Summer Projects, 2019. Part 5.

Ted and Karen ran off with our better batteries and the three almost nine year old Lifelines were in need of replacement. Something needed to be done.

Some techno-babble ahead.

“Scotty, we need those dilithium crystals back on line, Now!”

I had many long talks with Alan Ferber at Bay Marine Supply in San Diego. He is a great resource for help and ideas and all of the parts needed for a project like this. I also just like talking with him. I had done most of my homework and was focusing on Battle Born LiFePO4 lithium batteries. They have a built-in battery management system to manage charge and discharge, a very high usable capacity compared to their rated capacity, 3,000 or more lifetime cycles and one of the longest warranties available. Their standard sized battery dimensions allowed only four to fit in the battery bay (with a lot of wasted space.) They make a golf cart sized battery with the same capacity whose dimensions allow six batteries to fit in the battery bay. It is a snug fit but leaves enough room for recommended cooling space.

Alan and I talked about the two issues that everyone faces. Charging in cold weather and charging while driving. The solutions were simple and elegant at the same time.

Charging in Cold Weather. Lithium batteries are resistant to being charged when it is colder than 24°. They will discharge without any problem but they like to be warmer to charge. Alan suggested battery heaters. Battle Born makes some that are $200 per battery. We decided to use aftermarket electric hand warmers for snowmobile grips. They are 12v and have a high and low setting. Best thing they were about $10 per set, one pair per battery.

Battery heaters for snowmobile handgrips.

Charging While Driving. Lithium batteries will take all the charge you can throw at them. If you hook them up to an alternator as you would with conventional lead batteries they will take all of the output of the alternator for a long time and may cause the alternator or maybe even the batteries to fail. As you charge a conventional battery the resistance to charging goes up. The closer to full charge the harder it is to charge. Lithium batteries don’t have the same resistance to charging. The solution I chose was to add a Battery to Battery Charger between the alternator and the lithium batteries. These provide a limited charge to the lithium batteries. More when they need a lot and then less as they start to charge and then a smaller amount as they get close to a full charge. This protects the lithium batteries and the alternator.

Charging While Not Driving. When we are not driving and are connected to a land line (or the generator) the lithium batteries are charged using either the charger half of the inverter/charger or the smaller charger or both. Both ways have the same multi-stage charging method as the battery to battery charger. And there are the solar panels that charge the lithium batteries the same way. The solar works when there is daylight whether we are plugged in or not. Sunny days are better than cloudy days.

All concerns were answered. Time to get busy. Alan was helpful reviewing my plans and making suggestions to improve them. He was also very helpful with price discounts. Another Forum member reviewed my plan as well. I appreciated the help. All of this plus the help that I got from Ted made it a go. In the time we expect to own our coach we will never need to buy house batteries again.

The Plan.

I like to have a plan. It always looks good on paper, makes sure you have all the parts you need and lets others critique your ideas.

Testing the Concept.

The batteries arrived by truck on a pallet. I moved them into the shop and in the same space available as I would have in the battery bay I tried several different arrangements of the batteries, cables, switches and bus bars. There was more than one way to arrange the batteries, cables and the controls. Where the cables connect to the batteries and are routed to the bus bars finally led to the solution above. It is not just on the bench but how it is going to fit when they get installed in the coach.

One of the heaters is attached to the side of a battery here and is covered by an insulated, foil faced pad. The heaters are powered by the batteries themselves.

A new battery rack was built and installed after the Lifeline batteries were removed. Learning how to weld at a summer job back in the 1960s has been a useful skill.

The switches, bus bars and controls were mounted on a panel in the shop and then it was mounted in the bay.

Our all purpose garden cart came in handy.

There was much less room in the bay than there is in the shop. Planing ahead, labeling all the cables and having done it in the shop made this pretty simple. It took less than 2 hours to install the batteries. There are three temperature sensors to monitor battery temperature.

All in and hooked up, a switch for controlling the battery heaters and a digital volt meter. Organized and tidy.

Over on the other side of the coach where the Full River L16 batteries were the Battery to battery charger got installed on the back wall. I made a slatted wooden floor. There is now room for my tool box. Before it was all done I installed our small inverter just above the tool box.

This inverter provides power to the refrigerator, a few outlets in the coach and all of the front end electronics … TV, DVD player, internet access device, routers, computers and the satellite dish.

We removed about 1,100 lbs of conventional batteries and racks. We replace them with about 190 lbs of Lithium batteries and a lighter weight rack. More than a 900 pound savings. That is almost 3% of the total weight of the coach!

And the conventional batteries with 1500 amp hrs using 25% of their capacity gave us about 375 usable amp hrs. The 600 amp hrs of lithium battery capacity can be used to 100%. Using them down to 80% gives many more battery cycles and is 480 amp hrs, almost 30% more usable capacity than the conventional batteries.

80% less weight, at least 30% more battery capacity. And batteries for life. A pretty good result.

More Later, Much Love,

Roger and Susan

PS. Thanks to Susan for editing.

Summer Projects, 2019. Part 4.

We have two battery banks. The three 8D Lifeline batteries that are more than 8 years old. The second bank is four Full River L16 6 volt batteries now just two years old. Between the two banks we have about 1500 amp hrs of capacity (lots). These batteries weigh about 1,000 lbs.

Ted and Karen Come for a Visit. Power to the People!

Our good friends Ted and Karen came for a visit in August. They are full-timers, have been here before and it is always fun to see them. This was all connected to the batteries.

My three Lifelines batteries are near the end of their useful life for the demands of the coach. I have been thinking about the newer technology of lithium batteries. LiFePO4 (Lithium Iron Phosphate) to be exact. Lithium batteries need some extra care compared to lead batteries so either an external battery management system is needed or as some are now equipped, an internal one. Charging is also different, they need a bit more control as the time at the different charging stage is different. The advantage is that a 100 amp hr battery has 100% usable power compared to a lead battery where they are limited to about 25% to maximize battery life. And a 100 amp hr lithium battery weighs 29 lbs compared to the 167 lbs each for the Lifelines.

In exploring this option I though if someone wanted to buy my almost new Full River L16s that would help offset the extra cost of the Lithiums. I checked in with some friends and Ted called back. His batteries were about due for replacement too and the 4 L16s gave him 60% more capacity. We came to a beneficial agreement and they headed our way from Indiana.

Ted and Karen at Camp Hastings. The grass on the left is starting to look thinner.

Before they got here I had my L16 batteries out and ready to go. I was not sure of the actual size of the battery bay in their coach so when they arrived we measured and made a new battery rack.

The new batteries were ready to go. Out with the old, in with the new.

The new battery rack was painted blue to match the batteries. We also added new disconnect switches, bus bars, a shunt to measure current flow and new connections for their solar panels.

We loaded in the four L16s, a perfect fit. Each battery is connected to the bus bars. These batteries take up only 2/3 of the floor space of the 2 8D sized batteries that came out of their coach.

Ted was pleased. He left his old batteries with me. I have a purpose for them. More on that later.

They were here for about a week. We made plans to meet up with them later in September in the Black Hills for a Foretravel Motorcade Club Central Plains Chapter rally.

I was glad to help them out with this for their coach. It helped me decide to make the change to Lithium. And now that 1/2 of my batteries were gone I had to get busy.

More Later, Much Love.

Roger and Susan

Summer Projects, 2019. Part 3.

Let’s see, what was next. Oh, I remember.

Chasing Thin Air

Over the last couple years the pressure switch on our small compressor that supplies air to the slide seal and leveling system was sticking on occasion. When it stuck the compressor would not start. Not all the time but when it did I had to crawl into the basement, remove the cover on the switch and tap on the contact arm to get it to move. It always did but it was not something I wanted to do in the pouring rain (if it was raining) or the middle of the night.

So I got a new pressure switch. And then I just had to start chasing some nagging air leaks. I decided to check all of the plumbing from the compressor to the HWH tank (used for the slide seal) and to the two six packs which control ride height while driving and leveling when not. I replaced six check valves here and there that keep air going only one way. And two pressure protection valves that maintain a minimum pressure in the air brake tanks. We had air leaks in the air controller for the sliding floor section that covers the front steps while we drive. These were really hard to get to to fix so I added a 12v electric valve that only provides air to the leaking step slide when we switch it on.

I moved the safety valve, the water separator and the pressure switch to a much more accessible location on the rear wall of the bay and added an air drier and a secondary filter.

This is much easier to get to and to service as needed.

I added a pressure gauge for the pressure in the slide seal, 11 psi, just what it is supposed to be. The slide seal holds pressure for months. I added another gauge for the pressure at the compressor. I can see these when I open the bay door.

The compressor is in the same place but I swapped the much smaller original compressor for a bigger one and added an on/off switch to the switch panel in the coach next to the driver. Without all of the parts that got moved the compressor is much easier to service as well.

Air systems are very complicated on these coaches. Lots of connections and opportunities for leaks. And leaks are inevitable. So the goal is to get to a manageable state. Some leaks are OK. We are much closer to just very small leaks than we were. At this point I am happy. Days or weeks to get the last 1 or 2%, it is not really worth it. Even if you got to zero leaks just a few weeks later and something would start leaking again.

Be happy. 👍

More Later, Much Love,

Roger and Susan

Summer Projects, 2019. Part 2.

More summer fun.

Jeff and Sandy Come for a Visit

Last summer we decided to make a new table for the coach. The original table was sort of football shaped and was somewhat awkward in actual use. We envisioned a rectangular table. We made a cardboard cutout to experiment with sizes. We graduated to a sheet of foam insulation of our best fit. That helped position the table on the pedestal mount. And then I made a prototype table out of black walnut because I had plenty of it. It had floating breadboard ends with black pegs.

We liked the result and used it for the summer. Now we could move ahead with the final table. I posted a picture of the walnut table on the Foretravel Owners Forum and asked if anyone would like it. Free to the first to ask.

Jeff and Sandy from North Carolina were the first of several who said they would take it. They were thinking they might get to MN in late 2018 but that didn’t work so they came in early June, 2019.

Jeff and Sandy have a very nice 1993 40 ft Foretravel Grandvilla U300 coach. This is the generation of coaches from Foretravel before ours. They have a very distinctive front end and an entry door mid-way down the passengers side. Their coach has a beautiful full body paint job. And it has a pretty unique 2 cycle Detroit Diesel engine. These coaches are popular, still on the road and well cared for. Jeff and Sandy travel with a couple of big yellow labs.

Look how much grass we had in the very shady east side of the front yard!

It was just what they wanted, matched the elegant walnut interior of their Grandvilla and seemed to be a perfect fit. I was glad to give it to them. I was surprised when they made a nice donation to Habitat for Humanity. Thanks!

It was a nice visit with Jeff and Sandy and the dogs. They are mostly retired from a small town in western North Carolina. They have a pet supply store that they are working at getting entirely retired from.

Our new table is inspired by the furniture of Greene and Greene. Cherry with mesquite inlays and ebony pegs and breadboard keys. The mesquite came from a Texas ranch near Austin via Foretravel friends. This summer I made a couple adjustments to allow the table to slide an inch closer to the side of the J shaped banquette when pushed in and an inch further away when pulled out. And I moved the table about an inch toward the front of the coach.

We have a table runner with matching placemats. It looks very nice with the cherry interior of our coach. The fabric rooster came from a fabric art guild in Tillamook, OR.

More Later, Much Love

Roger and Susan

Summer Projects, 2019

I have heard from several of our followers, “When is the next blog coming?” We mostly stayed home this summer to try to get a couple of projects started and maybe finished. So here is some catch up…

Watching the Grass Grow

We live in the woods, shade is nice for almost everything but grass. After we built our house the grass seemed to grow pretty well for a while. Since then the trees have had almost 20 years to get taller and wider and now produce more shade. Lots more shade. The yard on north side of the house suffers the most. It also has a pretty good slope. We have tried to grow new grass with out much success. This year we raked up all the scruffy old grass, loosened up the soil, put down lots of lime, a bunch of stuff to prevent moss, starter fertilizer and about 5 times as much shade mix grass seed as they suggested at the Vermillion Elevator.

The Vermillion Elevator (in Vermillion, of course) is an old time, small town co-op feed and grain supplier to the local farms and a grain elevator. Trucks drive in, get weighed and dump their grain loads into large storage silos. They sell just about everything else you might need for your farm and yard there too. Grass seed mixes in bulk. I got 25 lbs of a shade mix. And two 8 ft wide by 100 ft long rolls of a straw mat cover too.

We covered the seeded hill side with the straw mats. We put in a temporary sprinkler system and watered a little bit often at first and then longer and less often as the grass started poking its way through the grass mat. Neat! More water, more time, more grass. Eventually we had to mow and that worked OK. Green is nice.

By mid-summer we had a pretty nice crop of grass! By September most of the fast, first up grasses in the mix were done and the whole new lawn looked thinner, not so green.

We got a suggestion to over-seed late in the season. That new grass should come up in the spring. Great idea. The suggested equipment was a slit seeder. It supposedly puts cuts in the ground into which the seed and starter fertilized falls and waits for spring. It sounded like a great idea. We rented a slit seeder, got more seed and starter fertilizer and got busy. On the shady, east side of the front yard it seemed to work well. The machine didn’t really have discs that made slits in the ground rather it had about a dozen spinning wheels a couple inches apart that looked more like circular saw blades with about 8 teeth each.

Down the hill and in the back yard where the straw mats were it didn’t work as well. The straw mats are made with a coarse mesh of very fine biodegradable fibers. The folks at the elevator said is should degrade by the end of the summer. Perhaps so if it had been in the sun. The whirling saw blades snagged the mats and wound them around the saw blades until the machine just stopped. It took an hour to cut off the tangled mess. This did a real number on what was left of our mats and remaining crop of grass.

Oh well. We finished over-seeding and are just going to hope for the best in the spring.

More Later, Much Love

Roger and Susan

Heading Home, April 2019

It is still snowing in Minnesota. It does not last long but still, snow. We left Fredericksburg and headed for Baytown, TX where Rudy and Carolyn live, stalling the inevitable. Their wedding anniversary was coming up so we wanted to take them out to dinner to celebrate.

We were hoping for a nice dinner at the Monument Inn on the Houston Ship Channel. We were disappointed to discover that it had been closed for some time because of a massive tank farm fire in Deer Park earlier in the year.

The ship in the background is in the Ship Channel. The Monument Inn is not far away and is at the end of a road which is now closed because of the fire. We went to Four Corners Barbecue instead. Very good. And leftovers too.

We stayed at the Houston East RV Park just a couple miles from Rudy’s. We have stayed at their place in the past but this worked better for this trip. Glenn and Amy in their Foretravel were there as well. They were on their way home to Maine after five months in Mexico. Glenn had Rudy help him fix something on his Aqua Hot heater. Rudy likes to help people learn how to fix things themselves so Glenn did most of the work. Rudy had replaced the bearings in the blower side on my Aqua Hot in January but it was still making more noise than it should so he decided it needed a new blower motor. I supervised, Rudy instructed, Glenn did most of the work, Rudy did the Quality Control. It is now perfect, we are very pleased with how much quieter it is now. Thanks Rudy and Glenn.

Kieth and Jo are another Foretravel couple who live “nearby”. They invited us all over for supper that evening. Rudy’s “nearby” was almost 45 minutes away. We had a nice dinner and a nice visit.

Kieth and Joe stopped by at the RV Park the next day, they wanted to see our windshield MCD shade.

We had to go have a bite to eat.

I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich from the Kids Menu.

We left the next morning for an overnight at the campground at the Foretravel factory. There were several folks there that we know. Mike and Jackie live in Nacogdoches and invited us over for dinner.

It was especially fun to see Don Hay (in the dapper hat). Susan and I met Don and Trudy on the upper peninsula of Michigan in Munising about a year after we bought our coach. It was a chance meeting, we drove in and both said, “There’s another Foretravel!” And next to Don, Ted and closer to me Chappell Jordan. Both Don and Chappell are woodworkers.

It was a pleasant evening on the patio.

Our plan was to take four more days to get home. The next day we headed for Maumelle COE park near Little Rock. The weather reports were for snow in Minnesota about the time we would have arrived home so we pressed on another hundred miles to a Walmart in northern Arkansas. The next day we drove past Kansas City to Eagleville, MO just before the Iowa border. We stayed at a small RV park that was on a small farm. They don’t farm any more but have plenty of work to do anyway.

A nice park.

And a lovely sunset.

The next day we pressed on toward home. Straight up I 35 towards Lakeville and east towards Hastings. We arrived about 3 in the afternoon. All was well at home. We turned up the heat, turned on the water heater and unloaded enough from the coach to move back into the house. The rest in the next day or so.

The overnight temps were supposed to get to 27° with rain and snow overnight and most of Saturday. Guess what, it didn’t happen. Forecasting the weather has to be the worst job in the world, rarely right and rarely praised.

Getting home opens the doors to a whole new pile of things to do, many put off while we were elsewhere, many scheduled for after we get home, piles of mail, yard work and lots more which all seem to speed up our lives. A couple days dealing with the immediate stuff and we are sort of back to something that seems normal.

We went from green grass and leaves on the trees in TX through fewer and fewer leaves and browner fields to brown fields and very few buds on the trees. Our Magnolia tree is blooming, always a sure sign of spring on the way. Some warm weather and some rain and there will be leaves. Our woods will fill in with green and our summer wrap closes in. Apple trees blossom and apples start to grow. We are waiting.

We are probably going to stay close to home this summer and enjoy it here.

More later, Much Love.

Roger and Susan

Fredericksburg, TX April 2019

We were in Fredericksburg last year about this time when it was still snowing in MN. This year is the same thing. Still snowing so we are heading to TX.

Our good friends Mike and Jackie and Ted and Karen were going to be in Fredericksburg so we decided to join them. Bill Blackmon was there too with his brand new Airstream trailer. Then Don and Tys (Foretravelers from California) managed to sneak in for a day. Bob and Sue (Foretravelers from Oregon) were nearby in another park. Norm and Shirl (from Colorado) were there in their fifth wheel which they got after their Foretravel. And Ralph was in still another park in his Foretravel. These things just seem to happen, not much coordination, the word gets out, everyone makes their own way.

We walked every day while we were there. Three laps around the park and back and forth on the lanes got me very close to 10,000 steps. I was over that on 4 of the days we were there.

We went to Luckenbach, TX (population 3) for a visit. It is just 13 miles from Fredericksburg. Luckenbach is probably best known as an outlaw country western music venue made famous by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson in 1976. It is on Grape Creek (most likely a misspelling of Gap Creek) which is what Luckenbach means in German. The town of Luckenbach has been around since the mid 1800s.

There are several old buildings like the Post Office. Most are stores and eateries. Lots of parking areas and several stages for music events. They were setting up for a big music festival, many bands, all weekend. It was pretty busy.

A bunch of old cars drove through.

I think it was an old car club out for an afternoon drive.

The tickets for the weekend music were about $90 a day. My guess is that when Waylon and Willie played here it was maybe $5.

We went to Alamo Springs for lunch. Fabulous burgers and the half you bring home is great for dinner.

Two tables full.

This is us.

And Ted and Karen.

One afternoon we went to a car shop that restores and sells old cars.

Mike and Jackie liked this one but had a hard time getting any info from the sales guy on the right.

This 1949 Willys caught my eye.

Susan and I went to a Yard Art place. We liked the sunflowers.

And the cactus.

And a few other things. Bought none.

We gathered a couple late afternoons to visit.

Several evenings we gathered in the park’s rec room to play cards. Uno and Quiddler. With more people Quiddler seemed to be a better choice. These were always fun. Sometimes there was desert. Jackie made strawberries and cake with home made whipped cream. And then we discovered lots of ice cream in the big freezer.

Jackie got a new puppy, a chocolate toy poodle. Charlie. He was cute and we got along pretty well. He even let me take him for a walk.

He looked back several times as we walked down the road but as soon as we were around the corner off we went. Of course he checked out every grassy spot. Good thing I was prepared.

The day before we left we went to the Airport Diner. It is a retro look with great food.

It was very good.

We were all ready for a nap after lunch.

That is about it from Fredericksburg. It is a very nice place to visit, lots to do, great places to eat, shopping of course and the best part is our friends.

We are wandering toward home. A short stop in Baytown to see Rudy and Carolyn and a few others.

More later, Much Love.

Roger and Susan