Sunday, February 15, 2015

Where Summer Spends the Winter

Odometer 44491
Trip Meter 0

Ajo, Arizona
Saturday Feb 14, 2015

I am always intrigued when I see "different" building techniques.  The town of Ajo has alleys that run mid-block behind the two rows of houses facing the street, and I actually like walking down the alleys to see a different perspective.  As Joan and I were walking down to the grocery store this week I became interested in the various techniques used to build the outbuildings that occupy many of the back yards.

Masonry rubble wall

This outbuilding was built right on the edge of the alley, and appeared to have walls made out of alternating layers of rock, broken concrete, and rubble.  I was just guessing, but it looked to me that big rock and concrete bits got more scarce as the wall got taller.   I'm not especially a fan of the transition from roof to wall- but it does lend some character to the building.

concrete wall design

Here is another interesting wall.  I'm not entirely sure, but it looks like they poured concrete into forms made of corrugated metal

Concrete and boulder wall

This wall was salted with boulders during the pour, to minimize the amount of concrete that was needed.  Certainly looks massive enough .  

Evening in the desert

We have had some very warm days this week, actually equalling, or breaking some standing records.  Typical daytime temperatures for February are in the high 50s to 60s, and we have had temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s.  Joan and I both like to get in a walk of a couple of miles or more every day, and the mid-day heat caused us to pospone our walks to later in the afternoon.  We are enjoying the change in the look of the desert, and are seeing lots of beautiful sunsets.

ElectraVan, Subaru 600

On one of our walks, Jeff spotted this older Subaru van and was surprised by the ElectraVan nameplate on the back.  When we got back home, we Googled it up and found that is a Subaru 600 van that was modified by Jet Industries in Texas during the 70s and 80s, to be sold as an electric vehicle.  If you are interested you can read more about it by clicking the link here My ElectraVan

Suzuki Samuari spring shackles

Wednesday Feb 12
The last time Mark and I went exploring in the desert we noticed that the new spring shackles on his '88 Sami were allowing the springs to move sideways too much.  A little investigation, showed  that the bushings were all deformed.  Mark ordered new bushings of a harder material from Low Range Off  Road and we got busy putting them on today.   These new bushings look like they'll do the job- but only a desert trial will tell for sure- so I'll have to let you know.  While we were at it, Mark also decided to put on all new radiator hoses.  Turns out that was a good call- one of the intermediate hard pipes was rusted through and could have failed at any time.

Polishing RV sidewall

As with any house, RV maintenance is a never-ending priority.  Our coach is only partially painted- the grey color is automotive grade paint, however the white portions are gelcoated fiberglass.  The swooshes are all vinyl decals.  These 3 surfaces all age at different rates and some have better UV resistance than others.  The decals are the first to go, they fade in direct sunlight and start to peel around the edges.  Next is the gelcoated fiberglass which will get dull and chalky with extended exposure to sunlight.  The paint is 12 years old now, and other than rock chips and abrasions, it looks nice and still polishes up to a high shine.  All these surfaces benefit from a good coat of wax and, not surprisingly, continued care can extend their life time.
Shiny gelcoatThat's how I came to buy an electric orbital buffer and some oxidation remover.  One has to be very careful when using abrasives on a gelcoat, because the coating starts out at between 2 and 3 one hundreths of an inch thick.  To put that is perspective, that the thickness of a business card to about the thickness of a credit card.  If you don't polish enough, the surface looks streaky when you wax it out, and if you polish through the gelcoat, you will lose all the coloring in the gelcoat and have an area that is porous and off-color.  I have heretofore been doing my best to buff out the finish by hand using a towel and a reputable brand of gelcoat oxidation remover.  I admit defeat.  I could get only poor results, leaving me with a shiny, but streaky looking exterior.  With the powered buffer, I was able to get much better results.  There is still some inconsistency in the final finish, but I'd rather go back over and do a little more in those areas, than risk 'burning through' the gelcoat anywhere.  Overall I am very pleased with the results of the power buffer/ polisher.
One of the manufacturers at an RV rally we attended told me the secret to getting a good finish is to take one small area at a time and work on it till you are satisfied- then quit and go have some fun.  Come back a day or a week later and do more as you feel like it.  I am so results-oriented that I have trouble quitting when I should, but I am going to do as he suggested.

Ajo Plaza, 2nd Saturday in Ajo

We have finally caught up to two of our RV friends from last year.  Bob and Beverly Burns have been hop-scotching around the state of  Arizona and have finally arrived at Shadow Ridge where we are.  Barb Cowger whom we met at Shadow Ridge last year and who traveled to the Sierra Vista area about the same time as we did, is back too.  We all took off to the Saturday Market in the Ajo Plaza, and later took the 10 mile loop road around the New Cornellia Mine.  Great fun- good friends!

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

Friday, February 6, 2015

Getting in Hot Water- Again!

Odometer 44491
Trip Meter  0

Friday February 6, 2015

This is the third time in as many years that we've experienced problems with our Atwood water heater.  This one is a little strange.  The first problem was in 2013 when the electric element burned out, and of course, the element isn't screwed in from the front of the unit for easy maintenance- no! it's in the very back, so the heater has to be at least partially removed.  The second incident- last year- was a leaking fitting on the cold water supply which as you've already guessed, hooks up in the back of the unit.  We replaced a plastic elbow with a brass one.  This year we were getting a hot wiring smell and burning plastic, which we finally traced to the water heater.  The heater is below the floor of the coach in an outside bay, however the smoky smell was getting into the coach through a return air duct which is adjacent to the water heater space.

Atwood RV water heater

Our water heater looks a little grubby and there are signs of corrosion on the lower surface of the heater box, due to the fact that when you pull the plug to drain or flush the tank the water spashes out onto this surface.  The drain plug, as astute readers have already surmised, is buried back behind the burner assembly in the lower part of the picture above.  (the great engineering continues to amaze)

Itasca Horizon Motorhome

A project of this magnitude requires every tool in the arsenal and all hands on deck.  Joan was pressed into service as the mechanic's assistant.

Water Heater bay, Removing RV water heater

We jacked up the bus in the rear to give me some crawl space, and then stacked a large chunk of concrete under the hitch crossmember as a safety.  I removed the inspection port underneath the back of the water heater compartment and took off the wiring enclosure to see if I could spot the problem.

Atwood water heater element

Sure enough, the wire to the heating element was crispy, and the top of the plastic cover on the element was melted.  Houston, we have a problem.   I removed the wires and got out the element socket wrench I purchased in Luddington, MI two years ago.  Reaching up through the inspection port, I brought all the muscle I had to bear on the wrench- to no avail.  It would not budge.  I did not use any anti-seize on the threads when I installed the element and it was stuck!  I used a micro torch to heat the aluminum around the threads, and tried a couple more times to get it to turn- not happening.

RV water heater removed

The whole heater had to come out, so I could get serious about extracting the element.  The coach builder could have made the connections long enough to allow one to pull the heater without having to disconnect everything- but what fun is that?  I had to disconnect the Motoraid lines coming from the engine coolant flow, the cold and hot domestic water lines, the 110 volt line,  the 12volt wiring, and the propane line.  By the time it was out I was bathed in Caterpillar coolant.  My T-shirt was poka-dot pink.  Even though I clamped off the coolant hoses there was still enough in each to get me good and wet.  You have to pull the line off the heat exchanger and plug both the hose and the port on the heat exchanger before they leak out on you.

Damaged water heater element

Here is what the element looked like after I finally got it out.  The plastic cap was melting and that's a lot of what we were able to smell inside the coach.  The hardware stores here in Ajo have a pretty decent supply of replacement elements, however ours wasn't one of them.  Joan found the 110 volt 1400 watt element we need on Amazon and ordered it.  The project would have to go on hold for a couple days, until it arrived.

Reconditioned Atwood water heater

While I had the heater out, I had a great opportunity to do a lot of good things.  I was able to really clean out the tank, I was able to take the rusty iron plumbing off the over-pressure device and put on a nice brass Shark-Bite fitting and a custom bent piece of Pex.  I took the last remaining plastic elbow out of the tank (the hot water outlet), and replaced it with brass.  I also cleaned the bottom shelf and sprayed on some bed liner.  Nice!    Joan and I showered in the park restrooms  for a couple more days.  Finally, the element arrived and was installed.  One last hurdle, as the sun  was setting and the shadows grew long I began filling the tank, only to find that the nylon drain plug was leaking.  I decided to tighten the plug one more turn- whoops! -the cap twisted off the stem of the plug and blew a stream of water clear over to the trailer next door- soaking me in the process.  Thank goodness there is a hardware section in the local grocery that is open late.  Joan found a brass plug to replace the broken nylon one.  I had to cut the remnants of the old plastic plug out of the drain.  Eureka! it holds water, without leaking.

After cleaning up all the tools and supplies,  I went inside and took a long hot shower!

Suzuki Samurai

Mark and I continue to search for aircraft wreck sites in the areas around Ajo.  The rains we had last week are a thing of the past and the water courses remain dry.  The Suzuki is proving to be quite the desert transporter.  We did some more work on the Samurai this week.  Mark has ABS door panels, carpet, weatherstriping, and other stuff that we have been busy installing.

Ghost tracks in the desert

One of the interesting things I have seen in the desert are age old tracks like the ones above, that show up out of nowhere, and end as abruptly as they began.  The desert really is a fragile place.  I always get excited when I see tracks like this, and start looking around to see if there is possibly an old homestead (or wreck site)- but mostly nothing- the origin of the tracks remain a mystery.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan