Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Archive for the category “The Intrepid”

Gags, Humor, and Solar Power

The Morningstar Sunsaver MPPT.

The Morningstar Sunsaver MPPT.

I recently managed to replace the misbehaving Outback SmartHarvest 20A MPPT solar charge controller with a proper Morningstar controller, and now all is right with the world. The Outback was exceptionally naughty right out of the box, and its replacement was no better. The USA office of Outback appeared to be manned only with sales types and customer service reps, with no technical staff on board. The sole solution seemed to be trying another unit. So I did, but opted for the Sunsaver. Since I could not in good conscience sell or even give the SmartHarvest away, it is now residing in the local landfill, where it belongs.

With Morningstar’s remote temperature sender attached to one of my batteries, the Sunsaver now operates in tandem with their TriStar MPPT 45A. The Tristar handles everything coming in from the 360W roof panels, while the Sunsaver serves to feed power in from the 200W ground panels via the external rear wall plug that comes standard with the Four Wheel camper. (A simple internal wiring harness change was needed to feed both of these units to the same battery pack for my installation.) Four Wheel uses the less expensive Read more…

Traveling at Warping Speed

Fascinating, no? No. But it will help in understanding this post.

Fascinating, no? Ahhh…No. But it will help in understanding this post.

I escaped from my local Ford dealer the day the other day, but sans shirt. The brakes had been acting up for months, a little at first and then a lot. Now, at 90K miles, they were grabbing at one or more spots as the wheels rotated, with too much stopping power alternating with too little. Pretty jerky, though they could still do a firm stop when necessary. But, it was to the point where the rapid vibrations needed to go away. There was no pulsing at the brake pedal, and no wobbling of the steering wheel, but the Mighty Furd is pretty dead in this regard. Feedback is not its strong suit. I’d recently had the wheel lugs reset to spec, using a torque wrench, since I couldn’t break them loose with a star wrench in order to be able to change a tire. Many repair places simply jam them on hard with a pneumatic driver which, at least with drum brakes, can warp the drum and cause the same behavior. It was worth a try. No soap, though. It was just as bad afterward.

I was hoping that the rotors (disks in the above illustration) were warped and could be machined back to a nice, flat shape. No soap on that, either. The dealership vowed that there wasn’t enough rotor thickness left to avoid going below spec on the minimum thickness allowed. As measured, the runout (disk wobbling) was bad, preventing any meaningful correction. I needed four new ones, which cost a pretty penny indeed, and I had them change out the brake fluid as well, which looked unhealthily dark. The pads, still the originals, were fine, which surprised me. Brakes have not been a trouble-free area for M. Furd. I’d had to have the rear calipers replaced quite some time ago due to freezing up and staying engaged, the result of letting the thing sit for weeks at a time over one winter. That promotes corrosion, which jams parts up and the brakes/wheels get pretty hot. Today, I was hoping that the cashier would not notice the tear stains on my cheeks as I swiped my overheated credit card.

What had happened? I wanted to figure that out in order to avoid a repeat at 180K miles. I was stumped, because my sporty car driving days are long gone, and I now drive like an old man in order to keep the bucket rolling. Overheating should not be an issue in this case. I did some research, and found that disk brakes don’t warp, so my old school thinking was out. Hopefully, the runout on the new rotors is better than the originals. Turns out that for the Super Duty, letting it sit for weeks, as I did in its early life over winter as well as when boondocking with the Defiant TT, doesn’t just rust the brake pads into the calipers. It promotes corrosion on the rotor surfaces except where the pads are sitting. Then it more recently sat in Indy over the humid summer months, which may have finished them off. What you eventually get is a rotor with uneven friction surfaces, which comes out as what I had. It’s possible to catch it way early by swapping in semi-metallic pads at the first hint of grabbing, but really, not letting it sit idle for more than a week, and braking a little more aggressively may help me avoid this kind of Service Dept trauma quite so soon. I’d rather be replacing pads than rotors.

At this particular dealership, the sales people are required to chase down and chaperone anyone outside on the property. Doesn’t matter if you are “just looking” or are waiting hours and hours for your car in Service. They cannot leave your side, just in case you have a question or get a sudden, impulsive urge to buy a car right then and there. Their manager beats them soundly if they don’t. For Service customers facing trauma, maybe it’s also to keep you from wandering across the lot to the Chevy dealer next door, to the west. The Toyota dealer to the east is owned by the same guy as where I was at, so they probably don’t care so much when you go out that door. It’s kind of a forced intimacy, and the youngish salesman who followed me out sized me up and asked tentatively, “I…don’t suppose you’re thinking about replacing your truck.” That was a good guess on his part. I wasn’t. I don’t particularly look like an impulse buyer, nor do I look like an elderly version of a player. I don’t look like I have much dough either, truth be told. Short of a major engine failure or the impending signs of doom, the Mighty Furd shall retain the high honor of serving me until the day that it’s better off being dragged out and unceremoniously shot. But its memory shall live on, both in fact and in legend. Oh yes. So, we talked about how great it is to retire and tour the country most of the year, then winter in an RV park in Yuma. Tour here and there. Everywhere. He left after awhile. I couldn’t tell if he was more bored or depressed.

State of the Intrepid – The Cargo Box

The StowAway cargo box as originally mounted in February of this year.

The StowAway cargo box as originally mounted in February of this year.

The “small” standard model of StowAway cargo box has been awfully handy, and is a clean way to transport goods in the swirl of dust that often trails behind the truck. The white color I chose is unusual and does show dust easily, but so does the black one, and the temperature rise inside the white version is much less. White also discourages heat-induced lid warpage that can compromise gasket sealing and the ability to latch the lid closed. That makes it appropriate for storing away those items which would quickly degrade if left in Yuma’s spectacular summer heat, like my old Pentax film cameras and videocam, as well as the e-bike’s spare battery. Wheel levelers, camera tripods, books, bike parts and tools, lubes and maintenance chemicals, you name it. Whatever could not fit in the camper’s twin benches (due to the added batteries) or posed a semi-hazard in an enclosed space, went into this cargo box.

This is a swingaway version, which can be locked at 90 degrees or swung to 180.

This is a swingaway version, which can be locked at 90 degrees or swung to 180.

My StowAway is a swing-away frame version, which is a good thing on a rear-entry camper. Any misgivings I had about its frame strength under a heavily-loaded box are gone – I absentmindedly drove it for ten miles along a 65 MPH two-lane with Read more…

State of the Intrepid – La Toilette

The C-Head BoonJon inside the Grandby's ear passenger-side cabinet.

The C-Head BoonJon inside the Grandby’s rear passenger-side cabinet.

The C-Head BoonJon composting toilet has proven a worthy investment, in spite of being the most expensive portable way I know to separate solid from liquid waste in a boondocking RV. To my surprise, it has proven odorless in spite of the lack of venting that is normally installed with these things. The maker suggested trying it out sans vent first, just to see, and I’m glad I avoided that complication. Most C-Heads are intended for marine use, or remote cabin use without plumbing. The separation of urine from solid waste prevents most noxious odors, and a churn handle mixes the solid waste with an absorbent material each time solids are added. The intent is that it is the initial stage of Read more…

State of the Intrepid – Solar Power Mods

You want trauma? Try drilling and sinking sheet metal screws into a pristine, seamless 1-piece top.

You want trauma? Try drilling and sinking sheet metal screws into a pristine, seamless 1-piece top sheet, where every screw must intercept a supporting thinwall rib somewhere underneath. And it’s up to you to figure out exactly where those aluminum ribs might be.

The Grandby by default came with an electrical system intended to be powered off the Ford’s twin starting batteries. This is not a bad way to go if you travel a little each day, don’t use much power, and preferably swap in some Optima AGM deep cycle batteries under the hood to deal better with the dual-purpose stresses. Lots of overlanders do this, but it starts to make less sense once you begin to stay planted, use more power, and/or don’t care to lug along a generator and gas can. Stranding your own vehicle by depleting its starting battery is seldom advisable.

I recommend wiring an inexpensive digital DC voltmeter to your battery to get a rough idea of its state of charge. This one is simply perched on top of a Samlex 150-watt pure sine inverter, which allows even sensitive electronics to run safely. It uses less than 6 watts at idle by itself. Since Samlex recommended 10-gauge wire for my length of hookup wire, that's what I used. No unpleasant surprises.

I recommend wiring an inexpensive digital DC voltmeter to your battery to get a rough idea of its state of charge. This one is perched on top of a Samlex 150-watt pure sine inverter.

I was already sitting on five 3-year-old AGM batteries, as well as a suitable solar charge controller and four 200-watt solar panels. Whoops, overkill! Right? A distinct lack of storage space and roof acreage prompted me to keep just four of the batteries and the controller. Couldn’t I make do with fewer batteries? Yes, definitely. Just two 104Ah batteries would possibly Read more…

State of the Intrepid – Options & Standards

The built-in propane stove is pretty handy, and a flush-mount model is also available.

The built-in propane stove is pretty handy, and a flush-mount model is also available.

Options are always an individual thing, and some equipment has been made standard since I ordered my Grandby. The standard two-burner gas cooking range works well, and its diminutive size does not compromise cookware that can be used on it. Only if you use two huge pots at a time or need more than 10K BTUs per burner will you need to go a’campin’ with an outside stove.

Yup, it's filthy. I use a screen in the drain to put less food waste into the tank, and to slow clogging of the line out.

Yup, it’s filthy. I use a screen in the drain to put less food waste into the tank, and to slow clogging of the line out.

The deep stainless steel sink is a mix of blessing and curse. To the good, it’s stainless, and cleans up easily. Its Whale faucet has good controls as well as a spout which can be twisted side-to-side and adjusted from spray to steady stream. This adjustability to task decreases water usage quite a bit – nearly halving it, in fact. And the water pump supplying it has quite a wallop, if you need it. The water pump in my unit was Read more…

State of the Intrepid – Camper Bed Mounts

Camper mounts may be the least glamorous part of any truck camper, but are functionally the most important.

Camper mounts may be the least glamorous part of any truck camper, but are functionally the most important.

“If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” is a saying that also applies to truck camper mounts. The camper does not wedge tightly into the truck bed, but has plenty of clearance. It’s then effectively strapped down tight to the flat bed surface. In the case of Four Wheel campers, the goal is to keep it pulled fully forward so that slamming on the brakes affects nothing, and keep it centered and otherwise down tight so it can’t shift around. Fortunately for me, the Mighty Furd is wearing a Line-X urethane bed coating that has a rough surface which helps friction. The camper is pretty easy to slip-n-slide on painted metal, but mine took three guys and an incline to coax it to move when it had to be reset in the bed. I recommend any such urethane spray, or a much less expensive full-width rubber mat on the floor only. Plastic bed liners should not be used.

I had some early problems with the camper shifting in the bed, with damage to one Read more…

State of the Intrepid – Floor Plan

Could'a used a wider lens on this - which I don''t have. Anyway, the Grandby front dinette model.

Could’a used a wider lens on this – which I don”t have. Anyway, the Grandby front dinette model.

[This post is a look at the Four Wheel Grandby’s basic features which inherently come along with the front dinette floor plan. Several more posts about other of the Grandby’s aspects will follow. Caution: neat/clean freaks may experience some degree of trauma due to the graphic nature of the photographs used throughout this series, which were taken after some 5 months on the road. The camper is in active camping condition, not display condition. You have been warned.]

In general, the Grandby itself has worked out very well, without regrets. The front dinette model can sleep four adults, the second pair sleeping on a platform created by stowing the dinette table between the two side benches. Of necessity, the seat foam is markedly stiffer, and coin-tossing for sleeping location may be advised. Obviously, I didn’t select my floor plan for that capability, and I wouldn’t expect the head count after a long 4-person weekend camp out to be the same returning as it was departing. Whoever sleeps on this lower platform is likely to be stepped on when Read more…

State of the Intrepid – The Mighty Furd

O Mighty Furd, may I never have to push thee!

O Mighty Furd, may I never have to push thee!

The Intrepid is my “rig”, consisting of a pickup truck with a low-profile camper in the bed. The base vehicle – the foundation – has a large influence on how happy or unhappy the owner is with the entirety, since a mismatch can quickly veer things toward the unhappy side. Road handling can get scary, parts and systems can wear quickly and/or fail, or the camper in the bed can start to come apart from stress. Since this is a review of the Intrepid instead of just the Grandby camper alone, I think it pays to include Read more…

State of the Intrepid – Introduction

Once you start hanging extras onto your rig, it can get sizable indeed! Note that the e-bike just clears the path for mail delivery, and the rear cargo box can't be swung out without opening the garage door.

Once you start hanging extras onto your rig, it can get sizable indeed! Note that the e-bike just clears the path for mail delivery, and the rear cargo box can’t be swung out without opening the garage door.

I thought that it might be high time to say what it’s really like to live inside my FWC Grandby, with as little cognitive bias (the tendency to retroactively ascribe positive attributes to an option one has already selected) or buyer’s remorse (no definition needed) as I can muster. After all, such sources as The Sales Blog notes, “Buyers don’t make logical, rational buying decisions. They make emotional decisions and then justify those decisions by rationalizing them after the fact. This is true even if they use a spreadsheet to evaluate suppliers and solutions.” Sadly, I’ve found this to be true. Much like scientists, we vote with our hearts or when hemmed in by circumstance, and then rationalize like crazy to convince ourselves that our decision was sound.

But I don’t think you want to simply hear how great or awful this Four Wheel product is, as in evangelizing for the brand. I can wax ecstatic and propagandize as well as the next guy, but I think you want to get an idea of what about it works well, what’s okay, what’s a nuisance, and what’s a flaw – at least in one person’s opinion. Perhaps of good value is to find out how the Read more…

Post Navigation