Monday, November 30, 2015


My husband had forbidden my idea of drilling holes into the cabinetry of our Class B RV Airstream Interstate so that I could install one of those large flip-down cup holders.  Fortunately, his objection forced me to come up with a more versatile and creative option for holding my beloved YETI 30 ounce Rambler.
When what to my wondering eyes did appear but this Amazon Lightning Deal:  The two Ogres Essential-Z chalk bag, the type of device used by mountain climbers and weight lifters to hold the chalk that keeps their hands from slipping.  
You might wonder why on earth I would form an association between these two entirely-unrelated consumer products.  The answer is simple:  Because Yeti is asleep at the wheel and so is the aftermarket, to the point where both Yeti-branded and knock-off accessories are nonexistent at this time.  I had been searching for a 30-ounce tumbler carrying means for months, and it was only by chance that this Lightning Deal appeared on my computer screen and I was able to see the resemblance between the two products.

It's not as trivial an issue as you might think.  Like an increasing number of Texans who live in scorching hot weather for most of the year, I rarely leave my house without this Texas-designed Yeti tumbler in tow.  But I'm always fumbling with it, wishing I had an extra hand, or wishing I could stash it somewhere convenient.
I can now wear my 30-ouncer hands-free in this cross-body style!  I've been waiting a long time for this. 
And here's how it looks when hanging in our Airstream.  You simply cinch the belt part around the upper part of the bag and loop it over a portable cabinet hook, in this case the Lynk Over Cabinet Door Hook.

Incidentally, that Rubbermaid hanging holder product visible at photo right is called a Vent Catch-All and is available in Walmart for about five bucks.  It's the perfect size for my daughter's Perrier bottles and my husband's soda bottles, but it's much too small for my Yeti.  
Here's the beauty of this adaptation versus a conventional flip-down jumbo cup holder which would have to remain fixed in one place.
I can re-position that cabinet hook wherever I want or need it to be, in both my RV and my home. 
In the RV, I can even hang it from the small stopper bottom ledge that is located inside the upper cabinets.  Placed this way, the straw is exactly at mouth height.  Pretty convenient if I have my hands full with small-space cooking on that little SMEV propane stove you see there.

For those of you who are extra observant, yes, that's a Buc-ees beaver magnet on the wall at photo right.   
Anyway, if you want this two Ogres Essential-Z chalk bag, you might want to order it soon.  When word gets around of this unexpected use, I think they'll fly off the shelves just as fast as the Yetis themselves (according to repeated reports on social media, there are times when Yeti tumblers become impossible to buy in greater Houston due to supply bottlenecks).  

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Last week, I managed to squeeze in a day and a half of outdoor experience in Angelina National Forest, where I boondocked in the Boykin Springs area.
Some Forest Service websites say reservations are required, but at the present time, this one is first-come-first served. 
In recent years, the federal government has fundamentally changed the way that it manages these types of relatively remote sites.
They were unmanned for a long time, which allowed them to go into serious decline as they were subject to vandalism and neglect (general rule of thumb in Texas:  Any developed but abandoned site is at risk of becoming occupied by those who endeavor to cook methamphetamine (PDF link)).  But now the government is engaging workampers to serve as hosts who carefully control access and report to Forest Service staff.  The workampers are usually retired individuals who set up their own rigs on the property and are given free utilities and are maybe paid a small volunteer stipend to cover expenses.  In some larger public campgrounds, the positions do pay a salary, although I'm told it's not very much - it's just a little to augment retirement savings.  At any rate, this strategy is an efficient way of protecting valuable public resources at an extremely low cost to the taxpayers.  I'm told that a lot of these positions are advertised on  
Part of this rec area was a Civilian Conservation Corps project, which certainly gives it a unique style.
I found this old bolt on the ground near some of the improvements... it may date back about eighty years to when the CCC program was active, but it actually looks better than some of the hardware we've pulled off our 8-year-old Interstate.  
Getting into Boykin Springs was interesting, as it entailed my first low-water crossing in the Interstate. 
You don't see this every day.  I made sure to get back out before predicted rain started falling.  
"You must be a pretty good driver," the workamper host noted after I inserted my Airstream Interstate into this little space among the trees.

This is what it's all about:
This is why we bought the Interstate.  This is why my husband and I are working diligently on converting it into a much more versatile boondocking machine, so that we can enjoy the likes of this, away from crowds, away from RV parks, away from civilization.  
After getting settled in my spot and grabbing a bite to eat, I set off on the 5-mile round-trip hike to the old Aldridge Sawmill historic site.  Here are some pretty pics I took along the way.   
For starters, here's the map of the trail area.  No development.  No FS roads.  No public roads.  No nothing.  Every once in a while, a high-altitude aircraft would pass overhead.  Otherwise, there were no human sounds at all, which is very rare, especially in densely-populated southeast Texas.  

Fall is for mushrooms, and I never get sick of photographing mushrooms. 
And these. 
This is called a "widow-maker" for obvious reasons, and the piney woods are full of them.  A strong cold front came through the day after I left this area.  I hope this came down with the winds, because it was right on the Aldridge trail and posing a risk to hikers.  
Boykin Creek as it flowed from the rec area toward the Neches River. 
A sweetgum leaf caught by chance.  
If I'm remembering my local deep East Texas history correctly, this part of the trail was probably a raised train track bed from the area's industrial logging past.  It looks like a levee but I think it was a train bed.  
Moses got his burning bush, and I got this upon my Exodus from Houston.  What does it mean??
The eerie Aldridge ruins, over 100 years old.  
Do you see the resemblance?
Screengrabbed from this site.  
Window on the past, not necessarily a door to hell as the spray paint claims.  
I'm not going to post any additional pics of the Aldridge ruins because that would be too much of a spoiler.  
I hiked back to Boykin Springs as the sun was setting and the deer were emerging.  This is blurry, but if you look at photo center, you can make out the image of Bambi staring at me from the left side of the skinny tree.  
Another mushroom, because we can't have too many mushrooms. 
Return to Interstate, with rear screen in place and a heavy-gauge contractor trash bag slipped over the open rear door to protect the interior door finishes from exposure.  One day I will invent a more elegant solution for door protection, but the trash bags work just fine in the meantime.   
I had dearly hoped to sleep with the rear door open, but temperatures fell into the 50's and I'm not as physically robust as I was when I began back-country camping over 30 years ago.  I left the door open most of the evening so that I could listen to the critters, but then shut it for sleep so that I could retain some heat in the vehicle.  Our model of Interstate has flap windows directly above the couches, however, such that when the couches are folded down to make the bed, one's ear is still right next to an open window, which approximates the tent-like feel that I want.  

All in all, a wonderful trip, probably my favorite thus far, due to the remoteness and solitude I was able to experience.  

Saturday, November 21, 2015


While rummaging around under the chassis of our 2007 Airstream Interstate, I noticed a leak at our LP (propane) tank - it was detectable by the noise it was making.  Hopefully with this post, I can supply some information that will save other owners time and money if (or more likely when) they find that their own tanks need replacement.

You can see the leaking areas in this short video on the left side of the connection, revealed by the bubbles (I had sprayed it with soapy water for greater visibility).

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For readers who are unable to stream the video, here is a static shot of the side of the tank opposite the leaking fitting:
Heavy corrosion was visible, including exfoliation of the metal beneath the surface coating (paint).  
We decided to replace this tank outright, given the degree of corrosion that we found.  The first thing I did was contact the manufacturer Manchester Tanks (also known as "Mantank").  The information regarding the tank model (also known as "catalog number") was still visible on the tank plate shown in the photo above.
Tap to expand for greater clarity.
As the illustration above suggests, the tank that Airstream had installed in 2007 was no longer being manufactured, although it reportedly can be special-ordered as a custom fabrication that would take 6 to 8 weeks for delivery.  I didn't even ask what that price would be, but rather I began looking for a compatible stock item.  The most important parameters for this application were tank length, diameter, and configuration of the mounting brackets.  You can see from the video above just how tight the space was beneath the chassis where this tank was installed.  A tank that was even a slightly different size or configuration simply could not be made to fit.

Manchester Tank's customer service was extremely helpful and quickly emailed me their drawings for both the original #68162 and the potential replacement #6813 that I had identified (if anyone needs those PDFs, contact me via -at- gmail).  Armed with those drawings, I was able to go to my local RV repair center and ask them whether they could detect any engineering differences that would disqualify the #6813 as a substitute.  This initial part of the process is often more expensive and time-consuming - a non-DIYer owner would take their RV into a service center and let them determine what the replacement ought to be.  But that involves an extra trip plus labor charges for an initial examination of the rig and the corresponding research on their parts.  I was motivated to minimize costs for this repair, so I did that legwork myself.

Drawings laid side by side on the service counter, nobody could see any reason why the substitution could not be made, so they ordered the tank and a few days later my service appointment was scheduled.
The installation did not go as easily as I'd hoped, for the reasons described below.  
There are a couple of things that an Interstate owner needs to keep in mind for this kind of job.  First of all, Interstates in general are very rare.  During Airstream's T1N Interstate years (2004-2007), my best estimate (based on inferences from recalls and other publicly-available information) is that the number produced may have been only in the hundreds per year.  Most RV service centers have never even seen an Interstate let alone worked on one, so institutional knowledge is nonexistent.  Second of all, the Interstate isn't built like other RVs.  As a Class B, it is so small that a lot of stuff is basically piled on top of other stuff.  In order to get at a part that needs repair, it may be necessary to start pulling the vehicle apart so that it can be accessed.  The upshot is that even simple jobs may trigger relatively high labor costs.

Such was the case with this tank replacement.  Out of necessity, Airstream apparently installed the original LP tank in a rather unconventional, reverse-logic manner.  There's a tank, a mounting bracket, and a chassis, right?  So according to common expectation or paradigm, one would expect the installer to put the bracket on the chassis and then mount the tank on the bracket.  But because the work space was so incredibly restricted, what Airstream appears to have done instead is to put the tank on the bracket, cut the bolts flush, and then weld the bolts onto the bracket.  They then lifted lock, stock, and barrel up to the chassis and secured it from inside the Interstate, through the floor.  That was effective, but it wasn't intuitive, and a lot of labor was needed just to figure out how to dismount the welded-on original tank from the chassis.
It actually does, but it wasn't immediately apparent. 
 See, my original plan for cost minimization was to simply get the service personnel to put the new #6813 tank on the bracket that had been installed for the #68162, without removing the bracket.  That was the whole point behind ensuring meticulous correspondence in the specs, and it would have resulted in a quick tank swap and lower labor charges.

Alas, that efficiency was not to be, because of the welding that had been done, and because it took the service facility extra time and effort to determine that the only way to dismount the original tank was to jack up the fresh water tank inside the Interstate, and locate the LP bracket bolts beneath it.  Who knew??  It would have taken me forever to figure this out.

So for those of you facing this same situation, those are important pointers for your repair facility.  Don't let them re-invent this expensive wheel.  My total cost was about $550 for the tank and $720 for the labor.

Here are a few shots of the new tank as installed.  
Forward end.  The orange thing at photo bottom behind the tank is the running board ("ground effects") on the starboard side of the vehicle. 
Aft end.  The only visible difference with this tank is that the emergency vent is in a lower position (copper line at bottom).  I could have done without yet another appurtenance that causes potential ground clearance issues, but it's not as low as the engine tailpipe, which is that diagonal feature in the lower right corner of the photo (that's its protective shield).  

I don't know why the original LP tank rusted out so badly and in such a short period of time.  I have the original purchase and maintenance records for this Interstate, and there was nothing in that documentation, nor was there any physical evidence, that this vehicle was subjected to unusual operating conditions.  It was reportedly bought by a newly-retired gentleman and his wife in the Midwest and kept primarily in the Midwest.  It was driven only lightly, an average of about 3,500 miles per year.

This kind of premature rust is a potentially treacherous problem for RV owners because it is so unexpected that they might not think to check for it.  I have extended family members who have house-servicing propane tanks in their back yards that have been directly exposed to the elements for decades and still show only the barest surficial corrosion, certainly nothing structural and certainly nothing that would cause leaks.  I myself own a portable BBQ tank which is spotless after a lifetime of sitting outside in full subtropical weather exposure.
I can't even remember how old this thing is, or how many years it has been sitting outside, and look at it.  It's still in perfect condition.  
Everything in my life experience up until this incident said, “Propane tanks are properly designed for outdoor use, and they last a very long time”.  For that reason, I never thought to evaluate our tank until I heard a funny noise underneath the Interstate.

I don't have an answer for this one.  All I know is that propane leaks will not improve on their own - they will only get worse, and they could do so with catastrophic consequences.  So this is something for which every RV owner should remain on the lookout.

Further discussion and commentary can be found on this Air Forums thread.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


In this March 2015 post, I described our efforts to troubleshoot an 8-year-old Dometic 2351 refrigerator.  Alas, we kept having additional problems, and so we decided to replace it outright.  I won't repeat the manufacturer's instructions here - those can be found in the manuals, which include an installation guide, an operations guide, and a parts list (PDF links).  This information is intended to provide some supplementary observations in conjunction with installation within an Airstream Interstate Class B RV, specifically the T1N Sprinter-based Interstates, which I suspect used this model of Dometic almost exclusively.
In the narrow space of a Sprinter-based Class B, you probably have to take the door off the refrigerator before you move it out of its cubby.  We removed our door and then lifted the fridge above the kitchen counter and exited via the sliding door.  
Old on the left, new on the right, rear view.  The two proved to be fully compatible, with only minor changes manifesting in the intervening 8 years of production.  For one thing, the new Dometic 2351 has a slightly bowed front.  That's important, because it means you can't use an old front door decorative panel in the new model - you have to buy a new panel.  Additionally, Dometic redesigned the control panel to be covered with a clear plastic flap which eliminates the problem of bumping the buttons and accidentally turning it off as you pass down the narrow aisle of a Class B RV.
View of the three connections that exist at the rear of the fridge:
(1) A/C plug-in cord, for when the RV is on shore power.
(2) Blue and white 12 volt DC wires, for when the fridge is running on gas (it still needs power to the computerized control panel).
(3) Copper gas feed line connector.  If you are DIYing this job, be sure you test the line re-connection with soapy water to ensure no leakage.
The rear connections all proved to be compatible across the model years - nothing was changed or repositioned.  We had no trouble hooking up the new fridge.  We did, however, have trouble finding a new front panel, and so we ended up making one ourselves (we had purchased this new fridge at a discount specifically because it was missing its panel).  The Dometic instruction manual provides precise measurements for that panel.
We cut a new panel out of steel backsplash, specifically this Lowes product called Broan 24-in x 30-in Stainless Steel Metal Kitchen Backsplash.  
I actually prefer this DIY front panel because it is magnetic (in the pics you can see a small magnet-backed level on the left side of the front face, but I also plan to add other funky magnets).  The old Dometic front panel was made of brushed aluminum glued onto a thin sheet of plywood and therefore it wasn't of much practical use.
With this new Dometic, we also installed our own thermometer, because the model 2351 doesn't come with one.  The re-designed control panel means we couldn't put it off to the side as we did with our original Dometic (installation instructions are given in this post).  We had to instead place it in the middle of the Dometic label, which gives it a kind of space-age look.  In this pic, my hand is holding up the clear plastic protective panel which wasn't installed on the original 2351. 
Ahhhhhh, 31.8 degrees with the fridge running on the "Auto" setting.  I note as well that the piezo is louder in the newer fridge, which is good because I like to listen for the ignition when I am switching over to gas operation.  With this job completed, I am one happy camper, indeed.
Old and new, visual comparison.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Apparently I'm not the only Sprinter-based Class B RV owner who reached this unexpected conclusion - sometimes it is necessary to leave the cab windows open for proper whole-vehicle ventilation - the sliding door may not be the best option.  Something about the Sprinter being long and linear probably results in this.  The Roadtreking Store sells "Skeeter Beater RV Window Screens" that fit both the T1N and the NCV3 Sprinter front windows.  As of the date of this blog post, they had an advisory on their website saying, "ATTENTION - DUE TO HIGH DEMAND, OUR SKEETER BEATERS ARE RUNNING ABOUT A WEEK OUT FOR SHIPMENT".

Particularly because their product is advertised as no-see-um proof, in ordinary circumstances I would declare it to be a good investment and I would just go with it.  For the amount of material and labor it would take to make them yourself, Roadtreking's offering price is fair and it wouldn't be worth doing them as a DIY job.  

However, I'm in the process of helping my husband with our solar system installation, which means I spend a fair amount of time standing around waiting for my name to be called.  For this reason, I need little "filler" projects to keep myself busy in between tool fetches and other assistive responses, and so I decided to try my hand at a home-made no-see-um screen.  Here is how I did it.
I templated the window using butcher paper.  
Cut out the window shape and placed it on no-see-um netting as a guide.  This piece of netting was available on Amazon
Then I cut out the window shape, leaving a wide margin.
Self-portrait, thumbs up - I found it easiest just to fit the screen to the window, pinning as I went, given that I'd never done this before.  Unlike The Roadtreking Store, I used pieces of magnetic strip (they reportedly used dot magnets).  I did that because I'd bought a roll of the stuff for another project, and I had it sitting around unused.  
And now for the proverbial money shot, post-sewing-machine...
Yes, it's actually there, in place.  If you look carefully you can see the strip magnets around the edge of the window.

Thursday, November 5, 2015


I got tired of wrestling tangled shore lines out from the dark recesses beneath our Airstream Interstate's couch, so I started storing the electrical line and the potable water hose in the rear door pockets.  There was just one problem.
Ugly ugly - very ugly (channeling Robert Munsch).  
I decided to make a solution for this using the left-over remnant fabric I'd previously bought off a discount table for our Interstate's custom dog bed.
This is an extremely simple project and should take someone with beginner sewing skills just a few hours.  I have two door pockets in our T1N Interstate, and I worked out that I needed two pieces of fabric measuring about 28 inches by 46 inches.  Oddly enough, this was to within an inch of how much I actually had.  
The project basically consists of making a simple fabric "envelope" to loosely fit each door pocket.  Here are some general instructions.
First, square up the two fabric pieces to the correct size.  I use my ceramic tile floors as square guides. 
Sew a half-inch hem all the way around each fabric piece, all folds inward to the wrong side of the fabric (if it has one... the one pictured above doesn't really).  The pic above shows only two of four seams ironed in by that stage.  
Placing right sides together, decide how deep you want the envelope flap to be.  I ended up with a 17 inch deep envelope with about a six inch flap.  Once you've made your decision, sew up the two side seams. 
It seemed to be about the right size when I fitted it to the bulky electrical cord.  Now you see it...
One word of advice:  Don't make your "envelopes" too tight for the object you wish to contain.  You can always tuck in excess fabric if they turn out to be a bit roomy, or later on you may decide to use them for a larger object, so you will have the space available if you construct them generously. But if you make them too tight to start with, they will be more of a hassle than a convenience because you won't be able to easily slide your cords or other gear in and out.
...and now you don't see it. 
I used hook and loop tape for the flap closure.  I sewed the loop side along the flap edge, and then sewed the hook side to the front face.  
Much better than seeing bare cord.  Plenty of room in there if I want to use it later for other types of items such as maybe a small blanket, rain gear, sheets, etc. 
Every blog post needs a before-and-after money shot.  
One less eyesore to worry about, at a total cost of perhaps two dollars.  The value in this little project derives from the sweat equity, obviously.