Saturday, January 23, 2016


Our 2007 Airstream Interstate was born with a separate thermostat for the furnace that was almost impossible to read and very difficult to set properly, especially at 2 a.m. (by separate, I mean it was a different system than the roof air conditioner).
Even in this straight-on photograph, you can't see the little red thermometer properly.  You can barely make out a red line near the degrees F scale.  
The challenge was the the furnace temperature was set by that slider on the bottom of the device.  Move right for more heat, but only in the relative sense.  There was no way to specify a temperature so adjusting it came down to a lot of trial and error.

Enter the solution.  After some research and knowing my intolerance for over-engineered devices, my husband chose a product called "Honeywell TH1100DV1000 Pro-Digital 2-Wire Heat Only".  Here is the very simple installation sequence.
Remove the old thermostat from the wall.  There are just these two wires.  
Take the front face off the new Honeywell, connect the wires, and then screw this part to the wall.  The device operates as a circuit-completer, so it couldn't be simpler.  
Put the front face back on. 
There are just two functions because that's all there needs to be - Off/Heat switch on the right hand side, and temperature up and down buttons.  And a backlight comes on when you change the temperature so that you can see the reading in the dark without having to resort to a flashlight.  
It runs on batteries so it does not create a parasitic power draw.
Hopefully my 32 degree F camping nights of saying this to myself are now over.  With the old thermostat I did a lot of fumbling around and was alternately too hot or too cold.   

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


My teenager and I managed to squeeze in a night at Guadalupe River State Park, as we roved between college visits in Austin and San Antonio Texas.
Our next-morning destination was actually the University of Texas at San Antonio which is near the northwest corner of Loop 1604, but with Six Flags in the same vicinity, I couldn't identify a decent local RV park, so north to the state park we went.  
The good news was that we could actually land a reservation because it was January and temperatures were near freezing.  This is probably one of the most popular destinations in the Texas state park system, and they have a standing sign at the entrance stating that all campsites are pre-reserved.  The not-too-bad news is that the park was not at its most photogenic because it was January and temperatures were near freezing, but here are a few shots of its dormant beauty.
The river is lined with bald cypress, some off them appearing to be hundreds of years old. 
Like this. 
Seriously, one could sit down and have a picnic on the flared part of the trunk. 
The main family recreation area was on the depositional side of this river meander, where the gravel beach was wide.  Screengrabbed inset from the official park map (PDF link).  
This is a view of that area looking northwest.  The signs of recent flooding (Memorial Day 2015) were everywhere.  Note the tangled mass high in the tree to the left of photo center.  The river rose to 42 feet downstream at Gonzales (YouTube vid).  I'm not sure how high it got in this park, but the general debris field suggested that it rose tens of feet.  
Beauty shot.  
I experimented with a few creative sunset photos, as I now Instagram as
Variation on the nature reflection theme of land meeting the water.  Except its not land and water - it's upper and lower portions of the Interstate's rear window.  
If you look carefully to the left of the TV, you can see the ghost of childhood past.  On her iPhone, of course.  
This was our second Texas state park camp-out this year, and it's only mid-January, so I finally took the plunge on this purchase:
Now I'm cooking with gas, figuratively as well as literally.  This is like a kind of debit card with an infinite balance for one particular kind of expenditure.  
And speaking of gas, I have one closing observation for the Class B RV set.
These vehicles were not really designed to be used in freezing temperatures.  They lack the insulation, the R-value associated with larger RVs and trailers.  I have found that one of the keys to comfort is to sleep head-forward, because sleeping head-back puts the head next to the un-insulated rear doors which are quite cold and drafty, even with the furnace cranking away (which it most certainly will do at 32 F - even if set to a very low temperature ours will be on at least 50% of the time in such conditions because the shell of the vehicle loses heat so quickly... 50% furnace run time yielded an interior temp of about 49 F).  Better the feet be back there by the doors because good sleeping bags keep feet warmer than heads.

Anyway, given that every such serviced campsite is a back-in site, if they are sloped at all, they tend to be sloped forward so that rain water drains toward the right of way rather than pooling at the picnic table and fire pit area which every individual site is provided with.  Therefore the nose is often going to be lower, and if the occupants' heads are facing forward, they are going to be sleeping downhill.  This would be bad, hence my use of the red stackers you see here to raise the vehicle back up to level.  In this case I'd used a 2-high assemblage, but I really should have gone 3-high.  It looks a bit goofy, but it does help with sleeping comfort. 

Monday, January 18, 2016


There are plenty of forum threads with chatter regarding changing the oil in a T1N Sprinter, including this one, so I won't recap all of that but will rather throw up a few basic pointer photos of this easy and quick DIY job.
Why even do an oil change yourself?  Well, according to my husband who did the main research on this issue, changing the oil in a turbo-diesel is a bloody expensive proposition and you can save about a hundred bucks over what a dealer would charge.  Additionally, it gives you an opportunity to examine for yourself an aspect of your vehicle's functionality.  Remember - nobody's going to care about it as much as you do.  
My husband chose Mobil 1 Turbo Diesel truck oil 5W-40, which is not cheap - about $25 per gallon at the time of this blog post (when crude oil itself was hovering around the spectacularly low price of $30 per barrel (bbl)).  The T1N takes about 9.5 quarts, which requires a 3-gallon purchase with some being left over.
These are the required tools - plus add nitrile gloves and paper towels.  That thing in the box at photo left is the new oil filter.  Both the oil and filter were available at common big box automotive supply chain stores.  
Notice that we put our Sprinter up on stackers, and I also chocked the rear wheels and set the parking brake.  This gives a bit more clearance to work underneath.  The drain bolt is not hard to access - here you see the wrench hanging off of it.  
Eeeewww.  According to my husband, the oil in these trucks tends to incorporate a lot of soot, and turns black pretty quickly.  
Looking into the engine from above, that black round cap is where the oil filter lives.  It can be taken off with a regular strap wrench, although the spacing is tight and it's awkward.  
This is what the capped apparatus looks like when removed.  The oil filter fits over this spire.  There are three different sizes of O-rings on this thing and the replacement rings are in the package with the new filter.  After the O-rings are replaced, you have to sort of push hard to get the new filter to seat itself on this column.  Then replace in the engine and tighten.  
Adding the new oil is not difficult, although it's easier as a two-person job (most auto-related tasks are).  The first two gallon jugs are added in their entirety, but there won't be room for all of the third because the system only has a 9.5 quart capacity.  My husband put this red tick mark on the third container and then with successive small pours, we shone a flashlight through the handle to see where the residual oil level was.  
Once you add back what you think you need to have replaced, use the dipstick as a reality check.  It's a good idea to start the engine so that the oil circulates, in order to get a proper dipstick reading.  Also, according to some forum users, the T1N's apparent oil level is very sensitive to position.  We had placed the vehicle on stackers, but it was not precisely level - the nose was slightly down.  So this is not an exact science.  We kept adding little bits more oil until the dipstick was reading near the top of the marked interval of where it should be.  

Incidentally, the dipstick was tricky to read because the new oil was so clear.  We figured it would brown up as soon as we started running the engine, because of the residue of old oil still in there. But the dilution factor was quite high and it remained clear even after running for about 10 minutes, so we had to dip repeatedly to get an accurate sense of the level.
Two days and 500 miles later, it was still really hard to see a discrete line, and the oil had not browned very much.  
We seemed to remove somewhat less than 9.5 quarts; the used oil fit nicely into the two completely empty Mobil 1 containers (which had some built-in freeboard over and above the 4 quarts they each were sold with).  Used oil can be recycled at DIY collection centers.  This website contains a widget into which you can put your zip code and find public recycling locations.  If that doesn't work, call your local municipality and they will have information.
Well, one does in this context.  

Saturday, January 2, 2016


We decided to ring in the New Year as auspiciously as Airstream Interstate owners could - by overnighting at a state park and visiting a National Wildlife Refuge on the way back home from it.  Here is a photo essay of this adventure.

Goose Island State Park is known for being home to "the" Big Tree, the holotype old coastal live oak, which is believed to be well over 1,000 years old.  
The park itself is physically separate from its namesake big tree, and is not a very large state park at that.  However, one can still rack up quite a long walk exploring  it on foot.  Screengrabbed from the Map My Walk free app.  
Getting a hook-up reservation in any Texas state park on a holiday is a near-impossibility, even in the dead of winter, even in cold and wet conditions, as we were having.  This was a spur-of-the-moment trip, and by some miracle, I managed to reserve the very last available bayfront site.  However, my husband doesn't enjoy such raw exposure - he prefers privacy and shelter from the wind.  When we arrived at the park office, they were able to re-situate us in a forested area on the north side of the Lantana Loop.

Full PDF park map here.  
Beautiful in its own way, million-dollar waterfront view - but no privacy.  This is the southwest "arm" of the bayfront sites on Goose Island. 
This became our site instead.  The bayfront sites are more expensive but not only do you not get a refund when switching, TPWD charges a $5 administrative fee for the downgrade.  But that's OK.  I'd prefer to see our parks making more money and expanding to keep pace with Texas' remarkable population growth.    
Every time I visit a new park, I learn some new RVing enjoyment strategy.  There were several campers who had tarped their bayfront picnic shelters to cut the cold north wind.  This individual had also squeezed his/her trailer right up against the structure for additional shelter.  Not their first rodeo, obviously.  
What it lacks in size, Goose Island makes up for in character and history.  Part of the park was developed as a Civilian Conservation Corps project.  This kind of distinctive, timeless building with impossibly thick concrete walls is a dead giveaway of CCC activity in the distant past.  
We are still reaping those rewards 80 years later.  Screengrabbed from Google/Wiki.  
Character, history, and Texas mid-coast beauty:  "Have you ever seen that color purple before?" I asked my husband, who is a native Houstonian.  He said no, but the shades were not captured by the digital camera.  Imagine this scene with an extra dimension of purple added to it.  
Cabbage head jellyfish in clear water, near the bayfront bulkhead.  Too cold to swim on this trip, but maybe someday (when there are fewer cabbage heads, although they don't sting that badly).  
Lots and lots of oyster, of course, the mighty little building blocks of the Texas coast.  
The park's finger pier extends quite a distance out into Aransas Bay and crosses an old oyster reef.
Character, history, Texas mid-coast beauty, and BIRDS!!  Here are a few of them.
One of nature's most astonishing come-back stories - the brown pelican, extirpated west of Florida, an endangered species as of 1970, but today you can't swing a dead cat without hitting one of them.

The other species in this photo is the white pelican, a mostly-migratory species, but not in Texas.  It's rare to see two same-niche species side by side, but this may have something to do with the incredible short-term rebound of the brown pelican.  
And you could indeed hit one with a dead cat carelessly swung.  It's easy to see why they basically went extinct in Texas - they don't have the sense God gave a flea.  You can walk right up to them and they generally don't care.  Although DDT is most commonly blamed for their disappearance, I bet this behavior was a contributing factor.  
Their cousins exercise a bit more discretion.  They will keep their distance. 
The other type of waterfowl in abundance was bay ducks.  At least some of these are redhead ducks.  
And I believe that these are a goldeneye species, male and female.  
This is what ducks do best - they show the world their butts.  
This was not the shot I intended to take, but it's an interesting composition anyway.  Great egret flying by some private residences near the state park boundary.  
Inland species were also present in abundance, including the ever-present grackles.  
A female cardinal...
...and her ever-watchful husband. 
At Goose Island, we did not see the resident rock star...
...but we did see where they would be, if they'd seen fit to stop by for some fandom.  
For whooping cranes, of course, the real destination is Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, which was set aside specifically for them.
See tiny little Goose Island State Park?  It's a fraction of the size of Aransas NWR to the northeast. 
Very little of Aransas NWR is accessible to the general public, but it's worth paying the entrance fee just to get to this viewing platform, which is vaulted well above the tree canopy.  
You can see one of the older, lower platforms in the background, photo left.  As of the date of this blog post, the jury was still out on the identity of that white bird near photo center (I emailed photos of it to one of my expert birding friends).  
Looking inland from the main platform, an amazing piece of engineering.  
We may not have seen any whoopers on this trip, but oh my word - the deer!  I've never seen such an onslaught of deer!  
In twos, threes, fours, fives, they were the local entertainment committee - running down the road, running across the road - obviously these guys haven't learned to fear the barrel of a hunting rifle.  
Much like the bay ducks, they showed me their butts.  And for the first time I noticed that not all deer butts are the same.  Some have almost black tails.  Some are almost all a light tan color.  Age?  Gender?  I don't know.  Prior to this trip, I also did not know that deer squat to poop, much like dogs.  I thought their waste would simply fall gravitationally to the earth, as with cows and horses.  Fascinating new factoid for me, eh?  LOL.
We had terrible weather on the second day of this trip, as it rained ceaselessly with temperatures in the low 40's.  We left Aransas NWR to return to Houston after my knee-length, sub-zero goose down winter parka became soaked all the way through to the inside, and became so cold to the touch that it began to feel like my coffin rather than my coat.  But that's the beauty of traveling and camping in a well-appointed Class B RV - no matter how bad it gets outside, there is always that warm and secure retreat.
One of the more unusual views of our Airstream Interstate, as seen from the Aransas NWR main wildlife viewing platform.  It'll look even cooler and be even more versatile once we get those solar panels in place on that roof.