Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cavorting with Some Dammed French Broad

We are at the TVA's Tailwater Campground, on the French Broad River between Kodak and Sevierville, Tennessee, just downstream of Douglas Dam (map). This is a lovely spot, with power and water for $20 per night, and we snagged a primo waterfront site when we pulled in. There is a dump station, a boat ramp, and a bait shop with snacks and sundries just upstream.

The TVA also operates a similar campground at lake level, adjacent to the dam, called, appropriately, the Headwater Campground, a bit further from the road. If we planned to stay a few days we would have chosen that one instead, so we could swim in the lake. (Tailwaters are way too cold for swimming, as the penstocks draw from deep within the lake. Also, the tailwater can be somewhat dangerous due to sudden dam releases.)

We ended up staying four nights at Norris Dam. Sunday night we rode into the town of Lake City and had dinner at a nice Mexican restaurant there. It was really the only dining option within scooter distance of the dam that was not fast food. We also spent a half hour or so in the pool at the park's west area, $4 for adults, $2 with a camping receipt, but free between 5 and 6pm.

The Investigation Area I mentioned in my last post turned into Tropical Depression 2 and thence into Tropical Storm Brett; however, it immediately made a right turn and headed straight out to sea. So when Monday morning rolled around, I turned my attention back to another of our pressing problems, our battery bank. Even before the battery switch failed, the capacity of the bank has been dropping rapidly over the last few months. The batteries are over four years old, and have more than 2,000 cycles on them, and now our nominal 920 amp-hour bank is behaving more like one with less than 200 amp-hours. Right now in the heat, when we need air conditioning full time, the problem is particularly noticeable.

I had hoped the temporary bypassing and repair of the failed battery switch would give us enough capacity back to deal with this at a more convenient time. Like, for example, after hurricane season, or when we are closer to Arizona, the epicenter of competitive battery pricing. While fixing the switch has helped a great deal, there is no escaping the fact that the batteries are just done, and so Monday I started calling every battery distributor in the southeast looking for decent pricing on replacements.

The best deal I found is on a set of Fullriver batteries, at $483 apiece (with exchange) in Miami. These are the batteries I'd really like to have, and if they had the ones with button terminals we'd be on our way to Miami. Unfortunately, Fullriver has changed over to "L" or flag-style terminals, and we'd have a lot of work to do to change our cables over, which are set up for stud terminals. They also offered me a set of Dekas for $426 each, which are alleged to have the same terminals we have now.

The next best quote is on a set of Trojans, which are what we have now, so I know absolutely that they will fit in the rack and the cables will fit the terminals. They are asking $500, but I am trying to get them to quote a lower price, considering the $600 we'd save on the Dekas would more than cover our fuel to Miami, and the Deka is a higher-capacity battery. We can pick up the Tojans in either Fort Mill or Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Fort Mill is closer, but it should be a few degrees cooler on the coast, and it is just a nicer place to be, in general. So by the end of the day Monday we had made the decision to head for Myrtle Beach, and we pulled up stakes yesterday afternoon. The Trojans are not in stock, and won't be there until next week anyway, so we have plotted a very leisurely route. Even if we had a fully working set of batteries, in this weather power hookups are cheaper than the generator, so we are zig-zagging between state parks, county parks, and TVA, all with $20 (or under) power hookups.

Speaking of batteries and switches,
as long as we had another day of downtime at Norris, I took the opportunity to swap out the failed battery switch for the replacement I had refurbished while at Choo-Choo. After I got it out and all our air conditioning back on-line, Louise helped me drill the rivets out and we had a look at the failure.

As I expected, the plastic ring that moves, by means of a pair of pins, the brass wiper on and off the contact pads had crumbled into pieces. This is how the switch failed in the closed position. Beyond that, however, there was also a blob of metal that had literally melted off one of the pads and welded itself to the wiper.

This meant that if the wiper was moved even so much as a millimeter from the position in which this occurred, the mating surfaces would no longer be in contact and all the current would flow through the small spot where this blob was now touching the pad.

The good news is that the keyed hub is in better shape, and the lever friction stop is undamaged, so I can swap these parts into the refurbished switch I am using now. I might even try to grind the blob off the wiper and use that, as well, if I can get it flatter than the other one. I think by making these changes, the refurbished switch should serve for the life of the bus. Disconnecting the batteries to change the switch is a pain in the butt, so we'll make the final repair when we have the batteries out for replacement.

Today we will pick our way through the tourist traps of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, then make our way south through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It's a shame the weather is not conducive to staying there a couple days; it will be Odyssey's first visit, although we've done much of the park ourselves when we came through years ago on our big touring motorcycles.

1 comment:

  1. hi sean,

    i have 2 newells and have put batteries in both over the past 5 years. i was able to buy interstate AGM's 8d ones cheaply locally but that went away.

    i bought 6 8d's from tom at

    late last year and had them shipped to the local fex-ex term that i went and picked them up. no core charge so i was able to sell the old ones for quite a bit.

    he sells lifelines and was the cheapeast i could find at the time. you might try him for pricing as well to compare.



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