Wednesday, June 24, 2015

First Trip of 2015

Well, you already have had a brief indication of one thing that went on during our first trip of 2015 and that was in our last article about getting the 12 volt outlet and the digital voltage meter. This trip was planned long before our appointment at service - more than six months before. This trip was for Memorial Day weekend and to make reservations for a holiday weekend at a campground one needs to reserve a long time in advance. At this particular campground it is usually a year in advance but after not traveling last year for Memorial Day weekend somewhere mid-year I decided that we should try to get reservations for this year's Memorial Day weekend and we called and just lucked out with an open site. When we called to make arrangements for service to be done on the Roadtrek by the dealer we were told that it would be more than a month away (we anticipated this and called right after we de-winterized in April) and decided to attempt to make that appointment at the start of the planned trip. We made a tentative appointment and then quickly called the campground to add a day to the start of our trip - which was not a problem and we then confirmed the service appointment.

We have, since buying the Roadtrek at this dealer, informed service that we would arrive as easly as our trip there that morning would allow - given traffic in New York and New Jersey and then into Pennsylvania. We usually arrive about noon. We told them this again and suddenly that was no good. Even though the service department is open until 8 - the techs needed for us only work until 3:30. If we arrived at Noon there was no promise that the work would be completed. This was a bit of a shock and we were not sure what to do. We have gone there once the night before and plugged in at the service outlet outside and stayed the night, but that would be very inconvenient for me now.  We are not "morning people". We are "very late night people" and when you don't fall asleep until after 3 am, getting up early is a problem - only if you are like this would you understand. When I was working regular hours it was a stretch and I would make due with a few hours sleep and then sleep after getting home from work until a late dinner. OK - I was determined to get up at 6 am for this trip and get to the dealer no later than 10 am with some leeway left for traffic - so we had to be out by 7 am and on our way. The Roadtrek is pre-packed but there are always things that have to be done at the last minute - bring out the things that we used up until that morning and then there is backing the Roadtrek out of our driveway into four lanes of traffic that never seems to let up - even before 7 am. This involves Meryl in the street with a walkie-talkie saying "Go now!" Backing out took 20 minutes - we were rolling by 6:50 am. The roads at first looked good until we got into Queens and the traffic just stopped. Here we are in NYC rush hour long before I figured. We pretty much just rolled along - five mph, ten mph, suddenly it would open and we were moving at the 50 mph limit and then it would just back down - no seeming reason. And with the roads as they are following winter pot hole repairs, we are bumping all the way! You feel bits of the road in the Roadtrek that you don't feel in a car...

Anyway we finally arrive at the dealer at 10:00 am - one hour plus more than it should have taken  going by the GPS estimated 2 and a half hours... ha, ha. So why are we at the dealer for service. There was the installation of the 12 volt outlet as you already know, there was the oil change for the generator, and there was the broken valve on the hot water tank bypass - discovered when we were de-winterizing. This is the second year in a row that a hot water heater by pass valve has broken. The valve appeared to turn, but no water was flowing into the hot water heater. I took the plastic valve handle off and the stem was still in the bypass position - it had never turned but the handle had. I tried several times at that point and just put the hot water tank into total bypass - there was no way I was going to take a chance breaking the valve and having no water for the coming trip - this trip. I had also looked into how to free the valve - many recommended spraying the valve stem with WD-40. I wondered about how safe it was to use a petroleum oil on a valve in the drinking water system and I contacted WD-40 who replied "NO, NO, NO! Do not use WD-40 on fresh water plumbing!" So that idea was out. A few suggested hitting the valve and I tried that and nothing. I also put a pair of pliers on the stem and tried turning - it would not budge and again I did not want to break it. So I would let service do it. And that was probably the most important thing that they had to do on this visit - fix the valve. 

They fixed the valve by replacing it with a different valve with a brass handle. Last year on the top valve they had replaced that one with the same that was there. This new one on the bottom seems to be a much stronger valve - I hope so.  You know the two years that I have not used compressed air to winterize the plumbing along with antifreeze are the years that I have had valve problems after the winter. Roadtrek is very emphatic not to use compressed air so I will not.

So - in at 10 am and out at 3:30 pm and off to the campground to a new site that we have not been in before. We arrived and checked in and started to find a level spot on the site. This usually takes a few tries but usually there is one that is close. Not this time. So out came the NEW ANDERSEN LEVELERS! Using these on a campsite proved to be a bit different than our test on the driveway, and what we learned will be in the next article. Bottom line is they worked. Read the next article when it is published to get some tips on what to do and what NOT to do...

On our last trip of 2014 at this very same campground, we had our decorative flag and its stand stolen from our site while we were out for the day. Even with our sign clearly out that said we were just gone for the day, someone had to have my ten dollar flag stand and five dollar flag. This was not the first time that we have had things taken from our site while we have been away for the day.  I was determined to make it very clear now - hands off - and try to do that as politely but emphatically as I can. Before we left last year we did stop to buy another flag stand and a plain two foot stake. We had a second flag - our favorite that thankfully we had not put out on that day. During the winter I looked for where I could get "Crime Scene" tape but could not easily buy that, so I got yellow poly rope. Once we got settled into the site - I put in the flag stand with the new flag and on the other side of the campsite - at the front - I put in the two foot stake. I doubled the rope and ran it from the flag stand to the stake and tied it so that it could be quickly taken on and off. The plan is now to put the rope across as we pull out of the site in the morning, and when we return at night to move the rope, of course, before pulling in and leaving it on the side until we pull out the next day. As we were putting this all together, two couples, of similar age to us,  walked by strolling around the campground. One of the men stopped and with a smile asked if we were marking off a crime scene. I told him the story and he was amazed that anyone would steal something like the small flag. We all talked about it and then they walked on. Well, perhaps there was an honest crowd this time at the campground or my idea worked because everything remained as it was and nothing was stolen. Meryl joked that the reason we started putting the flag out was to mark that the site was occupied and that we were coming back and it seems to have just the opposite effect.

The trip was good and fairly uneventful in any negative way. The weather was good but it was cold for the end of May with temps in the 40s at times and in the 50s during some days. A man who works at the Home Depot near the dealer joked as we walked into the store with jackets on, "What happened to Spring!?!" Well, Spring seemed on this weekend to be taking a break. We ran the heat pump on some nights and the A/C on others. We were out for five days and four nights. It never did rain and that was very good and unlike 2014 where it seemed to rain every trip. The trip did include Sunday and Memorial Day Monday in Lancaster County, PA which are two days one does not really want to be in Lancaster. On Sundays, local places are closed including restaurants. On Memorial Day Monday local places are either closed or closing early in the afternoon. I realized why we have not come for Memorial Day weekend other than the first year that we had the Roadtrek. We had an opportunity to make reservations at the campground for next year for Memorial Day when we checked in and turned the opportunity down. It is much better - at least in this area - to come during the week before - Tuesday through Friday night (if available) or Thursday night. All of the places that we like to go to here are open then - and there is no Sunday or holiday to deal with including fewer tourists (even though we head for the less tourist visited places).

If you read the last of the "It Isn't All Peaches and Cream Articles" in April 2014, you may like to know that the building that burned to the ground at Green Dragon Farmers Market is now rebuilt but not yet finished and will reopen soon. The small animal auction has moved to another building. Not very exciting for those looking for the Grand Canyon but these are things that are important to me after coming to this area regularly for the past 53 years.

While we were here I found a solution to covering the Fantastic Fan to not let in any sunlight in the early morning hours when we still want to be sleeping. I will share that with you in another article - and it was so very simple once I had the just the right idea - by accident (as all great discoveries are made). 

On our last day here we had decent weather to be able to flush the black tank again and see if the black tank sensor would show empty once again. There already was Camco TST chemical and a cap of Calgon liquid water softener in the black tank. I took the garden hose - never the drinking hose - and after dumping the black tank I pointed the hose nozzle down the toilet with the water on full force - just as I had done before - and the result was a sensor reading of... two-thirds full. Three days later it is down to one third full - so no, nothing will consistently bring the black tank monitor sensor to empty.

This was Memorial Day Monday that we were leaving and we would stay until after dinner to actually head home. During the day - before it closed at 3 pm - we made it to Stolfus Meats to buy Country sausage to take home and also an Amish-made Chicken Pie which we will eat tonight after I am finished writing this article. I can smell it cooking in the oven in the kitchen from the office upstairs... Several times during the trip home the drawer opened, despite the suction cups and rope keeping it closed. This also happened a few times earlier in the trip. The suction cups are no longer working and I need a new solution. Today, I went out to find something that would work - without my having to drill more holes for screws only to discover that the draw still will open. I thought I found something today but with the design of the drawer and the extended ledge of the granite counter top above the draw (that cannot be screwed into even if one wanted to do that), what I found would not work as there was nothing for it to grab onto inside the drawer space that hold the drawer closed so it is going back to Lowes. Still working on an idea for that drawer. I have heard all of the suggestions and so far nothing works - or those that will work won't fit. It gets really exciting when you are coming off the exit of the New Jersey Turnpike and suddenly the draw flies open and you hear from behind you "BANG! Rattle, Rattle, Rattle...". I ask Meryl is the draw open again - she looks - yup! No place to stop to close it so it just keeps banging. The last place I wanted to stop was a dark street in Brooklyn at 11:30 at night.

Gotta go - chicken pie is ready!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Best Way to Know Coach Battery Voltage

On our first trip of this season, our first stop was at dealer service. (I will write about this trip in a coming article.) One of the things we wanted done was to have a 12 volt outlet that is connected to the coach or house batteries installed (the batteries for the RV, not the engine).  This was a project long in planning. It started with my idea to install digital voltage meter that would be connected to the coach batteries and the TEST button on the monitor panel. I went searching for how this would be done and it is relatively simple IF you know what wire is which and where it is connected - plus how to get to the wires.  The monitor panel - while it is similar to models made by the company that manufactures it, is made for Roadtrek by that company. Finding a schematic for the wiring and even knowing how to pull it from the wall without damaging it was not becoming a simple task. I knew that we had to be going to service anyway - if for nothing else but to get the generator oil changed for its annual change - so why not let the dealer service department do all this for me. I then started looking for a digital voltage meter that could be installed in the space that was available adjacent to the Test button and monitor panel. There are many to be found on Amazon and Ebay but most are designed to be installed into a dashboard and not the half inch wood of the Roadtrek wall in this location. I could rig something with a frame to have it surface mounted but then found this.

What is this? This is an Equus Innova Model 3721 Battery and Charging System Monitor. It is made for a vehicle battery and plugs into the 12 volt cigarette lighter or appliance outlet in a dashboard. It has an LCD digital display with both numerical voltage and a graph, and also LED lights. On the back is a chart that tells you what voltage levels indicate. The numerical voltage is the exact reading to within the accuracy of the meter. It also folds for different angle viewing. From reading the hundreds of reviews, this is supposedly one of the best of these meters and it was available through the Walmart website's "Site to Store" free delivery for just $13.86. It may be at local retailers but it was not in the several Walmarts in two three states that I looked for it. I ordered it and had it in five days.

This gave me a new idea. Instead of having a permanently mounted meter installed I could have a 12 volt coach outlet installed. This would enable me to use this meter and also have the outlet for any other 12 volt charger or appliance. Now, some of you with newer or older Roadtreks will say, "But there already is a 12 volt coach outlet in the Roadtrek!" Well not in the 2011 or the 2010. I am not sure when Roadtrek stopped including a 12 volt coach outlet or started including them again, but I don't have one. Newer Roadtreks have the outlet as part of the antenna booster and I could have done it that way also - probably on my own, but inside the cabinet over the TV on the  cabinet ceiling was not going to be very convenient - particularly since we keep the bed made up when traveling and opening that cabinet means climbing up on the bed. So I started looking for and found quickly a common and standard RV part - a 12 volt outlet - which it just so happened was in stock on our dealer's website's part's page. There were two to choose from. One the size of a light switch plate and the other much smaller - small enough to fit in where the monitor panel is.  A discussion with Meryl and it was decided. I sent an email to our friend at dealer service - good friends after all of the time we have spent with her over the four years of our visiting her at the service center - and told her my plan and included the part number and a photo of the vicinity that I wanted to outlet installed. She said she would show the photo and the part to the tech and see what he said. A couple of days later, we were good to go - she had ordered the part and we just had to wait the month for our appointment (more about that in my article about the actual trip). 

So once at service I showed her the spot that I wanted the outlet, she said it may need to be moved slightly lower which was fine and we left it to her and the tech to have the outlet installed. Five hours later - there were other things to be done - I had an outlet. 

 So here is how it all works - turn on the coach battery switch and just plug the meter in!

This reading is two and a half days after getting home from our trip. When this reading was photographed the "C" charge light was still lit on the monitor panel (this stays lit from a couple of days to a couple of hours after the batteries have been charging), but flickered (usually an indication it is about to drop to the next LED). A few minutes after I pulled the meter from the socket, I pushed the Test button and the panel LED was now on the "G" for "good" third up from the bottom yellow LED. I put the meter back in and the reading now was 12.4 volts. Still very good. Sitting without driving or charging even with the battery switch OFF, there is drain on the battery(ies). 

When I plugged the meter in during the trip while plugged into shore power with the batteries charging the reading was 13.8. During the trip during the day while on batteries only - with the fridge on DC (AC/DC only fridge) readings were 12.6 to 12.8. We were driving during each day and plugged in each night. Finally, I am free from the monitor panel LEDs - constantly guessing what the "G" LED and the second "F" (red) LED mean. No more guessing. 

I had a cap from a 12 volt socket splitter and it fit perfectly so now the outlet is not open when not in use. Not really necessary but a nice touch!

So without the Innova meter you are left with the option to take digital readings in the engine compartment at the Separator or Isolator. This is so much easier. 

After I purchased the Innova I came across a small plug in LED digital 12 volt meter on Amazon for only $3.00 - with Free Shipping. I wondered how this could be sold for only $3.00 and still be shipped free and I decided to take a chance and buy one of these also. The estimated delivery date was a month and a half after the purchase date. I thought that someone could put this in their pocket and walk it to my post office from just about anywhere in the country in less time. It shipped three days after purchase and arrived one week after purchase. The meter was shipped from China -in a brown mailing envelope and inside the meter was in a bubble wrap pouch. The postage on the envelope was from China. This little LED meter works. It lights up with bright red LED readings - the difference is that this meter has only three digits where the Innova meter shows four digits on the display. Used one after the other, the LED meter read the battery voltage as 12.4 while the Innova read the battery voltage as 12.42. If the Innova only had three digits, the  readings would have been the same BUT had the reading on the Innova been 12.49 and the LED meter still read 12.4 that would be somewhat different - though still not dramatic. So if you want a three dollar plug in digital 12 volt meter, search Amazon.

And just in case it needs to be said - I have nothing to do with the companies that makes these meters or this 12 volt outlet.  I get nothing from anyone and I give no "official" endorsement. If there is something good that is worth sharing I share it.