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Time For Maintenance

Finally, the heat has abated and it is cool enough to make RV repairs and updates. I don’t know about you, but I absolutely HATE working outside in 100+ temps and I’m not all that crazy about moving around a lot inside in that kind of weather either. The cold wind blowing through prompted me to get off my summer butt and take action. First things first. When I arrived at my current gate, I was so sleep deprived from the last gate and moving that I didn’t fully setup. I’ve been lucky in that the wind has been mild and coming from behind or in front of the RV rather than from the side but that has now changed. An arctic blast from Alaska is now getting its jollies blowing my RV all around and especially the slide-out awning. I love my very long slide-out that creates a huge living room inside but the awning over it is highly susceptible to wind. Time to anchor it down as I normally would have when setting up. It was funny that the same day I went to do that, someone on Facebook with a new RV was asking how to do that. What I do is use a long black anchor strap with a spring that was made for holding down the main awning. It works very well to keep the slide-out awning from flying up so I don’t have to constantly close my slide-out when it gets windy.

Slide-out awning tie down

Next up, I started cleaning up my hearth. I use to have a woodstove in here but now use the hearth for my portable air conditioner, electric heater, and miscellaneous storage. I have been bugged since I bought this RV by the lack of enough outlets in the entertainment area and had a suspicion about the metal heat reflector the previous owner had mounted behind the hearth. I decided to unscrew it and take a look behind it. Sure enough, I found a working outlet behind it. I also found a box with 3 loose cable connections and a 12V connection next to it which I assume is why the incoming cable connection in the rear power cable storage compartment isn’t working nor does the bedroom cable outlet. Hooray! Since I no longer have the woodstove, having the heat reflector there is no longer as critical. I do want to keep it though to maintain the ambience of the hearth and I may be installing either an electric fireplace or a blue flame propane heater some day in that area. I decided to have some fun with my oscillating tool and cut out a square of the metal around the outlets to give me access to them. Should I need the full reflector intact again, I can easily hang or screw a larger metal cover over the exposed area. For now, I duct taped over the cable box to stop any cold air coming in from it until I locate a connector panel for it.

Outlet cutout

Still in the mood, I tackled the broken cover for the umbilical cord on my RV that plugs into my truck for lights and brakes. I happened to have a new cover I bought for another project that didn’t work out. Replacing the old one was not easy though. I looked at both ends of the cord and decided the best choice was to disassemble the connector that plugs into the truck. I had to take it all the way apart, down to just the loose wires, to get the large plastic outer casing off to pull the cord back through the broken cover and into the new one. Putting it back together wasn’t too bad since the wire colors matched the colors stamped on the connector. The new cover looks great and now keeps the bugs out of the umbilical compartment.

Umbilical cover

Lastly, I turned my attention to my truck and added more transmission fluid it needed. Now that winter is here, don’t forget to change your windshield wipers, top off fluids, clean or change air filters, and change batteries in RV smoke alarms. I already handled those. :-D

Next projects are re-painting the bumper, hitch, and stairs on the RV to keep the old girl looking good for campgrounds in case one has that stupid 10 year rule. I also need to fix a ding in my truck windshield with a kit I use to do that myself. Both require a little more heat outside than I have now so I wait. I’m hoping to start next week. Maybe I’ll cut and mount the new shelves in the kitchen cabinets this week. Maybe. Depends on my mood day to day. ;-)

Guarding McKenzie

While I enjoyed much of my stint guarding on the Calvert ranch with lots of cow fun and wonderful owners, it became too much for me to handle. It got to the point where there was no time at all for sleeping. I was a wreck. I had to call the cavalry to come out and relieve me for a night which helped temporarily but the situation did not improve so I finally had to ask to be released from that gate. There are some limits to single gate guarding. I was replaced by a couple of gals working together out of a motorhome.

By then I was terribly burned out. I was immediately put on another gate but it was one I shared with another couple of guards so I only had to work 12 hrs. then I could sleep all I needed and even go into town when not working. I took some time to get in some shopping, geocaching, sightseeing, unload items not needed at the local thrift store, picked up my first smart phone and new phone service, and I tried out a new game called Munzee that is similar to geocaching and uses a smart phone. That was my first 12 hr. gate and I really enjoyed it while it lasted. Unfortunately, the time came when the work slowed down just enough for them to pull the other guards and put me on it 24/7. I have done several other gates 24/7 with no problems but this one was not only very active all day and night, I also had to open and close the gate each time and they moved my RV farther away from the gate. That makes for a lot of walking and no sleep again. I had to get released as quickly as possible but hung in there a few days until they could find someone else. Now before you start thinking it was just me, the couple that left was not keen on doing it alone either nor was another single person who was asked to do it. There are some gates that simply must have a couple and some that require several couples due to the traffic. Throw in 100+ degree temps and mosquitos also and well, I think you get the picture. There is one ranch that many of us (including couples) refuse to work because it is so hideously busy that they constantly have to replace worn out guards.

I finally got a gate sort of near Pleasanton, TX. It’s actually quite a drive but still the closest to get groceries. I have been hearing other guards talking about working out this way but only now got a gate out here. Finding it was fun since my GPS has the wrong spelling for the road name and while my smart phone had the right spelling and directions, it ran out of power. Oops! I actually passed the road and had to call the other guards for more directions. I am again working with another couple but this time we both work 24/7. On the plus side, I am the second gate so I don’t have to log anyone in or out. The first gate guards do that. I just have to see who is coming in or out, smile and wave, hand out directions and maps as needed, keep the gate lighted at night, and document when someone hits the gate which is very narrow. While that isn’t a lot of work, this is a busy work area so I get woke up a lot at night. Last night they woke me up constantly from 2-3 AM then started the regular work day at 5:30 AM. Other nights they might keep me awake from 11 PM – 2AM depending on what is going on or once in a while I get to sleep most of the night. I spend a lot of time sleeping on my couch. From what I can tell, I will be here for quite awhile. There are numerous work pads and wells here and lots to be done yet.

Mckenzie gate 2Oil rig

The cows have just started to come by and warm up to me. A huge cougar came very close the other night I hear. Bunches of turkeys have been by and some wild pigs went across the road and down the ravine. No illegals have shown up… yet.

This seems to be the place where generators come to die. I have had constant generator issues since I got here and several replacements. I really need a good large one of my own but I just can’t figure out where to carry one. The small 1000 watt one I do carry is only good enough to run the gate lights and recharge my batteries. I’ll keep thinking on that. Maybe if I move my trailer spare tire into the truck bed, I could attach a carrier to my bumper for a 3000-4000 watt genset. I could buy two Honda 2000i’s which might fit in my truck bed with their low profile but they are very pricey at 3 times the cost unless I get lucky on Craigslist. Having a generator or two in my truck bed also creates security issues. It’s always somethin’.

Halloween On a Gate

Just because gate guards are stuck on a gate 24/7 and can’t go to parties doesn’t mean they can’t still have fun. The guys working out here on the rigs really enjoy it when the guards decorate, wear costumes, and hand out candy or cook for them. I carry holiday decorations onboard that are inflatable, paper, or will easily squish into the compartment above my bed. For Halloween I had a wonderful fence right in front of my RV that I could decorate all I like. I hung ghosts, a black garland, paper pumpkins, and a nice banner to get everyone in the mood for a couple weeks before the holiday. I got lots of smiles, honks, and thumbs up from the guys. A few of the guys had the good sense to say the magic words (Trick-or-Treat) early to start hitting the treats before Halloween. Men get awful hungry working hard all day on an oil rig or pipeline.  A nice treat on the way back out of the gate helps to make the drive home bearable.

When Halloween finally came, the guys made out like bandits. There are two sets of gate guards here and we both gave out candy and oranges. For my part, I greeted them coming in with a scary mask on and a huge bowl of goodies. One guy stopped to show me his bloody knife costume he wore for a party with his kids. Another guy came in and out wearing a scary mask. On the way out, I had fun scaring them standing in my doorway with a big knife and my scary mask. Don’t worry. I was 10 feet away behind a fence and they had already gotten candy from me. They all pointed and laughed.

halloween gatehalloween mask and candy

The decorations came down right after Halloween. A few days later, one of the guys stopped by to tell me they missed the decorations and wanted to know if I would be decorating for Christmas. Of course I will be! Wait till they see my Merry Chrismoose hat that went over so well last year that they demanded I wear it at all times. LOL!

Homemade Wi-Fi Booster

Having a problem getting enough Wi-Fi signal out in the boonies or at the back of an RV park? A booster is just what you need. Here is one solution, complete with a printable template to make your own booster:

DIY Wi-Fi-Booster

DIY Wi-Fi Booster

Gelin’ and Foamin’

Novaform_bed_topper02Yep. I’m gelin’! No, I’m not talking about Dr. Scholls. I’m talking about my bed. While on vacation a few months ago, I picked up a 3″ thick gel memory foam topper for my RV mattress. I have had the RV mattress for around 9 years now and it has never been particularly comfortable though I wouldn’t say it was all that bad either. I can sleep on it but have to turn constantly all night due to my bad back. This would be a problem with any standard mattress and my back. While I have been aware of mattress toppers for many years, I have been avoiding them. My parents used the 1″ egg crate toppers made of standard foam and liked them but I truly doubt those would be enough to make a difference for me. Memory foam, I have always heard, gets hot. It doesn’t “breathe”. So, I waited. I waited for something better to come along. I had about given up when I spotted a conversation on the topic on Facebook. Many users were gushing over a topper made with gel beads injected into the memory foam to handle the heat issue. I started doing some investigating and checking reviews on Amazon and other sites. They were mostly extremely positive. Of course, something that personal is not going to be right for everyone so I specifically looked for those mentioning back issues and found many happy users. With all that in mind, I stopped in at Costco while on vacation and spotted the Novaform 3″ gel memory foam topper sold in a box. Luckily, my RV mattress is actually close to a standard queen mattress size. If it weren’t, I could still cut the topper to the right size if needed. I bought it and kept the box in my motel room until I got back from vacation.

Once I got home, I opened the box to find the topper tightly rolled up inside and a set of directions. Silly me. I usually read the directions before doing something. I cleared all the sheets and mattress covers off the bed and put the new mattress roll on top of it. Per the directions, I carefully cut away the outside wrapper while being careful not to cut the topper. Then I stood back and watched the show. It was like lighting one of those black snake tablets on the 4th of July. It grew and grew! I didn’t touch it as advised. I just let it stretch and stretch more out. Finally, it stopped while double over in half. When I was sure it was done, I unfolded it and moved it gently into position. *Note: a new memory foam topper does have a bit of a smell for the first few days. It wasn’t all that strong and didn’t particularly bother me. I let it air out for a couple days and slept on the couch.* The topper came with a new mattress cover which I put on. Then I grabbed fresh sheets while praying that they would fit a bed that was now 3 inches higher all around. To my amazement, the sheets fit fine! No special sheets required.

Novaform_bed_topper03Novaform_bed_topper01

Now it was testing time. I crawled up on the bed. Oh my! It was like crawling onto a cloud! I laid down on it and felt fully supported as well as cuddled. No pain yet. Then the real test came, laying flat on my back. Wow! I can actually lay flat on it. On just the RV mattress, I have to keep one leg bent up to take the pressure off my back when laying flat. This is nice. Bedtime couldn’t come soon enough for the final test. I crawled onto my cloud and wafted off in the middle of a Texas summer night with the temp in the bedroom in the 80s and my usual fan blowing a breeze on me. I slept soundly all night with no sweating and very little turning over. Yay! It’s a keeper. I have been very happy with it for the past few months and now day dream about going to bed on my cloud.

Along with the topper, I have been looking for a new pillow. My favorite pillow of 25 years was standard foam with breathing holes through it that I bought at Sears so long ago. It finally got so old that it was falling apart and getting too thin. I tried to replace it with several different polyester filling pillows over the years but none felt right and the filling tends to bunch up and get obstinate, especially after you wash them. I looked all over for a standard foam pillow but only found one that was too thin and not stiff enough. Where did all the standard foam pillows go? It was like trying to find chocolate or lemon pudding cake mix. I loved them as a kid but they’re nearly impossible to find in grocery stores anymore. Of course finding a regular full Sears store has gotten more difficult now too.

I tried one memory foam pillow I found at Camping World but hated it. I woke up every couple of hours all night and it was too high. I took it back. I wasn’t going to try another memory foam pillow till I came across one in Wal-Mart. It wasn’t cheap but it looked promising. It is solid memory foam but one side is covered with gel. They call it a summer winter pillow. In summer, the gel side keeps you cool. In winter, you flip it over to the non-gel side to stay warm. I like the gel side for when I go to bed with my hair wet too. I’m not a hair dryer person normally unless it is truly freezing outside. The gel must work because I did have to flip the pillow over the other night when we finally got some cold nights here. Brrrr!

pillows01pillows02

My pillow quest did not end there though. I still needed pillows for the other side of the bed and my couch which I sleep on a lot due to work requirements. While cruising through Costco with the new foam topper, I found packages of 2 shredded gel memory foam pillows for only $9.50. I took a chance and love them too. They provide good support and when they smush into odd shapes like polyester pillows, all you have to do is shake them to redistribute the contents easily. You are not permanently stuck with the odd shape as with the polyester pillows. Quest over. Nighty night. Zzzzzzz…

pillows04

Winter RV Heating With Sunpentown

Any RVer can tell you how expensive it is to run the built in propane furnace full time during the winter months. You can easily go through one 30 lb. bottle in 2-3 days depending on the temperature you set the thermostat at. Getting propane delivered is not always possible and getting into town every few days Is not necessarily convenient. If you work 24/7 as I do as a gate guard, getting into town often or getting propane delivered is just not possible. Many RVers augment the furnace with electric heaters to save on propane. Some campgrounds, especially those who cover your electricity cost, have banned electric heaters. Others bill you for the electricity you use when staying weekly or monthly so they can allow electric heaters. Be sure to check the cost per kilowatt they charge before renting a space so you don’t get a nasty surprise from a campground overcharging for the cost and be sure to read the meter when you arrive and again when you leave. Keep in mind also that furnaces are ducted and routed so as to keep enclosed areas and tanks warm as well to avoid freezing pipes. On nights where temps dip below freezing, you may need to run the furnace at least some amount or open the doors to cabinets in the kitchen and bathroom to allow heat to get in them.

One of the big advantages of working as a gate guard during the winter is getting unlimited free electricity (not to mention the free site!). With propane so difficult to get, most gate guards heat almost entirely with one or two electric heaters. I have one very small Big Heat electric heater which does a great job (even after 15 years of use!) though the fan is a bit loud and it uses an analog thermostat. Before winter hit, I decided I should have a second heater to be sure I stay warm. After researching several types, I bought a Sunpentown Ceramic Heater from Wal-Mart. It stands about 2.5 feet tall but is very narrow so it doesn’t take up much space and it is cool to the touch which are both important when using it with the slideout in. It is very quiet. It includes a washable filter which is nice to have on a dusty Texas ranch. The thermostat and readout are digital and more precise. It can oscillate to spread the heat around if needed. It runs on Low, High, and Automatic. Unlike the very similar Lasko model, you can also run just the fan with no heat. My favorite feature, though, is the remote control. It sure puts out the heat too. With the exception of only one night, I have been able to heat my 5th wheel entirely with just the Sunpentown Ceramic Heater. The bedroom tends to stay warmer than the living room so I keep it down in the living room toward the back and pointed toward the bedroom. I have to remember to turn it lower at night or it will burn me out of the bedroom with its efficient ceramic heat. During the summer, it easily fits in a closet. I am very happy with my new heater. It wasn’t available in the store so I had to order it online from Wal-Mart but it was worth the short wait and they delivered it right to my gate for free. That’s what I call service! I would definitely buy it again if I needed to and I give it 5 stars.

 

Sunpentown ceramic heaterSunpentown heater remote

Exercising the RVer Way With Wii

As a full-time RVer for many years, I know how hard it can be to get proper exercise on the road and in our small domiciles. Oh, there’s the occasional hiking trail, walks around the park, and if you get lucky, swimming pools and exercise rooms. Some campgrounds, especially popular snowbird destinations, even offer water aerobics classes. Those are all good but regular exercise every day can be difficult on the road. In my job as a gate guard, it is even more difficult since I work 24/7 and can’t leave the gate.

Enter the Wii game system by Nintendo. I have played Wii bowling before at a couple of campgrounds but had no idea until recently how much more it could do. After looking at exercise equipment and discarding much of it as possibilities due to RV weight restrictions and lack of space, I started looking into the Wii which I had heard other RVers mention for exercise. What I discovered was completely astounding! Indeed, not only do they have interactive sports games to get the heart pumping and sweat going, they have numerous exercise programs that provide instruction, mentors, workout partners who won’t whisper embarrassing remarks behind your back or show off in front of you, lighter programs and heavier workouts, goals and tracking, encouragement, and a whole lot of fun ways you wouldn’t even imagine to burn those calories and work on specific areas of fitness.

My first purchase was the Wii system itself. There were three options. A new Wii U system costs around $299. Eek! I’m sure it is very nice but gaming is not really my aim and I don’t need all the options it comes with. I just want to get fit. The little add-on fit watch is kind of cool but I can get that with a Fit Bit if I really want it. The next option is to buy a first generation Wii used for only $79. That is a very good option. I found used Wiis available at Game Stop, Ebay, and jjgames.com.  There are around 1500 games out there for it including fitness games and they too can easily be found used at very good prices. With a full Wii you get internet access to play with others, removable storage for saving, menu updates, etc. How long the updates and Wii online will last is up in the air since Nintendo has discontinued the Wii. I opted for a third option, the Wii Mini. It is a Wii with all the extra goodies like internet and storage stripped out. I have no desire to use the Internet features and waste what little bandwidth I have with my hotspot MiFi. It’s smaller and sits horizontally rather than vertically which works well in my limited space. Due to the size, it is extremely portable. It also runs Wii games with built in memory to save games. It runs the Wii Balance Board though you will likely have to find one used. I like the red color of the Mini too! The Wii Mini is currently $99 and can be found at any Wal-Mart locked up with the other game systems. Both the used Wii and Wii Mini are good choices in my opinion. For the Wii, you may need to buy an additional Motion Plus sensor which is included in the 1 controller that comes with the Wii Mini. You may be able to get a package deal on Ebay for a used Wii with a bunch of controllers, games, Motion Sensor, and Balance Board included. I had some concerns about the Wii using the internet and running up a costly bill if a relief guard used it while I was on vacation elsewhere or if I have my grandkids over to play so for me that was a deciding factor.

Nintendo Wii Mini

Next, I looked around for the Balance Board and some fitness games. I found a board at Game Stop for only $14 in excellent condition. New it is $59. I knew I also wanted Wii Sports to practice my bowling. I was pleasantly surprised to find it also includes tennis, baseball, golf, and boxing. The sports alone really get my blood flowing and heart rate up so playing them is part of my daily exercise routine. If you hear someone in the RV next to you yelling to kill the umpire and “Bring me home, Jimmy.”, it is likely me next door. Fair warning, I am now listed as a pro in Bowling. Strrrrrike! :-) There is also a newer sports disk called Sports Resort that may be worth checking out.

Wii Balance Board

For specific fitness routines, I looked for Wii Fit Plus. Note the Plus version is better and contains more than the original Wii Fit. Wii Fit Plus contains lots of exercises for strength, balance, aerobics, yoga, timing, eye-hand coordination, and more for both beginner and advanced levels. The yoga and strength portions have numerous visual choices of exercises to choose from. You don’t have to do them all and an instructor does them with you. I avoid those that involve my bad knees at the moment. The other portions contain lots of incredibly fun games to help with your balance, body awareness, aerobics, and so on. Last night I flew like a bird flapping my wings over the bay to land on various stands in the water for points and finally landed on a ship. I got in a huge snowball fight with other kids and snowmen. (BTW, if you talk to Tommy’s mother, please tell her he threw first. ;-) ) I skateboarded. I ran an obstacle course. I used a Segway to pop beach balls. I got to dance with a group stepping on and off my balance board. I ran 1.7 miles through the countryside past windmills and waterfalls and without ever leaving my living room. I was in a bubble that I tried to navigate down a river past native villages without popping. I skied. I led a parade, bicycled through town, bumped my butt and hips into cushions, juggled, hula hooped, and more. It was F-U-N! What’s also nice is you can build and save a custom workout all your own. Wii Fit Plus also checks your BMI, weight, and balance through the balance board and tracks them for you. It can track exercise outside the Wii Fit Plus game as well through logging. The balance board is used in many of the exercises and games. Wii Fit Plus may also offer to help get you started on working on something it sees you have a problem with by suggesting an exercise to do. I LOVE Wii Fit Plus and I have the sweat stains to prove it! For those of you more reserved folks, there are plenty of just plain exercise routines so you don’t have to let your inner child loose if you don’t want to though I think you’ll be missing a lot if you don’t.

For a little more diversification to make sure I keep up the exercising, I checked out Gold’s Gym dancing disk and one of four Zumba dance disks courtesy of Ebay. Dancing burns a LOT of calories fast. While I’m not much of a dancer (more like an elephant in a china shop), I still like doing it. The Gold’s Gym program was good but not as good as Zumba. It uses the same Latin rhythms and moves but the steps are more complicated and the tutorials not as easy for us elephants. I love Zumba 2! It has dances for all levels and you can do them individually or as a whole class. The classes do multiple songs and dances and include a nice slowdown and stretch dance at the end. The better you mirror the actions of the dance leader, the more action occurs on the screen such as fireworks and whistles. The better you do the dances, the more the program unlocks. The dances are fun and let you shake your booty and ta-tas all you want.  The tutorials are excellent and can be run slow or normal speed to learn the steps. I just learned to Cha-Cha! One short class of 5 dances lasts about 26 minutes and burns around 260 calories.

I did find that I had to remove the extra rubber cover that came on the controller. While I like the feel of it, it interferes with quickly putting the controller in the Zumba belt you must wear on your hips (Be sure it comes with any Zumba disk you buy or can get it separately.). The rubber cover also interferes with shoving the controller in your pocket fast for other exercise programs.

What is also nice about using a Wii to exercise is that you can pause it by pressing the “+” key on the controller which is very important if someone knocks on your door, the oven bell goes off to beg for attention, or another truck comes to the gate.

Along with the Wii, you can add weights to get even more out of running and flapping games or other exercises. You can also add resistance bands to target specific muscle groups. I use a resistance band every other day to help build up some arm muscles since I don’t really have any. If you aren’t an elephant, a jump rope can make a nice addition to use outside.

In any case, you can still travel and stay or get fit in an RV. You just need to think smaller and virtually.

Locked Out and Locked Up

RV Door LockAs many of you may have heard, there was a recall a couple years ago on certain RV door locks that were failing to unlock if the key was turned the wrong way in them. My lock was one of those though I was not experiencing that particular problem. I actually had a different problem. While it would lock, just about ANY key would unlock it. Oops! Something was broken or stuck. Can’t have that. So, I replaced the lock which was extremely easy to do with just a few screws to remove. Still, I managed to get locked out one time after that when the awning rod I was keeping next to the door fell and lodged itself in the door handle so I couldn’t pull it to open the door from outside. With some brainstorming, recent experience, and a bit of luck I managed to get in the rig to get the rod out of the way. I won’t tell you how for security reasons. I no longer keep the rod near the door. Be sure to check what you are keeping near your door and what it might be capable of doing. Also check on possible entries into your RV should you get locked out. For simple key issues such as losing your key while you are out or leaving your key inside with a spouse who then decides to go somewhere and locks up, having a hide-a-key can be priceless. You may also want to let your next of kin know where it is just in case. I use a key vault myself. Not only do they need to know where it is hidden, they need the access code.

Most recently, I got locked in! I knew something wasn’t right when closing the door or locking the deadbolt because it seemed harder to close and way too easy to lock the deadbolt with no resistance. It then failed and locked me in. I unscrewed the inside lock plate and saw the deadbolt was disconnected and blocking the door from opening. I could see a screw that holds a separate plate over the deadbolt had fallen out and allowed the deadbolt actuator rod to also fall out. Attempts to pull the deadbolt back in just pushed it farther out though I can see now how it MAY have been possible to get the rod back in it in the first position it was in. With some effort, I was able to push the whole lock assembly out to open the door. Be aware that it is connected to a plate on the side of the door that you can’t get at when the door is closed. I lucked out and was able to still push it out while only slightly bending the plate. I picked up the pieces then had to slightly pull back the door jam molding to retrieve the deadbolt which had fallen down inside the wall. Putting it back in was easy and now it all feels right again. Whew! I’m free again!