Monday, May 26, 2008

Let there be lights

We are at the Flying-J in Aurora (map). We needed water last night, and I also needed to put air in the tag tires, so we pulled up to a truck fuel island for both. No fuel, though -- it's a good $0.15 cheaper in Wyoming, and we're going to try to stretch what we've got in the tank till then. The next Flying-J will be in Casper, although it would be a short diversion to Cheyenne if we needed it sooner.

We generally try to patronize a business when we park overnight, and so we had dinner in the restaurant, the "Country Market." They have a regular menu, too, but the Sunday buffet was too good a deal to pass up, at $8.99. Comfort food, and lots of it, and it was tasty and fresh (no wine, though). I was a bit surprised; we buy plenty of fuel at Flying-J but seldom eat in their restaurants. Too bad we left the Flying-J card back in the bus -- food purchases count for points towards fuel discounts later.

We'll be back in the C-store this morning, since we need a new CB antenna, and we spotted one there after dinner. We decided this time to wait until we had the card with us. The CB antenna is the tallest thing on the bus, and we often whack it on low trees, overpasses, wires, and what-not. We've been averaging one antenna every nine months or so.

Yesterday's Home Depot run and repair-fest was successful. The FanTastic trouble turned out to be, as I suspected, a sticky/corroded plunger switch, and a few shots of WD-40 took care of it. It's had both failure modes of late: the fan running even though the lid was closed, and the fan refusing to run even though the lid was open. I shot a few squirts at the plungers on the other two fans, too, as a precaution.

I am also happy to report that the HID floodlights are once again working. Since so many readers responded to my plea for help with these, I will report here on the final resolution: I purchased a complete "HID Conversion Kit" on eBay from an outfit in ShenZen, China. These folks make drop-in replacement ballasts (in 12 or 24 volt), and convert HID bulbs to retrofit into stock automotive headlamps to "convert" the lamps to HID. (This, BTW, is unlawful in the US and the EU -- apparently it is very popular in Asia, and many people here in the US are doing it in spite of the law and the hefty penalties for getting caught.)

It was a bit of an unusual request for them, I think, but they were happy to supply the kit with stock D2S HID bulbs. What they would not supply for their standard kit price was the connectors for the D2S bulbs, a much pricier and more specialized item than the connector for, say, an H4. But for a total of $113 (including shipping), I got two 24-volt, 35W ballasts, two D2S lamps, and some unnecessary miscellaneous mounting hardware. Considering a single D2S lamp is close to that amount of money out the door from more, umm, "conventional" sources, I thought it was a great deal.

Yesterday I lopped the connector off the old, dead ballast, and carefully spliced it to the pigtail of one of the new ballasts. I was a bit nervous about this, considering the voltages involved -- these pigtails use special high-voltage insulation and the wires are fully molded into a high-dielectric outer casing. I was very careful to separate the butt splices in the two wires, offsetting them a quarter inch or so, and double-shrink-tubing everything. In any case, I got the whole thing back together, sealed up the offending weep hole with clear silicone, fired it all up, and, voilĂ , working lights. The color temperatures of the two lights are now slightly mismatched, so at some point I will probably install the second new lamp in the other floodlight, just for appearance's sake.

I now have a spare ballast as well as a spare lamp, which ought to cover any further issues with the lights. I also noticed, while I was removing the pigtail from the dead ballast, what looks like, perhaps, a board-mount (solder-in) fuse on the dead ballast, which reads open. I'm now thinking I could have solved the ballast problem by simply soldering in a new fuse -- oh well.

Our friends Jim and Pat from RV Safety Systems are back in town, and we're hoping to meet them for dinner tonight. Tomorrow I will be following up on the mysterious missing DirecTV receivers that are somewhere in the bowels of the United States Postal system, keeping us here in Aurora.


  1. I took the time to read your blog from the beginning over the weekend and have several questions that I hope you won't mind my asking.

    Since your blog starts sometime after your adventure began, you don't really have any stories of the 'early days' when you were breaking in Odyssey and learning the ropes of your new lifestyle.


    1) Sean, have you always been so mechanically inclined? Or is your aptitude at fixing up (or at least diagnosing) Odyssey's various problems a combination of knowing her systems inside and out (from having custom-built her) and 'learning things the hard way' in early days?

    2) How long was it before you could identify a 'good' campsite. I don't mean using your books and other resources, but rather spotting a good place 'on site'; for example, noticing the lot at the end of the Wal-mart.

    3) How long did it take to be comfortable driving Odyssey? (The thought of driving 50ft backwards with my car terrifies me; I can't imagine doing it with a bus!). I know you took a driving course; how useful do you feel it was in giving you the necessary skills to drive your behemouth? Or would you say that becoming comfortable was at least as much a question of practise?

    Thanks! :-)

  2. @raven: Wow, "the beginning" would have been over three years and a thousand posts ago -- you're very dedicated!

    You're right, we hit the road full-time at the end of August, 2004, but I did not begin blogging until November of that year. So the first cross-country blast, from Tacoma, Washington to Atlantic City, New Jersey, three month's worth, has been "lost" to history.

    That said, there is a great deal of history prior to that "first" trip, including some of the details of driving around in Odyssey before we decided to strip it out and redo it, on our "main" site, http://OurOdyssey.US, in the Bus History section under How It Was Built.

    To answer your specific questions:

    1: Yes and yes. We're both engineers by education, and I'm a tinkerer by avocation. So fixing things is in my nature. If you read the above-linked discussion, one of our frustrations with Odyssey initially was stuff being "unfixable" because there was no documentation and things were impossible to trace without tearing the bus apart. Now that almost everything aboard is our own design, things seldom break in a way that we can't noodle through on our own.

    2: I've been camping my whole life, starting with backpacking as a youngster, moving to car camping in my early adulthood, then motorcycle camping with Louise in my later years. Along in there was the purchase of a factory-built 32' motorhome that I lived in part-time when I had a job that put me in the Sierras four days a week. So spotting good sites is more-or-less second nature to me, where what constitutes a good site depends a great deal on circumstances.

    That said, it did take us a few months of travel in Odyssey to get used to her quirks and adjust our "site survey" techniques accordingly. For example, the roof-mounted internet satellite dish requires a clear view to the satellite, and we now are very aware of where the satellite is in the sky when we park.

    With Wal-Mart and its ilk specifically, we often drive in and then completely circle the building and parking lot, looking for areas that are out of the main traffic flow patterns, less visible from the road or main store entrances, etc. Here there is no substitute for experience: we just know now how Wal-Mart lays out its stores and where people prefer to park, and we pick up on the subtle cues of pavement wear and grease stains to see the traffic patterns.

    3: Again, if you read our early experiences, you will see that we've gotten Odyssey "stuck" more than once. Also, there was the time I hit a post, and the time I hit a dumpster with our tail swing. Not documented, because it happened in the blogless three months, is the time we sunk to our axles in the mud. So early experience made us a bit wary.

    I would say it took me several months of near-daily driving to become completely comfortable in my knowledge of where all the edges of the bus are, how much tail swing there is, how wide our turning circle is, how bad our angles of approach and departure are, etc. I can now eyeball most turns, swales, bridges, and what-not casually from the driver's seat and know if we can or can't make it. If it's really close, I might stop and get out for a closer look (if traffic permits), or Louise will go upstairs to check clearance from the upper windshield.

    The "driving course" that we took was a lengthy self-study tome on truck driving, covering arcane laws, the fundamentals of air brakes, and that sort of thing. But I have had plenty of large-vehicle experience before, including driving ~40' straight trucks around the country, and owning the aforementioned 32' RV.

    For those new to the game, I can heartily recommend the hands-on RV driving classes that are offered at rallies. I understand a particularly good one is at "Life on Wheels," a practicum on all things RV that is offered around the country throughout the year. My in-laws did this program when they bought their 34' Winnebago and said it helped them a lot. Hands-on driving is also offered at Escapades and FMCA rallies, but sign up early, as the classes fill up.



  3. Sean, thank you for taking the time to reply to my comment.

    As I'm getting closer to my own bus dream, I feel that it was important to read as many stories as I can so I have a good idea of what I'm getting into! I did read all the 'back story' provided on the site (started with that, actually) and will admit to laughing with you at your adventures in driveways. :-D Your statement of work (which I read in its entirety) was particularly illuminating.

    Thank you for the info on the hands on driving courses offered at rallies. I didn't even know such a thing existed.




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