Monthly Archives: July 2013

Airstream Trailer Perched Atop The Wall

Hitting the wall describes a point in an endurance sports event when the athlete just cannot go anymore. Yesterday we might have stumbled onto the term’s origin — at Wall South Dakota. We’ll get back to this in a minute.

We’ve avoided stopping at Wall Drug in Wall South Dakota until this year, and finally we caved. The distance westward from Huron, our starting point, was just right for a day’s ride, and our curiousity simply got the better of us.

Me in 1964

Me in 1964

Just before arriving to Wall we stopped at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site just off I-90 and twenty miles east of Wall. The visitors center offers a well-done video and displays about the minuteman missile defense system and the Cold War era many of us remember well.

It's just a training missile, honest!

It’s just a training missile, honest!

Tours reservations are filled early so we missed them. Instead, we drove another fifteen miles west to the self-guided tour of a decommissioned missile silo. Wow! This is a nicely preserved historical display with a glass viewing cover over the missile silo providing a view of a training missile inside.

IMG_1015Serendipitously, just after we arrived at the former missile silo, a park ranger and entourage also did. We were treated to a thorough presentation on the history of this site. More surprising, one of the attendees had served at this same missile site in the 1980s. He served in the Air Force strike force security team which was committed to 15 minute response time to any of the nine missile sites in this area. When an alarm indicated intrusion into the secure launch field, a strike team immediately mounted and investigated with weapons at ready. This fellow added nicely to the ranger’s presentation, helping bring history alive.

The "wall" presented a great obstacle to pioneers' travel westward

The “wall” presented a great obstacle to pioneers’ travel westward

Westward Ho, time to go! We resumed our travels westward another six miles to Wall South Dakota. As we approached our exit we saw the “wall” the pioneers faced on their westward journey. A 200 foot high bluff blocked their passage. They had to pick their way around it to continue toward Oregon.

Wall is a couple of miles north of I-90, an easy jaunt even with the trailer. Parking was super-easy — we parked along a curb in a great spot two blocks from the tourist street. Large parking lots offered parking behind Wall Drug and west of it too.

Debbie and her cowboy buddy at Wall Drug

Debbie and her cowboy buddy at Wall Drug

We enjoyed browsing Wall Drug’s complex — it’s a city block chock-a-block full of shops and eateries. Some things were nice, especially the fudge shop, the toy store, and the backyard.

A horse, a fish, and now a jackalope -- Jim's had some rides

A horse, a fish, and now a jackalope — Jim’s had some rides

In the backyard we found a couple of interesting things like this jackalope. Jim had to wait his turn while other kids got on and had a ride. We never did find the free ice water or the five cents coffee, but a water station near the jackalope seemed clean so we enjoyed free water while waiting. The young gals who sold us the fudge are from China and Macedonia. They are in the States three months, on a J-1 work visa they said, during which they work at Wall Drug and tour the USA. Neat! We might try to do same in Europe.

Pretty nice parking

Pretty nice parking

Debbie had read about BLM lands south of Wall where we might dry-camp. The day had turned cloudy early and kept the temperature in the low 80’s so we headed six miles south from Wall to a turn-off into National Grasslands near the radio towers. Gorgeous area with level parking here and there along the bluff overlooking the grass lands to the east.

P1170010We read the difference between the Badlands prairie desert and the grasslands is the grasslands have enough water to support grass. The desert does not. The grasslands are too dry to support trees but are too wet to be deserts.

Our dry-camp in the BLM grasslands was perfect for our first night away from the big airstream rally. We spent three weeks parked between and close to other trailers in a busy dusty bug-infested state fairgrounds in Huron. Atop the wall overlooking the grasslands, we heard the wind and birds. No dust, no bugs, no business. Just beauty and peace.

Solar Charging Stuff for RVs We Should Have Known

winter tilt position on our roof

winter tilt position on our roof

You might be interested in buying into the quietest electrical power generator? There is no fuel to keep up with and pour (and spill). Maintenance is very minimal for the panels, just wiping them off, ensuring they are well-attached to the RV, and keeping the wires secure and free of chafing. You should already be tending your batteries to keep them clean, topped off with distilled water (unless yours are “no-maintenance”), and keeping the connections tightened, no matter whether you have solar panels or not.

pair of 125 watt solar panels

pair of 125 watt solar panels

Solar makes sense for more RVers than just full-timers. These roof-top battery chargers allow us to go most of the year without ever needing to use the trailer’s electrically-powered battery charger. A small solar charging system can tend your batteries for your RV without any shore power connections. A larger system can keep up with all your daily uses for your RV’s batteries including fans, lights, water pump, and even ham radio operations.

from higher end systems can also provide all the DC, or 12 volt power, as well as your 110 volt power for your RV. You could run your microwave, hair dryer, coffee pot and more from your batteries, all recharged with solar panels. Beware though, there are costs to all this. The trick, as with so many things, is to strike your optimal balance between cost and benefit.

Before you consider buying anything, study up a bit.  Don’t buy anything yet!  The two links that follow this paragraph provide helpful information about solar panels, controllers, what sizes are useful.  

Look at, halfway down the page. They have “Solar Information Pages” with good learning info about solar.

Look at amsolar’s rv_solar_education pages. They provide good learning info.

Before you buy anything, read this short post we wrote about installing a meter to measure and record battery usage and capacity.  We highly recommend anyone consider carefully this tool before spending a dime on changing the size of their battery bank or adding more solar panels.  If you don’t know what size shoe you wear, why would you order a pair of shoes without being fitted first?<

Trimetric Meter by our fridge

Trimetric Meter by our fridge

The meter we installed in October 2013, in case you did NOT read the article I just told you to, is a Trimetric 2025RV.  It costs $180 from BestConverter, including the required shunt. You can see it through this link. We bought the approx 25′ of control wire from a really neat store in Boise Idaho, they spooled off 25′ of Cat5 for about $5.  We had the battery cables we needed to connect the meter in-line with our batteries and the house.

No one told us to have a cooling off period or to learn more.  Well, we learned more anyhow — we studied our fannies off learning about so many sizes and brands of solar.  Solar was smoking hot in 2007, the dealers could not keep good panels on the shelves.  Same with charge controllers (you already learned in the first two links way above, these are very important), they were often unavailable.

We somehow stumbled upon a very nicely documented description of installing solar panels ON OUR VERY RV — Yep, Don had installed a pair of solar panels atop a 2005 Airstream CCD 25 trailer.  Wow, we’re supposed to do this.  We tried to be just like Don.  We ordered the same kit from the same place, put our panels in the same spot, installed our charge controller in the same blank panel.  This is too easy!

Well, it wasn’t quite so simple.  You see, you have some days luckier than others.  The day we installed our solar panels was a less lucky day.  Jim drilled holes in our trailer’s roof. Eight 5/16″ holes, four feet for each panel, didn’t take very long to make.  The panels attached easily to the roof with the supplied mounting hardware and . . .

Inside the trailer the 12 volt lights didn’t work anymore.  Oh, it’s probably something really simple.  No. A wire must be cut somewhere from all that drilling.

see the patched hand-hole from patching wires?

see the patched hand-hole from patching wires?

After much snarling and searching and spending sleepless nights, Jim found the one hole in which the drill bit had touched two wires.  The insulation stripped off, the two wires were crossed and shorting out.  Finding the problem was the hard part.  Jim spent only an hour or two fixing these two wires and our solar charging system has worked fantastically since.

Here is one more link, to a seller with very nearly the same system we bought over five years ago. This is our favorite system, the 270 watt one, close to what we have but seems a bit sharper and is certainly much less expensive than what we paid then. The technology has improved in five years, although we’ve read the manufacturing may be lower quality. The article we read from NY Times reported a case where the failure rate for newly manufactured panels has risen from below 5% to between 13 and 22%.

P1120863We are now more advanced users due to lots of practice — full-time with the solar charging system for over five years.  All the components are original, but we’ve enlarged the battery storage to four 6v golf cart batteries.  Jim can now rest assured of having full power for his ham radios before sun-up tomorrow, every day. Debbie rests confident Jim will not once ask her, “are you still using that light or may I turn it off for you?”  We have lots of battery capacity.

arm uni go powerJim installed a neat tilting system for our solar panels. Our panels can be up to 30% more effective by tilting than if lying flat on our roof.  This is especially useful in winter months, when the sun is much lower angle in the sky and solar gain is much harder to obtain.  

both panels now tilt at once

both panels now tilt at once

Our panels, tilted up, are ready to get all the solar they can in winter.  At least each quarter-year, Jim changes the amount of tilt to correspond with the sun’s higher, or lower, path across the sky.  And no, we do not travel down the road with the solar panels tilted up. The panels lie flat on the roof for travel.  Jim can easily and quickly tilt the panels, standing on a ladder leaned against the trailer’s side.

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie

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