Monday, January 30, 2017


I managed to squeeze in a couple more state parks before my first annual pass expired.
Do you reckon I got my money's worth?!
Here's a few pics of this quick near-loop around the state of Texas.
Upper falls at McKinney Falls State Park.  I'm originally from eastern Canada and I've never gotten used to the depths of Texas winters - we have all this gray-ness and brown-ness but none of the benefits of snow.  I have to consciously work at appreciating the outdoors at this time of year because frankly it's rather ugly compared to when everything is alive.  
The main McKinney visitors and interpretive center is still off-limits after being flooded more than 3 years ago.  The wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly, indeed.  A flagship park such as this one, right down the road from Texas Parks and Wildlife state headquarters, and they cannot manage to get it repaired.  
Here's a short video that explains the extent of that flood, which put about five feet of water inside that building.  URL here in case the embed does not display correctly on your device.

The area surrounding the lower falls is particularly distinctive in its geology.
The broad expanses of exposed bedrock have a moonscape quality.  
Picturesque, but not peaceful.  The roar of the lower falls was deafening at close range.  
I hiked around the entire park on this gray winter day. 
It's an urban park and unfortunately, development is encroaching.  The other side of that sign bears dire warnings that uncontrolled entry into the state park is not permitted.  
My customary back-door shot from my campsite.  Shades of gray.   
From Austin I proceeded southeast to Corpus Christi, although not by freeways.
Technological gizmos be damned.  So far, this is the best way I've found to navigate back roads without actually having a navigator.  There's too much information and too little ergonomics associated with every electronic version I've found to date.  If I simply write it out the night before, highlighting the route numbers, I can glance at it in less than a second for confirmation while I'm behind the wheel and going 70 mph.

Even with this, the electronic navigational options still bit me on the rear end at Step 7.  The e-map did not reveal that there's no clear signed connection between 359 and 1068 and as a result I got onto the nearby Park Road 25, which didn't show up on my app map, which I think originated with Tom Tom or one of those large-scale providers.  
Sometimes I wish I had a camera up there, so that I could navigate low-hanging situations without having to repeatedly get out of the vehicle to inspect.  After getting onto said un-reported Park Road 25, I had to pull over to re-orient myself.  No reading electronic maps while driving - that's even more dangerous than texting-while-driving because it requires a greater mental dedication.  So I pulled over at a birding parking lot to read my phone, and then had to carefully re-extricate myself out from under these branches.  It was a great reminder of just how fast conditions on the road can deteriorate in the absence of reliable navigational aids.  
Anyway, following that extrication, it was on to the park, which in itself was difficult to find because road signs alternately referred to it a "state park" and a "state recreational area".  Those different names can refer to different locations depending on the situation, and so it was confusing.
State parks, state natural areas, state historic sites, state recreational areas... the terms don't all mean the same things with respect to amenities such as camping.  
It was a weekday in winter, so Lake Corpus Christi State Park (not recreational area) was only about half full.  I had site #23 which had a nice unobstructed water view. 
The obligatory back-door pic. 
This is not really a hiking park - it's a water park, a lake-access park.  Hiking is really limited to two trails, the longer of which is called Catfish Point Trail, which is still quite short.
Visible at lower right.
Lo and behold, even though it's not a "hiking" park per se, I managed to come face to face with this critter which is more typically found in remote locations, if it is found at all (they are legendary for their shyness and avoidance of humans).
A mountain lion, probably young. Blurry because it was gone too quickly for me to get a clear shot.  
The moral of that story is that you never can be sure what you'll see, or where.

I hiked around the entire park and the Catfish Point trail twice, in order to get a half-decent walk out of the deal.  And I got to see a great sunset along the way.
As the sun gets lower, the non-colors of winter get more varied and bearable.  Sun in front of me. 
Sun behind me.  If that's an osprey out there, it's the blackest one I've ever seen.  Typically they are more mottled and brownish.  
Speaking of water birds, these guys were just foolish.  As they took off, you can see from their trace that they almost smacked into each other... twice.  Once in the foreground and then not having learned their lesson, they almost did it again as you can see in the background.  
Reliably, many deer came out near sunset.
They don't give a flip.  Nobody shoots them in state parks, or state recreational areas.  
This is quite possibly the most attractive picture ever taken of toilets and a trash dumpster:

I went out on the fishing pier for a more complete view of the sunset.
And it did not disappoint.  
On the way back home, I had one of those irrational mid-life crisis cravings for barbecue, which meant I had to drive all the way from Corpus to Alvin (Joe's BBQ - no website!) to meet the need.  I stopped in Bay City for a snack to tide me over, and discovered this gem of a roadside park.
It's called Le Tulle Park and it beats the hell out of pulling into a Super Walmart for a leg stretch.  
During this trip, I also got to test out our half-finished lithium battery retrofit for the first time, and the 12 volt portion worked perfectly.  I don't have any blog posts on that system yet, but here's an interim teaser (yes, I did re-install the closet floor, front, and door for the duration of this trip).
Stay tuned for the final description of that project, our biggest Interstate-related undertaking to date. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017


During the course of our lithium battery upgrade, we migrated our coach battery out from underneath our cab passenger seat in our 2007 Airstream Interstate, which finally allowed us to install a seat swivel.  I ordered ours from David at Sprinter Parts Depot (great service! immediate delivery!).  The instructions that come with the swivel unit are clear and the installation is simple, but here's a few pics anyway.
Think of this job as sorta being like inserting a piece of cheese into an existing ham sandwich.  You remove the seat from the base (six screw holes visible above) and insert the swivel device between the two.

Incidentally, that's a piece of black coroplast that I inserted over the old battery chamber at the bottom of this void space.  The seat has a side access panel (at the passenger door), and I wanted a nice flat surface on which to store items, so a rectangle of coroplast seemed like a good place to start.     
There's the piece of cheese - the swivel unit.  The release handle points toward the passenger door.
Literally this is just a matter of unscrewing the seat, inserting the unit, attaching the seat to the unit using the original screws, and attaching the unit to the base using the provided screws.

Edit:  I suppose I should be calling those things bolts. 
It's so easy you can scratch your dog while installing it.  
And here are a few money shots.
When swiveled backwards to face the rear of the van, some sort of a foot rest will be needed.  Here I'm using the six Valterra stackers that did not get added to my under-chassis storage rack. I retained these inside the van for quick, shallow stacks.  And now they do double-duty as a foot stool.  
I actually prefer the new, slightly-higher seat (about 2 inches).  I'm 5'6" and it actually puts my feet in a more comfortable position up against the cab floor incline. 
I wasn't the only one who was pleased with this new addition.
Our dog immediately figured that this was an optimal arrangement for giving canine kisses.  
Next I will devise some kind of a holder for my morning tea to go with this, because this really is a better option than sitting on the couch, especially when one's spouse is still sleeping on it, which mine tends to do.
That's me on the left, and my hubster on the right. 

Monday, January 23, 2017


Very quick blog post here just to describe how I began the roof improvements on our 2007 Airstream Interstate.  Life being generally imperfect, I was more-or-less forced into completing some caulking ahead of what I would have preferred, schedule wise.  Same thing goes for this seam repair.  Here's the thing you should remember about rust:  It doesn't progress linearly as much as it does exponentially.  Once it starts, you can't wait, so the rest of life's schedule has to be damned.
So, for example, a seam like this might look a little bit iffy and discolored for a long time, but once that rust gets a good grip, it's going to accelerate.  It gets worse at a faster rate the longer it's left unattended.  There are users on Sprinter Forum who report it quickly penetrating all the way through such that they had holes to patch.   
Once you see this bubbling thing start to happen, you do not have much time left.
After inquiring as to the optimal approach with about half a dozen differences sources, including via this Sprinter Forum thread, I decided to use POR-15 products for the first stage.  Here are the general instructions:

(1) Assemble your PPE - ear plugs, safety glasses, hat, filtering facepiece.
I despise all this stuff, but it is absolutely necessary for this job.
(2) Angle-grind your seams using a circular wire brush attachment.  Get as much of the existing paint and loose rust off the seam as possible.  I used finer bristle to start with because I thought fine bristles might get into the roof's lap weld joints better, but look what happened.
God almighty, I did not need this today.  Bristles kept breaking off, launching, and stabbing me like spears.  Because of the crazy angles involved with working around existing roof appurtenances, it's hard to keep the danged angle grinder machine guard between yourself and the rotating part, so be mindful of this possibility.  Imagine what could happen without safety glasses.  Regular nearsightedness glasses are not enough, which is why you see me using OTS (over-the-spectacles) safety glasses above.  
(3) Apply POR-15 Metal Prep spray to the ground-down seams.  The quart size comes with a spray nozzle attachment.  The instructions say to leave it set and do its work for up to 30 minutes on heavily-rusted areas.  As it turns out, most of my seams really didn't look that bad once I took the grinder to them - the rust had not penetrated that far, thankfully.
It will start to make a white froth like this when you first put it on.  That's the zinc phosphate-related chemical process in action.  I had nitrile gloves on, and I used my index finger to rub it into the seams.    
(4) After it has finished reacting, wipe off any excess and allow it to air dry.  In my case, I had very intentionally chosen one of the three whole days this entire winter where we had a dry front come through Houston (one of those other days, I had used for the caulk job).  I didn't have to wipe any excess, because it air dried in its entirety within about 20 minutes.

(5) Open up your pint of POR-15 Rust Preventive coating and do some major stirring.  You also might want to consider swapping that filtering facepiece that you used during grinding for a full VOC respirator, because this is some nasty stuff.
 If you are really smart, you'll buy yourself a blank (empty) quart paint tin at the big box hardware store, and dump your pint of POR-15 into it, because the amount of mixing it will require is best served by having a lot of freeboard in your can.  I picked the silver color and it was chock full of settled solids.  It needed major homogenization.  I had to use two sticks to mash the solids all around and break them up.  This stirring took about 15 minutes and I still didn't think it was optimal. 
(6)  Apply the POR-15 coating to the seams.  And obviously it's difficult work, getting around everything else you might have on your roof.
I had to cut the solar wires' zip ties loose from their adhesive fasteners and prop the wires up with blocks of wood so that I could paint underneath.  What a pain in the a$$.  Of course the whole while, I'm contorted into strange poses on the roof of the van, stretching myself around the Fantastic and trying not to do a face-plant in the solar panels.  Fun stuff.  
I used a disposable foam brush to apply this because that's what I saw in a POR-15 webpage showing a product application scene.  Foam works well to squish the paint down into the seams as much as possible.

I wasn't very concerned with the cosmetic appearance of the resulting paint because my intention is to re-coat the entire roof with Bus Kote, so this POR-15 initial layer is going to get covered up anyway.  That process will be described in Part 2 of this blog post.

Incidentally, when I went to my local Tasco Auto Color store today to get these two POR-15 products, the place was full of professional painters picking up supplies because it was a Monday morning.  They advised me not to even buy the preparation product.  They said, "That POR-15 paint is so good that most people who use it don't even sand down their rust, let alone treat it chemically.  They just paint right over the rust and it does fine."

But I decided to be as thorough as possible, so there you have it.
My van is looking better every day, even though my paint job was nowhere near this elaborate. 
EDIT, January 29, 2017:  The POR-15 coating container clearly instructs to add multiple coats.  When I climbed back up on my roof a day after the first coat, I noticed that it had bubbled where it contacted bare metal - the paint itself is chemically-reactive, in other words.  Therefore, multiple coats are essential or else you'll be left with "holes" where the bubbles formed.  So I added a second coat, and when the weather is once again suitable, I will climb back up and evaluate whether it needs a third.

Saturday, January 7, 2017


Our 2007 Airstream Interstate came with rather inefficient overhead cabinets, indeed.
Here is our port-side rear upper cabinet dismounted from the vehicle, looking end-on, with the pop-up hinged door removed (you can see the hinge extended near photo upper left).  This is the proverbial "triangular" cabinet for which Airstream is well-known.  That wood-toned curve you see to the right represents a rough trace of the Mercedes Sprinter interior roof shoulder, which this cabinet abuts.  The white end cap represents the trace of the OEM finished cabinet interior.  Imagine if overhead compartments on commercial airlines were made this inefficiently.  Nobody would be able to get anything larger than a woman's purse inside of them.  
We didn't set out to do this as a standalone project, but we had to remove the cabinet to re-do wiring for our lithium battery retrofit.  And given that we had it removed, we decided to proceed with a modification while the opportunity presented itself.

I initially tried to hire a professional to do this job for us, but trying to hire skilled trades is an act of futility these days because they simply don't exist.  ^^ My statement comes on the heels of This Old House's announcement that it is teaming with Mike Rowe to promote the development of the next generation of skilled American tradespeople to help bridge the shortfall which currently stands at about 6 million workers.  Talk about a match made in heaven.
Screengrab of Mike Rowe's website as of January 2017 - good things are in store.  
So, with no tradespeople available for a job like this, we jumped into yet another project as DIYers who are inexperienced in this area.  This is what we came up with in terms of a solution.
Basically we had to take that straight-backed triangular cabinet and bump out the back, being careful not to impinge upon the Sprinter shoulder or ribs in the process.  Here you see a piece of cardboard cut into a triangle and overlaying the wasted space.  You can see how we could have situated the point of that triangle a little higher, for a slightly different shape of the resulting reclaimed space.  
This process is subjective, which is why I'm not giving precise measurements here.  You can trial-and-error the shape of your cardboard bump-out template until you are satisfied with the results.  Depending on how you want to use your cabinet, you could even add two points instead of one, to create a new polygonal spine if you prefer (we saw that option as exceeding the point of diminishing returns).  Then all your subsequent measurements derive from that initial decision as to what your spine extension shape should be.
Here are the two wood products we used, which are available at Lowes hardware.  One is a half-inch furniture-grade plywood to extend the existing interior support spines.  The other is a quarter-ish-inch oak plywood, of which we needed two pieces. 
We used the cardboard template to trace the shape of the spine extensions onto the thicker plywood (same thickness as the existing spines), which we cut using our miter saw.  Then we used simple metal brackets to attach these cut extensions.  All of these supplies are available at any big box hardware store.
Existing cabinet rear spine with the new extension in place.  All it takes is a miter saw to do this.  We don't even have a table for ours.  It sits on our garage floor. 
Once we had the spine extensions attached, we then measured for the thin plywood pieces that would face the back of this cabinet.  Again, this is a measure-as-you-go project.  In our case, we don't yet own a table saw, and so we cut the rear pieces using a circular saw, a pair of saw horses, a helper (me) to stabilize the wood as it was being cut, and a lot of care.
First piece in place.

Yeah, bare feet in the DIYer workshop.  Not necessarily top-of-the-line safety, but it's hot in Houston, even in December.  

Attachment is easily done using a brad nail gun.  See how the two slabs of thin oak plywood butt together at the existing spine, each nailed into it.  
Now a few words about securing those backing pieces to the newly-extended spines.  Remember two things:

  1. This is the inside of a closed cabinet - it doesn't need to be picture-perfect because no one will see it.  There are more sophisticated ways to modify cabinetry, but it becomes a question of where do you want to invest your DIY effort?  I'm a big "80/20 Rule" proponent and this project is a fine example of that.
  2. This is the inside of a closed cabinet in a camper van that shakes severely on rough roads.  There's no sense making sophisticated joinery or finishes on the inside of a cabinet that's going to get the crap beat out of it in travel.  You'll notice in these photos that Airstream did not finish its own interior seams - it just butted the pieces up against each other and left small gaps.  This is why - because of the inevitable road vibrations.  It's not worth it to try to caulk and finish perfectly. 

With those things in mind...
Here's how we secured the "point" of the new expanded back wall - we used a series of these brackets which we bent to the correct angle.  That residue you see is Lock-Tite thread locker applied to the screws to account for the aforesaid shaking.  Prior to painting, I used isopropyl alcohol to wipe some of the excess off the wood.  
Here's how we pinned the bottom edge.  It was a simple straight bracket bent to the correct angle.  Remember, the original backing was flat and designed to be flush with this existing structural member.  But the addition is not in the same plane, so this is our workaround for that.  
The resulting configuration proved to be very sturdy - arguably, it is now built better than the original cabinet, which had only a thin melamine-coated backing.
There she is... Miss America (without her make-up, which is described below).  This is a view of the back of the cabinet showing the bracket configuration.  The cabinet is sitting on its underside, but remember, two LED swivel light fixtures hang down underneath it.  Therefore in order to set it on this side, I had to use two small polyethylene storage containers in the manner shown, so that I wouldn't accidentally crush the light fixtures.  The light fixtures are hanging in the containers, essentially. This was easier than dismounting the fixtures.  
Then it was on to the task of matching the melamine with paint (aka "the make-up").
Sherwin Williams did that for me by lifting the color formula off an existing cabinetry piece. The match was impressively close. 
If you're not a sophisticated painter, no matter - this is easily done.  Just remember to have patience and apply multiple thin coats.
Raw wood is going to suck up paint irregularly, and the first coat applied will look dreadful.  It may be worth sanding down with a fine paper between coats.   
And if you do that, make sure you tack off the dust.  This is a commercial tack cloth. 
Here's what the cabinet looked like after its second coat; I ultimately added three coats.  (I brushed the first coat for maximum penetration, but rolled the second and third coats.)
Looks seamless, doesn't it?  Unless someone were examining closely, they'd probably assume the whole thing was original.

There's our miter saw sitting on the floor at photo left, in the background.  This project doesn't require a lot of sophisticated equipment. 
Close-up.  I left the new brackets unpainted because I thought they looked cool.  Industrial chic.   
By the way, I also used the paint to seal as many raw plywood cabinet edges as I could during this process.  Airstream had left them uncoated, which is fine in a perfect world, but if there is ever a water leak that comes in contact with an uncoated plywood seam, the plywood is going to swell up and the cabinet would be ruined.  So I sealed as many cuts as I could access, just in case.
Like this.  
And now we need to see a pic of the finished cabinet re-installed!  The money shot!
Seven, seven, and seven - that's what now fits in the plastic container in the middle of this forward cabinet.  Seven socks (including very thick Smartwool), seven shorts, and seven shirts.  The idea being that there'd still be room for a stack of pants and a stack of outer shirts on either side of this container.   
Yeah, well, there you have it - I put a pic of my husband's underwear on the internet, but it's not any different from what you'd see in a Duluth Trading catalog, because that's exactly what it is.

There are various types of containers that can be placed in this cabinet now, but ever since I first chopped down a polyethylene container to make this shoe storage solution, I've been partial to adapting them to customized uses.  This is an ordinary Sterlite brand storage bin, probably from Walmart.  My husband used a Dremel tool to cut off the top portion with the flared cover-receiving lip, and we filed down the cut to make a smooth upper edge.  I like the translucent containers because you can see at a glance how many clean pieces are remaining.  This is important because nobody gets more than seven changes of socks and underwear when living in a Class B, so it's good to be visually reminded of laundry status.

Here's the other added bonus to this project:
This used to be where Airstream had installed the old DVD player and piled up a bunch of wires, but it will become the new electronics bin for our lithium battery system (the batteries themselves will be at the bottom of the closet, the outer wall of which is visible to photo right).  And this space is much easier to configure and work with now that it is expanded.  
A very satisfying and fairly easy project.  I know that the day is going to come when we decide to pull the cabinets off the other side of the van and improve them as well, but that's a lower priority until we get the lithium system finished and the roof seams repaired and the roof re-coated (more on that stuff to follow).
Not any longer.