Roadtrek

Roadtrek

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

PROPANE Part 2

READ PART ONE OF THIS ARTICLE ONE WEEK BACK BEFORE READING THIS ARTICLE...
 

HOT WATER HEATER


To operate your hot water heater you must have both the propane turned on and also the battery switch inside your Roadtrek turned on. With the propane on and flowing, turn on the hot water switch on the wall of your Roadtrek (near the monitor panel). There will be a red indicator light on the switch to show you that it is ON. Turning on that switch will ignite the burner that heats the water in the hot water tank. (This does not apply to a Roadtrek Ranger that has an electric hot water heater.)  



NEVER TURN ON THE HOT WATER HEATER SWITCH UNLESS THERE IS WATER IN THE HOT WATER TANK.

NEVER TURN ON THE HOT WATER HEATER SWITCH IF YOU HOT WATER TANK IS IN BYPASS MODE.

ALWAYS FILL YOUR WATER TANKS AND THEN TURN ON YOUR WATER PUMP - AND OPEN THE HOT WATER FAUCET TO DRAW WATER INTO THE HOT WATER TANK BEFORE TURNING ON THE HOT WATER SWITCH. SEE WATER FLOWING THROUGH THE HOT WATER TANK AND INTO THE FAUCET AT FULL FORCE FIRST.

IF ONLY USING CITY WATER, OPEN THE HOT WATER FAUCET TO DRAW WATER INTO THE HOT WATER TANK BEFORE TURNING ON THE HOT WATER SWITCH. SEE WATER FLOWING THROUGH THE HOT WATER TANK AND INTO THE FAUCET AT FULL FORCE FIRST.

IF YOU TURN ON THE HOT WATER SWITCH WITH A DRY HOT WATER TANK YOU WILL DAMAGE THE TANK AND THE HOT WATER HEATER!

The hot water tank holds six gallons of water. It takes some time to fill six gallons with the water pump. It will fill faster on city water. Be patient no matter how you are filling it.

 (You can also know if it is full by going outside, opening the side panel of the van for the hot water heater, open the pressure relief valve on the top (it is on what looks like a faucet pipe) by pulling the silver handle gently towards you and stand back when you do this. IF water is in the top of the tank it will start pouring out. Close the valve right away or you will lose all that water. The pump will come on and refill what you let out. Close the side of the hatch outside the van.)

With water in the tank you are now ready to turn on the hot water heater switch on the wall. It takes time to heat that much water. Give it time. It will start to feel warm in five to ten minutes. It can take fifteen minutes or longer to start to feel that the water is hot. If you are concerned that the water is not getting hot, you can check that the hot water heater is working by checking on it outside the van. If you go to the hot water heater cover/vent in the rear driver's side of the Roadtrek you will not only hear the gas flowing but you will also feel heat coming from the vent. Be careful as the hot water heater outside gets hot.

While you are with the Roadtrek in a campground or campsite you can leave the hot water heater switch on. As the water in the tank cools down, it will automatically turn on again and heat the water back up to temperature BUT the hot water tank is very well insulated and is inside your Roadtrek and under most conditions the water will stay hot for a long time before it needs to be reheated. We get hot water for a whole night in November by just leaving the hot water heater switch on for 15 minutes to a half hour and then turning it off. The water stays so hot that it needs to be mixed with cold to use it. Turn off the switch and conserve your propane when the water is hot. Of course, if you use a lot of hot water at one tme it will be replenished in the tank with cold water which will need the hot water switch on to heat up. If you leave the Roadtrek for the day or are driving, turn off the hot water heater switch.


FURNACE


The furnace heats with propane but needs the battery switch ON for two functions - one to start the furnace by igniting the burner inside and two to run the electric fan inside the furnace that circulates the hot air around the Roadtrek. To start the furnace, have the propane on, turn on the battery switch, and then turn on the Furnace switch that is a setting on the air conditioner/thermostat panel on the wall.



Be sure the put the thermostat setting to a setting warmer than the temperature inside the Roadtrek to the temperature that you want it to be inside. You will hear the furnace igniting and the fan will start. You will feel the heat coming out rather quickly. Adjust the temperature with the thermostat. The air conditioner/heat pump and the furnace share the same thermostat. Do not put anything in front of the furnace vent on the floor of the Roadtrek. That space will get hot and you want it open and clear to allow the heat to get around the rest of the Roadtrek.

Be aware that if you are moving the selection switch on this panel, it happens occasionally that when shutting down the air conditioner you will move the switch down one more notch than you intend as OFF is between COOL and FURNACE. The furnace will start. If the propane is on it will ignite and the furnace will come on. If the propane is OFF, the furnace will attempt to ignite and with the absence of propane the system will continue to try to spark the propane (that is not there to ignite). You will hear the system "clicking" to do this. Just move the switch to OFF and it will eventually stop - but it does not stop immediately.


PROPANE DETECTOR


The propane detector does not run on propane but is an alarm system to warn you if there is propane gas leaking into the Roadtrek cabin. It is generally located near the floor. If the propane detector goes off, turn OFF the propane valve immediately!


TURNING OFF THE PROPANE

You turn off the propane just the way that you turned it on. Turn the grey valve knob inside the compartment over the bumper clockwise (to the right) to turn it off. I have read a recommendation that when the propane is shut off at the valve, one should again go to the stove and try to light it - with the propane off. If it does light it will just stay lit for several seconds burning off any gas that remains in the line. This is done for safety by purging all of the gas out of the gas lines in the Roadtrek.

THE PROPANE SYSTEM AS SEEN ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE ROADTREK

The components inside of your Roadtrek that use propane are all vented on the outside of the Roadtrek. It is important that these vents remain clear and not clogged with road debris, bugs, webs, or bird's nests. You can open and check and clean each one - EXCEPT the furnace vent.

Hot water heater vent ->

Open this vent by turning the ring so that it is in line with the slot that it passes through. Then pull the vent out from the edges.




Refrigerator Vent ->

Open this vent by turning the small knobs at the bottom. Turn and pull out from the bottom and lift out from the top.




Furnace Vent ->

This vent DOES NOT OPEN.



Be aware that the actual flame and burner for the furnace is just behind this vent in the wall of the van which is behind the furnace unit heating vent that you see inside the Roadtrek. 




Again ALWAYS keep these vents clear. If you happen to be in the Roadtrek in a snow storm and you are going to use the propane, go outside and clear all snow and ice away from these vent opening.



 +++++++

Talking about propane with RVers is one of those topics that elicits extreme responses. It is one of those things that 50 will tell you one thing and another 50 will tell you the opposite. Propane is something that if one uses common sense is safe. If one does not use common sense and wants to "prove a point", propane can be extremely dangerous. I am not inviting a debate. I am providing basic things to know.

A common question is "should the propane be on when driving?"  Many, many will say no. Many will say yes. Roadtrek officially says "NO" and that is the best advice I can give anyone as well. The only reason one might keep the propane on while driving is to run the 3 way refrigerator on propane. There really is no reason for this as it will run just as well on battery while driving. But so many insist on driving with the propane on for the refrigerator. IF you do this, NEVER PULL INTO A GAS STATION WITH THE PROPANE STILL ON. Pull over before reaching the gas station and turn the propane off at the rear valve. The reason for this as this will turn off the burning igniter and pilot light flame that keeps the burner lit with flame on the fridge. If that burner is lit and any gasoline vapor should waft into the vents on the side of the Roadtrek (which just happen to be on the same side as the gasoline fill) there will be an explosion of a magnitude that you never want to experience (and may not survive to experience again). I have seen the power of propane explosions. They result in a huge ball of flame and destructive force. I take propane very seriously. Some RVers don't and that puts everyone in jeopardy around them.

When you are traveling you need to be aware of propane restrictions on some bridges, tunnels, and roads. This will generally be posted at the entrance but when routing your trip you want to be aware of these well in advance so that you will not need to find an alternative route at the last minute. This is not common all over the country but is in some parts of the country. I know several places in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic where there are propane restrictions on major routes. When we are traveling we need to make a route around Baltimore as no propane is permitted in the tunnels going into and out of Baltimore.

Propane will run your systems for a good amount of time. When the LEDs on your monitor panel indicate that you will be needing propane soon, go to a propane station where a trained and certified individual will put it into your Roadtrek. They should know exactly what to do and once shown where the propane connection (where the valve is in the back) is, they should take it from there. If they are uncertain, stop them and leave and go to some place that knows what they are doing. The first thing the person filling the propane will do is open the relief valve - this is normal. They will then connect your tank to their filling tank and fill your propane tank to 80% and no more. This is the proper way to fill a propane tank. It is never filled to 100%. At 80% your monitor panel will show full. Most campgrounds have propane for sale and at a campground you can be pretty sure that they have filled an RV before and know exactly what they are doing.  Many places sell propane - just be sure they know what they are doing. I know someone who sells propane at their business and I asked what the training involved. I was rather disturbed to hear that "some guy from the propane distributor comes and shows us a couple of times how to put it in". I had hoped that "certified" meant something much more than that. After hearing that, I am more inclined to go to an RV shop or campground to have propane properly put into my Roadtrek. I have to wonder if they actually complies with this testing program, but they are selling propane.

I am sure the technicians and engineers out there will tell you that there is a lot more to know about propane but with what is in this article you will be able to get though just about anything "propane" in your Roadtrek. 


One more thing -

Here is the cover that you take off to access the propane valve. This cover is VERY, VERY EASY to lose.


See in the photo that my cover is hanging in front of the bumper. The cover does not come so that it will hang there. I put a small hole in the corner of the cover, attached some heavy weight fishing line through the hole and tied the other end inside the compartment in a safe spot. When the cover is put back the fishing line just hangs down out of the way inside. When the cover is taken off, it will not get lost. This is simple to do and saves having to order and purchase a new cover should if it got lost. There is also a way to make a new cover easily but it must be done BEFORE you lose the old cover. I will talk about that in a future article.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

PROPANE Part 1

Unless you have one of the new all-electric Roadtreks, you have a propane tank installed on your Roadtrek. The propane is used for heating your hot water, heating your Roadtrek with your furnace, running your refrigerator if you have a three way standard Roadtrek Dometic fridge, and cooking on your stove. If you have a Sprinter Roadtrek your electric generator is also powered by propane. This article will give you some basics about the propane system in your Roadtrek.

First I will share some very basic knowledge about propane. Propane is also called LP Gas. The L P is simply Liquid Propane. When propane is compressed it condenses into a liquid form. It is a property of propane that when uncompressed it changes into a gas. This is what makes it possible for propane to be carried in a tank. Natural gas cannot do this. So - basic number one - the propane in your propane tank is a LIQUID UNDER PRESSURE.

The propane tank in all Roadtreks that I am aware of is located in the rear, under the van chassis, behind the rear bumper.  A reader has shared that in older Roadtreks the propane tank is under the driver's seat floor with access to the fill and gauge is under the flip up step. At some point in change of year, Roadtrek moved the tank and access to the back of the van. To turn on the propane there is a valve located behind a cover right in the middle over the bumper. The valve that you see is a grey knob and like most valves is turned to the right to turn off and to the left to open. Clockwise to turn OFF. Counterclockwise to turn ON. In the compartment behind that cover there will be other components of the system - other than the on/off knob and a connection on a flexible hose to allow you to attach a portable gas grill to the Roadtrek's propane tank for outside barbecuing, don't touch anything else that is there. You will see an analog dial meter that will tell you how much gas is in the tank - though you can also find this out inside your Roadtrek on your monitor panel on the wall. There will be a place for a certified propane person to fill the tank and a pressure relief valve used when filling the tank. Propane is highly combustible. This is not something to fool with.

Let's take a tour of the propane system.

Here is where to look for the propane valve ->



 It is behind this cover ->


Open the cover by turning the white tab on each side to clear the cutout on the cover.
Here is everything "propane" for your Roadtrek ->


What you are looking at above is where to turn on the propane to use it in your Roadtrek and where a certified propane distributor will fill your propane tank for you. The yellow cap is the connection for the propane fill - DO NOT TOUCH THIS.  The red ring to the middle right is the overflow pressure relief valve for the propane. DO NOT TOUCH THIS. The grey it all goes into is the propane tank. What is not seen in this photo is the auxiliary barbecue connection hose which is to the left side and in this photo is tucked down behind the bumper. THE VALVE THAT YOU TURN IS IN THE VERY MIDDLE WITH THE BLUE LABEL.

Here is the ON/OFF VALVE that you will turn ->




Let's get to the systems that you have on your Roadtrek that use propane and what you need to do to get them to operate.

The first thing that you are going to do whenever you first turn on your propane is to light the stove to make sure that the propane is actually flowing through the system. You always want to do this so that you know that the propane has filled all of the gas lines. It is only at the stove that you can actually see the result of this first hand. So we will start with the stove.

STOVE

The stove is the only appliance without a self-lighting pilot light. You must light the stove with a flame that you produce with a match or a lighter. The best thing to get to light the stove is one of the extended reach butane lighters used for barbecues. This lets you get close without getting too close.

Open the glass cover that is over the two gas stove burners. Each has a knob. Look around the edge of each burner and you will see a small, thin brass tube coming up. This tube will be the pilot that will ignite the burner.  With the propane valve on in the rear of the Roadtrek, light the lighter in your hand. You only want a small flame. Turn on either one of the burners by turning and pushing its knob. Bring the flame to where that brass tube is (you will probably hear and smell gas flowing) and the gas should ignite. Adjust the knob to a low flame and let go. The burner is lit. Let it burn for a few seconds and then shut it off. Light the other burner the same way. Your propane is flowing through all of the propane system in your Roadtrek. Turn off the stove. Of course, if you are planning to cook right then and there, your stove is lit and ready to cook. In any case, when you are ready to cook on the stove, do the same thing to light it.

Let me just repeat again why this is done each time you turn on the propane. If you do not do this and go to start your hot water heater or start your 3 way fridge on propane, you cannot see the burner that lights with the burning propane. If the water does not get hot or the refrigerator does not start to cool (most likely with an ignition trouble light on the fridge control panel) you will not know why. By lighting the stove first you eliminate the problem that the propane may not be flowing. Once the stove lights you can be sure that there are no clogs along the propane line. Do be aware that this tells you nothing about leaks.

REFRIGERATOR

Most Roadtreks come with a Dometic three way absorption refrigerator. These work using propane, 12 volt battery power, or 110 volt shore power. Since I do not have this type of refrigerator I can not tell you any details about its operation. A detailed manual should have been included with your Roadtrek just for the refrigerator. I can tell you that this refrigerator does not work like your fridge at home which is a condenser system. An absorption refrigerator has ammonia running through it that must be heated and one of the ways it is heated is with a propane flame burner. To ignite that flame you need to have battery power and you should put your battery switch on before trying to turn on the fridge even when using propane. Do read the manual for your refrigerator. If you don't have one, you can download one for your model fridge on the Dometic website.


END OF PART 1
PART 2 NEXT WEEK

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

WASHING A ROADTREK

Washing the exterior of a Roadtrek is no different from washing a car, but the Roadtrek is much taller than a car. My Roadtrek is 8 feet 10 inches tall. Some Roadtrek models are taller. Many commercial car washes will not accommodate that height. In some areas there are commercial truck washes and they will be able to wash the Roadtrek, but in some areas those are few and far between, if there are any at all. When traveling I have seen some car washes that are nothing more than a large and tall bay that will fit the Roadtrek and you get a timed wash with soap and water through a wand attached to the wall or ceiling by a hose. You pay for so much time and do it yourself. There is nothing like that near me - and perhaps not near many others. When my Roadtrek gets dirty, I wash it myself.

The trick was figuring how to get up high enough to do at least a passable job of getting all that needs to be cleaned clean. A ladder works but you would need to be up and down on that ladder and moving it all around the sides to wash the Roadtrek. It really would take more of a scaffolding - and that was not something I was going to set up just to wash the Roadtrek. No, there had to be an easy and fast way and I came across what I needed by chance.

I was shopping in Costco one day and found this.


This is an extendable wand that connects to a garden hose, has a shutoff valve at the bottom, and extends well above the height of the Roadtrek. It is made not only for washing RVs but also cleaning gutters on houses. The water is under mild pressure when it comes out and includes two swappable nozzle ends. One end gives a straight stream of water with more pressure, and the other end gives a fan of water with less pressure. One screws on to the directional water end of the wand while the other is screwed onto a storage spot at the top of the lower section of the wand. The wand is made by Bonaire and no longer is found at Costco but is sold at Lowes. Here is a link. At the time of this writing it is $19.98. According to the link at Lowes the wand extends to 6 feet in height. It is possible that the wand I purchased at Costco extends longer as it reaches the roof of the Roadtrek from the ground.

Collapsed to its shortest length.
Fully extended.


Of course, this is used connected to a hose and is held up with both hands so it will more than reach the top of the roof. Once I had this the rest was easy. Add to this wand a soft, car washing brush that will reach up high and this can be found at any auto store. I found mine at Walmart and while it is not as tall as the wand and does not easily reach the top of the roof. I can get it onto much of the roof by holding it up above my head and I am only using this to get soap onto the Roadtrek.
 


This brush can be used connected or not connected to a hose. There are some that not only connect to a hose but also can have car wash soap put into a dispenser on the brush. You want one of these made for car washing so that the brush will not scratch the finish.  I do not connect the brush to a hose but leave the hose connected to the wand. I use a bucket filled with vehicle soap and water.



Pick a car wash soap of your choice. This one is a wash and wax. There are many others to choose. The oval bucket (found at Walmart) works very well with the large brush head. 

Once you have all that you need the rest is simple and I can wash the Roadtrek in about 45 minutes or less. Mix the soap and water from the hose in the bucket according to the directions on the soap bottle.

Connect the wand to the hose and with the valve on the wand OFF extend it to a height that will reach where you need to reach. Turn the water spigot connection on full. Be aware that once the water valve on the wand is turned to ON the wand will get a little unmanageable so hold on tight.

First wet down the entire Roadtrek - top to bottom. Avoid spraying water into the vents and there are vents for the air conditioner, there are vents for the refrigerator, vents for the hot water heater, and vents for the furnace. Of course, water may drip in, but it is not a good idea to spray into these vents with water. Also avoid spraying directly down into the black tank vent on the roof.  And stating the obvious - do close all of the windows before you start including the roof fan vent!



With the entire outside wet you are going to start washing the Roadtrek. It is a good idea to start at the roof so that the dirt that comes down off the roof will be washed off when you wash the sides. I can only reach so far with the brush. When you are going to use the brush, turn off the valve at the bottom of the wand. The hose remains full of water and is not easy to move around with the long wand on the end. Set it down on the side out of your way. Put the brush into the bucket of soap and get it full of soap and water. Pull it out and reach up to get the brush onto the edge of the roof as far as you can. Brush the soap on and all around. There are components on the roof so you have to be careful. There is the top of the fan, there is the cap to the blank tank vent, and there is the antenna. You might have solar panels. I rely on the water from the wand to do most of the washing on the roof. Mostly I am washing the edges with the brush. I did notice that the inside of the rain gutter (the channels that run along the side where the roof meets the van get particularly dirty and I did use a foot high, folding step stool to get myself up to be able to see and reach inside that channel. GENTLY scrub with the brush with soap. I discovered that there is sealant in there to keep the roof water tight. Don't scrape off that sealing compound! Work in areas at a time with the brush - on the roof and in the gutters and rinse thoroughly with water from the wand. As you proceed you will get to the sides of the roof so only worry about the top and gutters now.

I now move on to the rest of the van and I do this in sections.  You may start anywhere. For a logical progression all around I start at the front of the driver's side where the fender and the wheel are. working from the edge of the hood down and as far as where the driver's door starts. Put soap and water on with the brush. Scrub with the brush gently and loosen all of the dirt and grime. The rinse with the wand. The water from the wand will push all of the dirt down and away. Wash from top to bottom.

As soon as one section is done move on to the next and move around the entire van this way. Soap with the brush, gently scrub, set the brush aside, turn on the water valve on the wand and rinse. I get the entire van in this manner washing about three foot sections at a time. Each side is three sections. The back doors are two sections - one door at a time. The front is done in two sections. Once you get to the front, you can use a step stool to get the brush up to the three skylight windows.

Once the van is entirely washed, I go around looking for black spots from road tar. These are easily removed with a bug and tar cleaner spray found in any auto store.

Give the undercarriage a rinse with the wand. The wand reaches nicely under the entire chassis. This is especially important if you live where salt is used on the roads in winter and you have driven your Roadtrek on salted roads. That salt will do a lot of damage underneath and it is a good idea to wash it off as soon as you can - though most of us have to wait until Spring to do that.

You may want to dry all of the places that you can reach. To do this use a chamois. I just let the sun do that job for me and it dries quickly with few streaks. 

If you are using a soap with wax, do not get the soap on the backup camera. The wax will obscure the camera lens.

Never use a power washer on your Roadtrek (or any RV). I am sure some will disagree, but when washing an RV is discussed this is always stated by many. There are a lot of places on an RV that are sealed and that sealant will be blown away by a power washer and you will then have leaks inside your RV. Skip the power washer. This wand has enough pressure to do the job and not do any harm used wisely.

I recently bought "Pocket Hoses" for my home to use in the garden. These are the hoses seen on TV that are small and then expand in length when filled with water. I thought that I would use this to wash the Roadtrek. I got halfway through the job when the hose burst. I suspect that being moved around so much on the asphalt driveway is what put an unrepairable hole into this thin walled hose. I suggest using a regular solid garden hose for the job.

With tools made for a job, the job is easy - and fast. As I said at the start, I can wash my Roadtrek in about 45 minutes or less that and includes set up and break down. I do not get very wet. It is almost impossible to wash any vehicle and stay completely dry. If used properly, this wand will not get you wet unless you are in the back splash.

So now you have a nice clean Roadtrek in less time than it takes to drive to have it washed and it cost you very little after the first wash, buying the tools and soap.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ephrata Cloister, Ephrata, Pennsylvania

Meryl and I both visited Ephrata Cloister with our families when we were kids, so it has been many, many years since either of us had been there.  We decided on a recent trip that we would go to Ephrata Cloister - this time together (no, we did not know each other when we were kids).

Ephrata Cloister is an historic site in the town of Ephrata, Pennsylvania. It is a restoration of the original settlement of this area which was settled by one man, Conrad Beissel, who came there to live in the forest in solitude and lead a solitary religious life. This was 1732. While his desire was to be alone, others came and joined him to also live in "solitude" and be taught and follow this man's very individual religious beliefs. There were two very important things that Conrad Beissel believed and
taught - that Saturday is the main day of worship and that there is no place in this life for earthly marriage if one was to one day unite with God. By 1750 there were 80 celibate men and women - called Brothers and Sisters and known jointly as the "Solitary" - living together in the Cloister. Others came to live surrounding the Cloister who believed in some of Beissel's teachings but had families and lived on their own farms. These families were called the "Householders". The two groups lived benefiting each other and made up one religious community.

As the group went along they continued to grow, bringing in the unfortunate and those who needed to be cared for and in this way increasing the community's population - in addition to the children who were born to the "Householders". Some were taken in to become Brothers and Sisters who had children before and those children would grow up to be Brothers and Sisters. One might call this a "religious experiment" and as it turns out this experiment was very successful as the community still following the teachings of Conrad Beissel continued into the mid-20th Century. Eventually in 1813 the last celibate member died and the Householders formed the German Seventh-Day Baptist Church continuing Conrad Beissel's teachings and worshiped and lived here until 1934.There are descendents of the original settlement that still live in this area and in the town of Ephrata. The site was acquired by the State of Pennsylvania in 1941- after a long and sad dispute by rival leaders of the community  as to what should become of the property and happily the land and the remaining buildings were preserved as a historic site and museum.

The site, museum and restored original buildings are open to the public Mondays to Saturdays from 9 am to 5 pm and Sundays from Noon to 5 pm. There is an admission charge. You park in a small parking lot near the gift shop that is outside the admission area but still part of the original property. The parking was no problem for the Roadtrek. A larger RV would have to take up a number of the limited number of spaces that were in the lot.


Across from the gift shop, seen above behind the Roadtrek and cars, is a path that leads to the Visitors Center. In the lobby of the Visitors Center you are greeted by one of the employees who is dressed in the everyday form of dress of the Brothers and the Sisters. You pay your admission at the desk and you are invited to see a film about Ephrata Cloister. This building also contains a one room museum of artifacts from the settlement and a lot of information about the people who lived here.


Visitors Center

Tours are given on a schedule and you will be taken on a guided tour of the main and largest remaining building of the Cloister - the Sisters' House and the adjoining Meeting House. You are taken on the tour by a guide dressed in the traditional Cloister robes that were worn every day by the Brothers and the Sisters.

Sister in robe on left and Brother in robe on right

The Householders dressed as most everyone else dressed in the 18th Century and while part of the community and observed some of the rites and beliefs, they lived what is a much more normal existence of colonists in Pennsylvania.

Householders




We had an excellent guide. He was very knowledgeable of these people, the Cloister, and the period, and he answered every question that we had for him. Having been on many tours of many historic sites, Meryl and I both agreed that he was one of the best guides we have ever had at any of them. He took us through the Sisters House and told us about life in the community. These people kept themselves very busy every day coming up with things that were in demand in the neighboring communities. They started a printing press and the business ran for fifty years. They printed a 1500 page book for the neighboring Mennonites called the Martyr's Mirror. This was the largest book ever printed in colonial America. Music played an important part of the lives of these people and worship services - which could take place at any time - incorporated this music that was very unusual in composition - then and now. At the conclusion of the tour of the Sisters House, you are taken into the adjoining Meeting House where you will see where the people worshiped and where you will hear some of the hymn music that filled this room centuries ago. These were very disciplined people and everything that they did was done to discipline their minds and soul. They sat and created detailed calligraphic writings and created hand-illuminated books and inscriptions. Everything that was done was done in anticipation of joining with God.


The Sisters House with the Meeting House on the right
 In the Sisters House you will see work areas, cooking areas, and sleeping quarters.  For the 18th Century and a community cut out of the forest, the Brothers and the Sisters buildings and houses were ahead of the times. There were stone sinks in the some of the walls that drained outside the building. These were filled with a bucket of water.

Indoor Sink
Fireplaces each contained a soup kettle -


Something that we have only seen at historic sites where the predominant population was a religious community is a piped plumbing system. We have seen this at Moravian settlements in Pennsylvania and North Carolina - and it was here too at Ephrata Cloister. Most colonial towns and cities did not have this.


The pump is connected to a series of pipes that have been bored out of long logs and connected together and these feed the pump from the water source. The water is pumped by hand and collected in buckets and then brought to the houses or buildings. Here this pump is in front of a house set into a hill. The first floor of the house is below in the back and that floor contains a bake oven to used to bake for the community and each person consumed about a pound of bread a day. This was a very busy place baking to keep up with the need. Water is essential to baking and water came from the pump and was poured by bucket down a hole in the wall of the house.


From here it went down to a large barrel with a tap at the bottom for the bakery's water supply.



Now, if you are thinking how innovative these people were, you are right. But it was not all "modern" convenience. Remember that these people lived a life of devotion and to remain humble, they did not enjoy many comforts. The beds of the Brothers and Sisters were no more than a narrow wood shelf coming out of the wall and their pillows were small blocks of wood. The Householders did not live this way and lived in their own homes that were furnished as many similar homes were furnished in the 18th Century. They had real beds and feather pillows. The contrast between the Brothers and Sisters with the Householders is very interesting. The Householders held many of the same beliefs but lived very much as most colonists - and into the 19th Century Americans lived. Yet these two groups of people who lived very different lives combined in this single Cloister.


Two Sisters slept in this room on these boards.
Once you complete the tour of the Sisters House with your guide the rest of the buildings, houses, and grounds are a self-guided tour. You are given a brochure with full descriptions of what you are seeing. You can go into most of the houses on your own and there are signs explaining what you are seeing. There is one nice feature here - if you have a cell phone with unlimited minutes. There is a phone number to call to hear a very detailed description of what you are seeing. Each spot with a phone connection, has an index number posted. You call the phone number and enter in the index number to hear the presentation. It was very well done and you could back up the talk and listen over if you missed something that was said.

As you tour the grounds you are seeing restorations and sites where buildings that are long gone once stood. One of the buildings to go inside on your own is the house that Conrad Beissel lived in.

Conrad Beissel's house

There is a lot to see. Aside from what I have spoken about so far, you will see the Weaver's House, The Academy (a private school for the Householders' children in 1837), God's Acre (the cemetery), The Physician's House, the site of the Brothers House (long gone), The Printing Office, The Carpenter's House, and the Stable.One of the last buildings you will go into will tell you about how the community evolved through three centuries and what happened to it at the end in the 1930's. The high school pennant shown tells you how far these people came in 200 years.

During the Revolutionary War, these people did not join in the fighting - though you will hear the story of one man buried in the cemetery who was thought to have gone to fight, but further documentation shows that he did not go against his families wishes and remained. Ephrata Cloister was not left out of the war, however. In the winter of 1777 to 1778 parts of the Cloister served as a hospital to care for wounded soldiers. Outside of the grounds - along a hiking trail off the parking lot, you can see the site of a mass grave where Revolutionary War soldiers that died at the hospital were buried. This is within Mount Zion Cemetery and the site is marked by a large monument monolith.


Ephrata Cloister filled an afternoon and we never did make it to the gift shop which closed as we were just finishing seeing all that there was to see. The Cloister is open all year. There are candlelight tours at Christmas time. There are special, scheduled, evening musical programs in an Amphitheater on the grounds where the Cloister Choir sing Cloister hymns.

We enjoyed the Ephrata Cloister very much and are very glad that after all of the years, we decided to go back - this time together - and with a far greater understanding of the period to get a great deal out of what this site has to offer. 

There is a website. The address is Ephrata Cloister, 632 West Main Street, Ephrata, PA 1752. The phone number is (717) 733-6600. Come to Ephrata Cloister on Route 322 either from the south or the north. If you don't know what you are looking for, it is easy to miss the entrance. There is a sign at the entrance. From the south on 322, turn left, from the north, turn right.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Valley Forge National Park, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania

We took the Roadtrek to Pennsylvania to the dealer for service and after the service visit we went to Valley Forge National Historic Park just north of Philadelphia and right off the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the Valley Forge exit. We have been to Valley Forge many times before but this was our first time there with the Roadtrek.

When you arrive at the park you drive past the Visitors Center building and enter the parking lot. There is an RV parking area and while the Roadtrek is small compared to most RVs that would park in these spaces, we parked there as the car spaces were tight.


 
We were there in the middle of the week in early August and the park was not crowded. This parking lot is just for the Visitors Center. When you tour Valley Forge you do it along the park road from stop to stop. There is a map that is free at the desk inside the Visitors Center. There is no park fee to visit Valley Forge. In the Visitors Center you will find a small museum, a film, information about Ranger tours, and a gift shop.

Valley Forge was the first winter encampment of the Continental Army during the American Revolution.  Fighting was difficult in winter in the 18th Century for both sides and armies would go into winter camps for the winter. This was not a time of truce and each side was always on guard. Valley Forge has a reputation in history as being a bitter cold, freezing winter but this is more myth than fact. It actually was a mild winter and while there certainly were hardships and a great deal of boredom, it was not as history books like to portray. The hardest winter for the Continental Army was spent at Morristown, New Jersey where two winter encampments were held in years after Valley Forge. At Morristown, all of the horror that is attributed to Valley Force actually did take place. You can visit the historic sites in Morristown of those encampments.

The musuem at Valley Forge should be better than it is. There are few exhibits. There had been plans to locate a full musuem of the American Revolution here where this museum and Visitors Center stands  but Federal funding was never allocated to do so. That museum will be built with private and government funding in Philadelphia and planning is underway now. Much of what had once been in the museum at Valley Forge has gone to be placed in that museum. What is left are just brief glimpses of what remains of camp life at the Valley Forge encampment.

Cooking utensils found from the encampment

Musket cartridges found from the encampment. The musket ball is tied at the top of the paper cartridge filled with blackpowder
See the museum and then go up the staircase and outside to a separate building that houses a film about the encampment at Valley Forge. Seeing the film will give you a better appreciation for what you will see when you tour the park. After the film, go back into the Visitors Center and stop in the gift shop which has a very good selection of books. Then head back to the parking lot with your visitors map to your Roadtrek as you are about to see where and how the American soldiers lived during this winter encampment.

You drive out of the parking lot the way that you came in and at the Visitors Center building make a right turn onto the park road. These roads are not only used by visitors to the park but also by local traffic. Most are one way. There will be parking lots or side of the road parking spaces as you get to each of the sites shown on the map. The first stop you come to has the most detailed presentation of a typical unit camp.


Soldiers slept in huts which they built themselves. Each unit had common areas that included cabins for the soldiers, a common fire pit for cooking, and a bake oven. At this stop you can walk inside a cabin and look inside of others.




Six men sleep in this cabin. There are another three pallets on the opposite wall. One man to a pallet. One man to a pallet. This is actually pretty good for the Army at this time, as six men also slept in one small private's tent. Each cabin has its own fireplace. While smaller, this cabin is not much different from a poor man's home in Colonial America.  One room and a dirt floor were common.

Cooking is done in a common fire pit. Each man is given his own rations. Many pool those to create a larger meal.
A common bake oven is used to bake bread. Each man is given a supply of flour per day.

You leave this stop and drive through the rest of the park following the map. There is a lot to see and if you stop at each site you will spend most of a day. There are a few memorials to see including an arch. There is a church/shrine with a very good museum (private) within the church. This museum is better than the one in the Visitors Center. You can also visit the house that George Washington stayed in with his officers and his wife, Martha, during the encampment. Martha Washington came to be with her husband several times during the war and each time became a part of the camp and helped care for the soldiers and the wounded.

The map will lead you to the house that Washington stayed in. It is important that you follow the map as at this point the park road goes out onto a main route with a lot of traffic - especailly at rush hour. Make sure that you make a right turn and not a left (as we did). The right turn will take you to the parking lot for the house which is a little distance away from the house location. We turned right because in the long past there was a smaller parking lot and a direct road to the house just to the right of the intersection. Remembering that old way to go, and not that they completely closed that road to all traffic we went the wrong way and this took us in rush hour traffic onto a busy two lane route that climbed hills with no place to turn a vehicle as large as the Roadtrek around. At this point there we were reaching closing time for the park exhibition areas and we decided not to try to get back. Eventually we relied on the GPS to route us back to a main road that would take us back toward the turnpike without having to make a U-turn. We have been to Washington's house before. It is worth seeing. At some point in the future when we have more time, we will go back to Valley Forge. It is really worth a trip if you have any interest in history.

Most who come to this area in a motorhome and want to stay in a campground stay in the KOA West Chester/Philadelphia. This campground is southwest of Philadelphia and a distance from Valley Forge. There is a campground north of this area in Quakertown. There is also a campground in Kutztown, Pa - Pine Hill Campground. All of the campgrounds will involve a drive to get Valley Forge. While George Washington and his army could camp there - you cannot. I have not stayed in any of these campgrounds other than Pine Hill and I cannot recommend any but Pine Hill which is perhaps the most distance away - the length of the PA Turnpike Notheast Extension from I78 south to the main turnpike.There is a review of Pine Hill on this site.

The Valley Forge National Historic Park has a website. This will take you to it.  Since our visit, the Visitors Center front is under renovation.