Friday, 30 March 2018

The New Camper Trailer

After a considerable amount of haggling, cajoling, manipulating and downright toadying, I managed to buy a camper trailer which closely met my specifications.  The asking price was $14,995 and I bought it for $7500.  Moreover it’s version 3 which is longer and has two additional lockers.  How did I get the price down?  The following standard items were excluded.

  • Stainless steel tailgate kitchen
  • 100ah deep cycle battery and the majority of the domestic electrics
  • The rooftop tent
  • Wheels

The order has been sent to China with delivery in 10-12 weeks

So what does it look like?  I have a drawing of the trailer minus the tent.


The following are photos of the earlier version


I don’t like their telescopic ladder to the rooftop tent.  The tent was $1000.  I’ve sourced a tent with a folding ladder and an enclosed lower compartment for $770.  I’ve also sourced a cheaper ‘Batwing’ awning.

I didn’t like their stainless steel tailgate kitchen.  The bulk of the kitchen was taken up with a sink.  I will use a collapsible plastic basin (thank you Aldi Dudley).  The stainless steel would get very hot in the West Australian sun.  Finally, the tailgate only opens 90° which means the kitchen fouls access to the interior of the trailer.


You can see in the above photo that there is a considerable height between the top of the tailgate opening and the top of the steel trailer.  I plan to install a false floor just above the tailgate which will give me upper and lower compartments.  I also plan to modify the tailgate hinges which will enable the tailgate to open 180°.  I’ll also make my own plywood tailgate kitchen (no sink!).

Access to the upper compartment is obtained by lifting the top.  Obviously I won’t be able to lift the top when the tent and awning are erected so this area will have to container either items needed to establish the campsite (chairs, table, poles, ground mat, etc or items only required when the tent is packed away (eg, tyre repair tools)


There is a 30 litre water tank underneath the trailer and a 50 litre tank on the front along with two jerry can holders.

As mentioned earlier, these are photos of version 2.  Version 3 has higher and more side lockers.

The height of the wheel guard has been lowered (bottom red line) and the locker height raised to the top red line.  This provided room for a 3rd locker above the wheel arch.


I took one of the second hand 16” rims and tyres I’d bought earlier to the dealer and checked it would fit the trailer wheel hub (it does).  However the inside clearance between the side wall of the tyre and the wheel arch is only 15mm .  My plan is to extend the stub axle with a 20mm steel packing plate which will increase the clearance to 35mm.

The dealers version of the trailer has a 100ah battery in one of the side lockers.  I plan to fit a ‘slimline’ 150ah AGM battery horizontally under the trailer forward of the wheels.  It will be protected with an aluminium bash plate.   The Engel fridge will go in the large front locker.

There is one problem.  With the rooftop tent on top of the cage the trailer is too high to pass under our garage lintel (ie, the trailer won’t fit in the garage).  I’m working on a solution.

Meanwhile Jan’s Pfaff sewing machine is back together and much happier after a good scrub and bath. Smile

Monday, 26 March 2018

Machine Repairs

Well Jan’s Pfaff sewing machine does sew standard stitching and it has been useful in making the sand flag.  Unfortunately the expensive part of the machine doesn’t work.  There are sixteen buttons and an LCD panel on the front.  By pressing the buttons and entering specific codes the machine can sew 90 different stitches.  However Jan discovered that each time she pressed a switch there was a slight “crunch” sound and the switch locked into that position.  The manual does say that the machine should be serviced every two years with light usage and annually for heavy usage.  This machine was purchased in 1984 and has never been serviced.  Moreover it's been in storage for seven years. 

With nothing to lose I decided to disassemble the machine.  Of course I don’t have a repair manual so the whole process became a matter of trial and error.  With my luck, as you would expect, the control panel is one of the last items to remove.

The top had to be disassembled to gain access to the panel top securing screws.  Then I needed to start disassembling the base. 


After numerous experiences in my younger days of racing into a project only to finish with a pile of “left over parts” these days I tend to take photos of the more difficult stages.


Just making sure I have a record of what plug goes where


Almost there


Once I had the panel apart there was access to the micro switches behind the frozen buttons. At this point WD40 was my friend. Each micro switch was carefully manipulated +/- or ON/OFF until the frozen mechanism was loosened and the switch would move freely. 

The machine was then partially assembled before being connected to the 240V and the switches tested.  They all now work!   I’ll finish assembling the machine tomorrow.   

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Mignon Battery

I’d never heard of a Mignon battery until the digital display on Jan’s Pfaff sewing machine showed “Batterie”.  The machine was purchased many years ago and I doubt we have a manual.  A quick check on Google stated the machine required two Mignon 1.5V cells.  More searching revealed the battery compartment was under the base.  I couldn’t check this as the machine actually works with flat batteries and Jan is currently using it to make my ‘sand flag’ from the orange Chinese HiViz vest.


The flag slowly takes shape

Imagine my surprise when I finally gained access to the battery compartment and discovered two standard AA sized batteries.


The batteries have “Made in Belgium” on them which leads me to assume they are the originals.  They’re also very corroded (along with the corresponding terminals in the battery compartment.

Now I know what a Mignon battery is!  Of course if I’d done some further internet searching I would have discovered this

The completed flag.


Now I need to fit the aerial mounting bracket to the vehicle.

Meanwhile, I noticed this interesting poster


I don’t have much respect for either man.  Assange is probably indirectly responsible for the deaths of a number of people through his disclosures.  And he wasn’t doing it for free….. there was money being made somewhere!  Zuckerberg is just another large corporate shark portraying himself as a genial harmless geek!  However; unlike Assange; he can at least claim his victims willingly gave him their personal data!  Well that last sentence is no longer true.  Both Google and Facebook employ facial recognition software and encourage users to add the names of the people in their photos.  So you don’t have to be a Facebook user for Facebook to collect your personal data (and sell it).  Moreover, even if I asked a Facebook user to delete one of their photos with me in it, Facebook doesn’t delete the photo.  They just hide it from viewers.  Data is power (and money). Facebook deletes nothing!

Friday, 23 March 2018

Camping & Caravan Show

Money was mostly wasted going to the annual West Australian State Camping and Caravan Show.  UK readers will know of the Birmingham Camping and Caravan Show held at the NIA.  for those who have visited the UK show imagine going to the toilets in the north west corner.  That’s about the size of the West Australian Show.  Well I might be slightly exaggerating, but it’s small beer compared to the NIA.

I wanted to look at camper trailers managing to inspect two potentially suitable trailers.  One I’d already seen an the salesman at the other wasn’t particularly interested.  However I did manage to purchase an R&R Beadbreaker with a show discount of 5%.


Ordinarily, when you get a flat tyre you replace it with the spare and take the flat to the garage for repair.  However when you’re in the middle of nowhere and all on your own, you need to do the repair yourself.  Swinging tyre levers on a heavy duty large 4x4 tyres is hard work and actually proved too difficult for a 75 year old German migrant, so he invented the R&R Beadbreaker to take the majority of the physical effort out of the task.

He actually invented the tool to put the tyre back on the rim. However it was quickly modified to enable it to be used to remove the tyre


I used this tyre because the tread has almost gone and it had a steel screw through the wall.  The shinny tip of the screw can be seen in this next photo.


Now I need to teach myself how to replace the tyre on the rim.  Several rehearsals will be required before I’m proficient.

There was a financial win when we purchased a folding table from Aldi for $29.95.  They were being sold at the show for $55.


Postman Gary appeared today with two small packages.  The first was an orange HiViz vest.


When travelling lonely outback tracks you are required to fly an orange HiViz flag.  The shops sell them for almost $100.  My HiViz vest from China cost $3.32.  Jan is going to pull out her sewing machine and convert it into a flag.  I’ve already converted an old fishing rod into the aerial.

Gary also delivered the replacement part for the Samsung tablet.


The usb charging port in the tablet has failed and after an online search I was able to purchase a replacement from China for $12.

On a more general note, our retirement fund (mostly shares) has taken a hit.  Thank you Donald Trump!  This guy is starting to worry me.  When you start surrounding yourself will “Yes” people and think your infallible, you can make a serious mistake.  Ask Hitler, Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi.

I was also interested in the latest Brexit announcement.  It appears the interim agreement mostly gives both sides another two years of negotiating.  This gets the EU out of a financial crisis, because their next budget forecast is 2020 and if the UK had exited in 2019 the EU would have a massive hole in their budget.  What did the UK gain?  It appears Liam Fox has to get his skates on and have a significant number of free trade agreements settled within the next two years, because that’s the only way I can see the UK having any strength during the final negotiations.  Interesting times!

Meanwhile the Australian weather has gone crazy.  Two major cyclones up north.  Two large bushfires in the south east with more than a hundred homes destroyed and flooding in the east.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

The battery project

Readers you will probably recall me writing about the SkyRC iMax B6 battery conditioner purchased from China.  I decided to run a trial with it attempting to restore an old and dead NiMH electric drill battery.  When I started the trial the battery actual voltage was 3.7 whilst the original specifications stated 12V.  During the first cycle I managed to recharge the battery to 10.8V which led me to suspect there was one defective cell in the battery pack.

The iMax has now cycled the battery charge/discharge four times and the new actual maximum voltage is back to 12V.  I now need to confirm the actual capacity.  At new the battery had 3Ah at 12V, which means the capacity was 2500mA  (3÷12).  Obviously I can’t discharge the battery to zero.  20% of the total capacity is an approximate figure.  Therefore the iMax should have added 2000mA to the battery when it’s fully charged.  The iMax can measure this.

Of course all of this is just an experiment and I now need to start thinking about checking the condition of the six lithium 18650 cells recovered from the netbook battery.  I’ve already used the multi-meter to check the voltage.  Three are at 1.92V and the remainder 1.72V.  The voltage of a fully charged 18650 cell is just under 4V (say 3.7V).  There are several advantages of using lithium over lead-acid or NiMH batteries. 

  • High specific energy and high load capabilities with Power Cells
  • Long cycle and extend shelf-life; maintenance-free
  • High capacity, low internal resistance
  • Reasonably short charge times
  • Low self-discharge

The following graph from the Battery University website shows their discharge characteristics


As you can see the voltage drop is minimal (3.7 to 3.5) until the battery reaches 20% discharged when it starts to rapidly fall.  This point is known as the “knee” because the shape looks similar to the position of a seated persons leg.  The horizontal portion of the line being the thigh. 

Attempting to re-charge a cell that has gone past the ‘knee’ is complex and the objective is to avoid that occurring.  However not all cells discharge and recharge at the same rate.  This means when the lithium cells are connected together to create a battery they must be ‘balanced charged’.  Effectively this means the lithium cells require two types of charging connection.  A main charge to the pos (+) and neg (-) battery terminals and a balance change to individual cells.

This next diagram shows three cells connected in series to produce 11.1V (3.7x3)  There is a main pos and neg connection between the cells and separate minor connections (red, green,  blue, black) for the balance charging to occur.


The iMax B6 charger has the ability to simultaneously do both the main and balance charging.  However I want to use it for it’s testing and cell recovery functionality rather than having it tied up charging lithium batteries.

My intention is to rebuild my old NiMH drill batteries by replacing the NiMH cells with lithium 18650 cells.  The NiMH battery charger only has a pos and neg 12V connection which means it can’t balance the lithium cells.  It’s at this point I should explain how the lithium cells will be connected.

Connecting three cells in series (+-+-+-) increases the voltage.  This is described as 3S.  If there were four batteries it would be 4S, etc.  In this case my voltage would be a minimum of 11.1V


When the cells are connected pos to pos and neg to neg they are in parallel.  In the photo below this would be described as 1P.  When in parallel the voltage doesn’t increase but the current (amps) does.


With only six cells I plan to connect my cells 3S2P


I would prefer to have eight cells and connect them 4S2P raising the voltage to 14.8V.  That would put the drill on steroids! Smile

To over come the charging problem I have purchased a small 3S balancing charger.  The original battery charger will provide the main 12V charge and this little charger will fit inside the battery case.


It will be wired the same as the diagram above.  The board was purchased from China at a cost of $1.32.

By doing this I can use any 12V charger to recharge the drill battery and free up the iMax to do the more sophisticated battery conditioning and recovery.

Friday, 16 March 2018

LED Project Completed

Today was cool enough to work outside on the Isuzu.  I’d made up a lead for the LED and then tested the LED actually illuminated using my new 12V power supply (the pc power supply). 

After looking at the dash I decided to fit it on the air conditioning control panel.  It will be high enough to be obvious, but not so high as to be a distraction if driving in 4x4 at night (not that I plan to do that)

The LED specifications stated it had a 5mm barrel but I discovered it actually required a 6mm hole in the panel.  I secured the fitting with a small plastic cable tie and some glue.


All the wiring connections were then made using crimp connectors followed by a second test to ensure the LED illuminated.


The LED doesn’t illuminate when the Isuzu is in two wheel drive.

Turn the knob to 4WD and we have light


Thursday, 15 March 2018

Sad Face

I’ve been wearing my sad face for the last two days.  One of the hard disk drives in the media server died without warning.  You might recall all the disk drives are software connected together to create one large disk with built in redundancy.  This is supposed to mean your data doesn’t get lost if one disk fails.  Well that didn’t happen…. Primarily because I omitted to configure the notification part of the system.  The consequence of this omission is the failed drive has to be replaced and I also have to rebuild the system after losing all the data.

On a more positive note today Postman Pat delivered two items I’d ordered from China.  The first is a large syringe and the second is a special battery charger/conditioner.


Our 4x4 is likely to be the last vehicle we will own and I therefore want to do everything reasonably possible to ensure it has a long life.  These days engineering has become so precise vehicles start to develop problems shortly after the warranty period has expired.  The Isuzu has a 5 year warranty and my objective it to ensure that period is extended.  My plan is to remove 70ml of oil from the gearbox, transfer case, front and rear differentials.  This will be replaced with 70ml of Nulon G70.  The G70 contains Teflon.  Yes, the same stuff used to coat frying pans making them non-stick.  The idea is the Teflon in the G70 will adhere to the moving parts in the various gearboxes and differentials thereby reducing wear and extending life.  The syringe seemed the best way to complete this operation.

The battery charger/conditioner is a SkyRC iMax B6.  It’s a sophisticated Balance Charger/Discharger for Lithium, Nickel Metal Hydroxide and Lead batteries.  My plan is to use it to assist me in recovering capacity of used and ‘dead’ batteries.

The first step in this process was to connect the iMax to the computer power supply which I’ve previously mentioned.


With the pc power supply connected I was able to connect a ‘dead’ NiMH battery from my Panasonic drill.  The battery specifications are 12 Volt 3 amp but in it’s dead state the voltage is 3.7V with no amps. 

After connecting the battery to the iMax it started to recharge the battery, something the drill charger wouldn’t do.


The battery voltage slowly rose until it reached 10.8 Volts where the iMax stopped.  I then set the iMax to cycle the battery flat and then recharge three times.  Each cell has a voltage of 1.2V and the battery capacity is 12V.  So the battery is 1.2V short of being fully charged.  This suggests to me that one of the cells in the battery has failed.  Hopefully the charge/discharge cycles will result in the recovery of the defective cell.  What the iMax will attempt to do is remove the “crud” that has built up on the surface of the surfaces in the cells of the battery thereby recovering lost capacity.  This is a similar process to the ‘Equalizing Charge’ on lead acid batteries.  The actual process and the characteristics of the iMax are more sophisticated than I’ve described, but it will do for now.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Water Usage

We’ve received our latest water bill for our Adelaide house which has been vacant since June 2017.  At that time we had the water turned off at the meter rather than paying the huge sum to to physically disconnect the water pipe.  Today’s water bill for the previous quarter was $239.23.  How much water had we used…. zero!   The bill consists entirely of the supply charge.  One might wonder why the electricity company only imposes a supply charge when the home actually consumes electricity, yet the water company has a supply charge irrespective of usage.  The only difference I see is the customer has a choice of electricity retailers whilst the water company has a monopoly!

And while I’m having a whinge…… Our mail filter is working overtime removing all the spam heading for our In Box.  the vast majority of it is from India and I assume some company we have corresponded with has sold on our address (along with thousands of other addresses).  Fortunately the filter is 99.99% accurate.

Meanwhile, Jan is receiving regular unsolicited calls from India (well they speak English with an Indian accent).  They obviously have her name (how?) and promptly launch into their sales script.  Jan just places her mobile face down on the glass table top beside her chair.  Apparently this creates a high pitches feedback squeal.

A small amount of progress has been made on my 4x4 LED project.  We visited Jaycars yesterday where I bought a small blue LED and some resistors.  The resistor was connected to the positive terminal of the LED and then covered with red heat shrink.


I now need to find a suitable location on the dash to drill the 5mm hole and mount the LED.  Too hot today!

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Hot Rubber Smell

When we returned home yesterday Jan immediately commented on a smell of hot rubber coming from the rear of the Isuzu 4x4.  My immediate thought was I’d run some cabling over the exhaust and then promptly discarded the idea as something I’d never do.

Eventually I realised the Isuzu was in four wheel drive.  It’s something you shouldn’t do if driving on bitumen.  Somehow the selector knob in the cabin had been knocked from 2WD to 4WD.  The small 4WD icon on the dash is the same colour as the numerous other icons and I hadn’t noticed it.  Moreover this is the second time the selector know as accidentally engaged 4WD.

I’ve decided to fit my own 4WD warning light in a prominent place on the dash.  It only needs to illuminate in 4 High Range as 4 Low Range is rather obvious.

The first step was to remove the Selector Knob.  This came out rather easily when I inserted a small flat tipped screwdriver into the recess on the passenger side (left arrow).


There was a green plug under the knob.  I used the multi-meter (thank you Maplin) to establish which wire was ‘live’ when 4H was selected.   It was the White wire with the Black stripe.


I stripped some of the insulation off this wire and then soldered a length of spare cable to it.  This will be the positive cable to the LED.  The bare joint was wrapped in insulation tape and the selector knob re-assembled. 

The next step will be to visit Jaycars (Maplin equivalent) and buy a suitable LED.  My preference is for a bright Blue LED.  I don’t plan on driving in 4x4 when it’s dark so the bright LED isn’t going to affect any potential night vision.

The other thing I’ve been working on is the lithium battery project.  The plan to recover lithium cells from old laptop batteries will mean some of the cells will be “dead”.  I therefore need to test every cell to firstly identify the dead cells (which will be discarded) and then establish the capacity (in milliamps) of the remainder.  This means each cell will need to be charged; then discharged and finally; recharged.  I’ve purchased a SkyRC iMax B6 charger from eBay which is capable of doing the above.  However it can probably only test an average of one cell daily.  This isn’t a problem if I only want to make lithium batteries for electric drills as they only have 6-9 cells.  however if I decided to complete my major project; a lithium battery to power the house then that will require around 17,000 cells.  I’ll be long dead before that project is completed Smile

But wait……  The SkyRC iMax charger requires an external 12V DC power supply.  Moreover there are cheap lithium cell charger and dischargers available from China.  These require an external 5V DC power supply. 

You may recall I’m reluctant to throw things away (yes I’m a hoarder).  I’ve been trowing away old desktop pc cases; but not before I’ve removed the internal components; including the power supply.

Well the power supply has an input of 240V AC and dual outputs of 12V and 5V DC.  I’ve found my power supply for the SkyRC and the cheap Chinese chargers and dischargers.


There are two things to note here.

1.  The power supply won’t work if it is connected to the 240V supply but not connected to a computer motherboard.  I eventually worked out I could get around this problem by connecting the GREEN wire on the main power plug to the motherboard to any BLACK wire.  This tricks the power supply into working.

2.  The second thing is the power supply was reluctant to supply any 12V or 5V power without a ‘load’.  Usually this would come from the motherboard but as I’m not using one I connected a ‘dead’ hard drive to the power supply.  The hard drive provides a ‘load’ and tricks the power supply into providing the DC voltage.


The RED wire produces 5V DC


And the YELLOW wire produces 12V DC.

A 18650 lithium cell should be charged or discharged at 5V and 1amp.  The computer power supply is rated at 430 Watts (Watts = Volts x amps) so a VERY rough calculation suggests the power supply should be able to simultaneously charge or discharge 86 cells.  I’m thinking of simultaneously charging 20 cells and discharging 5 so there shouldn’t be a problem.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Another One Completed

Postman Pat delivered the Chinese ‘knock off’ copies of the 50A Anderson Plugs I’d ordered.  There are people who will caution you against purchasing these Chinese replicas warning they may melt or catch fire.  Of course most of these warning come from the sellers of the original (expensive) plugs.  Our imitation Anderson Plugs will never carry a 50A load so that risk is almost non existent. 

I soldered one of the plus onto the end of my fridge adapter and then connected it to the Anderson Plug previously fitted into the back of the 4x4.


But not before using the multi-meter to confirm I had the polarity correct.  Because the wiring for the fridge goes via the Voltage Sensitive Relay (VSR) I needed to start the engine to raise the alternator voltage above 12.8V.  This ensured the VSR activated.  The LED on the Engel fridge plug illuminated. Smile


Then I pulled out the fridge slide to check the fridge was operating.


Now we can go food shopping without having to hurry home before the frozen food defrost in the heat.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Beast from the East

After days of watching the ‘Beast from the East’ on the evening news we’re starting to think we may be in the wrong country.  It’s been in the high 30’s every day this week and not forecast to drop to 29 until next week.  I think we’re suffering from the ‘Swine from the South’ or the Nasty from the North’. 

Whilst out on my evening walk last night (I returned wringing wet with sweat) the street lights went out.  Then I noticed all the houses were in darkness.  On returning to the house Jan informed me a vehicle had crashed into a light pole on adjacent Hepburn road plunging the suburb into darkness.  It’s now the following afternoon and electricity has yet to be restored.  At least we have the boat generator which has the ability to keep the fridge and freezer running.  However it doesn’t have sufficient capacity to run the air-conditioning. 

When it’s cold you can add more layers.  But when the reverse occurs there are only so many layers you can remove.  Although this does have an advantage with the door knockers flee in horror!

With nothing better to do we shuffled the furniture around.  The latest sewing cabinet repairs worked which meant we could move it back into storage.  The spare bed was moved to the 3rd bedroom, which then left space in the front room for the sofa, dining table and oval tables.


Note the curtains are drawn in an effort to keep out some of the heat.

I’ve also made a lead for the 4x4 fridge.  The socket in the vehicle is a 50amp Anderson Plug but the Engel fridge has a fused cigarette style plug.  I didn’t want to cut the cigarette plug off the fridge lead because you never know when you might need to convert it back.  So I’ve made a short adaptor lead from some ‘bits’ I had lying around.

This female cigarette socket has been in my “I’ll need that one day” box for a couple of decades.


I used my old soldering iron to remove the original cable and replace the wiring with something more substantial.  The soldering iron is more than 40 years old.  I ‘found’ it in a creek behind the house were were living in at the time.  All it needed was a replacement cord.


The adaptor just needs the Anderson Plug on the other end.


Of course that has been ordered from China (cheap… as you would expect).

You might recall the Samsung Tablet had a replacement battery fitted.  Well yesterday the tablet was flat; despite being on charge for 10 hours.  MAJOR WORRY!  More research suggested the tablet micro usb plug may have failed.  It can be replaced, but a replacement usb socket from the USA cost $43.  eBay was my friend and I found an alternative supplier in China for $4.32.  Delivery was free but it would take 2 months.  Express delivery can be arranged for $153.  I’ve opted to wait for the junk to arrive in port! Smile