New Tank Sensors!

Tanks Sensor Replacement

Failing Tank Sensors/Monitor on our 2008 Winnebago 39Z

Our tank sensors have gone from occasional faulty readings to hard failures about 80% of the time.  We first had problems not long after purchasing Lola from La Mesa RV in Davis, California.  But the problem was intermittent and Le Mesa said it was tank sludge build-up on the sides.  In the past couple of years the failure changed to ALL the tank lights (water, black and the two grey tanks) being half-bright; all at the same time.  We tried various tank cleaners with no help.  Now, this seems to us that all lights being half-lit regardless of the content level to be strange behavior – not what we would expect if the tank sludge was building up.  We last took Lola into La Mesa last fall, and the half-lit lights were displaying so we could show the service advisor.

La Mesa – Big FAIL

I couldn’t believe when he said it was probably sludge build-up inside the tanks.  But, how could that effect ALL tank sensors at exactly the same time?  Consistently?  It seems to me it’s probably the wiring or more likely the display unit.  When we picked Lola up after being with La Mesa for a MONTH, the service advisor said it was probably sludge in the tanks and the service technician put some ‘stuff’ in the tanks to help clean them out, and the extended warranty would not cover an intermittent problem (even though we showed it not working when we came in).  This is not the first time that Davis La Mesa has not put forth the effort to correctly troubleshoot problems for us.

This last winter we lived in and out of Lola while remodeling a house and did not have the opportunity to fully check out our sensors until going to Lake Mindon in May.  Once we started using the tanks what happened?   You guessed it, ALL sensor lights are half lit again.  Once in a while the sensors will show the correct levels.  If you are attached to full hookups all the time, then not having sensors on the tanks is not a real big issue since you are connected.  But, when you are dry camping or boondocking it is more important to keep track of your fresh and waste levels.  And here at Thousand Trails Lake Minden we have no sewer hookups.

Sensor Replacement

We have been looking at Garnet Industries SeeLevel systems for quite some time.  They are a nice upgrade to the standard 1/3, 2/3, FULL in our Lola by giving percentage increments at more frequent intervals.  They have also received good reviews from many sources.   Depending on the tank size and number/length of sensors installed the percentage increments could be 5% or 8% more or less.  We looked at getting new sensors at the FMCA rally we attended in 2016, but the problem was intermittent and the pricing was fairly expensive for our budget since we had other upgrades we were doing at the time.   Since we are doing more dry camping and boondocking now we decided to upgrade the sensors at the next opportunity.

Many RVers live with bad tank sensors.  For weekenders or vacationers it is probably a minor inconvenience.  For full-timers and those who really rely on knowing their tank levels it is more important.  Also for those folks like us who like things to work correctly it’s more than a minor irritance.  We like things to work!

Garnet Industries at the FMCA Rally

Yellowstone was our number one objective this summer, and it so happens that the FMCA Rally is in Gillette, Wyoming – just across the state from Yellowstone.  Not only that, but Garnet Industries is at the Rally.   After a call to Garnet we contacted the installer and scheduled an installation for the Monday before the Rally (first events are Wednesday).   We also signed up for a tank clean-out on Tuesday just to cover all the bases.  We registered early for the Rally to get full hookups in case it is warm and we need to use the A/C for the dogs while we are out.  That worked well with the tank clean-out because he needs sewer hookup for the flushing process.

Our Capacities

An interesting side-note is that our spec sheet gave us capacities for the Fresh and Black tanks, and only one capacity for the Grey tank – but we have two grey tanks; a galley tank and a shower tank (that the washer also drains into).  So I called Winnebago to find out the capacity of the two grey tanks.  I was told that the galley tank was 20 gallons, and the big grey tank is 52 gallons – that matches the 72 gallon grey capacity in the owner manual.  However, the black tank is 48 gallons – not the 62 gallons listed in the owners manual because of a mid-year production change.
[When I actually drained the galley tank after installing the sensors I took out 27 gallons of grey water (just reached the 100% sensor indicator!]

2008 Winnebago 39Z Specifications Vs. Corrected
Tank
Manual
Corrected
Actual
Fresh
92 92
Black
62 48
Main Grey
Unknown 52
Galley
Unknown 20 27+

Sensor Installation Planning

We arrived in Gillette on Sunday and after a bit of confusion got parked in our full hook-up section.  Gene Riffel of Ruffnit RV stopped by as scheduled at 9.  After explaining the process he went through and checked out the configuration of our tanks and the sensor display.  We originally wanted to install the bluetooth version thinking that the installation would be easier (cheaper) plus would give us the capability to monitor the tank levels outside while filling the fresh water or dumping.  However the bluetooth model does not support 4 tanks at this time, so we went with 2 monitor installations – one inside and one outside in the water/sewer bay.  We also elected to keep the old sensor display for the LP meter and place the new SeeLevel monitor to the side of the existing control panels.

Our tanks were partially full and we did not dump on purpose so the new sensors could be tested with tanks that have content.

Locate The Tanks

Fresh Water Tank

Our fresh water tank is enclosed in a steel shell.  Towards the front where the overflow exits the tank there is an access panel.  Once the panel is removed easy access to the tank allows Gene to install the new sensors.

Fresh Water Tank
Fresh Water Tank Under Floor

Main Grey Tank and Black Tank

To access the main grey tank and the black tank the access panel above the tank gates in the water/sewer bay needs to be removed.  Once that is put aside, there is very tight access to the sides of the grey tank (on the left) and black tank (center).  Here, another decision point came into play.  Neither of these tanks are square!  They have a drop-down section that Gene estimated to be around 3 or 4 gallons; plus there is a seam.  Option 1 is to put 2 sensor strips in.  One above the seam and one below.  The second option would be to leave the lower drop-down section without a sensor.  We decided to leave the lower portion of the tank without a sensor and cover the upper section.  The savings of not getting another package of sensors covers a portion of the cost of the second monitor.

Main Grey And Black Tank Locations
Main Grey and Black Tank Locations

Galley Tank

Access to the galley tank is through the main power bay (where the power cord and inverter etc. is).  The tank is installed at a slight incline, so the sensor can’t be placed where it will be 100% accurate.  Again, we tried to get the top portion of the tank metered.  [We checked this out while dry camping the next month and found that when the first indication above 0% (which is 8%) first lit up we drained an 11 gallons.  This gave us a gauge covering gallons 12-27 which is the most important range for us, but were surprised it did not cover more.]

Verify Electrical

Especially because we are having problems with our existing sensors, Gene verified the wiring – especially the ground.  Wiring and ground check out good for each of the lines!   It’s always good to not uncover additional issues to solve, which seems to be our ‘luck’ often enough.

Verify Sensor capability

One issue Gene has seen with Winnebago RVs is that some tanks can be thicker than used with other RVs.  Winnebago builds their own tanks.  He tested the sensor’s sensitivity by using a test unit on the tanks, and a test meter inside.  This double checked the wiring and checked that the sensors should work… before doing all the work of installing sensors then finding out that they won’t work.  According to Gene, Garnet uses some of the most sensitive sensors on the market so he rarely finds a problem.  Once attached, the sensor worked fine and indicated the level in the tank.  Being a sensitive type of guy, this was important to me too!

2018-07-16-1031-32-SeeLevel II Sensor Install
Test Sensor

 

Sensor Installation

Once the tank locations are found, access panels opened and sensor locations & options are identified Gene went back to his shop for a break and to gather additional parts (i.e. the second meter package that included more sensors and the meter for the outside bay).  When he got back he installed the sensors – verifying each installation with his test monitor in the coach.

Meters Installation

Inside Meter

Once the sensors were installed work went back to the inside to wire and place the SeeLevel meter.  Again, since we are keeping the existing tank monitors for LP the SeeLevel meter was placed to the side of the Winnebago control station. Gene confirmed with Christine exactly the height of the SeeLevel meter.  Good thinking!  Always check with the boss for the important items ;-).  A new hole is cut beside the panel in the wall and the SeeLevel set in place.  No issues getting the inside meter running and installed.

Outside Meter

For Jeff, the outside meter is the most important.  Fresh water tank filling is a slow process when using the pressure regulator, and it’s nice to have a meter outside.  It is also convenient when manually dumping the grey water into a bucket when dry camping [a lot of campgrounds offer grey water dumps], or just checking how far along you are when at a dump station.  Like the inside meter, hooking up the meter went fine.  After checking that the outside meter worked, Gene disconnected the meter for the access panel replacement.

Sensor Wrap UP

Now that all the sensors are installed and the meters are working it’s time to close everything up.  The fresh water access panel is screwed back into place.  The challenge is getting the access panel in the water/sewer bay put back.  Besides working by feel only getting the short screws lined up with the spring/gromet screw holders was a real pain in the bazooka.  It took a lot of patience and time to get the panel installed correctly.  It might have been easier to reverse the screw and go from the other side but Gene didn’t want a screw point showing through the panel.  He wanted it done right!   With the panel in place, the outsider meter is permanently attached.

One last check, and we were presented with the bill.

We were quoted $225 for 4 tanks and 1 sensor plus installation at $85/hr.  Garnet has not changed their hourly installation rate in several years, so this is a good price.

 

Tanks Wash-Out

In our phone conversations with Gene for the sensor installation he let us know that some Winnebagos that have thicker wall tank construction could show issues when sludge build-up occured.  To be on the safe side, we elected to have our tanks washed out – pretty sure it’s the first time Lola was given an enema.  Plus we wanted to see if La Mesa was correct about sludge build-up.

John Michel from All Pro Water Flow is an approved vendor through FMCA at the Gillette Rally.  All Pro Water Flow has independent service professionals all over the U.S. (and Canada?)  URL.  John arrived exactly on time on Tuesday afternoon to power wash Lola’s tanks.  John had warned us when we scheduled a month earlier that timing was dependent on weather.  He did not work outside during lighting storms.

With thunder storms approaching and lighting on the horizon John started work.  Power washing took just over 90 minutes.  John did get some sediment, mostly on the bottom of the black tank and some more on the bottom of the galley tank.  A good wash getting some sludge, but probably not enough to effect the sensors.  After giving us a recipie to help keep the sediment from collecting in the tanks and rolling up his hoses he was off to home just as the thunder started booming over us and big raindrops started dropping.

The cost?  $220.00.  Not cheap, but another of those maintenance items.  For stationary RVs John recommends an annual flush, however if your are traveling on the road a flush every couple of years is sufficient.

Here’s John’s recipe for keeping sludge build-up to a minimum:

“Recipe” for the All Pro Water Flow Tank Solution

Mix up a gallon of this solution to use in both your black and gray tanks while you are RVing. It will keep the internal surfaces of your RV’s holding tanks slippery (reduces build-up), sanitizes the tanks, and has a nice, fresh smell.

  1. Start with an empty gallon jug
  2. Pour 1/4 cup (4 ounces) of Calgon Bath Beads (or liquid) into the gallon jug
  3. Fill the jug 1/2 full with water. Shake well.
  4. Slowly pour 40 ounces of Pine-Sol into the jug. Shake well.
  5. Top off the gallon jug with water. Shake well.

Use 8 ounces (one cup) in your black tank(s) and 4 ounces (1/2 cup) in your gray tank(s) each time, after emptying and backflushing.

Bottom Line

La Mesa – Davis

Most likely our tank display was faulty.  It is clear that La Mesa did very little troubleshooting on the issue.  If we had a spare meter we could have done the diagnosis for La Mesa, however since we wanted (needed) an upgrade over the stock Winnebago gauges I wont’ go down that hole.  La Mesa had our RV for a month and did not fix our washer (washer and dryer did not work – hard failure) nor our tank issue (another problem that was showing failure at the time we brought it in).  They did fix our chassis A/C issue – but that failed again the next time we used the chassis A/C (this is the second time La Mesa ‘fixed’ our chassis A/C).  This is the last time we will bring in our RV to La Mesa in Davis.

A Month Later…

Update after using the new sensors for a month.  Wow!  For us this is a great improvement.  We have had no issues with faulty readings.  It has been a good choice to have the ‘top’ of the tanks covered and the bottom notch-out not for the main grey and black tanks.  We have done 3 weeks of camping without sewer hookups – 2 with grey water disposal locations close enough we could empty our dish water into a bucket from our outside bay.  That is the tank that fills up fastest.   It was here that we found out that our grey water tank holds at least 27 gallons.  We emptied the tank when it first showed 100% and it had a little more room at the top.  Gee, I wonder how much the main grey tank holds?  I’m not manually emptying that tank just to find out!  If someone else has a 2008 Winnebago 39Z and manually checks the tank capacity, let us know.

Hope you have found this (long, technical) blog interesting, let us know that too!

Happy Trails and See You On The Road

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Jeff and Christine

Antenna Upgrade Part 3: WiFi Ranger and WeBoost Inside Install

Antenna Upgrade Part 3 – Inside Equipment Installation

This is the third part of our antenna upgrade.  In part 1 we removed the old King Dome satellite dish.  In part 2 we installed the new WiFi Ranger and WeBoost antennas using the same access hole that the satellite used.  In this video, we are finishing the installation by finding power for the WiFi Ranger and the WeBoost Antenna then getting everything hooked up.

Old Setup Inside Cabinet – We found power!

Our Satellite controller is in the front cabinet above the co-pilot.  4 screws hold the access panel in the cabinet.   Fortunately there is both 110 volt and 12 volt power available.  For 110 volt there is a junction box, and for 12 volt one of the cables for the King Dome went into the 12 volt circuit.  The WiFi ranger works  with either 110 volts or 12 volts; we elected to wire it to 110 volts, and the WeBoost needs 12 volts.

Here’s the updated video of the inside equipment installation:

This video was updated to include notes from the WiFi Ranger folks:

  1. The WiFi Ranger comes with a 12 volt harness, so it CAN be connected to the 12 volt system.
  2. I corrected the RJ-45 plug-in process
  3. Many MiFi devices can be managed by the WiFi Ranger.  At this time our device cannot be managed – but we are testing beta firmware that may allow it to be managed.  Check the WiFi Ranger website for details or contact their support team for you specific device.

I’ll follow this up with a video on using the WiFi Ranger interface once we get to a park with WiFi.

Note:  We are not professional RV repair technicians!  The information provided here is how we upgraded our antenna system and your installation will be different.  If you are uncomfortable working on rooftops or with electrical wiring please consult a certified technician.

Happy Trails from the Trippin’ Engles

Antenna Upgrade Part 2: WiFi Ranger and WeBoost Antenna Install

Antenna Installation Part 2

WiFi Ranger and WeBoost Antenna Rooftop Install

This is Part 2 of a 3 part set describing our antenna upgrades.  Part 1 is here.  Part 3 is here.

The WiFi Ranger typical installation is to tie-wrap or clamp the antenna onto the crank-up TV mast.  However, we have upgraded our old TV antenna with a King Jack Antenna.

WiFi Ranger Temporary Installation

This photograph on the right shows the King Jack Antenna – the point of the TV antenna keeps the WiFi Ranger antenna from being placed up above the TV antenna.  For our installation, we made a small stand-off using a piece of plastic rain gutter so the WiFi Ranger antenna is beyond the point of the King Jack Antenna.  Below you can see the final installation with the stand-off in place.  You can also see the WeBoost antenna on the Cake/Pie pan that is a ground plane.

WiFi Ranger with Stand Off

Here’s the video of our antenna installation:

Note:  We are not professional RV repair technicians!  The information provided here is how we upgraded our antenna system and your installation will be different.  If you are uncomfortable working on rooftops or with electrical wiring please consult a certified technician.

Happy Trails!
Trippin’ Engles

 

Antenna Upgrade Part 1 – King Dome Satellite Removal

Antenna Upgrade Part 1 – Satellite Removal

Why Remove the King Dome Satellite

Our vintage 2008 King Dome Satellite needs a major upgrade for it to work.  Our King Dome 9704-LP requires a circuit board replacement and a firmware upgrade.  Even with that, it does not recognize newer satellites.  We have other entertainment options such as:

  • Streaming content if we have a Wi-Fi or cellular data connection
  • Downloading content and watching later
  • Using Blu-Ray or DVDs
  • Renting from RedBox
  • Watching the dozens of DVDs copied to hard drive

Having a satellite dish on the roof is also a handicap since you need to park the RV in a spot with good reception – something we don’t always have control over.  If we are going to use a satellite service, we will go with a more portable solution such as the Dish Tailgater or similar setup.

King Dome 9704-LP
Our Vintage King Dome Antenna

For the past few months on the road, we use the WiFi Ranger for WiFi access.  This antenna is often attached to the crank-up TV antenna on the RV roof.  We also use the Wilson Electronics WeBoost 4G cellular signal booster for our phone and MiFi use.  We have been manually zip tying the WiFi Ranger to the TV mast and putting the WeBoost on a metal pie/cake pan on the roof each time we stop at an RV park.

With the removal of the Satellite dish, we can use the access panel in the roof to route the WiFi Ranger and WeBoost cables through the same access hole.  I don’t like walking on the roof so much – especially as the weather gets rainy.

WiFi Ranger

The WiFi Ranger Go 2 not only gives our WiFi connectivity greater range, but also links all of our gadgets using a single connection when we buy WiFi access at RV Parks.  Some campground WiFi providers limit the number of devices that can connect.  We have seen services that only allow 1 connection at a time, and others allow different #’s of devices depending on how long of a contract you select.  With the WiFi Ranger there is only a single connection to the WiFi service for all the gadgets.

WeBoost Cellular Booster

The WeBoost Drive 4G is a cellular signal booster that is for RV’s and trucks.  It has a little rubber duck antenna with a magnetic mount that gives us an extra bar or two.  It cannot boost signals that are not there or are too weak, however it can often make a significant improvement when signal strength is marginal.  We even use it at our cabin with a larger truck antenna mounted on a flag pole!

Part 1:  Remove the Satellite Dish

This is Antenna Upgrade Part 1 – Satellite Removal.  We first need to remove the King Dome satellite and the cables.  In Part 2 we install the new antennas and route the cables, and in Part 3 we install the inside equipment.

Here’s the video with the details:

To remove the old satellite dish, Dicor and adhesives from the rooftop we use:

  • Screwdriver & socket wrench
  • Mineral Spirits to remove the Dicor & old adhesive
  • Magic Eraser to get some of the hard to remove dirt off
  • New Dicor Lap Sealant to seal the holes
  • Eternabond tape for extra protection

Note:  We are not professional RV repair technicians!  The information provided here is how we upgraded our antenna system and your installation will be different.  If you are uncomfortable working on rooftops or with electrical wiring please consult a certified technician.

 

Thanks for reading and watching,

Happy Trails!

Trippin’ Engles

 

Repairs start for Lola

Repairs start for Lola at BGM RV Repair

On July 27th we drove up to BGM RV Repair in Chesterville Ontario Canada after receiving word from FedEx Freight that the last set of parts are delivered.  Christine worked with Tyler at Winnebago Parts to find out why we were having delays getting the last items shipped to BGM RV Repair so we can get back on the road.  Finally the parts were shipped out last Thursday and arrived at BGM Tuesday the 26th.  Interesting to note that Winnebago Parts is independent from Winnebago Industries – and is Winnebago Industries distributor for parts.

We were unable to contact the BGM RV Repair office in Chesterville.  Their phone and internet connections were out after a massive thunder-storm rolled through southern Canada last week.  We drove up to their office to talk with Brian about the schedule to get Lola repaired.

After stopping at Tim Horton’s for coffee and breakfast in Cornwall we were on our way through Upper Canada to Chesterville.  I was always confused about what was “upper” in Upper Canada.  Wikepedia cleared that up as Upper Canada refers to the portion of Canada that borders the upstream part of the St. Lawrence River, whereas Lower Canada is the downstream part of the St. Lawrence river in Canada.  This area was primarily settled by Loyalists after the American Revolution.

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Once at BGM, we checked out the parts we had been waiting for.  The big holdup was the trim strip that borders the lower edge of the slide out.  He had one RV that was just getting finished up, and promised we would be in the garage in a couple of hours.  So we decided to do a walking tour of Chesterville in North Dundas Ontario.

 

We had lunch at Louis’ Restaurant in Chesterville.  Before we were done we saw Brian and he told us that Lola was in the garage getting worked on!

Back to BGM where Skyler and Andrew were busy working on Lola checking the fit of the doors and panels that had to be replaced.

 

 

If everything goes as planned (fingers crossed) we should have Lola back on Friday and we can make it to the FMCA Reunion that starts next Wednesday in West Springfield Massachusetts.  If there are any glitches however, Monday is a holiday in Canada, so even with a one day delay we won’t get Lola until the end of the day on Tuesday – so we would miss the first part of the get-together.

 

Lola’s in the shop – Watch your rear!

Oh No!  Lola’s in the shop

A reminder to Watch Your Rear!

When we left Hershey, Pennsylvania in our race to the north  I brushed up against a power pole.  Yes, I’ve watched the great tutorial from The RVGeeks on watching the rear overhang when turning.  It’s a great video showing how easy it is to clip something on your rear quarter when making turns.  With our 40′ RV are especially mindful about this.

What Happened?

I was pulling out from a small 2 lane road onto a busy rural highway.  The morning traffic was busy in both directions and I was so focused on the traffic that I missed one important point… the power pole that was very close to the corner of the intersection.   As I pulled out I misjudged the amount of ‘off-tracking’ of the rear wheels compared to the front.  I was almost into oncoming traffic when I cut the wheels to move into my lane.  However, when I glanced into my rear view mirror I missed the fact that a power pole was on the corner and as I came around I felt a bump and stopped.  I had brushed up against the power pole.

Well, just wonderful.  I had driven nearly 4,000 miles from Sacramento to Florida then up to Pennsylvania, and another 2,000 miles before starting our journey in Lola without issue.

After Christine let me know that the power pole was OK, I backed up a tad.  The person in the oncoming traffic lane spotted my predicament and stopped.  This gives me room to pull out into the oncoming traffic lane and swing past the pole correctly.  We pulled into a truck stop down the road and checked out the damage.  The rear 2 basement compartment doors have damage, and we had a scratch along the trim of the passenger slider and the awning.

Our plan was to take 2 days to drive from Hershey to the St. Lawrence river in northern New York.  However, I was not certain that the slider was OK and didn’t want to take a chance that we would get the slider stuck at our planned stop north of Syracuse.  Since we are traveling to our cabin it is a lot more convenient to manage the repair there.  So, we decided to push on and drive the 400 miles in one shot.

In Northern New York… now what?

We arrived in Louisville in the early evening and did a closer inspection of the damage.  In some respects, it didn’t seem as bad as I initially feared.

Now we needed to figure out how to get Lola repaired… hopefully before the renter arrived to the cabin in early July.

The closest Winnebago authorized repair shop was in Syracuse, but that’s about 3 hours away.  That would be a challenge to check in on the progress or if questions came up where we need physically inspect work.  There are larger towns on the Canadian side of the border in this area, so I broadened the search to Cornwall and added RV collision repair since RV Repair by itself brought up A/C repair, engine repair etc.

First Steps

We contacted BGM RV Repair in Chesterville, Ontario and talked with the owner Brian.  He requested pictures and we detailed what we saw in an email and took more pictures showing the door damage from the front as well as viewed along the side so he could see how much the doors are pushed in and that the brackets are damaged.

We then contacted our insurance company – GEICO – and they scheduled a claims adjuster to visit us the following week.  That gave BGM RV Repair a chance to put together an estimate in time for the adjuster to have some more information to work with.

Next is to unpack Lola.  The basement area will be open and worked on, and the slider may get some work done, so these will need to be empty at a minimum.

We received the first estimate from BGM RV repair early the next week before Glenn from GEICO arrived.  It included the labor costs expected and a listing of parts – but no part prices yet.

Once GEICO reviewed the damage and let us know that having Lola repaired in Canada is okay, we met with Brian in Chesterville before taking Lola there.

They have a nice repair facility set up specifically for RVs.  They handle a bit of work from some of the dealers in the greater Ottawa area, and Brian felt that the work will be completed in the time frame we required (if all the stars aligned).  So, we drove home discussed weighed taking Lola to Camping World in Syracuse or BGM RV Repair in Chesterville.  BGM is closer, is a good facility and meets our schedule.  That afternoon we were back in Canada with Lola traveling to BGM RV repair.

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Lola’s in the shop.

Preparing to Repair

Brian immediately ordered the parts required to repair Lola.  Since he has dealt with insurance companies, he understood that it would take a while before he saw a check – especially since GEICO didn’t have Canadian offices.  That was good, because it took a few weeks for GEICO to assign an International Adjuster to review the case, and for Winnebago to build the replacement doors.

While waiting for the replacement doors, BGM prepped the damaged area.  Of course most RV’s today have complicated paint schemes.  Lola has 4 different colors in her swirls!  This is where the art of blending in the colors comes in.

Delays…

If you have ever had work done on your RV you know that delays are more typical than everything getting done on time as expected.  Delays are the norm.  When you think about it, RVs are really custom vehicles.  Product units are in the hundreds or maybe a few thousand.  Cars on the other hand are produced in the hundreds of thousands are parts are plentiful in most cases.  For automobiles that are built in the past 10 years or so you can often go down to an auto dismantler and get a used door.  Not so for RVs.

Winnebago boasts having the plans and molds for RVs for many years and models.  Even with that said, that does not mean the parts are on the shelf!  It takes time to schedule the build and get them shipped out.  In our case the doors arrived in the nick of time to meet our schedule, but they forgot to include the brackets, hinges and a few other parts.  Everything needs to be in place for BGM RV repair to do the paint job.

Our renter arrived and we got a motel room for her and her pooch for a few days, but when it became obvious that the delay was going take longer we have too look at alternative lodging.  A few weeks ago our good friends Pat and Martha graciously made us the offer to stay with them if needed.

Current Status – Lola’s in the Shop (Still)

Right now, BGM RV Repair is expecting 3 missing parts possibly today (July 8th) or Monday.  Then it will take 3 days to finish the prep and paint the side.  We could have Lola as early as next Thursday… then a day of packing and we might be on the way to Maine on Friday!  We are lucky to have a cabin to use for the first 6 weeks of this repair process, and friends to take us in after that.  Without that we would have had to explore other options such as living in Lola in the repair yard or finding a place to rent.

What else did we do while in Northern New York?

For the most part we had lots of repairs and improvement to do in the cabin.  Since it looks out over the St. Lawrence Seaway, we see lots of local and Great Lakes ship traffic.  We also installed over 300′ of fencing in the back yard and visited Ottawa.   Here’s a summary we put together for our grandkids.

 

Happy Trails…

Soon to Maine!

Trippin Engles

Staying in Touch While Traveling

Trippin’ Engle’s Communication Setup

Communication with others has improved tremendously in the past decade, especially for gypsies like us.

Staying in touch while on the road

During the first month and a half of our travels Christine and I will be traveling in separate vehicles.  Our primary method to communicate will be using our cell phones (hands free of course).  In areas where there is limited coverage we have 2 BeoFeng hand held radios that have GMRS frequencies so we can talk car-to-car.  They can also be used when we are in campsites that don’t have cell coverage… honey, can you pick up a loaf of bread from the trading post?  As a licensed amateur radio operator, the BeoFeng radios also provide access to ham radio repeaters that may be in an area we are traveling. At $63 this was a ‘no-brainer’ to get a pair of them.  I might even convince Christine to become a ham.

 

Staying in touch while camping – the connection

We use a AT&T ZTE MiFi that allows multiple devices to utilize our data plan.  With this we can connect our laptops, cell phones, Kindles, iPads to the internet using our cellular data plan.

However we already know that many RV camping locations have marginal cellular coverage.  A marginal cellular connection is a minor inconvenience for most of us, however we like the security of being able to have wider coverage for emergency communication as well as staying in touch with the family.  Technomadia’s reviews of the WeBoost 4G-M in their technical website RVMobileInternet  cellular booster seemed to be the best solution for us to extend the range of our cellular access.  We picked this booster over other less expensive boosters because it has an external antenna and much more gain than the internal boosters.

We plan on temporarily placing the WeBoost on some foil or a pie plate until we get to NY when we can complete a more permanent installation (more on that later!).

Currently we have a 20Gb plan from AT&T and hope to keep it in that range, however we have the flexibility to increase it as we travel.  I will monitor our data usage from the Android AT&T app.

This will help us stay in touch with family using FaceTime on our Apple products and Skype on the laptop as well as cellular voice and Google Voice over the internet.  We can do everything we did in our sticks and bricks home utilizing Comcast internet service with the MiFi & WeBoost.

Cellular Data is expensive compared to an internet connection to a house – most home connections have unlimited data usage.  We gave up our unlimited AT&T cellular data plan several years ago.

To keep our cellular data usage down, we will be installing the WiFi Ranger Elite so we can more easily reach park WiFi hotspots etc. especially for streaming movies, uploading video and doing OS & program updates.   We plan on purchasing and installing the WiFi Ranger when we get to NY.  We want to remove the old satellite dish on the roof of Lola and use the access hole to route the WiFI Ranger and WeBoost external antennas.

2015-10-12-0942-35-AM SOLAR
Lola\’s Satellite Dome

Besides the WiFi Ranger we will probably get the Go2 to create a local wireless network inside the RV.  After having some great exchanges with Chris at RVMobileInternet and others who have actually installed and are using this exact setup, it seems like a great solution because this combination can actually manage cellular usage and WiFi usage from a single console.  As one person said, this combination of the WiFi Ranger antenna and the Go2 WiFi router makes it easy to manage and understand your data usage.  Also your entire WiFi setup is supported by one company.

WiFi Ranger describes their Elite Pack (WiFi Ranger + Go2):

A complete network with indoor accessibility and outdoor range, with the Elite ready to be mounted to a ladder, crank-up batwing antenna, or flagpole. Provide a secure, private network for all of your wireless computers and devices with the Go2 which also has several LAN ports for hardwiring computers and devices. The Elite then brings in otherwise weak WiFi from Hotspots in the area to get your entire network online. The indoor Go2 is dedicated to providing the secure network and also allows for USB tethering a 3G/4G Aircard or MiFi device. To power the Elite and interconnect it with the Go2, its 30FT cable needs to run to the inside where the Go2 is stored. Avoid drilling a hole for this cable by routing it to the inside through a refrigerator vent, slide, or engine compartment.

That’s the hardware side of our communication tools.

Staying in touch while camping – the communicating

So now we can connect!  What then?  For ‘live’ communication of course there is voice (cell & Google Voice over IP), FaceTime and Skype; but what about pictures and blogging?

For private family use we have a SmugMug account to share pictures securely.  I use Adobe Lightroom for a majority of my photo editing, and it has a plugin for SmugMug.  That makes it easy… and I like easy!  We can also share private files using DropBox, and of course we use instant messenger (Apple and Android products) along with Gmail for email.

For our blog we utilize GoDaddy and their WordPress package.   For snail mail we utilize Escapee‘s mail service to forward mail.  Physical mail can be sent to the nearest post office as General Delivery and picked up, or to the RV Park we are staying in (check that they will handle your mail before sending anything to the park’s address).

Another option for WiFi is to stop by a Starbucks, Home Depot, local Library, or internet cafe.  This is especially useful for those big Adobe cloud updates!  If the signal reaches out to the parking lot we can even do it using the WiFi Ranger!

Especially for our grandkids we will be posting travel updates using a couple of cartoon characters (Lola the RV & Fritz).  The first ‘rough cut’ of this project was posted here on Vimeo.  We may incorporate these characters into this blog as we get more practiced at it.  Last Christmas we gave all 3 of our grand-kids a custom scrapbook, and we will be sending them postcards as we travel.  Sometimes old school is cool school – especially to 2 5 year olds and a 3 year old.  There are also some services that will snail mail out a custom postcard you create!  We will try some of those and give a review of our experiences when we do.

That’s our plan on staying in touch with YOU and FAMILY on this great journey!

Happy Trails!

Trippin’ Engles – April 23, 2016

Solar For Lola!

We have Solar for Lola!

It’s been a long time coming, we have solar for Lola.  AM Solar came through, and we installed 4 160 watt solar panels on the Roof.  Originally we were looking at 6 100 watt panels because AM Solar was  having issues with the 160 watt panels they were receiving.  But the latest panels tested good, and we opted for the 4 160s.    The square footage of the panels are the same for 4 160s vs 6 100s.  Because there is only room for two rows of panels, the 160 watt installation actually takes up less roof space.  This gives us more room to expand in the future.

We checked in Monday morning.  The evaluation took a bit longer because of some electrical problems we created when we shorted out a battery while insulating the battery box.  Simple mistake not following my diagram of the cables and batteries.  The solar panels and batteries got installed over the next 4 days, and we tested Lola Thursday night, leaving for home Friday Morning.  AM Solar was great to work with.  They came in under-budget and on time.  Roger was great to work with during the ordering and scheduling process and Cody went through the systems one at a time in detail.  We have all the system documentation including diagrams specific to our installation.  Thanks to the entire crew at AM Solar!

160 Watt Solar Panel and Christine
160 Watt Solar Panel and Christine

The actual setup now includes:

 

 

 

We upgraded our batteries to a 300 amp-hour lithium pack built by AM Solar replacing a 300 amp-hour wet cell battery pack (3 batteries).  We also replaced the chassis batteries with AGM batteries in case we decided to insulate the entire battery compartment.  Since lithium batteries should be charged when the interior battery temperature is 32 degrees or warmer, we insulated the lithium battery itself – we tested it to 22 degrees without a heater and to 12 degrees using a little desk heater.  The lithium batteries give us twice the capacity because they can drop down to 10-15% of capacity vs. 50-60% on a wet cell.  Plus, lithium-ion batteries charge up in a fraction of the time.  Of course this requires a new inverter/battery charger that supports the fast charging and different charge strategy (lithium-ion batteries don’t like constant trickle charging).   With our new charger we can actually fast-charge the batteries while we are driving using solar+alternator, or while boondocking using solar+generator, or while connected to the grid using shore solar+shore power or just solar.  We are looking forward to doing more tests of the solar charging options once we are full-timers.

Room to Expand

We have room for 4 more 150/160 watt solar panels on the roof, and additional lithium batteries in the battery bay.  Over the next year we will be recording our power usage to see how the setup meets our needs.

Benefits Summarized

Our 640 watts of solar panels and 300 Amp Hours of Lithium provides several benefits:

  • Faster battery charging:  Lithium batteries charge much faster than wet-cell batteries and can utilize combinations of solar, engine alternator, generator and shore power
  • Weigh less:  Lithium batteries weigh less – more than making up the weight of the solar panels
  • Less maintenance and longer life: Lithium batteries require virtually no maintenance and last longer than wet-cell batteries
  • More usable energy: Lithium batteries can be drawn down to 10% of their capacity without damaging the battery
  • Silent Charging:  Solar charging makes no sound so you don’t have to worry about ‘quiet hours’
  • Charge Anywhere there is sun:  We can charge our batteries anywhere there is sun.  Even on cloudy days you get some charge reducing the amount of shore power or generator usage

We are looking forward to tracking our solar usage and the related conditions as we travels.

Gone with the Wynn’s

We just missed seeing Nikki and Jason Wynn of Gone With the Wynns as they were busy editing video, but we managed to snap a ‘proof’ picture that we were there!  They have provided us with inspiration and real-world RV know-how, and of course of few things NOT to do.

Gone with the Wynns - Almost metUntil next time…

 

JC

Spa Day – Getting Ready for Solar

Spa Day – Cleaning Up and Getting Ready for Solar!

After breaking my hip, Christine didn’t think it would be a good idea for me to get up on the roof and power wash it.  We do need to get Lola (the RV) cleaned up before taking her up to AM Solar in Springfield Oregon so it’s time for Spa Day.  First, it was only the roof to wash, but on second thought it is time for a full wash job prior to our trip up north.  We didn’t want anything to slow up our solar panel installation.

Our cars are washed by 3D Door to Door Detail, a Sacramento based company that washes and details vehicles of all sizes at your home – especially after I was slowed down by my hip injury.  They offer very competitive pricing, friendly attitude and prompt service. {Side Note:  Notice the California Golden Yard – the latest in drought fashion}

Getting Lola Cleaned Up
Getting Lola Cleaned Up

This is also my first multi-camera video work. Another first for the vblog. More about that below!

David, the owner of 3D Door to Door Detail, explained to me that the roof would be power washed, scrubbed and rinse twice and inspected for any potential issues.

Getting the full treatment
Getting the full treatment

After the roof is completed, the side of the RV is divided up into 2 sections and they work their way around the RV doing an initial power wash, spraying on the foamy soap then scrubbing down the sides using brushes and hand washing.  A final rinse to remove the suds then the section is wiped down.  This cycle is repeated along the co-pilot’s side, end cap, driver’s side and the front cap.  Last the windows, tires and interior are detailed (we elected to do the inside – but our neighbor down the street had the works done).

She’s looking good now, and ready for the solar panels to be installed.

Video Setup

I used a GOPro Hero on a tripod to create a baseline shot, and a Canon 60D “on a pole” and handheld as well as a Canon PowerShot SX230 HS on a tripod and hand held for another perspective.  A few shots from a waterproof Nikon CoolPix where there was direct spray from the washing.

It ended up being quite the challenge to synchronize 2 to 3 shots from different cameras.  It was fun, but time consuming.  I used Adobe Premiere Pro as my primary editing tool.  I also used Adobe After Effects to animate the Logo.  This was a volunteer effort to help out 3D Door to Door Detailing and gave me some much needed experience working with title animation for future VBloggin’ efforts.  All told I had over 2.5 hours of video that I tagged as ‘good’ for extracting sub-clips from.  That’s more than enough for a 3 minute video.  I’ll be using the video to create some how-to videos for 3D Door to Door Detailing so they can tell their story and that will give me more practice using video tools.  I just wish I was retired already so I would have time to do all this.

Until next time,

JC

RV Solar, Lithium Battery Upgrades and a Fix-it Day

RV Solar, Lithium Battery Upgrades and a Fix-it Day

The RV has a Name and a “Fix-it” day

Our 2008 Winnebago Journey has a Name

Naming a vehicle may seem silly. It is another one of the ‘human nature’ things that I mention from time to time.  For thousands of years humans routinely name their rides – whether they be ancient sailing ships, horses or Recreational Vehicles. Naming our ‘ride’ has been difficult.  Nothing seemed to fit the persona she is going to play in our lives.  For us, and “her” time’s are a’changin.

Christine suggests Lola (jokingly), and it stuck.

We purchased Lola August of last year, 6 years young – but with only 17,000 miles on her. For us – we will be Full Timing SOON, traveling from coast to coast and who knows where else. Lola’s and our “lives” are changing.

Lola’s on the big screen have often been seductive, earning the phrase… “what Lola wants… Lola gets.”  And check out the excerpt from the Urban Dictionary on Lola:

Our Lola
Our Lola

This is the type of girl that once she’s in your heart she’ll stay there for ever; she’s everything a guy could ever want/need. She fascinates you by her stunning looks and great personality, her voice creates a sense of happiness, every time you hear that voice it leaves you speechless, astounded and most of all so so happy. She has these most magnificent pair of sky blue eyes which gleam out and shine, making your heart warm and feeling very much in love. You’ll find yourself on your toes with this girl, she’s full of excitement and surprise, she’s a challenge but not a bad one. This girl is hard to come by, if you’ve got this girl you’re the luckiest guy in the world, as she’s truly perfect. Once in love with her consider yourself locked, her superlative qualities and personality will put you off all other girls for life, as there is no one else like Lola.
Lola Once in love with her you’re in love forever.
by mattloveslola4ever October 19, 2011

Yeah, I can see Lola fits.

Meeting with AM Solar – Time to get Serious about our Solar Upgrade

In November of last year we met with AM Solar located in Springfield, Oregon to discuss installing solar panels.  We came away with a list of items to research. First, we needed to estimate how much power do we consume while boondocking.  Secondly, what are our goals for the Solar and Lithium battery upgrade.  We  spent the next few months figuring out data we needed to collect, and then collecting it.  Then, this past June we met with them again for a final consultation before scheduling the install.

Change of format for this post

The format of this post has changed so that most of the information we want to share is in our VLog that you can watch here:

(Split into smaller segments 8/12/15)

 

[unitegallery VideoGalAug2015]

 

Resources for Solar

Solar allows us to live in our RV in places that are more remote than a traditional RV campground.  In addition, it allows us to consume less non-renewable energy.  Some of the resources we found useful are listed here.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it was the top places we used.

Along with the book:

And the tool:

And for the ‘Fix-it’ day Screen Door repair, we purchased:

And for the ‘Fix-it’ day Chair Repair, we purchased:

The bottom Line for our Solar Installation

Luckily our Journey has a side house A/C unit, so the only competition for roof space are 2 vents, the TV antenna and a satellite dish (that we will probably not use) along with a few other small vents and wire antennas.

Since the 160 watt solar panels that we want are not available right now, we are going with 6 100 watt panels kits (with all the hardware). The latest word we have from AM Solar is the 160 watt panels could be available by the time our panels get installed.  With the tilt-bars the solar panels will be about $1800. Then the 300 Amp Hour lithium battery pack runs about $2600.  We also opted to get a 40 Amp 700 watt solar controller/battery charger & monitor that runs $1000  and an upgraded Magnum MS-2000 inverter for $1600 that finishes the major hardware items for this upgrade.  Installation will of course vary depending on your rig’s setup.

Our primary objective was to get Lola set up and running for boondocking when we retire, and not have any conflicts or issues spending several days ‘off the grid’.  You may not need to upgrade as many items as we are if you are sticking with deep cycle batteries and if your existing electrical equipment is newer. Here Technomadia writes about their 3 1/2 years of using Lithium batteries in their bus and Gone with the Wynns blog about their major RV upgrades including Lithium batteries.

Thanks for reading and listening.  Feedback is welcome – especially as we explore balancing the blog and v-log formats.  Soon we will be sharing the installation experience with you!

Sidenote

Our trip to Thousand Trails Russian River that was scheduled for the end of July is postponed because “Trippin’ Jeff” fell and broke his hip.  Yes, I guess there is a reason for the theme of our journey to be Trippin’ With The Engles.  No, I was not texting.  I didn’t even have my phone with me.  Things happen.

We have some more upgrades planned for Lola before the solar installation, so stay tuned!  The pace is picking up as we get closer to full timing!