Saturday, March 27, 2010

What have we gotten ourselves into?

We made the move to Southern California a little earlier than planned so Dianna could be here when her Dad has some more surgery for skin cancer.  The original plan was to be here the first of April, but we made the move on the 19th of March instead so she could help with pre-op appointments.  Finding a reasonably priced place to stay in Southern California is always a challenge, and since are not spending the summer volunteering at San Onofre this year we had to find a different place.  Our plan is to stay around here until early June, then begin our trip toward the east coast.

After considerable searching we found a mobile home park that looked like it would be a good choice.  It is located in Frazier Park, a mountain community about 45 miles north of Dianna's parents.  It is half as far to her folks house as we were in San Onofre, and the price on a monthly basis is quite reasonable.  The mobile home park itself is located at 5,200 feet in a pretty valley.   We arrived during the early afternoon and finally found a site that had a 50 amp power plug, which our rig requires if we are going to use our heat pumps for heating.  Heat pumps are about three to four times as efficient as using propane or resistance type electric heaters, and we knew we were going to need heat.  What we didn't know is how much.

The mobile home park is actually located between Frazier Park and the little community of Lake of the Woods.  It is only about two miles up the road and 600 feet higher than Frazier Park (whose weather we had been watching and using for planning) but it turns out that because of the bowl it is located in, the night time temperatures are about 10 degrees colder.  The very first night the temperature dropped to 24 and it has been well below freezing every night since!  Daytime temperatures have rarely exceeded 60.

Freezing temperatures cause several issues.   First of all, I can't leave the water line hooked up, so we are having to fill the tank on the trailer and use our own pump.  That's not a big issue, but just a hassle.  Second, our heat pumps only work down to about 34 degrees.  This means that we will have to use a lot of propane to keep warm.  Propane here costs $3.75 a gallon compared to $2.50 a gallon in Yuma and Quartzsite, and we will burn  at least $35 dollars worth a week when the heat pumps can't be used.  Then there's the hassle and cost of taking propane bottles several miles down the road to be filled every few days.  The less often we have to do that, the better.

After plugging the trailer in and firing up the heat pumps, we immediately discovered we had another issue.  The power in our site is very poor.  We have a power monitoring system installed in our rig to check for things like high and low voltage, and for wiring problems.  It immediately became apparent that we had a low voltage problem.  In fact, the voltage was so low that the monitoring system cut the power off so we would not cause damage to our heat pumps.  We had the park electrician check it out, and he did find some problems that improved the power a bit, but not enough.  I think the park is just too old and has wiring that was not sized for today's RV's.

I felt I had no choice but to purchase a special transformer that monitors for low voltage, and automatically steps it up.  These transformers are used by many full time RV'ers because this problem is not that uncommon.  In fact, I already have such a transformer and have used it previously, but it is only a 30 amp model.  We need a 50 amp model for the amount of power we will be using here.  I found one on sale on line, and ordered it Thursday morning.  FedEx delivered it Friday afternoon.  I installed it and problem solved.  Unfortunately, these things are not cheap.  $550 is a lot of money, but still much cheaper than replacing a heat pump with a burned out motor.

Meanwhile, as soon as we arrived we discovered that cell phone service here is almost non-existent.  We were able to connect very briefly at times, and soon found that only those of us on the highest row in the park were even able to do that.  We have had spotty cell service in other locations where we stay, so we decided it was time to do something about it.

I checked with several other RV'ers and learned about external cell phone antenna's and amplifiers.  Sometimes only an external antenna is needed, but usually an amplifier is also required.  And, only certain cell phones have the RF port where an external antenna can be plugged in.  I ordered the best antenna I could find, along with the adapter to attach it to our Motorola RAZR phones.  Fortunately our phones were on the list of those with RF ports.  Unfortunately, it turns out that the RF port is the most delicate and poorly designed of any phone out there.  It is really more of a test port used during manufacture.  After playing with the phone and antenna adapter for several hours it was apparent that it was not going to work, and even when it was attached the signal strength was no better.  After consulting with some experts I came to the conclusion that the only option was to order an amplifier and get different phones.

Yesterday we made the trip to Bakersfield, a little closer than the LA area, and a whole lot easier drive.  It is only about 45 minutes to a shopping area with all the stores we care about, including a Super Wal-Mart and a Costco.  We went to the Verizon store to find new phones.  We were eligible for our "free every two years" phones, but finding phones that met our needs was not easy.  Although we have thought about getting fancy phones, like a Droid, we just can't justify them.  Not only do they cost a lot more to purchase, they also would require us to add data services and increase our monthly cost as well.  While they would be a fun toy, it just does not make sense in our situation, especially when none of them will meet the external antenna support requirement we have.  So, we purchased (got for free) new Samsung flip phones that essentially do nothing different from our RAZR's.  In fact, they are even less capable in some ways.  For example, they do not take videos like our RAZR's did.  Of course, that's something neither of us ever did, but it is a little discouraging getting a new phone that is no better than the one you are replacing.  Also, they will also need new car chargers and Dianna will want a new carrying case.  Oh well, they will meet our needs for communications, and that is the important issue.

So, here we are, sitting in a place where the temperatures will require us to spend far more on heating than we anticipated, where it is too cold to be outside much of the time doing things like geocaching, where we have had to spend $550 for equipment to clean up their electricity, where we have had to replace our cell phones and spend over $350 to make them work, and where when I checked the weather forecast this morning, I discovered we have a winter storm warning for the last half of next week.  Six inches or more of snow is predicted for here!  What have we gotten ourselves into?


  1. Man, what a challenge! Couldn't you winterize the RV and rent an apartment?

  2. I think you've summed up quite well what you've gotten yourself into.

    It would seem you could have just moved a bit south and not had to spend all that extra money. Or am I missing something else?

    At least you don't have the heat you would have in Q.

  3. Dale -- Our RV is our home. Besides, do you really think anyone could rent an apartment and store an RV in Southern California for two and a half months for less? It's not really all that bad. I had been planning to buy both items anyway. I just would like to have done it on my schedule.

    Don -- Same basic answer. You know that the only RV park closer (Valencia Travel Village) now costs over $1000 pr month, right? Or we could have stayed in Lancaster for $750 per month and had to live through all the spring winds.

    The bottom line is that RV'ing options in So. Cal are very limited, and very expensive.

  4. You do realize that the desert cooled about the time that you left your last residence. It has been in the 60ºs until the last few days when it reached the 70ºs. This week, it will stay in the 80ºs until near the weekend, and the humidity is in the single digits--7% yesterday. Where you were shouldn't have been more than 10ºs higher. Sorry about your problems.

  5. Yeah, your right of course. I guess I can't think outside the box even though I envy "The Lafferty's Life." You probably never think like the rest of us: "Let's get away from home and take a vacation." All you have to do is move the house:)

  6. I assume it is warmer than it has been there right now, as it is here (high 80s today and tomorrow in Phoenix), but it's supposed to get cold and rainy here later this week. That's probably the same storm that is promising snow for you guys.

    But in a month or so when we hit 100 I bet you will be glad you are there. It's probably a beautiful place to spend the summer.

  7. You didn't mention your solar panels. Don't they provide power when external hookups are not available? Maybe you don't have enough sun where you are parked.
    Too bad about the cell phone service, but at least it's temporary. Have you ever considered sat phones? (Are they astronomical?)
    Maybe sometime this next year you can come upon a good place where you might host next summer. That's really an ideal budget situation for you, isn't it?

  8. Wow! I hope all goes well with Dianna's Dad!

  9. How are things going? The weather should be warmer now.

  10. You would think, but no. It still freezes every night and did not get above 40 a couple days ago. Today is in the mid 60's so that is better.

    Phone works fine with the amp, and the transformer has solved the low voltage issue, but we are sure burning a lot of propane and electric to keep warm.

    Dianna's Dad is in surgery as I write this. No word yet.

  11. He came through it fine. They took a large deep cancer from the top of his head and a more shallow one from the back of his neck. Thanks for asking.