Thursday, December 4, 2014

All I Want For Christmas...2014

Well what's on your Christmas wish list? Mine is short. It is most years. Actually it's mostly less about buying something and more about doing something. But I do have a few gadgets I'm hoping to  acquire related to camper/camping. So here's my list broken up into stuff and to do:

Camper/Camping Stuff

  • Beach Tent/Cabana. Hoping to get something portable for when we camp at the beach to provide a little shelter on the beach.
  • Beach Wagon. When you have kids, you have a lot to haul to the beach for the day. Even if you're camping close, you don't want to run back and forth a bunch. I saw a neat one this year that could flip over into a table. Here's one made by Copa.
  • Weatherstripping for windows. Need to order this for a project in the list below.
  • Adult Bike mount. probably will go with roof mount option but I'd like to find a way to take mine and my wife's bikes with us. Right now we usually just take the kids tiny bikes by cramming them in the camper.
  • Canoe. Major on my wish list but due to cost may be at the bottom of reality right now.

Camper/Camping To Do List

  • New Converter install. I already have the converter and fuse block. Just hoping to find time to install. This is probably the highest priority of my projects.
  • Replace Side Window. About two years ago, a random company who specialized in crates of surplus from old warehouses opened a box and put the content up for sale on the web. Turns out they were New Old Stock (NOS) Uhaul Camper windows. They sold out pretty quick since there is nothing else like that out there. Normally you got to get custom made or cut the fiberglass to fit a Scamp window. The previous owners of ours had gone the plexiglass route. So I'm hoping to find time to yank that out and put the original window I got in its place.
  • Fix a flooring issue. have an issue where a section of the flooring I installed is separating. Need to cut a new piece and install.
  • AC install. I have some rough plans on an air conditioning installation.
So that's it for my wish list. What's on yours?  Feel free to comment on what projects you hope to finish over the winter or gadgets you hope to get. 

Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Great Camping Deal for SC State Parks 2015!

SC State Parks has a Black Friday deal for several of their parks going right now! 50% off on select camping/cabins at specific parks. Go here to find out more and get the discount codes.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Falling in the Cracks...Bedding down in the U-Haul CT-13 Camper

Uhaul fiberglass CT-13 Camper bed
So just like with a house, there's always a project list with a camper it seems. I have a long list and no time to get it all done. Part of that is just the busy stage of life I'm in with little ones and work. One of the things I typically do when I add something to my list of things to update/fix, is to plan it out in stages. Planning in stages means I can take small steps through small periods of time I can find to work on it and not impact the camper to the point where we can't use it till the project is finished.

The bed is one of those things on my list. (See my other post on the kids bunk beds for our other bed tweaks.) So when we first started we just made it up the way your supposed to. You put the table top down and arrange the cushions on top. Then throw some sheets on it if you like and you're ready to sleep. What we have discovered is that we don't really use the table inside. We have adapted to just being outside the trailer and therefore the bed stays made up all the time. I actually like it that way. Setting up and breaking down the bed/table would drive me crazy I think. And then where do you put the sheets and the pillows while your eating or playing cards or whatever?

I know a lot of folks have kept the back table in bed mode and removed the front bunk to convert it to a 2-seat table. Since we need the front bunks for the little ones, that doesn't work for us. If you only needed a single bed up front instead of bunks, you could remove the back of the bunk and build a table that would drop down with a cushion over it to become a bed.

(Uhaul fiberglass camper) PVC pip under table top to add support for bed.
The first thing I was concerned about was the stability of the table top. So i went and measured and bought a piece of PVC (1.5" diameter) pipe that was the same dimensions as the metal table post. I cut that down to a size that would fit under the table while it's down in the "bed" position. This made me feel more comfortable with the stability of it. I just didn't want to break the table top. My next plan is to replace the tabletop with a piece of plywood and I'll probably put a pole adapter on it so I can still use the PVC pipe for stability. I'll put up a post about that when I get around to it with measurements.

(Uhaul Fiberglass Camper) strapping cushions to table top to prevent holes while sleeping.
The next thing is the comfortable aspect of the bed. My wife ended up adding a featherbed to the top of the cushions and it's a nice addition. Some folks have cut memory foam to fit. Which might still be an option for us in the future. One thing to keep in mind with memory foam is that the colder it is, the harder the foam gets. So if you're going to camp in really cold places, it may not be the best option. We ran into an issue even with the featherbed on top of sinking into the cracks between the cushions during the night. Moving to a solid mattress would eliminate that but in the mean time I needed to find another solution. I settled on a simple man's approach and grabbed one of my cargo tie downs. This has been a great stop gap for the problem. It works well and it doesn't impact sleeping or cargo space under the bed. Simply wrap the tie down around the table top with the 2 cushions on it and cinch it tight. This keeps the two cushions from moving or separating and also keeps the back cushion in place as it's wedged against the wall. This made a big impact. If you're going to keep your table in bed mode the entire time, you could cut a large single piece of foam and cover it to replace the 3 separate cushions.

I'll update as we keep tweaking it to work for us.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Another Uhaul Camper Restored

So fellow Uhaul Camper owner Bret Hinkie in Texas has done a great job restoring theirs. It was a full frame-off restore. They shared this video of their masterpiece and I'm sharing with you. This shows just how far you can really go restoring one of these vintage trailers and make it your own. Lots of potential and I commend them for their hard work on this project. Enjoy the video!



I wish I had the time or the money to do a great job like this. Unfortunately, I don't have either and I don't want to go a year without using the camper in order to do this detail of work myself. So I'll continue to try to do repairs/upgrades in small bites as I go. With winter coming on, I'm hoping to get some projects done on her before the spring. Maybe a new window installed but definitely hoping to get a new converter installed.More details to come as I get time to do them.

Monday, October 27, 2014

U-haul Fiberglass Camper Tow Vehicles

towing our U-haul (uhaul) fiberglass CT-13 camper
So one of the great things about camping in a small fiberglass camper is that they're lightweight and you can tow them with much smaller vehicles as compared to their stick-built counterparts. I don't need a large F250 or 2500 to pull this thing. I've talked with many folks who pull campers and some of these folks get less than 10 mi/gal when towing their giant rigs. If it's going to cost me $1000 to tow my rig to the beach and camp, I might as well just save the trouble and get a nice house/cabin for the vacation. I should preface this by saying that we typically do not go camping for weeks at a time. While we did do a 10 day trip to South Dakota and back, we normally do about 3-4 days (long weekends).

I have not had the CT weighed yet on a trip, but I know it's well below the limits of the vehicles I've towed it with. Those include the following:
  1. 2001 Mazda Tribute 3.0L V6 (3500lb towing capacity)
  2. 2007 GMC Acadia SLT2 3.6L V6 (4500lb towing capacity)
  3. 2011 Kia Sorento 3.5L V6 (3500lb towing capacity)
Of all of these, the Mazda probably had the biggest hit on gas mileage but some of that I think was due to other engine issues and it's age. It has well over 200k miles on it. The Acadia towed like a dream. (We got rid of it due to other quality issues that were common in the 2007-2009 model years; I can't recommend those years.) Of course it's a larger vehicle than the other two and has a longer wheelbase and 19" tires. We used it on our trip to South Dakota and enjoyed the space and you could barely tell you had a trailer back there. The Mazda probably has the worse stopping due to the rear drum brakes. I prefer 4 wheel discs for towing since the CT-13's do not have trailer brakes. I have not had a chance yet to pull in the mountains with the Kia. Though on our last trip to the beach in South Carolina, it towed fine without any issues.

2001 Mazda Tribute 3.0L V6 towing our U-haul (Uhaul) Fiberglass Camper (CT-13)
2001 Mazda Tribute 3.0L V6 towing our U-haul (Uhaul) Fiberglass Camper (CT-13) 

2007 GMC Acadia SLT2 3.6L V6 towing our U-haul (Uhaul) Fiberglass Camper (CT-13)
2007 GMC Acadia SLT2 3.6L V6 towing our U-haul (Uhaul) Fiberglass Camper (CT-13) 

2011 Kia Sorento 3.5L V6 towing our U-haul (Uhaul) Fiberglass Camper (CT-13)
2011 Kia Sorento 3.5L V6 towing our U-haul (Uhaul) Fiberglass Camper (CT-13) 
For tips on towing check my previous post on towing.

What do you tow with? Would you recommend your tow vehicle to others? Leave a comment below and share your knowledge with others.

Update (May 22, 2016: After several trips with the Kia, we haven't had any problems. I still haven't had it in the steep mountains yet, but it's been without issues. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ants in the Camper!

ants
On our trip this past summer, we experienced our worst issue so far with ants. They were everywhere and got all in our camper. I woke up in the middle of the night with them biting me. That's not a pleasant way to wake up. In all my years of camping in tents and hammocks, I'd never had problems with ants. I ended up spraying the camper and every point that touched the ground with Deep Woods OFF that I happened to have. That eventually afforded us some relief.

When we got back home, it was time to research how to deal with ants with RV's. I researched a few RV forums and searched via Google. Most folks talked about the various ways to get rid of ants. There's two types of folks I discovered from reading: the type that don't want to KILL anything; and the type that don't mind a few dead ants. I happen to belong in the second group. The good news is, whatever group you belong to, there are solutions

Jar of Petroleum JellyTo Dissuade

 One non-lethal is to put petroleum jelly on the electrical, water, sewer lines. Apparently it annoys them; it would annoy me too if I was going to unhook and grabbed a nice slimy water hose/electrical cord. The other method I've read is using black pepper.

Spectracide Ant Shield

To Kill or Be Bitten

So if you don't mind a few dead ants, there are several options available. They range from baits you'd setup outside the camper to kill the colonies, to using borax or defense barrier sprays around any part of the camper that touches the ground. Home Defense or similar sprays tend to be common from what I read and work pretty good. The key is to block any area they can climb on the camper. So that means: leveling jacks, tongue jack, electrical cord, water/sewer hoses, wheels, awning poles, anything leaning against the camper, etc. I ended up buying Spectracide Ant Shield at our local Walmart. It seemed to do the job on the last trip. Not an ant in sight. I guess to test it fully I should go back to the campground/site that I had all the problems at. I'll keep you updated as we do warm weather camping next year on how it continues to work.

Do you have a any recommendations for keeping the ants at bay? What's your favorite lethal/non-lethal method for keeping the ants from ruining your trip? Feel free to leave a note below to share with others!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hunting Island, U-haul Camper Style

Uhaul fiberglass camper at Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina
I feel like I left a part of me back in Hunting Island, SC after camping there for 3 nights. About a pint of blood to be exact. At least that's what I'm estimated the biting flies and mosquitoes took. That's right folks. There's a lot of wonderful things about Hunting Island, SC, but bring bug spray....lots of it!

Hunting Island South CarolinaWe had heard a lot of good things about Hunting Island but had never been there. So we planned a trip for 4 days and 3 nights. We hadn't been to the beach all year so we were excited to get the kids in the sand and surf. We ended up on site 121 at Hunting Island State Park. The campground is made up of 5 loops basically. There are two loops near the waterfront/beach. and 3 loops further inland. As I understand it, the breeze off the ocean helps the front loops not have so many problems with the biting flies and mosquitoes but the back 3 loops are in the trees and far enough inland that they don't get any breeze. Combine that with lots of swampy marshland, high humidity, and hot weather, and you have a perfectly blended biting insect smoothie - with you right in the middle of it. Granted this is the second weekend of October and they were having unseasonably warm temps (67-85F). A cold front should be moving in this week so maybe next weekend would have been a better pick. Next time we go, we'll try to pick a cooler time and a spot closer to the ocean.

Outside of the humidity and bugs, we did have a great time. The kids enjoyed the sand and surf. We had a fantastic time exploring the beaches. When the tide goes out, the beach extends way out. The kids really enjoyed walking around with the tide out collecting shells, watching hermit crabs and fish, and we even saw a horseshoe crab and a sea turtle nest.

Hunging Island Lighthouse, South Carolina
We got to climb the lighthouse and the view from the top was great since it was a clear day. You could see all the way north to Edisto Island. I learned a lot about the erosion issues they face on Hunting Island. Even some of my family in SC was telling me that when they were young, they would go there and stay at friends beach houses. But, none of those exist anymore due to the erosion. Now the whole island (what's left of it) is state park land.

We tried a couple of local restaurants while we were there. Johnson Creek Tavern is probably the closest place to eat. It's just over the bridge from the campground on Harbor Island (you cross Harbor Island on the way to Hunting Island) and serves seafood. The food was good and not too expensive. And it's super close the campground. We also tried some BBQ from Q on Bay in Beaufort. It was decent food also. We didn't really get to take in the atmosphere as we got ours on the run but it looks like a great place to sit and dine. Probably the best food I enjoyed was a burger from Fat Patties. This place has great food and an awesome atmosphere. This ain't your dad's grilled out back patties or fast food versions. These are half-pound patties with your choice of grass-fed beef, half beef/half bacon, shrimp, turkey, or black bean patty as a starter for a masterpiece. My wife was not disappointed in the Virginia V and I enjoyed the Who's Your Pattie?

Have you visited Hunting Island before? Do you have any pointers to share on best location to camp or time to go, or sites to see while there? Drop a line in the comments section below please, We plan to go back and I'd love to hear your opinions!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Video: Hitching Up the U-Haul CT-13 Camper

So after my last post on towing, I decided to do a video of how I hitch up the camper just for folks who've never done it before and are thinking of buying one.

In the video, I mention a couple of things I use when I setup camp. Here's a list with links in case you are interested:
  1. Stabilizer Jacks
  2. Wheel Chocks
  3. Front Jack Wheel Dock
  4. Coupler Lock

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Towing a Fiberglass Camper

Towing a U-Haul Fiberglass Camper
Recently as I posted before, U-Haul bought a CT-13 camper back and did a roadtrip back to their headquarters in Phoenix, AZ this summer. It's pretty neat that they are taking a renewed interest in the old campers and their legacy. If there's one thing I can say about the Uhaul campers, it's that they were built to last and to handle the rough aspect of rental life.

U-Haul put up a recent post on their blog about towing a camper. It's a good brief post about things you need to be aware of when towing. They could definitely have gone into more detail on some of it. I wanted to highlight a few things to think about. Hooking up correctly is the first thing.
  1. Make sure the trailer coupler is connected securely to the tow vehicle's hitch. A good test once you've connected it to the ball on the tow vehicle is to use the tongue jack on the trailer to crank the tongue back up. If it stays connected and doesn't pop off then you're secure (don't go too far with this, you don't want to damage anything). Your just testing that it's not going to pop off when you hit a bump; 
  2. Connect your chains by crossing them. Yes, cross the chains. This should hold the tongue of the trailer if it does pop off allowing you time to stop.
  3. Always make sure your trailer lights are connected and working. Test them before you leave! Test running lights, brakes, and each turn signal. It's a simple step but if you don't you could get a ticket or worse rear-ended. If something's not working, fix it before you leave. If you know you're going on a long trip, you may want to even hook up and test the lights a day or two before you leave to make sure there are no electrical issues or bulbs burned out. Still always check every time you hook up.
  4. Brakes: If you have trailer brakes (there are two types surge and electric), then make sure they are hooked up correctly and that you know how to adjust them if necessary. It's always a good idea to test them too before you pull out. (The Uhaul CT-13's do not have trailer brakes; the VT-16's have surge brakes).
12v Air CompressorI usually check the tires for air pressure before loading the camper. Always look at the tires every time you hook up to tow. Check for wear and the air pressure. Also, remember to move any rocks, chocks or whatever you use to brace the wheels when parked before pulling out. It's a good idea to carry an air compressor in case you need to add air to the tires. Make sure that you have one with a long enough cord/hose to reach the trailer tires. My tow vehicle has a 12v power port in the rear cargo area. If your's doesn't, consider adding one. They really do help get your air compressor closer to the trailer tires. I use this air compressor. I've had it for years and I specifically bought it because the combination of the cord + coiled hose is long enough to reach the tires on either of my trailers. Better yet, some vehicles have a compressor built in. I do realize that you can get roadside assistance if you get a flat through various roadside service programs. However, sometimes you may just need to top off or you may find yourself with a slow leak that you want to add some air to get you to the next exit where you can find a safer place to pull off or get help.

This is by no means an exhaustive discussion on these topics. I just wanted to go into a little more depth.

Do you tow a camper regularly? Have any more suggestions? Feel free to leave them in the comments section below.



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A. H. Stephens State Park in our U-haul Fiberglass Camper

Uhaul CT-13 Fiberglass Camper at A. H. Stephens State Park
This past weekend, we decided to take a quick camping getaway to a state park that's about an hour from our house. We wanted to go somewhere close and just relax. We're fortunate enough to live in the middle of four state parks that are within an hour of us. You can actually draw an almost square box between the four parks and we'd be right smack in the middle. So we picked one of those parks to take advantage of the ability to get there quick. Less time on the road means more time for relaxing! We decided to go to  A. H. Stephens State Park in Crawfordville, Georgia.

We had never been to A. H Stephens State Park before but I had some friends who live about 30 mins from it say they like to go there. One of the perks that I heard was that it's not crowded. I can say that proved to be true while we were there. The campground has about 25 RV/Camper/Tent sites with 30/20 amp electric and water. There are a fair number of pull-through sites for those who don't like to back up. Most of the pads are large and would fit any fiberglass rig easily. I had enough room on our pad that I could have put the screen room behind the camper or next to it. Including the camp hosts and us, there were 6 campers in the campground this past weekend. We settled into site 4. The bathhouse was clean and it's on the outside of the loop. The inside of the loop has an old tower built by the CCC to be used as a fire tire and a water tower to hold water pumped up from one of the springs. There's also a large lawn area on the inside of the loop perfect for kids or playing games that includes a playground, horseshoe pits (w/horseshoes), sand volleyball area, and a public water spigot and dishwater disposal area. There are a lot of tall pines in the campground and I found a couple next to our site that were the perfect width for my hammock. In retrospect, I should have picked the site next to us (6) which was a pull-through just for the reason that it had better shade.

Camping in Georgia in July is not for the faint of heart. It's HOT! We hit the 90s this past weekend and combine that with the high humidity down here and it's like living in a sauna. The mornings and evenings were fine. But the middle of the day was scorching. Our camper doesn't have air conditioning. So we're left with the Fantastic Fan and a tower fan that I take when it's hot. Tower fans are great for campers. They may be a bit more expensive than a box fan but when space is a premium like it is in our little Uhaul fiberglass camper, they fit the bill. I strongly recommend them. The nice thing about the tower fan was that I could also move it outside with extension cord and set it up under our screen room for some airflow. We found some water balloons at the camp store for the afternoons to cool us down. I discovered that the little faucet in our camper is a perfect size for filling water balloons!

Liberty Hall at A. H. Stephens State Park
On Saturday afternoon, we decided to do a tour of Liberty Hall to do something out of the heat. For those who may not know, Liberty Hall in Crawfordville, Georgia was the home of Alexander Hamilton Stephens. Stephens was a politician for Georgia back before the Civil War. He was against secession but once Georgia and the other states seceded, he became the Vice President of the Confederacy. Stephens always wanted a peaceful end to the war whereas Jefferson Davis didn't. The two men did not get along. Stephens was also a good friend to Lincoln. Later after the war, Stephens ended up becoming governor of Georgia for about 4 months before he died. We enjoyed the tour and the air conditioning for the afternoon.

Heavy's BBQ
Crawfordville sits in Taliaferro County in Georgia. It's a tiny county and the least populous one in the state. So there's not much there to do except relax around the campsite. I had a great time talking with Ranger Michael who grew up there and is probably one of the most personable rangers I've ever met. The county has so few people that they only have one school K-12. Interestingly, they do year round school. We did find one bright spot just outside of town south of I-20 on Hwy 22. A BBQ joint called Heavy's. It's only open Friday - Sunday but the food is good and the plates are huge. My kids are now referring to it as the restaurant with the loaves of bread on the table. True southern BBQ hospitality with loves of Sunbeam just sitting on every table is a kids dream. The place has a lot of character between old trucks and farm equipment outside, to a hunter's lodge feel inside. (I swear there were more animals on the wall than at the zoo in Athens.) (EDIT: Come to find out, they filmed the bar scene in Sweet Home Alabama at Heavy's.)

We had a wonderful time. And even though I didn't get the opportunity this time to fish at any of the 3 lakes, Ranger Michael assures me the fishing is good. And he has 3 large bass mounted on the wall in the station that he's personally caught to prove it. So if you want a quiet place to camp along I-20/US-278 and like a bit of history, you might give this place a try for a night or two.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tornadoes and Campers Don't Mix

storme clouds
Many of you may have seen the news last Thursday that a campground in Virginia was hit with a devastating tornado. It was so bad that many people were injured and a few people died. Here's the link to an article about it (Confirmed Tornado: 2 dead, 36 hurt at campground along Va.'s Eastern Shore).

Midland HH54 Portable Weather RadioIt's a good reminder that you always need to be aware of the weather specially when camping or hiking. One of the best ways to be informed is to always have a weather radio with you. One thing you want to do if you do have a weather radio, is make sure that the weather radio you take camping isn't set like the one at your house for your home area. Weather radios operate by allowing you to program SAME (Specific Area Message Encoding) codes for your county/region. When NOAA issues an alert, it's sent out as a digital signal that includes the alert type, duration, and SAME codes for the areas it covers. At home, you typically set it to filter alerts to just SAME code for your county. If you are going to be camping in a place for an extended period of time, then you may want to set SAME codes for the area you are in. Otherwise, I wouldn't bother. Just leave it with no codes so you'll get all alerts. You should be aware of the area you are so when it does alert you'll know if they're talking about somewhere 20 miles away or the area you are in. I like Midland radios. I have 2 of them. One I keep at home which could also be a base station in an RV/camper and, one portable that I take camping/hiking. The base station types will run on 120v with a battery backup. The portables run on either rechargeable packs or AA's (though you could use rechargeable AA's). No matter which one you get, make sure you carry one with you. 

I also suggest getting a mobile weather app on your phone or tablet if you don't have one. I prefer ones with radar images so I can view the area and get a better idea of what's coming and what direction the bad weather is headed. Another feature available to some phones is NOAA's WEA (Wireless Emergency Alerts). These are sent out like text messages to your phone if you're in an area where an alert is. Unfortunately, not all carriers or phones are supporting this yet. They just started rolling it out in 2012 so I think many people may not have newer phones that this will work with yet. Hopefully over the next couple of years most people will have phones that will work with this. If you want to find out more information and what your carrier supports, go to this page at the CTIA site.

The other thing that you want to keep in mind is where to go to be safe when the weather is bad. A camper is not a safe place and neither is a car. You want to know where the closest structure is like the bathhouse. You are safer in the bathhouse than your camper. Most bathhouses at parks are cinder block construction made to last for years. Huddling in the shower stall may just save your life. If you're not sure where to go or what structure might be the safest, ask the campground hosts or park rangers. If you're staying in a state or national park, it's a good idea to ask the rangers about what weather conditions to look out for or be aware of. 

No matter what bad weather brings (tornado, hail, flash flooding, high winds, etc), you can be prepared and give yourself an edge by arming yourself with the correct technology and knowledge. Do you have a favorite weather app or other tips? Help your camping neighbors and leave a comment below! Share the knowledge; save a life.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Rock Guards on Fiberglass Campers

Rock Guard on Uhaul Fiberglass Camper
So the Uhaul, like many other fiberglass campers with front windows, came with a rock guard. My thoughts on this are that Uhaul wanted to make sure that the glass didn't get shattered either from a truck towing it and throwing up rocks behind or a car towing it and rocks from the road coming over the roof of the car. In any event, it's a great thing to have in my opinion.

The front window is a solid glass window. Unlike the door, rear and two side windows, which slide open and have a screen, the front has no way to open and therefore no screen. There are two types of rock guards on fiberglass campers that I've seen: a solid plastic/fiberglass piece that clamps to the front window (Scamps seem to have this style) and a hinged piece with shocks. The Uhaul comes with the later. I suppose having a hinged guard vs a removable piece that could get lost is better in a rental environment.

The nice thing about the Uhaul rock guard is that I can open and close it as needed. I tend to close it at night since it's right at the top bunk and it blocks out the sun in the morning to let my son sleep a little later. Granted that's a benefit only applicable to those with kids on the top bunk but for us it's a big one. I also like that when open it provides some shade over the window. You can even use the shocks to hang towels on to dry if you're at the beach or anywhere that you may be swimming. The one downside I can see is that since it shades the window so much it does block out some of the vistas you could view out the front. That's minor for me as I tend to have the car parked in front of it most of the time. (Some folks have said they don't like having the rock guard at all so they can see all the way through the camper and out the back window when towing.

When we first got the Uhaul I noticed a couple of issues with our rock guard. (Which I must say from the folks I've talked with and those I've seen for sale since, not all of them still have theirs.) It's made of plastic so like with anything plastic it's a bit brittle after so many decades. It's hinged at the top. Ours had apparently been broken at the hinge point on one side and the PO had moved the hinge over toward the middle and re-riveted it. So we do have a "hole" in the top side when it's closed which does allow for rain, leaves etc to come through. I do have to clean out the leaves before a trip since it's parked under a tree at home. I may try to patch it at some point.

Shocks for rock guard on Uhaul Fiberglass Camper
Shocks for rock guard on Uhaul Fiberglass CamperThe other thing I noticed with ours was that there were issues with the shocks. The original shocks were lightweight and after a few decades had worn out. I took the original shocks to an auto parts store and I matched them for length and bolt size. The pressure in my replacements is likely higher than the original ones when they were new. But I don't see any undo stress. If you have issues with yours, then I recommend replacing them.

On a side note, if you do not own a rivet gun, I'd invest the few bucks in one with a fiberglass camper. They're really useful; especially with the double hull of the Uhaul. They will allow you to attach things to the outside without having to drill through both hulls and using bolts on the inside. The hardware that connects the shock to the camper had snapped a rivet and the other one was close behind. So I ended up re-riveting it and it was quick and simple. Here's a link to a video on how to use a rivet gun (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPwNsQMnx88). It's pretty simple once you get the hang of it. Just make sure you use the right size rivets for the job.

Feel free to comment with any questions.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Uhaul buys back a CT-13

So I know it's been a while since I've posted. Unfortunately, June is the busiest time of the year for my job and it requires long hours and not much free time. Add to that the kids running around with no school to keep them occupied and you see where I've been.

So an interesting thing happened earlier this week, a guy from U-haul bought a U-haul Fiberglass CT-13 camper in Minnesota and is driving it back to their headquarters in Phoenix. I think it's pretty cool and I'm looking forward to following their journey. I hope they decide to take it other places too, would be neat to run into them on the road sometime. Interestingly they're route is taking them through Mount Rushmore and SD where we took ours last year. Makes me wonder how frequently a Uhaul camper shows up in SD.

If you're interested to follow their journey, you can follow along at http://www.uhaul.com/roadtrip. Who knows, maybe you'll see them roll through your town.

More updates to come as my busy season winds back some...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Importance of Camping as a Family (Camping with Kids)

Kids Camping
There are so many things I can say about why I feel it's important to get outside and camp/hike/explore with your kids. It's the entire reason I bought the Uhaul Camper. While I still love tent camping, it was a logistics based decision to get the camper. Something I could leave packed and ready to go. Just add food, clothes, and family and then hit the road. Even if you don't like to camp, many state parks and campgrounds like KOA have cabins. The important thing to me is getting myself and kids out from in front of the TV/Computer and getting outside. I want my kids to grow up and learn problem solving skills and that it's not the end of the world if it rains or a tent pole breaks. You can always make it work and find another way. .

Amelia Meyer has a great guest post over at Sierra Trading Company's blog with a pretty all inclusive list of reasons why you should get out there: A Bunch of (Really Great) Reasons to Take Kids Camping.

For those of you in Georgia, the state parks offer a First Time Campers program where they will provide the gear and help/advice from rangers for a 2 night stay. Besides playgrounds, hiking/biking trails, boat rentals, most state and national parks also offer programs like the Jr Ranger programs. While camping at FDR State Park last year they happened to be having a reptile program on Saturday morning. We took the kids over and they loved it. We also have camped at Hard Labor Creek State Park and they often do wagon rides around the park with a ranger telling about the history of it and stopping at various buildings. These are just a few examples of the things we've stumbled on while camping.

So get out there and see the real world!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Uhaul in the Smokies

Camping at KOA in Townsend, TN with our Fiberglass Uhaul Camper
Campsite 120 at KOA Townsend, TN
So there is a fiberglass rally in Townsend, TN (right outside the Cades Cove side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park) every year called the Eggscursion put on by the Egg Camping Club. (If you don't know, molded fiberglass campers are referred to as "eggs" sometimes. There are lots of rally's around the nation and it's a great place to meet other owners and see other types/brands of fiberglass campers. We went to our first rally last year in Townsend and had a blast and got lots of great ideas. We were the only Uhaul Camper there. We went ahead last year and booked our reservations for this year. Then my best friend picked that date to get married so we bumped our reservations a few weeks. We're looking forward to the rally next year but we had a blast camping this past weekend up there.

Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Cades Cove in GSMNP
The temperature was milder than I anticipated for this time of year. It actually sleeted up at Newfound Gap when we were going through on our way up. I heard they closed the road for a bit later that night due to ice. The park was beautiful and it wasn't too crowded yet which was nice. We did the Cades Cove loop again hoping to spot some bears, but it wasn't till after we'd left the cove that we spotted a mother and 3 babies off the side of the road. It was great for the kids to get to see them. We didn't find time to do any hiking this trip. I was hoping to get a short day hike in with the kids. But we did get to relax and I did get to kick back and read some at the campsite (which I rarely have time to do during my weekly grind). One think I love about being so close to the Smokies is that they have such beauty and nature combined with a rich history. I always learn something new every time I visit.

We stayed at the KOA in Townsend. This was our first time staying at a KOA. Honestly, they aren't really on my radar normally due to price and being crowded. I usually choose state parks when camping with the camper and the family. I like to support the state park programs in states we visit. When I'm soloing I go backcountry or tent camp at National Forest campgrounds that don't have hook-ups. We did have a wonderful time at the KOA though and it's right outside the park. We ended up in site 120 (water/electric site) which had a nice patio, table and chairs (as compared to a normal picnic table), and a fire pit. The staff was very friendly and very helpful. We didn't use the free cable TV and the free wifi was a bit spotty (don't try streaming videos on it). The kids enjoyed the playground, basketball court, and riding their bikes around the campground. The fenced dog park was a nice feature too for our dogs to run around off leash. While I probably won't seek out a KOA everywhere we go, we're planning to go back to this one again next year. I can definitely see their benefits if we do another long (10-day) trip in the future.

We've been up to the Smokies a lot before we bought the camper. We did try something new this time and it was a blast. The Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster is a sled on a track basically. You get pulled to the top of a mountain and ride down with gravity. You do have a brake lever to slow down if you get going too fast for your comfort, but they say the max speed is 27 mph. It's a mile track down the mountain with loops and turns. While ticket prices aren't exactly cheap for adults and older kids. Young kids (3-6) are only $5 to ride with adult. Our little ones (4 and 5) loved it and can't wait to do it next time we go back.

It was a nice, refreshing trip. I can't wait for our next adventure.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Bunk Bed Stability

Rubber cone-shaped bumpers for bunk bed support in Uhaul Fiberglass Camper
Rubber Cone-shaped Bumpers
So as I mentioned in a previous post, I've gotten around to resolving one of the issues with the top bunk. The poles from the top bunk do rest in these little indentions and rely on gravity/weight to keep them in there. The problem with this for me is if the lower kid kicks the pole or the upper kid jumps up and down, it feels like they could slip out. Many folks have tried and suggested various options. I want to keep the ability to break down the bunk (so I didn't want to make it permanent). I ordered some conical bumpers that measure 21mm x 12mm. I then picked up some #10 x 3/4 in. wide head screws at the local hardware store. (If you don't have the wood braces under the fiberglass, you should put some in.) I then screwed these right into the wood braces and they worked perfectly. The poles slide on and off easily but the diameter and height of the bumpers is enough to keep them from bouncing off should they be kicked accidentally. Also, the rubber bumpers are low enough to leave there with the cushions down. So no need to take them off when not using the top bunk and there are no sharp or protruding screws/bolts/etc that some folks have used. All in all I'm happy with it and we'll try them out on the next trip. I'll definitely post an update if they don't work as good as I imagine.
adding cone-shaped bumpers to hold bunk bed legs in a fiberglass Uhaul Camper

See my post on replacement poles for the bunk bed if you're looking for those.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Bunk Bed (Camping with Kids)

Front Bunk Beds for Kids in U-haul (uhaul) Fiberglass Camper
So we have 4 people in our family and so it was important to get a camper that would sleep 4. The U-haul CT13 campers do sleep 4. The adult bed is in the back and then the front bench pops up into a bunk.The back cushion is on a hinge similar to a piano hinge and the back cushion swings up. Two poles fold down and each rests in metal indention on the bottom. This style is common across other fiberglass campers.

There are a couple of problems with the design though:
  1. There is nothing on the top bunk to keep a kid from rolling off during sleep.
  2. A really small kid (2-3) on the bottom bunk could potentially roll off between the poles. 
  3. The poles rely on gravity/weight to keep them in the holes. They are not fastened to it any way and can bounce out. Or it's possible for a child on the lower bunk to kick it out during sleep. This could potentially cause the bunk to come down. (Do not drive with the bunk setup; road bounce will make it come down!)
My first concern was to make it safe for our kids. At the time we bought the camper they were 4 and 2 years old. I use the front bench during travel to hold the screen room and our table and some other gear we pack to keep weight up front on the tongue. So whatever designs I came up with would have to be flexible and not impact the ability to break down the bunk to a bench.

Bunk Bed Rail for U-haul (uhaul) Fiberglass Camper
View of wingnuts on Bunk Bed Rail for U-haul (uhaul) Fiberglass CamperThe top bunk is backed by a piece of plywood. I picked up a couple of right angle shelf brackets and had an extra board laying around that turned out to be the right size. I used some wood screws to hold the brackets to the bottom of the bunk. I measured them so they could stay attached and be under the bench cushions when it's folded down. The distance measured is between the bottom cording of the top bunk cushion (when it's folded down as the back of the bench) and the top of the fiberglass bottom of the bench with cushions removed. I can put the cushions on the bench on top of the L brackets and you won't even know they're there. I then drilled holes in the wooden board and got a couple of nuts with locking washers and wing nuts to fasten the board. That way I can quickly unfasten it for travel. This provides the protection I needed for my 4 yr old not to roll off the top bunk in the middle of the night. It's been working very well for us. The reason I went with a board was because I didn't want a gap from pvc or other tubing that he'd get his legs caught in. The solidness of the board combined with the small curtain we put up that hangs from the ceiling also help provide the sense that it's his own room. I have a small Tupperware container that I keep in the cabinet over the stove that I put the nuts, washers and bolts in when I have it broken down.

Curtain for lower bunk in our Fiberglass U-haul (uhaul) Camper
My wife's fun camping fabric.
Close up of Curtain for lower bunk in our Fiberglass U-haul (uhaul) Camper
Close-up from back side
With the 2 year old going to be in the bottom bunk, we were concerned with her falling out between the poles. While discussing how the kids would probably go to bed earlier than us, my wife decided that a curtain would be a fantastic way to divide the camper into basically two rooms. But a large curtain hanging all the way down wouldn't work for several reasons. First it would be too heavy for suction cups and with the curve of the roof we couldn't make a curtain bar work. So we brainstormed and came up with the idea to take a fun cloth shower curtain my wife had found to make new window curtains for the front window and make a short curtain across the top and make a second one on the bottom. The top one is held by suction cups across the top. The lower one we designed to be a panel that slipped over the bars that support the top bunk. We sewed two sleeves that fit perfectly around the poles so you can slide it on. With the poles setup, it's tight and makes the bottom bunk a dark little cave. There's no way she's rolling out of there!

To resolve the issue of the poles possibly bouncing/sliding out of their hole, I looked at rubber bumpers. I have ordered some conical bumpers that measure 21mm x 12mm. My camper has wooden boards under the lower fiberglass to help transfer the weight of the upper bunk poles down through to the frame without cracking the fiberglass seat area. With a screw, washer and these rubber bumpers, I should be able to secure the poles pretty easily by having them slide over the bumpers. I'll post an update when this is done with pics. (EDIT: Post on bumpers.)

Front Bunk Beds for Kids in U-haul (uhaul) Fiberglass Camper
Kid's Bunk in our U-haul Camper
The kids love their "rooms". It's amazing with a little creativity how you can divide such a small space into more personal spaces. I close the rock guard on the front window every night to help the top bunk remain just as dark and cozy as the bottom one so my son can sleep good. We got a couple of camping themed twin bed sheet sets for them that we make up the bunk beds with. We also got two husband pillows similar to these that go at the head of their beds (left side of camper) providing some insulation and filling the small gaps. You can see the edges of them in the picture to the left. By adding some small led camp lanterns to light their rooms, they're happy and set. Now they can have their own personal space in our tiny camper to play with dolls, cars, and read books. I'm currently looking at some storage ideas to better organize their little "rooms."

(Update: See my post on replacement poles for the bunk bed if you need those.)

(EDIT: Post on the other bed; the one us adults use. )



Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Entertaining Kids on a Rainy Camping Day (Camping with Kids)

A 13 foot fiberglass camper gets really small on rainy days. Especially for the 4 of us (plus dogs). So how do we handle it when the walls are closing in and the rain won't stop? Probably the same way you do at home when the kids are on break during cold and rainy seasons. Here's a list of things we typically pack for the kids:

  1. Books
  2. Coloring books/Crayons
  3. Matchbox Cars
  4. Compact doll set
  5. Games (travel card and board games, battleship anyone?)
  6. Leapfrog with games
  7. DVD player and Movies.
  8. Snacks (when our kids get bored they tend to get hungry, pack some fruit!)
  9. Screen room/awning (sometimes you need to get outside...a shelter provides you with some more "room")
Portable DVD playersA couple of things I'll call out here. We don't really like the kids to just sit around and watch DVDs all day when we're camping. However, they can be a useful tool on a rainy day. We have over-the-seat DVD players that we put in the car only on trips. These can run off 12v/DC or 110v/AC power. Since they are portable, you can move them to the camper. We typically set one up in the lower bunk and let the kids climb in together for movie time. For these reasons, I actually prefer the over-the-seat DVD players to the built-in ones in cars (it's cheaper, easier to replace if they break, since there are two, you can watch the same movie on both or each can watch their own with headsets, and lastly we don't have fights about not turning on the DVD player during normal everyday driving). Oh and the other benefit is Mom and Dad can use them too after the kids go to sleep.

The other thing I'll point out is the screen room. With a small camper like ours, space is a premium. We always carry a screen room and it can provide a nice addition for rainy days. Reading a book in my camp chair while listening to the rain is much preferable to sitting in the camper with everyone packed in like sardines.

Lastly, get out and away from the campground. Tourism can be your friend on a rainy day. Find something fun, entertaining, or educational that's inside to do. Also, even getting out for a meal can help. Depending on the age of your children, you may want to find somewhere with an indoor play-place like a McDonald's or Chick-fil-A. Just be flexible and you can have a lot of fun no matter if it's raining or not!





Monday, April 14, 2014

Adding Space to a Tiny Fiberglass Camper

Our screen room next to the fiberglass uhaul camper at Hard Labor Creek State Park in Georgia
Our screen room at Hard Labor Creek SP
One of the biggest complaints I hear about the small fiberglass campers is that they're too small. And they are pretty tiny. However, having come from tent camping I prefer the small, dry space to a tent. (Well at least when I have the whole family with me; I still love to tent camp if it's just me and a friend or when I go solo.) The question I get asked is, "How do you guys survive in that tiny camper?" Along with various remarks about claustrophobia, pulling out your hair, etc. I usually have to explain that I have two purposes for the camper:

  1. To provide a dry, warm place on cold or rainy days/nights.
  2. To provide a sleeping space.
My goals for our family is that we'll spend a lot of the time outside our camper. We do carry portable DVD players for the car for trips and can put one in the camper for a rainy day or something to help entertain the little ones. But I don't want them staying in the camper watching movies or playing video games the whole time. That kind of defeats the purpose of camping. Not to mention that if you don't get them outside running around to burn off that energy, that small space will become even smaller as the day goes on. There's no room for bouncing off the walls.

With that said we carry a screen room/awning. It provides an extra sheltered place that can keep some bugs out but mostly to provide shade and some dry outdoor space if it rains. You can put them up over the picnic table or put your camp chairs and gear under it. It provides some flexibility depending on the layout of where you're camping. 

There are two types of awnings: free standing and attached. Attached awnings are nice since they're attached to the side of the camper usually in a bag that you unzip and pull out the poles and stretch out the awning. The pros are that it's compact, you don't have to pack it inside the camper, can usually be setup by one person, and it provides shelter over the camper door/entrance for side door campers. The downsides are that you are forced to set it up right at the camper and you can't move it (maybe your camping spot is right next to a tree and you can't open the awning because the tree's too close?). Free standing awnings (aka tailgating tents) are more like screen rooms in that you can position them anywhere. Up against the camper, over the picnic table, etc. They may be cheaper but they typically take two people to setup. They have a variety of options as far as adding "sun shade walls" or screened sides to them where/when needed. They can be heavier and you do have to pack them inside the camper.

There are many different types of screen rooms/free standing awnings on the market. I suggest reading reviews on Amazon before you buy. There are a few of things you'll want to consider when planning your purchase:
  1. Do you want to put the awning over the camper? If so, you may need a tall one or to come up with a mechanism for making it taller (i.e. furniture risers, pvc extensions, etc). Many people want to do this to provide shelter over the door for rain or shelter over their roof vent so they can keep it running for air circulation even if it's raining. We originally thought we'd want to do this but gave up on it and I figure if I really need coverage I carry tarps that I can string up between trees.
  2. How much space do you need? Awnings cover a specified square footage (i.e 10'x10', 12'x12', etc). So figure out what you want to place/store under it and you'll have an idea of how much you need. The larger the square footage, the heavier it will likely be though. Also, if it's bigger it'll likely take at least two people to setup. So keep that in mind.
  3. Do you need protection from the sun/blowing rain? If so then you may want to look for one that has a "sun wall(s)" or carry an extra tarp(s) to rig up as needed.
  4. Do you want a screen to keep out big insects? (I say big because a screen does have holes and bugs can crawl under them so their not going to be as bug proof as your camper.) Also, keeping the screen doors zipped has an impact on that. I'll put a note here that many screen rooms taper out like tents rather than straight down like awning legs tend to do. So the actual square footage protected from rain is smaller than the screened footage. Also, it's not going to stop blowing rain (but neither is an awning without a sun wall).
  5. Do you need something that can be put up by one person or will you have two available? By rule the heavier and bigger it is the more people you'll need to assist.
Coleman Screened Shelter 10'x10'
So what do we use? We tried a round screen room but I just didn't like it. We've gone to a Coleman 10'x10'  Instant Up Screened Shelter (ours is an older model of this one but looks the same except I don't have a wheeled storage bag). Price was a big factor and I've been impressed. Sometimes we put it up against the side of the camper and other times we put it on a flat spot behind or to the side or over the picnic table (so is the flexibility of a freestanding model). As I said before, the poles taper out so the roof doesn't cover the entire screened area due to the design. I like being able to zip it up when we leave the campsite. Not really secure as someone could cut into it. I do lock the zipper and at least it should deter tiny thieves and passers by. When we went to South Dakota, I used it to store some gear and it held up to some heavy wind gusts up to 30mph. I did check my tie outs twice a day. I had to re-stake a couple after one really windy night but it never blew away. I'm probably going to come up with a way to add a tarp to at least one side for better rain coverage. I can put this up and tear it down by myself without help. I typically store it in it's bag on the front bench in our camper. It fits well there and I can pull it out quick and pop it up. Usually, we do that first and setup the kids under it to play while we're unpacking and setting up the beds in the camper and getting dinner going. It also has a loop in the center inside so that you can hang a light or one of those battery fans (I use it to hang a light). Overall, I'm happy with it. 



Monday, April 7, 2014

Flooring Upgrade in the U-haul Camper

Allure Vinyl Plank Flooring in our Fiberglass U-haul (uhaul) Camper
New Vinyl Plank Flooring
When we originally got our U-haul camper, the flooring was in bad shape. Nothing more than a piece of green, outdoor turf rug that had been cut to fit and just laid down over the fiberglass. It smelled awful and didn't look great or fit well. So that was a big item on my list to fix first. I did some research on different types of flooring after deciding I wanted to do something like wood instead of carpet. I came across a great product that you can get at Home Depot called Allure flooring. It looks like wood but is actually made of vinyl. It's referred to as vinyl plank flooring and I'm sure you can find other brands as well at other stores.

The thing about the Allure is that it's vinyl and links together to form a waterproof floating floor. It's changing the way bathroom flooring looks in the housing market. There are two types of Allure: regular Allure and the Allure Ultra. The regular uses grip/glue strips to link together. The Ultra version uses interlocking mechanism. The Ultra is more expensive. But I feel like it'll hold up and I love the way it looks. I'm willing to invest in a heavy duty floor. We went with the Durban Oak color. It did take me a little more than a case. So I ended up with two cases and several left over pieces (maybe half a case?). I figure if something happens to a plank at least I have replacements.

After some thin wood strips to help level the floor in a few areas. (Note that the sides where the inner shell meats the outer shell and the middle seam are raised a bit.) I tried to keep it simple and started at the back of the trailer and moved to the front laying planks as I went. The very front under the bench curves up. So that's why I started at the back. I did not yet put down any molding over the edges though I'm thinking about it. As of right now I can take the floor up if I need to since it's interlocking and not the glue strip version. Make sure you leave the case of flooring in the camper for a day or so when you get ready to do this so it adjusts to the temperature of the camper. These floors will expand/contract with the heat/cold that is experienced in the campers throughout the year. So you may want to do it in the summer when expansion is more.

Overall we like the flooring. It is so much easier to sweep out and keep clean with the kids and dogs running in and out. I think it's going to hold up for many years to come.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Taking our U-haul Camper to South Dakota

Fiberglass U-haul (uhaul) CT13 Camper Entering Custer State Park, SD
U-haul (uhaul) CT13 Camper with wildlife in Custer State Park, SDSo after a year with the U-haul camper, we decided to take our first long trip. This was not going to be a simple weekend trip. This was going to be a trip of memories: 10-days on the road, 3500 miles round trip. We had always wanted to see Mt. Rushmore, SD. It's on our bucket list. Now with the camper, that door to opportunity opened. So we packed up the camper, kids, dogs, and headed out the second weekend in Oct. We almost weren't sure it was going to happen. The government shutdown was in full swing as the monkeys in Washington got lost in arguing rather than listening to the people. The Black Hills had just had the worse blizzard ever in Oct in history there. People at the campground we were going to were stuck there without power for 4 days. So we were second guessing whether we should even try, but we stuck with it. I knew the Governor of South Dakota was trying to work out a deal to open Mt Rushmore. I knew that people were fed up with all the push from the executive branch to make it as painful as possible by shutting down the parks and the policing open air monuments that you'd never seen a park police person around ever. I felt like the tide was turning and I took chance.


We started out and drove up through Tennessee and Kentucky and into Illinois. We slept at a truckstop; it was nice to have our room with us. One of the things we had to do for this trip was to prepare for the fact that the U-haul camper couldn't be the storage bucket on the back end. Usually, we just pile our gear in the camper and unload when we get to our destination. However, we had to think differently this time because we had to be able to sleep in the camper on the way. And shuffling a ton of gear between the U-haul and car didn't sound fun to me. So we packed as much as we could in the Acadia. We made up the beds before we left the house. I had the top bunk made up but folded down. The goal was to pull into rest stop, truck stop, or Walmart and get everyone to sleep quick. I was going to drive as far as I could. Our children are great sleepers in the car so letting them fall asleep and then moving them to their bunks was a key part of our strategy.

I managed to cover almost 600 miles the first day before we stopped (just east of St. Louis). The downside to sleeping at a truck stop is that the truckers all leave really early in the morning. We got up, ate breakfast, and hit the road. Our first time to St. Louis was quick. We decided we'd stop on the way home if time permitted but we needed to get to South Dakota. Custer was on the opposite side of the state from where we were going to enter South Dakota. We drove through Missouri, Iowa and into South Dakota. I had planned to break up our trip with a couple nights in hotels. I had researched and found a nice one in Mitchell, SD that had good reviews and allowed dogs. So that was our next stop at the Kelly Inn. Late on a Saturday night we rolled into Mitchell (home of the Corn Palace) after another 720 miles. It was nice to have a real bed and a hot shower; the kids loved having cartoons in the morning while we got ready to go. Later that day we finally rolled into Custer State Park. It was amazingly beautiful and we immediately laid our eyes on the wildlife that we'd heard and read so much about. On our way to the campground we had to stop for wildlife several times including buffalo and mountain sheep.

U-haul (uhaul) camper at Blue Bell Campground in Custer State Park, SD
Campsite at Blue Bell Campground
in Custer State Park
We stayed at the Blue Bell Campground and really enjoyed our stay. We would definitely go back there. The lodge was really nice too; we ate dinner there one evening. It was cold the entire time we were there. We stayed for several days and the day after we got there, the pressure from the public finally broke through to the government. A deal was struck with the Governor and people of South Dakota and Mt. Rushmore opened! It was really neat to visit and the kids had a blast. The next day we went to the Crazy Horse Monument it was Native American Day and they let us in with a food donation to their food bank. They were also blasting a part of the mountain and serving buffalo stew. While we were there, it started to snow. We found this great little restaurant one evening in Hill City called the Alpine Inn. They only serve one thing: filet mignon!  (well and hot dogs or pasta for the kids) It was delicious and I highly recommend it if you are ever in that area. Be warned to get there early; the line forms before they open and is backed out the door and down the porch (so you know it's good).

Ingalls Homestead in De Smet, SD
Ingalls Homestead
After several days enjoying the Black Hills we decided to start home with a few detours. We took off across the state and made a short detour through the partly closed Badlands. We stopped for our second hotel night at the same place in Mitchell because we enjoyed our stay there on the way up. The next morning was cold and rainy. We took off for De Smet and the Ingalls Homestead museum. My wife is a huge fan of Little House on the Praire and had been reading some to our kids on the way up to SD. It was a lovely place and they happened to have a tour group there and they let us tag along on the covered wagon tours. It was so cold and windy and wet out there it wasn't hard to imagine the brutal life on the prairie back then and how tough those folks had to be to eek out a living there.

We left De Smet heading south and about 500 miles later pulled into a Walmart parking lot east of Kansas City, MO to sleep. During the drive from De Smet we heard on the radio that the government shutdown was finally over and that the Gateway Arch would be open. So we set off early the next morning for St. Louis, MO. We found some RV parking on the river and walked down to the Arch. It was an incredible view from the top. We could see the stadium getting ready for the final playoff game. The Cardinals were hoping for a chance at the World Series if they could win game 6. I loved being in a town where you could feel the electricity in the air of baseball fans. Reminded me a lot of Atlanta in the 90s. We had a wonderful time at the Arch and set off later that day to begin the trek home.

Fiberglass U-haul (uhaul) CT13 Camper with Superman in Metropolis
Visiting Superman in Metropolis, IL.
We drove across the river and into Illinois and headed south for Kentucky. But we had one last detour to make: Metropolis, Illinois. I had promised Noah that he could see Superman. So late at night we rolled into Metropolis and woke up the kids for a short stop to see Superman. Then it was back on the road. Somewhere in Kentucky, we stopped to sleep at another truck stop. We awoke the next morning and drove the final haul home to Georgia. It was a trip full of memories and we had such a wonderful time. We also decided to tweak our packing some more the next time we take a long trip. I think that 10 days with 4 people and 2 dogs in the tiny camper is about our limit. I'm not sure we could handle more. Perhaps if we did it in warmer weather, we could squeeze a few more days in.

Monday, March 24, 2014

From Uhaul Swamp Cooler to Fantastic Fan

Camping in the south means heat and humidity. So I had to laugh when we brought the little fiberglass camper home and I discovered it had a swamp cooler installed. If there's one thing I don't need in Georgia, it's a swamp cooler. (I'm assuming that a large portion of the U-haul camper rental fleet was aimed at the western states.) So we used just the fan part of it but I didn't like the bulk on the roof. And the fan wasn't that great.

Due to a summer trip and lack of time, I opted to have a shop rip the old swamp cooler off and install a fantastic fan. They were able to use the existing 12v wiring. We're really happy with it and it adds some natural light in the camper and has much better airflow. 
old swamp cooler and fan in Uhaul CT13 camper new fantastic fan upgrade in Uhaul CT13 Camper
Out with the oldIn with the new
So why not go with a rooftop air conditioner? Well first there's the expense. I didn't feel like dropping that kind of money since we'd just had to get a newer car (GMC Acadia). Second, I've read, and can understand from looking at the camper design, that the weight of one of those units could be too much for the top without adding some reinforcement inside. So I took the easier route. The other options are a window unit on the rear sliding window with probably some fabricated mount that connects down to the bumper for some support or cutting out the front lower storage bin near the door and adding external venting and installing one there. Both of those require more work than I was willing to put into it at that time. We'll see in the future if I decide to do one of those. There are pro's and cons to both.