Tag Archives: batteries

If We’d Known It Would Be This Cold . . .

An oft touted benefit of full time RVing (or, full timing) is the freedom to go where you want, when you want, for as long as you want. We asked some friends in Minnesota why they stay there in the winter. “Winter sports!” Well, sure.

We haven’t carefully investigated how we fell into “Chasing 75 Degrees”. We could burn 7 gallons of propane daily and still stay in cold weather cheaper than paying $25/night or more for a sunny, warm, inviting, recreational campground. The sunny, warm, inviting venues in southern and southwestern USA are beckoning nonetheless.

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We’ve been enjoying staying as often and as many days as we can on our small acreage in Ashe County. We’re at 3,500 feet. Views to the west and north open with leaf fall. This very quiet section has long been held within one family, and remains largely owned by that family’s members. The weather and atmosphere has been perfectly enjoyable for the past month.

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Enjoyment turned to a little something else — perhaps chill — with the sudden onset of wintry weather two days ago. We received over 4″ snowfall, considerably less than the 24″ measured in the nearby Great Smoky Mountains. Startling how rapidly the air can cool and, without sunshine, stay cold. Last night the outside temperature dropped to 25 degrees. The furnace seemed to run constantly to keep the inside above 44 degrees.

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Our hillside was pretty with snow on the sides of the driveway and the forest floor carpeted in white. Snow on the driveway melted away early, but with only slight sunshine peaking through it didn’t have as great an impact upon solar charging our batteries. And who knew you can’t fully charge batteries under 41 degrees Farenheit?

In four weeks we’ve loaded our portable 1kw generator more than in the previous seven years. It’s worked well with a two-three hour run on some cloudy days. I started the generator this morning and the batteries were registering only 1 to 2 amps of charge, instead of the normal 20 amps initial charging rate. Gradually the batteries warmed from the slow charging and started taking more. By noon the sun broke through, the temperature is up to 40, and the solar panels have taken over to a rate of over 11 amps charging.

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The snowy and cold weather didn’t keep us inside. We walked to the bottom of the hill and up again several times throughout the day. Sneakers sufficed since the driveway’s snow had already melted. The cold air still braced us and, you can see, caused at least one of us to bundle up well.

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If we’d known it would be this cold, we might have built a house instead of a road!

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie
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©2007-2014 Dreamstreamr

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Sitting in the Shade

We’re at a rally of our airstream club, Carolinas Unit of NC, encamped under grand white oak trees. The trees around us are massive, strong and broad. They form a beautiful grove of sheltering long-limbed giants. Throughout the day they allow sunlight to filter through a little. And they add to the night-time darkness, allowing starlight only in the center clearing.

Rally camping in the shade

Rally camping in the shade

Camping in the shade, we can keep the trailer cooler but cannot maintain the batteries with our solar panels. We’re in our third day and still have 80 percent battery capacity remaining despite lots of laptop charging, use of water pump and fans, and lighting throughout the day and evening the previous two days. Battery voltage is sitting at 12.5, so everything is in good shape inside.

Camping in the shade we enjoy the shadows and calm filtered light entering our trailer. Sort of makes an argument for remote solar panels, I guess. But ours are so easy to work with, ninety-five percent of the time sitting in bright sunlight atop our trailer.

Oh — there is shore power too. But Jim enjoys seeing how many days we can thrive on just batteries and solar re-charging. Call it our small contribution to reduced carbon footprint.

See you down the road!
Jim and Debbie

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©2007-2013 Dreamstreamr

Battery Monitoring in Our RV

Just before sunrise Ketchum ID


Debbie and I have lived in our 25’ travel trailer year-round the past five years. It’s not too big, not too fancy, doesn’t have too much storage. And until recently didn’t have too much spare battery capacity.

We mentioned visiting QuartzFest 2012 in our post last January and how we’d dry-camped in the desert with good friends Herb and Lois. Lucky for us, their motor home generator has excess capacity and they were willing to share.

Trimetric 2025-RV

Truth is, we really didn’t know how much battery capacity we had at any given time. Sure, we’re starting with 460 amp/hours at full, but what about ten or twenty hours after full charge? We’ve just added a Trimetric 2025 battery monitor from Bogart Engineering into our trailer, and we are rapidly gaining a good understanding of our batteries’ charging and discharging patterns.

A couple of key measurements include days since full-charge, number of amp-hours from full, and most interesting to me, incremental watts or amps of each connected load.

My very compact ham station

My ham station, consisting of a VHF radio, HF radio, Hear-It speaker, Kantronics TNC, and LDG illuminated meter adds 1.5 amps load. Lowering the antenna requires 0.4 amps, raising it takes 0.8 amps, and tuning it takes 0.3 amps. I haven’t measured transmitting yet, but will.

I look forward to learning the observed ampacity of our loads and better understanding the capacity of our 460 amp-hours of batteries (four 6v Interstate batteries).

Debbie looks forward to my being less cranky about saving battery energy when we probably have lots to spare. She’s using 8.2 amps right now — I should go check into it, right?

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr

Why are ham fests sometimes in very strange locations?

A couple of posts ago we wrote about Herb’s and Jim’s unplanned 10 mile hike in the desert.  More significant, really, is why were we in the middle of Arizona’s desert at all? You might already know we are suckers for interesting or unusual ham radio conventions. A ham radio convention in the middle of Arizona’s desert would probably be interesting and unusual. We’d heard about Quartzsite for several years and wanted to get there. This seemed like a great opportunity, and we only had a drive of 160 miles to get there.

Less than 700 miles to visit a new hamfest? Let's go!

Some of you dear readers may recall our post two years ago when Debbie and Jim drove to Essex, in the top of Montana for a famous ham fest.  We had heard of the oldest continuous running (once per year, that is) ham radio convention, the Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park Hamfest. And so upon departing Gillette Wyoming in early July 2010 we reasonably figured, since we were only 600 miles away, we should take the opportunity to visit Essex Montana and see this venerable ham fest first hand. It was pretty neat and sharpened our interest in unusual ham fests.

and the camels are another story entirely

The recent week we spent dry-camping in the Arizona desert was pretty much the opposite in several ways. Glacier National Park can be very chilly even in the middle of July.  Everything in Glacier National Park is either green (evergreen trees, grass, moss) or white (ice and snow), with just a little brown (bears and deer).  The Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park HamFest is 78 years running so far, versus a few years for QuartzFest.  And camping in any campground near Glacier National Park is a bit costly — we camped free at Quartzsite (except a donation to the organizer to help cover paper and printer cartridges.)

very cool hex beam antenna for W7Q station

Some things are remarkably similar between the two hamfests.  At neither hamfest did we see any ham radio vendors (although one almost always does).  Both hamfests are pretty close to an international border (Canada and Mexico).  Both hamfests involve dry camping although in Quartzsite the term takes on additional significance — everything is really really dry.  Both hamfests had very dedicated RVing hams with some really interesting antenna setups.  Both hamfests had special event stations allowing attendees the opportunity to operate from a different location and try using different gear than in their own station. Both hamfests had well-organized presentations on various subjects.

another big antenna on small RV

The QuartzFest rally seemed huge compared to the Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park HamFest.  We might have had 75 rigs at Glacier-Waterton, and we had 400 rigs at QuartzFest.  We never had seen such a big collection and wide variety of amateur radio antennas as at QuartzFest.  Not all were RV-portable – many were tall masts with two and three sets of ropes guying the antennas against the winds.

Much easier to clean and aim than on the roof

Oh, and we saw assorted ways to collect solar energy for electricity as well as several wind generators. We went to a lot of work putting our solar panels on the Airstream’s roof — they would be low maintenance (sort of) and pretty secure from theft or damage. Tilting the solar panels wasn’t in our original scheme and weekly wiping of the panel’s glass surface (necessary in the dirty dusty desert and even in Mesa) requires setting up and climbing the ladder. We like this portable panel idea more and more.

THE place to be for fish on Fridays

When in Quartzsite, do as the Quartzsitians do? We followed our friends Bob K9WMP and Laura K9BZY from Mesa to Quartzsite since they knew where to go. And we followed them to Sweet Darlene’s restaurant for Friday fish dinner our first evening. Without Bob and Laura we probably would have given up this idea when we saw the lineup outside the restaurant — this place was hopping. Herb and Lois, Tom and Debbie, Bob and Laura, and the two of us were deluded if we thought we would get to sit together in this place.

Sweet Darlene's does big biz on Fridays

The line moved reasonably quickly and we soon found out why — you don’t wait for a table of four, or six, or eight — you wait for a couple of chairs anywhere close to each other and you forgo sitting with your larger party. Your food order at Sweet Darlene’s Friday fish dinner is simple. Fried fish, cole slaw, and a slice of bread are on all the plates — you choose what style potatoes.

Our order was simple and the food was good

Except our wait person was so frazzled by the time she arrived at our table she asked what style fish we wanted. Faked us out briefly then we all had a big laugh — there’s one style fish at Friday fish dinner at Sweet Darlene’s, and it was good.

Can we take one of these home?

People we meet in Mesa think of Quartzsite as a place to shop for gems and geodes. While we don’t frequent rock shops we have been in a few. We’ve never seen anything equalling these huge geodes. We didn’t see any price tags but wonder if everything is for sale at some price.

Clearly the biggest tent we've ever shopped in!

Another thing most people do in Quartzsite is browsing the shops. Sweet Darlene’s has graduated from a tent enclosure to a completely enclosed metal structure. Some of the shops are in metal buildings but most were in tents. One of the tents seemed as big as a football field and was chock full of vendors representing nearly every facet of support and supply for RVing.

US Gov't perhaps runs most smoothly when done by volunteers

We camped in Road Runner RV area of the BLM land 6 miles south of Quartzsite. BLM required us to register and receive a 14-day camping permit (at no cost), allowing us to park anywhere within a vast area of the desert. The closest dump station and fresh water resupply was in Quartzsite, and we couldn’t even find a 30 amp power pole in our camp site. Nor did we really expect one, we knew we’d be conserving water and battery power both.

We’ve dry camped numerous times but had not previously done nearly so well with our fresh water. We used less than 20 gallons total of fresh water in five days for all uses — cooking, drinking, and bathing. Our Airstream travel trailer carries 40 gallons, so we had water aplenty. Not so capable though is our 19 gallon black water holding tank. The only thing it serves is our toilet.

Some of the 20 gallons of fresh water had to have gone into the 40 gallon gray water holding tank, right? We bathed each day and used our sink for pot and utensil washing. But the 19 gallon black water holding tank was nearly full after five full days use. Very nearly all our toilet flushing was with dish water or bathing water, so precious little fresh water found its way to our gray water holding tank. If only we could find a way to expand our black water carrying capacity. Who would have thought we’d wish for such a thing, eh?

Our best (and only) Quartzsite neighbors

We were grateful to Herb and Lois for sharing their Winnebago’s generator with us twice a day. We ran an extension cord 100 feet between our RV and theirs and they would bump our batteries up a little. It was nice to have their big old generator send some extra energy our way a couple times daily. Even nicer, though, was camping with them and sharing meals, conversations, and spending evenings at card games or watching movies together.

Our solar panels did fine but one pair of 6-volt batteries just don’t have enough depth for our uses (this is not necessarily a mutually held opinion). We like to read at night. Our water pump, fridge controls, and propane leak detector all use battery power. Oh, and the ham radio can use a bunch (22 amps @ 12vdc) of battery power. One of us likes to have enough battery power left by morning to do a little chatting on our HF (long distance) ham radio. More power = a good thing, right? Unless you were a ho-hum-ham and might ask, “Jim, what problem are you trying to solve with all this?”

Maybe keeping busy is a good thing in itself? Jim’s been busy since we returned from Quartzsite. Our solar panels are, after four years flat use, tilt-able. We are on the verge of more than doubling our storage battery capacity from two 6v 220 amp hour batteries to four 6v 232 amp hour batteries. Results are encouraging on tilting the solar panels and we think the battery change will be a significant boost. We’ll get back to the details about these two changes in another blog.

Stay tuned — we’ll be back soon!

 

 

 

Jim and Debbie

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©2007-20112 Dreamstreamr

Golfing in chilly Minnesota

It is 53 degrees outside our trailer this morning! Jim’s looking forward to a morning golf came after the park’s Coffee and Rolls get-together this morning. Brrrr!

We arrived early yesterday afternoon in Clear Lake, Minnesota to the Minnesota Airstream Park. We were greeted at the gate by Beth and Mac, who run the Park’s office. They have been looking out for us for the past two weeks and asking people as they walked in, “Jim and Debbie?” They thought we were to arrive July 5 — we weren’t specific, we didn’t want to be tied down to a date while we explored Wisconsin.

Jim had asked several weeks ago, by email, if we could have a Camping World package sent here and held for our arrival. They graciously agreed and asked when we would arrive. We hadn’t meant to mislead them but we thought we might arrive the week of July 5. We then decided to take our time in Wisconsin and are really glad we did. Well, the package is here and Jim’s pretty excited about it.

Our wonderful Airstream is equipped, as are many RVs, with 110vac to 12vdc converter with a single stage battery charger. This charger constantly applies 13.6 or 13.8 volts to the RV’s batteries, regardless of the batteries’ usage or depletion. When the batteries are fully charged, a good charger should taper off or shut down. Good chargers adapt to this condition with a “float” charge rate. But not ours.

Our Magnetek/Parallax converter-charger will, if not monitored carefully, boil the batteries dry. It applies a constant voltage (and low amperage) to the batteries, regardless of their condition. We know, we’ve seen it happen to previous batteries and have heard countless other people who had the same experience. For the past two years Jim has manually switched the converter-charger on only when needed. Our solar panels provide almost all the 12vdc power we need and occasionally he would use the converter-charger, mostly first thing in the mornings to power the ham radio at 100 watts for long distance chatting.

Our Camping World package is a Progressive Dynamics Intellipower 9260, the most advanced (maybe I should qualify, “and affordable”) converter charger we could find. Great thanks to Beth and Matt Hackney from Georgia for their recommendation of the 9200 series instead of the 9100 series — the 9200 incorporates features you pay extra for in the 9100. This should be a fine improvement to our home, once Jim installs it.

No sooner had we pulled into our site, with friendly and capable help from Mac, than our neighbors walked over to welcome us. Jim and Lois Ryan have been Airstreaming over thirty-five years and spend summers here. Jim invited Jim (that’s right, they can both easily remember each other’s names) to join him for a round of golf on the park’s golf course and offered Jim use of his second pull cart.

We finished leveling and then connecting the utilities and she fixed us a wonderful lunch. Soon the Jims walked to the nine hole short course and met two of Jim Ryan’s buddies at the first tee. The golf course is nice and very compact with all but two fairways straight as an arrow and lengths varying from 84 yards to 223 yards. This is a relaxing way to play golf!

Jim has at least two big projects for our stay in Minnesota Airstream Park. Hopefully golf will allow him enough time to get these done too.

No water or electricity? How primitive is it?

Saturday’s post about dry camping was unintentionally misleading. And we promptly received feedback from some of you faithful readers about this. It seems I may have provided an overly stark description of the conditions when dry camping. But, in fact, there isn’t much primitive to it. After all, we are living in a fully self-contained and very capable recreational vehicle. We aren’t roughing it, even these past seven days. As Debbie reminded me at supper this evening, even dry camping in our Airstream is still pretty luxurious.

In the interest of fair and balanced reporting, I’m going to detail better what I meant when I talked Saturday about our week of dry camping. Here’s an excerpt from Saturday’s post:
“This has been easy camping, although not far different from what we usually would do. We can’t use the microwave. We use a small portable inverter to convert 12vdc to 110vac for someone’s curling iron and to recharge the laptop. And we can watch television if we want, again using the same 150 watt inverter. Everything else is battery-powered. After completing five and starting the sixth day we have remaining 10 gallons fresh water (we have used 29 gallons). We have 1/2 tank each in black water and rinse water. Our batteries are fully charged. It seems we could go at least another two days at the current rate of water usage.”

Okay, so what did I leave out? Actually, I left a lot to the imagination. I ignored a pretty basic rule of writing, where the writer remembers who is reading the story. A couple of you told us we sound as though we might not have water enough to provide bathing and cooking, for example. And some of you wondered what does the battery power provide, different from when we are connected to electricity? We can see how yesterday’s post left out some really important details. The problem is this: we forget we aren’t writing to ourselves. Said another way, I understand exactly what I meant but I am not writing well if I don’t help all of you understand what I want you to hear.

I’m going to take another pass at describing the end of our week of dry camping starting first about our water consumption. At the end of the week we had used an average of five gallons daily of fresh water for drinking, cooking, cleaning up, and flushing our toilet. We would have used more but sometimes would use the campground’s very nice washroom and showers. Our water consumption would probably have increased by at least two gallons daily if we had not used the campground’s washroom and showers. We would have used all 39 gallons of our fresh water tank in this week. We would then have pulled the trailer to a nearby drinking water faucet, connected our hose to the threaded faucet and refilled our 39 gallon fresh water tank.

The amount of the trailer’s stored fresh water we consume pretty directly impacts the rate at which we fill the toilet’s waste tank, called the black tank, and the shower’s and sinks’ waste tank, called the rinse water tank. The black tank will hold 18 gallons and the rinse tank will hold 39 gallons. Since we start with both waste tanks empty and only have 39 gallons of fresh water, we won’t fill both waste tanks at once. In fact, at the end of over 5 days we had poured some part of almost 30 gallons of fresh water between the black and rinse water tanks. Since their combined capacity is 57 gallons, we had filled the two waste tanks only by one-half.

Our electronic tank monitoring system displays for us the water level in the three water tanks, the fresh water and the two waste tanks. It warned us we had only one-fourth of the fresh water available (almost 10 gallons) and we had filled the two waste tanks approximately 1/2 full each. If the fresh water tank reading is accurate (we think it is, since I calibrated these not long ago) then the readings for the other two tanks make sense. The numbers work out. Sometimes things are like they seem, and it is good.

It appears we would have run out of fresh water before the waste tanks filled up. We could, in short order, hitch up the trailer to our truck and tow the trailer the several hundred feet to the water hydrant to refill the tank. Some people carry 7 gallon fresh water jugs and others carry a larger water bag (sort of like an inflatable bed or water bed) to bring a resupply of fresh water to their trailer. We haven’t had much experience dry camping and, so far, haven’t minded moving the trailer to the water source.

But if our waste tanks filled first we would tow our trailer to the dump station, empty our tanks, and return to the campsite for another five days. Some of the people in the state park carried with them a portable blue rolling tank to help manage their waste tanks. They can empty the trailer’s black or rinse water tank into these portable “honey pots” and tow the honey pot to the campground’s dump station. They can empty the honey pot, rinse the connections, and their camper will go another three or four or five days before they repeat this aromatic chore.

Okay, now a brief description of the electric side of things. We have friends who are very experienced solar charged battery managers. They contend they can use their trailer’s batteries to power anything they want pretty much all they want to. And their batteries will hold up to all this use. We haven’t enjoyed this much battery power. Our system is apparently more modest, with two heavy duty 6 volt batteries wired in series to provide the 12 volts our trailer needs. What needs this power?

Our Airstream uses battery power in several different ways. Perhaps two of the most important are the trailer’s gas detector and the refrigerator automatic control. The water heater uses battery power for its ignition and automatic controls. Our tank monitoring system needs battery power if we are going to be able to determine how much fresh water we have or how much space we have in our waste tanks. The trailer’s water pump is battery-powered, and delivers a wonderful brisk water pressure to our faucets and shower head. My ham radio uses battery power so I can listen and transmit on the amateur radio bands. Our laptops, phone, and camera batteries use the trailer’s battery power to recharge them. Did I mention I am listening to our FM stereo radio while I’m typing this? Yes, it uses the trailer’s battery power too.

Would you have guessed the trailer’s batteries can do all this? Oh! What about the trailer’s interior lighting? We have four reading lights we can aim for best reading illumination. Two are at the sofa and two are above the head of our bed. We have a dozen bright ceiling lights we use whenever we lose something under the table or on the floor somewhere, or when we are cleaning the inside of or Airstream. We have two downlights shining down onto the sofa area to help with reading or working on the laptop like I’m doing now. We have eleven lights inside our four overhead storage bins to help find stuff there and to help provide indirect lighting into our Airstream’s interior.

Our washroom has two light bulbs in its fixture, and the vanity has three bright light bulbs so someone can do the detailed work she doesn’t really need but likes to keep up. Our clothes closets each have a light fixture. And our two cargo compartments (our basements, sort of) each have a light fixture. We have downlights for the kitchen’s work surface, shining down onto our dinette, and in the range hood to illuminate the stove’s cooking surface. Our refrigerator has an interior light. And we have a light fixture outside, above our door.

A lot of lights, isn’t it? And these are all powered from the trailer’s two batteries. If we are dry camping, how long will the batteries last, with all these things drawing power from them? Not all these appliances and lights are on at the same time. Some evenings we will use only one or two lights at a time. The batteries will last anywhere from a few hours to a day or so, unless we can recharge the batteries periodically. If we cannot plug into electricity to power our trailer’s battery charger, then we have two other ways to recharge our batteries. One is the really nifty portable 1000 watt Yamaha generator we have and have needed once in four years.

The other way we can keep our batteries charged is with our two big solar panels mounted on top of our Airstream’s roof. These have kept our batteries recharged perfectly for the past week, and the solar panels do this without charging us a thing no matter how much electricity we use. The sun can shine brightly or it can shine through clouds, and the solar panels still provide a charge on our batteries. So we are never really without electricity, as long as we have either an electrical outlet, or solar power, or our generator.

But if all these battery-powered systems happened to not work, then what? We have candles, a portable battery powered lantern, and flashlights. We can draw water directly from the fresh water tank, using a small bucket we carry. And we can buy a cooler to help our food stay cold if the fridge stops working. We’ll have to eat the ice cream before it melts. And there’s the beer and wine we can drink, too.

You might see, after this explanation, we have back-ups for our back-ups, and if all those fail, we have a back-up plan. If we don’t have electrical power, we can charge the batteries with solar power. If the solar panels don’t work because of rain or too much shade from trees, we can use the generator to charge the batteries. And if the generator also won’t work and we can’t move the trailer to a sunny spot or somewhere with electricity, then we’ll just have to eat the ice cream before it melts. And if we run out of water, we’ll have to drink orange juice, and milk, and beer, or go find some water somewhere.

How did we ever get by when we were tent camping? We plan ahead. We’re versatile and flexible and creative. And things haven’t been very primitive. Like Debbie said, even dry camping in our Airstream is still luxurious.