On the Road: Visiting Texas

Here’s a recap from the Winnie’s first big trip out of state in February and March before our world got a little crazy.  Hope you enjoy.

The goal of this trip was to do a longer shakedown cruise, work out bugs, enjoy some slightly warmer weather and visit some radio stations along the way!

El Reno, Oklahoma

This was the first stop after leaving Wichita, Kansas.  Originally planned as a backup stop, the Lucky Star Casino turned out to be the perfect spot with full hookups for FREE!  That’s pretty rare.  You can actually stay four nights here, just pull in to an open spot and then check in with the security desk.  Day one also brought our first squawk – no oil pressure indicating on the gauge.  Turned out to be a loose connection on the sending unit, so a quick five minute fix.

The next morning, it was time to take care of a few radio tasks, including recording and cutting the network spots for Sterling on Sunday, of course using QGoLive.  So there we were, cutting national radio commercials airing on 50,000 watt stations in the middle of a parking lot (with a nice little Shasta trailer in view).

Lawton, Oklahoma

We continued on to Lake Lawtonka in Lawton, Oklahoma, which is an incredibly beautiful place to stay in full view of the Wichita Mountains.  Although the weather was cold (still mid February), the city-owned camps are well-maintained and $12 a night during the winter for electricity, dump station and bathrooms.  The folks in the area are incredibly nice and it was really a shame to leave.

Wichita Falls, Texas

As a Wichita, KS native, I’d always heard of Wichita Falls, but never visited.  We stopped by a few area radio stations and stayed at the River Bend RV park, which is owned by the city.  It’s $17 a night for water and electric hookups with a dump station on site in a very convenient location.  There’s also a suspended bridge to an enormous city park that leads to the actual Wichita Falls, which oddly enough are man made.  Wichita Falls is also home to The World’s Littlest Skyscraper, which was actually an elaborate scam, but makes for an interesting tourist stop.

Blowout!

It sounded like shelf over the radio studio inside the Winnie had spontaneously collapsed going down a Texas two-lane highway.  A few milliseconds later, I realized that the shelf was fine, but one of the rear dual tires was not.

I eventually found an abandoned gas station to pull into and started the fun-filled process of changing the inner passenger’s side dual.  With a bottle jack, lug wrench and cheater bar, it took just under an hour to deal with the eight big lug nuts and mount the spare tire.  We replaced all four rear tires a few days later just to be on the safe side.

 

Whitney, Texas

Whitney is just outside of Waco and there are a wide variety of parks in the area.  The first night we stayed at Lofers Bend State Park, which isn’t too busy in the winter, but I’m told reservations are a must during the summer.  At $20 a night it’s a bit expensive for my tastes, but electricity and water were provided plus a dump station and bathrooms on site.  It was an interesting challenge getting into the site in the dark.

The next day we explored free camping options in the area, eventually settling on Walling Bend State Park on the other side of the lake because there’s plenty of sun for solar power.  Walling Bend is great because you can stay for FREE for 14 days in designated spots.  I met some wonderful people at this park and picked up so much RVing knowledge from the pros.

Waco, Texas

We finally made it to Waco and invited our first guests into the Winnebago.  The picture of Scott and Jennine is a favorite – it represents a lot since it was taken less than a year from the original Radio Nomad concept.  Waco also included a trip to the Dr. Pepper museum, which is a must-see stop if you’re a fan.

Heading back

We didn’t waste much time returning to Wichita, but stayed in a Walmart parking lot, the Winstar Casino RV park and another city park at Bell Cow Lake in Chandler, Oklahoma.

One of the last stops was the Round Barn in Arcadia, Oklahoma, just outside Oklahoma City on Route 66.  It’s exactly what it sounds like, but is worth visiting and is just across the street from Pops, another legendary stop.

So that’s the whirlwind recap.  It was a great trip with a taste of everything – looking forward to many more to come.

– James and Ash

Better first impressions

I’m happy to report that the front of the vehicle has been painted!  I rather sheepishly admit we used… spray cans.  Rust-Oleum Protective Gloss Enamel Canvas White was a close match to the original off white.  The results turned out much better than I was expecting.  As with any job, prep was the most important and time-consuming job.  All the paint and what was left of the Winnebago decal was stripped from the front using Methyl Ethyl Ketone.  This took most of a day.  Before painting, the aluminum was treated with a conversion coating that cleans and etches the metal and provides corrosion protection.  Below you can see before, during and after.

In addition to painting, damaged marker lights were replaced and everything was resealed.  The rechromed middle bumper section was also installed along with the polished originals.  The only part left is remaking the original Winnebago decal, which is in progress currently.

Another “first impression” project was the entry step, which is now finished!

In addition to these projects, we’ve installed a new windshield washer reservoir, repaired and installed the coolant overflow reservoir, set timing and mixture on the engine, installed a new turn-signal switch, and replaced the engine temperature sensor and oil pressure sending unit.

There’s always more to do.  I’ll keep you updated!

– James

Doors, body work and batteries

The fun continues with small projects as the weather permits.  I’m happy to report that the worst body rot underneath the entry door and all along the passenger side of the vehicle has been removed and replaced with new wood.  Eventually this process will have to be repeated on all bottom edges of the vehicle.

After the wood rot was fixed, we were able to finally finish the entry door installation.  The door was rebuilt a couple months ago and many parts of the door were saved.  We did replace the rotten wood at the bottom of the door and went with FRP (the same material used for the ceiling) on the interior of the door.  The finishing touch was the Slim Shade window, which has a built-in pull-down shade.

Finding new door seals around the frame was another challenge, but luckily they are still available from Winnebago!

Another continuing project is the repair of the lower interior storage doors.  I was able to use a spare door to replace the one under the dinette bench.

Finally, we’ve improved the battery situation with a new 200 amp hour house battery.  The existing house battery has been put into service as the new automotive battery.  The battery tray was also cleaned, painted and primed.

So – now I can say the Winnie is powered by Duracell!  That’s all for now – much more to come.

– James

December Recap

Progress continues on the Winnebago restoration, although obvious holiday distractions and the cold weather have slowed things down a bit.  The good news is the RV is in use daily for a variety of tasks including audio production.  The acoustics in the studio area have turned out great.  Since this is a recap, I’ll briefly list some of the recent restoration news:

  • The source of shimmying noted in previous posts was discovered to be the driver’s side front rim which was probably built wrong from day one.  Since all the rims on the vehicle are the same (and rather rare 17.5″ ones at that), the spare tire rim was substituted.  Long story short, that rim had a leak through one of the rivets and had to be epoxied.  Good news is, it was a inexpensive fix and we’re rolling great with no leaks!
  • The entry door has been rebuilt and put back on the frame, although it will have to come off again when we reconstruct the wood underneath the door that has rotted away.  Look for a post on that soon.
  • All six curtains are finished and installed! Again, I’ll have a post on that upcoming.
  • Installation has started on the ham and CB radios to go in the vehicle, accessible from the driving area.
  • Most of the electrical upgrades have been completed (I think).  An extra outlet under the couch was added to power some heat tape.  While the water is not running right now, existing and new heat tape is keeping the lines and water pump from freezing, just in case.
  • A 30 amp electrical outlet has been added to provide full electrical service to the RV.  I could even run the air conditioner right now if I wanted…
  • All lighting is running off solar power.  The power converter stays off most of the time.  New batteries will be on their way soon.
  • Plugging up holes and fixing leaks continues as always – but they are getting few and far between!

Those are some of the highlights – the vehicle is certainly drivable and livable – but there’s still a page of things we’d like to do before hitting the road.  Thanks for following along and happy new year!

– James

Electrical Upgrades

Revamping the RV’s electrical systems has been time consuming but very fun and rewarding.  I’ll first say that this sort of a system is very complicated – much more so than a house or a car – or the two combined.  It’s really it’s own animal, and I still actually haven’t figured everything out – there are still some mystery solenoids running around the place.

To give you a grand overview, the Winnebago has all the standard 12 volt car systems you’d expect.  It starts getting weird when I tell you that there are two batteries which can be ganged together for special circumstances.  Add to the fact that the vehicles wiring had been changed from the factory specifications, so nothing seemed to be working quite as it should.  Just know that one battery is supposed to run the vehicle, and the other runs the “house” 12 volt electrical system.  That how it works now, but it wasn’t like that a few weeks ago.  All the fans and “house” lighting runs off the house battery, and all the lighting is DC.  Earlier trailers had both AC and DC available at light sockets (think an early 1960’s Airstream), but by the mid 1970’s most manufacturers switched to DC lighting, which continues to this day.  Other appliances like the refrigerator and air conditioner require 12 volts for logic and memory.  I’ve also picked off 12 volts here and there to run my ham radio equipment.  The DC system has fuses galore, and I’ve added a healthy number myself.  The last major piece of DC infrastructure I added was 4 AWG wire going from the battery to the inverter and solar panels.  The 1000 watt inverter will provide 120 volts AC electrical power when the vehicle is not plugged in and the generator is not running.  This brings us to the AC side of the equation.

The RV is set up for 30 amp service, and I’ve added a transfer switch from GoPower which switches between the AC shore power and the inverter.  This is an essential item to prevent destruction of equipment or worse.  The transfer switch defaults to the inverter, so that when the shore power cord is unplugged, no voltage will be present on the now exposed cable.  When that cable is plugged into shore power, the transfer switch changes over and supplies power to the vehicle from the cable.  The inverter is now out of the equation and it doesn’t matter if it’s on or not – no damage will be done.  Worth every penny in my book.

The AC from shore power or the inverter is now fed to a small breaker box, just like the one in your house.  The only difference with this one is it allows you to switch from from shore power to generator power.  The Winnebago is equipped with a 5 kW Onan generator, which we are still working on at this time – I’ll have an update on that soon.

To change AC into DC, our friend the converter steps in.  The vehicle was equipped with a Philips converter that was working as designed.  The only problem with it was it did not produce clean DC.  This isn’t a problem for incandescent lighting, but can present a problem with 12 volt LEDs, which is what I’m running for all the lighting.  The AC in the line was starting to actually melt the solder joints inside the bulbs.  A slamming door could separate out all the circuit boards.  There’s $8 down the drain.  The new WFCO converter solved that, and is nice and quite from an RFI perspective.  I’ve added a switch to turn the converter on and off – obviously no point running it while running the inverter.

Finally, the solar system from Renogy is pretty cool.  Two, 100 watt panels on the roof dump into a charge controller, which has Bluetooth control and monitoring on a phone app.  The solar charger normally charges just the house battery, but can be switched over to charge both the house and vehicle batteries from the driver’s seat.  The batteries can also be ganged together to start the vehicle if the main starting battery is low.  The app looks at battery health and also displays charging history, which is highly dependent on how sunny the day is plus how much juice the battery needs.  It can be a bright day but they controller might only output 5 watts to keep the battery in float charge.  If battery usage suddenly increases (say I turn on a vent fan), the controller recognizes this and increases the charge power.  These sort of features are critical when maintaining battery health.  I’ll soon be upgrading the battery capacity, so stay tuned for an upcoming post on that!

I know this article was a bit longer and more technical, but I hope you at least see what kind of wide scope is involved in a project like this!

– James

The Maiden Voyage – Day 2

We continue the inaugural RV adventure from last time.  Sunday Morning broke at the RV park in Guthrie, Oklahoma, and bacon and eggs were prepared in short order.  We enjoyed an unhurried morning, then finally disconnected our utilities and rolled on towards town.

After a pit stop at Zion Lutheran Church in Guthrie (and an obligatory pot luck), we headed south to Oklahoma City and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.  It’s really a first-rate collection, and getting in on one of the guided tours adds a lot to the experience.  John Wane contributed heavily to the collection, and I personally enjoyed the film area of the museum immensely, which featured props and outfits from many famous westerns.

After a quick stop at an OKC outlet mall to satisfy all members of the party, we headed North for a cruise back to Wichita.  Everything seemed to be running fine until one of the alternator bearings started “talking” to us.  Shortly after those unnerving squeaking sounds started, I noticed a couple of orange flashes accompanied by much louder shrieking coming from under the engine cover between the driver’s and passenger’s seats.  This was, indeed, the sound of one of the bearings seizing in the alternator.  The first roadside emergency – this was turning out to be quite a trip!  I turned the engine off and pulled to the side of I-35 and got the added benefit of driving the vehicle a short distance without power steering or power brakes.  Thankfully, the designers of the Dodge RM-400 chassis made the vehicle with a separate belt to drive the alternator.  A quick cut with a pocket knife took the failed alternator out of the equation and we were able to limp along at 30 miles per hour towards Perry.  The self-imposed speed limit is because any faster would cause the single belt now driving the water pump to start slipping.  Oh, and the door flew open as we were getting back up to speed on the highway.  That will soon be rebuilt anyway to prevent that from happening again.  How exciting!

As you may imagine, not much is open in Perry, Oklahoma on a Sunday night, including the town’s only auto parts store, which didn’t open until 7:30 a.m. the next morning.  So, we were going to have our first boondocking experience on this trip as well.  What joy.  The night spent in the Homeland grocery store was not quite as comfortable as the previous, but it was honestly not bad, despite being in the 40’s outside.

The silver lining of stopping in Perry was a chance to eat at the Kumback Lunch, which despite the name, is open for all meals – including breakfast at 6 a.m.  This place is always a favorite stop on the way to OKC, and it came in especially handy, being one block from where we parked overnight.

After breakfast, the O’Reilly’s opened up and the friendly folks there were able to get a new alternator from Stillwater by 11 a.m., which gave us several hours to kill around the courthouse square.  After some enjoyable exploring on that rather brisk Monday, the alternator arrived and was installed after a few trips back and forth across the parking lot to the adjacent O’Reilly’s.  I must say, everyone in Perry bent over backwards to accommodate us during our unexpected stay.  In fact, I’m not sure I could think of a nicer place in which to break down.

So that’s it – after everything was in, we set for home, making a pit stop for lunch at Mary’s Grill in Tonkawa.  I’d say it was an excellent shakedown cruise, because we really got a taste of almost everything, including an inaugural visit to a dump station, which I almost forgot to mention.

Moving forward, work resumes on the project, including finishing up the solar wiring, studio projects, climate controls and more.  Stay tuned!