Smallest RV

IMG_20160213_141751This fellow is into making ham radio contacts on UHF and microwave bands. He probably is going for distance records. He’s built what is probably the smallest RV, with just enough room for him to sit and operate the radios, all of his antennas and azimuth-elevation rotators on top, and a ladder for the frequent adjustment and changes of antennas.

I took this photo at the Orlando Hamcation 2016.

Electrical Boxes

The Trailmanor had three electrical-outlet-like things on the side of the refrigerator cabinet on a level with the stereo and above the refrigerator. But none of them were mounted in electrical boxes, they were just screwed into the Masonite of the cabinet side. As I was making the refrigerator cabinet airtight from the inside of the RV (not from the outside where the cooling air for the condenser comes from) I decided to install electrical boxes.

The cabinet sides are made from Masonite, and could be cut with a knife. All of the openings were enlarged to fit the boxes. These boxes have tabs that hold them in the wall, which deploy when you turn the screws in the corners.

You can see the Winegard digital antenna meter on the right of the photo. That turns out not to fit in a regular electrical box. Oops. Having already enlarged the opening to fit the electrical box, I had to modify a data box (one with an open back) by cutting it in half and screwing both halves on the other side of the Masonite from the Winegard meter.

I replaced the center panel, which had a phone jack, with a 6-position data panel. That will have connections for audio, USB, phone, and Ethernet.

I replaced the electrical outlet with one that included both two AC sokcets and two USB charging connectors.IMG_20160315_141849IMG_20160409_142245

Bluetooth Stereo

The Trailmanor didn’t come with a stereo, although it came with speakers, and antenna, and the wiring harness for a stereo. I added a Bluetooth stereo.  We pulled the trailer to Santa Barbara for a week and used the Bluetooth extensively. My Nexus 6 with 110 GB  storage holds an offline copy of our entire music library, so no need for Internet. I listened to a SpaceX launch online while working on the trailer.IMG_20160315_141918I ran a separate low-current fused line bypassing my main battery switch to feed the yellow clock/memory-retention wire of the stereo, since channels and settings are stored in volatile memory and the clock . It doesn’t pull much current, and I keep the trailer on a battery maintainer.

This model is a Pioneer DEHX96000BHS. It has a CD slot behind the front panel, the panel swings down to reach it. There’s an HD radio tuner (some stations still offer HD Radio, although it hasn’t really caught on) and a place to connect a Sirius XM receiver. Besides playing media through Bluetooth, it works as a Bluetooth speakerphone. It has an interface to Pandora (which isn’t really necessary, the interface on your phone works fine) and a custom app called Mixtrax which learns about your music collection and then creates DJ-like segues (pronounced “segway”, it’s when a DJ cross-fades two records) when playing it.

It can pair with 3 Bluetooth devices, which was just enough for our three phones. The three of us all have phones, e-readers and/or tablets, and I brought a laptop, so there were at least 7 Bluetooth devices.

There’s an analog input. There are two USB inputs, and you can plug in a memory stick with your record collection, or it can control the play application on some phones (this may be iPhone-specific).

Replacing the Propane Refrigerator with an Electric Compressor One

Propane refrigerators are a pain. They don’t work very well at their best. They are smaller on the inside than compressor fridges that fit in the same space, due to a lot of space being taken up by the propane apparatus. They require that the RV be carefully leveled when stationary, or they can be damaged! Defective ones have often caused RV fires and there are recall notices on several models. They use lots of propane.

My 400+ Watts of solar panels could support a compressor fridge at less than 25% of the rated wattage (panels in real-life situations and without sun-tracking can be expected to produce 25% of rated power), and I wasn’t satisfied with the operation or the internal size of my propane ‘fridge, I replaced it with a Dometic CR-1110. This fits in the same space, with some slight enlargement of the cabinet opening. The CR-1110 is deeper than the propane ‘fridge but there’s room for it in the cabinet.

The CR-1110 comes with a nice metal bezel that won’t work with the Trailmanor cabinet. It’s easy to remove.

I wanted to deal with some other problems with the cabinet while I replaced the refrigerator. The vent panels were an entry point for rodents and mud daubers. Some of plastic around the openings of the vent panels had been gnawed away and the fiberglass insulation on top of the propane ‘fridge had mouse damage. The refrigerator cabinet coupled outside air to the inside of the trailer and leaked inside heat to the outdoors, as there was a big open air space under the refrigerator and the sides of the cabinet were made of thin masonite.

My new installation would seal the cabinet from the inside of the trailer, insulate part of the cabinet with foam sheets. The installation was both to keep the cabinet from leaking heat and to reduce the number of spaces that rodents could inhabit. The back of the refrigerator, where the motor and condenser are, are still in open air.

Foam sheets were cut to fit on the side and bottom of the refrigerator, to fill up all of the empty space around the ‘fridge and to keep air, warmth, and uninvited guests from passing through there. IMG_20160303_121248I glued the sheets to the sides of the cabinet with silicone, and cut a sheet so that the refrigerator feet would pass through it but it would seal air flow under the refrigerator. IMG_20160303_121450 (1)I just placed the refrigerator on top of that bottom sheet and slid the combination into the cabinet.

The refrigerator cabinet top, with the new insulation showing.
The refrigerator cabinet top, with the new insulation showing.
The refrigerator, before molding was installed.


The cabinet opening around the refrigerator was sealed with silicone caulk, and then wooden molding was placed around the refrigerator opening to cover up the gaps around the ‘fridge.

The cabinet fan provides airflow when the refrigerator is used with the Trailmanor folded up, which obstructs the vent panels. There are two screened openings on the bottom of the cabinet, with a fan in one. The old fan was replaced with a 120mm computer fan, which pushes sufficient air and can’t be heard in the trailer. The duct on the fan was removed, I’m not sure it’s necessary and there isn’t room for the round duct any longer. A rectangular duct would work.

The CR-1110 works on both AC and 12-24VDC. We pulled the trailer to Santa Barbara for a week, and used the trailer with a hookup. It worked excellently. I’ve not finished the solar system yet, but will get to try it out boondocking when I do.

Boondocker BRC4-60 Converter Not As Specified on Their Site

The Boondocker BRC4-60 converter I received from Best Converters looks very different from the one displayed on their web site and in their manual. Indeed, it looks exactly like a Powermax PPC 60 converter with a Boondocker sticker stuck on it in place of the Powermax one, but costs about $100 more than a new Powermax PPC 75 does (to be fair, that’s an eBay dealer, but one of long duration). Just what did I get for the $100? The blown-fuse LEDs mentioned in the manual don’t appear toIMG_20160315_152755 be on the PC board. It may be programmed for 4-stage charging instead of the 3-stage offered by Powermax with the PPC-75, and it may have slightly tweaked charging parameters, but I can’t tell.

I wrote to Best Converter, and I was told that they went to the metal frame and have to update their photo, and that I do have a 4-stage charger and the specifications are identical to the one on their site, including the higher boost voltage. No mention of the LEDs though. So I guess they have to update the manual to delete them.

Powermax manufactures the Boondocker converter exclusively for Best Converters.

The breakers in the photo don’t come with the unit. The unit comes with openings for 3 Homeline breakers to be installed by the user. Powermax’s design predates the neutral bar used on newer breakers, so when you buy the combination ACFI+GFI breakers required by NEC 2014 for all kitchen and bathroom circuits, be sure to get the ones with pigtails for the neutral wire.