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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

MOTORHOME MODIFICATIONS - *S* is Steps and Stained Glass RV Window

I am going to start off the new year with posting some of our motorhome modifications, a few at a time. I will post repairs, modifications, or neato things we have found for RVing.  I have lots of pics in my files so I will do them in alphabetical order.

Underneath that stuff, I will post my regular daily stuff..... kinda sorta fun, eh?

So here it goes, we are up to the letter S now!


Steps Updating:

Steve had removed the icky fake indoor/outdoor carpeting covering our steps a few years back. Not only did it look terrible, but it traps in the moisture and makes the metal on the stairs rust. 

Look at how icky they are! 

I ground off all the loose metal and rust
using a special grinding wheel and tool 
for paint. (we used it on the logs of our house)

Using a foam brush,
and Rustoleum paint,
I put on two thick coats of paint,
letting it dry in between coats.

Steve installed two nice polished aluminum 
stair tread/bull nose pieces 
ridged for traction on the stairs.  

It matches with the aluminum lower portions of our motorhome and works very well. But the black portions do need the touch-up every other year or so.  It's a real improvement of what we had to begin with. 

Stained Glass Window Insert:
We were down in Arizona in 2011, and took some day trips into Mexico at Los Algodones for some dental work.  

While there, we found this wonderful vendor stand of stained glass panels for RV door windows.  We know some other RVers have gotten panels in the $70-80 range.  So we knew her first price of $130 US was negotiable.  In Mexico, everything seems to be negotiable. 

We walked away, promising to come back after the dentist was done.  She REALLY wanted to make her first sale of the day she said, and dropped it to $90 US.  But we left.  We told her we had a dentist to pay for first.  LOL 

in mexico day 21

She had some lovely patterns
and we mostly liked the blue oblong design
over her shoulder

in mexico day 23

The variety of patterns and colors was amazing
just about any subject or style.

in mexico day 20

I got my dental work finished, and next was Steve’s turn. While I was waiting for him, I ran to the drug store and shopped at a vendor with some souvenirs for the grandkids.  But then I went BACK past the stained window gal.  I said I would come back, right?  She now dropped the price to $70 US because I came back when I said I would.  But…. I told her I still had to pay the dentist, and would not know how much extra cash money I could spend.  I walked away again.   I wandered a bit and explored one more block around on my own. 

On the way back to the dentist, I again saw the stained window gal.  Now she dropped the price to $60 US.  This time I said yes, I would buy the window that we had looked at.  

As she was wrapping it up, she looked closely at it and saw a crack in the corner!   OH MY!   I am so glad she saw it and was honest enough to tell me.   

So now I had to decide on another window…   and she dropped the price to only $55 US because of my dismay!  She was so worried to lose a sale, and knew I could go to one of other vendors and might find that blue one I had my heart set on.   We settled on another, same pattern but all clear, no blue.  The $55 US exchanged between us, after starting at $130.00.  She carefully wrapped it up in sturdy cardboard and thanked me twice for coming back.

Darling Steveio went to work putting in our stained glass window!   He used some clear Pro Flex rv caulk and we bought a sheet of unbreakable polycarbonate clear plastic to reinforce it from a hardware store.  

mexican souvineers0_1  mexican souvineers2_1

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Once he fitted it into place, 
he screwed the framing back on to hold it. 

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It sure looks pretty!  It is patterned enough for privacy, but also lets in light and sparkles in the sunshine.  The one with the blue would have been nice, but settling on the bargain price we are happy with the clear border just as well.

Monday, March 26, 2018


I am going to start off the new year with posting some of our motorhome modifications, a few at a time. I will post repairs, modifications, or neato things we have found for RVing.  I have lots of pics in my files so I will do them in alphabetical order.

Underneath that stuff, I will post my regular daily stuff..... kinda sorta fun, eh?

So here it goes, we are up to the letter S now!


Spare Tire Carrier:


Our purpose of carrying along a spare tire is one subject that is sometimes given a bit of debate on the RV lists.  Many folks just pay an Emergency Roadside Service fee to come and change a tire.  That is well and good.  But consider the difficult process of locating a spare when yours is shredded to ribbons on the highway… well, that is another story~! 

Trying to get a tire delivered to you roadside on a weekend can be a daunting task. Especially on the side of an interstate.  The sooner you get it changed and moved off the road, the better.  At this time in our lives, with Steve still in the work-a-day world yet, our only time to get away IS the weekends. So that greatly increases the probability of having a tire emergency on a weekend.  Tires for our rig run in the $500-600 range. We hear tales of gouging where people are being upcharged another $200-300 just to get the tire, not even counting the hefty roadside fee they charge to the policy or roadside assistance company. 

And then… there is the ever-so-predictable increased price gouging that occurs where you will end up paying ANY price just to get a tire of any quality on a Sunday evening.

Many RVer’s do not have the tools, strength or knowledge to change a 22.5 semi truck sized tire anyhow, so they take their chances and call an Emergency Road Service.  Steveio is able to change these tires himself, and he carries an on board air compressor, air tools, a Nut Buddy device, and a big breaker bar.  

We do have Emergency Roadside Assistance on our insurance. We also decided we are going to carry a spare tire on a rack on the front of the motorhome.  This will free up a lot of room in the basement storage area.  With an added bit of ingenuity, Steveio figured out a good way to lift or lower the tire from the rack... you have to read down to the end to see! 

Plus the added weight to the front of the rig helps with handling, as Safari’s are notorious for being back heavy.  Unless we are riding with tanks full of propane, full fuel and full fresh water (all which are located in the front) we do feel a difference in handling. The weight of this spare tire can help offset the weight. The 22.5 tires weigh over 150 pounds.

He measured carefully and made up this rack bracket himself.

 It bolts right to the frame inside of the fiberglass cap. 
spare tire project 1

Then he cut the hole through the fiberglass.. drilling pilot holes first and using a sawsall to cut the lines.  I held my breath the entire time!  

Now he slid in the support bar for the tire. It is securely bolted into the receiver portion, just like a hitch. He put the rim on to see how it would look.

spare tire project 5

(he said these are locking nuts that won’t rattle loose from vibrations)

spare tire project 4

spare tire project 6

spare tire project 7

In this next pic, Steve got the tire mounted on the rim
and lifted up into place. 

Wanna see his cool invention
to lift or lower the tire
from the rack? 

spare tire project 4

The winch doesn't stay there all the time,
it stows away and he will only take it out if we 
need to get the tire off the rack. 
spare tire project 3

Now our spare tire is mounted on the rim
and securely put into place. 
spare tire project2

I bought some really heavy silver vinyl naugahyde that is exterior boat cushion grade to make a fitted spare tire cover.  The silver color goes nicely with the stainless steel side doors and trim.

~~ I added the cover a few days later ~~

We will also have to relocate the front license plate bracket.  In Wisconsin, we do have to display a front license plate. We will put the license plate bracket to one side. 


Steve helped his dad with some more projects on Saturday. I was too far under the weather to go along, with this danged head cold. I didn't want to pass it on to his brother, sis in law, or dad, so I stayed home with the dogs. 

Sunday was a lazy day here, and we hung around the house without doing a lot of anything.  I feel like a slug, but starting to clear up the head. At least it didn't get into the lungs (so far).  Megadosing on Vitamin C, taking Airborne and Mucinex D to fight things off.  

Looking forward to Easter this upcoming Sunday. We are hosting our family at the local little deli Hilde's Bakery and Deli in Chilton. We get over 2 dozen family members attending, too many for in one house.  She lets us set up our own family decorations on her long banquet tables in her dining area. Our guests are treated to a fine meal and dessert and beverages of their choices. She does a great job! 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

MOTORHOME MODIFICATIONS - *S* is Solar Panel Installation on our Motorhome

I am going to start off the new year with posting some of our motorhome modifications, a few at a time. I will post repairs, modifications, or neato things we have found for RVing.  I have lots of pics in my files so I will do them in alphabetical order.

Underneath that stuff, I will post my regular daily stuff..... kinda sorta fun, eh?

So here it goes, we are up to the letter S now!


Solar Panel Installation:

 We installed solar panels and equipment in April 2010


On our Safari motorhome, we originally had two OEM solar panels… one 75 watt for the big coach batteries and a smaller 10 watt one for maintaining the chassis batteries.  There wasn't even a controller unit.  We bought a small controller and set it up ourselves.  We were learning all about using solar. This setup was enough to top off our four 6 volt golf cart batteries. With frugal usage we could go many days with just the one panel.  

But we decided to “Solar Up” with more panels…   and be more livable and downright extravagant once we are done!  LOL Steve found a good deal from a guy changing out his array at his home in Montana, and he sold us his four used 100 watt panels and a bigger solar controller. 

We removed the old 75 watt panel, as it’s never good idea to mix sizes.  All panels should be the same wattage. We listed and sold the old one with the little controller on Ebay.

We purchased four 100 watt Siemens panels,  a Blue Sky MPPT (MAXIMUM POWER POINT TRACKING) solar controller, a Trimetric gauge, and all the various cords and accessories to go along with it.  We already have four 6 volt golf cart batteries installed.

solar panel install4

solar panel install5

Steve made the mounting brackets out of heavy aluminum, and made them so supplementary metal arm rods can be wingnutted onto them to tilt them in the winter months if needed. 

solar panel installation0

The panels will ride flat the rest of the year, and we will only add the tilting rods if we deem it necessary.

(on edit: Now, 8 years later, 
we find we never have to tilt them,
up on the arms to get better sunlight, 
and we have plenty of charging power 
as they lay flat on the roof) 

He pre-fitted the brackets while the panels were still on the ground, rather than waiting until they were up on the roof.

Now here is some more of the equipment that we had to install before the panels went up:

used to monitor the power levels from inside the motorhome:

solar panel installation1

needed to control how much power is coming into the batteries 
and how the levels are charging or being used at that time.
solar panel installation5

to make sure the batteries are not getting overcharged
works hand in hand with the solar controller

solar panel installation2

a resistor that helps monitor the flow of current
solar panel installation3

used to cut the current quickly to the batteries
or to keep something from backfeeding and harming the panels
solar panel installation4

Steve had to get some areas of the motorhome ready for the components to be installed. We chose which compartment got the main set-up devices that was close to the batteries and close to the area where the cables were coming down from the roof.

The location of the solar controller is very important.  The closest spot located to the batteries is the most desirable.  But it also needs to be in a protected compartment.  This one is the closest, just on the other side of the wheel well.  Once the controller is mounted here upright, the main heavy 4 ga. cable will go around the wheel well and connect to the shunt and the batteries right behind the wheel well.

solar panel installation7

Steve made this great wooden panel to mount this stuff
that was originally located on the wall where he was putting 
the solar controller. 

solar panel installation6

Then he mounted the panel at an angle
in that compartment for easy access:

Steve is using 8 gauge wire for each pair of panels coming down from the roof to the controller. From the controller over to the batteries he is using 4 gauge wire.

We chose a location on the roof for the panels that would not have them shadowed by any objects on the rooftop, such as roof vents and air conditioners. The slightest shadow can hamper the panel's output.  We plan to face the front of the rig east as much as possible when choosing parking spots, so the panels are running lengthwise along our south side (passenger side) of the rig.  We already try to park this way in the hot summer to keep our fridge on the north side cooler by being in the shade.

On the passenger side of the rig is a perfect spot to run the wires down through a hole Steve will drill in the roof, through an access panel in the closet that reveals a chase for other wiring and the plumbing vent from our washer/dryer unit.   Directly below this closet is the basement compartment where the solar controller will be located.

solar panel installation9

solar panel installation10

solar panel installation11

(I just love the gritted teeth in this pic) 
solar panel installation13

Okay.. here he ran the 8 ga. cables in the open space,
which we covered up later with the panel again. 
solar panel install9

He got the solar controller mounted, wires and ground all hooked up too.

(this next photo added later .. now it's correctly wired and labelled and marked)

solar panel install8

solar up part 242


Now it’s time to get on the roof and drill down, and pull up through the heavy 8 gauge wires for the panels.  Steve carries along this ladder in our rig, an Xmas present from moi.
solar panel installation14
ladder blocks0

Let’s all sing together that James Taylor favorite:  Up On A Roof…

solar up part 238

And I gingerly crawled up the ladder to assist.  I HATE heights….ack!  But I needed to be up there to help, and to learn. First step was to hook the four panels together into pairs of two.

solar up part 21

solar up part 26

Now they had to be wired up together and then joined to the two 8 gauge cords
solar up part 24

 solar up part 220

solar up part 22

solar up part 221

solar up part 222

Next comes the time to flip all four of the panels over and install the brackets to the roof… ohhh drilling holes in a roof can be VERY SCARY!    Once a hole is drilled, you can’t  UNdrill it!

solar up part 217

Now is the time to start the drilling.  Steve had it all figured out, but I was nervous about this next step. I have to learn to trust in him.  He knows what he is doing.

solar up part 223

We used some rather unique fasteners.   Before you get too excited seeing “plastic”, calm down.  It’s only temporary nylon guides that hold the metal toggle into place … read on:

solar up part 29

solar up part 214

solar up part 213

solar up part 225

solar up part 226

solar up part 227

solar up part 228

solar up part 215

solar up part 216

solar up part 239

solar up part 219

solar up part 237

(on edit: Now, 8 years later, 
we find we never have to tilt them
up on the arms to get better sunlight, 
and we have plenty of charging power 
as they lay flat on the roof) 

solar up part 236

solar up part 218

Ahhhhh  now look at that !  (about four hours later)
solar up part 232

Well, not quite.  

We cut out a section of wall and installed the Trimetric Monitor gauge and the 500amp shunt used to monitor the battery condition.




The gauge is mounted in our kitchen, and the shunt is mounted under the bed close to the batteries on the negative line.  Special wires come back to the wall panel.



Now Steveio had to hook up the wires in the solar controller and 30 amp fuse box.  Then hook the Trimetric gauge back up to the shunt and it *should* work…..

solar up part 240

solar up part 241

Voila! It works!  
This is like “Command Central” 
for seeing how many volts you have in your batteries, 
how many amps are being used, how much is being charged etc.

Weeeeeheeeeeee it all works!   
And even in cloudy afternoon sky in April we are pulling 20 amps.
The batteries are at 13.3 volts.  
Ain’t that something?


P.S.  We find our solar panels give us ample power to do most everything we wish when boondocking (other than run the microwave or vacuum cleaner)   We run the tv's, my curling iron, coffee maker, recharge our cell phones and cameras, run our laptops or tablets, my sewing machine, and use any of the lights and water pump etc. as needed.  We have to remember to start up our on board Onan generator once a month to exercise it, because we don't often need it now that we are solared up.

Three helpful links we found when exploring all our solar options were: 

About a year afterwards: 

Steve had the chance to buy one more solar panel that matched our other ones.  (we already have four 100 watts Siemens panels on the roof)    Here is the panel and he got right up there and ready to work!!!

Next, he had to tilt up the set of panels to access the connector box underneath.  Our four panels are tiltable with brackets that can hold up at any angle to collect the sun's rays in the winter, if need be.  But we have never had to do that. The newest panel that he is installing is on a fixed bracket that will lay flat. That bracket is from the old panel and needed a bit of alteration, but he made it work.

There... all done!   Wasn't that easy?  LOL ...  

You can also see the little 10 watt solar panel that is used to maintain the two driving (chassis) batteries. 

While up on the roof, Steveio also checked over all the seams and edges and vents, looking for any potential problem spots for leaks or damage over the winter.   


We removed the old 75 watt solar panel and controller, sold them on Ebay for $262  

We already owned four 6 volt marine batteries @ $87.50 EACH  $369

4 100 WATT SIEMENS SOLAR PANELS, (used total $894






TOTAL: $1,792.00 after subtracting the sale of the old OEM panel and controller

Quiet, renewable, reliable energy
being able to boondock in comfort
.... priceless!