Gillette Wyoming – FMCA Rally and Devil’s Tower National Monument

FMCA Rally

Pre-Rally Upgrades

We arrive in Gillette on Sunday the 15th of July for an early set-up because on Monday we have our new sensors getting installed.  See the post here about the sensor installation.  Tuesday we got our tanks washed out then the 98th FMCA Rally starts Wednesday.

The Rally Begins – Here’s a typical day:

DJI 0129
FMCA Rally – Gillette Wyoming

Wednesday July 18th

LED Troubleshooting

Our first seminar Jeff attended is on LED lighting taught by Gregg Wilson.  Just about the first question out was how many folks have LED lights in their coach, and Jeff’s hand shot up.  The next question was how many have LED lights that are flickering?  Again, Jeff’s hand shot up.  We have a number of interior and exterior LED lights that are flickering that we got from M4 RV Lighting.   We went with M4 because some of the more popular blogs we follow have used the lights from this company.  Jeff is interested in getting some troubleshooting tips to diagnose the flickering.

Flickering Usually Means HEAT

Most often LED lights flicker because they get too hot, and inferior lights handle heat poorly.  Sure enough, the lights that we are having problems with are the enclosed Valance lights at the ends of our cabinets in the living area.  The light is enclosed in a triangular area 10″ x 10″ x 10″, so it is not like the lights are in a small space, but they don’t get any circulation.

Gregg designs, builds and sells LED lights that he has designed for the RV environment.   The second set of lights are in the ceiling above the bed – again the rear ceiling gets less circulation than the front and is more susceptible to more heat.  We elected to replace these lights with LEDs that have more directionality and are designed to allow more airflow around the light.  In addition, we picked lights that are shielded to create less interference for TVs and amateur radios.

External LED lights – A PROBLEM!

Our other lights that flicker are running lights on the outside of the coach.  Gregg informs us that there are no LEDs certified for use on the exterior unless they are fully encapsulated, and pass IP65, IP66 or IP67 standards for water proofing.  Replacing a conventional running light with an LED is not legal and will likely not work in the long-term.  Sure enough, most of these lights have been flickering since day 1.  Next job is to replace these with original style light bulbs.

Porch Lights

We also purchased two LED motion detector porch lights.  Jeff had already replace the porch light by the door with an LED version, because want to have motion detectors for our porch lights especially while boondocking this was a good find.  Since they are a) not running lights and b) enclosed there should be no issue with these lights.  That project will be on a future blog post & video.

Orthopedic Principals and Applications

Christine went to the Orthopedic seminar, which was a good seminar as they talked about key stretches to do, especially when sitting hours during travel days.  They also discussed keeping as limber as possible as we age because let’s face it… we are all getting older.

Extended Warranty

Next, we went to an Extended Warranty presentation by US Warranties.  It was an interesting seminar for us because our original extended warranty that we got when we purchased Lola is expiring in August.  We got several key take-aways:

  • Does it include roadside assistance?
  • Does it include towing?
  • Is there Trip Interruption services
  • Senior Citizen & Military Discounts
  • Does it include Consequential Loss Coverage (when an item that is covered damages other parts)

More on our experience shopping for extended warranties soon!

Other Notable Seminars

Freightliner Fireside Chat

Jeff attended the Freightliner Fireside Chat in Massachusetts 2 years ago and decided to attend this rally’s version.  A representative from Freightliner RV manufacturing gave an interesting overview of some of the newer technology being used in current Freightliner RV chassis.  In addition the standard Fireside Chat discussion is about basic chassis technology, troubleshooting and maintenance (as much as you can squeeze into an hour).

Griots Detailing 101

One of the things we like about the FMCA rally is that seminars are either general information (not vendor specific) or product oriented (vendor specific).  Detailing a Coach 101 was a product specific seminar from Griots (Griots Detailing 101 from Griots Garage).   Cool products at a premium price.  Check out the link to Griots for some of their cool stuff.

Air Brakes

The seminar on Air Brakes is presented by   I took some notes, but could really have used a hand-out.  There is a full course available from RVSafety on testing Air Brakes.  I did find an article on testing Air Brakes at Family RVing website.  Scroll down to the Pretrip Brake Inspection.  Also a basic Understanding Air Brakes from the same FMCA author.

Tire Knowledge

Roger Marble has been working with tires his entire life.  He spent many years ‘in the pit’ on race courses and ‘in the lab’ at a major US tire manufacturer.  Check his blog-site for lots of information on RV tires.  This seminar was focused on tire failures and the forensics involved in determining the root cause of the failure.  Fascinating, but probably a bit too in depth for our more practical needs.  His website and his contributions on forums is invaluable.  Guess it is important to have your tires checked on a regular basis.

Detail an RV in an Hour

This seminar was a combination general information and product specific.  The non product specific portion of the seminar covered microfiber cloth manufacturing and quality and how to tell if you are getting a good microfiber cloth.  The instructor from Almost Heaven Microfiber  also talked about the advantages of using poles instead of ladders to wash and wax your RV.   For the product specific portion of the seminar he displayed a variety of products including microfiber cloths of different texture for various tasks, poles to attach the cloths to as well as different wash and wax products.  We ended up stopping by the booth and picking up a heavy duty pole, some spray wax for between full wax jobs and a variety of microfiber cloths.

Boondocking 101 & 102

Two full seminar sessions by Dave Helgerson all about boondocking safety, resources and planning.  Because this is a very detailed subject matter too much to cover for this blog entry  we will devote some quality time to create another video and blog just on what we learned about Dave’s boondocking teachings.

Devils Tower

On Friday we take a break and drive to Devil’s Tower – the nation’s first National Monument.  It was a nice drive with the dogs and a nice break from all the learning we are doing at the FMCA Gillette Rally.



Happy Trails!

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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!



Buying for the RV Basement

New RV Accessories – Buying for the RV Basement


Continuing our tour of the RV and preparing for our first camping trip we go to the basement.  When buying for the basement we see a number of major systems that support the RV.  Besides storage, there is the Power System, Water and waste control, on-board power generator, storage and of course the coach power supply also called the engine.


Journey Basement Storage

Planning your storage is challenging.  In our case where we will be week-ending before full-timing we have opted to use large plastic bins for most of our storage in our Journey basement.  We also have a some full-width basement storage that is astride the central frame of the RV.  We are still trying to figure out the best way to use this area.  There is a big ladder stowed across this and we slid the synthetic grass carpets (a new purchase from Home Depot at a sales price of $20 each)  across it, but loose.  We have to figure out how to use this storage area and keep things stored here stationary and not sliding around.

One caveat is where to place heavy things.  When loading your RV it is important to balance your weight as good as you can.  One thing we found was that we had more weight than we should have in the back vs. the front.  To balance your RV, load it so it has the same percentage of recommended Gross vehicle weight for the front and back.   For example  for a total weight of 27,250 lbs according to the Toyo tire weight list I should have 9,610 lbs on the front axle and 17,640 lbs on the rear axle with dual tire setups.  If you can, you should also weigh the RV’s corner weights so you know the RV has the same weight on each side.  This is more of a challenge because most RV/Truck scales will just weigh by axle not by corner.  Larger RV shows and a many RV rallys provides this service.  Check out Howard and Linda’s site RV-Dreams for their schedule of doing  full RV weighing.  For more information about how important RV Corner weighing is  see Howard and Linda’s article at RV-Dreams Weighing.  For longer tire life it is crucial to have the  correct tire pressure for you weight and to have your weight balance front to back and right to left.

I know this is a bit of a segue but for and RV owner weight and storage go hand in hand.  Fortunately we had a wide selection of storage bins that fit in our storage compartment.  The main focus for us is making sure that our storage is balanced.

Electrical System

Journey Battery Compartment

The RV has two bays dedicated to the power system (besides the engine itself).  The battery compartment hold the house and chassis batteries.  In our case both sets of batteries are pretty new, so they will last for a few years at least.  When we do we will consider replacing our batteries we will probably go with Lithium Ion or similar technology.  See Technomadia’s article – Promise of Lithium #1. and About RVing’s experiences converting to Lithium Ion in their article Lithium Batteries for RV’s.  In this article Ron Jones explains his experiences converting to Lithium Ion.  I exchanged emails with him a few months ago, and he is still using and excited about his experience using Lithium Ion batteries after 3 years using Lithium Ion batteries in a full-timer environment.  Although the cost for the upgrade is substantial, lithium-ion batteries have a longer life, shorter recharge time and are much lighter.  Also the technology continues to evolve quickly and prices are going down and reliability and ease of installation continues to improve.  We won’t replace our current house batteries until they get older, but more efficient, lighter technology will be an important consideration.

A second bay in the basement is where the coach connects to shore power.   For our RV it’s a 50 amp system, so we use “dog bones” (See RV Geeks video here) to hook up to 30 amp power pedestals that are typical in older RV parks and even 20 amp converters that connect to typical house circuits.  These three connectors allow the RV to connect to just about any available “shore” power situation.  Our RV came with a dog bone for 30 to 20 amp connections and a 20 amp converter.  However just because we can connect to any power does not mean that we should.  Power quality can vary from park to park and even by hour.  This means that your RV could be subjected to brown-out (where a 110 volt circuit falls below 115 volts) or voltage spikes such as lighting strikes.  If you take a look at this RV-Travel article Do you need s surge protector,  you will read of about having both low voltage and voltage spike protection.

Now that we have decided that we need some protection the question is how much?  Prices for a 50 amp protection varies from $100 to $500 or more.  That’s fodder for another article as we are still mulling over our decision there.  Needless to say, at a minimum we have dog bones and connectors to make a basic connection, secondly we need to decide on whether and how much protection we need for low and high voltage  conditions.

Our RV came with the basic dog bone for 30-50 amp hookup so we were good as far as getting power to the RV.

Water/Sewage service center area

Journey Water/Sewage compartment
Journey Water/Sewage compartment

Our RV came with a sewer hose and a new fresh water hose.  During the walk-through the right-angle connector was also shown, but somehow it was forgotten.  Fortunately before we left for the dump station on our first trip I checked the hoses & connectors before leaving  and saw that it was missing, so after a quick trip to the Thousand Trails Trading Post we had the connector and clamp.

We added a spray bottle of Lysol to clean the fresh water connector as well as a few old car towels for general cleanup.  After our first camping trip we got a Dual-Flush connector from Amazon that allows us to merge our two grey water tanks since we are usually not concerned about dumping grey water on the ground.  Grey water with food waste such as from the kitchen sink is often considered sewage, and can attract varmints  such as rats where grey water from the shower should only contain water and soap and in some locations you can dump this on the ground.  Always check the local regulations before dumping any waste water on the ground.

Generator – Air Compressor

In the front of our Journey is the 8000 watt Cummins Onan generator and an air compressor connector.  We already had one 50′ air compressor hose and added another 50′ high capacity hose with the proper quick connect coupler.  We also added a truck style inflator.  See the Tire Pressure Monitoring system article for more information on air compressor accessories.  Other than the hose and tire inflator this area did not need any additional purchases.



Preparing for camping – Making Lists

Oh crap!  Honey, I forgot the beans.

Now that we have an RV, the rest is easy right?  What should we take with us for a weekend camping trip?  If you have had any experience camping you know it’s easy to forget small and sometimes major things.  If your campsite is close to a store then you may be lucky and get those forgotten items.  But what if it’s your grandfather’s recipe for that special barbecue sauce?  Or that special bathing suit?  The answer of course is to make a list.

Making Lists

If you are going to make a list, especially a long list it helps to have some organization to it.  For camping in an RV  I mentally go from room to room – bedroom, bathroom, galley etc. thinking about what is not packed or what may already be there.

Making lists mentally are great, but when it goes beyond 5 items my brain is in overload.  If my fingers were not attached, I would probably forget half of them!  For me, paper lists get lost and forgotten.  I almost always have my phone with me now and fortunately there are apps for that.  After trying several list apps over the years I have finally settled on Wunderlist as the best solution for my needs.  The nice thing about Wunderlist is that there is a PC, Android and iPhone solution.  It even works on my Kindle Fire.  Since it is cloud based I see the same list on any device I use as long as I have Wi-Fi or cellular access to get the updates to the list.

Besides being a simple list you can have sub-lists, comments and notes for each item on the list.  This dropped my what to pack list down from well over 100 items to just over 50.  By naming the items by room I get simple categorization because Wunderlist allows for alphabetic sorting as well as a few other sort options.  For example here is my high level list without the sub-items:

Wunderlist Sublist
Wunderlist Sublist

Some of the items will expand out – such as the Galley Salad/Smoothies list item has 19 sub items (see the example to the left), so it is as simple or complicated as you want it to get.  You could also categorized some of these as permanently packed to make it easier.

Besides  being accessible on a variety of devices I have found printing the list to PDF is  helpful if I need to share the full list with someone or keep a printable copy of the original list.

Besides using Wunderlist for my what to pack list, I also use it for my bigger projects like installing solar and my next oil change.

We still forget things, but that usually because we get sidetracked or in a hurry and don’t check the list.  Then, we forget the beans!

The opinions expressed here are solely our own, and (unfortunately) we received no compensation for this blog article.

Software described: Wunderlist

Also available in the Microsoft Store, Google Play store and Apple iTunes.

 Next Up:  Putting the list to work.  What if you don’t have all the items that you put on the list?  See our list of things we purchased for that first trip, and why.


Why Full Time RV

Full Time RV – It’s Human Nature

why_fulltimeMobile lifestyle is human nature.  Since the first humans have been on earth they have migrated across continents and across the world.  It’s in our nature, in our blood.  My ancestors came to the colonies from England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, France and Switzerland in the mid 1700s.  By the early 1900’s they had migrated to Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Colorado with some ending up in Oregon.

Maybe the question of Why RV should be why not?  There is a human desire to find out what’s over the next hill and around the next bend of the trail or road.  Some people live the full timer RV lifestyle because they want to, others because their job or circumstances make this the best choice.  Regardless, just about anyone can live the mobile life (and I don’t mean cell-phones).

So, why are we going the live the Full Time RV life?  More than anything else, this is a lifestyle choice.  We are going to tour the US and Canada over an extended period, exploring the nooks and crannies that only Charles Kuralt and a few others managed to unearth.  Staying in motels and eating out all the time is very expensive, limits our options on where to stay and makes it difficult to travel with pets who are an important part of our family.  Every RVer – full-time or not – has their own reasons.

We have friends who successfully transitioned to a full timer RV lifestyle for several years.  This allowed them to visit and stay for extended periods of time in places they could explore, then travel on.  This appeals to our sense of adventure, wish to explore and make new friends.

How else can you go out and kayak on a lake in the morning, then return to your home and enjoy a stew that has simmered while we are gone.  Then, a few days later you are ocean-side sipping wine under your awning enjoying the gentle lapping of waves under palm trees.  There is an independence and freedom associated with RV life that only a few take the effort to enjoy.

Happy Trails