Powering up the Motorhome

To live any kind of 'normal' life on the road we will need to have access to some sort of power. We also plan on frequent free camping since it is a lifestyle we really enjoy now that we have been introduced to it on our Western Australia trip. By the way, free camping is the Australian equivalent similar to boondocking or rather dry camping which is basically camping anywhere (legally) with limited or no amenities.



Since we plan on spending the majority of our time free camping we did a lot of research and thus have possibly made our motor home rather unique. We chose not to have any gas. (The wife has a 'thing' against gas since one self ignited in our first home. Thankfully we were home at the time and avoided damage to the house and ourselves!) Optioning for no gas, not only saved the costs of having it installed and certified by the appropriate authorities we also believe it to be safer.

Our power supply 240v also is not very conventional in a few ways. Most of our appliances will be regular household appliances even though we intend to spend weeks at a time free camping, we believe we have ensured that we will have enough power to run these appliances even if there should be some cloudy or rainy weather.

Our Induction cooker
Ordinary household fridge with a microwave oven on top
We opted for lots of  solar panels on the roof to ensure plenty of power. We covered all the spare spaces on the roof with small solar panels since this utilized the area available much better than larger ones plus they fitted the slope better too. Smaller panels also have better power generating capacity especially when some shade falls on a panel. See our blog post on solar panels for more details.

The bus roof full of solar panels
Adding more batteries to run everything only works if you have adequate generating capacity to charge them. We opted for solar panels and lithium batteries.

We installed solar panels on the roof to ensure plenty of power but then we had to ensure we could harness that power and after much research, we went with lithium batteries, for many reasons but mainly because they are much more efficient. The batteries are 400amps at 24v Lithium batteries and are controlled by a Dingo controller using SSR unit to take the bulk of the power from the solar to the batteries using a Vitron shunt off a negative cable to show us the amps, volts etc.

Connecting the Lithium batteries together

We have a separate 12 volt system and we have connected to solar 80w panel in the control box as well. 12 volt used to be the standard for extra low voltage power systems eg led lights etc. 

Dingo solar charge controller
Rob wanted 2 different systems. If we use 12 volt out of a 24 volt system then we are only using half of a battery which s not  good for constant use. A 24 volt system is more efficient because you can use smaller cables and higher output  to allow a more efficient distribution of power. So we are going 24V with a 240V inverter.  Sine wave inverters provide the same quality of power that you can expect from mains power. They are therefore safe to use with all your electronic appliances but they do cost more than the modified square wave models.

Battery Inverter

The higher the current (measured in Amps) the bigger the components need to be. High currents require large diameter cables and fuses, both of which can be expensive. However by doubling the voltage you get double the power (Watt) at the same current.


Generators


Sure we could have considered petrol generators, which are a cheaper alternative but they are not very neighbourhood friendly, they are noisy, they are not allowed in all campsites and you need to cart extra fuel for them as well as that creating on-going running costs.We have been at some camp sites that generators run upto 18 hours. Luck has it we were far enough away not to have to put up with these ourselves, though we feel sorry for anyone close by them.


I am hoping we never need a generator - only time will tell.

What is free camping?

Free Camping is the Australian equivalent to Boondocking or dry camping. It offers you an unparallelled opportunity to really connect with mother nature. Camping for free? We all like to get a bargain. Sure it might be a cost effective way to see the country, but you will find there are many other advantages too.

Chasing the sunsets
Free camping is not for everyone. If your idea of a holiday is a long hot bath, air conditioning and a restaurant or nightclub down the road then free camping is not for you.

Can you live without some creature comforts?
Free camping basically means that you park your caravan or motorhome somewhere where there are little or no amenities that is no water, no electricity, or or toilets. There are many areas now that are welcoming free campers, some have a few restrictions usually as to the length of your stay. All you have to rely on is what you brought with you. Most caravans and motorhomes are capable of free camping for a night or two. The next question is for how long and in what degree of comfort can you free camp? And the answer to that is how long is a piece of string? There are so many variables.


Generally, what limits your stay is the capacities of your RV in water storage, sewage storage, and battery charging.

Water Storage

Carrying your own water with you is great and generally the more water you can carry the better but has its draw backs too as weight is involved. You can also extend your fresh water capacity by carrying dedicated jerry cans or other containers to extend your stay. However at around 1kg per litre, the weight can quickly add up and may overload the axles and/or tyres.

Water capacity is also important

Sewage

It not anyone's favourite topic but we all have to do it and it is also a vital part of the equation when free camping. There are 2 types of waste waters: grey & black. Pure sewage is black water. Washing up, showers etc falls into grey water category. There are strict regulations about disposing of both types of tanks. Please don't think that just because you are away from the towns that you can do what you like. There are serious health issues which leads to a ethical responsibility to dispose of all rubbish in a caring manner. You can't even empty the tanks into many of the bush toilets that you will find as you will destroy the bacterial environment that can not cope with the chemicals you need to put into your own tanks to keep the bacteria and smells at a minimum. There are more and more Dump Spots located around the country where you can legally and safely deposit your waste water.

The capacity of your black and grey water tanks will also limit your stays

Alternate Power Source

Power is generally from batteries. You can use deep cycle batteries, lithium batteries or use a generator. The problem is that they can drain quickly and thus need to be charged up. If you are not careful you could easily drain the batteries in one night. There are ways to increase battery life such as solar power or a generator to recharge the batteries during the day. Generators are big and fuel hungry, so now you have to transport extra fuel as well as listen to the loud racket they make.

You need to supply your own power source

Security v Isolation

One of the biggest drawbacks for some people is the lack of security. If you take a few precautions it shouldn't spoil your fun. We like to park in designated free camping spots with other like minded campers. We believe in safety in numbers. So we tend to stop traveling by about 3pm. If there is no-one else there that is still OK as quite often people will stop once they see that someone else is there. However if no-one else stops by about 4.30, we might get back on the road and try the next stop where it is likely there are more people.

Meeting some other campers around 'happy hour'

We like to walk around and introduce ourselves and get to meet our neighbours, even arrange a communal happy hour. This also helps each of us to gauge one another. I like to do any outdoor business such as walking the dog and checking engine done in daylight. We have taken discreet photos of other vehicles number plates and will park the vehicle in such a way that we can drive off in a hurry if we feel a need to. We don't like to leave things set up outside such as a portable BBQ or camp chairs and table. Just because you're with other campers doesn't mean there's not a thief among them. We will use a public toilet if available during daylight hours but will use our own in house one after dark. Be alert and cautious but don't be fearful. You want to enjoy your lifestyle. Most of the other campers will be nice people who just want to enjoy themselves too.


Maintenance

Keep your vehicles in top condition. Do check out the "clicking" noise you heard earlier. Check the tyre pressure, oil levels etc on a regular basis. Quite often you are a long way from a mechanic when you need one, you certainly don't want the expense just because you got a bit lazy!

Check your tyres regularly (Image from Bodeswell)

Where do you find those great camp spots?

Some of the best places are usually found by word of mouth from people whom you've met on the road. Just remember everyone's definition of a great spot is different. We have been to places that others rave about ad we have gotten there and looked and each other and said "why here?" Occasionally you will befriend others who might even invite you to join them on part of the next leg of their trip.

There are also some great guides for you to use. Camps Australia Wide has a great book out with a appliaction for GPS add ons too which we have found invaluable. Wikicamps is also highly recommended. 

Rocky beachscape at Barn Hill

It also pays to stop and ask the locals especially at any "Information/Visitor's Centres"
Join a caravan or motorhome club or association, They not only have great little camp weekends and occasional rallies but they also know of some great locations to visit. You can also join online clubs or follow some blogs or facebook pages of people with similar interests as you.


 Saddlier's Waterhole  at Morven
There are certain points of etiquette to observe. But basically be considerate and remember that the very best free campers are those who take nothing but photographs [and memories] and leave nothing but footprints. Do this and we can all have free camping around for the enjoyment of anyone for decades to come.

We were fascinated by the folded rocks at Hammersley Gorge

Slide out addendum

The earlier slide out post, mentioned that we installed 2 slide out boxes into the framework of the bus. The slide outs, which are run by a 12 volt 500 - one gear box, all inclusive with the uprights, we imported direct from America.

The back [bed] slide out under construction

In the 2 previous caravans we owned, Rob designed and built the slide outs himself. The first one had a 2.1 metre slide out making it a fantastic L shaped room inside but much more difficult to pull out when ground is uneven. The second caravan had two 450mm slide outs that were opposite each other - one housing a regular household 3 seater recliner lounge and the other housing the dining table with swivel chairs. Being opposite each other, this created a lovely size living area which was almost perfect. Oh those proper chairs & lounge make such a huge difference when you are on the road for months at a time.

The first caravan with the 2.1 metre slide out

The 2nd caravan with one of the 450mm slideouts open

On this bus conversion Rob wanted this newer system that he had seen on imported caravans as it takes up less room and it is much more convenient and quite a rigid system. It is a better system that any he could make himself. It is also electric driven on 12 volts. it took ages to find the manufacturer and then to talk them into letting us buy one from them, let alone importing it into Australia which was relatively easy in the end.

Closeup of Slide out mechanism sliding

Closeup of Slide out mechanism cog

The system we have now goes out 700mm. We have one for a 2 seater lounge to sit in and one over the rear mounted engine for the bed extension. It does make the bed very high but with steps up the sides and well as additional storage space under the bed which we can lift up, we get to utilize every bit of storage space as possible (even under the steps too!)

You can see the newest slide out mechanism on the lounge 'box'

The lounge slide out inserted before the aluminium skin on it.

Rob decided to post install a couple of extra windows into the lounge slide out to increase the visibility out as well as increase the amount of light coming into the motorhome. I did not want any windows in the bedroom slide out as I am one of those people who wake up with the dawn and I would like to try to trick myself that it is still too early and thus sleep in a little longer when traveling.


2 additional smaller windows were added later to the lounge slide out

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below if it is not covered here or in the previous slide out posts.


Bus Conversion: It Passed Rego!

Now that the springs have been fixed up, the bus is in reasonably good nick and we are able to go ahead and get it inspected and passed for registration.

Getting the bus registered as a motorhome meant jumping through some official hoops, but now it is done.

It is now officially no longer a just a bus but it is now a motorhome!

Robbiebago II - even the sun shone so brightly on it!
Of course there is still a lot of work to be done to make it more comfortable, practical to live in and faster on the road. It is still months away before we are ready to take it on the road for a decent trip.

The backside (under the slideout)


Bus Conversion: Re-setting the Springs

We had quite a hold up with the springs. To get the bus ready for registration, one of the major jobs we needed to do was to get the back springs reset and altered to a single stage unit. The vehicle prior to having the springs re set, it was quite bouncy & had quite a lean in it especially going around corners and round-abouts.

Sample Springs

The bus originally came with a 2 staged springs system, which never worked properly. In fact they don't use them anymore. It was an idea that never really took off. We decided to do the front springs at the same time and install 2 new back shock absorbers too.

For an old bus, this was really all that was needed to be fixed in order to pass rego.

This is one of our springs before it was repaired - note the rubber against the axle and the bending up of the springs

At first the 'spring chappie' was stating that he can't do anything with them. He was hindered because Mitsubishi are not forthcoming with ANY technical details. We did have to convince him to work on our bus. Because our vehicle is what they call a 'grey import' and there was no specifications or part numbers to work from, it was certainly more challenging for them. We found that Mitsubishi Australia were totally unhelpful and will not have anything to do with grey imports even of their own Japanese counterparts, Mitsubishi Japan!

The repaired Spring - note the distance of the rubber from the axle for starters

The spring chappie ended up saying that it was not as hard as he originally thought. We ended up having them re-tensioned (I that is the right terminology)
“Grey import” is the term given to cars that are second hand vehicles imported and sold in Australia even though they wear familiar badges from Mitsubishi, Toyota, Nissan, Honda and others. Maybe they are called "Grey Imports" because they fall into a grey area when it comes to getting them fixed.

Now that is done, we should be able to go ahead and get it insured and registered.

Bus Conversion: A personal apology

After being diagnosed with cancer, I have been reassessing many areas of my life as is quite common with life threatening issues. One of the areas I dropped for the time being was keeping up with the bus conversion on this blog. I was mentally able to jot a few words and insert a photo most weeks on our Facebook page, but sadly I just didn't have it in me to write up much here.

The bus as it was in Nov 2012 when we brought it home

So over the next month or so I will slowly bring you up to date as Rob has made a lot of progress with the bus conversion. There are so many areas to bring you up to date on: The hot water service has been designed by Rob and installed. Windows were added to one of the slideouts, a diesel heater had been installed, a new dashboard has been built and various shelving and cupboards are done, etc.

Same profile but as it is now.
The Robbiebago II has been officially passed as a motorhome now and is fully registered and insured, though there are still quite a few jobs yet to be done before we take it out on its maiden voyage.


Cancer update:

My cancer has been surgically removed (2 operations plus a little one months later for a biopsy). I wrote more about my cancer, on my life and craft blog: Inkspirational Designs.The cancer/operations have left me very fatigued and the wound is still healing. It has also affected me deeply on a personal level as it made it clear that most of my friends were 'fair weather' friends and disappeared off the scene. This was very hurtful however life goes on and I have started to implement changes and make new friends.

SUPA EASY PEANUT BUTTER FUDGE

When we are on the road, I really don't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I like it to be super simple and the majority of the time I want it fresh and healthy. When I saw this recipe doing the rounds on Facebook, I just had to try it out. It truly is super easy and can be done in minutes on a hot plate.


SUPA EASY PEANUT BUTTER FUDGE 

2 cups sugar
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup peanut butter

Bring sugar and milk to boil.
Boil 3 minutes, stirring constantly to dissolve all the sugar.
Spoon it onto a small slice tin
Let cool a little and slice.
THAT’s it!




I made a half batch to try it and wanted to make little buttons in my pop cake trays. It cools very quickly and since I wanted to make 'buttons' of them in my cake pop silicone tray and it took a little longer to spoon them in, I found I had to keep heating the fudge in 15 second intervals to finish the 25 buttons.(Remember this was just a half batch.) As an aside, I used Lite Milk & crunchy peanut butter since that is what we use and have on hand.

It is quite nice - sort of like eating a teaspoon of peanut butter and honey. I did find that it was a little crystallized - maybe cooking a little longer would make it smoother! Next week I think I will try a creamy peanut butter fudge.

What is your favourite fudge recipe?