Roughing It – Week 2

Pops and his adventures learning to live in a travel trailer in the woods.

 

November 4, 2019 – Monday

The commute to work was not bad, but took an hour and 20 minutes.

Commute back took the same amount of time, but since it was in the direction of the setting sun, it made for a heck of a drive.  People were slamming on their brakes every time they came over a hill on the road because the sun was right in their eyes.

The night before I realized the toilet in the trailer was backed up so I needed to stop by the hardware store and pick up a plunger.  Fortunately, the store is on my way home, so no big detour into the city.  Got to the store, picked up the plunger and went to the cashier, only to realize that in my rush to get to work in the morning, I had forgotten my wallet at home, some 30 minutes away.  Decided to drive home, pick up the wallet and rush back to the store and get the plunger.  Leaving the store, came across a road closure.  This is the only road that goes directly to our property, so had to take a long detour which added another 30 minutes to my trip.  By the time I arrived home, it was dark, so no going back to the store tonight.  Looked around for a jerry-rig solution, and found a stick that could work.  Quick 5 minute work and no more backed up toilet.

Then I realized the batteries on the trailer were almost empty.  So, fired up the generator and got the charging process going.  As I fired up the generator, noticed something moved up the driveway.  Mind you, we have seen signed of big cat visitors around the property, so I was very quick to shine the flashlight in that direction, while at the same time realizing I didn’t have my gun with me.  Fortunately, it was a beautiful white tail doe looking at me.  She slowly turned away and went up the hill.

I guess the day was not that bad after all.  As the old saying goes, all is well that ends well.

November 5, 2019 – Tuesday

I woke up around 1 AM to a very cold trailer.  Checked out the heater and it was set for 65 degrees, but the thermometer showed it was 51 degrees inside.  Went to the panel and realized the batteries that were at almost 50% last night, were almost completely drained.  The batteries were low enough that every time the water pump kicked in, the lights flickered.

Decided I need to find out what could have caused the issue and what can be done to prevent it from happening again.  To warm up the trailer, I turned on the stove’s front burner and with the help of a small desk top fan circulated some air, enough to get the temp up a few degrees.  After about an hour, I turned off the burner and went back to bed, knowing I will be waking up to a very chilly trailer.

Alarm clock went off at 4:15, got out of bed and got dressed as fast as I could.  Turned on the stove and the fan again, but to see what I was doing I used a flashlight instead of turning on the lights.  Made coffee, and turned on the water heater.  Then, shaved, and showered when the water was warm enough.  Looking out the entry door, I noticed it was light outside.  Then it dawned on me.  I went outside last night to turn off the generator, but being lazy and somewhat worried, I turned on the exterior lights of the trailer instead of using a flashlight.  And that is how I drained the batteries.

Guess what I will be doing tonight…. listening to the sweet rumble of the generator charging the batteries yet again.

Oh ya, have to fill up the fresh water tank in the trailer too.  Down to 1/3 now.

And put my tools away, cover the tractor with a tarp, and clean up around the trailer to make sure I don’t trip or slip on any of the stuff around, while running from trailer to the car in the mornings.  LOL

November 6, 2019 – Wednesday

Filled up the fresh water tank and turned on the generator to charge the batteries last night, thinking I was set for an uneventful night.  Oh, how wrong I was.

Woke up around 12:30 AM and “House” as we call it (a reference to Doctor Who’s episode where he is summoned to an asteroid with aliens on it who refer to the asteroid and its ghostly controller as ‘House’), was freezing cold.  Checked the thermometer and it showed inside to be 48 degrees and outside at 39.  Checked the power and I still had 25% left, so it shouldn’t have been the issue.  Checked the propane and it was out.  Even the stove wouldn’t start.

I decided it was too cold for it to wait till morning, so I got dressed and headed outside to replace the two 5 gallon tanks with our new 25 gallon tank.  After struggling with the tanks, locks, and the connection hose for about 15 minutes, I was able to reconnect the gas and get it going.  By the time I got back inside, I was a popsicle, but I had heat.  Or I should have.

Came inside and turned on the heater, but nothing happened.  Turns out when the heater shuts down due to gas issues, it has to be completely turned off and sit for a minute or so before it can reset itself and get ready for operation.  After restarting the heater, I went back to bed, hoping for a nice warm, or at least semi warm rest of the night.

Woke up at 4 with the sound of my alarm clock, and you guessed it, it was cold again.  I guess 25% power does not last even 4 hours with only the heater running.  Since I can’t run the generator at 4 Am, I decided to improvise.  I used a flash light to see my way around while I made coffee, had breakfast, and shaved.  This way, I will hopefully have enough power left to run the water pump and water heater for the shower.  Showered and got dressed after about an hour or so, and headed to work so I can warm up on the drive to work.

Despite all the trials and difficulties, it hasn’t crossed my mind to give up and move into a hotel or an apartment.  The smell of fresh air in the morning and occasional deer sightings make up for the cold nights and all its challenges.  And as the frosting on this wonderful cake, since moving up here I haven’t needed to take any serious medications for my diminishing migraines or ulcer.

Life is good.

November 7, 2019 – Thursday

What a beautiful start of the day.  I woke up with the heater still on and the inside of the trailer at 65 degrees, just where I had set it the night before.

I think I have finally figured out how to work with this travel trailer.  Let me explain.

Yesterday, while at work, I was trying to figure out how to put more juice into the batteries so that the heater can run all night without draining the batteries.  Since we bought the 25 gallon tank, the propane part has been somewhat figured out, but the power part has not.

If you really think about it, even though I have water and power 300 feet away at the street, I am still technically living off grid.  I have to fill up the water tank every other day, have to fill up the propane every week, and have to generate my own power for the trailer.

I have been using a 4 Kilowatt generator to charge the two marine deep cycle batteries on the trailer.  The problem is, since I work full time and leave before sunrise, returning after sunset, I can only run the generator a couple of hours every night.  This limits how much energy my generator and the battery chargers can store in the two batteries.  I usually end up with about 25-35% charged capacity in each battery before I have to shut down the generator for the night.

What I realized at work yesterday is that all generators have two power output circuits.  But each circuit is about 180 degrees out of phase with the other circuit.  This is both good and bad.  I realized that if I get a second battery charger, I can double the amount of energy I put in the two batteries.

I know, some of you electrical savy people might be laughing by now, but I’m not done yet.  LOL

The problem will be that since the two generator circuits are out of phase, if I connect the two chargers to the two individual circuits and try to charge the two batteries at the same time, and if my chargers don’t have reverse flow protection, I could burn my chargers, destroy my batteries, or even worse, don’t get any charge into the batteries.  It’s like telling two people to move a block of concrete while one of them is pushing and the other one is pulling on the same side of the block.

But there is a simple solution.  The two batteries are hooked up in parallel.  This means a power cable connects the positive side of one battery to the positive side of the other battery, and the same for the negative side.  So, if I disconnect the positive cable going from one batter to the other, I can then charge each battery individually, using a separate charger connected to separate circuits on my generator.  This way I get full power of the generator charging my batteries.

So last night I stopped by our local automotive store and picked up a second battery charger.  When I got home, I disconnected the two batteries from each other and charged each battery with its own charger that was connected to a different circuit on the generator.  Easy peasy.

After an hour of charging, I realized that my lights were flickering and when the water pumped kicked in, my lights shut down.  Went outside and found out that one of my tools had fallen across the charger cables and had popped off both chargers from the batteries.  So, I was back to square one and just about out of battery.  Reconnected everything and made sure the area was clear of anything that could disrupt my charging operation and went back inside to wait.

After an hour, I came back out to check on the batteries.  Now, each battery was at 25% capacity.  In two hours, each was at 50% capacity.  By the time I shut down the generator at two and a half hours, one battery was at 85%, and the other was at 65% capacity.  This was expected since the battery with the lower capacity was still connected to the trailer and was being used while it was charging, resulting in lower charge capacity.

And THAT is how I woke up this morning in a warm and comfy travel trailer, not needing to use flash lights to find my way through the trailer or needing to turn on the stove just to warm up.  I am now ready for the next challenge this pseudo off-grid living decides to throw my way.

And, to make the day even brighter, our logger friend, the one we purchased this beautiful piece of paradise from, dropped off his 55 ton excavator at our property so he can dig a 4 foot wide, 3 feet deep, 630 feet long trench for us.  I can then lay in the power and water pipes.  If all goes well, within the next three to four weeks, I will have water and power at the trailer and we’ll be ready to start construction on our home in early spring.  I guess you could say this is one more layer of frosting on this beautiful adventure filled cake.

I don’t know about you, but I personally can’t wait.

November 8, 2019 – Friday

Well, woke up to a cold travel trailer again.  But, this time it was completely my fault.  Last night, after charging the batteries and reconnecting them to the trailer, I forgot to turn on the heater.  Went to bed with temp at 65, woke up to 49.  It was 29 degrees outside.

When leaving for work, I had to scrape the ice off all the windows.  It was a strange feeling to have to do this.  I lived in Southern California for so long that I had forgotten what cold weather could be like and what are some of the morning routines that will soon be normal to me.  I guess I will have to learn to deal with them again.

On the way to work, I had to stop for a traffic jam.  A heard of elk was crossing the road, and of course they were in no hurry to get through.  I counted at least 15 of them.  One was sliding down the hillside and I think it slipped because it almost ran into my car.  I think it gave me the look of “what are you looking at, huh?”  LOL

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Other than that, and the now normal foggy drive, it was rather an uneventful morning.  Tomorrow, will be a very busy day.  We’ll have the water and power trench starting AND I have to do some shopping for a burn barrel, a gas power weed wacker, and a mail box.  Who knows, I might even get to do some work with the tractor.

November 9, 2019 – Saturday

This morning started beautifully.  A nice crisp fog blanketed the entire property.  The Fog was so thick that I had a hard time seeing more than 50 feet away.  The aroma of the woods hung around, making it an even better day, even though it was only 37 degrees.  I decided to open up the travel trailer and let the fresh air pass through.  After getting dressed, or should I say bundled up, got out there and started to work on the porch cover.  With rain in the forecast for Tuesday and the five days after, I was running out of time.

As I started to work on the porch, our friend showed up to get started on the trench for the power and water lines.  The trench being over 600’ long, 4’ wide, and 3’ deep was not something I could tackle, so we decided to use outside resources for it.  After a short conversation, we decided the best person for the job and at the best price was our friend “the logger”.  With his 55 Ton excavator he could make a short work of the trench, AND remove any tree stumps that get in the way.  Mind you, the trees that were removed during the logging of our property were at least 20 years old, and some were up around 50 years old.  The stumps of these trees are not something that can be removed easily by just any excavator.  That’s why we hired the best guy with the biggest excavator for the job.  Yes, the price had something to do with it too.

After a short discussion and showing him the sketch of the proposed trench provided by the power company project manager, our friend started on the trench and I went back to work on the porch for the travel trailer.

I have to say I am spoiled from working with my dad.  He usually hands me tools, gets me the stuff that I forgot to being up the ladder, and things like that.  Being 87, he can’t do much, but his company, his ability to hold small things in place, and his “gopher” status helps the day go faster and a lot smoother.  I do miss him being with me, but right now this is not the place for him.  Not yet.

As the day went on, I got more work done.  A neighbor stopped by for a quick chat, and our Logger friend had a brief interruption when an employee rolled the log loader.  (the driver wasn’t hurt, at least not by the log loader)

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All in all, the day was very fruitful and there were no oops or surprises.  So, it was another good day.

November 10, 2019 – Sunday

Today was colder than yesterday and the fog was very wet.  Looking out the window, the ground was wet, and you guessed it, the clay soil was going to be sticky.  But, there was work to be done and deadlines to meet.

After a quick breakfast and getting bundled up, got out there and realized the fog has been so thick that it looked like it had rained.  There were large beads of water on every surface, including the tools that yours truly had been too lazy to put away.  My old 6” C-Clamps had started to rust.  These old clamps are pure cast iron and don’t have any paint or other protection on them, so they are vulnerable to rust.  For over 15 years in California, because of the dry climate, I never had a problem.  But here, after leaving them out for two days, I get rust.

Around 5 pm, right before dark, I finished most of the porch, but most importantly, the roof was done.  Now I can work on the rest even if it is drizzling. Next will be the railing, the remainder of the deck planks, and perhaps the second set of stairs.  But for now, since most of the ditch is done, I need to focus on preparing the two platforms for the power transformer and the power meter.  Also, I need to work on laying the water and power pipes so I can get our power company to run the wires.  Using the generator and having no TV or any other appliances other than the basic fridge, is getting boring.  I’ve been spending a lot of time on my phone, texting or reviewing Facebook comments, but I can tell I am starting to review the same things over and over, just to pass time.  LOL

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still needs roof and rails

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