Monday, May 28, 2012

Solar Powered Fishing Boat

usbackroads product--Solar Powered Fishing Boat

The lakes of eastern Washington have plenty of large trout.   Over the years specialized "boats" have been created specifically for fishing the lakes of eastern Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia.  The float tubes were a simple steal from the bass fishermen of the mid-west.  I don't know if anybody uses them back there anymore, but in the inland west you will find more float tubes than boats on the trout lakes.  Prams appear to have become popular in the Kamloops country of British Columbia.   The other popular watercraft is the fly fishing pontoon boat which appears to have originated in the Boise area.

I have used a float tube for over 30 years now.  I did own a pram for several years, but finally sold it.  It was great for ONLY chromonid fishing and Bugaboo was too large to safely fit in the pram.  I wanted a pontoon for floating rivers, but watched as my friends fought the wind on lakes and quite frankly had a miserable time.  There was no way that I was going to do that!!

Then I traded my pram for a pontoon boat for an afternoon of fishing on a windy day.  The pontoon was outfitted with an electric motor and battery.  After two hours of fighting the wind I had enough, but my friend had snuck off and hid so I could not swap floating craft.

Then for some reason I flipped the electric motor into reverse and pointed the pontoon into the wind.  With the electric motor pulling instead of pushing the pontoon suddenly became VERY stable in the wind.  By dropping my flippers I could steer and move the pontoon at any rate of speed I chose.  I set the electric motor on low, just enough to counteract the wind and then used the flippers to move and steer.

IT WAS GREAT!!  Fishing was much easier than out of the pram or the float tube in the wind!!   Very comfortable and I was sold on the combination of electric motor and pontoon boat.

However, there were several significant problems.  Well, just ONE very heavy and dangerous problem.  The battery.  Lead-acid.  Yes, acid.  I own a solar house and every work shirt I have has acid burns.  There is just no way to avoid acid burns with a unsealed lead acid battery.  On a pontoon boat made of plastic??  No way.

After thinking about it for several months the solution was obvious.  A small electric motor with a small solar panel and a sealed AGM battery.  I had a Mini-Kota 10 electric motor.  It actually was too large for trolling with the pram as it moved the pram at too high a speed!!  But with the pontoon boat, I would only be using it to counter the effect of wind for trolling and at high speed head back to the launch site.

Deciding on the correct size panel was easy.  I am a firm believer in taking your most demanding application and buying enough panel to run that motor.  In the solar house, it is the water pump or vacuum cleaner.  On the boat it was the motor.  A 30-watt panel ran the electric motor.

It ran the motor at maximum solar absorbtion.  So when you have lunch you can speed up the charging process by facing the panel directly at the sun.

A 30-watt "unbreakable" Power Up solar panel coupled with a 12 volt sealed battery.  As you can see in the picture the solar panel sits on top of the Rubbermaid action pack box.  The battery and lunch are both inside the box.  As with any batteries you should not use them in a confined space, be sure to ventilate them.  You also need a charge controller to avoid over charging the battery.  I am not an here is a link to setting up a 12-volt system.  Add Solar Power to Your Truck.  

Does it work?  Like a champ.  The panel keeps the battery sufficiently charged that even under cloudy and very windy conditions there is sufficient reserve at the end of the day.  If I do not use the electric motor much the panel remains fully charged.  Even on a cloudy day there is some charging going on so the you no longer need a LARGE lead-acid marine battery to "make it through the night".  Be sure that everything is properly grounded to avoid sparks!!

I used a 30-watt "unbreakable" solar panel.  The first one lasted 12 years.  Flexure is what finally caused that panel to fail.  So be careful to keep is from flexing.  Here is the link to a 20-watt "unbreakable" panel from Amazon.  It is complete with cigarette plug.  Smaller panel means a larger battery or more efficient electric motor.

If you need a charge controller this is the one I use.   With a twenty or thirty watt panel a charge controller will keep you from overcharging the battery.  This one also has a jumper cable that lets you charge AGM batteries.

Solar power might not make sense for a large industrial nation, but  we have owned a solar home for the past 13 years so we are aware of when solar makes sense.   It makes sense for a fly-fishing pontoon boat.  We will be looking at other uses of solar power in the outdoors in future posts.  I never leave home without a panel or two.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Wilson Sleek Cellular Signal Booster

usbackroads product--Wilson Sleek Cellular Signal Booster

Backroads safety and the ability to communicate with the outside world has always been a hit and miss proposition, mostly miss.  If you worked for the Forest Service or BLM during work hours the agency dispatch and radio systems provided fairly good communications.

However, if you were out fishing, hunting or camping on your public lands.  A accident could place your life in danger just because it took so long to get help.  With the advent of cellular phones the public had access to the outside world, but in most cases you needed an external antenna and amplifier.

We covered external antenna's in a previous posting Cell Phones in the Backcountry.  We still have our antenna and cell phone with an external antenna plug.  It was the last of the breed.  Today you can no longer buy a cell phone with an external antenna jack.

There are a lot of issues with the use of amplifiers and antennas.  If used in close proximity to a cell tower the combination would literally knock the other users off the cell site.  You can see why cellular companies hate amplifiers and antennas.

The new generation of amplifiers and antennas is just starting to come out.  These are much more friendly to cell towers.

If you travel the us backroads you should have a way of boosting your signal.  I just purchased the Wilson Sleek Cellular Signal Booster.  It works with all service providers except IDEN and Nextel.  The good news is that one model works with all cell phones.

What you get is a small, magnetic antenna that goes on the metal roof of your vehicle.  The metal is necessary for a ground plane that makes the antenna function correctly.  If you need to create a ground plane you can attach the antenna to a metal pie plate of cookie sheet!!

You need a ground plane for the Sleek to function.  The Wilson Cellular Antenna comes with a built in ground plane.   If you have a  Wilson Cellular Trucker Antenna you will need an adapter to couple the antenna plug to the Sleek.  The part number is 971119.

There is a signal booster cradle that amplifies the signal.  The phone MUST remain in the cradle for the signal boost to work.  Last there is a 12 volt power adapter that plugs into your cigarette lighter plug.

There are wires from the antenna to the cradles and also out to the power plug.  You definitely want a Bluetooth earpiece or a wired headset to connect with the phone.  Believe me holding the entire mess to your ear is complicated.   Of course, you can always use the speaker on your phone.

How well does it work??  Well, sitting in our driveway at Camas Susie's IPHONE showed NO SERVICE.   Placing the antenna on top of the Dodge and plugging in the Sleek showed a jump to three bars of signal.  Now phone signal bars are an exercise in imagination in most cases.  However, three bars is a respectable signal.  A quick call to the house confirmed that the sleek works as advertised.

Here is picture of the Wilson Cellular Antenna on the Cameo camped on the Snake River.  No signal on the cell phone until we connected to the Wilson Antenna.  Then we were connected to the world!

You do need a signal for the Sleek to amplify.  In some cases, there will be no signal and therefore nothing to amplify.  Just think of multiplying by ZERO.  It is always still ZERO.  If you have a smidgen of a signal there is a good chance of getting the cell phone to actually work!!  For under a $100 well worth the price.  And if your in an emergency situation on a backroad somewhere it is a bargain at any price.

There are a couple of supporting reasons for buying the Sleek.  It is made in the USA!!  Yes, in St. George, Utah.  There are so few consumer products manufactured in the US that I almost feel like sending a contribution to those companies.  Buying their product is a nice touch to show support.

The second is their customer support.  I have called their customer support twice looking for accessories and have been very pleased with their response.

Made in the USA, great price, and excellent customer support.   A product that I am pleased to buy!!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Trek Electric Bicycles-Part 3

usbackroads products--Trek Electric Bicycles--Part 3

Here is a picture of our bicycle ride in Wenatchee.  The view is from our house and that far bridge is the bike path bridge over the Columbia River.   The Wenatchee Valley is fortunately in having a bicycle path the goes along both sides of the Columbia River with two bridge crossings.

The path links Wenatchee with the small town of East Wenatchee on the Douglas County side of the Columbia River.   The Chelan County side is full of developed parks complete with model railroads, ball fields, picnic areas, boat launches, art work, and of course the bike path.  The Douglas County side was left in a more natural state and to lower costs the bike path has steeper grades.  They were much more cost conscious on the east side of the river.

Here is the view from the "new" bridge built in the early 1970's.  Yes, that is the Columbia River flowing through Wenatchee.

Well, the entire trip is almost twenty miles.  But our concern was the steep grade back up to our house on Burch Mountain Rd.

Would we have enough battery reserve to make it home??  

So we took off down the hill with fully charged batteries.

Here is the view on the Wenatchee River entering the Columbia River.  Notice the snow in the Cascade Range and the hills already starting the turn brown in early May!!

We pedaled carefully and used regenerate mode on downhills to get that battery back to fully charged.

The Chelan County side of the trail is flatter and much more highly developed.  They do like lawn in Chelan County.  As always click on picture to enlarge.  That patch of trees above the two women walking across the lawn was our start point.

After about 20 miles our batteries still showed fully charged, but we still had two miles of UP to get back home.

So up we went and fairly soon we were at Level 4 assist.  The good news is that we made it home, with the battery still showing over 70% charge.  So that 40 mile range is probably a good estimate.

In 1976 bicycle touring in Europe a 25 to 30 mile day was about right.  This gave you time for sightseeing, a great lunch, and time to set up camp for the night.  Do not believe those bicycle touring books about averaging 50 miles a day.  That is bicycling, not touring!!  So the Trek Electric Bicycles are perfectly suited for touring.  Though I do have to admit I enjoyed the two 100 mile days in Holland and Finland.  Being 26 and physically fit had a lot to do with that!!

Bike racks.  Most people are not fortunate enough to be able to ride a bicycle trail from their home.
Here is a picture of our Thule bike rack on the back of the RAM Truck.

This bike rack worked fine four regular bikes, but with the two electric bikes it was rather high to lift them onto the rack.  I also suspect that you need a 2inch receiver for two electric bikes.  Four of these bikes would overload the rack.  So we are looking for a new rack that would sit lower to the ground, thereby making it easier to load the bikes.  We are shopping for a front hitch that would put the bikes on the front of the truck and the 5th wheel at the rear.

The bikes are great and will bring back the joy of bicycling without the pain and agony.  So let those years disappear and get a little electric assist into your life.

For those of you that missed Parts One and Two here are the links:

Trek Electric Bicycles--Part One

Trek Electric Bikes--Part Two

Electric bikes......don't leave home without them.

Friday, May 11, 2012

SST-(Sweet Smelling Toilet)

usbackroads information--SST (Sweet Smelling Toilet)

Back in the heyday of American science and engineering excellence the term SST meant supersonic transport.  Those were the days when we did great things.  Built huge dams like Grand Coulee and Boulder Dam.  Built the Interstate Highway System.  The country even sent men to the moon and BACK.

Who knew that when we decided not to build the SST we would soon lose interest in science and engineering projects.  Not building the SST was probably a wise decision, but ending the manned space program was a very bad decision.

And so America's edge in science and engineering has continued to wane throughout the 70's and 80' until in the second decade of the 21st Century we can no longer even put a man into earth orbit.   Well, we can do it.  Sort of.  We just now write a check to the Russian government and fly on THEIR rockets to the space station.  Sad, that the next man on the moon will likely be Russian or Chinese.

Early in civilization there were two basic questions.  The first was looking at the moon and wondering our role in the Universe.  The second was why pit toilets smelled so godawful and was there anything we could do about it.

Most people recognize that America took the first step towards answering the question about our role in the Universe by landing men on the moon.  Very few recognize that American engineering expertise finally go rid of the stinky outhouse!!

Yes, by 1990 American engineering was in sad decline, but there was ONE rabbit to pull out of the hat.  The Forest Service tasked its San Dimas Technology and Development Center with job of developing a SST (Sweet Smelling Toilet).   Think about for 5,000 years or so stinky toilets were just a fact of everyday life.  It is hard to believe that it took 5,000 years to find a solution.

There is stands.  The crowning American engineering achievement of late 20th century.  A vault toilet that does NOT stink (as a general rule).

5,000 years to overcome biological decomposition processes and their orderous by-products.  Early attempts were geared towards perfumes or stopping the biological processes.  All dead ends for toilets in recreational areas.  The solution in the tradition of all great solutions was remarkably simple. That black chimney on the back of the toilet.  It provides positive ventilation for the pit, once the sun hits and heats up the chimney.  Sweet smelling indeed during most of the day.  However, find a toilet improperly sited or in a bad location and you will be instantly be transported back in time to 1985!!

The other remarkable feature of the SST toilet is that the basic design evolved to a concrete pattern painted to look like wood.   Among lower life forms one of the most popular activities in Forest Service campgrounds is sitting on the toilet and shooting out the outhouse with the door closed.   Well, the first "lower life form" to sit on an SST toilet and shoot was in for a basic lesson in physics.  Yes, the question is how many times did that bullet bounce off the walls before finally coming to rest. Now, you know why in parts of the West the Forest Service has signs up saying "please, no shooting while using toilet".

Nowadays, you will find SST toilets on National Park Service, BLM, and Corps of Engineers managed recreation sites as well as the Forest Service.

On some COE sites they even come complete with LED lights charged by solar panels.  Like any new invention, once completed the accessories start coming quickly.

If we can solve the problem of stinky toilets, maybe we should give another shot at going to the moon.  America was not meant to be a "closed" country we really do need a frontier.

In today's world, that frontier is UP.

So next time you use a SST reflect for a moment on the great engineering achievement it represents.  I will let you google and explore the internet for the names of those great engineering minds that solved one of mankinds most vexing problems.