Monday, June 24, 2013

Day 2: Welcome Back Cotter; ZAP!

I’m writing this blog entry on Sunday morning, June 23.  It’s a pleasant, cool morning here in Boone, North Carolina, and we actually had breakfast by the fire!  Image the crackling of the wood, the sweet smell of the smoke, and the sound of water rushing over the rocks in a nearby stream.  Yes, Dorothy, this definitely isn’t southwest Florida in the summertime!  I started the day, as I do most every morning, with my favorite breakfast beverage: Goat milk and Baileys hot coffee.  I invented this elixir a couple of years ago.  In case you want to give it a try, here is the recipe: In an 8 oz. mug, pour 6 oz. of freshly-brewed, hot coffee; add 1.5 oz. of Baileys Irish Cream, and one-half oz. of goat milk; stir.  One cup gives you nutrition from three different food groups: Dairy, coffee, and booze.  You can’t get something this good at Starbucks!

I’d like to tell you that after that harrowing first day on the road, the second day was without incident, but I can’t!  Before we can hitch up and leave the campground, I’ve got get that new cotter pin.  Good news: There’s a Camping World just down the road.  (In case you are not familiar with it, Camping World is to RV owners as Home Depot is to homeowners.  They sell everything one could possibly need.)  Camping World opens at 8:00 a.m., and I’m there early, nose pressed against the door, ready to be the first customer of the day.  Bad news: They don’t have a cotter pin, or anything similar, that will fit in the hitch lever’s small-diameter hole!  How can this be?  I figure the odds are about the same as McDonalds not having any hamburgers!

Good news: There’s a big NAPA Auto Parts store a few miles away.  Bad news: They don’t have what I need either!  As luck would have it, there was another auto parts store down the street that had solid hairpins that would work nicely.  To insure that the hairpin would never break, I bought three of them.  Problem solved, and this time in only one hour.  “Perhaps today will be a better day,” I mused optimistically.  Ah, but it was still early!

The trip to our second stop, a campground in Anderson, South Carolina, was long, but fortunately, without mayhem.  We rolled in around 7:30 p.m.  Unhitching the RV went O.K.  (Thank you, well-made hairpin.)  Before hooking up the RV to electricity and water, I stepped inside and noticed there was no 12 volt power.  This is not good, because when the RV is not connected to external AC electric power (“shore power” in RV parlance), such as when on the road or staying somewhere that doesn’t have electric power, a 12 volt battery in the RV provides juice for lighting (interior lights and exterior brake, turn signal and marker lights), running the refrigerator/freezer on LP gas, powering the propane gas leak alarm, and controlling application of the RV’s brakes (which are electrically actuated).  A power converter in the RV keeps the battery charged when plugged in to shore power.  Additionally, a wiring harness that connects to the RV from the back of the truck during towing allows the truck’s electrical system to charge the battery.

There is a status panel in the RV that indicates the amount of charge in the onboard 12 volt battery when a button is pressed.  I had checked the battery before we left in the morning, and the status panel showed the battery had a full charge.  Now, the panel showed the battery was dead!  Zip, zilch, nada.  “That’s impossible,” I thought.  The battery is less than a year old; there’s no way it could have gone from full to no charge during the day.

I grabbed my trusty volt-ohm meter, popped open the battery compartment, and checked the battery at its terminals.  Guess what?  It was fully charged!  While that’s good news, it meant that the power from the battery was not getting into the RV.  As the sun was finishing its descent into the western sky, I started looking for impediments to the free flow of electrons.  I didn’t have to look far.  Just above the battery is a cutoff switch that can be used for turning the power from the battery to the RV on and off manually.  Dangling from the bottom of the switch, hanging on by a thread, was a thick, braided wire coming from the positive side of the battery.  Moments later, any delight I had at finding the source of the problem quickly turned into dismay.  I pulled on the wire gently, and it came right out of the switch.  Then the wire touched the grounded metal case of the battery compartment, which was a small fraction of an inch away.  ZAP!  A big spark flew, and suddenly, all power was gone.  “Houston, we have a problem!”  Did circuit breakers pop, or had everything just blown out?  The answer to that question would have to wait until I could repair the connection from the battery to the switch.

In the dying light of what would otherwise have been a pleasant evening, I started to remove the cutoff switch, which is attached to the inside of the battery compartment by four long Phillips screws.  The first three screws came out easily, but that darned fourth one – it wouldn’t budge!  I pushed and turned as hard as I could… no dice.  I needed a longer Phillips screwdriver with a much bigger head than the one I had.

As twilight descended upon the campground, I picked a nearby RV at random and knocked on the door.  By sheer luck, the friendly guy who answered the door had the exact size Phillips screwdriver I needed, and he was happy to lend it to me.  The stubborn screw yielded to the force of large Mr. Phillips, and I was able to remove the cutoff switch.  On the back was a post to which three wires were connected via large spade lugs.  And there it was: The spade lug to which the wire was formerly attached.  Using my socket wrench, I removed the nut that held the spade lugs to the post on the switch.  All I’d have to do was reattach the wire to the spade lug, reconnect the spade lugs to the switch… and pray.  Easier said than done.  The spade lug was crimped to hold the wire into it, so the wire would no longer fit inside.  (Why solder the wire into the spade lug, which would have held more or less forever, when you can just crimp it, which will hold the wire in place more or less until it comes out?)  I’ve got lots of electrical doodads, but a large-gauge spade lug isn’t among them.  Try as I did, I wasn’t able to force the lug open to get the wire to fit.

I returned to my friendly neighbor’s door, and with more than a little hint of desperation in my voice, I asked if he happened to have a large spade lug.  He didn’t, but fortunately, lady luck was about to shine on me again.  He said that a guy who lives in a trailer a couple of lots away happens to be an electrician.  Not only was the electrician at home, he had the tools to reuse my spade lug, offered to take care of it for me!

As the last embers of light faded from the late-evening sky, with the electrical repair completed, I reset the shore power circuit breaker and turned on the battery cut off switch.  Instantly, everything came to life.  Shore power?  Check.  Battery power?  Check.  The sun will come out tomorrow!

The next morning, in Anderson, South Carolina


  1. Utter, immovable resilience? Check. (Heroic!)

  2. Sounds like you had Ira Goldstein or Dave "the Ditch" Miller with you to fix things.

  3. That camper thingy is nicer than I thought. Beautiful morning shot makes me yearn for a pleasant and nature infused kick-back.