Tag Archives: camping

photo of Camp Des Moines

Navigating Des Moines

Teardrop Trail Log: June 14, 2017

As we drove into Des Moines, we started looking for our destination. Centrally located just off I-80 and I-35 in Des Moines, the Fairgrounds are located at East 30th Street and East University Avenue. We found the entrance.

Iowa State Fair Logo

Since our first Red Power Round Up in Huron, South Dakota in 2014, we had decided that it was a distinct advantage to camp on the fairgrounds. The convenience of walking to a parade or even going back to the teardrop for a nap after lunch was much easier that driving back and forth from a hotel somewhere in the city.

One year, I booked our campsite for the next year even before we broke camp. This year, I started by calling the Iowa State Fair for information on camping. I finally got through to a very nice lady, and learned that there were 160 acres of camping!

Although we had printed out a map, finding our way around the Fairgrounds was no easy task. One-way streets, blocked off sections, locked gates, dodging tractors and people contributed to the difficulty. Eventually we made it to check in. Armed with a map we finally located a site, close to one of the bathhouses but not crowded in amongst other campers. Setting up our camp is always a pleasure. We found a large tree to provide shade during the hotter part of the day.

Since we had been visiting friends and family in Omaha, we decided to put off the purchase meat and other food stuffs that needed refrigeration until we reached Des Moines. We pointed the Lady in the direction of the exit. Jon, Jim’s brother, provided an address of a new market. How simple can this be? We were already on University Avenue so we assumed that we could drive to another destination on University Avenue without problems. We watched the street numbers as we traveled. When we reached the number provided, there was no market in the neighborhood. Out of frustration, we finally ended up asking “The Girl” for directions. The market was in West Des Moines which has its own numbering system for University Avenue. Back on course, we were finally able to buy food for the next few days.

Map of the Iowa State Fair Campgrounds

Map of the Iowa State Fair Campgrounds

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 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 maps and brochures

Des Moines – Here We Come

Teardrop Trail Log: May 2017

Planning for our trips on the Teardrop Trail is always an essential part of my experience. I love exploring the possibilities. This year, Red Power Round Up, the annual gathering of the International Harvester collectors, would take place at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines from June 15 through 17. We discussed places and events we might want to see before and after the event. Trying to limit the driving to around 6 hours a day, we prefer to take the scenic route, including time to stop and stretch, grab a photo or try a local eatery when time permits. Several months before our scheduled departure, I began an intensive Internet search of websites, blogs and travel emails that would inform our route. I even tried a few on-line planning tools. Hard to believe this would be the fourth year traveling in the Ambassador, our teardrop.

We’ve been part of the Teardrop online community for quite some time, so I began posting inquiries about campgrounds, restaurants and points of interest on several groups’ Facebook pages. Members of Heartland Tear Jerkers had some great suggestions and even extended an invitation to a gathering in Rock Creek State Park, just prior to RPRU. I also reached out to Sarah Tucker of Cool Tears magazine and Marsha Corbin, the Executive Director at Old Trails Region in central Missouri. We had seen a television program of the Flint Hills in Kansas and Jim had seen an event featuring video woodworkers he followed online in Skiatook, Oklahoma. so I started researching the possibilities and contacting organizations along the route requesting brochures.

Armed with our trusty National Geographic Road Atlas, Adventure Edition,  I began to compile our wish list and enlisted Google Maps to get the mileage from point to point and answer the inevitable question, “Are we there yet?” As the itinerary came together, Jim and I reviewed options. I printed out the notes that would be clipped to the cover of the atlas for quick reference. Next step –- the to-do list.

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 car and trailer in Palo Dura State Park

Packing in the Rain

Teardrop trail log: June 22

And the rain came…… Waking up to the pitter patter of little rain drops on the trailer, instills a sense of dread in even the most experienced teardrop camper. Visions of wet chairs, canopy and all the other equipment was enough to make me want to pull the covers up and go back to sleep.

On our inaugural outing with the Ambassador, we had a heavy rain shower on our very first night at Palo Duro State Park. From this experience, we had compiled a long list of lessons learned. The two plastic totes with fold-over lids I had used for condiments and larger items had filled with water on that first trip. The solution was to stack them and place a garbage bag over the top box. Garbage bags became the go-to-solution for wet gear of all descriptions as well as a preventative measure for a leaking water container on the floor inside the trailer. We have gotten better about stowing things in the hatch and under the trailer. Sigh – garbage bags in hand, it was time to dash, pack and move out!