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Old 09-22-2022, 08:54 PM   #1
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2012 Interstate Coach
Houston , Texas
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Best Bang for Buck Making a 2012 Interstate Boondockable?

Hi Everyone - I'm a new owner of a completely stock 2012 non-Ext (22') Airstream Interstate Lounge.

I've looked at a lot of the historical posts and found a lot of good information about adding some off-grid capability, but would like some real-time advice.

I'm looking to make my Interstate work for 2-day weekends w/o electricity. Goal is to find some easy wins (low cost) that I could implement myself in next 6 weeks that would equip me to camp w/o shore power with friends in Oklahoma in mid-Nov

My thoughts are listed below, but I appreciate your guidance and feedback:

(1) First, the 2012 Interstate has just one house battery. Seems a no brainer that I need more. I've looked at many posts about lithium swaps, but I have a new AGM that the previous owner just installed and thinking for $250-300 I could double this up w/o any changes to existing electronics. Make sense, or am I throwing good money after bad? If so, where is the best place to add this battery? Does it need to go below the rear lounge or is there a way to put it below the floor like my current battery? This is a 22' model so storage area below the lounge is sacred!

(2) The 2012 has just a 50W solar panel. Mine still works pretty well--routinely see it charging at 2.7 A on a sunny day while sitting in the driveway, but that's not all that much. Is there a simple 200-300W plug-n-play panel replacement that can mount on the roof in place of this 10 yr old panel? Do I need to make any other changes beyond the panel swap??

(3) I'd like to be able to drive down the road and let my big chassis alternator keep my house battery charged while the refrigerator is keeping my beers cold! Unfortunately, there's no connection between the chassis and house batteries on the 2012 Interstates! Is there a nice off-the-shelf solenoid kit w/ cables that I can buy, or am I pretty much on my own to implement something here? Suggestions??

(4) Am I missing some other low-hanging fruit? Other ideas that have a lot of bang for the buck??

PS> My Onan generator runs well, and I realize the cheapest thing of all would be to just leave it as is and load up on propane but would like this to be my backup plan.

Thanks!

Kevin in Houston
2012 Airstream Interstate Lounge (22' model)
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Old 09-23-2022, 06:29 AM   #2
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You don’t say whether your frig/freezer are propane and electric, or electric only, the latter of which is a biggie as the electric only seem the biggest headache for owners wanting to boondock.

I have only one house battery, and between my solar and running the generator I can go 5-6 days, tho my frig runs on propane when not hooked up to electricity.

For two days, I would get your generator serviced, fill your propane and not overthink the rest…just go.

Keep your power usage to a minimum, have a battery pack or two for your small devices and two days should be a breeze.

If your frig is electric only, you could also turn it off and simply use an ice chest for 2 days.

Might also do some practice runs in the next couple of months to see how your battery performs for overnights.

Maggie
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Old 09-23-2022, 07:56 AM   #3
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Thanks for the response!! It is an electric-only fridge, and yes figured out pretty quickly that it sucks a LOT of power. Wish it were 3-way and had a propane option--my '75 Class C Dodge Huntsman even had this!!

The unit is from NovaKool and it does run on DC which is good as I read in past posts people saying AS switched to AC-only fridges in newer model (2014-15, or thereabouts) and these sounded even more power-hungry since the Interstate's invertor now had to be left on to run the fridge when off shore power.

You do have me thinking about my aversion to using the generator--using it to keep my single battery charged, but seems wasteful to have it going when I don't need A/C running and really just want to be able to make some coffee in the morning and have the little stuff working (fridge, lights, water pump, TV, etc...).

Also, maybe I need to change my priority and first get the chassis alternator charging the house system as I drive so I at least show up to camp w/ a full-charged house battery and cold refrigerator! And if solar were a simple panel swap out for $300-400--it's sunny in TX and I'd get a lot of weekends where maybe I could stretch my 1-battery system out to cover 2 days?
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Old 09-23-2022, 08:12 AM   #4
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Those sound like good directions to pursue.

I was averse to using the generator, too, but have gotten beyond that in recent years.

It’s already onboard, tho I personally feel it is excessive to use air conditioning when boondocking , the generator does work well to charge the battery and devices while runnning.

You don’t have to run your generator all the time, just keep a watch on usage and your battery.

I bought a 100 watt solar suitcase 3 years ago and it does an excellent job of topping off my battery…if there is direct sunlight, and if not I run the generator for a bit every day if I’m not driving.

A teakettle and a good instant coffee meet that need for me when I am not hooked up to electricity. WalMart sells Starbucks instant packets, and they are very good, or you could go with one of the pour-overs with your favorite ground.

Start with what you have and add only what you really need, is my thought, and it will take some practice runs to fully figure that out.

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Old 09-23-2022, 08:17 AM   #5
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Welcome to Air Forums, Kevin.

— My first response is to wonder where in Houston are you? We are on the south side of the metro area, in League City. For anonymity, you might want to PM me that part instead of posting. I mention it because we might want to meet up at some point in view of —

— My second response, which is to note that your question is well-framed. My husband and I went whole-hog on a DIY electrical conversion that made us no longer power-limited (as long as we have no aspirations of running the roof a/c for long durations). What you are trying to do is more tightly scoped for a specific lesser-use scenario - I get that. Nevertheless, you might want to skim over my electrical conversion descriptions, particularly the caveat about not putting too much demand on the alternator. The alternator’s capacity to charge your house battery is somewhat theoretical, as that post describes, partway down that linked search page.

My husband is an aerospace engineer (mechanical P.E.) with a strong background in electrical. Some of this stuff might be more amenable to a face-to-face conversation, if we ever happen to cross paths.
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Old 09-23-2022, 11:14 AM   #6
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Your 2012 must be far different than my 2013. I have a Magnum charger/inverter. Your vintage may have Triplite. I have two Group 24 AGMs. Replaced them just after I bought the Interstate, because the dealer ruined them through neglect. They are still going strong 8 years later. My 2013 came with a Precision Circuits Battery Isolation Manager that charges coach batteries when chassis battery is being charged, and vice versa. Many on this forum say my BIM should be replaced with a Blue Sea ACR, but my BIM works fine for me. I replaced the Atkinson controller with a Blue Sky 2512 MPPT controller when I replaced the 50W panel with two 100 W panels. We seldom sit in one place for more than a day. We typically run the generator 5-10 minutes once a day to briefly run the microwave. Between usually driving for an hour or more each day, 200W of solar, and slight generator usage we can go on a 1-2 week trip and never have to plug in.

For power usage we always run the refrigerator, never use the TV's, and use the heater, water pump, lights, and ceiling fans as needed.

I typically top of the propane at the beginning of the year and that tank lasts all year, even a year when we took a 6 week trip to Alaska. I think we plugged in twice during that trip - when we stayed at commercial campgrounds to do laundry.

In summary, a better BIM, high cost lithium batteries and more solar would be a complete waste of money for how we use the Interstate. My set-up wouldn't work if you want to sit around in one place for days on end. But then again I don't understand why somebody would buy Interstate if they didn't plan to travel with it.
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Old 09-23-2022, 02:00 PM   #7
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Hi

You have 6 weeks between now and having the solution 100% working. I would suggest that the backup plan be promoted to "plan A". As noted above, none of this is as simple as it first seems to be.

Instead of getting into various mods ( no matter how minor ....), get out for a couple weekends with the van. There will be a lot of odd things to figure out. There may even be some things that need to be fixed. One or two items that involve a trip to a Sprinter shop could use up a lot of your available time.

If you *really* want a project, put in a BMV-712 shunt based battery monitor. It will tell you what's going on with your battery *way* better than the voltage based readouts you now have.

Bob
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Old 09-23-2022, 03:10 PM   #8
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InterBlog - I live in the Heights, so not all that far from League City! I'll figure out how to send you a private message, or send me one if you know how already! Would love to meet up and chat/learn!!

Also, I'm an electrical engineer--you'd think I'd know all about this, but jumped into the "digital revolution" in the 80's and really only worked with "1"s and "0"s most of my career! All this analog stuff is what my dad knew!!
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Old 09-23-2022, 03:34 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Titus View Post
Your 2012 must be far different than my 2013. I have a Magnum charger/inverter. Your vintage may have Triplite. I have two Group 24 AGMs. Replaced them just after I bought the Interstate, because the dealer ruined them through neglect. They are still going strong 8 years later. My 2013 came with a Precision Circuits Battery Isolation Manager that charges coach batteries when chassis battery is being charged, and vice versa. Many on this forum say my BIM should be replaced with a Blue Sea ACR, but my BIM works fine for me. I replaced the Atkinson controller with a Blue Sky 2512 MPPT controller when I replaced the 50W panel with two 100 W panels. We seldom sit in one place for more than a day. We typically run the generator 5-10 minutes once a day to briefly run the microwave. Between usually driving for an hour or more each day, 200W of solar, and slight generator usage we can go on a 1-2 week trip and never have to plug in.

For power usage we always run the refrigerator, never use the TV's, and use the heater, water pump, lights, and ceiling fans as needed.

I typically top of the propane at the beginning of the year and that tank lasts all year, even a year when we took a 6 week trip to Alaska. I think we plugged in twice during that trip - when we stayed at commercial campgrounds to do laundry.

In summary, a better BIM, high cost lithium batteries and more solar would be a complete waste of money for how we use the Interstate. My set-up wouldn't work if you want to sit around in one place for days on end. But then again I don't understand why somebody would buy Interstate if they didn't plan to travel with it.
Titus - Yes, you are speaking my language and what you have outlined is not too different from how I envision using our Interstate!

Yes, my 2012 DOES have the TrippLite charger/inverter. Found the hard way that it is just 750W output after plugging in my newly purchased Keurig Mini only to realize it demands 1425W! I should know better! Anyway, solved this issue by swapping with the 550W 4-cup Cuisinart coffee maker we already had in our garage apartment! Won't get a quick cup in 2-min, but works!

As for solar, why didn't you stay with the Atkinson SunExplorer--that's what I have now and works well w/ the 50W panel and says it handles up to 25 amps @ 28V in the manual. 200W @ 12V is just 16.7A.

As for your BIM--I've always been an "if it ain't broke don't fix it" type, so agree with your approach! And, interestingly, this morning I read in my Airstream manual about house batteries that are charged by shore power, generator, solar, or ALTERNATOR! Hmm. My RV mechanic that replaced the Dometic A/C for me said my unit didn't have any kind of solenoid to connect up the chassis electrical to the house system, but he admitted he's not an Airstream expert and maybe I have a BIM but it is broken? Anyone else out there have a 2012 AI that can tell me how there's came?? Or, where I can go look for a BIM??

Thanks for your post, and others, too!! One of the reason I went w/ Airstream instead of Brand X's is this forum, plus, knowing I was joining a FAMILY that would be there to help me out when I needed it. You all are great!!
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Old 09-23-2022, 03:41 PM   #10
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Uncle Bob reminded me of another change I made. IT doesn't improve boondocking capability, but does a better job of monitoring battery condition. I upgraded to the ME-RC remote with a Battery Monitor shunt and battery temperature measurement. The battery monitor allows more precise monitoring of the battery State of Charge and the temperature measurement allows for more precision of the battery charging profile.

BTW, I use the same shunt with the Blue Sky solar controller.

We seldom see lower than 75% SOC in the morning - after a night of water pump, light, and fan or furnace usage. We typically have no charging after about 7PM (we have stopped driving for the day, microwave usage is done, and sun goes down) and begin recharging about 8 the next morning (sun charging and/or driving).
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Old 09-23-2022, 04:05 PM   #11
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There are fuses at the side of the chassis battery under the drivers floor. One of those fuses feeds power to/from the BIM. Maybe you have a BIM but the fuse is blown. (Can only hope it is that easy to fix!). My BIM is under the lounge seat.

I'm a mechanical engineer, so have to admit that I don't really understand MPPT. But here's my take:
The Blue Sky controller is a MPPT controller. As I understand it, a 100W solar panel produces power at ~17V. 100W/17V=5.8A. At 50% State of Charge the battery voltage is ~12.2 volts. So a non-MPPT controller puts 5.8A into the battery at 12.2 volts (only 71W of power even though the panel (may be) producing 100W. A MPPT controller somehow magically converts the 100W to be 100W/12.2V=8.2 amps of charging. So you are using the full 100W. So (somehow) the MPPT controller increases the charging current from 5.8 to 8.2A. As the battery SOC increases the voltage increases, and thus the benefit of MPPT decreases. MPPT aside, from what I could tell the stock Atkinson controller was little more than a random number generator. Never could make sense of what it was trying to tell me.

We never use the full 1000W from our Magnum inverter (in fact we seldom even use the invertor!). To me the bigger benefit of the Magnum is that you can leave it plugged in all the time and not overcharge the batteries.

I have thought about getting an invertor microwave so that we could power it from the batteries at something less than full power. (As I understand it, the current 1200W microwave does not pull 600W at half power. Instead it pulls 1200W half of the time and no power half of the time - thus exceeding the capability of the Magnum invertor.) But exercising the generator every so often is good practice, so using it to power the microwave is not all bad. Plus, if it (current microwave) ain't broke, don't fix it.
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Old 09-23-2022, 07:00 PM   #12
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Quote:
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…. One of the reason I went w/ Airstream instead of Brand X's is this forum, plus, knowing I was joining a FAMILY that would be there to help me out when I needed it. You all are great!!
As the old saying goes, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.



Guess what else you get easy access to, on account of having an Interstate instead of Brand X?

This below, and I envy you because, from the Heights, you are only 2 hours away, as opposed to my 2.7, with that extra 0.7 being my miserable fight-to-the-death up through insufferable Houston traffic from north Galveston County. I am always forced to drive the entire way straight through the belly of our shared urban beast. You will only ever need to traverse half of it.

As a matter of fact, if you are doing short trips to test out your Interstate, TAHI is one location you could add to your list of possible nearby destinations. Especially after we get our long-awaited cool front next week.

And by the way, that’s my husband’s drone photo on the screenshot below. Shameless plugs all the way around, yes (we are TAHI members):

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Old 09-23-2022, 07:02 PM   #13
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As for your BIM--I've always been an "if it ain't broke don't fix it" type, so agree with your approach! And, interestingly, this morning I read in my Airstream manual about house batteries that are charged by shore power, generator, solar, or ALTERNATOR! Hmm. My RV mechanic that replaced the Dometic A/C for me said my unit didn't have any kind of solenoid to connect up the chassis electrical to the house system, but he admitted he's not an Airstream expert and maybe I have a BIM but it is broken? Anyone else out there have a 2012 AI that can tell me how there's came?? Or, where I can go look for a BIM??

************************************************** ***********
Here's a picture of the the precision circuits BIM that's in our 15 lounge. As with Titus, it's located under the sofa bed on our model year.
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Old 09-23-2022, 08:23 PM   #14
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I'm looking to make my Interstate work for 2-day weekends w/o electricity. Goal is to find some easy wins (low cost) that I could implement myself in next 6 weeks that would equip me to camp w/o shore power with friends in Oklahoma in mid-Nov
************************************************** *************
IMO, the easiest path to being able to dry camp within a 6 week deadline w/o much hassle, is to buy a lithium power system. There are several brands out there Jackery, Goal Zero etc. that have inverters built in with various wattages & output options. Find one that would fit your needs and pocketbook.

We went with a Goal Zero 1500 Lithium power station. When off grid, it allows us to run our refrigerator, electric articulating twins beds and other 110v appliances in the evenings or when there is no sunshine. We can recharge the GZ with a portable solar suitcase if stationary or if driving we have a car charger that plugs into a powered 12v outlet.

On my 15 lounge, the refrigerator's a/c plug is connected into an outlet located next to the microwave plug. I disconnected it, ran an extension cord to the fridge cord and plugged that into the GZ (second picture).

Even without recharging the GZ, we can easily last 3 days of dry camping.
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Old 09-23-2022, 08:52 PM   #15
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Hi

I believe you will find that the BIM is a solid state device rather than a solenoid. They typically have an input from the ignition so that they only connect this to that when the engine is running. Many are diode based, this gives you a somewhat low charging voltage on the house battery ( and less charging than you might expect).

Over the years AS has changed this or that many times. In some cases things got changed mid year. Owners also change things. What you have may or may not still be stock in all regards.

What to do?

Set aside a nice sunny Saturday and pull the van up into the drive. Get out the cell phone (or other camera). Also grab a bunch of screwdrivers. Pop open this, look at it, take a couple pictures. Pop open that, do the same. Maybe take notes as you go along.

Sometime around lunch, stop and try to sort everything out. Compare what you have found to what you would expect from the manual. Water pump is here, drain is there, this fuse panel is back under there. Take a look at the diagrams and see what's still missing. Spend the afternoon digging in less obvious places to find them.

Inevitably there will be at least one item that still is MIA. The search function on this forum would be the first thing to play with Saturday evening. Maybe a post with a question. Possibly just sleeping on it will help. Sunday afternoon ( or next Saturday ), you head back out and (hopefully) find that last item or three.

You may find interesting things like fuses that are not the value you might think they should be. Something else to research. Various odds and ends might be there, but not be factory stock items. Another thing to research. Do you stick with what's there? who knows .... thus the need for research.

Once you are done, you will know a lot more about *your* van. When something goes weird at 3AM, you will have a much better idea of what to find here or there. Far better to work this stuff out calmly on a nice sunny Saturday than in the dark / cold / rain at 3AM.

Bob
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Old 09-23-2022, 09:56 PM   #16
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Thanks everyone! You've given me some great ideas and a LOT to think about. Going on a BIM hunt in the morning!


Something I haven't mentioned yet, I also have a TrackVision R6 satellite dish system on the roof and a DirectTV box up in the front TV cubby area. Appears the previous owner punted on it, though, as there is also a Wingard Air 360+ Omnidirection TV/FM Antenna + WiFi + 4G Extender mounted forward of the solar panel.

I don't see myself ever needing DISH TV while on the road, so planning to pull the TrackVison off, but do want to get the Wingard figured out. I messed around w/ it one day, but never got a signal out of it. So, at the moment, just threw a rabbit ear antenna on the roof and ran it to one of the the TV's to see if they work--in Houston just 5 miles from Downtown I get like 40 channels though over half are in Spanish!

Anyway, far down on my list but need to figure this Wingard antenna out at some point, too!
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Old 09-24-2022, 06:02 AM   #17
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There’s a Wineguard antenna on my roof, and it is basically worthless.

I bought a little flat antenna at WalMart for under $20 and it works just fine.

Maggie
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Old 09-24-2022, 08:22 AM   #18
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Hi

I think you will find that over the air TV is pretty useless at the typical rural campground. It's even worse at a remote boon docking site. I would not even put $20 into that side of things. The stock AS antenna broke off the top of our van. I have no plans to replace it.

Dish / Direct TV is very much up to you. We don't have it / don't miss it. There's only so much payload on ( and room in ) the vehicle. If it's not useful, get rid of it.

Many folks do rig up some sort of cellular router / hotspot. That often involves a (small) antenna on the roof. The advantage is an improved signal. Pepwave is a common brand that folks play with. Is it miles ahead of using your phone as a hotspot? That depends a lot on just where you are.

Also, forgot to mention ....

When you go on your searching expedition, bring along the shop vac. You are likely to find more than a little cleanup to do back in those hidden parts of the van. Might as well do it all at once. Worst case: they might have had pets, get a bigger shop vac . Things like the heatsinks / fan inlet on the inverter are always worth extra attention.

Also on the cleaning side of things: You really don't know a lot about how the van was treated. I'd head over and get the various fluids all changed. No it's not a cheap process. At least that way you know what the starting point is.

I'd also hook up to a good water source and spend a couple hours flushing things. No that's not an exaggeration, plan on a couple hours. Flush the hot side, the cold side, the fresh tank, the gray tank, and the black tank. Toss a good load of soap into the gray tank and let it sit a while. Toss some treatment stuff into the black tank and let it sit as well.

After all the flush stuff, there are strainers on various devices. The water pump is one. The faucets are another. They are all worth popping out and rinsing.

Better safe than sorry.

Bob
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Old 09-25-2022, 05:20 AM   #19
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….

….My Onan generator runs well, and I realize the cheapest thing of all would be to just leave it as is and load up on propane but would like this to be my backup plan.
Forgive me if this was already mentioned in the context of your discussion here, but an important thread just emerged within the past few months regarding sudden generator failures due to the breach of “biodegradable” internal hoses than none of us knew existed.

We, too, used our generator as our backup plan, and it worked fabulously every time, right up until that unexpected day when it no longer worked at all.

And of course that day had to occur during a 6,000-mile round trip to Canada, when we really needed the generator. Murphy’s law says that all such things must happen at the worst possible times.

You will find that Interstates require a great deal of maintenance and care, especially given that you are starting out with a 10-year-old unit. You will end up with a laundry list of chores that you will either execute via DIY or hiring-out. Replacing ALL your propane hoses - internal and external (see this account, approx. the first four posts in that search thread) should be on that list.

My husband and I have chosen the DIY route, partly for affordability, and partly because service availability is both poor and shockingly expensive in Houston. Why would a metro area of 7 million people not be adequately supplied with such resources?? Port Houston is first in foreign tonnage nation wide (e.g., 194 million tons moved in 2021; 383,000 intermodal container equivalents last month alone, with cargo volumes up 20% YOY). Our local trucking industry is mind-bogglingly massive, and as I’ve been told many times, all the money is in servicing big trucks. Almost nobody wants to do any kind of work on smaller trucks when they could make so much more with the big ones. And now we have the worst inflation in 40 years plus labor shortages compounding that problem.
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Old 09-28-2022, 11:21 AM   #20
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check out portable batteries like goal zero. We have a 3000W goal zero and it works great for 2-3 days of camping. We run thru about 1000W a day running CPAP, Lights, maybe TV. Fridge would bump that up but we use propane for that. I just plug the RV with 110V dongle into the goal zero and go. I add 200W solar to add some juice to the battery to extend camping.

found this was cheaper than doing some extensive battery upgrades. Plus it allows use of electric plugs. my wife needs here morning coffee. :-)
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