Transporting Wine Bottles Safely with Snuggy Sox

Steve and I like to shop at the “Bent Can Store.” That’s just a nickname we call it. In Portland, OR, the actual name for this kind of store is “Everyday Deals.”  There’s one in every town. You can google them under the category “salvage groceries.” Also called damaged, bulk or surplus groceries – the category name is a little fuzzy. That’s why we like to call it The Bent Can Store. A couple websites try to keep current lists of all salvage grocery stores by state and city.

Anyway, what you get is the most amazing, fun shopping ever. We never go there to do our regular shopping. We never go with a list. We only go there on what we call grocery treasure hunts. You never know what wild and crazy things you will find.

On our last trip, we got classy, name-brand wines for $3 a bottle!!! Regular price $10 and up. Steve got thirty!! bottles, all different types. He’s set for a whole year. Regular price, $300. His price, $90. I found humongous, fresh blackberries for 25 cents a box. Regular $4.50. A treat I rarely allow myself. I got four boxes for a buck. Savings $18. Now tell me this isn’t fun! I could go on and on about our outrageous buys. We cackle going out the door hulking over our booty like thieving pirates.

Now before we go any further. . .all you squeemish people out there?. . .I can hear you loud and clear, gasping about expired dates. Just hear me out, okay?

If you are a stickler about eating food out of date, just check. Many items are just dented or scratched, not expired. We make a point never to buy any dry goods, like cereal, flour, bagged potato chips, etc. These go stale quickly, and may – might – transport critters to your pantry.

If you’re worried, buy things you can see and squeeze, like produce. You’ll be amazed at the fantastic buys on produce, cheeses, kombucha, fresh yakasoyba noodles. It’s different every time. If you go back for seconds, it likely will be gone. They have great buys on blended spices, like seafood and steak rubs. I got a $20 bottle of saffron for $5.

Bent can stores can have lots of exotic foods from gourmet stores — things you could or would never afford, usually. But regular shoppers around here are on hard times and shopping basic. They pass right over the exotic stuff like saffron, wine, balsamic vinegar. We find alot of organic items, including delicious soups. I got some teas packed into cute silver foil sticks or wands. Just drop them into your cup of boiling water and twirl. In two minutes you have a lovely cup of tea. 

So give the bent can store a try. At least it’s worth one trip. The store in your area might be sad or scary, but the one in Portland is large, fresh and amazing.

By the way, how do you transport 30 bottles of wine down the highway without having a vino catastrophe? On the drive home from the store, our bottles were clanging up a storm. We could tell that any serious bump or hard braking would be disaster. The bays on our bus are full.

 So I went to my sock drawer, pulled out all my white summer tennis socks and gave each wine bottle a snuggy sweater to wear. Now we are packed and ready to go. Don’t you agree. . .we RVer’s as a group are darn inventive, problem solving types.

 

Girl-Friendly Explanation of the Aqua-Hot Heating System on your RV Bus

Editor’s Note: I truly don’t want to offend any wives by my title above. It’s meant in gentle humor. There are flocks of tech-savvy females on the RV circuit, but I believe the majority are like me. When I started out in 2008, I was mechanical systems clueless. I didn’t even know what a generator was. I was scared of my thermostat. How-to articles started out so far over my head, they were like foreign languages. So for all of us non-techie babes, I have written this article. 

Well girls, I have to confess I totally didn’t understand the Aqua-Hot heating system on my RV bus. I just flipped it on and wallowed in the nice hot water. But if you really understand how it works, you will be in awe of its beauty and complexity. This system really is a miracle. And it’s not over our heads at all, if you can just get a girl-friendly explanation of it.

All RV’s need heat when it gets cold.

Most RV’s have propane heaters (one in front and one in back.)

This RV has an Aqua-Hot system.

The propane heater is identical to the one in your stick house. It uses propane to keep a tank full of hot water ready at all times. This is a very energy-needy system. In cold weather, your propane tanks can run out of fuel every seven days. It’s a huge hassle to keep refilling these tanks. On a small RV you have to take the tanks out and drive to the store. On a big bus you have to pull up stakes and drive your bus to the store. If you decide to stay in one place all winter, you would definitely want to rent a larger tank and set it up.

The Aqua-Hot system, on the other hand, does not keep a tank of hot water ready. It works on demand, heating water just ahead of you as you are using it. What a great idea!

The Aqua-Hot has three different ways to heat itself up.

It can use electricity from shore power, or diesel fuel from your main engine’s gas tank, or heat coming off the engine itself while you are running down the road. Or a combination of these!

Last winter we were forced to park in the back yard of our old house and the long driveway is lined with vicious tree branches and tight curves, so we didn’t want to go in and out of there any more than necessary. With Aqua-Hot system of heat, we did not have to pull of stakes for the entire winter of below freezing weather. We used about 70 gallons of diesel from our 150 gallon tank.

Not only does “Mr.” Aqua-Hot have three different ways of heating coming IN to the system, he has two different competing demands on him going OUT of the system.

He has to give you both heat AND hot water for your showers. When you combine all of these you get a duke’s mixture of possibilities, depending on how cold it is outside, how many people need a shower, whether you like your room 65 or 70 degrees. Or maybe it’s August and you’ve got the air conditioners running full blast.

Don’t be intimidated. Just approach the thermometer switch on the wall and set it to 70 degrees.  Now walk over to the panel above the driver seat and turn on the Aqua-Hot system with the switch that says “Electric.” Let’s assume for this day you are parked and plugged into 50 watt shore power.

The system has a little tiny plastic sensor in the living room that measures the temperature. Its 62 degrees. He sends a signal to the brain, “Hey, we need more heat out here.” The Aqua-Hot then turns on its electric heating element and begins cooking a tank full of antifreeze (50% water, 50% poison stuff) to 170 degrees. Then it pumps the hot antifreeze throughout the bus to small heat vents/outlets/registers. Just inside these vents are cute little bitty radiators with lots of surfaces. A fan comes on and blows air across these very hot surfaces, then out the vent hole, heating your room.

Now all is well, and you are at a comfy 70 degrees. But wait! There’s more! I said this system was complex and amazing.

This electric heating element continues to work as long and hard and as he can, no matter how cold it gets outside, but there is a limit to his ability. Because, did somebody say “Your turn, honey.”  Now you need shower, and where is all that hot water going to come from?!

Back at antifreeze central, just picture a long snaky pipe filled with clean water. It winds its way through the antifreeze tank, so it also stays heated to 170 degrees, same as the antifreeze. Turn on the hot water faucet on a warm summer day, and you will easily  have enough hot for two showers without any extra effort. But on a cold winter day, and he is working hard to keep the antifreeze at 170 and keep the rooms heated up. If you drain off all the hot water for a shower, you pull a bunch of ice cold water back into the pipes around the heater core, and you are giving that electric element the shivers.

Now he’s crying in pain, and reaches the limit of his electric capacity. Mr. Aqua-Hot  must choose whether to give you heat or hot water. The guys who built this system already told him, “If you get overloaded, forget the heat and just make hot water only. We don’t want the lady of the house hitting ice water halfway through her shower.”

But this is where the genius comes in! When you get in this situation, you just walk back to the panel over the driver seat and you flip the other Aqua-Hot switch, the one that says “Diesel”, and you will hear, from the bay underneath the bus, the sound of a diesel flame heater kicking in. You will come to cherish this quiet, gentle whoosh as the sound of luxury. This is “on demand” on steroids. Within two minutes, you have enough steaming hot water to shower your grandson’s entire little league team. You can now take a long hot shower on a cold winter day, but as you know, we RV’ers are way too sensible for that. And you will probably continue to take your little Navy shower just as always. And by the way, when you take a shower in the wintertime, I advise you to always switch the diesel switch on BEFORE you get into the shower. It’s no fun streaking through the bus soaking wet with no regard for your windows and neighbors.

To keep from scaring you early on, I failed to mention that your bus also has the words ”heat pump,” on the thermometer, which is a whole different system from your Hydro-Hot. We actually never use this heat pump. It is part of the air conditioning system. It uses Freon to heat instead of antifreeze. The only advantage we can see to the heat pump is that it won’t lower the temperature of your antifreeze and your hot water core. On the other hand, the heat pump only works well when the outside temperature is 40 degrees or above. So we’ve always been in the habit of using our furnace only. But would love to see a comparison of electricity usage on heat pump versus furnace.

When we were stuck in Oklahoma for the winter (I’ll explain why below) it drops below freezing at night and sometimes dips below zero. We found out that the electric heater kept us cozy in the daytime, but needed help after sunset. At bedtime we kept the electric heater on, but had to switch on the diesel boost and let that diesel burner run all night long to keep our bus at 65 degrees. Steve estimates we used 70 gallons of diesel over that bitter winter. With our 150 gallon tank, we could easily have lasted through a Canadian winter. It was a great blessing to us not to have to drive to the gas station once all winter. Compare that to propane tanks that must be filled once a week.

We also had to wrap heat tape around our water hose, and leave the faucets dripping all night. Our water hose still froze up on bitter cold nights but the next morning the sun would shine and by early afternoon the hose would thaw. Many times the hose was buried in a blanket of snow, and this actually insulated it from cold, as non-intuitive as that sounds. You can ask the bunnies and polar bears about that.

A couple times our water froze right inside the bay and we found out that ice cold air was sneaking into the bay through the big opening of the sewer hose. It was just like leaving a door open! On extra cold nights we had to go out and unhook the sewer hose and cap off the black tank. And that ended that.

Even if our thermostat on the furnace is set to the “off” position, Mr. Hydro-Hot knows he has to keep making hot water for us. Whenever the temperature of the antifreeze drops below 140 degrees, the electric burner kicks on and reheats it, even on a hot summer day. When we draw hot water, this pulls fresh cold water into the pipe, cools down the antifreeze and signals the burner to kick in. The element heats to a maximum of 170 degrees and then floats, similar to a battery floating to maintain full charge.

Now let’s say we pull our electric plug outside and park our bus on BLM land atQuartzsite,Arizona. We are dry camping for two weeks. What fun for us, and for our flexible, ingenious heating system.  We have no electricity, so we might as well turn our thermostat to the OFF position. We would never attempt to do “dry camping” in a cold climate. But here in Quartzsite, let’s say it’s a balmy 70 degrees outside so we don’t need heat anyway. We can even open our windows. But we would like a little hot water for showers. And how do we turn the lights on?  Hmmm?!

The answer is – generator – that thing your husband rushes to Lowe’s to buy when bad weather hits and power goes out all over town. Your generator runs on diesel so you don’t want to squander it, and it makes noise, so you don’t want to run it at night when other people nearby are trying to sleep. So start it up in the morning and power will flow from generator to inverter, converting that power to electricity. It flows through all the outlets marked “inverter.” Now you can run your lights, coffee pot., toaster oven, radio, computer and big screen TV all at once. The generator will also recharge your house batteries. Once you turn it off, you will still have six fully charged batteries so you can run your TV, computers and lights quietly for the rest of the evening. .Run your generator a couple hours in the morning when you get up, and a couple hours in the early evening, and you are sitting pretty until your diesel runs out, or your dirty tanks get full.

As far as hot water, there is no electric element heating except while the generator is actually running. The burner has been trained to shut off whenever the generator shuts off. Otherwise it would drain your house batteries in a hurry. Even if you have the Hydro-Hot electric switch in the ON position while dry camping, the system will not run off your batteries.

So if you want to take a shower, you can do it while the generator is running. Or if you turn the generator off, the water will probably stay hot for 45 minutes or so. But remember your magic switch – the Hydro-Hot diesel, which you haven’t even touched yet. Just flip it on and the magic diesel burner comes on, heating water with diesel fuel from the motor. It doesn’t even need the generator to do its job! Within two minutes you have enough hot water for that ball team. Seriously, it is heating the water on-demand, just ahead of you. So no matter how long you leave the hot water faucet running. . .I wouldn’t, though, because God only gave you a 65 gallon storage tank for your used (“gray”) water. And once that’s full, you’re up a different kind of creek. Also, you are carrying a tank of 90 gallons of fresh water. Be thrifty with your water usage and you will be able to have fun out in the desert for seven whole days before you have to drive into town to refill your fresh water and empty your used water.

Well class, I think that’s enough for one day. You have to agree the Hydro-Hot system is amazing. It does take maintenance and after several years the heating element, pumps or fans may certainly need to be replaced. You can save a lot of money if you work on it yourself, but some systems are easier to get to than others. In the case of our 2005 Tiffen Allegro Bus, Stephen spent a week with bloody arms and hands and he looked like a sausage with his 6’3″

 250-pound frame stuffed into a tiny opening. Here are a few photos of Steve repairing his system.

Best of luck, guys. We couldn’t live a day without our Aqua-Hot!

 *Why we spent the winter in Oklahoma:

We had a photography business in our home for 22 years. In order to sell it in 2008, we had to hold the note for the buyer. He was newly self-employed, out-of-state, and in a bad economy. We only did it because his parents co-signed and had good financials. The buyer defaulted after one year! We offered to settle for $94 when he owed $5600, He chose instead to declare bankruptcy, taking his parents with him.  What a tragedy. We lost our shirts financially, got the house back and parked our RV in the back yard to babysit the house while looking for a new buyer – one with a bank loan.

 

– Posted by Carol Ann Dwyer

Carol dumps poopy tanks bare handed

 Dumping tanks is the one and only unpleasant part of RV life. Usually you see the poor husband outside, bending over in rain, sleet or snow, while the little wife sits on her passenger seat throne with a book and small dog.

 Me, I like showing those babes that we, too, can get our butts out there. Real women empty tanks! I have seen wives’ jaws drop when they spot me out there wrestling sewer hose.  The men get big smiles on their faces and make cute comments to Steve about how well he has me trained, and can I also bait hooks and change oil.

 

Dumping is no big deal. Find the sewer hole in the ground. It’s called an RV Dump station. They have them at parks, truck stops, RV campgrounds.

Your sewer drain is on the driver side of your bus, halfway back. Pull your bus up nice and close to the hole. Remember you only have 15’ of hose to reach it. The bay door opens upward so you will have to bend over to get under that door to access your drain, and probably have to kneel down too, so bring a pad. For this exercise, let’s assume it’s not raining.

 You have two tanks in your bus and they both drain here. The black tank holds poop. The grey tank holds dirty shower water. The tanks are actually silver in color. Black and grey are just names. You can live aboard for about seven days before these tanks fill up. If you let them overflow, you will make nasty puddles on the ground, so avoid this at all costs. Both tanks share one common drain pipe. Its 3’ PVC with a protective overflow pan underneath it in case of accidents – sort of like a diaper for your bus.

In the overflow pan you will find 15’ of flexible sewer drain hose, smashed in there like a giant coiled snake, and often resting in a puddle of brown stinky wet stuff. Wait a minute! Apparently we have overflown? Flowed? into the overflow pan. Whose fault is that??!! And why don’t they make these pans a little bigger so you can squash the darn hose back in there without doing contortions?

There is no way to pull this 15’ hose out of the overflow pan without getting stuff on your hands. So better grab some gloves right now. And put them on. Disposables would be a good idea here. Unscrew the lid on the sewer hole on the ground.

 

 

Then stretch your hose out nice and flat, and stick the far end of it into that sewer hole. Do something to brace it in there so the tip won’t come flying out like a demonic fire hose spraying brown stuff all over kingdom come when you release your tank. We’re dealing with alot of pressure here. Sometimes folks leave you a rock or brick nearby for this.

 Sometimes I just have to hold my foot on it. For this I have to open the drain valve and then run fast like a bunny back to the hole to get my foot on its head before the raging river arrives. So sad they couldn’t even make sewer holes uniform! My hose rarely fits tightly.

 

 

 

 

 

Locate the two levers that release the black and grey tanks, and make sure they’re still shut.  

 Next, unscrew that large white cap at the bottom of your overflow drain pan. This gives you a big hole.

 

 

Thread your 15’ flexi hose up through the hole.

 

Now the business end of your hose is facing the sewer pipe where the poop will come out. But, there’s a black protective cap in the way. Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to unscrew that cap. Note the cap is facing downhill, and – as you’ve heard – poop falls downhill. As soon as you twist the cap off, I guarantee a cup of soupy brown gunk will fall out of the pipe and onto your hand. Horrors!!! It’s “just” a little bit of leakage left in the pipes from last time. Steve laughs and says, “Try to catch that gunk in the end of your hose!”  I do try, but that gunk falls at the speed of light, and there’s no way I can get the snake up in there fast enough. You just have to grimace and bear it.

 I have also found out that if the wind is blowing out from underneath the bus, it can blow this poopy water all over your legs and nice new sandals.  Then you feel the urge to take your shoes off to save them, but if you do that, you may find yourself standing barefoot in a puddle. And maybe it’s not even your own puddle, but a scary puddle from the people who dumped just before you. Most dump stations don’t have puddles, but some do. It might be clean rainwater, or hose water. But it could also be something more sinister. Who knows for sure? Only the Shadow do. Better wear old shoes next time.

 After this crisis passes, you can screw your snake hose onto the drain pipe. This is a very difficult quarter twist and it has to be lined up perfectly. I can’t tell you how many times I have screwed my hose on and it looked perfect and felt tight, only have a brown fountain spray out of that connection as soon as I turn it on. There’s a lot of pressure involved here. You’re supposed to dump your black tank first, then dump the grey tank last so you can use the barely dirty grey water to flush the bad stuff out of your line. But if you don’t have a tight connection and you turn the black water on first, you get the worst poop shower. Today steve said to me, “Hey, why don’t you just turn the grey water on first, briefly, to check your seal before releasing the black. Gee! Wish somebody had told me this a year ago.

 Ok, are we ready for blast off? When your seal is good, open the black tank lever first and let it drain. The black tank holds 45 gallons but we’ve never seen it full. After about five minutes, the flow slows to a drip. Close the black lever and open the gray lever to release the full one – 65 gallons of used sink and shower water.  It roars out with alot of pressure. You’ll have to stand around for 5-10 minutes enjoying the weather or shivering in the rain. Be alert to problems at either end of the hose. No matter how expensive a drain hose you buy, it seems they all crack and spring leaks way too soon, sometimes in a matter of months! The earlier you catch cracks, and the handier you are with duct tape, the longer your pitiful $30 hose will last.

 When the grey tank is empty and barely dripping, close the valve. Put the two caps back on – white for the overflow pan, black goes over the sewer drain.

 

 

 

 

Now you’re ready for the big finish. Unhook your hose from the bus end only. Hold it high up in the air with left hand, while you find and turn on the clean water hose with your right hand. Rinse out your sewer hose with clean water and let the rinse water flow into the ground. Turn the water off.

 

Pull your hose out of the ground. Curl it up. Wrestle it back into the too-small drain pan storage compartment.

 Close the lid on the bay door and dispose of your gloves. Now run for the kitchen sink to scrub your hands in hot soapy water. Congratulations! You have dumped tanks all by yourself and your bus is good to go for another seven days of fun, more or less depending on how many showers you take, dishes you wash and overnight guests you host. Living the RV life makes you so aware of the preciousness of water, and what staggering amounts of water are wasted in a normal home. Leaving water running while rinsing dishes or brushing your teeth is one example. Taking half-hour showers is a biggie.

 I am sure this article will obliterate any interest you may have had in RV living. Now let me confess to you that dumping tanks can be a regular chore OR a rare occurrence – you decide. If you camp in humble places, ($10-20 per night), you will have a common shared sewer or no sewer at all, and you will have to dump tanks. If you stay in the nicer, “gold shoe” places,  ($25-$40 per night) then you will have your own private sewer. You will still have to hook your snake up when you arrive and stow it when you leave, but this sewer flows on its own and you won’t have to see or handle any yucky stuff. Any time you see the word “Resort” in a name, you can bet it’s an upscale “gold shoe” place.

 Guess what, girls! I think I’ve had enough bravado. From now on, you’ll find me sitting pretty in the front seat with a book and a poodle while my husband does the dumping.