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Surviving to Live

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An endless parade of mostly wore out batteries tried in myriad ways - no bueno

An endless parade of mostly wore out batteries tried in myriad ways – no bueno

9 weeks here at the Secret Hideout and a fella would think a daily routine would be established by now.  Umm, not so much.  What I didn’t know and what I didn’t anticipate and what my naivete masked is an appalling shortfall.  You know, I am forever tellin’ y’all not to buy goods and then just leave ’em in the corner gatherin’ dust.  You got to take what you have and use it, you got to take what you are thinkin’ and put it to practice.  I shoulda been listenin’ to my ownself a little more!  If I had been thrown out in the hinterlands where the bad dogs bark at night instead of landing here at the Hideout,  things would have gone badly.  Way bad! Muy malo!  I thought I was ready.  Pshaw right!  Not even!

First off, you have to survive the environment and Central Texas in the Late Spring and Summer means heat and humidity.  So let’s divide the survival plan up into days and nights which are two very different animals.   The NO Princess Palace is not exactly the perfect apocalyptic apartment.   Ventilation sucks with no proper 12v fans to circulate the air.  Hey, it was a great gate guard shack!  Just not so good an off grid boondocker.   I think I have the night time deal covered with the addition of the window air conditioner in the RV. Covered as long as Little Blue holds out and I can afford the 3/4 gallon of fuel it requires to run through the night.  If that kinda bad juju visits me and either one of those things goes away,  I reckon I can sling a hammock between two of these oak trees. In the meantime, it sure is luxurious to slide the door to the bedroom open after a sweltering day and revel in the cold conditioned air.  I feel almost guilty in a fashion to enjoy it so much; near sinful behavior on my part or somethin’.

The old way-  A Lodge Dutch Oven and a piece of dirt.  Crude and effective

The old way- A Lodge Dutch Oven and a piece of dirt. Crude and effective

The daytime routine is dictated by the heat of the day and the state of the batteries connected to the solar array.  If the temp is gettin’ up toward 90 or above,  you got to have a fan runnin’ to get by inside past noon or so.  By 3-4pm even with a fan, the heat runs my ass out.  So the way it has evolved, I try to get inside chores done by noon or shortly after and then the afternoons are spent piddling outside or relaxing in the shade somewhere with a cold one.  That sounds backasswards don’t it?   I should be outside working during the cool of the morning and then retreat to the Palace for shelter during the heat of the day, right?  That is what I did down south in the Puckerbrush when somebody else’s fuel was in the generator.  I can’t afford the luxury of that these days.

I know  my solar array and batteries are the keys to getting by long term. What I don’t know on this subject fills a book.  Let me give you an example.  Here is what I got at my disposal:

RENOGY 100w 12V Monocrystalline PV Panel – 3 of ’em

RENOGY 250W 24v Monocrystalline PV Panel – 4 of these sure nuff bad boys!

SunSaver 10L Charge Controller with LVD – This little baby will handle 2 100w panels

RENOGY 30 Amp PWM Charge Controller with LCD Display – This un will handle 3x what that little Sunsaver controller will.

Tripp Lite 2000w RV Inverter – Waitin’ in reserve until the day I get a battery bank with some real power in it

The evolving Hideout Outdoor Kitchen. A better way to cook!  FYI, Sourdough bread on the right, Texas Chili (no beans!) on the left

The evolving Hideout Outdoor Kitchen. A better way to cook! FYI, Sourdough bread on the left at about 425 degrees, Texas Chili (no beans!) on the right at 225 degrees.

2 Interstate DCM0100L 100ah AGM batteries.  These old workhorses have been in service 5 years, starting out life in the Old Girl and they are still flowing the juice.  But I gotta face facts.  Batteries get old and tired and they will take a charge — they just won’t hold it.  I bought these batteries under suspicious conditions  out of the back of a low ridin’ Hispanic flavored Chevy pickup in a Waffle House parking lot somewhere in the Metromess back in the day. New ones are $335 each and that is out of reach right now.  When your batteries get tired, one of the temporary stopgaps is to throw more juice at ’em.  Hell, I could do that and get by for a bit until the bank account had more dinero!   I bought these RENOGY Branch Connectors and figured I would chain two of those bad boy 250w panels together and breathe new life into those old Interstate batteries.  Uh, not so fast Solar Dude! (BTW, if you notice I dig those Renogy products you would be oh so right! First quality, attentive customer service and one of the best reps in the business!)

Current solar setup with MPPT controller

Current solar setup with MPPT controller

The problem with my scheme was I was using 24v panels to charge a 12v battery bank.  Luckily, I was savvy enough to get a Google education before I hooked it all up.  Without going into great detail, you got 2 flavors of solar controllers.  PWM controllers are bargain priced and will generally handle a 12v OR 24v battery bank.  The problem is very simple though.  The PWM controllers are sorta stupid slow and the battery bank voltage has to match that of the panels.  I couldn’t put those 24v panels in service to the 12v batteries with any controller I had.  To do that I would have to step up to the smarter MPPT solar controller.  Well dammit all anyway!  Always somethin’ ain’t it?  And wouldn’t you know it?  Those MPPT controllers ain’t cheap! I searched and searched, knowing full well I couldn’t drop several hundred dollars on yet another controller. I finally came across the MPPT TRACER 3215RN 30A Solar Charge Controller and agonized over the purchase for days.  I really had no choice.  You are either in the game or you are standing off to the side. There ain’t no gray area.

Harvesting electrons

Harvesting electrons

I am happy (mostly) with the present setup.  The 250w panels are flowing staggering amounts of free energy through the MPPT controller to the batteries but I still have to get a handle on my power consumption and the first step there is to find out exactly how much I am using in a days’ time.  I bought a Kill A Watt Electricity Usage Monitor and plugged it into the RV feed line at the generator and the result was very disheartening!  Somewhere between 15-20kwh each and every livelong day!  WTF!  At that prodigious level, I would have to have a pallet full of expensive batteries to get through a day.  I moved the Kill A Watt between various power hogs in the Palace and discovered the residential fridge was the biggest offender – by far.  Nothing to do but clean it out,  eat and throw a bunch of stuff away and cram the pitifully small RV fridge full.  The fridge is now sitting here as a useless hulk with the doors taped open to dry it out.   Maybe I will use it for storage or whatnot at some point.  Taking it out of the loop cut my consumption by 50%!

Another discovery (duh) was you can’t cook nothing inside the Palace on these hot days!  Not boil water, fry bacon or even use the Microwave!  Any little thing heats up the inside so bad and it takes hours to dissipate!  I had figgered I was going to have to move to an outside kitchen at some point.  The pioneers did it this way and it was for a definite reason!  I caught the Lodge Dutch Oven Cooking Table on sale and even though I couldn’t very well afford it, I knew I needed it while it was priced low. I was right because it nearly doubled in price the next day! Amazon can do some flakey pricing deals and sometimes you just luck out!

I will be talking at length about the outdoor kitchen in later blog posts I am sure.  The decision for this coming week is whether or not to completely drain the bank account to pick up some Trojan golf cart batteries to replace the Interstates that are on life support and not expected to survive much longer.  I will tell you this off grid deal is not for the squeamish or weak of heart!

A Serious Closing Note: I have had several good folks contact me and suggest putting a PayPal Donate button on the blog to generate some extra income. Said they would gladly throw a few dollars my way to help out and it sorta put something in my eye.   I appreciate the kind advice people but it ain’t happening for two reasons……  One, been there and done that. Y’all saved my ass after the Big Hails but there was a pure nasty side to that I will not open myself up to again.  EVER.

Second,  I am here at the Hideout BY CHOICE.  I could go back to work and pull down some good dinero with one phone call.  I choose not to do so and I certainly do not expect anyone to part with their hard earned dollars when my current financial situation, though not all that healthy, is certainly a free will decision on my part.  Old School.  I am just wired that way.

If y’all want to help out, hit those Amazon Links!  Nothing more; nothing less.

And that, my friends, is how the cow eat the cabbage.

End Note **NOT**:  How about an End Note that ain’t one?  I was surfin’ down the intwerwebs somewhere or another and ran across a deal that said this new group of fellas were the NEW Lynyrd Skynyrd and they call themselves  A Thousand Horses.  So I went and got me some and well, they ain’t much but typical Trashville -Extry Guitar.  Listened to one track and most of another and got tired of the jangle and cacophony pretty damn quick.  Complicated noise is not good music.   They ain’t got any rock n’ roll piano with the likes of Billy Powell sitttn’ on the bench,  no Gary Rossington with that guitar ringing clear and crisp and they damn sure got no Cassie Gaines and the other Honkettes singin’ it and shakin’ it in the background.

Excuse me, these guys suck!  Best I can figure some slick media guy was probably figgerin’ how to promote these guys and he hit on this most (un)original idea to throw  them out there as the New Skynyrd  – sucked me in; he did.   For less ‘n five minutes though so there is that.

Want some real deal Skynyrd?  Undiluted and and  high octane like it is s’posed to be?  Strap this on then….. ca. 1975 especially if you think you know what Southern Rock is all about and if you are younger than say 45 or so……… The education never ends Young Grasshopper.

and a good dose of Honkettes? From England ca. 1976 no less!  Check it out.  Many of these folks would be dead in a plane crash about a year later.

 

 

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15 comments to Surviving to Live

  • David

    Hey Andy,

    One thing I read about when trying to learn about the PWM 30 amp 12v/24v question was Renogy apparently uses a positive ground, or at least a common positive, instead of negative ground on most charge controllers. They sell a RV version that is negative ground. I’m not sure it matters when charging your batteries, but could be an issue when using an inverter that may be negative ground, especially if you run it through the No Princess Palace circuitry.

    David

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    • Andy

      Noted David. BTW, I am running the chest freezer almost exclusively off the solar with a timer on it that shuts it off from 1-5am nightly. It draws 0.9-1.2amp after the initial compressor startup. I have 40lbs of Zaycon chicken coming on the 28th that will go in the freezer.

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  • Bobby

    I did the same thing with A Thousand Horses and came to the exact conclusion. They certainly are not the NEXT Skynyrd.

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    • Andy

      I am glad you concur Bobby. Makes me feel less curmudgeonly.

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  • Joe

    I did the off-grid thing for a while, and like you suggest things get tougher when the temp goes up. We moved everything we could off electricity and onto propane (fridges). To reduce A/C you really have 3 choices (1) insulation, (2) sweat, (3) move to a cooler place. A little bit of each seems to be what most end up with.

    Most Americans dramatically underestimate the amount of energy they spend keeping themselves and their food cool.

    Best of luck!

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    • Andy

      My findings as well Joe. With gas headed toward $3, running the bedroom AC all night is going to cost me about 2 bucks. I WISH I could afford one of those kerosene fridges like the Amish use.

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  • How you been liking all the rain out there? Not too close to a rising river I hope, eh?

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    • Andy

      Never complain about rain in Texas! We got 3″ in a little over an hour last evening with some pea size hail. The monsoons will pass soon enough and give way to the parched summer.

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  • Probably so, though the meteors are forecasting the mildest (and wettest) summer since 2007 when Lake Travis got so high it flooded the shoreline.

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  • Here’s hoping you are nowhere near the Blanco River. Or Wimberley. Nice little town. Or was.

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    • Andy

      Thankfully no Dick. I am just east of Marlin and the weather radio is hammering right now for a flash flood warning here this afternoon.

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      • That’s right, Marlin. I remember now. Friend of mine used to work at the VA hospital there. If it’s still there.

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        • Andy

          Marlin is not what it once was Dick. The VA Hospital closed in ’07.

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  • Brenda

    Keep your powder dry, man! Thinking about you and wishing my mettle was as tough as yours! Now I am too old, too spoiled and too unhealthy to change! Best of luck to you!!!

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    • Andy

      Thank you Brenda but I think you give me too much credit. My mettle is retreating with every month that passes. Hearing is shot, I don’t do anything fast anymore and all that crap that once seemed SO important now just seems like folly. Maybe I can square things up and get the house in order before that Last Ride.

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