With our summer vacation looming large, we took advantage of the holiday to get the camper ready. We took a healthy bite out of our list with a solar install, fridge maintenance, wiring, shower, & chainsaw mill assembly…
Originally, I had planned an elaborate setup for mounting my new solar panel. After conversing with my brother, however, I realized he was right. (What can I say, I was overthinking it.) You see, I got this camper with the purpose of leaving it at our off-grid property as a base. That way (in future years) I can take a car or others can visit, without having to transport their own RV there. As such, I don’t need the solar panel to raise & lower, or stow during transport. (What a relief.)
I decided to mount the panel to the top of the ladder, about 6 inches off the roof, so it’ll be above any snow accumulation most of the time. This will help it to recharge the house battery that will run our time-lapse system. (More on that another day.) To prop the other end up, I got some PVC and ‘T’ fittings to allow legs to prop it up. I dry fit & measured everything, then cut the PVC to length. I outfitted the legs with racketballs by cutting a hole in the top. Hopefully, this will keep them from sliding out as much.
Normally, this would all be very troublesome for one person to do by themselves. Luckily, I had a “handy helper.” Next, I needed to position the U-bolts that would clamp the solar panel to the ladder. Fortunately, my measurements were true, and it fit after a little ‘persuasion.’
The plan was to take my brother’s advice and run the wire inside the ladder for a truly slick installation. I picked up some 12 gauge DC wire from the hardware store. We had figured we would need at least 14 gauge, to limit loss, but it wasn’t as available. I picked up some grommets and a hole-saw for my battery box vent. At home I had the perfect sized bit. Unfortunately, my ex-wife got the 1/2” chuck Dewalt drill driver in the divorce. My 3/8” drive Makita wasn’t going to cut it any more. I caved and followed the sale flyer to Ace Hardware.
While my credit card company is thankful, I was glad to finally own a ladder, and a heavy-duty drill at less than half of their normal going rate. (That 1966 camper ladder felt really flimsy under my heavy-duty human frame.) My pilot hole in the bottom of the ladder will now serve as a drain, as I was unable to snake the wire past the rungs that are mounted into it. Alas, I had to zip-tie the wire in true redneck fashion. Now that I had a power source, and wire, it was time for phase two…
The previous owner of this camper would set a battery in the bed of the truck after it was mounted, so there were wires hanging for that purpose. Unfortunately, my truck bed is too narrow for that method PLUS (when I leave it) there’ll be no truck to hold the battery. There was an empty cabinet directly above this spot, which became the new home of the ‘house battery.’ I had purchased a super-cheap, vented battery box a while back, so I drilled the appropriate holes and put it where I could. (There were some wire-length and vent-tube restrictions.) The money I saved by not selecting a ‘sealed’ battery more than paid for the box.
As a moderator, I chose a SunForce 10-amp solar controller which had the added benefit of indicator LEDs and a voltage display. I mounted this in the front door of the cupboard along with a cigarette lighter plug for any random use that might come up. After securing the wires, fuses, etc. I plugged in the panel and was greeted with a charging indicator. I grabbed my LED 1157 bulbs which lit up quite nicely. It topped off the battery that afternoon, and surprisingly even produced power on the rather overcast day that followed.
The previous owner had ‘busted a line’ when removing the fridge for maintenance. After exhausting expensive repair options, I had pretty much thrown in the towel on it. When I removed and inspected it, however, the line was a tiny 1/16” copper tube, which didn’t seem connected to the ammonia absorption-based assembly. While we’re working on other fridges (you can buy a LOT of ice in a week’s stay) I did some research.
Behold, I found a service manual for the 36 year-old Dometic, stating that it’s merely a ‘feeler’ tube for the thermostat. While I’ve found an ordered a coupler, the worse case scenario is that it’ll run too cold. I’ll try it out and report back. But wait, there’s more!
Alaskan (chainsaw) mill assembly:
Not a lot to say here, except that the difficulty was somewhere harder than an IKEA set, but not as bad as pre-calc. It took a while, but it seems solid. I picked up a spare bar for my chainsaw at the local saw shop, but am still waiting on the ‘ripping’ chain to come in the mail. Can’t wait to try it out, though!
I’ve been saving and acquiring these things for months, now, and it sure is exciting to see it all coming together. Which brings me to the last to-do of the weekend, testing the….
Last year, we took one solar bag-shower during a hot August week full of dust and sweat. Then one at a campground on the way home. Let’s just say I got a little too ‘ripe’ for my liking. We were going to try this again, but with cooler weather and about 12 more relatives, a solar bag JUST won’t cut it. After some discussion with my brother, I made the executive decision to buy a propane heated, tank-less camp shower.
Now these come in many makes and models, but mine was just what we needed. With a little direction, and trip for some D batteries, we had a solution. A few seconds after water flows, it’s hot. It will be a VERY welcome addition for the extended stay. This is one trinket I’ll be taking home with me
Whew, what a weekend! Now I can appreciate the holiday in thanks to all who gave their life for these freedoms I’m enjoying. Until next time, here’s the gallery: