Friday, July 31, 2015


Once again, extreme heat inland has driven me to the Coast. Well, actually, I drove myself. I'm back in Newport, Oregon, for the weekend. Then I'll probably continue drifting southward until I run out of available and affordable places to camp. California can be problematic. Too many people competing for too few places by the sea.

One for the gadgetheads

A backpacking cookstove that runs a tiny generator so you can charge your USB devices in the wild. Because what's the point of eating, of continuing to live, if your phone and GoPro are dead, right?

Actually, the idea of a simple, compact, fire-to-electricity generator is pretty cool and it probably has more uses out there that are less hip and more fundamental, like powering lights or well pumps in third world countries.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Quick visit to the Columbia River Maritime Museum

A real Coast Guard boat on simulated waves

Under the sea... under the sea...

A lighthouse fresnel lens

Far corner of Oregon

Clatsop Spit juts out where the Columbia River meets the Pacific. It's as far northwest as you can go in Oregon, if you don't count troublesome East Sand Island, over on the north side of the Columbia.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Upside down

I have a regular foam mattress with a memory foam topper. It's plush. Memory foam is great in cold weather because it holds body heat. That's not so great in hot weather, like now.

So, after laundering all my bedding today, I decided to flip the mattress and put the topper on the bottom. (It has to go somewhere.) (I know. The topper police will track me down.)

It feels a bit odd not sinking into the mattress, but it still beats a spring mattress. I'll have to see whether the bed is any cooler, and whether the coolness is worth giving up some plushness. It looks like I'm just sleeping. I assure you, though, I'm doing it in the name of science and the advancement of humanity.

UPDATE: It's working out just fine.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Just missed

I discovered this today. I think the screw might have been there a few days. It didn't come inside the shoe, though. I would have discovered it a lot sooner if it had. Lucky me.

The Winchester Mystery Van

When I mentioned my idea for the latest improvement to the Rolling Steel Tent, Lou said my series of little projects reminded him of the Winchester Mystery House. "Well, yeah," I said, "but I don't have a ghost problem. That I know of. Just some ugly wires."

(For those who don't know, Sarah Winchester, widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester, believed she could put to rest the ghosts of victims of Winchester rifles by constantly adding onto her house in San Jose, California. Because, sure, that makes perfect cause-effect sense.)

Since the RST was originally a cargo van, there were no panels covering the wires in the back, as with a passenger van. No big deal, but I figured as long as I was doing other improvements, I might as well cover the wires over the back doors.

Before. Yuck.

I had spent two years staring at the wires and thinking of solutions. An obvious one would be to scrounge wrecking yards for the panel from a passenger van. But that would be a lot of time and phone calls or web searching. And probably more than I wanted to pay. So I built a cover from plywood.

That looks better

As with the curtain project, the tricky part was fitting it to the curves. It turned out better than I'd feared. I'm happy, and I assume the ghosts are, too.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Close the curtain

The Rolling Steel Tent came with a bulkhead dividing the driver from the cargo area. It didn't have a door between, so I removed most of it, leaving the part behind the driver seat and the crossbeam it anchors to.

I had originally rigged up a way to attach a curtain to the edge of the driver compartment headliner. It was okay, but it didn't slide. I had to roll or twist it up and stuff it into the gap between the crossbeam and the roof. Now I've improved it.

The first thing was to make a piece that filled the gap between the headliner and the crossbeam. The only tricky part was matching the curve of the roof. Then I attached a roller rod to it.

I had the rod temporarily in place while I was running errands. The rollers would go sh-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-ink sh-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-ink from side to side when I turned. Sometimes the sound would be a perfect match to the music.

The tedious part was sewing the rollers to the curtain. Mama had taught me how to use a needle and thread when I was little, but my stitching isn't anything to brag about.

Voila, curtains

A curtain—particularly one in a moving vehicle—needs something to hold it back. The metal and wood hold-backs they sell for home use are too bulky. And not very manly (because that's the most important thing). So I used a cabinet handle.

That should hold everything in place, even while driving with the windows open

I rarely stealth camp, so my curtain doesn't need to be light tight. It's just for privacy. No one wants to see me naked. Unfortunately.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Beggars and thieves

Today I'm at a campground near Davis Lake, Oregon. When I pulled in, the place was swarming with chipmunks. Aw, so cute, scurrying around with their tails in the air. Oh, look! They're creeping toward the open side door. Maybe one will pay a visit.

If you can't beat 'em, photograph 'em

Yup. Totally fearless. Climb right in. Snoop around for something to eat as if I weren't there. One ran under the bed, sniffing out the back way into the food cupboard. Hey! Get out of there! While I was chasing that one out, another made a frontal assault on the wastebasket.

Yelling, stomping, clapping, waving a whisk broom at them... They didn't care much. They'd dash out of reach then come right back. They were motivated. Hungry. Or maybe high on some other camper's Cool Ranch Doritos.

So I've had to close up the side door. That's a bit of a bummer. The windows are open and the vent fan is on, but it's still warm in the Rolling Steel Tent. Time for me to set up outside. Maybe I could borrow someone's dog to keep the chipmunks away.

Charlton Lake

The sign at the junction said Carlton Lake. What I didn't notice, because the sign was small, weathered and partially hidden by a bush, was the part of the sign that said it was one-quarter mile. And since I was expecting to see a bit of the lake from the road, I drove right past the trailhead to the lake. On a rough unpaved road, with some spots much worse than others.

It's just down the road, right?

I kept crawling along at about 10 mph, telling myself, "It's probably just over the next hill or around the next bend. Don't turn back just short of the goal. After all, there are still fresh tire tracks, so others have been this far. " After about an hour I threw in the towel and turned around, for another hour's worth of crawling along a crappy road.

There were other cars by the time I got back to the trailhead. "Oh." I parked, grabbed the camera and strolled into the woods, past another small, weathered sign for Charlton Lake, and another sign for the Pacific Crest Trail. A few hundred yards later, there was the lake.

There were hike-in tent sites all around the lake. It had me considering getting a tent so I could enjoy places like this.

Moon set with clouds

Shadow Bay Campground, Waldo Lake, Oregon

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My future home is here

A man can dream, can't he?

Got enough grille?

I could sublet the engine compartment

Monday, July 20, 2015

Everyone needs one

Before I set off wandering today, I saw this thing Lou had made. "A rack for your clamps, amigo?"

Here's Waldo

Waldo Lake is Oregon's second largest natural, non-alkali lake. It's at about 5,400 feet. It's also said to be the clearest lake in the US, or North America, or the world, depending on who you talk to. It sure is blue.

Motorized watercraft and float planes are prohibited.

There are campgrounds at the north and south ends. It being a Monday, it wasn't crowded. The problem for me (and other solar users) is finding a site with enough sun. Trees are beautiful, but... Of course, nothing says I have to spend all day at the campground. I could charge up at the boat ramp. Changing locations is so simple with the Rolling Steel Tent.

Sleep on it

"I have a bit of wisdom you can put in your blog," said Lou.


"Yeah. Last night I was thinking about the problem with the screen door."

Lou had decided to make a sliding screen door for his vardo. Much better than the screen curtain held in place by magnets. So, putting our two old fart heads together, we had custom engineered the rolling mechanism using available hardware, tested it, made adjustments here and there, and were satisfied with the results.

However, there were still things to be done, like finalizing the door jam, installing the floor, and painting everything.

When we did the final installation yesterday, the screen door wouldn't slide nicely. It had been built with close tolerances in order to keep flies and mosquitoes from slipping in around the edges. It had worked fine when everything was bare wood, but now paint and varnish were rubbing slightly against each other, causing the screen door to bind. It needed to be a hair farther from the wall and door jam.

The simple thing would be to move the aluminum track a little, but we couldn't because now the ceiling was in place, blocking access to screws that held the track to the wooden strip. And we couldn't remove the wooden strip because it was glued to the wall.

We considered and tried several solutions, including beating on the rollers a little. Nah. So we cursed he problem and set it aside for the night.

That brings us to this morning, when Lou said, "Yeah. Last night I was thinking about the problem with the screen door. Here's that bit of wisdom: Sometimes the obvious isn't so obvious."


"I solved the problem. Go take a look."

Ah-HA! He'd recessed the rollers into the door, thus moving the door away from the wall. As a bonus, the roller installation looked more professional.

It's a well tested and proven problem-solving phenomenon. Concentrate on a problem for a while, then put it aside. Let your subconscious wrestle with the problem while you do something else. One or more solutions will percolate to your conscious mind. You'll have a Eureka Moment (though you might not go running naked through town afterward). I employed this mental trick almost daily in my career. It actually works. And now the screen door works, too.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Hold this

I now have a place to stash frequently used odds and ends, or to temporarily toss things until I find a better place for them.

I originally thought I would have to drill holes through the bulkhead in order to attach the bin. But then I realized one screw through the bottom of the bin, into the top of the counter, would do the trick. It's not like there would be heavy things in there that would need to be anchored to steel.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Cheap countertop

I built this cabinet when I first set up the Rolling Steel Tent two years ago. I've been using the top as my general purpose work surface. It's just painted. Grime and stains soak in, the paint wears off. So I decided to cover it with something.

I went searching for a scrap of laminate or maybe some other countertop material. I found a huge roll of laminate at ReStore, but they didn't want to cut off a hunk for me. That's reasonable. Meanwhile, a new sheet at a home improvement store was almost $100. No way.

Tile, maybe? No, because all the angles on the top are slightly off square. Besides, I really really hate grout.

Melamine? Dry marker board? Mmmm, maybe, but still kind of pricey.

Then it hit me. Vinyl flooring tiles! Only 89¢ each. Easy to cut, self-adhesive, perfect. And to get fancy, I'd trim the edges with aluminum.

Since the vinyl tiles didn't go all that well with the color of the cabinet, I repainted it with an ever-so-slightly different tone. That made the former artist in me happier.

Next up: a little catch-all bin mounted to the steel bulkhead. It will also give the far edge of the countertop a finished look.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Getting in gear

As I drove through the Cascades last week I noticed the transmission lurched/clunked when shifting from third to fourth gear going up hill.

"It's not supposed to do that. And it hasn't been doing it before," I mused. Visions of impending transmission failure and disappearing funds danced in my head.

I googled the symptoms after I arrived in Redmond. The problem could be as simple as low or dirty transmission fluid. I checked the level (hot, with the engine running, as instructed) and it was fine. But the formerly pink fluid was now mostly brown. Okay, I could at least have the fluid and filter changed and see if that cured the problem.

Lou and I are staying on the property of his friend, Andy. I asked Andy if he could recommend a transmission shop. "Auto Experts," he replied. "Very high integrity. Stay away from Aamco." So I made an appointment.

I dropped off the Rolling Steel Tent bright and early this morning. When they were done, they said there were no metal particles in the pan and that the transmission was healthy and functioning properly now that it had been serviced. "That transmission model is one of the best GM ever made," the guy said. Good to know. Happy motoring for me.

I didn't need any parts, like these

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Another visit from the neighbors

First the fawn on the left came pogoing past the Rolling Steel Tent. Boing boing boing boing. That alerted me to grab my camera. Then its sibling strolled into view and checked me out.

Then along came Mom and they continued their way down the road.

That's better

The new ceiling panel is in place. All in one piece, except for a strip at the back, because the van is longer that eight feet.

It was a good thing Lou was here to help, because I'd still be struggling with the installation of that big, floppy thing.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Meanwhile, in the Rolling Steel Tent...

Lou isn't the only one doing renovations. Mine are mostly cosmetic. Among other things, I'm replacing the ceiling paneling.

It was originally installed as four pieces because I was doing it alone. Wrestling a 4x8 panel by myself would have been futile. Test fitting... measuring... cutting holes... test fitting again... adjusting holes... test fitting one more time... trying to hold it in place while screwing it in place...

Everything was fine for a while. But then the cycling temperatures and shifts in humidity warped the panels a little, making it so the joints didn't flush up to each other. It was still functional, but unattractive. Whenever I was on the bed, I'd see those warps and get more annoyed. Now that I have Lou as a second set of hands, and the use of his power tools, I'm going to replace the ceiling.

In order to access the screws on one side, I had to remove the five mailboxes I use for storage. To remove the mailboxes, I had to empty them of socks, underwear, medications and figure someplace else to put that stuff. And I needed to borrow a small socket from Lou. (I'd gotten rid of just a little too many tools when I hit the road.)

The cables from the solar panel come through two holes in the roof. I had to disconnect the cables in order to remove one of the ceiling panels. In order to disconnect the cables, I needed to cover the solar panel so it wasn't sending current. Luckily, I could cover the solar panel with the other ceiling panels. And some cardboard. And a blanket.

So here's what it looks like stripped of ceiling panels. Ah, the memories of installing the insulation in the dripping heat and humidity of South Carolina. And I'm glad to see there were no leaks or mold hiding up there.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Meanwhile, back in Redmond...

The exterior is 99% finished

And things are progressing inside

Oh, and I'm back in Redmond, too