The Small Small Trailer

An essay in inadequacy.

I’ve been wanting to write more about the vehicle that was our home for over a year after we sold our house back west as it deserves honorable mention. We’ll never forget the time we spent safely tucked behind it’s half-inch walls. The trailer is a 20′ Jayco Lite with canvas pullouts on each end. It was designed as a camper trailer … the kind you take the family for a weekend campout in, not live in for a year. That was not our plan, I assure you.. it just happened as some things do.

When I spotted it in an ad, I was sucked in by the extra amenities and the price. Plenty of room for the job as I saw it at the time. It came with a TV, radio, almost a wood stove (renovations had been started for the project), an air conditioner, central heating and something else so appealing I’ve forgotten what it was. It also came with a badly rotted floor which I didn’t know about at the time. The rest was standard.

We spent a summer living in the thing expecting to find a property with a house. We didn’t, and ended up tubed in for a year too long. The single table inside was only big enough for my son and his computer so I spent a lot of time doing whatever in our bunk at the rear or in the shed we half-built. My husband even moved his TV and Xbox outside during the summer. Just too cramped.

The sink was too small, the bathroom was too small and the hot water heater was glitchy and it became an art form to pull a shower off in the approximately six minutes available if the water didn’t boil over first. The pipes froze solid during the winter and imagine doing dishes outside in zero degree weather at a makeshift table. It happened.

We managed to break not one but two windows and had to tape them up and when the freezing temperatures hit, we had a major problem on our hands what with the canvas walls of the pullouts. We were clearly unprepared. That seems to be the story of our lives.

We ended up putting rigid sheet insulation and plywood around the walls and over the roofs of the pullouts but zero degrees doesn’t care. The rain had a tendency of finding a way through all the tarp we put over it too. Wet mattress pads, sheets and pillows were the order of the day. I don’t know how we survived but we did.

Some time during the summer the rotten floor made itself apparent and we crawled under the contraption to shore up the floor with two by fours to prevent a “yard sale” while driving down the freeway at sixty-five miles an hour.

There isn’t much between the outdoors and the humans either in a canvas pullout. One night the roof caved in on my face. I could feel paws on top of me as my husband half slept. When I screeched at the cat, he said “are you sure it’s the cat?” Helpful. One night shortly after we’d set up camp on our new property, we heard something that sounded big scrape up against a trash barrel outside just feet from our heads. My husband continued to take the outside position in the bed.

Last fall we got a fifth wheel for a temporary upgrade, not knowing for sure when we’d be able to build a real house but our fifteen year old insisted that he didn’t want to see the Jayco go to waste. He’s a teenager and still occupies it’s space.

We were quite happy to say goodbye and move next door forty feet away. At least we no longer have to worry about Mr. Foot reaching his hand under the canvas wall and making away with my husband.

 

How Do I Write?

It’s 7:45 am in the morning and I’m sitting at my computer looking at the smudges all over the screen, wondering if that’s an extra period I’ve added or a speck of food. It’s a touch screen and the first time I cleaned it I had to wait twenty minutes for the commands I accidentally activated to process.

Imagine just finishing a blog post and the commands deleting the whole thing, writing an entire new post that was pure Shakespearian, and publishing it; all while you look on helplessly.

Or maybe my cat could walk across the keyboard and accomplish the same thing.

Our fifth wheel has about a foot of snow on the top and I’m wondering how my husband and I are going to shovel all it off. I hope the ceiling doesn’t cave in while I’m writing yet I’m choosing to sit down and blog rather than get out there with the heavy equipment and clean up literally tons of snow. Easy choice, actually.

I love to write but being just months in, it’s daunting. I’m trying to find my sea legs and thrashing about every time I get washed overboard, which happens a lot.

 As I  paddle around in circles, I’m realizing just how much I don’t  know about writing. Did you know there are curly as opposed to straight quotation marks? And double and smart ones? I didn’t until yesterday when I downloaded a proofreader. I was having so much trouble finding a transition from one paragraph to another the other day I gave up and just wrote “segue” between the paragraphs.

Ever wonder if you’re the worst, least professional writer in existence? I do on a daily basis. I  suspect I may not be the only one.

I ran the proofreading tool on my last blog post and I didn’t understand what the thing was telling me to correct. I feel like an amateur but I was buoyed by a blog post I read yesterday by The Art Of Blogging.

It featured a book by Stephen King on writing. I liked the part about failure the most. I feel much better knowing that is a part of the writing process and to expect it.  If Stephen King failed and is still with us (boy is he ever), then I stand a chance.

I want to learn how to write better. I want to find my particular style. I want people to want to read my blog. Every once in a while I get frustrated and consider walking away but I immediately dismiss the thought because I love to write.

Most of all, I want to find my style.  I currently rotate between what I call my boring style to humorous, then some poetry with weird subject matter, to super descriptive, and the emotional stuff.  My favorite is the humorous.

I want to perfect the art of humorous writing more than any other style. I want to write like Jean Sheppard of A Christmas Story fame. That’s my biggest bestest aspiration. Funny words.

As far as cleaning up the roof of our RV, I’m already looking for a humorous angle.

Tinkham Campground

We spent about four months on the road living in our 20′ Jayco Lite travel trailer after we sold our house in Snoqualmie Washington. We lived on the road for about four months, mostly in the Snoqualmie National Forest, while we looked for property. It was a memorable summer.

We spent the first month or so up the Middle Fork Road just outside North Bend but you’re supposed to only camp for two consecutive weeks at any time in the national forest so we were under pressure to keep moving. Still, the Sheriff did their jobs pretty well and it was tricky to keep two paces ahead of them. We were forest bandits.

We had to spend a week at the Summit At Snoqualmie Motel for awhile just to get out of the national forest for the prescribed time before we could go back. It cost us an arm and a leg but it was nice to be able to shower easily and be more comfortable.

We spent a couple of weeks at the Denny Creek campground near Snoqualmie Pass but it was under the control of Darth Dunder. He was an older gentleman who took his job way too seriously; and he was simply an asshole. I wrote about him in a previous post.

After spending a couple more weeks in another open camping area, we moved into Tinkham Campground for almost the last month on the road.

Tinkham was a breath of fresh air in that the hosts were super friendly and didn’t administer the camp like a internment facility. It was located about halfway between North Bend and the pass. As we were still “living” and working near our old home, we could still commute back and forth to Snoqualmie with relative ease. A quick drive up the forest service road to the freeway entrance and we could blast down I-90 in about twenty minutes. It was a beautiful commute.

We found an open spot on the river side of the campground with our own semi private trail to the river. I can’t remember if it was the north fork of the Snoqualmie or another river. Denny Creek fed into it just a mile or two up the road and was known for having gold.

We were at the river often to get water, prospect, or just to play around and throw rocks. The beach was extremely rocky and I noticed that someone had begun to build a trail of sorts from the tree line to the river’s edge. I seized upon the idea and spent many hours over the following weeks continuing with construction of the trail. I treated it like a patio. I would find the flattest rocks, dig shallow holes for them, put down the rock and fill in between them with sand. It looked pretty cool in the end.

Working on “my” trail became one of my favorite pastimes. It became somewhat symbolic to me. It was a contribution of sorts to those that would follow; an easier way to the water other than the ankle twisting journey one would normally have to take. It was an invitation of sorts to come and enjoy. It was a testament to the small dedication of one person to create something ordered out of chaotic jumble of stones lining the river. I hoped it would be enjoyed for months, maybe years ahead. I hoped other people would help to maintain it. I would like to go back and see if it’s still there.

The great solar eclipse happened while we were there. When the event happened, the shadows deepened in a surreal fashion. The light dimmed, and we headed to the beach, me with my camera, my husband with three pairs of sunglasses, to view what we could of the show.

I wanted to capture the eclipse on camera but although I could see the shadow of the moon creeping across the face of the sun, I couldn’t capture it on film. We all ended up taking turns putting on the multiple pairs of sunglasses to see what we could. It turned out to be anti climactic but was memorable all the same.

We went prospecting up at Denny Creek but had the usual bad luck in finding any gold. With the weeks I spent prospecting there, I realized just how difficult gold really is to find. Being so heavy, it sinks down to the bottom of the gravel and sand and you have to be experienced and have the right equipment in order to recover anything. Lessons learned though. Sometimes it’s learning how not to do something that teaches you how to do something. The process of elimination.

We were able to pull off more than the usually prescribed two weeks stay because the season was coming to a close for the winter and the hosts, being an older couple, were quite open to the idea of having us clean up the firepits. We worked over the course of about three days to finish all fifty or so campsites.

We found the property we were looking for and the negotiations finally went through in the last couple of weeks of September 2017. Winter was approaching and we now had somewhere to go. Somewhere to call home. It was time to go.

On the evening of September 17th of the year 2017, we loaded up the trailer and hitched it up to the truck in the pouring rain. We pulled out of our spot and stopped on our way out to say goodbye and say thank you to our hosts.

We pulled onto I-90 knowing western Washington was now behind us, most likely for the remainder of our lives but a new adventure awaited us ahead.

 

Rant Poem On DIY Solar

A venting I must go

Bought a freakin’ solar kit

Thought it’d really be a hit

Catch the sun rays from the sky

Found out different tell you why

First you have to wire it right

Clamp them hard and do it tight

If you don’t they break in two

When you strike them with your shoe

Get it all set up and goin’

Plug it in and nothin’s showin’

Check it all with a volt meter

Skip a wire and you’re a cheater

And when you still don’t get power

Throw a wrench go take a shower

Next day when you’re at it still

Find out your controller’s ill

Then redo it put together

Hope that rain’s not in the weather

Find out that your cable’s wrong

Wow this’ now taking too long

All I want is my TV

Tools all over skinned my knee

Cables came redid them all

Will my power come on at all

No of course not that’s too easy

Batteries fried and I’m uneasy

Check the RV for the problem

Breakers sockets test all of ’em

Turns out that we’ll be just fine

Only use it at night time

What to do now what is next

Send the comp’ny email text

Hit the troubleshooting checklist

At the bottom and now I’m pissed

What the fuck did I do wrong

That I can’t turn my lights on

Feel so mad like I’ve been jerked

Bought a gas gen cause it works!

 

 

 

 

 

 

HUGE Industry-Wide Problems With Solar

This and some other issues need to be addressed.

It’s taken a couple of months since we bought our first solar power system kit to realize where the problems lie and that one of them isn’t being addressed well enough yet. I can’t speak for systems that are professionally set up as I don’t have any knowledge about them. I’m talking about the ones you order and set up yourself.

The first problem is absolutely critical to the life and functioning of the battery array. The battery array stores all of that sunshine for your use.  Deep cycle batteries that are used in a battery bank must never be discharged below 50% or 12.1 volts as it can damage them and shorten their lifespan and storage capabilities. It can ruin them necessitating a replacement of the whole bank.

You need a way to monitor the voltage level of the batteries and way to shut off the power draw when they hit that 50% depleted level.

Important here is that solar power systems can run an AC or alternating current system (120 volts) and/or the DC or direct current system.  The DC is more of an auxiliary system.

If you live in an RV you have a DC system built in that runs the smaller appliances such as the lights and the water pump either off of the 12 volt house batteries or through a direct connection to a solar setup. The DC system is what you would use while out camping but RVs incorporate both a DC and an AC system for use if an outside source of power is available at a campground, for example. The AC is a 120 volt system that supplies power to larger appliances such as an air conditioner, a ceiling fan, washer and dryer etc.

Our main goal and most folks, I imagine, when buying a solar power system, is to run the BIG stuff with an option of also plugging in those smaller appliances.

When we bought our first set of solar panels, we saw that the control charger that came with the kit (the brains of a solar power system) could be programmed to disconnect the power draw from the batteries at whatever depletion level you set. By doing that, it would theoretically prevent the batteries from being discharged below the 50% (12.1 volt) level (recommended) thus preventing over discharge and the resulting damage to the batteries.

It took us this long and a conversation with the solar company we bought from to find out that the controller they sent only monitors and controls the DC or auxiliary system. The one we never used.

There was no way to program it to monitor and shut off the power draw being funneled through the primary AC system.  This particular charge controller was effectively useless to us in protecting our main power storage asset; our battery bank. I have no idea why it would have been designed this way. It makes absolutely NO sense!

The only way to prevent battery damage as we use the system, is to visually look at the voltage level display on the power inverter itself (the component that converts the 12 volt power from the battery bank to usable 120v energy) and turn it off/or unplug the extension cord to our trailer when the batteries get low on voltage. Stupid.

I had to search the internet for a special low-voltage disconnect relay that I bought from another company and I installed it. It worked for awhile then something happened and it started to shut down the inverter altogether and to this day, we can’t figure out why.

We had to remove the relay so the inverter would work again but now we are back to square one. We now have no way to watch the battery voltage levels but we kind of don’t care right now. I could press forward in getting the answers but for now, we’re back to using just two gas powered generators.

Inverters that are programmable to actually work properly with a solar setup are 700.00 and up. The rest (the ones that come with DIY solar panel kits) are preprogrammed to disconnect from the battery bank at 10.5 volts; after your batteries are already dead and/or damaged.

My understanding of why they are set to disconnect power at such a low voltage is to prevent the inverter from tripping off with a load spike when first plugged in. I can’t believe someone hasn’t come up with a work-around for this.

By the time we got a clue as to what was going on, we were worried about our batteries as we were having HUGE problems getting any kind of significant power out of each cycle (day of sunshine). Our batteries had been over depleted so many times by now they were almost surely damaged. We had them tested and although we believe their performance has somewhat been compromised, they are supposedly good.

Here’s another issue I noticed about the planning stage of going solar. This is specifically for those living in an RV.  Logically, you have to figure out how much power you’re using in order to estimate the size of the system you plan to purchase. I consulted website after website on how to do this. You make a list of appliances and the amps and/or watts each one uses, total it up, and size your setup accordingly.

We did this and still had a huge problem with a power drain that we couldn’t account for. We would plug in the solar at night, for example, and we would be lucky to make it through the entire night before the solar would shut down.

We came to suspect that our RV had some sort of parasitic drain so we flipped the breaker switches one by one while the solar was plugged in. We watched the voltage readout and noted the drain as we went from one to the other.

Finally we found the culprit: Our RV house battery recharging system. If you live in an RV, when you plug into an outside power source, your house battery charging system automatically kicks in and starts to charge your RV batteries. This turned out to be a HUGE extra energy user that not one website had mentioned. We were charging one set of batteries off of another set of batteries.

To make it worse, we discovered our house batteries were bad. We’ll replace them and either disconnect them from our RV charging system and charge and monitor them independently, install a separate charge controller for them, or just flip the breaker switch in our RV that controls the battery recharging system when we plug our solar into our RV.

The last issue was completely our own fault. Our batteries are getting cold with the onset of lowering temperatures. The charge control units came with temperature sensors that attach to the batteries and they send more power to them when recharging at low temperatures as needed. If it’s too warm, the sensors tell the charge control unit to send less power to recharge. It makes the charging system more efficient.

I attached the temperature sensors to the batteries yesterday and the bank is now charging faster and more completely.

I also found out that a Maximum Power Point Tracking or MPPT type of charge controller is more efficient than the ones we have (Pulse Width Modulation-PWM)  so I’m considering switching those out too.

The moral of this story is that a lot of factors contribute to how well or IF a solar power system works.  Added together, they can have a profound effect on performance. Solar power is a fantastic concept but until the industry makes these kits more failsafe, they’ll continue to be riddled with problems and users are going to keep going through batteries like disposable razors.

Believe it or not, we are still completely sold on solar energy. Our plan at this point is to double our panels and battery bank, switch to MPPT controllers, and invest in a programmable power inverter to preserve our battery array. This is going to take a little more cash so we’re waiting for the sun to come back out in the spring.

Until then, here’s a poem I wrote: Rant Poem On DIY Solar

 

On The Road

Living as gypsies for the summer between selling our house and moving east.

pexels-photo-696680We sold our house in May 2017. We needed to close before we could make a decision on a new place to live. We didn’t know how much cash we would walk away with after everything was said and done at the old place. I cruised craigslist for a couple of weeks looking for a trailer to live for the summer. Little did I know we would end up living in it for an entire year.

I saw one that caught my eye. It was a 20′ Jayco Lite with 2 canvas fold outs. It seemed sound to me, and had a few amenities we liked so we bought it. My son and I picked it up one evening and slowly pulled it out for it’s long adventure over the mountains to a new home.

I hadn’t pulled a trailer in years. The last time was with a 1962 Shasta hitched to a tiny Ford Escort with nothing but a chain-on hitch. That was a nightmare. It was me and my previous husband with 2  friends in the back seat. At one point the car began violently wavering back and forth along with the trailer behind us. Everyone yelled “pull over, pull over!” at once and I’m at the helm trying to gently coast the contraption slowly over to the side of the road. No sudden turns here.

I don’t know how we got that thing home. We took it on many a camping trip up the local county road to the national forest where we were mistaken repeatedly for meth cookers.  One time, we had been in town and were heading back out to camp with our supplies when a bunch of Sheriffs drove by fast. We were used to the routine at that point and I think we may have turned around and gone home until the smoke blew over.

Another time, I was taking a nap in the Shasta with my 6 month old baby and 8 year old son when I heard “I know you’re in there. Come out”. I got up and went outside with my infant in my arms and my son. Robocop was there with a man who seemed really embarrassed for the cop. He stood sheepishly near the squad car. Probably a ride-a-long.

Upon seeing the obvious threat we were, the cop proceeded to reem me a new one for having a BB gun leaning up against a tree stump. Apparently, the barrel was slanting slightly too far towards an adjacent abandoned camp site. Ooooooh. “Breaking the law breaking the law”. He asked for my ID while I kept stealing looks at the poor guy who had accompanied the sheriff as he almost visually winced at the “fail” factor on the cop’s part.

After running my ID and finding no evidence that me and my children were cooking meth, he proceeded to chew me out for having a messy campground.

Well, I didn’t take to kindly to the robo-incident and complained loudly to the sheriff’s department the next day when I went into town. I happened to run into the robotard going the other way while heading back to camp. I waved him down and let him know I’d complained. If looks could kill, I’d be dead. What an asshole. I don’t like authority figures who abuse their positions and scare the crap out of 8 year old children.

The Shasta finally met it’s demise after we began storing it in an unofficial yard where, ironically, meth cookers moved in next to it and trashed it. We hauled it down to an RV reclamation site down south. It was a good little trailer. 🙁 I won’t miss the busts though.

Back to new trailer. I was a little nervous hauling a rig for the first time in quite a while so both me and my son kept looking out the back window to make sure it was still behind us. It became a joke, saying “it’s still there”.

Out away from town and into the foothills near our old home we drove. Trailer still behind us. There was a truck stop near the entrance to the county road we followed to get to where we were setting up house. It had showers for only 14.00 a pop, a laundry, and a sort of gift shop setup with everything a trucker might want to ease their travels.

We stopped and “watered” the trailer before we headed out for the last leg of our day’s journey. It was getting dark and we wanted to get this rig out to where we were going to settle for the next couple of weeks before late.

The county just happened to be paving the dirt road out and had these annoying little red cones right smack in the middle of the entire length of the narrow road. I had to maneuver the damned trailer carefully around every single one of those things. We took a couple of them out. By accident, of course.

At one point we came to an already very narrow bridge that had been turned into a one-lane. I slowly rolled up to it, sizing the situation up in my head. It looked like I would have about 5 or 6 inches to spare on each side of the trailer. Some skill would be needed. Or stupidity. What if we got the rig stuck halfway over the bridge? I didn’t want to think about it and rolled forward, my son cheering me on. Gritting my teeth with my fingers breaking the steering wheel, we moved forward at a moderate speed. I figured if we had a little momentum, if we scraped maybe we’d be less likely to get lodged in place. Yes, speed would help us in a jam. Can you imagine if we’d funneled into the far end of the bridge? Oh my God. Better not to think about it.

Somehow we did it. We made it. As I recollect, we opted to pull into a regular campground that first night just to make things easier. Backing up the rig…I’m not so good at that but it happened.

Tucked in for the first night on the road to a new life.

I’m beginning to realize that there is so much to write about, I’m going to have to continue this in another post. Many many many strange and unusual things seem to happen with our family. I’ve been told countless times I should write a book. Again, a blog will do.

Next in “The Beginning”

  • Camping neighbors from hell.
  • Are you sure that’s the cat?
  • The limousine.
  • The glass menagerie.
  • The bear and the guy in the pickup.
  • Teenage drivers.
  • Crystal hunting!
  • Hopping campgrounds and really grouchy hosts.
  • Bartering with the really nice campground hosts.
  • Panning for pyrite.
  • The rocky beach trail.
  • I realized with horror one evening that we were going to be dealing with freezing temperatures and snow with canvas pullouts.