Friday, January 28, 2011

Modification Reviews and Updates

Before I get too much further on this year's round of "Taj mods", I thought it would be useful to give a bit of a review the previous "upgrades" we have made.  Anyone who hasn't seen the original posts detailing the old mods can find them easily by clicking HERE

Starting in order based on the modifications page:

New curtains: Huge improvement! The color and properties of the material we used was perfect! They block light from showing either direction, provide a bit of insulation and really improved the atmosphere. Lining them was definitely the right move as well. 

Switched source fuse box: I added the box to give me control over which battery bank was powering several accessories or to just shut them all off with one switch. The mod was great and works as expected. The accessories run from the box will likely be adjusted. No reason really to have the backup camera run from it and it would be nice to have the stereo available and powered by the coach bank. Thumbs up otherwise! 

Wireless backup camera/GPS: Well, this one is a bit questionable. For the money we paid (a hair over $500 total), it was a decent deal. Frank (what we named it) has a few strange quirks. He needs to be "reset" more often than seems reasonable. He is very loud when receiving a camera signal(like loud,radio static) and lacks some of the features of better GPS systems(user defined way-points). He does work fine most of the time for us and because of his multi-functional capability, we will keep him around. I will likely add a tiny speaker cutoff switch this year :) 
Cork floor: Can't say enough about this stuff! It is beautiful, durable, easy to keep clean and was the perfect floor covering decision IMO! 

New Captain's Chairs: Another great choice! With probably a lot of searching and trial and error, we may have been able to get some that were a little softer but I really like these just fine! One move that I would highly suggest others emulate if they go this route is to get the optional seat heaters. I run them off the coach batteries when we are parked and they are swiveled to the  back. They barely effect the battery bank and add an amazing amount of comfort on a cooler night. 

Hypervent: I can safely recommend this stuff to anyone who has had to deal with condensation issues under their cushions. Before the install, we were always worried about dampness and potential mold. Now, everything stays dry no matter what the climate we are in. Excellent solution!

Upgraded Inverter Display Panel: This one is a no-brainer for people with Xantrex Pro-Sine Inverter/Chargers. Unlike the not-so-helpful LED version, this digital display shows in real time, Voltage and Amp levels and usage in useful increments rather than large steps. It also adds the ability to configure the Inverter settings remotely.

Picture Frame AC Cover: I still love it :) It dresses the place up nicely!

Custom Center Isle Rug: Also a good choice. What it adds in atmosphere, makes up for its occasional need to be re-aligned and vacuumed! It does a good job with making to floor comfortable and helping with sound deadening.

ProSine Inverter/Charger: Definitely in the top two favorite mods to date. Having the ability to run the toaster oven, microwave, and everything else that we care about in the 110V category has been wonderful! I really got an amazing deal on it used, but if it ever failed, I wouldn't hesitate to buy a direct replacement at new prices. 

Shower Re-Engineering Project: This wins as the favorite! It was definitely the most work, but the difference is amazing! The shower went from being convenient and adequate to being extremely comfortable, roomy and both Heidi and my favorite shower! Worth every second of work I put in!

Tank Monitor Panel Move: While this was pretty much a necessity to allow the shower mods, it was a huge improvement in convenience! Having the panel and switches out where they can be easily accessed just makes life in Taj that much easier and more comfortable. 

New Cushion Foam: I don't know how much they improved the comfort if at all, but they sure smell better than the odiferous ones that were in there when I bought Taj! 

There are many more mods that I admit to not having blogged about yet, but I promise I will fairly soon :) I have to get that done actually, this years round of mods is already in process!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pig and Conrad

This is Pig and Conrad.  Conrad is Michael's coffee cu.... mug! Conrad doesn't like to be referred to as a cup; he feels "mug" is a more masculine description.  Don't even try putting him on a saucer, as he's still trying to forget the indignity of Mom subjecting him to one. Pig just doesn't have those issues.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The payoff of research.

I am sure I have mentioned before that both Heidi and I are kind of research nuts.  Lately, she has been learning and trying out recipes for things we used to purchase. Last week she improved her already excellent method of making Teriyaki glaze and last night, we enjoyed another of her successful adaptations, home made "shake & bake" for chicken. It was much nummier than store bought! 

What may not be obvious about this particular area of research is why it is such a cool thing for our mobile lifestyle. Aside from the cost savings and the great benefit of knowing what you are ingesting, there is another aspect that is equally as valuable; Storage space. One of the criteria we consider when purchasing anything to go in our Vanhome is whether the item has more than one use.  The concept is similar in this case as well. The basic goal being the ability to replace a bunch of normally store bought items with a few basic, easily stored ingredients and a bit of knowledge. Trust me, this is a worthwhile pursuit!

I have been focusing much of my research efforts on finding a better alternative to the inefficient, currently non-functional furnace in Taj. Heidi's desire to put a wood stove in a van has prompted me to consider less common alternatives as well. Not a wood stove though, rather a very small, direct vent LP fireplace.  I will do an in depth post on what I settle on and why hopefully soon.

The image above is completely unrelated to this post, but I hate blogging without a picture of something :) That shot is of Lake Crescent, which is about 10 miles from us at the moment. It really is about the most beautiful lake I have seen anywhere. For someone who grew up mostly in MN, that is saying something!  I will leave you with a few more pictures, none of which do it justice.  Read here for some interesting details about this lake.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Always learning!

Heidi and I love to learn and come up with solutions to the various problems we encounter.  We really had no shortage of learning opportunities this past year! Taj, who is very reliable usually, decided to throw us a few curves in the way of, the coach water pump, the furnace, and the LP ignitor on the fridge all failing one right after the other.  We decided rather than just repairing them on the road, to use simple methods of adjusting to the situation until I was in a better place to make my typical upgrades. 

The water pump was the least pleasant of our losses and the most work to compensate for.  We purchased a 5 gallon water bottle and hand pump for drinking water & cooking. We picked up a solar shower bag which got very little use, it was enough of a hassle that we often spent a five bucks for a shower in town instead. We also refilled a few extra gallon jugs when we would go to town (for flushing the toilet). It really surprised me as to how much more often we had to go to town with this situation. Between the showers and the refilling water bottles, it was at least every other day. I really missed Taj's 37 gallon tanks and our more comfortable shower!

The desert gets pretty cold at night, especially without the furnace! Lots of blankets and hot water bottles did a reasonable job of keeping us warm, but come morning, that hot coffee was really appreciated! I have to say too that the seat heaters in the front captains chairs saved my butt, literally :) I was really glad I chose to run them off the coach batteries! They did a good job of keeping me warm while watching movies in the evening. 

Heidi really got into experimenting with ways to go without a fridge.  Enough ways that I am going to ask her to do a separate more detailed post on it here next.  

We have heard many times how some believe it is better to just go simple rather than having all the complex systems that make up an RV. The biggest thing I learned by having to compensate for the failures of those "systems" was that we really appreciate having them! Things break. Being comfortable on the road is very important to us since it is our home! When there are system failures, we can still survive just fine using the simple methods that anyone with a basic van might use to get by as needed until those systems are repaired. There is no question about which we prefer!  

Monday, January 10, 2011


After a long and pretty much uneventful drive, Heidi and I made it back to Port Angeles on Thursday.  We already miss our friends in Quartzsite and those that we had looked forward to meeting, but realize even more now that this was the right move.  I already feel much better. 

Now that we are back and somewhat recovered from the drive, our focus is returning to our projects and plans for the future. Heidi has been busy working on "Charlie", the van she had when we met. Since her ultimate "Vanstead" needs to be based on a diesel powered van, Charlie is only being utilized as an experimental lab of sorts. It is fun for me to watch her clever mind work and her ideas come to life!

I always have a large list of ideas and projects which I will be blogging about as they progress. This year though, I am going to share a bit more of my hobbies with you all as well.

I seem to have fly fishing on the brain lately. The Olympic Peninsula is full of beautiful rivers & streams and this year I plan to spend a lot more time on them pursuing those tasty salmon and trout! Though not nearly as plentiful as the fish, there is a little gold in a few of those creeks as well and I just wouldn't feel right about leaving it out there! 

This is the result from a previous prospecting adventure. Quite a few more hours were involved in recovering what you see than I care to admit, but my motive is fun rather than profit so I can live with it!

It is time for me to get back in shape! My trusty mountain bike is going to get a bunch of miles put on it soon (Not from hanging on Taj's rack). I have some ideas on how to build in some very effective exercise equipment into Taj as well and look forward to blogging about it!

Speaking of Taj, there are a ton of other projects planned for her. A very custom solar panel installation is just one of the things I have in store.  Lots of fun is coming! 

Next post: What we learned this year, which is behind many of the projects we now have planned.