what direction the towers are from your location.  I put in the ZIP code for Quartzsite and it indicated five stations (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and Independent), all 11 miles away at 234.8 degrees.  There are towers on top of a mountain in direction but they do not look like TV towers.  The direction was also surprising as it is almost 180 degrees opposite to where everyone has their antennas pointed.

As we know from our ham radio hobby RF waves can do strange things.  At the frequencies used for OTA Digital TV (DTV), however, things are “line-of-sight.”  The local speculation is that there are “repeaters” to the NNE but if that was the case I would expect the website to indicate that as the signal direction.  Another possible explanation is that the signals are coming over the mountains to the SW and bouncing off of the more distant mountains to the NE.  I would expect some multi-path distortion in this case, as the signals scatter off the mountains and arrive at the antenna from different directions, but if the antenna is sufficiently directional it might eliminate this problem.

My plan for today had been to work on my Exterior Makeover article for Bus Conversion Magazine and I finally got started on that late in the afternoon.  I finalized my selection of photos (I think) and split them up into those that will go in line with the article, print and digital, and those that will appear in the extra section of the digital edition.  I had just begun post-processing them when Linda started preparing dinner.  I have been wanting some pasta and tonight I finally got my wish.  She made a whole wheat linguine with mushrooms, onions, garlic, kale, sun-dried tomatoes, and asparagus.  What a treat.

I stopped over at Butch and Fonda’s bus to let them know about the website.  Butch was watching an archived webcast that Technomadia did a few months ago with Nina Fusing, of the WheelingIt blog, on health care options for full-time RVers.  He had also installed Echolink software on his laptop but it was failing the Internet Connection test for UDP (User Datagram Protocol) ports.  The error messages indicated that it was probably a firewall- and/or router-related problem.  He had both so I tried opening UDP ports for forwarding in both places but it did not fix the problem.  I have never played with Echolink or UDP ports, so I was trying to figure out what to do in real time.  More research will obviously be needed.

I continued working after dinner processing photos for my article.  I received my draft of the Zena Power Generating System article back from Gary with corrections made by Stacy, his new administrative assistant.  I accepted them, made an additional correction, and returned it.  They are trying very hard to get the December 2014 issue out on December 31st and my Zena article will be one of the four in that issue.

2014/12/27 (S) Cool Temps

By 6:30 this morning our various weather apps were reporting that the temperature in Q was 31 degrees F.  At 7:00 I turned the thermostats up and climbed back in bed (electric heating pad).  I had not shut the main water supply off at the street last night so at 7:30 I got up, put on my “sweats,” grabbed a jacket, and went outside to tend to the water.  I cracked opened a faucet at each standpipe, ran water through hoses, and ran water through the hot and cold lines for both sinks in the apartment.  I shut everything off and went back inside where it was comfortably warm.

By the time I came back in Linda was up and making coffee.  How was that possible?  We have a single serving coffee funnel that sits on top of a mug.  It’s designed for cone filters but she simply folded one of our flat bottom filters and made it fit.  She ground up some beans, boiled some water in the microwave oven, poured it over the grounds, and let it drip.  I did not think we would have morning coffee in the coach again until the new coffee maker arrived next week so it was a nice treat.

I finished yesterday’s blog post while I enjoyed my brew.  I was busy enough yesterday that by the time I went to bed and tried to finish it there was too much to write and I was too tired to write it.  Linda developed a headache overnight and spent much of the day medicated and resting.  She does not get these very often anymore but when she does they put her out of commission for a day or so.  I then spent most of the day processing the photos for my next BCM article.

I took a break after lunch and worked with Butch setting up his laptop to work with Echolink ham radio software.  The software use TCP and UDP ports and requires firewalls and routers to be configured to provide port forwarding.  His laptop OS is Windows Vista, which has the Windows Firewall.  I was not familiar with UDP ports, had never set up port forwarding, and had never worked with Vista, so I was feeling my way as I went.  Their computers are connected to the Internet one of two ways, MiFi or WiFi, although the WiFi is sometimes connected through the MiFi.  Their MiFi is a Verizon Jetpack (Novatel 5510L), just like ours, so I (sort of) knew my way around that device.  Their WiFi setup consists of two WiFi repeater/routers; the WiFiRanger Mobile and the WiFiRanger Go2.  We also have a WiFiRanger Mobile, so I also knew my way around that device (sort of) but I had never worked with the WFR Go2.  We got the Echolink software to test successfully through the WFR gear using the WiFi signal at our campsite but we could not get it to test successfully through the MiFi.

In the early evening Butch called and said he was having Internet connection issues.  I went to their bus and worked four a couple of hours trying to sort out what was going on.  I was able to get him back online but saw some strange behaviors that we could not explain and were not able to resolve.  He has Nick Russell’s Gypsy Journal Blog set as his Firefox home page and it kept redirecting to the website’s home page.  I tried opening it in Internet Explorer 9 and it opened without difficulty.  Website’s do not always react the same way with different browsers, but he had been on Nick’s blog earlier in the day using Firefox.  I will have to look at it again tomorrow.

When I got back to our coach Linda was starting to prepare dinner.  It felt very cold outside even though the weather apps said it was 41 degrees F.  I decided to turn off the water supply at the street and opened some of the faucets to relieve the pressure in the pipes and let some of the water out.  Dinner was leftovers from our Christmas Day meal and everything was very good the second time around.

I finished up my photo editing a little before 10 PM and backed up my files to the NAS.  We turned the three thermostats on and set them for ~15 degrees C (~59 degrees F).  We put the extra blanket on the bed and I turned my electric heater pad up to 4. The forecast low for tonight was in the low 30’s and it was already 36 when we turned in for the night.

2014/12/28 (N) Cooler Yet

Our cats snuggled in with us more than usual last night.  They like the extra blanket and the heater pads as much as I do.  At sunup the air temperature was reported as 28 degrees F, a few degrees lower than the last forecast we saw before we turned in last night.  If it seems that we are preoccupied with the weather it is because we are in closer contact with it when RVing than we are when we are at our house.  In the motorcoach we have to more actively manage our utilities to ensure they work properly and to maintain our comfort.

We had tea instead of coffee this morning.  Until about 15 years I did not drink coffee and enjoyed morning, afternoon, and evening tea.  Hot, of course; I have never been a big fan of iced tea and I have never developed a taste for iced coffee, unless it was a Starbucks Frappuccino (in my pre-vegan days).

Linda was finally feeling better and went for a long walk this morning.  Before she left I noticed that there wasn’t any water coming out of the bird fountain so she unplugged it and helped me partially disassemble it so I could clean it.  I ended up taking it completely apart, which was fun given that it was made of large slabs of granite, in order to get to the pump so I could clean it.  I was surprised to find a small gecko-like lizard inside the pedestal base.  Butch helped me reassemble and level the unit, allowing the reservoir to hold more water, and we got the outlet tube (fountain) tightened up so the water once again squirts about four inches above the tube.  It needs to be filled every day or two.  I have not determined if the water is being consumed by birds (there are a lot of doves and Gambrels Quail here) or evaporating (low humidity and sunshine).  It is probably a bit of both.

I worked on my article most of the day, inserting photos into the Word doc and writing captions.  I took a break mid-afternoon and rode into town with Butch.  We found the LED vendor where the hams (amateur radio operators) hang out but the booth was closed.  We wandered around looking at flea market junk and I found a set of four ratcheting tie down straps, 25mm wide by 15 feet long, for $5.  I had seen similar straps at another vendor for $14, so I bought the $5 set.  We stopped at Dorothy and Toto’s Ice Cream Parlor on west Main Street and bought some excellent kettle corn.

Back at the coach I continued working on my article but was having trouble keeping my eyes open so I took a nap.  Linda had started making dinner about the time I got up when a white SUV pulled in that we had not seen before.  A reddish-chocolate-brown dog appeared and took off after some of the rabbits followed by a man with a leash.  We figured Jim and Barbara, the owners of the third motorhome at our camp, had arrived so we put our shoes on and went out to meet them.  Jim got Roho on leash and Barbara appeared shortly thereafter, followed by Butch and then Fonda.  It was dusk and cooling off quickly, so the conversation was short before everyone returned to their motorhomes.  Before going in I turned the water off at the street and opened one of the faucets on our standpipe to relieve the pressure and let some of the water out.

For dinner Linda made skillet black beans with potatoes and tortillas.  Besides the title ingredients it had onions, garlic, poblano pepper, and salsa.  I added a little Tabasco Chipotle sauce to mine.  We each had a glass of sangria, which was refreshing with this hearty dish.  After dinner I finished working on my article and I uploaded it to the BCM folder in my Dropbox.  I sent an e-mail to the publisher, editor, and new administrative assistant.  I then started uploading the photo files and went to bed.

2014/12/29 (M) Cool Cruiser Redux

We had English Breakfast Tea to start our day, followed by store bought (bulk) granola for breakfast.  We have run out of Linda’s homemade granola and I really miss it.  The stuff we buy at the store just doesn’t taste like much of anything by comparison.  After breakfast I started working on my next article for BCM.  Actually, it was an article I wrote back in February of this year but had not quite finished.  Besides the text I had already selected the photos but, as often happens, I had not finished the process of putting them in order, sorting them into print edition and digital edition extra section, post-processing them, and inserting thumbnail versions into the Word document.  So that’s what I started working on this morning.

Late morning I took a break from the photo work and pulled the cover off of the dashboard to check the turbo boost gauge.  It was, indeed, a mechanical gauge with a very small nylon tube coming out the back of it.  I opened the Prevost CatBase Viewer and looked up the part, thinking I might order one today.  The specified part was a VDO gauge, 1/8-27 NPT, but did not give the mounting hole size, the, range, or the sweep degrees.  Both 24V and 12V bulbs were listed.  I think we need 24V.  What I found interesting was that the gauge for the VIP (conversion shell) was shown as “dummy,” which meant the unit was originally shipped with a filler plate rather than an actual gauge.  The turbo boost gauge in our coach is functional but is the wrong gauge for our engine. It’s a Sentry vacuum/boost gauge.  The vacuum side is useless on our turbocharged engine and the boost side only goes to 15 PSI, which is not high enough.

VDO makes two turbo boost gauges that should work as replacements.  Both are 2-1/16 (52mm) size, 0 – 30 PSI, 270 degree sweep, mechanical units.  They come with 12V bulbs but those are easily changed.  The differences are in the faceplate markings and the mounting systems.  The Cockpit Series gauge is marked in 1 PSI increments, which I prefer, but uses the traditional rear U-bracket to hold the instrument in the dashboard.  The Vision Series gauge, which is what our new speedometer is, has 2 PSI increments but mounts using a collar that threads onto the body of the instrument from the back side of the dashboard.  I was going to call Prevost and order a gauge but both gauges are available from, which is run by ISSPRO.  ISSPRO sells their own line of gauges in addition to VDO and other brands.  I was chatting with Butch and he mentioned that they were closed for the holidays and would reopen on January 2nd, so I did not order a gauge today.

We left around noon and drove to the vendor area at Central Avenue and Kuehn Street.  We parked the car and wandered around checking out vendors who were not set up or open the last couple of times we were here.  While we were strolling I got a call from Frank Morrison.  Frank was at the Arcadia Bus Rally in Arcadia, Florida and wanted to know if we were there.  I photographed Frank’s bus, the Cool Cruiser, at last year’s rally and the article was the cover story in the June 2014 issue of Bus Conversion Magazine.  Frank said that in the welcome bag each attendee received there was a second bag from BCM and in that bag was the June 2014 issue.  Cool.  I wrote two other articles for BCM as a result of that rally.  The February 2014 issue was on the rally itself and the April 2014 issue featured the Iron Horse, an Eagle bus conversion.  Both articles ran in the cover/centerfold position.

For lunch we had chickpea salad on sourdough bread with dark greens and were surprised to see a Trek motorhome backing in to the property.  Jim and Barb obviously knew the people and helped them get parked.  Once they were in their site we went out and introduced ourselves, as did Butch and Fonda.  Jack and Maria were only here for the night.  They had been camped at the BLM Pyramid Lake LTVA, about 60 miles south of Quartzsite, but developed issues with their solar charger and a squealing/screeching noise when they start their engine.  They had appointments first thing in the morning to have these problems addressed and were planning on heading back to the desert tomorrow.  Barb mentioned that she had talked to Joe and Connie and Joe said we did not have to turn the water off at night.  One less chore is good by me.

Linda went for another power walk while I worked on my article.  I want to get my “almost finished” articles done and off to the magazine so I can work on some new pieces.  It’s easier on me and them if I can keep the pipeline flowing and stay ahead of them.

For dinner we had soy riblets with barbecue sauce, macaroni and cheese (gluten and dairy free), and fresh sautéed green beans.  The riblets were tasty, as always, and the green beans were excellent, but the mac & cheese was not good eats.  It was the second of two boxes we bought somewhere and Linda even added some things to try to improve them but it didn’t help.  We won’t be buying this product again.

Having spent a portion of the day processing photos I did not feel like doing more of that after dinner.  I played a few puzzles on my iPad while Linda played word games on hers with Karen and Ron.  We were in bed by a little after 9 PM and I went right to sleep.

2014/12/30 (T) Trash Day

Tuesday is trash day.  The collection truck comes at noon so the trash can has to be to the curb by 11AM.  I happened to glance outside as we were sitting down to enjoy our mourning tea and it was already at the curb.  Jim or Barb are responsible for this when they are here, along with maintaining the apartment and laundry room, and one of them had obviously taken it out.

Jack and Maria pulled out around 8:30 AM with Maria driving their Trek and Jack following in their SUV.  We figured we had seen the last if them and did not even get to say ‘goodbye’ so we were surprised when they returned an hour later and backed their motorhome back into their spot and leveled it.  They left in their car fairly soon thereafter and did not return until later in the day.

Linda went for her usual morning walk and I continued working on my Habitat For Humanity article for Bus Conversion Magazine.  Around 11:15 AM my Bluetooth mouse signaled that its battery was critically low and needed to be recharged.  I plugged it in and figured that was a good time to take a break and do something else.  Butch was outside with his tool bay open and Jim was out there with Roho so I went out and chatted for a while.  I needed to repair the connections on the front switch that controls the aisle lights so I borrowed Butch’s VOM, wire stripper, and terminal crimper and got three 1/4″ female crimp connectors from him.  I have all of these tools and supplies, but his were more convenient.

Being a 3-way circuit the switch has three wires.  It’s a double-pole double-throw switch so it had a second set of unused contacts.  I used the VOM to determine if the unused set of contacts worked as expected.  They did, so I removed the old connectors, one at a time, cut the wire loose from the connector, cut about an inch off of the end, crimped the new connector onto the wire, and pushed the connector onto the corresponding unused terminal.  I tested the circuit and I was able to turn it on and off from both switches.  (The other switch is in the control panel in the bedroom by my side of the bed).

My recollection is that the 3-way circuit feature did not work prior to this.  That could have been because the wire that broke off the other day was only attached by a few strands, or because of a failure in the switch on that set of contacts, or both.  The plastic insulated housings on the old connectors were very brittle and showed signs of heat damage, which could have occurred as the result of a very marginal connection.  When I tried to pull them off of the switch terminals they shattered.  I was also unable to pull the metal connectors off of the lugs and had to pry them open and then pry them off.  The first 1/2 inch of each wire was also discolored and brittle, indicating heat damage.  I did not bother to check the other set of switch contacts for correct function as the lugs also showed signs of heat damage and I do not plan to use them again.  In fact, I plan to replace the switch if/when I happen to find one or get around to ordering one.  The whole repair, including borrowing and returning tools, took less time to do than it took me to describe the work in this post.

Linda confirmed that our Fedex delivery was scheduled for today.  We have been rationing the cats’ food the last 48 hours and they are confused as to why.  They do not usually finish the dry kibble in their bowls but insist on having fresh kibble added each morning and evening.  To accommodate this expectation we have been adding very small quantities of fresh kibble to their bowls.  I don’t think cats can count, but they can definitely tell the difference between serving sizes of kibble and are not pleased at our puny offerings.

Jack and Maria returned sometime during the afternoon.  I saw them pull in but did not note the time.  We had sandwiches for lunch and then went for a walk.  We headed southwest from our campsite and worked our way over to Moon Mountain Avenue.  Our destination was the Salvation Army Store but we stopped to look at things along the way.  We checked out the Mountain Quail Cafe, but the only thing on their menu we could eat was the side salad.  Too bad, it looked like a cozy, comfortable place and the sign said they featured ‘home cooking.’  Well, not our home, of course.  ‘Home cooking’ is usually code for “everything is cooked in butter, we make liberal use of eggs and dairy, and treat bacon as a condiment.”

Moon Mountain Avenue between Main Street and Quail Trail seems to mostly be developments rather than individual lots.  We stopped at one place that had a lot for sale at the corner of Moon Mountain and the entrance road.  All of the lots were separated on three sides by the exact same low brick wall construction that we have seen all over town.  Some of the lots had the brick wall with a gate across the front.  As we were studying this lot the man across the street pulled out and drove over to see if we had any questions.  We really didn’t, but he answered them anyway.

It turned out that most of the developments on Moon Mountain Avenue were co-ops.  The price on this particular lot ($49,900) did not buy you a deed but rather a fractional ownership of the co-op with a lease for the perpetual use of that particular lot.  The price also included compensation to the current leaseholder for improvements to the lot, and whatever appreciation in value the market would bear.  You were free to sell your ownership share along with the leasehold for your lot, or will it to your children.  (This co-op, like many of the RV Parks in town, was a 55+ community, so it would be a long time before our “kids” could use it if they were interested, which I doubt.)  The annual maintenance fees for this co-op were $56/month ($672/year) and included water, sewer, property taxes, and association dues; everything except electricity.  Each site had its own billable electric meter.  The only added expense would be property taxes for improvements, such as a park model trailer or RV port.

We were glad we stopped and that this fellow was willing to share this information with us.  We suspect that many of the similar looking areas around town are probably also co-ops or even developments with deeded lots.  Every little thing we learn like this helps us develop a better understanding of Quartzsite.  BTW:  the Salvation Army store was closed.  We have walked or driven by at various times on different days and have yet to find it open for business.

When we got back to camp Linda needed a few things for dinner and thought the Road Runner Market might have them.  She grabbed Fonda and they took off in our car.  Butch was working on his HF mobile ham radio antenna on the roof of their bus and Barb was scurrying around the property taking care of things.  I was going to help Butch but got a phone call from Michele Henry of Phoenix Paint to discuss the spots on our roof and what to do about them.  Once we were done talking I was able to lend Butch some assistance with the antenna project which involved the installation of bonding (grounding) straps between the antenna and the roof of the bus.

The FedEx truck showed up before Linda and Fonda got back so I opened the box and unpacked the contents.  The kitties recognize Science Diet cat food bags and were very happy to see it.  I was opening the new coffee maker when Linda returned.  We got it unpacked and stored in the cubby where the old one was installed.  She had started cleaning and rearranging drawers before our walk so she finished putting everything away or set aside things she had decided she did not need to have on board.

I’ve been needing a haircut for a while and prevailed on Linda to take care of it while we still had sunlight.  After she was done I used the clippers to trim my beard and then put everything away.  Linda checked our log book and according to our records the last time we dumped our holding tanks was on the 20th.  We like them to be as full as possible before dumping, as they evacuate better but cannot let them overfill so we decided to dump them while it was still daylight.  Better safe than sorry.

I got another Hach SofChek water hardness test strip from Butch and checked the output of our water softener.  It measured 7 on a scale of 0 (soft) to 25 (very hard).  A reading of 7 is considered ‘hard’ water but the softener was still working somewhat as the water coming straight out of the tap measured 25.  We still had 1/3 tank of fresh water and I decided to add 1/6th of a tank, about 20 gallons, and bring it up to the 1/2 level.  I will have to recharge the water softener tomorrow before adding any more water to our tank.

I was able to finish editing photos while Linda prepared dinner.  She cut a large poblano pepper in half lengthwise and stuffed it with leftovers from two nights ago.  She also made Mexican rice from scratch using Texmati rice, onions, garlic, tomato sauce, cumin, and vegetable broth.  The peppers and rice were very good and went well with a glass of sangria.

Early this morning I thought I might finish my HFH article for BCM and be able to upload it this evening, but that did not happen.  I still needed to insert the thumbnails into the Word document and write the captions.  I was too tired to start that work, knowing how long that would take, so I played a few puzzle games and went to bed.

2014/12/31(W) Adios 2014

The polar outbreak that is gripping most of Canada and the U. S. A. has also made its presence felt here in Quartzsite.  The overnight low was 35 and we had light rain.  The high today won’t break 50, and the lows for the next two days are forecast to be in the upper 20s.  Not that far from us (~180 miles) Joshua Tree NP had a rare dusting of snow and the forecast for Flagstaff is for as much as 16 inches of holiday whiteness.  The temperature back home is in the teens, so we have no complaints about the weather in Q.

Linda went for a long morning walk and found the Salvation Army store open.  Apparently their hours are 8 AM to 1 PM Monday through Friday and we had managed to always walk past outside that time frame.  She picked up a few things from the Road Runner Market while she was out.  By the time she got back at 1 PM I had just finished inserting photos into my Habitat For Humanity article and captioning them so I had her proofread it.

With the proofreading done we had a bite of lunch and then drove to Blythe, California to pick up some grocery items that are not available here in Q.  We stopped first at the AutoZone store, in the northwest corner of the Albertson’s parking lot, and bought supplies for cleaning the bus.  Now all we need is a nice warm day so we can get out early and work at it until we are done.  We need to do the car, too.

We got a TXT message from our son while driving back to Q.  It was a short video of grand-daughter Madeline climbing into her car seat all by herself.  That led to an exchange of messages leading to the question from our daughter as to whether she could climb out by herself.  That question will apparently be answered tomorrow.  The growth from age one to age two is quite amazing.

When we got back to our coach I carried in the groceries.  While Linda put them away I added 30 gallons of water to our fresh water tank.  I really wanted to recharge the water softener first, and bought a 40 pound bag of solar salt at Albertson’s for that purpose, but it was too late in the afternoon and too cold to start that process.  I still need to fabricate the special perforated tube for the water filter housing, so it will take longer than a normal recharge.

We had some hot tea and cookies and relaxed for a while.  Linda finished proofreading my HFH article and I then went through it one more time to make sure it was ready to upload.  She also e-mailed Mara, one of the women who participated in the HFH build, to wish her a happy holiday and see what part of the country she was in at the moment.

Dinner was a simple, easy affair; a nice salad of fresh greens with other goodies mixed in and a couple of Asian noodle soup bowls.  Sometimes Linda does not feel like cooking and we keep a certain amount of packaged convenience food on board for such occasions.

It has been our tradition since we started dating in high school to stay up and celebrate the coming of the New Year.  We rang in three calendar changes while dating and have observed 42 more since getting married.  Tonight was number 43.  For all of that time we have rarely gone out on New Year’s Eve, preferring to stay close to home and off the streets.  Besides, large, loud parties have never been our style, especially since I do not dance.

When we were dating, and in the early years of our marriage, we would spend the holidays in the St. Louis, Missouri area visiting family.  My parents hosted a New Year’s Eve party that, in retrospect, was quite a large and well-attended event, and that is where we hung out, often joined by a few friends from our high school days.  As we attained legal age a champagne toast became part of the tradition (although in the privacy and safety of my parents’ home we probably started this tradition a bit sooner).

As our children came into the picture we still traveled to St. Louis but when they got a bit older we started spending our holidays at home.  Linda’s sister, Marilyn, started visiting us between Christmas and New Year’s and the tradition of assembling a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle on New Year’s Eve began.  Linda usually did not cook a New Year’s Eve meal.  Instead we had California Dip (made from Lipton’s Onion Soup mix) and chips, jumbo shrimp with cocktail sauce, smoked salmon, and other munchies that we nibbled on throughout the day.  This was, of course, all pre-vegan.  Starting around 11 PM we would turn the TV to one of the networks doing the countdown from Times Square in New York City.  I think it was ABC as we usually watched Dick Clark.  At 11:55 PM we would open a bottle of champagne and fill our glasses.  When the ball dropped and the clock struck 12 we would toast the New Year.

Since our children became adults they have spent New Year’s Eve with their friends and families.  Besides Marilyn we have had occasional guests at our house but more often it has been a quiet evening at home with just the two or three of us and we often went to bed shortly after the arrival of the New Year.  The last two years have been unusual in that we moved to a different house in 2013 but have never celebrated New Year’s there.  Given that we plan to do most of our extended RVing from mid-fall to mid-spring it may be quite (if ever) before we celebrate New Year’s at the new house.

For the 2013-to-2014 change we were at the Arcadia Bus Rally in Arcadia, Florida where we attended a party with 200 other people and a live band.  We spent much of the evening outside where the volume was about right and the temperatures were pleasant.  This year we are camped on private property in Quartzsite with three other couples, none of whom seemed interested in staying up until midnight, so we toasted the New Year in the privacy of our coach three times before going to bed.  We are unable to receive OTA TV signals here, so we watched (listened to) the ball drop in Times Square on Linda’s iPad (at 10 PM MST) and shared a champagne toast.  She then sent TXT messages to both of our children.  At 11 PM MST we shared another champagne toast.  I sent a TXT message to my sister and niece while Linda sent one to her sister, all of whom live near St. Louis, Missouri in the Central Time Zone.  At our local midnight we shared our final toast and welcomed the New Year in the Mountain Time Zone.  If we had been so inclined we could have driven to Blythe, California, returning temporarily to 2014, and celebrated the coming of the New Year in the Pacific Time Zone.  But we didn’t.  That kind of thing is more fun to “brag” about than it actually is to do.

Before turning in for the night I updated my article status spreadsheet and then uploaded it to the BCM folder in my Dropbox along with the HFH article and associated photos.  I then e-mailed the team at BCM to let them know it was there and wished them a Happy New Year.  I also e-mailed a link to a PDF version of the article to Steven Gullette, our team leader on the HFH build that was the main focus of the article, and wished him a Happy New Year as well.  So endith another year.  Adios 2014.


2014/12/21-25 (N-R) The Holidays Arrive

2014/12/21 (N) Winter Solstice

Linda was reading an interesting tidbit online this morning about the winter solstice, which occurs today in the northern hemisphere.  It usually occurs on the 21st, like today, but occasionally slips into the 22nd.  While it is the day of the year with the least hours of sunlight (between sun up to sun down) it is not the day with the latest sunrise (which occurred a couple of weeks ago) or the earliest sunset (which does not occur for a couple of more weeks).  Why is that?  Axial tilt, elliptical orbits, and a “day” that is not exactly 24 hours.  Science is fun.

Today was a stay-at-home / stay-in-town day for us.  Linda vacuumed the coach and mopped the floor tiles.  She says she likes to do this once a week to keep the cat hair under control.  By “likes” I think she means “needs.”  She also decided to do the laundry.  When we are at our house the laundry is usually my chore but for some reason, to which I am not privy, she takes over this chore when we are living in the RV, at least initially.  The same thing happened last year at Williston Crossings RV Resort, although we eventually both did laundry until I was able to win back my rightful chore.  So far again this year it has been her self-selected task here at Quartzsite and I have not gone out of my way to reclaim my rightful place as master of the laundry.

What I did instead of laundry was spend the morning finishing our 2014 Year-in-Review holiday letter.  Linda proof read it and then I converted it to PDF and did a final check of the layout to make sure the text and photos had not shifted or been clipped.  I copied it to a flash drive so we can take it someplace in Blythe tomorrow and have it printed.

The other day I noticed that the manifold pressure sensor (turbo boost) on Butch and Fonda’s 6v92 was mounted vertically on the front passenger side of the ECM.  I could not see exactly how it was mounted, however, so today I finally looked it up in the DD 92 Series manual.  I did not attempt to reattach our sensor module today but I was curious to see what would be involved.  I also continued to interact with other Prevost owners on the Prevost Community forum regarding the turbo boost issues and the dashboard gauge, which does not have the correct scale for our engine.  That thread has led to a dialogue about the SilverLeaf systems, including the VMSpc that we have, and an alternative system from RV Tech Tools that uses an iPad app named “RV Dash” and a wireless (WiFi) interface named “CANpod” from Cubix Labs.

With our various chores done we had a light lunch of chickpea salad on a bed of mixed greens and then went for a long walk.  The walk took us down Washington Ave. and then over to Kitsap Ave. to see a gorgeous Adobe house that Linda had discovered on a previous walk.  That led us to the backside of the west-central “vendor” (flea market) area on the north side of Main St.  We are not collectors, and we are not into antiques, guns, rocks, jewelry, or junk, so we saw very little that interested us.  We did see a few pieces of Pyrex, which our daughter and son-in-law were collecting at one time, and I am always on the lookout for a good deal on a tool I can’t live without, but mostly we saw endless quantities of stuff that we could not fathom anyone buying.

We crossed Main Street and visited the Tyson’s Well Stagecoach Stop Museum.  The grounds and building were open, admission was free, and it was unattended.  There were items for sale and if we had wanted something we would have put the money in the collection box.  That’s small town.

We headed east on Main Street and crossed back to the north side using the crosswalk at AZ-95 (Central Ave.).  We then continued east and stopped at the Road Runner Market.  We were pleased to find that they had a small but good selection of fresh produce.  On our way out the door the florist gave Linda a red and white carnation.  We will definitely be doing some of our local grocery shopping there.  We knew there was a restaurant/bakery on the far east end of Main Street so we kept on walking.  Sweet Darlene’s looked like a nice local place for a home-cooked style meal, but did not have anything on the menu we could eat.  The bakery turned out to be a small display case with pies and sweet rolls, but they did not make their own bread, so we won’t have any reason to come back.

By this time it was getting to be late afternoon, the cloud layer had thickened, and it was getting a bit chilly so we headed back towards Central Avenue.  We counted laundromats along the way, and passed at least four before getting back to our coach.  Not that we need a laundromat—we have a laundry where we are staying—but with all of the boondockers in and around Q it is a matter of some curiosity to us how/where they take care of things like this.  By the time we got back to our coach we had walked just over five miles.

Sunset over the Dome Rock Mountains due west of our encampment.

Sunset over the Dome Rock Mountains due west of our encampment.

By 5:15 PM the sun had slipped just below the mountains to our southwest and the sky started to glow pink for 360 degrees around us.  The sunset went on for over 30 minutes, the pinks deepening to reds.  And then, just like that, the color was gone and darkness enveloped the valley.

For dinner Linda made a simple green salad with raisins and peanuts.  She then heated up some vegan re-fried beans, pan-grilled a package of fajita vegetables she got from Connie before they left, and then heated two tortillas.  We each made a tasty roll up, adding some salsa and vegan sour cream.  She washed some black seedless grapes and set them out for desert.  They were very refreshing after the somewhat heavier and spicy main course.

2024/12/22 (M) Compressed

We had planned on driving to Blythe, California today but those plans changed fairly early in the morning.  Butch got an update that his air-compressor was on a UPS truck in Blythe and scheduled for delivery today.  I had promised to help him with the installation and provide a few tools he did not have with him so we decided to stick around camp.  We were also waiting for Connie’s realtor, Carolyn, to come by and pick up two yellow Post Office slips.

Linda took her morning walk after breakfast while I downloaded the October and November issues of Bus Conversion Magazine in both standard- and high-definition.  I was really glad to finally see these issues.  The October issue included my article on our T. F. Hudgins Spinner II Centrifugal By-pass Oil Cleaner project.  That was my one remaining article waiting to be published.  I have at least a half dozen in process, at least that many more for which I have taken photos (and written blog posts), and a very long list of future projects, so it’s time to get the next batch of articles ready to submit.

When Linda got back I drove to the print/copy/fax/pack/ship/etc. store on east Main Street to see if they could print our holiday letter.  They had plain 8.5×14 white paper, and the photos looked OK, but it was going to cost $4 per letter ($2/side) so I paid for the one copy and left.  They suggested that I try Weeks Printing in Blythe (20 miles west) or Staples in Lake Havasu City (70+ miles north).  Since we will likely head to Blythe tomorrow we will check out Weeks first.

As long as I was out I stopped at Barry’s Breads and bought a couple of fresh “rolls” which were really small loaves of bread.  Barry runs a little seasonal bakery out of a temporary vendor stand on the northeast corner of Central Avenue (US-95) and Kuehn Street.  Most of his products have butter or cream cheese as ingredients—his Danish pastries are as big around as a dinner plate—but he does make just plain bread and everything is made fresh daily.  Back in camp Linda called Weeks Printing and they quoted $1.25 for each 2-sided letter.  Much better.  We will check them out when we make it to Blythe; probably tomorrow.

For lunch Linda made a batch of her scrumptious chickpea salad/spread and served it on one of the rolls I bought at Barry’s.  After a week of cloudy skies, cool temperatures, and a little rain we finally had a day with clear, sunny skies and the high temperature up into the 70s.  Butch decided to remove his defective air-compressor and there wasn’t anything we could do to help (or stop him) so we decided to clean some more of our coach exterior.  I wanted to work from the top down, which meant starting with the roof.  That, in turn, meant getting out the Little Giant convertible extension/step ladder and setting it up as a 14 foot extension ladder.  In this configuration it extends beyond the top edge of the roof at the front, making it safer for me to get up on the lower roof area from the driver’s side.

Rinsing down the roof of the coach (photo by Linda).

Rinsing down the roof of the coach (photo by Linda).

The roof was very dirty and it appeared that we might have more than just embedded dirt to deal with.  The roof has a sprayed-on ceramic-infused white coating with a surface akin to medium grit sandpaper.  It reflects sunlight and provides a nice nap for walking on, but also traps dirt.  The last time the roof was cleaned was in early April, just before we left Williston Crossings RV Resort.  I had been on the roof subsequent to that, in our pull-through driveway at home, using it as a platform for trimming tree limbs.  I do not recall it being unusually dirty at that time, but I was focused on other things.  If it had been, I probably would have washed it, but maybe not; I was focused on other things.

I used a little bit of Dawn dish soap in several gallons of water and our soft, long handle, brush to try and scrub it clean and then rinsed it with softened water.  It was better by the time I was done but far from 100% clean.  I also scrubbed all of the metal awning covers and then hosed them off and rinsed the awning fabric.  When I was done on the roof I sprayed off all four sides of the bus, but even with the softened water it left spots and streaks.  Another unfortunate side effect of this work is that it frightened our male cat, Jasper, who ended up hiding behind the steering column in an attempt to escape the sights and sounds of a ‘monster’ on the roof.

We would like to get the body clean but there’s no point doing anything until I get the roof finished (Linda does not climb ladders and she does not get on the roof of the bus.)  At a minimum I am going to have to use a stiff scrub brush and a stronger solution of Dawn dish soap, or perhaps a commercial cleaner that can treat mold/mildew along with just plain dirt.  We will then have to do the vertical surfaces in small sections, scrubbing, rinsing, and drying as we go.  We have a sprayer for our hose that has a small bottle for additives and one of the reasons I bought it was to try using a dishwasher rinse aid, like Jet Dry, to see if it would eliminate spotting.  To-date, however, I have not tried that.

The old Bendix Tu-Flo 700 air-compressor out of Butch & Fonda's MC-9.

The old Bendix Tu-Flo 700 air-compressor out of Butch & Fonda’s MC-9.  The governor is the silver thing on the left.  The open port on top is the air discharge where the unloader valves are located.

Once Butch had the old air-compressor out of their bus he turned the input shaft and noted that the pistons were not pumping air.  This confirmed that something had failed internally and ordering a replacement was the right thing to do.  There wasn’t much else to do so we all sat around in the warm sun and waited for the UPS truck to show up, which it finally did around 3:45 PM.  We (me, Linda, and Fonda) suggested that Butch wait until tomorrow to start installing it, but we knew that was not going to happen.  The compressor was a significant road failure that had bugged him since it happened and he was anxious to get it fixed.


The new (re-built) Bendix Tu-Flo 700 air-compressor with the old spline and new port plugs.

The new (re-built) Bendix Tu-Flo 700 air-compressor with the old spline and new port plugs.

The Bendix Tu-Flo 700 he received is designed specifically for mounting on Detroit Diesel 92 series 2-stroke engines but has more ports on it than are typically used in this application.  Making sure to match the configuration of the old compressor, Butch installed new plugs in the unneeded ports.  He then removed the fittings from the old unit one at a time and installed them in the new one, being careful to line them up exactly the same way.  I helped by holding the compressor on a work table while Butch tightened the pipe threads.  This was the easy part of the project as we were standing at a tall bench with plenty of room to work and good light.


The new air-compressor with fittings.  Note the alignment marks for orienting the fittings correctly.

The new air-compressor with fittings. Note the alignment marks for orienting the fittings correctly.  The spline is in the upper left of the photo.

The hard part was getting the air-compressor re-installed.  Butch eventually got it onto two of the four mounting studs, which then took the weight.  We discovered a clearance issue with one of the port plugs and he had to pull the compressor back out.  He removed a plug from the old compressor, which did not stick out as far, and reused it in the new compressor.  With the compressor back on the studs it now lined up better but the spline would not engage the drive gear on the end of the engine camshaft.  He put a wrench on the crankshaft pulley nut and turned the engine slightly by standing on the end of it while I jiggled the air-compressor.

The "governor" mounted on the new compressor.

The “governor” mounted on the new compressor.

The spline eventually engaged the engine gear and the air-compressor gear enough that Butch was able to fully seat the flange and insert/tighten the four mounting studs, lock washers, and nuts.  Per the instructions, he reconnected all of the lines except for the air discharge and called it a night.  The coolant goes back in tomorrow and Butch will then start the main engine to make sure the compressor works, check for leaks, and let any contaminants get blown out the discharge fitting.  If everything looks good he will attach the discharge line, which connects the outlet port of the air-compressor to the coach air system, and air up the bus.

The new air-compressor (blue) mounted on the rear of the engine block (towards the front of the bus).

The new air-compressor (blue) mounted on the rear of the DD6V92TA engine block (towards the front of the bus) in Butch and Fonda’s MCI MC-9B NJT.

At least we were successful in convincing Butch to wait until tomorrow to put the coolant back in the engine.  By the time we finished working, put our tools away, and got cleaned up it was 7:30 PM and had been dark for two hours.  Linda reheated the leftover fajita fixings and we had open-faced tortillas with Fritos corn chips, salsa, black grapes, and Sangria.  We were both tired so we relaxed for a while after dinner and then went to bed.

2024/12/23 (T) Blythe, CA

We got a call from Connie right after breakfast letting us know that the two packages Carolyn picked up yesterday were for us and Butch.  We needed to pick them up before 11AM as Carolyn had an appointment at that time.  Linda was headed out for her morning walk anyway so she walked to Rock Reality, near the post office and uptown drugs, to get the packages from Carolyn.  (Carolyn is Joe and Connie’s realtor.)  She dropped off the two P. O. Box – Mail Pickup Notice cards at the post office while she was there.

Our package was from Madeline (Brendan and Shawna), to be opened on Christmas Day.  Butch’s package was the unloader valve kits for our Bendix Tu-Flo 700 air-compressors.  He ordered them while we were in Forest City, Arkansas for delivery to Amarillo, Texas but they did not arrive in time so his friend forwarded them to our Quartzsite location.

Butch and Fonda used most of the morning to put the coolant back into the engine.  Our buses, which still have their over-the-road heating systems, hold a lot of coolant.  Ours requires 34 gallons.  The buses are not identical, but I suspect theirs requires at least 30 gallons.  And it is very important that the cooling system is filled to capacity and has had all of the air purged out of it.  It’s a big, messy job.

They got as much in as they could by standing on a ladder and pouring it through a funnel into the filler tube for the surge tank.  The radiators on the MCI MC-9 are located above the engine, one on each side wall at the rear of the bus, and the surge tank is located above them, so the filler tube is approximately 9 feet from the ground.  Butch started the engine to warm it up enough for the thermostat to open and to circulate the coolant and opened a couple of bleeder valves to let air out.  He also checked the outlet fitting on the new air-compressor to verify that it was pumping air.  It was (hurray!), so he shut the engine off, attached the air line to the outlet fitting, and started it back up.  The chassis air system (suspension and brakes) came up to pressure and the air-dryer “sneezed” (momentarily opened its purge valve) so the system was fully operational.

We planned to go to Blythe, California today and Butch and Fonda wanted to go too, so he shut off the engine and they cleaned up their campsite.  We were sitting in our coach when the winds came up rather strong.  Linda checked the weather and the winds were out of the north at 20 MPH and forecast at 22-25 MPH until 6 PM.  That was strong enough for us to retract our awnings, close our roof vents, collapse our folding chairs, and stow our patio mat.  Butch and Fonda also retracted their patio awning and stored all of their outdoor equipment and furniture.  We had the old patio awning on our Itasca Sunrise torn off by strong (thunderstorm) winds while we were away from the motorhome and have been extra careful about awnings and wind ever since.

With all of that done we headed to Blythe in their Chevy Suburban.  From 879 feet ASL in Q we climbed to about 1200 feet ASL over the low mountain range that separates the two valleys, and then descended to 240 feet ASL as we crossed the Colorado River and entered California.  A few miles later we took the 7th Street exit and we were there.  The 20 mile drive was only five more miles than the trip we made from Williston Crossings RV Resort to the Publix grocery store (at the southwest corner of Gainesville, Florida) last winter, so it did not feel like a long way to go for groceries.  At home we have supermarkets about five miles away in three different directions.  Butch and Fonda typically drive into Logansport for their groceries, a distance of 12 miles, so we are all used to traveling some distance to purchase our food.

The Smart & Final Extra and the Albertson’s were on the NW and SE corners of 7th and Hobsonway, just north of I-10, making them especially convenient for us, so this is where we will likely shop every other week or so.  But our first destination was a few blocks farther west on S. Main St. where we found Weeks Printing.  They were eventually able to access our flash drive and open the PDF of our holiday letter.  They had a high quality paper in 8.5”x14” size, and were able to print our letter 2-sided on a good quality color laser printer for a very reasonable price of $1.25 per letter ($0.625 per side).  They did not take credit cards so we paid cash, but it saved us a 73 mile trip (one way) to Staples in Lake Havasu City.

Self-portrait of the blogger.  I am merely a reflection of my former self.

Self-portrait of the blogger. I am merely a reflection of my former self.

At the Smart & Final Extra we bought fresh produce, soy milk, and some bulk, canned, and packaged items.  They did not carry the Silk brand soy coffee creamer that I like, and there were a few items Butch and Fonda needed that the store did not have, so we drove across the street to Albertson’s and got those items.  I stayed in the car with the groceries, but I already knew that the Albertson’s would be a nice store based on our experience with the chain in Sheridan, Wyoming during summer 2013.  With our shopping done we returned to Quartzsite.

I carried the groceries from the car to the bus and Linda stored them, discovering that she had an empty tub available in the cabinet above the refrigerator.  By the time she was done it was approaching 4 PM so she prepared chickpea salad sandwiches as a quick, light lunch and then announced that we should go for a walk before it got dark.  She let me chose the route so we crossed Central Avenue (AZ-95) and walked to the city park, which has a very nice baseball field with lights and the only grass we have seen in Quartzsite.  There was also a skateboard facility, a football field, and two F4 Phantom jets (minus the engines and other equipment).  The Quartzsite Metal Detecting Club (QMDC) has a practice field adjacent to the park.  The park is located near the following municipal facilities:  Community Center and Library, County Court, Police Station, and Post Office Annex (where most of the P. O. Boxes are located).  The Fire Department is a little farther north on Tyson Wells Street just east of Central Avenue.

The sun was getting near the tops of the mountains to our southwest so we headed pack to our coach and settled in for the evening.  For dinner Linda made a barley risotto with garlic, shallots, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, vegetable both, and seasonings.  While she was cooking I got a call from my dad and got him caught up on our whereabouts and activities.  The risotto was excellent and we each enjoyed a glass of sangria with our meal.

I don’t know if we are just relaxed, or really tired after a hard summer and fall, but we have both been going to bed earlier and waking up later than usual.  Or perhaps it is just the effect of fresh air and sunshine.  Whatever the reason, it’s nice to be able to just sleep when that is what we feel like doing and get up when we are read.

We have an excellent Verizon signal here in Q.  Linda often likes to pace up and down Lollipop Lane while talking on the phone.  If you lived on Lollipop Lane you would too.

We have an excellent Verizon signal here in Q. Linda often likes to pace up and down Lollipop Lane while talking on the phone. If you lived on Lollipop Lane you would too.

2014/12/24 (W) Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve and we woke to a temperature of 37 degrees, clear skies, light winds, and no snow.  The forecast high for today was 66, with no snow.  Do I miss snow at the holidays?  Not really.  At one time (high school) I considered myself something of a “romantic” in the sense that I liked the classical music of the romantic era, but I am not particularly nostalgia.  If I was, we would own a restored 1957 Chevy; red, of course.  No, we had snow at home before we left and as a harbinger of things to come we took it as a sign that our departure was overdue.  Christmas in the desert will be a new experience for us, but so far it looks very agreeable.  We will miss being with family, of course, but we are not alone here and technology keeps all of us much more connected than it once did.

Having been to Blythe yesterday we did not have any last minute shopping to do today.  The desert was there yesterday and will be there tomorrow (I presume) so we did not have to see it today.  With the holidays upon us I did not feel like working on bus projects.  Linda started addressing the envelopes for our Year-In-Review Holiday Letter and then worked on food preparations for tomorrow’s dinner with Butch and Fonda.  It seemed like a good day for me to finally start catching up on some things that I have not had time for in a while.  For instance, I need to work on articles for Bus Conversions Magazine, update our bus project list/status, update our website, upload some blog posts (OK, a LOT of blog posts), and catch up on the blogs I follow using the Feedly app on my iPad.  I am way behind on all of these tasks and starting to feel some pressure about it, albeit self-imposed.  I do not have to do any of these things if I don’t want to, of course, but they are activities that I enjoy and want to do.  Still, being way behind takes some of the fun out of it and makes it a bit more like work.  I won’t get caught up in one day or one week or even one month; it will take many weeks of persistent effort.

After checking e-mail, I settled in to work on my article about the exterior renovation of our motorcoach.  Michele Henry of Phoenix Paint helped me finish the article in early October but I still needed to select and caption all of the photos.  While I worked on that Linda walked to the Road Runner Market and managed to snag the last 3-pack of yeast.  When she got back she made her orange cranberry relish for tomorrow’s dinner.

We took a break for lunch and then Linda headed out for her daily power walk.  When she got back she continued addressing envelopes for our holiday letter.  Just as I was feeling like I needed a break, Butch knocked on the door to let me know he was working on a small project that might interest me.  He had already burped the coolant lines that supply heat to the living area of their bus when driving and gotten the last of the coolant into the system.  His new project was getting an alternator driven tachometer connected and calibrated.

It turned out that he needed positive DC power to the tachometer in addition to the ground and RPM signal.  He was able to temporarily pick up 24VDC from the positive terminal of the starter, found a convenient ground point, and picked up the rotational speed from the stator terminal on the back of the alternator.  With the engine running at low idle he measured the RPM of the main crankshaft pulley using an optical sensor instrument.  It was just over 600 RPMs so he adjusted the tach via a set screw on the rear to match the reading.  He kicked it into high idle and measured the rotational speed as 950 RPM.  That is what the tach displayed within the precision of the markings.  He already has a signal wire run from the engine compartment to the cockpit but needs to mount the tachometer in a separate bullet housing, connect the wire on both ends, and provide positive and negative (ground) DC to the instrument.  He decided not to take on that project today.

(Note:  RPM is universally understood to be an abbreviation for “Revolutions Per Minute” but that is not necessarily correct.  An object such as the pulley on the end of an engine crankshaft rotates about its own axis, just as the earth does, and has angular velocity which is properly measured in rotations per some unit of time or angular displacement per some unit of time.  The abbreviation is, of course, still RPM.  In the case of the pulley, however, Butch put a small piece of white tape on the face of the pulley at the outside edge to act as a target for his optical sensor.  If we consider the piece of tape as a separate object then it does, indeed, revolve around the center axis of the pulley, just as the earth revolves around the sun.  Viewed thus way, revolutions per minute is technically correct.  As with many things in physics, it depends on your frame of reference.  So much for today’s physics lesson.)

This building houses (L-2-R) the laundry room, the apartment, and a small workshop.

This building houses (L-2-R) the laundry room, the apartment, and a small workshop at our compound.

As long as I was outside I borrowed Butch’s metal detector and went in search of a couple of tie downs that Joe told us were buried somewhere near the outer edge of our patio awning.  I knew they were lined up with a reference mark on one of the concrete patio slabs and it did not take long to locate and uncover them.  We put a couple of medium-sized rocks on top of them so we could relocate them easily.

We got several multimedia messages from our son today with pictures of our grand-daughter at our daughter’s house helping make cookies.  Brendan, Shawna, and Madeline are spending the night and Katie is joining them tomorrow.  Butch and Fonda will spend most of the day at the local church Fonda selected, including a carry-in (pot luck) luncheon, but will have dinner with us around 6:30 PM.

I finally returned to our coach and worked on my article about the Zena power generating system I installed to charge our house batteries while driving.  Again, the article was mostly finished a long time ago, but I could not submit it until I completed the installation, got the system operational, and took a few more photos.  All of that happened in October and November but I was too busy with other projects and preparations to pull it all together at that time.  I had a couple of e-mails today from Gary, the publisher of Bus Conversion Magazine, indicating that the December 2014 issue might not be out until early January 2015, and wondering if I might have a finished article they could use.

For dinner Linda made a salad of dark mixed greens with raisins, nuts, and pear slices drizzled with raspberry walnut vinaigrette dressing followed by pan-seared tofu slices with caramelized onions and bar-b-que sauce served open-faced on hamburger buns.  We split a Sam Adams Pumpkin Spice Ale.  I am not a big fan of ales or pumpkin but beer seemed like the right beverage for this dish.  It was OK, but I would have enjoyed a Yingling or Shiner Bock more.

I made good progress on both articles today.  I got an e-mail from Mike, the editor of BCM, wondering if I had a finished article.  The ZENA article was close enough that I decided to finish it and upload it to our Dropbox before going to bed.  I e-mailed Mike back to let him known it was there and offered to finish the other one by the end of the weekend.

Earlier in the day I updated our personal WordPress site to the just released version 4.1 and updated several plug-ins and themes.  My last task before turning in for the night was to replicate the update process on the other three sites I manage.  By the time I got to bed it was Christmas Day.

2014/12/25 (R) Christmas in Q

The wind came up strongly overnight and we were awakened by the rattling of the vent fan domes.  From our north facing bedroom window we could see flags and the tops of trees blowing briskly in the wind.  We could also hear and see the awnings on the south/passenger side of the coach flapping.  Linda checked the weather channel app on her iPad and it reported winds at 20 MPH.  We were not expecting winds that strong until the daytime and they were strong enough for us to be concerned about our awnings.  By that point we were wide awake so we put on our sweatpants and shirts, slipped on some shoes, found a set of keys, got the step-stool out of the front bay and the awning rod out of the folding chair bay, retracted the two awnings, returned the rod and step-stool to their respective storage compartments, and finally went back to bed.

Linda got up at 6:30 AM in order to start making cinnamon rolls from scratch.  I usually get up first and make a pot of coffee but I was up past midnight working, so I slept in for another hour.  The yeast she bought yesterday wasn’t cooperating so we turned on one of the Broan ceramic cube heaters to try and create a warmer and more consistent environment to get the dough to rise.

We borrowed Butch and Fonda’s Verizon MiFi (unlimited data plan) so we could Facetime with our children and their families, who were gathered at our daughter and son-in-law’s house.  We got to watch all of them open the presents we left for them when we were there on Thanksgiving and they got to watch us open the gifts they sent with us or shipped to us here in Quartzsite.

Brendan, Shawna, and Madeline (son, daughter-in-law, and grand-daughter) sent a 2015 Shutterfly Calendar with photographs of all the different family members placed on the dates for birthdays, anniversaries, and such.  We do not need much at this point in our lives, but a collection of photographs that also reminds us of the people and dates that are most important to us is something we appreciate and treasure.  Meghan and Chris (daughter and son-in-law) bought us each a genuine Tilley hat.  I have known about these hats for a while but never bought one.  Given our outdoor oriented RV lifestyle, these were excellent gifts.

After we were done with our Facetime session Linda took the cinnamon rolls over to the apartment to bake since it has a range with an oven.  She will finish cooking dinner there later and the four of us will eat there this evening as it has a table that will seat four people.

The apartment bedroom.

The apartment bedroom.

In spite of early indications to the contrary the cinnamon rolls rose and baked just fine. The dough used flour, salt, vegan butter, yeast, and flax meal with water (egg substitute) and a little sugar.  The filling was made with brown sugar, vegan butter, cinnamon, and maple syrup.  The topping was a glaze of sugar, water, and vanilla with raisins and chopped walnuts.  Linda took two of them over to Butch and Fonda and we had some for breakfast still warm from the oven.  It’s a good thing that these are as much work to make as they are or I might want them for breakfast every day.   🙂

Linda had a call and TXT message from her sister (Marilyn) and sent a reply.  She was on her way to her housemate’s family gathering and they agreed they would talk later today.  She also sent merry Christmas TXT messages to her sister-in-law, Mary, and good friend, Diane.  At noon our time (1 PM CST, UTC-6) I called my sister to wish her a happy holiday.  Her daughter, grand-daughter, and future son-in-law had already been there in the morning as Ryan had to work that afternoon.

I made a second pot of coffee, which is unusual for us, but we planned to spend the day lounging around the coach cooking (Linda) and working on the computer (me).  Linda cleaned up the breakfast cookware, poured another cup of coffee, and started working on the chocolate cake for tonight’s dessert.  With the cake prepared and in the apartment oven she turned her attention to making the candied yams.  Once those were done the only thing left to do was bake the Tofurkey, roast the asparagus, and heat the gravy.  It was a lot work for her but it was spread out over two days and she enjoyed, and did it, willingly.  We could have gone out for dinner if she wanted, even though we would not have found much we could eat, but I am glad she preferred to cook.

Once I wrapped up the conversation with my sister I got back to work on the Outside Makeover (Exterior Renovation) article.  Although I thought I was done writing I made a few more edits and selected additional photos.  By 5 PM I had 74 photos selected and placed in sequence to match the flow of the article.  I had also done as much of that work as I cared to for the day.

We were down to 1/4 tank of fresh water so I decided to refill it.  About that same time Linda decided it was chilly enough in the apartment that she wanted the propane space heater turned on so I shut off the water and took care of that.  The heater had a hose that went through the wall at floor level to the outside with a regulator and POL fitting on the end of it.  I found a couple of 20 lb. propane tanks in the workshop and connected one of them to the regulator.  It took a while but I eventually got the pilot flame to light and then got the heater to ignite.  I then went back and finished filling our water tank.

The little apartment is very cute with three rooms: a bathroom on the east end, a bedroom on the west end, and a kitchen/dining/living room in the middle.  It has a shower, a 4-burner electric range with an oven, a refrigerator/freezer, a small microwave oven, the aforementioned space heater, a small window air-conditioner, a small TV/monitor with a satellite receiver, two easy chairs, a small dining table with four chairs, and a queen sized bed.  Marilyn is seriously considering coming for a visit the last week of January and if she does she will stay in the apartment and get to experience Quartzsite.

Linda starting to set the table in the apartment for Christmas dinner.  No pictures of Butch & Fonda (they are camera shy).

Linda starting to set the table in the apartment for Christmas dinner. No pictures of Butch & Fonda (they are camera shy).

We bought a bottle of Sternthaler Nurnberger Christkindles Gluhwein spiced red holiday wine at Central Market in Fort Worth, Texas to serve with our Christmas dinner.  It is a mulled wine that is supposed to be gently heated before serving, but we found it quite agreeable straight from the refrigerator.  About 20 minutes before dinner time we set it out on the counter to warm up slightly, the space heater doing a very effective job heating the small apartment even on its lowest setting.

Linda and Fonda both contributed dishes to the meal and Fonda made a couple of things that we could eat.  They brought chicken and traditional mashed potatoes for themselves but also tried some of the Tofurkey roast.  Linda made a vegan chocolate cake for dessert and whipped refrigerated coconut milk solids to use as a whipped cream substitute.  Our daughter did this for the Thanksgiving meal and we really liked it.

We sat in the apartment for a long time after dinner and just talked until we were all tired.  Linda and Fonda had already cleaned the dishes so we turned off the propane space heater and carried all of our stuff back to our coaches.  Linda put the leftovers away while I did a final check of my e-mail for the night.  I then shut my computer off and we headed to bed.  Like so many things in our retirement RV lifestyle, this Christmas holiday was a new and good experience.


2014/12/17-20 (W-S) Second Winter Birthday

2014/12/17 (W) Clammy Q

The first rain came last night at 11 PM as forecast.  It then rained off and on through noon today and we had little pools of standing water in low-lying areas, an unusual site here in Quartzsite.  The cloud cover remained complete into the early afternoon, keeping the coach slightly chilly, but we just dressed accordingly.

Linda went for a morning walk and then spent part of the morning making broccoli, cauliflower, carrot soup.  She served some for lunch along with vegan grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches (on sourdough bread) and fresh grapes.  She went for another walk after lunch.  Butch and Fonda left around 9 AM for her women’s bible study group and did not return until 2:30 PM.

Kuehn Street market area looking west towards Central Avenue (US-95).  Quartzsite, AZ.

Kuehn Street market area looking west towards Central Avenue (US-95). Quartzsite, AZ.

I spent the morning and the early part of the afternoon researching products for testing water hardness, checking-in to a few social media websites, updating our calendar, and continuing to clean up my e-mail accounts.  Getting all of my accounts cleaned up is going to take weeks as I can only spend so many hours a day on this task before I need to do something else.  Mid-afternoon I got our sewer hose out and connected it.  I unscrewed the pressure gauge on our Valterra water pressure regulator, which has been stuck on 60 PSI for quite some time, and took it with me to Big Market to make sure the threads were the same before I bought a replacement.

When I got back I put a couple of wraps of Teflon tape around the threads, screwed it in by hand, and snugged it down with a pair of adjustable pliers.  I turned on the water supply and the gauge registered ~35 PSI with no leaks.  I adjusted the regulator pressure up to 45 PSI and called it good.  It is an inexpensive gauge, not liquid filled, but it will do for now.  I doubt that the old gauge can be repaired, but I will let Butch look at it before I throw it away.  When we eventually redo the water bay I plan to install better gauges as part of a coach-mounted plumbing system.  The reason to have one at the spigot, however, is to protect everything downstream from excessively high water pressure, including the hoses.

The name says it all.  Located in Tyson Wells near Prospectors Panorama and the "Big Tent".

The name says it all. Located in Tyson Wells near Prospectors Panorama and the “Big Tent”.

Linda was outside reading when I left to go to Big Market but thicker clouds moved in from the west and it got too chilly to sit outside comfortably.  We spent a quiet afternoon on the sofa with our cats and watched the skies darken as the afternoon advanced towards sunset.  By 4:30 PM it was raining lightly again and a beautiful mist hung over the mountains to the southwest and west.  Even though we are in the desert the humidity has been quite high on these cool, cloudy, rainy days.  The conditions have not been uncomfortable, just unexpected.

Connie returned home with Joe at 5:15 PM but we did get to meet him because of the rain.  He has been in a care facility in Blythe, California recovering from a scorpion sting so this was the first time he has been back in Q since we arrived.

Linda made a slightly fancier salad for dinner and served it along with the soup she made earlier in the day.  Both were delicious and the soup really hit the spot on a cool and unusually clammy day in Q.  Hot tea was also much appreciated.  After dinner we had a quiet evening at home.  Linda read while I worked at my computer.  The seating in the coach seems less comfortable this year compared to last winter, or at least we are more aware of it, and we finally went to bed when we could no longer sit comfortably.

Some of the vendor tents in the Tyson Wells market area on the south side of Kuehn Street.

Some of the vendor tents in the Tyson Wells market area on the south side of Kuehn Street.

2014/12/18 (R) Schmoo Is Two

Today was grand-daughter Madeline’s 2nd birthday.  It’s the first birthday where she is aware that it is a special day and the specialness has something to do with her.  Of course at her age every day is a special day and has something to do with her, but this one is more specialer.

I shut my computer off last night before I went to bed.  I don’t always do that, but I do occasionally.  It’s a habit leftover from my Windows XP Pro days when I’ll-behaved programs that did not conform to Microsoft’s programming rules would fail to release memory and eventually the machine would run out and stop working correctly.  The fix was to do a full power off shutdown and restart it.  When I started it this morning it installed updates, although it did not indicate last night that there were any to install.

One of the things I did yesterday morning was get us registered as staff for the Escapees RV Club Escapade rally in March.  After leaving messages on Monday and Tuesday for Kim, as instructed in an e-mail I received, Tamika (who answers the phone) indicated that she could handle the registration.  I then got online and placed our Escapade clothing order.  Hopefully it gets shipped to the rally venue, and not to our house in Michigan, as again the website did not match the instructions we received.  I was glad to have these taken care of and checked off of my list as I find it a bit frustrating (irritating?) when I decide to do something and then cannot get it done.  Just because we are retired does not mean we have nothing to do or all the time in the world to not do it.

View looking west of our coach and site in the late afternoon sun.

View looking west of our coach and site in the late afternoon sun.

Breakfast was homemade granola with fresh blueberries and bananas, spicy V8, and coffee.  Even though it was overcast and cool Linda went for her morning power walk.  Besides the exercise (10,000+ steps per day) she enjoys having the time to herself and it helps her get familiar with the layout of a new place.

We did not interact at all with Butch and Fonda yesterday.  Not that we needed to; by the time we pull out of Q in early March we will have been traveling/camping together for over three months.  Add to that the fact that I was living at their house for much of October and November working on our bus, and theirs, and I can understand why they might want some time to themselves.  They left early in the morning yesterday, so Fonda could attend a women’s bible study group, and did not return until mid-afternoon.  They looked at something in their engine bay, presumably the air-compressor, and then retreated to their coach and we did not see or hear them the rest of the day.

Joe was out this morning on his power chair picking up after their miniature schnauzer Otis so we went outside and introduced ourselves.  Butch came out soon after that, followed by Fonda and the dogs.  We all stood (or sat) around and had a nice long chat.  Connie eventually came out on her power chair with a basket of laundry.  I carried that over to the laundry room for her and after she loaded it in the washing machine she joined the conversation.

Joe wanted to run some errands and Butch offered to drive him around so we took our car and went on an ‘explore.’  We found the Post Office annex on Plymouth Avenue, which is just a couple of trailers with P. O. Boxes but no counter service.  I did not even notice a place to drop off outgoing mail.  Quartzsite has two ZIP codes and there is some confusion regarding which one to use when.  We do not expect to receive much mail while we are here, nor do we expect to receive a lot of UPS shipments, but we will probably need to receive a little bit of each and they need to be addressed correctly in order to get to us.  We may end up using General Delivery for mail, as the Quartzsite Post Office does not have rural delivery (they do not deliver mail to street addresses), whereas UPS does deliver to street addresses, but they have to be correct.  We plan to go to the main post office “downtown” tomorrow and clarify the situation.

Partial view of our winter compound looking north.  Our bus is to the left and Butch & Fonda's MC-9 is to the right.  Look carefully and you will see someone napping.  And why not.

Partial view of our winter compound looking north. Our bus is to the left and Butch & Fonda’s MC-9 is to the right. Look carefully and you will see someone napping. And why not.

We drove south on Riggles Avenue across I-10 at exit 19 to Kuehn Road and headed east in search of the location where the SKP gathering will be held.  Kuehn becomes Dome Rock Road (east and west) as you head out of town into the desert.  The 4-mile mark coincided with the end of the pavement and one of the BLM STVAs.  We turned south and drove another mile into the desert on a freshly graded dirt road before turning around.  The dirt road was actually better than the crumbling pavement, which is clearly not being maintained.  We then headed back to the area of Kuehn Street, to either side of AZ-95, where most of the seasonal vendors are (will be) located.

We had some Indian Fry Bread for lunch and it was both tasty and filling.  Linda had cinnamon and granulated sugar while I had honey and powdered sugar.  We walked the whole area and at least peaked in each tent while spending a bit more time with a few vendors.  We were going to walk past the Beef Jerky shop but the lady proprietor started chatting with us.  As it turned out she was a vegetarian and had a nice selection of non-animal products.  Which just goes to prove the old adage “you never know.”

Linda got a TXT message from our son letting us know that our grand-daughter was home from day care so we headed back to the coach.  We borrowed Butch and Fonda’s Verizon Jetpack MiFi and used it to Facetime with our son, daughter-in-law, and grand-daughter.  (Their MiFi has an unlimited data plan; ours does not.)  We got to wish Madeline a happy birthday and watch her open her present from us.

View looking south on Lollipop Ln from the entrance to our compound.

View looking south on Lollipop Ln from the entrance to our compound.

When Linda returned the MiFi device on her way to her second walk of the day Butch let her know that Joe and Connie wanted the six of us to go out to dinner, so she planned her walk to be back in plenty of time.  Joe suggested we try the Main Street Eatery as they have a garden burger on the menu that he likes.  It turned out to have cheese mixed in with the patty so we did not get one but Linda had a brown rice and veggies dish and I had French fries with ketchup and Tabasco sauce.

In a reversal of our normal routine, I was tired and went to bed early while Linda stayed up reading and playing her online spelling games.

2014/12/19 (F) Hasta La Vista

When we were at the Walmart in Parker last weekend we looked for holiday cards but all they had was a limited selection of Christmas cards.  The last few years we have done a “year in review” letter with captioned photos and short blurbs about each month.  We did not bring a printer with us so Linda searched for places that could print this for us and found one in Blythe, California.

Quartzsite is in the Sonoran Desert and many of the properties have Sugauro Cactus.  Palo Verde and Greasewood bushes are also common with some smaller cactus, but no lawn grass.

Quartzsite is in the Sonoran Desert and many of the properties have Sagauro Cactus. Palo Verde and Greasewood bushes are also common with some smaller cactus, but no lawn grass.

Breakfast was spicy V8 juice, cinnamon raisin toast, sourdough toast with orange marmalade, and coffee.  At dinner last night at the Main Street Eatery the waitress/owner, Michelle, mentioned that a Smart & Final (Extra) store had opened in Blythe and she was excited to have one so close to Quartzsite.  Blythe is only 20 miles away; about half the distance to Parker and a quarter of the distance to Yuma.  Although it is a non-membership warehouse store she said they also have a lot of good quality fresh produce.  We were prepared for Quartzsite to be challenging for us food wise, but so far it has been OK and is looking up.

Linda went for her morning walk and while she was out I strolled down to Herb’s Hardware in search of a piece of plastic pipe with an appropriate inside diameter for fabricating the insert I need for recharging our water softener.  Although Big Market is a good place for this kind of general purpose hardware I went to Herb’s because it is on Central Avenue (AZ-95) not far from where we are staying.  It was small but well-stocked.  I did not find exactly what I needed, of course, but I found something that might work.  It was worth $2.50 to find out.  The problem is that I am looking for a part that does not exist so I have to repurpose/fabricate something using whatever tools I have with me, can borrow from Butch, or buy in town.

When I got back to the coach I spent much of the rest of the day working on our holiday letter with breaks for food and a little socializing.  During an afternoon break Butch and I disassembled my old, non-functioning, water pressure gauge so I could see how it works.  For lunch Linda served the leftover fajita veggies and seitan over basmati rice, which was yummy.  For dinner she made a tomato, mushroom, onion ragu with a little broccoli thrown in and served it over half of a baked potato.  It was very satisfying on a cool evening.

'Q' is criss-crossed with "washes" (drainage ditches) that are usually dry and used by ATVs.  This is one of the smaller ones, but is big enough for a full-size SUV.  When the flash floods come (springtime) these washes fill and flow fast and a dangerous.

‘Q’ is criss-crossed with “washes” (drainage ditches) that are usually dry and used by ATVs. This is one of the smaller ones, but is big enough for a full-size SUV. When the flash floods come (springtime) these washes fill and flow fast and a dangerous.

Joe and Connie’s son, Dale, and other family members drove down from Nevada after work today and were expected to arrive sometime after midnight.  The plan was to pick up Joe and Connie, load their minivan into the “toter,” and head back; a nine hour trip each way.  Given that plan we did not get to meet Dale, et al, and said “farewell, see you later” to Joe and Connie before we all turned in for the evening.

2014/12/20 (S) Yuma, AZ

Yesterday Butch suggested we that we drive to Yuma today so that is what we did.  Quartzfest, the RV/ARO gathering, takes place the last full week of January at the BLM Road Runner STVA near mile marker 99 on US-95 south of Quartzsite.  We wanted to find that location and just see the desert south of town.  Joe had also suggested that we take the Old Yuma Road down to La Paz.  Linda had found the road on her iPad yesterday and what looked like a small community about four miles out, but the community was not named on the map.  From Kuehn and Central it looked to be a five mile hike, if we were inclined to walk it.

I tried logging in to the Prevost Community (PC) website last night but our login did not work.  I contacted the site administrators and had two e-mails waiting for me this morning with the info I needed.  I logged in and posted some information and a question about our turbo boost and dashboard gauge and searched the site for posts about the Level Low system.  I also checked the Prevost Owners Group (POG) website but there seemed to be more information on PC about older H3s and 92 series Detroit Diesel engines.

Map of the Yuma, AZ downtown / historic area.

Map of the Yuma, AZ downtown / historic area.

Connie called around 8:30 AM and asked me to take care of a couple of things at the site, which I did.  We left for Yuma at 10:15 AM and drove south on US-95 through 85 miles of mostly scrubby desert surrounded by mostly barren mountains until we got near Yuma.  Much of the drive was through BLM administered land and part of it was through the U. S. Army Yuma Proving Grounds.  The area around Yuma was unexpectedly green but we learned that the area grows more leafy greens during the winter months than anyplace else on the planet

By the time we got into town and got our bearings it was time for lunch.  We spotted a Golden Corral and Butch assured us they had a nice salad bar, and probably other things we could eat, so we went there.  We all ate too much, which is one of the reasons we rarely go to buffets of any kind, but the food was OK and we did have quite a variety to choose from.

Butch was feeling a bit sleepy after lunch so I drove us down to the Quartermasters Depot Historic Park on the Colorado River.  The other side of the river was California, the closest we have been on this trip, but we did not cross over the bridge.  We spent some time in the visitor information center reading about the depot and picking up literature for various area attractions and activities but did not pay the $4 per person admission and go in.  We then drove around to the parking lot for the Yuma Territorial Prison Historic Park but did not park the vehicle and get out.  Admission is $6 per person and we will come back another day (and leave earlier in the morning) so we have time to visit these and other sites.

Historic Quartermaster Depot State Park.  Note that the cover of the wagon says "AT" (Arizona Territory).

Historic Quartermaster Depot State Park. Note that the cover of the wagon says “AT” (Arizona Territory).

While we were driving back to Q we both got messages on our smartphones from our son with pictures and video of our grand-daughter Madeline’s birthday party.  All of her aunts and uncles and cousins were there and she was having a wonderful time.  While we would like to be present on such occasions there are choices to be made.  We have discussed celebrating Madeline’s “half birthday” each year on June 18th as we will likely be home at that time of year.

Scenic travels notwithstanding, chores still have to be done.  When we got back to camp I dumped the waste tanks, which were near full, and topped up the fresh water tank which was at approximately 40%.  The last time we dumped was a week ago Thursday at the SKP Dream Catcher RV Park in Deming, New Mexico so we went nine days without being conservative in our use of water.  We did top up the fresh water tank shortly after we arrived in Q with approximately 50 gallons of softened water and today I added approximately 75 gallons (60% of capacity).  Although it is not essential, I like to fill the fresh tank whenever I empty the waste tanks.  Our waste tank level gauges do not work but the fresh water tank gauge does, so it gives us an approximate idea of the state of the waste tanks.

As long as I was doing water chores I borrowed another Hach SofChek test strip from Butch and checked the hardness of the water coming out of the water softener.  It registered between 1.5 and 3 grains per gallon (gpg).  The water coming out of the spigot is testing at 25 gpg, the highest amount the test strips can register, so the softener now appears to be doing its job after having been recharged.  Linda recorded the details in the notepad we are using to log these things.

Butch did a minor upgrade on their ITR Oasis Combi hydronic heating system that should make a big difference in their comfort.  He cut out 15″ sections from the rigid metal supply and return fuel lines and replaced them with rubber fuel lines.  The rubber lines will isolate the unit, which is mounted to the floor of the bay, from the plywood ceiling of the bay to which the metal fuel lines are clamped coming back from the fuel tank.  The plywood ceiling is also the house subfloor and the pulsing of the fuel pump was being telegraphed throughout their coach.  The rubber lines greatly reduced the noise.

A view of the Quartermaster Depot SP.

A view of the Quartermaster Depot SP.

Linda called Brendan back and we got a chance to sing “happy birthday” to Madeline.  She also got to call her sister (Sister Marilyn) and chat for a bit.  Marilyn is considering flying down for a visit and staying in the guest apartment but we are unsure yet of the timing.  Speaking of flying, Linda booked her flight home and back yesterday.  She will fly home from Phoenix on February 17 to take care of various tax returns and bakery accounting details and fly back on March 1st.

We had a quiet evening at home.  Because we had such a big lunch we did not have dinner, as such, just a little hummus with some chips and a small glass of Leelanau Cellars Winter White wine.  Linda read and I worked on selecting/editing photos for our 2014 year in review holiday letter.


2014/12/13-16 (S-T) In Q

2014/12/13 (S) Ahhhh

Linda was very tired last night and was asleep by 10 PM.  Although I was up until almost midnight we were both wide awake by 5:30 AM, so I got up and made a full pot of coffee.  We enjoyed our brew while watching the slow but inevitable progression of night to day.  It was very quiet last night; the only sounds I was aware of were the noises the coach makes (refrigerator and auxiliary air-compressor).  The rain last night was gentle and a somewhat rare event for this area at this time of year, so Linda got online with her iPad to check historical weather data and forecasts.

The average rainfall for Quartzsite in December is 0.07 inches, the maximum is 0.7 inches (10 times as much) and the minimum is zero.  The average high is in the mid-60s and the average low is in the low-40s.  On any given day the forecast is sunny with gentle winds and no fog or rain.  January is slightly cooler on average and February warms back up a tad.  You can see why people spend the winter months here.  Sunrise was at 7:32 AM.  We are ~20 miles from the California border, as far west as we can go without moving into the Pacific Time Zone, so sunrise and sunset are later here relative to the local time.

Linda made fresh blueberry vegan pancakes for breakfast with real maple syrup and they were excellent.  After breakfast we got out the vacuum cleaner hose and attachments and vacuumed the coach.  This terrified the cats, who have limited places to hide, but it had to be done.  Linda then mopped the tile floor.  She wanted to dust but I suggested the all the cleaning did not have to be done the first morning we were here.  She bundled up the trash and took it to the large garbage can and stopped to chat with Fonda and Connie (our landlady) on the way.

Our motorcoach set up in its winter home in Quartzsite, Arizona.

Our motorcoach set up in its winter home in Quartzsite, Arizona.

By 8:30 the sun was climbing in the southeastern sky and the coach was warming up a bit.  We are parked facing east so we decided to deploy the passenger side awnings (patio and bedroom) which shaded approximately 65% of the upper half of the south-facing side of the coach.  Linda then decided we should wash the front of the coach.

I got the step stool and Little Giant ladder out of the front bay while Linda got the collapsible water bucket.  We started with the front of the bus using water directly from the tap but it dried too quickly in the sun and left spots.  We switched to softened water from our fresh water tank and took a team approach with me scrubbing using a Microfiber sponge and Linda following right behind drying with Microfiber cloths.  That seemed to work better.

After we finished the front we moved to the rear.  The sun had not yet pulled around to west of south so we did not have direct sunlight on the rear cap.  We hooked up our longest hose to the other water softener outlet and then wet the surface, scrubbed the cap with our soft brush, and rinsed it off without using the Microfiber drying clothes.  We will clean the two sides of the coach over the coming week, doing a little bit each day.  We also deployed the awnings on the driver (north) side of bus just to unwind them and let them air out and dry.  We then set out our patio mat and welcome mat and our two bag chairs, completing our cleaning work for the day.

Butch spent some time emptying out their Suburban so we could explore Quartzsite in one vehicle.  We all had lunch and then headed off to explore our winter home town.  Fonda wanted to locate a church where she could attend services on Sunday mornings so we found one that looked like it might suit her.  We drove down Main Street and Kuehn Street checking out the vendors and ended up at Big Market on west Main Street where we bought some grocery items and postcards.

Back at the ranch we settled in for a while before dinner.  I worked at my computer and started checking up on e-mail, which I had not done in several days.  I had a few from Gary, the publisher of Bus Conversion Magazine, and replied to those.  I also spent a little time in RVillage and updated our profile.  Jim Liebherr (Joe’s brother) came around to collect the first month’s rent and clarified access to the laundry room.

View of our motorcoach looking NE from Lollipop Ln.  There are mountains in the distance to right of the rig.

View of our motorcoach looking NE from Lollipop Ln. There are mountains in the distance to right of the rig.

For dinner Linda made a green salad using spinach, Mandarin oranges, and walnuts with a raspberry walnut vinaigrette dressing.  She then prepared a zoodle dish using a tool called a “SpiraLife” that spiral slices vegetables with or without cross-cutting them.  The cross-cut mode turns carrots, zucchini, etc. into long slender strips like flat pasta.  She spiral sliced a zucchini and used it instead of wheat pasta in an olive oil sauté with mushrooms, onions, garlic, spinach, and sun-dried tomatoes.  Some vegan “Parmesan” cheese on top, bread on the side, and a glass of Pinot Noir to wash it down made for a wonderful, healthy meal.

Linda found information online that suggested we should have anywhere from 11 to 21 over-the-air (OTA) TV channels.  The Huffington Post even had the complete programming schedule for Quartzsite by channel and time-of-day.  Our TV sets normally scan for standard OTA channels, both analog (very few left) and digital.  We used both the front and rear TV to repeatedly scan for signals, pointing our amplified directional antennas around an entire 360 degrees, but did not find a single station.

The TV sets can also scan for QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) signals.  We had to obtain an Access Code from the Westinghouse support website and enter it into the front TV to get it to scan for QAM signals, but it did not find any of those either.  I called Butch to see if they had tried tuning in any stations.  They had tried and got the same results as us.  It’s not a big deal, the only TV we watch at home is streamed over the Internet, but it was puzzling as we saw lots of TV antennas around town.  Most of them, however, where on top of tall poles.

The overnight low was forecast to be 41 degrees F and by 9 PM it had cooled off in the coach quite a bit.  I decided to shut my computer for the evening and head to bed where we have a dual control electric heating pad to keep each of us in our own comfort zone.  As sometimes happens, Microsoft decided that my computer needed to be updated.  This often turns out be a recursive experience and tonight was no exception.  Five updates were initially downloaded and installed, requiring a restart of the computer.  After it rebooted and finished starting up I tried to shut it off again and there were six more updates, requiring another restart.  I checked again after it rebooted and finished starting up and it appeared to be done, but I decided to leave it on overnight in case additional updates wanted to make their presence known.

I turned up the temperature on my side of the electric heating pad, got cozy under lots of covers, wrote for a while, and turned off the lights.  It was a good first full day in Q.

2014/12/14 (N) Parker, AZ

The temperature in our motorcoach dropped below 60 early in the morning and the Aqua-Hot bedroom zone pump and heat exchanger fans came on even though we did not have a heat source turned on.  That was because I had failed to turn the thermostat off before going to bed last night.  With a 50 Amp shorepower connection I would have turned the three electric toe-kick heaters on, but with our 30 Amp connection I turned on the diesel burner and the electric heating element.  Twenty minutes later the coach was warming up and I turned the electric element off so Linda could start cooking breakfast.

Linda made a tofu scramble using a different recipe that did not call for nutritional yeast as she forgot to pack any.  We had sourdough toast with strawberry jam to go with the scramble, grapefruit juice, and coffee.  Always coffee.  After breakfast Linda went for a walk while I stayed at the bus.  When she got back from her walk and Fonda got back from Church we discussed driving to the Wal-Mart in Parker, Arizona for groceries and sundry items.  Butch left seating for four people in their Suburban so after lunch, he drove all of us to Parker.

See the mountains?  Quartzsite is surrounded by mountains!

See the mountains? Quartzsite is surrounded by mountains!

What we saw of Parker looked like a nice little town.  The Wal-Mart had a reasonable variety and quantity of fresh produce and we got most of the items on our shopping list.  We noticed when pulling out that there was a Safeway supermarket across the street with a CVS Pharmacy next door.  Parker is located on the Arizona side of the Colorado River and is the county seat for La Paz County which includes Quartzsite.  It is also the location of the tribal headquarters for the Colorado River Indian Tribes, a consortium of tribes with reservations along both sides of the Colorado River for many miles north and south of Parker.  The Bluewater Resort and Casino is one of the attractions in town.

Back at our winter home base we unloaded our groceries and then sat outside to read, write, and surf the web.  It was cool in the shade and warm in sun.  We chatted with Connie for a while and then retreated to our coach as the outside air temperature dropped.  Linda had picked up a guide to the Lower Colorado River region while walking this morning so I settled in to read it.  As it got dark Linda assembled our dinner.  We had another nice salad, a bowl of the left-over curry, some bread, and finished the bottle of Pinot Noir.  We read for a while after dinner and then went to bed.

2014/12/15 (M) Hard Water

The outside temperature dropped to 38 degrees F overnight, colder than at our house back in Michigan, but the high there won’t make it past 50, which is above average for this time of year, while the high here will be in the low 60s, which is normal.  Add in the warmth of direct sunshine here and you typically have shirtsleeve weather.

I turned on the Aqua-Hot at 6:30 AM and went back to bed for half an hour while the coach warmed up.  When I got up I put on the new sweatshirt and sweatpants that we bought yesterday and made a pot of coffee.  We got the sweat clothing yesterday to wear in the coach while lounging around in the morning.  I only brought a lightweight robe from home, and Linda only brought a lightweight nightshirt, both of which proved to be inadequate against the morning chill.

After breakfast we took showers and then called the Escapees RV Club to register for the Escapade rally and clarify the process for ordering clothing.  I got transferred to Kim’s voice-mail and left my information.  Rather than hang around the coach waiting for a return phone call we walked to “downtown” Quartzsite.  Main Street is only 8/10ths of a mile straight south of our location and is only two miles long from Exit 19 to exit 17 of I-10.  The city is basically four square miles (2×2)—with most of it north of I-10—and is flat terrain, so it’s a compact, easy place to get around on foot or bicycle.

Our first stop was the post office so Linda could mail a few postcards.  There was quite a crowd there picking up and dropping off mail.  From what we understand mail does not get delivered to street addresses here so everyone has a P. O. Box.  UPS, however, does deliver to street addresses.  We went next door to the Chamber of Commerce trailer and picked up a couple more maps and some flyers and booklets on area attractions.  We also bought a pair of Quartzsite 2014-2015 Snowbird commemorative pins.  We then walked to the west end of Main Street and wandered through the Main Event warehouse building.  They sell all manner of inexpensive (cheap) Chinese tools but we did not buy anything on this visit.

Joe & Connie's park model trailer as viewed through the cactus garden by our coach.

Joe & Connie’s park model trailer as viewed through the cactus garden by our coach.

We crossed Main Street to the McDonalds, had some French fries, and used the restrooms.  We did not see any signs for “public” restrooms on our walk today, so the fast food places and truck stops were important pedestrian waypoints.  We headed back east on Main Street and stopped at Big Market to check out the hardware portion of the store.  Butch went through it the other day and said it was surprisingly good given its size.  Having now seen it for myself I have to agree with his assessment.

Most north-south roads in Q are Avenues while larger E-W roads are Streets.  Studying the map we got from the Chamber of Commerce it appears that Avenues and Streets connect to other roads at each end and/or at intermediate points.  Dead end roads are usually named Lanes, but a few are Roads, Drives, or Trails.   There are only four Avenues that run all the way from Main Street to the north end of town.  From east to west they are Plymouth Ave., Central Ave. (AZ-95), Moon Mtn. Ave., and Kofa Ave.  Tyson’s Wash runs north-south between Central Ave. and Moon Mtn. Ave.  Perhaps because of the wash, or perhaps for other reasons, there are only three streets that run all the way through from east to west.  Tyson St. is essentially the north edge of town while Main St. and Kuehn St. parallel I-10 on the north and south side respectively.

We got back to our coach a little after 1 PM.  Cool air temperatures and cloudy skies made it a less comfortable day to sit outside so we gathered up our soiled clothes and Linda took them over to the laundry room.  Because this is private property, not a large commercial RV park, the laundry room is just that, a room with a standard residential washer and dryer.  They are not coin operated so usage is on the honor system; $2 per load (washed and dried).  We are keeping a log of the loads we do and will add the corresponding cost to our rent or electrical bill next month.

Linda sliced an apple, got out the hummus, and put out some baby carrots, pieces of cauliflower, and broccoli along with pita chips.  As we finished our late lunch/snack I noticed that Butch was working in his engine bay.  That meant he was probably doing something with the air-compressor so I went over to find out exactly what he was up to and see if I could be of any assistance.  He was unbolting the compressor from the engine block so he could pull it away from the back of the engine and check the drive gears and spline.  It turned out that I had several socket wrench related tools with me that he needed, so that was my contribution to the process.

Once he had the compressor unbolted and pulled away from the block he was able to determine that there wasn’t anything wrong with the drive gear on the end of the camshaft or with the free-floating spline.  The Bakelite gear was also still intact and the compressor was not seized.  Based on a conversation he had with Bill at U. S. Coach the only thing that appeared to be amiss was a missing spring.  The purpose of the spring is to keep the Bakelite gear engaged with the spline.  Lots of grease packed behind the Bakelite gear can have the same effect as the spring, at least for a while.  Since Butch had already done some of the hardest work required to remove the compressor he was still leaning towards buying a rebuilt unit and installing it.  The “engine” in their bus was newly rebuilt when they bought it, but all of the accessories that attach to it, including the air-compressor, were not.

We did not fill our fresh water tank when we dumped our waste water at the Dream Catcher SKP RV Park on Thursday morning.  After five days of heavier use, including showers, it was nearing empty and needed to be refilled.  We try to fill it with softened water whenever possible and then use the water from the tank.  On the road it is via our portable water softener.  This approach keeps the water in the tank from going stale and also allows us to track how many times we have run a tank’s worth of water (100 – 125 gallons) through the softener.  The number of gallons we can soften depends on the hardness of the water.  We tested the city water in Q when we got here and it is very hard.  It probably comes from very deep wells.

I borrowed a test strip from Butch to check the hardness of the water coming out of our softener.  To my dismay, it was the same as the water going in.  In other words, the softener wasn’t doing anything.  That meant I had to recharge (regenerate) it before I could use it to fill the fresh water tank.  It was near sunset, which meant most this work was done the dark.  Bad planning on my part, but there it is.

I like our little portable softener but have never been satisfied with the recharge procedure.  I followed the directions but without much success and with what I thought was way too much wasted water.  After unscrewing the filter housing on the softener inlet and removing the filter I filled the housing ~3/4s full with non-iodized table salt.  I inserted the special plastic tube onto the outflow port inside the head and then worked the housing up and screwed it into place.  I tried using a trickle flow and also full inlet water pressure with a constricted outlet flow.  I checked every half hour for two hours, but most of the salt was still there.

The view to the SW from our patio.

The view to the SW from our patio.  Just over those mountains is California!

The problem was obvious to me.  When a filter is installed in the housing it is sealed at the top and bottom by a post (bottom) and the outlet port (top).  Water flows into the housing around the outside of the filter, through the filter media, and up the hollow center of the filter and out the port.  What I needed was a tube that was exactly the same inside diameter and length as a standard filter, so it would seal on both ends, but with holes near the bottom.  This would force water, under pressure, to flow down through the salt, through the holes, and up through the tube and into the softener where it could restore the ion exchange capability of the resin media.  I jury-rigged just such a solution by taking the old filter and drilling 1/4″ holes around the bottom.  Not my best piece of work, but it finally got the job done.  I plan to make a better, more permanent, version of this solution sometime soon.

When all of the salt had finally been dissolved and run through the softener I removed the modified filter from the housing, rinsed it out, and installed a new 5 micron filter cartridge.  The housing was leaking and I thought it was the plastic NPT nipple so I released any residual pressures and unscrewed the filter head from the threaded pipe.  I cleaned the old Teflon tape out of the threads, wrapped new tape around them, and screwed the filter housing head back on the nipple.  Fonda had wandered over by this time and was holding the flashlight which was a great help.  It turned out that the problem was a missing O-ring; it fell out of the housing when I dumped it out.  By chance I was walking around the back of the bus (with a flashlight), where I had dumped out the housing, and spotted it on the ground.  I cleaned it off, put it back in, re-installed the new 5 micron filter element into the housing, and screwed it back onto the head.  Valves open; pressure good; no leaks; good to go.

I opened the valve to fill the fresh water tank and went inside for a while.  It took about 30 minutes to fill the main tank because the 5 micron filter does not pass water as quickly as the 20 micron that was in there.  There is also a “whole house” filter housing installed in the water bay.  As best I can tell, all of the water entering the coach goes through that filter, whether directly to the plumbing or into the fresh water tank (which is filled by opening a valve plumbed into the main supply line to the house).  What I need to do now is replace that filter cartridge with a carbon element that removes chlorine and other such things.  We also have a 1 micron drinking/cooking water filter under the kitchen sink that removes five or six different things.  By the time I turned off the water, closed all of the supply valves, and went inside it was 9:45 PM so I grabbed my iPad and headed to bed.

2014/12/16 (T) Shopping In Q

Connie asked me last night if we would help her load her car today and of course we agreed.  Our “landlady” for the winter is a truly delightful person.  She has limited mobility but gets around without complaint.  She’s picking Joe up from the care facility on Wednesday afternoon and bringing him here so we will finally get to meet him in person.  Their sons are driving down from their homes in Nevada on Friday after work and taking the whole family back on Saturday.

Linda went for her morning power walk and I started working on cleaning up my e-mail inboxes.  While Linda was gone Connie indicated that she was ready to start loading her car so I took care of that task.  It was not a big or heavy job, but was more than Connie could do.  I was close to being done when Linda returned and Butch/Fonda emerged from their bus.  We all stood around chatting for a while and Connie invited us in to see the park model trailer she and Joe live in when they are here.  It was not large but was more spacious than either of our buses.

Butch and I headed into town while Fonda and Linda stayed in camp.  Linda wanted to work on her cross-stitch project and Fonda had things to do.  We stopped at the Tool Mart at the Main Event on the west end of Main Street and each picked up some odds and ends tools.  We then drove across to the south side of I-10 and headed west in search of the home where Fonda wants to attend a women’s bible study group on Wednesdays.  The house we were looking for was in a development on the other side of the first ridge of mountains that lie SW of Quartzite.  We found the development and the house without difficulty.  Both were nice but the location was a bit surreal; I mean this development was in the middle of nowhere surrounded by low mountains.  Butch captured the location in his GPS so that Fonda could find her way here and back tomorrow.

We drove back into Q, staying on the south side of I-10, and checked out the various vendors.  We spotted the M & T Enterprises RV water filter store and pulled in to park.  We spent some time there talking to the owner.  They were one of the vendors selling an OTA TV antenna and had one set up on top of a 20 foot pole.  The unit had a built-in rotator, and they claimed they were able to get 21 channels, but they said all of the signals were coming from the NNE to NE.  Other folks have told us that the only signals in town are from Yuma, 85 miles away in a S to SSW direction.  That seems unlikely given the terrain.

We walked down a few booths to the east to K & B Tool.  Among many other things they sell the aluminum tent poles that are being used to get the aforementioned TV antennas up in the air.  Our final stop was at Discount Solar at the NE corner of Main Street and Plymouth Ave.  Butch bought all of their solar equipment from Discount Solar some years ago and thinks highly of the owners and staff.  We were treated most cordially and they took time to talk to both of us.  Butch is considering buying some Full River AGM batteries from them and I was just curious about what they had.

We have two humingbird feeders in the cactus garden by our coach.  Look carefully to the right of the feeder.

We have two humingbird feeders in the cactus garden by our coach. Look carefully to the right of the feeder.

When we got back to camp I had some of the leftover curry for lunch with some hot tea to help me warm up.  Heavy clouds set in over the course of the afternoon and the air temperature was cool enough that I got slightly chilled.  In spite of the chill, Linda went outside to continue working on her cross-stitch project.  Butch set up their two-burner propane stove and made candy as he wanted to give some to Joe and Connie as a gift before they left on Saturday.  With all that work going on around me I decided to take a nap.

Linda made a black beans and rice dish for dinner along with a green salad, both of which were very tasty.  We bought a box of Franzia Sangria at Big Market the other day and finally tried it this evening.  As with most of the Franzia wines it was not outstanding but also not offensive.  Among inexpensive wines the Red Guitar Sangria is much fruitier and I like it better.  While I would prefer a better wine, the Franzia boxed wines are around $13 for 5 liters, fit nicely in the refrigerator, can be consumed over a long time (at least eight weeks), and minimize garbage and recycling.  All of those are positive attributes when living in the motorhome.  We had fresh strawberries later for dessert, which are always a treat.

Our son (Brendan) sent a TXT message with a picture of our grand-daughter (Madeline) and the ornaments she had hung on their Christmas tree.  She put five of them in a group at her eye level.  She will be two years old in two more days and is fully aware that special things are happening and that she is a full participant in them, if not the center of attention.  After dinner I resumed the task of cleaning up e-mails.  I always promise myself that I will do better at managing my e-mails, but I never do.


2014/12/09-12 (T-F) On to Q

2014/12/09 (T) Elvis Is Not Dead

No, indeed, Elvis is alive and well and living in Alvarado, Texas with his owner, Donn and fellow dog Lucy.  Sweet animals both, we enjoyed their presence while visiting with Donn.

We heard Donn pull out a few minutes before 5 AM, in an attempt to beat the worst of the morning rush hour traffic headed into Dallas, but we were not ready to get up.  I think we finally piled out of bed around 7:30 AM to find that the fog was so thick we could not see the road at the end of Donn’s driveway.  We had targeted 9 AM as a departure time that would have us miss most of the morning traffic, and actually pulled out of our parking spot at 9:11 AM.  The fog was still thick but it was bright enough that we could usually see at least a quarter of a mile in our direction of travel.

We worked our way back onto northbound I-35W towards Fort Worth and kept to the right in spite of entering traffic.  We chose not to stop at the QT (Quick Trip) even though Diesel fuel was $3.08 per gallon, the least expensive we have seen in years.  The transition to I-20 westbound was via one of the very high ramps that are used to connect intersecting freeways around the Dallas / Fort Worth metropolis, but it was not a problem.  We continued to drive through fog for at least 90 minutes, so we could not tell you what Texas west of Fort Worth looks like if had to.  We stayed on I-20 all the way to Midland, Texas only stopping to fuel up at the Flying J Truck Stop on the far side of Abilene, Texas by which point the fog had lifted and it was partly sunny with temperatures in the upper 60s.  Eventually, however, the clouds closed back in, which made the last 90 minutes of the drive a bit less bright and easier on the eyes.

The bus ran well all day and I did better at getting on the accelerator in advance of climbing grades, spinning up the turbocharger and keeping the engine RPMs in the 1900-2000 range.  The bus took 98.135 gallons of fuel at the truck stop and we had traveled 553.8 miles since the last fill-up for an average of 5.64 MPG.  That included running our generator at the Wal-Mart in Texarkana, Texas on Friday. Our previous fill-up computed out at 5.45 MPG.  In our previous use of the coach I figured we were getting 6.0 MPG, but we had not done as much dry-camping as we did on this trip.  We have used the generator and the Aqua-Hot on this trip, both of which draw fuel from the main tank.

The only issue I had today was with the dual pyrometers, specifically the right one.  Historically the right pyro has read 50 – 100 degrees F higher than the left one, which would often stick on “0” and then swing up if I tapped on the gauge.  Both gauges have been tracking within 50 degrees since I rechecked the DDEC II connectors, but today the right gauge started lagging behind the left one, sometimes by a couple of hundred degrees.  If that difference was real it would be a real problem, but everything else looked, felt, and sounded OK, so I think this is a continuing problem with the instrument, and/or sensors, and/or wiring and connectors, but I will have to keep an eye on it.

A half hour before the GPS said we would arrive Linda tried calling the Wal-Mart in Midland several times but never got an answer.  We exited at Midland just before 3 PM and did not have any problem getting into the Wal-Mart parking lot which was very convenient to the freeway but relatively busy for that time of day on a Tuesday.  Not surprising, though, as Midland is the epicenter of the current oil and wind boom in west Texas.  The stretch of I-20 from Fort Worth to Midland is not desolate.  Sweetwater is the wind power capital of the USA, and all along I-20 there are “RV Parks” on both sides of the freeway.  Some of them were genuine, nice looking, RV Parks but most were makeshift looking places that appeared to have been created quickly to service (take advantage of?) a sudden need for places to park almost anything that might serve as shelter for energy workers.

As always, we checked with Customer Service to make sure it was OK to stay overnight.  They said it was but twice told us to “be careful.”  The warning had to do with leaving our vehicle for an extended period of time and risk having it towed.  Apparently “extended” meant weeks, not hours, and I assured them we would be gone first thing in the morning.  While we were in the store we picked up several bottles of PineSol and a couple of boxes of Calgon bath beads.  We prefer the larger, cylindrical plastic containers of Calgon but rarely find them in retail stores and pharmacies.  After we carried everything back to the coach I went for a walk to confirm our exit options for tomorrow morning.  We looked at satellite images on Google Maps last night so I had a good understanding of the parking lot and access roads, but I wanted to verify that information while it was still daylight.

For dinner we had a nice salad, a fresh apple, and Tofurkey brand turkey and vegan cheese sandwiches.  We were going to have the leftover chili from last night’s dinner, but the microwave and the Magnum charger are on the same leg, and the microwave acts like it is going to self-destruct if we try to use it while the charger is also drawing a large amount of current.  I may try moving the circuit breaker for the microwave to a position in the sub-panel that puts it on Leg 2 and see if that helps, but I have to maintain a reasonable load balance between the two legs.  It may be, however, that the microwave is more sensitive to a reduced voltage level than the other high power devices or things like lights or entertainment equipment, which just converts the AC to DC internally anyway.

I called Butch before dinner and they were still on the road in New Mexico.  He called me back after our dinner to let me know they were in a rest stop on I-25 and had the place to themselves.  By comparison, the Midland Wal-Mart was a busy place and most of the vehicles (drivers) seemed to find driving up and down the aisles to be a great inconvenience.  Instead, they took straight line paths across the parking lot, driving between closely spaced parked vehicles (including buses) at surprisingly high speed and didn’t always stop to see if another vehicle might be driving in the lane (where it belongs).  There was a Murphy USA filling station on the property, as well as a McDonalds, which contributed to the constant flow of traffic.

Butch had talked to Luke at U. S. Coach earlier today and got prices for the parts he presumes he needs to repair the main engine air-compressor (Bendix Tu-Flo 700 series) on their bus or replace it with a factory rebuilt one.  Either way the work will wait until we get to Quartzsite, Arizona.

We had a good a Verizon 4G/LTE cellular signal so I sent TXT messages to Donn and Chuck letting them know where we were and ended up having brief TXT message exchanges with both of them.  When we first arrived Linda sent TXT messages to both of our children updating them on our location.  We received messages while we were driving that our older grand-daughter, Katie, had been accepted to Michigan State University.  She applied to three state schools and Michigan Technological University was the first to accept her.  She is waiting to hear about a scholarship from them but knows for sure that she will be going to college somewhere in the fall of 2015 and will have to make a choice as to where.

2014/12/10 (W) Dream Catcher

We went to bed early last night knowing we planned to drive over 400 miles today and wanted to get an early start.  I was awake by 4 AM and finally got up at 5 AM.  The parking lot had thinned out and quieted down overnight but even at that hour tractor-trailer rigs were coming and going.  The house batteries were at 95% SOC when I turned the generator off at 8:45 PM last night and were at 70% SOC when I turned it back on when I got up.

Although I do not like to eat a big breakfast and drink coffee on days that I have to drive, I also do not like to travel too long on an empty stomach.  I have also noticed that lack of liquids can lead to a headache or general feeling of unwellness.  I was up early enough that I had a piece of raisin bread, a banana, and a small glass of grapefruit juice with time to digest it before we hit the road.

Linda got up at 5:30 AM and we started preparing the bus for travel at 5:45 AM.  We pulled out at 6 AM, using the route I had scoped out last night to work our way around behind the Wal-Mart and onto the service drive for I-20 and get position for the freeway entrance.  Once we were on the Interstate it was dark, of course, but it was also foggy.  In spite of those conditions traffic was heavy until we were well past Odessa.  Midland and Odessa are at the center of the current Texas energy (oil and wind) boom and between them are spread out along 30 miles of I-20.  I was definitely not the most scenic part of our trip to date.

The fog stayed with us almost to where I-20 ends and merges with I-10.  We drove through it for hours.  The rest of the day was a mix of sun and clouds.  The bus generally ran well but the turbocharger did not seem to be as responsive as it should be.  I continued to do better at anticipating grades and getting the engine RPMs and turbo boost up ahead of time but noticed that the turbo boost was not peaking off the scale the way it used to.

The speed limit on I-20 yesterday between Fort Worth and Midland was 75 MPH.  That continued through Midland and Odessa but once we were past Odessa it went up to 80 MPH.  I usually travel 60 to 62 MPH when the speed limit allows it but for stretches of today’s trip I set the cruise control at 65 MPH and sometimes traveled at 70 MPH.  Texas is a big place and west Texas is vast.  The speed limits are this high because it is safe to drive that speed out here, and you just have to go faster if you want to get across west Texas in any reasonable amount of time.

Towards the end of I-20 and once we were on I-10 the terrain became rolling and then slightly mountainous and was very pretty in a southwestern desert kind of way.  At some point we notice very large mountains off to the southwest.  Just before reaching El Paso we were very close to the Rio Grande River and realized that the mountains were now very close on the Mexican side of the river and were very large and very rugged.  I-10 through El Paso, Texas was an experience unto itself as there was road construction along its entire length for what seemed like endless miles.  On the other side of El Paso we had to stop at a Homeland Security check point where we went in with the trucks by mistake but got waived through.  Whenever I am unsure about overhead clearances I stick with the big rigs.

We continued on I-10W into New Mexico where it was joined by I-25 in Las Cruces and completed our run to Deming.  We pulled into the Escapees Dream Catcher RV Park at 11:50 MST, just shy of 7 hours after we pulled out of the Wal-Mart in Midland, Texas.  We had traveled 407 miles at an average speed of 58 MPH which was faster than our usual 50 MPH average.

Butch and Fonda were already checked-in to the RV Park and we took one of the sites next to theirs’.  They had developed an apparent chassis battery problem and Butch was trying to sort it out.  I got the shorepower hooked up while Linda prepared lunch.  She made open faced chili cheese dogs with some tofu hotdogs and the leftover chili from Monday night.

Butch needed a new battery for their Suburban so I rode with him to the local Wal-Mart.  He had them install it (no extra charge) but had to teach the “technician” how to do it.  He was also scoping out batteries for the bus but Wal-Mart did not have the Group 31’s he was looking for.  We stopped at both O’Reilly’s and NAPA auto parts stores and got prices then went back to do some additional diagnosis.  Butch suspects a shorted cell but has not confirmed that.

Linda suggested that I connect the sewer hose and fresh water line while it was still daylight with comfortable temperatures so that is what I did.  I decided to check out the two pyrometer sensors.  In the process I “discovered” a metal plate with an electrical harness plugged into it and a fitting for a hose but with only a small piece of hose attached to the fitting.  Butch identified the plate as the turbocharger boost sensor.  I found the loose end of the hose and followed it back to turbocharger outlet manifold.  That explained why I was not able to get the turbo boost and engine power I expected from the engine.  The hose was incredibly brittle and had to be replaced; not good.  We discussed options and appeared to have two: 1) Attach a new hose to the sensor tube and then try to splice it into the old hose, or 2) get a new barbed fitting for the manifold and run a new hose from there to the sensor.  We drove back to the NAPA store and got the parts we might need.

Butch removed the old fitting from the intake manifold and decided we could re-use it.  It took some doing but he got it installed.  We routed the new hose (fuel injector rated) to the sensor plate and connected it.  I could not figure out how to mount the plate so I left it sitting behind the computer on top of the engine where I found it.  I do not know if the old hose has been broken for a while or if it finally failed this afternoon when I grabbed it, but either way it was certainly leaking and was another potential disaster averted.

For dinner Linda made a nice green salad and pan-grilled tofu slices with Bar-B-Que sauce and caramelized onions.  After dinner we took advantage of our full hookups to take showers and get additional water in our waste tanks.  We watched an episode of Nova on the local PBS station and then went to bed.  Both sides of the air mattress were very hard.  When we checked the settings, my side was at 50 and Linda’s was at 85, both much higher than we usually set them.

The thought crossed my mind that the cats might have stepped on the controls, but that seemed unlikely as the buttons are slightly recessed and have to be pushed in to activate the system.  Besides, the odds of them stepping on the controls for both sides of the bed were very small.  Linda made an off-hand comment about altitude and I realized immediately that this was the effect of having climbed from 765 feet above sea level (ASL) in Alvarado, Texas to 2,862 ft. ASL in Midland, Texas, to 4,300 ft. ASL in Deming, New Mexico.  I also realized in that moment why the tire pressures were higher than I expected when I checked the PressurePro TPMS this morning before we pulled out of Midland.  Sometimes that which should be obvious is not.  We reset the air mattress pressures and drifted comfortably off to sleep.

2014/12/11 (R) RoVer’s Roost SKP CO-OP

I was up at 6 AM after a good night’s sleep and Linda got up around 7 AM.  The overnight low was 38 degrees Fahrenheit, and we did not have any of the heaters turned on, so the front of the coach got a bit chilly.  We were parked facing east so the rising sun lit up the front of our coach and helped warm it up.  I checked on the house battery SOC and then settled in to write for a while.  We had a light breakfast of oatmeal and juice around 7:30 AM.  At 7:45 AM I turned on the engine block heater and Aqua-Hot pre-heat pump.  Linda gathered up the trash shortly thereafter and went for a walk.

I failed to mention in yesterday’s blog post that our grand-daughter Katie called Linda yesterday to let us know that she had received a full academic scholarship to Michigan Technological University in Marquette, Michigan.  We were, of course, very excited to receive this news.  Katie has been an excellent student throughout high school and we are confident she will do well at MTU if she decides to go there.

Fonda was out with their two dogs, Rascal and Daffy, around 7:30 AM but there was no sign of activity beyond that until 8 AM when Linda returned from her walk and said Butch was outside looking at their chassis battery situation.  I put on the hooded sweatshirt I use when I have to work outdoors in cool weather and joined them.

Butch had left the 24 VDC battery charger on the chassis batteries overnight.  Both batteries seemed to be holding an adequate voltage so he decided to swap them rather than replace the one that seemed to be a problem yesterday (lower 12 volts).  After disconnecting the cables we pulled both batteries out.  These are 8D lead acid (wet cell) batteries and weight ~160 pounds each.  Butch topped off the fluid level in all of the cells.  He then put the batteries back in place, reversing their position, and reconnected the cables.  We re-checked voltages and everything looked OK so Butch decided they were ready to travel today rather than spend another night in Deming.

Yesterday we had discussed driving to the Escapees Saguaro Co-op RV Park in Benson, Arizona.  Called them just before 5 PM and they said they had plenty of spaces available.  Linda was checking the details of the park online and discovered that they have a 40,000 pound weight limit, but no one at the park could explain why.  Further research revealed that the last 0.3 miles into the park might be a weight restricted road.

Benson would have been a short drive of just over 180 miles, leaving us a longer drive for Friday if we wanted to get all the way to Quartzsite.  Looking at the map it appeared that Casa Grande, Arizona, 280 miles from Deming, might be a better stopping point.  As it turned out, the Escapees (SKP) RoVer’s Roost CO-OP RV Park is located near Casa Grande and did not have weight restrictions.  Linda called to make sure they had space for us, and after consulting with Butch and Fonda decided that was where we would head.

Linda checked online for fuel stops and prices.  The best price was $3.15 at a Pilot/Flying J just 10 miles shy of Casa Grande, but I wasn’t sure we could comfortably make it that far with adequate reserves as we were already at 1/2 tank mark on the fuel gauge.  I dumped our waste tanks, stowed the hoses, turned on the chassis batteries, opened the various air valves, disconnected the shorepower cord, and stored it.  We secured all of the bays and then hooked up the car for towing.  When Butch and Fonda were close to being ready we fired up the bus engine and checked the exterior lights.

We pulled out of the SKP Dream Catchers RV Park at 10 AM with our first stop planned for a Flying J Truck Stop about 60 miles west of Deming.  We had a good run on I-10 across the rest of New Mexico and into Arizona, exiting onto I-8 about 13 miles from the RoVer’s Roost RV Park.  The bus ran like it had a new engine.  The turbocharger was very responsive to the accelerator, producing more boost than I saw yesterday.  The engine had noticeably more power climbing grades, with the pyrometers reaching 850 – 900 degrees F and the engine coolant temperature reaching 195 – 200 degrees F.  Repairing the turbo boost sensor hose yesterday was clearly the right thing to do.

The scenery was beautiful and the largest city on our route was Tucson, which appeared to have a very nice downtown area.  The city was spread out for 30 miles from east to west and was not nearly as hectic as the drive through El Paso, Texas yesterday.  We arrived at RoVer’s Roost SKP CO-OP AT 3:15 PM MST with 3/4’s of a tank of fuel.

RoVer’s Roost is a very dense RV Park with closely spaced lots that are permanently assigned to co-op members and most of which were occupied.  The lots were all perpendicular to the long, straight, narrow roads.  All sites, including the boondocking area, were back-in which required us to unhook our cars.  The sites were also limited to a 40 foot long RV maximum, but many of them were “developed” in such a way that they would not accommodate a rig that long.  Registration took longer than it should have but eventually we were escorted to our site by a man in a golf cart who guided me as I backed into the site.  He had obviously done this many times and knew how to get a 40 foot motorhome into a tight space with limited room to turn so we were glad to have his assistance.

Once we were in our spot he escorted Butch and Fonda to their site and helped back them in.  Their bus developed an air problem after they pulled into the park, producing a squealing sound when Butch applied the parking breaks.  Butch had to bleed the pressure down to 30 PSI to get the noise to stop.  He re-pressurized the system and the noise did not reappear, so he put the Quadra Big Foot leveling jacks down.

I updated our recent locations in RVillage.  The four of us then went for a walk around the park to check it out and scope out our exit path.  We met a very nice lady resident who has painted a number of murals on storage sheds around the park and the ones we saw were very well done.  We returned to our coach and had dinner.  I had a TXT message from Chuck and called him after dinner to tell him about the turbo boost problem and solution.  We turned in early and watched a football game for a while before turning out the lights and going to sleep.

2014/12/12 (F) RR to Q

Today was our 13th day on the road since leaving home on November 30th.  We could easily have taken a month to do this repositioning, stopping along the way at more places for more nights and exploring each area, but we chose not to.  In part this was because we were caravanning with friends, and in part because we both had bus issues along the way and we were all anxious to just “get there.”

Pulling in to 715 Lollipop Ln in Quartzsite, Arizona.

Pulling in to 715 Lollipop Ln in Quartzsite, Arizona.

RoVer’s Roost has WiFi but we were not offered the use of it when we registered.  We had an excellent Verizon 4G/LTE signal, however, so I checked RVillage last night and realized that I had not updated our location since Alvarado, Texas.  In the span of just a few minutes I checked into Midland, Texas, the SKP Dream Catcher RV Park in Deming, New Mexico, and finally the RoVer’s Roost SKP CO-OP in Casa Grande, Arizona.  I posted a comment about this and drew a comment about “…living in the fast lane” and several “likes.”  RVillage is not only useful, it’s fun.

The park home page showed 11 check-ins, so I perused the list and discovered that Forrest and Mary Clark were apparently here.  I say “apparently” because, like our situation, the information is only accurate if the person has kept it up to date.  I sent Forrest a message and he replied that they were, indeed, at the park and provided their site number.  I did not see the reply until this morning, however, so I messaged him back and said we would stop by before we pulled out.  Like us, they are also headed to “Q” for the first time this winter.

I was up by 6:30 AM and made a half pot of coffee.  We have not been making coffee in the morning and really miss it.  We enjoyed our Teeko’s Cafe Europe Blend while watching a gorgeous sunrise, the first of many we expect to see.  The temperature had dropped to 50 degrees F overnight from the high of 76 yesterday afternoon; warmer than normal for this time of year.  RoVer’s Roost has recycling bins, so Linda gathered up the various packaging materials she has been saving and walked them over to the bins along with the trash.  She likes to go for morning walks and has missed doing so while working on the software conversion project for the bakery since mid-September.

At 8 AM the house batteries were at 93% SOC.  The last time they were at 100% was at the end of our stay in Alvarado, Texas where we sat for three night plugged-in to “50 Amp” shorepower.  The Magnum ME-ARC remote was showing 116-120 VAC in, which more closely matched the main panel gauges than I have seen recently.  I obviously have some investigating to do (voltage measurements) and need to revisit the manuals for the 4024 inverter/charger and its add-on modules.  As with everything on this coach, there is no magic involved, just basic engineering principles.  The problem comes when there is inadequate documentation on the construction of the systems, including their principles of operation and their specific interconnections.  That’s when the detective work begins and I have to be particularly cautious about coming to premature conclusions regarding all of this.  It is better to admit that I do not understand how something works than to assume that I do and turn out to be wrong (not that that has ever happened).

In my chat with Chuck last night he suggested that I might want to eventually replace the turbo boost (manifold) sensor hose with a silicon one.  The two hottest places on the engine are the exhaust manifolds and the turbocharger and this hose connects to the latter.  He planned to check the hose on his coach, which is the same type and age as ours, first thing this morning.  His coach has more miles on it than ours (we think) so this hose is likely to be in bad shape on his coach too.  At some point I would like to have the radiator re-cored and that would be the time to replace ALL of the coolant hoses, and anything else on the engine that is made of rubber, with new silicon parts if possible, or at least with new rubber.

Along those same lines we were discussing air-powered accessories last night.  We do not use the bedroom pocket door and I will probably disconnect it or add a shutoff valve.  The waste tank dump valves are also air-powered and I may do the same thing to them.  That would leave the toilet and the shutters for the two front air-conditioner condensers as the only devices that needs air to work while we are parked.  We like the air flush toilet—it is fairly water efficient—and we would keep it if we could eliminate air leaks to the point that the auxiliary air-compressor only runs a few times a day.  The other downside to the toilet, however, are the difficulty and expense of getting spare parts.  We are considering replacing it with a standard gravity flush “RV style” toilet when we redo the water tanks, hopefully next year.  That would greatly reduce the need to run the auxiliary air-compressor while we are parked.  It does, however, also help maintain the air pressure in the suspension system.

We walked down to Forrest and Mary’s site at 8:30 AM and they came out to greet us.  Precision RV pulled up just as we got there.  They are affiliated with AM Solar in Oregon and are installing a solar electric system on Forrest and Mary’s Foretravel motorhome.  They wanted to see our bus so we all walked back to our site.  Butch walked up and joined us and we had a long chat.  Several folks walked by and were very friendly which help mitigate our first impressions of the place.

While we were standing there the man who parked us yesterday drove by in his golf cart and also stopped to chat.  He and his wife have been coming to RoVer’s Roost since 2004 and help manage the park.  With the co-op you obtain a leasehold on a specific lot which is then yours to use until you move to a different lot or sell your leasehold.  The lots are not deeded; your leasehold buys you a fractional ownership of the co-op.  Leaseholds are currently $8,500 with a $500 annual maintenance fee, and many leaseholders are full-timers; their RV is the only home they have.  Under $10K for a place to live plus $500 in association fees and metered electric is not bad.  In the last few years many of the original residents, who built the park, have given up their RV’s for assisted living or passed away.  At the present time there are a few lots available and, for the first time in the park’s history, there is no waiting list.  The hope is that a new generation of retirees will discover the Escapees RV Club and the Rainbow Parks and SKP co-ops.

RoVer’s Roost is an odd place when you first see it, a kind of “RV oasis” in the dessert.  It’s a compact, low-walled, compound surrounded by endless miles of nothing; no housing, no industry, not even agriculture.  It turns out that such places are not uncommon in the southwest but it got me wondering why it was built here and why it was built this way.  I presume the reason for the location had to do with climate, land costs, and the willingness of local, county, and state agencies to allow it.

We learned that some of the reasons RoVer’s Roost is built the way it is had to do with it being the first SKP CO-OP and when it was built.  Construction began in 1981 and Escapees RV Club Founders Joe and Kay Peterson helped build it with their own hands and had a lot there for a while.  RV’s over 35 feet long were rare in those days.  Although 40 foot highway buses existed, such as the Eagle, and some were already being converted into motorhomes, many conversions were based on the 35 foot Flxible and GMC buses.  Pull-behinds (trailers and 5th wheels) were rarely longer than 30 feet, although there were exceptions.  The size of the lots, the width of the roads, and the tightness of the turns all reflect the RV realities of the time and provide a living example of how difficult it is to see into the future.

Another reason, I presume, had to do with the costs associated with building RoVer’s Roost.  Even if the cost of the land was negligible, doubling the size of each lot would have at least doubled the cost of the infrastructure.  Roads, electrical wire, fresh water pipes, sewer lines, and the perimeter wall would all have involved at least double the material and the associated cost.  The visit to RoVer’s Roost reminded me that I need to carefully consider the historical context of something before I can hope to understand it.

We targeted 10 AM as our departure time, but there was no urgency to our leaving as we had less than 180 miles to get to our winter home in Quartzsite.  Butch discovered the digital dashboard on the Rand-McNally RVND 7710 last night and called to let me know how to access it.  I vaguely recalled that it was there, having been to several seminars on the unit, but I had not developed the habit of using it.  I decided I would try it out on this last leg of our journey to “Q.”  One of its features is the display of elevation.  On the downside, it does not display the current posted speed limit, which is shown on the map view.

We prepared the coach for travel and I fired up the engine at 10 AM.  Linda watched to make sure I did not hit anything as I pulled out.  Once I was out of our site (#77) I drove to the end of the street and around the corner to a spot where we could hookup the car, which Linda drove down and positioned behind the bus.  I shut off the engine while we hooked up as the park is posted as a “No Idle Zone.”  Several residents stopped to chat and all of them were very nice, wished us a safe journey, and invited us back.  After a less than 100% positive experience yesterday when we arrived and registered we were feeling very good about the park by the time we left.  That, however, did not change the fact that the park design is only marginally usable by a 40 foot highway bus, and not really a good choice for an overnight stay as they do not have any pull-through sites.

Butch and Fonda pulled out of their spot about 15 minutes after us and by 10:30 AM had their car hooked up and were ready to roll.  We pulled out in the lead and 1.5 miles later pulled back onto westbound I-8.  We exited I-8 34 miles later near Gila Bend and got on a connecting road leading to AZ-85.  We came to a split and were not sure where the GPS intended to take us as it told us to turn left which would have put us on AZ-85 southbound whereas the signs clearly showed that AZ-85 N to I-10 was a turn to the right.  Linda was double checking on her phone what we needed to do.  We went to the right and that turned out to be correct.

The 39 mile run up AZ-85 to I-10 was a 4-lane divided highway, although the road surface was a bit rough initially.  When we left I-10 for I-8 at Casa Grande yesterday the signage indicated that I-8/AZ-85 was the designated bypass route to get around Phoenix.  Once we rejoined I-10 westbound there was noticeably more traffic even though we were already 70 miles west of Phoenix.  The traffic eventually spaced out and we finished the 180 mile trip easily while enjoying the other-worldly scenery of the deep Southwest U. S.

We climbed over several small mountain ranges and stopped briefly at a rest area.  We climbed over one last mountain range, reaching an elevation of ~1,600 feet ASL (on the RVND 7710 dashboard display), and finally saw the valley where Quartzsite sits at the bottom nestled against the next mountain range to the west.  We then dropped 700 plus feet over the next 12 miles on a gradual but constant grade.  As we descended and neared Quartzsite we saw the first RV’s parked on the BLM land south of the highway, which was very exciting.

In spite of studying satellite images I did not have a good picture in my mind of what I was now seeing.  I did not expect the mountains to the east and west of town and I did not expect vegetation.  I thought this area would be a vast expanse of flat, barren, sun baked desert.  What lay before us was much nicer than that and we could see immediately why RVers have come here for years and returned year after year.

There are two exits for Q, one at either end of Main Street (B-10) which parallels I-10 on the north side.  We took the second (west most) exit as that is where the Pilot Truck Stop is located.  We both topped up our tanks and then pulled out of the way to disconnect our cars.  We had 5/8ths of a tank but I wanted to add biocide and top it off to eliminate as much air as possible.  With changes in temperature moisture in the air (in the fuel tank) can condense out.  Water in the fuel then contributes to the growth of algae.  I wanted to prevent that since we will be sitting for almost three months.  I will run our fuel polishing pump as well, but the biocide and full tank will really help prevent fuel problems.

Butch had already called Jim (Joe’s brother) and he drove over to escort us back to Joe and Connie’s property.  We made a little caravan with two buses and two cars following him there.  I really did not know what Quartzsite would be like.  My first impression was that it was a combination of the world’s largest RV rally with the world’s largest flea market.  There are RV’s everywhere, and stuff for sale everywhere else.  It is not an “upscale” place, but it is not trashy and rundown either.  It’s a little funky and a bit alternative, a kind of 1960s meets the old west vibe, and I think it will be a great home base for the winter.

Joe and Connie’s property is on a small side street in the NNW part of the city.  Butch pulled in first and I waited in the street while Jim got him backed into their spot facing due south.  Jim then directed me into a spot parallel to the fence on the north property line facing east, which is how I had hoped we would be parked.  It was much easier to get into than Butch and Fonda’s spot.  Fonda and Linda pulled the cars in and parked them after I was out of the way.  The property was smaller than I thought it would be from the satellite images, but large enough, and nicer looking than I expected as well.  There was one motorhome here already, an older Country Coach, and it turns out that they will be the only other rig here.  The owners had gone home for Christmas unexpectedly and will be back around January 1st.

We were pointing slightly up hill so I initially raised the rear end rather than drop the front.  To get level, however, I still needed to drop the front and the Level Low system once again failed to respond.  I checked the pneumatic solenoid valves in the bay under the driver’s seat but nothing seemed to be amiss.  I switched the selector valve in the cockpit between its various positions and the front finally responded.  I have replacement parts for one pneumatic solenoid valve but I am now wondering if the problem might be the selector switch?  I have not checked the maintenance manual but I presume this is a strictly electrical switch that determines which pneumatic solenoid valve the “up/down” rocker switch controls.  I presume the rocker switch is working correctly as it controls the left rear and right rear leveling valves and puts the suspension in driving mode without difficulty.

The easiest/cheapest fix is the pneumatic solenoid valve, unless that turns out not to be the problem.  The next easiest fix is probably replacing one or both Norgren valves in the bay because they are somewhat accessible.  I know the cost of those valves, so it is both a more expensive and more involved repair, especially if it turns out to be unnecessary.  I have no idea what the selector switch costs and it appears to be in a difficult location to service, but if that is the problem then that is what has to be repaired.  There are several possibilities besides the pneumatic solenoid valve.  It’s possible that the selector switch connections for controlling the front height control valve have become marginal and intermittent.  It’s also possible that the switch itself is failing and needs to be replaced.  Another possibility is the electrical connections at the solenoid.  Whatever it turns out to be it won’t be the first marginal/intermittent thing we have found on the bus.

I eventually got it leveled, and having the rear end raised and the front end lowered is not a bad thing as it makes it easier to get in/out of the front door and provides more clearance under the utility bay for the dump hose.  We will be in this spot for the next 12 months, except possibly for a few days in February to attend an informal gathering of a few members of our FMCA Freethinkers Chapter at the Peg Leg Monument near Anza-Borrego State Park in Southern California.  We will leave Quartzsite in early March for the Escapade rally in Tucson, Arizona.

Once I had the coach leveled I shut off the engine and went through my arrival routine.  When I went to connect the shorepower cord I discovered that we only had a “30 Amp” RV service.  A “30 Amp” service is just that; a single 120 VAC connection (line, neutral, ground) protected by a single pole 30 Amp circuit breaker (on the line).  A “50 Amp” RV service, by comparison, is two 120 VAC lines (180 degrees out of phase) with a shared neutral and a ground.  The two lines are protected by a 50 Amp double pole circuit breaker and are actually a 240 VAC, 50 Amp service.  However, in most RV’s each line (leg) is used as a 120 VAC, 50 Amp service in conjunction with the neutral, so a “50 Amp” RV connection is actually used as a 120 VAC, 100 Amp service.  That’s over three times the power of a “30 Amp” RV service.

We can manage on a 30 Amp service—we have before—especially if we do not have to run the air-conditioners.  Our air conditioners are not working at present anyway, but we do not expect to need them while we are here, so that will help.  We cannot use the Gaggenau cooktop, as it is a 240 VAC device, but that’s OK too.  Linda prefers to use the portable induction cooker anyway; it is more efficient and doesn’t heat up the coach.  Still, operating our coach on a 30 Amp service requires much more conscious management of our electrical usage and is thus a tad inconvenient.  On the other hand, our electricity is metered so we pay for what we use.  Having a 30 Amp service inherently limits how much electricity we can use.

Many (most) circuit breakers will only carry 80% of their rating on a continuous basis so we effectively have 24 Amps available to run things.  That’s not a lot of power for a large, “all electric” coach.  I adjusted the “AC Input” setting on the Magnum 4024 inverter/charger to 25 Amps before turning the power on.  The unit limits the amount of current it uses to charge the house batteries to a percentage of that setting.  Setting it to 25 Amps instead of 30 Amps gave us a bit more cushion to run other devices while the batteries were charging.  Once they are fully charged I will dial this back up to 30 Amps.

I joined Linda, Butch, Fonda, and Jim and introduced myself to Connie.  Joe and Connie own this place but Joe was not here today.  He ended up in the hospital being treated for a scorpion sting and is now recovering in a care facility for a week.  By his own admission he was careless; he took a pair of shoes out of a closet he had not worn in a year and put them on without checking to see if something had taken up residence therein.  Not being from the desert southwest this would not even have occurred to us.  We know there are snakes, scorpions, and other “things” here, but this scorpion was in their park model trailer living in a shoe in their closet just 60 feet from our bus.  That certainly served as a heads up for us.

After chatting for a while I finished hooking up the water softener to the water supply and the coach.  We had about 1/2 tank when we arrived and I brought the level up to 2/3rds.  Butch had some test strips so we used one to check the hardness of the water.  It showed 25 grains per gallon (gpg), the highest mineral content it could indicate.  Our portable water softener has a capacity in grains which determines how much water it can soften before it needs to be recharged.  A “1,000 grain” water softener will only treat 40 gallons of 25 grain hardness water (1,000 / 25 = 40) whereas it will treat 100 gallons of 10 grain hardness water (1,000 / 10 = 100).

Butch and Fonda have a 10,000 grain portable water softener but the information we got with ours did not include the grain capacity.  Our softener is similar in size to theirs so I can probably safely assume that it has at least a 7,500 grain capacity.  Given the hardness of the water here that means it can treat about 300 to 400 gallons before needing to be recharged.  Our fresh water tank holds approximately 125 gallons.  If we use most of the water before refilling it we will need to recharge the water softener after every third filling.

Recharging (regenerating) the water softener is simple and inexpensive but takes a little time.  The filter is removed from the housing and the housing filled with crushed salt.  Water is allowed to flow very slowly through the salt and then through the softener and onto the ground.  When the salt is gone the unit is recharged.  If this seems wasteful of water it is, in fact, how almost all water softeners work.  The advantages of softened water are worth the little bit of added water use, especially since we have an Aqua-Hot hydronic heating system that specifies the use of softened water for optimum performance and reduced maintenance.

Rain had been in the forecast all day and we finally started to get an occasional drop so I closed up the bay doors and went inside.  Once we were settled in Linda sent a TXT message to our children letting them know we had arrived.  She attached a photo she took on her camera of our coach in situ.  I took a few photos on mine and TXT’d one to Chuck to let him know we were finally here.  I then laid down on the sofa and took a nap.  I eventually woke up to the sounds and smells of dinner being prepared.  Linda made a very yummy crushed lentil curry and opened a bottle of Barefoot Pinot Noir.  It was a bit dry for my taste but she enjoyed it.  It’s a good life.

The view to west (towards Lollipop Ln) from the east end of our "camp."  Our coach is to the right with the awning out.

The view to west (towards Lollipop Ln) from the east end of our “camp.” Our coach is to the right with the awning out.

Storm clouds gathered and shrouded the mountains to the west but all we got was light rain; nothing like the weather that swept through the Pacific coast from Los Angeles up into Oregon.  Not that far north of us Las Vegas, Nevada, got rain, ice, and snow.

After dinner Linda signed-in to RVillage and updated our location.  She indicated that we were not in an RV park as we are on private, non-commercial property that is not, and should not, be in the RVillage (AllStays) database.  I will check tomorrow to see if the website shows us other Villagers in and around the Q.

I checked the house batteries at 9:45 PM.  They were at 25.6 VDC drawing 0 Amps and showed “Full Charge” even though the BMK showed the SOC at 95%.  Like our stay in Alvarado I suspect the SOC will be back up to 100% in a couple of days.  I made note of the readings and headed to bed.  It was good to finally be here and we are looking forward to an interesting, pleasant, productive, and enjoyable winter.


2014/12/05-08 (F-M) On To Texas

2014/12/05 (F) Parting Company (for now)

A set of standing jokes with us involves our answers to the question “what time is it?”  The most common response is the day of the week, such as “Friday” (if we know what day it is) or perhaps “I think it’s Friday” (if we are less sure).  Variations include “daytime” or “nighttime” both of which only restate the obvious but at least we are usually correct, or perhaps “morning,” “afternoon,” or “evening” if we are trying to be more precise.  More globally we might answer “eastern” or “central” referencing the time zone we (think) we are in.

I was awake and ready to get up at 5:30 AM (technically the morning but still dark as night).  I checked the house batteries and they were down to 66% SOC (State Of Charge).  The coach had been running on the batteries/inverter since 9 PM last night, so 8.5 hours.  At 3.6 percentage points per hour I expected a 31 percentage point drop to around 60% SOC, so this charge level seemed reasonable, except that we had very few things running last night.  The refrigerator and auxiliary air-compressor were on, of course, although the air-compressor only runs for a few minutes every couple of hours and the fridge runs around 20-24 minutes per hour.  The Aqua-Hot was turned on but I did not hear the fans come.  I had the thermostats set to 15 (Celsius, 59 Fahrenheit) before we went to bed and the temperature in the coach this morning was in the upper 60s, so I don’t think any of the zone pumps or heat exchanger fans came on overnight.  In other words, it seemed to me that we had used more charge from the batteries than we should have.  Although I installed the 24 VDC battery bank and the new Magnum inverter/charger two years ago, we have not done very much boondocking (dry camping, no hookups) so we are still figuring out the finer points of this system.

I started the GenSet and the charger came on in bulk charge mode delivering 89 Amps to the battery bank at 29.1 VDC.  It switched to absorption mode fairly quickly and by 7:30 AM it was delivering 34 Amps at 28.3 VDC and the SOC was up to 86%.  The battery bank has a 400 A-Hr capacity (at “24” VDC, which is actually 25.4 VDC when fully charged) so 10% of that is 40 A-Hr and the generator had returned approximately 80 A-Hrs of charge at 24VDC to the battery bank.  (“A-Hr” stands for Ampere-Hours and is actually a measure of energy, specifically electrical charge, which technically should be stated in Coulombs.)  “40 A-Hr” means a steady flow of current at a 40 Amp rate for one hour.  Note, however, that this also depends on the voltage.  40 A-Hr for a nominal 24 VDC system is twice the energy of 40 A-Hr for a nominal 12 VDC system.  Most RVs are set up with a nominal 12 VDC house battery system.  Our house battery bank is thus equivalent to an 800 A-Hr, 12 VDC system.)

The downside to all of this is that conventional lead-acid batteries, including our AGM batteries, do not tolerate very well being repeatedly discharged below 50% SOC, so the effective/useable capacity is about 1/2 of the stated capacity.  The more deeply the batteries are drained the fewer times they can be brought back up to full charge. Whereas shallow discharging allows for more cycles, and more total energy in and out, but requires a larger battery system to provide power for a reasonable amount of time.  Batteries are heavy and bulky, so you cannot just take as many as you would like.  For lead-acid batteries 50% discharge seems to be the optimal compromise for battery life, useful run time, and size/weight.

We were up early enough to have a light breakfast and a cup of coffee and have time to digest our meal before we started driving.  I powered on our Verizon MiFi and my computer and downloaded e-mails while Linda used her iPad to preview the truck stop options at the interchange just this side of Little a Rock, Arkansas.  She also pulled up the satellite image of the Wal-Mart in Texarkana, Texas where we planned to spend the night.  Cellular access to the Internet, mapping programs, and satellite imagery, along with GPS receivers have changed the nature of motor vehicle travel in general and RVing in particular.  There are certain things where the element of surprise associated with discovery is a good thing, such as an unexpected view when hiking, but when it comes to maneuvering a 40 foot motorcoach with a 20 foot car/towbar attached to its rear end surprises are usually not a good thing.

Around 8 AM we stepped outside and saw Fonda outside with their two dogs (Rascal and Daffy) so we walked back to their bus.  Butch was on the phone with U. S. Coach in New Jersey discussing the main engine air-compressor situation.  They confirmed that the unloader valve(s) are a common failure point and that the replacement parts were inexpensive and available.  He ordered four sets for delivery to Amarillo, Texas where they will be visiting someone while we are in Alvarado, Texas.  Two sets are for them and two sets are for us.  The parts may not make it to Amarillo until Wednesday, so we will be as flexible in our travel planning as we can.  If Donn will let us stay at his place in Alvarado, Texas we may just sit there, unhook the car, and go explore the area.

By 8:30 AM the house battery charger was showing zero (0) Amps at 25.3 VDC, indicating that the batteries were fully charged.  The Magnum Battery Monitor Kit (BMK), however, was showing the SOC as 88%.  I am inclined to believe that in this case the BMK is not showing the correct SOC, but I will keep a close eye on this.  When we get to Donn’s place we will be plugged into a “50 Amp” RV electrical service for at least 40 hours and see what that does to the readings.

While Butch and Fonda had breakfast we went for a stroll around the Wal-Mart parking lot to stretch our legs and scoped out the best egress route.  Around 9 AM we started preparing the interior for travel and by 9:45 I had the car prepared for towing and the main engine running.  We pulled out at just before 10 AM and took the lead.  I drove the first 80 miles at 55 MPH due to light to moderate rain and greatly reduced visibilities.  We took exit 161 just east of Little Rock, Arkansas and pulled into a Love’s Truck Stop.  Butch picked a better lane than I did and we ended up leaving and driving to the Pilot Truck Stop on the other side of the highway.  But before we left Linda walked over to let them know what we were doing and say “so long, see you down the road.”  Two miles after we got back on the highway we stayed left for I-430 around the south side of Little Rock while Butch and Fonda stayed on I-40 around the north side of the city.  We were headed to I-30 and then southwest towards Dallas while they were headed west towards Amarillo.  We will meet up with them next week, perhaps in Midland, Texas or on down the road in New Mexico.

Most of the rest of our drive was through rain but otherwise uneventful.  In spite of the weather the drive was very pretty.  I-30 west of Little Rock climbs through rolling hills with extensive woodlands on both sides of the highway.  We finally drove out from under the rain about 30 miles from Texarkana and finished the trip with bright sun and an ambient temperature of 74 degrees F.

It was easy enough getting off I-30 onto the southbound connector but a bit trickier getting over to make a right turn in the short distance we had.  But we did, and turned onto the road that runs in front of the Walmart and down to the far entrance, as planned.  I started my left turn into the parking lot road when a guy pulled up to make a left turn coming out of the parking lot.  I had tried to swing wide but he realized he needed to back up or risk damage to his truck, so he did.  I could not make the first left into the actual parking lot so I went down to the next entrance by the store.

I barely made a 180 degree turn into the first row, causing a women sitting in her car to just stare at us as I missed her by inches (apparently it did not occur to her to back up).  I had to straighten out before completing the turn to prevent scraping the driver’s side of the car on a huge boulder at the inside corner of the turn that I somehow did not see before I started the turn but caught sight of in my rearview mirror.  Considering that I just completed a drive through less than ideal conditions, which was probably more stressful than I acknowledged, this was not the way I wanted to end our driving for the day.  Like with airplanes, however, the takeoffs and landings are usually the trickiest parts.

We pulled into our selected parking spot at the back (east) end of the parking lot, in parallel with several tractor-trailer rigs, at 2:40 PM.  I went through our arrival procedure with one glitch; I could not raise or lower the front end of the coach using the Level Low system.  It worked fine yesterday so something had obviously changed.  I leveled the coach by adjusting the rear tires instead.  Once the coach was set I checked the house battery bank SOC.  It was 71% but the inverter/charger readout said the battery bank was at 25.0 VDC and the charger was delivering zero (0) Amps.  Since no loads were being powered I presumed the voltage was probably a good indication of the battery state.  A “12 volt” battery is fully charged at a resting (no load) voltage of 12.6 volts (2.1 volts per cell times six cells).  Double that for a “24 volt” battery bank and the full charge resting voltage is 25.2 volts, so our batteries being at 25.0 volts indicated they were probably near full charge.

I decided to wait and turn the generator on later when it was time to cook dinner and let it bring the batteries up to full charge.  At this point, however, I am suspicious of the reading I am getting from the Magnum BMK.  The data suggests that I do not have the ZENA power generating system tied in to the battery/charger/inverter system in such a way that the BMK can correctly account for the charge the ZENA is providing, but that seems unlikely.  Still, I will have to check when we get settled in Quartzsite (or back home in the spring) and/or see if there is a way to reset the 100% SOC level on the BMK.  We will be plugged in to a 50 Amp RV service tomorrow at Donn’s so I will see if the SOC rises to that level after being on shorepower for almost 48 hours.

Linda opened a few windows so the cats could have some fresh air.  We then walked over to the store for some exercise and fresh air ourselves.  I found a case for my Samsung Galaxy S III phone as a tab on my old holder has broken and it no longer holds the phone securely.  When we got back a pickup truck towing a 5th wheel trailer had pulled up next to us on the driver’s side.  It was parked such that our generator exhaust would blow in their entrance door.  I introduced myself to Gary and explained that we would be starting the GenSet in a little while.  He appreciated the heads up and elected to back up to where he was clear of our exhaust.

By the time I got back inside Linda was on the phone with Butch.  They were at a Wal-Mart in Checotah, Oklahoma just off I-40 about 60 miles west of the Arkansas border.  They also ran through rain the rest of the day and it was still raining there when he called.  The temporary air-pressure solution had continued to work well all day.

We ran on batteries/inverter until 5:30 PM and then started the generator so Linda could prepare dinner.  She needed to cook two baking potatoes in the microwave and sauté some onions, mushrooms, and broccoli using the induction cooker.  The microwave kept clicking and I noticed the current drop on that leg each time.  The other leg wasn’t drawing much current so I had her keep using the induction cooker and turned on the Aqua-Hot electric heating element.  That brought the current draw on each leg roughly into balance and the microwave behaved fine after that.  The charger was also drawing a few amps but not the much.

The microwave is wired through the inverter sub-panel.  With the generator running, each leg of the AC power is simply passed through the inverter to the sub-panel along with the neutral. I recall that the inverter relays are designed to carry 30 Amps on each leg, but we were only drawing about 20 Amps when the problem occurred so that should not be the source of the problem.  It appears that the genset may not tolerate 20 Amps on one leg and zero on the other, or perhaps a differential current draw of 20 Amps.  If that’s the case it is either an unfortunate design limitation or an indication that the generator is developing a problem.

In discussing this with Butch he said that gensets wired to produce 240VAC are usually set up to regulated that voltage but the 120VAC from L1 and L2 to Neutral can vary widely.  If the voltage on the microwave leg is dropping too low it will cause problems for the unit.  It is possible to rewire the genset to produce 120VAC and regulate that voltage, although it might require a new voltage regulator.  We would lose the use of our Gaggenau 2-burner cooktop but could live with that limitation.  Of more concern to me is the currents from L1 and L2 would now add in the Neutral wire rather than cancel, meaning the current in the Neutral conductor(s) could exceed their design specifications.

I got a TXT message from Chuck inquiring about our trip so I provided a few details.  I decided to check the bay under the driver’s seat to see if there was anything obviously wrong with the pneumatic solenoid valves that control the Level Low system.  There are red plastic fittings that screw into each solenoid and the fitting on the top one was unscrewed quite a bit.  The others were in tight so I screwed the top one back in.  I won’t know until tomorrow if that made a difference, but I decided to call Chuck and consult with him as I recalled him mentioning having had problems with these pilot valves on his H3-40.

Chuck did not think the plastic fittings were the problem but offered other salient advice about coils, ‘C’ clips, valves, and rubber ‘O’ rings.  If Donn will let us hang around for an extra day I will probably unhook the car and drive to the Prevost service facility near the Dallas Ft. Worth airport and pick up some new solenoid valves and perhaps a couple of Norgren valves and a windshield wiper motor.

We ended up with tractor-trailers pulling in and out around us well into the evening.  One in particular parked one spot over from us on the passenger side and let his engine idle for hours.  It felt like we were in a truck stop instead of a Wal-Mart parking lot, but given the price we had no basis to complain.  Still, if we wanted to stay at a truck stop we would have stayed at a truck stop.  Hopefully we can get a decent night’s sleep as I would like to be on the road at sunrise, which is 7:15 AM.

At 8 PM we went for a stroll around the store and the parking lot.  Wal-Mart parking lots are well lit as a rule and being 24/7/52 stores, there are always lots of people around making it a comfortable enough environment for an evening walk.  As we were getting ready to go to sleep I got a TXT message from Donn, with turn-by-turn directions for getting to his house and a couple of questions, which turned into a short TXT message conversation.  While I was texting with Donn our male cat, Jasper, came up by our pillows to look out the window and have a long back-stroking and chin-scratching session with Linda.  Traveling is stressful for the cats, especially at first, and they seek the comfort of our attention quite a bit (when they are not sleeping).  Squared away on tomorrow’s travel arrangements we drifted off to sleep to the gentle hum (rattle?) of large diesel engines.

Donn Barnes' place in Alvarado, Texas.  Yee Haw!

Donn Barnes’ place in Alvarado, Texas. Yee Haw!

2014/12/06 (S) Alvarado, Texas

I was awake at 5 AM and got up shortly thereafter.  The house batteries were showing 58% SOC and 24.3 volts with no current draw.  I thought about not recharging the batteries and seeing how the ZENA system did on the drive today, but decided I did not want to risk depleting them below 50% SOC.  I turned on the generator and the Aqua-Hot electric heating element to balance the load and make hot water for our use this morning.  The charger went into Bulk Charging mode putting 88 Amps into the battery bank at 27.4 volts, so the batteries definitely needed recharging after running the coach for 8 hours.

We have and older, 22 cubic foot, residential (AC compressor) refrigerator that I presume accounts for most of the battery use overnight.  For each Ampere of current the inverter produces at 120 VAC it would draw 5 Amps from the “24 volt” batteries if it was 100% efficient, which it is not.  If I assume the SOC actually dropped from 88% last night at 9 PM (when I shut the generator off) to 58% at 5 AM this morning, the 30 percentage point drop would represent 120 A-Hrs of charge removed from the batteries (30% of 400) which equates to an average continuous draw of 15 Amps per hour at “24” volts.  Divide that by 6 (to account for inverter inefficiency) and you get 2.5 Amps per hour at 120 VAC, not that much, really.

It’s a bit more complicated than that, of course, as the refrigerator draws more current when it starts and has an electric heating element around the edge of the doors as well as an automatic defrost feature.  Those last two features are nice when connected to shorepower, but are not battery friendly, and I need to rig up a switch that allows me to turn these “features” off when we are dry-camping.  We also have an auxiliary air-compressor that supplies pressurized air to operate the toilet and other air-powered accessories.  It doesn’t run often but it draws a fair amount of current (at 120 VAC) when it does.  We also have small miscellaneous AC and DC loads that are on all the time, but collectively they add up.

By 6:30 AM the charger had shifted to Absorb Mode at 27.9 VDC and was putting 63 Amps into the batteries.  Between the charger, the refrigerator, and the electric heating element we were drawing 14 Amps on both legs.  I was hoping to be on the road this morning by 7:30 AM.  The batteries will not be fully charged by then, so this may be the first real test of the ZENA systems ability to maintain and recharge them while we drive.  My ultimate goal is to adjust the ZENA system so it can power the Magnum inverter/charger while we are driving at a level that is sufficient to run the refrigerator and fully, or almost fully, recharge the house battery bank.  That will apparently require some tweaking and additional testing which I am not going to do while parked at a Wal-Mart or other dry-camping location.

As we were getting ready to pull out I noted that the batteries were at 83% SOC and shut off the generator.  The drive from Texarkana to Alvarado was easy with dry conditions and sunny skies. Traffic was mostly light and we enjoyed the east-central Texas countryside.  Traffic got a lot denser as we neared Dallas but once we exited I-30 onto I-635 south it thinned out again.  It thickened again as we approached the exit for US-67 south and then thinned out and stayed that way for the rest of the trip to Alvarado.  We turned back north on I-35W and pulled in to Donn’s place a few miles north of Alvarado proper around 11:30.  I stopped in his driveway, exited the coach, was met by Donn, and we discussed where he wanted me to park.

The desired parking arrangement required us to unhook our car so we did that.  With Linda’s assistance I made a four-point turn to get the bus parked.  I pulled it up somewhat parallel to Donn’s Bluebird, backed up between the end of a building and a tree, swung forward into the driveway, and then backed around close to, and parallel to, the building.  I leveled the coach and this time the front adjustment of the Level Low system worked just fine.

Donn had a 50 Amp RV extension cord available to plug into conveniently located near our utilities bay.  By the time I got our coach plugged in it was noon.  I checked the meters for the house batteries and they indicated 76% SOC with the charger in Absorb Mode putting 56 Amps into the batteries.  For the 4.5 hours we were operating on batteries the expected drop would have been 13.5 to 16.2 percentage points at 3.0 to 3.6 percentage points per hour for a SOC of approximately 70 to 67, so 76 seemed OK, suggesting that the Zena system was doing something.

Linda got things squared away inside the coach and then we sat outside and chatted with Donn for a while.  He suggested we get lunch at Spiral, a vegan restaurant in the Ft. Worth medical district.  He drove since this is his home turf and he knows his way around.  Donn had quesadillas, Linda had a Philly cheesesteak, and I had a patty melt.  The food was very, very good.

After lunch Donn took us to Central Market.  The Market was not as refined as Whole Foods but had an amazing selection of fresh organic produce and specialty items, such as the tahini Linda needed to make her mock beef stroganoff tomorrow.  Our shopping done, Donn took us to meet his friend Jeanine, whose age (85) and health (not the best) prevent her from getting out much.  In spite of her issues we had a thoroughly delightful visit, after which we worked our way back to Donn’s place.

Linda checked on the cats and then drew three glasses of Shiner Bock draft beer.  Yes, Donn has beer on tap at all times; two taps, actually, but both had Shiner Bock.  We sat inside and had a long chat while enjoying our brews.  Neither of us had ever heard of bock style beer or the Shiner Company but it was good.  Donn was involved in raising mules, building wagons, and participated in a wagon trip around the state of Texas in 1986.  At 7 PM Donn started assembling a vegan pasta salad using quinoa pasta, bell pepper, and grape tomatoes.  Donn is an excellent cook but was very gracious about accommodating our vegan dietary preferences.

By 8:45 PM we were tired so we said “good night” and returned to our coach for the evening.  We read and wrote for a little while.  Butch called t let us know they had made it all the way to Amarillo in one day and were safely in the mobile home park where their friend lives.  The earliest they will be leaving is Tuesday morning, which may coincide with our travel plans.

Linda coming back from Donn's laundry room.  Elvis is following her and Lucy is farther back to the right.

Linda coming back from Donn’s laundry room. Elvis is following her and Lucy is farther back to the right.

2014/12/07 (N) A Day Of Rest

We slept in this morning, which meant I was awake at 6:30 AM, were up/dressed by 7:30, and enjoying our morning coffee (yeah) by 8:00.  It was in the mid-40s outside with dense fog, and 62 in the coach; perfect conditions for sleeping but a bit cool for sitting around.  The toilet would not flush and I suspected immediately that I had shut the wrong air valve last night.  In the excitement of our arrival yesterday, and finally being able to plug in to shore power for the first time since we left Indiana, I had forgotten to switch off the chassis batteries and close the unneeded air valves.  I did all of that using a flashlight right before going to bed and once again closed the wrong valve (I have made this mistake before).  Opening it this morning fixed the problem, so at least it was an easily corrected operator error and not something that was actually broken and needed to be repaired.

Donn, who is part Comanche, leant us a book by historian T. R. Fehrenback on their history and Linda started reading it this morning.  I scanned for WiFi networks with our WiFi Ranger (WFR) and found eight, including two that were “open.”  Open networks are not encrypted, so we prefer not to use them, but they may still require a password to gain access.  As a general rule we do not “borrow” open WiFi connections from unknown sources.  Our Verizon cellular signal here is a very strong 4G/LTE with five bars, but we prefer to use WiFi when available and save our limited cellular data for situations where it’s our only way to get online.  I suspected that one of the WiFi signals was Donn’s but could not tell which one it was.

We had oatmeal for breakfast, a nice treat on a cool morning.  Linda usually makes oatmeal from scratch these days, but she brought Quaker Instant Raisins, Dates, and Walnuts, which is my favorite.  It’s creamy without being mushy, and I just like the way it tastes.

We finally met up with Donn after breakfast and asked him about the available WiFi.  He was kind enough to give us the password to his wireless network.  He also gave us some Green Tomato Relish he had made and it was spectacular.  I mean, this guy can cook.  He put on some more coffee and we got back into a long morning discussion on a wide range of topics, so playing with our communications technology had to wait until later.

By 12:30 PM we were all getting hungry and Donn suggested the Mellow Mushroom in the TCU (Texas Christian University?) district of Ft. Worth.  We took the long way to get there so we could see the route we would follow when leaving the area and continuing our westward journey on I-20.  Our route took us down Camp Bowie Road, past the zoo, and a lovely adjacent neighborhood.  While not a vegan restaurant like Spiral, Mellow Mushroom had good vegan pizza options including Daiya non-dairy (non-animal) cheese.  We had a thin crust pizza with an olive oil and garlic base, with cheese, mushrooms, onions, and sun-dried tomatoes.  Yum.

After lunch we headed back to Alvarado but stopped first at Donn’s next door neighbor’s house so he could get his hair cut.  Back at his place we continued our conversation.  When it became clear that we were all a bit tired we went back to our coach to give Donn some personal space and downtime.  We agreed to meet back in his house between 7:00 and 7:30 PM for dinner.  Donn is slightly allergic to cats, so we did not visit or dine in our coach.

With the WiFi network key Donn had provided earlier I was able to connect our WFR to one of the available WiFi signals and upgrade its firmware.  I was then able to connect our Amped Wireless Access Point (AWAP) to the WFR, and connect our devices, including the NAS device, to the AWAP.  This was our standard setup this past winter in Florida.  We used this setup again at the Escapade in May and the GLAMARAMA in June but had not set it up yet on this trip.  The advantage of this setup is that the AWAP creates a secure wired/wireless network to which we connect all of our devices and can share data between them.  When we cannot connect the WFR to an external WiFi network we turn our Verizon MiFi on and connect the WFR to its WiFi signal instead while all of our devices remain connected to the AWAP.  It’s a pretty slick setup that has worked well for us and I was glad it was still working as we appeared to have issues with the WFR while in Twelve Mile, Indiana.

Linda checked online and most of the museums we thought about visiting tomorrow turned out to be closed on Mondays.  I was checking e-mail and had a announcement/confirmation for the FMCA National Education Committee worksession tomorrow at 3:00 PM CST.  If we do not leave until Wednesday morning we may try to go to a couple museums in Ft. worth on Tuesday while Donn is at work.

A little after 6 PM Linda started preparing her Seitan Mushroom Stroganoff.  This is a dish she has made and served at home to our non-vegan friends with great success.  Although Donn is a dedicated omnivore, he has other friends who are vegans and has been very thoughtful in the foods he has prepared for us and his selection of restaurants.

Linda used our Gaggenau electric cooktop to cook the dish.  She finished it at 7:25 PM and we took it over to the house.  We would normally have wine with this dish, but Donn has Shiner Bock beer on tap at the moment and, although I am not a big fan of beer, I found this one to be very much to my taste.  It also went well with the dish.  We talked for a while after dinner and retired to our coach at 10:45 PM as Donn had to be up early to drive into the office in Dallas.

Our male cat, Jasper, resting on the front couch.  He's fine as long as the bus isn't moving.

Our male cat, Jasper, resting on the front couch. He’s fine as long as the bus isn’t moving.

2014/12/08 (M) Lucy, I’m Home!

Donn left for his office in Dallas long before we got up at 7:30 AM.  Granola with fresh bananas, grapefruit juice, and coffee made for a fine breakfast.  Donn left us access to the house so we could use the bathroom, which we greatly appreciated.  Yes, we have a bathroom onboard, but the less of our stored fresh water we use, and the less we put into our holding tanks, the longer we can go without stopping at a full-hookup RV park.  We left home on Sunday, November 30, so this is our 9th day on the road, and we are still above 2/3rds on our fresh-water tank, and probably below 1/3rd on each of our two holding tanks (black- and gray-water).  I say “probably” because the level sensors for those two tanks are not very accurate.

We left in our car at 9:30 AM and drove to the Fort Worth Prevost Car Inc. Parts and Service Center just south of the Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) airport in search of some spare parts for our Level Low system and lower windshield wipers.  The CatView program on my laptop showed a “641055 Manifold Valve / w/4 Solenoid” on drawing “H4-1640-00 Level-Low – Control Panel & Valves” but I knew I did not want this entire assembly.  Art, in the parts department, helped figure out the parts I was looking for, which turned out to be a “641928” for $41.28 and a “641929” for $35.60.  One is the solenoid coil and the other is the pneumatic valve, but I’m not sure which is which.

I was also looking for an “800304 Motor Wiper Assembly / 24V / Nidec” as shown on the “H4-2305-05 Lower Windshield Wiper – Installation” drawing.  CatView indicated that it had been superseded by “Kit #300506.”  That was correct and the cost was $200.03, but they saved me from spending the money as they did not have one in stock.  I was also thinking about getting a “641057 Valve, 5 Ways, 3 Positions” (Norgren K41EA00) and a “641056 Valve, 3 Ways, 2 Positions” (Norgren K910058).  They were $150.91 and $143.80 respectively so I did not even ask if they were in stock.  My diagram also showed a “562353 Diode / 1 Amp” but I decided not to ask about it at this time.  I can get most parts delivered in 2 – 3 days via UPS by ordering through their Elgin, Illinois center, but I am trying to stock a set of replacement parts that might be needed for a roadside repair.

Parts in hand we headed back south on TX-360 towards Six Flags to see if we could find the home stadiums of the Dallas Cowboys (AT&T Stadium) and Texas Rangers (Globe Life Park).  They were located just west of Six Flags and south of I-30, part of an amazing sports/entertainment complex euphemistically known as “Jerry World” after the owner of the Cowboys.

We got on I-30 westbound, exiting some 14 miles later at Montgomery Street, and followed the signs to the Fort Worth Cultural District.  We knew that most of the museums were closed today but we still wanted to see them from the outside.  Even if they had been open we did not have time today to go in as I had an FMCA National Education Committee meeting (telephone conference call) at 3 PM CST.  We did, however, have time to find Central Market again.

We walked up and down every isle and realized we had seen less than half of the store when we were here on Saturday.  Central Market may be the most amazing market we have ever been in.  As much as we like Whole Foods, it simply does not rise to the level of Central Market when it comes to fresh/organic items.  We picked up some additional fresh and packaged items, including a mix for white bean chili with jalapeños to make for dinner.

When we got back to our coach Linda started the chili.  We then took advantage of Donn’s hospitality to do a load of laundry only to discover his dryer was out of commission.  No problem; we just hung the laundry outside to dry in the late afternoon Texas sun and let it dry the old fashioned way.

Shortly before 3 PM CST I dialed in to the FMCA National Education Committee meeting and participated in the hour long work session.  There were good ideas put forward and it looks like I will have some specific things to do over the next several months.

While the chili cooked we both took a shower, again avoiding using our onboard water and waste tanks.  Donn is in the process of getting rid of lots of books and invited us to peruse them and take anything that looked interesting.  Linda found a half dozen titles, mostly paperback mysteries, that she will enjoy reading and then leaving in an RV park “library” someone down the road.  For never having met prior to noon on Saturday, Donn has treated us like old friends; a most considerate host.

Donn got home from work at 6:15 PM and I let him know that Linda had prepared the chili for dinner.  We waited 15 minutes for him to change clothes and tend to his dogs (Elvis and Lucy) and then brought the chili and some crackers to the house.  He provided the bowls, spoons, glasses, and draft beer.  I don’t think I will give up wine in favor of beer but the Shiner Bock that Donn keeps on draft was easy to drink and very tasty.  I detected a subtle hint of sweet citrus in the finish, but no one else did.

Butch called as I was finishing my first bowl of chili.  He reminded me that the SKP Dreamcatcher RV park is in Deming, NM just a few miles farther on past Las Cruces, NM and we discussed possibly meeting up there and staying the night.  He indicated that he had looked at the unloader valves on their main engine air-compressor and they may not be the problem.  Since the parts won’t make it to Amarillo until Wednesday or Thursday they are not going to stick around and planned to head out in the morning.  Linda got online to check distances and potential stopping points and found that it was 720 miles from here to Deming, NM and 313 miles to a convenient Wal-Mart in Midland, TX.  We let Donn know that we would probably leave in the morning and said our “farewells until next time” and thanked him for his generous hospitality.  If our future travels take us anywhere near Dallas Ft. Worth we will definitely stop and spend time with Donn.  Heck, we would travel here just to visit with him.


2014/12/01-04 (m-r) Westward Ho!

2014/12/01 (M) Back in Twelve Mile IN

As I indicated in yesterday’s post we are back in Twelve Mile, Indiana for a couple of days before heading on towards the southwest United States.  Butch and Fonda are scrambling to get ready and although there isn’t much we can do to help, we have made ourselves available.  If nothing else we can cheer them on.

We went to bed early last night, tired from our final departure preparations and 270 miles of travel yesterday, and slept in this morning.  Once we were up we had our usual granola with fresh fruit for breakfast and then walked over to Small Town Brew for coffee and conversation with owner Lisa Paul and whoever else happened in while we were there.

Well caffeinated, and pushing 9:30 AM, we checked in on Butch and Fonda.  There wasn’t anything we could help with so we both set up our computers and got online.  Linda paid bills while I updated the spreadsheet I use to track cross-purchase costs.  I hooked up their small Canon iP90 inkjet printer and printed out a copy for Butch and wrote him a check for the balance we owed them.  I showed Linda the MFJ-998 full legal limit antenna tuner that Butch wanted to sell and decided to buy it, resulting in a second check.  We plan to (eventually) use this in our base station, but it was a good enough deal that it was worth buying now and transporting to Arizona and back.  Buying it now also helped out our friends.  I logged in to RVillage and updated our location while Linda walked down to the Post Office two buildings to the west.  (Twelve Mile is a pretty small, compact town.)

Bill and Butch finished repairing Brittiny’s car this past week and she and Rock showed up mid-morning to pick it up.  We visited with them for a while and then Rock headed back while Brittiny visited with her mom.  While they were talking someone stopped across the street and off-loaded a camel.  They had three on the trailer but I’m not sure where they put the other two.  The three wise men, however, were nowhere to be seen.

Although the air temperature was in the upper 20’s it was sunny most of the day, which kept the front of the bus comfortable and well lit.  Given those conditions I decided to work on some projects in the center cockpit area.

First up was (finally) mounting the inclinometer, which turned out to be quite the little project.  I had to remove the mounting bracket from the case in order to attach it to my mounting blocks on the center windshield pillar.  That, in turn, required me to take the case apart and remove the mechanism so I could get to the ‘C’ clips that prevented the bracket retaining screws from coming all the way out of the body.  But I got it apart, mounted, and reassembled, minus the retaining clips.  Really, why would I put them back in?

Linda split the one remaining Tofurkey brand Italian sausage and served it on a couple of hotdog buns for lunch along with a couple of Clementine oranges.  A quick and simple but tasty lunch.

The inclinometer and the compass both have light bulbs in them and needed to be wired up to 12VDC accessory plugs.  The inclinometer already had a power cord but the compass did not, so I got some scrap wire from Butch and fashioned a 2-conductor power cable.  I only have four accessory outlets and three of them were already in use so I attached both power cables to a single plug using wire nuts.  I then dressed all of the wires to make for a neater looking installation that would keep them out of the way and prevent snagging and/or tripping problems.  All of this was a long-term temporary solution; I plan to eventually install a 12 VDC PowerPole distribution system for all of these accessories and hide the wiring to the extent possible or enclose it split cable loom.

I removed the four screws that hold the panel with the 12 VDC house system switches so I could get to the back side of them.  It took a while but I eventually puzzled out how the three air-conditioner switches were wired.  I removed the wire that feeds +12 VDC to the Rear A-C switch and checked for voltage at the loose end of the wire.  There wasn’t any, as expected, so I put a 2 Amp blade fuse in the 12 VDC distribution panel and checked again.  This time I had +13.2 VDC, so everything was good down to that point.  I removed the line and load wires from each switch in turn and checked to make sure the contacts opened and closed the way they should.  They did, so I checked each pin to ground to see if any of them were somehow shorted to ground.  They were not, so the problem was probably downstream from there.  I did not, however, specifically check the bulb circuit for each switch, so I don’t know if there’s a problem there or not.  The bulbs, however, get their power from the load side of each switch, so in the next paragraph the tests I did included the bulbs in parallel with whatever other loads existed.

I tested each load wire for continuity to ground and was surprised that they each appeared as a short.  I did this test with the DC- lead to ground and the DC+ lead to the wire.  When I reversed the leads each wire tested as open.  That suggested there was a diode, or something, acting as a one way current check valve.  I switched the VOM to measure resistance and rechecked each wire.  Where I had previously seen short circuits I saw 0 ohms; where I saw open circuits I now saw about 630 ohms.  Those readings might be a problem, but I don’t yet understand them well enough to know.

The bulbs are incandescent, so their resistance should measure the same in either direction.  If they are 0.6 W they would draw ~0.047 A and have a resistance of ~265 ohms (when illuminated), not the 630 ohms I saw with the red test lead grounded.  Regardless of the exact value, if a bulb was shorted I would see 0 ohms whichever way the test leads were connected.  With the black test lead to ground the 0 ohm readings were, therefore, presumably through the load wires not the bulbs.  If the relay coils were very low resistance (and protected by diodes) they would determine the meter reading in the forward direction, but I would have expected something more than a zero reading.  It seems very odd to me that all three of these loads tested as short circuits in one direction.

I had a weak Verizon 4G/LTE signal at the front of the bus so I tried calling Donn Barnes in Alvarado, Texas.  I got his voice mail and left a message indicating he could TXT message me back.  He did later and I replied that I would call him from Logansport a bit later.  Butch needed a 1/2″ x 1-1/2″ NPT male nipple so Linda and I drove to Logansport to buy one at Home Depot.  While we were there I called Donn and confirmed that he would be home this weekend and that we were still welcomed to visit and spend Saturday and Sunday at his place.  The timing looks like it will work out well as he has to work on Friday and Monday, so we will take our leave on Monday morning.

When we got back to the coach we had some pita chips with hummus while Linda prepared a green salad and started heating some lentil soup.  While we enjoyed the soup she reheated some pita bread and the leftover Koshary.  A small glass of Moscato went nicely with the meal.  After dinner we went in the house to visit with Butch and Fonda for a while and transfer some PDF files onto a flash drive for Butch.  We returned to our coach for the evening at 9 PM.  It was certainly an easier day for us than for Butch and Fonda, but we were tired nonetheless.

We were sitting quietly, reading and writing, when things suddenly got exciting.  Juniper made a sudden movement near the food bowls and I immediately glanced in her direction to see that she had caught a mouse.  We knew at least one was probably still living in the bus because yesterday we found a partially shredded blue paper shop towel in the tray where we store the shore power cords, along with two nuts that had been chewed open.

Juniper is a very skillful huntress but I was surprised that the mouse attempted to get to the cats’ food bowls, which are not in a really safe place for a mouse, with two cats on board.  Juniper is very protective of her catches, so she headed off towards the bedroom, trying to find someplace where we could not try to take it away from her.  We wanted to get it from her and remove it from the coach but our main concern was that she not kill it and try to eat it.

I got a container to try to capture it and Linda managed to get hold of the scruff of Juniper’s neck which caused her to drop the mouse.  It immediately ran further under the bed, a direction from which there did not appear to be an escape path, but we could find no sign of it save a few stool pellets.  I would have needed a much deeper container, like the trash can, to capture it.  Our best guess is that it disappeared into the OTR HVAC duct on Linda’s side of the bed.  Once in there it could travel the length of the bus with impunity, including moving from side to side and between the house and the bay’s.  With any luck it took the hint and moved outside.

Juniper took up her post by the rear corner of the dinette, where she originally caught the mouse, to wait for its reappearance.  A black cat sitting quietly on black tile at night is a pretty effective camouflage.  The problem for the mouse is that it needs to eat and even in its natural (outdoor) environment constantly takes risks to obtain food.

2014/12/02 (T) Tire(d) Pressures

Some nights we sleep better than others.  Last night was not one of our better nights.  The cats were still wound up because of the mouse and I suspect we were anticipating its return as well.  Because neither of us slept well, we slept in this morning.  By the time we were up and dressed it was 8:30 AM.  Linda was pretty sure she had left her gloves and knit hat at the coffee shop yesterday so we decided to go have coffee at Small Town Brew before we ate breakfast.

Linda’s things were there waiting for her to claim them.  We had a nice long chat with proprietor Lisa Paul and invited her to stop over after she closed the coffee shop for the day and get an inside tour of both buses.  We also inquired as to whether she had any post cards of Twelve Mile.  She did not but thought it would be nice to have a few available.  She has a friend, Derinda, who is an artist and thought she would ask her to make a few.  We were interested in one we could mail to our grand-daughter, Madeline, who will be two years old in less than three weeks.

Breakfast was raisin toast and grapefruit, simple but yummy.  We were both dressed to work and went in search of Butch and Fonda to see if we could be of any assistance.  Linda took her computer in the house to transfer some PDF manuals to Butch and then take care of some bakery-related issues.  I used Butch’s MFJ-269 SWR Analyzer to check the VSWR on his 2 meter ham antenna and his (11 meter) CB antenna.  Both antennas are glass mount.  The 2m ham antenna was tuned fairly well, showing a VSWR of 2.1 at the low end of the band (144.000 MHz) and 1.8 across most of the band (up 148.000 MHz).  That is certainly a usable range.

The CB antenna did not test nearly as well.  The CB band is channelized, with channel 1 just below 27.000 MHz and channel 40 just above 27.400 MHz.  At 27.0 MHz the VSWR was greater than 6.0.  It declined steadily as I went up in frequency but was only down to 2.9 by the time I got to Channel 40.  A reading greater than 2.0 (a ratio greater than 2:1) becomes problematic for a transmitter and readings greater than 3.0 are generally unusable.  Both of Butch’s antennas are tunable but we did not take the time to adjust them today.  Butch is taking the analyzer so we can work on the antennas while we are in Quartzsite.

Their bus is parked in between our bus and their house as a consequence of which our WiFi Ranger is not able to pick up their WiFi network signal which is already weak outside the house.  I am having a problem with the unit that has me concerned, but I won’t be able to sort it out until I can get it connected to a working Internet connection.  The problem is that the WFR finds their network and tries to connect to it, requests an IP address, and while it is waiting for a response disconnects from my iPad, which serves as its control panel.  This annoying at best since the WFR and the iPad are only 10 feet apart.

We had lunch at 1:30 PM.  Linda heated up a couple of Thai Kitchen brand hot and sour rice noodle soup bowls.  It had been cold, damp, and dreary all day and we were both feeling a bit chilled so the soup was very soothing in addition to being very tasty.  By 2 PM it was obvious we were not going to get the mid-to-upper 30’s temperatures that had been forecast and there was no advantage to waiting any longer to check/set the tire pressures.  I bundled up, put on my mechanic’s gloves, and set about the business at hand.

Butch turned the auto shop compressor on and I pulled the air hose out and connected it to our hose.  I removed the Pressure Pro sensors from all 12 tires and then worked my way around both vehicles in the same order.  When the sensors have been off for a minimum of one minute putting them back on resets the baseline pressure, which determines the pressures at which you get over- and under-pressure warnings.  I set the bus tires as follows:  front tires to 115 PSI, drive tires to 95 PSI, and tag tires to 85 PSI.  I set the car front tires to 32 PSI and the rear tires to 34 PSI.  I noted that the ambient temperature was 30 degrees F.  I then plugged in the Pressure Pro receiver and repeater and checked the pressures they were reporting.  The four car tire readings were essentially identical to the known pressures in the tires, but the sensors on the eight bus tires all registered low, in one case by 6 lbs.  As I indicated in a previous post I think the batteries are just about drained and are giving tire(d) pressure readings.  I know that I am tired of the discrepancies as I count on these readings to tell me it’s OK to drive or I need to add air to certain tires.

Bill and Bell showed up in his custom car hauler while I was working on the tires.  Bill and Butch worked on some stuff and Bell helped Fonda load food and sundries onto the bus.  Lisa Paul showed up for a brief visit and tour of both buses.  See also brought a postcard that her friend Derinda made.  It featured the building that houses Lisa’s Small Town Brew coffee shop.  Linda is going to post it to Madeline in the morning so it has a Twelve Mile, Indiana postmark.  It will be the first of what we hope are many such postcards from far away exotic places.  Being almost two years old we hope these mementos will provide a tangible connection to us while we are traveling.  I know her parents will use them as learning opportunities.

Linda and I took showers in the house to minimize the use of our stored water and waste tank capacity.  The six of us then drove down to The Old Mill restaurant just west of town for an earlier than normal dinner.  The restaurant also allowed us to use their dumpster to dispose of our accumulated household trash.  That was nice because Butch and Fonda had already suspended their dumpster service for the winter.

When we got back from dinner we got online and checked the weather forecast and road conditions along our planned route.  Bill had recently driven I-70 west of Indianapolis and strongly advised us to avoid going that way.  Our check of the INDOT website confirmed that we were well advised to avoid Indianapolis altogether.  We settled on SR-16 east to US-31 south to US-24 west to I-57 in Illinois.  From there we will take I-57 south to Mt. Vernon, Illinois where we will overnight at Wally World (Walmart).

Bill and Bell said they would be back in the morning to see us off (“watch this thing launch” is how Bill put it) and took their leave.  We hung out a while longer trying to be useful but mostly providing moral support and comic relief until it was time to winterize the plumbing.  Butch hooked up a line from his big shop air compressor, ran it through a pressure regulator, and attached it to the main plumbing line at the surge tank and pump.  Just like an RV he used air pressure to drain both water heaters and then had us open each fixture in turn and let the air blow the water out and down the drain.  We then filled the traps and toilet tanks with potable RV antifreeze.  The reason for using potable antifreeze is that it will eventually end up in the septic tank and drain field.

We finally retired to our coach leaving them to finish up some last minute things before retiring to their coach for the night.  We had some very tasty red grapes for dessert (and a couple of cookies) while we studied maps for our next few days of travel.  We had not really looked at them carefully before now and were surprised to find that we will not be in either Kentucky or Tennessee.  We had presumed that we would be, but I-57 runs into the extreme southwest corner of Illinois and then crosses the Mississippi River into Missouri, ending at I-55 in Sikeston.  From there we will continue south into Arkansas on I-55, which stays on the west side of the Mississippi river, until we intersect I-40 west of Memphis and head west towards Little Rock.  Thus we will never enter Kentucky or Tennessee and we will not drive through Memphis; at least not on purpose.

Fonda has to run to Logansport first thing tomorrow and while she is gone we will prep our bus for travel, hitch up our car, and give Butch whatever assistance we can.  We plan to be on the road by 10 AM and safely parked at the Walmart in Mt. Vernon, Illinois well before dark.

2014/12/03 (W) Finally On Our Way

We were up around 7:45 this morning anticipating a 9 AM departure even though we knew that was unlikely.  I turned on the Aqua-Hot engine pre-heat pump to start warming the engine.  There was a dusting of snow on the ground and on our car; a sure sign that our departure had been delayed long enough.

Bill and Bell arrived a little after 8 AM so we invited them into the coach and chatted for over an hour while Butch and Fonda got their morning organized.  Fonda left for her run to Logansport at 9:15 AM followed by Bill and Bell at 9:25 AM when they decided they needed to go to Logansport to get breakfast.  Fonda returned at 9:50 AM and we started making our final departure preparations.  We had hoped to leave by 10 AM but suspected that was optimistic.  It’s Butch and Fonda’s first extended use of their converted coach and they have had a lot to do to get ready to leave.

We straightened up the interior for travel as soon as Bill and Bell left so all that remained for us to do was unhook the shorepower cord and store it, start up the main engine, move the bus across the street, and hookup the car for towing.  We can do all of that in 15-20 minutes if absolutely necessary, especially in warmer weather, but it typically takes a half hour.  We do not like to rush this process; it’s important that we do it correctly each and every time.  It is also a commonly understood etiquette among RVers that you do not try to chit-chat with, or otherwise disturb, fellow road warriors while they are hitching something up.

Butch & Fonda's MC-9 getting ready to depart Twelve Mile, IN.

Butch & Fonda’s MC-9 getting ready to depart Twelve Mile, IN.

We were idling and ready to go by 10:25 AM but Butch had to make some final adjustments to his toad towing/braking setup.  Bill and Bell were back in time for Bill to help and Bell to take pictures and give us a good send off.  We pulled out a little after 11 AM and headed east on SR-16 with Butch in the lead but only got to the edge of town before Butch pulled off the road.  We pulled off behind him and Bill pulled off the on the other side.  We had noticed that their bus was smoking but they realized something was wrong before we could even call them on our 2m ham radio.  It wasn’t the engine; the brakes on the toad were partially engaged and he could feel the drag.  He readjusted it and we were on our way again, this time for good.

The trip to Mt. Vernon, Illinois was an easy and uneventful run.  From SR-16 we turned south on US-31 and picked up US-24 westbound.  We took this same route in June 2013 when we left Twelve Mile headed to the state of Wyoming so we knew it was a good route for us.  We had to slow down going through small towns, but that gave us a chance to catch a glimpse of these quaint little places.  A couple of larger towns had stop lights, but mostly we were able to keep rolling.

We stopped at a Pilot Truck Stop just west of I-65 for a quick walk-around and so Fonda could take the dogs out.  We continued west on US-24 into Illinois and eventually got to I-57 where we headed south.  We saw occasional construction signs but very little construction and did not incur any delays.  Butch lead most of the day and we just followed along with generally light traffic.

We stopped at the rest area just north of I-70 and took a stretch break, after which we took the lead.  A few miles later we got to the construction on the short stretch where I-57 and I-70 run together.  We had to drive 45 MPH but rolled right through.  After the construction zone we took the center lane knowing that I-57 would split to the left from I-70 and continue southbound.  Slow traffic is often worse than fast traffic as the cars end up bumper-to-bumper leaving no space for larger vehicles to change lanes.

Following the directions on our GPS we took exit 95 for Mt. Vernon, Illinois, drove a quarter mile, and turned left onto a road that ran down the west side of the Wal-Mart property.  Linda had called ahead and been told it was OK for us to spend the night in their parking lot.  The first two access drives, however, had crossbars at 12 feet so we could not turn in. The third driveway was for delivery trucks so we turned in there and headed back towards the north end of the lot by Ryan’s as Linda had been instructed on the phone.  There were signs posted prohibiting semi-truck parking so we parked temporarily while Linda went in to check on the situation.

A women at customer service confirmed that we could spend the night and asked that we stay near the periphery of their parking lot away from the main doors.  No problem.  The lot we had pulled into was not the Wal-Mart lot and was a little tight but were able to extricate both coaches without unhooking our toads and moved them to the northeast corner of the adjacent/connected Wal-Mart parking lot.  I leveled up as best I could, shut the engine off, and then closed the various air valves and switched the chassis batteries off.

The house batteries were at an 89% state of charge (SOC) when we arrived.  We locked the bus and went for a walk around the east end of the building to scout out an exit route.  We stopped in the store and bought a bag of Fritos and some popcorn oil.  When we got back to the coach I started the diesel genset and turned on two of the electric toekick heaters while Linda used the induction cooker to prepare vegan burgers for dinner.

After we had eaten Linda and I sent TXT messages to several people.  We then went over to visit briefly with Butch and Fonda and look at maps for tomorrow’s leg of the trip.  When we returned to our coach we noticed that the generator had stopped running.  Not good.  I was able to restart it but each time it shut down, so I got Butch to come look at it.

There’s a solenoid that holds a fuel valve open and we thought that might be the problem, but it wasn’t.  We checked the level of the oil but it was OK.  I started it again and Butch noticed that the squirrel cage fresh air blower was not turning so I shut the engine off.  Linda had been watching the gauges inside and said the water temperature was very high (off the end of the scale).  Butch checked the blower to make sure it wasn’t stuck. I traced the wiring back to a panel with a couple of circuit breakers and one of them was popped.  I reset it and restarted the engine and the blower came on.  Linda reported that the water temperature immediately dropped.  We suspected, but did not confirm, that the same breaker controlled the power to the large squirrel cage blower for the radiator, which is located in the inverter bay on the other side of the bus.  I let it run for another hour and brought the house batteries up to 95%.  It ran fine with normal water temperature and oil pressure so I think we found the problem and fixed it.

Linda read while I changed most of the clocks to Central Standard Time.  I turned off the electric heating element in the Aqua-Hot to unload the GenSet and then shut it down for the night.  I dialed the three Aqua-Hot thermostats back to 15 degrees C (59 degrees F) and turned on the Diesel burner.  It is only supposed to get down to 32 degrees Fahrenheit overnight but Linda put an extra blanket on the bed since we will not be using the electric heating pads as they would draw too much energy from the batteries.

It was a long day but largely uneventful except for the beginning and the end.  But all’s well that ends well, and this day did.

2014/12/04 (R) Roadside Repair

I was awake at 4:30 AM and got up to check on the SOC of the house batteries and turn on the Aqua-Hot engine pre-heat pump.  The batteries were at 68 SOC.  They were at 95% when I shut the generator off around 9 PM last night, so they had dropped 27% percentage points in 7.5 hours, a rate of 3.6 percentage points per hour or 10 percentage points every 2 hours and 45 minutes.  We did not go out of our way to minimize loads, leaving some night lights on (DC), the Aqua-Hot (DC), and the main inverter loads (refrigerator, auxiliary air-compressor, microwave clock, outlets with chargers, etc.). At that rate it would take just under 14 hours for the batteries to drop to a 50% SOC, starting from 100%.  I was satisfied with the performance of the system and went back to bed.

It started to rain off and on around 5:30 AM, the first sign of a wet day.  I got up to stay at 7:15 AM and got dressed.  I checked the SOC of the house batteries and it was 58%, so it had dropped another 10% in 2 and 3/4 hours, consistent with the 4:30 AM data.  I started the generator to provide power for hot water, lights, and additional engine pre-heating.  It would also start to bring the SOC of the house batteries back up before we started driving for the day, although the Zena power generating system on the main engine should be capable of recharging them in a couple of hours while we are driving.

Since we were not leaving until at least 9 AM we decided to have a light breakfast of raisin bread and grapefruit.  After breakfast I powered up our Verizon Mi-Fi device, got my laptop connected to it, e-mailed yesterday’s blog post to myself (from my iPad), and then checked my e-mail (on my computer).

We had the coach straightened up and ready to go well ahead of our departure.  Around 8:45 Butch indicated that they would be ready to go in 15 minutes.  That was all the time I needed to get the car ready to tow, switch the coach batteries on, open the various air valves, shut off the Aqua-Hot pre-heat loop, and start the main engine.  With the main engine running I turned off all of the loads on the generator, let it run unloaded for a few minutes to cool down, and then shut it off.

We pulled out at 9 AM and worked our way around behind the store and back out the unblocked entrance we came in yesterday.  Instead of turning on Broadway to go back to the Interstate we crossed over and pulled into the Pilot Truck Stop so Butch could top off their fuel tank.  We did not need fuel yet but I pulled in right behind him so we were positioned to pull out together.

We were back on I-57 headed south by 9:25 AM with Butch in the lead.  We ran at 60 MPH through light rain and fog with overcast skies all the way to the end of I-57 at I-55 near Sikeston, Missouri, where we continued south towards Memphis, Tennessee.  We eventually crossed into Arkansas and out of the rain, although the cloudy skies continued.  About 25 miles north of the junction with I-40 Butch called on the radio to let us know that he needed to get off the road at the first safe place I could find.  His air pressure had dropped to 60 PSI and was not building.  A couple of miles later I pulled off onto the shoulder of an entrance ramp and he pulled off behind me.  The brakes and suspension most highway buses are air-powered.  Without proper air-pressure the bus cannot be driven.

The pressure in the system was holding which indicated a supply issue rather than a leak.  The usual suspect in this situation is the “governor” (or less likely the unloader valves) on the main engine air-compressor.  Butch had a spare governor in his parts kit but we were not in an ideal spot for changing it.  He decided instead to hook up his portable air-compressor to his air system auxiliary fill connector.  He put the portable air-compressor in the bedroom at the rear of the bus and had Fonda run the air hose out the passenger side window were I took it and zip tied it to the side radiator grill.  Butch then ran it through a small access door by the passenger side rear lights and connected it to the fill valve.  The portable air-compressor is an AC powered device, so Butch had to start their generator to power it.  It gradually built the pressure to 100 PSI.  The pressure was holding so Butch dial it up to 110 PSI.  He left the portable air-compressor on for the rest of the trip and allowed us to get back on the road, making this a very clever emergency roadside fix.

After a 20 minute delay we pulled back onto I-55 and finished the run to I-40 with heavier traffic.  We exited onto westbound I-40 in West Memphis, Arkansas and completed the 38 miles to Forest City, Arkansas without difficulty.  We negotiated a tight turn onto the street where the Wal-Mart was located but had an easy time getting in at the far west entrance.  From there we pulled up parallel to a north-south curb that ran the length of the west edge of the parking lot.  We leveled up the coach (using the air springs), shut down the engine, and went through our usual dry-camping arrival routine.

As soon as we were set up Butch was back looking at his main engine air-compressor and then on the phone with Luke at U. S. Coach in New Jersey.  He decided to change the governor as it couldn’t do any harm.  I helped him (as best I could) but once the new governor was installed the compressor still would not build air pressure.  The unloader valves were the next most likely (easiest to fix) culprits, but neither of us had the parts.  There was an O’Reilly’s Auto Store across the main road from the Wal-Mart so we walked over there.  They did not stock them either, but at least we got some exercise.

The house batteries were at 78% SOC when we arrived which disappointed me as I expected them to be at least at 88% like they were yesterday at the end of our drive.  We were on the inverter from the time we started up at 9 AM until I turned the generator on at about 3:30 PM.  At our normal rate of 3.6 percentage points per hour we would have been at ~72% SOC without any charging from the ZENA system, so 78% did not seem very good to me.  It appears that I am going to have to adjust the charge voltage up somewhat on the ZENA power generating system as it should be supply enough current to run any AC loads while traveling (mostly the refrigerator) and fully recharge the house batteries.  I let the generator run through dinner until bedtime.  It brought the SOC back up to 91% with the charger in float mode supplying 10 Amps of current at 26.3 VDC.  Once the charger is in float mode it can take a surprisingly long time to finishing bringing the batteries to full charge.

Some weeks back Butch bought a grandfathered Verizon unlimited data plan on Ebay using the Assumption Of Liability (AOL) process.  He also picked up a used phone and a used Jetpack MiFi device.  Both devices can use the SIM card, but he had not had a chance to connect the MiFi through to the Internet.  We removed the card from the phone, installed it in the MiFi and powered it up.  It found a strong Verizon 4G/LTE signal right away.  The menu gave us the password and we were able to connect his laptop computer and my iPad.  He started searching the web while I downloaded e-mails.

Linda and Fonda had walked to the store to buy a few things.  When they got back we chatted for a bit and then went back to our coach.  Linda made popcorn for me (she wasn’t hungry) and we relaxed for a while before going to bed.