Down to the wire – Last week of work

With one more week to go, we are down to the wire!

Everything still looks good for the house to close by May 4th.  We spent the weekend doing more sorting, trips to Goodwill, and taking things to the kid’s house.

One major accomplishment was completing a chest of drawers I started 5 years ago when our grandson was only about 6 months old.  Before he was born, I built a 3-in-one bed for him, and he used it as a crib, toddler bed and now a full size bed.  The matching chest built using Sepele  a wood with a wonderful three-dimensional grain.  You will often see guitars made from this wood.  We watched grandson B play baseball, then delivered the chest of drawers.

B\'s Chest of Drawers

He was especially excited about the dinosaur knobs and he named off each of the different dinosaurs!  Pretty darn good for a 5 year old.  We then had lunch from Togos – a local sandwich chain then picked up the trailer.

Everything caught up to me about 3 p.m. and I crashed for 3 hours!  Something I never do unless I’m sick.  But Sunday all was well and we installed tie-down hoops in the trailer and got the woodworking/house fixing tools loaded into the trailer.  It looks like we have plenty of room still in the trailer – at least the important stuff will make the trip!

After dinner we continued to sort and pack clothes and plastic wrap boxes that will be stored in NY.

We can’t believe it’s only 5 more workdays left!  After writing about preparing for our journey over the past 2 and a half years, we are on the brink of pulling the anchor and letting Lola sail!  We will be heading through Texas on the way to Florida and hope this is TOTALLY figurative speech!

Soon we will be shifting to travelogue mode sharing our trips as the Trippin’ Engles.

Happy trails!



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

Full Speed Ahead – Full Timing!

Crazy Times but still FULL SPEED AHEAD.  I started this post with the title Full Speed Ahead – Full Timing! in 2 months!  Well,  we are now just over 1 week away from that milestone – that’s an indication of how crazy it’s been.

In reading this post, it may seem daunting to look at all the things we have done if you are a new RV owner or are looking to purchase one, however remember that we purchased Lola in August of 2014.  We started our RV research nearly 9 months before that.  We read books, went to RV shows and changed our minds about what type of RV to buy several times.

Much of what is listed below we did step by step and a little at a time.  We bought Lola early enough that we didn’t have to rush to ‘re-break’ her in and get her customized to our needs.

An overview of what we’ve done to prepare for Full Timing! RV lifestyle

The last months before full timing is crazy!  What’s crazy about it?  There are a dozen things happening, all at the same time.  All of a sudden everything we are working towards is becoming very real.  Setting up for our retirement income(s), deciding on a domicile plan, selling our house, deciding what to keep and what to get rid of… even packing up the RV!

Get the house ready to sell… Sale Pending!

Almost SOLD!

Since January Christine has been busy painting the inside of the house while I’ve finished our grandson’s chest of drawers.  We have also been making regular trips to our favorite donation centers to get rid of clothes, furniture and nick-knacks.  We have  already had two garage sales, and donated many special things to the Cancer Society and Goodwill.  Some things we need to keep until almost the last day.

Then, early this month we put the house up on the market and it sold in 3 days.  What a relief.  We are in the last week and a half before closing now and everything (knock on wood) is going well.  Going from Sticks and Bricks to Diesel Fumes (and the great outdoors).

Retirement Planning and Finalization

Financial Planning

We have been working with a financial planner for over 2 years to evaluate our post-retirement income options.  Work and Social Security retirement paperwork is ready to go and our health plan options are almost finalized.  We have a detailed budget of our anticipated expenses, and how we are going to meet those needs.  We’ve gone through dozens of budget variations and have taken a middle of the road approach to our forecasts.  Thanks to the several bloggers who have shared their expenses and RV-Dreams for the sample spreadsheet template we used as a jump-off for our own analysis.

Domicile & Mail Service

We decided to go through Escapees and set up Domicile in Florida.  California taxes are just way too high for us.  Escapees also provide mail service so we can continue to get snail mail forwarded to us wherever we are.

Preparing Lola

Chassis Prep

For our first annual oil change at Freightliner last fall we had Sacramento Truck Center go through and change all fluids and check everything out as if she had not had any service done to her since her 2008 manufacture.  This set us back some, but we did not have any service records from her prior owner(s).  Especially since she only had 16,000 miles on her we were afraid she might not have had all the time-based maintenance done.


Staying in touch with the family is critical.  We purchased the WeBoost Drive 4G-M to extend our cellular coverage.   In addition, later this year we will be purchasing a Wi-Fi extender (probably Wi-FI Ranger).  Technomadia has been a great resource and well worth the membership for technology information, product reviews and peer-based forums.  In another post, I’ll cover how we stay in touch while driving separate vehicles, with family and friends while traveling and maintaining our online blog presence.

Entertainment Prep

Last year we also installed an HD Jack antenna extender (booster), and recently received the Channel Master so we can record over the air programs.  In addition, we purchased the Amazon Fire Stick so we can pick up our favorite Amazon shows (Bosch anyone?) that we can use with the Wi-Fi extender.  We also copied a couple hundred hours of DVDs to hard drive, and have a couple of shoe boxes full of Blu-Ray.  We also have our Amazon Kindles and our music is on an iPod that connects to Lola’s sound system.  We are now set up for a couple of years of vegging out after our walks, hikes, bike rides, kayaking, beer tasting, wine tasting, farmer’s markets, etc!

Solar Panels & LED Lights

We already wrote about our solar panel and lithium battery upgrades that will help us stay off the grid and limit our generator time here.  Recently we upgraded all the interior lights and exterior marker lights to LEDs from M4 Products that will cut our energy consumption for lighting.

Preparing for the Unexpected

We have an extended service plan for both the chassis as well as tire for Lola that we purchased when we got her.  In addition, we have Coach-Net for the specialized roadside assistance we felt RVs need.

Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)

Our review of the decision-making process to select a TPMS is posted here.

Interior Fans, Heating and Cooling

Lola has A/C and a furnace, but to keep the air moving we upgraded the kitchen/dining area roof vent/fan with a MaxxAir fan that has a built-in cover.  While we were at it, we went ahead and upgraded the bathroom fan with the same model.  We also purchased a Dyson bladeless fan that cools and heats and a small heater that uses propane bottles when we almost froze our butts off up in Oregon Thanksgiving Day.

Miscellaneous Equipment

Some of the miscellaneous equipment that has come in handy in our first trips out are:

  • ViAir RV Air Compressor reviewed here.
  • Battery Charger (purchased when we left the Toad’s lights on and left our charger at home)
  • Voltage Regulator reviewed here.

Trip Planning

Our first trip out east is NOT as much of a ‘retirement mode‘ trip as we would like.  We will be taking a trailer with some woodworking – house-fixing equipment that will be stored in northern NY – and need to be there in early June so we can work on a rental house there.  But first we have to stop in Florida to register our vehicles since the RV registration expires in August.  Since I’ll be dragging the trailer and Christine will be driving the Pilot until the trailer get’s stored, we want to make this first trip relatively quick with our only long layover once we get to Florida.

We also mapped out the major holidays for this summer and fall and made some reservations for those.  We will post a separate post on trip planning, but as teaser we purchased the Garmin RV 760LMT specialized GPS for Recreational Vehicles.

Toad (Towed Vehicle) tow bar & base plate

We decided to keep our older Honda Pilot at this time until we have a better understanding of our Toad requirements.  We purchased the RoadMaster Falcon tow bar & base plate for the Pilot so we can tow it.  Of course as I mentioned initially I’ll be pulling our little 5 x 8 trailer and Christine will drive the toad.  After that though it will be smooth sailing together!  I need my navigator close at hand!

Animal Prep

Traveling with 3 mature dogs, each weighing 65-70 lbs can be a challenge.  How much food to take with us?  What about medications?  Our strategy to start off with is to store 30 days of dry food.  We have 2 dogs that need medication twice a day.  For one medication we are going through Costco and get 3 months worth at a time.  For the other we are getting a year’s worth.  Carrots are one of their main treats, and we hope to get them at Farmer’s Markets along the way along with our greens.

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…



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,


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!


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!

Cool Shades – RV Quickshades Unboxing and Review

Trippin' with the Engles...

Cool Shades – RV Quickshades Unboxing and Review

Our (new to us) 2008 Winnebago Journey has curtains on the interior of the front windshield, the pilot’s side and the co-pilot/door. While the curtains are good at blocking light and some heat, you can’t see out of them. Shades for your RV windshield are used to restrict viewing into the RV yet allow those inside to have a view outside. In addition UV rays get blocked either on the outside of the windshield or close to the surface of the windshield reducing heat inside the RV. This will help interior materials such as the dash last longer and reduce A/C costs.

RV Shades are either attached outside of the windshield or inside. Usually the shades that attach to the outside of the RV use snaps, Velcro, magnets or twist lock. Interior shades usually use suction cups.

We narrowed our choices to 3 brands – all seem to be excellent. QuickShades, Magna Shade and Sunguard.

Coach Window Shades

Company Product Considered Comments
RV Quick Shades RV Pana Shade 108W x 46H We ordered a set of samples and just a few days after our order we received 4 samples about 4″ x 2″so we could see the quality of the fabric and the colors offered. For our sized rig the shades were $84.99.


  • They hang inside the rig so they don’t get damp or dirty from the weather
  • Initial setup is easy and installation is quick
  • They offer good privacy during the day as well
  • Good UV and heat protection (more on that as we use them)
  • Quick Delivery
  • US made
  • Warranty – “Yes”
  • Price


  • Pana Shade offers almost no privacy during the night (see our video review)
  • Their sizing PDF chart is a real hassle to use. First of all there is only one header for the columns in a 14+ page file, leaving you to either guess at what the columns mean or scrolling up and down.
  • Also please note that when they state “This chart is offered as a guide only; we have not, personally, measured all of he coaches listed in the Size Chart” they are correct.  Our rig was in storage, so I went with the listing on the chart for our pilot side window and our side screen is about 2″ too small.  It will still offer UV protection and daytime privacy though.
Magne Shade Magne Shade system The Windshield Shade package is $496 plus $29 shipping. To us it looks sleek and the reviews are very good. They offer a variety of fabric colors and styles. One concern that some people voiced was that they did not use the product as often as they would like because it fits on the outside of the coach – having to go outside to install the shades as well as challenges on storing them if they were damp or dirty. Because we have a concern about stowing damp shades away we opted not to buy Magne Shade, but they were are #2 choice.


  • Stylish sleek look
  • Large variety of fabrics  including photo patterns
  • Installation available in North Carolina
  • Claims easy setup to attach the shade to the magnets on the windshield with the supplied pole (about 30 seconds in the video)
  • Easy to clean – just hose off
  • Excellent UV/Heat protection
  • Great setup videos on the web site
  • Very good reviews
  • Warranty – “Yes”


  • Price
  • Exterior shade so it will can get damp/wet and dirty
  • Ladder required (only for installation process aligning where magnets are placed)
  • Concerns about staying on in high wind situations

We’re curious to see the privacy offered at night with this product.

Sunguard EZ RV Shades Sunguard actually sells both external shades like Magne Shade and internal shades like RV Quick Shades. The external shade offers a variety of fastener options. Stainless Steel and Twist Lock snaps thatrequire drilling into the rig, and Velcro. Their web page does not offer any details on the internal shades nor any way to order online – you have to order through their dealer.


  • External or Internal shades available
  • External shades look very sleek
  • 6 year guarantee and 30 day return policy


  • Price – $350 for Class A exterior windshield cover, $200 for interior (but sale prices are less)
  • No local dealers for us, challenge to find online

We purchased RV Quick Shades in October, and installed them in January. While we like the looks of the external shades we don’t like that we may have to store wet material in the RV.  Once we use our new shades during the summer we’ll report the heat difference with and without the RV Quick Shades installed.

Here’s our unboxing and setup video for RV QuickShades – let us know what you have for your cool shades.


Are you protected (Surge Protection-Voltage Regulator)?

Surge Protection, Voltage Regulator or both?

Are you protected?

We have visited many RV parks over the years and never worried too much about poor quality electricity. That is when our mode of transportation was a Volkswagen Vanagon or our antique Prowler trailer. Neither of these had much in terms of electronics that could be damaged by low or high power. We only had lights and a small fridge.

All of that has changed buying a modern RV. Our 2008 Winnebago Journey has enough electronics just in any one of the rooms to call for investing some time researching how to protect devices like TVs, microwave/convection ovens, PCs and air conditioners (just to name a few devices) from power surges and low power conditions. Both can damage electronic devices.

The National Electric Code specifies a range of 126 Volts to 114 Volts as acceptable (105% – 95%) Average is about 117 volts. High voltage can burn out fuses (if you are lucky) or worse burn out your appliances and electronics. Low voltages can cause air conditioners and other larger appliances to work harder and heat up more. Both situations can results in fires and safety issues besides damaging equipment.

In reality, if I want the ultimate protection I need to buy both a dedicated surge protector and a voltage regulator… or do I?

Our Finalists

Of the many surge protection and voltage regulator devices available these three stood out in our research.




Hughes Autoformer
50 amp Voltage regulator and Surge protector

Provides 10% boost in low power
situations if power is less than 115 volts

Provides Spike and Surge Protections

Simple easy to understand
diagnostics lights

Boost indicator lights


Only 2 Year Warranty

High cost – MSRP $548.00
($520.94 at Amazon) compared with dedicated Surge protection only

Hardwire installation kit is an extra $65.00

Not weather proof – must be covered if not installed inside

Industries ems-hw50c Surge Protection

Less expensive – MSRP $431.00 ($347 at Amazon)

Remote display included


Open Neutral and Open Ground protection

Lifetime warranty

No Boost – shuts down power below 104 volts or above 132 volts


Surge Guard
10175 RV Voltage Regulator – 50 Amp

Provides 10% boost as low as 95 Volts

Easy LED status panel

Rain-tight enclosure

Can be mounted inside


More expensive – $660.90 at Amazon

Does not provide surge protection (Surge Guard does offer a variety of surge protection products)

1 year warranty

Other Resources used to learn about the products

Manufacturer links

Other Resource Links

 Our Decision – Hughes Autoformers 50 Amp RV Power Booster

After looking at the various options we decided to get Hughes Autoformers.   Even if the power looks good when you get to a park, that’s no guarantee that the voltage will remain good when everyone switches on their A/C during the middle of a heat wave – or when you arrive at the park and the section you’ve been assigned to has “Low Voltage” like you see below.

WARNING  - Low Voltage
WARNING – Low Voltage

Here’s the unboxing and review on YouTube.

Besides providing surge protection it boosts the power between 3% and 10% depending on the situation.  This would help out in those ‘Low Voltage in Section A’ situations. You may want to buy a surge protector anyways though – to protect the Autoformer!!!

The device came with no instructions however it’s fairly obvious how to set it up.  No manual in the box must have been an oversight because I was able to find it online – but not at the manufacturer’s website!  Plus their contact information is in a horrible blue against brown background that I can hardly read on my PC.  However the product itself seems solid and well built.

One negative is that it is not weather proof, so either must be installed inside the bay (there is a kit you can buy for this conversion) or cover it up.  We elected to cover it up for now, but will probably move it into the electrical bay sometime in the future.

The 50 amp power plug on the Autoformer plugs into the power pedestal at the park, then the rig’s power line plugs into the Autoormer.  It has 3 lights on the side – one central status light and two outer lights that show whether there is 30 or 50 amps coming in to the device.

  • Amber light – all is good – you have power and it’s within specs
  • Red Light – Park power is low – boost in progress.  It takes a few seconds for the Autoformer to analyze the power and decide whether to boost the power.

The Autoformer will boost when the park power is below 112 Volts and go into bypass mode at 115 Volts according to the manual that is posted here: Hughes_Autoformer

Always turn off the power at the pedestal when plugging in your RV power into the Autoformer or the Autoformer into the park pedestal.

You may need to supply pig-tails to go from the Autoformer’s 50 amp plug to a 30 amp park circuit if you buy the 50 amp Autoformer.

We only used the Autoformer for a long weekend and our park power was good.  We will update you with another post as we use it more and when we get the conversion kit to keep it in the electrical bay.

As always, Happy Trails!



RV Repairs Complete – Time for Camping?

Repairs Complete – Camping Trip #2 coming up

My gosh, after purchasing the RV in August I thought we would have been out camping at least once  month.  Here in November we are almost ready for camping trip #2 now that we have completed our RV Repairs.

Sacramento Truck Center

Freightliner Oasis service center in Sacramento (Sacramento Truck Center) did a great job.  Lawrence kept us informed of the progress and it was ready to pick up on Tuesday – although we had to wait until Wednesday to pick it up because of work commitments.

It’s funny that because of a newbie mistake on my part we identified a relatively minor issue – the air line leak in the dash that lead up to identifying a second potentially more serious issue with our front right brake having had a hub seal leak so the brake and seal were replaced.  First – the start-up procedures I understood was that I should turn the ignition on and all the lights should go off then I start.  Actually what I’m looking for is the ‘Wait to start’ indicator (a coil on our dash) to turn off, NOT all the lights.  Because I was still not confident about the start-up process and the display lights I paid more attention to what was going on and noticed the air leak at the dash.

When we took the Journey into Freightliner I decided to have them do an external inspection and they found the brake issue.  This leads up to a couple of things we (re)-learned.

The books and blogs we read indicated that a 3rd party inspection is important before purchasing a used RV.  This confirmed that!  A dealer “certified” RV is not worth the paper it’s written on, though I must say that  the dealer we purchased our RV from gave us 15 days to drive (and have the RV inspected).  We decided not to have a separate inspection and purchased an extended warranty instead (which we would have done anyways).  We did take the RV out and provided the dealer with a ‘laundry list’ of things to fix which they did.  However we are not experts especially when it comes to the chassis and diesel engine.

Have an inspection before you buy a used RV

The bottom line here is that if you are purchasing a used RV you should always get a third-party inspection unless of course you have the qualifications  to inspect the RV  yourself.  Secondly an extended warranty can pay for itself. We have had about $2000.00 of warranty payments so far on our RV – half the cost of what the 3 year extended warranty cost.

Start-up Checklists

Now I am going through the Freightliner chassis checklists and trying to figure out how to complete these.  The Journey is our first diesel vehicle and much of the vocabulary is new to us.  After spending some time looking though the chassis manual, the Cummins engine manual and blogs I think I’l invest in a DVD instruction set to help us understand this .  I figure the $100 for 6 hours of DVD instruction on basic RV maintenance from Home on the Road will be beneficial.  First I can decide what maintenance I can do myself since I’m fairly handy.  Secondly I’ll have a better understanding of what’s going on when I talk to a professional.  Look for a full review on the DVD set once I order and watch it.

Sounds like a good article for other new folks.  It’s probably simple stuff once you’ve done it once.

Happy Trails!