Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged.

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Friday, February 27, 2015

Cabin Fever

Cabin fever is defined, by Wikipedia. as "a claustrophobic reaction that takes place when a person or group is isolated and/or shut in a small space, with nothing to do for an extended period."  People affected by cabin fever become restless and irritable.  Sometimes, in spite of being restless, they tend to sleep.  The term is loosely and humorously used to describe simple boredom from being home alone.   The idea of cabin fever apparently began with trappers and hunters who were often trapped in their cabins for extended periods of time by inclement weather.  Sometimes they became so agitated they would go outside even if it was dark or there was a blizzard, often never to return.

With that in mind, those of us who enjoy outdoor recreation are usually experiencing some of the symptoms of cabin fever by now, after several months of winter.  For campers, RVers and off road enthusiasts, it usually takes the form of a gnawing desire to get out and go camping and/or riding.  Unless the weather is unusually mild, it will probably be several weeks before we can act on our desires.  We tend to get restless. Pace the floor.  Keep looking out the window, as if doing so would somehow hurry Spring.

What can we do about that?  I've found the best remedy is to start working on getting things ready for the upcoming season.  Some of that involves researching routes and destinations.  Some involves performing maintenance or upgrade tasks to my RV, OHV, and camping gear.  Some of it involves inspecting my riding gear and making sure is is all clean and in good repair and properly stored for that long awaited first trip of the season.  I keep my riding gear hanging in my enclosed motorcycle trailer so its ready to go and to use when we are.

Now is actually a very good time to begin preparations.  Doing so gives us time to take care of any problems we encounter and to make any changes we may have planned or think up as we go.  Going through your gear may remind you of things you wanted to do but perhaps forgot to write down or you may discover new ideas, based on things you have learned from other sources since your last trip.   In any case, it will also bring back memories of previous adventures and allow you to relive or at least recall them and that by itself can be a fun thing to do.  It is quite rewarding to find things to fix or update and even more so when you complete the repairs or replacements.   Starting now also lets you spread out the cost and effort of any needed items or tasks over several weeks before your first trip of the season rather than creating a long list the weekend right before your outing and having to shell out a ton of money all at once.  Having some time lets you do a little shopping and price comparisons to you don't over pay for necessary items.  And its nice not to have to rush through any necessary tasks.

Its probably a little too early to de-winterize RVs, but you can begin checking for damaged caulk or other signs of leaks and planning the repairs.  Things like caulking require some drying time so it is especially good to get a head start on those kinds of projects.  Cleaning carpets and upholstery are also good candidates for early completion, as they too need some drying time.  It wont hurt to check engine fluid levels and batteries either. 

Don't freak out!

Saturday, February 21, 2015


Thundersnow?  Say what?  What the heck is that?  Well, it is thunder during a snow storm.  It doesn't happen as often as regular thunderstorms, but it DOES happen  occasionally.  Because it is rather rare, and because we normally don't go camping in winter weather, it is unlikely you will encounter it during an outing.  But you might and it would be good to know what -- if anything --- to do when it happens.  One good thing about thundersnow, besides being rare, is that it usually doesn't last very long. 

Normal thunderstorms are the product of very tall, narrow columns of clouds.  Rising warm air and falling cool air create an increasingly powerful  cycle of wind within the column.  Static electricity builds up in the cloud until it has sufficient charge to arc to the ground.

Normal snow storms usually come from wide, flat cloud systems.  But occasionally rising warm air will disrupt the normal cloud formation and create bulges or tall columns capable of creating lightning and thunder.

I have personally only seen a thundersnow once, even though I grew up in southern Idaho where we had some rather severe winters (-26°F at least once and one February where the high never got above -6°F for two weeks).  It was on Christmas Eve in Salt Lake City a couple of years ago.  At first I though the flashing of the lightning was caused by fluctuations in street lighting, but real thunder soon confirmed it was a rare thundersnow.

If you should get caught in a thundersnow in camp, you should take all the precautions you would for Camping In Snow and Camping In Thunderstorms.  You are very likely to encounter the potential risks of both.

Be safe!

RV Links

The Internet is an excellent source for RV information.  Use your favorite search engine to find information about RVs, campgrounds, routes, equipment, repair tips, camping tips, gear and equipment, accessories and just about anything else you want to know.

Here are some direct links to RV resources you may find useful:

Everything About Rving
General RV information

Camping World
RV and Camping Parts and Supplies

PPL Motorhomes
RV and Camping Parts and Supplies 

RV Hall of Fame
RV History

Tin Can Tourists
Classic RV Club

Utah Trail Machine Association
Utah dirt bike club

Good Sam Club
National RV Club

Motorhome Magazine
Monthly Motorhome Magazine

Trailer Life Magazine
 Monthly Trailer Magazine

Gypsy Journal -- On The Road With Full Timers
 General motorhome advice

Thursday, February 19, 2015

RV Mattresses

RV Mattresses.  RVs are intended to provide us most of the creature comforts we enjoy at home, including a comfortable bed.  But not all RV mattresses are created equal.  Are they really that different from the residential mattresses you use at home?  Sometimes they are.  For one thing, you can save weight using a thinner or lighter mattress so many RVs come with sleep systems that are often considered inferior to the one on your bed at home.  For another thing, they are sometimes different sizes than the standard sizes used at home.  For example, what you might take for an ordinary double bed in some motorhomes is actually a 3/4 size mattress at 48" wide, compared to 54" for a standard double mattress.  Some RVs use a corner bed to save space and they'll often have the exposed corner cut off to provide more aisle space

You can buy replacement mattresses from RV stores like Camping World or you can have them custom made.  Any good upholstery shop should be able to order and cut foam to fit your RV and make a suitable cover if you don't have a local mattress maker.  Having a custom made foam mattress may be less expensive than you might think, especially if you can use an off-the-shelf mattress cover instead of having one custom made. If the cover is slightly smaller it still might work but it could make the mattress bow in the middle.  If it is too big you can usually fold it over and tuck it under to make it work.

You can even buy famous brand name mattresses, including Sleep Number beds, to fit most RVs.  Be sure to measure your mattress to be sure you're getting one that will fit right.  The "Queen" and "King" beds in some RVs are NOT the same size as standard Queen and King beds at home, although sometimes standard mattress can be made to work.  When measuring for a new mattress, measure the platform, not the old mattress.  The shape and dimensions of the old mattress may have been distorted by use and by temperature changes.

If your old mattress is breaking down and is no longer comfortable to sleep on, you can either replace it with a new mattress or consider adding a mattress topper.  A mattress topper will usually be a lot less expensive and often gives very satisfactory results.  You can buy memory foam mattress toppers and it is pretty easy to cut the foam down if it is larger than your mattress.  An electric knife is very good for cutting foam.   You may have to alter the cover for the mattress topper to fit the reduced size -- or just tuck it under.  We added a 4" memory foam topper to the rather skimpy RV mattress in one of our motorhomes and it made for a very comfortable bed.  With a good topper over an older mattress that is breaking down you probably won't notice the diminished performance of the original mattress.

Some people find foam mattresses too hot to sleep on since they are not good conductors of heat and often don't allow the kind of air circulation that is possible in an innerspring mattress.   If you're one of those people, look for a mattress topper that isn't made of foam.  Feather beds are an attractive alternative for some people (unless you're allergic to feathers!).

A simple mattress pad may solve in issues with sensitivity to foam.  Pads made of cotton usually provide the most neutral solution, insulating you from the temperature attributes of the foam.  Some people like the luxurious softness of a "feather bed".  If you find yourself already out on a trip when you discover your mattress seems to hot or too cold, you can probably make do with an extra blanket between the bottom sheet and the mattress.  Even an itchy wool blanket would be OK since it would be under the sheet -- unless you are particularly sensitive or allergic to wool, in which case I would wonder why you'd have a wool blanket in the first place.

Air mattresses can be a lightweight alternative if you can find one to fit.  In addition to being very light weight you can adjust the firmness to fit your personal needs.  But, some people find the plastic surface hot or cold to sleep on.  This can usually be overcome with a mattress pad and still enjoy the benefits of an air mattress -- low cost, light weight, infinitely adjustable firmness.  If you opt for an air mattress, be sure to carry a repair kit so you can fix any leaks that might crop up in camp. 

Sleep well.

Tent Lighting

There are many good options for tent lights these days.  Some years back, a kerosene lantern or a trusty Coleman gas lantern or flashlights were about the only choices.  Anything with a flame is a potential hazard in a tent, although a Coleman lantern, if used cautiously, will also serve as a heater.  Ordinary handheld flashlights are kind of cumbersome to use and the narrow beam isn't very good for area lighting.  Fortunately today they are many battery powered lanterns that work very well and are quite safe to use in a tent.  For optimum battery life, choose an LED lantern.  Rechargeable lanterns are good if you have a way to recharge them in camp or on the road.  Many offer charging via 12-volt plug that fits a standard car cigarette lighter.  Solar powered lanterns are great, as long as you remember to put them outside in the sun regularly to recharge.  You can even get battery powered lanterns with remote controls so you can turn the light on and off without having to get out of your warm sleeping bag.

Some tents have loops sewn into the top of the inside of the tent or built into the framework for you to hang you lights on.  If yours doesn't, you can usually use a clip like those used to fasten accessories to RV awnings or ID badges to your pocket or lapel, to secure your light by clipping them to a seam or tent pole.  Another option would be to sew your own loop inside the roof of your tent.  Be sure to seal the stitching with seam sealer or you'll probably get a drip when it rains.  While it would be ideal to make the loop from matching tent fabric, it may be hard to find.  A scrap of denim from an old pair of jeans will do the trick.  And, since it is very small, and mostly out of sight, will most likely not be at all offensive.  Some tents come with matching bags for tent stakes and you may be able to steal a strip of fabric from one of those to make your loops.  Another handy way to secure lights is using a spring type paper clamp.

I've had one of my favorite tent lights for years, long before LED lights were available.  It is very small, about 1 1/2" x 3/4" x 4".  It runs on AA batteries and has both a spot light and a flood light mode.  Its light weight makes it ideal for hanging from the top of a tent and the flood light mode does a fair job of illuminating a pretty large area.  It fits easily in a pocket or in pouch on your back pack.  These days I'd opt for an LED version to get better battery life.  I also have a pocket sized LED light, with both spot and flood light modes.  Again, it is small enough and light enough to hang from the top of the then and the LED bulbs do not generate enough heat for it to be any danger to tent fabric, even if it is hung directly from a fabric loop at the top of the tent.  I bought mine at Harbor Freight.  They are often on sale for $2.99, but even at the regular price of $3.49 they are a bargain.

I have a new possibility I am looking forward to trying out.   It is a remote controlled above ground pool light.  It has a magnetic base that would normally attach to the steel walls of a Doughboy type pool,  but it also came with a steel plate that would go on the outside of a plastic pool.  I plan to use the steel plate on the outside of my tent so the magnet has something to stick to. 

If you end up using your Coleman lantern in your tent, make sure to keep it away from the tent fabric.  It will probably be kind of heavy to hang from the top of the tent, but even if you have a very sturdy tent or sturdy frame to hang it on, be sure to keep it away from the fabric.  Since heat rises, having it within a few inches of the tent roof could damage the roof or even cause a fire.  Better to set it on something, like an overturned bucket or an ice chest.  That keeps it away from the roof and will usually provide better heat distribution.

During the day, you may be able to take advantage of natural light.  If the tent fabric is light enough, it may allow enough light in that you won't need any artificial light.  Opening windows and doors will also let light in, but if you use a tarp over your tent for shade or extra rain protection, you might still need artificial light during the day.

Light it up!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Automatic Transfer Switch

An Automatic Transfer Switch is a nice addition to any RV with an on board generator.  Without one, you have to plug your shore power cord into a receptacle connected to the generator to use power from the generator.  Depending on the location and access to the power cord and the receptacle, plugging it in can sometimes be somewhat onerous.  I've seen arrangements where the receptacle is in the back corner of a very small power cord compartment that is only accessible through a 5"x5" door, making it quite difficult (Hah.  Nearly impossible!) to reach, even after pulling all the cord out of the tiny compartment to get to it.  Having an automatic transfer switch means you don't have to go outside in bad weather and wrestle with the power cord to connect your generator.  All you have to do is fire it up when you get to camp and the switch does it for you.

If you decide to install a transfer switch on your RV, be sure to purchase one rated to match the power cord connection -- 30 or 50 amps.   A 50 amp switch could be used on a unit with 30 amp power but you'd just be paying extra for something you don't need.  Never use a 30 amp switch on one with 50 amp service.

Automatic Transfer Switches start at about $50.00 for a 30 amp model.  50 amp version will cost more.  You can buy even more expensive models that may have a heavier duty cycle and might last longer but I would carefully compare the features, warranty, and life expectancy before spending a lot more money.  Unless you are using your RV extensively where the switch will get a lot of use, the lower priced models will usually be adequate for most people.

Check whether you have access to the wiring and a place to mount the switch before you buy.   It is ideal if the power cord compartment is large enough and you have good access to install the switch there.   It makes the installation fairly easy.   I had to install one near the breaker panel under the bed in one RV because there wasn't enough room or good enough access for the installation in the power cord compartment.  The door was only 5"x5" square.  Decide where you're going to mount the switch and make sure there is sufficient room for it and some sturdy structural component to mount it to.  It should NOT be mounted to just paneling.  You will need access to both the wiring from the power cord and the wiring from the generator as well as a way to run wiring from the switch to the breaker panel.

Most switches will come with very good wiring diagrams that anyone who can change a residential switch or outlet should be able to follow to make the connections.  Basically you disconnect the shore power cable from inside the cable compartment and connect it to the power cable terminals on the switch.  Then remove the generator receptacle and connect the generator wiring to the generator terminals on the switch.  Then connect the panel terminals to where the shore power cord was previously connected in the cable compartment and you should be good to go.  Be sure the power cord is disconnected and the generator off until the switch is completely installed.  If you have to extend any of the wires, be sure to enclose any splices in a proper electrical box, never just twist or solder them together and tape them up.  One option I have found appealing is to tap into the generator feed without removing the receptacle.  That way, if the switch ever fails, I can still plug the shore power into the receptacle to keep things working until I can repair or replace the switch.  If you are not comfortable doing 120-volt wiring, have it done by a licensed electrician or a qualified RV technician.  If you have to run any new wiring instead of simply using existing wires, make sure you use wiring of the right gauge for the application (30 or 50 amp).  If you have to splice into existing wires, the splices should be contained in a proper electrical junction box.  The connections inside are usually made with wire nuts and you should use stress relieve fittings where the wires pass in and out of the box.

Switch on!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Camping Weather

What is camping weather?  That depends on who you are and what kind of camping you want to do.  A few hardy souls go camping in the winter and brave the snow and cold, but most people prefer milder weather for their outings.  Most folks think of camping as a summer activity, perhaps spilling over into warm days of spring and fall.  Daytime temperatures in the 70s and 80s Farhenheit are quite pleasant.  If its warmer or colder than that, human beings begin to get uncomfortable.  Lower temperatures are sometimes acceptable if you're going to be involved in strenuous physical activity that will keep you warm.  Higher temperatures are enjoyed by people involved in water sports where they can frequently cool down in the water.  But sitting around camp when its over 100°F or below 50°F isn't anyone's idea of fun.  A good rain storm can be fun -- if you're prepared and can watch it from a comfortable place, but most of us wouldn't choose rain as ideal camping weather.  But sometimes it does catch up with us even when we try to avoid it.  Some folks go out in winter, setting up a base camp for other activities, such as skiing, ice skating, snowboarding, snowmobiling, or snowshoeing.  But most of us don't think of snow and freezing temperatures as ideal camping weather.

Modern weather forecasting takes advantage of many tools not available to our ancestors.  Radar, satellite images, and computer prediction models help create ever more accurate forecasts.  I've heard it said that there are already computer models than can predict the weather with 100% accuracy, but it takes about 48 hours to run a 24 hour forecast so until efficiency improves they are of little use.  I have been pleasantly surprised by how accurate the 7-day forecast is usually is on weatherbug.com.  By the way, the further out the forecast, the less accurate it will be.  The U.S. Weather Service used to publish a 30 day forecast, but dropped it because the accuracy wasn't as good as they had hoped.  It would be a good idea to check the 7-day forecast for your route and destination before you take off on each trip.  That way you can plan better for clothing, appropriate meals, and activities.

No matter what the forecast when you leave home, it is probably going to change before you get back unless you're going to be gone only a very short time.  With that in mind it is a good idea to keep an eye on the weather while your away.  Local radio stations and NOAA weather radio broadcasts can provide useful information but knowing how to interpret signs in the immediate area may be a more direct and more accurate measure of what to expect.  Many locations have their own mircro-environments that can create their own weather that probably won't show up on the weather service forecast.  Clouds and their behavior are one of the best predictors of weather.  High, thin, cirrus clouds almost always mean good weather.  Low, dark, roiling clouds often mean rain or storms.  Find our from which direction your weather normally comes and monitor the skies in that direction.  Barometers display changes in air pressure.  High pressure usually accompanies fair weather, low pressure is identified with stormy weather. If the barometer is rising, it is normally a predictor of good weather where as dropping barometeric pressures may mean an approaching storm.  Strong winds and other violent weather often occur along a "front" where two masses of air of different pressure and temperatures collide.

Old weather sayings, often accredited to sailors, shepherds, or farmers, often have some basis in meteorlogical fact.  One of the most popular is the old rhyme:

     "Red at night, sailor's delight
      Red at morning, sailor take warning."

This apparently originated in England where most of the weather comes from the west.  "Red at night" is often caused by dust particles in the air, indicating dry air and probably high pressure is approaching and, therefore, good weather on the way.  "Red at morning" on the other hand means the dry air has already passed and wetter, cooler weather may be on the way,.  A morning sky that is a deep, fiery red can indicate that there is high water content in the atmosphere. So, rain could be on its way.

Another with some merit is "No weather is ill if the wind is still.   Calm winds, especially with clear skies, are normally associated with areas of high pressure, indicating good weather.  However, remember too, "the calm before the storm".  Thunderstorms often develop even though surface winds are low.

Some people believe their own joints can predict the weather.  There may actually be a sliver of truth behind this one.  Changes in barometer pressure can affect body fluids,  A drop in barometric pressure may trigger pain due to swelling in joints as the internal fluids slowly react to the change in pressure.

My grandmother used to say "Sunshiny showers won't last half an hour."   If the sun is shining while it is raining, there is a very good chance the rain clouds will indeed pass by quickly.  Of course the timing may be affected by whether the sun is peeking through ahead or behind the storm but rain from scattered clouds isn't likely to continue for very long.

Another folk tale is that you can tell the temperature by crickets' chirps.   Apparently this actually works.  Count the number of chirps in 14 seconds and add 40 to get Fahrenheit temperature.

These days you can buy your own weather stations to have in your home or take with you camping.  They can measure local conditions and give you an instant forecast.   I've tried a couple of them and while I found the measurements of temperature, humidity, and wind speed and direction fairly accurate and useful, I didn't find the forecast particularly accurate.  If  you install your own weather station, be aware that it may take some time -- perhaps even a few weeks -- or it to calibrate itself to your local conditions so it can give an accurate forecast.  That being said, portable weather stations may not have time to acclimate themselves as you travel but is is always good to have instruments to at least measure temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure.  You may find knowing wind speed and direction helpful too, if only to know whether or not to light a campfire and on which side to sit if you do.  One of my favorite weather station stories is that of the "Weather String".  If you can see it, the sun is out.  If it is wet it is raining. If it is moving the wind is blowing.  If it is frozen it is cold.  If you can't see it it is either dark (night time) or foggy.  As silly as that may sound, there is some value in simple weather tools.  Many rural airports still rely on the old fashioned wind sock to give pilots an indication of wind speed and direction so the weather string as a wind measuring device just might not be too bad an idea.

In several areas where I've lived, the weather by-word is "If you don't like the weather, just wait a minute".  That is certainly more true some places than others, but weather can and often does change frequently just about everywhere.  With that in mind, it is a good idea to be prepared when you're camping.  Keep rain gear handy and be prepared to wait out occasional bouts of stormy weather with appropriate refreshments and indoor activities.  Given the variety of micro-environments that we can encounter in our travels, expect the unexpected.  Campers often like to go to the forests and the mountains.  Mountains often make their own local weather which might not conform to regional weather forecasts.  In that case, electronic forecasts aren't going to be as much use as being able to recognize what is likely to happen based on local conditions.

Be weather wise.