Now we live in the lovely 2013 Winnabego Vista 30T

Now we live in the lovely 2013 Winnabego Vista 30T
The photo above is with our old rig (the Jayco) parked beside the new rig. It took about an hour and a half to move our stuff from one rig to the other. The second picture was taken shortly after the transfer in Amarillo Texas. Often when we walk around an RV park, these class A motorhomes look like they have a personality and well, a face. I took the liberty to paint the face the way I imagine it.

Monday, March 10, 2014

On buying bicycles.


In Brownwood, TX. Janie with her Rocky Mountain and me with Raleigh (with trailer attached behind)
       This past year has been an interesting one regarding our bicycles.  The saga began last year when I was noticing some shifting issues in my old Raleigh mountain bike that I had put lots of miles on.  At the time Janie had a 2005 Rocky Mountain Fusion that she bought new in 2006.  The Raleigh I had been riding was one I bought used a few years ago.  It was a good bike and it had a lot of miles on it.  I was debating whether or not to just get new drive-train components or to trade it for a new bike.  I've never had much luck in buying new bikes but thought it was about time for me to look for a new one.  Below is a pic of my old Raleigh M-80 at Moab a few years ago.


         In the spring of 2013 we were in Northern New York State and found ourselves in a little bike shop near my hometown.  I was looking over new bikes and checking out some hybrid bikes we saw there.  After a lot of shopping, riding, and research, we picked out two hybrid bikes that we thought might be just right for us.  The idea was that if I got a hybrid, then Janie might be at a disadvantage on her old mountain bike even though it was a pretty high end bike when we bought it.  We picked a couple of good hybird bikes that we thought would be just great.  We probably had nearly a hundred miles or so on the bikes when we headed left Northern New York.  On our trip south and west we might have looked like the following picture, with our car attached at the back of the rig, and our bikes on top of the car.



Tragedy strikes
         We got as far as Erie, PA, our first overnight stop on our way west, before tragedy struck.  We used a GPS to find a Walmart to spend the night and it took us into downtown Erie. (later we learned that if we had just stayed on the highway one more exit there was another, safer, Walmart where we could have stayed) We got permission from the Walmart store folks and had some dinner in the coach and then went to sleep for the night.  When we woke up in the morning I went outside to begin to prepare to get back on the road. I was shocked to see that there were no bicycles on the roof of the car. I looked again, called Janie out, and we both looked.  We stared at the spot, looked away, and then looked back as if our actions would conjure the bicycles, perhaps we had a blockage that would not allow us to see our new bikes.  Finally, we called the local police, and checked with the Walmart to let them know what had happened and, I suppose, to see if they had some magical way to retrieve our bikes.  They didn't.  I also walked around a bit, looking for signs of bike escape or to see if they had  just been joyridden and then tossed aside.  

         Finally the police officer arrived and completed a report and gave us the information for our insurance company.  He said that the bikes were probably stolen to be stripped and then the parts sold or used to upgrade other bikes.  He doubted that our bikes would be retrieved.  As we continued to travel west, Janie started making lists of the add on parts that the bikes had (clipless pedals, water bottle cages, lights, luggage racks, etc.) so we could give the insurance company a complete list of what we'd be replacing.  We called the insurance company and were pleased to learn that the claim would be covered, less our deductible, and they'd get working on it right away.  Because we're full-time RVers, our auto insurance is combined with a homeowners' type policy with a special rider for some higher end stuff we carry with us, like bicycles and musical instruments/equipment.  

Temporary Bikes and the Katy Trail

         Our trip to Fort Collins included a brief stop in Sedalia, Missouri for some music and some bike riding on the KATY trail.   As we headed toward Sedalia we were sad to think that we wouldn't have any bikes to ride the trail with.  We could rent bikes but that would be pretty expensive.   We stopped briefly near Jefferson City, Missouri and I got looking at craigslist.  I found two possible used replacement bikes.  We decided to stop and look at these bikes.  Janie's was fairly heavy, but still a decent hybrid bike although not a replacement for the one she lost.  We got it for fairly cheap.  I found a dream bike, a beautiful Marin road bike.  I knew that a road specific bike wouldn't be a viable replacement, but the price was good and we figured we could use the bikes until we got our replacements and then sell them in Fort Collins, CO.  Below you can see a photo of the lovely Marin in a park in Sedalia.  By the way, we did resell the bikes.  We made 50 dollars on mine and 75 on Janie's.  


My sweet but temporary Marin Road bike.

          Thanks for hanging in there, I promise I'm getting to the point of the story. 

          So, we got to Fort Collins, and started shopping.  We kept our sights on hybrid bicycles although I was occasionally looking at mountain bikes.  I should say at this point that a hybrid bicycle is one that is configured to ride like a mountain bike (flat bars and mountain bike style shifters and brakes) yet it generally has 700c wheels (like a road bike)  Often the hybrid is sold as a city/recreation bike.  It's often lighter weight than a mountain bike in the same price range and supposedly the larger wheels roll over obstacles easier. There was also a recent trend to create "29ers" by putting 700c wheels on a mountain bike style frame and with fatter tires than a road bike tire.  I had one, a Gary Fischer Xcaliber (another new bike that I didn't care for after I got it home).  

         The shopping was an ordeal; I was so afraid that I would be disappointed after spending the time and money to get a new bike.  After a lot of trying bikes, reading reviews, and getting the feel of several different shops, we settled on some pretty cool steel frame bikes; some Jamis bikes with carbon forks.


Martin's Jamis Coda Comp bike

Janie and her Jamis Coda Sport femme bike.
(this is her first ride after her collar bone healed from her real first ride on that bike)
 What was wrong with our final selection (new bikes from the bike shop)

            So, we're often told to buy bikes from our LBS (local bike shop).  Well, we don't really have an LBS because we live in many different towns across the US.  In Fort Collins, CO, however, we were mainly looking at two different shops for our bikes.  We really liked a couple of Treks from one shop but then looked at the Jamis'.  I can't really tell you what made us decide on the Jamis bikes, but it probably had to do with a combination of the price and the fact that they had old school steel frames.  I began riding on chromoly steel framed bikes and I guess I never fully converted to aluminum frames,  I had also had a pretty sweet carbon fiber framed bike but those are pricey.

Tragedy II

          On the very first ride after we bought the Jamis bikes, we were riding home on a paved trail.  We were both feeling good on the new bikes and I was working to keep up with Janie, she really liked the spry feel of her new Jamis.  At some point there was a place where the trail split and one could briefly leave the paved trail and ride a few yards on a dirt trail and then come back up on the pavement.  Janie was just ahead of me and she left the trail.  I didn't.  When she got back to the paved trail, she didn't really see the abrupt ledge she'd have to jump to get back on the trail as it was hidden by some grass growing along the edge.  On top of that, it was about a 45 degree angle so there would be a tendency for the paved trail to resist and possibly the wheel would turn to run along the trail rather than rolling up on.  Yes there was a crash.  Janie's wheel did just what I just mentioned and she went off the bike quick and hard.  She trashed her helmet and broke her collar bone.  Great first ride, huh?
          Once we started riding again we kept noticing how "twitchy" both of those bikes were.  It seemed like just a little bit of steering input went a long way.  This continued to bother Janie.  This bugged me on my bike as well, but the thing that bothered me more was that the pedals seemed farther apart (from each other) than on any previous bike I had owned.  I felt tired after a long commute and couldn't really put my finger (or foot) on it.  After one particularly frustrating ride I started to check craigslist for used bikes.
           I told Janie I was looking for a used mountain bike for myself and she understood and wondered if we might also keep an eye out for a solution for her twitchy bike.  We found a couple of good ones.  I found a 1998 steel frame Trek mountain bike for me and a 2008 Trek hybrid for Janie. We went to test ride and we were amazed at how they felt.  Mine still had some old components on it and some fairly heavy wheels so I started upgrading.    Below you can see some pics.  I added some new lightweight wheels and new rear cogs and chain.  I also upgraded the shifter and brake configuration as the Trek retained one of my least favorite shifter outfits.  One of the other things that did, since the old Trek mountain bike had some scuffs and scratches, was to take off all of the components, tape certain areas, and then spray several coats of a clear automotive paint over the existing paint.  This gave the bike a great patina,  while hopefully preventing any rusting from the scuffs.

        By the way, I confirmed the pedal width thing after getting the Trek.  It's set up like what I'm used to, I forget the distances, but there's a little over a half inch difference in the width of my feet when I'm pedaling the two bikes, the Jamis being wider.  So as I pedal the Jamis, I'm continually trying to bring my feed in on the pedal, only to be stopped by the crank arm.


Here's my 1998 Trek 930 commuter bike.
Janie's great 2008 Trek 7.6FX 
       Well maybe I know a little more about buying new bikes.  I guess my preference from now on will be to buy used. I'm hoping that the bikes we have will last a long time.  You may wonder what we'll do with the Jamis bikes.   We do still have them and we've listed them both on craigslist for sale with no bites.  I think when we get to Fort Collins in a couple of months, we'll aggressively try to sell Janie's at least.  I might try changing the cranks on mine and making it into a single speed.  I've always wanted to do that.  If I can make it into a cool single speed, I might ride it for a while and then sell it before leaving FoCo.

        Here are a few more pics.





The Trek was missing a head-badge so I made one of my own

Here I have a way to tune the bikes, I just hang the bike on our travel rack
from the top tube and I can go through the gears and make fine adjustments.
My new used Trek outside of a cool local restaurant.  Janie's Trek is in the background.
        Thanks for reading my story about bike riding.  I might also add that, despite online advice that it's too expensive and difficult to change an eight speed into a nine speed, I will say that I successfully did just that. The trek 930 was an eight speed, and now, without changing the chainrings, I changed it to a 9 speed.  I put a new 9 speed deore cassette on the new wheel, used the existing derailleurs (front and back), and put deore brake levers (and deore brakes too) and deore 3x9 shifters on.

Until next time........  Martin Bates


Friday, January 3, 2014

Estes Park Evacuees

Estes Park Evacuees

September 14, 2013 at 11:18pm
 Janie and I have written some on facebook, but I thought I'd write this with some photos for those who are interested.  Janie and I were at the cabin in Moraine Park from about the end of August and were planning to leave today 9/14.  I happened to take this first picture on Wednesday, as I had noticed that a sandbar had been covered in the river.  Apparently the rains Wednesday morning added to the river.  It was nice to see water there.
This shows the river slightly up from the days previous
This shows the river slightly up from the days previous

I used my phone to email that picture to two of Janie's brothers to show the increased water flow.  The next picture is what I shot from the same spot with my phone, the next morning in a steady rain.  We had gotten over 6 inches of rain according to the gauge.  A small herd of elk had settled in for the night right near the side of the first river picture.  As we looked at them the next morning, they seemed quite shocked at the change of events. They made no attempt to cross the water, although they did look at it for a bit.
This is roughly the same spot only a wider angle.
This is roughly the same spot only a wider angle.


Here are a couple more photos of the flooding high about the village of Estes Park.


As we're leaving the cabin and the valley
As we're leaving the cabin and the valley


The later photo was taken as we were leaving the cabin.  Earlier, the ranger came by and informed us we were under pre-evacuation notice.  Then 20 minutes later he let us know that we needed to evacuate the area.  We got what we could from the cabin and went to the motorhome and moved it up to the visitor center/museum parking lot to organize.  One ranger said that might be a good place to park until the evacuation was lifted.  It wasn't too much longer from then that another ranger approached us to let us know that we couldn't stay there and we'd have to move to the Moraine Park Campground where all of the other campground residents had been relocated to.  We spoke with a couple of different rangers and finally complied with this. They would let us park there for free.  We finally settled in the campground and about three hours later, another ranger came and told us we were evacuating again to the Beaver Meadows parking lot.  The following two photos were taken the next morning.  We had RVs and tent and car campers in the parking lot overnight.  Janie and I offered coffee around to those who couldn't prepare their own, and fed breakfast to at least one chilly car camper.

Campers at the evacuation site at Beaver Meadows parking lot.
Campers at the evacuation site at Beaver Meadows parking lot.


This morning of the above photos 9/13, we were told there would be a briefing for the campers at 9:30.  We went to the briefing and were told that the only way out of the park was on Trail Ridge road and that the rangers were encouraging people to take it.  The briefers told us that it would be weeks before any of the other highways would be repaired.  This is what we needed to hear for our decision to leave.  We could wait days and even a couple of weeks but not several weeks.   We got permission and an escort back to the cabin to "close" it for the season (winterize it) and we gathered the rest of our things , locked the door and by 1:30 or so Friday afternoon we were back at the camper and hitching up for the trip over the mountain.  The trip over the mountain was easier than we thought, then the following Berthoud Pass and within a few hours we were fighting traffic and rain in Denver.   We spent a few hours sleeping in Limon, Co and then headed in the wee hours toward Amarillo.  We made it to Amarillo by morning.   There's more to write but I'm tired.  I am thinking of the many people who are still there in the foothills of the Rockies cleaning up a business, looking at salvaged photos, grieving a loss, putting a family back together or just helping a neighbor.  Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Stuff and Tornadoes

We've been thinking about tornadoes lately.  Moore, Oklahoma was big in the news and last night there was a PBS special about predicting a tornado.  Of course the Greensburg, Kansas tornado of May 4th 2007 was partly responsible for the wonderful life we live on the road now.  Tornadoes.  Two days ago, we were (and still are) parked at Camping World, Interstate Island, Syracuse, New York.  We turned on the TV and found that we were in a severe thunderstorm and tornado watch.  They're chasing us to New York State.  We were actually just ahead of many of the storms over the last few weeks or so.

So, we've been thinking about tornadoes lately.  Then I noticed according to the PBS program that the EF rating of a tornado is based on what it does to stuff, not what it does to humans.  Since we don't have much stuff, and the stuff we have is mostly always in two or three different places, we're in pretty good shape ;-) .  For now I'm pretty glad that we don't have very much stuff, just what we can carry. When severe weather gets close to us we just thank each other for the time together and hope to see each other in the morning.

I was wondering what the Indigenous people of the land we wander did when there was a tornado.  I suppose, for one, they were pretty mobile and didn't have a bunch of stuff to worry about.   I suppose the nomadic people paid attention to the weather patterns all around them and knew what to do... We're hoping to do the same as we travel.

It's pretty amazing how the potential for a tornado is there in a super-cell thunderstorm, and it can manifest or not; if it does, it sort of just appears then takes on a life of its own, destructing all in its path.  I wonder when the majority of the population is going to get it, that what we do to Earth matters and if we take care of the land, air, and water we'll all be better off; as it is, we'd better become more aware of the weather changes around us and prepare to reap the consequences of how we've treated our environment.



Sunday, May 12, 2013

Playing music at Assisted Living and Nursing and Rehab Centers

During our time here in Bownwood, Texas, it seems a new chapter has opened up in our music world.  We have often played music at the Care Center that my dad lives at in Canton, New York in exchange for a place to park our motorhome when we visit (they'd probably let us park there whether we play or not)  but this season has been quite an eyeopener for us.

It started with my boredom and desire to learn some new songs, etc.  Janie was working at a care center called Songbird Lodge and early on I wandered in with my guitar and played some for the residents there.  As I walked around the area I noticed a plethora of care centers around so I contacted the closest ones,  Redstone Park, Brownwood Nursing and Rehab, Oak Ridge Manor, and Senior Care of Brownwood.  They all welcomed me to drop by on a regular basis.  Some asked me to fill out a background check and some didn't.  I worked with the respective Activity Directors to schedule a time to drop in each week.  These would become, for the most part, voluntary, non-paid (national currency) performances.  A few of the places, after I had visited for a while, worked out a way for me or Janie and me to play for some pay as well.   Very nice.

Before going into what the residents have taught me, I might also mention how I started playing weekly at Doc's Drugstore in Brownwood.  I was walking back from Redstone after playing there and I dropped into Doc's with my guitar on my back.  Tim there approached me and said, "This is the very first time someone walked in here with a guitar on their back."  I wound up playing a song or two there on the spot and they asked me to come back on Fridays to play for their lunch customers.  This then also turned into Mondays and Fridays.  Doc's has been fun, and the staff seem to enjoy the music as much as the customers.  At Doc's, I sold a few cds and played for tips and lunch, bringing in some money to help with our expenses.  Thanks be to Doc's.

Now to the subject.  I'm going to try to express what I've learned from these lovely residents. I think all of the lessons fall under the heading -Expectations-

The first lesson was Expectations in communication:   It's interesting to see how I react to the various levels of ability of the various residents.  Some seem to require a wheelchair, some not, some have use of one arm or hand, some both; some are missing legs.  Most have a different way to relating to people, many are much more direct than we're maybe used to in polite society.  Some don't seem to have expected verbal communication skills.  (I might mention that at one facility there's a man who reminds me a lot of the facial expressions my mom had during the later stages of her Alzheimer's Disease.  He was quiet all the time so I guess I expected that he didn't verbally communicate, however one day I spoke to him and he shocked me by speaking back, pretty much like a regular person.)

Second Lesson - Expectations in music:   As a musician, I want the audience to enjoy the music I perform. Of course I also want to personally enjoy the music I perform. Janie and I play lots of different kinds of music. There's this idea that going into a care center such as this that everyone will like (and only like) hits from the 40's or something like that, or Classic Country Hits, etc.  The truth is, that various individuals react differently to different songs.  Why would that be a surprise?  I can just play the music I like and I'll see positive reactions from different people each time.  Some like funny songs, some like gospel songs (a lot like gospel songs), some like to sing along, some like the old tunes, some like classic country, etc.  The idea that it's best to have a few songs that people seem to always like, but then just play what I like, they seem happy just having a change in pace and the idea that someone would take time out of their day to come and spend time with them.

Third Lesson - Therapy from music:  While doing this I decided to research a bit about music therapy and specifically the value of music in this setting.  I had noticed that people would roll into the hall sort of in their own bubble, not talking to each other and by the time they left, they might be having side conversations about music or about me or some other thing that I didn't know about, but they were talking to each other a little more at the end of the session.  Also  I like to talk with them and ask what they know about the songs, also I have a couple of quiz songs where they probably don't know the verse but do know the chorus.  I start with the verse and see if anyone can "name that tune".  Fun and a bit of a mind exercise.  I move around and look around a bit, noticing that their eyes follow me and sometimes follow my eyes.  (I'll smile and acknowledge someone who's singing along and many will look at that person too, netting a bit of a stretch.)  I like to intermingle the sing along songs with the ones they probably don't know, also I like to encourage them to listen to choruses of certain songs so they can learn them and sing along by the end. (I don't teach them the verses as I think it's better for them to listen, translate, and then sing the words.)  I confess I'm not a music therapist, but these are the things I notice, using some of my past training as a counselor to translate that learning to this activity.  One can find all kinds of benefits of listening to live music for people in residential settings including, sleep, attitude, overall outlook, relaxation, sociability, diet, and general health.

Finally, I'd like to comment on my observation regarding the wonderful lesson to be learned from watching the residents care for each other, how the staff cares for the residents, and how the residents care for the staff.  It's a very caring group.  Sometimes in the middle of the music I would notice a staff member noticing when a particular resident was enjoying a particular song, it was obvious the staff member was happy to see the resident happy,  I saw more mobile residents picking up discarded ice cream sandwich wrappers for residents in wheel chairs.  I noticed staff members sitting and talking and laughing with residents.  There were lots of examples and it was plainly evident that this environment creates an opportunity for caring like is rarely seen out on the highways and in other communities.

I'm very grateful for the opportunity to learn these lessons and spend some of my time playing music and singing songs with the people I've met over the past few months.  



Sunday, March 17, 2013

Coming Together Austin style


Austin, March 16th, 2013.  

Janie and I went to the State Capitol for "The Musician's March for Peace".  It was about a two and a half hour drive from Brownwood and the day was well worth the time spent on the road.  This activity happens to be at the same time as the semi-famous South by Southwest festival (SXSW) which is a music, film and arts festival in downtown Austin.  Because of this, as we pulled up to the parking garage, we learned that the parking rate was $20.00 for a short time or all day.  The normal all day rate is $7.00.  Huh!  In talking to the attendant  standing there with his wad of 20s, we were told that all of the public parking was set at that rate and set by the city or the tourism board or something.  We happened to know that the metered parking was possibly fine, but we'd have to remember to run back and feed the meters, so we opted for the 20 bucks.  At least we knew we were out of the sun and the car was reasonably safe. (and it wouldn't get towed off)  As it turned out we were parked there from about 11:30 am to about 8:45 pm.  

We had been following the Musician's March for Peace for a while on Facebook  the day's events were to include a rally and concert at the steps of the capitol at 1:00 pm, a march through the streets of Austin starting at 3:00, followed by a second rally and concert at the stage outside of Austin City Hall.  I suspect the march was about a mile or a little more, more on the march later.  Prior to the event, one of the organizers, having heard my song, "The Occupy Song", asked us to play it as part of the show at the capitol.  It was great fun meeting the other musicians, and helping one of the marchers to get set up with sound etc.  We immediately felt like we were among friends.  Whenever we meet "our people" there is always this ever-present question in the air - "who are you, what have you been doing?".  So meeting and talking becomes little spontaneous snippets of who we are, who we know and what we've been doing.  Anyway, the MC poet was wonderful and the acts were lovely.  Some were more polished for stage presentation than others and all were equally welcomed by the attendees and other presenters.  That's a sign of a wonderful community, a beloved and loving community.  

      Speakers at the Capitol were Cindy Sheehan and a couple of representatives from Iraq Veterans Against the War, among others.   

Our song was very well received and within a verse or two most of the audience was singing "we're here to occupy, here to occupy, we're the 99%, we're here to occupy, here to occupy, starting on the corner with our tents."  The song was really designed to be a song that folks can rally around and also a song that chronicles the beginning of the small Occupy sites (in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street) that cropped up around the US, with models from Un-Occupy Albuquerque, and Occupy Amarillo, Lubbock, and Fort Worth. The debut of the song was at the Occupy Lubbock site.  By the way, Occupy is not gone but most of the former occupiers have joined movements trying to fix problems with our economy like Strike Debt, an organization that is buying up property and medical debt and then releasing the person from their particular debt. 

Just as we were winding down the concert at the capitol, I noticed that a lot more people had gathered, with several in various costumes and some carrying drums, brass instruments, and shakers.  The guy we had helped set up began mounting his sound system speakers on a shopping cart and some folks helped him carry a mobile sound system down the steps to the ground level while the jazz band had been playing "Down by the Riverside". Then we started down the sidewalk to Congress Ave, down Congress to head for City Hall.  





The march took a detour which would allow it to travel down several blocks of Sixth Street (Austin's version of New Orleans' Bourbon Street) and all of this with the Jazz music in the front, and the rolling rock studio in the back.  We were in sort of a swing state :-) moving slightly up in the crowd would allow us to hear and participate in the Jazz group, and falling back somewhat would put us with the rockers.  Many of the revelers along the path, joined us for part or most of the march smiling, singing, dancing, and flashing peace signs everywhere. Here are some scenes from the march route. 







As we approached City Hall the Jazz band was playing "Down by the Riverside" again and I think the rockers had joined too.  There was another band on the city stage in front of City Hall, and our folks gathered in with these folks and kept the song going.  Then the stage band did a few more great songs, and turned the stage over to open mic, an opportunity for poets and singers to present. We did a couple of more songs during the open mic, before heading out.

Now, about coming together: someone said they think there should be Musician's Marches for Peace all over the US at this time, as music is so good at bringing folks together;  another thing in Austin that brings folks together is bats.  As we were headed to dinner (a restaurant recommended by my cousin David) we noticed that people were lined up along Congress Street bridge.  Me to Janie, "I didn't think that the bats were flying until later in the year."  She looked it up on her phone and we asked a few folks and found out that indeed the bats are flying.  We parked at Zax Pint and Plate, met my cousin's friend, and then headed to the bridge.  The Austin bat watching experience is a perfect vision of the coming together of which I write.  People from all walks with one goal, to see the bats.  I was told that this is one of the largest urban bat colonies in the world.  It grew here unintentionally, as I guess the bridge architect didn't realize that the design he built would become a perfect habitat for these bats.  Google the Austin bat viewing and you'll find out all about them.  Anyways, the people come together, various economic backgrounds, colors, education levels, politics, religion, etc., you name it.  They gather above and below the bridge just to wait for and watch the bats come out every day at dusk.  They help each other get great viewing spots.   We had a guy walk up and give us a pin that commemorates the bat viewing.  The man was deaf, had a bat on his hat and was friendly as could be.  He also had a tag on the pin inviting us to give him a little something for the pins we got, which we did, and we were all happy.  We got a lovely picture of Janie and me with the batman.  The beloved and loving community.

For those that have read this far, I might as well tell you that we went back to Zax, had a nice conversation with my cousin's friend, had some wonderful pizza, and enjoyed a great trip back home.  We fell into our little Winnebago home at about 11:30 pm tired and happy.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this.  I encourage you each to find some activity that you can enjoy with people you might not ordinarily hang out with, and enjoy it, celebrate it, meet some new friends.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Solar Installation

As I have mentioned, we're starting 2013 (actually ending 2012) with a new Winnebago which remains unnamed at this time.  Funny, it was December of 2009 when we bought the Jayco.  I guess December is a time of transitions.  We left the solar installation on the Jayco when we traded so I had the distinct pleasure of preparing and planning a new solar installation on the new Winnebago.  I thought I'd go through the process of how we decided on the equipment we would purchase for this new installation, which began with thinking about the energy we used for the past two years and what might be different on this rig.

First, let's mention the cost of installation, what's our price range.  I'd like to mention that often when I speak with folks about installing solar panels, they ask about "payback".  I've taken to asking them about their payback for that morning coffee at the local coffee shop, or payback for the game tickets they buy etc.  To me this is a lifestyle choice.  It's a choice to join in the experiment of using solar energy to fuel our world.  So having said that, I really don't care about payback because it's immediate.  (There is a time I started to calculate payback but gave up.  I mean, we can roughly say that we potentially save at least 30 dollars a month because of the solar and this installation cost under $2,000, so that's about five to six years I guess.)

I might also mention that the Winnebago Vista 30T that we bought, lends itself well to solar installation.  In the purchasing process I looked the roof over, imagined where I would run the wires and checked out the battery box.  I had a good picture of how it would go before we committed to the new rig.

Equipment:

    Let's start with batteries.  The new rig came with 2 Group 24 NAPA dual purpose batteries rated at about 105 amp hours at 20 hours. (right I'm not sure what that means either)  Anyway, our last set up had about 300 amp hours of battery (three X 100 ah group 31 batteries) so I wanted one more battery.  I would have rather had group 27 AGM batteries for this installation, but I already had two brand new group 24s so I opted to run to NAPA (on my bicycle) and pick up one additional matching flooded battery.  I got a few extra cables, reworked the tie down system but just changing the bolts to rubber straps and now we have 315 ah of battery bank.  
Here are the three batteries installed.  These are just inside the step to enter the coach.  Nice location if you ask me.


   Now for the Controller.  I did some checking around before deciding on the charge controller.  Even though I was quite happy the the controller we had before (MorningStar TriStar 45 MPPT) I just wanted to know if there might be something more suitable to our setup.  Also I was hoping for something with a slightly smaller footprint and mounting position.   I had decided to put the controller in a basement cabinet just beside the battery box so there would be a short wired run between the controller and batteries.  I figured the run from the roof to the controller in this case would still be only about 20 feet, so everything seemed to be going together well.  

      So.... after all this processing, I finally decided on the TriStar, just like the one in the last installation.  I ordered the controller, breaker boxes and wiring from Northern Arizona Wind and Sun.  

      I'll talk about ordering the solar panels in a minute, but I had gotten all of the materials from Northern Arizona so I went ahead and installed the controller and breaker box with most of the wiring while waiting for the panels.    Here's a photo of the installed TriStar controller and breaker box.



And remote meter installed just inside the entry door to the coach.



The exterior cabinet that holds the controller and breaker is just to the right of the entry door to the coach.  The batteries are under the second step coming in the entry to the coach and the meter is just on a wall to the left as you walk into the coach.


 Solar Panels.  I saved quite a bit of money by shopping around a bit for panels.  I found the three 175 watt panels we purchased at Sun Electronics at 189 each, so a little over a dollar a watt.  The last panels we bought were more like a little over 2 dollars a watt. Shipping was a little more because the panels were bigger but it all worked out quite well.  I saved about a hundred dollars on shipping by having them shipped to a local lumber yard (instead of the RV park just across the street) and picking them up there.

    Also, based on recommendations from the various discussion forums, I opted for high voltage panels.  We got Suntech 175 watt panels.   I don't entirely understand the electronics involved in this, but I'm told the high voltage panels work much more efficiently with the MPPT controller.  Because they are high voltage (35.2 vmp) I can wire them in parallel on the roof, which means that if one of the panels happens to get shaded, the others will remain at full power for one thing.  Also at the higher voltages, the TriStar MPPT can work better at using the MPPT technology.

   
Mounting to the roof.   After talking with various people on the discussion boards I opted to build my own z brackets by buying, drilling and cutting some aluminum angle.  Also, based on recommendations, I decided to draw an installation plan.  I can't say how happy I am that the forum gurus convinced me to do this.  I had a whole different picture in my mind of how the panels would be.  This turned out to be a great installation, mainly because of this drawn up installation plan.

  I've included some photos below with captions.


Here's the drilling of the holes in the new Z brackets.
The drill press and cutoff saw were loaned to me by a new friend, James, from Early, TX.
Here's a photo of yours truly drilling the aluminum.
And then cutting.

Each Z bracket is made up of two L's bolted together  which will facilitate removal of the panels if necessary at some point.  Each bracket is 3 inches long and made from 1 and 1/2 inch aluminum L giving me 4.5 inches of glue surface for mounting to the roof.
 
Here I'm installing the Z brackets (feet) to the underside of the panel (I hope that's the underside)

The feet were mounted to the underside of the panel with
two stainless steel bolts then the panels were glued to the
fiberglass roof with 3M 5200 fast cure marine adhesive.

There aren't any screws driven into the roof at this
time but I could add one on each bracket
if I want to at some point.
Here the panels are attached, wired and working.  The panels are
wired in parallel and use mc4 type wire and connectors.

The Escapees Discussion Forum was most helpful in the process as was Jack Mayer's website on RV solar installations.  On this forum we spoke about using the 3M glue and with or without screws into the roof.   Of course this is often a concern for someone installing panels on the roof.  I can tell you from our last (first) installation, it was a difficult thing to drill into a perfectly good roof.  The Jayco had a rubber roof and I opted to drill.  I drilled the hole the size for the #12 x 1 inch stainless steel screw for each foot.  Then I put dicor in the whole put the screw right into the dicor sealant.  Then I put more dicor on top of each screw to seal it up.  There was no problem at all in the two years we had the panels in place.   This new roof is fiberglass and I was told that with fiberglass well adhered to the plywood underlayment, the 3M 5200 fast cure would be fine by itself.  I researched a lot and I feel quite sure that this is a permanent bond that will hold the panels just fine.  Having said that, I also plan on going up on the roof on a nice day in a month or so (or before we move next) and evaluating the bonds.  I'll probably inspect each foot carefully, and give a tug or two on the panels in various places as part of the inspection.  At that time I'll probably drill the glue that oozed out of one of the holes in each leading foot, drill for a screw, add dicor and install a #12 x 1 inch stainless steel screw in each leading edge, covering it with dicor.  This is just a bit of added security so I don't have to think about it someday when we're driving in some windy and weather.  I may, however, opt to leave it alone and inspect it again after our first major road trip.  

In Operation:

    Solar Volts and Amps.  I double checked the wiring and then powered up the system and right way I was treated to a lovely reading of 42 volts DC from the solar array.  As soon as I had the system working I switched off the breaker to the 12 v converter charger that came with the coach.  This monitors the battery and keeps it charged while providing all of the 12 v power for the rig.  That's lights, furnace blower fan, and water pump, not to mention some small dc loads from the electronics of the fridge, water heater and furnace.  Now the only ac power we use (when we're able to harvest solar energy... see below) is the 110 outlets in the motorhome.  All of our lighting, water pump and furnace blower energy comes from the sun now.

We've been up and running for a couple of weeks at this point and for the most part they've kept up quite well.  We just entered an expected stretch of overcast and rainy weather so I switched the breaker back on to let the converter/charger keep the batteries just until Friday, when the sun will be back.  The panels almost keep up, but it's also cold and the furnace draws a fair amount of that energy.

The TriStar has a connection that allows me to gather data from it on my computer and therefore track how the panels are working and the daily state of the batteries.   I plan on keeping a spreadsheet of this data for a while at least.

Thanks for reading,  I'm glad to answer questions if you just ask.

Martin Bates

  

Monday, December 10, 2012

New rig getting ready for a new year

Wow, I just went to have a look at the blog and noticed that it's been forever since I posted.   Guess what.......  We got a new rig.  Yes, a funny thing happened.  I was reading the Good Sam Club magazine, Highway Herald, and noticed an ad for a brand new Winnebago for an amazingly cheap price and a 26 footer seemed like it just had to be looked at.  We checked the local dealer, Jack Sisemore Traveland, in Amarillo, TX and sure enough they had one.   We went to look at it and quickly decided it wasn't configured right for us, but in the meantime we looked at the Vista 30T a thirty foot version and fell in love.  After counting pennies and gathering our resources, we bought it.  This one too was discounted significantly and it seemed the perfect time to go for it. Our other rig was just getting a little too old and we figured it was the perfect time to trade.
 Here we are parked in Brownwood, Texas where we expect to remain until May 2013.

We've been in the rig for a month now almost and we're just loving it.  I've been researching and buying materials to get the solar up and running in this rig and hopefully we'll be going by Christmas.  Well that's enough for now.  I'll review previous postings and get to writing some more blog entries.