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.