Monday, October 24, 2016

We weren’t her first owners. She was obviously loved and cherished by that person who we think was elderly. There was an old lady who lived on our street and would walk up and down the street for exercise. Cookie would stare at her intensely. We will never know the real story – we wish we did.

Even though we were her second family, she loved us, her family pack, intensely. Anybody who doesn’t believe dogs love us unconditionally should have met Cookie. Her favorite thin...g was sit on your lap, press her head into you and stare adoringly up at you.

She believed other dogs were evil – particularly little white ones and golden retrievers. She would spare no effort or energy protecting us from other dogs.

She had a job: carrying Claire’s shoes around. Never chewing them – just carrying them up the stairs and putting them in her dog bed. She was quiet and for the most part well behaved. Until her final illness, she never had an accident in the house or the RV.

In later life she went deaf, so she would watch us for visual clues as to what to do. She did not hear us telling her how much we loved her, but she felt Claires hands holding and caressing her as she passed. I hope and pray she got the message.

She was not the perfect dog, nor were we perfect dog parents. But I believe we did right by her. I know she did right by us.

If you have that, you have everything they can possibly give.
Cookie Monster
2001(?) – September 2, 2016

Friday, August 19, 2016

Antenna Repair

We had our first overhead accident.

While trying to get into a gas station we went under a previously damaged canopy that had part of the roof dangling down. We heard two bangs, stopped and realized what was going on and then spent the better part of an hour manipulating the RV out of that gas station without causing further damage.

And we didn't even get any gas.

We pulled into a vacant lot and went up to see the damage. The satellite cover was stove in and the OTA TV antenna was at a weird angle.

Fortunately we were able push out the dents in the satellite dish over, but the OTA antenna was not quite so lucky.

The stem of the OTA antenna was badly fractured and because it would leak it became a high priority to replace it.

Fortunately the King Jack antenna used for OTA on Winnebagos' is not that expensive relative to other RV parts.  We got the part and sealant numbers from the Winnebago Support site (Yay! Winnebago!)

A call to King assured us that the Winnebago part was very close to their OAU200 antenna - they mentioned that they had recently dropped the height a bit on their antennas.  Ok.  Cool, ordered one from Amazon and ordered the sealant from Winnebago Parts.

The sealant was stuff we had never used before - "self leveling".  I read up on that and discovered that it is thinner than normal sealant and will flow into the area being sealed. 

One concern was the amount of effort needed get the old sealant off.  One person posted on an RV forum that it took a "couple of hours" to get the old sealant off.  So with trepidation and a new scraper knife from the local hardware store we attacked the old sealant.

We shouldn't have worried - the old sealant just slid off with the knife.  In less than 20 minutes, we had the sealant off and the area cleaned up and the screws holding the antenna on the roof exposed.
The new antenna is white since it doesn't make a lot of sense to male component of the team to have black heat holding components on the roof.  The above picture shows the difference in the heights of the antenna.  The new one is maybe 4 inches shorter.  That shouldn't make that much of a difference in the reception and we think it will be a heck of a lot less likely to get snagged by a tree limb.

We used black rubberized roof sealant to a bead along the base of the antenna and then screwed it down.  The screw pattern was almost the same - where it was different it the holes were sealed and new ones drilled.  While waiting for the black seal to set, we went inside and hooked up the inside electronics.  We decided to keep the old electronics in place since it was identical to the new stuff.  While waiting for the black seal to dry, we fired it up the antenna and watched the Olympics.  Granted we are in an "RF rich" environment, but we could not see any performance degradation from our old antenna.

After it sat for a few hours we put final sealant on it.  This was the whole to tube Nu-flex 311 self leveling white sealant we bought from Winnebago.  We applied it all to the base of the antenna and true to the advertisement, it flowed out, onto the surface and formed a wonderful  water tight seal.

What we did right and wrong:
  1. Broke the damn antenna in the first place.  We need to be more careful about overhead obstructions.
  2. We used the Nu-Flex 311 self leveling sealant.  Self leveling sealant is our new best friend.
  3. We installed the stem that turns the antenna backwards and didn't realize it until after it was sealed.  This had no effect on the operation of the antenna and we are not going to fix it.  All it means is that the little arrow on the knob inside is pointing 180 degrees off.
  4. We applied the self leveling sealant too gingerly.  We should have just quickly gooped it on.  While the sealing characteristics are not harmed, the surface of the sealant is a bit dimpled.  Not quite as pretty as Winnebago applied sealant.  But who are we going to offend - the seagulls?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Manchester Beach California July 4, 2016

Some relatives came out to escape the heat Arizona by staying at a small resort in Point Arena California.  Since we didn't think we could also stay there (turns out we could have), we planned an RV trip to the Manchester Beach KOA - about 5 miles north of Point Arena.

We looked at the map for the best road.  We knew it *was not* California 1 north of San Francisco.  That road is twisty-turny enough to challenge the mini-cooper.

Instead we chose US-101 North to Route 128 to about 20 miles north of Manchester Beach.
So we tried it.

The road is somewhat twisty and there are a couple of sections where there is a sharp drop to the side, but it was navigable.  Just not my favorite road.

We had a short jog on highway 1 south the Manchester Beach KOA.  The short jog on 1 was sufficient to reassure me that highway 1 and RVs do not mix well.  There was one 180 degree hairpin that a)  If there had been traffic on other lane we would have been screwed and b) I wasn't real sure the coach had enough power keep going up.

But, we made it.  The KOA at Manchester beach is a very nice RV park (aren't all KOAs?)
Point Arena Lighthouse is nearby and the very good and friendly Rollerville Café which claims to have the "Last coffee till Hawaii" lies on the road to the lighthouse. 

Less palatable was the Bird Café and Supper Club in the town of Point Arena. 

Overpriced - perhaps too sophisticated for my palate (and everyone else in our party of 6) and will not get a return visit from us.  Their wine was pretty good though.

We also toured the B. Bryan Preserve just outside of Point Arena.  This preserve is operated by a couple to try and preserve some species of Giraffes that are endanger of becoming extinct.  They offer tours of their operation riding around in vintage Land Rovers.  They also have zebras and other animals. 

The highlight of the tour is the Giraffe kiss.  They give you a piece of vegetable to hold in your mouth and the great and gentle creature will reach down and take it from your mouth - giving you a gentle kiss.
We highly recommend this tour and good karma that comes from supporting these people in their cause.

The only other thing of note that occurred was the failure of the front blinds on the RV.  Our coach has two large, electric roller blinds on the front windshield.  The solar shade - a semi transparent blind, fell as we were lowering them at the campsite.  We noted then that the night shade - the opaque shade - was off its roller.  Holding it we could roll it up and down.  The solar shade was beyond home and with a couple of cable ties (every RVer should have a bunch of these) we tied the blind up and out of the way pending repair.

Even though we were somewhat discouraged by the 128 road, we put Manchester KOA on the return visit list.  But we remained convinced there has to be a better way to get to Mendocino and Fort Bragg.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

San Simeon / Hearst Castle / Cambria

A rare 3 day weekend cropped up so we buttoned up the RV, made reservations for a tour of Hearst Castle and took off after work.

We wanted to shake down the boondocking systems so we had no reservations anywhere and just took off.

That's why you have RVs right?

So after work, we took off, headed down I-5 till about 10:00 and then started looking for a place to spend the night.  Shortly, we pulled through the roadside rest just as a truck was pulling out.  So we slipped into the spot he just vacated and settled in.

On I-5 the  roadside rests all have signs saying "No Overnight Parking".  That was a bit puzzling since the whole purpose of the roadside rest was a chance to give sleepy drivers a chance to get some sleep.  Caltrans own websites say it ok to stay 8 hours out of 24.

So whatever.  Depends on your definition of overnight.

We only put out the passenger side slides so we could stay within our parking space - which happens to be the side that includes the bed.  Walked the dog and off to bed we went.

It wasn't bad.  Trucks are noisy, but it wasn't unbearable.  The worst noise was the motorcycle club that came through in the morning.  We could hear the steady drone of the reefers, but truckers apparently don't like leaving their trucks idling for extended periods of time like they used to.

It was that night, about 4AM, we experienced failure of the 12V electrical system.

When we first pulled in, we set the Genset to "AUTO" and it kicked on and off as expected.  But when we went to bed we turned the Genset off so we wouldn't have to hear the genset while trying to sleep.

We have the "residential" (aka non-fire starting) refrigerator.  But with that refrigerator we also got a impressive set of batteries that should be able the refrigerator for at least 1/2 a day.  Apparently during the night the battery went below "LBCO" and the invertor kicked off, leaving us without any 117v power.

We still had 12v LED lights, but none of the 117VAC equipment worked.  And worse, the batteries were so low, we could not start the generator.  So it became, start the RV main engine, let it run a bit and then start the generator and then once the generator was started, shutdown the RV main engine.

Ok, manageable issue - maybe I did something silly to kill off the charge.

From I-5 we drove over to the coast near Cambria and up highway 1 to San Simeon State Campground.  Our line of thinking was that since California was in serious drought and the water had been cut off to this campground, it would be sparsely used.

We drove up to the campground and asked the ranger manning the booth if there was room and he said "Sure.  How long is your rig?"

Since California State parks have a 35 foot maximum our rig magical shrunk 2 feet.  I could see  a 40 footer in the upper camp ground.

The sites were very nice albeit no water, sewer or electricity.  Quiet hours (no generators) were 10-8.  We discovered that night the batteries would not even cover the quiet hours.  Ok - there is a problem there.

We took the toad to the San Simeon visitors center just down the road.  Extremely interesting, extremely nice.  Highly recommended.

Battery Epilogue
After the trip the batteries continued to deteriorate.  We took it camping world and in two minutes they pronounced the batteries dead.  We took it home and orders 4 top of the line Exide AGM-2 batteries at $1200.00 from the local auto parts store.

We don't know the root cause.  I did find the magnum invertor was set for "flooded" batteries - that might be the cause.  In any event the invertor is now set for AGM-2 and we are nervously watching those batteries.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Shakedown Cruises/RV Park Reviews - Calistoga, Patterson and Monterey

Other than a crisis shortened trip to Pismo Beach we had not managed to take a lot of trips in the Motor Home.  This was due to work pressures, Cruise schedule etc.  We also felt very constrained by not having a car for running around.

After we got the car (see Tale of the Toad) we took a short trip to Camping World Vacaville to see about some repair work.  We left the RV at Camping World and ran off in the Toad to see what kind of interesting things they had in Vacaville.  When the expected repairs failed to materialize we decided to try and salvage the weekend and go to Calistoga in the Wine Country.

Normally when we go to Calistoga, we stay at a very fine Bed and Breakfast called the Chelsea Garden Inn and in our previous stays we had noticed the RV park in the county fairgrounds inside town. 

Did we mention El Nino had arrived and we were in a horrendous rain storm?

So we pulled into the fairgrounds RV park and there were openings.  We picked a spot outside of a mud puddle and setup the RV.    We tooled around town in the car, had a fine dinner and a fine mud bath. 

The Napa County Fairgrounds RV park in Calistoga lacks resort amenities - which was expected.  Whenever you stay at a fairground RV park you expect a simple place to park hopefully with full hookups.  This RV park had full hook ups, was flat and clean. 

We loved it.  It was close to the attractions of Calistoga and what else do you need?
It's on the list for a return visit.

A little while later we needed to visit our Insurance Agent who lives outside the Bay Area in Patterson California.  We decided to make a night of it and have dinner with our Insurance agent and his wife (both of whom are old and dear friends).

We made reservations in the Kit Fox RV park in Patterson.  Kit Fox is just off of I-5 in Patterson and seems to be designed mostly for the overnighters.  It does not have a lot of amenities, though it does have BBQs and very nice shower/restrooms.  It was very clean and the staff was very friendly.  If we happen to be in the area, it will get a return visit - though Patterson California is not really known for being a destination.

A recent trip was to Monterey.  Driven by the work holidays we happen to go down the same weekend as the AT&T Invitational.   None of the usual RV parks had openings.

We were fortunate enough to discover that the Monterey County Fairgrounds has RV space and had openings. 

When we rolled up there, the RV park manager warned us the spots weren't exactly flat. 

He wasn't kidding.  We ended up at the far end of RV park next to an RV owned by once of the AT&T golfers.  A quick look up on the internet showed that his RV was on the order of $600k. 

I should have learned to play golf.

The site wasn't real level.  The front wheels were dangling in the air.  It was also unimproved - basically a place to park.  But it did have 50amp service water and sewer if cared to stretch our hose out to the max.  We didn't and used the tanks while we there.

The fairgrounds themselves were very nice and we enjoyed walking around and while we didn't partake of the restaurant/off-track-betting place, it is certainly on our list for a future trip.

It was also very close to the attractions of Monterey Bay:  The wharf, the Aquarium, Pacific Grove and of course 17 Mile Drive.

It is also on the list for a return visit.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Tale of the Toad Part 4: Installing the base plate

The last thing we needed to do to get the Toad toading was to install the base plate.  This is a complex thing that is best left to the pros - particularly on a Smart car where you have to disassemble a considerable part of the car.

Based on recommendations by friends (hi Bill) we chose to have our base plate installed by Eyers Hitch of Santa Clara.

We asked them to:
  1. Install a Roadmaster Baseplate
  2. Install the Brake Buddy breakaway switch.
  3. Route and install the battery disconnect switch since they were going through the firewall anyway
  4. Install a battery trickle charger driven by the tow vehicle.
  5. Install the diodes that allows the tow vehicle (the motorhome) to drive the tail, brake and turn signals on the car.
We also asked that we use the 7-Pin straight out from the motorhome rather than convert to a 4 wire or 5 wire cable.

Eyers did a wonderful job.  That is basically the long and the short of that.

For the initial test run, we went up to the local university where we hitched up for the first time and drove around the lot with one of us in the passengers seat of the Smart.  There we learned the value of bungeeing the steering wheel - otherwise you get a violent side to side steering wheel oscillation when making turns.  We learned that most Smart tow-ers bungee the steering wheel.

Since then having the Smart under tow has been a total non-event - other than having to retrain the Smart transmission when we unhook.

The choice of a Smart, was, we think, a good one.  The car is so light, we don't even know it's there when we are towing.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Tale of the Toad Part 3: Modifying the Toad

When we bought the SMART car that serves as our Toad, I knew it needed a battery disconnect for towing. "No Problem", I thought. Disconnects are cheap and easy to install. After we got the car, I discovered you have to have battery to lock/unlock the Toad. Smart is unique in that normally you only use the Fob to unlock the car. Using the key is considered an destructive emergency procedure that can only unlock the car.

This was double-plus-ungood. It was my intention to have expensive electronics in the Toad (GPS and a Ham Radio) as well as use it for storage when we were on the road. Another complication was the location of the battery: underneath the passenger seat. Since we didn't want the thing looted while we were inside Joe's Truck Stop, we had to figure out someway to switch the battery on-off while the doors were locked.

Fortunately through the good services of Google, we discovered that Intelletec makes a latching 12v relay. This relay toggles the battery on/off and latches so there is no battery drain holding the latch in position. 

We then discovered a set of momentary contact marine buttons and keys that were waterproof. It would be more secure to have a key, but we've got too many darn keys anyway.

 I was a bit concerned that road debris might slap the battery switch, but it is stiff enough that if anything hit us that hard, we'd be pulling over to look for damage anyway.

In the Smart, the passenger floorboard - a large chunk of foam - lifts out so you can service the battery. I decided to embed the relay in the foam - in retrospect a bad choice. If I had to do it over, I would put the relay in the battery compartment.

So with this relay, the electrical in the car is getting a bit complex:
  1. The remote controlled battery relay
  2. Since we use a Brake Buddy supplemental breaking system, I need a full time cigarette lighter socket not controlled by the remote control relay
  3. We decided we wanted the coach to trickle charge the battery in the event of long pull - particularly since the Brake Buddy can pull down the battery.
  4. There is a 2 meter Ham Rig that I wanted full time off of the battery.
We put long enough cables on it to lift out the foam to service the battery.  We also thought it prudent to have instructions made both in English and Spanish on how to service the battery.


We wired it up and requested the base plate installer to route the wires for the switch and the trickle charger.

Then it was off for the baseplate....

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Tale of the Toad Part 2: Selecting a Toad

A good way to get a fight started in a RVers bar is to walk in and announce:  "Such and such makes the best toad!!"  The occupants of the bar will rise up in righteous indignation in defense - and in slander - of their favorite toads.

Motorhomers are passionate about their toads.  With good reason: they've spent a lot of time and effort getting those toads into towable condition - even to the extent of installing transmission pumps to keep the innards lubricated.

Naturally, some cars are better suited for toads than others.  Motorhome magazine publishes a very good guide to towed vehicles that is available on their website.
When we acquired our Motorhome, our fleet of cars include a mini-cooper and a high mileage Pontiac Vibe.  We learned that the Vibe (or Toyota Matrix) is not well suited for towing "4 down".  We briefly considered a tow dolly, but the logistics of carrying one around quickly dissuaded us from that option.  We also did not want to convert the mini-cooper for towing - at least at this time.
So we sat down and starting thinking about what we wanted in a toad:
  1. We wanted something small.  That eliminated a large number of cars.  And along with our complete disinterest in off-roading, it eliminated the Jeep family - even though Jeeps are incredibly popular with the Motorhome set.
  2. We wanted something that didn't require extensive modification - like the addition of a transmission pump.  We didn't want to pull fuses or do any of those weird things that you sometimes have to do with toads.
  3. We wanted something used.  We knew we were going to have to hack it up a bit to install the baseplate etc.  It is a lot less painful to hack up a used car - rather than one that is fresh off the dealers lot.
  4. We wanted something cheap.  We figured the toad is going to get beat-up and probably eventually destroyed by our ignorance and the rigors of the road.
So we eventually settled on two possibles:  A Ford Fiesta or a Smart Car.

The Ford Fiesta is a compact low end Ford that was cheap to buy new and  even cheaper on the used market.  It had a back seat that would hold a very uncomfortable adult.

The Smart by Mercedes Benz is incredibly popular in Europe.  It made a big splash here initially, but quickly faded out with bad press and reviews.  The Smart had such marketing issues that cars with very low miles (like 100) were being auctioned as used cars.  They were dirt cheap.  It has the advantage that the manufacturer explicitly states it can be towed.  It is also the lightest car on the market today.  It unfortunately only has two seats.

We looked at both, but in the end, cute  (and cheap) won.

After all, it important for a Citizen of the Road to be cute....

Friday, January 29, 2016

Tale of the Toad

As anyone who drives a motorhome will tell you, you need a toad.

For the newcomer, a toad is play on the word "towed".  It is motorhome slang for a car that is dragged behind a motorhome.

Most people that have motorhomes, drive the motorhome to a location and then visit the local attractions in the "toad".   Hitting the local grocery store is much less of an adventure in a toad than trying to maneuver a 40 foot monster in a limited space parking lot.

It also one of the most expensive options in a motorhome.

In addition to purchase of the car itself, you have to
  1. Buy a tow-bar.  This can be around $2,000.00
  2. Buy an auxiliary braking system for car.  This is the infamous "Brake Buddy" or other braking system.  These things start around $1500.00.
  3. Buy a base plate for the car.  This is over and above the tow bar.  This is the car component to which the tow bar attaches.  This can be from $1,000.00 on up depending on the installation
  4. Modify the lights on the car so they can be driven by the motorhomes lights.  This can be a couple of hundred.
Every motorhome I've seen lately has a hitch receiver on it so we don't count that.  But it all adds up fast.  Early in this operation a guy at Camping World told me that I should expect to spend about  $6K.  He was about right.

So all in all, it's a pretty significant undertaking.  But its very important for a Citizen of the Road to have a Toad.