Category Archives: Jim

photo of Wind Power in Rural Iowa

On to Des Moines: Windpower in Adair

Teardrop Trail Log: June 14, 2017

I’ve been across Iowa many times. My friend Bob and I used to promote the Surplus Sales business at area Hamfests, and there were big annual gatherings in Cedar Rapids and Chicago. It has been 20 years or more since then and things have changed. Wind farms. Since Iowa produces corn, which was once called the fuel of the future when used to make gasohol, I assumed it was the main renewable energy industry in Iowa. Poor assumption. What a great surprise!

A little research around the Web told the story. Although Texas has the largest capacity of wind power generation in the nation (20,321 megawatts at the start of 2017), Iowa is second with a capacity of 6917 megawatts. The real surprise, it leads the nation in percentage of generation by wind — supplying over 36 % of the state’s power needs (as of 2016).

There are several reasons for this. First, Iowa is located in the wide swath of land reaching from South Texas up through North Dakota blessed with ample, year round wind. This includes other states located east of the Rocky Mountains and west of the Mississippi River. These states enjoy 50 to 100% more wind than most other states with Iowa coming in as the seventh-windiest.

Second, the Renewable Electricity Portfolio Standard, signed into law by then-governer Terry Branstad in 1983.  It required utilities to purchase electricity from renewable sources at a fixed price. The state was in a farm crisis, and this was seen as a way to provide extra income to farmers who really needed it. The law was the first of its kind in the nation and was the first guaranteed market for wind energy.

On top of that, Iowa has available land, and practical farmers who saw wind “farming” as just another crop. The icing on the cake? The state attracted companies that manufacture turbine components.

When we arrived at the Iowa State Fair later that day, the first thing I noticed was the giant wind turbine on the hill next to the campsites. I never fail to learn new and inspiring things about our country as we travel in our teardrop trailer.

photo of Wind Turbine at the Iowa State Fair

Wind Turbine at the Iowa State Fair

photo of Bob and Jim with forklift

The New Warehouse

Teardrop Trail Log: Monday, June 12, 2017

We awoke the next morning to a quiet house. Being an early riser, Bob was long gone, and Danna had been up for a while. I’ve never been an early riser, a topic that Bob and I revisit every trip with his good natured teasing about “burning daylight.” On the other hand, I worked broadcast TV as a young man and my day didn’t even start until early afternoon. It’s been a topic of conversation ever since.

photo of Adams & Kelly Co - Omaha - 1908

Adams & Kelly Co – Omaha – 1908

Bob had promised a tour of his new building and I didn’t want to waste any more time. In the forty-plus years since we started the electronic surplus business together, he’s been through countless locations as the business expanded. I can’t remember them all, but there have been at least eight. He has been in his current location, an old millwork factory, for about 13 years. It was amazing given it’s size — about 225,000 square feet. A four-story brick-veneer building that occupies about a half of a city block and dates from the early part of the 20th century. Omaha is gentrifying though, and developers are eager to convert the old structure into condos. How times have changed.

photo of Aisle after aisle of warehouse racking

Aisle after aisle of racking

When we arrived in Omaha the day before, Bob told us about his new building in Fort Calhoun. Most recently a warehouse facility, it has about the same square footage, but is all on one level with 37-foot ceilings. The entire building has rows of racks, meaning that it can efficiently store far more than the Ashton building. On top of that it was constructed in four segments beginning in the 1990’s, so the construction, roof, and fire suppression systems are all modern. A very big deal for the fortunate new building owner. I couldn’t wait to see it.

Bob was back at the house by the time we finished breakfast and we headed out. With the new building only about 2 miles from his house, we were there in no time. The sheer size of the building was breathtaking. It has a plain brown exterior with the exception of a monumental red sculpture, and the side opposite the street sports 13 loading docks. That was an obvious improvement over Ashton with it’s two or three.

photo of the far wall

Can you see the end?

As we went inside, I tried to glimpse the opposite wall. This should be possible since the racking  is aligned in long rows away from the loading docks. I could just make it out. Was that the curvature of the earth getting in the way or just my aging eyesight?

photo of The move has started with this miniscule part of the inventory

The move has started with this miniscule part of the inventory

They were just starting to move inventory from the Ashton building — a process that would continue for several months — so the new building was mostly empty. As we walked around I was impressed with it’s modern appearance. It’s always fun to look around Surplus Sales and it was still fun — even with just a little of the massive inventory moved in.

photo of Riding the new forklift

Riding the new forklift

Bob saved the best for last. He bought a new forklift that was better suited to the vast distances and tall racking. Made by a German company, Jungheinrich, it is the Mercedes Benz of the forklift world. He invited me to try it out.

Wow. Fast. Quiet. Awesome. I drove it around for quite a while. Maybe he was trying to  entice me back to the business?

photo of Looks like a video game. My new office?

Looks like a video game. My new office?

photo of Bob and Danna's house - hidden in the trees

On To Nebraska — Been On This Road Before

Teardrop Trail Log: June 11, 2017

I moved to Austin in 1984 and have been back to Omaha, where I grew up, many times. It’s about a two-day drive, with a convenient stop in the Oklahoma City area. Marilyn and I have gotten used to staying in Edmond, on the northern end of Oklahoma City. It puts us a little closer to our goal, and has reasonable accommodations and restaurants. After a great dinner at Othello’s and a good night’s rest, we were off.

map of Edmond, OK to Omaha, NE

Edmond, OK to Omaha, NE

The drive between Edmond and Omaha is mostly Interstate or four-lane roads, with plenty of stops along the way. It’s flat or low, rolling hills, and the miles tick by rapidly. The landscape is pleasant, but not remarkable, so an audio book or podcast is helpful in passing the time.

Between the Oklahoma/Kansas border and Wichita is the Kansas Turnpike, and it is a toll road. It continues to Kansas City, but we usually switch to Highway 135/81 in Wichita. This is a great north/south road that takes us via Salina, Concordia, Hebron and Geneva to York, Nebraska where we turn right onto Interstate 80 for the last leg of the trip into Omaha. The whole trip takes about seven hours without stops.

photo of The locals

The locals

We were planning to stay a couple of days with my friend Bob and his family in Ft. Calhoun, just north of Omaha. He has a beautiful home in a sea of cornfields and it’s always great to spend time there. Danna, his wife, keeps chickens, miniature donkeys and goats, so there’s local entertainment as well.

Bob and I have known each other since high school, and were briefly in business together about 40 years ago. He still has that business, and I was looking forward to his latest exploits — the adventure for tomorrow.

photo of The View from the house

The View from the house

photo of Our Rig at the Somervell Roadside Park

On the Road Again!

Teardrop Trail Log: June 10, 2017

Omaha, Nebraska, where I grew up, sits astride the famed east/west Union Pacific Railroad mainline and is midway between New York City and San Francisco on Interstate 80 — the ninth busiest highway of the Interstate system. When combined with the Nebraska attitude of getting things done, I’ve always favored traveling on major roads. Let’s not waste any time driving!

Map of 281 to Wichita Falls

Map of 281 to Wichita Falls

A move to Austin, Texas in the mid-80’s began to change my thinking. Austin is on Interstate 35, the main north/south artery between Larado, Texas and Duluth, Minnesota. With all the border-to-border truck traffic, and major cities like Dallas/Fort Worth and Oklahoma City  along its path,  it is one of the most congested highways in the Interstate system. The faster Interstate speeds are usually offset by traffic and the ever-present construction needed to maintain this vital artery.

Texas is full of historic and eccentric towns connected by scenic highways however, and I have gradually learned to love the sometimes slower, but much more interesting trips they offer. Our route to Des Moines, Iowa for the Red Power Roundup was another opportunity to enjoy the backroads of Texas.

Although I enjoy laid-back travel more and more, I still like our modern conveniences — Google and Apple Maps have transformed our travel. A quick search produced routes for one of our favorite Texas roads, Highway 281 from just south of Johnson City to Wichita Falls, Texas. It varies between two and four-lane highway, interrupted by small towns and cities along the way. Each provides a chance to stop, stretch your legs and take in an attraction or two.

The Highland Lake culture near Marble Falls and Burnet, aviation enthusiasts in Lampasas, the beautiful courthouse in Hamilton (most of Texas’ 254 counties have preserved historic and beautiful courthouses), farming around the unique town of Hico, a Depression-Era roadside park near Stephenville and re-entering more urban travel (with the promise of a Starbuck’s Mocha!) in Wichita Falls. Surprisingly, the route clocks in with a faster travel time than Interstate 35 — as long as you don’t dawdle too much!

The remainder of the route to our first stop, Edmond, Oklahoma is Interstate 44. A toll road, it is new and fast. After all that Texas sightseeing, it’s time for a nice dinner and a bed.

photo of burros along the route

Local color

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 Jim Experiencing Scenic Point near Jasper, Arkansas

The Ambassador in the Ozarks

photo of the Mimosa trees that are common along the road

Mimosa trees are common along the road

After having lunch at the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, it was time to beat feet. It looked like a 4-hour trip to Little Rock, but we didn’t know the roads and couldn’t go quite as fast as travel estimates since we were pulling the Ambassador. It looked pretty doable though, and Marilyn is a master navigator. As she considered various routes, I enjoyed the scenery.

As we crossed the border into Arkansas, Marilyn settled on Highway 7 — a route that would take us through the Ozarks. Based on the National Geographic Road Atlas, it looked like the most direct path and seemed to be on a substantial road. It was very scenic, but the road was winding, narrow and hilly. I was hoping the travel estimates accounted for diminished road speed and began to think we might be a little late into Little Rock. This is part of traveling through new territory. You can’t always predict what you’ll find, and you just have accept it.

photo of The Tower

The Tower

The forest and road seemed to go on forever. We had passed through Harrison some time ago and the road was still narrow and hilly. The dense Ozark forest was interesting though.  Then, we began ascending and had to slow down. After passing through Jasper, we continued up the mountain. In a little while, we broke into a clearing and were on top of the world. Stopping at the Scenic Point Gift Shop, we got out to look around. The views were spectacular, and best of all, there was an old wooden tower to climb. From the top, you could see the Buffalo River basin. Missouri is visible to the north, with views that encompass about 1.3 million acres in all directions. Far from an unwanted delay in our trip, this had turned serendipitous, with the discovery of a place we would have to revisit and explore. Salute!

 

photo of Buffalo River Canyon

Buffalo River Canyon