Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Magnetic "Door Halfway Open" Holder

Whenever we cook (which is twice a day), we have to open the windows and the door in order to get enough air – otherwise, the propane/carbon monoxide alarm goes off.  In warm, dry weather, that's no problem – we just open the front door all the way, we step outside, and we latch it open.  But in cold or wet weather, I would prefer not to have to go outside, and we often don't want the door open all the way.  But there is no latch for holding the door open halfway.

So I came up with a rather simple "Mickey Mouse" solution.  I mounted very strong magnets on either side of a short strip of flexible steel.  One magnet attaches to the bolt assembly on the door, and the other magnet attaches to the strike plate.  Here's what it looks like when deployed:

The magnets are neodymium or rare earth magnets, salvaged from old computer hard drives.  (I have a friend in the computer business, but I would bet that you can get these things from any local computer repair shop.)  The magnets have holes in the mounting brackets; using a drill press and some care, it is possible to enlarge the holes to accommodate very small machine screws.

I used a mallet to flatten out a 1 foot strip of galvanized roof flashing.  I then drilled holes for the magnets and put them on either side of the steel strip:

Note that on one side, I mounted a small piece of wood, just to keep the strip of steel from flexing too much.

I then added an extra piece of perforated steel to the inside of the door frame, above the existing bolt assembly -- this is to provide more surface area for the magnet to grab onto: 

It was necessary to use a flexible steel strip, rather than something more substantial, because the bolt assembly on the doorframe and the strike plate are not exactly in the same plane.  So each end of the steel strip flexes slightly, to accommodate this minor disparity:

The whole thing can be deployed from inside the trailer:  I open the little hatch in the screen door next to the latch.  I stick the far end of the holder out onto the bolt assembly.  I then attach the near end of the holder onto the strike plate.  Here is what it looks like from the inside:

These killer magnets seem to be strong enough to hold the door in place, even in a fairly good wind.  But I haven't field-tested this yet, so we will see how it does in the typical strong afternoon Sierra breeze.

Finally, for storage, I screwed a small piece of perforated steel on the inside wall of the trailer, next to the front door frame.  The magnet sticks firmly onto that little piece of steel.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Manual fresh water tank heater: just a hose from the hot water faucet to the tank, but it keeps the pipes from freezing

During our last trip to Sequoia, the outlet hose leading from the water tank to the pump froze one night, when the temp got down to 11 degrees.  When we got home, I rigged up this simple solution:  A hose connects to the water faucet.  The hose runs to the outside through the outdoor shower opening.  The hose runs along the outside wall of the trailer, and the end goes into the external fill pipe of the water tank.  We run a few gallons of hot water, and the temp of the tank is substantially increased.  The warmed-up water runs through the outlet hose and back to the pump.

Here are some photos:

This is the end that screws onto the faucet – I have included a swivel fitting to make it easier to attach:

Here it is attached to the faucet:

The hose runs over the edge of the sink, under the counter, and into the opening for the outdoor shower:

This is a larger view of the hose as it passes through the outdoor shower opening:

This is an exterior view, showing the hose emerging from the outdoor shower opening – I have also inserted tightly-fitting foam blocks into the outdoor shower fixture as extra insulation:

And here is the hose going into the external fill pipe door:

For storage, the whole thing coils up and goes into an under-seat storage bin.

Some thoughts and caveats:

A thermostatically controlled built-in under-counter system would be far better.  But it requires cutting into the plumbing, and some electrical work.  My solution is crude but effective -- very simple and inexpensive.  It does the job, especially if (like us) you rarely camp in weather below 20 degrees.  (We have camped at 20 many times, with no freeze, but this last trip was just a little too cold.)

Obviously, this solution only works if you have an outside shower fixture -- otherwise, how would you get the hose through the wall?  And it is much easier if you have previously removed all of the outdoor shower plumbing fixtures.  (We did that when we got the trailer, because it is always too cold for a late afternoon outside shower when we are boondocking.  We needed the extra room under the sink more than we needed the shower, since we use the inside shower.)

The main drawback to this system is that it has to be set up whenever you want to use it and then taken down whenever you want to change your campsite.  But we so rarely encounter temperatures below 20 that this will be an infrequent event.

The other drawback is that this system does not operate automatically, unlike thermostatically controlled hot water recirculators.  So, for example, I plan on running this device at least once during the night, which will mean that when I get up at 3 am (which I always do), I will have to stand there for three minutes while the hot water runs into the fresh water tank.  Not a deal-breaker, but not effortless, either.  And the water heater will need to stay on during the entire night, which means that it will cycle on and off every few hours, which is a little noisy.  Better than frozen pipes, though!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Astroturf on the step bars

Very simple -- a strip of astroturf on the step bar, secured with heavy duty cable ties.  Since we often travel in the mud/snow/dirt/dust, this keeps the truck a little cleaner -- just wipe one boot, hop in, wipe the other, and away we go:

Monday, August 11, 2014

"Half-open" position for exit window with hinged rod

The emergency exit window on the left side of our trailer has just two positions:  fully open or fully closed.  That’s because the window swings outward when pushed by a rod -- there is no “halfway” position.  But sometimes, it would be nice to have the window open just a little, rather than completely closed or open all the way.

The solution is a rod that hinges in the middle.  I happened to have a hinged brass lid support, which is used to hold open a cedar chest.  It has a friction locking mechanism.  (These are sold in many hardware stores -- just Google "locking brass lid support.")   Here is a picture of the original rigid window opening rod and the hinged brass lid support, prior to modifications:

Using the hinged rod and some aluminum stock, I fashioned an exact replica of the original rod.  Here it is in its fully extended position, so that the window can open all the way:

The underside at the end of the rod (near my thumb in the preceding photo) has a channel, which sits on the window sill to hold the rod in position.  The channel is made up of two pieces of thin aluminum stock, riveted to the handle.  The rivets are also aluminum and were pounded flat so that the handle can still pass all the way through the opening in the window -- when the window is used as an emergency exit, the screen pops off, the handle pushes through and out, and the occupants gracefully vault through the swinging window.  (I hope I never have to pass that test of agility.)

Here is the rod when partly folded:

And here it is when secured in the half-open position.  The cable tie slips over the hinged section of the rod to hold the rod in that position:

And here is the rod when the window is fully closed -- the end of the rod is held by the original black plastic clip, attached to the window frame:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tripod supports for stabilizer jacks

Since I flipped my axles for extra ground clearance, my stabilizers don’t reach the ground; I usually bring a stack of big wooden blocks to make up the difference.  But the blocks are a little bit unsteady.  So I made some collapsible tripods, and they really get the job done.

They are 16 inches high, with legs made of 1 3/8” closet pole dowels.  Both ends of each dowel are rounded.  The base is made up of four pieces of 8x8 3/4” plywood squares, screwed together to make a block three inches thick.  Using a 1 3/8” Forstner bit and a drill press, I drilled three holes in the block, angled at 30 degrees.  The legs slip into the holes, and the whole thing is easily disassembled for storage and transport.

Here is what it looks like in action:

Here is the bottom of the base block, showing the slanted holes:

Here is a side view of the block:

We used it in soft soil, rocky soil, and on pavement, and it worked perfectly.  Since the tripod is higher than the blocks but does not wobble at all, the stabilizer jack is not overextended and seems to provide much better support and stability.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Extremely simple modifications: "very LMIC"

The LMIC has taught us to do more with less -- it has affected our house (perhaps in a good way, perhaps not) and even our speech -- any very simple solution to any sort of a problem is said to be "very LMIC."

Here are two almost-silly examples.  The door of the LMIC has a translucent panel (not really a window) that lets in a lot of light.  A long time ago (for the first LMIC!), I rigged up a "blackout curtain" that goes over the translucent window -- it's just a double-thickness hefty bag, reinforced with duct tape on the edges, with zip tie rings in the top two corners. The rings then go over cup hooks above the door frame. It sounds like a joke, but it works very well and is easy to store, and it has lasted for about 500 nights of camping. 

This is a shot of the “curtain” when deployed:

And here is a close-up of the cuphooks, screwed right into the paneling:

Note that there is a little tension on the zip ties, so that the "curtain" does not sag.

My second example is my patented freezer-door-holder-opener.  On our fridge, there are two strong springs that close the freezer door.  That’s great, but there are times when Felice needs that door open for a moment, as when she is putting an ice tray full of water into the freezer -- a chore best done with two hands!

So she suggested a wooden chopstick as a prop -- it worked!  I added short pieces of clear plastic tubing on each end, to avoid scratching the plastic liner of the fridge (and for better friction than the wooden chopstick provided).  Here is the magic chopstick when deployed:

And here it is in my hand, so that you can appreciate the subtle complexity of this device:

It's kind of a Zen ethos -- the sound of one chopstick propping.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Multidirectional Winch Mount on Spare Drawbar

We have a small trailer and an even smaller driveway -- in order to get the trailer onto the driveway and off the sidewalk, we have to pull it at a 45 degree angle from the street, all the way up to a wall next to our garage.  There is no room to pull it with the truck -- it has to be winched up.

That is the problem:  because the winch was pulling the trailer up at a 45 degree angle, the cable would inevitably pile up on one side of the winch drum.  One day, the cable hopped out of the drum and got tangled around the axle of the winch drum.  Bad situation.  I eventually rescued the winch by laboriously untangling the cable, but that arrangement was clearly inadequate.

So, after much consultation with my helpful buddies on rv.net, Felice and I developed the following arrangement:  the winch is mounted on the back of the truck, attached to the hitch receiver.  (More on that later.)  The truck is pulled into the garage so that the winch sticks out of the garage a foot or so.  The cable then runs across the front of the garage to a pulley.  The pulley is anchored to the spot on the driveway where we want the trailer to go.  (More on the anchor later.)  The cable then runs down the driveway to the chains bolted to the tongue of the trailer.  We put it all together, and it works!

Here is a crude diagram of the setup:

Pulley -------------------- Winch

Here is how the winch is mounted to the back of the truck:  I had a spare 2" drawbar/ball mount sitting around -- it was from our old trailer, which had a smaller rise.  This drawbar also had a sway bar mount welded off to one side of the bar -- which came in very handy for mounting the base plate of my winch mount.  Using my drill press, I drilled a couple of extra holes through the drawbar and then ran several heavy half inch bolts up through the holes and through a thick piece of plywood -- this is a picture of the underside of the base platform:

Here is a view of the top side of the base platform -- notice the 3/8 bolts sticking up through the base platform, which will go up through a separate piece of heavy plywood, to which the winch is attached:

(That horseshoe-shaped thing in the upper right is a very powerful magnet, scrounged from a dead computer hard drive -- I use it to hold the wing nuts during assembly, as shown later.)

And here is the winch on its base, which is mounted onto the projecting studs -- my finger is pointing to one of the studs:

Finally, thick washers and wing nuts go onto the studs to hold the winch in place on the platform:

By placing the studs at exactly symmetrical intervals, I can now dismount the winch base and rotate the winch by 90 degrees or 180 degrees.  So if I ever need to use it out in the boonies to pull the trailer out of trouble, and I can’t align the truck so that the winch is pointing in the right direction, I can just realign the winch.

This shows the alignment of the winch on the back of the truck, the pulley (in front of the trailer), and the trailer:

And this is the pulley, mounted on a bolt sunk into the driveway:

The bolt is not permanently attached to the driveway -- I drilled a deep hole in the concrete with a carbide bit.  The bolt then drops down into the hole.  A big washer covers the hook at the top of the pulley.  We watched to make sure that the bolt did not move when we were pulling the trailer up the driveway -- it did not budge.  The tension on the cable created a tight fit in the hole.  But then when we were done moving the trailer, it was easy to lift the bolt out of the hole -- no hardware left in the driveway to trip on.

I am planning to get a “snatch block” to replace the pulley -- a snatch block is a pulley in which the two halves or “cheeks” rotate apart, so that the cable can be easily placed into the pulley and later removed.  With our current setup, the pulley is on the cable permanently.

Finally, notice (in that prior picture) that I have three clips or clamps on the end of the wire cable.  The minimum is two, but I wanted an extra margin of safety.  After a little Internet browsing, I discovered that the arched end of the cable clamp should be over the “bitter end” of the wire, rather than over the working portion of the wire.  I don’t know why that is the rule, but it is, and I figured I would just follow the herd.