Monday, February 22, 2016


Flanked by the City of Jamaica Beach to the west and City of Galveston to the east, Galveston Island State Park's low development density is a stand-out both from the air and on the ground.
Your basic barrier island, barely developed from front to back.  Concrete and asphalt need not apply.  
Looks can be deceiving when the only real point of reference is the horizon.
You think to yourself, "Oh, it's just a little bit of a ways over there" and all of a sudden, you've walked five miles.  This is my trace on the Map My Walk iPhone app.   
We managed to score a Sunday night beach-front reservation in this highly-competitive destination, and seized the opportunity to both enjoy the outdoors and test our new solar system.
I took this pic because it is such a typical and contrasting silhouette of these two of my loved ones - my husband eyeing his iPhone, oblivious to what I'm doing, and my dog in a state of panic, thinking to herself, "OMG OMG, where is she??  Is she coming back? OMG..." as her eyes frantically search the horizon, in this case, the horizon of the state park office parking lot where I was checking us in.

But after I took the pic I noticed that we placed the weight of the solar system pretty much exactly over the rear wheels.  That was not an explicit intention and I don't know that it makes any difference.  I just happened to notice it here.  
Mid-February is arguably not the most desirable time of year to visit this state park, but neither is it a waste of time.  Here are some pics of this unusual park in winter.
In a metro area of 6.5 million people, would you rather be over-run during the subtropical summer, or would you rather have the beach to yourself in winter?  Having done the former many times over the past 30-odd years, I now prefer the latter.  It was overcast on Sunday and socked in with fog around dawn on Monday, but I had the luxury of being the only one out there, at least for a while. 
In winter there are Portuguese man-o-wars, some of them in psychedelic colors.  
See, that wasn't an accident above - many of them were of similar hue.  One thing that amazed me:  Birds eat the tentacles.  Most of those that washed up had peck marks all around the carcasses.  How is this possible?  A man-o-war sting can put a person in the hospital, but marine birds eat some part of this floating terror?  Not the body - the tentacles.  
This herring gull decided on a more benign snack - part of a dead fin fish.  Herring gulls are over-winterers here, not a breeding species.    
The tide was fairly low this morning at dawn, but with the calm conditions, I didn't see much in the way of newly-deposited shells.  Just a few of the usual suspects, including this Atlantic cockle.  
I also didn't see many critters, although there was plenty of fresh evidence of overnight construction activity.  
And burrowing.  
Even though it's mid-February, there were a few flowers in the sand dunes.
I don't know what this is, but it only seems to bloom around dawn, and then close up for the day.  
These, on the other hand, are everywhere, even in winter. 
Striking red stems. 
Shortly after we arrived Sunday afternoon, I traversed the bay side, looking for birds to photograph, but I didn't see many.  In a few more weeks when spring arrives, the place will be hopping.  
I sure made a proper mess of myself in the effort to find them, though.  
This amazing feast followed my trek.  Steak and home-made venison sausage from a vendor in the El Campo area.  Fire pit courtesy of the state park because I haven't made a decision about how or what we might carry with us, grill-wise, in the small space of our Airstream Interstate.  
This is my favorite way of doing potatoes on the grill.  Seasoning, butter, and green onions from my garden. 
I sent this pic via IM to my daughter, who replied, "That dog looks like she's on drugs."  Everybody relaxes at the beach, no matter what time of year it is.  
We were close enough to Houston to stream TWD over my husband's iPhone 6 Plus.  He has an unlimited data plan.  This was a great way to relax after that BBQ meal. Eventually we will put Apple TV in the Interstate.  

Eerie Monday morning fog, view down through a row of picnic shelters book-ended by a fellow Airstreamer.  I'm not sure why the state chose this unusual motif so many years ago when these things were built.  Intended to echo marine vessel window portals, perhaps?  But with a distinctly Houstonian contemporary flair.  
And there's the other Airstream in the facility, pic taken from the top of one of the picnic shelters, which I accessed using our Telesteps ladder.  Love that thing - very handy for all kinds of purposes.  
Galveston means OUTRAGEOUS HUMIDITY!! no matter what time of year it is!  We haven't solved this issue yet - condensation on our refrigerator door, which is home to my state park magnets and some of my Rene Wiley postcards (I highly recommend her gallery if you do a Galveston trip).   
Best part about doing an overnight in a state park just 35 miles from our stick-and-brick??  Taking all that outdoor BBQ mess and throwing it in my dishwasher back home the next morning!! LOL
Some folks might wonder why we'd bother to load up the Interstate just for the purposes of one Sunday night in winter, and close to home to boot.  Well, we both had to return to work on Monday and every little get-away counts, so we made the time for it.  Plus I'll have more to report later on the solar system trial.

Friday, February 12, 2016


We entered "not as easy as you might expect" territory when we set out to re-do the cab flooring in our 2007 Airstream Interstate.
It's a Sprinter but it's not a Sprinter because it's a Class B RV conversion:  This is what the Airstream-installed carpet segments looked like, yardstick at top for scale.  They attached via snaps to the vinyl layer covering the cab floor.  
Close up - I took a series of pics to share with vendors in the process of getting quotes on fabricating a custom replacement.  
It's nice looking carpet, so why would we even want a replacement?
The rubber backing had disintegrated because it is about 8 years old now.  This is a close-up showing the back side.  
I was getting tired of cleaning up miniature "sand dunes" of rubber powder shed from the original carpet backing.  
The other issue with the OEM carpet is that, due to its thin-ness, my foot would often hook the edge of it as I climbed into the driver's seat.  It had no rigidity, so I tended to tear it loose as if it were a layer of cloth.  The snap closest to the driver's seat had become dislodged from the vinyl under-layer shown above.

We had two other motivations as well.  I've learned from experience while boondocking that every extra bit of thermal insulation that can be added to the Interstate is a good thing, and so adding new and better-quality carpet would help with that.  Even more importantly, the T1N Airstream Interstate is extremely loud in the cab at highway speeds, which can be fatiguing on long trips (or even on short trips).  We intend to add Dynamat to the doors and firewall dampen some of that noise, but I was also interested in better controlling the transmission of noise through the cab floor.  The thin OEM carpet segments offered no added value in that respect.
We haven't even begun to think about an improved stereo system.  With as much noise coming into the cab as we currently have, efforts to upgrade would be wasted.  
I began the replacement process by researching generic Sprinter options, and quickly found a number of dissatisfied users on the forums.
I forget which thread I grabbed the top pic from, but you can see what I mean.  This gentleman removed his worn Sprinter carpet and placed his off-the-shelf replacement on top for size comparison purposes.  Clearly, it doesn't even look like those two pieces were intended for the same model of vehicle.  And neither of them bears any shape resemblance to our Airstream OEM carpet shown in the thumbnail below.  
This is a stock tracing of the T1N-ish Sprinter.  This, too, doesn't look like anything that could work in our Interstate.  
To make a long story short, I ended up going to a local brick and mortar called 5-Star Upholstery in League City, Texas.  My husband knew of them reputationally from their classic car restoration work.  It also didn't hurt that they are within walking distance of our house.

Originally I was going to have them simply replicate the Airstream OEM carpet pieces, but the owner provided me with options and showed me a few products that could be adapted to this project.  He suggested using a marine grade of carpet and backing it with a stiff rubberized liner which could be made to conform to the floor of the Interstate.  Furthermore, he suggested using hidden fasteners rather than the original visible snaps.

Here are a few pics of the resulting job.
In a word, WOW.  It looks like a regular passenger vehicle now, with real carpet.  
I became sold on the higher-end job as soon as I set eyes on that marine carpet, which is loosely referred to as Bayshore II 5850 metallic gray (that's a random example supplier link).  I realized it was the exact color I wanted, and also it does have a sheen, so it would not show lint and debris quite as badly as many other options.
Wow again.  
I like the way the lighter gray seats pop against the darker gray carpet.  
My husband and I were delighted by the degree of noise reduction this carpeting provides.  We haven't quantified it using a sound meter, but it was qualitatively very obvious to us.  We took it for a spin down the Gulf Freeway and I said, "Hey, honey, we can actually hold a conversation now!"

My next task is to figure out what kind of waterproof floor mats I will place on top of this beautiful custom carpeting job.  Experience has also taught me that camping in the Interstate results in a great deal of soil and debris getting accidentally hauled inside - there isn't much way around that.  Now that the carpet is fixed firmly in place, the overlay should be an easier issue to resolve because it mostly has to serve a protective function and it doesn't need to fit with tolerances that are as tight.  

Sunday, February 7, 2016


As I mentioned in Part 2 of this series, I'm not going to run through every technical detail of the solar panel installation because the general procedure has already been described by others.  I'm intentionally limiting the description to just those aspects that are unique to this installation on our 2007 T1N Airstream Interstate.  Photo coverage continues below.
Board for the charge controller, which my husband constructed.  There's also a fuse and a switch on here. 
This is the other side of that board, with the solar panels' On/Off switch visible.  The black object at photo bottom is our black water tank - this is the view upon opening one of the drop-down bottom cabinet doors.  On the other side of this new board is the existing electrical converter.  
Now for the reveal of how exactly we got those fixed-frame solar panels nine feet into the air without damaging them and/or killing ourselves.
The long ladder in the middle is an extension ladder covered with blankets and lashed to the roof rack at the top.  That was the "skidway" upon which the panels were raised.  The panels are shown on the ground to photo left, and you can see two ropes tied to their frame.  I stood on the roof with one rope in each hand.  My husband helped guide the panels up the skidway so that the assembly wouldn't topple over the side.  Gradually I cranked them up the skidway and then positioned them upright on the roof.  
See, I come by my skidway knowledge honestly, because I grew up around this sort of stuff.  This pic shows a conventional skidway upon which small fishing boats are raised.  Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia.  
Unfortunately I have fewer photos of the raising process than I would prefer.  There was just my husband and me working on this, and so I was too busy with the job to take pics.  No free hands for most of it.
See where I've indicated the hinge here? There are two of them along this front crossbar.  The hinges were the key to success of two people getting this into place with no special equipment.  We were able to stand the panels up 90 degrees to the roof, and my husband fastened the hinges with it in that upright position.  With the front edge secured like that, we were able to then pivot it into place and proceed to the rear fasteners.

Oh, BTW, the 80/20 has nice end caps that set in place with stainless steel screws.  We hadn't installed them when this pic was taken, so you can see the open lattice at photo left.  
There's hubster tightening the down-rod that fits into one of the two rear clamps.  The un-tightened clamp is temporarily leaning toward photo left.  We screwed the rear pieces into place, but it was a complicated and time-consuming job to set those screws and their corresponding 80/20 track pieces.  We are probably going to replace those with a cotter pin type apparatus.  If we decide to stay somewhere remote for a few days, it would be useful to raise the panels to a more advantageous sun angle, pivoting it up on the front hinges.  We will have to make a supplemental support for the rear of it as well, in order to angle it up like that.   
You can see a slight pitch forward of the solar frame - the front (photo right) is lower.

We would have preferred to install the whole assembly an inch or two lower than shown here, such that the bottoms of the panels were even closer to the top of the A/C unit, but that would have required a whole 'nuther fastening system.  Unfortunately the OEM T1N Interstate roof rack had been set at the exact worst height - if it had been either higher or lower, this would have been an easier job.  
"I'm sore," he said a couple of hours following this monumental task.  It's little wonder.  Working on the roof of an Interstate requires a lot of contorting.  
There's the near-view as it was being lowered into place at the rear, and before we cleaned up the roof and trimmed our black plastic clamp gasket material. 
And there's a farther view, also prior to full completion, but I propped the extension ladder against the house and climbed up so I could look down on it.  
What's left of this task is to (a) verify that it actually works, and (b) confirm that there are no unexpected or intolerable vehicle handling ramifications.  In theory there should not be - Airstream specified a weight limit for their OEM roof rack (as useless as it is), and we are significantly under that limit.  Plus we angled the front of our panels down so that they would not catch wind at freeway speeds.  But this is brand new DIY territory here, so nothing is declared a success until it is fully tested and proven.
I actually sort of looked a bit like this when I was a kid...