Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, sailing, 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. The organization is pretty much by date of publication. Please use the SEARCH option below to find what you are looking for.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Duct Tape

Duct tape is often mentioned in these articles and many other places, with uses ranging from securing bandages to repairing tents and awnings, even as a temporary repair for ruptured radiator hose.  People often refer to it as duck tape, thinking they're being funny.  In reality, it actually was called duck tape before it was called duct tape.  One reason may be that it was originally made from strips of canvas duck material.   There is even a brand of duct tape named Duck Tape.  For you Star Wars fans, it has been said that duct tape is like The Force:  it has a light side and dark side and it holds the world together.

                                                      Image result for duct tape images

During World War II, duck tape, strips of canvas duck with rubber adhesive, were used to seal ammunition cans and clever GIs soon found may other uses for it.  It is generally believed the name 'duck tape' was coined by Army users.

The transition from "duck" to "duct" likely took place after World War II when a company started making a high-temperature version of duck tape specifically for use on heating ducts and dubbed it "duct tape".  I have tried using duct tape on old ducts and usually had trouble getting it to stick. It probably works well on new construction but old ducts are usually pretty dusty and while the tape sticks to the dust very well, the dusty tape doesn't stick well to the ducts.  I find it kind of ironic that duct tape sticks to just about everything but ducts.

Most duct tape is gray or silvery in color but there are other colors available.   Popular colors include black, white, red, blue, green, and camouflage.   On occaison I have seen orange and yellow too.   I recently found some in my wife's favorite color, purple. I'm not sure what if anything we'll ever do with purple duct tape but I just had to get her some.

The hero on the TV show MacGuyver frequently used duct tape in his innovative inventions to help him in his role as a kind of secret agent and making duct tape a highly recognized household term, giving it a reputation for being able to fix most anything.  My dad, a professional auto mechanic, was fond of saying "If it can't be fixed with a hammer, it can't be fixed."   Duct tape enjoys a similar reputation.

Mythbusters has tested and verified a number of duct tape stories, including making a working cannon out of duct tape, sealing a leaking boat, and repairing a damaged airplane.  Not too long ago an Alaskan bush pilot repaired extensive damage to his airplane out in the bush and was able to fly it back to civilization.  He had another pilot drop some plastic sheets and 3 cases of duct tape.  Check it out at  Best Duct Tape Story Ever.

The uses for duct tape in camping and RVing are endless.   Typical applications include using it repair awnings, canopies, and tents and as a bandage to secure a dressing on wounds or to secure splints on broken bones.  I've seen it used to temporarily patch holes in rubber boots and to bind up leaking radiator and heater hoses.  You can tape up broken windows and secure siding that has come loose on your RV or tape up a cracked fender or side cover on your OHV until you can get somewhere to make permanent repairs.   Mythbusters even used it to repair a leaky boat!   Personally I haven't had much success sticking duct tape to wet surfaces but apparently it can be done with enough persistence.  For better adhesion on wet surfaces try something like Eternabond tape.  It isn't cheap but it does stick to wet surfaces, making it a good option for sealing actives leaks on RV roofs, tents, and awnings.

Duct tape is also good to have in your C.E.R.T. or emergency preparedness kit. In addition to traditional first aid and repair tasks it can be used for marking structures to indicate the search status or even to restrain unruly patients or other personnel who are interfering with emergency operations.

Isn't that just ducky?

Washing Dishes In Camp

OK, so what's so special about washing dishes in camp?  After all, we all have plenty of experience washing dishes at home.   And even if we're used to having automatic dishwashers, there are still times when we've all had to resort to washing dishes by hand, so what's the big deal?  Of course, for many of us, the best way of cleaning dishes in camp is to simply toss the paper plates into the campfire.  But even when we use paper plates there are usually some other, non-disposable dishes (or pots and pans) used in preparing the meal that have to be washed.

If you're camping in an RV there is usually a tendency to wash dishes the same way we do at home.   RVs have a similar sink (though noticeably smaller) and (hopefully) plenty of hot water.  But doing things the same way in your RV or camper wastes water, fills holding tanks more quickly, uses more propane to heat water, and sometimes introduces garbage into the gray water tanks that cause odors or even blockages when dumping.  One way to avoid these problems is to use disposable (paper or styrene) dishes.  Then doing dishes is mostly as easy as tossing them into the campfire or the trash can.   But you usually can't cook in paper or styrene and when you do use real dishes, there are things you can to do mitigate potential problems.  First, clean your pots and pans and your dishes as quickly as possible when you're done using them, before food has chance to dry and "bake" on. Dump some water in them before they cool completely.  Then use paper towels or crumpled newspaper to wipe off the dishes instead of pre-rinsing them.   If you really must pre-rinse, don't run water from your faucet to do it. Use a dishpan or an empty gallon jug to collect water while you're waiting for the shower to get hot and save that for pre-rinsing dishes.   Dumping some of the saved shower water into pots and pans while they're still hot and letting them sit while you eat can make them a LOT easier to clean. Then use a good quality concentrated dish soap.   It will cut grease faster and better than the cheap stuff and the smaller bottle will take up less room in your RV or camp kit.  Organize your dishes before you start washing.   Do the things that require the least cleaning first.   For me that is usually cups and glasses, then silverware.   Bowls and plates are next and pots and pans last.  Pots and pans will be much easier to clean if you dump some of your saved pre-rinse water in them while they're still hot, as soon as you're done cooking in them.  That instantly begins to loosen sticky, stubborn material and it will continue to soften as it sits while you eat. (Yes, that is worth repeating!).  For your final rinse, fill a dishpan or the second sink and dip items in it rather than rinsing under running water.  Rinsing under running water wastes lots and lots of hot water!  These techniques will reduce water usage, minimize filling of holding tanks, and nearly eliminate accumulation of food residue in your plumbing and holding tanks.  Some RVs are now equipped with dishwashers, usually a drawer style under the kitchen sink.    Pre-clean dishes by wiping as described above and follow the manufacturers recommendations for detergent and rinse products.

Doing dishes while tent camping can be a tedious task.   First of all, unless you're in a campground that has a dish washing sink available for your use, you'll have to do everything in one or two dishpans right at your site.  You'll need to plan ahead and have a pot of water heating while you're eating so you have hot water ready when its time to clean up.  You can do dishes in cold water, but the results may not be as sanitary as you would like and it will take more soap and more elbow grease.  Washing dishes in cold water may leave a greasy or soapy residue on your cookware and dinnerware.  That is definitely NOT a good thing!  A fellow scoutmaster once quipped he didn't worry too much about the boys getting their dishes clean because it "solved the constipation  problem".   I suppose you could consider diarrhea as a solution to constipation, but not necessarily one you want to encourage.  I strongly suggest is is well worth the time and effort to heat up some water for doing dishes.  You might put an extra pan of water on the campfire or on an unused burner while you're preparing dinner.   If that doesn't work out for you, take minute or two to fill a pan and put it on the stove so it can be heating while you're eating.  From there, many of the suggestions given above for RVers will be helpful to tent campers as well.  Wipe off the dishes, put things in a logical order so you can do the ones that need the least cleaning first, use a good quality soap and remember to start pre-soaking pots and pans as soon as you finish using them.  Once you're done, you'll have to dispose of the dishwater.  There should be a designated dump location or you can dump it down the drain if there is community sink.  Lacking either of those options (when you're boondocking for instance), dump it somewhere away from camp sites, trails and roads and at least 200 feet from any lake, pond, spring, well, or stream.  Dump the soapy water first, then use the rinse water to rinse out the soapy dishpan as you dump it.  Always dry your dishes and put them away right away.   Sometimes it may be tempting to leave dishes out to air dry instead of drying them and putting them away.   I don't recommend it.   Leaving them out leaves them exposed to insects and vermin that might carry dangerous germs.   Chipmunks and squirrels are cute running around camp, but I wouldn't want them walking on  or licking my dishes! They are not very careful where they walk so you never know what they might be tracking.   And when it comes to flies, well, we all know what they've been walking on and we definitely don't want THAT on our dishes!  Not even tiny little fly footprints of it.  Not only is it unappetizing, it may contain e.coli bacteria, which can make you very sick.  Some campgrounds have community sinks where you can do your dishes.  Be sure to clean the sinks with detergent or an antibacterial household cleaner before and after use.  Don't pre-rinse your dirty dishes at the shared faucets.  That makes a mess that everyone has to deal with.  Pre-clean them at your site as previously described.

Hot water usually does a better job of cleaning than cold water, but in some situations you may have to resort to washing your dishes in cold water.   You might find yourself in an area with fire restrictions where you can't have a campfire to heat your water and if you don't have an approved stove you're out of luck.  You might have to use a little more detergent when using cold water, but you should still be able to get your dishes clean.  Any greasy or soapy residue left on your dishes, silverware, or pots and pans, could lead to stomach distress and what is commonly known as 'the runs' so make sure they are thoroughly cleaned and well rinsed before you dry them and put them away.  A scoutmaster I once knew said he never worried about making sure the boys got their dishes clean because it "solved the constipation problem in camp".   Not sure what planet he's been camping on but from what I've seen, the more common problems when camping are just the opposite of constipation!   By the way, be sure to buy a good quality, concentrated dish soap.  It will take up less space in your RV cupboard or camp bins and will work better than the cheap, watered down stuff. You want something with good grease cutting power.

In a survival situation where you don't have any detergent, you can use ashes from you fire to scour your dirty dishes, especially pots and pans.  Really stubborn deposits might require rubbing with a little fine sand.  BTW, ashes mixed with cooking grease will create a kind of soap itself, so you can get things pretty clean that way.  You can make real soap from ashes and cooking grease or animal fat but it is time consuming.  Basically you start by leeching lye out of wood ashes, then mix the lye with animal fat.

Portable sinks can be useful in camp.   But since they don't usually have a supply of hot water, you still have to heat your water on the campfire or camp stove.  I have found portable sinks really handy for washing your hands and face or brushing your teeth, but not for doing dishes.   Simple dishpans are a better size and shape for washing dishes.  The cheap plastic ones from the dollar store will do the job, but heavier, better quality rubber versions will last longer and be less likely to crack in transit or in the middle of the job.

Dove brand dish has recently been advertising a spray and wipe product that might be useful in camp.  My wife has been using her own version for years.  She simply mixes dish soap with about an equal amount of water in a spray bottle.  It is an easy way to clean a few dishes without wasting a lot of water or time.

Doing dishes in camp doesn't have to be an onerous task.   If you plan ahead, get organized, and use the right tools and techniques, it will go quickly and you'll enjoy clean dishes and avoid the 'runs' that sometimes result from poorly cleaned pots, pans, and dishes.

Portable hot water systems can provide convenient hot water for tent campers for dishes, showers, etc.  They are a little pricey -- somewhere north of $100 but you may find them well worth the cost if your budget can handle it.  However, you can heat water for doing dishes in any pan or pot right on your camp stove or campfire.  A portable hot water system will also let you have hot showers, so it might be worth the investment.  Another way to get hot water in camp is using a "sun shower", a black plastic bag you fill with water and leave in the sun to get heated.  Proper hygiene is essential for good health as well as comfort and presentability.

Wash up!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

RV Wiring Basics

In addition to vehicle wiring (in a motorhome), there are usually two separate electrical systems inside the coach portion of an RV:  a 12-volt system and a 120-volt system which are separate from vehicle wiring (even trailers have vehicle wiring for running lights, etc).  The 12-volt coach system usually runs the lights, water pump, fans, and the electronic components of furnaces, water heaters, and refrigerators.   The 120-volt system powers the refrigerator when connected to 120-volt power, runs the roof air conditioner, provides power to the convertor to create 12-volt power without drawing down the batteries, and often powers TVs, VCRs, DVDs, and (if so equipped) washers and dryers etc.  Some RVs have water heaters with electrical heating elements.   Optional 120 volt "heat strips" on roof air conditioners sometimes supplement propane furnaces.  Winterized RVs may have heating pads or heat tape on holding tanks and exterior plumbing.  These heating elements are often designed with dual voltage capabilities so they can be run off either 12 DC or 120 volt AC electrical sources.  120-volt power is provided from a shore connection, on board generator, solar panels, or from batteries via an inverter.

12-volt wiring is usually fairly small gauge, mostly #12 or smaller.  The red wire is usually the 'hot' wire and the black wire is the ground.  Larger #10 wire may be used for special, high-amperage appliances, charging circuits, and main lines.   120-volt wiring usually follows standard configurations for residential and commercial wiring.  The black wire is the 'hot' wire, the white wire is the neutral and the green wire is the ground.   Yes, it is confusing that the black wire is ground for 12 volt and hot for 120-volt, but just remember that whenever you are working on your RV electrical systems.  I like to carry a few feet of #12 and #10 automotive wire, some extra crimp terminals, a roll of electrical tape, and some spare fuses in case I have to make repairs in camp or on the road.

12-volt systems are fairly safe and simple to work on.   There is no danger of getting electrocuted or even shocked by a 12-volt wire.  The biggest problem you might see is shorting out a circuit which will blow the fuse, or, if there is no fuse, melt the wiring. You can get arcing when you ground a 12-volt hot wire and that might burn you or start a fire.  You should never wire circuits that are not fuse or circuit breaker protected.  The whole point of a fuse or circuit breaker is to fail BEFORE the wiring gets hot enough to start melting insulation.   A short in an unprotected circuit can cause a fire. Normally the red wire will be 12-volt positive and the black wire the negative ground. Try to adhere to this convention whenever you add 12-volt wiring to your rig and always make sure you use a wire of a least sufficient size for the expected load and protect it with a fuse or circuit breaker of the proper rating.   Using a heavier wire (lower #) will never hurt, but using a lighter wire (higher gauge) risks overheating and possibly a fire.  Avoid working with live circuits.  Connecting and disconnecting live wires can create sparks, which could blow a fuse, cause a fire, or burn your hands.  If there are volatile fumes present (propane or gasoline vapor) sparks could cause an explosion.

120-volt systems are capable of delivering a nasty, potentially lethal, shock.   If you aren't familiar or comfortable with working on residential wiring, have the work done by a qualified electrician or RV technician.  Always turn off the circuit breaker or unplug the power to the RV and shut down the generator when working on 120-volt systems.   Professional electricians sometimes change outlets or switches without turning the power off, but the practice is not recommended, even for them.  If you're going to be working with wires, switches, outlets, or other 120-volt connections, turn off the breakers and/or unplug the shore power cord and turn off the generator and any inverters before you do anything and don't turn them back on until you have completed your repairs.  Normally the black wire in 120-volt applications is the hot wire, the white wire is the neutral, and the green or un-insulated copper wire is the ground.  It is important to conform to these standards when working with 120-volt wiring.   Electricity doesn't know or care what color wiring you're using, but it will matter to the next person who works on it -- which might be you!  It is critical that all 120-volt wiring is of sufficient size to handle the load on each circuit.  15 amp circuits need minimum 14 gauge wire; 20 amp circuits need 12 gauge wire; 30 amp circuits need 10 gauge wire.  There shouldn't ever be a problem using a heavier wire than necessary, but using a lighter gauge could prove disastrous.  Running higher amperage than the wire is rated for can result in heat, melting insulation and causing a fire.  Most RVs with 30 amp shore power will have mostly 15 amp breakers for the outlets plus a heavier breaker (and heavier wiring) to the roof AC.  At least one of my motorhomes used 12 gauge wiring on the 15 amp circuits (which is overkill) but you may find yours uses 14 gauge wire.

Most 120-volt wiring these days uses copper wire.  You might encounter aluminum wire in some older units.  Mixing different types of metals in the same circuit is not a good idea.   Aluminum and copper are both fairly good electrical conductors, but they have slightly different electrical properties and respond differently to various loads.   Connections between copper and aluminum can promote a electro-chemical reaction that accelerates corrosion.   If you MUST join copper and aluminum wires, treat the joint a special grease made for the purpose.  Do NOT use dielectric grease, which has insulating properties and should only be used on non-conducting portions of connectors.

RVs have a limited number of outlets.  Each circuit is protected by a circuit breaker similar to the ones in your home.  If you overload a circuit, the breaker will trip.  Make sure you know where the breaker panel is so you can reset breakers as needed.  Since RVs have limited power available, either from the shore cable or a generator, adding outlets or circuits may or may not be possible without exceeding the available amperage.  Be sure to check the total amperage so you don't exceed the input power available.  My big diesel pusher actually had some empty slots in the breaker panel where I was able to add a dedicated 20 amp circuit for an outside outlet to power the enclosed motorcycle trailer I towed behind it.  The 6000 watt generator also had some excess capacity.  Smaller rigs I've had have not had any empty slots and an analysis of the amperage indicated adding more circuits would exceed the shore power rating.  In that case you have to find a way to work with existing outlets.  If you have to splice into any existing wires, be sure to enclose the splice in an approved junction box.  DO NOT just twist wires together and wrap them with electrical tape like you do with 12-volt wiring.  You might install extra outlets on existing circuits for convenience, but take care to monitor the total load so you don't exceed the breaker rating.  Adding outlets may add convenience but it won;t add capacity!

The vehicle wiring on a motorhome or trailer should follow conventional wiring colors used on cars and trucks.  Normally, the positive battery cable or terminal should be red and the negative side black.  But it isn't always so be sure to check the polarity at the battery.   If your battery cables are not properly color coded, wrap each one with the appropriate color electrical tape (red for positive(+), black for ground(-)) for future reference.   Interior 12 volt lighting then follows the same color scheme:  red for hot, black for ground.  Trailer connector wiring usually uses yellow for the left turn signal, green for the right turn signal, brown for the tail lights, and white for ground.   On a 6 prong or bigger trailer connector, blue is usually used for the electric brakes and red for a battery-charging circuit.  You may encounter additions or repairs someone has done previously using different colors so always test the wiring using a test light or voltmeter before making any modifications.  Compare the connections to the plug to the appropriate wiring diagrams for each style of trailer connector.  You sometimes find that a vehicle and trailer have both been mis-wired and are compatible with each other but not with other units with standard wiring.  If you find any of your vehicles is mis-wired, it is always a good idea to bring it into compliance with accepted standards so your vehicle is compatible with other trailers and your trailer is compatible with other vehicles.

Trailer connector adapters are available to convert almost any trailer plug to fit almost any receptacle on the vehicle.  Small, light weight trailers without electric brakes often use a simple flat 4- connector plug or a round 4-connector plug.  Trailers with electric brake will have a round 6 or 7 connector plug to accommodate the brake wiring.  These plugs also have an extra terminal than can be wired to the tow vehicle battery/charging system so the two vehicle charges the trailer batteries in route.  Any time you have a charging circuit connected to the trailer the vehicle should use a battery isolator to keep the trailer from drawing down the vehicle battery in camp.  Battery isolators may be either electronic or solenoid types.  Electronic units use diodes to limit flow of current in one direction; solenoids use magnetically controlled switches to connect and disconnect isolated batteries depending on whether there is charging voltage available.

Loose connections are one of the most common electrical problems in an RV.  Connections to appliances and the fuse panel may use screw connectors or spade terminals.  If they use screw connectors, make sure the screws are tight, but take care not to strip them by over tightening.   Spade terminals may get loose over time, especially if they are removed and reinstalled a number of times. Sometimes you can crimp the female terminal gently with pliers to restore a tight fit.   If that doesn't work, you may have to replace the terminal.  It is a pretty simple task.  Sometimes you can pull them off the wire. If they are too tight you may have to cut the wire and strip about 1/4" of insulation to install a new terminal.  New terminals are best installed using special crimping tools.  You might try to crimp them with ordinary pliers in an emergency but that usually flattens out the connection and doesn't grip properly.  Heavy duty crimping pliers have a nub that presses into the terminal to ensure a good connection by tightly pinching the wire inside the sleeve of the terminal. They also have a channel that holds the sleeve of the terminal so it doesn't just flatten out when crimped.  When adding or replacing fixtures you may need to extend the wiring.  To ensure a good connection either use proper connections, such as butt connectors or wire nuts or twist the wires together and solder them, then wrap the joint with electrical tape or use heat-shrink insulation.  For some light duty applications, like speaker wires and some low amperage 12-volt connections you might get away with just twisting the wires together and wrapping the joint with electrical tape but using a connector or soldering the joint is always a better permanent solution.  Twisted joints that are not soldered may come loose if there is any tension on the wires and sometimes can come loose from vibration alone while traveling.   A loose speaker wire is annoying.  A loose hot wire can blow a fuse or even cause  a fire.

Ground connections are just as important as the hot wires.  Without a good ground, the circuit is not complete.  Bad grounds are a very common problem on RVs, in both the coach and chassis wiring.  If your clearance lights, park lights, turn signals or brake lights are dim, intermittent, or otherwise don't work properly, the problem is often a bad ground.  When diagnosing electrical problems always check the ground connections as well as the hot wires.  Ground connections seem to be particularly susceptible to corrosion.  Sometimes merely tightening a loose screw will solve the problem but often you may have to remove it and clean the surface and the connector and reinstall it to get a good ground. Protecting connections with some kind of corrosion block or battery terminal protectorant can reduce corrosion.  I've seen a bad ground cause the turn signals to blink all four park lights and all the clearance lights.  Lacking a good ground at one fixture, the circuit was completed through the ground on other fixtures, after passing through and activating the bulbs in those fixtures.  If you experience strange or unexplained electrical problems, check the ground connections.  When you have problems with lights, be sure to check the bulbs.  Sometimes a burned filament will short out inside a bulb and cause strange symptoms.   Corrosion on bulb bases and sockets, especially in exterior lights, is fairly common problem and can usually be solved by cleaning the socket and the bulb or cleaning the socket and replacing the bulb.  Sometimes corrosion causes the spring-loaded base in he socket to stick.  You can sometimes free it up by pressing on the base with a non-conducting tool such as a wooden dowel or a plastic shaft.  If that doesn't work, you may have to replace the socket.   Bad grounds can usually be fixed by removing the connection and cleaning both the terminal and the metal surface to which it is attached with a wire brush or emery cloth.  Both surfaces should be shiny before you put it back together.  Spraying the restored connection with battery terminal protector will help prevent (but not completely eliminate) a re-occurrence.  Even starting problems can often be traced to a bad grounding strap between the engine and the frame.  Many RVs have a fairly small grounding strap.  Enterprising owners have cured grounding problems by replacing the original grounding straps with much large battery grounding straps.

Motor vehicles, like motorhomes and tow vehicles usually have a big ground strap between the engine and the frame.  It is usually an un-insulated braided metal strap.  The connections often get corroded or may come loose over time, causing many electrical problems in the vehicle.  For example, a bad ground often causes symptoms similar to a faulty starter.  Simply removing the mounting bolts and cleaning the terminals and the mating surfaces with a wire brush until they are both shiny, then reinstalling the bolt tightly will usually solve these problems.  The terminal on the engine side may be greasy and would then benefit from cleaning with solvent as well.  The frame end is usually only corroded but if it is greasy, it should also be cleaned with solvent.  If the strap has deteriorated, it may have to be replaced.  The ground strap is often on the left (driver's side) of the engine.  Some folks add a second strap on the passenger side for extra reliability; it shouldn't be necessary, but it won't hurt anything.  Sometimes the factory grounding straps are pretty light weight, only about 3/8" wide and pretty thin.  I prefer to use one the size used as a ground strap on automotive batteries, about 1" wide and 1/8" thick.  They are less likely to be weakened by rust, corrosion, or vibration.

Problems with grounding of 12-volt circuits on RVs are very common.   If a light or appliance doesn't work or has intermittent problems, it is likely a problem with the ground connection.  Many fixtures on an RV are mounted on wood paneling (interior) or fiberglass (exterior) and neither conducts electricity like the metal boy on most cars and trucks does.   Grounding for exterior lights is often done through a ground wire connected to the fixture and the other end connected somewhere to the vehicle metal frame.  The connection to either the fixture or the frame may get loose or corroded over time and will cease to function.  Repair normally consists of unfastening the connection and cleaning away any rust, dirt, or corrosion, then reconnecting the terminal.  Sometimes you will  need to replace a bad screw to get a good connection and you should always polish the terminal and any surface (such as the frame) that it comes in contact with.  You might want to spray some battery protectant on the new connection to help reduce future problems with corrosion.  Often the terminals are made of aluminum or brass and the frame is steel so it creates a bi-metal reaction, also known as a galvanic corrosion when exposed to an electrolyte and an electric current.  Coating the connection can help protect it from electrolytes.

Occasionally broken bulbs can cause strange problems with lighting.   When a bulb burns out, the filament breaks so no electricity can flow through the bulb.  Sometimes the broken filament may come in contact with the base of the bulb, creating an unexpected ground within the bulb.  I've seen situations where such a broken turn signal bulb caused the taillights and all the clearance lights to blink when the turn signal was activated.   Such symptoms are usually short-lived because the extra load quickly burns out the broken filament again.

What often appears to be a bad bulb, may turn out to be a corroded base rather than a burned out filament.   Or it may just be a loose bulb.  A loose bulb might be fixed by carefully twisting it back into place.  If the socket appears to be too large you might be able to gently squeeze it tighter with a pair of pliers.   Take care not to deform the socket.  If that doesn't work, it is best to replace the socket.  If the base of the bulb is corroded, it won't have make good ground contact with the socket or a good hot connection with the "button" at the bottom of the bulb.  Try cleaning the bulb and the parts of the socket.  Be careful not to short between the sleeve of the socket and the "hot" button in the middle.  For added safety, turn off the switch to the fixture or disconnect the battery before working on the damaged socket.  Sometimes simply replacing a corroded bulb will solve the problem, but if the socket itself is corroded, it should be cleaned or replaced for best and longest lasting results.

Ultimately you are going to find having certain wiring tools will make your job easier and give you better results.  It is possible to strip insulation from wires using a knife, but a wire stripper will make it a lot faster, safer, and easier and will generally allow you to make better connections.  Wire crimpers are needed for installing crimp terminals.  Trying to clamp them down with pliers just doesn't work.  Pliers won't provide the indentation that crimpers do.  They just squeeze two sides of the terminal together and the wire will usually just slip out when there is even a little tension on it.  Manual wire strippers are sometimes standalone units and sometimes part of a stripper/crimper design.  With manual strippers you position the jaws where you want to start stripping and pull the wire so the tool removes the insulation from the end.   You can also get automatic wire strippers that grip the wire, cut the insulation and pull if off all in one move. There are also at least two styles of crimpers.  Some have different notches along the handles of a stripper/crimper tool with each notch designed for a specific size of wire/terminal.  Another, heavier duty style looks more like pair of pliers,  It has a notch on one of the jaws to hold the terminal and a nub on the other side to crimp it deeply.  The plier's style crimpers usually let you make a stronger connection and can be used on just about any size of  wire/terminal.  Electrician's screwdrivers are really handy when working on 120 volt outlets and switches.  There are two different special features for electrician's screwdrivers.  Some have insulated shafts to prevent accidental shorting.  Some have bent shafts that gives them a kind of crank-like shape that speeds installation of the screws that secure outlets and switches.  Both styles are readily available and not terribly expensive.

Wire up!

Hauling Your Camping Gear

Many times, hauling your camping gear simply means loading it into the trunk of your car, the back of your SUV or pickup, or on the roof rack and hitting the road.  But what do you do when your stuff no longer fits in the trunk or other available space?  Whether it is because your family is growing, you've invited more people to join you, or because you've just accumulated more or larger camping gear, the time will come when you run out of room.  In the old days when cars had running boards, extra cargo could be tied down on them. But since running boards disappeared back in the 1930s options for carrying excess cargo have been limited.  If you have a trailer hitch, you may be able to get a rack or an enclosed "trunk" that fits in the hitch like a wheel-less trailer.  Another low-cost and low-impact option is to purchase a car-top carrier.   This may take the form of a bag that attaches to an existing roof rack on an SUV or a unit that mounts on the drip rails of a standard sedan. In either case you'll likely have a zippered vinyl container that is suitable for carrying tents and sleeping bags and some other gear.   Both to reduce the stress on your back getting gear up and down and to minimize the load on the roof, try to limit the weight of items you put up there.   Too much weight can affect handling and piling things high will create drag that affects fuel economy, even if it isn't heavy enough to cave in the roof.   I prefer to load soft, fairly light items, like sleeping bags and put the hard, heavy stuff (like camp stoves) in a lower, more secure cargo area.   Some modern cars don't have drip rails so there isn't a good place to attach a roof carrier without drilling holes in the roof, which, of course, isn't a good idea. Some may sit on suction cups, secured with straps into the top of the door openings. Keep in mind any strap that interferes with the weather stripping will cause wind noise and will very likely leak when it rains.  Many times the weather stripping will be permanently damaged so the door whistles and leaks even after the strap has been removed.   Try to make sure all the straps lie flat to minimize the impact on weather stripping.   If you plan to use a roof top carrier often it might be worth adding a roof rack if you don't already have one.  You usually don't see them on sedans, but there is no reason they couldn't be added.  If you're a pretty ambitious do-it-yourselfer you might pick up a roof rack from an old station wagon at your local junk yard and install it yourself.  It will require removing the headliner and that can be a pain and you might want to look for ways to reinforce the roof where you mount the rack to prevent damage.  Luggage racks can sometimes be added to the deck lid but that makes opening the trunk difficult when they are loaded.  If a roof top carrier doesn't appeal to you or won't work on your vehicle, you might consider getting a small trailer.  Most cars, even sub-compacts, can have a trailer hitch added.  Just be sure you don't exceed the Combined Vehicle Weight Rating CVWR) loading your trailer.  An overloaded trailer or exceeding the CVWR is recipe for disaster!

Utility trailers are a convenient option for transporting camping gear.  If you don't already have a trailer hitch on your vehicle, you'll have to add one, together with appropriate connections for stop, turn, and tail lights.  In some states, light utility trailers don't even require license or registration.  Small trailers like this can be towed by just about any motor vehicle, including compact cars and even motorcycles!  Light utility trailers usually don't have electric brake systems.  If you choose a larger trailer with electric brakes, you'll need a brake controller on your vehicle.  Some small trailers come equipped with a "surge brake".   This is self-contained.  The hitch on the trailer is designed to flex and activate a hydraulic braking system on the trailer when the tow vehicle slows down.  Light weight trailers often don't have any brakes.  While simple flat-bed trailers like those used to haul riding lawnmowers will do the job, you'll probably be happier with a box style trailer with enclosed sides.  It will look kind of like a pick up bed.  You can cover it with a tarp to keep the sun and rain off your gear and keep things from blowing out.  Fully enclosed box trailers provide extra protection for your gear against weather and extra security, but they are usually a little more expensive and a little heavier to tow.  Fully enclosed trailers, or a well-tarped utility trailer, can provide extra protection against unusually bad weather in camp.  For that reason I would probably buy a trailer that is at least long enough to lay down in, unless I really needed something very small and very light to tow behind a small car or a motorcycle.  With a little creativity you can make a pipe frame to support a tarp over your utility trailer to create a protected patio space in camp.  An enclosed utility trailer just might become your first step toward an RV and can provide emergency shelter if the weather turns bad.  I like to have an enclosed trailer when I have work on my dirt bikes in bad weather.  It also provides a secure place for tools, spare parts, and riding gear.  A couple of people could sleep on the floor out of of the weather in an emergency.  I have seen old tent trailers stripped down to make light weight utility trailers that are ideal from hauling tent camping equipment.  I obtained on old Apache tent trailer that includes a clam-shell lid that does a surprisingly good job of protecting the contents from the elements.  All the original amenities were long gone but it makes a great trailer for hauling our camping gear.

Trailers can provide other functions besides simply hauling your gear to the campsite.  I've seen small trailers with removable tops that are equipped with folding legs to serve as tables in camp.  If your trailer is approximately the size of any pick up bed you might put a truck tent in the trailer to get you up off the ground.  You might build a "chuck box" to fit in the back of your utility trailer (or your trunk or the back of your SUV or pickup) similar to the ones used in chuck wagons on cattle drives in the Old West, giving you a ready-made kitchen when you get to camp.  It should have cupboards and bins to hold pots and pants, dishes, utensils, and provisions.   Every door and drawer should have a positive latch so doesn't come open in transit.  With a little clever engineering you could add a sink with running water, adding further convenience to your camping experience.  A shepherd's crook style lantern holder might be fitted to keep your camp lighting stable and up out of the way.  If you use a propane lantern, you could power it from a large propane tank on or in the trailer so you don't have to bother with changing those little 1 pound cylinders every few hours.  A trailer might serve as part of the support system for your tent, adding strength and stability over standard and sometimes flimsy tent poles.  An enclosed trailer could be fitted with an RV awning or just a tarp and appropriate supports for convenient shade and protection from light rain.  I've seen simple PVC pipe frames used on flat-bed utility trailers to turn the trailer into a portable pavilion, providing much needed shade during desert camping.

You can use a trailer as a box to put your stuff in or customize it to create specialized compartments to secure items so you can find them easily and they don't get damaged in transit.  Just adding hooks or eyes where you can attach bungee cords to strap things down can make a lot of difference in organization and in preventing stuff from shifting during your travels.  A customized trailer might even include a chuck box (like they used in old-time chuck wagons) as the foundation for your camp kitchen.  Here is one source for building your own:  Chuck Box Plans  A chuck box can also be useful in a pickup bed, SUV, station wagon, or even the trunk of your car -- if you design it properly to fit the available space.

We picked up a small trailer to haul tent camping gear.   It had begun life as an Apache tent camping trailer and made an exceptionally good trailer for hauling camping gear.  All the internal features had been removed making it a simple utility trailer.  The original aluminum "clamshell" lid was still fully functional and kept out all but a few drops of rain when we were caught in an unexpected deluge, even with some damaged seals.  A small, lightweight trailer is a handy way to organize and even store your camping equipment if you have a place to park it.  You can keep it stocked with non-perishable items to make spontaneous outings more convenient.  In some states lightweight trailers like our Apache don't even have to be licensed.  I have found it hard to resist the temptation to restore more of the Apache's original camping features.  I have been experimenting with ways to make use of the trailer in camp, including rigging PVC hoops to support tarp to create protected living space inside but haven't yet gotten close to its full potential or even its original purpose.  Still we have found it VERY useful for tent camping.  Our converted Apache has a clam shell lid that does a surprisingly good job of protecting the contents.  We encountered an unexpected deluge during the first outing we took ours on and escaped with only a few drops inside.  The rain was so heavy there was 1 1/2" of water on the freeway even though we were on a fairly steep hill!   That same rain managed to fill the spare tire well in our supposedly well-sealed SUV!

It is likely you'll begin to find new uses for your trailer each time you take it out.   A trailer can help support a canopy or awning to get you some shade and you might even use the bed of the trailer as a sitting or play area to keep you and the kids up out of the dirt.  But be warned: as you start finding more innovative ways to use your trailer, you'll probably start gravitating toward upgrading to a trailer with even more amenities, like a quality tent trailer or pop-up trailer or perhaps even a camping trailer or a toy hauler.

Sometimes, if you have a hitch receiver on your vehicle, you can use a cargo rack or cargo box that attaches to the hitch receiver.   This may be a viable solution of you only need a small amount of additional carrying capacity and don't want to tow a trailer.  Dragging around a trailer often impacts maneuverability and, in some states like California, subjects you to lower speed limits.  Which is one of my pet peeves.  Traffic shear, the difference between speeds in adjacent lanes of traffic, is well known as a dangerous condition that contributes to accidents.  I find it appalling and irresponsible that governments choose to mandate traffic shear by setting different speeds for different vehicles on the same highway.  At one time a lower speed for over the road trucks and trailers might have made sense, but with modern suspension and braking systems, those restrictions are outdated.  While there was time when the brakes on trucks weren't adequate, a typical modern 18-wheeler has a maximum gross weight of around 80,000 lbs and is equipped with brakes designed to handle 100,000 lbs or more.

Before you figure out how you're going to haul your gear, you need to figure out what you need and how you're going to organize it.  What you have and how you put it all together will help you determine how much room you need to carry it.  Or, conversely, how much room you have may dictate how much stuff you can bring along.   What you need will be determined by where you're going, for how long, and how many people will be in your group.   You will probably need tents and sleeping bags for everyone plus kitchen supplies (pots, pans, dishes, utensils, and cleaning supplies). Unless you can rely on campfire cooking you'll need a camp stove.  Everything should be neatly packaged it either its own stuff sacks (like tents and sleeping bags) or in plastic bins (kitchen stuff, toiletries, clothing, extra bedding).  You often have a kind of "chicken and the egg" problem in choosing bins or tubs for storage.  The size of the bin must be at least big enough to accommodate the largest item you need to put in it, but the size of your bins might also be limited by where you can put it in/on your vehicle.  So, the space you need depends on the amount of stuff you bring and the size of the bins, but how much stuff you bring and the size of your bins may be limited by the space you have.  When space is of concern, and it usually is, take advantage of tools and equipment with multiple functions to reduce how much stuff you have to bring.  Sometimes you need to take advantage of every bit of available space.   You can do things like put small items like spice containers in pots and pans and pad them with dish towels, dish rags, and pot holders.  Mess kits designed for camping usually have pots and pans that nest inside each other, greatly reducing the amount of space needed.  Many times you'll find it more convenient to use moderate sized bags or bins that are easier to load and fit in smaller spaces instead of trying to pile everything into one container.

One word of caution:  don't try to haul too much!  As you create a convenient way to haul your camping gear, there may be a tendency to pack way too much stuff.  Having a place to put it lends itself to the "if you think you might someday need it, bring it along" criteria for choosing what goes in.  While that sometimes works to your advantage, until "someday" comes, you'll be carrying extra weight that will reduce fuel economy and most likely make accessing what you regularly use more tedious and difficult.  The best approach to packing is to carefully select what you use regularly and organize things efficiently so you can get to everything you need when you need it.  Then, if you have room left over without interfering with access to regularly used items, you might carefully and thoughtfully add a few items that might add convenience or functionality to your camping.

As in most camping situations, efficiency and convenience are key bywords.   Careful selection and organization of equipment and supplies together with a convenient way to transport them will ensure a pleasant and enjoyable outing.  You'll want a system that make is easy to load, locate, store, use, and load your equipment and supplies.

Haul away!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Basic RV Camping

Motorhome, travel trailer, camper, or simple tent trailer.  It doesn't matter what kind of rig you have, the most basic steps will be the same.

Trip preparation is one of the keys to a successful trip.  Make sure you have prepared your rig properly.  Cool the refrigerator or ice box a day or so ahead of time.  Make sure your fresh water supply is clean and full.  Make sure your holding tanks or porta-potti is empty.  Load your provisions, clothing, and things you need for your recreational activities.   Fill up your propane and motor fuel.  If you're planning to have a campfire, load your firewood.  One of the best ways to make sure you don't forget something is to use pre-trip checklist.  See my previous post Pre-trip Procedures for more details.  Remember, failing to plan equals planning to fail!

When you arrive in camp, locate your camp site and park your rig within the designated area if you're in a developed campground or pick your spot when boondocking.  Try to get it as level as you can to minimize the task of leveling and stabilizing your unit.  Take care to say off the landscaping. For a motorhome, about all that's left once you've parked is to level and stabilize your rig and connect hook ups (if any).  For a travel trailer, you may need to disconnect it from the tow vehicle to level and stabilize it.  For a tent trailer, you'll want to disconnect it, level and stabilize it, then expand it so you have full access to all the extended living areas.  The beds in most tent trailers usually pop out from the main living space.  Take advantage of any available hookups when using any RV but don't take over public facilities for your private use.  Sometimes there may be a public water faucet close to your space, but if it is not part of the facilities that belong specifically to the space you're paying for, you should make no permanent connections.  You can probably use it to fill water jugs and, during low usage, fill your RV fresh water tank, but don't leave it connected to your RV.   Turn on your hot water heater.  If you didn't have your refrigerator on while traveling, turn it on now.  On cold days, start your furnace.  On hot days, you might want to fire up the generator and turn on the A/C.

Extend your awnings, if you have them, and roll out your patio mat or welcome mat.   You should always use some kind of mat in front of your RV steps to reduce tracking dirt, sand, and mud into your rig.  One approximately the size of your awning gives you a nice patio area, but a small welcome mat may be sufficient to help keep your rig clean.  A burlap bag makes a good welcome mat and they are cheap and can be tossed into the washing machine or hosed off when they need to be cleaned.

Organize your camp site.  Often when we go camping we take recreational equipment with us and you need to unload it and prepare it so its ready to use when you are ready to begin your activities.  If you are riding OHVs, unload them and prepare them for riding (check oil, fuel and tires, organize your riding gear, etc).  If you have brought along sports equipment or games, get them and out set up any necessary goals etc.  Find a relatively safe place to store equipment when not in use.  Underneath your RV or other vehicle is often a good place as it keeps your gear out of the sun and rain and, to some extent, out of sight so it doesn't disappear when you are not looking.  I am a big fan of security by obscurity!

Prepare your campfire.   Even if you won't need it for a few hours, it is a good idea to get things ready so when the sun goes down and the chill comes out, all you have to do is light it.  Its a lot easier to set it up before it gets dark and if the temperature drops it will be nice to be able to just drop a match into the tinder and have your fire up and going.  Be sure to put it out before you go to bed.  Also fold up your chairs and put them away.  An errant breeze might blow them into the fire pit.  I've seen many chairs destroyed that way.  The residual heat even after the fire has been (supposedly) put out is enough to destroy camp chairs rather quickly. Obviously the fires had NOT been properly put out.  You should always soak the fire and stir the ashes to make sure they are cool all the way the underlying dirt before leaving them unattended.

Set your thermostat to a comfortable temperature, so you will be able to snuggle into your comfy bed for a good night's rest after dinner.

From here you should be ready to enjoy your planned activities.

Basic Tent Camping

You don't need a lot to begin basic camping in a tent.  In fact, you don't even need a real tent!   You can make do with a tarp or an inexpensive tube tent.  Or you can just sleep in your car or even out under the stars. You can forgo the tent if you opt for a "cowboy bedroll".  You will need some bedding.  A sleeping bag is best, but some warm blankets and a light tarp may be sufficient in moderate weather.  You'll need a way to cook your meals.  You might get by with just a frying pan and a pot that you can use over a campfire.  A camp stove gives you more control and more options. During fire restrictions in many areas you won't be allowed to have an open fire.  You'll need some matches or a lighter to start your fire or light your stove.  You'll also find it more convenient after dark if you have a lantern or at least a flashlight so you can see what you're doing.

Choose a destination.  For your first night or two you might want to set up your tent in your own backyard until you are familiar with setting it up and comfortable sleeping in it.   Then venture a little further from home.   Get a spot in a local campground where you'll have access to water and toilets and probably have a picnic table and an approved fire pit where you can build a campfire.  Eventually you may be comfortable going out to more remote and primitive campsites where you can get the full primitive camping experience.

See my previous post Pre-trip Procedures for details on getting ready.  Preparation is the key to a fun and successful outing.  As the old saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail.

You will most likely need an ice chest to keep perishable foods cold.   To start with you can get by with an inexpensive Styrofoam chest but if you intend to go camping often you'll want a sturdier plastic or metal ice chest.  Some of the better ice chests are rated to keep ice frozen for 5 days in 90° F temperatures.  A simple foam chest won't match that performance but should be adequate for at least an over nighter and maybe even for a weekend.  If you only bring MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) or dehydrated backpacking food or canned foods you won't really need an ice chest, but you WILL need it if you bring persishable items like meats and dairy items and you might want it to keep some drinks cool in hot weather.  If you're camping in bear country, a foam cooler offers NO protection from hungry bears.  Even metal coolers are vulnerable.  It is best to keep your cooler in your vehicle whenever possible.  If you're planning to have a campfire, load your firewood or plan to buy some at the camp store.  There are very few places where campers can collect firewood on site these days. Don't forget routine cleaning supplies, like soap, tooth paste, and dish soap.  If you take an prescription medications, make sure you bring an ample supply with you.  Some OTC pain relievers may also come in handy since you're likely to be involved in unfamiliar physical activities that may cause unusual aches and pains.  Even just sleeping on the ground can introduce pains you've never met before.  The firmest mattress is a lot softer and forgiving than even the most comfortable sleeping pads.

Once you've arrived at your destination, survey your campsite and select a location to set up your tent.  It should be level and relatively free of debris.  Determine the direction of prevailing winds if you can then try to set it up so it is upwind of your fire pit -- and any toilets or latrines.  Also try to face  the door out of prevailing winds.  Erect your tent according to manufacturer's instructions. And listen, guys. Reading the instructions doesn't make you any less macho, it just shows that you are smart -- and you will usually save a lot of time, frustration, and embarrassment.   If you're worried someone seeing you actually reading instructions might diminish your macho image, read them before hand and commit them to memory.   But, believe me, being caught reading instructions will be a lot less embarrassing than the fiasco you may encounter trying to set up camp in ignorance!  It is always a good idea to put a ground cloth down to set your tent on.  Once your tent is set up, roll out your sleeping pads and sleeping bags.  Not only will they then be ready when you're ready to hit the sack, they will have a chance to overcome having been tightly rolled.  Mats will lie flatter and sleeping bags will regain some of the "loft" squeezed out them while rolled, which is critical to staying warm and comfortable.

After setting up your tent, organize your camp kitchen.   Take advantage of available picnic tables if there are any.   Place your kitchen fairly close to your campfire, especially if you're going to be cooking on your campfire.   Have your water supply handy.  Stack your firewood a safe but convenient distance from your fire pit.  Prepare your campfire before it gets dark so all you have to do when its campfire time is to light your fire.

Pre-plan some campfire activities.   Some typical things people enjoy are singing and story telling.  Simple games like Charades are also fun.  Avoid complicated games that require a lot of setup or intricate equipment.  Playing cards or board games works best if the participants are seated around a table, not around a campfire.  And make sure you have adequate lighting for table games.  Avoid card games or other activities involving small, light weight objects if there is any breeze to contend with, unless you want to spend most of your time chasing the wind-blown items.

Most important of all: Enjoy your outing!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Camping is for ALL Ages

Are you ever too young or too old for camping?  The simple answer is "NO".  Of course there could be age-related health considerations that may alter your camping plans, but age alone should not be a deterrent.  Our kids started camping with us as newborns and now that my wife and I are both semi-retired we're still active campers, in our RV, truck camper, and in tents.   My grandmother traveled extensively in an RV with my Mom and Dad for many years when she was in her 70s and 80s.  I have an associate in the Utah Trail Machine Association who is in his late 70s and is still organizing and leading 2 week-long off-road rides a year in Mexico.   My grandmother enjoyed riding off road on the back of my enduro bike when she was 75.   I plan to still be riding when I reach 75 in the not-too-distant future.   After that I may shoot for a good trail ride for my 100th birthday!   I recently logged more than 50 miles on the trail on my 70th birthday.  I believe firmly in the saying "You don't stop riding because you get old. You get old because you stop riding."  That would apply to all forms of camping too.  My grandfather always said 'A man will rust out quicker than he'll wear out" and I firmly believe that is true.  I, for one, would rather wear out than rust out.  I've seen it happen over and over.  Those who retire from life when they retire from their full time jobs end up pushing up daisies much quicker than those who remain active.  While it may be argued that some people are able to remain active because they are good health, it can also be argued that staying active helps keep them in good health.

The age of people in your group may require you to make some special accommodations, but age doesn't rule out camping or RVing.  If you have young babies or elderly you may have to adjust your schedule sometimes to meet their peculiar needs.  You might need to adjust the temperature in your RV.  You may need to bring along special foods.  However, most of the changes you have to make will be no different than the adjustments you normally make at home.  As I recall (it has been some time now, all our kids are adults with families of their own), I think my wife sometimes retired early when we had babies on board.  I also recall her riding her dirt bike (carefully) around camp with a baby on her chest in "gerry carrier" sling and followed by several youngsters (ours and offspring of others in camp) on 50cc motorcycles.  I'm sure there are those who would be aghast at carrying a baby on a dirt bike, but she was and is a very capable and experienced rider and took no unusual risks.  The little ones were at least as safe as they would have been had she been wearing them in a similar manner grocery shopping, perhaps safer given how reckless some shoppers are with their shopping carts!  The closeness and bonding of having all of our children involved in all of our activities right from their beginnings is priceless and has helped create connections between siblings that endure to this day.  We have a blended family.  I had two sons from a previous marriage when my wife and were married.  Our youngest son eagerly volunteered to make a 2800 mile round trip from California to Texas when his older half-brother needed help.  None of our 6 kids have ever made any distinction between full and half siblings.  Our camping and dirt bike activities were a big part of building cohesive and enduring family relationships.  I recently also learned that dirt biking was a key factor in some of our kids avoiding recreational drugs.  The high from riding was so much better than any chemically induced state of mind.

I recently read that famous Supercross champion James "Bubba" Stewart's first dirt bike experience took place on his dad's lap when he was less than 48 hours old!  No wonder he went on to be a champion!

Let everyone participate in routine camp chores at whatever level they can.  Obviously babies are excluded from manual labor, but toddlers can share in a multitude of camp chores.   While babies may not be able to perform independent tasks having them together with the family during routine chores helps build relationships and keeps them from being or feeling excluded.  And they begin learning by observation.  My elderly grandmother was always included in preparing meals, something she had done all her life, was very good at, and loved to do.   Excluding her would have been cruel and unusual punishment as well as a big loss for the rest of us.   Everyone needs to feel useful. Don't just hand out trivial "make work" tasks.  Give each person something meaningful to do that is tailored to their capabilities.  There are always lots of things that need to be done while camping.  Sharing chores can make life easier for everyone and will help each individual feel productive and part of what is going on.  If a toddler only brings one small stick of wood to the campfire or picks up one piece of trash, it is actually is helpful and they will feel like they've done something useful.  Older campers with physical limitations are wonderful sources of campfire stories and make excellent consultants for tasks around camp.  My Grandmother's wisdom and humor were always a significant and enjoyable part of any outing.  Just because physical limitations may prevent them from actually performing tasks doesn't mean they can't be an extremely valuable source of information and direction.

Camping is ageless!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Bandannas are very useful for a variety of outdoor activities.  They are inexpensive, light weight, and versatile.  Bandanas can be useful for camping, hiking, boating fishing, hunting, horseback riding and riding OHVs, bicycles, and jet skis.  You can get them in almost any color to match or complement your wardrobe or riding gear.  There are special printed versions, shown a few paragraphs below, with first aid and survival instructions on them.  Here is a web page dedicated to Uses for Bandanas.   Be sure to scroll down far enough to see the list of more than 50 uses for bandanas.  Most common uses include tying them around your neck to protect your neck from sunburn and, when saturated with water, to aid in cooling your body and tying them around your head as a "do rag" to control your hair and keep sweat from dripping into your eyes.  They are also really handy for bandages and slings.

                                                     The Better Bandana with embedded nanofiber filter by INEX Gear | Embedded Nanofiber Filter | Antimicrobial Treatment| Washable + Reusable Black

A typical bandana is about 18" square.  In use it is usually folded diagonally to make a triangle. The triangle can be tied around your head as a head scarf or around your face bandit style to protect your nose and mouth from cold, snow, or dust.  You can tie the ends of the triangle together behind a victim's neck to make a sling.  You can wrap the bandana around body parts to hold a dressing in place over a wound.   You can roll the bandanna into a loose roll about 1 1/2" in diameter, wet it, and tie it around your neck in hot weather to protect your neck from sunburn and to cool you.  One of the reasons this works is it helps cool the blood as it passes close to the skin in the neck.  Most traditional bandanas have a kind of paisley pattern against the main background color but you can also find them in various camouflage colors and solid colors or with logos and other designs.  Another use for a rolled bandana is as a bandage to hold a dressing in place.  Remember, a dressing is the pad that covers a wound, a bandage is what holds it in place.  Band-aids are dressing and bandage all in one.

                                          American Made Terracotta Western Paisley Bandana - Single Piece 22x22               Paisley Cotton Bandana, Blue

Bandannas are not expensive.   They are typically around $1.00 each.  I've sometimes found them on sale 2 for $1.00.  This is one of the items I like to stock up on when I get the chance.  Even if you have enough for your own use, having some extras to loan to friends is kind of nice.  I like to have a choice of colors so I can coordinate my bandana with my riding gear or whatever casual clothes I happen to be wearing.  In proper use they can get dirty quite quickly, so having several to use during any given outing is a good idea.   They are light weight and don't take up a lot of room so they have little impact on space in your camping bins or your RV.

Specialized bandanas, such a survival bandanas, first aid bananas, and knots bandanas are printed with pertinent information and will be more expensive than their generic counterparts.  They can act as a kind of manual to help you remember important skills and take up very little room in your pocket or pack.  They can, of course, be used for slings and bandages or signaling just as any other bandana.

                OEM Survival BandanaFirst Aid Bandana : The Hiker BoxKnots Bandana

Bandannas were adopted as gang colors by some urban gangs.   They wore them around their heads, tied around am arm or leg, or just hanging out of a pocket.  Wearing the wrong color in a neighborhood controlled by a rival gang could invite serious consequences.  Colors are usually not an issue in camping situations, but you might not want to wear red or blue, the colors of the "Bloods" and "Crips" gangs into a major city!  Wearing an opposing gang's colors when in the territory of a rival gang can trigger a violent and sometimes deadly reaction.

Some other uses of bandannas in a survival situation include water purification.  Hold a clean bandanna over a steaming pot of water until it is saturated, then wring it out to get safe drinking water.  It is a good idea to carry a specific bandanna for this purpose, one a different color than the one you wear.  Brightly colored bandannas can be used as a signal device to help rescuers locate lost parties.

Use a wet bandanna tied around your neck during hot weather to help keep you cool and to protect your neck from sunburn.  If you get lost or stranded in hot weather you might tie it to trees or bushes to give you a tiny little bit of shade.  A clean bandanna can be used directly as a dressing on a wound or used as a bandage to secure a dressing or a splint.
Of course a bandanna can be used as a handkerchief to tame a runny nose or limit the spray from coughs an sneezes.   But you won't want to use it to dress a wound or filter your water after using it thusly without giving it a thorough washing first.  Another good reason to have -- and carry with you -- more than one.  Having several different colors makes it easy to keep track of which ones you are using for what purposes.

These days you can even use a bandanna as a face mask to meet government requirements for face coverings during the COVID-19 pandemic.  In the ''old days" bandits wore bandannas to hide their faces but during this COVID-19 situation they are acceptable, even required, for use by honest folks.

You might want to carry several bandannas of different colors.   They are inexpensive, light weight, take up little room, and are very versatile.  One source I read carries an orange one to use as an emergency signal and a blue one he uses only for filtering water.  Using this kind of logical color coding makes sense.  You might dedicate other colors for other uses so you don't end up filtering your water through one that has been used as a handkerchief or a sweat rag!

Tie one on!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Its Almost Winter Again!

My, how time flies!  So we must be having fun ("Time flies when you having fun").  Or as Kermit says "Time's fun when you're having flies."   Seems it was just the other day we were doing spring cleaning and getting ready for another camping season.  Now, it is mid September and as I look at the weather forecast, predicted overnight temperatures on the mountain where I am currently staying are rapidly approaching the freezing point.  We've even had a few snow flurries and the possibility of more snow in a day or so.  That means winterizing RVs or putting them in a heated garage to prevent freeze damage.   If you get a night or two of barely freezing temperatures with warmer days in between, full winterization may not be as critical as it is where you have sub-freezing temperatures (say 24° F or below) for days on end.  Then you MUST winterize your vehicle to prevent freeze damage.  Anything with water in it is subject to freeze damage.   That includes holding tanks, water lines, hoses, faucets, hot water heaters, water jugs, and even porta-potties.  And make sure you remove any provisions that might freeze, like cans or bottles of soda, or you'll have a real mess next spring.  I try to make sure my RVs are winterized long before I get two or more nights at 24° F or below, as those temperatures are sure to start causing damage.

There are other posts on this blog and many excellent articles on other web sites that give detailed instructions on winterizing your RV so I won't repeat them here.  The point I want to make is it is time to start planning to winterize your rigs.   Remove provisions that could be damaged by freezing and properly protect all the water systems with appropriate antifreeze or by draining.   That means making sure engine coolant in motorhomes, generators, tow vehicles, and OHVs are properly protected with the right kind of antifreeze too.  Buy the RV antifreeze you need now before its all gone as "everyone" finally gets around to winterizing their boats and RVs.

What about "winterizing" yourself?  You probably need to drag out your warm winter clothes and snow boots and make sure they are in good condition to be used.  Hopefully you cleaned them and stored them properly, but they may still need to be aired out and you need to inspect them for insect or vermin infestations and damage.  If you live someplace with a true four-season environment you'll want to find or obtain thermal underwear and maybe some insulated socks.   Don't forget earmuffs or beanies to keep your ears from freezing.   A balaclava (face mask) is good to have to keep your face warm if you expect to be out in really cold weather or riding an OHV, snowmobile, or horse in cold weather.  Warm, water-resistant or water-proof gloves or mittens are essential for keeping your hands warm.  Some chemical heat pads like "Hot Hands" can help keep your fingers and toes and other body parts warm.   Mittens will keep your fingers warmer than gloves, but you sacrifice some dexterity.  One of my winter favorites is a "ushanka" -- a Russian ear hat, those furry hats with flaps that cover your ears, neck, and part of your cheeks.  I find them very good for winter and even for extra cool desert nights.

What about winter activities?   Weather will likely have a significant impact on the kinds of activities you choose for winter.  Depending on where you live and you might switch over to winter sports, like skiing, snowboarding, or snowmobiling.  Or you might just put your outdoor energy toward getting ready for next year.   Now is a good time to perform routine inspections and maintenance on your vehicles and your gear.   Even if the weather is bad outside you can work on your camping gear and OHVs inside.   If your garage isn't heated you might use your catalytic tent heater to take the chill off.   Just be sure you have adequate ventilation.  Go through your RV or camping gear.  Make sure everything you used last year got back where it belongs and is clean and in good shape for next season.   Check your supplies and replace used up, damaged, outdated or missing items.  Check your sources for camping gear to see what may be available at year end or end of season closeout prices to enhance next year's outings.  Close outs and clearances are a good time to stock up for next year.   You may be able to snag a good deal on some new gadget or piece of equipment you've been wanting or just stock up on expendables.  Be sure to check online resources like ebay and craigslist.   You might even find some stuff on Freecycle.com, a web site where people list things they want to get rid of.  You never know.  Someone may need to make room in their garage and have just the tent you're looking for and all you have to do is go pick it up!  Freecycle is an interesting way to recycle useful items.   You may find YOU have stuff you don't need anymore. Listing it on Freecycle.com may make it available to someone who can really use it and you don't have to hassle with setting prices or haggling with prospective buyers.   It sure beats throwing it in the trash!

Ready. Set. Snow!