Thursday, August 25, 2016

Organizing maintenance manuals

It looked official in it's "Winnebago" bag
UPDATE:  After Winnebago commented on this blog post via Twitter, I reread it and realized I left out our final categories!  I've added them below, and for those who don't find this as fun as I do, ideas on how to decide on YOUR categories.

When we moved onto the boat, my first boat project (after unpacking) was to organize the paperwork, specifically the maintenance manuals.  Luckily, the previous owners had kept everything and they were semi-organized.  However, it turned into a system review for me as I asked "What is this for?" and it was fun for The Captain who said, "Oooh, let me see that!" or "Hey, I was looking for that."  You see, he doesn't have much patience for paperwork, which is where I come in.  Luckily, I brought a bin of sheet protectors, report covers, folders and a hole punch!  I ended up going with three accordion folders organized by system and when The Captain needed something, I was familiar with what was in there and could put my hands on it fast! (I also downloaded electronic copies of all manuals that were available online in case the originals were damaged or--bite your tongue--lost!)

BEFORE:  It LOOKED organized...
When we were looking for an RV, we always asked for/glanced through the manuals, just to get a sense of who the prior owner was.  Did they keep all the manuals in an organized fashion in one place?  Was there a work history we could refer to later?  However, we didn't pore over the manuals the same way The Colonel did for a logbook review while pre-buying an airplane.  When we moved into Odin the Winnebago, there was less need to read all the manuals immediately.  We were relatively familiar with all the systems after living on a boat and there were no big projects we needed to complete prior to launch.  It was filed by six categories (Chassis, Appliances, Electronics, Generator, Plumbing/Drainage, Misc/Warranty).  Of course, the chassis section was the biggest (Caterpillar diesel engine, Freightliner chassis, Allison transmission) and also the most used.  I could never find anything in there (ie. Convection Microwave), despite The Colonel saying, "I know I saw it."  After hearing, "I need to get a copy of the full Caterpillar maintenance manual" for the umpteenth time, I reached in again to take another inventory and came out with a bunch of expired warranty cards.  OK, let's do this!  With The Colonel kicked back with his feet up and a beer in his hand, I got started...

Getting organized
After a couple hours of "What is this?" And "Ooh, let me see that" (and, if you live on a boat or in an RV you've probably heard, "Look.  This graph is fascinating."  I doubt that, honey.), we had 14 piles/categories instead of six.  Lots of things were misfiled including awnings in Generator, appliances in Electronics, and--bonus--when duplicate manuals were filed in different categories.  ("Honey, I found the installation manual but do you know where the maintenance manual is?"  "Um, yeah.  I hid it.  I thought it would be funny.")  Some manuals were loose-leaf and had gotten shuffled.  The trash pile included some limited warranty cards from when the RV was new (2001), several lists of service centers from each component (out of date & available online), and a few copies of manuals in French.  "I don't speak French.  Throw it away."  "But I need to find the English manual first!"

A hand-drawn leveler diagram!
The gems include: 
  • A hand-drawn diagram of the leveling system that had been squished to the bottom--(PAGE PROTECTOR) and the knowledge that the leveling system has always been a problem child according to the
  • Invoice folder of previous maintenance--answering the question of how long Odin had been sitting before we adopted him (last Work Order was September 2015 at a Cat Service Center in NY.  Filter changes done at a service center in SC in 3/2015 answering the question of what needed to be serviced before we leave for CO!)  A typed list of every upgrade done since manufacture! The previous owner's name was Earl Gates and the first owner was Ronald Dates--"That's funny.  Gates.  Dates.  Get it?"   
  • While reviewing why there was three "Knowing your Chassis" documents, discovering this was the handout from the much coveted Freightliner course (that The Colonel couldn't get into because it was full for the season).  SCORE!

Notes from the Freighliner course
Off to the store to buy an accordion file (The Colonel requested one big one that would still fit in the same cabinet behind the Captain's chair), page protectors, report covers and a hole punch.

Important loose pages were put in page protectors.

Several components had multiple manuals including installation, maintenance and operator's manual that were consolidated into one report cover per component--now even the Navigator can find the correct manual!

UPDATE:  Deciding on categories.  I ended up with the following categories (subject to change based on the ability to find things in the future):  General (original brochure, original equipment list, original weight info), History (invoices), Catepillar (engine), Freightliner (chassis), Allison (transmission), HVAC, Generator, Electrical, Electronics, Galley (microwave, coffee maker, sink water filter), Plumbing, Awnings (Yes, we have three different style awnings!), Wiring Diagrams (bound book but thick), Tow equipment, Misc.

UPDATE:  If sorting through what you have and creating piles didn't make categories obvious, look for:
1) Big piles:  if you forget what you're looking for by the time you flip through the pile, consider splitting into another section, ie. Our "Chassis" section included multiple manuals so we split it into engine/chassis/transmission.
2) If a system like "plumbing" is only one page, consider consolidating with another small category.
3) YOU are the one that has to be able to find a manual, so make up your own categories, ie. our "Electrical" section (should be inverter, electrical panel, etc) also contained a lot of "Electronics" (TV manual, satellite manual, tv antenna) making in unwieldly, so I split it in two and made sure they were right next to each other to avoid misfiling in the future.  There was also some generator info in "Electrical" so I placed it next in line. 

AFTER:  The finished project with 15 categories
Of course after I presented my finished project to The Colonel for his approval, I opened the cabinet to find all towing manuals still in the plastic.  DANG IT!

Maybe we think this is important because of our aviation background.  Or maybe we're geeks.  Even if your manuals look organized, I recommend this project.  They are now ordered in a fashion that makes sense to US and either of us can stick our hand in & pull out what we need, on top of the fact we both have a good sense of what is in there.  It's also an opportunity to review the systems with my mechanic husband in a casual environment, instead of when things fail and all questions are answered with "the look"!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Where the heck is Odin the Winnebago?

1400 miles so far!
Whoops!  I've neglected to keep the blog up to date.  We've made a few stops since leaving our family's driveway in Tennessee!

Our first rest area!  Nice to see many are being rejuvenated (some even include wifi). This one is quite pretty. Quick snack then on to Clarksville, TN for the night. 

Clarksville RV Park (TN):  Our longest leg yet (323 miles) and 1) the first stop picked by The Colonel 2) primarily using the Good Sam​ website (we're Good Sam Elite since we purchased Odin at a Camping World).  #TravelTuesday

Where did we end up?  Here's your hint...

Spirit of St. Louis airport

I had another campground planned on our way into St. Louis, but the boss convinced me to pass it up for a free night of parking at Spirit of St. Louis Airport (where we used to work) and a stop by our storage unit to pick up our bicycles!  I'm in!  We tried to sneak onto the ramp, but before we could put the sunscreens in, we had a full house crammed into the Winnebago as a thunderstorm rolled overhead  ("You're flight has been delayed because of weather.  Scratch that.  Because the pilot, the lead passenger, maintenance and line service are over at Odin the Winnebago!").  We had a view of the runway and a lot of adult beverages were consumed.  Good times.

A borrowed pickup truck and a run to the storage unit.  Bicycles.  Cookbooks.  The other half of the Pfaltzgraff Sedona dishes, pots and pans, silverware, CD's, Starbucks coffee mug collection.  Winter clothes (still don't know what to do with jeans, sweatshirts and Under Armour?!). Couldn't find bicycle tire pump or The Colonel's bike shoes but it's starting to feel like home.

Sunset over St. Charles

Sundermeier RV park in historic St. Charles for the weekend.

Road bikes, meet your new big brother, Odin the Winnebago!  Despite no bicycle pump and no bike shoes for the boss, we got in an hour on the Katy this morning.   It felt pretty good, but I may pay for that tomorrow! We also found the new bicycle shop, the movie theatre (new Stark Trek movie coming out soon...) and a new BBQ restaurant!

What we posted on Facebook:  "A quick stop at the service center for an oil change."
Where we really where.
Spot #5

Babler:  Then on to our campground for the two weeks!

The Colonel prefers bike riding the epic hills (2 out of 3 times he walked up the hill to the campground--but don't tell him I told you!). Instead, I take walks.  As one woman I spoke to said, "It's like Jurassic Park!"  A stunning state park, right in town.  Unfortunately, the paved bike path is now closed to bikes. Probably budget cuts.  Pity.  And don't miss the turn to the campground like our friends did, or you go on the 20 min scenic tour!

Wild flowers from yesterday's walk.  Can you find the butterfly?

Our neighbors
A wildlife rundown.  SIX deer greeted me as I came back from dinner with a girlfriend.  We stopped.  They stopped.  And then the two babies in the front began to play.  Awesome!  I counted 5 butterflies on one hike.  They also frequent the RV and then I found the butterfly garden at the visitors center!  Beautiful.  Normally, I wouldn't count the rabbits & squirrels because they were near rodent status at our old house, but fun to see after being away for so long.  I hear all the raccoons live over at the primitive camp sites but I haven't spotted any yet.

Summary:  We love staying at a state park.  It's always our first choice.  Falling asleep to the sound of crickets and frogs then waking to birds chirping is pure bliss.  Babler has plenty of shade, 50-amp, concrete pads that are plenty long for us, and good wifi (near the bath house).    We were close to our friends at the airport and my sister.  Plenty of shopping a short distance away.  I even discovered recycling bins for metal & plastic at the pump-out. However, they don't have water or sewer at each site (which is OK in the short-term.  There are water spigots and a pump-out station).  Laundry was my sister's house.  Speaking of short term, we were limited to 15 days every 30.  Bummer.  We parked in the front in spot #5, then moved over to spot 6.  It was a short walk to the bathroom & we received good wifi here.  However, there is some excellent shade back around spot 44 with a water spigot and extra parking which is possible in a Class A but may be a tight turnaround for a 5th wheel.  We'll always swing through here on our way in & out of town.

The park like many state & national parks, could use some tax dollars.  The pool was damaged in a lightning strike and never reopened.  The stable has closed (but the trails are still available, I believe) and the bike path is now "no bikes".  There are a few places that are washed out with gravel, but nothing I couldn't navigate on my road bike.  Of course, watch out for the slick spots.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Cheapskates on the Move, Homemade Laundry Soap

A conversation with my step-daughter & the cleaning lady at our current stop made me realize this recipe is still news to people.  We switched to this when I realized that it cleaned our stinky, moisture-wicking, synthetic bicycle clothes as well as the expensive "sports detergent".  We still use it for bucket laundry on the boat.  After using a sample-size Tide while staying at hotels in FL, I couldn't wait to switch back when we moved into Odin the Winnebago.  It's inexpensive, non-toxic, good for those with sensitivities and can be adjusted to your tastes.  It WORKS!

1 cup borax (detergent booster, stain fighter, odor-eliminating) 
1 cup washing soda (laundry booster, freshener & water softener.  Phosphate & fragrance free)
1 bar soap (I used Dr. Bronner's castile, unscented because it's earth friendly.  They also have scents like lavender or see vinegar rinse.  Other good options are Dove, Kirk's castile, Fels Napta or Zote).

Use 1-2 Tbsp per load (1 Tbsp for light soil or 2 Tbsp for heavy soil.  Use 1/2 of recommended amount for HE washers)

At home, I mixed this in a jar but on the boat, space was a premium.  I used ziplocs with 1 c. borax & 1 c. washing soda then grated each bar of soap as needed (food processor will give you a finer powder, but a hand grater will work also).  This also works for bucket laundry if you give the soap a little time to dissolve in the cold water before adding clothes (castile dissolves faster than Fels Napta, in my opinion)

Instead of fabric softener, add 1/4 cup-1/2 cup of vinegar in the fabric softener slot (or add in rinse cycle.  Use half the amount for HE washers). Add a few drops of essential oil like lavender, if you like.  No, your laundry won't smell like vinegar.  It will go away when the clothes dry.

Additional benefits of vinegar:  It's a disinfectant so good on mold & mildew from humid climates, makes new clothes color fast, helps dissolve soap residue (also good in dish rinse water), cleans water lines from hard water, gets rid of "funky" smell (also good in sinks when they start to smell).

Alternatives to this recipe you can find on the internet:  make a liquid, 2:2:1 ratio, or add-ins like Oxi-clean, baking soda or fabric softener beads

Skin sensitivities:  This recipe gives you the ability to control the ingredients.  An quick internet search recommends a fragrance-free bar soap such as castile or Dove with a vinegar rinse to get rid of soap residue.

Borax ($4 for 65 oz)
Washing soda (55 oz for $4)
Bar soap ($1x6)
= $14 for 6 ziplocs or 18 cups of detergent
1 cup = 16 Tbsp.  
18 cups = 288 Tbsp (3 loads/week @ 2 Tbsp = 12 months)
$14 for 1 year of laundry detergent! Or 0.10/load  

Clean washer:  I started chatting with the cleaning lady today because she was wiping out all the washers!  She does it every day and she revealed that the fabric softener beads in many detergents don't dissolve (probably in cold water loads) and are left behind for the next person.  Previously, as a public service where marina laundromats were inexpensive, I would do a large, hot cycle and add 1 cup vinegar (or bleach, not as earth friendly) to clean & sanitize the washer, switching machines each week.

These are my go-to websites for diy recipes.  They usually are a little bit different.
Wellness Mama:
Mommypotamus (borax-free):
One Good Thing By Jillee (with add-ins):
Mother Earth News:

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Newbie RV lessons, Are we level?

Are we level?  The short answer is NO.  The one thing we haven't mastered on our coach is the levelers.  We learned one trick before leaving Camping World, but still left a little mystified.

Oftentimes, despite our best efforts, our parking spot isn't level.  It isn't annoying at first, but after a day of two, it becomes more obvious.  The bedroom door won't stay closed, the front door won't OPEN, the shower door (that contains the litterpan) has to be propped open, the bathroom door doesn't cooperate, the pantry slides out unannounced, it's hard on the fridge (electric and propane) and can even make it difficult to get the slide back in.   

We're still new to RVing and haven't talked to enough people to understand 1) what we're doing wrong or 2) what's wrong with the system.  We thought part of the problem might be our levelers don't go all the way down, so we got some wooden blocks--specifically for those times where the spot was REALLY unlevel.  That just adds a step to the process.

Being level is overrated, really.  On bad days, I refer to it as my core workout.  After all, we live on a sailboat six months of the year.  I have to stay in shape.  Our monohull friends are probably laughing.  "Level?  What's level?"  But we own a catamaran and should be able to sit down our glass of champagne without it spilling--that's what the brochure says.

We weren't level the first week at Babler State Park.  Our new spot was across the street, so at least we'd be leaning the other way for week 2.  Procedure is:  back into the spot.  Start the levelers down.  Then he says, "How are they doing?"  Which involves me doing everything except laying on the ground.  They come down at different rates--front left and back right are usually ahead of front right and back left.  However, I haven't found one spot where I can see all four, so it involves a lot of running around and squatting.  (Sometimes you watch the entertainment.  Sometimes you are the entertainment). Then The Colonel hits stop, comes out and adds some blocks, then goes back in and tries to center the bubble.  "Go around the other side and check on that block."  Grrrrrr...  

Then he continues to lower the levelers.  They are so SLOW!  Just when we both doze off, they are suddenly down.  During today's attempt two new things happened:  1). We always try to back WAY into the spot.  Our rear tires are a significant distance from the back of the coach--at least 7 ft, so if I bring him all the way back to the curb, we are usually hanging over the back of the pavement.  This gets us closer to the power pedestal and leaves room for visitors to park in front of us (since we don't have a car yet).  However, luckily I was paying attention, because one of our back levelers would have hit the curb at an angle!  ALWAYS CHECK CURB LOCATION TO LEVELERS!  Good to know.  2)  I walked around the coach to check the right rear and when I walked back around, the left rear tire was OFF THE GROUND!  This is exciting for a couple reasons--there's a big controversy about whether you should raise an RV this far.  I'm not a fan  (again, we weigh 26,000 lbs--I can just imagine that leveler giving out in the middle of the night and dropping us onto the concrete--while I'm sleeping right above it...) BUT, we were also concerned our levelers weren't as "strong" as they should be, but apparently they CAN raise the RV off the ground, which is good to know!  Yes, he immediately lowered the left rear, despite the fact, "But we're totally level.  The bubble is in the CENTER!"  (Reluctantly lowered). 

In debrief, The Colonel said, "For the first time, I felt like the levelers were doing what they were supposed to do."  We aren't sure exactly how long Odin sat before we bought him.  Perhaps we are still working off some rust.  Or maybe he's finally warming up to us.  Perhaps a few more kisses and pep talks from Momma.