Roadtrek

Roadtrek

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Worst Summer

This summer has been just terrible due to the weather. I realize this has been the case around most of the country but here on the East Coast for the way we travel it pretty much stopped us from traveling.

I am not sure I have said this before but we travel by habit. We tend to go to the same places and look to do the same things and do this year after year. We only have the Roadtrek because we will not stay in hotels - and have not done so since about three or four years before we got the Roadtrek in 2011. There is an article about that near the beginning of the articles of this site. What we needed was a hotel room on wheels or an extension of our home that we could take with us to stay in when we travel. An RV was the logical choice and a Class B was what we could deal with to be able to keep the RV on our suburban driveway at home with local ordinances about where an RV can be kept on one's property.  At times even before all of this we talked about a summer home in one of the places we would go to, but that never happened. The Roadtrek made that possible as a portable summer home. It is a bit like comfort food. Where we go makes us happy and comfortable - it is familiar. Maybe not exciting for most but when we don't do it we feel something is lacking. At times we add a few new places in along the way.

So anyway - back to the point. We have several places that we go to regularly in the summer and through the year either with the Roadtrek for an extended stay or when for a day and back the same day either with the Roadtrek or the car. Some of these places are reenacting related. Some are related to other hobbies (and businesses) that we have. This summer it was either too hot (temps in the mid to upper 90s) with heat indexes up to 105 dF or between when things cooled down, that brought in severe storms.  Many of the things we do in the places that we go to take place outdoors. When I was younger I could much more easily deal with the heat. Now being out and active in this type of heat all day has become difficult.

We have gone to the same place for Fourth of July week since we were married. When we got the Roadtrek we found out that to go to this area with the RV we needed to make a campsite reservation a year in advance - and we have done that - including this year. We avoid weekends and go during the week - to both avoid crowds and avoid tourists in general. We  had five days reserved to go this year. The weather where we were going was severe storms - not very good for outdoor events - and while we have traveled with the Roadtrek during trips in all types of weather conditions including an earthquake - I really don't like being inside the Roadtrek when there is a severe storm outside.  If the weather is going to be rain one day - sunny the next - maybe showers another day but primarily decent - fine. Five days planned with rain and "severe storms" every day. No. And this was the week of Fourth of July where we were going.  We decided that there was no way we were going to waste the money to be in the rain and whatever else that brought with it. We called the campground and asked if we could change the reservation for a week later - which seemed like a good idea at the time. They were accommodating - they had an opening for Fourth of July week and booked a week that is generally quiet. But there was one event that would only take place that week and we kept looking for a day that the weather might be better. By the end of the week - Saturday - it was going to be clear. This had not been a day we would have been there but it was clear and we were going just for the day - and we took the Roadtrek which was ready for travel. And needed the mileage. So off we went - drove with the usual traffic and the three hour trip took over four hours but that was fine because we got to where we wanted to be, had a great day at the event - and came back home in the Roadtrek that night.

We did not look to stay over as we had plans to come back the coming week - which also did not work out between more bad weather and a business problem my wife had to go to a client about. So, surprisingly accommodating, the campground changed the reservation for us the next week. That week there were only three days that were going to not have more severe storms and we decided to put up with the temperatures. We actually did get away for two nights and three days between the storms.  While we were there an event we attend was being held but we decided to skip it and spend the day around the area which turned out to be a great decision because we stopped in a musuem shop that we visit every so often and had not been there in a couple of years and found a reproduction of something 18th Century that I have been looking for for a long time. It was an expense we were not expecting but Meryl said "buy it!". I took a look at the size and did not see how we were going to fit it into the Roadtrek and get it home with damage. Meryl took some measurements and headed out the the Roadtrek and started doing her thing in arranging space where there is no space. She came back in to the shop five minutes later and said - I can fit it in - easy! And she did.

The week after that trip, there is another all outdoor event that we have taken the Roadtrek to overnight at a campground and to the event the next day. That week more severe weather is predicted and it hit this area bad. Not far away from this we are seeing streets flooded to rooftops, cars under water, and roads broken away.  Parking for this event is in a large open dirt field. I decided that there was no way I was taking the Roadtrek - even if the ground was not flooded - as having once gotten a passenger van stuck in the mud with four wheel drive (which only pulled it down into the mud deeper) I was going to avoid even the slightest possibility of that. So we decided we would still go but with the car just for the day and back. I called the day before and asked if they were or had been flooded. I was told - "Oh, no, we have been fine". When we got there half the field to park in was roped off and flooded. A number of exhibitors had not come at all because of the flooding.  The rest was soft. I was very glad we left the Roadtrek home.


At this point we are heading into August and we usually travel for a week to two weeks during August - and I was looking to get to Virginia for the majority of that. I started looking at forecasts and dates we could go. This started to get ridiculous as the weeks started to pass. I was down to looking at where is it not going to rain and have at least a week of travel and sightseeing weather.  I was looking out as far as the Mid-West where there seemed to be more good days than bad but by the time we got there - I really don't know where there would have been but it was west of Ohio - it would have been time to turn around and drive home back through the storms.

Another event that we attend annually - an 18th Century/19th Century folk life festival - is always the weekend near our wedding anniversary and this year it was right on our anniversary. I have never taken the Roadtrek to this event because it is another grass field to park in and this one is a lot of slopes and ruts when it has been a good summer. With the excess rain, I decided that there was no way that I would start bringing the Roadtrek this year - so again we took the car. While we were there - again an all outdoor event - there was a downpour mid-afternoon. We heard later that the next day, there was heavy rains there all day. 

It seemed that this pattern of severe storms and high heat was just not going to change (and it hasn't as it is still happening as I write this). We were at the last two weeks of August and decided we would try to get away for a week if we could - to one of the usual places which seemed to be a maybe as far as the weather. We decided that we would call for a campsite on the morning we would leave and see what happened. We had planned to leave on a Tuesday morning and it was raining where we were going. We had the Roadtrek packed and ready to go. We would try the next morning and when Meryl woke up that morning she felt sick. She had been going through all of this with a pretty bad cold with chest congestion and had started to feel better. She was much better the night before, but that morning she said she felt worse than she had the whole time with this cold - and by then I was starting to get it as well. This was Wednesday. She said that if she felt better by the afternoon we would call the campground and see if we could get a campsite for two nights - there Thursday and Friday and back Saturday (at night). Not what we had planned on but it was something and it was one of our comfort spots.

That afternoon she felt better and she called. The woman on the phone from the campground was a bit uncertain about booking a campsite and she did not say why. Friday was no good - they had nothing open. When we suggested just Thursday with hesitance she said yes - and there are just a few campsites in this campground that we know we can get level in, we asked for a specific site and was told yes - reservation made. It was sunny that day here. I saw on Facebook that night that there had been bad flooding in this area from Tuesday night into Wednesday. We called Wednesday afternoon and nothing was said about flooding so it must not be here. We set out the next day. This campground has a 3:00 PM check in time so we went around to some of our haunts and arrived at the campground around 4:30 PM. Nothing looked unusual. We went into the office and told the people at the desk that we had a reservation. The man behind the counter and the woman were saying something we could not quite make out and then the man handed us the map with the site (that we have been in many times) and said, "The site might be a bit soft. If it is too soft come back and we will give you another site." I was not happy at hearing that and asked why. They had been flooded for the past two days - really flooded. The campground was 3/4's empty - the reason there were no sites for Friday was because they had to move all of their reservations to sites that were usable. Had the woman on the phone said they were flooded we would have understood the hesitancy about making our reservation. On the drive from home, Meryl had suggested that we make a reservation when we got to the campsite for the next Monday and Tuesday - two days that were supposed to be dry but extremely hot. We made the reservation there in the office and the woman said, "The sites should mostly be dry by then!"
 
As we drove the Roadtrek to the campsite around the empty sites we could see that they were moving new gravel into many of the sites. We could see a lot of mud and big ruts where large tires had gone through the grass and the mud. It may have been RVs that had made the ruts or the small tractor that we heard the next morning moving gravel into more campsites. We got to our site and there was mud around in the dirt and grass that surrounded the gravel. I found a level spot well enough away from the edge of the gravel so that getting out there would be no mud to step into. Luckily the gravel was firm and the grass area between where we needed to bring the power cord over the grass to the campground power box was actually solid. The temps were cool those two days and we had a nice, but very short time, knowing when we were leaving Friday that we would be back Monday for another two days.

The Monday and Tuesday we were going back were predicted to be the hottest days of the summer so far - with temps in the high 90's and a heat index advisory over 105 due to the extreme humidity. We left early Monday morning trying,again to avoid the rush hour traffic. It was still stop and go. We spent the day in the van driving and then when we arrived in the area we went to the places we had not gotten to the Thursday/Friday before. With the dash A/C we were able to get some relief between stops. Tuesday was to be the hotter of the two days.  During one stop on Monday the temperature in the Roadtrek hit 105 degrees F.  And the campsite as almost dry - but there were many signs still evident of the flooding and my guess is that the big tire rut in the mud in the grass next to this site will stay there for a very long time.

We had not dumped the tanks on the Friday before when we left as we decided that it would just be easier to dump them before we left the campground on Tuesday. Dumping with the macerator went just too well - not complaining. I filled the black tank with fresh water to top it off by pouring water from the campsite spigot down the toilet from a collapsible bucket that we had found at the end of last year.  The bucket holds a little over a gallon and I topped the tank at 5 buckets of water on top of what was in the tank. The tank emptied to the point that the water just stopped coming out. None of the usual spurts to show it is just about empty. It was mostly liquid and that might be why. I got nervous that there was something wrong with the macerator and I went inside the Roadtrek to the monitor panel - and rare of rare occasions - the tank read EMPTY - actually empty!  I went back out and we dumped the grey tank - and this went the same way - and the water flowed out steadily - there is nothing wrong with the macerator. I never leave the black tank without water in it so that it does not dry out. I filled the bucket again with water and dumped that down the toilet. I checked the monitor and it still read empty - then flashed the 1/3 - which it should as the tank as soon as there is anything in it will start to show 1/3 full (per the RT manual).  Seeing the tank read empty was short lived.Later in the day it read 1/3 and still reads 1/3.

We headed over to a Farmer's Market that we like to go to and spent most of the day there in the heat - with no buildings air conditioned. Before we left the RT in the parking lot I opened the roof fan vent to allow hot air to escape out the vent (not running - just the open lid).  We usually buy lunch from one of the stands and eat outside but we were not going do that in that heat. We went back to the Roadtrek and started the generator and turned on the A/C and had lunch on the front table.  After I opened the fan vent again before we went back out. When we came back to leave later in the afternoon - despite the vent being opened and having run the A/C just a few hours before- the digital thermometer that we have inside the Roadtrek was reading 107 dF. So much for the vent helping to let the heat out.

A few days after we returned home, we learned that a sudden storm came up on the area that we had just been in where the farmers market is located and 11" of rain fell within a few hours. This caused serious flooding and damaging roads.  It is just unbelievable.

The summer is still not "officially" over though I started writing this article on Labor Day. I had thought about a trip up to Connecticut at the end of this week but it is going to rain - and we are currently in another heat wave with advisories until tomorrow night. I am sure there are some of you where this is all normal and usual. It has never been so here. During the summer we had a sudden and not expected severe thunderstorm and streets flooded that have never flooded - and we are beyond the flood zone - in the well over over 50 years that I have lived in this area.  Lightening hit the ground all over - not common here at all. I don't really remember when I have seen that.  And, of course, the power went out which I wish was not that common but tends to be. There are "usual" trips still to come and hopefully we can take them. Once September comes there are a lot of things that involve us that keep us from just taking off - if the weather did improve.

So was there a point to this ramble- only that the weather this summer stunk and still stinks! 😬   Go figure that my article in April - "Pre-Season Opener for My Roadtrek" was going to be typical of our travel for the whole summer!   😩

Friday, August 3, 2018

Replacing the Propane Detector Alarm

Way back after our last trip in 2017 in October we were not hearing the usual beeping that always happened when the battery switch in the Roadtrek was turned on that came from the propane detector near the floor on the front of the cabinet that has the internal water tank inside. This beeping was the alarm warming up and self-testing itself. As it beeped the little red LED on the front would flash at the same time and then after several beeps it would stop and the LED would go out - as it was supposed to. A power LED in green remains on to indicate that there are 12 volts going into the detector for it to operate.

The Propane Alarm is tested, simply, by using a butane cigarette lighter. The lighter is held up in front of the alarm unit and pointing the gas toward the vent opening in the alarm, the button on the back of the lighter is pushed without flicking on the ignition wheel. The gas goes into the alarm and the alarm starts to scream - loudly and continuously with the red LED flashing - until you clear the air of gas by opening a window and turning on the ceiling van to suck all the gas out of the van - and the alarm goes silent. This alarm is hardwired into the Roadtrek's coach 12 volt battery run electrical
 system.



After that trip I tested the alarm with the butane lighter and it was silent and no red LED came on. The green power LED was lit. These units have a life span from about five to a few more years. Unlike the CO Detector that has an audible signal that the life of the alarm has expired, the brand unit that Roadtrek used for the Propane Detector had no such signal. I decided to wait for the Spring to replace it - as we would not be traveling in it again until then.


At some point after 2011, Roadtrek stopped using a standalone propane detector alarm and a standalone CO detector alarm (that is located under the cabinet on the passenger side over the bed), and installed a single combination Propane/CO Detectors Alarm - in the same place that the Propane Detector is installed in my 2011.

When it was time to order a replacement I looked up who made this unit and found that it was a company in Canada by the name of Electro Systems, Inc.. I did a search for the propane detector to match the same one in my Roadtrek and found only two places that it existed for sale. One was the manufacturer and the other was an online retailer also in Canada. I decided I would order it from the manufacturer. I am not going to provide the model number - and you will understand why as I go along here.

I ordered the propane alarm from the manufacturer's website. We had to pay through Paypal with a credit card. The money exchange rate was automatically handled and we paid about $15 shipping. It took two weeks to arrive.

The unit looked exactly like the unit installed in my Roadtrek. This is a flush mount unit. The cabinet wall that this is installed in has a three inch round hole cut into it to mount the propane detector alarm unit into and the wiring comes up from under the floor of the cabinet through a thin slot along the wall below the hole. At first the installation looked simple. Remove the screws that held the old unit to the wall outside the hole. It was not quite that simple as the screws were under the face plate of the detector and two clips hold the face plate to the unit. The two clips are both pushed toward each other at the same time (several inches apart) and the plate is supposed to come right off. With the two clips pushed nothing happened. It appeared that after 7 years either heat or age caused the plate to adhere closely to the the back of the unit. It took a thin and sharp edge of a metal paint scraper to get into the crack that was barely visible and pry the face plate off while also holding the clips together. Eventually it came off.

I removed the screws and opened the cabinet door to follow the wiring. It went down below the floor inside, not through the slit that was there for the wiring but along the edge of the floor. The wiring did not pull up. It moved a little and then moved toward the side just a bit more and then stopped.

Note in the photo that the original install by Roadtrek was at an angle - that it should not have been at.

The wiring was not coming up and the connections were somewhere below. Looking around the floor edge in the cabinet it appeared that the floor panel might lift up and out. This cabinet also has a door on top that lifts up. Inside this cabinet is the interior water tank and a number of its electrical sensor connections above the floor. One must be very careful inside this cabinet to not damage this fresh water tank or the wiring connected to it which easily could be pulled off. I tried picking up the floor panel, found a few screws holding it down, removed those and it would move a little and then stop. This is all happening with me sitting cross leg in the narrow aisle between the cabinet I was working in and the cabinet on the floor on the other side.

I tried for quite some time to carefully remove the floor panel and then gave up when I realized that what was stopping it was the piano hinge that the front cabinet door opens out on. The inside of the hinge goes straight down to the floor all along this section of the floor and there was no way this floor board would come up without removing the hinge with a number of screws on the inside of the cabinet at the floor - where there is no room to turn even a slim screwdriver. No, I stopped there.

At this point I decided that I would cut the wire on the old detector unit right where it went into the back of the unit and attach a new wiring extending the length of the wiring that was under the floor. I would use end to end crimp connectors to do this. The instructions for the propane detector recommended these crimp connectors to attach the wiring of the detector to the 12 volt wiring of the RV. I had initially thought to attach the detector with the same plug and socket crimp  connectors that I had used for the CO Detector 5 years ago when I had to replace that unit (see article). Since the instructions were so definite about the end to end connectors I used those instead.

So I added about 10 inches of wire - just to have extra - to the wiring that was cut from the old detector and I attached end to end crimp connectors to the end of the extension wires that would be attached to wires on the new propane detector. It was then that I discovered that the hole in the back of the unit was too small to fit the connectors through - and this was necessary as the face plate and "guts" of the unit had to fit into the back plate that is screwed into the cabinet to hold it in place and the hole would be too small to pass the connectors through. I decided to just drill that hole in the mounting case larger. Then I got the wires out from inside through the hole, connected the connectors to the unit wires and got it all back together again. This was all easy, if it were not for cramped legs while doing this.  I thought I was done!

New install - using the same screw holes. You cans see the angle it is on from the original install.


I had Meryl turn the battery switch on and I saw the green power light light up on the unit. It quickly flashed red once and there was a half beep and then silent. This was certainly not working like the old unit - nor was it working the way the instruction sheet said it should which described the familiar several beeps and flashing red LED throughout as it warmed up and self-tested. I was not happy.

I got the butane lighter and decided to test the detector. I sprayed gas into the detector as I had done with the old one and it sat there silent. I repeated spraying gas. Still silent. I did it a third time and in about ten minutes of waiting it suddenly started to blare the alarm. Was this how it worked? I was even more not happy.

We cleaned up and shut the Roadtrek down and decided to let it sit for another day. The next day was cool outside. This was all in the Spring which here did not warm up very much each day. It was about 50 degrees F. I went into the RT - turned on the battery switch - no beeps, no red LED - only the green power LED was lit. Not only was I not happy. Meryl was also not happy. We both have never been fans of natural gas or propane. We don't use propane often in the Roadtrek - only when really necessary - but the tank still hangs under the back of the chassis - under the bed inside the Roadtrek - and we take the propane detector alarm very seriously. I tried a few more times on different days. I also contacted the manufacturer which turns out - at least in any contact - to be a one man operation.  I was told that perhaps the detector does not need to warm up. I questioned this because the temp inside and outside the RT was below 50 degrees most days at this point. I was told it was fine. I tested it a few more times with butane (also recommended in the written instructions with the propane detector). Each time it would take awhile for the alarm to go off. Meryl wanted it out! I emailed again - asking about why the unit does not beep when it is first turned on - per the instructions - and per our experience with the same unit for the past seven years. I was told that the beeps were silenced at start up (regardless of what the written instructions say) because they were annoying. I then asked then why no red LED either at start up. There was no answer for this. Then Meryl got involved in the emails because she wanted this unit out and returned. She did not want another (and I agreed) as this unit could not be trusted. That no one sells this unit any longer other than the manufacturer and one retailer and that Roadtrek stopped using this unit just after my 2011, should have told me something. Eventually he said to send it back (at my expense) and he would refund the purchase price. I pulled the unit out and sent it back.

I now had to find a replacement. The new combo unit that Roadtrek uses is made by the same company that makes the CO Detector that RT used in my 2011, Safe-T-Alert.  Looking at that combo model I would have had to cut a new rectangular hole into the cabinet and with the large round hole already there this was not going to work out too well. Plus I had just replaced the CO Detector which had aged out at five years.  I looked to see what propane detectors that Safe-T-Alert has and there is a "mini" unit that is just a propane detector alarm that was a surface mount. This meant that it would stick out some into the aisle - which is generally under the bed when we travel so as long as storage under the bed did not interfere with it, it would work.

The model of this Safe-T-Alert mini propane detector is MTI Industries 20-441-P-WT Safe T Alert 20 Series Propane/LP Gas Alarm - White. I made sure that it had all the same specs as the larger units. It does. There was nothing different about it other than size from the full size propane detectors from Safe-T-Alert.  I was able to find it on Walmart.com with free shipping directly to the local Walmart where I could pick it up when it arrived and I had it in less than a week. And the price was decent - and less than the original.

I closed the hole in the cabinet with a quarter inch thick oak plywood board - furniture grade cut to a a square to cover the hole. I wanted the new propane detector mounted just above this and drilled a half inch hole into the cabinet so that the wiring would easily pass through. This unit is easily detachable from a mounting bracket that is what is screwed to the wall and the unit needs to be no higher than a specified height above the floor - which was no problem with the location I was mounting it. In the future when this needs to be replaced (the instructions say every five years - and this unit will sound an alarm when it is aging out - just as the CO detector from this company does) all that is necessary it to pull the detector up out of the snug mounting bracket, cut the wires at the crimp connector that I used for this as well (the wiring that I had done all remained in place), attach the new unit's wires to the wire in the cabinet and done!  I tucked all of the wires down the slot that is below this in the floor - and it all fit down and comes up easily because of the extended wire I added. The original wiring still comes up through the slit between the floor and the wall - and still does not budge.





I think you should also know the rest of the story - because I always have told it like it is. After over a month after the returned propane detector was received at the manufacturer, we still had not received a refund. We had asked for our credit card account to be credited back through Paypal - a simple process that we have done ourselves for returns in our own small business. We tried emailing - no response. An email from us saying that if we did not hear back we would file a claim with the credit card company finally got a response but when I asked for the refund to be processed by him back ot our credit card, I was told that he could not do that - I had to. ???  I had to process my own refund to my credit card?  I answered that the only way I could do that would be detrimental to his account - requesting a charge back on a disputed purchase - and I did not really want to do that to him. I got no reply back and we waited another two weeks and contacted the credit card company and Paypal. We did finally get the credit approved, processed, and closed - just a week ago. This went on from May.

If you need a new propane detector for your 2011 or previous Roadtrek do not get the same as is there. The Safe-T-Alert mini model works well- does everything it is supposed to - it starts and flashes for a specified length of time showing it is self-testing (just as their CO Detectors do) and goes steady green LED once it is ready. I have tested it with butane from the lighter and it immediately went off - very loudly! You will not sleep through this if there is a propane leak. Once the air was clear it resets itself and is ready again.

Things should be easier than they are. Sometimes with Roadtrek things that should be simple - like replacing parts that wear out every five years are not. The CO Detector wiring was also not accessible. This wiring is not accessible. Perhaps it is done in an effort to make business for the dealer shops.