Summer Projects, 2019. Part 8.

Ted and Karen had a seven day Custer State Park pass and you pretty much have to go through the park to get up into the Black Hills. So we all rode together.

Yes, there are Bison in the Black Hills

We drove through all of Custer State Park, followed the Game Trail from one end to the other and saw antelope and all sorts of critters but only a couple bison off in the distance. At this time of the year the Park ranger explained, when we stopped at one of the Visitors Centers, they are further up in the hills and out of sight. Most but not all.

This guy was right next to the Game Lodge Campground just on the other side of a fence that wouldn’t have slowed him down in the least. Good thing that his only interest was eating grass. There was a campground trail on this side of the fence with regular traffic including folks walking their dogs. He was uninterested. No one was walking on the path on his side of the fence. This was a massive full grown bull, about 2,000 lbs. Absolutely stunning.

We drove a bit south from The Hart Ranch and in towards Custer State Park. And then followed the Iron Mountain Highway. This is a really twisting road with several tunnels. These were designed so that as you drove through the tunnel Mt Rushmore was framed as you came out.

Really, there is a tunnel ahead and a one lane one at that.

And another.

And the big giant heads.

And closer. Washington, Jefferson, TR Roosevelt and Lincoln.

We really appreciated the ride with Ted and Karen.

Pretty neat formations. This area is volcanic. It is the highest point between here and the Swiss Alps to the east.

We went out for a drive several times. We followed the Needles Highway one day. Followed the Game Trail twice.

One day we went to Keystone to ride on the train.

It is a frequent task to oil everything. The old steam engines don’t have fancy bearings like machinery today.

The train was made up of old restored cars. Maybe not something we would want to ride across country in but it was fun. The train followed old tracks over a couple big hills and through the woods to Hill City. There was a short stop where the steam engine uncoupled from the train and went to the other end of the trains and reconnected. Once they were all set we went back the same way.

Mark Crick had a trailer full of things he takes on Motorcade trips including tables and chairs and a big flat top grill. So one morning he and Donna made pancakes for everyone.

Marion Braum makes jewelry and has quite a collection of parts so one afternoon a bunch of folks got together in the Club Room and everyone made something. Susan made three sets of earrings.

It is always amazing the different skills and talents that these rallies bring together.

The last day of the rally we had a nice catered dinner in the Hart Ranch Club Room and a Chapter Meeting. Steve Crook was the President of the Motorcade Club at the time and he gave us an update on the Club.

Next Year

The last day we were in the Black Hills (after the rally) we went to the town of Custer with Ted and Karen because there was a good burger joint and we were all craving burgers. And of course the burgers were good. While waiting and eating we were talking about wanting to see the Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park in late September every year. It all happens one afternoon in just a few hours when the bison are gathered up in the hills ad herded down in an area where there are corrals. They get sorted out, inoculated for this and that, some get sent to market and some get sent to other herds for breeding diversity. They are trying to keep the herd healthy and vital and manage the size.

Whenever we think of it there is no room at any of the campgrounds in the park. We thought at the table if we made reservations that day for one year away for two weeks we would see the bison roundup, see each other and explore the Black Hills in more depth. So we did. And we are in the Game Lodge Campground right near where the big bison at the beginning of this blog was having lunch.

Ted and I talked about posting this on the Owner’s forum. We debated a bit and then did. Within about 4 hours six other Foretravel owners from North Carolina to San Diego, CA. had signed up too. By the next morning the campground for that time frame was full. Something to look forward to.

Whew, that’s enough,

More Later, Much Love,

Roger and Susan

Summer Projects, 2019. Part 7.

We left The Left Tailrace COE heading for the Hart Ranch RV Resort. Jeff and Sandy close behind.

Getting Closer to Where the Buffalo Roam.

Silly us we thought we would get there around 1 or 2 but forgot we were gaining an hour by moving into Mountain Time. No matter, our sites were available. We checked in, got maps and got sort of lost heading for Wyatt Earp Drive or whatever path through the campground we were on. And then there it was and our site too. We got backed in. Jeff and Sandy were down the road a few spaces and they were doing the same thing. Ted and Karen were already there as well as two coaches from Kansas, one from Georgia, one from Colorado, one from South Dakota. Maybe more, I need to think about it.

A nice bunch of folks.

We were having lunch at the State Game Lodge in Custer State Park. Great food. Buffalo (Bison actually) stew.

Roger and Susan. Jeff and Sandy

Kevin & Brenda Conway. Jack and Eilene Crick

Tom and Marion Braum. Ted and Karen

Carol Crook and Donna Crick. Steve Crook and Mark Crick

Brenda and Clint Volz and Dani Chapman were hiding.

Brenda and Clint are the Great Plains Chapter leaders. They do a great job to keep the chapter together. It covers Kansas north into Canada. Dani was the Wagon Master, sort of in charge of rounding up the wagons as it were. She made arrangements for the campground and for all of the activities and dinners. Thanks Dani.

The State Game Lodge

The first night we were there we had a simple catered supper in the Club Room at the Hart Ranch headquarters building. It was a meet and greet event. The Chapter Rallies are loosely scheduled, time for everyone to explore and discover on their own.

The second day we had a Chuck Wagon Dinner and show in the evening.

It was at a tourist sort of place with lots of old time things to look at and see. A nice blacksmith shop and an old fashioned drug store and lots more. When the dinner bell rang we all lined up and headed into a big auditorium sort of thing. Instead of chairs there we long rows of tables with a bench on one side and a stage up front. The Grub Master told us how it worked, we all went up in an orderly way, got a sliverware and napkin packet, a biscuit and honey, a roasted in foil baked potato, chicken or beef, their version of baked beans (not Boston), apple sauce and a piece of spice cake. Tenderfoot lemonade or cowboy coffee to wash it all down.

Tasty and fun. And then the music started. We figured it would be pretty corny and it was a bit but the five person band did a great job. A bunch of old time music (really old) and then a long rock and roll medley from the 50’s to the 80’s that appealed to the age of the crowd. The band leader was a retired music teacher, one of the guitar players was in the SD Music Hall of Fame, the fiddle player in her skirt and tall cowboy boots was a classical violinist and a HS student of the band leader. Each member played some solo parts, there was some sing along. All in all lots of fun and fun to share with friends.

We got back early enough to gather some of us in the Clubhouse for a couple games of Quidler.

More on exploring with Ted and Karen and a train ride coming up.

More Later, Much Love,

Susan and Roger

Summer Projects, 2019. Part 6.

After all of the busy work earlier this summer we had to go somewhere.

On the Way to Where the Buffalo Roam

When Ted and Karen were here in August they said they were going to a Central Plains Rally somewhere in the Black Hills of South Dakota. There was another Great Lakes Rally in Michigan about the same time and we knew folks who were going to be at that one too. It was about the same distance either way. A tough choice. We decided on the Black Hills Rally.

It turned out that Jeff and Sandy from North Carolina were going too. We met them along the way at the Corp of Engineers Left Tailrace Campground on the Missouri River just west of Chamberlain, SD. The COE park is about 18 miles north of Interstate 90. It is a winding two lane road to the Missouri River and then a narrow road across the dam. Yikes! And then a tight right 180° turn to a road leading down the back side of the earth filled dam section to the campground.

Jeff and Sandy

Here is a different look at Jeff and Sandy’s GrandVilla. Very nice for a 26 year old coach.

Roger and Susan

We were just down the road from Jeff and Sandy. There was plenty of time to go for a walk around the campground, over by the river and the boat launch.

Big Bend Dam

This is a really nice campground, we have stayed here before. The main part of the Big Bend Dam is for electric power generation. The outflow from the generators comes down the left tailrace. The overflow and water released from the lake level control gates comes down the other side of the campground in the right tailrace.

It looked cold fishing.

The main reason most come here is for the fishing. Walleye fishing is supposed to be very good.

Just below the dam there were dozens of black tipped pelicans also fishing. They would work together in groups of three or four. It appeared that they were herding the fish in front of them and then they would all dive in at the same time and come up with fish.

Jaye and Pat Miller

While walking around we spotted another Foretravel. Somehow it looked familiar. It didn’t look like any one was home so I took a card over to leave at their door. But they were there. It was Jaye and Pat Miller that we met when we were in Nacogdoches about five years ago getting our new front steps and headlights done at Xtreme Paint and Graphics. Their coach was there at the same time getting repaired after a right front tire blew out and they hit a guard rail. It turned out there was a lot more damage than it appeared at first. Their generator was damaged as well and even more. They ended up staying at Xtreme for almost three months. In the end it was all done and ready to keep going as were the Millers. They are in their 80s now and thinking maybe its time to stop fulltiming

Next stop was the Hart Ranch RV Resort just south of Rapid City. It was a big park with a store, gas and fuel station, a nice meeting room and very nice sites.

More Later, Much Love

Roger and Susan

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