Tag Archives: solar panels

Top Five Modifications to our Airstream

We were talking yesterday about which modifications are our favorite. I asked Debbie, “Which three are the tops?” She readily replied, “all-around awnings, kitchen utensils drawer, and solar panels system.”

This morning I thought about it some more and decided to up it two more. I submit the lift and lay antenna roof mount and the catalytic heater.

Here’s the complete list:

  • 1. awnings
  • 2. kitchen drawer
  • 3. solar power system
  • 4. electric antenna roof mount
  • 5. catalytic heater
  • These are all significant improvements in the function of our trailer. They are very different from each other, are among the most useful of our mods, and happen to be pretty noticeable too.

    picture of added awnings

    Awnings all around are useful year-round

    1. We took our trailer, still in its warranty period, to the Airstream factory for the Zip-Dee awnings installation on rear and road side of the trailer. We use these nearly every week, depending upon sun exposure. The added awnings allow us to keep one or more windows open regardless of rainfall. And the long road side awning is a great sun shade, both for the two large windows and for the refrigerator outside wall.

    picture of added drawer

    Added kitchen drawer is indispensable

    2. The kitchen drawer was a slam dunk — we were so surprised Airstream Co had not installed the same thing. A perfect place for it, and probably the most useful change we’ve made to the trailer. Without this drawer, the utensils would be in a drawer behind a cabinet door. How much easier this is, to just open a drawer just below the counter top and reach all the table utensils.

    picture of rooftop solar panels

    added two solar panels

    3. Almost six years ago we installed solar panels atop the trailer and a solar charge controller inside. It was a little bit an experiment for us, not having installed or used these before. When next we needed batteries, we installed a pair of 6v golf cart batteries, and later replaced them with two pairs of 6v batteries. We have ample battery power, generally enough for at least four days without sun. There is no noise, no fumes, no labor involved in starting or stopping them (although we can tilt them to maximize solar collection). They cost nothing to operate.

    picture of antenna mount

    Tarheel antenna mount

    4. Initially the amateur radio HF (long distance) antenna was on the truck’s rear fender. Little more than two years later we found and installed a Tarheel Lift and Lay® roof mount for the HF antenna. Four years later we are very pleased with this antenna location and operation. We push an electric 12vdc switch inside and the antenna raises from prone, or storage position, to full vertical position in twelve seconds. Push the button again and the antenna lowers to storage position on the roof. Easy, quick, works great and has a very high cool factor.

    picture of heater

    Catalytic heater on hinge mount

    5. The catalytic heater is a boon for boon docking or dry-camping. It consumes no power from the batteries or shore power system. It uses propane from the trailer’s attached bottles, and it burns oxygen from our living space. Yes, that’s a bit of a negative as is the contribution of products of combustion from this unvented heater. So if you don’t have one, we do NOT recommend it for you. We use it guardedly, and never when napping or sleeping. We designed a hinged mount to allow secure storage for towing days and easy directional aiming of the heating pad. We joke the heater is designed to follow Debbie’s location in the trailer, to keep her warm.

    That’s it, our wrap-up of the top five modifications of our 25′ Airstream travel trailer. We made these and other changes to help make our trailer into a suitable house for year-round living and travels.

    Jim and Debbie
    locate us here
    visit our website

    ©2013 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

    locate us here
    visit our website

    ©2007-20112 Dreamstreamr

    Odds and Ends

    We voted last week.  Picked up absentee ballot from our mailbox and realized we had zero days to deadline to get this in the mail and on the way to NC.  Our first time to do this, we’d always been home to vote before and relied on local newspaper for sample ballot and our research.

    This time we studied the candidates electronically with great assistance from a voting info page sponsored by one of the universities.

    A sign I’m back into my rhythm — three days in a row I’ve enjoyed my cup of matcha tea on our patio by 06:00 a.m.  It makes me feel great to watch the sun rise (closer to 06:50), to breathe the clean morning air, hear the morning noises of a busy city street, sip the rich tea, and read just one scene from a play or one small chapter of a slow book.  Except this morning I spent adding to these paragraphs and my next post.

    We were moving around and committed to other things for the previous six weeks.  I might not have had but one sunrise cup of tea.  Didn’t even get out of bed until after 7 or 8 or even later a few times.  Well yeah, those times I stayed up until after 01:00 in the morning and am not too likely to get up right away.

    I like this groove better.  Quiet time, just a little niche in the day, to get my my bearings.

    Found the sole general delivery Mesa Post Office last week for our forwarded mail.  Mesa has maybe a dozen contract postal units (CPUs) serving their respective resorts like this one and several branch post offices in Mesa. We learned last year the branch post offices won’t handle general delivery mail.  Most folks staying in these many resorts simply get their mail through their CPU.  We receive a key from the resort for our mailbox, and the CPU stuffs whatever arrives (plus a generous helping of junk mail) into our box for us.

    Our mail would go from the forwarding agency (Escapees) to the local post office, and then to the CPU for our resort.  But last year one of our forwarded packets disappeared.  The CPU lacks a scanner and so cannot account for what the Post Office does, and does not, transfer to the CPU.  Our packet left Escapees and the Post Office scanned it successively throughout its journey until it left the local Post Office.  Did the CPU get it?  We’ll never know.

    This year we’ll use General Delivery instead of the resort’s CPU.   We pick up our mail every week or two directly from the post office.  The post office retains secure chain of custody on our package until we pick it up ourselves, at which time the post office scans it out as delivered.  Safe and sure.

    Finally turned on the AC, it was 92 outside in the shade and we’re parked in full sun.  Mornings were 60 degrees, really nice for sitting outside.  I’m back to an old habit, making a cup of matcha and reading a chapter at sunrise.  Sort of symbolizes return to routine for me.  But this week the morning lows are high 40s, a little chillier.

    Seems funny to have the air on and still turn off the converter to save electricity.  But the solar panels are more than capable, with all this sunlight, of maintaining the batteries throughout all the day’s use.  Why pay for more kwh?

    We’re running the lights and fans and fridge controls and phantom (okay, all the battery loads) with solar charging only.  This is an experiment, to see how well it works and for how many (if any) weeks we can do this as the sun gets lower and lower in the sky.  Our solar panels aren’t yet tiltable but I’d like to correct this — maybe I can get to it in the next couple of months?

    Jim and Debbie

    locate us here
    visit our website

    ©2007-2010 Dreamstreamr

    How did 2009 work out for Dreamstreamrs?

    We realized today, with a laugh, our last year’s resolutions were almost identical to this year’s. Well, maybe they worked out well and are worth repeating. Let’s see how well we did in 2009 living our resolutions.

    We resolved for 2009 the following:
    # 1. Spend less
    # 2. Eat healthier
    # 3. Exercise more
    # 4. Expend fewer non-renewable resources

    We spent under our budget for the year 2009. A few of our reductions included dining, site rental, and, most notably, truck fuel. Truck fuel cost reduction was easy, just reduce towing mileage. 2008 we had very high towing mileage (18,000 miles) and fuel costs per unit were very high. We cut this greatly in 2009 (see #4), so #1 achieved.

    We dined out less in 2009 and prepared more of our own meals. We ate almost no “fast-food”. We managed to eliminate pop from our (Jim’s) diet. We drank more fresh-brewed green tea. We made healthy choices for our pantry and refrigerator. We ate healthier, so #2 achieved.

    Exercise was on our minds throughout 2009. First quarter we walked a lot, at least three miles a day. 2nd and 3rd quarters we were traveling and still managed to walk frequently. Not enough but we were trying. 4th quarter we went wild, playing tennis almost every day for six weeks in November and December. We managed to finish the year having had more exercise than in the previous year. #3 achieved.

    Finally, we pledged to expend fewer non-renewable resources in 2009. Did we? We spent whole weeks powered only by our solar panels powering the RV’s electrical system and re-charging our pair of 6 volt golf-cart batteries. And we reduced our towing mileage by almost 9,000 miles or over 850 gallons of truck fuel. We don’t generally know how much electricity we buy is coal or gas-fired. All the energy we saved by driving less is non-renewable energy. Yeah, #4 achieved.

    So our resolutions worked great for us for 2009. We hope we’ll do as well in 2010.

    Jim and Debbie
    visit our website
    locate us here

    ©2010 Dreamstreamr

    The Tim Horton’s Trans-Canada Tour

    If you are reading this, we either found wifi or Verizon service somehow. Funny how much we miss our accustomed connectivity. We thought Tim Horton’s restaurants would all offer wifi service after we saw it in Dayton, Ohio. But none of the Canadian Tim Horton’s we’ve visited (we’re a little embarassed to admit, but we’ve stopped at Tim Horton’s almost every driving day for the past two weeks) have offered wifi.

    You know, we’re only stopping in Tim Horton’s to look for wifi and use the washrooms. And once we’re in the restaurant, the sirens call. “Over here, sweethearts, over here — look at all these yummy fresh pastries and muffins. Smell this wonderful fresh coffee. You know you want it and you really didn’t think you’d find wifi here, did you? You are just here for the coffee and doughnuts, aren’t you? Come on, grains and dairy and all goodness right here. This is good for you.” And so we continue stopping in Tim Horton’s restaurants (read: really great doughnut shop) to “look for wifi”. This we do for you, dear friends, so you can peruse our ramblings while you munch on your doughnut and sip a little coffee.

    The low temperature last night was 46F, the coolest we’ve seen this summer. We’re stationed at approx 4,400 feet elevation in Cypress Hills Provincial Park near Maple Creek, SK. Yesterday the high, driving from Moose Jaw to Maple Creek, was 52 degrees. We had light rain almost the entire 240 mi trip. The rain placed a little more emphasis on driving caution and a whole lot of road dirt on the truck and trailer. Oh well, they’re washable and we have time. We plan to stay at Cypress Hills three more nights before we move on.

    We’ve stayed in five Provincial Parks this trip so far. Birds Hill by Winnipeg, MB, Spruce Woods near Carberry, SK, Crooked Lake near Grenfeil, SK, Buffalo Pound near Moose Jaw, SK, and now Cypress Hills Park. This is the first in which we have taken electricity service, and it is nice to have “full power” again. We can get along well without commercial electricity as almost everything in our RV is battery-powered. Battery power, though, is not at all the same as commercial power.

    Solar panels afford us full batteries during the bright days and serviceable batteries even on cloudy days. Sunset means the batteries settle into a slightly lower power, from a high of 13.8 volts to no more than 12.8 volts. Not even a ten percent drop, right? You can tell the difference in the lights, the pump, the fans. Everything is just a little dimmer. And after a few hours of darkness outside the battery voltage drops another few tenths. The reduction has exceeded ten percent from peak battery power. So what?

    This really is just a matter of degrees. Everything still works very well. We continue to have required voltage and power to operate all our 12vdc appliances and are able to obtain 110vac (through our small inverter) if we need to, all from the batteries. But it becomes, if only mentally, a bit like paddling although your canoe has a motor you aren’t to use after a certain time each day. Paddling works perfectly well, is quiet and free, and is as much as some people will experience. Your motor allows you to take your canoe a little faster, a little more effortlessly, a little longer even. And now with the motor off, the canoe is back to just a paddling boat. Still goes everywhere but. . .

    But we sure do like full power, too. The ham radio works just a little better on 13.8 volts than on 12.2 or 12.6 volts. The lights are just a little brighter. The fans and water pump operate just a little faster. We ignore battery capacity and avoid rationing battery usage. What a luxury to have full power at every light and appliance! This reminds Jim of his dad telling about growing up in Mississippi in the 1920’s. Many rural houses lacked electrical power of any kind. Jim’s dad was remembering, when the house lights would dim or the fan would slow, going out to start the generator to recharge for awhile the storage batteries.

    The aggravations with the batteries and generator were better than only having oil lamps and hand fans. Solar power and batteries provide us nice flexibility. They allow us to use all the juice we want during a sunny midday. We can charge the battery-powered electronic stuff (laptops, iPod, Palm, phone) and still get a great charge to the house batteries. We also have lighting and water pumping and fans wherever we are. We can refrain paying for electricity, water, or sewer connections at any campground, saving between $3 and $10 per night. We like the flexibility and economy.

    We have never parked between so many and so tall trees.The trees are spaced, off the roadway and immediate parking site, every six to ten feet apart. These pines (we’re pretty sure they aren’t cypress, despite the park name) all seem to be at least sixty feet tall. Jim’s a little tempted to string my ham radio wire antenna between the trees. If he did he would realize great reception and transmission with the radio’s long distance bands. Hmm, why not? We’ll see.

    Cypress Hills Provincial Park has a resort hotel, a golf course and mini-golf, a swimming pool, a couple of stores, a pizza place, and more. We arrived between rain showers yesterday, set up the RV, and built and enjoyed a roaring campfire before supper. We will take time over the next two days to explore the Park while getting our daily walks.

    The drive yesterday was interesting for the change of scenery — less apparent were zillions of acres of verdant farm acreage and instead we saw miles and miles of grassy moguls. Agriculture is still happening, evidenced by tall grain elevators every twenty to fifty miles. But we’re seeing signage for mining or quarrying, we’re seeing a lot of oil wells pumping up and down. Gone are the blue flax or yellow canola fields which stretched out as far as we could see. More cows and horses, more industrial-looking stuff. Maybe it’s differences in the soil? More on this later.

    Our schedule, for several weeks, has been driving on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. This plan is a little minimalist for us — it almost feels like we’re hurrying again because we are driving three times a week. By this schedule we stay three nights through each weekend to avoid hunting a site on Fridays. The concept has seemed to work in a couple of parks and allows us to continue without arranging reservations for sites. This Park has a golf course (about which we know nothing so far) and so we’re thinking we will stay two extra nights to make worthwhile the small chore of extracting Jim’s golf bag from under twenty different things in the truck’s bed.

    The truck’s bed is well-enough organized and only five feet wide by six and one-half feet long, so it doesn’t take so long to locate and grab anything. But removing a large object, like the golf bag, also will entail putting it back in place and putting twenty things back in place above it. Why not leave the golf bag on top, so it is easy to reach? Unfortunately for Jim’s golf game, our schedule predicates using the electrical cords and water hoses and chairs and the Cosco stool and — wait a minute. Maybe there aren’t twenty things in the way after all? Items at the bottom of the truck’s bed seems a bigger project to access than they are. Five minute is all it takes to reach anything anywhere in the truck’s bed, and five minutes suffice to return the truck bed to general order.

    The RV’s interior temp was 52F degrees this morning when Jim awoke to check the ham bands. Jim lit the catalytic propane heater (and aimed it at himself and the wall thermometer) before he made himself a cup of tea. Now Deb’s stirring and the RV is 71 degrees. She’ll leave her warm bed and make us some hot oatmeal before we walk about.

    Let’s go find some golf clubs so Debbie can have a little peace and quiet in her home this week while Jim tries to play golf. Talk to you later, next time we find wifi. Maybe in a Tim Horton’s restaurant, eh?

    Jim and Debbie
    visit our website
    locate us here

    ©2009 Dreamstreamr

    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.

    Update on dry-camping in Ohio

    We are in day 6 dry-camping in the Lake Loramie State Park. We think this is an apt time to review our longest dry-camping run in our Airstream CCD 25. And we want to share a little about camping this week in one of Ohio’s fine state parks.

    Lots of kids, families, bikes

    Lots of kids, families, bikes

    This gorgeous state park is this week hosting, I think, every person in Ohio. Well, we have some Ohio friends we haven’t seen but the park is absolutely a beehive of busy-ness. This is the busiest we’ve seen any campground anytime. Everyone is buzzing about enjoying fabulous Memorial Day weekend weather and enjoying being here.

    Children and adults appear equally elated to escape to this local campground. We’re glad to see this — so many people are vacationing here on this long Memorial Day weekend. People seem to be very local, many of them commuting from work to their trailers on the early days preceding the weekend. The recession didn’t kill camping but it might have prompted more people to stay in parks closer to home.

    A large number of the campers seem to be multi-family. We are seeing many two and three camper set-ups where they have creatively pulled their campers facing each other. One camper remarked to us, they are real lenient at this park about the rules. This seems, very nicely, to allow these families to camp comfortably and without causing any apparent harm.

    We also are seeing a lot of multi-generational campsites. The grandparents, it appears, arrived on Wednesday or Thursday. They start staking out the site and enjoy a night or two before the kids and grandchildren arrive. Then on Friday afternoon all heck busts loose. Here come the kids and grandkids and four bicycles and ladder golf and beanbag toss and horseshoes and bonfires and lots of laughing and grandmoms saying, “honey, here have some more of this before you go playing again. And don’t you want some more pop?”

    And here are much larger numbers of older and smaller recreational vehicles than we usually encounter. Frequent visits we’ve made to state parks haven’t shown us as many pop-up campers or such a small number of motor homes. I guess this maybe is because we more often (five days out of seven) aren’t seeing working families in campgrounds. So we more often are seeing retired people who are spending their grandchildren’s inheritances or who, like us, opted for a more comfy motor home or travel trailer.

    Not this week. In this state park almost a third of all sites are occupied by tents or pop-ups, and there are probably not two or three large motor homes. How many Airstreams, Argosys, Avions, Holiday Ramblers, or other premium trailers? One, just ours. Well, there was an Avion but he left the day after we arrived. We have seen lots of very practical and serviceable 20 to 30 feet long Sunnybrooks and KZ Sportsmen Forest River trailers and fifth wheels. And a bunch of pop-ups and tents.

    I mentioned before we are dry-camping because we didn’t make advance arrangements for this busy weekend. This dry-camping has turned out a good experience for us. We’re too cheap to dry camp when we have electricity available, because we can power our refrigerator at no added cost with the electricity. The refrigerator normally consumes propane (although not much) when we’re not plugged in to electricity, and many campgrounds include electricity in their most basic rate. So we save propane if we run the fridge on their electricity.

    Our site in Lake Loramie State Park in Ohio

    Our site in Lake Loramie State Park in Ohio

    Since it is cheaper and we can rent a site through Saturday (or longer) we opted for primitive, or no electric and no water service. And we gained a nice campsite by the water which, on the electric sites, would be at an additional premium cost. Our campsite setup is simpler with no water hoses and no electrical cords. We selected a pretty site away from the tree shade (and dead limbs falling) and close to the canal edge.

    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.

    We’re not trying to win a contest or prove anything. We are enjoying living simply and saving money. This is easy in our Airstream — our wide-opening windows and roof vents provide great ventilation. Our solar panels have provided ample power for our lighting, radio, and recharging the laptop. And the solar-charged batteries and tank capacities have been sufficient to allow a full week without any external utilities.

    Incidentally, the biggest draw on the batteries is when I push the transmit key on my ham radio — 22 amps at 12vdc. Batteries so far have held overnight at 12.6v each day, enough to give the radio full power for a short time. I work the radio an hour in the evening and again for a half-hour in the morning. I reached France, Moldova, Ireland, and Colorado, in the past three days. This state park has been a good spot for long distance (dx) ham radio operation.

    We are frugal users of power. I wonder if our reduction in carbon footprint is helping the environment as much as we should? We are:

  • * living in a tiny (<200SF) house,
  • * weekly water consumption is approximately 40 gallons,
  • * using less than 1/100 as much electricity as our brick house did,
  • * using at most a couple of gallons of propane each week, and
  • * driving less than many, if not most, commuters.
  • Our largest variable in energy (and costs) is miles driven, especially towing. We are burning a gallon of gas every eleven towed miles. We have, for the past eight months, settled down our towing mileage considerably by staying three months each in two venues. We're on the move now, and might average as little as a week in each stop for the next five months.

    We’re making our way across the country toward Vancouver, BC. There are a few stops we’ll make on the way. We’re going to buy enough gas to get to Vancouver, and we really would like to tow the trailer with us. We want to make the distance, but not in any hurry. So we can spread the gas cost across more weeks and months, and hopefully spend less for the year.

    Dry camping, if we learn to do it effectively, will help us afford our lifestyle and travels better. We are looking forward to learning better how to economize while enjoying camping. One big answer may be an increase in dry-camping. We’ll try.

    See you down the road!