Must Have Gadget #9 Converter Upgrade

On our 6 month excursion last winter, we learned that when boondocking, it was impossible to charge the batteries up to a satisfactory level using the generator.  If the sun was shining and the solar panel was working all day there was no problem.

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But if we were parked in a shady spot or it was overcast the generator wouldn’t charge the batteries fast enough. After 4 hours of running the generator the batteries were only 75% charged at best! That matters because discharging the batteries below 50% will damage them.

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It forced us to find electricity and pay for private campgrounds more often then we wanted to.

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Not fun sometimes.

I thought about lithium batteries but they would cost about $2000 for two batteries. Ouch! AGM batteries are better then deep cycle batteries but not nearly as expensive so we compromised and went with two new AGM’s. So now we have batteries that will hold a charge longer but that doesn’t solve the problem of the generator not charging the batteries fast enough. That was solved, we hope, with the upgrade to a multi stage converter.

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Here’s the deal as I understand it. The converter that came with our Airstream was, well, not the best. It had one charging mode and that is slow. That’s ok if your staying at private campgrounds and hooked up to electricity (shore power) all the time. But we like to boondock not only because of the secluded camp sites but also most of the time boondocking is free!

So I ordered a new converter and called my buddy Jimbo to help with the installation. I say help me but actually he did all the work. 🙂 It was a fairly easy installation though. We took out the Parallax 8355 55 amp single stage converter that came with Shiny and installed a Progressive Dynamics PD4655 VL multi stage converter and a remote pendent PD92201TV from Bestconverter.com. 

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The new PD4655 VL converter also comes with a toggle switch for lithium batteries in case we decide to ever go that route. Sweet!

Here’s what the old converter looked like after Jimbo got it out.

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Not much more than those 4 wires to get that beast out!

So what did we get with this upgrade?

Instead of a converter that charges at a rate of a little over 13 volts no matter how discharged the batteries are we get these modes of charging.

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Here is an interesting quote from Randy at Bestconverter.com.

The last 10% is always the longest. Many folks that boondock for extended periods use a 50-90 rule of thumb meaning they try to not go below 50% SOC (State Of Charge) but only attempting to get back to 90% on a daily basis saving that last 10% for an over night charge when you get back home. Charging from 50 to 90% should only take 2-3 hours with a modern 4 stage converter.

We should be able to avoid the expense of private campgrounds more often. We won’t have to avoid that many (about 12) to pay for the converter upgrade which was about $240 and the two new AGM batteries which cost about $350.

We’ll let you know!

Must Have Gadget #8 Viair

 

Viair Portable Air Compressor

Our experience at Letchworth State Park convinced me that getting a portable air compressor before we hit the full time road is a good idea. But which one to get?

Airforums is your friend when it comes to Airstream research and sometimes SOB (Some Other Brand) research. I ended up buying the Viair 400P-RV for several reasons.

  1. The maximum 150 psi is plenty for the 80 psi I need for the Goodyear Endurance tires on Shiny.
  2. The 2.3CFM Free Flow rating will add air to the tires quickly.
  3. Can be used to blow out the air from the water lines when winterizing.
  4. Comes with an additional hose to reach the trailer tires.
  5. Automatic shut off so it only runs when you add air pressure.

At the time I purchased the unit a Google search lead to a dozen comparisons to other compressor kits and the Viair 400p-RV was at the top of the list on all of them.

It has come in handy as we’ve used it twice so far on our trip south.

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Previous Gadget Expenses     $3271.00
Viar                           244.00

Total Gadget Expenses        $3515.00

 

Must Have Gadget #6 Trailer Aid

Trailer Aid

For over 30 years I’ve been lugging around a small, cheap floor Jack whenever we were pulling a camper. I think it cost me 30 bucks back in the late eighties. It came in handy on a number of occasions. The problem is that when we full time this January I didn’t want to haul the cumbersome floor jack all over the United States and Canada. So after some research I found the Trailer Aid and bought it.

Almost immediately it was put to the test. We were backing into a site at Letchworth State Park and as luck would have it, one of Shiny’s tires just barely clipped an old fire pit. The tire picked up some sort of staple. I would not have even noticed it but Sue heard a hissing sound. I was not happy.

So we pulled out the Trailer Aid  and drove up onto it. Had the wounded tire off and the spare on in less then 15 minutes. Sure enough we found the staple in the tire.

I can’t say enough good things about this must have tool. Of course if you only have one axle on your RV it won’t be of much use to you.

 

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Prior Gadget Expenses     $2734.00
Trailer Aid                  40.00

Total Gadget Expenses     $2774.00

Must Have Gadget #5 Levelers

Andersen Levelers

We’ve been pulling a camper of one make or another for over 30 years. Camp sites that we choose were seldom level especially at Old Time music festivals. We’ve used blocks of wood, wooden planks, and plastic pads to get the camper level. It’s important that the RV is level chiefly so the refrigerator works properly. But sink and shower drains work better too.

At the Brandywine Revival festival this year we didn’t get quite level and my side of the bed was on the low side. I’d wake up in the middle of the night with not only the mattress but Sue, still in a blissful state, pressing me up against the side cabinet. So there’s that too.

I came across the Andersen Levelers on Amazon and decided to give them a try. I needed one for each axle so I had to buy two. I’ve got to say that they are the easiest and slickest leveling method I’ve ever used.

When we get ready to level Shiny from side to side, Sue will place the levelers in front of or in back of the tires. Sue then guides me forward or backward. She talks to me on the phone and I listen through the Bluetooth in the truck. I will either drive or back up onto them. Sue has a small inexpensive surface level that she’ll put on the floor just inside the main door. When Shiny is level side to side she tell me to stop, put the chocks under the levelers and we’re done. Voila’!

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If there is a down side to this gadget it is that they only will give you 4 inches of lift. We have used two wooden planks between the levelers and the ground at times which will give us another 3 or so inches of lift.

Prior Gadget Expenses     $2654.00 
Andersen Levelers            80.00

Total Gadget Expenses     $2734.00

Must Have Gadget #4 Folding Table

Are Sue and I the only people who think a television in an RV is a total waste money?

Our previous RV had a TV and in 10 years we never turned it on!

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Even at home we seldom turn the TV on (commercials drive me wacky). I can’t think of many reasons I’d ever want to watch TV while on the road.

Believe it or not Shiny has two TV’s! I kid you not. One in the kitchen/dining area and, to us, a completely senseless and useless one in the bedroom. We are constantly bumping into it and the only thing its good for is to drape our wet towels over after a shower.

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Sue mentioned several times this summer that she wished she had a private little writing space in the morning. So I started looking into it. I found some folding wall tables on Amazon and brought them to Sue’s attention. We discussed it and since we had time to kill before are departure we pulled the trigger on a dainty looking little table.

The table was delivered by UPS when we were not home. It had been opened and repackaged. It turned out OK, even had extra hardware, but my first thought was why oh why didn’t I heed those ungratifying Amazon customer reviews. The bad reviews mostly were about inaccurate assembly instructions.  In the end I did not find this to be the case at all.

First we removed the bedroom digital towel rack (television).

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The hardest part was stuffing the cable back into the wall to get it out of the way.

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We assembled what we could in the warmth of our wood stove heated home. The next day we fired up the furnace in Shiny and move in with our tools. Sue measured for the proper height.

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Then we mounted the table onto the wall. Really was not that bad of a job. This is what it looks like when its folded down.

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And here is a very happy Sue sitting at the folded up table.

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Happy wife, happy life!

Must Have Gadget # 7 weBoost

weBoost Drive 4G-X 470510 Cell Phone Signal Booster

Shiny makes an excellent Faraday Cage. That’s not good if we want to use our cell phone for accessing the internet or making a phone call from inside our aluminium acropolis. There is only one option that I can think of to alleviate this electromagnetic impediment and that is an external antenna.

First I needed to decide what type of antenna to get. Then I got thinking if I was going to go through the trouble to mount an external antenna I might as well boast the signal while I’m at it. After hours, and I mean hours, of research I decided to go with a weBoost 4G-X system. I went with the regular car/truck model. They do make a weBoost kit for RV’s but the antenna mounts on a ladder which Shiny does not have.

I could think of some problems that I was going to have with this installation. How would I mount the magnetic antenna on Shiny’s aluminum roof? How was I going to run the cable along the roof and tie it down? The weBoost comes with a 12 volt power cord and requires a 12 volt power supply (cigarette lighter) which Shiny is without. And finally how was I going to get the antenna cable inside of Shiny without drilling a hole in the hull.

Here’s the accessories I ended up buying to accomplish these tasks:

3/4″ Adhesive Backed Mounting Bases with 4″ Cable Ties

Gorilla Heavy Duty Mounting Tape, Double-Sided, 1″ x 60″

AC to DC Power Adapter Charger

1/2 inch grommet (from the local hardware store)

1 1/2 cable management grommets

To be honest, I was really dreading this installation. In reality Sue and I performed the installation in under and hour and with ease.

The first job we tackled, and the hardest,  was the antenna. Hardest only because someone, namely poor Sue, had to get up on the roof. Being a big guy I was certain that if I tried to get up on Shiny’s roof there was going to be a hole much bigger then 1/2 inch.

In any case, after seeing how other people solved the problem on Airforums, I decided to run the antenna cable down through the refrigerator vent. One not so warm day we got to work. From the ladder I drilled a 1/2 inch hole in the side of the refrigerator vent on the roof. I then went inside and drilled a 1 1/2 hole with a hole saw in the cabinet above the refrigerator. Back up on the ladder I pushed the cable down through the 1/2 inch hole while Sue pulled the cable in through the 1 1/2 inch hole in the cabinet above the refrigerator with a bent wire. It worked slick!! Sue then got up on the roof and using the two sided Gorilla tape found a nice spot for the antenna and using the adhesive mounts and tie downs ran the cable neatly along the roof to the refrigerator vent.

Here’s what it looked like after we were done on the roof.

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The tie downs I bought worked nice. Disregard the pine needle. 🙂 We used a little Gorilla tape for added support where the cable entered the vent.

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We then drilled another 1 1/2 hole through the cabinet wall just above the TV. I ran the inside antenna and power cord. Then I mounted the inside antenna above the TV.

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Mounted the booster on the inside wall of the cabinet with Gorilla tape.IMG_2025

Guess what? It works! Before we plugged the weBoost in we had just one bar on our cell phones. After putting juice to the booster we had 4 bars. We’re happy Streamers.

Previous Gadget Expenses     $2774.00
weBoost                        480.00
AC to DC Power Adaptor          17.00

Total Gadget Expenses        $3271.00

 

Must Have Gadget #3 Honda

Honda EU2000i 

There is a lot of contention out there on just what is the best generator for an RV. Some people say forget the Micro-Air EasyStart/small generator and get a big wattage rig that will handle the air conditioning/microwave/hot water load. Some advocate buying two small generators and hooking them together for more wattage. Some like gas models, some like propane models. Some like combo generators that can use either gas or propane. All will work.

It comes down to what the individual prefers. I want a small generator that is easy to move around which means I also need the EasyStart. I don’t want to lug gas cans in the bed of my truck all over the country which means a generator that runs on propane.

I decided on a Honda EU2000i from GenConnex. I own a Honda lawn tractor, a Honda wood splitter, and a Honda water pump. Never had an issue with any of them so I went with the Honda generator. With shipping it cost us $1790, again not pocket change. But I’ve got a rig that weighs in at only 49 pounds, is very quiet, and with the EasyStart will run the air conditioner. Even more slick is that it connects right into the front of Shiny via a gas hose quick connect. Sweet!

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I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that almost right off the bat I had a problem. The day I got it, I hooked it up to Shiny and it ran wonderfully. I had it running for about 45 minutes checking to see what worked inside, charging the batteries, and running the air conditioner. Everything worked perfectly. About two weeks later I took it up to a remote cabin in Maine intending to run it off a 20 lb propane tank. It ran for about 5 seconds and then sputtered and stopped. I tried everything to get that rig running to no avail. When I got home I e-mailed GenConnex and they informed me about a spark plug cap issue that they had just learned about from Honda. You can read the whole story on this thread I started in Airforums.

It was a minor problem and and the local Honda dealer took care of it. I am still quite happy I went with the Honda.

Oh, and before I forget, if you do decide to go with a propane converted Honda from GenConnex, make sure you ask them to send the high altitude orifice. It’s for altitudes 5000 feet and above and it’s free!

Prior Gadget Expenses     $819.00
Honda EU2000i             1790.00

Total Gadget Expenses    $2609.00

 

 

Must Have Gadget #2 EasyStart

Micro-Air EasyStart

We’re leaving in January for warmer climates. Other than getting somewhere warm as quickly as possible so we can dewinterize the aluminum palace, we do not have an itinerary.  My crystal ball told me that there are going to be times where our Zamp solar package just isn’t going to be adequate. My fear was boondocking in the heat of a desert somewhere and no way to run the air conditioner or being in someplace like Alaska during an extended period of rain.

The answer was some sort of a generator. But here’s the thing, I don’t want to have to lug gas cans thousands of miles in the bed of my truck. I don’t want some giant monstrosity that’s too heavy to move around and sounds like a 747 taking off.

After hours of research I decided we needed a small inverter type generator that would run on propane. The problem with a small generator is that it will run an air conditioner but won’t start it. The amperage draw the air conditioner compressor needs to start up is too much for a small 2000 watt generator, like what I had in mind.

I found the answer to this problem in the Micro-Air EasyStart.  There is a whole lot of discussion about the EasyStart in Airforums. Here is a thread to start you off. Do a search for Micro Air for much more discussion. This post quickly explains how the EasyStart works and if one should elect to purchase there is a $40 coupon. $259 isn’t pocket change. But the money I don’t have to spend on a bigger generator makes it well worth it. I should mention that if anyone elects to go with the Easy Start I recommend also buying the $10 installation kit. It’s got all the tie wraps, connectors, etc you need to do the installation.

Speaking of the installation, I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about doing this myself. I was reassured by many posts on Airforums of people saying how easy it was to install. Also Micro-Air has a manuals and resources page that includes a YouTube video and installation instructions for the Penguin II air conditioning unit on top of Shiny.

In the end I recruited the help of my good friend Jim Bohan. Took us about 1 hour and really wasn’t that bad. Getting Jim up on the roof was the hardest part. 🙂

Prior Gadget Expenses   $550.00
Micro-Air EasyStart      259.00
Installation Kit          10.00

Total Gadget Expense    $819.00

 

 

 

Must Have Gadget #1 Zamp

Zamp 160 Watt Portable Solar Kit

There is no end to the sometimes expensive but must have gadgets that I think we need to survive if we are to full time in Shiny.

As a fiddler I love to go to Old Time music festivals. We can spend a week or more boondocking in the middle of a field. Sue and I are pretty conservative when it comes to amp hour usage. We use flashlights at night instead of the lights in Shiny for instance. One thing we don’t skimp on is the electric water pump as the use of public porta johns can be rather REPULSIVE! In any case the two 12 volt deep cycle batteries in Shiny will last about 3 days before the need of recharging. We try not to discharge the batteries more then 50% as damage to them will occur if they are drained more than that.

A generator is not feasible at Old Time music events because of the close proximity to  other festival attendees, most of whom reside in tents.

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Also, come January we plan on doing a whole lot of boondocking so some sort of solar array was imperative. Well, at least as far as I’m concerned. 🙂

This leads me to our first must have gadget accusation. A Zamp 160 Watt portable solar panel kit. We paid around $650 for it. Truth be told we already had a Renolgy 100 Watt suitcase which we paid about $160 for. It was adequate for the job but one day on the way to Mt Airy in May of this year it stopped charging. So we bought the new Zamp at more then four times the price of the old Renolgy. The only difference between the two (besides quality, wattage and weight) is that I had to use alligator clamps right on the batteries while the Zamp has a handy dandy connector that connects directly to Shiny.

My friend Cliff Riggs told me that I was taken in by the warning sticker on the front of Shiny which states “Only use Zamp …”.

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The idea that I was a fool was reinforced when I discovered that the only thing wrong with the Renolgy was a blown inline fuse. Can you say DUMB!

BTW, I e-mailed the Airstream dealer and they wanted $2350 to install a 160 watt solar array on Shiny’s roof. Ouch! They said;

160W solar panel pkg install is $2350.00, that does not include the upgrade of AGM batteries. You do not have to upgrade your batteries to the glass mat batteries unless you intend on doing alot of boon-docking. The AGM will take a faster charge and have a longer draw life. The AGM’s are $250.0 each.”

We decided to hold off on the AGMs until we need to replace the Deep Cycle batteries that came with Shiny.

I was able to sell the Renolgy setup at Mt Airy for $100 so I recouped some of my money. If I knew then what I know now I’d have most likely spent the buck on a new fuse and still be dealing with the alligator clamps.

That being said, I do love the Zamp. It’s far better constructed and more rugged then the Renolgy. We were 12 days boondocking at Mt Airy with sun on the Zamp only from 2:00 pm on and it kept the batteries well charged. It stores nicely in Shiny’s closet with a shower curtain rod holding it in place.

If you have a late model Airstream, looking for a portable solar system, and starting from scratch, then go for the Zamp if you can afford it.

Zamp 160W Solar Kit   $650.00
Renolgy Solar Kit     -100.00 

Total Gadget Expenses $550.00