Category Archives: how to

Red Power Roundup – 2017 Hit-or-Miss Corn Sheller

Teardrop Trail Log: June 16, 2017

I always look forward to seeing the “latest” in really old technology at the ‘Roundup, and this year encountered a great display of International Harvester model LA “hit-or-miss” engines shelling and grinding corn, as well as pumping water. I’ve mentioned them on the blog before, but this was unique. Over a half-dozen beautifully restored engines, all running, and many connected to applications with canvas belts like a McCormick/Deering Corn Sheller, a small grain mill, cob mill and a well-pump.

In order to show the entire workflow, small, functional elevators lifted the corn kernels from application to application. Best of all, a supply of dried corn — complete with cob and husk — was provided so observers could try it out. Passing children at the ‘Roundup were fascinated as they fed shucked corn into the sheller via a pipe and could watch the result. Several club members were running the exhibit; keeping the machines serviced with water and fuel and answering questions.

These small engines were common back in the day, and provided vital extra power before rural electrification. They could pump water, grind corn and lift grain into bins and cribs — saving farm families from much difficult work. I still remember the well pump on my grandparents farm, electrified by the time I came along, but no doubt once powered by one of these versatile engines.

photo of Cutting 5/8-inch threaded rod

A New Way to Level a Teardrop

photo of Original scissors-jack handle

Original scissors-jack handle

Teardrop Trail Log: June 8, 2017

After three seasons of Teardropping, I still wasn’t happy with my trailer leveling solution. I originally purchased a pair of scissors jacks, but the folding handles they came with were frustrating to use. Also, the jacks had a tendency to fall over before they came in contact with both the ground and the trailer.

Stabilizers Aren’t Perfect

Next I tried stabilizers, and although they had advantages, they didn’t work as well with uneven ground. They were perfect in combination with a scissors jack though. By lifting each trailer corner where a stabilizer was attached, they could be easily extended and provided a rock-solid platform once set.

So, back to the scissors jack. What could I do to improve on the basic Harbor Freight design? I didn’t want to modify the actual jack, but wanted an adapter that would allow the use of a cordless drill instead of the wacky and hard-to-use folding handle.

An Improved Scissors Jack

photo of The scissors jack adapter

The scissors jack adapter

The solution turned out to be very simple. The handle receptacle, a “U”-shaped piece of metal the connects with the handle hook, was large enough to receive a 5/8-inch piece of threaded rod, and then capture a 5/8-inch nut inside the handle receptacle. A 9/16-bolt welded perpendicular to one face of the 5/8-inch nut, would then turn the handle receptacle when captured by the 5-8-inch rod.

photo of Drill driving the scissors jack

Drill driving the scissors jack

I talked with my friends at Vintage Auto, and they had it welded up in a few minutes, and even painted it. Back at the house, I found I could easily run the scissors jack up and down with a 12-volt DeWalt cordless drill. A test on the trailer was successful also — the combination easily lifted the trailer.

We would use it camping for the first time at the Red Power Roundup in Des Moines, Iowa (that’s why the bolt has an International Harvester Red head), and I had the trailer leveled and on the stabilizers in about 20-minutes. A new record!

photo of the scissors jack adapter in use

Scissors jack adapter in use

photo of the solar system with A new AGM battery

A Solar Upgrade for the Teardrop Trailer

Teardrop Trail: June 4, 2017

In the last few months, I’ve been working on a larger solar system to pump water at the ranch. We live out in the Texas Hill Country and occasionally experience power interruptions, and I wanted to use solar power to improve our emergency preparedness. The experience of designing and building that system led me to rethinking the teardrop solar system.

A New Battery

photo of Cutting a hole for the data display

Cutting a hole for the data display

Two 100-watt solar panels provide enough power to meet our modest camping needs, but I felt the battery could be improved. We were using a marine battery, but it was a compromise between high starter current (which we would never use)  and deep-cycle power for camping use. An Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) deep-cycle seemed a better match. I ordered an Optima D34M Blue Top that could supply up to 55 Amp/hours of power and fit into the modest available space.

And a way to measure it

photo of The new data display

The new data display

Of course, fully discharging any lead-acid battery will shorten its life and normally one leaves at least a 50% charge. How do you know when you’ve reached 50% remaining power? You can estimate from the battery voltage, but measuring power directly would be best. That led to the second upgrade; a digital energy meter. It shows voltage, current and power, as well as the total power in watt/hours consumed since the last reset. Using the Optima battery as an example, I could use up to 330 watt/hours of power ((55 amp/hours / 2) * 12 volts = 330 watt hours) before it was wise to recharge.

Electric Kettles for Camping?

Finally, we enjoy electric kettles for heating water, and they’re perfect for camping. In many campgrounds, shore power is available and we can heat water for tea, coffee and washing up with ease. Would it be possible to use an electric kettle on solar power?

photo showing solar system With 1000 watt inverter installed

With 1000 watt inverter installed

Researching electric kettles and hot pots I found one model that only used about 1000 watts. A lot of power, but within reach of a not-too-expensive 12-volt to 120-volt inverter. It looked like fun to see if I could make it work, and I ordered an inverter and the necessary wiring to hook it up. Besides; the same inverter could be used to power a Crockpot or Slow-cooker — something we’ve already shown is practical.

The picture tells the story. The new battery, inverter and hot pot were connected and did indeed heat 12 ounces of water to boiling. It used 164 watt/hours of energy as measured by the new digital meter — about half of the available battery storage. Not too practical, but a fun experiment!

photo of First Aid preparedness kit

An Expert’s Take on Essential First Aid

A few weeks ago we attended the Mother Earth News Fair in Belton, Texas. This was our second year, and we always enjoy seeing the seminars and venders that support the varied community that this unique event attracts. We had just about “covered the waterfront” and were getting ready to leave when I spotted the AMP-3 booth. The amateur radio solar batteries, compact portable antennas and go-bags caught my attention and we began chatting with David Pruett, the proprietor.

As we talked, I noticed another line of products relating to first aid, and quickly learned that David is a practicing ER physician and began putting first aid kits together several years ago. His medical experience, as well as direct experience with two natural disasters in Northern California convinced him of the need for preparedness. I began thinking about our teardrop camping trips (not to mention our Roy Creek Ranch home) and how well prepared we were for emergencies when we’re away from an ER or other urgent care provider.

We have an American Red Cross First Aid Kit in the trailer, but David’s company, AMP-3 was offering the next step. While the Red Cross kit was a good start, it is focused on cuts, scrapes and minor pain. It wasn’t very expensive, and there is no reason not to have one or two for minor wound care.

photo of an individual first aid kit contents

iFAK contents

AMP-3 offers an “Individual First Aid Kit (iFAK)” that starts with more extensive wound care and adds tools, irrigation, adhesives and medications for managing wounds, bleeding, pain, digestive and some allergic distress. Best of all, David has a series of YouTube videos that describe building an individual first aid kit, what to include and how each item is used.

I bought one iFAK at the fair, and appreciate the guidance and peace of mind it provides. With both the Red Cross and AMP-3 kits in our teardrop trailer, we feel more prepared for many situations we might encounter on our travels — especially when we’re away from civilization.

Are you prepared?

photo of The Lady and the Ambassadore with Jim and a ham antenna

Antenna (or Fishing Pole) Storage on a Teardrop

photo of Ten Tec Triton II with digital frequency readout

Ten Tec Triton II with digital frequency readout

I knew from the beginning there would be amateur radio aboard our teardrop trailer. I’ve been interested in radio since junior high, and it’s great to be out in the woods with a battery (or solar) powered radio, talking to hams around the world. I will never forget making my first overseas contact while driving through Wyoming in a thunderstorm. Or skiing down a mountain with a handheld radio while talking with another ham stuck in the city. Magic!

Radios have gotten smaller and more capable, and can be powered with modest solar-power systems, so ham radio from a teardrop trailer is a natural. Antennas, on the other hand, are about the same size. You can’t change physics or the laws of nature. Mobile antennas, while smaller than their fixed base comrades are still several feet long, and storing them is a challenge in our tiny teardrop. What about storing them in a long tube mounted to the rear frame of the trailer?

photo of the antenna storage tube with 3-inch PVC with plastic strap hangers

3-inch PVC with plastic strap hangers

I’ve worked with PVC pipe alot through the years, and the solution was obvious. A 5-foot length of 3-inch inside diameter pipe would easily store several antennas and their resonators (after disassembling them into sections) without taking up space inside the trailer. Each end was sealed with a screw-on “clean out” and voilà! Secure storage for my skyhook treasures. Several plumber’s straps would attach the pipe to the trailer frame. It’s cheap, strong and easy to work with. The job was done in no time and we set off.

photo of me Repairing the antenna tube

Repairing the antenna tube

It wasn’t long before there was a problem. The trailer transmits substantial vibration and shaking to the tube, and the constant motion tends to break the plumber’s straps. Fortunately they don’t all break at once, but I was replacing straps often. I needed a better solution.

photo of the Improved steel strap hanger

Improved steel strap hanger

Cruising around the home store one day, I found it. Zinc Plated, punched-steel bar. 1 3/8-inches wide and made of 1/16-Inch steel, it’s plumber’s strap on steroids.

photo of Mounting Bracket

Mounting Bracket

A 48-inch piece is only about $7, and with some 1/4-20 bolts, washers and nuts, I was in business. I took a scrap of 3-inch PVC, and wrapped it using a vice and hammer to form the steel. It is stiff enough to be challenging, but has a comforting level of strength. Drilling the frame for the 1/2-20 hardware isn’t hard, and two brackets are perfectly adequate. No more strap repairs for this teardrop!

By the way, for those of you who like to dangle a worm or two while camping — the tube could store fishing poles as well. I’m just sayin’  . . .

photo of the Antenna storage tube secured

Antenna storage tube secured

Latching the Hatch

Teardrop Trail Log: April, 2017

We’ve been generally happy with our teardrop trailer, but have had one recurring problem. The galley hatch lid will not stay down. We encountered the problem on our very first trip to the Red Power Roundup in Huron, South Dakota in June of 2014.

The problem usually occurs when we hit a rough patch of road or rumble strips, and is more an annoyance than a real problem. I finally decided it was time to fix it, and found some chromed hood-latches on eBay that would do the trick. This video describes the installation process.

photo of Solar chili complete

Solar Chili

Making good food with limited resources has always been appealing to me, and camping presents a perfect challenge. I still enjoy cooking over an open campfire, but solar power presents a new opportunity to make great food with simple tools.

photo of the Solar-powered system in the galley

Solar-powered system in the galley

With the addition of a slow-cooker to our galley and the upgrade of the teardrop’s solar power system, I began thinking about combining the two. Marilyn’s recipe for “Teardrop Pork Chops” proved we could have dinner ready when we got back to camp in the evening. I wondered if the solar system could effectively power the slow-cooker. Some quick measurements with the “Kill-a-watt” meter showed power usage for the 1 1/2 quart cooker to be well under 100 watts — even on the “high” setting. The “low” setting only consumed about 65 watts. With our 200-watts of solar panels and adequate sun, it should work fine. What to cook for an experiment?

Slow-cookers have always worked well with bean dishes, in fact, they were invented for cooking beans. The combination of low temperatures and long cooking times guarantee tender beans that retain their shape and texture. Chili is an iconic bean dish, and what could be better after a day of camping fun?


Solar Chili

Cooker: 1 1/2 quart oval, powered by a 300-watt Bestek Inverter plugged into a 12-volt, 200-watt solar system
Settings and Cook times: HIGH for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, then LOW for 8 to 9 hours

1/2 pound dried pinto beans, cleaned and soaked overnight and drained
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 pound of course-ground lean meat, beef, pork or turkey
1 medium onion, chopped
3 ounces of tomato paste or puree
1 1/2 tablespoons of Dixon medium hot (or other high quality) chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

For serving:
Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Chopped fresh tomatoes
Chopped green onions
Warm cornbread or saltine crackers

photo of Starting the beans and garlic

Starting the beans and garlic

Put the soaked and drained beans and whole garlic cloves in the slow cooker, adding enough water to cover. Cover and cook on HIGH until tender but not mushy, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Drain and discard the garlic.

photo of

All ingredients cooking

Meanwhile, brown the ground meat and onions in a large skillet and drain off the fat. Mix the meat, onions, partially-cooked beans, tomato paste, chili powder and cumin in the slow-cooker. Add enough water to cover and stir. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 to 9 hours, stirring occasionally. During the last hour, season with salt. Serve with toppings and warm cornbread.

photo of a solar dining experience

A solar dining experience

How did we do? Using the measured slow-cooker wattage on high and low settings, a little quick math showed a total power consumption of about 750 watt-hours — within the production capacity of our 200-watt solar system on a sunny day. With the skillet-baked cornbread, all the fixins’ and a glass or two of wine — delicious.

 

photo of 100 watt monocrystalline replacement panels

The Teardrop Gets a Solar Power Upgrade

Teardrop Trail Log: September 20, 2016

photo of MC4 solar branch connectors

MC4 solar branch connectors

After the unfortunate incident with the solar panel on our way to the Red Power Roundup, we were able to use shore power for the remainder of the trip. Disappointing, but not a show stopper. We had already determined that a single 100-watt panel was not enough for our needs, so I was planning an upgrade anyway. With a trip planned in late September, it was time to act. I ordered two new 100-watt panels, MC4 combiner connectors and additional MC4 crimp-on connectors. This would double our previous power capacity and allow for daytime use of a couple of small appliances including a crock-pot and solid-state cooler.

photo of Aluminum bar seals leading edge to teardrop

Aluminum bar seals leading edge to teardrop

Analysis of the incident and the remaining parts of the old panel made it clear that wind entering the leading edge had repeatedly flexed the panel causing it to fatigue and ultimately fail. It seemed to me that sealing the leading edge to the teardrop roof with a rigid mount would prevent this type of failure in the future. A trip to Home Depot secured an aluminum strip, and by drilling holes that matched the existing screw mounts, I could seal the leading panel to the teardrop skin. The leading panel then overlapped the other panel so it was also sealed to the wind.

photo of volt meter showing 13.2 volts

The new panels began working immediately

Once installed, the panels began producing power immediately. Although we currently only have about 80 Amp-hours of storage, the two panels can easily replace the day’s power use with 10 to 12 amp output in full sun. Also, by adding a 300-watt inverter, we are able to run a 1 1/2 quart crock pot during the day with power to spare. The next upgrade will be a larger battery.

The Ambassador was ready for a trip to Bob Sandlin State Park.

photo of solar panels on teardrop trailer

The panels overlap like shingles