Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Happy Holidays!

I would just like to wish all of our readers and Roadtrek friends the most pleasantest of holidays. I had hoped to have some tales of a December Roadtrek winter trip that we had planned but the trip for un-Roadtrek related reasons just did not happen. My RT is winterized and sitting out now waiting for the season to change and new adventures to come. Though there is one service I need to get to the dealer for before the Spring - so perhaps there will be one more trip to come.

The Holiday Season did get me thinking about how those who travel during the holidays decorate the inside of their Roadtreks for Christmas. Have you put a Christmas tree inside your Roadtrek? If you have email me a photo and I will show it in an article about Christmas in Your Roadtrek. Email me photos of Chanukah in your Roadtrek too!  Of course, there is no chimney for Santa to come down - I hope he does not mistake the black tank vent for a chimney! :)

Happy Holidays to all! AND a Very Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Back in September 2012 before the big RV show in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Roadtrek's president Jim Hammill, on the Facebook page that he frequents with Roadtrek owners started humorously teasing about "something coming". He would not say what. He talked about a very secret project at Roadtrek that only a small handful of top executives and technicians knew about. He did not say if this was an addition that would be available on current Roadtrek models or if it would be a completely new Roadtrek model and he had everyone guessing. It was vaguely stated that all would be unveiled at the Hershey Show.

Well, the Hershey Show came and every day at the show there was nothing new from Roadtrek. Some people who were following the banter about "something coming" were disappointed as they had traveled to Pennsylvania just to see this "new" innovation, not knowing what it would be. The Hershey Show came and went with nothing revealed. What was going on? Where was this new innovation? What was this new innovation? Was this a hoax?

Then in October at the 60th Annual California RV Show "THE" new Roadtrek appeared. It is called the ETrek and it is built on a Sprinter body. What makes this Roadtrek so special? Why is this such an innovation? THIS is an ALL electric Roadtrek with sustainable, renewable energy sources to keep you with power for days without the need to plug into a power line. The Etrek has changed the playing field in Class B RVs - and perhaps in every class of RVs. While other RVs can add some of the things that are found in the ETrek. The ETrek has been designed with proprietary technology to put a power package together that is like no other on any standard model RV.

So what does this new Roadtrek have. Some of the features are -

- Solar Panels flat on the roof that do not require full sunlight but just the presence of light to charge 250 watts of power
- Battery bank of 8 AGM coach batteries - OR optional bank of two lithium ion batteries with equivalent power
- Van engine driven generator
- Optional EFOY fuel cell generator
- Seemless intergration of all electrical systems - when you need power the source is automatically selected
- High output 2,500 watt inverter to make use of all of this DC power for AC appliances like the microwave, air conditioner, etc.
- Surge Protection and Power Monitoring built in

What the new Roadtrek does not have because it does not need it is a propane system. There is an electric hot water system that provides on-demand hot water, including a hot water spigot for instant boiling water. There is a two way electric refrigerator (similar to the one that I had installed in my Roadtrek). There is an electric heating system. There is a electric inductive cook range that only heats if a pot is on the burner.

There is technology behind the ETrek that, understandably, Roadtrek will not reveal and competitors are clamoring to learn.

Of course,  all of this is not without cost. The RS Adventurous line of Roadtrek's were already the higher priced line of Roadtreks and the new E-Trek brings the list price in the area of over $125,000.

So where can you see the new ETrek. At this time, unless you see the ETrek at one of the select RV shows that Roadtrek is bringing the Etrek to, you can't. It has not yet been made available to dealers. But despite that, sales of the new Roadtrek are brisk. In fact they are selling beyond production which means as soon as they come off the line at the factory they are going to a new owner and not out to showrooms. Other than those at the California RV show in Pomona in October, the first time the industry got to see the new Etrek was at the RV Industry only trade show in November in Louisville, Ky. And the Etrek at that show took top honors.

Here is a link to a video made at that show - and you still don't see the inside or outside of the new Roadtrek. This new Roadtrek is hot!

My thoughts on the new Etrek. It is great. Would I sell my still new Roadtrek and buy one? Well, for one, I did not like, for personal reasons, the Sprinter-based Class Bs including the Roadtrek models. I did not find them comfortable and they have diesel engines that use more expensive diesel fuel.  Secondly, I could just about afford the financing to purchase what I have already purchased. There have been comments that the same technology will be applied to the Chevy-based Roadtreks. There has also been comment made that some of this technology may be able to be retrofit by Roadtrek - AT THE FACTORY ONLY - to existing Roadtreks like my 190. What do I want most of this new technology? I want the solar panels. I would like to be able recharge my two coach batteries with just light. For that, I would likely make the trip to the factory for the install. Yes, I know that it is possible to do this aftermarket right now. I want to do it right - and do it the Roadtrek way so that it properly integrates with the electric system as it exists. No second guessing and no surprises. The solar addition would have been very reassuring to have when we were using the Roadtrek when our home was without power.

Keep an eye out at the dealers. Sooner or later they will get the Etrek. I, too, would very much like to see one in person. Roadtrek is now setting the pace that all others will have to follow. I can't wait to see what they come up with next. And the hints are already out there, that something more is coming.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


When we arrive at a campground site one of the first things that we do when we drive the Roadtrek up onto the site is find a level spot on the site for the Roadtrek so that we know that there will be a level spot on the site when we come back later that day, the next day, and so on. Just about every campground will claim that all of their sites are level, but that has not always proven to be true. We were back at one campground this past season that we had been to twice before that has concrete paved sites and both sites that we had in the past were perfectly level no matter where on the site the Roadtrek stopped, but this past summer, the site pad was off slightly. We were able to find a spot that was level enough - and this is mostly for comfort in side than anything else. But coming back each night, we were looking for that spot again - and this is something that we have been doing at just about every campground - finding that one spot on the site that we found that was level.

I had an idea of marking the spot in some way. On the concrete pad, it was easy and we purchased a box of sidewalk chalk and marked the places the tires were in on the spot that was level. This does not work on a gravel or dirt site. There is nothing that the chalk will mark. I decided to find a more universal solution.

I started looking for what I could put down on the ground that would not interfere with pulling the Roadtrek in and out and what would remain (as long as no one took it) when we came back to the site each time during our stay. I looked at a variety of things that might work. I started with flat metal bars and decided that they would work well, but I wanted something that would not rust and would be a more convenient size without having to cut anything down. In a store, I walked through the hardware aisle and came upon something that in construction and woodwork are called mending plates. They came in galvanized metal and also brass. While galvanized metal is not supposed to rust, brass will not rust and even though the brass ones cost a dollar more, that is what I settled on. I bought a package of four inch, straight mending plates that are a half inch wide. I also purchased a roll of yellow reflector tape. I chose yellow over red as I felt that the yellow would show up better in the dark when pulling in - even with the help of a flashlight. Below is a photo of what I made -

The reflector tape was one put on the top of the mending plate and turned over the sides with a good overlap on the bottom to hold it on. I took a piece of clear packing tape and covered over the exposed holes on the bottom so that the adhesive in the hole on the reflector tape would not fill with dirt. Simple and quick to put together for just a few dollars.

Here is how they are used. Find a level spot on the site with your Roadtrek. Take one plate and it it along the side of the rear tire (driver's side of the van), right at the edge of the tire. Put a second plate at the very back edge of the tire so that you know how far back to back in. (If you are in a pull in space, do this instead on the front edge of the front tire.) Next, take a third plate and put it along the side edge of the front tire.

Now, when you leave the space and later return you just have to look for the plates on the ground and pull in along side them stopping when the tire reaches the cross plate (rear or front). If these plates on are on the driver's side you can see them in the side mirror as you back in during the daylight or  if illuminated with a flashlight by your partner outside directing you into the space at night.

This really does work - on concrete, gravel, grass, or dirt sites and these are small enough that they will not be noticed by anyone but you - and who would want to steal this. Of course, someone who is not nice could come and move them, but you will know right away if you level(s) are off when you pull in.  It makes for quick positioning every time you come back to your space. If you are in a space that is just not level and need to use the Lego-type leveling blocks, just mark the location of the blocks with the same plates and you will not have to leave your blocks behind - as these do get stolen. And add a note on your departure checklist to collect your plates and put them away before you leave for the last time.


Over time of using these, there have been several times when we have returned to the campsite and found these missing. I have made a larger and more obvious version using a block of wood with a red oval reflector on top and these on the front edge - in addition to what I have shown in the photos above. And sadly, because it seems that children in the campground find these attractive to take, each has been labeled - "Do NOT touch! Do NOT Move! Do NOT STEAL!"  We have been using these now for several years and they do work in getting us back to the spot on the site that we have found to be level - and marked with these - without starting from scratch each time.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Roadtrek as Refuge

As everyone likely knows the Northeast was hit with what has been described as "the perfect storm", a "monsterstorm", "Frankenstorm", and the worse recorded storm in US history. It is named Hurricane Sandy. We live in one of the areas that was hit badly by this storm. to make matters worse, this storm was followed by a Nor-Easter just a week later that brought with it heavy snow - in the first week of November. Luckily, our home did not sustain any real damage. Others were not as lucky and many just a few miles from here lost their homes completely. What we did lose was power - and while our power was not out as long as some (over 12 days and longer), it was out for almost a week. During that time we had no lights, heat, or stove to cook on in the house. We did however have the Roadtrek with all of that waiting on the driveway.

We did not go into the Roadtrek on the first night, as the storm was still going on, and we thought it best not to be sitting on the driveway on the Roadtrek as trees, power lines, etc. were falling all around us. We stayed in the house that night but on the following nights we went out into the Roadtrek.

When we heard the storm was predicted to hit that Monday, we went out to the Roadtrek on Saturday and prepared it for use during the storm - just in case. We filled both fresh water tanks. We plugged the shore power cord into our house outdoor outlet to fully charge the batteries. We had a full tank of propane. I tested the generator just to make sure it would come on. The Roadtrek was ready for us. If things were really bad here following the storm, we would leave in the Roadtrek and head for an area that was not effected by the storm. We would see.

The storm hit on Monday, October 29. We had reservations to arrive in Pennsylvania for my wife's birthday on that day. We had called the campground over the weekend and asked if they would postpone our reservation to Tuesday - we were hopeful. The storm hit Monday and the power went down in the late afternoon. On Monday we called the campground and cancelled the trip completely. By Tuesday afternoon the storm had pretty much passed, and it would be safe to go into the Roadtrek that night. We heard on the radio about the devastation all around us and also in New Jersey. Even if we were going to leave, there was going to be a problem if needed gasoline. With power out so wide-spread, there were reports of gas stations without electricity and unable to pump gas. Predictions to return power locally were 7 to 10 days or greater. If we used the Roadtrek generator when we went inside, we would have to be conservative in our use as to not use up the gas we had - a little more than 3/4 of a tank. This would ordinarily be much more than enough, but who knew at this point how long it would be before we could get gasoline - and as it turned out - gasoline was in limited supply where and if it could be found for a couple of weeks after the storm.

We had eggs and canned soup in the house. We had eaten what else we had that did not need cooking on the first night of the storm. The eggs were just still cold from the house refrigerator and were certainly edible. We had some sliced cheese that would still be good if we ate it then also. At dinner time we took a pot for the soup, the eggs, and an oiled frying pan and went out to the Roadtrek to cook our first full meal in the Roadtrek. If you have been reading along on this site, you know that we have only used the kitchen in the Roadtrek up to now to make late night snacks while we are traveling. We had not used the stove yet for anything. I turned on the propane before we went inside the Roadtrek, turned on the battery switch and turned on two overhead lights running just on the batteries, and as soon as we were ready to cook, I lit the two burners on the stove. I have to tell you that the burners can be tricky sometimes to light. Use a long reach lighter to light the burners. You have to hold the burner knob in, turning it to the first flame symbol while you put the fire to the burner and keep holding the knob in until it lights. As soon as it lights and stays lit, release the knob and give it a turn toward the smaller flame to lower the height of the flame and heat. We put the soup in the pot and placed it on the burner. We then made one small, but thick omelet at a time in the small frying pan. Not soon after the eggs hit the heat on the stove, the smoke alarm in the Roadtrek went off. There was no visible smoke but bleep, bleep, bleep, the alarm went off. We were not expecting this and scurried around figuring out what to do. Meryl reached over and pushed the button on the smoke alarm and it went off. It soon went back on again. I turned on the ceiling fan (which is an exhaust fan) and the alarm stopped but again sounded. I forgot that if you turn on the ceiling fan you must open a window or there is no air for the fan to draw through. This silenced the alarm for a while, but at various times while cooking the eggs it sounded again - with the fan running above. When the eggs were done, we shut off the burners and cleaned up quickly. We decided that it was easier to take it all back inside the house and eat at the kitchen table by candle and lantern light.

After dinner we went out to the Roadtrek to just try to have a normal night - at least a normal night like when we are traveling in the Roadtrek. I cranked up the antenna and pointed it toward Manhattan where most digital television signals here originate. I decided that we would start out for two hours using the Inverter to run the television. It was not very cold inside the Roadtrek and we kept our coats on so that we would not have to start the heat if we did not need to. We turned the front seats, and there we were - just as if we were at a campground.

I have said before that when you are in the Roadtrek with the curtains drawn at night, you could be anywhere. Inside is always the same - your familiar Roadtrek traveling home. Outside, when you open the door in the morning you might be in Pennsylvania, Williamsburg, Virginia, or anywhere that you might travel. I like this about the Roadtrek. I am sure it would be the same in any RV or trailer.  While we were watching TV, to lighten the mood a bit, Meryl turned to look out the window around the curtain and said, "Hey, a Class A just arrived in the site next to us!"  It was funny at the time. We really could have been in a campground.

After about two hours of running 110 volt power through the Inverter, I turned off the Inverter and started the generator. We ran the generator still watching TV and also later put on the heat pump in the air condition to warm up the inside of the Roadtrek. The heat pump works nicely until the outside temperature drops below 40 degrees. The temperature was holding outside above that - and at one point it actually got too warm inside the Roadtrek from the heat of the heat pump. The generator charges the batteries - so we were also refilling what we used running the Inverter.

We are what are called late night people and we stayed inside the Roadtrek until 2 AM. We decided that we would sleep inside the house in our bedroom bundled up. I did not want to use more gasoline than was necessary. Who knew how long we would be doing this.

We repeated this each night. The next night we only cooked soup on the stove - and with just the soup heating, again the smoke alarm went off. The smoke alarm in the Roadtrek is very sensitive. We dealt with it as we did the night before. I am not sure what to do if it was really cold outside and it was necessary to open the window and run the ceiling fan. It was not so cold that we could not run the heat pump - though it was starting to feel cold inside the house. If the power had not come back when it had, we would have started sleeping out in the Roadtrek as well. When the Nor'easter hit, we lost power again for a day - and could not spend that night in the Roadtrek, again because the storm was still going on outside. The Roadtrek was covered by over six inches of snow that day and night. It had not dropped below freezing, happily, as at that point we had not winterized yet. All was fine inside and out once I got the snow cleared. It is not easy reaching the Roadtrek's roof to get the snow off.

I have to say "thank goodness for the Roadtrek!" I love it for traveling and I love it for being there as our home on the driveway, when we need it. We had done this once before for a hurricane a little over a year before. It served us well then too.  So, if you like the idea of a Roadtrek for travel, think of it as a second, self-contained home if the power goes out or worse.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Winterizing Observations

A year ago we had the Roadtrek winterized at the dealer service center and we watched and participated as the service technician taught us how to winterize the Roadtrek. The article that I wrote after that, details everything that we were taught and puts winterizing the Roadtrek into step by step instructions that anyone should be able to follow. This year Meryl and I winterized the Roadtrek ourselves.

I printed out my instructions from this site and had that with us the whole time so that we would follow the procedure just as we had been shown. While we were doing this ourselves this year, I took some photos and when we were done I made some observations about the process that I will share with you here.

First - the process that I have uses both compressed air and antifreeze to winterize the Roadtrek. This dual process seems to cause some comment from those who just use compressed air and no antifreeze and those who just use antifreeze and no compressed air. The dual process is just a double protection. Many find that this is not necessary and that one or the other is fine. I would suggest that if you were to choose one over the other, choose using antifreeze alone. AND - if you do not own a compressor, and many do not, don't go out and purchase one just for this. All you need to do is skip the step about blowing out the lines with compressed air and move right to adding the antifreeze into the lines.

We started by draining the fresh water tanks. Our Roadtrek has two fresh water tanks - an interior tank and an exterior tank. Your Roadtrek may only have an exterior tank. Only the 190 and 210 models have two tanks. To drain the tanks we removed the drain cap that is located under the driver's door under the van. Our drain has a simple screw off cap. Some Roadtreks have an actual valve under there to turn. To speed up the draining we turned on the water pump and ran water out of the outside shower faucet. At the same time I wanted to drain as much of the water in the hot water tank that I could before opening that tank to drain it. To do this, we just opened the hot water knob on the outside shower and that will let out most of the water from the hot water tank. When the LED monitor lights inside showed empty for both fresh water tanks we were done. We did let the water continue to drip from the under the van drain the whole time we were working on winterizing. In this way just about every drop would come out.

Observation - when the fresh water tanks are empty the water pump does not shut off. This gave me some concern until I realized what was happening. Just shut off the water pump switch on the wall.

We next dumped the waste tanks - both the black tank and the grey tank. They were not full. There was just over a gallon of water that I keep in the black tank at all times to prevent the tank from drying out and also very little in the grey tank. We have a Roadtrek with the built in macerator and used that, dumping the tanks as normal. Because we have no dump connection at our house, we used a bucket and only filled the bucket so that it was easy to carry and could be emptied right into the toilet in the house.

Because we were running the macerator and the water pump and would be running the water pump throughout the process, I decided to plug the shore power line into our house using a 30 amp to 15 amp adapter. In this way I had unlimited power and did not have to rely upon the coach batteries. The coach batteries would be fine alone.

Draining and dumping all of the tanks took longer than the actual winterizing process. The next step and now, we are into the winterizing steps was to be sure the hot water tank was empty. I removed the cover on the hot water tank that is outside the Roadtrek. The little ring at the top in the middle just turns and the cover comes right off by gently pulling on the ring. Then stand back and open the pressure release valve that is on the top in the middle. Just pull the little metal handle gently up and water will come shooting out. Only do this when there is cold water inside the hot water tank or you will be burned.

Once there is no more water coming out take a socket wrench with a 1 1/16" socket and an extender arm because what you must remove is set into the opening and open the nut that you see in the bottom of this photo.This socket size is not easy to find. I was able to get a deep well socket in this size at Lowes. I was later able to find one that was a standard depth socket and the shorter socket works much better as it grabs the hex head much more securely. If you only can get the deep well socket, you may not need the extender arm to reach with the socket wrench. Turn the hex head counter-clockwise and as it comes out, water will come pouring out the hole. What you are doing here is removing the anode rod. Check the rod now to see if it must be replaced. If it has eroded (it is supposed to) down to the diameter of a pencil it should be replaced. Once all of the water has poured out, you can replace the anode rod. Use some Teflon pipe tape on the threads.

Please note at this point that it is impossible to end up with completely dry tanks. There will be a layer of water remaining in all of the tanks but this is NOT A PROBLEM. What you are concerned about when winterizing is that water will freeze and expand in small spaces such as pipes and valves. If it does in those confined and small places the expansion can cause damage. The tanks are large and open. A small amount of water freezing on the bottom of the tanks should not cause any harm.

OK - you are now ready to move inside and continue with the instructions from my first article. Next, we bypassed the hot water tank. My hot water tank is located in the first cabinet under the bed next to the refrigerator. Other model Roadtreks may be different as to locations. Below are two photos of the hot water tank valves placed into BY-PASS POSITIONS:

Front View - See the three valves!

Top Down View

 In ByPass Position the top and bottom valves are turned to the side and the valve on the middle of the connecting pipe is turned to follow the direction of the pipe. This is confusing to many. That one is OPEN while the top and bottom valves are now CLOSED.

Your two fresh water tank Roadtrek should also be in SUMMER MODE which is well explained in this article. This is all that is necessary to put the Roadtrek's hot water tank into ByPass. The simple turn of three valves. Now, what this means is that water or air or anti-freeze will not enter the hot water tank any longer but "bypass" it and go straight through to the faucets and toilet.



My Compressor
Now, because I used the compressor to blow out the tanks, I went back outside to do that. I have an old tankless compressor from Sears that, sadly, is no longer available. It is great and easy to pick up and move around. There are many small compressors available IF you want one. I made an attachment to connect my compressor hose quick connect to a water hose inlet. It is comprised of a hose threaded fitting, a fitting to make one end of that smaller to fit a standard compressor quick connect fitting, and a standard quick connect air tool fitting. The plumbing parts came from Home Depot. The compressor quick connect tool fitting came from Harbor Freight for a dollar. After I made this I found this at Camping World.  It does exactly what I made and works the same way. For less than ten dollars it is worth the price to not make your own.

I attached my compressor hose adapter to a regular RV water pressure gauge and then attached that to a four foot fresh water hose just to make it easier to connect to the city water inlet on the outside of the Roadtrek. The other end, as you see in the photo above, is attached to the air compressor hose quick connect.


I set my compressor to 30 PSI. The water pressure gauge that I put on the line was a safeguard as it will not allow more than 40-50 PSI of pressure to pass through to the Roadtrek. Don't turn on the compressor yet. Go inside the Roadtrek and take your shower hose and put it on the floor at the floor drain. Now, go back outside and turn on the air compressor. Come back in right away and follow the instructions to turn each faucet hot and cold and flush the toilet. You will see water shoot out first and then just air. Don't forget the outside shower!

OBSERVATION: It did take awhile for just air and not a mist of air and water to come out as we went from faucet to faucet.

OBSERVATION:  The shower head on the floor will shoot back when you turn the shower faucet on. Have your partner hold it in place. We wound up with water shooting all over the floor.

Once the air blew the remaining water out of the pipes, the faucets, and the toilet flush,


we were ready to start putting anti-freeze into the system. I have the waterline bypass kit installed in my Roadtrek on the supply side of the water pump as I detailed in my winterizing article (linked above). This makes it simple to just remove a brass cap, connect a hose, turn a valve to get antifreeze from the bottle of RV antifreeze into the water pump and pumped into the pipes and system. There is another easy way to do this and that is with a hand pump that is connected outside to the city water inlet. The pump connects to the city water intake and has a hose that goes into the bottle of RV antifreeze. You pump the pump and the antifreeze flows just as if the city water was connected. You do not use the water pump with this method - and the water pump will not get antifreeze in it.  This seems to me to be a drawback of this method. You could also just remove the pipe connection from the supply side of the water pump and connect to that a hose that can be placed into the RV antifreeze bottle. This would then work the same way as the waterline bypass kit. (But I feel that disconnecting and reconnecting the pipes like this each year can lead to potential problems - and the waterline bypass kit is much easier. Besides, while you have the pipe disconnected just install the waterline bypass kit.) The antifreeze is drawn out of the bottle, through the filter before the pump and into the pump and then into the pipes. Open the faucets one at a time and flush the toilet and all will fill with antifreeze. Have a second bottle of antifreeze near by. The bottle empties quickly and will only be sucked in as far down as the hose reaches into the bottle. Just put the almost empty bottle aside to use for the traps and waste tanks.

We followed the procedures that are in my instructions and we got antifreeze into the entire system. It took one and a half gallons of antifreeze up to this step. I did not fill the two traps YET. First, I poured about a half gallon of anti-freeze down the sink into the grey tank and almost a gallon of antifreeze down into the black tank. We went outside and ran the macerator first opening the black handle and then opening the grey handle until we saw pink come from the macerator. It did spurt clear water before it turned to pink, so we saw that there was water still in the macerator or hose.  I could have dumped this back into the black tank down the toilet but decided not to.

OBSERVATION: When I stepped on the toilet flush valve to open the flap to pour antifreeze down into the toilet I saw the antifreeze that was sitting on the toilet line come out and flush down the drain. It occurred to me that perhaps I would have been better off pouring the gallon of antifreeze into the black tank BEFORE I ran the antifreeze into the toilet line. Last year the process was done exactly the same as the process here this year and there were no problems throughout the winter. Frankly, I am not sure if it makes any difference that there is or isn't antifreeze at the toilet supply hole on the top of the toilet fill. I may fill the tank before, as stated here, next year.

OK - lines filled with antifreeze, macerator filled with antifreeze. Now, it was time to pour a cup of antifreeze into each trap. There are two traps. In the 190, the traps are in the kitchen sink and in the floor in the shower drain. In models with the enclosed bathroom, there is the additional trap in the sink in the bathroom. This is simple. Take a measuring cup - you can see mine here on the right with the antifreeze already measured out - and put in one cup of antifreeze. Pour it into the middle of the drain slowly so that it goes down and sits in the trap. Do the same thing in the sink(s).  The pink you see here around the drain is what was left from the shower.

That finished the whole thing. Winterizing complete. After draining the tanks, it took less than an hour. We used three gallons and one cup of antifreeze. I had four gallons standing by. I would have only needed three gallons if I had remembered to hold one more cup out for the second trap. Before you leave your Roadtrek, turn off the battery switch. There is no reason for this to be on all winter. (I always turn the battery switch off when we are not using the Roadtrek.)

With the Roadtrek winterized you can still use it for winter trips. You just have no running water on board. You can carry bottled water and you can use toilet waste bags in the toilet or just flush the toilet with antifreeze. Just DO NOT allow water to go down any drain.

Don't forget that you still need to go into your Roadtrek all winter. You must run the generator under load (in the winter this means connect an electric heater to put the half load needed on the system) for two hours every month to keep it running properly.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mount Vernon - Home of George Washington, Alexandria, Virginia

We left Williamsburg and headed back north.  We were stopping for the day at Mount Vernon, the home and "farm" of George Washington, located in Alexandria, Virginia. We would not be spending the night in a campground near here and, as a matter of fact, campgrounds in this area are few and far between.

As we headed north on I95, we decided that we would stop for lunch at a fast food restaurant. I had decided to wait until we got almost to the exit that we needed to take to make our way to Mount Vernon before we stopped for lunch. I should have stopped earlier, because as we came up to the last few exits before we needed to head east to Mount Vernon a sudden, severe storm came up. In a heavy rain storm in the Roadtrek you slow down, but keep up with vehicles in front of you to be able to follow their lights when visibility becomes reduced. This is exactly what happened and it was difficult to see what was ahead. As it got worse, we came upon the exit for Mount Vernon and we very cautiously and slowly got off the road. As with every other day of this trip the forecast was - you know it, if you have been reading along in this series of articles - scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms. This was far from a shower. It was a heavy downpour with strong winds. The road that I exited on was a mix of country road and commercial two lane highway. When we saw a safe place to turn off, I did and we just sat in the Roadtrek watching the rain come down pounding on the roof, hoping that it would let us and we could continue along. These storms seem to come and then go in Virginia and almost as sudden as it started it let up. We pulled back onto the road and headed straight for Mount Vernon. There would be no stopping for lunch. I just wanted to get there hoping that the rain would completely stop. And when we arrived, it did.

There is a lot of parking for Mount Vernon. We followed the signs along to what is designated as RV parking and this was in the last parking lot - and then there were only a few spaces that were sized for RVs. Other parking spaces, in this lot and the others is just slightly short for the Roadtrek, so we parked in one of the large RV spots. It happens that car drivers seem to feel that they need to park in these few RV spaces also. When we arrived there was one other RV and a number of cars in RV spaces. The photo on the right is when we were coming back to the Roadtrek at the end of the day and as you can see, this little car had to park in the "big boy's" space.

This was not our first visit to Mount Vernon. We have been there many times, but never before with the Roadtrek. Several years ago, there were some additions built at Mount Vernon and now in addition to Washington's house, the outbuildings, his tomb, and his farm, there is a wonderful education center and also a museum. You can spend a lot of time here and we spent a full afternoon which was not enough time to see everything. We did not go down to the farm which sits along the water of the Potomac River and we did not spend time with someone who works at Mount Vernon who portrays an exceptional Martha Washington who happens to be a friend. We did stop for a few minutes to see her while she was doing her portrayal. Plan to spend a full day. In fact, if this is a first time visit, I recommend two days. You can purchase a ticket good for a full year for just a little more than a single day ticket and you will be able to come back whenever you want. The year the new education center/museum complex opened we spent two full days at Mount Vernon and still did not go to the two locations off the main property - Washington's mill and Washington's distillery.

Let me tell you about what you will see when you go to Mount Vernon. There is no photography allowed inside the house or the museum. Photography is permitted anywhere outside and also in the education center. When you purchase your ticket you will be give a time to get on line to see the mansion. First stop in the Introductory Center to watch the film about George Washington. Then walk out to the house and the property. Arrive at the line before the  time on your ticket. How long a line you will encounter will depend on the time of year and the day of the week. We had very little wait on this Sunday at the end of August. By this time the rain had stopped, though everyone was clutching umbrellas. The line takes you into an outbuilding to the left of the mansion where you will be shown a short video of how the house progressed in its construction from a single story small house to what it is as you see it today. There is a tour guide there who will answer any questions about the house's construction. As the line in front of you progresses into the house, and the presentation in the outbuilding concludes you move along to the door that you see above on the left side of the house. This is where you will enter the house and the first room that you will come into is the formal dining room. The house is restored and decorated exactly as it was when George Washington lived in it. The formal dining room that you enter is also the room that Washington was laid out in when he died.

Washington lived in this house with his wife, Martha, and Martha's two children from her first marriage - Patsy and Jackie. Patsy died of an epileptic attack in Washington's arms here at Mount Vernon. Jackie died of disease at the Battle of Yorktown, but he was married and had children of his own. Two of these children came to live with George and Martha while two others went to live with their mother and other grandparents in Philadelphia. Washington raised Martha's children and grandchildren as his own.

As you exit the dining room you are actually going through a back door outside to the veranda where you will have a short wait to re-enter the house through the river side of the house's main door, shown here in the center of the photo. You are now entering the main hall entrance to the house.Here you will see most of the rooms on the first floor, looking from the hall into the rooms through their open doors. You cannot enter any of these rooms. There are only three rooms in the house that you actually walk through. Ahead to the left is the stairway to the second floor. There will be a tour guide in the hall explaining what you are looking at and answering questions. Before you go "above stairs" be sure to see the large brass key that hangs on the left wall in the hall between the two rooms. This is the key to the Bastille in Paris sent to Washington by Lafayette, following the French Revolution.

When you are ready to move on, you go up the stairs and you will see all of the bedrooms on the second floor. Some were used by guests. Some were used by family. There is a tour guide on the stair landing to talk about what you are seeing. When you walk through the open bedroom ahead on the left you are approaching the most private part of the house - George and Martha's bedchamber. Another tour guide meets on in this narrow hallway. The bedroom door is on the right at the far end of the hall. The furniture that you see is all original and the room is as it was the day that George Washington died. The bed that you see is the bed that Washington died in. He died from a swollen throat that cut off his breathing. There were three doctors in attendance that night. The youngest suggested a new procedure that he had read about - one that today we would call a tracheotomy. The other two physicians thought that idea was barbaric and refused to allow it to be done. The two continued to bleed Washington - and accepted procedure of the time. That young doctor's suggested procedure would have saved Washington's life. When Washington died the clock on the mantel was stopped by Washington's "personal" physician and friend. The clock remains as it was on that night. Martha closed the room and never slept in it again. There are special tours at extra cost that will take you up to the room that Martha moved into after Washington's death. This small, pleasant room is below the cupola in the attic. The room had been open with regular house tours during Christmas. Now that they are offering this special tour with an additional ticket, I am not certain that they are including that room during the Christmas season any longer.

After you have seen Washington's bedchamber, you go back down on a narrow stairway to the first floor. You will walk through a narrow hall to Washington's office. Of course, another tour guide is there to tell you about the room and all of Washington's personal belongings that are in it. This leads you to the end of the house tour and you exit out to a portico that will take you to the kitchen building.

You may now tour the grounds. Look into any of the outbuildings. There are guided walking tours of the property that are included in your ticket with themes like Plantation Life and The Gardens. Once outside the paths become slightly steep. You go down hill to the Farm and half way down you can stop to see Washington's tombs - the original and the one where he and Martha rest now which is a more ceremonial tomb that Washington was moved to several years after he was placed in the "old" family tomb. Every day there are ceremonies held at the tomb and two veterans in the crowd are selected to come up, enter the tomb, and lay a wreath at Washington's feet.

Do not miss the Farm. You can take a shuttle bus down to the river or walk on either of two trails. It is all downhill, so you may want to take the shuttle bus back up when you are ready. At the Farm you will see Washington's round threshing barn and its unique use is demonstrated with running horses several times a day. When you come back up to the level of the mansion, be sure to see all of the outbuildings. There are stables, paid workers housing, indentured servants and slaves housing, 18th Century maintenance buildings, and a manure pit. There is also a building in which you can meet Mrs. Washington (the friend I mentioned above) and she is a delight. She is the perfect Martha and she loves it when children come in to speak with her. She will talk about herself, Mr. Washington, her children, her grandchildren and will answer questions - but keep in mind that she knows nothing about anything that occurred after the 18th Century. She is Mrs. Washington and remains so.


Overseer's Quarters


There is a special walking tour being offered now at Mount Vernon. It is not cheap, but if you are a fan of the movie, "National Treasure II", you will be taken to all of the sites that were filmed in the movie including the "secret chamber". Call ahead to find out when this tour is given if you are interested. 

When you finish seeing the property, head back to the Visitor's Center. There is a lot more to see. Start with the Education Center. Here you will learn about Washington's life thorough state of the art interpretation exhibits. You first learn about Washington's boyhood with a brief film shown across the top of a wall in which the young boy grows to a young man as he moves along the wall. You next come into what looks like a scientific laboratory where you will see how a remarkable recreation was made. There are portraits of Washington as an older man. There is a bust of Washington as an older man done by Houdon that is said to be an exact likeness down to size. Scientists have taken that bust and the life and death masks that were made of Washington and created three dimensional figures of what Washington most likely looked like as a young man, when he was General Washington in the Revolutionary War, and when he was inaugurated as the first President. There are no known contemporary images of Washington as a young man. As you walk out of the laboratory you walk into a forest and encounter Washington - young man and surveyor.

Continue through the Education Center and learn about Washington the man. When you get to the Revolutionary War years there is a must see - in fact, we often go into this more than once. But I will keep you guessing for a few moments to share with you Washington, the general.

Across from Washington is a theater with continuous showings. Go in for a very unusual experience. You will see three battles of the Revolution shown to you on two screens but with effects that will shake you in your seat when cannons roar and real snow that falls down on you as you are shown the soldier's winter at Valley Forge. This is terrific.

After the theater, see the exhibit about George Washington, Spy Master and also the artifacts from the Revolution.  As you move along now you will see Washington, the civilian and Washington, the farmer. You will also see Washington's false teeth - and no, they are not made out of wood. They are made from human teeth, rhinoceros teeth, and ivory all fit not very comfortably into a metal frame with springs to open and close them. You move from here to Washington, the President.

At the end of the exhibit area is Washington's death and you will see a replica of his coffin, some actual pieces of the casket, and learn about the funeral. With this you enter a hall out of the Education Center with another theater. This is a brief film in the round that shows Washington's legacy on America.

I should add that if you have children with you, there is a children's exploration room in the Education Center that will let the kids put on 18th Century clothing and experience the life of children in the 18th Century. It is located after the Revolutionary War section.

As you exit the Education Center you come to the Museum. Here you will see Houdon's bust and a cute film about the observations of his granddaughter when it was made. You will also see original Mount Vernon furnishings and furniture up close and items belonging to George and Martha. The Museum also has temporary exhibits that change.

When you have completed the Museum, walk along the long hallway that takes you to the Visitors Center that has two large gift shops and also a food court. If you recall, all the way back at the beginning of this article we arrived without having stopped for lunch. We wound up eating in the food court and paying over $7 each for a basic hamburger. The food court is not inexpensive. A soda was  $3.

Mount Vernon is open 365 days a year. Hours do change according to season and you can check out every detail about visiting Mount Vernon on their website. I highly recommend that you visit Mount Vernon if you are visiting Maryland, Virginia, or Washington, D.C. I have to say that since the Education Center opened it made the visit very much more than just touring a house.

Washington played the Lottery

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Williamsburg Pottery. Williamsburg, Virginia

For many, many years The Williamsburg Pottery, known by many as just "The Pottery" was one of the must stops when visiting Williamsburg, Virginia. It was a conglomeration of warehouse buildings and outlet stores. It was started by a man who put some old dishes on their lawn to sell to tourists driving by. The business grew to include a pottery - yes, where pottery is made - and this salt-glazed pottery made in colonial style became a popular souvenir of the area, not just sold at "The Pottery" but all in all of the local gift shops. Soon odd lot items were brought in along with baskets, flower arrangements, woodwork, housewares, garden decorations, and the list just goes on and on. The great thing about The Pottery always was that you would find the most unusual things there and the prices were exceptionally inexpensive. It was incredible. And there was an RV park on the rear of the property.

A few years back the Williamsburg Pottery closed for renovations. The gentleman who started the business passed away and now it was in the hands of the family who decided that it needed updating. There was a lot of apprehension of people who loved the place when the drawings of the new Pottery were revealed. When it opened this past April, I read a lot of disappointing reports from people who went looking for The Pottery and found something very different. On this last trip to Williamsburg we decided to see for ourselves.

The Williamsburg Pottery is located on Route 60 and the address is 6692 Richmond Road in Williamsburg. It is actually very close to the campground that we stay at - American Heritage Campground. This is what you will see from the road. There is a very large parking lot and the building in this photo extends to several buildings all in the same design. What there is now is a "cute" Williamsburg Pottery. If what was inside matched what had in the past been inside the warehouse buildings, it would have been great. But while some was the same on a much smaller scale, a lot was now "upscale" and the prices were increased to match the look. Gone are the bargains. Gone are the oddities. Gone is the room full of baskets, each only a couple of dollars. Gone is most of the fun. Even the food court is gone. Replaced with an upscale cafe and a Bon Pain restaurant. They used to have these great pulled pork sandwiches and a refillable souvenir of The Pottery plastic cup of soda. Those, too, are gone.

You can still see one of the buildings, shown in the photo above of the original Pottery. Seeing standing next to one of the new buildings made me miss the old Pottery even more. The railroad tracks go through the Pottery property and you can see them in the foreground of the above photo. Freight trains still come through on a regular basis. In the photo to the right you can see the old railroad crossing that in the past you had to cross to get to the Pottery buildings. It is all in rubble now.

We went through all of the sections of the "new" Williamsburg Pottery hoping to find a bargain. No bargains were to be found. We looked at the salt-glazed pottery that was on display and did find the section of "seconds" which the Pottery was always known for. Pots with slight mistakes that really did not make a difference and always in the past sold for much, much less than the same piece of pottery that was "perfect". The seconds were there but the prices were more than the price of the same perfect piece that we saw at a tourist gift shop.

It was sadly disappointing. Meryl said to me - as she often does - "change is not always for the better".  It was a way to spend a rainy afternoon, but it turned out to be a sad afternoon recalling what used to be.

They have not forgotten the founder. They put up a monument to him. I wonder when he looks down on what his family has done with his pride and joy what he must be thinking.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Jamestown Settlement, Jamestown, Virginia

In the year 1607 three ships full of colonists landed on the bank of the James River in what we know today to be Virginia to undertake a business venture. The settlement that they established was names Jamestown. This was the first permanent English settlement in America and from this group of men, our nation was born.

Today, you can visit two museums that tell the story of Jamestown. One is the actual site of the settlement and what you will see there are archaeological digs, their resulting finds, and the layout of discoveries that continue every day of the settlement. This is run in a joint venture by the National Park Service and the Society of the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. That attraction is called Historic Jamestowne and we visited there in our Roadtrek a year ago.  This year our Roadtrek brought us to the other museum dedicated to Jamestown - Jamestown Settlement.

Jamestown Settlement is a privately run living history musuem. Here you will see the settlement of Jamestown brought to life by living history interpreters recreating life in Jamestown within a replica of the original fort that was built, in the native village of Powhatan, and on the three ships that brought the colonists from England. In addition, there is a large musuem filled with artifacts, displays, and presentations to fully explain life in the "New World".

Jamestown Settlement is located in Jamestown, Virginia adjacent to the original site and National Park Service historic park. There is plenty of parking and while there is not dedicated RV parking there is no problem parking your Roadtrek - or even a larger RV. We parked in an empty part of the lot in two spaces back to front and there was no problem. The museum and interpretation center is is a large building next to the parking lot. As you enter this building there are admission ticket counters, a gift shop, and a cafeteria. After you purchase your ticket you walk to a long hallway that spans the entire rear of the building and this takes you to an orientation film, the musuem, and at the end of the hall, the exit to the living history area. Other than the museum this is an outdoor attraction. Plan this for a day that will not rain. We tried, and with hopes of just a cloudy day - as you can see from the photos - it did rain lightly that afternoon. In anticipation of that possibility, we stopped first to see the introductory film in the musuem theater - the story of the founding of the settlement and its first years - and then we headed outside, saving the indoor museum for later.

Outside you can explore on your own or take a guided tour which is included in your admission. Tours have scheduled starting times which will be posted. You may leave the tour at any time, if you wish. We went outside for our group tour and our tour guide was a woman portraying a member of the  Powhatan tribe. She took escorted us down a path to the Powhatan Village. Everything that you see at Jamestown Settlement has been created down to detail from research of journals and documents kept by the settlers. Some of these included drawings and sketches of what the settlers saw and the Powhatan Village represents the result of that research. The Powhatan people lived in huts made of sea grass. In the village you will see and walk into those huts - fully furnished inside just as they were. You will also see skills of the native people demonstrated. With the guide you are taken around the village and through one of the dwellings as she answers questions and explains what you are seeing and the life of the Powhatan people. From here the guide escorts you through the forest to the settlers fort. You are welcome to come back to the village later to explore on your own.

Once at the fort you are introduced to one of the settlers and then the Powhatan woman leaves you with him. He is now your guide for the fort. The fort has been recreated just as it was again based on extensive research. As archaeology at the original site discovers new findings about the fort, Jamestown Settlement revises their reconstruction. For many years and until the last ten years or so, it was thought that the original fort site had eroded into the James River and no longer existed. An archaeology project started to investigate areas that before had been left undug because they were covered by Civil War earth works. There was a reluctance to disturb one history for an earlier history. Test digs proved the theory of where the fort may be correct and an extensive project was undertaken and still continues today - at the original site. So, very much so, every part of history as it was known of Jamestown keeps changing.

In the fort your guide will explain the life of the colonists and the hardships that they endured in the first year of the settlement. You will learn about the "starving time" which almost wiped out the small colony. You will be taken though a few of the buildings but not all, and again, it is expected that you will come back to the fort later to explore on your own. Throughout the fort there are people portraying colonists who are going about their daily lives. Some demonstrating trades, some tending gardens, some doing their military duty. You will see bread baked in a bake oven, carpentry, blacksmithing, armor repair, the firing of a matchlock musket - something that is not commonly seen - even as a colonial reenactor who fires a flintlock musket regularly, I had to see the matchlock fired, and through the day there are scheduled firings of one of the fort's cannons. Your guide will next take you out of the fort and down to the river where you will be introduced to one of the sailors who sailed on one of the three ships that brought the colonists to the New World.

There are three ships - the Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery. (I hope you were not thinking the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria - or the Mayflower!) The sailor will tell you about the voyage and its hardships. You will learn that in mid-voyage they had to wait on the ocean for the wind to come blowing in the right direction to get to their destination - and how long that took. Your guide will then invite you to explore each of the ships and that ends the guided tour. You can walk on board of each ship. You can go into the holds at the bottom of the ships. You can see the captain's quarters, and where the colonists spent the voyage. These are real ships floating on the James River and tied up to the docks. These ships are capable of sailing. On the ships you will only slightly feel the rocking of the ship on the water - enough to help you understand what it would be like to be out on open sea for months.

When you are ready to leave the ships, you return on your own now to the fort. Spend time in the fort. Look at the various buildings - inside and out. Talk to the people. There is even armor out for you to try on. When you are ready to move on again, return to the Powhatan Village and see everything there.

When you have seen all of the outside living history attractions, come back up the path that you took down to the Powhatan Village and return to the musuem building. Start your exploration of the museum, not at the end where you just came back inside, but go down the hallway to the beginning. The museum is arranged by years.  At the start of the museum's presentation, you will see first what Virginia was like before the colonists arrived. You will learn about the native people and how they lived. The museum then moves along to show you what life was for the colonists in England. Some of these men were quite wealthy - this colony was a business venture. They were coming to make money more than anything else. You will see various rooms from homes of different classes of people. And you will learn that what they were after was gold - and in this part of Virginia there is no gold - though they would not know that. What they found was tobacco and with that the colony succeeded.  In the museum you will learn more about the voyage. You will see artifacts from the colonists. You will learn about the real Pocahontas - not the Disney version or the myths. You will see how the settlement developed and how it grew to be the first capital of Virginia and then later was abandoned for a somewhat more comfortable environment up river to Williamsburg.

 Plan on spending a full day at Jamestown Settlement. I recommend seeing this first before you go to Historic Jamestowne, the NPS site where it all really happened. You will have a much better understanding of what is abstractly shown at the original site, if you see it come to life first at Jamestown Settlement. This is one of the must sees - both sites are - when you come to this part of Virginia. And it will help you appreciate what you see at Williamsburg as well and what it took to birth a nation.



Colonist's bedchamber

Tobacco - Virgina "Gold"

Colonist's Home 

Governor's Home

Armor brought from England to be worn in the Virginia heat!

Governor.s Bedchamber 

Bake Oven

Cannon Drill