Bending Season

I live outside, on the porch of a travel trailer, underneath an awning and hemmed by colorful tarps.

The dirt is always beneath my feet and the weather on my skin. Insects go about their quotidian, treating me like just so much terrain. I observe their passage and their limitless diversity. I witness their entrances and exits on the stage of seasons.

Now is the season of the caterpillar. Little inchworms bend their way through space. Contract and expand, contract and expand. When observed at close distance, it is they who tug the earth through its travels.

They dangle from the live oaks on their silken threads, trapeze artists alight on the breeze, and then march together in all directions, following the arrows of anarchy to natural order. They are legion. They cover me by the dozens. My tender attempts at relocating them sometimes end in bloodshed. They are not willingly pried from their purchase.

The chickens feast during bender season. They pick away at the legion, taking out swaths, but the legion remains legion. Soon enough, they will disappear entirely, through no act of chicken, to be replaced by tiny white moths. A swarm replaces the horde, still legion either way.

They die quickly, leaving papery wings as memento of their moment. Little parchments mark the end of bending season. Punctuated ephemera.

May Your Buses Be Thick and Heavy

We use 2/0 wire and heavy bus bars for battery and inverter connections.

Before, the wire grounding the battery to the trailer chassis was 12 gauge and separated from its ring terminator.

A  four post negative bus bar, 200 amp circuit breaker, battery cutoff switch, and 4 post positive bus bar with plastic cover are arranged left-to-right on and secured to a piece of plywood. Heavy 2/0 wires run between them. Red positive wires run to and from the breaker, cuttoff switch, and positive bus bar. Black negative wires run to the negative bus bar.
A four post negative bus bar, 200 amp circuit breaker, battery cutoff switch, and 4 post positive bus bar with plastic cover are arranged left-to-right on and secured to a piece of plywood. Thick, heavy 2/0 wires run between them. Red positive wires run to and from the breaker, cuttoff switch, and positive bus bar. Black negative wires run to the negative bus bar.
The plywood board with breaker, cutoff, and bus bars is mounted vertically in the electrical compartment of the Casita next to a 160aH Renogy battery. A black 2/0 wire runs from the negative battery terminal to the negative bus bar. A red 2/0 wire runs from the positive battery terminal (out of frame) to the circuit breaker. Spare wires lie in the compartment waiting to be attached to the inverter+charger+transfer switch (not in photo).
The plywood board with breaker, cutoff, and bus bars is mounted vertically in the electrical compartment of the Casita next to a 160ah Renogy battery. A black 2/0 wire runs from the negative battery terminal to the negative bus bar. A red 2/0 wire runs from the positive battery terminal (out of frame) to the circuit breaker. Spare wires lie in the compartment waiting to be attached to the trailer frame and the inverter+charger+transfer switch (not in photo).

New Water Pump

Here’s the original water pump in our 1990 Casita. It served well for many years, but, by the time it got to us, it was a little leaky and a lot loud.

Zoomed out view of old Shurflo water pump showing electrical and plumbing connections
Zoomed in view of old Shurflo water pump showing the dusty label. Manufactured 4/90.

We replaced it with a Shurflo 4008-101-E65 3.0 fitted with a couple elbow adapters and a pipe strainer. We mated the new pump to the stiff PEX tubing of the Casita’s plumbing with flexible, braided, nylon tubing to aid vibration damping. The noise and vibration reduction between old and new is significant. I can’t hear the pump over the sound of water flowing from the kitchen tap. Even without the sink flowing, the whirring beneath the bed is subtle enough that we might forget to flip the switch off (it shut offs automatically when the taps are closed, but I like to flip the switch off too).

New Shurflo water pump with electrical and plumbing connections
Zoomed out view of new Shurflo water pump showing electrical and plumbing connections and intake strainer

This was a straightforward swap. There are four connections to make. Inflow, outflow, hot, and neutral. I made the 10 year old do much of the work while I supervised from repose.

Don’t forget to drain the water tank and shut off any city water connection before disconnecting the old pump. Keep buckets and towels handy. (IME, you can’t have too many buckets, towels, tarps, or clamps.)

1990 Casita Trailer

We upsized from the minivan to a 1990 Casita. This Casita rests on a car hauler trailer, giving it a wider stance and room on the back for a storage deck. The trailer and Casita are integrated with a groovy custom paint job. This thing has been to all kinds of cool places, including a few trips to Burning Man.

Here are some photos from the previous owner.

 

We replaced the water pump, reconnected the shower and hot water lines, and started the process of upgrading the battery, inverter, converter,  battery charger, transfer switch, and distribution panel. Once we finish crawling in tight places and repainting the name badge and bumper, I’ll post some fresh pics.

Van Wifi: Ubiquiti NanoStation, Ubiquiti airGateway, Tycon Systems DC to POE Converter

The best resource I’ve found for improving WiFi range on the road is this guide on Private RV Wi-Fi and Making a Better Park Connection by Outside Our Bubble.

The guide and video take you step-by-step through the process of setting up a Ubiquiti NanoStation and a Ubiquiti airGateway. The guide recommends the Ubiquiti NanoStation Loco M2 and the Ubiquiti airGateway Wireless Access Point. I ended up buying the more expensive Ubiquiti NanoStation M2 and Ubiquiti airGateway Installer.

The M2 has double the antenna range of the Loco M2. This is probably overkill, but I sided with making sure I had enough range for any park. When choosing, keep in mind that a larger antenna means more power consumption.

The Installer version of the airGateway offers a USB power input. I paid a little extra money for this hoping I could power both it and the NanoStation from a USB source, but, as I expected, USB isn’t powerful enough to drive the M2. USB provides enough power to set up the M2, but not enough to pull in a WiFi signal. The Installer version is intended to power up equipment from a USB battery pack just enough to allow provisioning. So, experiment failed, but I had a backup plan. Once I hooked up a Tycon Systems TP-DCDC-1224 24V POE Out 24W DC To DC Converter And POE Inserter, the NanoStation had all the power it needed to pull in WiFi from afar.

If you get the Installer version, note that you must toggle a setting to get the same user interface referenced in the Outdoor Our Bubble guide, which uses the non-installer version of the airGateway. By default, the Installer version shows a minimized interface with fewer options. Changing a setting (I forget which one), reveals the full interface seen in the guide. For RV and van use, I’d skip the installer version and get the cheaper version without the USB power input.

The NanoStation is weatherproof. I mount it to a small length of 3/4” PVC pipe that tucks into a socket on the roof rails. From its perch, it has endured months of rain and snow and wind without incident.

Parts:

Minivan Sunroof Fan Made from Corrugated Plastic, Muffin Fans, and a Dowel Rod

I don’t want to cut a hole in the roof of my minivan to install a Fan-tastic or MaxxAir fan. Everything I’ve done to convert it into a camper is reversible. I can return the van to stock if need be. Plus, the ceiling is full of lights and air vents I’d have to cut around, and a roof fan would occupy valuable roof space I’d rather dedicate to a solar panel.

The van is well-circulated by a pair of Endless Breeze fans placed in a second row window. When I have the back porch tarp deployed, the fans are protected from rain. I can’t always open the window or deploy the tarp though. On really cold days, I like to keep that second row window closed. In stealth camping situations, the tarp is much too large and conspicuous to deploy.

A roof fan is an ideal way to ventilate in all weather. It doesn’t require a rolled down window or a tarp. Since I can’t cut a hole, I decided to turn the sunroof into a roof fan. I filled the sunroof opening with a sheet of white corrugated plastic and then cut openings in that sheet for four USB-powered muffin fans. The muffin fans are designed for ventilating AV cabinets. They are light and low profile enough that the corrugated plastic surround is sufficient to support them–with help from a 1/4” dowel rod I had laying round.

I wish the fans were reversible with a switch. Changing the air direction requires unscrewing the fans from their chassis, physically flipping them over so that they blow the opposite way, and screwing them back in. I decided to have all four fans exhaust from the van, mainly because I was lazy. I’ll probably change one pair to intake from outside and exhaust into the van to establish a circulation loop.

The flush mount style of the fans allows the sunroof to close over the top of the fan assembly. Currently, rain protection for the fans is provided by another sheet of corrugated plastic clamped to the roof rails. When I’m camped, I clamp this sheet in place over the fans. Once I put solar panels on the roof (I’m currently using a suitcase panel), the front-most panel will shelter the fans from rain.

I use two AC Infinity Airplates that house two 120mm muffin fans each. They are chained together and controlled by an inline Off-Low-Medium-Hi switch. They are very quiet. Low is barely audible. Running them overnight on low has been sufficient to avoid window condensation.

The white corrugated plastic allows light through the sunroof. It acts as a diffuser. I worried I would miss having an unobstructed sunroof, but the suffuse ambience of the filtered light appeals. Enough sunlight gets through to keep me in touch with the circadian march of my surroundings.

A couple USB muffin fans, a sheet of corrugated plastic, and a dowel rod make for a cheap and practical ventilation solution. The only tools needed are a razor and a screwdriver. This can be done even cheaper by buying individual muffin fans instead of the fancy Airplate enclosures.

 

Parts:

The Things of Van Life

I collected many of the things I use in my minivan camper into an Amazon idea list. I use all of these products, many of them daily, and recommend them. I continuously update the list to reflect what I’m currently using. As things break or otherwise leave my life, I remove them from the list.

This Amazon wish list collects items I want to add in the future. I’m planning to expand the solar system, add a catalytic heater, build a luggable solar generator, and add a spin washer.