Some Work Under The Rig – Part 3 – Wherein Things Are A Little Of Everything, Pus A Bonus Mystery!

And finally by Mr. Lee.  Hey you guys wanted him to write more! – Trace

For those just joining the saga, go here first, then here, then come back. We’ll wait.

All caught up?

Once I got the fresh tank fixed and tested, I wanted to replace the valve with a cable valve, so it could be opened without having to crawl under the rig, and I also wanted to relocate the outlet, so the water could be redirected instead of just gushing out onto the ground directly below the rig. To start with, I’m not sure if the valve is threaded on or if it’s a spin weld, and I didn’t want to ruin the tank trying find out, so I thought I could just buy a cable valve in the same size from the same company, and then remove the four bolts that hold the fitting on either side of the valve, take out the valve and use the new valve between the original fittings. Sounds logical, huh?

As you can see, at the top where it is attached to the fresh tank, it looks like it’s designed to be turned on with a wrench, because it’s 6 sided, but there’s also a fair amount of dried blue gunk around it, which leads me to believe it’s put on with PVC solvent cement.

Once I got all the expanding foam and gunk off the old one, I couldn’t see any markings of any kind. I tried using my scope camera and my phone to get a look at the other side, but since it was so close to the tank, I couldn’t see anything at all. So I just sort of moved my fingertips around like a person reading Braille, and sure enough, I could feel the little raised plastic telling me all the relevant markings were there. If I ever meet the genius that installed that thing facing up, I’m going to give him a big hug over the top of his head with a folding chair. I still couldn’t see the markings, and I can’t read Braille, and even if I could it wasn’t written in Braille, so I had to remove the bolts and take down the valve just to get the information. Hey, remember in the last post where I filled up the tank to flatten it out. Yeah, all that water had to come out before I removed the valve. So I got a sewer hose and put it just below the outlet and hung it with some tiny bungee cords and pulled the valve handle. The alignment was off a little, so I got drenched. Remember, this is why I am doing this in the first place! Once the water was finally drained, I got to work taking off the bolts that hold the valve to the fittings. Of course those aren’t stainless, and being under the rig and completely unprotected, they were very rusted. The first one came out OK, but the other three all broke when I tried to remove them. Luckily, once they were broken they just fell right out. With the lower fitting and the valve free (the upper fitting still attached to the tank) I was able to get a good look at the thing, to see who made it and model # and all that.

I poke around on the internet and found nothing at all using any of those numbers, so I decided to just call LaSalle Bristol and see if they could me out. I was hoping I could just get one of these cable actuated valves, and really hoping that the form factor was the same and the bolt holes would line up, then I could just bolt the new valve between the old fittings.

After spending the rest of my life on the phone, I finally got someone who said, yes, the form factor was the same on all of their valves, and they were completely interchangeable. Something just didn’t feel right, but I figured if I bought one and it didn’t fit, then I could just return it. I went to three different RV parts stores in the area, and nobody had one in stock. Since I wasn’t completely sure how long we would be where we were, I didn’t want to order one. I did have enough sense to take the old valve with me, and I took a look at the Valterra version, but the holes were a few mm off, so not useful. In the end I decided that I could just put the original valve back on for now, because it just bolts on, and it’s accessible. I did have to get some replacement bolts and nuts since the original bolts were broken. I happened to take those along too, so I was able to match them. They turned out to be 5mm, and I was lucky enough that they had just enough in the little drawer that were the right size and length. After an entire day of driving around San Antonio I was ready to call it a day. I will have to see about getting a cable actuated one later. This is not hyperbole.  When Lee gets his teeth into something he becomes a bit obsessed.  Those of you who know him will think that is a vast understatement! -Trace

The next day I reinstalled the valve and started the process of assembling the new drain extension that would move the water from directly over my face to a more sensible location. When I had taken everything apart I measured the fittings and was unable to find any PVC anywhere that fit with the inside diameter or the outside diameter of the outlet.



After wandering up and down the aisles of Home Depot I finally found something that would work, and here are all the parts laid out ready to be installed.


To start with, a 2″ rubber elbow that would allow me to attach to the fitting, and would have the added bonus of a little flexibility. Then a couple of other elbows that would allow me to rotate the whole thing to move it from near the center of the rig more to the outside, and back up to the level of the valve so it wasn’t hanging too low.


From there, around 5 or 6 feet of PVC pipe to get to the back of the rig where the sewer outlet is. Then I needed to be able to attach a standard sewer hose, so I found a 2″ to 3″ boot that would do the trick. When I could find nothing at all that had the bayonet fittings of a standard sewer hose, I got a male-to-male adaptor and used wire cutters to lop off one set of the bayonet lugs. Once that was in the boot and the boot tightened down, it acts as a standard waste connection for a standard sewer hose. I gotta say here this is why non-mechanical people glaze over during these explanations.  If you don’t understand boot, bayonet, etc these sentences make no sense.  – Trace

Before I could put this new extension in, I needed to put on the new belly pan, so I got started on that. This was first thing in the morning, and as soon as I got under the rig to start taking measurements, I noticed a little puddle of water on the tarp, just below the middle of the black tank. Uh oh. It hadn’t rained, and it wasn’t dew. Double uh oh.

 


My colorful language got me a look of reproach from Jack, who had been supervising from a comfy chair.

I looked at it very closely, and gave it a sniff. Not black water, or gray. So that’s good. It’s location wasn’t necessarily a clue to it’s origin, because water will always go downhill. So I started looking for it’s origin. The spatters and tiny drops around the puddle told me it wasn’t pooling there from elsewhere on the tarp, so it was dripping from directly above. It also couldn’t be a bad leak, because it was such a small amount of water. And it wasn’t black or gray, so it had to be fresh. Directly above it I saw where it was dripping from.

 

You can see where the water is running out from the edge of the hole and then dripping down. This is a “doughnut hole” formed into the black tank (the gray tank has two of them) I’m assuming to give the tank structural strength since it’s a very long rectangle. My immediate thought was, if the doughnut hole in the black tank is leaking, why doesn’t this water smell??? I looked up inside the hole.

It looks like the water is coming from the top, and just following gravity. So I need to follow it back. I used the scope camera and could see, but not very well, so up went my cell phone with a bluetooth remote trigger. (Those are VERY handy, by the way)

I could definitely see it was running along the top of the tank, not coming from the tank. Luckily, I have been over almost every inch of my rig, so I knew what was above and forward of this position. I crawled out from under, and then climbed up inside the crawl space between the rear storage and the kitchen, where the water heater, furnace, and all the water pipes are. Can you spot the next clue??? This is all feeling a little CSI, but pretty cool.  He’s using a scope and phone to see stuff. Gotta love that- Trace

 

So there’s where the water is coming from before it hits the top of the black tank. The pipe to the right is where the toilet goes into the black tank, and that rubber flange around it is there to covert the gap between the hole in the floor and the pipe. You can see where water has evaporated around that flange, which tells me this tiny little leak has been going on off and of for a while, most likely.

I took a closer look at the puddle to the left. Once again, there’s a spatter pattern that tells me that this is where it’s landing, and just above I can actually see a droplet of water getting ready to fall. I sat there for a while just watching it, and a droplet was falling about once every thirty seconds. After a few minutes, it stopped altogether. So that means that whatever the failure is, it’s very, very minor; the water is getting pushed out when a faucet, or the toilet valve, or the washer/dryer valve is opened and then closed, and the pressure is greater than normal standby pressure for just a moment. The good news is that the leak has to be in that crimp to the left, or another one to the right. The bad news is, I couldn’t find it in that moment.


Concern about the larger jobs that needed to be finished because we could get called to a gate at any moment drove me to put a Tupperware container under the drip and come back to it later.

Going back to reinstalling the belly pan, I decided to replace the lousy foil insulation with a layer of Reflectix, which is a great insulator and is also very lightweight and easy to work with. It’s made of two outer layers of foil and two inner layers of bubble wrap.

I measured carefully and used a straight edge to trim the coroplast and then cut the Reflectix and used duct tape to attached it to the coroplast. All of the pieces were more or less the same, but here’s what one of them looked like before I installed it.

 

I installed using self drilling sheet metals and large fender washers, then I used a combination of expanding foam and Lexel sealant on Greg’s recommendation because it’s got great adhesive properties. I sealed up everywhere I could find, including around the washers and screw heads. I also overlapped the coroplast sheets by several inches wherever they met to give them more rigidity. I also put screws anywhere there was structure between the frame beams, in addition to along the frame, so it wouldn’t sag in the middle. Overall I was very happy with the end result, it should last for as long as I need it to.

Once that was finished I got started installing the fresh outlet extension. As you can see in the picture below, the elbow allows some water to get caught in the “P”, but there was no avoiding that unless the pip ended up below the axle, which I did not want. Not to mention that towards the rear the termination would be way too low. We rarely are in situations where this will freeze, and if we are going to be, I can loosen the rubber elbow to drain that small amount of water. Later I can put in a petcock valve if I really want to. I was able to use the two PVC elbows to get the height and angle the way I wanted it so the termination would be where I wanted it.


As you can see, the pipe goes over the axle nicely. If you look just beyond that, you can see the blue Pex lines for the fresh water vent extensions I put in. While I was doing the PVC line I also cut off the current awful valves for those and put in nice sturdy ball valves that I can turn easily and the handles won’t fall off. Plus the position of the handle shows me easily whether they are open or closed. With the old ones I had to get the handle out of a compartment and put it on each one to verify if they were open or closed.


I secured them with insulated cable clamps so they won’t slide around and rotate.


Once I got the PVC pipe to where I wanted it I was able to attach the adaptor boot and bayonet extension, and then secure it all with some galvanized hanging strap. It’s not perfect, but it’s not anything I can’t take apart and tweak over time as I get some experience using it and figure out if and how it can be improved. But for now, when I want to drain the fresh water tank, I can connect a sewer hose to it, and drain it to a sewer hookup or into grass without getting drenched. I am continuing to look for a way to open and close that valve without having to climb under the rig, but again, for now, at least I won’t have to get all the way under the axles since I have the extension rod, and I won’t get wet, either.

Having finished all that, I spent the rest of the day waiting for expanding foam to dry so I could trim away the excess with a razor knife, and using a headlamp to go over every inch of everything to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, then picking up all the tools and scattered screws, washers, and bits of dripped foam and cut up pieces of coroplast. That took a long time.

All of this took about 5 days from when I found the leak in the crawl space, so I crawled back in to see how full the Tupperware was. The 5 cup container was a little less than half full, so around a half cup every 24 hours, with two of us taking showers every day, running the washer every day, and washing dishes every day, causing a lot of pressure hits. That’s manageable for now, and this will have to wait. I went to look for a few fittings, and immediately ran into a problem. I can’t be sure what fittings I need until I take them off, and once I take them off, we have no water until I put them back together. I puzzled on it for a while and finally decided that first I need to completely dry all of the Pex and fittings and then put some paper towels around them and open a few valves and close them and them immediately check the paper towels and then repeat the process until I can find exactly where the leak is.

The “T” that’s part of that bit of plumbing goes to the washer, so in a pinch I can cut out the “T”, and use a coupler to to put the main line back together while I take the threaded fitting to the store to make sure I am getting what I need. Worst case scenario is that we are without a washer for a few days if I have to order the fitting. Or I can just just skip the threaded fitting and put in couplers, but I’m not sure that’s an improvement, so I don’t know that I want to remove the fitting. There’s also a half turn ball valve shutoff about a foot farther down the washer Pex line before that line continues to another set of shut offs where the washer hooks up to the line in the closet. That seems like an unnecessary shutoff to me, but again, I don’t see a reason to remove it. In any case, it’s a good thing I didn’t get started, because we got a call for a gate the next day, and there was no time. Since the leak is slow I put down about 8 layers of large terry towels to soak up and spread out the little bit of water that will leak, and once we get to our gate and get settled in I can start figuring out how to best fix this bonus issue. There will be a Home Depot about 30 minutes from our gate, so I’ll have access to resources.

All in all I’m pretty happy with how everything turned out. None of it went exactly how I wanted it to, but it never does. It took a LOT longer than I thought it would, and it ended up costing a LOT more than I thought it would, and WAY more trips back and forth to Home Depot than I thought it would. But that’s also always the case. It was great that we were able to stay at Greg and Cori’s for so long so I could do this, it would have really sucked if I had to do it someplace else, or a little at a time.

I got most of what I wanted; the See Level is installed, the fresh tank is mounted better, the fresh drain is now where I want it, the belly pan is new, secure, water tight and better insulated, the fresh inlet leak is gone, the vent valves are improved, and more secure and more accessible.  Eventually I will find a way to not have to crawl under the rig to empty the fresh tank. And I’ll fix the minor leak in the crawlspace.

So I’m less unhappy than I was before, and that’s all I can really ask for.

I’ll keep you updated on how the other stuff turns out.


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

 

Some Work Under The Rig – Part 2 – Wherein Things Are A Little More Fun

Again written by Lee – Trace

For those of you who aren’t interested in all of this stuff, just scroll to the end.

Previously, on Camper Chronicles…..

If you didn’t read the first post about this, here’s a speedy recap. For those of you suckers who read the whole saga, you should have just waited and read the recap, and saved yourself a bunch of time.

I decided to fix a minor leak in the fresh water tank, and also decided while I was at it to go ahead replace the belly pan, the fresh water low point drain valve, extend the outlet of the valve to a more convenient location, replace the fresh water vent valves, install a See Level tank monitor system, and add better insulation. (Basically a one day job turned into a multiple day job.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it when he fixes things, but this felt like the never ending project. – Trace)  While I was under there I discovered a design flaw that was causing my fresh water tank to sag quite a bit, so I had to come up with a solution for that. Before I could do that, though, I needed to install the See Level first, for logistical reasons.

The See Level System

If you’ve never had an RV, it might surprise you to know that even though they come equipped with sensor that tell you how much fresh/gray/black water is in the tanks, the sensors in the black tank usually stop working the first time the tank is filled. Toilet paper and other……gunk gets on the sensors and they give false readings. The gray usually stops working a little while later. I hate that, and I’ve been wanting to install a See Level for a while now. Those sensors mount on the outside of the tanks, so they don’t get gunked up, and they give you a percentage reading of how full the tank is, as opposed to the Empty, 1/3, 2/3, Full options of the standard monitors. And since they mount on the outside, there’s no need to remove the old sensors.

Another great feature is that they use the existing wiring that your current sensors use, so not only do you not have to remove the old sensors, you don’t need to run new wires. You just snip the old wires from the original sensors, and splice them to the wires on the See Level sensors. See Level is available in a wide variety of configurations for just about any rig arrangement, so you will almost certainly be able to get exactly what combination of tanks/LP/monitors/pump switch options you need or want. We have 1 each of fresh, gray and black, and the model I got includes those, battery voltage and a button for LP, which I didn’t hook up, because I didn’t need it. The SL “senders” are basically flexible circuit boards with a series of sensors on them. You actually cut them with a scissors to the exact size you need. Before you order them, you need to know the height of your tank, and if your tank is taller than the tallest sender they have, you can stack them. Once you know exactly what you need, and you’ve ordered and received them, installation is actually very easy. Taking the belly pan off was more of a pain than this install.

If you look at the picture above, you can see a row of dark rectangles along the right edge. If your tank is shorter than the sender, you cut it to size between those dark rectangles, which are the sensors. Then you prep the tank by cleaning it really well, and using painter’s tape to tape the sender to the tank for testing. The senders have a very strong adhesive back, but once you place them it’s very hard to remove them so it’s best to test everything to make sure the placement works before committing the adhesive. The wires get connected to the positive and negative from the original wiring, and then at the control center end your wires get connected to a harness that goes to the back of the display. As long as everything shares the same ground connection, the system will function.

Above is the back of my control center. I needed to locate and snip the wires from the original display, which was top right on the panel, lower right of the picture. The red, black and blue wires you see there are the wires going to the new display so I could test it. I decided to put the display inside, instead of in the convenience center outside. I thought the best place for it would be on the side of the cabinet along with the solar displays, the Winegard switch, and my LP tank monitors. The existing control center is already crowded, plus there’s a nice cable chase where all that solar and other stuff is, so fishing the wire would be easy.

 

The scariest thing, as always, is putting a hole in the rig, so I carefully measured and used a drill to do the corners, and then a fine edge rat tail saw to make the display hole as neat as I could. My biggest concern apart from screwing up the cabinet wall was cutting into something else by accident, so once I got the corner holes drilled I used my little scope camera to peek inside to see what I might be hitting. Sure enough, there was a fair number of loose wires in there, so I was extra careful when cutting, and as soon as I had enough room to get a finger in there, I used a pinky to hold the wires back away from the saw. Here you can see the wires lurking inside waiting to cause havoc.


Once I had the hole ready, I fished the wires up and hooked everything up and then tested the system.

Everything worked perfectly, so I completed the installation of the display and then went back to the tanks to finalize those senders.



Sadly, I was so involved in being extra careful to place those senders in exactly the right spot and secure the wires that I completely forgot to take pictures of the senders on the tank. I do have one image of the fresh water tank inlet repair where you can just barely see the sender.

Here’s a closer shot where you can see it a teeny bit better:

 

Like I said, it’s very simple, and so far it is working well consistently.

Once that was all done, I was comfortable testing the replacement fitting on the fresh water tank for leaks. I put twenty gallons of water into the tank, waited an hour  and no leaks. Excellent news, which allowed me to start work on the fresh water tank sagging problem. My first thought was to just add more straps, but I realized that would be a ton of work drilling through all that steel and sourcing new straps, etc. It also occurred to me that I would still get sagging between the straps. There was several inches of headroom above the tank, so I decided to use 3/4″ plywood across the straps covering the entire length and width of the tank. Measuring and cutting was the easy part, but getting a 5′ x 4′ piece of 3/4″ plywood under the rig and then laying on my back and getting it up onto me and then up above the axle and between the straps and the fresh water tank was a bit of a challenge. (I will mention here that I did offer to help, but he has his teeth in the project and politely declined.  Didn’t want you to think I was laying around eating bon bons while he was working so hard 🙂 – Trace).   I unbolted one side of the straps and sort of let them hang down like a ramp, and I was able to lift just one side of the tank and wiggle it around until it was wedged in place and then slide the edge of the plywood up onto the straps and then slowly work it up the strap ramps until it was all the way in, and then hold it up with one hand while I re-bolted the center strap. After that the rest of the straps were easy.

Unfortunately, once I got all that done, it was painfully obvious that the straps were still bowed a lot, and I wasn’t happy with all the weight load being along the edges, and possibly the plywood bowing or maybe even cracking. So I took a moment to one at a time remove each strap and flip them over so the bow would be oriented up instead of down. There was still some gap between the straps and the wood, but not anywhere near as much. I felt better. (This is why I love this guy.  Most people would have called it done, but he looked ahead, saw a possible problem, and proactively worked to fix it.  That’s my guy – Trace) 

I also was able to get a really good look at the part of the tank that was the most “wrinkled” before. Here’s what it looked like once it was on the wood instead of just hanging out in space.

As you can see it’s settled a little, but it’s still not completely straightened out, and there’s still a pretty large amount of gap between the bottom of the tank at that wrinkle, and the wood. It was reasonably warm out, which helps plastic regain it’s shape, so I started the fresh water fill and sat under the rig with my head between the black and gray tank carefully watching and listening for anything that might indicate a leak. As it slowly filled, the weight and the warmth helped it settle in pretty well. After about 15 gallons I could already see it settling. It was a little like watching the minute hand on a clock move almost imperceptibly slowly, but it was definitely improving. I took a picture about every 10-15 gallons, and you can see the slow improvement.


Once I was well over half full, at about 340 lbs of water, I checked the gap between the straps and the wood. The straps were more or less straightened out, and the wood had settled against them evenly and flat, wit no gaps anywhere.

I also took a look at the unsupported end, and there was only about 1/2″ of deflection, so I’m confident that the fix is a good one and will hold more or less indefinitely.

This was a good day’s work, the rest could wait till the next day, so this is also a great place to stop this post. The next day I tackled the next part of the project. Some of it went well, some of it didn’t. Foreshadowing!

If you find all of this boring and would rather have something fun to read, you’re not alone.


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

Some Work Under The Rig – Part 1 – Wherein Things Do NOT Go As Planned

Written by Lee because you know he is repair guy…thank heavens. – Trace

One of the things I wanted to take care of while we were sitting for a while and not working was a very minor leak where the inlet/outlet is on our fresh water tank. It’s been leaking since January 2015, but only when the fresh water tank had water in it, and only a very slow small dripping leak. Like less than a cup of water a week. And since we rarely use the fresh water tank it just kept getting put off. Right after I discovered the leak,  I put a small hole in the belly pan so it would drip straight down and out and not pool in the belly pan, and then it just wasn’t a huge priority.  I wanted to replace the belly pan, which was starting to sag in a few places.  It also had numerous access holes from previous repairs cut in it and then taped back up, so I decided that while I had the belly pan off I would go ahead and do the leak, since it would be more accessible. And I wanted to change out the fresh water overfill vent valves, which I did a while back, but didn’t really like the end result. The first fix worked but still required getting under the rig.

I extended the vent lines and put in valves that were more accessible, but those were were designed for a toilet water supply line, and so the knobs kept falling off and were hard to turn.  I wanted to replace those with ball valves that were easier to turn and the handles would stay put. Here’s the second fix I plan to replace in this project:

I also wanted to change out the fresh water low point drain valve. I don’t like to travel with very much fresh water for weight reasons, but the fresh water drain valve is a T handle pull valve which is on the driver’s side. The fresh water tank sits above the axles, and the handle is between the axles. So opening that valve involves crawling under the kitchen slide (if it’s out) and under the front axles, and pulling the valve. It’s a 1 1/2″ drain, which is awesome because it drains really fast.

Gotta crawl under here and back between the axles in order to get drenched.

On the down side, I am directly in the path when that water comes rushing out, so it’s impossible to do without getting soaked. And then crawling back under to close the valve involves getting into the water which has drained, unless I pull the rig forward. About a year ago I put on a handle extension rod which allowed me to NOT crawl under the front axle, but that really wasn’t a good solution.

This is after I put on the extension. A little better, but not much. This picture was with the belly pan removed.

And finally, I wanted to install a See Level tank monitor system that I bought almost a year ago. The tank monitors that come with a rig are terrible.  The See Level gives you an accurate reading from outside the tank, so they don’t get fouled or clogged with material. The readout is a percentage of full, which is great for waste and gray tanks, and also for filling fresh water tanks. Much better than “EMPTY   1/3  2/3    FULL” With that measurement, and an 85 gallon tank, there’s a 25 gallon variance. Not useful.

So with all of these things piled up together, lots of time on my hands, really good weather, and a Home Depot and a Camping World within half an hour of where we were staying, I decided it was time to tackle it all.

To start with, I needed to remove the belly pan. For those who don’t know, the belly pan is usually made of 4mm thick Coroplast, which is essentially the same as corrugated cardboard, but is made of plastic instead of paper. Other thicknesses are available, but 4mm is the standard for this application.

Coroplast is really great stuff to be the first line of defense on the bottom of a rig. It’s tough and can withstand the abuse of road debris and rocks and other things thrown up under a rig.  In addition,  when you use screws to attach it to things, as long as you use a fender washer, it won’t tear. It plays nice with expanding foam and silicone sealant. It’s easy to work with because it flexes, and is easily cut with a razor knife. And it’s water proof. It’s the same stuff that “Custom Signs Today” type places use for signs. It’s also available in lots of colors, although lighter colors are cheaper and easier to get.

In just about any large community you can do a Google search for plastic suppliers and find a source for this stuff at very reasonable prices. The largest standard sheet is 4′ x 8′, which is nice because the frames of most rigs are generally under 8′ wide. If you can’t find a plastics supplier, you can get them from sign makers, but they generally don’t have more than a sheet or two in stock. Everyone I talked to could get me more within a day or two.

When our rig was built, the belly pan was put on as a single sheet that was cut to fit perfectly around everything on the bottom of the rig. It was attached with a mixture of self drilling scews and what looked like nails driven in with an air gun. Taking those off was not a big deal, although a few broke off and I needed to grind them down. I also did not need to remove the entire belly pan, just the back half, because the front half had nothing I needed access to, and it was in great shape as well. So that saved me some time and money. I ended up buying 3 4’x8′ sheets for $12 per sheet. I also bought a box of #10 3/4″ self tapping sheet metal screws and a box of 1 1/2″ #10 fender washers.

Laying on top of the belly pan as I removed it was a thick sheet of paper foil, which is a vapor barrier/insulation, but was pretty torn up from various access holes being cut over the years.  My removal scheme consisted of cutting the pan in 2′ sheets to make it easier to deal with. Laying on my back under the rig and working up, I got a lot dust and debris in the face, so I needed to work with smaller pieces to mitigate that. That foil didn’t survive, but more on what I replaced it with later.

Once the belly pan was off, I was treated to a great view of my electric gray and black valves, which is one of the reasons access panels had been cut. (There’s no post about those, but you can read about them on the outside mod page. After four years, they are my all time favorite purchase!) I am such a fan that I am going to post a link here to a short video from etrailer showing how they work. They’re amazing.

I was also able to see the actual gray tank and black tank, which I had never seen before. It’s nice to now know exactly where they are, and where the outlets are.  The black tank is on the passenger side, and the gray tank is on the driver side. The outlets for both are in the rear, so if I ever want to completely drain them, I just need to lift the nose a little.   Here you can see the wiring and through-tank connectors for the existing horrible “sensor” system along with a small piece of wood supporting the electric valve on the black tank.

And here’s the wiring and connectors for the gray tank sensors. The great thing about the See Level system is that it uses existing wiring, so there’s no need to run any wires at all.

 

I was also able to get a much better view of the fresh water drain valve, and started to work out a plan on how to extend and relocate the drain, and a possible solution to the valve problem.

But then I looked at the actual fresh water tank, and saw this….

As you can see, the fresh water tank is hanging from 2″ wide steel straps, and rather than put a strap all the way at the end to support the passenger side edge of the tank, they just didn’t. That’s an 85 gallon tank, and there are 4 straps. So each one of those straps is supporting a point load of about 150 lbs. The tank is made of polyethylene, and is a very pliable material. With all that weight on such a small area, it’s not at all surprising that the tank is bowing and sagging between the straps, and on the end with no strap, it’s completely failing. On the other side, where the drain valve is, there is a strap. I just don’t understand why the manufacturer decided not to put a strap on the other end. There is over a foot of unsupported tank,  about 140 lbs of water, on the far side of that strap. I’m actually surprised it didn’t fail completely.   Here’s a closeup of the “wrinkle” in the plastic where it was folding over the strap.  The plastic actually had already started to settle back to it’s normal shape once the pressure was off, but you can see where the strap was, and how close it came to cracking the plastic.

Oh, and it gets better. While I was taking off that section of belly pan, I got hit in the face with a nut and a washer. Once I got everything clear, I could see where it came from…

Yup. One of the straps wasn’t even attached on one side. (You can also see where I cut the belly pan to remove it, and parts of the insulation/vapor barrier foil)

Here are a few other pics of the fresh tank from various angles. Try not get as mad as I did, but consider taking a peek at your own to make sure you don’t leave it on the highway one day. We actually know a couple who lost their fresh water tank while they were driving one day and didn’t even know it was gone until they stopped for the night. True story.  – Trace

 

In the upper left of this picture is the hose that comes from the hookup center and runs to the black tank to rinse out the black tank. I’ve always wondered where that water comes in to the tank, now I know it’s at the front of the tank, directly opposite the drain, so the rinse water travels all the way across the tank.

 

This is the left or driver side of the fresh tank, you can see where the first strap is right at the drain valve.

 

This shows how much sagging there is in the tank, and how much bowing there is of the straps. This view is actually what helped me decide how to fix this!

With this discovery, the project got a little more complicated, but luckily I had time, stores nearby, and plenty of motivation to get it done. Before I tackled the fresh water tank,  I starting working on the inlet/outlet fitting for the fresh tank, which was my original problem.  I didn’t get a picture of the fitting before I took it off because I was pretty preoccupied thinking about how to fix the strap problem. Once I finally decided to cut the Pex line and turn out the fitting I did get a picture of it. That was a very tough decision because the fitting is for both filling the tank and the pump to pull the water out. I couldn’t see if it was a standard fitting that screws in, or if it was a spin weld. If I removed it and was unable to get a new fitting, I would be unable to use the fresh water tank. Since we were waiting to hear about a gate, I could get a call any minute, so I was nervous to commit to something that I might not be able to finish if I had to wait for a part. Finally, with Greg and Bill both assuring me they thought it would be a standard fitting, and even if not I could always get one next day. Since I wasn’t 100% sure it wasn’t a spin weld, I decided to cut the Pex line a good 8″ away from the fitting so if it was a spin weld I could just use a coupler fitting and go back to the way things were until I could get it into a place that could deal with a spin weld.

Luckily, it was just a threaded fitting, so it came out easily. Here’s the culprit. The leak was in the crimp, which are a terrible way to connect Pex. Hose clamps or Sharkbite or other push fittings are much better than these junky crimps. I’ve had several of these fail already.

It tuned out to be a part I could get at Home Depot, although it was only available in copper, so a little plumbers tape and the first repair was complete.

I had to add some Pex because I cut it so far from the fitting, and I decided to add some more to move the coupler away from where the See Level sensor would be mounted. They don’t work well if there’s metal within 4″ or so of them.

And again I used copper Sharkbite fittings, because Greg told me to. He’s pretty smart, so I listened to him.

Having replaced that, I needed to leak test it by putting some water in, and then I would need to drain the water to fix the fresh water tank straps. I didn’t want to fix the tank straps and then find out I needed to redo the fitting, because the tank strap fix would make getting to the fitting difficult. It would also make it difficult to install the See Level sensors, so as much as I hated to start mixing up projects, I decided to install the See Level sensors and go from there. Which was fine, because that was one of the fun things involved in this project.

So coming up next, installing and testing the See Level system!

 


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

November 2018 Budget

Although we applied for unemployment in November, there was a one week delay, and then the first check was mailed to Florida, so we haven’t actually been able to collect a paycheck yet.  Lee is collecting $176 a week (taxes were taken out) and my check is $180 a week, and that money will show up in our December statement.  We also spent quite a bit on the dog this month which was totally unexpected.  The combination of lack of income and extra expenses has us dipping into our savings to cover our costs.  I don’t mind dipping into savings when it is just a matter of timing between jobs, but since we still haven’t nailed down a gate guard job (getting closer), it is making me pretty uncomfortable.  Having a free place to stay really helps, and I just keep telling myself that that is what we have savings for. And just to show you how quickly things can change as I was typing this (not kidding) I got a call for a gate.  We need to be down there tonight so I will stop writing this and start packing!

(Pack, pack, pack, hitch, hitch, hitch, drive, drive, drive…. – Lee)

OK, we arrived and I am thrilled that money will start flowing in the right direction again.  So back to November.

We spent $4,630 with no money coming in this month, but in all fairness $1,135 was related to getting the dog, and the bulk of that was one time expenditures.  If you take the dog related costs out, we spent a more reasonable $3495.  For more details by category please see below.

Campground Fees–  Even though we weren’t working we did have a place to stay for free for the entire month, which is what made not working in November even possible.  This is the first time in our four years of being full time we have had the opportunity to stay for free with friends for an extended period of time, and we are super grateful for it.  I will say we do know lots of people who stay for extended periods with family or friends so this is not that unusual in the RVing world.  Just wanted to be transparent about it.

Groceries – We went over by $340 in this category which was due to a Costco run and staying with friends.  We always eat group meals, which end up costing a little more, but we ate very well in November!  We also have tons of food in the RV and I am planning on working our way through that while we gate guard.  Never know how close we will end up to a Costco so we also stocked up on paper products etc.

Dining Out – I am happy to say we were able to offset some of the grocery bills by not eating out much and we saved $110 in these categories. Everyone knew we were on a budget because we weren’t working and so we ate in almost the entire time. Our friends are awesome that way.

Entertainment – We went over in this category but that was mainly due to purchasing books.  San Antonio has several Half Price Book stores, which we love, and we stocked up on books in preparation for gate guarding.

Truck Fuel – This was another area we did really well in, only spending $130.  We carpooled on several occasions and kept most of our trips local.

Cigarettes – This is our quarterly cigarette purchase.  We buy tobacco and tubes in bulk and roll our own.  Even though we take a hit in that particular month it always averages out over the year.

Shipping/Postage – Most of this $34 overage was shipping a present to my oldest daughter.  I had some things in the RV I had been holding onto, and when we did a purge decided they were too nice to simply donate, so I sent them to her.

Pets – OK, let me break this down.  The dog himself was $750 from a breeder.  He was actually a bargain because the female puppies were $1200.  That being said if you are wondering why I just didn’t adopt a pound puppy, I refer you to my previous post on adopting Jack.  Trust me, spending that much money was not my first choice.  The remaining $384 was a crate, puppy bed, a trip to the vet for $95, a trip to the groomer for $35, dog food, and a ridiculous amount of dog toys and treats.  The last purchases were totally discretionary, but have you seen him?.  He’s a cutie patooty.

Gifts – I went over in this category for two reasons.  One I purchased a gift for the people we have been staying with.  They wouldn’t let me contribute towards the utilities, so I got sneaky and bought them a gift instead!  The second purchase was calendars.  A couple of friends of mine have created their own calendars the last couple of years using pictures from their travels, and I took advantage of a Cyber Monday Sale at Vista Print and bought some for my friends and family.  I am still $200 under budget annually in this category though, because I have done a much better job of watching my spending this year.

Home Repair – A positive and a negative of staying in a place for awhile and not working is Lee can work on the RV.  Good news, RV stuff gets fixed, bad news, it always costs money.  Considering the HUGE lists of things he got done (and I promise those posts are coming up soon), $265 over budget is really not that bad.

This month definitely brought it down to the wire and like I started with, I am thrilled we are back to work.  Hopefully we will be able to squeeze by and not have to take anything out of savings, but then we need to hunker down and definitely put some money back.  I am less worried because we have already locked in our summer job, and if necessary can extend our gate guarding a little bit into April although neither one of us wants to do that.


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

More Birthdays

While we were looking for jobs this week, we celebrated two more birthdays.  Mairead, who is staying next to us, had her birthday on Wednesday and since she is a pretty low-key person didn’t want much of a fuss.  Kelly made some lasagna for everyone, and then we had a couple of drinks and a fire.  The conversation was really flowing and I enjoyed hearing Dave and Mairead tell stories about their native Ireland.  They are also studying for their US citizenship test and out of curiosity I had her ask us some of the questions.   Turns out that I remember quite a bit from my high school government class, but I still think I would need to study if I had to take the test.  At one point they asked a question about the amendments and I started humming a Schoolhouse Rock song. They both looked pretty confused and then we got into a long conversation of the importance of Schoolhouse Rock in our education.   We highly recommended they watch the history episodes and can I just say if you have a child in your life who has not been exposed to the wonder of this show your should buy them the 30th anniversary DVD for a Christmas present.

Mairead, Dave, and Lee having a serious discussion about Schoolhouse Rock!

Kelly had lots of energy but Bill who was pooped out from a long day of installling

The next day was Kelly’s birthday, and since Bill was working on a solar install I decided to take Kelly to lunch.  If I forgot to mention it, Bill is now working with Greg for RV Solar Solutions and they have completed several installs the last few weeks.  That has given Kelly lots of free time, and we have had a chance to hang out together.  I let her pick the place and after searching Yelp she selected the Startz Cafe. The town of Startz is one of the many small town on Canyon Lake and has a pretty interesting history.  The family came to New Braunfels with Prince Solms and eventually migrated to the lake area.  They owned a general store and gas station, but once the Core of Engineers built the dam the area needed restaurants and they expanded,

I love that the town was named based on a local Doctor who said, “Startzville, Paradise Valley of Comal County. Population, same, Elevation, unchanged. Temperature, delightful. ” The name just stuck.

The restaurant definitely showed its early beginning, because it was part bar, part restaurant, and part gathering place.  The food was really good though and we both liked our food very much. It was definitely a local place though and our waitress was a little cool, especially when I asked her to take a picture.  I get that locals don’t like to feel like their places are a tourist attraction, but hey they kind of are.

You can see where the building expanded over time.

The inside was an interesting mix and had two levels and an outside area.

The deer were all dressed for Christmas. Gotta love Texas.

My club sandwich was outstanding.

Kelly and me

 

After lunch, we stopped at the Dollar General (they are very popular in this area) and I looked for bells.  My son-in-law Jeremy trained his dog to ring a bell on the door when he wanted to go outside and I wanted to try it with Jack.  Since the dog bells online were nine dollars,  I wanted to see if I could find a cheaper solution.  I know it’s only $9, but we are on a budget here.  Luckily they had numerous Christmas Bells in the store and I was also able to get a doggy play tug rope, which Lee disassembled and used to create our down dog bells.  Our cost was $4, and we will see  whether Jack learns how to use them and if they hold up over time.  By the way, according to my daughter you train them by lifting their paw and use the paw to jingle the bells every time you take them out.  She said her dog Finn picked it up really quickly, so we will see if Jack is that smart 🙂

Lee’s home-made bells.  Make sure whatever bell you select you can handle the tone. One downside is they jingle every time we go in or out. These are pretty pleasant though.

Because Cori was on a work trip, we decided to hold off Kelly’s birthday dinner until the weekend, and instead she and Bill went to a nice dinner at a local Mexican restaurant.  I made sloppy joe’s for Greg and Lee and we had a nice relaxing night.  Jack and Hobie were having a really busy day though because they invented a new game.  We bought these Redbarn Bully Sticks at the local HEB and even though they both had one they kept stealing them from each other.  Jack would chew on his until he got bored and then Hobi (affectionately known as thug dog) would come steals it.  As soon as Jack noticed it was gone, he would grab it back and then Jack would dig a hole and bury the chew until eventually one of them would dig it up.  Thye did this over and over again and it was super cute to watch and I have to say Hobie has been absolutely amazing with Jack.  He’s really patient with the puppy shenanigans and I know they are really going to miss each other once we leave for work.

Jack chewing his stick

Then he gets bored and Hobie waits for the perfect moment and grabs it.

Jack;s face after he grabbed it back and buried it. Too cute!!

On Friday, we had a busy day because finally we were having lunch with Julie and Casey.  We last saw them up in Portland two summers ago and they reached out when they saw we were staying in San Antonio.  Things have been crazy and we didn’t have a chance to get together until now and I was glad we were able to make Friday work.  We met for lunch at The Gristmill in Gruene (pronounced Green) and I was glad I got to see this little town all decorated for Christmas.  Gruene has the oldest dance hall in Texas and lots of really cute shops and restaurants.  I decided to take Jack because it has been awhile since he has been in the truck, but unfortunately he didn’t do so good this time.  When we arrived, we discovered he had thrown up all over the mat he lies on in the back and it took awhile to get that cleaned up…yuck!

We were still on time though and Julie and Casey were waiting for us.  It was great seeing them and we immediately started catching up, but I also had to take a minute to check out the restaurant.  It’s design is really special because it has multiple levesl, with multiple rooms and lots of glass windows overlooking the river.  The service was great, Lee loved his catfish and the company was outstanding.  Loved seeing them and hearing all about their first work kamping job in the Grand Tetons this summer.  We could have spent hours talking, but needed to get back to Jack and thankfully he didn’t get sick on the way back.

Really cool old town

The restaurant looked small from the outside but wow it was not.

The front entrance to a VERY large restaurant.  The stairs went to multiple levels and there was way more past that.  Our friend Kat says it was designed like a tree house and it kind of was.  One of the coolest restaurants, architecturally, I have ever been in.

Our room was open and airy with lots of fans and big windows. The look on Lee’s face is because he was describing the daily specials 🙂 Lee loves his food!

Every room (and there were several) had unique features

You could even eat outside on this terrace and look at the river

Saturday we were finally able to have Kelly’s birthday dinner and we were all looking forward to eating Bill’s phenomenal wings and Grandma Murray’s famous carrot cake.  I also decided to make Sue’s Rally Dip, which Lee absolutely adores but I never make unless we are with lots of people.  The food was great and the company was better and we all enjoyed eating and then hanging out by the fire.  I am never with Kelly on her birthday either and it’s been great being available to celebrate all these birthdays with my friends.

Bill’s famous wings

Sue’s Rally dip

Hanging out by the fire

Denny sent us this sign awhile back in a care package but we thought it was perfect for Greg so it found a new home!!

Finally cake time!! Bill makes one of these every year for Kelly

You can see how happy she was

We switched the numbers 🙂

Blowing them out!

Great seeing everyone, but hoping to get a gate soon.  Things are heating up on the job search front, but more on that later.


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

Review Of The Winegard ConnecT 2 – Cellular & WiFi Combo

This is the first time we have agreed to write a review on a product and we chose to do so because it is a product that we would actually use.  We have been approached before but since we didn’t feel the product was a good fit for us we have politely declined. This review was written by Lee because he knows way more about this stuff than I do.  That being said we are in no way technical experts.  This review is based on our limited knowledge and personal experience with the device.  Personally, I would recommend getting numerous opinions before making a purchase in this price range.  – Trace

In the interests of full disclosure, I will say right up front that we didn’t have to pay for the unit, and we were provided with a small “trial size” data plan from Winegard to test the cell service side of the unit.  There was no other compensation for this review.

We were contacted a while back by Winegard and asked to review one of their products, the ConnecT 2 WiFi and Cellular combo. I was happy to do it, because internet connectivity is a BIG deal to us, and to a lot of full timers. Before I get into the review, I wanted to give you some background info so it all makes sense. People have a wide variety of knowledge on this topic, but I want to make the review as useful as possible to as many people as possible, so I thought I would explain some of the tech stuff for those who need more information. If you consider yourself well versed, skip down to the review itself.

What It Is And Isn’t

Essentially, the ConnecT 2 uses either a cellular modem or a WiFi extender to connect to the internet, and then it creates a WiFi network inside your rig so you can use that connection.

Keep in mind that with this specific product, we’re talking about two different methods of connecting to the internet; WiFi and cellular. There are several products available for either one of these, but not many that do both. Some people use cellular boosters; anything from a simple cradle type booster that your phone sits in, to a high gain exterior antenna that goes on the roof, or at the top of a flagpole or other mast. These boosters are not terribly complicated. They basically just amplify an existing weak cell signal so you can use it for voice or data. If there’s no signal at all, they do not help. You can’t boost something that isn’t there to begin with. The primary benefit of having an exterior antenna at the top of a pole is that there is often a very weak signal available much higher than the roof of your rig that it will boost, but nothing to boost down at ground level. Again, it’s important to remember that there has to be something there to work with. Zero signal can’t be boosted. The Winegard ConnecT 2 is not a booster. It is a cellular modem, similar to a Jetpack or other type of cellular internet connection. The advantage it has over most of those is that the modem and antenna are on the roof, so the added height and the lack of the walls of the RV allow you to potentially connect to a cell signal that might be otherwise too weak.

The WiFi side can be more complicated. To begin with, campgrounds or other locations that offer WiFi are generally buying some level of internet connection from a provider.  They will have a company install routers and antennas and repeaters and set up a WiFi network to offer that internet connection to their campground guests. No matter how good or fast the connection they are buying is, by the time you add all that hardware, and then share it with twenty or more guests, your experience is probably going to be less than you want it to be. The network design might be sub-standard in that it’s difficult or impossible to even sign in to it, or the speed to each user might be throttled, or the original service might be low quality, or the hardware might be less than optimum for the design. In short, free WiFi (and even some paid WiFi) is generally not great, and no amount of boosting is going to improve that. A WiFi booster at best simply allows you to connect to a network that might be just out of reach, or completely out of reach of the antenna in your laptop or other device. A booster isn’t going to improve the network or the service the provider is providing. A WiFi extender only lets you reach a little farther to connect than you would otherwise be able to.

In both cases, the Winegard ConnecT 2 allows you to “reach” farther. If a campground offers WiFi, and you can connect to it “at the office” but not from your rig, a booster might allow you to extend that reach to your rig. If you can get a cell signal, but it’s so weak that your connection keeps getting interrupted, a booster might make that more stable so you can at least surf the web, look at Facebook, etc. So before you buy anything at all, make sure you understand what the limits of the technology are. None of this is intended to discourage you from buying a cell or WiFi or combo booster, just to let you know that they’re not magical.

One other thing to remember is apart from email and internet, a lot of people use the internet (cellular or WiFi) for entertainment. Services like Netflix and Amazon prime allow you to stream movies and TV shows, and LOTS of people we’ve talked to over the years don’t have great experience with that. Streaming can also be used for real time video “phone calls” and using “voice over internet” phone calls. The main problem is that streaming requires a more robust and stable connection than downloading. With streaming, you are transferring the data that makes up the picture and sound as you watch it in real time, sort of like drinking out of a faucet. As opposed to downloading, where you transfer all of the content at once, and then watch it later, whether you are connected to the internet or not. More like filling a bottle with water and then drinking it another place and time. So keep in mind that HOW you use your connection, along with the quality of the connection will have an impact on your experience. And finally, be aware that streaming, generally speaking, uses twice to four times more data than downloading. If you don’t have an unlimited  plan like we do, that can really eat into your data plan, and fast. We generally burn through around 500 GB of data per month.

 

What We Would Be Replacing

Since we hit the road, we’ve been using a little AT&T Velocity. It’s a dedicated cellular modem about the size of a deck of cards that uses a cell signal to create a WiFi network that multiple devices can use to connect to the internet.


Even though it’s over 4 years old, the radio in it is pretty decent, and we almost always have enough signal to download movies and TV shows.  Sometimes we can download a one hour show in 5 minutes, if we have a blazing fast connection, and sometimes it takes overnight to download the same show if we’re just getting a “trickle”. But there have been a fair amount of places we’ve stayed (sometimes for months at a time) where we need to use our cell booster to get any signal at all. For that, we’ve been using a WeBoost exterior antenna on a 22′ telescoping Flagpole Buddy. It was a decent solution when we bought it four years ago, but it ONLY boosts cell signal, and it’s very expensive. The unit was around $400, and the flagpole buddy was around $150. That particular WeBoost product has been discontinued, but they do have other similar comparable products available now. The thing we’ve never liked it about it was that it had to be “deployed” to even see if it would get us a signal, and it’s directional. That mean it has to be pointed at a cell tower, which can be hard to do, and the interior antenna that is uses to broadcast the boosted signal has to be pointed in a particular direction relative to the exterior antenna.  Also if the interior antenna and the exterior antenna aren’t a certain distance from each other it “locks up”. Big pain. If we are in a place for a long period of time it was OK to use, but for short periods it often wasn’t worth the hassle.

This is the WeBoost kit we have, newer models are more or less the same.

 

I’m a big fan of the Flag Pole buddy, because it’s lightweight, collapses to a very short package, and is easy to set up and take down. Plus, it holds flags!

For WiFi, we haven’t ever purchased a WiFi booster because we’re generally not in a place where there is a WiFi signal to boost.  I’ve not found a permanently mounted solution at a low enough price to justify getting one. To give you an idea of how bad most campground WiFi is, back when we were on a limited data plan, whenever we were in a campground we would almost always end up just using our Velocity instead of the free campground WiFi. It was that bad.

Here’s The Review

So now we come to the Wingard ConnecT 2, specifically the model that does both cell and WiFi. (They offer a WiFi only and a cell only model, as well). To start with, I’m going to talk about the things I was intrigued by when they contacted us. This particular model is a cell/WiFi combo, which is one of the things that attracted me to it. I like the idea of having both. We’ve been toying with the idea of getting a WiFi booster/extender because sometimes our summer job has WiFi in the office, but usually it is just out of reach. That was our situation last summer. The ConnecT 2 is also designed to be permanently installed, which is a plus for me because I don’t like setting up the flagpole and going through all that hassle of putting the exterior antenna up just to find out that there’s no cell signal there to boost. (It doesn’t have to be permanently installed, however, more on that later.) So given that I was already sort of “in the market” for a better cell solution, and some kind of a WiFi booster, I approached this from the mindset of a customer.  Every part of my experience with this unit has been with the thought of whether or not I would recommend it to a friend and whether I would buy one myself.  Spoiler alert, I would recommend it to a friend, and if I had bought it, I would keep it, but there’s a caveat to that later. If that’s all you needed, you can stop reading, and go buy one if you want to.

The first positive thing I can say about this unit is that it’s really very simple. It consists of a black plastic dome that is 8″ high and 16″ in diameter.  To start with, make sure you have room on your roof. Inside the dome are two 4G LTE cell antennas and three WiFi antennas. It’s powered by 12v DC, so you either need to know what you’re doing (holes in the roof!) or have a professional install it. It also comes with a power switch you can install, which I highly recommend, if for no other reason that resetting the unit requires power to be interrupted. For those who boondock, it only uses 1 amp of DC power, but you can always turn it off to conserve power. For my initial testing I did NOT install the unit, I just put it on the roof and then ran the cable down the side of my RV and attached it to a battery. If you don’t want to install it, you can certainly do this, but if it’s going to be on the roof for any length of time, I would be concerned about wind blowing it off because it only weighs 3.75 lbs! After using it for a while and deciding I wanted to keep it, and at that point I did a permanent install. The down side to the roof location is you have to go up there to swap SIM cards, and the LED status light is on the unit itself. On the other hand, the power switch in the rig can be used to restore the unit to factory defaults, so that’s a nice feature.

The dome is actually opaque, but in this image you can see what’s inside.

If you are going to install it, be aware that you do need to put a few small holes in your roof to mount it, and while that’s always a little scary, if you seal around it properly this is no more dangerous than any of the other things mounted to your roof. The dome is low profile at only 8″, so shouldn’t add to your rig height. Another thing to keep in mind is that in order for it to work as well as it can, it needs to be 12″ from other things on the roof to avoid blocking signals. For those with solar panels, if your roof is crowded, this could be a challenge. Also, installation requires the power cable go through the roof, so you can either create a new hole, or run it through an existing one. If you’re not comfortable doing this installation you can have a dealer, service center,  or mobile tech do it for you. It’s best if it’s not “in the shadow” of an AC unit, which could block a weak signal.

Another positive thing about this unit is the instruction manual is very well written. The setup process is not difficult, but the instructions need to be followed carefully, and step by step. Luckily, the instructions are very clear, and it’s unlikely you will encounter any trouble getting started. Almost all of the problems I encountered were because I didn’t follow the instructions carefully.  Connecting to the unit is more or less the same as connecting to any other WiFi network. If you’ve done that before, this is no different. Essentially the unit creates a WiFi network inside your rig that you connect to, and the connection to the internet is either going to be cellular, through their plan or yours, or to another WiFi network. That part can be a bit confusing, because if you’re using it to connect to a WiFi network, essentially you’re connecting your computer or laptop or phone to the Winegard’s network, and then connecting the Winegard to an outside network. Just follow the instructions.

The unit uses a 2.4 Ghz radio, which is slower than other WiFi radios that are available, but has a much longer range. Since the idea here is to give you maximum “reach” I understand that limitation, and accept the trade-off between range and speed.

The interface shows you the strength of WiFi and cell signals measured in percentage, and anything under 50% will give you a less than ideal experience.  That doesn’t mean you can’t use it, it just will be slower than you want, and perhaps the signal will drop from time to time. I really like being able to see the strength of a signal represented in numbers so I know what to expect.   While the unit connects, it will appear as though something is wrong, and it will actually disconnect your device from the unit’s WiFi, but it will reconnect after a minute, and you will be online. I consider this a “con” because I went through this process about 10 times and kept restarting it because when it “kicked” me off the unit’s WiFi I thought something was wrong. This is normal operation, however, and Winegard has already added some minor changes to the interface to let users know what’s happening which is helpful for those of us who are impatient.

If you are going to use the unit to connect to the internet via cell signal, you have two choices. You can use a SIM card from AT&T or Verizon, along with whatever plan you want to purchase from them, or you can use Winegard’s data plan. As of this writing, here are their plan options:

 

Apart from the ability to rename your network, and add a guest account, it’s really not very complicated. He says that but he is also very tech saavy.  I found it complicated, but then again everything is when you first start using it.  After the initial setup and getting the password into my devices, it is no more complicated than the Velocity hotspot that we used previously. – Tracy

So let’s talk about performance. One of the reasons we have waited months to write this review is we wanted to test it in more than one place.   I was able to test it in two very different locations, the Mt. Hood area in Oregon, and north of San Antonio, in Texas, and my experience was nearly identical in both places.

My testing environment in Oregon was very similar to a campground. There is a very weak AT&T signal, just one bar on our Velocity hotspot. Using the Velocity hotspot we were typically getting 10mb downloads speed, but it was very unstable and unreliable, and would cut in and out routinely. Any rain at all would knock that signal back even further. On weekends, when the lake was extremely crowded with campers, the cell tower overloaded, and speeds would be affected, but that’s normal. There was also an office about 150 feet away with a WiFi network shared by those of us who worked there.  From inside the rig,  our smartphones, laptops, iPads, PC and laptops could NOT see the WiFi network at all.

I did speed tests using two servers, both of which I tested on all of my cellular capable devices to ensure I was getting consistent repeatable results I trusted enough to report.

All of the tests were done on a weekday morning between 8am and 10am, on a clear day so weather would not be a factor.

Using our AT&T Velocity hotspot  (not using the Winegard unit at all) , I got  inconsistent download speeds of between 2 Mbps and 35 Mbps. That’s a huge fluctuation.

Connecting the Winegard unit to the AT&T Velocity, in other words, using the Winegard’s WiFi feature, I got inconsistent download speeds of between 2 and 15 Mbps.

Using the Winegard unit with their trial cellular data plan, I got a consistent download speed of 7 Mbs.

Using an AT&T sim card in the Winegard using our AT&T data plan, I got a consistent download speed of 7 Mbs.

In Texas, the speeds were different, but the comparison was more or less the same.

Using our AT&T Velocity hotspot  (not using the Winegard unit at all) , I got inconsistent download speeds of between 2 Mbps and 35 Mbps.

This is the highest speed I got with the AT&T Velocity., but it was not consistently this fast.

Connecting the Winegard unit to the AT&T Velocity, in other words, using the Winegard’s WiFi feature, I got a consistent download speed of  between 2 and 15 Mbps.

The speeds using the Winegard WiFi to connect to the Velocity’s network were still pretty fast, but not as fast as just using the Velocity directly.

Using an At&T sim card in the Winegard using our AT&T data plan, I got a consistent download speed of 7 Mbs.

The speed I got using the Winegard’s cellular modem and an AT&T sim card were rock solid, and I tested over 20 times, using various servers.

And finally, I downloaded a 1GB file to test the “real world” application and with the Velocity the file took 6 minutes to download, and the Winegard took 24 minutes.

It’s pretty clear that the Winegard’s cellular modem is not as fast as my 4 year old Velocity. But, that’s not all that matters. When we’re on the edge of a usable signal, we often get very slow, unstable or no performance from the Velocity, which is incredibly frustrating. It sits inside the rig, so it doesn’t have the height and advantage of being outside, up high.

What I’ve personally decided is to keep and use both. If we are someplace with a really good solid fast connection, we’ll use the Velocity, but if the signal is weak I think I will be glad to have the Winegard. The reason I said earlier that I would recommend it is because of that fact. There are lots of times we have a weak enough signal that the Velocity is just useless, and this gives me another option. I like the redundancy. Over time I will be able to see how it performs more scenarios, and will likely post again about those details as they occur.  I also want to see what it looks like when we’re traveling and get a feel for how the WiFi aspect works with locations that offer WiFi, so I’ll keep everyone updated on that as well. We rarely are able to take advantage of free Wifi, and it would be nice to be able to do so.

I’ll boil it down to some pros and cons:

PROS:

Both cellular and WiFi options
Easy installation
Relatively simple to operate
Height advantage to get both cellular and WiFi signal
No need to set up and take down
3 choices of cellular provider: Verizon, AT&T or Winegard
No contract required on Winegard data plans
iPhone and Android app to manage network

CONS:

Cellular speed is a little slow compared to other options
Some might find the $340 price a little steep
LED status light requires getting on the roof to look at

Again, we highly recommend you do your own research and get a second opinion before buying this product.  If you do decide to buy it, however, we would certainly appreciate your using our Amazon link for that purchase.  It was very important to both of us that the review was fair and accurate and hopefully the level of Lee’s information has met that standard for you.  – Trace


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

 

 

First Time at an Olive Oil Company

I love seeing how things are made, and one of my favorite things as we have traveled in this lifestyle is when we have an opportunity to go to the source and see where things come from. I became really interested in olive oil in particular after talking to our friend Deb, who owned an olive oil store before she went on the road.  I really didn’t know much about it until talking to her, but her stories fired my imagination and when I learned that they grew and pressed olives in Texas, I wanted to go.

Cori and I have made plans to go for the last three years but other stuff kept getting in the way, so when she suggested we stop after picking Kelly up at the Austin airport I was all in.  I was a little concerned we were going on Black Friday , as I tend to stay in on that crazy day, but we went the back roads and stayed away from the malls and it was a pleasant drive.  After picking Kelly up we headed back towards Dripping Springs, which is an interesting town full of wineries, distilleries, and tucked back off a country road The Texas Hill Country Olive Oil Company.

Beautiful building. The land started as a winery, but the owner decided to be a pioneer and converted to olive oil in 2008.

 

The front doors were huge and really beautiful

 

When you walk in there is a bar straight ahead with a gift shop to the left and a small restaurant to the right.

Despite it being Black Friday there was a bit of a crowd and a tour was just finishing.  We learned that tours were free this weekend because of the holiday, so even though it was a 30 minute wait we decided to stay.  While we waited, Cori ordered a chicken and cheese pizza, which we split, and we checked out the really nice gift shop.  Lots of their products were on sale, and of course they had several tasting areas set up.  They also had a nice selection of imported balsamics which were infused on site with a variety of flavors.  In general I am not a huge fan of balsamic vinegar, but these were really nice, and I loved the raspberry infused in particular.

One of several tasting areas. We learned the olive oils are lined up mildest (on the left) to robust (on the right).

 

Kelly loved the flavors!

 

The gift shop also had other items and in particular I loved this mommy and me activity scarf that had things for your kids to play with on it. Really ingenious and I had never seen anything quite like it

 

Nice kitchen

 

And the pizza was yummy! The balsamic drizzle in particular was really good.

Before we knew it the tour started, and we went into a large tasting room and learned about the history of the company, which I found fascinating.  This company was the first organic olive grower in Texas and when they brought in trees from California they did very well because of the limestone soil in this part of Texas.  When the owner initially started he really had no idea what he was getting into, but through hard work and some luck he did very well.  They sell over 40,000 bottles a year and were so successful that they bought a second farm down near the Rio Grande with many more trees.  The original farm was still working and we left the tasting room and walked out into the orchard.

Donna gave the tour and she was excellent

 

The rows of olive trees were really pretty.  They do use irrigation, but only in the hottest months of summer.

 

In the larger orchard they use nets under the trees and a mechanical arm that shakes them to harvest, but in this smaller farm all of the picking is done by hand.

 

They allow people to walk freely through the trees. I’d love to see it when the olives were in.

 

The season is March through October so unfortunately all that were left were some olives on the ground

 

This section of the tour was really informative and we learned that although the trees themselves are very hardy, weather does have an impact on the crop.  I also learned that green, purple, and black olives are not different varieties (I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know that), but rather the color changed as they ripened.  The best colors for oil are when they have a little bit of all three colors in them, and the pickers run their hands through the leaves and the fruits that are ready gently fall into their basket.  By the way, the olives that are used for extra virgin oil must go from being picked to mill within 72 hours, and can never touch the ground.  One of the many interesting facts we learned about how oil is categorized.

After being in the orchard we moved back inside into the mill and went through the milling process.  It’s multiple steps and again I found it very interesting.  Turns out that the United States uses 10% of the world’s olive oil but only creates .5%.  When olive oil sales boomed international growers were not able to meet the demand and got “creative” in what they called olive oil.  Unfortunately rules about labeling are actually set by each individual country, and there is nothing we can do in the US to prevent that.  Consequently bargain olive oils are routinely cut with sunflower oil and can contain as little as 10% true olive oil.  Add to that the different standards for extra virgin and our guide recommended that we always buy domestic to make sure we are getting the real deal.  She even cited a recent 60 Minutes investigation where over 70% of the olive oils tested weren’t pure olive oil.  That is an incredibly high percentage.

First the olives go into the washer which de-stems and cleans the olives then into the hammermill which creates a thick paste

 

Next they are slow churned in the big vats in the back and COOL water is used. Hot water leeches the nutrients so the cool water is important

 

Next is the centrifuge which spins out the vegetative water (used in spa products), pulp (used to feed animals), and an olive oil “butter”.

One of the coolest things we learned was that the pulp helps goats with their digestive tract, reducing inflammation by up to 50%.  I thought this was interesting because countries which traditionally grow olives also have goats, so there was a symbiotic relationship between the goats and the trees until we broke it.  It takes roughly 7 pounds of olives (varies based on type of olive and the strength of the harvest) to make 250 ml of oil, which is why it has been hard to keep up with the demand.

Once the oil is ready, it is placed in a bottle or barrel and nitrogen is used to keep the oxygen away. Oxygen and sunlight are the enemies of olive oil and once the bottle is opened, the nutrients start disappearing. Our guide recommended all oils are consumed within one year of opening.

So how can you tell if you have the real deal at home? If the product is domestic the label should tell you, but if it is imported you need to do a taste test. Basically, you take a shot of the oil and it should go down like water, producing a tingle or even a cough when you drink it.  Finally, there should be no residue on your tongue.  That all seemed somewhat subjective to me, so I think I would rather do my research and just find a brand that I like that is uncut.

I really liked the tour very much, and since they were having a 20% off Black Friday sale, decided to treat myself to some hand picked extra virgin olive oil and the raspberry balsamic.  I think they will taste great in a spinach salad and I am really looking forward to trying them out.  I was also really glad that we had a chance to get out and do something fun.  Between looking for jobs, training Jack, and Lee working on repairs we haven’t done much the last few weeks.  I really enjoyed this and am grateful that Cori went to some trouble to make sure we got to experience it.

 

 


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.