May 1st marked the fifth anniversary of our life on the road. I would say we paused and reflected on the past five years sharing memories with each other. But we didn't. In fact, we didn't even notice the anniversary until it was well past. So much for sentimentality! Not really our strong suit.
We began the month by weighing RVs at Howard and Linda Payne's RV-Dreams Educational Rally in Sevierville, TN. We first met Howard and Linda at the RVSEF Conference five years ago. A couple of years later, they recruited us to be a weighing team for RVSEF. We really enjoy spending time with them. We both stayed at the campground a couple of days after the rally was over. One evening, the four of us went out to eat at a restaurant in Pigeon Forge (I think it was called the Old Mill Pottery House Cafe). We ate on the patio and were surrounded by little man-made streams and waterfalls. We also saw a family of ducks! We counted close to a dozen ducklings, but they were moving so fast, we don't know exactly how many there were. What a treat!
After the RV-Dreams Rally, we drove to Elizabethtown, KY to teach classes and weigh RVs at the RVSEF Technical Education and Safety Conference. When we first attended this Conference in Bowling Green, KY, we were just beginning our life on the road. The second time we went we were finishing our training to be a weighing team for RVSEF. This time, we weighed RVs, taught a few classes and did some Driver training. We tend to harp on tire safety, but there are some good reasons to do so. Below is just one example. While teaching this trailer owner to back up, you can see some of the stress trailer tires go through. Good tire care and proper inflation are important!
During the conference we dry-camped in the parking lot of the facility along with about a dozen other RVers. This was the first test of the new battery bank we purchased in South Carolina. For those not familiar with our system, most of the RV runs on a 12 volt DC Electric system. The lights, furnace, slide motors, landing jacks, all run on batteries. The air conditioners and heat pump only run when we are plugged into 120v AC shore power (or connected to a generator which we do not have) other appliances like the refrigerator hot and water heater can switch between electricity and propane. The stove and oven are propane only. The microwave and wall outlets (to power computers, TV, and other such things) can run off shore power or the inverter which converts our 12v DC electricity (from the batteries) to 120v AC (like what you have in a house). The inverter quickly drains the battery so we only use it when we need it. When not plugged into shore power, we have four solar panels to charge our battery bank. On a sunny day with conservative use, we can pretty much stay on top of our batteries. Conservative use means the inverter is on only when we need it and we do not use the microwave. Computers run off batteries until they need a charge, then we turn on the inverter. All of this depends on the weather.
The weather in Elizabethtown was questionable. Temps were in the low 40s at night and 60s during the day. Three of the five days in the parking lot were supposed to be cloudy and rainy (in reality four of those days were cloudy). We would be away from our rig most of the day so energy consumption during that time would be low, but we were uncertain we could make it through so many cloudy days. if we got desperate and needed to charge the batteries, the nearest campground was 25 miles away. The other option was to buy a generator - something we have avoided and are not prepared to do yet.
The conference went well, but we had a few personal issues.
Issue 1: The day before our arrival to the parking lot, our front jacks completely failed. We could tell there was a gear stripped somewhere, but we weren't sure where. It could be the motor, the gear box, or the legs themselves. The motor didn't work, the manual crank was also disabled, so Trey had to crank the square tubing with a wrench. It wasn't that difficult, but it took many turns to get the legs up or down. We decided to leave the trailer connected to the truck until we could fix the landing legs. There would be many industry experts (the folks that train certified RV service technicians were teaching there) and the gracious host is the owner of an RV parts store down the street, Nevelle Skaggs of Skaggs RV. Susan was pretty confident Trey could fix it and Trey was pretty confident that if/when he failed to fix it, he could find someone who could. A couple days later (after dealing with issues 2 and 3), Trey purchased and installed a new gear box on his own. Problem solved! Out of sheer curiosity, we took the old gear box apart and saw the problem. There were metal filings all inside the box and you could clearly see the worn and broken gear.
Issue 2: We ran out of propane in the middle of the first night. We wish we could say this was the first time we ran out of propane, but it has happened a few times before and will probably happen again. It was 38* outside when we woke up Sunday morning and 53* inside. Without propane, there was no furnace and no hot water (and no stove on which to heat hot water.) Did we mention it was Sunday? Fortunately, Susan had taken a shower the night before. Trey, however, suffered through a cold cleansing that morning. A quick search revealed a Tractor Supply nearby that was open and sold propane. We needed the truck to transport propane tanks, so we unhitched the trailer (Trey manually turned the square tubing on the jacks with a wrench) and looked for a time we could leave the Conference to get propane. We then bundled up and went to work. About 2 PM Trey found time to run to Tractor Supply to refill our empty tank and that problem was solved.
Issue 3: Sunday evening, after a beautiful sunny day, our battery meter read 100%. We watched a little TV and recharged phones and computers before we turned off the inverter and went to bed. We checked the meter before bed and were around 95% full. Monday morning (the first of four cloudy days in a row) the meter read 52%. How did that happen? It is not good to run the bank below 50% and we were at 52% after only one night. It was another cold morning, but we didn't turn on the furnace because while we had plenty of propane, it takes electricity to run the furnace fan. During the day, the meter went from 90% to 85% to 52% to 74% to 52% in a matter of an hour. We asked Gary, the RV Doctor, who was teaching at the Conference, what he thought the issue might be. Without going into many details here, he thought one possibility might be the inverter meter not fully recognizing the new batteries. He gave us a couple of ideas to try and the owner of the golf car shop where we purchased the batteries said they would not show full charge until after they had been cycled a few times. Trey eventually went though all the settings on the inverter and we began seeing more realistic numbers, but they remained somewhat unstable. We still had three more days without sun, so we did our best to conserve, still not sure we could trust the inverter's battery meter. Of our seven days drycamping, we had one and a half days of sunshine. There were a few other times when the clouds weren't dark and we saw a little charge added to the batteries, but that is the most stringent battery test we've had so far. We learned a great deal about our system capabilities that week. We don't see ourselves boondocking much, but it is good to know we can live off the grid for a while with our current system.
While dealing with these problems, we tried to remind each other to be thankful in all circumstances. We want to walk in obedience each moment, whether pleasurable or difficult, whether joyous or painful. We fail far too many times, but keep striving to live worthy for the One who works all things for our good.
pray without ceasing,
in everything give thanks;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Leaving Elizabethtown, we drove through more beautiful midwest countryside.
We landed in Goshen, IN. This was not in the plans, it seems good place to catch our breath and pass Memorial Day weekend.