Thursday, August 17, 2017


In Part 1 of this post, I talked about a strategy to freeze food directly into solid masses of ice in order to extend the range of our Yeti cooler.
Here's the second of two, which I had referred to in Part 1 as the "straight" block.
But there's also additional insulation potential to be realized outside the cooler.  I don't have a vision for that yet, but here are a few initial pics of my stop-gap ideas.

By the way, I never proceed with elaborate plans unless there is a firm vision for the project in my head.  If the vision doesn't materialize, that's my brain trying to tell me something - that key elements have not occurred to my conscious mind just yet, and so it's better to wait for the idea to fully gestate.  I've learned through trial and error not to try to force a project when I get into this condition.
No, V are not there yet.  But V are currently making final preparations for the Long Journey.  
Having recently experimented with the insulating fabric product known as Insul-Bright (see my blog post on making a slider door window covering here), I'm wondering what could be done to fashion a jacket for the Yeti, to increase its effective R value.  In the pic above, I simply doubled over the fabric, and wrapped it around the cooler, holding it in place with pins and loops of clothing elastic.  This will do for testing purposes.

There's also the potential offered by closed-cell foam.
I had been placing these two pieces on top, but I cut one of them to form an interior pad, because the bottom of the cooler was not getting any additional insulation due to the way it sits on the hitch carrier. 
My existing tarp sleeve still fits over the Yeti with the extra insulation in place.  It looks a bit more bulky, but it does fine. 
So this is an idea for further development and refinement in the future. In the meantime, for this upcoming trip, I'm just going to try it as-is.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Those of you who follow this blog know that my husband and I moved heaven and earth to create a custom hitch carrier for our Yeti cooler (blog posts Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) so that we could carry frozen food on our extended family vacations.  In 2014, I fell in love with this idea, because it allowed me to make most of the food at home, freeze it, transport it 3,000 miles, and be thusly freed from the task of being chief cook and bottle-washer for a house full of people.  By this strategy, I could have more of a vacation myself, instead of spending a lot of my time slaving over a hot cottage stove, making meals from scratch.

However, we noticed significant performance differences between our inaugural 2014 trip with the Yeti, and the repeat performance in 2016, for two reasons.
Number one, in 2014, we took the Yeti 6,000 miles in our floggin' minivan, before we purchased our Airstream Interstate.  The Yeti was kept within the air conditioned space of the vehicle, and thus was at least 20 degrees below the worst heat of the day for the entire trip.  
Number two, our 2014 trip was characterized by much cooler weather overall compared to 2016, so there was an antagonistic impact on performance.
Not only did we shift the Yeti to the outside of the vehicle where temperatures were significantly hotter, the weather itself was hotter overall - up to 100 degrees.  Even with a closed-cell foam augmentation on the lid and this reflective tarp cover, the cooler still heated up significantly more than it had in 2014.  
It still kept the food from spoiling, but it was a pain in the ass to have to keep attending to the diminishing ice load throughout that trip.  Furthermore, once we crossed the Canadian border, ice was extremely expensive, if it could be located at all.  A replenishment that might cost us $3 in the U.S. could be $15 in New Brunswick.  

For these reasons, I decided to concoct a different scheme for our 2017 trip.  The best inventions relate back to some sort of real life precedent, and this was no exception.  We are in high summer in Houston right now, and there is no shortage of howling out of my husband because I like to keep the internal house temperature at 77 F, which is too hot for him.  And why is that temperature comfortable for me, but a burden for him?  Because my surface area to volume ratio is much larger than his.  

And so it was with the ice.  I was having excessive melt problems because cube ice has too much surface area for optimal performance during heat wave conditions.  

So how to reduce that surface area?  Rather than simply adding super-cooled ice cubes to a super-cooled load of food, for this upcoming trip, I decided to try freezing the food in solid blocks of ice.  This required that I develop both strategy and apparatus, so here's the story of how that went.
Here is our culprit, the inside of the Yeti cooler, looking down from above with toes for scale. 
Based on the configuration of our Yeti 50, I decided that the most practical, and not to mention easiest, approach would be to create two solid blocks of food-encapsulating ice, side by side.  The cooler is bilaterally symmetrical, so I could create one mold, freeze a batch of food in it, take it out, and simply freeze the second batch, flipping it 180 degrees to fit the other side.  Two pieces would be easier to handle than one massive, unwieldy block.  Plus, I'd be able to thaw one at a time, reserving half the food for later consumption.  

I started with a paper tracing of the internal shape, because the cooler sides are flared rather than being at right angles to the base, as you can see.  From that, I proceeded to craft the shape out of cardboard.
I used remnants of the cardboard shipping crate that our new Vitrifrigo refrigerator came in, so it was double-thickness cardboard - much stronger than average. 
I taped the crap out of it, for a reason that will become obvious in a second.
Around and around and around we go. 
We kinda figured that the final mold would need to be made out of thin plywood or perhaps even sheet metal, but I wanted to run tests on this cardboard prototype, so...
There it is lined with a kitchen trash bag and filled with water in our garage utility sink, which is embarrassingly filthy, obviously. 
And there's the kitchen bag tied off with the water in it, so that I can carry the thing without sloshing (which would wet the cardboard, which would then disintegrate rather catastrophically, LOL!).  After I tied the bag, I put clear tape straps across the top to keep it from bowing. 
The damned thing was heavy.
About 30 pounds.  The main risk with the cardboard prototype is that the bottom would fall out if it were not well-supported. 
I left it in the utility sink overnight to confirm that it would not bow excessively, because if it did, then the frozen block would not pack into the cooler.  

Once it passed that test, it went into our upright freezer for the next stage of this proof-of-concept.  
And of course, in this freezer, you can see a lot of the home-made meals that I intend to take with us.  We have over 150 different Pyrex storage containers because much of our diet is freezer-based (a natural off-shoot from home gardening, where the entire harvest has to be cooked and put up at once).  I would be liberating the frozen contents from the Pyrex and transferring each one to freezer-grade plastic wrap, which saves a lot of space and weight.  But you can see that, with two of these frozen blocks, I could transport a lot of that food. 
OK, now here's where it starts to get funny.
Sooo... it appears to be at least partially frozen the next morning...
...but all was not well in paradise.
Oh, sh!t - it's leaking on the floor!  LOL
Aaaaand the foreseeable demise:
Note to self:  Don't try to freeze 30-lb monolithic blocks of ice all at one time.  
Aaaand it just keeps getting better.  It started to leak before I got it out of the cardboard, thus blowing out the cardboard. 
This little experiment taught us what should have been obvious from the outset:

  1. We need to pre-chill the surrounding water before placing the works in the freezer.
  2. We need to freeze in lifts, rather than all at once.
  3. We need a mold that won't dissolve.
  4. We need some means of wrangling the solid blocks of ice once they are formed.  
  5. It also occurred to us that we had to minimize floating of the individual food packages that are submerged in the water before it turns into a block of ice. 

On that third point, my husband constructed this out of thin plywood:
Well that looks much better.
Regarding that fourth point, I decided to embed some webbing sections that I had inherited via a free grab bag of strapping scraps from the vendor Strapworks of Eugene Oregon.
Intending no disrespect, I decided to name my two blocks of ice the gay block and the straight block.  Well, don't blame me - Strapworks had sent me this nice scrap of rainbow webbing, plus some blue and some pink.  What's a person to do??  I also cataloged which foods were going in the gay and straight blocks respectively so that I'd have that record two weeks down the road when it was time to take the food back out again.  
I put the rainbow strap at the very bottom as a lifting aid (it would be frozen into the ice once the block formed), and I also began working with this device for the first time:
A low-ended Foodsaver FM-2000 system plus two 50-foot rolls of bags (large and small) for less than a hundred bucks all in.  Sometimes it's really wonderful that Amazon Prime delivers on Sundays.  
As you can deduce from the photo above and the previous shot of the freezer, we freeze in Pyrex because of the convenience, but there's no room for all that glass in the Interstate, whether it be the Yeti cooler or the internal refrigerator.  So I have to remove the food from the Pyrex and transfer it to plastic, either freezer bags (as in the past), or now this.  All it takes to pop those frozen masses out is to melt a micron-thick layer by immersing the Pyrex in some warm water.  It then frees from the glass, and this can happen next:
Vacuum power, baby!
I hastily put my first lift (layer) of food in the form's gay block, dumped in a slurry of icewater, and slammed shut the freezer door.  I did this so quickly with the intention of minimizing melt that I never got a "before" pic.  But here are the "after" pics, the money shots, after the second layer was added and frozen a day later.
Looks solid enough.  Now let's take it out.
Next note to self:  Don't remove each block from its trash bag unless absolutely necessary for fit purposes.  It's just too messy.  
Now for the fit test.
And you can see that the next block, the straight block, will fit nicely beside this gay block.  A layer of cube ice on top, and we'll be ready for the road.  
Now that I've gone to all this monolithic trouble, will this strategy actually work?  Will those 30-lb blocks extend my boondocking range?  For the answer to that, you'll need to check back.

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Those of us who boondock extensively never miss an opportunity to increase the insulation in our rig, because each incremental improvement helps, and that is surprisingly important in a Class B with its huge surface area to volume ratio.
The smaller the RV, the more difficult the climate control.  You have the rules of physics to thank for that.  Here you can see the side shroud that I sewed out of reflective metallic fabric, in a attempt to keep the van from absorbing some of the brutal incident energy that pounds us here in the Deep South during the summertime.  
I'm cautiously optimistic regarding the potential of the product known as Insul-Bright to help us reach a new level of efficiency in this regard.
The sewing community is bullish on its performance.  It is unusual to see Amazon ratings that high.  
Until quite recently, I had trouble buying this product in bulk.  It only seemed to be available in small packages, which wasn't well-suited to my practice of #vansizedsewing.  But the American textile supply franchise Joann now carries it, and with their coupon deals, it's very economical - as little as four dollars per yard.

I am getting ready to embark on the largest trip of my life, so my first Insul-Bright project was modest in scale - a replacement for our tattered cotton slider door privacy curtain.  Here's how that project went, in pictures.
I bought about 3 yards of Insul-Bright as a starter.  There's the old white slider window covering positioned on top of the Insul-Bright.  As usual, I did this project with no measurements.  I used only real-time fittings.  It's much easier and quicker that way. 
After I cut out a properly-sized Insul-Bright core, I placed it on black rip-stop nylon in order to fashion the backing for the window covering. 
Some might question my use of black in this application, but we stealth camp, and I didn't like the idea of the slider window liner being white.  I don't want anyone to be able to get a sense of what's beyond that window - it needs to be a black hole.
So there I've trimmed the rip-stop backing. 
I did a single-fold hem all the way around the Insul-Bright.  This front side is going to be "skim-coated" with finish fabric, so the single-fold seam will be covered by that. 
I then positioned and sewed on all the Velcro loop tabs that will attach to the OEM riveted hook tabs that were installed by Airstream on the slider door (with rivets, no less).  
My "skim coat" fabric choice was the same metallic stuff that I'd used for the exterior side shroud.  I had bought quite a lot of it on close-out, and had plenty left over.  Stylistically, it coordinates well with the aluminum inner skin of the Airstream Interstate.

The best way to marry these quarreling fabrics was to hem two right-angled sides of the metallic, stitch those two sides in place, smooth the whole thing out, trim, and then hem the remaining two sides.
So after the first two sides were finished, it looked like this. 
I say "quarreling" because the three fabrics used in this project are all of very different texture, weight, and character.  They did not always want to go together neatly.
It wanted to bunch, it wanted to pucker, it wanted to pile, it wanted to run.  It was a general pain in the ass.  
There's a fold-over shot so you can see the front and the back at the same time, in their finished condition. 
As I was doing this, I felt like I was sewing a high-tech winter coat for the slider.  Here's the money shot of that winter coat (which in our area, is more of a summer coat to keep heat out, rather than in):
All Velcros in place. 
And here's what it looks like folded up.  A single layer of Insul-Bright is surprisingly non-bulky.  I will have no trouble storing this.
And the odd thing is, it actually weighs less than the original privacy cover. 
Onward to the rest of my remaining little projects, because I'm coming down to the wire on my upcoming trip departure.
And what a packing job it's going to be!

Our slider window is not quite as well-insulated as this guy in the meme above, but it's definitely improved.  

Thursday, August 3, 2017


This is a follow-on to this post in which I described a propane fill line failure in a friend's 2007 Airstream Interstate Class B RV.  As is often the case with RV repairs, I've gotten conflicting information from different sources, and after I publish this post, I'll go back and amend the other to reflect what I learned in the interim.

We decided to proceed with a DIY removal of those line segments of our propane distribution system that were not copper.  Our Interstate actually contains a mixture of copper (to refrigerator, hot water heater, and furnace - lines that penetrate into the interior of the living space are reportedly required to be made of copper), braided flex (fill and overfill, and to Onan generator), and solid flex (internal distribution segment) lines.  The braided flex lines were of three different diameters and were manufactured by Parker.  The solid line includes a tag indicating that it was manufactured by Marshall Gas Controls.

Note our DISCLAIMER for this kind of DIY work.  If you screw up working on your LP system, you could kill yourself.  Don't do any work if you don't have confidence in your abilities.

These were our steps.

First, I did a total burn-down of the LP tank so that it would be completely empty ahead of this job.  I ran the generator until it coughed out of operation from running out of gas.  Then after it quit, I cranked up the stove burners and watched the flames slowly shrink and sputter out.  Then I opened the residual lines to vent any remaining wisps of gas.  This step may not be strictly required on a rig such as ours, but I don't feel comfortable working with a tank full of flammable gas.

Second, I switched off the LP solenoid.

Third, I labeled the lines to be removed.

Fourth, I took a lot of photographs of the way that everything was connected (see above).  We could probably remember what went where, but why trust memory alone when the cell phone is right there in the pocket?

Fifth, it was then necessary to dismount of the lines.  My husband did this part, as brute strength helps in the process.  Plus he has far more general "working on cars" experience than I do, so he knows what things are supposed to feel like.  If anything abnormal manifested in this process, he'd be better able to detect it.

Line dismounting was not as easy as it could have been for two reasons.  Number one, there's the chronic issue of working in very tight spaces under the Interstate.
It is immensely helpful to do a four-wheel stack of the vehicle during this process, so that sufficient clearance is obtained for working. See this post for some ideas on constructing ramps, if you don't want to buy them.  
Number two, these lines were all in place for ten years and very well married to their fittings - getting a few of them free was no easy task.
It's not a simple matter of putting a wrench on it and taking it off.
This is best done as a 2-person job for this reason:
The second person can put an additional wrench on the line and prevent it from being torqued as the first person is applying major pressure to the nut in order to free the flex segment.
For some reason, the most challenging line was the one to the generator.  That took a good 20 minutes of patient work to free.

Sixth, we isolated those fresh, shiny threads from weather and road grime by cutting the fingers from nitrile gloves and using elastic bands to hold them on all exposed nipples.
At one point I bellowed from underneath the chassis (summoning my husband who was in the garage), "BUBBA, I NEED MORE CONDOMS!" when I ran out of finger segments.  Then I thought to myself, "Aw shoot, this is a family neighborhood... I shouldn't be screaming stuff like that."  :-)
Seventh, I freed the lines from their various chassis clamps.

Lines were thusly removed.
There she is... Miss America.  Sort of.  This photo looks a bit like a work of modern art. Interblog's "Ocotillo" or something. 
Eighth, I cataloged my removed lines.
I also cleaned and zip-tied them.
I was going to take them to a Parker authorized dealer to have them replicated, but I wanted to make sure I retained the essential information because I had no other go-bys.  If something happened to these lines, if they got misplaced or whatever, then I'd be S.O.L. and somehow would need to start from scratch.  My specs were as follows (outer diameters, or ODs, measured using an calipers):

  1. Fill - Parker brand, 64.75" long, 0.78" OD
  2. Overfill - Parker brand, 61.5" long, 0.53" OD
  3. Genset - Parker brand, 78.5" long, 0.65" OD
  4. Distribution - Marshall Gas Controls brand, 49" long, 0.66" OD, catalog # 42613-48 (stamped as "Flex Tech 3/8 RHA-6 Gas Hose Max WP 350 PSI)

That last one appeared to be an off-the-shelf product, but I couldn't find that exact number on the internet and I didn't know if the "close" numbers represented the same spec.  For non-consumer items, sometimes internet listings can be vague and incomplete.

Ninth, I took those neatly-bundled lines over to the hose-maker.

Tenth, a few days later, I retrieved the new lines from said hose-maker (and paid him, of course).
This shows one end of the fill line, old (left) and new (right).  The hose-maker used his discretion on which fittings were fit for re-use, and which needed to be new ones.  Some of the older fittings were actually compression fittings, not crimped, and were re-usable.  But in those cases where there was an issue, they were not.  An example is the line to the generator.  We partially rounded off the nut due to the difficulty in freeing the line from the generator.  For that reason, a new fitting was used. 
Eleventh, I re-installed and re-clamped all the hoses.

Twelfth, I had my husband check that all lines were secure.

Thirteenth, I checked the lines again, as a few weeks had passed between the re-installation and the impending propane fill.

Fourteenth, as we were en route to the propane filling station, I recited the following:
^^ The patron saint of female camper van DIYers. 
Fifteenth, we filled the tank with propane, keeping the solenoid valve closed even after the fill was completed.
For the first time ever, a female service person filled our tank, rather than a male.  I think it was Holy Mary in disguise.  
For my future reference, this is what our nominal six gallon tank takes when bone empty.  
Sixteenth, we came home, opened up the solenoid, gave her the smell test, and tried the appliances.
We were greeted with vigorous performance.  
 Seventeenth, with it having passed the smell test, I proceeded to crawl under the chassis for a more detailed leak assessment.
For that, I needed this.  Soapy water to wet all the connections and watch for bubbles. 
Crawling under the chassis in the absence of ramps was pure Suckville, especially with the exhaust train being blistering hot as we'd just driven back from the propane station.
Nnnnope.  Nada.  No bubbles anywhere. 
I stayed under there for about 10 minutes, waiting to catch of whiff of the slightest leak of propane or maybe see a bubble form, but nothing happened.

This wasn't exactly a relaxing project, and I'm tremendously relieved to see it completed.
Well, I was kind of on a meme theme, so I figured I'd stick with it.  Whew, indeed.