Thursday, October 15, 2015

First Trip with the Trailer... Part One, the Trip North

This three part series of posts over these three days will cover the last few minor things we did to the trailer, and our trip to Northern Indiana for two and a half weeks (in Part One), the things we did to the trailer and van while there (in Part Two), and our trip back to Arkansas again (in Part Three). If you have not kept up to this point, I encourage you to read from the last post you read, or the "New Beginnings" post, if you are totally new here. And to be sure to keep up, please use the subscribe form in the right margin. I assure you, all you will get is new post advertising! For convenience, we will break this post into sub-headings, so you can skip to what interests you.

The TV antenna.

Besides the things already mentioned in previous posts (and a few more to come in the near future), we also found a Lava brand antenna at a great price. These antennas are supposed to be rated at 150 miles radius (signal coverage), whereas most smaller RV antennas are only rated for about 60 miles.

Our new Lava brand antenna.
This antenna will be great when out boondocking, so we can pull in free digital broadcast TV stations. Unfortunately, it is not made for permanent mounting, except on a fixed in place dwelling, due to the delicate elements that would get torn to shreds with highway wind currents. We will have to figure out a way to store it in our already crowded van, and then set it up whenever we use it.

This antenna comes with a remote control box for indoor use, and the remote control allows for rotating the antenna to the direction of the strongest signal. The antenna is designed for mounting on 3/4-inch to 1-inch pipe or conduit with a built-in clamp on the base of the unit. From there, you can simply wire-tie the coax lead to the pipe.

In our case, I happened to have some 3/4-inch EMT (electrical conduit) in stock, so I cut it in two pieces to more easily store in either of our vehicles. When set up, it will be a little over 10 feet high, and well above the roof and solar panels on the trailer. I used a steel rain tight compression coupling to join the two pieces together, and a regular connector at the bottom to attach it to an old pipe flange that I happened to have. The pipe flange should keep the mast from sinking into soft ground.

Our antenna mast and base plate.
The cam bar latch on the trailer door makes a very convenient place to attach the antenna mast when parked. A couple of Velcro straps are all it takes to hold it in position.

For entering the trailer, I installed a weatherproof antenna jack next to the mast location, which also is right behind the first cabinet... the location of all the TV controls and players.

Our external antenna jack.
This external jack can also be used for in-park cable TV, or a satellite dish, if we ever decide to go that route. And as I said, it comes through the wall right behind our "entertainment" section in the first overhead cabinet.

Our entertainment cabinet.
In the photo above, the little gray box on the top is the antenna control box. The only thing not shown here is a RF modulator box which was mistakenly taken to storage, that automatically switches between the incoming signal sources, depending on which one you are using. The larger box directly under the antenna control box is a digital signal converter, which will eventually be eliminated when we update our TV. Our little 15-inch LCD TV was manufactured and purchased just before everything went digital, so it is still analog. Below that is a DVD player, and under that is a VCR. Yes, we still have one, until we get all of our current old VHS tapes converted to digital format. Then this device will also go.

Great picture, but only four PBS stations!
As far as reception, when I tested everything out to make sure all the components worked, I was able to search out four signals...all of them PBS affiliates! What's with that? Why am I not picking up the ABC affiliate in Jonesboro, only 65 miles away? And yes, I DID rotate the antenna to the strongest signal and verified it visually from outside. Granted, what I did get was crystal clear, but public TV was not what I was hoping for! Again, maybe it's because of this goofy location we're in here. We never could get ABC before, even when it was analog, so it's no surprise, I can see that some "real world" testing is needed!

Eventually, we will probably acquire a roof-mounted antenna of some kind, that can be used anywhere without having to set anything up, or, we could go with a satellite antenna. But first, we want to see how much this type of entertainment remains a part of our lives after we get away from our "sticks and bricks" situation, and become more socially oriented again. Even now, we have been home for over a week and have been too busy to watch anything.

Our trip north.

We realized by the time we stopped for lunch in Corning, Arkansas, that our van was seriously low to the ground at the hitch. The hitch for this van actually has a crossbar underneath the regular bumper to begin with, and then the receiver part is attached below that, so it already starts off at a serious height disadvantage. As you can see I also have the receiver plug-in turned upwards, to gain what height I can. They actually come in different offsets, and I could get one that raised the tongue higher, but it's the van that is the real issue. It, also, needs to be raised.

Then, combined with the modest load we had in the van, and then the weight of the trailer tongue on it, the bottom of the hitch was only about four inches off the pavement! Our safety chains were dragging the entire trip north!

Dragging the safety chains at Corning, AR.
When we stopped at Corning, I also noticed the left rear tire was low. I already knew we had a slow leak in it, and I had forgotten to check it before we left. Fortunately, I had purchased a new Stanley PowerIt 1000a (1000 cranking amps) jump pack before we left (more about that in a future post), and part of the reason was because it not only had an on-board air compressor built into it, but a 500-watt inverter as well. No need to even plug it into the van... just get it out, hook the hose to the tire and hit the compressor switch. In about 5 minutes, the tire was up to proper pressure, and I checked the other rear tire as well. That was all we could do at the time to gain any height, but it didn't help much.

Since we had left home later than planned, around 10:50 AM, we didn't take the scenic route we had planned, but headed straight up I-57 to I-70 toward Terre Haute. Our first stop was to try to get to the home of one of our blog readers at Marshall, Illinois, as he had purchased our 40-inch TV. He had also previously sold us our solar panel setup. Unfortunately, it was not only dark when we got near his place, but it had rained that day, and his yard was too soft. So he met us at Walmart, and that was where we spent the first night out, and our first night EVER in a Walmart parking lot.

Our first night EVER in a Walmart parking lot. Many more to come, we're sure!
Other than being slightly out of level (toward the foot end of both bunks, fortunately) we were fine with that, although we had hoped for some electric to run our heater that night. It got down into the 40's, but wasn't really all that bad inside the trailer the next morning. As far as noise, we didn't even notice it. The trailer is insulated as well as we could, and without windows in it (yet), we didn't even hear any traffic. Even the truck parked across the aisle from us had his refrigeration unit going all night, and we didn't even notice it.

Our blog reader met us the next morning at McDonald's, less than a block away for breakfast, and then we followed him out to his place to deliver the TV. Around 10:00 AM we headed toward Terre Haute, and then up Hwy 41. 

Before we got to Kentland, our lunch stop, we noticed the spare tire cover billowing out in the middle from the wind pressure behind it. We stopped and tightened it up once. But before we could get to Kentland, the back of it had come off the spare tire and it was blowing in the wind. I HAD to stop and take it off completely that time, but the damage to it had already been done.

Our wind-shredded spare tire cover.
We left the tire cover off for the rest of our time on the road, put it back on while parked in Indiana, but removed it again before beginning the trip home. For now, this will at least help for most sun protection, but eventually we want to see about getting a cover with a solid center, and a metal band to go around the tire like some RVs use. But that purchase is on the back burner for now.

From Kentland, we continued north to SR 10, and followed it east until we got to SR 49. This road takes us straight north into the east side of Valparaiso, IN ("Valpo" to the people who know it) and less than a quarter mile from our destination. It also gets us off and away from the higher speeds of the interstate, and allows us to see some of rural Indiana on very nice roads.

The rest of the story.

On the last morning before we left Arkansas, we were frantically trying to finish up last minute packing, and then get the trailer connected to the van. I had a local repair shop install the hitch on the van, and (supposedly) install the new 7-pin trailer receptacle in place of the old 4-pin connector. I had already purchased everything they needed, with the intention they USE it! When we went to pick up the van, I looked it over and couldn't find the isolator relay I had bought to go in the charging circuit to the trailer. Upon questioning them, they had omitted it! It was still in the box of parts in the back of the van!

I tried my best not to come "unglued" on them... "telling" them that you NEVER, EVER install a circuit to a secondary battery system without installing an isolator... because... without it... any power you use from the secondary battery will also get sucked out of the engine battery... and could leave you stranded without being able to start the vehicle! Neither do you want to use a deep cycle battery on a regular basis, for starting the engine... which is what would happen without the isolator! And don't even get me started about using a much lighter wire between the two batteries, which could overheat and cause a fire!


Well, at least they DID install the 30-amp circuit breaker in the secondary line. Small favors.

Being late in the day, they didn't have time to install the isolator anymore, so I had to bring it back the next morning. When I picked it up that time, they had installed the isolator, but switched from using the wire color I had bought, to the opposite color! Why? I don't know! That wasn't even the problem!

But still, everything seemed to work, so we took the van back home. It was only when we went to try the tail lights and turn signals on the trailer, did we discover another one of their blunders! We couldn't get the left turn signal to work, nor the brake lights on the trailer. Again, more time wasted in me having to track down the reason why. I verified that the wires all went to the proper terminals on the receptacle. But then, I discovered that these idiots had simply hooked onto the old wiring from the 4-pin connector... without ever verifying that the circuit was good to begin with! They never tested it!

I found that the old wires had been tapped (yes, and taped over, too) onto the van's tail light wiring by simply stripping the wires and wrapping the trailer wiring around the tail light wire... with no mechanical connector at all! Once I removed the poorly wrapped electrical tape, I could see that the wires were all greenish-white and corroded to the point where they weren't even making connection anymore! This is why you ALWAYS use a mechanical connector of some kind!

Keep in mind, this is the way they were when we bought the van nearly two years ago, but we never had occasion to pull a trailer with it, and had no idea what a sloppy job someone had done previously!

By repairing the connection with proper fold-over type Scotch brand wire connectors, I got the turn signals and parking lights working. But try as I might, I couldn't figure out why I still had no brake lights. But once I realized that on the van, the turn signal/parking light and brake lamps are separate entities, I could see that there was no way they would work without a special converter...which I didn't have, and had no time to find one.

We drove all the way north...over 600 miles... with no brake lights! To compensate, whenever I had someone behind me and had to stop or slow down, I would manually switch on the parking lights, so at least there would be "some" light show up. Obviously, we arrived safe and sound, so no problem. But if you're one of those who can't chew gum and remember to walk at the same time, I highly discourage this!

In Part Two of our adventure, I'll reveal what it took to get the brake lights working, as well as what else happened on the trip... after we got there.

Make sure you subscribe to receive the future posts. It gets "interesting".


  1. I used to have two LAVA antennas. They worked to some degree but I only used them at the old home base. One thing you'll find out... Even though Lava claims a range of 150 miles, it's a stretch (maybe a good range in Nebraska on flat land)... They actually claim a 75 mile radius (which adds up to 150 if you add two opposite directions' range (the diameter of an imaginary circle). The elements are extremely flimsy. All it takes is for a bird to land and mangle the antenna.

    After bad experiences with two Lava antennas, I switched to the Winegard amplified antenna. It's been very durable and has an amazing range. People are even using them around town on masts for their house systems...

    Take care - it sounds like you're making a lot of progress! It's fun to read the updates.

    1. Thanks, Brad. That's good information. Due to our lack of space, we don'the think this antenna will be a long term keeper. It's going to hard to store when traveling. At some point we will likely get something like the Wineguard, that can be permanently mounted to the roof or rack, and stay there to be used under any parking conditions. But the price was right at the time, and the seller showed us how many stations he was getting (a lot!) from "his" location. Around here, a block away can make a huge difference in reception! We'll have a better idea of its performance when we can get out to try it in various locations. At least it will be something to use until we can get something more practical.

  2. Don't get me started on idiots John. I recall you telling me this scenario. Sometimes you have to wonder how people can even stay in business. But, the main thing is you ot on the road and made it to the destination and your resourcefulness won won out over incompetence.

    I've lost track of how many Walmarts (or Walmart Motor Inns, bring your own accommodations, as I call them) I've overnighted at - or even where they are.There are a few to areas I've returned to that I've stated at more and once and a couple I've stayed at multiple times. Thank Walmart and their corporate policy regarding this convenience they offer us location independent wandering nomads. I always go in and make my presence known, make sure it's okay with the store management and then thank them for the privilege. I always make a purchase, even it it's something as simple and inexpensive as a donut. They really are life savers. I also use them to buy tires, batteries, oil changes, etc. on the road because I know there is always another one somewhere down the road if I have a problem with something. That happened to me in CA with two new tires I bought. Bought them in one part of California and they replaced one of them due to road hazard damage in another part of CA, no questions asked.

    Live free & be Happy,

  3. Hi Ed! Thanks for the comment. Yes, Walmart and all of the other stores and commercial enterprises that allow overnight parking are a Godsend to all RVers, and we appreciate them. I'm sure we will be using them often enough as we get on the road again, although, I hope we are better prepared the next time. We now have curtains, so the next thing will be some kind of non-electric propane heat...most likely, a Mr. Heater Big Buddy catalytic heater. Even though we are going to travel with the weather, we know it can still get plenty cold overnight in the desert southwest. Other than that, we are pretty well set for boondocking now.


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