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.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Cabin Fever

 Are YOU climbing the walls yet? Between COVID 19 quarantine and winter a lot of people are.  If so, you may be suffering from 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 excessively.  The term is loosely and humorously used to describe simple boredom from being home alone with nothing to do.   The idea of cabin fever apparently began with trappers and hunters who were often literally 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 or other hazards, often never to return.  If you find yourself  feeling like "climbing the walls" you're probably suffering from cabin fever.  Today the causes and consequences of cabin fever are much diminished, but it certainly hasn't been completely eradicated.  Certainly the quarantine associated with COVID-19 is giving some of us cabin fever!  Sometimes we even get cabin  fever while out camping when the weather keeps us in our RVs or tents too long.

With that in mind, those of us who enjoy outdoor recreation are usually experiencing some of the symptoms of cabin fever 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, and 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  riding and camping gear.  Doing some shopping for camping gear and accessories for your camping related activities can also help. Some of it involves inspecting my riding gear and making sure it is all clean and in good repair and properly stored and organized 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, as long as we remember to put it back after its been laundered from the last trip but it is always a good idea to inventory and inspect all your gear before each trip.  Doing it while waiting for the weather to become conducive to outdoor activities is one very productive and satisfying way to combat cabin fever.  Now is a good time to repair tears or broken fasteners and to clean, shine, and waterproof boots.

Now is actually a very good time to begin preparations for the upcoming season.  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.

February is probably a little too early to de-winterize RVs, at least in the colder climates. You need to wait until the chance of freezing overnight temperatures has passed.  But you can begin checking for damaged caulk or other signs of leaks and planning and making 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 won't hurt to check engine fluid levels and batteries either.  Now is also a good time to check all the lights and replace damaged lenses and burned out bulbs.  RV lighting systems tend to develop bad ground connections, especially when sitting all winter so if you have lighting problem that isn't a bad bulb, check the ground.  Because a lot of RVs have fiberglass skin, a ground wire has to be fastened to the vehicle frame somewhere and those connections can work loose or become corroded and then you get some really strange symptoms -- like all the clearance lights blinking with the turn signals or no lights working at all, even though testing the hot wire with a test light shows they're getting power.  Connections often involve multiple types of metal -- steel frame, copper wire, brass connectors -- and that is an instant recipe for corrosion, especially when you add moisture.  Even a little condensation of moisture in the air can be enough to gum up the works.

Interestingly enough, it is possible to get cabin fever when you are out camping!  Anyone who may be a bit claustrophobic to begin with sometimes finds being confined to a tent or an RV uncomfortable, especially if it is for an extended period of time (e.g., during bad weather).  Even people who aren't normally claustrophobic may get a little antsy cooped up in a tent or RV for several hours in bad weather.  Both tent and RV spaces are usually much smaller and with less to do than our homes.  Keeping your tent or RV as open, clean, well organized, roomy, and user friendly as possible is one way to help combat this syndrome, but often the only solution is to get outside and DO something, which isn't all bad since that's largely why we go camping in the first place.  But sometimes weather may restrict our outdoor activities and we have to find ways to stay active and entertained inside.  Today's plethora of portable electronic devices gives us many more options that folks had a few years ago, but the time-honored traditions like reading,  playing board games or card games are still viable option and requires NO power source beyond our own.  Having plenty of tasty and somewhat nutritious snacks along will help fuel our bodies and distract us from our boredom.  Sometimes preparation of snacks can be a fun diversion in itself.  Pop some popcorn; bake some cookies; cook some pies in the campfire.  I also find inside "down time" a good time to catch up on routine chores.  It can be quite productive and satisfying to go through and organize cabinets, closets, and drawers or even do a little more thorough cleaning than normally gets done in camp.  I find checking my tools to be particularly satisfying and productive, making sure they are clean, undamaged, and stored where they should be.  Getting everything shiny and "shipshape" can be very satisfying and will continue to pay dividends throughout the rest of your outing.

Don't freak out!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

RV, OHV, and Camping 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 and OHV 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

Coleman's Military Surplus
Military surplus and camping and survival gear

RV Hall of Fame
RV History

Tin Can Tourists
Classic RV Club

California Off Road Vehicle Association (CORVA
A group that supports ALL OHV interests in California

Utah Trail Machine Association
Utah's oldest and largest dirt bike club

My own Unofficial, family oriented off road group in southern California

Good Sam Club
National/International RV Club

Motorhome Magazine
Monthly Motorhome Magazine

Trailer Life Magazine
 Monthly Trailer Magazine

Dirt Bike Magazine
Monthly magazine about dirt bikes; reviews, maintenance, riding tips 

Gypsy Journal -- On The Road With Full Timers
 General motorhome advice for people who live in their RVs.

Winnebago Outdoor 
RV and Camping Parts and Supplies

There are at last 7 camping categories on Pinterest, with hundreds of useful tips.

Everything About Rving is wonderful site for RVers.  Like this blog it is filled with useful information and they offer a free Ask An RV Question Page that makes it really easy to get answers to your questions.

And here are some general camping links:

Free Campsites its a web site that helps your find free campsites all over the United States.  You can search by location or use their map to find free camp grounds near you.

Camping Tips Everyone Must Know Before Going gives a nice list of things to help you get ready and enjoy your camping trip in a neat side-by-side do's and don'ts format that is easy to read.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

RV and Boat Mattresses

 Mattresses used in RVs and boats are usually pretty similar.   However, many boats have a v-berth in the bow as a sleeping area and those require specially shaped mattresses to fit into the pointy end of the boat.  Some folks like to use some kind of anti-moisture tiles under the mattress so that any water that accidentally gets into the boat doesn't get soaked up by the mattress.   The cab over beds on truck campers also frequently benefit from anti-moisture tiles. Of course, if the amount of water exceeds the depth of the tile (usually about 1/2" - 3/4") the mattress will still get wet.  Most of what is given below for RV mattresses also applies to boat mattresses.

RV Mattresses.  RVs are intended to provide us most of the creature comforts we enjoy at home, including a comfortable bed.  I'm sure we all agree that getting a good night's rest is essential for safe, enjoyable, successful travel and outdoor activities.  Most RV beds are pretty comfortable, or at least start out that way.  But not all RV mattresses are created equal nor hold up as well.  Cheap mattresses will break down faster than better quality products and no one sleeps well on a thin or broken down, lumpy mattress.  Mattresses in used RVs can be a mystery.  Some may be OEM, some replacements.   Replacements may be upgrades or even downgrades so you don't know what you're getting.  In addition to original quality, use and care will also affect performance and longevity.  If the previous owner was very large or for some reason carried heavy cargo on the bed, the mattress may not last long.  Are RV mattresses 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 to reduce weight and cost.  If you're used to an extra thick and comfy mattress at home, you might find the thin pad in some RVs disappointing.  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.  If you don't think 6" makes much difference, try sleeping two people on  a 3/4 size mattress!   RV King and Queen mattresses are usually not the same size as their residential namesakes.  Some RVs use a corner bed to save space and they'll often have the exposed corner cut off to provide more aisle space.  The cut corner usually doesn't affect sleeping unless someone quite tall sleeps on that side of the bed and their feet hang over, but if you replace it with a mattress that doesn't have the cut corner it can both droop and can get in the way of getting past the bed, which is usually the path to the corner bathroom in the other rear corner of the RV.  Sometimes you can add support under the extended corner, but it might mean banging your shins when you go by.  RV Queen and RV King mattresses are usually a little shorter than standard residential models.  If there is room and you can sacrifice a few inches of walking space you can usually upgrade to residential size mattresses, but you might need to extend the platform so the mattress doesn't sag where it hangs over the edge.  If the existing mattress already goes from wall to wall, there won't be room for a larger one.

There are many reasons why you might want to replace an RV mattress.   As mattresses age, the cover fabric may deteriorate and tear, padding may get compressed or shift, springs may collapse or break, or the mattress may become stained or soiled so that it is unpleasant and perhaps unhealthy to sleep on.

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 -- or, if you're handy in the sewing department, you can alter it to make it fit to your satisfaction.

You can even buy famous brand name mattresses, including Serta and 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 and humidity or the old mattress might already have been a replacement that may or may not have been sized right.

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.  A mattress topper is not the same thing as a mattress pad.  Toppers are usually much thicker and made of foam.  Pads are mostly made of cotton.  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.  Your sleeping comfort will be mostly determined by the topper, with the original mattress simply providing a cushioned foundation.  Given that a topper sells for around $100 and new mattress can cost more than $400, a mattress topper is a very attractive option. A 4" topper changes a skimpy 4"mattress into a comfortable 8" thick sleep system.  We have even used memory foam toppers in the v-berth in our sailboats.

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, use a cotton mattress pad over your foam mattress or topper.  Feather beds are an attractive alternative for some people (unless you're allergic to feathers!).

A simple mattress pad may solve 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 to replacing a mattress 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. It really isn't fun waking up on flattened mattress!  Quality air mattresses are generally pretty sturdy if they aren't punctured or otherwise abused.

Sleep well.

Tent Lighting

There are many good options for tent lights these days.  Some years back, candles, 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 or kerosene lantern, if used cautiously may be OK and will also serve as a heater.  Kerosene gives off fumes that are offensive to some people and somewhat toxic.  A propane powered propane lantern will be almost odorless but will still consume oxygen.  Always provide adequate ventilation when using a flame powered lantern inside your tent to avoid suffocation.  Keeping a window on opposite sides about 1" is usually about right.  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 very 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.  Might not be so good if you get a lot of rainy days  or stay in the shade where you go camping.  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 your 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.  You can also use ordinary binders twine to tie them up just about anywhere you need a light.

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 and small size 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.   The spot light is handy for looking inside packs or illuminating trails after dark.  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 discount price of $3.49 they are a bargain.  Hey, the advertised retail price of $7.99 isn't bad, considering the functionality and utility of this handy LED light.  Quite often you can even find coupons in the Harbor Freight ads to get one for free!

I have a new possibility I am looking forward to trying out.   It is a remote controlled above ground LED 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 so it could be used when there are no steel walls.  I plan to use the steel plate on the outside of my tent so the magnet has something to stick to. The remote control should be a nice convenience.

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.  And, as mentioned before, be sure you have adequate ventilation.  Coleman lanterns put out quite a bit of heat.   A Coleman gas lantern was all a friend with a camper van used to heat his van on chilly nights.

Candles have been used for hundreds of years in residences and in tents and are still a viable option, if you use them wisely.  The open flame means you have to exercise extra care to avoid setting your tent on fire.  Using a lantern style candle holder (also known as candle lanterns) is one way to minimize fire danger while retaining a nostalgic appearance and economical operation.  They provide a little protection against the open flame coming in contact with fabric or other flammable materials if they get knocked over or pushed up against the side of the tent.

Modern LED lights offer many useful advantages.  Battery powered LED lights run cool so there is little danger of them starting a fire even if they come in contact with tent fabric.  LED bulbs use far less electricity than incandescent counterparts making batteries last a LOT longer.  A visitor once left a single 12-volt light on in the bathroom of my RV and it totally drained two large deep cycle batteries in afternoon.  Contrast that with an 17 LED lantern powered by 4 " D" cells I inadvertently left on in barn over night.  Not only did the lantern still work the next day, the batteries held up for 3-4 months afterwards.  Solar lanterns are available too.  Just remember to put them out in the sunlight every day to recharge.  You can even get camping lanterns with remote controls so you don't even have to get out of our sleeping bag to turn them on or off.

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.  You may be able to lighten up the interior of a double wall tent by temporarily removing the rain fly.

At night you might want to light up your tent inside so it can be seen to avoid someone running into it with a vehicle or even walking into it in the dark!  LEDs would be best for this since you wouldn't have to worry too much about the batteries running down if you need to leave them on for several hours.

Light it up!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Automatic Transfer Switch

What is an Automatic Transfer Switch and why should you care?  An Automatic Transfer Switch automatically connects your generator to the RV 120-volt system when you start the generator.  Without one you have to plug the shore power cord into the generator receptacle.  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.  Pulling all that cord out and stuffing back is a nuisance and especially messy and difficult in bad weather. Plugging into the generator receptacle is virtually impossible with 25' of fat 30 or 50 amp cord in the way.  I've seen way too many RVers complain their generator wasn't working when the only problem was they hadn't plugged their power cord into it!  An Automatic Transfer Switch eliminates that problem.  But they do add one more possible point of failure.

An Automatic Transfer Switch is a nice addition to any RV with an on board generator.   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.  The switch has two inputs:  the shore power cord and the generator.  It has one output, connected to the 120 volt breaker panel.  The default position of the switch (when there is no power from the generator) is for the shore power cord.  Once the generator begins to deliver power, a control circuit in the transfer switch will switch to generator power after about 30 seconds. The 30 second delay is designed to give the generator motor time to "settle in" before putting any load on the generator.  If yours doesn't settle down and run smoothly in 30 seconds or less you should have it tuned up.

If you decide to install a transfer switch on your RV, be sure to purchase one rated to match the RV panel capacity and 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 an RV with 50 amp service.  Doing so could result in an overload condition that could burn out the switch and even lead to a fire.  If you add an automatic transfer switch it might be a good idea to retain the original generator receptacle connection so have a fall back if the switch fails.  I had a switch fail and ended up spending almost as much to bypass the switch as I spent to install it -- and lost the use of my generator for several days on the road before I arrived where I could purchase the necessary parts for the bypass.

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 since our RVs normally only get occasional use.

Check whether you have access to the wiring and a place to mount the switch before you buy.   No sense spending money on a switch you can't use.  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.  If there is room there you usually have access to all the connections you need to install the switch.   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 and there was barely room to stuff the power cord in the compartment.  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.  If you have to run any extra wire, make sure you use at least 10 gauge wire for all connections for a 30 amp switch.  For a 30 amp feed the black should be hot, white should be neutral, and green or bare copper is ground.  Check with an electrician to confirm wire sizes and colors for a 50 amp installation and note that a 50 amp power cord has 4 conductors where the 30 amp cord has only 3.  A typical 50-amp cord as three 6 gauge wires and one 8 gauge wire.  You'll probably need a little professional help figuring out the correct wiring for a 50 amp switch.  The first one I installed didn't work.  I had my installation checked by an electrician and found that I'd hooked up the wrong "hot" wire from the generator to trigger the switch.  Didn't know there was any difference but there was.

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.  Alternatively you could splice into the line between the generator and the receptacle, leaving the receptacle connected.  That way, if the switch fails you can still plug the power cord into the receptacle until you can get the switch repaired or replaced. Then connect the panel terminals to where the power cord was previously connected in the cable compartment and you should be good to go.  A word of caution if you choose to the splice option.  You may have serious problems if you plug in the shore power when the generator is running using the receptacle or start the generator with the shore power plugged in!  Don't know how you could ever have the cord plugged intothe generator receptacle and the shore outlet at the same time.  Everything should be OK as long as there is nothing plugged into the receptacle.   Also, during installation, 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.  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.  I did have some trouble getting a 50 amp switch to work and enlisted the aid of a licensed electrician to help me troubleshoot it.  Turns out I had chosen the wrong leg of the 4-wire feed from the generator to connect to the switch.  Hooking up the other leg instead solved the problem. 

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.  For most people camping weather is a nice, sunny but not too hot summer day,   A few hardy souls go camping in the winter and brave the snow and cold on purpose, 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 low 80s Fahrenheit are quite pleasant.  If it gets warmer or colder than that, human beings begin to get pretty uncomfortable.  Lower temperatures are sometimes acceptable if you're going to be involved in strenuous physical activity that will keep you warm.  Temperatures in the 60s are often ideal for OHV or horseback riding or even strenuous hiking if you're dressed for it.  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 60°F isn't anyone's idea of fun.  A good rain storm can be fun -- if you're prepared and can stay dry while you watch it from a comfortable place (in your tent or RV or under some kind of awning or canopy or other protected spot).  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,  ice fishing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, or snowshoeing.  But most of us don't think of snow and freezing temperatures as ideal camping weather.  And you need an RV that is specially equipped to handle freezing temperatures if you're going to be camping in winter.  That means heated plumbing and holding tanks as well as a well insulated coach and a large enough furnace (or auxiliary heat) to keep you warm.  Staying warm when tent camping in winter mostly means dressing right and having a warm enough sleeping bag.  Tent heaters may help, but exercise caution to prevent them from damaging and/or igniting your tent and maintain sufficient ventilation to prevent suffocation.  Because tents don't have a lot of insulation, it is difficult to keep them warm.  Tent heaters will consume large amounts of fuel and a significant amount of heat will simply be lost through the tent fabric.  That being said, I was quite surprised how much colder it was outside my tent when I crawled out bed one morning on a scout outing with one of my boys.  It was very noticeably warming in the tent. and that was with little or no breeze.

How do you keep track of the weather while camping?  Well, first of all, keep an eye on the sky.  The shape, color, and movement of clouds can give you a pretty good idea of what is coming.  These days we also have great electronic resources such NOAA weather radios and weather apps on our cell phones.

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 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 or 10-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 refreshments, and activities.  If its going to be cooler or stormier than you planned you might want to switch your menu from hamburgers and hot dogs cooked on the campfire to some nice home-made chili heated up inside your cozy RV!

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, especially mountains and large bodies of water, have their own micro environments that can create their own weather that probably won't show up on the weather service forecast.  Local sources, such as rangers and residents may have some insight into local weather you won't get from the radio or TV 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.  Uniform gray clouds might deliver showers but most often don't.  Find out 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 barometric 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 from the west 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.  In addition, there is the "eye of the storm" where winds and clouds are clear smack in the middle of a large storm like a hurricane or typhoon. In that case you may just have time to catch your breath before the next round of nasty weather descends on you, often with winds changing direction.

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 either way 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.  If you have the patience, count the number of chirps in 14 seconds and add 40 to get Fahrenheit temperature.  Sorry, don't have the formula for Centigrade wihtout all the normal conversion calculations!

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 -- for 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 anecdotes is that of the "Weather String".   Tie a string outsdie your window.   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 stiff 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.  Those cute little colorful windsocks designed to hang on your awning may actually be of some use in measuring wind direction and velocity.  Very often, an RV's monitor panel will include a barometer and thermometer.  The thermometer usually only displays inside temperature so you may want to invest in an indoor/outdoor thermometer.  RV stores sometimes have clear thermometers that mount on the outside of a window so you an easily read outside temperature from inside your RV.  Some even include a humidity gauge.  Those placed on dual pane windows will be more accurate than ones stuck on single pane glass, because both temperatures may be more affected by the heat coming through the glass.  Knowing the outside temperature will help you plan outdoor activities, dress appropriately, and give you some indication of whether you need to take measures to deal with freezing temperatures.  If you buy an electronic indoor/outdoor thermometer you will need to find an appropriate place to mount the outside sensor.  You want it where it will not be in direct sunlight or affected by vehicle systems (furnace, fridge, hot water heater, generator, vehicle engine or exhaust).  One good place on newer RVs with slide outs is in the channel surrounding the slide out.  If that doesn't work for you or you don't have slide outs, look for a spot that is protected from the sun but gets adequate exposure to outside air.  Some possibilities might include the side of the RV right under the rolled up awning or anyplace it will not be in direct sunlight, like on the back side of a bumper.  Avoid wheel wells because water, snow, and other debris kicked up by the tires will affect the reading and probably damage the sensor or knock it off.

Smart phones often have weather apps or you can get weather apps for them.    Of course you must be within range of a cell tower for it to work, but it is sometimes surprising how far coverage reaches out into camping territory.

NOAA weather radios and local radio stations are a good source of current weather forecasts.  However, be aware that there are often micro weather environments around mountains or large bodies of water that create their own weather, which may differ drastically from the regional forecast.  Locals and frequent visitors are usually a good source of weather lore.  As with any radio you have to be within range of the transmitter to receive a signal.  NOAA transmitting stations are designed to provide as broad coverage as possible but you might still have trouble in steep canyons or behind large mountains.

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.  Since things usually cool down when it rains, hot beverages and related snacks are a comfortable treat during stormy weather, something you might easily forget when planning a summer trip.  Given the large 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.  For that you need experience -- or access to someone with experience.

You may have heard the term "keep a weather eye".  In general it means to keep a careful watch on a situation without involving your full attention.  Obviously it was derived from actually watching the weather, most likely by sailors.  It is excellent advice for campers.

Be weather wise.