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Welcome To Extraordinary

Matt

Matt

Enough winter, already.

Let’s start planning for spring and some things you can do in March with an easy drive from Crossing Creeks RV Resort and Spa in Blairsville, Georgia, where you can stay in comfort.

Here’s a look at some nearby fun North Georgia Mountains events early in the season:

Dahlonega Festivals

A series of 2020 festivals in Dahlonega, a picturesque town that’s not even an hour’s drive down U.S. 19 from Crossing Creeks, begins with the Dahlonega Literary Festival on March 6 and 7, and the Dahlonega Science Festival, March 6-8. More festivals are scheduled through the year, including the Bear on the Square Festival, April 17-19, and the Dahlonega Arts and Wine Festival, May 15 and 16.

Dahlonega boomed in the early 1800s as the site of the first U.S. gold rush, two decades before San Francisco opened its Golden Gate. You can still pan for gold. For a while in the 19th century Dahlonega had a U.S. mint that produced gold coins. Today the town of about 5,500 people, surrounded by the North Georgia Mountains ad man of Georgia’s finest vineyards, is better known for its festivals featuring the arts, live music, and wine tastings.

The literary gathering  inside the Dahlonega Baptist Church, 234 Hawkins St., features nationally known and regional authors, readings and book signings. The list of this year’s authors is online. Admission to the event is free. Money raised through donations and sponsorships benefits literacy projects in Lumpkin County. An eclectic mix of live music will play throughout the two days.

Event: Dahlonega Literary Festival   

Location: Dahlonega Baptist Church, 234 Hawkins St., Dahlonega, GA

Time/date: Saturday, March 16, 2020, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, March 17, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Admission: Free, all ages

Directions: an hour’s drive from Crossing Creeks 

The third annual Dahlonega Science Festival, “Vision 20/20,” will be held on the Dahlonega campus of North Georgia University and in downtown businesses March 6-8. Events at the festival, a project of the Dahlonega Science Council, will examine all sorts of scientific topics with an eye toward the future. Planned are talks by scientists, engineers and futurists, planetarium shows, a children’s stage show and hands-on activities, including crime scene investigation.

Events are free to all ages. You can watch for a list of speakers and schedule online. Past speakers have included NASA engineers and scientists, and professors from several universities.

Event: Dahlonega Science Festival

Location: University of North Georgia Dahlonega Campus; Dahlonega downtown businesses

Dates, times: March 6-8, 2020; event times to be announced

Admission: Free to all ages

Directions: an hour’s drive from Crossing Creeks 

Hippie Fest 2020

Here’s a happening that’s far out, but not far away. Hippie Fest is a 1960s déjà vu at Uncle Shucks Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch in Dawsonville, Georgia, just a 1¼ hour’s drive from Blairsville. It will happen rain (just like the 1960s Woodstock festival) or shine on Saturday, March 14, and Sunday, March 15.

Stroll through the scores of vendor tents in search of that perfect tie-dye shirt. If you can’t find it, just mellow out, because you can tie-dye a tee at the show. If it’s been years since you’ve seen a rear-engine VW bus or an early air-cooled Beetle, you’ll see quite a few at Hippie Fest’s car show, which runs both days. There are prizes for car show participants, including Most Shagadelic and Most Psychedelic vehicles, and Grooviest Bug.

Family-friendly music and entertainment will be presented live each day. You’re welcome to bring your own lawn chair. You can even bring your dog and let him groove (but clean up after him, please). Food and drink are for sale. 

Hippie Fest may not attract the multitudes that flocked to Yasgur’s Farm, but maybe that’s because tickets are limited. You must reserve tickets online.

Event: Hippie Fest 2020

Location: Uncle Shucks Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch, 125 Bannister Road, Dawsonville, GA 30534

Time/Dates: Noon-7 p.m., Saturday, March 14-Sunday, March 15, 2020

Admission: Single day, $11.30 (including fees); two days, $16.45; children 10 and under, free. 

Tickets: Limited availability. Reservations required online.

Camping spaces: Boondock only. Sold out.

Directions: 1¼ hour’s drive from Crossing Creeks

Suwanee American Craft Beer Fest

This will be the 10th year for the Suwanee American Craft Beer Fest in Town Center Park in Suwanee, about a 1¾ hour’s drive from Crossing Creeks. The festival, on Saturday, March 14, 2020, bills itself as Georgia’s largest craft beer festival. Only three days before St. Patrick’s Day, the festival doubles as a day for wearin’ the green. 

Admission entitles ticket holders, who must be 21 or older and have a photo ID, to sample any of more than 300 craft beers, including some new releases. Food is for sale, as are nonalcoholic beverages. Reduced-price designated driver tickets, available with general admission tickets, do not include tasting. VIP tickets include noon admission, a goody bag, souvenir tee shirt, guided tours and use of private rest rooms. Designated driver tickets are not available with VIP tickets.

Event: Suwanee American Craft Beer Fest 2020

Location: Suwanee Town Center Park

Time/Dates: Saturday, March 14, noon-5 p.m. (VIP); 1-5 p.m. (general admission).

Admission: General admission, $50 online (rising to $55 on Feb. 23); $60 at gate. Designated driver ticket (must be purchased by buyer of general admission ticket), $15. VIP, $110. 

Pets: Certified service dogs only.

Smoking: In open areas only, not near tents.

Directions: 1¾ hour’s drive from Crossing Creeks 

If you really hate emptying the black tank on your RV, consider switching to a composting toilet. Yes, you have to empty it, too, but it’s not as messy or as smelly.

The big difference between the composting toilet and a system that uses water is that urine and solid waste are collected separately in the composting toilet. That means the results are not as offensive.

You won’t have to use your black tank at all.

Composting toilets are safe—so safe that they are installed in many national parks. Solid waste in small quantities is treated much the same as disposable diapers, and urine, if disposed of properly, is not considered hazardous.

A good composting toilet costs about $950 and up.

Installing a Composting Toilet

No water hookup is needed for the toilet itself because it doesn’t use water. A composting toiler just sits on the floor, without the need to connect to water, waste outlets or even the floor. You will need an electrical outlet to run the toilet’s small fan, and you will need to drill through a surface of your camper for a small ventilation line.

The biggest question may be what to do with your old water-operated toilet. You can just leave it in place, but that may limit the space for the composting toilet. If you remove the old water-operated toilet, you’ll have to disconnect and properly seal off the plumbing—one line only, since a toilet uses only cold water—and you’ll have to cover and seal the opening to the black tank.

An RV center can supply the parts you’d need, or it can do the whole job for you. Store your water-operated toilet so you can reinstall it if you ever sell your RV.  

The composting typically requires partial assembly—unwrapping it from packing material, putting the tanks in place and possibly attaching a handle for the composting bin.

Using a Composting Toilet

You must set up the toilet for use by adding coconut fiber (sometimes called coco coir) or peat moss in the solid waste bin, hydrating the material before spreading it out at the bottom of the bin. This must be repeated after each dumping.

Using a composting toilet requires sitting. Men and boys will not be able to stand and urinate because doing so would mix liquid and solid waste, which would affect the neatness and purpose of composting. Mixing would create a stench, so children must be trained to use the composter properly.

A plastic bottle collects urine at the front of the toilet.

A larger composting bin collects solid waste beneath the bowl. Organic material, such as coconut fiber or peat moss, is placed in the composting bin to collect an mix with solid waste. For two people, a block of peat moss will probably last a year, or close to it.

Each time solid waste is put into the bin, you must turn the handle to mix it with the organic matter. That’s how odors remain in check.

Advantages/Disadvantages

Advantages

  • You will eliminate black tank odors, since you won’t be using the tank.
  • You’ll have no need to empty a black tank—ever.
  • You are likely to need to dump solid waste less often—perhaps every 3-5 weeks—than you would a black tank.
  • You’ll use less water without a water-operated toilet, so your fresh-water supply will last longer.
  • Emptying both the urine bottle and composting bin are relatively easy.
  • Composting toilets are portable, so you can use place one outside—say, inside a small tent.

Disadvantages

  • There’s that sitting regimen, which some men may not like. If you have bad knees, you may want to securely install a grab bar near the toilet.
  • You’ll have to empty the urine bottle more often than a black tank. Having extra urine bottles is advisable. They have screw-on tops, so they don’t leak. Solid waste and the composting material get dumped into a 13-gallon plastic trash bag, or better, a compostable trash bag, so you’ll need to keep plenty of the right size.
  • You’ll have to find places to properly dispose of the waste—not as difficult as it sounds, but still a requirement.

Where To Dispose of Waste

To be absolutely safe, you may want to contact the environmental agency in any state where you think you may have to dispose of waste. The federal EPA lists state agencies online. Regulations also may vary by park, and by municipality, so check with them.

Dumping Urine:

Here are some places you should be able to empty the urine bottle from your composting toilet:

  • At a dumping station. This is a sure place for safe disposal.
  • Anyplace you can urinate. So, a public toilet, such as those in a national park, or a toilet in a fast food or big box store, could take urine from a bottle. Carry your bottle in a backpack or tote so it’s not noticeable. Men, use a stall.
  • On the ground. Not just anywhere is acceptable, but many places are. Dirt roads in remote spots are good. Avoid paved surfaces, areas near other campers and ornamental vegetation. Think about where you’d urinate in the wilderness and use such an area for dumping urine. Pour over a wide area.
  • Away from waterways. Urine should be dumped at least 200 feet from waterways. One bottle may not hurt, but repeated dumping by many campers would. Just don’t do it.
  • Away from storm sewers. The pipes in storm sewers dump into rivers or lakes without treatment. Storm sewers should never be receptacles for urine or other human waste. Again, one bottle may not be harmful, but if everyone dumped this way, it would be.
  • Never on private property without permission.

Dumping Solid Waste:

Solid waste as it comes from a composting toilet is not yet truly compost. That takes time. But it is not considered hazardous by the EPA. Your bag of waste and fiber is the same classification as solid waste or municipal waste. It’s actually not as bad as a disposable diaper, which mixes solid waste with urine and contains more non-biodegradable plastic.

If you buy a vented, extra base (about $300), you can set it aside an allow it to completely compost before dumping. That’s the ideal method.

Here are places for dumping solid waste:

  • In the compost pile at a park or campground. One is typically available.
  • In a trash receptacle. Place the waste inside a plastic or compostable bag before placing in a trashcan or dumpster. Landfills accept this as a type of municipal waste. It is not against the law, or else millions of moms and dads would be picked up for using disposable diapers.
  • Burying. Some parks may bar this, but generally speaking if you’re in a wilderness area, you may dig a cat hole a least 8 inches deep and bury solid human waste, the same as you would if defecating outdoors while camping. The smaller the amount, the better. The bigger the amount, the deeper the hole should be. For multiple burials, use different spots.

Always read the instructions that come with your toilet. Not all models are the same. And check with EPA regulations before you dispose of waste.

Photo Credits: natureshead.net

Thursday, 19 December 2019 16:12

Safely Storing RV House Batteries

If you’re putting your RV away for the winter—or already have—make sure your house batteries are stored properly.

Proper storage ensures that batteries won’t freeze and that they’ll be ready to take a full charge come spring to serve you for another camping season. With lead acid and AGM batteries, you don’t want freezing to occur because battery cases can expand and crack if frozen, ruining the battery. Leaking battery acid can damage concrete underneath and other materials nearby.

Don’t leave your house batteries in place, exposed to freezing temperatures and unattended all winter. That’s a sure recipe for battery failure.

Store batteries in a cool, dry place—in freezing climes, a basement is great. With acid-containing batteries, your storage spot should have an available electrical outlet for a charger.

Traditional Lead Acid Batteries

Befitting batteries with the oldest technology, lead acid batteries also require the most work for safe storage. But, hey, they’re cheap and if well maintained, reliable.

First, clean dirt and buildup from the terminals and battery casing. The buildup is highly corrosive, so wear gloves and eye protection. Ignoring the buildup can accelerate discharge.

Pull off each cap and check the water level. If tops of the metal plates are exposed, fill the battery with distilled water until the metal is submerged. (This is why they are sometimes called “wet batteries.”) Distilled water prevents mineral buildup.

Use a multimeter to check the charge level. It should be close to 100 percent before storage. If it’s low, apply a charge until the battery comes up to 90 percent. This may take eight or more hours. Then apply a 2 amp charge to top it off.

Place the battery on cardboard or wood. Concrete won’t drain modern batteries, but it is cold, and cold is a lead acid battery’s enemy during storage.

Here’s where the high-maintenance part comes in: A lead acid battery loses 5 percent or more of its power per week, so check your battery every month. It should not fall below 50 percent. Allowing the charge to fall below 50 percent can lead to sulfate buildup inside the case, and to freezing and cracking. If that happens, you’ll need to buy a replacement.

One way to slow power dissipation is by attaching a battery minder, also called a battery tender or maintenance charger. It’s a small charger—or an adjustable charger—that delivers a 2 amp charge. A battery that’s close to 50 percent discharged can be hooked to a higher-amp charger—say, 10 amps—for a few hours to restore full charge. A battery maintenance charge can then be applied. Some chargers will switch automatically from full charge to a maintenance charge.

AGM Batteries

An Absorbent Glass Mat battery is a more advanced lead acid battery, so preparation for storage is similar—but simpler. Clean off residue and mineral buildup as you would on a traditional lead acid battery.

AGM batteries are sealed, so there’s no need to check the water level. They can be mounted or stored in any position.

Use a multimeter to determine the charge level. Bring it up to full charge before storing. Power loss on an AGM battery is slower than with a wet battery, but so is recharging. AGM batteries sometimes can take more than a day to recharge. Read the manual for your battery.

Check every four or six weeks to see that the power level has not fallen below 50 percent. Apply a 2-amp battery maintenance charge to keep the power reserve from falling below 50 percent.

Lithium

Since a Lithium Iron Phosphate deep-cycle battery costs more than double what an AGM battery does, you don’t want to store one incorrectly. Storage is the easiest of all RV battery types. 

Lithium batteries don’t require maintenance—they’re sealed. There’s no checking fluid level. You don’t have to worry about sulfation inside these premium batteries. And you can store them in any position.

A proper charge level for a lithium battery before storage is 40 percent—much lower than for a lead acid battery. A higher charge could result in damage to the lithium during storage. If it’s too high, disconnect the battery from charging equipment, then attach a light or two to bring the charge down.

Like other batteries, they can be kept in a cool, dry place. Unlike the others, they can remain in your RV and won’t freeze. They do not require monitoring or a maintenance charge. Return them to your RV after storage and recharge them then, or recharge them in the spring when temperatures rise and remain above freezing.

Lithium batteries can be discharged at temperatures as low as 4 degrees below zero, but never recharge lithium batteries during freezing temperatures. Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries lose a much smaller amount of stored energy than lead acid batteries do, so storing one at 40 percent should keep it safe all winter without a maintenance charge.

If You Did It Wrong

If you stored your batteries improperly or, worse, left acid batteries unattended in or outside your RV, go back and do it the safe way. If not, you’ll have to apply a recharge intermittently to prevent freezing and self-destruction. It’s much easier to remove house batteries and store them properly, intermittently monitoring their power level.

Friday, 27 December 2019 16:01

RV Window Insulation

Windows are a major source of cold air in a heated travel trailer or motorhome, but there are ways to reduce drafts and incoming moisture. At Crossing Creeks RV Resort, Eeven the Georgia mountains can get pretty chilly in late fall and winter for a Southern state.

One problem with RV windows is that build quality isn’t the greatest on many RVs, and the stress from frequent travel just make that worse. Try this: Buy canned smoke or light a match and blow it out, then hold it near a closed RV window, making sure not to get too near curtains. If the smoke seemingly disappears into the wall, it’s really making its way into cracks that let in winter’s cold and allow heat to escape.

Some RV window solutions are more expensive, but most are downright cheap. All will take some degree of work to make or install, but several aren’t particularly hard.

Double-Pane Windows

Most RV windows have a single pane—not the best at keeping out the cold. If you like a lot of light, bigger windows are a great idea—until winter hits. A single-pane window typically has an R value of 1, where R signifies resistance to thermal transfer, with higher numbers indicating more resistance. R-1 is perhaps 1/20 of the insulating value of a ceiling and a tenth or less of wall insulation. The bigger the window, the bigger the gap in your wall insulation.

Add to that the air leaks inherent in many RV window frames and you have a chilly RV.

Many RVers who have double-pane windows say they make a difference, but others warn that they damage easily. If shaking from travel breaks a seal, the windows can fog. Although they are typically rated only R-2, they have a space between them that is a vacuum or filled with an inert gas to reduce thermal transfer.

Double panes can be purchased and installed as replacements for your original single panes, but they are an easier solution when you buy an RV new because there’s no extra work to do. No, you’re not likely to buy a new RV just to get better windows, but they’re worth considering if you trade up.

If you install new windows, use adequate urethane caulking, which flexes, around the frame and under the trim to eliminate air leaks.

The big bonus of double-pane windows is that your RV interior will feel warmer but remain bright.

Reflective Barriers

Many RVers use bubble-type reflective sheeting, perhaps the best-known of which is Reflectix, over windows inside their RVs. Like a single pane of glass, bubble-type reflective covers probably have only an R-1 insulation value. But if installed properly, their effective performance, like that of double-pane windows, is higher.

The key is the material’s reflective value, not its insulating value. It will reflect heat away from its shiny side, so installing the shiny side toward the interior of your RV will reflect some of the heat back into the living space. Proper installation calls for an air pocket on each side of the cover. The air pocket is critical. The higher R-values claimed by manufacturers are based on the wrap not touching the window glass.

Methods of attaching Reflectix range from duct tape to Velcro and attaching a heavy cardboard frame, then hanging the assembly, sometimes with hooks and wires. You can find plenty of how-to videos online. The tighter the seal, the better reflective wrap works as a moisture barrier.

Some RVers use the reflective bubble wrap with extruded polystyrene foam sheathing to add insulation value. Mounting the foam against the reflective wrap does not lower its reflective property.

The most obvious negative in using reflective bubble sheeting or foam is that the interior of your RV will be dark.

Shrink-Wrap Plastic

Often used by owners of sticks-and-bricks homes, shrink window plastic also has little insulating value. Properly installed, however, it seals at least partly against air leaks and the resultant drafts, and it forms an air gap between the plastic film and the window pane to reduce temperature transfer. It’s a good seal against moisture.

Cut the plastic cover to the approximate size of the window frame and mount it as tightly as possible using double-sided tape. Then heat the plastic with a hair dryer to shrink it and draw it taught to the point that it is wrinkle-free. It’s intended to remain in place for the season—not good if you like to open your windows occasionally. You can always use a roof vent for some fresh air.

The plastic is clear, so it keeps your RV interior bright, although the view through the windows may be slightly cloudy.

Insulated Curtains

Providing some protection against temperature transfer are insulated curtains.

An online search yields an assortment of sticks-and-bricks window products, but a handy RVer could modify insulated curtains for camper use. Don’t think that blackout curtains are insulated; they’re not unless they are so labeled.

You can get some good tips on making insulated RV window covers here.

Alternative Solutions

If you don’t want to insulate your windows, insulate yourself. Dress in layers inside your RV when temperatures are colder. Woolens breathe better than acrylics, which can make some people sweat—not good when it’s cold.

At night, if you’re at a powered campsite, try an electric blanket. It’s pretty cozy under there. If you don’t want to go electric or can’t, at least get a heavily insulated, conventional blanket.  

Photo Credits: alibaba.com

Friday, 13 December 2019 16:49

Fireplaces for Your RV

Furnaces keep you warm inside your RV on cool nights—and cold ones—but they’re not much to look at. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a fellow RVer to say, “Hey, you really need to see our heat vents. They’re just beautiful.”

Not gonna happen. Now, a fireplace—that’s a different story. A fireplace can be attractive on its own, offer a lovely view of flames, and throw a lot of heat.

A heat source that’s nice to look at is always welcome, and that’s what an electric or propane fireplace is. (If you want a rundown on woodstoves, see our earlier blog.)

Safety

When done right, a retrofitted RV propane or electric fireplace installation is just as safe as an original equipment, built-in fireplace. It may be safer than a freestanding propane space heater because it won’t accidentally tip over.

It’s imperative that the installation follows manufacturer’s specifications for clearance and ventilation. Recommended gaps between the fireplace and surfaces must be maintained, and in the case of a propane fireplace, a nonflammable wall barrier may have to be installed.

On electric fireplaces, look for a proximity detector. If it senses an object too close, it shuts down the fireplace to prevent fire.

With a propane fireplace, make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector and alarm low on a wall, plus a propane leak detector. Mount a smoke detector high on a wall or on the ceiling for either type of fireplace.

When looking for a space for an electric fireplace, try to find out from the RV manufacturer where the optional fireplace would have been installed had it been ordered with the RV. Usually the space is covered by a shallow cabinet. Remove the doors and maybe some material at the back of the cabinet and there’s probably a space for an electric fireplace. There also may be an electrical outlet already installed where the fireplace can be plugged in.

Choosing a Fuel

Fuel choice is largely personal, but it may be influenced by your RV lifestyle and whether you boondock often. It also can be influenced by the location you have for a fireplace, clearance around that space, and the size of your RV.

Electric and propane can be used under different circumstances (see below). The real flames that come with a propane unit may be enticing, or they may scare you. The simulated flames of an electric fireplace may satisfy your aesthetic sense or turn you off.

Both fuels are clean, but health issues are associated with unvented propane fireplaces. A vented fireplace, which burns outside air and exhausts gases through a vent or chimney, leaves indoor air healthier.

Propane

Pros:

  • Clean operation.
  • Can be used while boondocking.
  • BTU rating often higher than on electric fireplace, heating bigger RVs.
  • Real flames to view.

Cons:

  • Can leave you without heat if you’re out of propane and have no electrical heater at campsite.
  • Higher BTU output too much for some small RVs.
  • More expensive to buy, install than electric.
  • Can get hot in small spaces.
  • Can use more propane than other appliances combined.
  • May need more propane tanks to ensure adequate fuel supply.
  • High humidity, resulting in mold, possible in unvented installations.
  • Unhealthful air buildup in unvented installations.
  • Cutting through RV exterior required for healthier vented installations.

Electric Fireplaces

Pros:

  • Clean operation
  • Cheaper to buy, install than propane fireplace.
  • Cheaper to operate than propane unit.
  • Arguably safer than propane because no flame or lethal gas; proximity sensor (if so equipped) shuts fireplace off if it detects objects too close.
  • No need to cut through roof or wall because no chimney or fresh-air vent needed.
  • No degradation of interior air.
  • Can be used at campsite with hookup even if you’re out of propane.
  • Easier DIY installation.
  • Not too hot for smaller RVs.
  • Color change of simulated flames on LED models.

Cons:

  • Cannot be used while boondocking unless generator running.
  • Produces fewer BTUs than bigger propane fireplaces, so may not heat bigger RV.
  • No real flames; simulated flames produced by lights.
  • Some flame simulations look cheesy.
  • Some fans noisy.
  • Artificial fire pops sound fake on some models.

Built-In or Surface Mount

Both gas fireplaces and electric models come in wall-mount or recessed styles. What you buy may depend on the space you have, clearance, and venting requirements, but as long as you follow the fireplace manufacturer’s recommendations, your choice should be a matter of preference.

Clearance requirements differ by manufacturer, model, BTU rating and fuel choice. In general terms, electric fireplaces need a half-inch to one inch clearance from combustible surfaces, but don’t assume: Follow the specs. Propane fireplaces are likely to need more clearance and a noncombustible lining between the fireplace and wall surfaces, and the flue pipe and surfaces.   

A propane fireplace, even with wall liners, can look attractive. A good example is the 22-pound Dickinson Marine P9000. This 8.5x14x5.5-inch vented unit, designed for boats, is used frequently in RVs. It requires a stainless chimney, but the fireplace can be mounted at floor level if needed for proper draw. It also needs metal shielding on the wall adjacent to the firebox and flue pipe. The P9000 is stainless steel for a brighter look. Make sure you get the propane version, not the wood-burning solid fuel model. It’s rated up to 4,500 BTUs and can burn up to seven hours on a pound of propane. With liners and chimney, the whole setup probably costs $1,200 or less.

Electric fireplaces abound for RVs. Electric is what most RV manufacturers install. With no chimney or wall liner needed, you’re looking at $250-$500 in most cases. Figure on another  $100 or so if you’re framing around it and trimming the enclosure out. You also may have electrical costs for wiring in and outlet.  Still, it’s cheaper than a propane installation.

Photo Credits: rvupgradestore.com

Wednesday, 27 November 2019 15:10

When Your RV Needs Traction Devices

It’s not unusual when driving in mountainous areas during winter to see a sign warning that chains are required. That’s a sign you don’t want to ignore—first, because it’s dangerous to proceed without them, and second, because you’ll get fined if you’re caught without the chains. The fines can be a lot deeper than the snow.

What exactly do you need to meet these requirements? Chains are proven effective on packed snow and ice, but these days other products also can effectively increase traction and satisfy authorities as chain alternatives. Check online for the rules of the highway department in the state you intend to visit, or of national and state parks that often post chain requirements.

Whichever you choose, you’ll be limited to 30 miles per hour, or maybe just 20 or 25, depending on the device. Given the conditions of snow- and ice-bound roads, it’s not likely you’ll need to go faster.

Let’s take a look at what traction devices will keep you and your RV safe and out of a legal quagmire.

Chains

Link-type chains are, without question, a safe and legitimate traction multiplier in deep snow and on packed snow and ice for tow vehicles, trailers and motorhomes. They do have some negative aspects. Link chains are:

  • Heavy—not good if you’re trying to keep weight down.
  • Easily tangled in storage, requiring untangling before installation.
  • Harder to install than some newer traction devices.

Watch a video on installing link chains or cable chains.

Vehicles with minimum clearance between the tire tread and wheel well—just under 1.5 inches— should use Class S chains. Chains that meet Class S requirements are  Z-Chain, Super Z LT, Radial Chain, and Quik Grip PL.

Chains, like all traction devices for tires, must be placed on the drive wheels but can be placed on other wheels as well—on trailer tires, for instance, or on non-drive front tires. On motorhomes and tow vehicles with dualies, chains go on the outermost drive tires. On 4- and all-wheel-drive vehicles, chains should be installed at all four corners.

Before installation, most link tire chains look like a tiny ladder, with long sidewall chains running parallel to each other and cross chains linking them, sometimes on a diagonal. Once chains are draped over a tire, the cross chains run from one edge of the tread to the other. The sidewall chains align with each sidewall to form a roughly circular shape and help pull the chains tight.

Install chains on level ground. Once chains are draped on the tires, drive forward or back about 18 inches so the ends of the sidewall chains can be hooked together on the inner and outer sides of the tire. If the chains have tightening hardware, use a tool to tighten them. On chains without tightening hardware, use a bungee cord in a circular shape, with hooks that intermittently attach to the sidewall chains to tighten everything, or a ready-made tensioner that does the same thing. Premade tensioners are available even in sizes to fit a large Class A RVs.

Don’t fail to tighten chains. Loose chains are not only ineffective, but also a threat to the bodywork of your RV or tow vehicle, and to the wheels.

Easier to use but sill quite effective are cable chains. They are lighter, tangle less easily, tighten with less effort and sometimes install without having to move the vehicle. Cable chains with a diagonal pattern are actually recommended for trailers because the diagonals provide much more sway control than ladder types, which are better for accelerating and stopping.

Traction Straps

For similar performance without the hassle of chains, consider tire traction straps. Each strap performs like a cross piece on chains, running across the tire tread to bite snow and ice.

Usually made of a textured, solid nylon, the traction part of the device has nylon straps on each end and a buckle or fastener. The straps run around the tread and sidewall, passing through holes in the wheels. This design often allows installation without moving the RV or tow vehicle.

Some traction straps have link chains that lie against the tread, with tightening straps that go through holes in the wheels to hook together and tighten.

Traction straps come in different shapes and sizes, so you can find a size to fit your tires. Bigger traction straps will do better in mud and deep snow. Keep in mind that the bigger the device, the rougher the ride and the more clearance will be needed between the device and wheel well.

Snow Socks

If you’ve ever spent time in the snow wearing a knit cap or mittens, you’ve seen how snow sticks to the cloth. Snow socks, developed in Scandanavia, work the same way once they’re wrapped around a tire. These textile donuts, open only on the inner side of the tire to allow installation, use that adhesive property to grab the surface of snow and ice to generate traction.

That may sound like fairytale logic, but snow socks really do work. And the more they soak up water, the better the traction. Some also get “hairier” with use, which in turn increases grip. In addition to being lightweight, snow socks install without tools. They do, however, require moving the vehicle a few inches the same as chains do to complete installation, and stretching the socks over a cold tire takes some work.

What is not required is mechanical tightening. Snow socks are purchased in a size to fit your tires. The socks center themselves on the tire as the tire rolls.

In addition to weighing little and requiring light effort to install, snow socks result in a better ride quality than chains or straps.

Use Caution

Adventurous souls may scoff at the notion that snow should slow them down, but if roads are so hazardous that chains are required, you may want to think twice about proceeding. That goes double if you’re inexperienced driving your RV in snow.

Consider rescheduling your drive—a week, a few days or even a few hours—if conditions require or suggest the use of traction devices.

Friday, 22 November 2019 17:59

Helpful Gadgets for RVers

New things come along all the time aimed at the RV market. Some are worthless, some are obviously a great idea, and some prove themselves over time.

Let’s dwell on things that actually make sense. Some make work easier. Others make good times more fun. All are worth considering and can help you check off names on your holiday gift list.

Rapid Jack

A curved wedge made from recycled plastic, Rapid Jack from Andersen Hitches solves many a problem with having to install tire chains or change a trailer tire. It works with dualies and with twin-axle trailers. Rapid Jack is has a weight capacity of 20,000 pounds, despite weighing just 6 pounds itself.

Insert Rapid Jack under an inflated tire on one of two axles or a tire on a dually axle, then drive forward or back until you feel the vehicle lift. That gets the tire that’s flat or to receive chains off the ground. It’s easier than setting up a traditional jack and cranking it or pumping a lever. Laid on its side, it also can be used as a base for a hitch jack.  Price: About $50.

Battery-Powered Impact Wrench

If you hand-crank four scissor jacks to stabilize you RV once you level it, you’ll save time and effort with a battery-powered impact wrench. It also saves wear on your back, hands and arms when changing a tire.

Only a few years ago, you needed compressed air to have a powerful impact  wrench. Not today. Stronger batteries and powerful magnets make modern impact wrenches quite good. With the appearance of a squat drill-driver, an impact wrench has more power and more torque, and a collet, rather than a chuck, for holding bits and tools. Look for a wrench rated for at least 300 lb/ft of torque with an 18-20v battery. Make sure you’re getting the tool, battery and charger. Many recharge in less than an hour. The DeWalt Max XR throws in a bag—perfect for RV storage. You’ll have to pick up attachments that fit your jacks and wheel lugs. Price: $150-$350.

DJI Mavic Mini Drone

If you’ve thought about adding a drone to your RV toy box but shied away from $1,000—or higher—price tags, consider the DJI Mavic Mini quadcopter. It’s so lightweight that the FAA doesn’t even require you to register it. Its four fold-away motors and rotors propel it to speeds up to 25 mph. The built-in camera is mechanically stabilized on a 3-axis gimbal, the best way to ensure that video is shake-free. It’s capable of recording video in 2.7K high-definition—not the highest out there, but very good. Detailed stills are 12MP.

Mavic Mini can fly 2.5 miles away and stay aloft nearly half an hour. That’s stellar in a small, foldable drone. The included controller links to your smartphone so you can see what the drone does. Store and edit video and stills on your phone. Mavic Mini takes off and lands easily, and there are flight tutorials. Use Mavic Mini to scout ahead when you’re exploring, to preserve your activities, or to shoot creative selfies with the help of preprogrammed flight modes. DJI drones are known for dependability. Price: $399. 

Walmart Atlas

A paper Atlas in 2020? Really? You bet.

You may scoff at a paper Atlas in the age of GPS, but it provides things at a glance that your GPS or cell phone just doesn’t. Maybe the most important thing is that an old-fashioned atlas works without power, so if you’re on the road, don’t know the area, and there’s no cell signal because a tower or power is absent, a paper Atlas is a valued companion.

A paper atlas also can give a bigger view than a tiny monitor or smartphone screen. That helps if a family is gathered at lunch or breakfast trying to figure the next leg or two of their journey. They’re likely to see more features than on a GPS map. The wider view also helps put things into perspective. The Walmart version shows the location of the chain’s stores and denotes where gasoline and/or diesel fuel is available. The stores also are probably sources of other necessities, including prescriptions, propane and firewood. And the paperback will store easily. So there! Stop sniggering. Price: $11-20.   

Image Credits: Dronenerds.com

Thursday, 31 October 2019 20:24

Flashlights for RVers

Portable lights are invaluable to RVers when hitting the trail, relaxing outside the RV, responding to emergencies and performing maintenance tasks.

Flashlights can do more than just light the way. Thy can also signal an emergency. And if they’re the right strength, shape, size and weight, they also can help with self-defense.

LED Bulbs

Today’s best flashlights have LED bulbs. LEDs are brighter and whiter than older halogen bulbs and far brighter than even older incandescents. They also are more shock resistant, so dropping one on the trail or while walking to camp facilities at night won’t kill your light.

Many LED flashlights have adjustable light settings. Batteries can last for weeks on a low setting and surprisingly long even on high beam. The bottom line: LEDs emit more light, particularly in groups of three, five or more, but use less energy than a single older bulb.

Battery Choices

Influencing your battery choice are your needs, budget and tolerance for the inconvenience of recharging or swapping out single-use batteries.

Most rechargeable flashlights with integrated batteries have lithium-ion units that charge in two to 10 hours. All other factors being equal, the higher the battery’s mAh rating (milliamp hours), the longer it will deliver power before needing to be recharged, and the more draw it can handle. Adding convenience is USB-cord recharging, allowing recharging from other devices, battery packs or vehicle ports.

You can still get flashlights that work on traditional disposable alkaline D cells (the big cylindrical batteries) and AA and AAA cells (smaller cylindrical batteries), or CR123A batteries. Those sizes also are available as rechargeable batteries, usually in nickel metal hydride, or NiMH, so you can buy a charger and recharge reusable batteries hundreds of times. Shop carefully for chargers. Some chargers will replenish four batteries in about an hour or less; others can take four hours or even longer. The Energizer 1-hour charger with 4 NiMH batteries is about $35.

Newer 18650 batteries also are rechargeable, often with 1,800 to 3,000 mAh ratings or higher to power a flashlight longer, and 3.7 volts of power. They power laptops, other electronics and even the Tesla rechargeable car—although a Tesla requires more than 7,000 of them. Seriously! Similar but smaller than the 18650 are 16340 batteries. $10-$25, depending on brand and capacity.

Both sizes can be purchased for a little extra money with built-in protection against overcharging and overheating. You can also buy an overcharge-protected charger. The Dottman Smart Universal Battery Charger can charge AA, AAA, 18650, 16340, CR123 and more sizes and guard against overcharging. About $35.

Let’s look at a few flashlights, and where and when they come in handy.

Tactical Flashlight

A tactical flashlight is tough and can take a pounding—or deliver one in self-defense. The Streamlite Stinger slips into a back pocket because it’s thin. Rubber over an aluminum body provides good grip and the polycarbonate lens is unbreakable. It has an adjustable beam and a 50,000-hour LED. It can shine up to 6¾ hours on low, 3½ on medium and 1¾ on high. The strobe can be used to disorient an assailant, or it can signal distress for 5½ hours. It’s water resistant and includes a charger. $100-$125.

Rechargeable Flashlight

The Goodsmann Submersible LED Spotlight Model 9924-H101-01 is versatile and powerful, with an astonishing 1,100-foot beam—more than a third of a football field. Its Cree LED lamp produces a blinding 3,000 lumens. The built-in battery is rated at up to 2,000 mAh, powering it up to 8.5 hours on low and up to 3 hours on high. A flashing emergency beacon has a runtime of up to 7.5 hours. A pistol-style handle makes it easy to hold, and a fold-down stand makes it a work light. It also floats. About $150.

Headlamp

Convenient for hiking, breaking down camp before daybreak or performing maintenance, a headlamp leaves your hands free. The rechargeable Black Diamond series can emit a beam rated at up to 300 lumens, with a low setting available. Runtime on high is up to 30 hours. It’s water resistant, so changing a tire or walking your dog in the rain won’t damage the lamp. $15 and up.

Traditional Flashlight

Flashlights with D, AA or AAA cells have been around for decades for one simple reason: They work. They have gone through many iterations. Most significant are the change in lamps from incandescent bubs to halogen and finally LEDs, and tougher cases.  With the availability of rechargeable, removable batteries, they’re cheaper to operate. You can’t do much better than a Maglite ML300. It produces 1,000 lumens of light on 4 alkaline D-cell batteries and can run for 97 hours on low or 5¾ on high. Smaller Maglites also are available. $90-100.

Lantern

Two-hundred hours of use from one charge on a lantern is nothing to blink at, and that’s what the Tough Light Rechargeable Lantern delivers. Lanterns are great for campsites and completing work in dark corners of your RV or at night. Tough Light produces 400 lumens, adjustable to 200 lumens for the longer runtime. A white beacon shines for 265 hours, and a red hazard light for 526. The lantern is water resistant to 5 feet. About $65.    

We all know the price that’s paid for deferred maintenance. You delay oil changes to save $60 and you need an engine rebuild for $4,000. You delay transmission fluid changes to save a couple of hundred bucks and you need a new tranny for $6,000. You avoid getting a roof leak fixed and you need—well, a new RV, for $20,000 or $40,000 or more.

Deferred maintenance is undeniably false economy.

Now think about something so many of us use and enjoy, the National Parks System. According to National Parks Service deferred maintenance reports, the agency has delayed nearly $12 billion in park maintenance—$313 million in fiscal year 2018 alone. The cumulative maintenance backlog includes $6.5 billion in roads and structures, and $5.77 billion in other facilities, such a campgrounds, fresh water systems, housing, utilities, dams, manmade waterways, marinas and more.

As quoted by nationalparkstraveler.org, Deny Galvin, a former deputy director of the National Park Service, told the House Federal Lands Subcommittee two years ago that most national parks facilities are more than 50 years old. Reed Watson, the executive director of the Property and Environment Research Center based in Bozeman, Montana, told the same committee that fees would need to increase to help cover costs if Congress continues to refuse a significant increase in appropriations.

RVIA, RVers Want Action

The Recreational Vehicle Association has noticed, and it has gone on record to urge the first major upgrade to national park facilities since the 1960s.  (Yes, you read that decade right.) The RVIA says there’s an additional maintenance backlog topping $5 billion in National Forest Service lands.

RVIA said improvements are needed but added that it wants to see parks remain affordable to visitors.

RVIA found that in a survey of 2,000 RVers, 98 percent said the national parks facilities need to be upgraded. RVers in the survey expressed a desire for longer and wider campsites, improvement of the day-to-day upkeep of campgrounds, and more RV campsites, RVIA said.

RVIA correlates the state of disrepair of national parks and a drop in national park overnights—from over 4 million annually in the 1980s to 2.5 million now, despite increases in RV ownership. Overnights in state parks and privately run parks continue to increase, it noted.

Public-Private Partnerships

Is the entry of private businesses into park operations the answer? RVIA thinks so.

Watson already had suggested that some parks should be franchised to private operators.

In its survey of RVers, RVIA said, 85 percent expressed support for the idea of public-private partnerships to accomplish repairs and improvements. Partnerships could improve not only campsites, but also roads and bridges, making the campsites safer, RVIA says. It also suggested that better connectivity for cell phones and Internet would improve visitors’ access to weather information and emergency services when needed.

RVIA’s position is that National Park Service input on fees would keep rates affordable. But the whole premise of its support for private partnerships in national parks is that private companies would solve the need for money, then recoup their investments over time through fees. How high fees would have to be to satisfy investors’ needs is a guess.

In the meantime, if you want to let your representatives in Congress know how you feel, you can find email addresses online for members of the House and Senate.

Friday, 25 October 2019 16:41

Wood-Burning Stoves for RVs

If you miss curling up by the fire on a cold fall or winter’s evening because you’re on the road in your RV, you may want to look into real wood-burning stoves for RVs.

These compact units, in addition to lending a rustic appeal, supply all the heat most RVs would need on cold nights—or days.  

Having a wood-burning stove in a RV requires certain things:

  • Enough space
  • Proper insulation against intense heat on the nearby walls, floors and ceilings
  • Proper exhaust to prevent carbon dioxide from building up inside the RV
  • Usually a separate pipe for air intake

Wood Heat Pros/Cons

Wood heat has its advantages:

  • BTU output is high.
  • Wood heat smells great—especially with one cherry log on the fire.
  • Firewood is cheap—particularly if you have access to a wooded lot of your own or a friend’s.
  • A stove with a big enough top surface can be used for cooking.
  • Wood heat tends to be dry, reducing condensation on interior surfaces.

Wood heat also has disadvantages:

  • You’ll need to cut wood into pieces that fit, no more than 6 or 8 inches on some small units.
  • Fires may not burn through the night, so you may have to wake up to add fuel.
  • There’s ash to clean out and dispose of.
  • Flue pipes and the stove must be cleaned periodically.
  • If you have a stealth van or converted truck camper, the flue pipe will give away your vehicle’s true identity.
  • You will have to cut a hole in the roof of your RV for the flue pipe, and fit a kit that lets you remove the tall pipe and seal the opening when on the road.
  • Back to that dry air. You may want to humidify a bit with a pan or kettle of water on the stove.

Wood Heat Works

Among people who convert other vehicles into RVs—school buses and cargo trailers, for example—wood heat has proven to be viable, effective and safe. It works in a commercially made RV as well if you have the space.

All wood stoves must have a clearance area for walls, ceilings, floors and furniture. Propane heaters have clearance requirements, too, but those for wood stoves typically are larger.

You’ll need to buy and install a surface-protection kit that has fire-resistant surfaces and insulation to prevent the intense heat of the wood stove from migrating to wall surfaces, ceilings and floors. Alternatively you can make barriers out of non-flammable materials.

If your stove is mounted off the floor, you may have storage space underneath. High mounting also eases loading and cleaning.

Appearance

RV woodstoves typically are painted with black heat-resistant enamels. Some offer bright metal trim, such as on the window surround on the door, or on other stove details. Stainless steel models are bright.

To see the flames you’ll need a stove door with a window. The windows are ceramic to provide a view and hold up to the intense heat. If watching the fire isn’t important, a metal door may save a few bucks.

Fuel

Hardwood makes the best fuel. It burns longer and cleaner, so it won’t coat the chimney with creosote as quickly or as thoroughly as softwoods do. Creosote is a fire hazard, so periodic cleaning is required. When you install a stove, check the cool pipe weekly for creosote buildup. When you spot a buildup, clean the pipe, then repeat the cleaning in about as many weeks as the first buildup took.

Stoves also burn pressed composite fire logs. Keep some on hand for emergencies when your firewood supply is exhausted.

Some stoves also burn coal, but be warned: Coal dust is heavy, unpleasant to deal with and can fly with the slightest disturbance, including cleanouts.

Store firewood in a sealable plastic bin or bins. A lid ensures that any insects inside the wood won’t get into your RV.

Woodstoves that are EPA certified burn clean.

Size Matters—Sometimes

RV-adaptable woodstoves are quite compact. Generally speaking, the bigger the stove, the higher the heat output. But woodstoves pack a punch, and you might be surprised at how much space a modestly sized stove can heat.

The Dickinson Marine 00-NEWSF Newport Solid Fuel Heater is extremely compact at 10x8 inches, with a height of 17 inches. It weighs just 15 pounds. It can burn one or two small logs, a composite log, charcoal briquettes or coal for a modest output of 3,000 to 8,000 BTU, enough for a small camper, or for a van, truck or cargo trailer conversion. There is no glass window for viewing flames. About $425. Caution: Do not confuse this with similar-looking Dickinson propane models if you intend to burn wood or coal.

The Cubic Mini Cub measures less than 1 cubic foot and weighs just 27 pounds —surprisingly light for a wood-burning steel stove. Its 6,000 to 14,000 BTU output is best for RVs of less than 200 square feet, so you could use one in an 8x20 travel trailer if you’re willing to burn the stove hotter and tend it more often. These are ideal for space-challenged RVs. About $900 with all you need: stove, wall and floor protection, plus chimney with air intake.

The Summers Heat 1,200 square-foot Woodstove is bigger but still compact at 21x15 inches, with a 32-inch height on its steel legs. A built-in fan more evenly distributes heat. Burning typical 16-inch logs, it can put out up to 60,000 BTUs of heat, more than you would need for even a large RV. About $650.

For a long, unattended burn, consider the Kimberly Mini Wood Stove, but be prepared to pay for your uninterrupted sleep. The price nears $4,000. The Kimberly uses less fuel and produces nearly smoke-free exhaust because it’s highly efficient. The 10-inch cylindrical stove has a 12–inch diameter base and is 27 inches high. It needs just 6 inches of clearance without wall protection. It can heat from 150 to 1,500 square feet on up to 40,000 BTU of output. There’s a small viewing window. The Kimberly weighs just 56 pounds.

Save Some Ashes

If you do decide on a woodstove, and you travel during the winter, save a tin of cooled ashes. They are a wonderful traction aid on ice and packed snow.

Photo Credit: CubicMiniWoodstioves.com

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