Thursday, June 30, 2011

Awesome staff at Westward Look Resort

Today was my last day to punch a timecard! It is official--I have retired from the working world and this fantastic staff gave me a wonderful send off.
I have worked in the reservation's department at Westward Look Resort in Tucson Az for the last ten years. My job was interesting and rewarding, my fellow workers were fun to be with, and in addition the surroundings at the resort were both uniquely beautiful and 'Tucson Traditional'. Westward Look is unlike most resorts in that it is not a chain hotel but one-of-a-kind, a 4 diamond resort with 100 years of history and a staff that appreciates the uniqueness of it.
I will miss the staff--and the job--but not so much that I would give up this next adventure.

"A reason to get together is to share experiences----a reason to separate is to get some new experiences to share." Thoreau

Side door improvement

I found a very heavy front door mat at Ikea that works perfect. I store it on board on the middle of the galley where it functions as a door mat. Then when camped, it can simply be moved to the ground outside the side door. The nice thing is that it is both big enough, and heavy enough not to be blown away by any winds.

We also bought a step stool to help mom step in and out of the side of the RV. I built a mounting bracket on the rear side door to store it. That was dead space anyhow and it fits perfectly!

Rear Door Arrester

Fully extended
Ready to save the door!
Since the arrester in the rear door can't handle the weight of the new spare tire, I added a back up arrester. It is nothing but a rubber bungy cord. That way, if the wind catches the read door and the primary arrester fails, then this bungy should keep the door some slamming into the left side of the RV.

Cabinet shelves improved

I changed the shelves on the main cabinet. It was build to hold a CRT style television and a VCR. However, old CRT TV's take a lot of space and are no longer needed.

Since mom can watch movies and TV on her laptop, I changed the cabinet around. I added a shelf above the slide out. This gives her a ton of storage space for kitchen. She can store food, or a crock pot, or anything there. It almost doubles the kitchen storage.

I also added back stops to the shelves so that items stored will not catch the roller door.

The new bottom shelf, which is very narrow, holds the inverter. To the right of the inverter is a space for the laptop and it's power adaptor.

Bike rack added

Mom and I have been talking about her bringing her bicycle on her trip. We figure this would be very handy for a couple of important reasons. First, to save money. The RV doesn't get very good mileage around town running short errands. Second, if you are in a camp site, then every time you want to run to to the store, then you would have to disconnect everything, pack up everything, and the reconnect when you get back.

So the question is, where to put a bicycle? Halcyon II already has the spare tire hanging off the rear door. I had mounted my bike rack from my Volvo wagon on the spare tire in order to carry my mountain bike back to Tucson. However, that doesn't work very well. I covers up the beautiful tire cover that Janice made. It makes opening the read door troublesome because of all the straps. And it adds that much more weight to the rear door and the tire rack.

The roof is too high for a roof rack. How on earth would anyone get it off and on?

I considered getting a hitch mounted bike carrier. However, that would prevent you from opening the rear door. And they are expensive. And I would have to get a special one that sticks way out from the hitch in order to around the spare tire.

What I saw in Santa Barbara
When I was back in Santa Barbara I happened to run into an older Dodge camper van that had a home made front mounted bike rake. I really liked that idea. So I took a photo of it.

I scoured the internet looking for a front mounted bike rack. I could not find one. After trying all of my searching tricks I finally found a small farm tractor company in upstate New York that made one. I called them up and they told me that they no longer make it because front bike racks are now illegal in New York State.

So I made my own. I found a bike rack at REI for $16 that had the basic frame. Then I went to Lowes and bought the metal pieces, bolts, etc. I was able to mount a steel crossbar to the frame between the radiator and the grill. I bolted two metal tubes to the cross bar, through an opening in the grill, and bolt them to the REI bike rake. On the bottom I drilled holes through the REI rack and used long bolts to mount the bottom to the bumper's licence plate holes. I then mounted small holding arms to the rack and secured them with a plumbing clamp.

The whole rack sits snug against the front. I had to build it so it sits about 1 inch off the front so that the hood can open without catching on the rack. Because the van is so big, the bike rests below the hood and below the eyeline of the driver. This prevents the bike from blocking any of the view of the road. Also, the bike tires sit below the headlights. So it won't block any light from them.

All and all, I'm pretty happy with the results. It makes for a much more balanced RV (bike off the front, spare tire off the back). I can add a second set of arms from the REI rack to hold two bikes, if needed. If there is no bike, the arms can be swing to the side and out of the way.

Front View
Side view. Note that it is tilted slight forward on top. That is because it has to leave room to for the hood to open.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cabin Air-conditioner won't run on 15 amps

I was very disappointed to discover that the built in cabin airconditioner won't run on a standard 15 amp circuit. It looks like it needs 20 amps. That means in order to run the AC, then we need standard 30amp RV power, or run the generator.

That is a problem because 99% of houses don't have 110v/30amp circuits. Only RV parks do.

I was really hoping that it would run on 15. If that were true, then as long as nothing else on board was using AC power, then we could get away with using the standard house power outlet when visiting friends and family.

I wonder why they did this? A standard window A/C unit that you can buy for your house can start using less than 15 amps.


Janice makes an awesome tire cover

Janice hand made a tire cover for the RV. Here is a video of mom seeing it for the first time.

This was a secret project that took Janice a couple of months to make. I sent her the tire specs and she found a tire dealer in Salem that had that size tire in their showroom. She was able to measure it and test the cover as she made it. Mom didn't know about it until she saw it here for the first time.

Halcyon II's new tire cover
The cover is hand made and hand painted. It took Janice a while to find the exact right colors in in the right material. It is made from treated canvas used to make umbrellas. So it is designed to be outdoors and in the sun.

The colors are the exact same colors of the hull of the Halcyon. It was red below, with a white waterline, and dark blue above the water.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Power Inverter

I installed a power inverter in the RV to power mom's laptop. It is permanently mounted in main cabinet, upside down under the new shelf. Because this cabinet was originally build as a media cabinet, it has two 12V DC cigarette lighter ports in the back to power the original TV and VCR. So I was able to plug this inverter to that 12V power source.

I did a lot of research on inverters. And I also asked some friends who have a lot of experience using inverters. The conclusion was clear. Do not buy an off-the-shelf inverter from Radio Shack, or any other consumer electronics store. Everyone I spoke too ended up with an AIMS Power inverter, and they have all been very happy with them.

AIMS Power is based out of Reno, Nevada. You can't buy directly from them. They recommend that I buy my inverter through their web retail channel The Inverter Store. I ended up buying their 400 Watt stand alone model. It was only $34, and with shipping $41.

This inverter doesn't come with mounting points. Since I was going to hang it upside down on a moving vehicle, double sided tape wasn't going to be good enough. So I ended up drilling 4 small screw holes into those lovely aluminum side fins and mounting it with screws through the top of the new shelf.

It is pretty quiet, and seems very well built. I ran some tests and and it powers Mom's Macbook Pro just fine. It also doesn't draw too much power off the house battery.

We will see how this works out. So far, so good!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tour of Halycon II

The bunks

Toilet, and shower head

Looking forward... plenty of head room!


Driver's seat

Rear.. This was before the spare tire was mounted on the rear door.

Front... Christmas day.

Port side. Mid window is over galley. Rear window is over the port bunk.

Looking in, part of the galley and the locker.

Looking aft

Starboard side. Note the canopy above the door.

LPG Tank filler angle connector

There is a design flaw on the Roadtrek, or at least this model. The LPG tank is located under the driver's seat. There is a small door that opens up that allows you to get to the fill port, and the main LPG valve. The problem is that the fill port is slightly below a steel beam.

The reason this is a problem is that it makes it impossible to fill with a thick gas "wand" from a service station. The wand has to mate with the fill port straight on. But if the wand is over 1" thick, the beam prevents you from getting to the port at the correct angle.

In San Diego I drove from service station to service station trying to find one that could fill it. Finally I found a station that had a clever angle extender. The guy simply screwed the angle extender to the fill port, then attached the LPG fill want to the other end. Easy as can be.
Here is what his looked like:
What I saw...

I resolved to carry one of these angle connectors with me so I don't have this problem in the future. But it turned out to be impossible. RV stores never heard of of. LPG stores never heard of it. No one had a clue about what I was talking about.

I finally found a company out of Phoenix that understood what I needed. They shipped me the parts and I had to put it together myself. But that only took 5 minutes.

Here are the parts...
The parts I ordered

If you need to do this yourself, go to Propane Warehouse. Order the following parts:
  • 1 3/4 Female ACME x 3/4 Male Pipe (ME111)
  • 1 3/4 Male ACME x 3/4 Male Pipe (ME215)
  • 45 Degree High Pressure Steel Elbow 3/4 Female Pipe
  • Teflon Tape for Propane Gas
With shipping, the total was $106. Not cheap, but it sure beats not being able to fill your tank.

Elizabeth the GPS

I installed a Magellen RoadMate 1700 GPS that I picked up at Fry’s for $140. The cool thing about this GPS is that is has a huge screen (7 inch). And that is has an external video jack. I installed a backup camera next to the rear license plate. The camera is powered by the backup tail lights. The video signal is run up to the GPS unit.

When the van is put into reverse, the camera feeds the GPS, and the GPS screen switches to a nice color view of what is behind me. Nice! No more blind spot when backing up. It also makes parallel parking much easier!

I’ve named the GPS “Elizabeth” because of the voice is has programmed in it. It has a stern, humorless, female voice. I don’t know why the name Elizabeth came to me. But it did, and it stuck. Now Elizabeth tells me where to go.

Magellan no longer makes this model. In fact, they no longer make any models with a video input port. Nor, as far as I can tell, does any one else. Instead, they expect you to buy a new stereo system with integrated GPS and backup camera. So when Elizabeth dies, I don't know what I will do for a backup camera monitor.

External Spare Tire

I moved the spare tire from under the port berth to hanging from the rear door. But the problem is that Roadtrek no longer sells the Continental Kit. So I had to get one somewhere else. It proved to he harder than it should be. Trying to find a spare tire rack that fits on a full size Dodge van door is rare. I finally found a website for a company in Los Angeles.

Mounting the thing was an ordeal. It doesn’t look as nice as the original Roadtrek kit. But, that is all that is available. However, the quality was lacking. The bolts didn’t line up perfectly to the nuts that had been welded on. I ended up drilling out the nuts and installing the bolts backwards.

I finally got the damn thing on. I then bought some locking lug nuts so that no one can steal (well, easily steal) the spare tire.

Now, this adds a lot of weight to the rear door. In turned out to be more weight than the arrester can handle. A gust of wind caught the rear door, and the stop pin bent. The door was able to swing open almost 180 degrees. The rear tire slammed into the port rear corner of the van, putting a nice dent in there I took the van over to a friend who owns an autobody repair shop. He said that because the dent is on the corner, fixing it is going to be a big job, perhaps a few thousand to repair. So, the Halcyon II is going to have a little battle scar on her for her travels.

KItty Brig

With the door in place
View of how it was built.
Looking down into the brig.
You can see the new partition on the right.

I added a special place for Sime to hid, and to be locked up. I call it the Kitty Brig.
I moved the starboard rear speaker back, and rotated it 90 degrees. I converted the old speaker hole into the door way. I installed a partition into the storage area between the brig and the hot water heater. Then I added insulation to protect her from any heat from the hot water heater.
I then added a door that can be installed and locked on to keep her in there. It is held in place with a simple butterfly nut.

Westward Look Resort

The air conditioning is broken at the house so we are staying at the hotel tonight.