Wednesday, March 28, 2012

First-World Problems

That's an expression we tend to use here aboard Odyssey whenever anything calamitous happens. It is otherwise too easy to get wrapped up in all the anxiety that goes with life's curve balls, and/or to start feeling sorry for yourself or worse. Today was such a day and, as luck would have it, someone came along to give us perspective.

We are tonight at the Walmart in Rancho Cucamonga (map). Landing here is something of a story in itself, but suffice it to say we did not make it to Dana Point, and I would guess we are a good two hours or so from there in routine traffic, even though it is less than 70 miles. We had to make it a short day because one of our enormous windows got sucked out of the bus on I-15.

More precisely, half of the window got sucked out. It was one of our two large thermal-pane windows, which consist of two separate panes of safety glass with an air-filled gap between them. A strip of aluminum and a seal separates the glass panes around the entire circumference of the window. The inner pane is still intact; however, the outer pane separated from its seal at 60mph in the #3 lane in Victorville, flipped up onto the roof, and shattered into thousands of pieces.

I was slowly passing a truck in the #4 lane at the time; I was doing 60 and he was doing 55, the limit for trucks in California. Still, a large vehicle in the next lane creates enormous differential pressure; we had been warned to ensure the bus emergency exit windows were always firmly latched as they had a habit of being sucked out by passing trucks. We heard the crash as the glass landed on the roof, and I glanced in my mirrors to see a shower of debris raining down between us and the truck. Just then we went under an overpass, and briefly we thought we must have hit it with something -- a feeling with which we are all too familiar.

We had no idea what had hit us, but Louise ran upstairs and opened the sunshade under the hatch to see glass shards covering it. We took the next exit and found a Home Depot parking lot, our second of the day (more on that later). I got up on the roof (with some effort, due to glass stuck in the hinges of the hatch) and found lots and lots of shattered safety glass on the roof. It was in everything -- lodged in the deck, the rain gutters, the awning mounts, and the satellite dish. We had not yet noticed that half our window was missing; the cursory inspection Louise had done while we were still on the freeway revealed all our glass to seemingly be in place.

The only thing we could guess was that a pane of safety glass had blown off a vehicle on the overpass -- we figured a glass truck, as this looked way too large to be an automotive window. Louise picked up the phone and called the Highway Patrol, for the second time today (more on that later, too) to report the incident and make certain we did not need to do anything further. We then set to cleaning as much of the glass off the roof as we could, so we could get back under way. It took a good half hour or so, working with gloves, brooms, and dustpans, and when we had as much of it bagged up as we could, the bag weighed over 15 pounds.

It was only as I was leaning over the awning to sweep the glass out of the rain gutter that I noticed something amiss with the passenger side window. Then I knew instantly what had happened, and it all made sense. Louise called the CHP for a third time, this time to report that the glass had, indeed, come from us, in case some of it had hit anyone else. Fortunately, they had no reports.

This window has had a leaky seal between the panes for some time. The result is that it fogged up routinely whenever the humidity and the temperature delta between inside and outside were high. Frankly, it's done this so many times and gotten so wet inside that it looked awful, with mineral streaks between the panes that simply could not be cleaned. It was destined to be replaced at some point anyway, but it's a huge hassle and we had decided to just live with it for the time being. Still, it was surprising that the entire seal could fail catastrophically like this.

Once we made the discovery, we did a careful inspection of the remaining pane and the glue holding it in, to make sure it was not going to disappear next. All seemed well and, with the glass cleaned up as best we could, we decided to continue on, with Louise keeping tabs on the window for the first few miles on the freeway. We made it all the way here to Rancho Cucamonga without incident.

This was the first Walmart on our route that was not listed in our directory as prohibiting overnight parking, unfortunately a fairly common occurrence here in southern California. On our way off the freeway, however, we noticed a Bass Pro Shop with an integral restaurant. Bass Pro usually lets RVs spend the night, and we figured that to be our backup option. Soon enough we were giving them a call, because the Walmart was not where the GPS thought it should be, and by the time we circled back around for another pass, the Bass Pro was closer.

The Bass Pro store told us that their corporate policy is to allow it, but that the city of Rancho Cucamonga prohibited it. That did not bode well for the Walmart. So we called them next. The customer service rep did not know the answer, but she left the phone to consult with someone, then came back and told us we could park in the lot between the store and the defunct Circuit City store next door, where the trucks park. Great.

We found the store and went right to the specified lot, where, sure enough, we found trucks, and one other rig. We found a nice spot next to the abandoned store and settled in. Before we could deploy the satellite dish, I needed to get back on the roof with a brush and dustpan while Louise worked the manual controls for the dish, turning it every which way in order to get all the glass out of it. That took another 40 minutes or so, but we were finally able to recalibrate it and then get online.

While I was up on the roof a gentleman came by walking his dog, and asked what the problem was. I explained about the window and allowed that it had been a bad day. He explained that for him it had been a bad couple of years, and I figured him to be in one of the older rigs across the parking lot, probably just scraping by in the Walmart parking lot. Again, that put our own troubles into perspective.

With the dish finally working we settled down with a much-needed glass of wine before we planned to walk all of three dozen yards across the parking lot to Claim Jumper for a nice steak dinner -- neither of us wanted to cook at the end of this kind of day. We only got halfway through our wine, though, when security knocked on the door to ask us to move. Apparently the row of spaces next to the old store was off limits, even though it was in the lot where they sent us. It's possible that Walmart's domain ends before that row.

No problem, we just moved a few feet. Louise set the half-full wine glasses upright in the sink for the move, but the speed bump we had to transit in the process sent the bus rocking and one glass into the granite rim of the sink. The glass broke but the wine did not spill -- some kind of metaphor for the day, I think. I figured I had to open this post with the photo.

Up until Victorville we had been having a lovely drive. We find that stretch of desert to be quite beautiful, although we also found part of it to be on fire. We spotted smoke ahead as we were driving and came upon a small brush fire, ironically at the very base of a motorist aid call box. Louise called 911, which is answered by the Highway Patrol, to report it. (The next two times she called them, she used the non-emergency number.)

We also made a brief stop in Barstow, at the Home Depot. I needed a few parts to finish the bed lift project, and this store was right at an off-ramp. It took me a while to find the parts in the maze of the hardware aisles, and while I was checking out I got a phone call from the broker to arrange the boat viewing details. We were there longer than I'd have liked; little did we know we'd be at another Home Depot for much longer later in the day.

We eventually made it to Claim Jumper for dinner, after replacing the broken wine glass and getting re-settled. Knowing we need to get an early start tomorrow, we also made our pilgrimage into the Walmart after dinner. We'd mostly run out of provisions, and even though this store is not a Supercenter, they had enough groceries to restock the larder, so we're set for the next few days.

Thus wined, dined, and shopped, I decided to take my mind off the window by tackling the last of the bed lift project, now that I had the parts. That involved replacing the temporary pins at both ends (consisting of ¼" drive extensions from my socket set) with 3/8" bolts, washers, and NyLock nuts, and installing a decorative 4-way switch to operate it. Now that it is all together I can share some photos.

I purchased the 20"-stroke linear actuator for the project from Progressive Automations on eBay. They sell their surplus items this way, and this model was someone's custom order, with a non-standard force specification (250 pounds). I picked it up for $80, shipping included. Once I found it, I downloaded the spec sheet, which gave me dimensions of the complete unit along with the mounting arrangement. From that I was able to calculate the installation angle and noodle through some kind of mounting setup.

That turned out to be a pair of 3" corner braces from Walmart, which I basically sawed in half to make four flanged triangles, then enlarged the holes to the same diameter as the ones on the actuator. Those holes are 0.40", which is why I chose 3/8 bolts -- the closest commonly available fit.

I'm not much of a carpenter, but I did the best I could to make a straight jigsaw cut between two hole-saw cutouts for a slot. This lets the actuator base be on solid flooring inside the end compartment of the bed, while working against the center of the platform, which is over the engine-access hatch. The hatch area is open to the bedroom at one end, with vinyl flooring over it, and was where Opal's dog house used to sit, along with our suitcases. Having the hatch in this spot made it impossible to use a shorter, vertically-oriented actuator, which would have made the whole project simpler.

To get the 12 volt power to the actuator, I re-purposed a 120-vac outlet and its wiring, conveniently already located adjacent to the actuator base. The pair of outlets in this location were actually a mistake -- the electrician who installed them mis-read my plans, which called for them to be in boxes inside the bed frame -- for unknown future equipment to be installed there (like, umm, a bed lift). One outlet was on the inverter and one not, and I chose this latter item to remove.

The other end of the cable feeding the outlet ran to a J-box conveniently close to a large DC distribution box under the other end of the bed, with spare wires running back to the DC panel.

While there was already 12-volt "convenience" power in the box, I chose to use a spare wire so I could run to a dedicated breaker. This lets the actuator get all the juice it needs, and also lets us shut it off individually when not in use, which keeps our mischievous cats from operating the bed lift while we are in it, or when we are away from the bus.

While this location near the floor at the foot of the bed is not ideal for a switch, since the J-box and ugly opening were already there from the mistake, I opted to get a matching Decora four-way switch and install it in this spot to operate the lift. This type of switch in this location is easy to operate with one's toe, so it works out. When the circuit breaker is energized, this type of switch is constantly supplying power to the actuator, either in the Up or Down direction. The actuator's built-in limit switches cut off the power to the motor when it is fully extended or retracted.

My editor has already turned in for the night, so this post will actually publish in the morning, after she's looked it over. After our coffee, we'll get back on I-15 for the slog through LA traffic to Dana Point. Wednesday evening we should be somewhere along the coast.


  1. Wow. Hard to come up with a meaningful comment. Even if there were such a thing.
    Having a window fly out and then come whipping up over the roof is really just about the last thing a person would ever suspect. The photo evidence is very convincing however, and that's not to say I wouldn't have believed it, but it is pretty "unbelievable", in that, "are you freakin' kidding me?" kind of way.
    Again. Wow.

  2. And you still had the time and energy to update your blog??? Hope you have smooth sailing/powerboating..from here on.

  3. Whoa! What a day! We like the First World problem concept too. Jim installed a bed lift too, but ours is manual, not electric. Works great though!

  4. Sean, I was actually in one of the bay's on my back fixing a kitchen sink drain, when I came up for air and read your post. What a day indeed, I'm glad no-one got hit by the glass shrapnel. I'm resigned to acrylic wine glasses, so I've avoided that part. I do have a nice Caspian blue tarp you could cover your window with! Maybe not "the look" of course. Steve

  5. Hi Sean, really enjoyed reading about your project. My name is Matt, and I am from Progressive Automations. I know this post is old, but I thought I would still reach out. Please get in touch with me, I'd like to chat about your experience with our actuators.

    1. Hi Matt, thanks for commenting. You did not leave any contact information, though, so I can't email you. You can find my email in the "Who We Are" page linked in the sidebar.


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