Category Archives: General

Merry Christmas

General productivity has been down a bit over the last couple of days as the cold\flu has descended on our home and so far has my older son and I. Just in time to affect our plans for today. We’ll see about tomorrow. Not much being done other than sitting on the sunporch watching the birds, err I mean the squirrels dine at the bird feeders, while reading or watching a few Christmas movies while Cat#3 loses his mind watching the show outside.

Squirrel feeders?

While the squirrels helped themselves at those feeders a number of different birds were busy at some others.

Christmas Eve birds

Including a couple of different species of woodpeckers (Downy and Red-Bellied), tons of Black-capped Chikadees and Dark-eyed Juncos. And a few Northern Cardinals.

Christmas Cardinal

Plus it has been lightly snowing all day so we’ll have a white Christmas.

The largest expenditure of energy thus far today was cooking a beef tenderloin. Actually, most of the work was done by my Green Mountain Grills Daniel Boone grill. I recently purchased it to replace a 10 year old gas grill. It is a very nice grill. It actually represents the extent of my radio activities today as the PID controller has WiFi. How did we ever cook meat without being able to connect our grills to the Internet to monitor and control the cooking? <eye roll>  Even though our plans changed we decided to proceed with the meat portion of the meal. That was a very good plan.

Bon Appétit

Well it’s time to head outside and re-fill the feeders for another round of wildlife and then catch up on my napping.

I started on my BitX 40 this past week but haven’t made much progress. I’d like to get it on the air this week. We’ll see.

Merry Christmas to all. I’ve much to be thankful for including The Reason for the Season.


Home away from home

As I’ve previously posted, in the Spring of 2015 my wife and I decided to purchase a camper. In the process I did a lot of research about the towing capability of our 4Runner and the realities of owning and towing a travel trailer and simply want to add to the information that is available. There are a fair number of 4Runners in the world and it was very helpful to gain some insight from others experience by reading posts on various blogs and forums, especially, the place for all things 4Runner.

My wife and I camped in tents together when we were younger but as time passed my wife was less and less enamored with camping in tents so it faded away for some years. I continued to camp on many canoe trips and of course numerous Boy Scout camps when I was a Scout in addition to all of the time with my sons over the years. We have reached the stage where the kids are well on their way to being on their own so it seemed like time for my wife and I to renew camping together. We love the outdoors but sleeping in a tent gets a bit old. So we decided to get a camper to solve that problem.

Now the question was what kind of camper. There are a lot of types of campers in all shapes and sizes. We knew we didn’t want a motorhome for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which was cost.  A fifth wheel wasn’t possible as we don’t own a vehicle to tow it and it would be bigger and more expensive than we needed for just the two of us. We knew we’d be towing something and given that our tow vehicle is a 2008 Toyota 4Runner V6 that left pop-ups, hard side folding campers, and travel trailers. We ruled out pop-ups and hard side folding campers as they are too small. So given our interests, budget, and towing capacity we started to look for a medium size travel trailer. Given a towing capacity of 5000 pounds for a V6 4Runner I knew we’d need to be at or less than 4000 pounds to stay below the 80% of tow capacity rule of thumb.

Thankfully here in Wisconsin we are swimming in RV dealers. There are literally 5 dealers within 20 miles of our home. The closest one was Roskopf’s RV Center so we paid them a visit to see what they had in travel trailers. As with most dealers they have a lot of campers. We went through a number of them but to large extent it was sort of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, most everything was either too small or too big but after a bit of looking we found the one that was just right, a 2015 Starcraft AR-ONE 18QB. We purchased the camper from Roskopf’s and were very pleased with the experience. Brian Roskopf provides great customer service and definitely goes the extra mile to take care of his customers.

Starcraft AR-ONE 18QB

Starcraft AR-ONE 18QB

Starcraft AR-ONE 18QB

Starcraft AR-ONE 18QB and Toyota 4Runner (V6)

With a trailer largely selected there were some towing options to sort out. The hitch that is on a V6 4Runner is a Weight Carrying (WC) hitch. A Weight Distribution (WD) hitch is on V8 4Runners as they have greater towing capacity. The reason you might want a WD hitch is so that you can use a Weight Distribution Hitch with the trailer. You can’t use a WD hitch with the WC hitch. The trailer weighs 2885 pounds empty and the GVWR is 3750 pounds so that kept us below the 80% of towing capacity rule of thumb. The question was did I want to go to a WD hitch or stay with the WC hitch. I did a bunch of research , spoke to friends with travel trailers and WD hitches, and spoke to our RV dealer and it seemed as if the consensus was that changing the WC hitch on the truck out for a WD hitch and adding a WD hitch to the trailer was probably more than was required for the size of trailer and towing capacity. So we have been using the WC hitch though I have added a Curt Sway Control kit. I’m going to add a Firestone Ride Rite Air Helper Spring Kit this summer to level the truck off a bit. The hitch drops about 2 inches when the trailer is attached (empty tanks.)

Curt Sway Control kit installed

Curt Sway Control kit installed

With this setup the trailer tows very well. No hair raising moments when semi trucks pass you on the interstate. The trailer happily settles in at or near freeway speeds and cruises along. Depending upon conditions the mileage on the truck drops 5-7 MPG when towing the trailer. Our favorite place to camp is a 180 mile round trip from home. We typically get around 14-15 MPG towing the trailer. The worst has been 11.5 MPG on a trip in which the outbound portion was a particularly windy day with strong quartering head winds all the way to camp. That was a long drive. The brake controller that I chose is the Tekonsha P3 and I use Tow-N-See towing mirrors.

Tekonsha P3 brake controller

Tekonsha P3 brake controller

Starcraft figured out a way to pack a lot of useful features and comfort into an 18 foot travel trailer.

18QB interior - front

18QB interior – front

18QB interior - rear

18QB interior – rear

18QB bathroom

18QB bathroom

Happy Camper

Happy Camper

As we’ve always had an electrical hook-up we’ve not boondocked with it yet so I can’t say how long the house battery lasts. I have ran tests with an ammeter to get a sense for all of the loads in the camper. All of the lights inside and out are LED. Here are my measurements:

Device Current (Amps)
Everything off 0.020 A
Furnace 4.5 A
Water Pump 6.5 A
Water Heater 0.8 A
Outside Light 0.5 A
Bedroom light 0.5 A
Bed light 0.3 A
Sink light 0.3 A
Table light 0.5 A
Switched inside lights (2) 0.72 A
Radio 0.26 A

The camper comes with one house battery (group 24, marine crank @ 80 F: 795 A, Cold Crank @ 0 F: 550 A, Reserve Capacity: 140 A) and at some point I plan to add a second battery and a portable solar panel and charge controller once we do go “off the grid.” Tank capacity works out to 5 days. The fresh is 26 gallons, gray is 15, and black is 9. If we go into camp with a full freshwater tank, gray empty, and black with some content due to starting the toilet we can go for 5 days with each of us showering each day, using the toilet (though we will use the campground toilets on occasion), and washing dishes at least twice a day. At the end of five days black and gray indicate that they are full and fresh indicates 1/3 (the granularity of the display for the tank monitors is in thirds.) In terms of LP, through all of last camping season we used about one-half of a 40 pound tank. We typically run the refrigerator on LP for the drive to camp and then switch it to electric. We used the heat a bit late in the Fall and the stove on occasion and of course the water heater is LP and that ran a fair amount each trip.

We camped 23 days last year and are very happy with this camper. It is just the right size for two people and has just the right amount of creature comforts. You can enjoy the outdoors and have a nice place to retire to at the end of the day or wait out a rainy day.

Where is the cat?

So we got another cat.  Let’s just say I saw this coming a mile off.

New cat is part-time inside\part-time outside to the degree that one can explain this to a cat.

I went into the garage to get a tool and heard the cat meowing.  It wasn’t in the garage.  I looked out the garage door window on the floor of the kennel and it wasn’t outside and yet I still hear the cat.  Where is it?  I look out the garage door window again and there’s the cat:

Little Cat

Ben at Camp Invention

Ben was a volunteer counselor at Camp Invention this summer.


Four Eagles

Dominic, Jacob, Chris, Abe

Dominic, Jacob, Chris, Abe

Dominic, Jacob, Chris, and Abe all started in Scouting together through Cub Scouts all the way to Eagle Scout.


Lambeau Field

Here’s Ben and I at Family Day at Lambeau Field:

Ben at Lambeau

Ben and I at Lambeau

And early in the year at the Super Bowl fan day:

Ben, Danielle, and I at Lambeau Field

Freeze your hard drive?

Back in 2002 I lost a hard drive that contained some pictures of an Earl Scruggs concert that I attended in Eminence, Missouri, a Ralph Stanley concert in Madison, Wisconsin, and The Osborne Brothers in Woodstock, Illinois in addition to a bunch of family pictures as well.  Needless to say, stupid move not having it backed up.  The drive failed in such a way as to lead me to believe it was a mechanical failure.  I tried some recovery utilities at the time to no avail so I placed in in a desk drawer figuring that some day I would have the money to send it to a data recovery service.

Last week in a conversation with a friend about banjo playing I lamented my long lost pictures on this drive and he mentioned that someone had recently told him that some drive failure problems can be overcome by freezing the drive.  He did a little research and found that this was a fairly common recommendation so he tried it and worked for his failed drive.  As soon as I got home I dug out my long failed drive from it’s hom in my desk drawer placed in it a ziploc bag and popped it into the freezer.  I left the drive in the freezer for almost two days until I had time to test it to see if the freezing had any affect.

I pulled it out of the freezer early Saturday morning, installed it in my PC, and wonder of wonders the drive worked!  The view with File Explorer was useless but at least the OS recognized the drive.   With the use of a recovery tool, R-Studio, I was able to recover many, but not all of the files from the drive.  It took the better part of a day for the tool to locate the files in the mess that was the drive but in the end it worked.

Here are a couple of the pictures that were recovered:

Sonny Osborne and I


The Old Timey Software Boys

Unfortunately I was unable to recover the lost Earl Scruggs and Ralph Stanley pictures.  Ever since the loss of this drive I back-up everything in multiple locations.

So if you have a hard drive failure it might be worth freezing your drive.  I’m not entirely certain exactly why it worked but am very thankful that it did.

Why Back of Beyond?

“Back of Beyond” is a phrase that one of my favorite authors, Edward Abbey, used to describe a chunk of the American Southwest.  It was Abbey’s favorite place in the world and it is mine.