Monday, November 30, 2009

Getting Ready for Winter

I still remember the angst of winterizing my Overlander for the first time. Even though RVing was new to me, common sense was not, and the owner’s manual recommendation of simply opening the low-point drains and raising & lowering the trailer via the tongue jack seemed fraught with peril. While the topic was never discussed with the previous owner, the discovery of three, patched areas on the Airstream’s copper plumbing leads me to think he may have started & ended with the owner’s manual.

Luckily, the Internet is full of everyone else’s thoughts on the matter, and many good ideas were found. After seven uneventful de-winterizations over five years, the time seems right to add my approach to the archives.

The 15 gallons or so of fresh water we travel with for emergency potty stops had to be emptied first.

Shop air @45 psig was then connected to the shore water fitting to blow the water out of the lines.

I am surprised my original, 1967 water heater is still cookin’ up hot water. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

I only expected to get a season or two out of the water heater after the refurb, and planned to add a bypass valve (for easier winterization) when the unit was replaced. Five years later, I’m still plumbing in a bypass pipe every time as part of the effort.

Getting ready for winter now includes pulling out & starting my generator collection to give them a better chance of starting when actually needed. Each generator was started, and allowed to idle for a few minutes before being hooked up to a load. The Honda ran a 1500 watt space heater and the Generac a 3000 watt wall heater for around 15 minutes.

I screwed up on the generators’ starting order. For whatever reason, the Generac was started before the Honda. THE GENERAC WAS SO DOGGONE LOUD THAT I COULDN’T TELL IF THE HONDA WAS RUNNING. I had to switch the Generac off, start the Honda, and then re-start the Generac. I sure hope Marcus trades me soon – my ears are still ringing.

Other details got in the way of finishing the afternoon’s effort, and the anti-freeze flush was postponed until the next day.

Our very first camping season was short, and enjoyed without the benefit of a fresh water tank. The Airstream’s original PAR water pump was used to pump the anti-freeze through the lines via the shore water inlet. All subsequent winterizations have seen the 2-1/2 gallons of propylene glycol poured into the empty fresh water tank. The faucets, spray nozzles, and toilet are then individually turned on in short intervals until the tank runs dry. The used anti-freeze is not collected, but allowed to run down the drain to protect the P-traps. Some people like to recycle anti-freeze for next year’s effort. I’m not fond of the idea primarily because the anti-freeze gets diluted while collecting pockets of water. Dilution negatively impacts the freezing point. Biological fouling of the used stuff while it sits on the shelf for a year is another consideration.

Afterwards, shop air is again used to blow the remaining anti-freeze out since I figure there’s no good reason to let it sit there flavoring the lines.

We noticed some sugar ants on the last two outings, and now seemed like the perfect time to do a thorough spraying.

So now the Airstream’s good until next season. It will be a short wait though – We’re headed to Snow Mountain at Stone Mountain Park January 2. I’m glad the furnace was checked out on this year’s season finale at Cheaha State Park!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cheaha State Park


After returning from Disney World last month, I mentioned to my wife that I wanted to get one last camping trip in for 2009 before winterizing the Airstream, and it needed to be a cool-weather outing for various reasons. Our discussion, due to her lack of enthusiasm, was brief. Enjoying autumn’s colors is one thing; standing out in the cold is another. But, she didn’t say no.

A few days later, Number 1 son asked me what I wanted to do for my upcoming birthday. The Boyz' birthdays, at their request, are usually celebrated by staying overnight in a nice hotel, and eating at the hotel's restaurant. With this in mind, I told Daniel that I wanted to go camping at a never-before-visited State Park at, oh let’s say within a 100 miles or so of home. If he wanted to get involved, he could map out a destination for us. His eyes lit up, and he ran off to his computer to see what Google suggested. Kim pleasantly got onboard after finding out I had designated the outing a birthday celebration, and she & Daniel mapped out Cheaha State Park. Her serenity makes me wonder what we’ll do for her birthday.

The mighty Burb seems happiest when hauling a lot of stuff. So, for the two-night & one-day trip, the Weber grill, turkey cooker (for the 14-inch iron skillet), 20-lb bottle of propane, and a wheelbarrow load of firewood were loaded in addition to the normal camping gear.

Even with all that, I could still see out the rear window. Not that I could see anything but the Airstream, though.

As expected, since there weren’t many campers there, we had a lot of nice sites to choose from. The one directly across from the playground appealed to everyone.

The Boyz lucked out on this trip because another family with kids around their age pulled into another playground-accessible site shortly after we did. Everyone seemed to enjoy playing together.

Dinner that night was chicken roll-ups cooked outside in the 14-inch skillet. This meal is getting so popular that I need to think about getting a big skillet just for the Airstream to preclude me from forgetting to pack the house’s big skillet.

Cheaha Mountain is the highest point in the state of Alabama, and as such is home to several antennas. Oddly, none of them belong to cell phone companies. As a result, Kim had to go on patrol in the Suburban in search of cell phone coverage to make a phone call to her mom. Even though we have had the truck for 14 years, I still find it odd to see it moving without me at the wheel. It’s cool to listen to, though, with its factory dual-exhaust with no cross-over pipe.

After she returned, Jared and I went on foot patrol to see who else was enjoying camping in the cool weather. Seeing pitched tents reminded me of how much Kim & I used to enjoy tent camping many years ago. Ah, the days of the Coleman stove.

Nowadays, the allure of the Airstream with its heater and indoor potty is too strong to escape. One gets spoiled very easily. We still have all of our tent-camping gear, and will never get rid of it. From now on, though, the only use it will probably see is when the Boyz and I go on Boy Scouting functions. Preferably in warmer weather.

Yes, there was a pool. But as expected, it had already been covered for the season. Built on the side of the mountain, the pool’s view of Cleburne County is spectacular.

The campfire was one of the reasons I wanted to visit in cool weather. There is nothing like sitting next to one contemplating nothing. Unless you’re Daniel, and have gotten tired of constantly moving away from the smoke. Or you’re Kim, who found the Crimson Tide rolling over UTC on television had a higher appeal for that part of the afternoon.

No complaints, though – everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves.

Between playing on the playground and riding bikes, the Boyz definitely got their fair share of exercise & fresh mountain air during our visit.

After a wonderful day, and a great meal of grilled burgers and s’ mores, we all turned in just before it started to rain. For the most part, it was a gentle rain, and was quite pleasant to listen to inside the Airstream.

Unfortunately, the rain continued past breakfast on departure day, and we had to break camp with umbrellas. Luckily, though, it was not that cold. The drive home was a bit more eventful than I really wanted because my trailer brake controller appeared to occasionally malfunction leaving the mighty Burb to do all the braking work. Good thing this was the last trip of the season – There’s plenty of time to diagnose & correct the problem before the next trip.

Our visit to Cheaha State Park was, I think enjoyed by all, and was a great end to the 2009 camping season. The End.

But wait – you guessed it: There’s more!

After we had unloaded the Airstream & all the wet stuff from the Suburban, there was a knock at the door. My parents were in town to do some unannounced shopping, and had gambled that we might be home for a post birthday gift bestowment. I’m really happy we were at home because I’m simultaneously thrilled & dumbfounded with what they brought. With absolutely no pre-coordination of any sort, my mom presented me with a 16-inch cast iron skillet for the Airstream. Here she is with both the house’s puny 14-inch skillet, and the Airstream’s new 16-incher.

Never underestimate the ability of mothers to sense what will make their kids happy. Thanks, Mom.

This past week has certainly been “Happy Birthday to ME”.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

You take the Wi-Fi, and I’ll take the No-Fi


Many years ago, my wife’s office assigned her a laptop computer to allow her to get some of her work done at home. As the laptop was Wi-Fi enabled, they also came over and set up a wireless router so that she could work from anywhere in the house and not interfere with our home’s desktop PC. Later, when the Boyz wanted a computer in their end of the house, a USB Wi-Fi adapter was purchased for their computer to save me the hassle of running an Ethernet cable from one end of the house to the other. The signal was weak, but it worked.

Last year, my wife’s office, apparently worried about commies sitting in our driveway sniffing Wi-Fi signals, disabled her laptop’s Wi-Fi capability which meant she now could now only access the Internet via hardwire connection. This put us in a bind because there is only one desk (located in “Tom’s room”) she could sit at and plug into the Internet. Faced with either building/buying another desk or running Ethernet cable under the house, the latter course was chosen primarily because I was curious about what the task entailed.

Fortunately, new, cool tools & parts were justified.

Two, new Ethernet wall jacks, one in “Kim’s room” (where her scrap-booking table is located), and the other in the master bedroom, were added. While not enjoying as much freedom as a wireless connection offers, Kim now had connectivity in both functional & comfortable rooms of the house. All was now well, and other than having to crawl around under the house (which by the way was dry), wiring Ethernet connections was kind of fun.

A couple of weeks ago, Number 1 son complained that the Internet was not working at his computer. Hoping it was a moon phase issue, I successfully blew off the issue until he kept showing up at my computer to get his schoolwork done. Investigating, his wireless Ethernet adapter was found to be rattling. Both Boyz were grilled as to what may have happened to cause this formerly rattle-free device to now rattle to no avail. While I’m sure Ward Cleaver would have found out the truth, I just lectured the Boyz sternly about being careful around the computer, and bought a new Wi-Fi Ethernet adapter.

Connectivity bliss was restored for a few days before it was determined that the new, N+, Wi-Fi adapter was not getting along well with the existing [old] wireless router. And, as luck would have it, Daniel had a sanctioned computer task that absolutely needed Internet access. So, as an immediate fix, I ran an Ethernet cable across the hall from “Kim’s room” to where the Boyz’ computer is. It was a simple, yet elegant… trip hazard; what to do next? New router? Different adapter?

C) – None of the above. I still had enough wiring & connectors left over from securing Kim’s work Internet traffic from prying eyes to run a new Ethernet connection to the Boyz’ playroom. Overhearing me talk about wiring new Internet connections with his mom, Daniel perked up, and started talking about the virtues of having his Wii, which is currently connected to the den’s television, connected to the Internet. The boy appears to be a natural salesman and his mother & I both agreed that connecting his Wii to the Internet was not necessarily a bad thing. Plus, a 52-inch computer monitor does have a certain ‘cool’ factor to it.

All this new wiring was accomplished this past weekend while Kim was out of town scrap-booking with her girlfriends. Not that he needed much time to figure out how to get the Internet to work with the Wii, Daniel took extra time to master reporting the weather, one of his mom’s favorite subjects, on the big screen.

I predict he will grow up to do well with the ladies.

Stay tuned – It looks like Cheaha State Park will wrap up our camping season. Trip report to follow.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Mighty Burb gets some TLC

My vintage ¾-ton Chevrolet Suburban works hard during the camping months hauling our Airstream and us anywhere we want to go. Whether it be the slow, steady grades of the Smoky Mountains or the humid heat of Florida, this workhorse meets all comers, and always gets us safely gets us to our destination with no problem. But even workhorses need a little attention every now & then, and after a few “that’s odd” experiences over our last two camping trips, it appeared to be time to take a look under the ‘Burb’s hood.

An under-hood exhaust noise, which used to go away after warm-up had been getting noticeable under moderate acceleration. This noise had been ignored because, without looking, I assumed worst case - a cracked exhaust manifold. 454 cid engines are notoriously tough on exhaust manifolds, and I had personally installed a new RH manifold on this truck several years ago. From the noise’s location, there appeared to be a problem with the LH manifold.

But after all that worry, the noise went away after the installation of a new manifold gasket.

Heartened by a cheap & easy fix, my attention shifted to figuring out why the brakes occasionally pulled to one side during a sudden stop. When that happened, the steering wheel would sometimes shake back & forth slowly like there was a bad steering damper in the system (my C20 doesn’t have a steering damper).

Although the front brake pads had just been replaced less than 20,000 miles ago & still had plenty of meat left, the LH pair was found to be wearing at an angle. Also, the caliper on this side had a big blob of what appeared to be ball joint grease sitting on top of it just ahead of the inboard pad. My working theory is that heat from the pads would occasionally melt the grease, and the grease would get on the pad and make it more susceptible to wear. Keeping in mind that it may have also been due in part to inferior pads, new Wagner-brand pads were installed.

While checking steering linkages for relative play, the LH tie-rod assembly was found to have looseness at the inboard tie-rod end’s turnbuckle, even though the pinch-clamp appeared tight. Luck was on my side again as the fix was as simple as cleaning the works & repositioning the pinch-clamp.

Although none of the odd things which had happened lately appeared to have anything to do with the front sway bar, judging by the shape of its rubber bushings, the sway bar had not been correcting for much sway lately. So four new neoprene bushing were installed

During the subsequent test drive of these repairs, I thought I was a in a different truck. The under-hood exhaust noise was gone, and the new sway bar bushings’ contribution was immediately noticed in the two curves encountered leaving the neighborhood (and I wasn’t even going that fast). The brakes appeared to work fine, but it’s best to get a hundred miles or so of wear on the new pads before seeing if the ‘sudden stop’ issue has been remedied.

Inspired, I decided to tackle the last thing on my list – new front door hinge pin bushings. Both doors had been getting hard to shut over the last couple of seasons, and a wiggle test showed play in the hinges. Play in the hinges would allow the doors to sag & not line up with the striker bolt. The actual work of re-bushing the hinges is not that tough. Removing & reinstalling the doors, due to their deadweight, is the kicker.

My solution to supporting the doors’ deadweight was to place a ¾-inch black iron pipe between a ladder and a wood box placed on top of the Suburban. A ratcheting motorcycle tie-down was then wrapped around both the pipe, and the door. After pin removal, the door just dangled in the breeze until the new bushings were installed.

Oddly, while the bushings were worn, they weren’t worn as bad as I thought they were going to be. And, to my great annoyance, the doors did not shut that much easier after the new pins & bushings were installed. After looking the “repaired” state over, apparently, the doors had just sagged from old age. So the hinges were adjusted to compensate. All is now well; the doors now shut like they’re supposed to.

The Mighty Suburban is now ready for the last camping trip of this season. I’m still trying to decide the exact location, but somewhere there is a State Park we have never been to waiting for us to come and enjoy building a campfire every night.