Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Mini's First Solar Deployment

Readers of this blog will recall that I made the decision to attach solar panels to the roof of the camper by drilling holes into it and affixing the panels with screws. This design worked great and I didn't have a single problem with the Tank's passive solar setup the whole four years it existed but, having traded in my solar power system when I traded in the camper I set about rethinking my whole approach to solar for the Mini.  Mention drilling holes into the roof of an RV and almost every RV owner will get squeamish, water leaks are one of the most common ways RV's get damaged and the first question a dealer considering an RV for a trade in asks is "Any water damage?"  When I bought the camper it was already four years old and the previous owner had drilled all kinds of holes in the roof so me adding a few more wouldn't hurt much.  With the Mini being brand new, and the roof being in pristine, "undrilled" condition I just couldn't bring myself to mounting solar panels on the roof.  I had to come up with a completely new (for me) approach and I found it after research on the Internet and at the Quartzite RV show back in January. 

My old panels were made by Renogy and worked great, I stuck with them.
When I had stopped by the Renogy Solar booth at the Quartzite RV show they had a 100 watt solar "suitcase" set up that looked really well engineered.  It stored in a nice padded case like mine above but I really had my heart set on at least a 200 watt system, like I used to have in the camper.  The Renogy rep said they were going to come out with a 200 watt suitcase later in the year and just keep checking their EBAY website for it.  I kept checking and finally towards the end of April was able to order it and have it sent to my sister's in Austin, knowing that she could bring it up to me in Arlington when we all met up for my daughter's graduation.  The logistics all worked out great and I finally had a portable solar solution for the Mini.

The "problem" was I had electrical hookups available to me almost all through May so I never had a reason to give the suitcase a tryout.  (Nice problem to have!)  Finally, towards the end of the month I pulled into a small town's city park in Oklahoma which was listed on the Internet as having RV campsites with electrical hookups,  Unfortunately the park had been badly flooded in the spring and the power to the electrical boxes had yet to be restored so...out came my suitcase for the first time!

200 watts of solar goodness in the pickup's bed!
The initial time setting the suitcase up was pretty smooth.  The suitcase comes with it's own charge controller which is attached inside the back of one of the two panels.  Renogy included a fairly long cable which attaches to the charge controller and then attaches to the Mini's battery with alligator clips.  Adjustable struts allow you to get the panels perpendicular to the sun for optimum panel performance.

These panels will produce better than the Tank's due to the tilt capability.
When you're done using the suitcase the struts collapse into the back area of the solar panels, the cord loops up and fits in the inside of the panels, the panels fold in on their hinges to make the "suitcase", and two latches secure closure and it then fits into the zippered padded case for travel.  It doesn't take five minutes to setup or take down. 

While having the fixed passive solar setup in the Tank was pretty effortless, because the panels couldn't tilt to the most favorable angle to the sun, often times, particularly in winter, the energy the Tank's panels produced was sometimes only 50% of their rated capacity.  The Mini's suitcase should easily outproduce my old setup due to it's ability to aim and stay perpendicular to the sun.  I guess we'll see!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, May 22, 2017


As I mentioned previously I camped my way from the Midwest to Arlington, TX to attend my daughter's graduation from the University of Texas at Arlington and her after-party held at her uncle's home in Arlington.

My daughter Nickelle, all smiles before the ceremony!
I was prepared for a lengthy three or four hour grind but couldn't have been more surprised. The speaker, a manager from Goldman Sachs and also a UTA grad, began with "I'll try to keep this brief..." and he did!  Then, in a super organized diploma ceremony, the university ran about 2000 business school grads up on the stage and back to their seats for a total elapsed time of about 90 minutes!

New grad, diploma and proud Dad!
It was a great graduation ceremony and the celebration party at her uncle's place was very well attended with probably 60 to 70 friends and family there.  I ended up giving about a dozen guided tours of the Mini which was parked two houses down from where the party was.

Can't stop smiling!
 Congratulations, Nicki, you earned it!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The "Mini Effect"

One of the main reasons I traded the camper in for the Mini (besides the camper almost falling apart) was that I wanted to have the ability to detach the pickup from the Mini and be able to go places around my campsite.

The Mini squeezing under a large oak tree.
While it's true I could have always arranged everything within the camper for travel mode and pack in the grill and my camp chair for travel, the hassle involved in doing so more often than not caused me to justify not going in the first place and staying put.  Now, with the Mini I usually unhook the Silverado from it as soon as I set up my campsite, giving me a clear and free road vehicle to explore my surroundings to a much greater extent.

Recently, while camping at a Corps of Engineers campsite in northeastern Oklahoma (I'll do a Campground Review on it next post) the Camp Host highly recommended a restaurant a few miles down the road that specialized in fried catfish, one of my all-time favorite seafood dinners.  Leaving the Mini at my campsite I made a beeline to Shad's Catfish Hole in the pickup.

Open at 4:30 when I got there at 4:45 the parking lot was almost full.
It was an all-you-can-eat catfish deal....I managed 5 fillets!

That huge baked potato probably limited me to 5 fillets!
I can't tell you what a luxury it is to have an unencumbered ground vehicle to roam around in!  Oh, and the Silverado gets way better mileage when not pulling or carrying a RV.  I'm really looking forward to getting out and exploring more!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Campground Review: Table Rock State Park Branson, MO

When I headed into southern Missouri I originally planned on staying at the Escapee's Turkey Creek Village campground in Branson.  They always had space for me in the past so I didn't bother calling ahead for a reservation.  The campground there is on Turtle Creek which is normally a placid body of water, key word in this sentence is "normally", because southern Missouri had been undergoing severe flooding and Turtle Creek was no exception.  As I pulled up to the Escapee's driveway there was a chain stretched across the driveway and it was evident the permanent residents had evacuated the Village which was a good thing as half the campsites were under water.  In the four years I've been full-timing one thing I've learned is to stay flexible, so I searched Google Maps for "state park near me" and luckily Table Rock State Park was only five miles from the Escapee Village, so I drove there.

The trail head for one of the two main trails at the park.
I've always been impressed with the quality of Missouri's state parks and Table Rock didn't disappoint me.  Here's the park's data sheet:

Hookups:                                             30 & 50 amp, water sewer                                         
Fire ring:                                              Yes                                                                 
Water Access:                                     Yes                                                     
Fresh Water:                                        Yes                                         
Trash Service:                                      Yes                                         
Toilets:                                                Yes                                         
Showers:                                             Yes                                                     
Dump station:                                      Yes                                         
WiFi:                                                   Yes                                         
Level sites:                                          Yes                                         
Laundry:                                              Yes                                                                 
Store:                                                   No                                                                              
Pool:                                                    No                                                      
Shade:                                                 Yes                                                                 
Verizon reception:                               4G, 3 bars                                                       
Internet reception:                               3 of 4 bars                                          
Cost:                                                $18 per night

Typical Table Rock campsite with a water view.
The rains had finally moved on during the last couple days of my 3 day stay at Table Rock so I got a chance to deploy the Mini's awning for the first time.

I'm actually using the gas grill in the picture more than I thought I would.
Along with campsites there was a rent-able Yurt for the campers who come to Table Rock sans RV.

Nice deck!  Would have been interesting to see inside.
The park even has it's own outdoor amphitheater where rangers give nature talks (among other things).

Shakespeare under the stars, anyone? 
  Anytime I can stay at full-service state parks for under $20 a night I'm more than happy!  Table Rock State Park represents some real value for what you get (I even did a load of laundry for $3.50 wash/dry!) and is another really nice member of the Missouri State Park system.  If you were visiting Branson for all the entertainment venues consider camping at Table Rock State Park as a low-cost lodging alternative.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Inside the Mini

Still camping my way down to Arlington, TX, I just got through three days of torrential downpours in Southern Missouri.  Waiting for the rain to end I got a chance to take some pictures of the inside of the new Mini:

The queen bed is at the front of the trailer.
The bath with shower and sink toilet is lower left.
The couch with table that folds down for transport and fits behind the couch.
HD TV and stereo radio/DVD player with 4 surround speakers in the ceiling.
My much larger fridge with separate freezer compartment.
The kitchen with a microwave I hadn't had for 3 and a half years.
So far I'm really enjoying all the extras compared to the camper, including the extra square footage!

Thanks for reading!