Thursday, December 28, 2023


Back in the late 70s I read an article about a man living a minimalist life. Not off in some ashram (or van) in the wilderness, but right there in Los Angeles, surrounded by conspicuous consumers flouting their material accumulation.

Fresh out of college, I was living a minimalist life too, but not as a choice. I didn’t have much money, not much more than my clothes, some dishes and a handful of books. I was renting a furnished apartment because I didn’t own a bed or chair. I was hoping to afford a radio soon. Maybe a TV. That’s why I was working, right? To be able to buy stuff that would make life more comfortable, that would make me feel successful. 

But here was this guy wanting less. Wanting things simpler. He seemed crazy.

What stuck in my mind all these years was his bedroom. It was simply a mattress in the middle of the room. No other furnishings or decorations. Not even anything in the closet. A bed room. “It’s where I sleep. What more do I need when I’m unconscious?”

So here I am all these years later living a minimalist life. I don’t have the luxury of a dedicated bed room, though. Everything is in one space. And that’s fine. Not crazy at all.

Friday, December 22, 2023


I had sensed the humidity building — the type of humidity that made me flee the South and made me grumpy when I’d visit the Pacific Northwest. My washcloth wouldn’t dry. My hands felt clammy. I checked the forecast. Yup, rain on the way. One of this season’s El Nińo storms. It started during the night and continued through the afternoon, with occasional thunder.

Of course, I got wondering about the ground conditions in this patch of desert. It’s hard packed gritty sand/dirt. No layer of “desert pavement” stones, but firm enough that tire tracks barely show — when dry. Around noon it looked like most of the water was soaking in. How much water could this ground hold before becoming a problem? By about 2:00 there was standing water outside the van approximately an inch deep. It didn’t seem any deeper an hour later, but it looked like I was in the middle of a lake.

Then the sun came out and there was a double rainbow. And I had better light to asses my situation. Not that bad. Maybe not bad at all. 

It has been a couple of hours since the photo above and water is no longer standing around the Rolling Steel Tent. It’s only visible in the lower areas. Anyway, I don’t need to go anywhere for a few days, so I can let the area dry out more.  In my home for the holidays.

UPDATE: At 9:00 PM I went out with a flashlight and didn’t see any standing water near me.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

New tires

I got a lot of good wear and general happiness out of the Cooper Discoverer AT3 LT tires I’ve had the past few years. So, when the tread got thinner than the space between the edge of a penny and Lincoln’s hair, I went into Discount Tire and had a new set installed.

One reason I buy Cooper tires is they’re made in the United States. So, yay for jobs for American workers. And though the company was acquired by Goodyear a couple of years ago, Goodyear is the last American tire company not owned by a foreign corporation.

I buy from Discount Tire when I can because they’ve always had fair prices and I’ve never needed to have the tires rebalanced, unlike another place I used once upon a time.

These tires will do more sitting than rolling until other parts of the country warm up.

Saturday, December 9, 2023

What’s the date?

You can tell it’s not yet high season in Quartzsite not only because you can easily find a parking spot at the Tyson Wash vendor tents, and because there are available washers at the laundromat. Even if you hadn’t experienced the lack of congestion “downtown” you’d know it’s still shoulder season because cellular bandwidth isn’t clogged. Hurray for data usage!

Saturday, December 2, 2023

The stuff

I was going through my old photos files and came across a batch from when I was a homeowner. I loved that stainless steel medical cabinet from Los Angeles, the raku pots from North Carolina, the carved creature from Mexico, the photo I took of the Louvre, the octagonal mirror from Utah, the barber shop sign from Nigeria (the sliver of a face in the bottom left corner), the painting I did of the woman, the other paintings, the leather club chair… But I was ready to let those things and so much else go so I could live the life I have now. It was someone else’s turn to love my stuff.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Hello again, California

So here I am, back at my usual winter hangout in the southeast corner of California. 

Did laundry and got groceries in Yuma on my way here, so I'm all set for a while. I feel good.

Monday, November 27, 2023

So long New Mexico

Here's my home for a couple of days. National Monument land in Vekol Valley, south of I-8, about 20 miles east of Gila Bend AZ. Plenty of room, excellent cell signal, 70°F weather. I'm starting to feel normal again.

Sunday, November 26, 2023


 Perhaps the end of Thanksgiving weekend — the reverse of over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house — isn't the best time to be out on the highways. Lots of traffic. And a wreck in Tucson had us stopped for a while. Maybe an overdose of tryptophan had a driver dozing off.

Backwards world

I was loading my stuff into the van this morning when I noticed the thermometer. I'd be warmer in the refrigerator. Such is life at 6,000 feet at the end of November. In a hour or so I'll be on my way to lower, warmer elevations. With the heater on.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Oh brrrrrrrrr...

My refrigerator and the insulated box I built for it are mounted where the passenger seat once was. I needed to remove it so the mechanic could get the engine cover out of the way and reach the top transmission bolts. 

I went out this morning, a little after 9:00, to reinstall the fridge and, whoo, an icy wind out of the north made things bone-chilling cold out there. I'll procrastinate on that task until it warms up a little this afternoon. In the meantime I'll get the house in order. One of the best things about a tiny house is there's not much to clean. And, thanks to living alone, there's not much mess in the first place.

UPDATE: It clouded over and a bit water started falling from the sky at about 11:15 and there was no telling if it would get worse or how long it would last. So when there was a break in the drizzle I resigned myself to being miserable, went out and reinstalled the fridge and loaded some things I had stored in the shop. Now it's time for a run to the waste transfer station.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Third time's the charm. Maybe.

Richard and Michael (shown above reattaching a heat shield to the new transmission) finished up the job today. They test drove the van. I test drove the van. We agreed everything was good. So tomorrow I'll load the Rolling Steel Tent and clean up the house. Then Sunday I'll head out on my third attempt at returning to nomadic life.

The problem with the first replacement transmission had nothing to do with Michael and Richard. They do excellent work. It was the transmission. Expert installation can't keep junk from being junk.

As an example of how seriously these guys take their jobs, here are the notes Richard made of everything he did to swap out the bad transmission and install the replacement. Documentation, man.

There were also a couple of Post-It notes to himself reminding him where he had left off the day before and what he had to do next. Far more organized than me.

The next post will be from somewhere in Arizona — hopefully not broken down at the side of the road.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Looks like it's going to happen

The new transmission is at the mechanic's shop. I saw it with my own eyes, complete with a fancy shipping crate. I was so delighted I forgot to take a picture. The mechanic says we're on for Monday. I can only write in short declarative sentences.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Progress. I hope.

The mechanic called and said the remanufactured transmission was in El Paso and should be here by tomorrow. Yay!

However, the shop will be closed next week for some sort of preplanned reason. (Deer hunting, I suspect.) But he promises to jump right on the swap job Monday the 20th and have it done before Thanksgiving.

So, fingers and toes crossed.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

A treat for the feet

A few years back I realized I needed shoes with a wide toe box. So I got some Keen semi-sandals. Perfect. 

Then I got some Keen hiking shoes. Excellent. No blisters or callouses on the sides of my feet. In fact, there was room to spread out, which my feet gladly did. That made meant my sneakers were now too narrow, even though my wide feet had stretched them a little. So I went searching for wide toe box sneakers.

Fellow van dweller, Scott, praised Altra shoes because of their wide toe box and zero-drop heel. I bought a pair and, though the zero-drop heel took some getting used to, they’re my shoes. They feel like the moccasins I wore when I was nine years old.

Scott is into the barefoot philosophy of shoes somewhat. I’m into the protect my feet from pokey things philosophy. The Altra soles are a little too thin and flexible for me. Gravel, sharp stones, thorns, twigs and other stuff on the desert floor aren’t very comfortable. I found myself wishing the soles had a layer similar to the fibers inside tires—flexible yet able to spread the impact of pointy things over a broader area.

Then, in answer to my wishes, I discovered Altra made some inserts they called Stoneguards. They aren’t made of Kevlar, titanium or other high tech substance, but I assumed they had done some testing and determined they helped. And they were only twenty bucks. Worth a try.

The Stoneguards arrived today. I trimmed them to size and tried a side-by-side comparison. I walked around with only one of them inserted and… Yeah, I felt a difference. Was it only because there was an additional thin layer of rubbery stuff between my feet and the gravel? I don’t know. But they help.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Oooooooooo, sparkles!

The company that warrants the replacement transmission that went bad wanted the mechanic to check some things about the device’s condition. So I limped the van to the shop this morning.

The mechanic checked the level and color of the automatic transmission fluid, wiped the dipstick on a paper towel, looked at it for a couple of seconds, then showed it to me. There were metal particles in the residue. Quite a few for just that bit of fluid on the end of the dipstick.

 “Well that’s not good,” said I. 

He concurred.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

The philosophy of trousers

A couple of months ago I got a pair of pants I love. Sort of a cross between cargo pants and hiking pants. They fit great and I like the fabric, which is lighter weight than denim, has a bit of stretch, and has a subtle ripstop weave. They’re made by Wrangler. 

I wanted to get another pair, but the store didn’t stock them anymore. So I found them on the Wrangler site where I was offered a selection of colors. Ah, colors. Ah, choices. 

There had been only one color when bought the first pair—sort of a darker khaki that shifts depending on what color it’s mated with. When I wear a white shirt the pants look to be neutral brown that leans just a hair toward yellow. When I wear a tan shirt the brown drifts slightly toward olive. A red shirt makes them look gray. All of which is fine, just curious.

The color samples on the Wrangler site didn’t match the pants I have. Other than black, charcoal and navy (default man colors) there were three tones in the khaki-to-olive drab range, with two so similar I wondered why they bothered making one of them.

Now, I know from my decades as an art director that accurate color reproduction is tricky, especially when viewed on a monitor, which tends to skew things slightly toward blue. And everyone’s monitor is adjusted differently. (The color on the right is labeled "olive drab" but might look gray on your device.) I also know that fabric color can drift from one dye lot to the next, or that fashion companies fiddle with colors for their own reasons. So I was ready to accept that the pants I own match one or neither of the khaki colors on the screen.

But do I want the same color? Do I want something familiar and satisfying, or do I want variety? That gets into the realm of Big Life Questions. What type of person am I? What type of person do I aspire to be? Is sameness comforting or boring? Is change interesting or risky?

I chose variety and clicked the dark olive option. I will laugh if that turns out to be a perfect match of the pants I have.

UPDATE: The new pants arrived. They’re the dark ones. The original ones are light.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Well, that didn’t last long

I was going up a long steep mountain grade leading from New Mexico to Arizona when the newly installed low mileage transmission started acting up. Or not acting. Third gear was slipping and sometimes not wanting to stay in gear. 


I had made a choice: go with the salvaged transmission that was available, or wait who knows how much longer for a remanufactured version. The salvaged transmission came out of a wrecked van with a third of the mileage of the Rolling Steel Tent, so I figured it should serve for a couple of hundred miles more. Right. And I was very tired of waiting.

I limped to the summit and a cell signal. I called the mechanic and broke the news. We talked options, including reinstalling my old not-as-broken transmission. He called back five minutes later saying he had talked to the transmission supplier and gotten him on the hunt for a remanufactured or new one. The warranty would cover the replacement. I’d just need to pay any extra price difference. Okay.

Now the trick was to get 170 miles back to the shop without a reliable third gear. I chose a longer, slower, twistier route because it was flatter and mostly downhill.

And I made it.

Meanwhile, the power had been shut off at Lou’s place, so staying there would mean boondocking rather than having the comforts of home. I could’ve handled that. But my trusty neighbors Pat and Marjean invited me to park at their place where I could plug into their RV hookup, use their bathroom, and wash my clothes while I wait. And wait. And wait for the next transmission.

It could be worse. I’m not totally stranded in the middle of nowhere, starving and penniless. This is just disappointing, inconvenient and patience-trying. As they say, it’s another story to tell.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Starting over

I didn’t go very far today. It was late morning by the time I took care of the last few things at the house. 

I’m still in New Mexico near Cosmic Campground — a place dedicated to stargazing. I don’t have a telescope, so I’ll have to be contented to watch the sky with my bare eyes.

Meanwhile, I need to get back into the van life groove. How do I cook dinner? Oh, yeah.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Reunited at last!

The replacement transmission is in and working as it should. The Rolling Steel Tent and I are partners again. Now it’s time to load up and get back to my real life—for real this time. 

Goodbye old transmission

It has been ten months since Lou passed, and about twenty months that I’ve been here. That’s not very nomadic. I hope I haven’t forgotten how to do this.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Almost every morning

Yesterday there were nine deer grazing in that spot. Then they drank from the water buckets I leave out for them. They’re pretty good neighbors.

The transmission saga is about to end. Fingers crossed.

After several false starts because of backed up work at the repair shop (trouble getting parts, illness, etc.) it’s finally time to swap out the transmission. At least the van is there. Ricky promised it for Friday. If that happens, then I’m out of here and back on the open road by Monday. Please.

Here’s the beast, wrapped for our protection.

Friday, September 22, 2023

The call finally came

What is slower than the slow boat to China? The slow truck from Louisiana carrying my transmission. 

When the mechanic checked on its status Tuesday it was determined the truck was in Albuquerque. Why had it taken I-40 instead of I-10? Oh, mine wasn’t the only load on the truck. Okay.

It was still in Albuquerque on Wednesday morning, but in the afternoon it was shown to be “on the move.” So by end of day? Or Thursday morning? It’s only a 4-hour drive. But no show on Thursday.

But the transmission arrived today. It had been held in Albuquerque awaiting a southbound truck. If I had known that I might have gone to Albuquerque myself to get it. Oh well.

The mechanic — Rick Marquez at Twisted Wrenches — will see how his other jobs go today and determine on Monday when he can fit me in. I’m predicting Wednesday. I’m going to need another fifty-pound bag of patience.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Transmission update

I grew up in a time when the slang for transmission was tranny or trans. Using those terms now could cause confusion or offense. So, when I want to avoid typing a 12-letter word, I use gear box instead.

Whatever I might call it, the proper one has been located — in Louisiana — and paid for. It will arrive next week after the seemingly endless slog across the widest part of Texas.

Thursday, August 31, 2023


A rear view camera doesn’t do much good if I ignore it.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Changes to the changes

You know what? I’m going to stop making any kind of plans beyond what I’ll have for dinner.

The latest monkey wrench is a state of emergency in British Columbia because of forest fires. Lou’s friend George, who lives on Vancouver Island, says it’s best to stay away. Besides, his sailboat, from which we had planned to return Lou’s ashes to the sea, is in dry dock awaiting structural repairs. So that’s postponed until… sometime.

Friday, August 18, 2023

First the good news

The new engine is running fine. And between the new engine, the new water pump, and the new radiator, the running temperature stays in the normal range even while driving in 110+° desert heat with the air conditioning on. And the gas mileage is about six percent higher. I imagine it will be slightly better when I can drive with the AC off. Yay!

The not-good news is that some of the issues I had attributed to the old engine are actually the transmission. This became apparent while crossing Arizona. I had considered changing the transmission when I was replacing the engine, but the cost for both seemed so huge. I had the money but imagined the transmission was in better shape and would last longer. Besides, breaking the cost into two chunks feels less painful.

So there I was in Yuma, considering my options. Do I try to find an honest and competent mechanic there, then spend money on lodging while waiting for the new transmission to arrive and for the mechanic to work it into his schedule? Or do I turn around and go back to Lou’s place where I’ll have free lodging and neighborly assistance while the work is being done?

So I’m back at the ranch.

Met with a new mechanic this morning and got an estimate. Even for a factory-fresh transmission the price was a couple of thousand less than what I had been quoted by the previous outfit. And, unlike the previous outfit, he’s willing to go with a remanufactured or a salvaged transmission if I want to go that way. He’ll call me with those prices later today. Since remanufactured transmissions are warrantied, I’ll probably choose that if the price is significantly better. So now I wait. And relax.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Parting shot

Today I loaded my stuff in the van, took two loads of trash to the transfer station, cleaned the bathroom and kitchen, vacuumed, dusted, took the last of the housewares to the 96-year-old perpetual yard sale lady, flipped all the circuit breakers for the house, shop, well and RV hookups, and delivered the keys to my wonderful neighbors, Pat and Margene, so they can give them to the real estate agent who is away for a few weeks. 

Then I drove away.

It felt a little bit weird. It was over. I wasn't running an errand. I wasn't taking a vacation. I was leaving. I might never come back. I didn't have this feeling when I waved farewell to my own house ten years ago.

It felt a little bit wrong. It felt like I was cutting myself off from Lou and his memory, abandoning him. I'm not the caretaker of his hard work anymore.

But now I'm the caretaker of his ashes. I'm delivering them to Lou's sailing buddy, George, who lives on Vancouver Island. We'll deposit Lou in the ocean, as per his request.

After that? I guess I go searching for a new best friend.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Well, that's taken care of

I gave Lou’s truck and mini camper to a woman in El Paso. Her son and fiancee picked it up for her since she was feeling ill today.

You never know about deals made on the Internet, but the woman said she had been following Cheap RV Living and that she had been hoping to get something like this and get out of her apartment. All communications with her, her son and fiancee seemed genuine and above board. So were they just excellent actors? They were very nice and extremely grateful in person. Anyway, it's one more thing crossed off my list and putting me closer to being back on the road.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Ghost in the machine

Well, the Rolling Steel Tent’s engine got replaced and all that, but on the way home to the rancho the check engine light came on. I made a U-turn back to the shop where the scanner determined the problem was a faulty knock sensor. They ordered the part and I returned a few days later to have it installed — all covered by the warranty on the engine replacement.

A day later the check engine light came on again. Return to shop… it’s the knock sensor again… order another replacement… have it replaced a few days later.

Repeat the above once again, only this time they got a genuine GM part.

And the check engine light came on again.

Back to the shop. This time they figured it had to be a bad connector, because three knock sensors in a row is beyond all likelihood. 

Complicating the process a little is the fact the refrigerator, which is mounted where the passenger seat once was, needs to be disconnected and removed in order to have room to remove the engine cover and space for the mechanic to work. And I had reinstalled it the previous day, thinking our problem was finally fixed. It’s not a hard job, just a little tedious, requiring three wrench sizes and two screwdrivers. So I undid my work.

I retrieved the Rolling Steel Tent and its new connector yesterday afternoon and reinstalled the fridge.

This morning the check engine light came on again. “There must be a bad wire somewhere. We’ll have to chase it down. Can you come in Thursday?”

So the fridge will need to come out again. And go back in again.

Yesterday I had figured I could wrap up things with Lou’s property and return to my life on the road by the end of the week. I’ll have to see how this ordeal with the van wiring works out.

To be fair, I don’t blame the repair shop for this. They’ve been sympathetic and professional about the whole thing. However, if it turns out the mechanic dinged a wire during the engine swap, then I’ll grumble a little.

I just want to go.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Another electrical mystery

GM vehicles have a feature called Retained Accessory Power (RAP) that allows certain electrical accessories, such as the radio, to stay on for a short period of time after the engine is turned off. This is done to prevent the accessories from turning off suddenly, which could cause data loss or other problems.

The RAP feature is typically set to stay on for about 10 minutes after the engine is turned off. However, in some cases, the radio may stay on for longer, even after the doors have been opened. This can be caused by a number of factors, including:

• A problem with the RAP switch. The RAP switch is a small switch that is located in the driver's door. It tells the car's computer when the door is open or closed. If the RAP switch is faulty, it may not tell the computer that the door is open, which will keep the radio on.

• A problem with the body control module (BCM). The BCM is the computer that controls the electrical systems in the car. If the BCM is faulty, it may not be able to turn off the radio properly.

• A software problem. The software that controls the RAP feature may have a bug that causes the radio to stay on.

This is a weird setup to me. I believe that when you turn off the key all electrical things should shut down. If you want them on when the engine is off, then turn the key to the accessory position. That’s what it’s there for. But I’ve adapted to GM’s way of doing things.

Then, after getting the van back from the engine transplant, the radio no longer turned off when I opened the door. I had to turn it off myself. Hmmm, okay, so the RAP switch? The BCM? Something reassembled incorrectly? Sigh. So I adapted to that new reality.

Today, out of the blue, with no intervention from me or anyone else, it reverted to the GM standard way of doing things. Go figure.


Saturday, July 22, 2023

Darn otoliths

A few years ago I started having occasional brief episodes of vertigo. They usually happened when I was in bed. I’d turn my head from one side to the other and my world would start spinning. Woah, I’m on the Tilt-A-Whirl!

The vertigo would last only a few seconds, so after a few of these incidents I settled into just letting them run their course. After all, I was already lying down and safe. Sometimes it would happen when I sat up to get out of bed. I would just flop back down and wait.

My type of vertigo is caused by tiny crystals called otoliths in my inner ear wandering into one of the fluid-filled position-detecting tubes that help us maintain balance. 

I learned all that this morning after googling information on vertigo, because an attack that had started as soon as went to bed last night was still going on. Besides finding out the cause, I also learned there’s a series of “exercises” sufferers can do to get the rogue otoliths back where they belong. They involve hanging your head off the end of the bed and holding your head in various positions. It helped, but I’m still not 100 percent. At least I’m not stumbling around and crashing into things.

Friday, July 14, 2023

I’m not all amped up

I’ve been on hold with customer support for too long, so maybe one of my solar-savvy readers can tell me why my two 200W panels are putting out plenty of volts but no amps.


After emailing, live chatting, manual rereading, forum browsing, some fiddling and a lot of hokey-pokey I got my solar contraption working. For now, but I don't know for how long. Ergh, electricity.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Solved that problem

Kitchen cabinets were intended to live sedentary lives, not to ride around in the back of a van. So drawers and doors have a tendency to open up and spill their contents when I’m trying to beat a left turn light.

My former cabinet had a functionally simple but aesthetically unappealing mechanism: cup hooks I would turn to grab the edge of the doors. I wanted something for my new cabinet that was nicer yet just as easy to use.

The soft closing feature of my Ikea cabinet isn’t good for keeping things closed. And I knew from past testing that magnetic latches weren’t enough against the force of several sliding cans of creamy tomato basil soup. I considered all the latches and hasps in several hardware stores. I dug through specialty catalogs online, but… nah.

Then I remembered a trick my nomadic friend Karin showed me. She uses bungee cords looped between the knobs on her cabinet doors. I don’t have facing doors, but I could approach it a different way. 

Voila! Now I just need to get more bungee cord for the drawers. 

I know the drawer police will be after me for not locating the knobs in the center of the drawers, but that’s the type of outlaw I am.

UPDATE: Got enough bungee stuff to do the drawers.

Monday, July 10, 2023

And in this corner...

 Cargo vans don’t have nice moldings covering all the wiring like passenger vans do. So the back corners of the Rolling Steel Tent are a bit of a mess. Not only are there the standard wires for taillights and such, there’s also what I’ve added: back up camera, antenna cable, cellular booster, overhead light… 

Finally, after ten years of trying to ignore all that, I made a simple panel to cover it. Ah, that’s better. Hmmm, maybe I should paint the back of that cabinet.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Going fancier

The original cabinet I built from scratch ten years ago functioned just fine, but there were some funky bits and some obvious flaws. I tried to fix those things as part of my upgrade, but I ended up making things worse. Sigh.

So rather than build a replacement, I explored pre-made cabinets, hoping to find something that would fit in the former cabinet’s space. And, surprise, Ikea had what I needed. I’d have to modify it to clear the fuel filler bump, but that would have been the case with any cabinet. (What, kitchens don’t have weird sticking out thingies?)

I had to pick up the kit at Ikea’s Albuquerque warehouse. There were seven or eight packages, which made carrying them much easier. 

The world is filled with jokes about assembling Ikea stuff. I’ve never had problems before. The trick this time was doing a large, awkward assembly single handed. 

The drawers were easy. Screw a couple of tabs to the drawer face, then snap the rest together. And the door hinges clicked into place. No problem. (I thought.)

In order to measure the cutout for the fuel filler, I had to partially assemble the 24 x 24 x 30 box, then get it into and out of the van without damaging it. It’s cumbersome, heavy and slippery.

In the meantime, we had the estate sale, selling off all of Lou’s tools. No more saws. But our neighbor friend Pat has an even better shop and she let me use it. I notched the base, back and side then built a box to close it in. Although Pat’s power tools are top notch, she doesn’t have many clamps. So I had to wait for one joint to dry before I could do the next. But it worked out.

Then the van was in the shop for the new engine and I couldn’t do measurements and test fits.

The top for the cabinet is separate and I decided I wanted to use butcher block. Lowe’s in Las Cruces had them in four-foot lengths an inch-and-a half thick—and about 5,000 pounds. 

“Hey Pat, Lowe’s wouldn’t cut the butcher block to size. They said it was too thick. Any chance your table saw can handle this slab?”

“I don’t know. Let’s try.” It worked and now Pat has the unneeded chunk of butcher block.

Then I had to decide how to finish the wood. If I wanted to use the butcher block for actual butchering I treat it with the proper waxy oil stuff. But I just need water resistance, so I went with some tinted polyurethane—after a lot of sanding.

The original plywood cabinet was made with plywood on a poplar frame. But melamine-covered medium density fiberboard is more brittle, and there was a chance the vibrations of driving—particularly on dirt roads—would cause damage. So in addition to Ikea’s fasteners, I glued the panels together, used more screws, ran a bead of super glue along all the seams, and added glued and screwed poplar reinforcements to the joints. It’s very rigid now.

Also, the original cabinet had been secured by a bolt through the van floor plus a couple more bolts attaching it to the end or the bed. But this time (partly because there was no one handy to hold one end of the bolt while I crawled under the van to tighten it) I attached it to the bulkhead.

Once the box was in place I could mount the butcher block and install the drawers and door. No problem with the butcher block. Just some marking of holes and drilling them, then using some lag bolts to secure it to Ikea’s brackets. But, oops, there was a problem with the drawers. There was a large gap between the drawer face and the butcher block. I thought I had screwed the slides into the wrong holes, so I unscrewed them and moved them up. But then the drawer was too high. I finally realized I had installed the faces upside down. So I returned the slides to their original position and… How the hell do I get the faces off the drawers? They snapped in, but how do I unsnap it? After about an hour of poking around in various holes (worried that I’d need to buy two more drawers) I finally found the secret combination! Whew!

So now it’s all done, except I need to mount the knobs, adjust the drawer and door gaps, and notch the shelves to clear my custom corner bracing. One more trip to Pat’s shop. Good thing it’s only a half mile away.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

More power

My ten year old solar setup worked fine. I just had to be judicious with electrical usage during the darker days of winter. After a lot of debate with myself, and after acquiring some extra cash, I decided to make the leap from lead acid batteries to lithium. And I would boost both my collection and storage capacities while I was at it.

With deep cycle lead acid batteries you should use only half of its capacity each discharge cycle. Otherwise you damage the battery. So a 100Ah battery is actually good for only about 50Ah. Meanwhile, you can access nearly all of a lithium battery’s power each cycle, meaning a 100Ah lithium battery has almost twice the available power as a 100Ah lead acid battery.

I had two 104Ah lead acid batteries — 208Ah total. I could have replaced them with one 100Ah lithium battery, but that would still leave me with borderline power in winter. I decided to get 200Ah lithium — twice the power. And I chose to get one 200Ah battery instead of two 100Ah ones. It was a couple of bucks cheaper and easier to wire and locate in the van.

One drawback of lithium batteries is they don’t like to be charged in cold weather. Some people keep their batteries in sufficiently heated spaces. Some use the batteries’ power to run a heater or heat pad. But now there are self-heating lithium batteries. That’s what I got.

Having twice the battery capacity meant I needed to increase my solar output. I had a single 270W panel that took up most of the available roof space. But after considerable searching and measuring I found a pair of 200W panels that actually take up slightly less room.

Lithium batteries require a different charging profile than lead acid batteries. I could have found some solar tech guy who could reprogram my existing charge controller that didn't have a setting for lithium batteries, but it would be cheaper and easier to just get a new one. It would also be smaller. So that’s what I did.

Solar experts would probably blanch at the way my original system was wired, but hey, it worked. No shorts, no destroyed components, no fires. But I figured I could do it better this time. So I watched a lot of videos, read a lot of articles, and found a wiring diagram that matched my needs. The new system is more complex, with fuses, breakers, bus bars and such, but it’s actually less of a rat’s nest than what I had.

So, wheeeee! A new solar setup to go along with the new engine. I’m set for another ten year — assuming I last that long.