Old Diary, Travel

Killing Your Power Pig

There’s an angry monster beneath the floors of your RV!

Meet the Power Pig

Meet the Power Pig

Meet the Power Pig!  He’s with you every where you go and some RV’ers don’t even know he travels with them.  Most of the time he’s pretty quiet until you here his universal anger call:  “Click” — heard right at the time he bites into your power cable and trips the breaker when you’ve been using too much electricity.

Ok — if you always pull into posh RV campgrounds you may never have met him.  But if you mooch-dock in the driveways of friends and family, so that you have to live with 15 amps of electric service then you have surely met him/her — I have never been sure whether power pigs reproduce asexually, or not.  Anyway….


The power center in our Winnebago (note the gauge second from the top)


The power panel in our Holiday Rambler (note the top gauge)

Taking time to learn about your (a.) power consumption and (b.) what each circuit breaker in your RV controls is good for anyone who RV’s.  Sometimes it’s easier  to know how much power you’re consuming if you pay attention to the power panel in your RV.  If yours is like ours when you are on anything but 50 amp service you’ll get a readout of how much power you are using.  If you note the amount of draw before turning on another appliance and then note the amount of power being consumed AFTER turning it on you can subtract one from the other and determine the electric draw of that appliance.  If you have NOTHING turned on you can determine your parasitic draw — those things that are always on:  fridge, CO monitor, clocks, pilot lights, etc..

The Kill-a-Watt will help you determine your power usage.

The Kill-a-Watt will help you determine your power usage.

Another, slightly more accurate and boys-toyishly elegant is to use something like a Kill-a-Watt meter.  These are available from the likes of The Home Depot and Lowes, as well as Amazon.com and hardware stores across the land.

These handheld size meters plug into the wall receptacle on the back side, and you plug your appliance into the front plug and voila — instant usage info.

Those of us who boondock — whether it’s just overnights en route with Wallyworld or Uncle Cabela’s, or weeks at a time on BLM property — pay a little bit more attention to how much power we’re pulling.  Even though it’s rude and impolite to be extending leveling jacks and slide-outs when you’re overnighting at Uncle Cabela’s , or at Wallyworld,  it’s no fun to awaken in the morning and discover that you’re worn and old batteries gave up their last gasp during the night and now you can’t retract those slides that you shouldn’t have extended in the first place because you’ve got no battery juice left.    Or, even worse, you’ve been boondocking for 5 days, you’re ready to leave and you haven’t got enough power even with your Momentary switch thrown to crank up the generator or your engine.   If talking about the ‘momentary’ switch throws you for a loop — look around on your dashboard — a lot of us have a switch up there somewhere that is designed just for those weak battery days.  The switch is spring loaded — you don’t want to leave it on very long — and it couples your house and chassis batteries together long enough to give your starter motor an extra kick and get your engine started.

Take some time to learn about your usage!

You may not always be able to find a 50 amp plug in.  Sometimes — we’ve discovered this at Corps of Engineer campgrounds out there in more remote locations — those 50 amp power posts aren’t really delivering 50 amps.  Sometimes they are delivering only 30 amps even though they are labeled 50 amps.  Knowing what you can run on limited power is key to enjoying your RV time to the max.EMS-PT50C

We use an RV 50 amp line monitor.  In the first place, the monitor checks the power before it ever allows juice into the RV — for 126 seconds it simply monitors what’s happening to the delivered power, checking volts, ground, differential between the two power legs, etc.  If the power is too dirty it won’t open the valve to the coach.  If the power is within parameters in 2 minutes.  The box will also cut power to the coach if something happens on the supply side, and there’s a little readout that tell you the voltage on each leg (your 50 amp 220V power supply is sort of like two different 110 volt power supplies hooked together — simplified), and how much current you are drawing on each leg, as well as monitoring for various faults.

don't use this one

We were NOT happy with this one. When it failed prematurely, we did not replace it with like kind.

We used to have a different power protector.  I don’t recommend this one.  We bought it while we were in Oregon.  It lasted a few months and failed.  We might have been able to get it replaced but we realized there were some serious design issues that made it impractical for us.

This less than satisfactory device is LONG — longer than several of the power stands were high off the ground, meaning that your plug to the coach was always lying on the ground; down there where it gets damp.  (Specially in Oregon)  Secondly, the device says it wants to operate vertically.  Don’t support it so that it’s laying horizontally.  Once it failed I found what we think is a better solution; the one I first mentioned.  power regulator

There is another model that I almost tried.  Now, I almost wish I had gone with this one instead.  It has a longer cord to attach to the power post, it has feet to raise it off the ground, in case of little puddles, and it’s supposed to actually REGULATE power, instead of just turning off dirty power.

Now — I’m not an electrician.  In fact, electricity scares the heeby-jeebies out of me.  But I’m big on protection.  We have been in parks where power surges have burnt out electrical systems in multiple RV’s in short order.  We have heard of power posts wired wrong,  and on the Forest (while in Oregon) we lived with some serious line voltage problems — so from here on we’re taking the attitude that a pound of prevention is better than a kilogram of cure!

So, there you have my wanderings for Tuesday.  Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.

Old Diary, Travel

That OTHER Circuit Breaker

The other day I commented about the fact that when our friend Debbie and her dad came to visit that we had electrical problems.

Circuit Breakers

It’s a cute little breaker box, isn’t it!

I’m contemplating the vagaries of motorhome design.  Our new-to-us coach has a very conveniently located electrical panel. The panel is in a covered overhead storage bay on the curbside of the coach just forward of the back wall.  That makes sense because the batteries and inverter live directly below — in the rear two curbside storage bays.  In our Winnebago the electrical panel was on the end of the bed, down on the floor, behind a metal cover hinged at the top which kept trying to close while you were laying on the ground trying to see the circuit breakers.  [mumble, mumble, mumble]Our Electrical Cabinets

And the question comes to mind:
Given the fact that there is a perfectly nice electrical panel with excess space to the right, why did the engineers put all of the lounge outlets onto a circuit that terminates not in the electrical panel, but in a separate sub-panel on the side of the Inverter?

Magnum-InverterThe  inverter is a nice enough piece of electronics.  The original one (before our addition of solar panels) was a modified sine wave inverter, our new one is a true sine wave inverter but both of them had the same external circuit breaker setup.  And why they would put that OUTSIDE the coach is beyond me.

pure sine_mod sineI know some of you who are (like me) not terribly savvy about electronics may not know a lot about RV electric power.  If you have batteries in your RV and you want to run regular household appliances you need to convert that 12 VDC power into 110-120 VAC current.  The inverter is the machinery that does that work for you.  So, seeing as the inverter’s job is to change one kind of electricity into another — just why they put a 110 V circuit breaker down there on the the equipment that converts one kind of power into another is an obscure mystery.

The difference between the two forms of electrical waves is that the modified sine wave is cheaper to produce (cost of original equipment) but it gives you a voltage with … for the lack of a better term …. sudden jolts.  The power goes from zero volts to +110 volts instantly, then instantly back to zero volts and then instantly to  -110 volts.  A Pure Sine Wave inverter gives you the same 0 to 110 to 0 to -110 to 0 pattern, but in a smooth wave form, and not that jarring form that can be hard on different kinds of electrical power.  The more electronics you run the more susceptible you may be to problems.  Many machines will work just fine with modified sine wave; and as the modified sine wave inverters are developed and electronics are improved the problems seem to be lessened but they can still result in premature appliance failure.

The long and the short of it is that we found where our extra two circuit breakers are.  And now if we trip a breaker and we can’t find a tripped breaker INSIDE the coach we just go OUTSIDE and sure enough — there’s the little troublemaker!

And thus endeth our dissertation on strangely placed circuit breakers.  Thanks for stopping by and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.

Old Diary

Our Last Volunteer Meeting…

Another traveler snapped this photo of me at the Paris Zoo

Another traveler snapped this photo of me at the Paris Zoo, circa 2005

Tuesday was the last of our volunteer meetings here.  While this photo shows ME with MY head in the Hippo’s mouth, I fear that Da Boss feels like HER head is in the ravenous creature’s mouth.  She hates doing public events, and talking in front of others.  She’s great in the forest, and she’s great at maintenance — but a presenter she isn’t.  Fortunately her boss took over the most of that job.

The District Ranger came down from Waldport for the meeting — a first in the year we’ve been here.  We had good turn out from our staffers in support of the volunteers and that’s only right.  The Dunes would not function without the staff of folks we have here.

Out of 35 volunteers 8 failed to show — 3 for known and reasonable reasons, 5 seem to have simply blown off the meeting.  Ok — so I know there were repeat topics, but it’s nice when experienced volunteers help out the new folks with their wisdom and experience.

On a negative note — one of our volunteers is quite ill at the moment.  We saw her Sunday at the grocery — and stood around talking in the middle of Safeway for over 45 minutes.  Tuesday her huz called to say she was in hospital.  No idea yet the nature of her malady but her huz is the one who just had back surgery.  That family doesn’t get a break.

The meeting went well overall. For me it was a bit uncomfortable.  To much “We’re gonna miss Peter & Peggy.”  Four different staffers complimented us on our performance and our accomplishments.  Personally, one would have enough, but it was nice to be appreciated.  We got a couple inexpensive trinkets and the meeting went on.

On the ‘what’s happening’ scene, our worried-volunteer-who-was-about-to-leave may not be leaving after all. He, Heh….. He’s been checking out other opportunities.  There are no paid ‘volunteer’ opportunities in all of Oregon, he told me .  He’s checked. (Although in my book if you’re getting ‘paid’ you aren’t really volunteering — that’s workamping) If you ask me, the cost of moving out of the forest into a ‘real’ RV park is a lot more than he wants to pay out of pocket — so now he’s casting around for some more acceptable gig here on the forest.  We have gigs, but not ones he’d consider acceptable.  Or maybe he’ll just stay where he is.  Who knows?  Humans are not always rational beings.

Our former roving caretaker who moved to the Beach about three weeks ago has now decided that the OHV beach is too much activity for him.  He wants to keep his option open and go to the campground with the bad well that had initially been promised him.  Problems, problems, problems.

And on the last who’s who and what’s what topic we had a couple who said they wanted to volunteer.  That had been volunteers here before and the boss wanted to hire them.  We did over my objection but hey — I  was the new guy on the block and it’s Da Boss’ circus so Ok.   You may remember that they arrived, signed up, and plopped down on-site — for 4 days — only to disappear overnight and turn in their gear anonymously over the greeter’s counter at the visitors’ center.  We found out that they found a paying gig at one of the local RV parks — they were to replace a couple who had ben on-site for 17 years.  Well, that didn’t last long.  They worked there for about three weeks and now… They are gone again.  I told Da Boss we shouldn’t have hired them because they just didn’t add up — too many inconsistencies in their current story.  And in my lifetime I’ve learned that people have a way of showing you who they are — who they really are — no matter how hard they try to hide their real selves.  I’m glad to see that I wasn’t wrong about my estimation even though I knew them for a much shorter time than the staff here.

I heard some very creative and constructive suggestions at the meeting.  I hope some of them see the light of day — in the form of being tested out.  All our speakers turned up save one — but with fog and wind no one wanted to hang out for longer than we spent anyway.

And we have three volunteers who have said (I’m sure in jest) that we should tell them where we’re going (they are making the assumption that we’re going to volunteer someplace else) and they’ll follow us — that make a person feel good in a strange way.

You know — so much of life is about relationship.  I know without a doubt that part of the reason those three and others are here now is that I made a point of connecting with them before they got here, and I kept in touch with them since they’ve been here.  We built something together that had nothing to do with the Forest Service.  We built relationship.  That always feels good.

I sometimes don’t understand the RV’ers who say they are getting off the road because they tire of being disconnected.  That doesn’t have to be the case.  For example — Our Dallas Texas couple are making plans to visit Milwaukee next year — Sept. ’15 — so knowing that Peg and I usually plan our return to Milwaukee in September we’re setting aside time to re-connect with them when they, and we (hope) to be in town.   I have stayed in touch with people from our last volunteer gig in Spring Valley, and with Facebook and other social media there’s no reason you HAVE to lose touch, or be disconnected.  Being here for long enough has been part of that — it takes time to build relationship — and some of these folks we’ve known 10 months, number07others for 5 months, still others for only a month or two.  But relationship is what you make it and if you are the kind of person who shows you’re a real friend, not just an acquaintance, then people can get close in a hurry.

Seven more work days to go.  Lots to be accomplished in those seven day.

This tree toppled over some many years ago but that doesn't stop Momma Nature....

This tree toppled over some many years ago but that doesn’t stop Momma Nature….  Another of the shots from the July 15 fog.

Images, Old Diary

Growth In Spite Of…

somehow fishing in the fog seems particularly meditative.

somehow fishing in the fog seems particularly meditative.


In Touch With His Inner Fisherman…

Old Diary

Full Drain, Tied Down & Illuminated

I'm not a newbie to camping! I've been camping since before I was 7

I’m not a newbie to camping! I’ve been camping since before I was 7

I’m ready to be out of here!  Not because anything special has happened but simply because I’m feeling run down. And yet, we’re still getting little things accomplished.
Right now the accomplishments are more personal than government — which is just fine.

After returning from Junction City a week and half ago we have been keeping the gray water valve closed to see where we would see water FIRST in case the gray water tank filled to overflowing.  In the Journey the Kitchen sink and Shower were  plumbed together — and we always saw water first in the shower — which was a kind of rude experience if you happened to be in the shower at the time you over flowed.  The Ambassador is plumbed differently and we’ve discovered that the Kitchen sink and the Bathroom sink  are plumbed together.  Because the bathroom is at a lower level it would appear that if we wait too long to drain we’ll see water in bathroom first.  That’s a little less annoying than ending up with dirty toes!2014071216440902

So, this weekend one of my projects was to secure my time machines and server to the new traveling shelf.  I don’t know if you’ve seen these little clips — Super TV GripsI found them at Guaranty RV during our last visit. They are designed to hold TV’s in place — so they are quite strong,  my little boxes are quite a bit lighter and being out of sight.  This little product looks like a good way to address my concern that the electronics not crash to the floor during travel.

On another front …

Our daughter and son-in-law are getting closer to being able to move into their new home.

Before the city would approve their project they had to achieve the standard energy efficiency and the solution was to use some particularly unique commercial windows.  Some 10 weeks later the windows were ready to install and the installers had a fun time changing the exterior and interior aspect of the kid’s new home!

Because these windows are low to the ground and the building sides on an alleyway they opted for frosted surfaces which will give them a huge amount of light — but also obscure the inside from the outside.  Good thinking!


The final improvement I wanted to share is a view of their new shower.  You may remember the large shower we had at our old school.  They didn’t want quite as large a shower as ours but they did want a classy subway tile look and Michael did a whiz-bang job!  I can’t wait to visit to see it in person!

Our 5 foot by 4 foot shower -- with windows!

Our 5 foot by 4 foot shower — with windows!


Kathryn and Michael’s New Shower~

Other than that — we spent Sunday watching the World Cup and just chilling.  I’m really glad we gave ourselves 10 days between leaving the Forest and checking into AM Solar.  I’m going to SLEEP, and we are going to WALK — where it’s flat and hot.  Our only real objective while in town is to see if Peg can find some new jeans that she likes. Other than that we aren’t going to DO much of anything.

I stopped off at Tahkenitch Lake this morning on my way into the office.  This is what I saw.... Click image  to see larger

I stopped off at Tahkenitch Lake this morning on my way into the office. This is what I saw….
Click image to see larger


Tahkenitch Lake In Fog