Friday, March 28, 2014

Internet on the road

If I'm gonna be out there by myself, with a dog and a complicated machine, communication is important.  It's hard to tell until I've done it, but it seems likely that I'll spend some of the time I'm not driving or setting up camp or breaking camp or fixing food doing what I do here at home: Reading, writing, listening to music, admiring the view outside, playing with and caring for the dog.

The first three involve internet access.  Almost all of my recreational reading is now done with my Kindle device or my iPad.  By definition, all of my email and web surfing and blogging.  I don't think I'll spend a lot of time watching movies, but I don't do that much at home.

There will be times, I hope, when there's no cell service and I'm really on my own.  But I have to confess that being out of touch is a bit more daunting than it once was: medical crap limits my mobility.  I hate that, but I need to deal with it.  Hell, my reduced mobility is why I'm in the RV, not hiking and sleeping on a tarp out there somewhere back of beyond.

I can get internet through my ATT cell phone.  I can read books and email, spend quality time with my feed reader.  I can send emails and blog posts.  But I want a little more ease in doing that.  I want my iPad and, yes, my laptop.

The answer: a mobile hotspot.  I had fun the last few days researching that, and wound up with a T-Mobile gadget which connects to their net and makes it available as a wifi hotspot for a distance of perhaps 30-50 feet.  It's expensive bandwidth, but it can be turned off when I'm not on the road, unlike the competitors which ask to you buy X gigabytes a month, every month.   I get unlimited bandwidth from ATT, so the phone will be the way to stream music and ball games and movies.

So that seems to be the answer, at least for now.  The device is made by Samsung, which makes the Apple fanboy in me a little uneasy, but I can deal with that.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Report from the shakedown cruise

Tuesday and Wednesday I took the Beast and my friend Jeff to Catalina State Park about 10 miles north of here.  The park has great views of the Catalinas, and some hiking trails which I explored a bit a few years ago, but the primary goal for the trip was to go through the full cycle of making camp and living and breaking camp.  I wanted to see if I'd learned enough about the rig to be confident taking it further afield, or alone, or both.  I also wanted to see if there were problems with the rig that my briefer encounters in a parking lot hadn't revealed.

First: if you're taking along an extra pair of hands, make sure he's a professional cook.  Jeff fixed a dinner and breakfast which were simple and delicious and elegantly presented.  And cleaned up.  And was good company.  We shared a bottle of wine to celebrate the Beast's maiden voyage with me, and my 71st birthday.

Emma went along: Another part of the agenda was to get her used to being in and around the rig.  She made good progress, although she's still not entirely at ease.  There was a lot of panting and trembling, but she can now hop up into the rig with ease, and decided that the funny-looking cloth thing was really a water dish in a clever disguise.

I had no difficulty with the setup and takedown.  My attempt to master the outdoor awning, this time with extra help, didn't help --it was just breezy enough that the thing really wanted to be a sail, and a friendly neighbor camper offered help.  Turned out he was giving directions to fold it up, rather than unfold it, so we did just that and stowed it away neatly.  The major problem is that I've never seen one set up, so I have only the haziest of notions what success will look like.

Two problems did surface.  One is that the house battery (as opposed to the truck battery, which is in the usual place and does the usual truck things) seemed not to be recharging from the external power we were plugged into.  It did seem to recharge when we were in motion, just not when we were camped.  I took it out of its hidey hole under the top step and brought it home to my battery charger and AC power.  It was pretty well discharged.  Even though it may be close to the end of its life -- it's three years old -- I don't think that's the problem.  I have some suggestions from my online advisers at about how to tell if it's getting charging power from the 120V AC  external power.  If it's not.  I may have my first trip to an RV repair guy ahead of me.

The second problem was that the furnace -- a nifty little propane-fired forced-air number -- made a horrible caterwauling noise when turned on.   Really shrill, really obnoxious.  I turned it off as quickly as I could, to avoid inspiring my camping neighbors to mayhem.  When I tried to duplicate the problem back home, it purred away quietly. I hate intermittent problems.

It was a great trip.  Too short.  I'm thinking my next foray will be down to Bisbee for a weekend.  It's about 2 hours away, right down near the Mexican border.  Somehow I expect I'll get searched on the way back at the Border Patrol/Homeland Security checkpoint.  Sad.

I figured some things out about how to get internet service on the road.  I'll give details in a subsequent post.

The trip was a success!  More! More!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Breakfast for Emma

Emma has never really figured out the folding dish. Until this trip. Hunger is a powerful motivator!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Dinner is happening

Jeff at work. 

Catalina State Park

Hitting the road

The Beast's first prowl... OK, I'll stop with the "Beast" stuff.

Overnight tonight at Catalina State Park.  I spent some time yesterday "moving in" -- pots and pans and dishes and utensils.  Towels. Sheets and blankets.  A few more items in the toolbox.  Checked all the fluids -- still need to find where the power steering fluid reservoir is.  It's making that  Ford power steering noise I learned to love in the Ford pickup I had for 14 years.

Spent some time  researching wifi "hotspots" while I was home waiting for the carpet guys to arrive. If I do indeed hit the road for a week or two at a time, it would be good to have something bigger than my iPhone for staying in touch.  And blogging.

What I'm pointing at is using my phone as as that hotspot, sharing its cell data connection via tethering.  That lead me to consider changing my service from ATT to T-Mobile. TMO has an interesting business plan.  And they'll buy me out of my current ATT contract.  Essentially I'd get unlimited data, voice, and text plus 5 gigs of tethered data per month for exactly what I'm now paying ATT.

The issue is coverage:  TMO is just ramping up its 4G coverage areas.  This feels like ATT when I got my first iPhone.  There's a lot of negative talk in the blogosphere about their coverage, but there's also a recognition that they've done a LOT in the last year.  I have no loyalty to ATT, but their coverage is now pretty good.

I'm tempted.

Another adventure.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Now this is what I'm talking about!

From a directory of campsites in the National Forest:

The elevation is 7,100 ft.

The campground, pack it in, pack it out, meanders its way around
a hilltop above Joe's Valley Reservoir in a pleasant mixture of
sagebrush, Ponderosa pine, Pinyon pine and junipers, such as
Western.  Many of the camping sites have panoramic views of the
reservoir and surrounding mountains.  Most of the camping sites
are in the open, but wide spacing between them provide good
privacy.  Long parking aprons can accommodate boat trailers but
there is also a large trailer parking area at the boat ramp. 
Adjacent to the boat ramp is a caf‚/marina providing such
services as bait, ice, limited groceries and homemade bread pies.

Open Seasonal: Yes
Open All Year: No

Seasonal Comment:
Open May 15 through October 30.  No potable water after October 1.

Rate: $10 per day - single
$18 per day - double
Maximum Stay Permitted (days): 16

And what's more, Google Maps shows it and there's a Google Earth view of the area.

There are others in the Manti-LaSal area, with overnight costs in the vicinity of 7-10 dollars.  And reservations on the internet of by phone.

I know that area from my days as a whitewater guide based near Moab.  It's friggin' gorgeous.

One long day (in an RV) from Flagstaff. I think a possible itinerary is shaping up.


One HDMI cable, one Lightning Digital AV adapter, and bingo! Streaming video to the TV from my iPhone. 

But wait, there's more!

OK, you're hooked.  You can't stand the thought of missing a single word of this. And you just know there's good stuff here that doesn't make it to Facebook.

You could bookmark "" and visit regularly, but you might forget and miss something.

What to do?  Now there's a place over on the right which says "Follow by email"  See it? Enter your email address, do as you're told, and you won't miss a thing.

See?  That was easy.

Rich a/k/a BeastMaster

Friday, March 21, 2014

Ouch! and other stories on a Friday

It's been quite a week.  Today's adventures involved almost having my finger eaten by the awning (Ouch! but I think I understand how to avoid that in future),  figuring out how to light the pilot on the oven, and doing my very first trip to a dump station.  I figured it would be better to do that with only water in the tanks, rather than with something more, er, noxious. It turns out there's a little Mom and Pop RV repair place about 10 minutes away from where the Beast is stored,  and they have a public free dump and water station.  It's not in a neighborhood I'd care to frequent at night, but it's not clear why I'd want to do that at night anyway.  I tipped a guy $5 to talk me through the process.  It's pretty simple.

I also looked through the past service records and sorted them in order.

I feel OK with the stove, the refrigerator, the generator,  the electric hookups, the water hookups, the sewage hookups. And I drove the thing through some construction zones and didn't take out any cones.

I filled the gas tank. $88 for about half a tank of gas, filling it up.  26.46 gallons.  At 10 mpg, that's about 250 miles.  Or about the distance to Flagstaff from here. Nice to know I could get to Flag on one tank of gas.  For you non-Tucsonans, it was $3.319 per gallon.

But, it being Friday afternoon and all, let's reflect a little on this enterprise.

I remembered this morning how much I looked down on RV'ers.  I was a backpacker and a wilderness traveler -- yeah, some real wilderness.  I've slept in snow caves and under tarps by the side of rivers.  RV?  Schmar-vee!  And then I was a tent camper, packing the family in the station wagon and throwing a canvas tent in the back, and taking off westward, staying in Canadian provincial parks whenever we could.

And now this?  Yeah, this.  I don't care if I never sleep on the ground again.  I like the idea of having a stove that I don't pump up and a comfortable bed.  The option in case of bugs of sitting at a table inside. I'll see how I like the ambiance of various RV campgrounds.  But I think it'll be just fine.

The people I've met so far are friendly and helpful. I like that.


Scared myself good and proper with this one, I did.  Was trying to figure out how to set up the awning on the passenger side of this thing. It's pretty straightforward once you figure it out, but it involves a very powerful spring and ratchet system. If you don't know what you're doing, and lose focus, then the thing retracts on your hand.

It hurt a lot.

Eventually I figured out how to slide a stick that was lying on the ground in between the pincers that were trying to amputate my finger.

The story is complicated and not very interesting after that. But I think I finally do, at some cost, understand how to set up the awning.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Power II

Replacing the blown fuse means that I have a working fan in a ceiling vent over the big sleeping area up front.  A quick trip to Radio Shack got me a 12V power cable for the little TV/DVD player which was stored in the bathroom closet, and another trip to Radio Shack (Nick is my new best friend) got me a remote control.  

Getting there …

Got plates and title from DMV

Replaced fire extinguisher

Found one blown 12v fuse, which explains why one ceiling vent fan wouldn't go. Replaced fuse. 

The awning remains a mystery. 

Time to pay attention to other stuff for a little while. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Some interior pictures:
Interior, looking aft toward the bathroom in the back

Looking forward out the windshield. 

Coming attractions

I've made a reservation at Catalina State Park for next Tuesday the 25th.  It's pretty heavily used, somewhat to my surprise, and weekend reservations are hard to come by.  So that will be the Beast's introductory prowl.  By then I hope to have figured out the awning.  And there's enough "grey" water in the tank from my last few days of testing things that I should probably go pay for a dump somewhere really close.

Some folks will be more interested in this than others.   For those of you on Facebook, I have a way to notify you when there's what I think is an interesting new post here.  (This involves IFTTT, which you should know about if you don't.)  For those of you not on facebook, you can put the now-correct URL for this blog in your feed reader:, and get every priceless word.  Or you can just check in from time to time.

Since Beast ownership stems partly from my love of gadgets, it won't be surprising that I'm thinking up ways to enhance his Beastliness.

1.  The radio/sound system sucks.  It was original equipment in 1999, cassette tape player and all. So maybe I have a trip to a car audio place in store.

2.  It has a nice little HD television and an antenna, but I have little interest in watching television.  But it occurred to me that I could get a 12-volt wifi hub, and when I take a trip I could take my AppleTV along.  That would require AC, of course ... but then I could use my iPhone and its unlimited ATT data plan to stream Rachel Maddow to the belly of the Beast.

Of course there are 12V wifi hubs!

Problem solved

The generator has a fuse and a circuit breaker, both of which are invisible beneath the front panel in the compartment it sits in.  Sam and I looked at the generator docs and found a diagram which shows these -- after Sam did a partial disassembly of the generator from panel, we could see that the circuit breaker had tripped.  Reset the breaker, and bingo!  Power.

On to track down some minor electrical mysteries, which I suspect will turn out to be blown fuses.  Oh, and I found the mysterious Power Center underneath the dinette table.

At the house with it this afternoon, plugged it into "shore power" -- 120V AC from the house.  And hooked up a hose and learned how to fill the drinking water supply and how to run directly from the water supply.

Oh -- I turned on the hot water heater this morning.  That little sucker makes HOT water!  Also ran the refrigerator all morning on propane -- the freezer was, well, freezing! I need to get a thermometer, but it seems to work just fine.

The only system I haven't worked with is the waste water disposal.  Or, as we say, the "black" and "grey" water.

Go, Beast!

Day Two continued

As planned, I spent a couple of hours this morning down at the storage facility, working on better understanding what's where in this thing. I found the power center; it was down underneath the dinette table. A bunch of circuit breakers for the AC, and a bunch of fuses for the 12 V DC.

The problem with the generator continues. It starts, runs unevenly for a little while, and then everything smooths out and it just hums along

But there is no electricity coming out of the thing. It's definitely supposed to switch over automatically. That's what it did according to the previous owner, and the manual says it will.  When the generator is running, there is a regular clicking sound coming from the control panel area, which is also where the generator switch is. My imagination is that it's a relay trying to do the switch over to AC and not working.

Emma was with me. Emma has decided the couch is her place. This is not surprising, since the floor is either vinyl or laminate, and she hates slippery hard floors. After a few incidents of talking and hauling and swearing, she now essentially levitates outside the door and winds up on the couch. Where she spends a lot of time trembling.

I suspect this will get better as time goes on.

My other project at the storage lot was to see if I can figure out how to get the awning deployed. Short answer: no I couldn't. I think it would help if I had seen it once, so I knew what I was looking for. The previous owner said that it was short of a pain to set up but that he did it anyway.  I think I'll try it next when there's a second pair of hands around, which might make things easier.

About 1030, I drove up to the house in the Beast. I connected it to AC up here, and hooked up the hoses from here to the "city water" connection. That worked perfectly. The water did what it was supposed to, and the electricity was fine. I tried using city water to fill up the tank in the beast, and then I just connected the city water direct as if it was in a campground with hookups. Everything works fine. And the battery got  nicely charged. 

This afternoon my plan is to take  the RV back to the storage lot and then drive out and take care of registration and plates and title. 

Day Two

It's a little after 6 o'clock in the morning, and I've been up for an hour. The plan is to spend some time this morning with the  beast, finding the various systems, and most importantly finding the power center.  

I think I see how Emma can be persuaded to get into the thing. She's good at getting up into a car so I'll have her hop up into the passenger seat, and then she can make a way back into the coach. At least, that's the theory. 

I spent some time with manuals this morning while drinking coffee, and the prospect of putting all this together is beginning to seem doable.  I'll bring it out here to the house at lunchtime, so that Sam can see it, and so I can hook it up to 110 AC and make sure that works. 

I'm also putting together a pile of things which will go there to stay. Like a roll of paper towel, for example. 

This is the generator.  Task one is to figure out how to get it connected to the rest of the system. 

Off I go.

More wonders.  I went on line last night looking for help with the generator power glitch.  Found a (free) site called and joined it.  Poked around and found a forum devoted to Class C motorhomes.  Posted my problem.  Within a few minutes I had a helpful response.  With a little back-and-forth, one guy suggested that the technical manuals for things like this were available on eBay.  I went there and checked.  And now I have on its way what seems to be EXACTLY the documentation I need for this and possible future problems.  Amazing.  Simply amazing.

Buttercup and the Beast

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

It's mine!

BeastMaster here.   It’s mine!

Transaction was smooth, put the 3-day permit tag on it, drove to emissions test, passed with flying colors.  I’ll get plates for it tomorrow.  

Took it to its new storage lot home home and crawled all over it, manuals in hand.  Some cool things I didn’t know:  the refrigerator switches automatically from gas to electric.  The generator works off of the main fuel tank, but has a cutoff so you can’t drain the tank by running the TV.   (Yes, TV).  There’s a “patio sound system” which sucks, but is a cool idea.  The heating/cooling system works off a wall thermostat, just like home.  There’s an outside shower head with hot/cold water in addition to the inside tub/shower.  Yes, tub.  

Small glitch: the locks on the outside door are fronky.  Owner said it was the (bronze) key.  I’m taking some graphite when I go back. All of the keys to the outside storage compartments are tetchy, and we’ll see what graphite will do for them.

Larger glitch: the Az generator (4 KW) starts like a champ from inside, just as it should.  But the AC outlets and appliances don’t have power. A quick read of the trouble-shooting manual refers to a circuit breaker/fuse panel which I haven’t found yet. I need to see how it functions when it’s plugged into what’s referred to as “shore power.” 

Glitches aside, it’s big and clean and comfortable and it doesn’t scare me.  Much.

I was a lot easier driving it than I thought.  Was in light city traffic and briefly on I-10 and it was fine.  Backing into the slot at the storage lot took several passes … I’m going to get some orange cones and practice in the parking lot.  I’m still trying to figure out why the blog solution doesn’t work.  I suspect a nameserver propagation issue.

Didn’t take many pictures.  I will.


Once again I am impressed with the on-line services of the AZ DMV.  Getting a 3-day permit to get the vehicle inspected and registered was a piece of cake, and the temp plate was easily printed out.   The form to apply for a registration and title was available on line, and could be filled out on line and printed to take to the DMV office.  I may have more to say after I've actually gone through the process, but whenever I've had to actually go to the DMV office, the people have been pleasant and friendly.

This may be the only aspect of state government that I've had direct contact with.  The professionalism of these professionals doesn't fully make up for the clownishness of the legislature and state officials, but it helps!

The last hurdle other than pushing paper is the emissions test.

Temp plate


Yesterday March 17 leprechauns carried the last bit of money from one account to another. So today I will own the beast.

There is still a matter of emissions testing which gives me slight pause, but that can be dealt with.

Monday, March 17, 2014


Insurance. 40 bucks a month. Check.

Storage. 50 bucks a month. Check.

And the trusty guys at Buck's will take care of it when it needs service on the truck part. 

Here we go again

It started when I re-read Steinbeck's Travels with Charley.  Steinbeck set out in a custom-built pickup camper to cross the country, accompanied by his dog Charley.  His purpose was to take the pulse of the country at a local level, in the early 1960s pre-interstate era of road travel.

I have no such lofty purpose.  I wanted a way to spend as much of the summer as I could away from Tucson's heat.   When my son was small, we loaded the Volvo station wagon and drove back and forth across the continent several times, using a large canvas tent for shelter.   I can fly to places like San Francisco and Colorado, staying with friends and family.  I'll still do that from time to time.  For any extended stay, however, the kennel bills for Emma get to be the largest single expense, overwhelming air fare by far.

An RV will let me travel with Emma.  I don't expect she'll be easy about it at first, but she's an agreeable and adaptive critter, and I hope we'll get along fine.  

In addition to getting out of the summer heat, I have to confess that the gadget freak in me is entranced by what has to be the largest gadget I can imagine.

Maybe I'll hate it.  Maybe I won't hate it but travel in it won't be worth the effort, or the expense.  If so, I'll take a deep breath and sell it and chalk it up to experience.

So here it is:  A 1999 Coachmen Santara, with a Ford V-10 under the hood. The interior comforts are almost unimaginable to a former backpacker and tent camper.

The Beast
More photos will follow.