Saturday, November 3, 2018

August 2018- Forest fires and road trips.

And we end another summer defined by forest fires and their attendant dangers and restrictions.  Most of these areas are in dire need of serious thinning and logging. The lack of maintenance leaves them overfilled with fuel that makes the fires burn hotter and longer, spewing tons of ash into the air and sterilizing the soil. To complicate things, access is severely restricted due to closed roads, many of which are now overgrown and almost inaccessible.

This shows the location and size of the Ten Mile Fire soon after it began.
Note the blue square with the circle around it.

This map is larger showing fires on the west side of the Lake Koocanusa as well as the fire in the photo above.  Note the location of the blue square and compare the extent of the fire zone around the original fire and now several smaller fires.  We live near the blue square.

This is the inset to the map above showing more detail of the Sterling Complex and Ten Mile fires.  The blue square is circled.

We had some business to do in Libby and while there took some time for Scott to play at their water park.  It was a nice break for him during the hot day.

I don't remember what was so interesting for the dogs but they sure are in agreement that it's worth watching!

The smoke along Lake Koocanusa.

I was asked to check out a hot zone spotted by satellite the night before.  It's located in the blue square on the map above. The dog and I hiked in to look for evidence of fire. (None found.)

Lots of bears in the area this year.  I should have put something down for a size reference. I was armed with my 357 Magnum just in case.  A lot of wildlife has been displaced by the fires.

A small lake in the blue square (State land) near the hot spot.

Oregon (wild) grapes.

This is what I was hiking through.  There was no trail over the boggy ground. I tend to avoid this area because you can hear water running underground in many sections of it.

On the way back out Rose tangled with a skunk with predictable results.  She rolled in the grass and dust trying to get the smell off.  She also rode in the back of the truck on the way home!

We headed south to Nevada to do some hunting.  I drew an out-of-state license for the archery mule deer season. (Didn't get one but it was still a good hunt.)  I believe this is at Twin Falls, ID.

Scott relaxing on one of our stops.

One of our favorite rest stops.  There's a creek flowing through behind the camper.  If it's late enough we spend the night there (we did this time).

We went through multiple construction zones and in one of them someone threw a rock up that broke the side window on the pickup.

It's kind of a shock when the window basically shatters at 50 MPH.  It took a week to get the parts and a 300 plus mile trip to pick it up.  I put it on myself so it cost us less than $60.00 plus gas to fix it.  Gotta appreciate EBAY and the USPS.

One of our camp sites in Nevada. 

Poor Scott!  His school work follows him wherever we roam!

One of the peaks I was on while hunting. 

Looking down!

More scenery.

Another stopping point!

I hiked back in here.  The four-wheeler is down the canyon a ways. The top of the mountain to the left is where a fire went through.  The orange color is fire retardant dropped from a plane.

Looking the other direction up the canyon.  There are springs everywhere (that's why some of the trees and brush are bright green).

More scenery.

That's an old mine in the center.  I was on the ridge in the distance where the first photo of the four-wheeler was taken.

It was a long ride to the top on the four-wheelers.  Buttercup loves taking trips on them.  It was getting late and we had about 15 or so miles to go down a winding road to get back to camp. It was definitely dark when we got there!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

July 2018 Nevada Trip

Susan and Scott made a quick trip down to Nevada where the motor home is stored to get some things for the 5th wheel.  We will probably be using the 5th wheel for a deer hunting trip in Nevada this fall so we wanted to get it set up prior to leaving with it.  Once it's in Nevada it will be staying there.  It's too big to be practical in Montana and since it's primary purpose is to be our winter "home" it makes sense to just store it there during the summer.

So, Susan and Scott took a quick trip south to get things out of storage and to scout out the hunting area a bit prior to the season.

One of the stops was at the Dave Deacon campground in central Nevada.  We like it for the moderate climate in summer.  It's much milder there than the 100 (+) degree days in Overton.  It also has one of our favorite swimming springs.

The fish were "kissing" Scott!

It's a favorite for Scott due to the crystal clear water flowing through and it's deep enough for snorkeling!

This is another spring near the hunting area.  This is just one part of it (there are several springs here).  The water is warmer at this location.

And the antelope seem to like using it too!

This is near the hunting area. Susan tried going to a spot we wanted to see farther south of here but ran into some problems.  We put new tires on the Sante Fe before she left but she hit a nail or something and the left front one went flat.  While she was getting to the jack a cowboy stopped by and put a plug in the tire.  We only had a small 12 volt pump in the car so it took awhile to re-inflate the tire.  In the meantime she discovered that the right front tire was low. She used the pump to inflate it then decided to scrap the exploration of new territory and head back north.

She found a nice little camping area near a flowing creek (a real find in arid Nevada!) and spent the night there.  The cell signal was weak but she could still send texts.  We'd been in contact by texts during the day regarding the tire(s).  Being fifty miles from help is not a good feeling when you are dealing with two flats but only one spare.

The plug the cowboy put in was holding but by morning the other front tire was flat.  The little air pump stopped working after awhile (probably overheated) so Susan put the spare on.  I carry tire plugs in the vehicle but you need a tire pump to re-inflate the tire.

Anyway, with the spare installed she took off for the nearest outpost of civilization.  There she found someone to repair the flat although he wouldn't swap it with the spare.  (He also charged her $40.00 to put a plug in the hole!)  So she changed the tire herself, putting the spare back in the rack under the car and putting the front tire back in it's original position.  Then she headed for home.

This is a little camp ground near some petroglyphs where they spent a night on the way south.

Another place we've stayed before.  This one was under water one spring.

Another night near the petroglyphs.

One of the sites at the Dave Deacon CG in Nevada.

The trip home was uneventful and she and 
Scott arrived with a trailer load of things that now need a home in our 5th wheel.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

July 29, 2018 Solar Power Installed on the 5th Wheel

We purchased a used 5th wheel to put into use as our winter home when we go south in the fall.  We prefer to "boon-dock" when we travel which means we camp out in the "wild" without electric, water and sewer hookups rather than use campgrounds that charge a nightly fee.

As a result we tend to modify our rigs to be pretty much self-sufficient.  They have water storage, propane for cooking, the furnace and for powering the refrigerator and water heater.  The generator is powered off the propane bottles and wired directly into the wiring system.  It has both 12 volt DC and 120 volt AC systems installed.

One of the most important changes we make is to install solar panels for charging the batteries (and we increased the number of batteries from one to three), which power the 12 volt DC system and also power an inverter to supply 120 volt AC current when we are not running the generator.

In this instance we installed two 160 watt solar panels on the roof of the RV.

One of the first things I do is take a photo of the specification plate on the back of the solar panel(s).  In this case both panels are identical units rated at 160 watts each (320 total).  This should supply far more power than we need even on cloudy days.

I purchased eight "Z" brackets to mount the panels to the roof.  Four for each panel.  You can use more if you desire but four has been adequate in the past and we've weathered some pretty strong winds.

The mounting holes from the factory are larger than needed and placed too far inboard for my tastes.  So, I move the edge of the bracket to the edge of the panel and mark where the new holes need to be drilled. 

NOTE: Do not make the holes so close to the inside edge that you cannot install the bolt that holds the bracket to the panel.

THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: put some kind of stop spacer on the drill bit to keep it from going so deep that it contacts the solar panel surface.  When the drill bites through the aluminum frame it will bind and try to drive itself through and into the solar panel below.  Obviously you don't want that to happen!  I used a 1/4 inch drive deep socket as a drill stop.  They make special tools just for this purpose (I even have one!) but in my experience this works just as well and it's faster.

First bracket installed!  Seven more to go!

Once I have the brackets bolted to the panels I need to install them on top of the 5th wheel.  (Actually, you should have done some measuring first just to be sure that you have room.)  You want to have the panels clear of any tall objects like the AC unit and/or antennas.  Any amount of shade will decrease the charge rate on a solar panel.  Be sure that the panels can get the maximum amount of sunlight every day.

You can use strip caulk purchased at any hardware or auto parts store for the first layer of leak protection.  I had a vent installation kit with a roll of caulk left from a previous project and elected to use it.

Tear off a section about the size of the "foot" on the "Z" bracket then put it under the bracket.

Now drill hole down through the bracket and install a screw or lag bolt. When you torque it down it will squeeze out some of the caulk.  Trim the excess caulk away before the next step.

I used a caulking gun and sealer to thoroughly cover the bracket and bolt.  Be sure it seals tightly to both the roof and bracket.

One of the biggest challenges can be finding a way to get the solar panel wiring down to the charge controller and batteries.  In this instance I'm utilizing the holding tank vent.  This pipe goes down through the storage compartment which is also where the batteries are.

I ran the cables through the pipe then reinstalled the vent cap.  I'm using a MPPT charge controller so the panels are hooked up in series.  

If I was using a PWM controller I would have to hook the panel wiring up in a parallel circuit using another cable for splicing the two panels together.  The splices are available at any solar power supplier. 

For really big systems you may have to use both parallel and series wiring to get an acceptable combination of voltage and amperage.

The panels and wiring installed on the roof.

This is the vent line from the holding tank.  It's 1 1/2 inch PVC pipe.  I just cut a section out, ran the wires through and measured them, then ran them through the "T" and glued the "T" back into the vent pipe. There should not be anything except the odors from the tank in the line.  I drilled a couple of holes barely larger than the electric cable through the plug.  Ran the wires through the plug then glued it in place.

Next I used sealer to completely seal off the vent and wires.

Next I ran the wires from the batteries to the charge controller.  You want to hook the battery wires up first because many charge controllers sense the battery voltage then automatically select the 12 volt or 24 volt options from their programming.  It you hook the panels to the controller first it can get "confused" about whether your system's battery bank is 12 volt or 24 volt.  The input voltage from our solar panels is about 35 volts.  The charge controller reduces that down to around 13.5 volts (depending what charge "mode" the controller is using at the moment) to keep from overcharging the batteries.  A charge controller's only reason for existing is to properly charge and protect your batteries from over charging or being discharged too deeply (although other systems bear more responsibility for that).

Three batteries should be adequate for our needs. They are hooked together in a parallel circuit.

You can see the charge controller installed to the inside wall near the opposite side in this photo.  You need to leave plenty of clearance for air circulation around it.

You can see the back of the inverter on the left side.  The large black "box" is our inverter which changes the 12 volt DC current to 120 volt AC current.  This one is rated at 1,750 watts.