Thursday, March 19, 2015

Getting Ready for 2015

In preparation of next week’s Airstream trip to beach, the Overlander was moved out into the open for easier washing & general de-winterizing.

There has been a curb-side, rooftop, interior leak for some time now that seemed to get worse near the end of last camping season.  In an effort to locate it, an electric leaf blower was pointed into the cooktop exhaust vent to pressurize the camper while it was being washed.

After blocking off the refrigerator’s floor & roof vents, the exterior was washed with an extra amount of Ivory dish soap.  Due to it being a drizzly day, no rinsing was done until the very end.  No joy.  The only leaks which blew bubbles were the expected areas like doors where it is not really an issue because there is secondary containment.

Frustratingly, even with the positive pressure, there was a couple tablespoons of water in the bathroom near the window.  The leak must be somewhere in the Bay Breeze A/C.  Disassembly will be required.  But not today.

Since we usually do full-hookups, it has been quite some time since the blue boy has seen action.  It seemed prudent to check its integrity since the Airstream will only have power & water at our Camping Season Opener.

It passed.

Next up was re-hydrating the plumbing.  The cold side went without a hitch.  Hot side not so much.  Five or 10 seconds after the water heater filled up the kitchen faucet went from spitting air & water to just a slow trickle of water.  The aerator had filled with a variety of boogers.

I don’t recall ever seeing boogers on the hot side.  Especially green ones.  Anyhoo, after more flushing, both hot & cold systems were blown out with compressed air, and refilled with a stouter-than-usual Clorox solution from the white tank.

After blowing that out, the systems were refilled from shore water.

Next up were the gas appliances.  All three cooktop burners had perfect flames.

The furnace lit with less trouble than usual and ran beautifully.  Although there are no plans to run it next week, since the 48 year-old device was not used last season I was just curious to see if it was mad about being left out.  Apparently not.

The refrigerator pilot lit easily and had a pleasing, gentle roar to it (no build-up in the burner to clean) and ended up making ice cubes in the freezer.  The fridge was later switched to electric and the ice stayed frozen.  So I went ahead & stocked the bottom with my usual “mineral water”.

The original, Bowen/Atwood water heater fired up & cycled with no complaint.

Both the oven & air conditioner were run through their paces and found to be ready for the upcoming trip.  Last but not least, the radio also checked out fine.

The weather cleared up enough later for me to replace some exterior parts.

A year or two after the Overlander returned to the road after a long hiatus, I had occasion to show it to my uncle the original owner.  Although he was a man of few words, he chose to snicker about how I had not replaced the rusty latches on the rock guard.  The ultimate reason was that I had run out of money for incidentals.  The runner-up reason was that the only place selling replacements at the time still sold them stamped out of rustable steel.

Luckily, Vintage Trailer Supply expanded their inventory, and appeared to appreciate the need to market a better product.  They persuaded the Original Equipment Manufacturer to stamp a run made out of stainless steel.  I wish Uncle Les was still around to see the end result – It was quite an improvement.

Coming around the home stretch, the day was supposed to conclude with the replacement of a fractured door-jamb striker pocket.  But while sizing up the task, I noticed the door knob had stopped actuating the striker from the inside even though the outside knob still worked as normal.

My heart sank.  Years ago while learning the best ways to refurbish my American Classic, I kept reading tales about how expensive ($200 – $300) these locks were to replace since the OEM (Theo. Bargman Co.) was no longer in business.  And that’s IF a replacement, usually a refurbed unit, could be found.  The best case in my situation was that the problem was due to a loose screw like Frank’s Trailer Works blogged about awhile back.

Sadly, after removal & disassembly the problem was revealed to be a broken pot-metal striker.  From experience, I know pot-metal can neither be welded nor glued successfully.  This probably meant a new lock assembly would be necessary because who would be making new parts for a 48 year-old lock?

Vintage Trailer Supply would!  By virtue of being milled from an aluminum billet, the new part is naturally stronger than the original part.  Reasonably priced, too – cheaper than I could have made it myself.  The cost to next-day ship it was lower than some vendors’ price to “get it when it gets there” cost.  I really enjoy doing business with VTS.

As expected, the new part fit like a glove.  Reassembly went without incident, and before long the new striker from VTS was interfacing with the new striker pocket from VTS like nothing had ever gone wrong.

Although I was happy to spend so little on the repair, had I have had to spend considerably more there would have been no complaint because my vintage Airstream has been very good to me cost wise.  After the initial refurb 12 years ago, the only money of real consequence spent on maintenance has been on two different air conditioner issues.  I am continually surprised how much mileage we have gotten out of the original appliances.

Camping in 2015 appears to be getting off to a good start.  I can hardly wait until next week’s Florida trip.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

More Hot Water for Less Money

Natural gas is a phenomenal source of energy and does a fantastic job of keeping our house warm.  Surprisingly, even with many 18 degF days this winter, our power bill has been higher than the gas bill.  Granted, with all the fracking going on, natural gas is cheap & readily available.  But for the first time since we have lived here, it has been cheaper to heat our house in cold weather than it was to cool it during summer.

I am usually a big proponent of using natural gas for any kind of heating simply because it typically does a better job.  To that end, in addition to gas heat our house has a gas cooktop, and a gas 40 gallon water heater.  We’ll keep the electric dryer because I heard the gas version yellows clothes.  The only big heat user left is a 40 gallon electric water heater on a timer in series with the gas version installed long ago when we had no children and electricity was cheaper.

That electric water heater is now 19 years old, and has been limping along since the upper thermostat went kaput several years ago.  The timer was bypassed near the end of the Clinton administration because with small children, we seemed to constantly need a lot of hot water.  Marketed by Envir-O-Temp & made by American Water Heaters in Tennessee, it has certainly been the Eveready Bunny of water heaters.

Between trying to lower our power bill and knowing the tank will not last forever, the numbers were run to compare the current gas versus electric water heating costs.  In unsurprising news, around here it now costs roughly half as much money to heat water with gas as it does with electricity.  The added bonus of a gas water heater’s faster recovery time made it clear we were through heating water with electricity.

The next Saturday’s clear, warm weather afforded the perfect opportunity to run an additional Type B vent pipe through the garage’s ceiling & roof.  The original plan had been to pick up a new water heater afterwards and decide whether to install it in what remained of the weekend, or wait till another day.  After arriving at the Store, the plan was quickly modified to, “go home and study-up on the new electronic thermostat (gas valve) now being used by everyone”.

To me, a gas water heater should work while connected to nothing but gas & water.  That way, if the power goes out, like it did for a week a few years ago, we will still have hot water.  Some high-efficiency gas water heaters require 120 VAC to power a blower.  While perusing the selection to make sure a water heater was available without a power cord, all brands were noticed to be using the exact same Honeywell electronified thermostat.  Some even have WiFi capability.  No brand in any store had the old-style thermostat like I kept from the last water heater I replaced.

After further reading, I found that the new style thermostat has a circuit board with a processor & memory chip and is powered by a souped-up thermocouple called a thermal pile.  No additional power is needed.  Sadly the Internet is full of horror stories about this thermostat.  Specifically, if the temperature is set too high, the temperature may exceed some limit known only to the controller, and the entire assembly has to be replaced because a “die & never work again” message is written to memory.

Often blamed on sediment in the tank, this scenario is one of the most common problems with the new-style Honeywell gas valve.  From what I can surmise, the folks at Honeywell must have been trying to emulate the meltable thermal fuse function found in the old-style gas valves.  Further reading revealed the Company has since modified the design by adding an insulating sleeve to the temperature probe to make it less sensitive to sediment.

I started feeling better after reading that the water heater manufacturers are apparently sympathetic to the whole issue, and are quick to send out replacement thermostats.  Johnny down at A-1 Appliance felt the high number of complaints was due to the fact that all water heater manufacturers are now using this controller.  Statistically, with more implementations there will be more issues.  After remembering a similar story about my Goodyear Marathon trailer tires I was at peace with purchasing the new technology.

My 15 year-old drove us in the snow to get the new water heater since he needed the inclement weather driving experience.

A new Whirlpool-brand water heater was purchased because it too is now made by American Water Heaters.

Other than sediment briefly clogging the drain hose, the replacement went without a hitch.

I love working with copper plumbing:

A new feature was added to this installation – a hot/cold water pipe bonding wire where the pipes perforate the wall.

Although not required in Alabama, the potential benefits, from what I read, appeared to out-weigh the small cost of the parts required.

Even with the horror stories about overheating being fresh on my mind, I still wanted the kitchen dishwasher to get water with a temperature of at least 120 degF.  With the aid of a temperature probe on my multi-meter each water heater’s thermostat was adjusted for a tank outlet temperature of ~140 degF.

The preferred temperature was achieved with each thermostat set just above the corresponding scales’ midpoint.  I’m comfortable with that.

Here’s a face-off of new & old thermostats.  The new Honeywell is at the left connected to the yellow gas line.

So far, so good.  I think my oldest boy tried to run out all the hot water the other morning.  The only thing he succeeded at was doing a good imitation of a steamed lobster.

Hopefully, the next winter-time power bill will finally be lower than the gas bill!


Monday, January 19, 2015

Trombone: One Year Later

It has been a little over a year since I started learning how to play the trombone, and although fun, the learning curve has been steeper than anticipated.  Since I played trumpet in high school, I thought mastering this low-brass instrument would involve little more than learning slide positions.  Wrong!  After trying to play a Sousa March, I found that I had forgotten some of the musical nomenclature.

Plus, what little embouchure I had for the trumpet did not map over to the trombone’s bigger mouthpiece.  But I stuck with it, and between learning the rudiments from Rubank’s Elementary Method for Trombone, and re-learning to sight read by playing hymns, progress was steadily made.

After a couple months of practice proved to me this was not a passing fancy, an extra-tall, band-room quality music stand was purchased for the effort.  That was money well spent as it simultaneously made keeping up with several music books easier and cleaned up the look of my practice room.

By the end of the year, between birthday & Christmas gifts, two other stands and several more music books were added to the effort.

Although the free tuning fork software provided by the Internet was perfect for matching slide positions with the correct audio frequencies, everyone’s metronome software didn’t click with me for various reasons.  I tried going without a beat reference but after a while, the timing of most of my musical selections seemed to be corresponding to some variation of the room’s cuckoo clock beat period.

Acting on the premise that a mechanical metronome might appeal to my “do it the hard way” nature, we got Amazon Prime to send me a wind-up version.

The metronome is on the left.  Rebellion is an outstanding locally brewed red ale.  Not a good practice beer, though, because it’s high alcohol content makes the slide move a bit too freely; better to stick with Natty Lite if I ever plan to get good at triple-tonguing fast passages of music.

I occasionally share my trombone adventure with friends, and the ones with musical backgrounds often ask if I am taking private lessons.  Although “no” is the short answer, YouTube has been a wonderful resource for this effort. in particular has many helpful videos available for anyone wanting to learn a band instrument.  The musician at is nothing but amazing with both his virtuosity, and ability to adapt the trombone to pop music.

After a year’s worth of near daily effort, I have finished my Rubank’s book, and have practiced 450 hymns at least one time each.

At this point, I would rank me as either a first-chair Junior High School trombonist or third-chair High School.  So there is no worry about me giving up my day job.

But if I am ever able to keep up with Christopher Bill on pop, Harry Watters on jazz or Bob McChesney on anything, I would think strongly about a second career!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Making Lemonade From Maple

This year at my in-law’s Thanksgiving dinner Kim’s mom asked me to make her another wide cutting board because the size of the last one I custom-made for her was handy for keeping hot stuff from damaging her countertop.

So a few weeks ago, a maple, rough-cut board that appeared to fit the material list was dug out the wood crib.

The 1-inch thick board was then cut into three pieces which were then planed to remove most of the roughness, then edge jointed for flat glue surfaces.

Just as I have done countless times in the past, the boards were then bonded with polyurethane glue, clamped, weighted, and left alone overnight.

The next day, the glue-up was ripped to size, and repeatedly run through the planer with the intent of producing an end-product with a thickness of no less than ¾-inch.

But it eventually became evident that I had screwed up the boards’ arrangement at glue-up because at 11/16-inch thickness the project was still not flat.

So the uncompleted effort was tossed back into the wood crib before commencing round two with a different board.

After paying attention this time, I was rewarded with an end product which turned out like I wanted.  Plus, Kim’s mom was thrilled with it.

The story would have ended there if my youngest son had not asked me to fix the keyboard tray attached to his computer desk a few days later.  One look told me the repair would not just be a simple adjustment.

Repairing the stripped out screw holes looked like a problem until I remembered the failed cutting board blank.  Bingo!  It had the perfect starting size.

It finished out well in very little time.  I skipped applying a protective finish because no one cared about one nor did they want to wait out the drying time.

Everyone was pleased with the final product.

Waste not, want not!


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

YouTube On A Dumb TV

I get a lot of enjoyment listening to many of the musicians on YouTube and iTunes.  But after burning CDs and queuing playlists on the iPod to play on the den stereo started getting old I decided to run an audio line under the house to connect the computer directly to the stereo.  The convenience was great; wish I had done it sooner.

But after a week or so I decided it would also be neat to watch what was happening on the den’s TV while listening to it on the room’s big speakers.  While Smart TVs are all the current rage, the boob tube in the den ain’t that bright due to age.  For a variety of reason$ I decided to run new wires to it instead of replacing it with something that can spell WIFI.

After looking at the computer’s outputs and the TV’s available inputs I was pleased to see that the purchase of an HDMI cable would interconnect the two and provide both video and audio to the TV.  Amazon offered one of appropriate length for an insanely low price, and delivered it for free two days later.

Although there was no reason the setup should not work, the cable was run down the hall first for a GO/NO-GO check.

Immediate success on the video portion.  The audio took a few mouse clicks on the computer to get it going.

Usually, when wiring a room for either power or signal, I run wire off of a spool and crimp/solder it to the wall plate’s connectors.  HDMI cable, with its 19 individual signal wires, is only commonly available with the ends already installed.  The wall plate has a short pigtail in which the end is installed.

Fortunately, the connector was slightly smaller than the wiring drill I already owned.

The problem with adding individual capabilities over time to a room is that one can end up with a lot of wall plates.

The computer room’s wall is not as bad since many functions are doubled-up.

Between not wanting to cut another hole in the sheetrock nor purchase some rather expensive, specialty wall plates, I decided to run the HDMI wire out of a hole drilled in an existing wall plate directly to the TV or computer.  Although no major issues are expected, the specialty wall plates can be easily added later.

The new setup worked out even better than anticipated… until a new issue was noticed: Now that a computer was nowhere near, I never realized how often my mouse had handled the “Click here to skip advertisement” button.  It was annoying to pause dinner preps to trudge down the hall to do nothing more than click a button.  Remote control of the computer was needed.

Once again Amazon rose to the challenge, and offered a wireless keyboard & mouse combo for a reasonable amount of money.  The immediate problem with using the hardware was that there were communication-blocking walls between the computer where the hardware’s USB transponder would be plugged in, and where the mouse & keyboard would be used.  The transponder would need to be moved to be within visual range of the hardware.

To complicate the issue, the length of USB extension cord necessary to extend the transponder exceeded the magic number of five meters (~16 feet).  A USB repeater would be required to span the required distance.  Once again, though, Amazon had one available with a reasonable price tag.

This time the new wire was run to come out on the wall which services my cordless headphones.  This will ensure the mouse and keyboard can be operated from the kitchen as well as the den.

The transponder, mounted in an old D-Link WIFI dongle holder, is quite unobtrusive.

The latest new wiring has been in place for a week now, and I haven’t found anything else to add or change.  Time to kick back in the La-Z-Boy® and enjoy!


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Trombone Bumper Felt Replacement

Even though I have not been at the trombone for a year yet, thanks to a yard sale another trombone, a Cleveland 605, now graces my bass clef instrument collection.

Although the slide is worn, the horn is still playable.  The instrument caught my eye because the mouthpiece it came with, a Bach 7, was recommended by some on the Internet, and I was interested in trying it out.  Since the total cost of the trombone/case/mouthpiece was less than the cost of a new Bach 7 shipped from I now have a backup beginner trombone.

The instrument did have two significant issues, though – the slide lock spun freely instead of latching at its stop, and the slide clanked when slid to first position.  Fortunately, both issues were due to the lack of dampening material between the inner & outer slides.

After thoroughly cleaning the ~39 year-old instrument, I scrounged around in my shop and found an O-ring which appeared to be the perfect thickness for the task.  After slipping it down into the deep recess of where it was needed, the slide quit clanking.  But the slide lock now would not lock at all.  The O-ring had apparently hung on something (probably a bumper remnant) before hitting dead bottom, and the resultant gap made the effective O-ring thickness too great.

After picking through my toolbox yielded no mechanical means long enough to get down to the O-ring to remove it, I decided to dissolve it with chemicals.  Sadly, while just about anything will dissolve a rubber O-ring, no commonly available chemical appeared able to dissolve the neoprene version I installed.  A special tool was going to be needed.

I thought about taking the slide to a brass instrument repair shop until Mr. Google advised me $75 was the going Hourly Shop Rate.  Taking that route would have more than doubled my investment in the instrument.

Fortunately, Ferree’s Tools out of Battle Creek MI sells the tool I needed for a reasonable cost.  Since my other trombone’s bumper material is close to being worn out, I ordered the tool.  I wanted to buy new bumper cork from them, but they only sold it bulk packages for more than I wanted to spend.  Although eBay had a couple of vendors selling the needed parts, in what was no surprise shipping & handling was more than the parts themselves.  Perhaps it was time to check locally.

So, I went back to the local music shop who originally sold me a learn-to-play-the-trombone book.  Although their back room had lots of brass instrument repair tools strewn about, I could tell their technician leaned more towards woodwind repair, and although I watched him scour the shop in earnest there were no bumpers to be found.  Nice guy, though – I would definitely keep him in mind should I ever need a woodwind repair.

The next stop was a place that did nothing but band instrument repair.  Unfortunately, the lady who greeted me when I walked in only did the books, and advised me to come back when the man who did the actual repairs returned from a service call.

Mr. Google advised me there was another music shop on the other side of town who also advertised instrument repair.  Since it was a nice day out I decided to drive over with the resolution of getting the bumpers from eBay if this place did not work out.

The lady who greeted me when I walked in had no idea of what a trombone bumper cork was, and walked me over to an older gentleman in the front office & presented my request.

“Got no cork.  Only felt” he said kinda gruffly while appearing to decide if I looked capable of effecting the repair.

“Felt would be great!” I replied.  “Because the trombone has neither right now.”

“Do you have the right tool for the job?  Any trace of the old bumper will keep the new one from working right.”

“Yes sir, I do.”  I figured there was no reason to explain why I had already found that out.

After a brief trip to the back, he returned with the four felts I requested (two for each of my trombones).  As he was ringing the sale up, he both asked again if I had the right tool, and reaffirmed the importance of removing all traces of the old bumper.  “Yes sir, I bought it from Ferree’s.”

“Ferree’s Tool & Die?”

He appeared to be simultaneously pleased and relieved at my choice of tool.

“You’ve got the right tool.”

Two dollars later I was on my way home.

The funny thing was that even though I had probably the only tool capable of getting the O-ring out, I thought it was going to be a huge challenge, and the O-ring was going to come out in small pieces.  Nope – even as tight as it originally fit, the O-ring was removed intact in under a minute.  Cleaning all of what remained of the original green felts ended up being the time hog.

It took well over an hour using a combination of WD-40 and the special tool before I was satisfied that all traces of the old felts were gone.

But my reward for the time spent was to have a slide that now latched correctly, and not clank when sliding into first position too fast.

With the slide now behaving more like it is supposed to, I practiced with the trombone for a couple of sessions.  I like my Olds Ambassador better because the slide is lighter, and the spit valve spring does not require the pinch of death to actuate.  The jury is still out on the mouthpiece, though.  Perhaps one day I will get some trombone lessons, and find out why it was different than I was expecting.

Hopefully, the next trombone I see in a yard sale will have an F attachment – some people on the Internet think they’re pretty neat…