Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Power to the RV People

Dear R.V. Shrink:
We dry camp or boon-dock all the time. My husband bought a cheap generator from some mail order catalog that makes more noise than a pack of Harley hogs. I suggested we order a solar panel and get rid of the generator. He bought a small 15 watt solar panel and said we would try it. I told him that seemed too small. I talked to a couple that had a larger 80 watt and they said it kept their battery charged if they were very careful with their usage. I hate the noise our generator makes, it annoys other campers and doesn't even seem to charge very efficiently. Should I just buy one and prove it too him or wait for both of us to go deaf listening to this stupid gas guzzling generator?
--Say What in Wasilla

Dear Say What:
I'm hearin' ya. 15 watts is like spitting into the ocean. I wouldn't wait. If you have a internet connection, there are some very informative articles on how to figure your power usage and what size solar panel you would need. If you are just using that noise maker to charge the battery, you can't get much more inefficient. You can work from both sides of the equation. Whittle your power usage and suck enough sunshine to store what you need. I think 80 watts of quiet, free solar power would be a good start. If that doesn't work you can add on. In the meantime, you may want to add a gas light, small Wave catalytic heater and efficient 12 volt bulbs to your existing lights. If you can limit your coach heater fan from coming on with a small catalytic heater you will save a lot of battery power. A gas light will give you heat and light. Your husband will eventually see the light, but it may be dimming if he continues to experiment with that small panel. I don't know what he paid for that generator, but solar costs are dropping all the time. You can buy a nice 80 watt on Amazon for less than five hundred bucks. They are so easy to install even a Shrink can do it.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Flat Tired and Blind

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We tow a Saturn behind our Class C motorhome. I think we should have some type of alarm system or indicator to warn us if a tire goes flat on the Saturn. While driving I can't see or feel the car. It only weighs 2400 lbs. I know my husband can't see it either, but he refuses to look into a system that will give us some warning if a tire goes flat. He says they cost too much and that he would be able to tell if we had a problem. I don't agree and I don't want to find out the hard way. Can you tell me how to pound some sense into him?
Flat Out Nervous in New Orleans

Dear Flat Out:
There are systems that work on tire pressure sensors. A lot of rigs come standard now with backup cameras for visual monitoring. Many people still do not have any way of monitoring their towed vehicle. I agree it is rolling the dice. I can tell you from my wife's experience that your husband will not be able to tell when and if the car has a flat. While I was doing a long hike through the mountains, my wife drove the motorhome ahead a couple hundred miles to meet me. She was crossing 30 miles in Idaho on a well graded gravel road. She was following her sister's van. Near their destination, her sister decided to let my wife take the lead. Once behind our rig she noticed the car looked odd and seemed to be dragging to the right. By the time my wife knew she had a problem, the tire was gone, the aluminum wheel was almost worn away, the strut was bent, and the alignment shot. I can tell you that the cost of all those items would buy you a pretty nice system. When I first started towing a car behind the motorhome, I could hardly tell it was there.
I would tell my daughter, "Go look out the back window and see if we still have a car, I haven't seen it in awhile." Out of sight, out of mind works, but only if you never look.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Harley RV Husband

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
My husband and I recently bought a Class B motorhome van. Our friends all told us it was too small for spending several months a year on the road, but we like small and maneuverable. What I didn't plan is my husband changing his mind about alternative transportation. Now he has decided to haul his motorcycle on a rack. This is where we access storage from the rear doors. He spent a week re-wiring and re-plumbing to gain extra storage space. Our garage looked like an RV assembly line. Yesterday I found his helmet in my already small clothes closet. I told him to take his helmet and stick it up his assembly line. I can't seem to make him listen to my reasoning about leaving the motorcycle home. We discussed the downside of not having a second vehicle while traveling and agreed we would work around it. Now with a very space limited rig we are already fighting over storage turf and we haven't even pulled out of the driveway yet. I am to the point of telling him to take his bike and take a hike. Am I being closed minded? I need some advice fast.
Harley Husband in Hillsboro

Dear Harley:
Now is not the time to mutiny over your bounty. You haven't even set sail yet. You are going to discover a lot more adjustments that have to be debated before this process is over. Yes, it should be a debate. Don't roll over on every issue, but be open minded. You may find that motorcycle a blessing when you need a gallon of milk and don't have to pull up stakes and take your living space to the store with you. Something as simple as going to a ranger walk in a national park or to a movie in town is going to entail moving your living space each time if you do not have an alternative form of transportation. Many people find this not to be a problem, but you need to take a maiden voyage and see if you are one of those people.

Class B RV's are great for those who want to stay small and deal with the inconveniences that accompany them. You are finding that space is already a concern. You will also find that many are designed with electrical systems that constantly require power, small refrigeration space, no gas hot water and the need to turn eating space into sleeping space each evening. You may find some of your fuel savings eaten up with frequent trips to resupply. You will not know your reaction to any of these considerations until you get out and experience a few months on the road.

Many people start small and eventually find the living space that fits them like a glove. That journey is still ahead of you. I am confident that you two will work out all your disagreements and that your true needs will become much clearer after you get a few miles under your belt.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

##RVT820; ##RVT904

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Going "Postal" while RV traveling

Dear R.V. Shrink:
My wife and I have been living in our RV for almost two years. We love the lifestyle, adventure, and the fact that we never have to mow the lawn or paint the house. Everything has fallen into place as far as setting up communications, knowing how to find the types of camping facilities we enjoy, managing finances and maintaining our rig.

One problem we didn’t anticipate, that drives my wife nutso, is the inadequate United States Postal Circus. We gave up on trying to work with them on mail forwarding. We have a friend that collects our mail and deposits all of it into a Priority envelope whenever we call and give her a mailing address. We always pick a small rural post office in an area we will be spending some time. Without exaggeration, our Priority traceable package travels more than we do and often does not show up for a couple weeks. I tell my wife we are not on a schedule any longer and we should just plan on the worst case scenario when dealing with the post office. She gets so upset when 2-3 days turns into 2-3 weeks that I’m afraid it is going to cause her health problems. She also runs a small business on the road that relies on the Postal Service. I have put as much as I can online and hope the rest will soon be. Do you have any words of wisdom for her? Anything will help.
--Out of luck and mail in Lubbock

Dear Lubbock:
I am probably not the best person to be dishing out advice on this matter. I have been known to go “Postal” a few times myself over mail service issues. I am picturing your wife looking as wild-eyed as myself, the day 35 bags of my newspaper mailing came up missing several years ago. I called the head of second class postage in the state of Michigan and was told, “We don’t guarantee delivery.” You cannot deal with, or argue with, a monopoly and win. Give it up. Here are the things I suggest your wife spends her energy on other than venting.

1. Put additional effort into moving information from hard copy to digital delivery. 2. If you have lost something valuable, there are two large postal dead mail centers. One is in Georgia, the other is in Minnesota. You can go there and bid on bins of lost mail. You get whatever is in the bin you buy. Maybe you will get lucky and find your own stuff. 3. Use Tyvek envelopes. As much as 10% of mail is damaged by aggressive postal sorting machines. If you do not want your mail to end up in a postal body bag, use strong packaging material. 4. Although more expensive, vote with your dollars. Use a competitor such as FedEx or UPS.

I don’t know what your wife’s on the road business is, but here is an example of one that relies on USPS. Many RVer’s make extra money buying used books and selling them on Amazon. They find the Postal Service’s media mail very slow, but convenient as they can drop books in the mail wherever they travel. Those that are never delivered just have to be considered part of doing business with the USPS and refund those orders. The problem is Amazon has a rating system. If your customer does not receive the book that was ordered and paid for, they do not blame the Postal Service, they blame the seller and issue poor feedback. Mail delivery has become a “lost art,” literally.

Whatever you do, never, and I mean never, let them see you sweat.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Water on the brain

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
My husband is a campground plumbing fanatic. Ever since we started full-time RVing, he prides himself on being able to beat any water system that tries to throttle his hooking up. He has six different kinds of water thief connectors, 300 feet of hose on reels, a 50 gallon fresh water tank in the back of our tow truck, and a tackle box full of various brass and copper fittings. Why can’t he just take up photography or something normal. This summer he found the water spigots in Glacier National Park campgrounds to have inside female threads instead of outside male threads. He had nothing that would fit. It is not allowed to connect directly to the spigot, but he just wants to know that he can. We drove a hundred miles until he found a fitting that would connect him to this unique plumbing fixture. It makes me nuts. Should I just ignore this fetish? Is it normal? Should I put my foot down and say, “No more plumbing parts?” Help!
--Driving me plumb crazy in Kalispell

Dear Plumb:
Do not throttle your husband’s creative urge to solve plumbing puzzles. I knew a guy just like that once. He was always climbing under Airstreams and designing ways to improve plumbing systems. He was a spark plug engineer for General Motors, but his true ambition was plumbing. He eventually started a small RV plumbing company called Thedford. I’m not saying your husband will become a porta potty King, but at least you will never be in a campground without a water source. He could have a tackle box full of fishing tackle and be spending a lot more time and money looking for the perfect stream or lake to wet a line. There is nothing abnormal about pursuing plumbing. Some people might think he is a bit of a drip but you should encourage him in any pursuit that seems to make him content. Remember, different strokes for different folks.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink