Heartland Road Tour Rewind

Since our wheels got knocked out from under us last year, I’m working on plans for the Rewind Tour. MOBI (Winnebago View) is properly outfitted and ready to go.

I think the solar electric will be a big asset when we are off the grid (which will be more often than not). And if we are off the grid in areas where it can get warm during the day and where the dog is NOT allowed on trails with me, the micro controller system for starting and stopping the generator as required for air conditioning will save a lot of fuel. I believe we are as energy efficient and independent as we can be.

As always, the road tour will be an ad hoc adventure that develops as we roll along. I’m excited to be heading to Utah once again. Having the RV totaled just before getting to all those wonderful canyons and rock formations was a real disappointment last time. Since Yellowstone is one of those places where the camp grounds can fill up, I have booked a stay there at Madison Campground. I may encounter a couple other places where I have to book in advance but I prefer to wing it and not look beyond tomorrow as my journey unfolds.

MOBI isn’t quite as fuel efficient as the Rialta was but more than makes up for it in hill climbing power, room and luxury. One of the benefits with MOBI is the ladder on the back that leads to a great open area on the roof where I can set my tripod and camera. It should allow for some photographs I otherwise could not get.

As always, your donations are appreciated. Please use the donate button on the left to help with the day to day travel expenses. Large or small, any donation will help!

Thanks and happy new year. I hope that 2016 brings to all of us a time of peace, health and prosperity.


Trik-L-Start . . . . a word of caution.

So what’s this got to do with art, anyway?  Very little. But, it has a lot to do with my mode of transportation for finding and making my art

Way back around the dawning of the motorhome era, the chassis battery (engine) and the house battery (for everything related to the living area of the motorhome) were connected to the alternator via an isolator. It was a pretty simple device. It used a couple diodes to keep the batteries separated yet still allow the alternator to charge them. That way a low battery (say the house battery after a day or two of being parked out in the boonies) would not drain the other battery. It worked. Well, it worked as long as both batteries were in good condition. If one battery was defective however, it could cause the other to not be charged by the alternator. Oops!

If we fast forward to now, Winnebago (and some other manufacturers) tackle this battery-alternator-battery relationship differently. They mechanically connect them together by energizing a continuous duty solenoid (high current relay that can be left on for long periods of time) whenever the engine is running. When the engine is off, the batteries are no longer connected together. This way the engine start battery can’t be drawn down by circuits connected to the house battery yet both can be charged up while the engine is running. An added benefit is that through the addition of a switch (Winnebago calls it the “Boost” switch) one can effectively jump start the engine if its battery is low and the house batteries are charged or conversely jump start the generator from the engine battery if the house batteries are low.

The one thing that doesn’t happen is charging the engine battery while parked somewhere and plugged in to shore power (110v at your house for instance). The house batteries will be charged but without the solenoid being activated, the engine battery is isolated and if left long enough, those little electrical gremlins like all that computer stuff will run the chassis battery down. If left like this for a long period of time, the chassis battery will be damaged. Not a problem if you use your RV regularly. But, if you store your RV over the winter as many people do, you have a good chance of ruining your engine start battery.

Relax! An inexpensive and simple solution exists. It’s called Trik-L-Start. It is a small box with only 3 wires to connect and it will trickle charge your chassis battery from your house battery whenever the house batteries have more charge than the chassis battery does. Yeah! That’s the ticket. Simple, cheap and never worry about the chassis battery again.

I recently experienced just this sort of problem. Well, actually this along with that solenoid I first mentioned being bad and not recharging the house batteries while driving. It was sort of a double whammy. It caused me to do a lot of research and reading on the topic. Everywhere I turned people were singing the praises of this Trik-L-Start. Like I said, inexpensive (30 bucks or so), only 3 small wires to connect and it works. Everyone says so.

I’d first contemplated building something to accomplish this but for 30 bucks and 10 minutes to install, why bother?? I bought one. Besides, I’ve just surfaced after 6 weeks designing and building the prototype for a device to help manage power in the motorhome. Shhh. It’s a secret. I really don’t want to jump right back into it regardless of how simple the circuit might be.

Now about this 10 minute install. It should be and possible could be except that the most logical place to install it is at that afore mentioned solenoid. It lives in the pedestal right beneath the passenger seat on my RV so I have to add whatever time it takes to remove and then replace the seat. Not a problem in my case as I already had the seat out to replace said solenoid. 10 minutes! That was about all it took not counting the seat. And simple too. 3 small wires. They can be small because it only maxes out at 5 amps. It’s a trickle charger! One wire goes to ground, one to the house batteries and the 3rd to the engine battery. All are readily available at the solenoid. Couldn’t be more simple.

Since this wasn’t my first rodeo, I knew to disconnect the batteries before digging into things. Everything was dead. After the Trik-L-Start install was complete, I reconnected the house battery(ies). Huh? What was that? Ding, ding, ding. Darn, it was the bell reminding me that the door was open and key in the ignition. But wait. I was pretty sure I had the chassis battery disconnected. I mean I should have. I walked around to the driver side and looked. Sure enough the battery was disconnected. But, the dash lights came on when I turned the key and all the Mercedes electrical parts had power. But . . . but the battery was disconnected! Yeah, you get the picture. It shouldn’t be happening. Obviously the Trik-L-Start was passing the voltage from the house battery over to the engine start battery wire without the engine start battery being connected!

Yikes! This means that even though the chassis battery was disconnected (like it would be, say when replacing an alternator), all the chassis circuits still had electricity.  It wouldn’t take much to fry the computer or voltage regulator or any number of other components since there was still electricity present in the system.

First thing I did was disconnect the ground wire from the Trik-L-Start thinking that should kill it. It didn’t! The Trik-L-Start was still conducting electricity. Alright now I was scratching my head. I wondered if the unit was defective so I gave Trik-L-Start a call. They didn’t seem concerned and said simply that some of the components were conducting electricity but since it was limited to 5 amps it shouldn’t be a problem. “Not a problem”??? A whole lot less than 5 amps will instantly toast delicate electronics. And this Mercedes chassis is chocked full of delicate electronics. I told him that I had disconnected the ground wire and still it was conducting electricity. He said yeah and that it probably would. I then told him I wanted to add a switch to turn the device off or on when I wanted. I said that getting to it to disconnect it was not an option due to having to remove the seat for access. He said to put a switch in the yellow house battery wire and that would kill the device. I’m not certain but I think I heard him yawn. .

Seriously, the addition of a transistor biased (or not) by the presence of chassis battery voltage would effectively shut it down. A simple 20 cent component would safeguard those delicate and expensive electronics that Mercedes installed. Perhaps I should have designed and built my own after all.

But, with the switch installed I can turn it on or off whenever I wish. And, Mercedes left an empty spot in the compartment in that seat pedestal where a bunch of circuit breakers were. It was the perfect place to put the switch. Easy to get to but out of the way.

So it is done. No more worries about dead chassis batteries if left unattended for any time. In closing, I will caution anyone who has a Trik-L-Start installed to make certain to disconnect both the house and chassis batteries before servicing anything on the chassis that uses electricity or is near electrical connections. BOTH batteries!! Or, place a switch in the yellow wire and simply turn it off when you need to.

Here are a couple pictures of the mounted Trik-L-Start in an indent in the front of the passenger seat pedestal and the circuit breaker compartment where I added the switch (on the side of the passenger seat pedestal). Yes, I see that my on/off plate is crooked. If ever I have reason to remove that seat again, I’ll fix it. Until then, it has a cover over is and you’ll never see it unless you are fooling with the circuit breakers or using the switch.


Electricity in the air

I can sense this sort of electricity. It’s in the air. 

Oh wait a minute some of it is traveling by ground. And most of it will be here within a week or two. 

After analyzing the battery situation on MOBI (08 Winnebago View), I decided to change things a bit. 

While boondocking at Standing Indian last week I learned that the little solenoid that enables the house batteries to be charged while driving was failing. Uh, I learned the hard way.  Yep! It turns out that this is a known issue on these units. New one is on the way. 

Unfortunately the fellow I purchased MOBI from had just put two brand new house batteries in it which were not deep cycle. They pretty much died out there in the forest. While I would prefer a couple of golf cart batteries, the “new” batteries had a bit of warranty left so I opted to upgrade them to deep cycle marine batteries. Yes, I know! They aren’t the best choice but they were the only way to cash in on the warranty at Walmart. In a year or so, I’ll upgrade to golf cart batteries. 

All this got me to thinking. Yikes!! Me? Think??  I really prefer to go places that are more or less “off the grid”. And I don’t want to regularly run the generator simply to charge the house batteries. I googled “personal nuclear reactors” and didn’t find the first link to a personal reactor. Um. . . . I did find some pretty scary stuff though :(. Since I can’t find a nuclear reactor that will easily fit in MOBI, I opted for the next best thing. Solar power.

Let me start by saying that flat roof space is prime real estate on MOBI. You see, it has this awesome GPS controlled, motorized satellite TV dish up there. It’ll stay on target while regardless of where you are, even while driving. Unfortunately I haven’t any use for it. It takes up quite a bit of space but at this point I feel it really adds to the resale value. Of course by the time I decide to sell, I’m sure it will be obsolete. The only open flat area is at the back right next to the built in ladder. I want that area to climb up to and shoot pictures from. So, I am getting a “suitcase” solar panel. It folds and closes up so it can be stored away. It should have no problem keeping the house batteries charged while I’m out in the middle of nowhere.  

Next is a Trik-L-Start. It allows the engine battery to be charged at the same time the house batteries are, anytime it is plugged in or if the generator is running or soon, when the solar panel is generating electricity.  You’d think Winnebago would have made sure the engine start battery would be charged whenever the house batteries were being charged, wouldn’t you? Ha!

Finally, I installed a BatteryMinder. This is a “smart” trickle charger that will keep the batteries in good condition while MOBI is sitting in the driveway, not being used. The “factory” charger will over charge the batteries if left plugged in over a period of time. 

So, over the next couple weeks I’ll make these modifications and upgrades and MOBI should be considerably more energy independent. 

Well, I guess that’s all for this electrifying update. 


Winding down 2015

I was just reflecting on this year (and parts of last). Sometimes things just don’t work out as planned and sometimes they do. Every day is a crapshoot I suppose. 

I had planned to spend half the year on the road learning about and photographing the interior of this great and diverse country. Plans change, however. 

As many of you know, the planning and preparation took place through 2014 with this year as the goal to hit the road. I really had only two firm goals. One was to find a way my dog could accompany me and the other was to see the canyons and stone formations in Utah.  Well, the dog was able to come along anyway. As for Utah, it just didn’t work out. 

But, all’s well that ends well! Although the RV (T.O.A.D.) was totaled out in Colorado, no one was injured and it was drivable so we weren’t stranded. It did bring the adventure to an abrupt end however.  We returned home, sorted out the insurance claim and proceeded to search for a replacement RV. 

Based upon my search for the first RV, I guessed it would take months to find the “right” one. Once again, good fortune smile upon me and I found one in Vermont in just a few weeks. Yay!

As I did with the T.O.A.D. I set about digging into this one to establish its condition and road worthiness. After all, I have the original trip to complete. Unlike the first one, this new one has had very little use and is in really great condition. And, it is like moving from steerage to the Captain’s sweet with respect to room, layout, comfort and bells and whistles. 

We’ve made a couple short trips just to give it a shake down and discovered some minor “opportunities” to upgrade or address issues. All in all, it is a great RV and I’m looking forward to traveling. 

Like I said, plans change. We did manage to spend more than a quarter of 2015 on the road but not as I had imagined or planned. I learned a lot and am anticipating miles of adventure and travel in 2016. 

Perhaps we’ll meet along the way. 


Tires ain’t sposed to be pretty.

They’re supposed to be round and roll!

MOBI (the new to me Winnebago View) had great looking tires when I bought it.  After all, it only had 22,500 miles on it.  However, they were the original tires and were way past their useful life.  If you looked close, you could see the cracking in the sidewalls.  I knew I would have to replace them shortly.

Even before I went up to Vermont to pick MOBI up, I began researching tires.  How difficult can it be to buy tires anyway??  MOBI is 24 1/5 feet long, 11 feet tall and has a Gross Vehicle Weight of 11,030 pounds.  I learned that this eliminates a whole lot of tire shops if you want the tires installed.  And then there is the added issue of having “duallys” (dual rear wheels).  Oh, and there is the added challenge of finding tires in the proper load range for this heavy vehicle.

After some research, I finally turned to Tire Rack dot Com, both for tires and locating an installer.  The closest shop to me that might handle putting tires on MOBI was in Ellijay (about 40 miles away).  I thought it would be best to drive over to Ellijay Tire Company and check the place out.  I wanted to see the facility and more importantly try to determine if they were capable of handling my needs so I drove MOBI over there.  I also wasn’t all that keen on having Tire Rack charge me $175 to ship my tires so I was interested in finding a local (well, kind of local) shop who can provide tires and good service for all my vehicles (except the Harley of course).

I spoke with Russell Miller, the owner.  He is 3rd generation I believe.  The company has been in business for 60 years and they plan to stay.  Stay??  Heck, he just opened a second brand new facility closer to me in Blue Ridge.  But, more about that later.

Russell struck me as honest and committed to providing good tires and service.  I told him I was looking for Michelins and he knew the exact tire my research had pointed me to before I told him.  Michelin LTX M / S2.  The price he quoted me was very fair and we struck a deal.

I chose to have the tires installed at his new Blue Ridge facility, Williams Tire. 2 days later, they called and said they had all 6 tires and I could come any time to get them installed.  I drove straight over and they went right to work. Both Robert (manager) and Dillon were responsive and polite. And, they absolutely knew what they were doing. The facility is loaded with state of the art equipment. And these boys know how to use it. 

We ran into a snag however. Either Dodge or Mercedes (the RV is on a Sprinter chassis and happens to have a Doge badge) put some whacky wheels on it. There is an issue with valve stems being easily accessible (especially on the dually rear wheels) and the usual metal valve stems won’t fit because of the wheel design. Robert called around and had some high pressure metal stems delivered but they were too short.  We had one side off with new tires mounted on the 3 wheels but no valve stems that would allow servicing the air pressure later on down the road. Robert said he would order some metal stems and I said lets just wait to do the other 3 wheels until they had the stems in hand. No sense in having to break down all 6 wheels and tires again in a couple days. 

The next day (there was a weekend in between) they called and said they had the valve stems so I drove over and they pulled the 3 wheels with the new tires and broke them down to replace the stems. Crap! The “standard” metal stems would not fit. The darn wheels are just too weird.

I had done quite a bit of reading (obviously not the fine print) regarding tires and valve stems on the Winnebago Speinter chassis motor homes and knew that a lot of owners switched to metal. I just didn’t realize they were purchasing their metal stems from one of two place that custom designed them for these wheels. 

I asked Robert and Dillon to go ahead and install regular rubber stems (like the original ones) and said I would research the metal stems further. They finished up mounting and balancing the tires. I will probably return if and when I get some metal stems. At the moment, the only ones I can find are about $20.00 each so I will continue to research them. 

In summary, I want to say that Williams Tire (or Ellijay Tire) did a great job, treated me fairly and went beyond what I expected to try and satisfy my metal valve stem dilemma. The folks at both locations are polite and most definitely know the tire business. I will visit them for all my automotive tire needs.

Thank you Robert and Dillon for getting the job done. 



Deep within the Mosquito Belt

We just returned from our inaugural trip in MOBI (2008 Winnebago View).  It was a shakedown run and it was a great first trip.

We headed south into the Mosquito Belt, visiting friends along the way.  As always it was great to catch up with old friends.  Since this was a short trip to check out the R.V., I didn’t shoot many photographs.

These are a couple from the middle of Florida.


Old Florida Deep within the Mosquito Belt Lousia Shore

After just a couple weeks, we high tailed it back home before needing a blood transfusion.  I’d forgotten just how ferocious those mosquitoes are (thankfully).


Peek A Boo

Often, I choose back roads when I travel.  One of my favorite routes takes me through Social Circle, Georgia.  I always look for this 64 Chevy when I pass through town, expecting it to be gone.  I was happy to see it was still there a few weeks ago while heading south to the Mosquito Belt.

64 Chevy peeking out from behind the brush.
64 Chevy peeking out from behind the brush.

First night on the road. 

Yesterday morning we shoved off in the new motorhome from its former home on Grand Isle Vermont. We headed west. 

First stop was in Rochester NY where I took in the Eastman Home (of Eastman Kodak fame). What a magnificent home. While there you can see examples of all sorts of photographic and cinematic processes in the various galleries. While I was enjoying the home, Heyleigh was lounging comfortably in the new RV. 

From there we drove to Niagara (sounds like viagra) Falls where we spent the night at the Seneca Indian Casino.  Most casinos allow overnight RV parking for free. Other than being a gravel lot, it was great. It was quiet, fenced and cool. Best of all it is only a 3 block walk to the falls. 

After a good night’s sleep, I awoke, made coffee and took the dog for a walk. Then I enjoyed a nice warm shower, got dressed, grabbed my camera gear and walked to the falls. 

So, the first day (and night) on the road was a perfect success. 


Quick thank you. 

I want to take a moment while I have a cell connection to thank Becky and Matt of Boxfotos Airstream for their generous contribution to my Heartland Road Tour. Maybe we’ll treat ourselves andcheck into some fancy campground tonight. 

Thank you Becky and Matt. HeyLeigh the Wonder Dog and I appreciate it. 


Down a long, lonely and dusty road in the heart of the Navajo Nation, somewhere near Mexican Water, Arizona is evidence of a lost society.

The remains of this old Standard Oil Station bears witness to both the despair and the optimism of invisible people.

On the walls is written “MIND BLOWN SOCIETY HAS MADE OUR  DISSOLUTION COME” and “DISMATLE THE SYSTEM”. Tribe or gang signs are present.  “COW TOWN 16”, “GRIP GANG” and other groups are represented.  On a wall is “LOVE LIFE” and at one end is a large feather.

It seemed like a good place to stop, stretch my legs and let the dog do the same.