Home » Boondocking In My Family’s Old Camper Is Like Living In A Schrödinger’s Cat Paradox

Boondocking In My Family’s Old Camper Is Like Living In A Schrödinger’s Cat Paradox

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This week, I’ve set my tongue and stabilizers down in one of the overflow fields of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2023. I’ve been having a blast taking in more aviation than my heart and brain can even process. Less glamorous is my camping situation. Since my parents own two campers, I thought I’d take the smaller one of the two and enjoy creating a portable Autopian AirVenture outpost out of it. On one hand, this was a genius idea that allowed my wife and I to have some basic comforts. On the other hand, this camper is so broken that its equipment seems to work like the Schrödinger’s cat paradox. I have no idea if the tanks are full, if the battery is dead, or why the propane tanks started working four days in.

I know a lot of you are waiting for aviation stories. Unfortunately, my internet situation is about just as unreliable as my camper situation. I could upload videos to YouTube right from the flightline if I wanted to. The event’s Camp Scholler also has pretty decent Wi-Fi. Though, as I noted before, this year is record levels of chaos. I’m not actually in Camp Scholler, but what appears to be a farm next to Camp Scholler. There is no internet out here and no cellular service, either. So, most of my bits are coming from the orange Toyota Tundra TRD Pro parked outside and even it is hit and miss. I uploaded photos for this story from the flightline!

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What you’re about to read is somewhat a warning about used campers. Back when we bought this camper in 2016 I would have said it was better than our new 2022 Mallard. That’s how bad RV quality has gotten. But, seven years of neglect from my parents has left this unit worse for wear. What I’m saying is make sure you test everything out in a used unit. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

At the same time, learn from my mistakes when trying to take your own camper off-grid or boondocking!

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Arrival

Sheryl and I arrived at Camp Scholler on the evening of Monday. It was just the very first day of AirVenture, yet, the camp was completely sold out. All of the new arrivals-and there were many-had to divert to fields near the event that the Experimental Aircraft Association had secured. These fields sit next to, or perhaps on, private property next to the event. The unmapped “overflow camping” fields are not serviced by the event’s shuttle buses, the Red One markets, or Wi-Fi coverage.

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Sheryl and I found this to be fascinating. It was incredible just how many people are showing up to AirVenture this year. None of the EAA people I talked to thus far have an answer as to why. I won’t try to guess either, but I will say that I’m happy to see so many people interested in aviation.

Sleeping in a farmer’s field in an unofficial campground does bring some interesting challenges. In Camp Scholler proper, EAA tries to space out the slots so that you could run a campsite that won’t leave your generator’s exhaust blowing into someone’s tent. There are areas where tents aren’t allowed so that generators can run 24 hours a day. There are electric and water sites, ADA-accessible sites, non-generator sites, and general camping sites as well. Excluding the non-generator sites and the 24-hour generator sites, you can run a generator between 6:30 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. Last year, this worked out pretty ok for us. Sheryl and I slept in a tent, but because the sites were spaced out pretty well and because of the quiet hour, we had a pretty good time.

This time, we’ve learned that overflow camping is a total free-for-all. People parked right next to each other with barely enough separation to open an awning, let alone space to run a generator. At the same time, there were tents next to large RVs running generators. Add in the hotter-than-usual July heat and you sort of have to befriend your neighbor for sure.

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We filled up the camper’s water tank and then set down behind a barn. Someone with a tent trailer plopped down barely ten feet from us, which was a problem since we planned to run a generator. I’m not a monster, so I talked it out with the tent camper guys. We’d run the generator during peak hours of the day, shut it down at sunset, then run the battery through the night. That way, the camper doesn’t turn into a sweatbox most of the time. The tent camper guys also had some residential power too since they were stuck on dwindling battery supplies.

This Camper Is More Broken Than I Thought

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The camper chosen for this trip is my family’s 2007 Thor Adirondack 31BH. This is the trailer that had catastrophic water damage that was cleverly fixed by an RV repair specialist and a dealership. The last time I camped in it was in 2019.

I figured Sheryl and I didn’t need to drag the bigger Mallard just for us two and our birds. Granted, the Adirondack weighs around 6,292 pounds empty, has a 31-foot box, and is 35 feet after you count the tongue and bumper. It’s not small by nearly anyone’s definition.

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The trailer has been used just once since its repair and that was by my brother on a Memorial Day trip with his kids and their friends. It was just sitting around, so I thought it was going to be the perfect camper for this trip. I was excited because since we’ve owned it since 2016, we’ve never taken it off-grid or boondocking. Now, I was set to use it for nearly a whole week off-grid!

The problems started basically immediately. When I arrived at the camper’s storage location, I found the battery to have bitten the dust.

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A little poking around revealed that my brother parked the trailer after Memorial Day with the battery disconnect in the on position, with power draw coming from two lights and the water pump that were both left on. So, the battery was super dead.

I probably should have purchased another battery, but I just crossed my fingers, flipped the disconnect into the off position, hooked the trailer up to the Tundra, and hit the road. Some of you will probably note the trailer’s pitch, even with a weight distribution hitch. That’s because the hitch was set up for a different tow vehicle.

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When we got to Camp Scholler, more things started coming up broken. Next, the battery disconnect became unresponsive in the off position. The fix for this was pretty easy-reseating wires-but for a brief moment, I had a waking nightmare of a camper that didn’t have power at all at night. After fixing that, I fooled myself into thinking it would be smooth sailing.

That night, I discovered the refrigerator wasn’t working. When you’re boondocking in this trailer, the refrigerator feeds off of propane. Now, I checked the pair of tanks with a gauge and they were about half-full, but the refrigerator claimed it wasn’t getting any propane.

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The furnace wasn’t firing, either. I tried basic troubleshooting including checking the lines and reseating the hookups, but nothing worked. However, as of Wednesday night, the refrigerator has apparently detected propane and is now working just fine. It died again last night just to come back this morning. Why did it take three nights for the propane to show up to the party? Why does it both work and not work? I will direct you to a shrug emoji.

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Perhaps the most annoying problems have to do with the camper’s monitoring system.

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When you pop open the cabinet door under the kitchen sink, you are presented with a system that tells you the charge of your battery, holding tank levels, and switches for equipment functions. Since my family has never taken this trailer boondocking or even ever intentionally filled up the water tank, we’ve never really used this monitor before.

The 2007 Thor Adirondack 31BH sports a 46-gallon fresh water tank, a 36-gallon gray water tank, and 34 gallons for waste. Sheryl and I figured that if we limited our water usage to about 7 gallons a day, we’d make it through the week without having to refill. Camp Scholler does have a pumping and refill truck that comes to your campsite, but we wanted the challenge. Problem is, we have no idea how our progress is coming along.

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When you press the buttons on the tank monitor, you’re supposed to get an estimate of the tank levels. Unfortunately, the levels are just way off. For example, when we arrived at our campsite, the monitor said that the water tank was 2/3 full when I filled it to the point where it shot out of the fill spout. Ok, fine, whatever. More alarming were the readings for the gray tank and the black tank, both of which were reporting 2/3 full as well.

Wait, hold on, does this mean the tanks were just sitting around, cooking in the summer heat since Memorial Day? I shuddered at that thought, then I remembered that such was impossible since the trailer was connected to a sewer on that trip and the tanks were open. At various times, the tank monitors do briefly show correct levels, but it’s very rare. I haven’t gotten any of the monitors to show the correct levels at all for at least two days.

So, Sheryl and I are sort of just flying by the seat of our pants and hoping we don’t run out of water too soon or end up with a shower that backs up.

Speaking of that monitoring system, there’s another thing going on with it that I do not quite understand. The battery only reports as full when the trailer is hooked up to the generator or to the Tundra. As soon as you disconnect, the battery shows as 2/3 full, and within ten minutes it shows as empty. I’m expecting the battery to be damaged from being dead, but there has to be more life in it than that, right?

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Since we cannot run the generator at night, I backed the Tundra up to the tongue and connected the trailer’s plug. That way, the whisper-quiet truck could fill the battery without waking up our neighbors.

As a test, we ran the trailer’s battery without help from the truck. The battery was tired and it just barely survives a whole night. Our strategy switched to generator by day, battery by night, and a charge from the truck when running a generator would be uncool. Thus far, the battery quit only once!

All of this time, I kept thinking this is like the Schrödinger’s cat paradox. Either the battery is working or it’s dead, either our tanks are full or they aren’t, and the propane exists or it doesn’t. The only way to know for sure is to check things out for ourselves.

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Also, check out these stabilizer jacks. These have the simple job of stabilizing your camper so that when you walk around, it feels a little closer to a house than it does a vehicle with wheels, tires, and bouncy suspension. These aren’t meant to carry much weight, so they aren’t beefy. However, these jacks are remarkably weak. Any movement in the trailer at all causes them to bend, which in turn causes their screws to jam up. This has been the case since we bought the camper in 2016. On the flip side, the metal is so flimsy that I can kick them back into shape while wearing sandals.

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For those of you who haven’t owned an RV, these jacks are physical proof that while quality used to be better, it was still pretty bad. This trailer doesn’t have a rusty frame unlike our brand-new Mallard M33, but these jacks are just awful.

There’s Still A Lot To Love Here

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Now, it sounds like I’m just grumpy, and maybe I am from all of the heat. But there’s been a lot of great stuff to come out of this camping trip. When the generator is running, Sheryl and I have an air-conditioned personal retreat from the heat and the busy streets of AirVenture.

I bought a Champion 3,650-Watt generator for this trip and golly, it lives up to its name. We can get through a whole day of AirVenture without emptying its 4.7-gallon tank. Using the generator with this camper feels like being connected to shore power, only with the addition of a constant and somewhat harsh hum at the back of the trailer.

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Given a constant load, it runs pretty much at a constant speed. That sounds silly, but I’ve seen friends buy cheaper generators from Harbor Freight and similar. Those units sometimes surged, puffed, and grunted with loads that this Champion basically cruises through. Downside is the noise, and boy is the freaking thing loud. But hey, I’m not complaining given the $380 I paid. Our neighbor with the tent trailer just parks their car next to the generator and they say that directs enough sound away to make things comfortable enough.

At night, we end up losing the sweet air-conditioner and household outlets, but the battery more or less provides enough juice to make things livable. The trailer has 12V sockets that are powered by the battery and all of the lights are 12V, too. In addition to that, you get two high-speed roof fans, the refrigerator, the stove, heat, and the water pump. As I’ve written before, running water is absolutely crucial for Sheryl’s medical condition and even more so lately since she just had surgery to remove a cancerous gallbladder.

Add the master bedroom with a large bed, the trailer’s hard walls, and roomy slides, even without generator power we feel really comfortable. A severe thunderstorm even rolled through one morning and while tents got flooded out and blown over, we were high and dry. This trailer has spoiled me; I don’t want to see a tent for a while unless it’s a motorcycle trip.

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All of that aside, I’ve said that Camp Scholler is genuinely nearly as fun as AirVenture itself, and this year is no different. It seems like everyone wants to talk, everyone wants to have fun, and there’s always something cool to see out here. Things aren’t too shabby for tent dwellers, either, as there are showers, places to charge devices, markets, and even a laundromat. Rumor has it there’s a guy with a coffin for a beer cooler. He asks you to deposit the weirdest beer you can find into the coffin, then you take one of the weird beers out of the coffin for yourself. Since people from some 100 countries are represented at AirVenture each year, the coffin beer variety apparently gets far out.

What I’ve Learned

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While this isn’t my first time boondocking with a camper, it is my first time going off-grid in a camper that’s better fit for a manicured campground rather than the middle of nowhere. Previously, I’ve been in campers like a Taxa Mantis Overland and an Off-Grid Trailers Pando 2.0. Both of those campers were made to go where there aren’t any roads, let alone sewer hookups.

If we take the Adirondack to AirVenture next year, I have learned a few tricks to save my butt next time. A lot of people bring water jugs and what is known as a “honey wagon.” Sadly, it’s not as delicious as it sounds. A honey wagon is a wheeled tote that you empty your trailer’s tanks into, essentially creating a very large version of what our readers call a “shitcase.” You then take the tote and haul it to a dump station. It’s far easier than hitching up the whole trailer to do the same and cheaper than hiring a pump truck. The water jugs serve a similar purpose; fill those instead of hauling the camper to the fill station.

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If anything, I want to think of this AirVenture camping trip as a shakedown run for future upgrades. The bones are all there, but they could use some modernization. My family plans on keeping this thing until it cannot roll anymore. So, I’ll report what needs fixing to my parents then start dreaming about how to make this trailer better.

I would ditch that dying battery for a lithium unit and bring a 12V air-conditioner for those times we cannot use a generator. I’m not expecting a 12V A/C to cool down the whole camper, but maybe just enough to make the tiny master bedroom not so stuffy. Maybe I’d add some portable solar panels, too. My line of thinking here is do modifications that can be moved to another trailer in the future, like my U-Haul. I do have an EcoFlow power station laying around that can assist in this, too.

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I’m not entirely sure what to do about that clearly faulty tank and battery monitor. For now, I’ll treat it like a car with a bad fuel gauge and just play things conservatively.

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One thing’s for sure, Sheryl and I are having a great time and the birds are having a blast, too. If anything, they’re even happier on those warm nights than we are! The trailer may be broken and a 35-foot paradox, but honestly, even with the problems we’d still definitely take it over a hotel.

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Highland Green Miata
Highland Green Miata
11 months ago

It’s amazing how many people they jam into that area for what amounts to just a week. And even with this year’s attendance higher than in recent years, it used to be MORE. I remember when there were 14,000 planes parked at the airport. It’s pretty remarkable that this airport has 5 runways and one long enough to land any plane ever made, and yet Wittman Field has had NO commercial flights since the early 80’s.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago

Glad you are having fun. The stories are always better that way. But…
1. Like everything trailers work better when used regularly, and i add by people who know what they are doing. Your brother needs a how to from start to finish.
2. In free for all situations first you establish a perimeter. Set your outside and loud equipment up asap as a courtesy for your neighbors so they can plan accordingly. It is not selfish or rude it is neighborly.
3. Feel free to offer charging or power accordingly when you have excess, that generates friendship and help later.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
11 months ago

Great update — also, hope Sheryl’s recovery is going well! You crazy kids have fun!

Gee See
Gee See
11 months ago

I know people here don’t like Musk.. but I would suggest Starlink.. now when they are cutting the price on their hardware. Especially when compared with the greedy traditional telcos that likes to lock you in plans etc. Use it when you / your parents are out and about.. and cancel it during the off season.

TXJeepGuy
TXJeepGuy
11 months ago

Occasionally I think about buying a camper. Thankfully I then read posts like these that dissuade me from the notion.

Gee See
Gee See
11 months ago
Reply to  TXJeepGuy

Most of the components can be bought off the shelf.. eg Peter Sripol on youtube just modded / rebuild one from 2020.

Last edited 11 months ago by Gee See
Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
11 months ago
Reply to  TXJeepGuy

My wife keeps mentioning a RV/camper. I keep reading Mercedes writing about how shitty they are. I see how expensive they are anyway. Ughh.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago
Reply to  Vic Vinegar

Have your wife read Mercedes articles. Duh. Gotta love i want to live in a van down by the river off the grid as long as I have power, cable, internet, refrigeration, a dump station, a shower station, and a fuckin Starbucks.

Eslader
Eslader
11 months ago
Reply to  Vic Vinegar

Some of them aren’t shitty. Scamp/Cassita are both still made really well. But for most other brands, I’d get a used one from at least 10 years ago before I got a new one. They’re still built like crap, but not to the level of today’s output.

CSRoad
CSRoad
11 months ago

A couple of things:
I’d go with a Deep Cycle AGM battery, it’s cheaper and will work with your existing system. Lithium Ion batteries don’t like cold and if you plan on using and charging it in sub-zero temperatures it may be a consideration. I am a fan of leaving batteries on a “smart” maintenance charger if they a sitting for a long time. Most auto parts stores will run a free, as in no dollars, load test on a battery to determine the condition.

For WIFI get yourself a USB transmitter with a decent antennas that can plug into your laptop, not a dongle. You’d be surprised the difference that can make with weak signals. Just an example of what I’m talking about: https://www.trendnet.com/products/wireless/AC1900-High-Power-Dual-Band-Wireless-USB-Adapter-TEW-809UB

Last edited 11 months ago by CSRoad
PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
11 months ago
Reply to  CSRoad

Even the best “smart” maintenance chargers end up cooking the batteries, as any error in their charging program seems to be “charge slightly too much rather than slightly too little”. That adds up over time. And they tend to poll the batteries for condition several times a day, sometimes several times an hour.

I’ve found my batteries last much longer if I fully charge them, then put them on a smart maintainer, but plug the maintainer into a Christmas light timer that only turns on for 30 minutes a day.

I have yet to lose a single 12 Volt battery since setting things up this way.

CSRoad
CSRoad
11 months ago

I guess I’ve been lucky. My bikes are on maintenance chargers for 4 months straight each year, I haven’t lost a battery to overcharge yet…. My Honda cruiser has been using the same Yuasa AGM battery for 9 years so it’s days are probably numbered. I use CTEK and OptiMATE chargers as I’ve had good luck with them being “smart” enough and bike batteries are notoriously finicky.

FloridaNative
FloridaNative
11 months ago

Just convert the RTS already!

Ben
Ben
11 months ago

Ugh, generators. I’ll spare you the full rant, but 6:30 AM is too damn early to turn one on.

I probably should have purchased another battery, but I just crossed my fingers, flipped the disconnect into the off position, hooked the trailer up to the Tundra, and hit the road.

You really shouldn’t have done that. Without a functional 12V battery your breakaway cable won’t function because the brakes need electricity to function.

That battery is toast, especially if you’ve run it down to basically empty multiple times since it went flat the first time. I’m amazed you’re getting anything out of it at this point. You should hook up a voltmeter (ignore the built-in battery panel, it’s not giving you useful information) and make sure you never run a lead acid below 12.0V even (with minimal load – under load the voltage will at times drop below that no matter what you do). A fully charged one will be 12.6+, at 12.0 it’s about 50% discharged and below that you’re shortening the lifespan significantly. Also, dope slap your brother for leaving it on.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago
Reply to  Ben

My tow vehicle was set up with two 12 volt batteries and an automatic plug in recharger. Too many is better than too few.

Eslader
Eslader
11 months ago
Reply to  Ben

On the generator thing, you’re usually right but at Airventure, it just doesn’t matter. If you want to get any sleep there, you bring good ear plugs. People are up slamming camper, car and porta-potty doors by 5:30 at the latest because they want to get out to the grounds to see the dawn balloon launch or whatever else is going on out there. And they’re up late because you don’t even get back from the night airshow until after 10, and then they have to sit around drinking beer and watching Top Gun on the outdoor TV. This is not a quiet campground at all. The generators are some of the least noisy things there. You should really think of EAA camping more like camping at a big music festival than a normal campground. Very similar vibe, just less sex and drugs.

You’re much better off in airplane camping at this event but, of course, you then have to own an airplane. 😉

My wife and I are seriously considering buying a camper before next year because at least there’s a *little* sound insulation, which you don’t get in a tent. Would also be nice in the wind and rain downpours. Several years ago a bunch of the tent campers got absolutely flooded out when the campground turned into a temporary lake. Only people with trailers or rooftop tents managed to keep their gear dry.

Last edited 11 months ago by Eslader
Defenestrator
Defenestrator
11 months ago
Reply to  Eslader

Might also be worth looking into those little USB-powered noise generators. Walls, a noise generator, and earplugs combined will let you sleep through most stuff.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
11 months ago

Thanks Mercedes. Great stuff. Have a great time.
Have owned a Honda Inverter Generator thing since Hurricane Katrina. Was close to 1K to buy but still runs like a Swiss watch. I will probably never need another one, but if needed Honda for me. This is so quiet it’s hard to believe. We have run ours 24 hours a day during hurricane power outages several times. The neighbors don’t even hear it.
Sucks to deal with these RV issues though.

Best thoughts for Sheryl.

John Hower
John Hower
11 months ago

RV tank monitors, especially black tank, are notoriously unreliable. The stabilizers on your trailer look like tent camper stabilizers and are probably rated for no more than 2,000 lbs. They might only be 1,000 lb. rated. You need to swap them for scissor style jacks. As for the battery, you need to test it but it may well be toast. I guess you learned your lesson RE: the rule of P … 🙂

Gee See
Gee See
11 months ago

If you are upgrading your batteries make sure they are of 1 type (eg Pb acid or LiFePO4).. don’t mix types.. also the battery monitoring systems are often for one type or the other. Check out Will Prowse’s Youtube channel, he used to live out of a trailer and often have some good tips on anything solar (eg I didn’t know there are dealers that sell used solar panels). I would suggest a couple of rack mount 5kWh batteries or borrow a EMP based car? Speaking of which.. what is the EV charging situation at the show?

I got a feeling that the monitoring system hiccups are probably caused by the power source, especially if your generator is not pure sine wave.

I am sure you will get the routine down in future adventures.

Last edited 11 months ago by Gee See
Michael g
Michael g
11 months ago

Do you know that RV stands for, Ruined Vacations….

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
11 months ago

No. Whenever you take a lead acid below 50% SOC, it damages it. If you flatten it, that battery is sort of done for and will rarely hold a charge for long. If you were going to use it more I’d suggest getting lithium iron phosphate ones, as most have a built in BMS so you can use the whole capacity of a battery without hurting it; thus two identical batteries, one lead acide, the other LiPo4, the lipo is going to have double the usable capacity.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

What happens when you slice it up with a chainsaw? Lol

Opa Carriker
Opa Carriker
11 months ago

So you intentionally went to a outdoor venue with no idea of the condition of the camper you intend to live out of. Then, onsite you discover multiple problems that could have been dealt with easily at home but not in the field. Then you complain of all the undisiplined campers in the free for all you are calling a campsite. No wifi? PPPP. Should have brought it along!

On another note, I see that you aren’t struck with the nasty-neat bug are you.

OverlandingSprinter
OverlandingSprinter
11 months ago
Reply to  Opa Carriker

Someone’s grouchy today. I think it’s terrific Mercedes is willing to outline the issues they’re facing. A fantastic cautionary tale. This wouldn’t be much of a story if Mercedes wrote, “Showed up and was parked in a farmer’s field. Everything worked in the trailer. Uh, hmm. Ask me anything in the comments below.”

Chris with bad opinions
Chris with bad opinions
11 months ago
Reply to  Opa Carriker

And I thought I was a jerk.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago
Reply to  Opa Carriker

I am sure she is fine just giving us a Friday chuckle.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
11 months ago

The generator can make it through a while day without running out its five gallon tank? Yeah, I hope so.

I mean, five gallons of gas can push a whole minivan a hundred miles down the road AND run the AC. Id hope it can run the AC through most of a day.

Skurdnee
Skurdnee
11 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

at least it’s a four stroke. campsites with assholes running old two stroke generators all day is hell for both everyone at the campsite and the earth. not that this four stroke is much better, running a full tank on this thing is probably the same emission output of 1500 miles in car.

Last edited 11 months ago by Skurdnee
Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
11 months ago
Reply to  Skurdnee

Well I mean if the tank is five gallons then running five gallons through it is probably similar emissions to five gallons through a car. Which is a lot less than 1500 miles, unless your car gets 300 mpg.

Leighzbohns
Leighzbohns
11 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

that’s just CO2 and H2O the car’s cat takes care of a lot of the combustion byproducts the generator puts out.

MasterMario
MasterMario
11 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

Similar CO2 emissions…way higher everything else. Modern cars hace amazingly clean exhaust.

Defenestrator
Defenestrator
11 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

For carbon monoxide, unburnt hydrocarbons, and NOx the generator will be waaaay worse per gallon. By a lot more than you’d imagine. EFI, closed-loop operation, and catalytic converters make a big difference. Plus the thermal efficiency of a car engine’s about double the generator’s.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago
Reply to  Skurdnee

As opposed to all the stuff you run in a full house? Calm down and yes your farts stink.

A. Barth
A. Barth
11 months ago

I’m expecting the battery to be damaged from being dead, but there has to be more life in it than that, right?

Possibly not. Lead-acid batteries that go completely dead can have sulfated plates: basically there will be corrosion that connects the plates, so instead of having N individual plates giving you the full rated capacity, they become (N/2) or (N/3) plates. This reduces capacity; even if the charger shows you’ve got 100% it is essentially filling a much smaller battery so you don’t get the expected runtime.

Time to recycle. 🙂 3wiperB covered the need for a lithium-friendly reg-rec so we’re good there.

OverlandingSprinter
OverlandingSprinter
11 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

I’ve learned what you wrote the hard way. Several times.

Lithium iron phosphate batteries are pricy at the time of purchase, but are so much cheaper down the road and are, for all intents and purposes, maintenance free.

A. Barth
A. Barth
11 months ago

I too have learned it the hard way, possibly more than once. 🙂

Last week I was getting an old motorcycle ready for a vintage event. It has a two-year-old 6-volt lead-acid battery which (shame on me) hadn’t been touched in nearly a year.

The sides are translucent white plastic, and a visual inspection didn’t seem to show any sulfation. I put it on the charger, which miraculously (or perhaps erroneously) said the battery was still at 60% charge. I let it do its thing, and came back a little while later to see that it was fully charged. Hmm. I unplugged and disconnected the charger and waited for a while, then hooked it back up. The indicator sat at 90% for a while (it displays increments of 10%) and then registered full.

I reinstalled the battery in the bike and it was pretty darn weak. The neutral light came on but the turn signal dragged the battery down significantly. Maybe the lesson will stick this time. 😐

OverlandingSprinter
OverlandingSprinter
11 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

Some manufacturers — or maybe just resellers — market lithium iron phosphate batteries for motorcycles. I would be tempted but wary if the vehicle’s charging system is up to handling the voltage difference (lead-acid wants 12.8V vs. lithium wants 14.2V). I’m being loose with my language, obviously.

A. Barth
A. Barth
11 months ago

Yep, though most of them are intended for newer bikes for the reasons you described. There are forum discussions about retrofitting older bikes to allow the use of Li batteries. Some people are militantly for, some militantly against. Imagine that. 🙂

I’m not too concerned about it. If a reg-rec fails I’ll probably upgrade where possible, but otherwise will stick with the original config and lead-acid. I do swap out the weak sealed-beam headlights for LEDs on roadgoing bikes, which takes some load off of the electrical system while providing more and better light.

The bike I described above most likely couldn’t be upgraded without some minor surgery. It’s a 6V system and kickstart only – there isn’t any room for a larger or different battery. Oh well.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
11 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

I’ve learned load test is the only way to be sure. The lead acid battery in my motorcycle showed a full charge on the voltmeter but wouldn’t turn over the engine and my old Snap-On load tester had it from 12.8 to 5 volts in 15 seconds

06dak
06dak
11 months ago

Was going to mention using the stove to rid the air of lines… have to do this every time we camp as well, even for just using the stove.

Couple thing for the future:
When on full hook ups, NEVER leave your tanks open! Full hook need to be treated like being parked next to a dump station. Use your stuff till it fills up, then dump it in one shot. Especially with a black tank if you leave it open the contents dry out, and that is BAD. Just google “RV poop pyramid” 😉 You could probably leave the grey open more, but then you don’t have water to wash out the black dump residue.
You can run 2 batteries in parallel for more storage if you have them. As I understand 2 6V may be better than 2 12V. You’ll never have enough battery for an AC system without spending thousands though. Your battery is probably pretty shot being drained, so it’s not surprising it’s not lasting. I think the rule of thumb is damage occurs when they get under 50%.
MaxxAir fans are essential for overnight sleeping – quiet and super powerful.
A honey wagon is essential. You can pick a used one up cheap, but I opted to buy one new as I don’t want to deal with other people’s poop residue.

I have a 2022 Winnebago Micro Mini. Build quality on it is hot garbage, like all the rest. Not as bad as your parent’s Mallard, but still embarrassing for a new camper.

3WiperB
3WiperB
11 months ago
Reply to  06dak

Yeah, I didn’t catch that the tanks were open when I read that through the first time. I’ve also heard to never leave the tanks open. You don’t want bugs and stuff from the sewer getting into your tanks, and you want the flush of the volume of water to carry away the solids, and you need the volume of grey water to wash out the hose when you are done. If I have sewer hook-up I will dump grey every other day, but I don’t leave them open. I have heard that you can leave gray open on longer trips if you make a “trap” in the hose (like a trap in plumbing) so the connection isn’t open air into your tanks.

Japolkin
Japolkin
11 months ago
Reply to  06dak

Yup, was going to comment about the open tanks. That’s definitely how you get the dreaded ???? pyramid. Only open the dump valve when there’s a significant volume of waste and water

Clark B
Clark B
11 months ago

“Honey, have you checked our shitters lately?”

Hammerstump
Hammerstump
11 months ago
Reply to  Clark B

Extra points for having the name Clark.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
11 months ago
Reply to  Clark B

Last time Rusty looked Aunt Edna was still on the roof Clark…STFU.

TXJeepGuy
TXJeepGuy
11 months ago
Reply to  Clark B

She’s (the comment) a beaut Clark.

10001010
10001010
11 months ago

At least two mentions of birds but no photos of birds :-/

Hammerstump
Hammerstump
11 months ago
Reply to  10001010

You have to zoom and enhance the kitchen shot. Then you can see them in the cage.

10001010
10001010
11 months ago
Reply to  Hammerstump

Good catch!

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
11 months ago

Yes. Yes it is.

Tell us again how this is preferable to a hotel?

Duke of Kent
Duke of Kent
11 months ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

Stockholm Syndrome is a hell of a drug.

Although at AirVenture, hotel rooms are probably very difficult to come by, so you’re really deciding between RV’ing and tent camping.

OverlandingSprinter
OverlandingSprinter
11 months ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

I do not understand why some reading an RV-related story suggest hotels. Here’s why we prefer camping:

  • Location: We camp in places where the nearest hotels are usually >100 miles away
  • Itinerary: Set by what we want to see and do, and not by finding a hotel.
  • Availability: No available hotel rooms, period, at events like the fly-in and Burning Man.
  • Restroom: Always nearby. (Has notable downsides.)
  • Kitchen: Stocked with our own food.
  • Refrigerator: I will never travel without one.
  • Bed: Ours and no worries about bedbugs.
  • Pets: Many hotels say no to pets.

I understand some loath the idea of RVs. These are not for everyone, which is kind of the point.

Hammerstump
Hammerstump
11 months ago

Can I help at all? I’ve got a garage full of tools and a deep cycle battery about a mile from you. And a pickup I could load up to bring everything to the campsite.

Last edited 11 months ago by Hammerstump
Hammerstump
Hammerstump
11 months ago

Glad to hear, but the offer stands if you run into any other electrical gremlins. I love this site and all of you writers and I’d be honored for the chance to give something back. Heck, even if you just want some supplies from town without having to fight traffic, let me know!

3WiperB
3WiperB
11 months ago

You could probably bypass the disconnect temporarily. It might be a relay located remotely though. Mine is a low voltage switch on the wall that operates a relay hidden someplace behind the front couch.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
11 months ago
Reply to  3WiperB

Shot in the dark here. A bad switch? Or a undiscovered issue with a ground? With the janky electronics onboard as well, there’s several possibilities. Good luck.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
11 months ago

Only if it can be construed as an unfortunate accident.
Rules suck some times. Sorry.

PresterJohn
PresterJohn
11 months ago

Mercedes if you’re looking for a guide on making an RV more offgrid capable, this is the guide to use:

https://www.mobile-solarpower.com/

Great stuff on there for cabins too.

OverlandingSprinter
OverlandingSprinter
11 months ago
Reply to  PresterJohn

Seconded. Will Prowse tells it like it is, and his technical explanations are very approachable. I love his tear-down videos.

Detroit-Lightning
Detroit-Lightning
11 months ago

Next time I convince myself that I should buy a camper, I’m going to re-read all of Mercedes’ camper posts.

Pupmeow
Pupmeow
11 months ago

Seriously. I get the bug from time to time. There’s a commenter on this article that they have a 2022 RV with a build quality that is “hot garbage.” But otherwise, it’s just great! 😐

Hammerstump
Hammerstump
11 months ago

As an Oshkosh resident, I sympathize with your internet woes. Verizon’s data firehose turns into a dripping kitchen faucet every year during AirVenture. No matter how much they try to shore it up with temporary tower trucks and other mitigations, the infrastructure just isn’t there for our little city to support 10 times the usual amount of people. That they have reliable WiFi at EAA at all is a miracle.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
11 months ago

Wow, those stabilizer jacks are cheesy. There are beefier ones available. And yes, having a crap wagon to haul to the dump station is awesome.

Champion generators are good for the price. I purchased a refurbished 2000 watt dual fuel inverter genny a few years ago. It runs fine on both fuels. If you need parts, SuperGen Products is the place to go. No affiliation, just a happy customer.

3WiperB
3WiperB
11 months ago

The tank monitors don’t work in our ’07 Airstream either. I think those system are just junk on every trailer after a few years. The black tank doesn’t read anything, and the fresh and grey water are grossly inaccurate, and they only change state when either nearly empty or nearly full. I think there’s a way to calibrate them, but it involved filling and emptying the tanks as part of the procedure, and who has time for that? I mostly just try to conserve water as much as I can. It would be near impossible to fill up that black tank in a week. It’s the grey tank that always fills up first. Quick showers are key.. rinse, soap up with the water off, and rinse again. You can wash dishes outside with the outdoor shower and a pan of water, and/or keep the grey water from washing to use in the toilet for flushing. We haven’t boondocked yet, but we have stayed places with just electric, or just electric and water, but no sewer (for 4 days with 5 people so water management is critical).

Biggest problem for me with the honey wagon (or I’ve heard them called Blue Boys), is that I don’t have a good place to store it, other than the truck bed, so I’ve never bothered. I see a lot of people strap them onto the roof ladder on the back of the RV if they have a ladder.

I don’t have a portable generator yet, but I have a 15+ year old Champion for the house and it’s been pretty reliable. If I were to buy a dedicated one for my camper, I think I’d get a dual fuel inverter generator. They are quieter and smaller, plus give the option to just use the propane tanks on the RV instead of carrying gas. I’ll probably put a soft start on the AC unit so that I can use a 2kw generator instead of needing a 3kw.

Often the propane stuff doesn’t work because there’s some air in the lines. Usually I run a burner on the stove until I can light it and that seems to move enough propane into the line to get the fridge to light.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
11 months ago
Reply to  3WiperB

Agreed on the stove trick. Bleeding at the fridge takes forever. At the stove it’s much quicker to get the fridge lit off.

3WiperB
3WiperB
11 months ago
Reply to  3WiperB

Also, on the battery, often the propane detector is wired ahead of the battery disconnect, so unless you pull the battery terminals, it drains in a couple weeks anyway.

If you swap to lithium, you’ll probably need to replace your converter to one that will charge lithium batteries. Newer campers have a switch or auto detect, but older ones don’t.

3WiperB
3WiperB
11 months ago

I just replaced my converter because the old one was making noises. It was a fairly easy swap if you are comfortable with wiring (I suspect you are more than capable of wiring tasks). Now I’m ready for Lithium when our batteries need replacement (they are only 3 years old), but I’m not sure I’ll bother with Lithium yet. They are still very expensive and the AGM’s are probably fine for the 12V loads we have in our trailer.

Gubbin
Gubbin
11 months ago
Reply to  3WiperB

Nice! What make/model did you use? Ours is an old buzzy Magnetec and I’d like one that’s quieter and can properly charge the battery.

Last edited 11 months ago by Gubbin
3WiperB
3WiperB
11 months ago
Reply to  Gubbin

I used a Progressive Dynamics. It was a perfect fit for my Parallax box. It’s dead silent. It included the 12 Volt fuse board as well. Progressive Dynamics PD4655V Inteli-Power 4600 Series Converter/Charger with Charge Wizard – 55 Amp https://a.co/d/f6CgZ4j

Gubbin
Gubbin
11 months ago

Yup, flushing the propane is the first part of our Arrival Ritual, right after unloading the horses and right before “is this water heater EVER going to light?”

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