Ambient Ground Lighting

We were camped at Sharbot Lake a couple of summers ago, and across from us was a nicely renovated Boler trailer. They had done a great job on it and it looked very cool. We were chatting with them one evening, and I noticed a glow coming from beneath the trailer. They had installed a short strip of blue LED tape near the doorway, and in the dark it provided a sutble lighting effect. This idea stuck in my head, and percolated to the surface this past winter.

We rarely turn on our outside light, as we find it way too bright, even after changing to an amber lense and an LED bulb. It is easy enough to turn on if needed, but I got to thinking about having something to cast a little glow near the step instead. At our local auto parts store, I happened upon a bunch of small LED grommet lights, about 1 inch round, in a variety of colours. A handful of them made the drive home with me.

I initially thought of drilling and insetting one or two of them into the underside of the Alto, but decided to go with a less invasive approach. I made some mounting blocks using the composite moulding material I used for the awning pole holders. Using a mounting block also allowed me to integrate a switch into the unit. A hole was drilled for the light, a smaller hole at a right angle intersected the main hole for the wiring, then a hole on the side to insert the switch. Some 3M mounting tape fastens the blocks in place. I went with the amber lenses, and made up two units, one with a switch that controls both lights. They have an extremely small 0.02 amp/hr draw, so they will not be a power consumption concern. I tapped power for them from the 12v television outlet that is tucked by the door side roof screw jack. The wire and protective wrap, exits the floor between the wheel shroud and the frame.

As always, be very careful when contemplating any sort of drilling within the Alto. Do your homework and think it out very well...then think it out again!

the buddy light on the front side of the step

had to re-position and modify the spray shield for the remote temp sensor

In use, the switch is easily within reach by the step, and they cast just the subtle glow I was hoping to achieve. What first appears to be a simple mod, the effort is always compounded when working in the smaller confines of the Alto. Sometimes it is the price you have to pay!

2 Way Fridge Switch-Over Issue

One time last summer, when I turned on the fridge, it immediately went to ignite the propane. This was unexpected, as we were on shore power in the driveway. I cycled through the on/off process, played with combinations of this including the gas button, but it still insisted on running on propane. A quick bit of troubleshooting with the manual lead me to think there might be an issue with one of the fuses, located inside the control box.

I pulled the lower vent cover and the black control box is sitting right there. A closer inspection though, soon revealed that it has been placed right up against an aluminum enclosure that covers a bunch of electrical cables as they travel through that area. Getting access to the cover screws, let alone getting the actual cover off, proved to be an onerous task. As we were soon heading out, my Plan B became a cycling of the switches again. Luckily enough, the electrics kicked in and we were OK. Not really sure why it worked, but we were OK...for now. It functioned fine all last summer, so getting to the root cause was happily deferred.

Fast forward to this summer and all was good until the third time out. All my efforts with the switch cycling solution failed, so I figured I needed to get to those fuses. Knowing the task at hand, I wanted to get a look at how the cover was constructed, what held it in place, and how could free up some room to manoeuvre it off. A quick Google search showed me the inside of the cover, and from what I saw, there was only a small lip at the bottom that would prevent it from coming straight up and off. To get this extra room, I unscrewed the entire mounting plate that the control box sits on, from the back of the fridge. This then allowed me to wiggle the box around enough so that I could pull the cover a bit forward, then up to remove. I had to be very careful to ensure I was not also pulling any of the wiring connections and circuit board gizmos along with it.

A visual and continuity check of the fuses ruled them out as a cause. Perhaps it was the circuitry or the relay that controls the switch-over, but it was working just the previous weekend. Clearly one of those elusive to solve intermittent problems. Another cycle of the switches failed, but I did notice a brief flash from the Auto indicator light. When pushed in, the Auto selection circuit is engaged, and the light comes on. In Gas selection, the light remains off. I had first assumed this light was tied to the on/off switch, but this might not be the case. I now cycled this switch a number of times, and came to the conclusion that perhaps the Auto circuit was not being powered up and engaged. As the switch is rarely used, a little oxidation on the contacts may have occurred, impacting the circuit. Finally able to get the light to stay on, the switch-over occurred and the fridge was in electric mode. If you listen closely just after you push in the Auto switch, you can hear a tiny click of the relay that allows the A/C voltage to flow to the heating element. In gas mode, you will hear the gas solenoid valve engage, and the igniter going off.

I will be keeping an eye on this, now that I know where the real cause of the issue may well be. Now I had to put back on the cover I previously removed, but before I did, I took the opportunity to cut off the lip that was on the bottom. This will allow the cover to be removed a little easier, without having to remove the entire assembly bracket. Or so I hope.

Surge Protector

Every so often you come across a blog or forum post where a trailer owner describes a serious problem they have had with their electrical system, and usually it involves a problem with a campsite power post or electrical surge. Some of the stories are pretty wild, where a miswired electrical outlet or power surge has fried a bunch of gear in the trailer. These writers have then quickly become huge advocats of surge protection. We have run into a few dubious power posts ourselves, one time the entire 30amp outlet had been ripped out of the box and was just hanging there. That was an obvious problem, but how to protect against something that appears perfectly fine, or a surge that comes out of nowhere.

There are a couple of relatively inexpensive solutions that can be used to a least provide you with some information about the power post you are about to connect to. I have used a Kill-A-Watt meter and a polarity tester, connected to a 30 amp pigtail, that will give you an idea of the line voltage and polarity, but that's all it will do. It helps, but it's not the same as protection.

I started doing a little research into what is available for surge protection, and I soon discovered that anything listed as a surge protector, does just that, protect against surges. There are however, a number of other electrical issues that can cause you problems. To protect against these, you have to step up in features and look at electrical management systems (EMS). These cover surges, as well as low/high voltages, polarity, AC frequency, open neutral, etc. Naturally, this comes at a price, with these units easily topping $200. Some surge protectors will protect you from improper wiring, generally with a warning, but few will shut down the power completely. When you look at the investment made in a trailer, the cost difference between a basic surge protector and a more comprehensive EMS product seems pretty negligible.

The other consideration is between a portable unit or a hardwired one. A portable is just that, it plugs into the power source, and your cable plugs into it. It can then move with you when you change trailers, or also move with the thief who is looking to score a new one, or make a few bucks selling it. Need to keep this in mind when choosing the portable, and some manufacturers are now putting a locking loop on their devices. As we will never be changing trailers, I decided upon a hardwired model. The install would become an interesting little project.

Of all the manufacturers out there, Progressive Industries kept popping up as one of the best. They have a variety of models with all sorts of features, at a variety of price points. It was though, their evident pride in the quality of the product that impressed me the most. They manufacture in America, using quality components, and they back up their lifetime warranty with superb service. Many reviews I read provided stories of how they have gone to great lengths to resolve any issues as quickly as possible. Always good to hear. Another interesting feature is the plug and play replacement of the internal parts. If there is a problem, or a component self sacrifices to protect the wiring, you contact their technical support, describe the issue, and if it is an option, they will send you the component needed to get you back up and running. This is a great idea, especially for those comfortable with swapping out internal pieces. I went with the EMS-HW30C, a 30 amp model, with a remote display panel.

Now is as good a time as any for my usual little disclaimer warning. If this sort of project is not right up your alley, do not attempt it. You are messing with the AC circuits of your expensive Alto...connect something wrong, dislodge a wire somewhere, and you could cause serious damage to yourself, or the Alto. Use a portable model instead, or find someone competent to install a hardwired version for you. If you also happen to be still under warranty, well, that is yet another consideration.

Where to put it? My goal was to just splice it into the main power line, to avoid running a new cable, but this means creating some extra slack to allow for the connections. Not many places where this would be easy to do, as a matter of fact, I think there is only one place you can do this, and that is the front wall, just inside the trunk compartment. Physically it fits nicely there, assuming of course that the area is not already occupied with a bunch of caravan mover gear. The main power cable passes by along the lower edge, but now I needed to find some wire slack. I removed the aluminum cover to the front cubby, home to all things electrical in the Alto. Before doing anything but eyeballing, make sure you are not plugged into shore first! I followed the orange cable and discovered that ours had a nice big loop before it enters the distribution box, and figured with a few little changes to the wiring harness, I would be able to free up more than enough to splice the EMS into the line. The front cubby is a mass of wiring, and one needs to plan and be very meticulous when working in this area. On top of this, #10 cable is a bear to work with, and requires a lot of slow patient moves and twists. I soon had a nice loop along the front wall.

Mounting the unit was the easy part, and as always, correct selection of screw length is essential. I tend now to use a punch to create a tiny pilot hole to start the screw, as a drill bit can plow through an Alto wall like butter...and that is a very bad thing. Once mounted, off came the cover, then the cutting of the wire. First confirm everything is as it should be before proceeding. It was then just a matter of feeding the wires and making the correct connections to the terminal blocks, nice and snug. The remote display plugs in using the provided cable, and this can be placed anywhere. Some mount it inside, but it does have a continuously scrolling display of information, which perhaps might be a little annoying after a while. I chose to mount it by the EMS box, visible with the trunk door open, so I can review the information once I plug in the shore power. After that, not really much need to monitor.

Time to power up and see if anything explodes...which I know full well is not going to happen. Pretty uneventful startup. The display comes to life, runs a quick self test, then starts its never ending scroll of info. It cycles through voltage, current, frequency, error codes and previous error codes. Much like the Trimetric, it is pretty cool to see these details, and definitely reassuring to know it is in place. With an EMS, the default behavior in the event of an issue is to cut the power completely off until the problem is resolved. There is though, a bypass switch on the remote display, which allows one to shut off all the advanced EMS protection, other than the surge. They explain that this can be used in the event that something goes wrong with the internals of the device, which presumably is displayed as an error code.

Jumping ahead a bit in time, it has been in use for a couple of trips where we have had services. It has performed flawlessly, its presence relatively unknown to us. I say relative because it does make a typical electrical hum. Loud enough to be noticed inside the Alto, a low grade sort of noise that is there, but not really there unless your mind looks for it...and my mind does. It would probably not bother most people, but it is there. So naturally I started to think about how to muffle the sound a bit, some sort of insulated cover that could be placed over the entire unit. I checked to see if it generated any heat while in use, and it really does not, so a cover is an option. Thinking about materials, I decided upon getting some high density foam, of the sort that is sometimes used for knee pads in kayaks. Our local camping outfitters sells this stuff in a variety of thicknesses, and by the square foot. Perfect. I soon had created a nice soundproof box, gluing the pieces together with contact cement. Perhaps not the most attractive of solutions, but it is out of sight, and most importantly, reduces the hum to a nice silence.

Nice to know it is there keeping an eye on things, if the need arises. As a project, it was certainly doable, but it was a fair amount of work to get it installed, mostly because of the contortions needed to work in that confined front space.

Awning Pole Holders

We recently purchased an addition Alto awning, of the original design. We really like this version, over the curved nylon model that SC currently provides. Our awning has stood the test of time, and performs very well in a variety of conditions. We wanted a second awning for the service side of the Alto, to provide some additional shade. We have realized that the sun beating down on that side not only heats the inside more, it also impacts the performance of the propane fridge. We have been closing down the curtains, and that really helps the temps, but it does nothing to help the fridge. Another awning would benefit both situations. When we saw the original version being offered for sale on the FB group, we jumped right on it. The required second keeder rail will be a job for SC. We will make a pit stop at the factory on our next trip down east.

On our Alto, the poles for the awning are attached to nylon holders that are fastened to the back wall. These are very nicely machined and are custom fabricated by SC. I inquired with SC on the off chance they might still have some original holders left, but no luck there. I realized I would need to create a version to hold the additional three poles. They used a material called UHMD plastic, which is great to work with, mills great, and is very tough. Sourcing a chunk of this proved difficult, and those I did find were somewhat cost prohibitive, so I searched for an alternative. Researching this sort of thing generally involves cruising the aisles of my local building supply stores, looking for materials that could be re-purposed. I eventually came across what I thought might work.

I ended up with a composite moulding product. It seems relatively durable, water resistant, and should be easy to work with. Trying to duplicate the original design proved to be very difficult without a nice router or milling setup. A new design was needed, something simpler to fabricate in my modest little workshop.

simple...yet with a touch of shiny elegance

The material turned out to be real easy to work with, cuts smooth, sands well, and as it is white, it needed to accept paint nicely, which it does. Keeping it simple, I came up with a design that involved only straight drilling. One side is drilled to hold the narrow tops of the poles, while the other holds the bases. Both sides are drilled right through, with the function being that the base is inserted first, and pushed through enough for the top to then be inserted into the other holder. Although the press fit of the drilled holes is quite tight, I figured it best to fabricate a hinged door to prevent the poles from possibly vibrating out from the base side. The holders were spray painted black, and I do think they will serve the purpose quite well, and most importantly, look like they belong on the back of the Alto...always a key design consideration.

2017 Trip 3: this one's a keeper

Trip 3: Silver Lake PP - June 2017

We enjoyed a great spot by the water this weekend. We spied this particular site from above last year, literally. We were on the next site over, which was perched on a hill, and through the trees, we could see that the site below us had great potential. When it came time to reserve this year, it was on our list of sites to try this year. Sure enough, it did not disappoint.

The site is right beside the water, open, yet with some shade cover, and has a nice little beach area. It is at the end of a longish driveway, with a sharp left onto the site. Perfect to back up the Alto and get the windows positioned towards the water, and it also means there is no camper traffic.

nice and quiet site

The weather started out pretty spotty on Friday, but that never deters us, we head out regardless. Why risk missing out on a nice weekend based on weather reports that of late, seems based more on finger in the wind guessing than any sort of science. It was pretty quiet in the campground, and no doubt, the weather forecast played a factor.


Saturday brought a nice day relative to the weather we have been getting up to now, so I spent a couple of hours leisurely giving the Alto its yearly coat of wax. I have done this while camping the past number of years, as it allows me to get most of the job done, and only leaves the very top to be waxed at home with the ladder. It is amazing the amount of fine grime that the waxing process removes, and it helps keeping it looking like new. Like waxing a car, I'm a big believer in this relatively simple, albeit elbow grease dependent maintenance job. At the same time I gave all the rubber seals a good treatment with the conditioner, another simple task, and just as important to do.

The afternoon was spent lounging around in the sun. We waded out in the water a bit, but only the hardiest of souls would have attempted a full swim. Great to have a nice sandy bottom, and we will have to get back here later in the season to really enjoy this site.

professional relaxer

We noticed we were sharing the site with some caterpillars, lots of them. Wondering where they were coming from, we looked around closely and many of them seemed to be descending from the big pine tree. There were no visible nests, just lots of them hanging from invisible threads. When you stop to think about it, these little guys are able to produce enough silk for these threads to lower themselves all the way to the ground, and in this case, from high up a fairly tall tree. A little Google research also revealed that this is not only a way for them to leave the treetop, but is used as a defensive maneuver as well. Apparently, when they detect a predator nearby they will leap off whatever they are clinging to, and then dangle from their silk thread until the danger passes...or so they hope. Now that is pretty cool.

a classic red pine

a little light play on the water

A simple day was followed by a simple dinner. We had picked up a vacuum packed pulled pork delicacy from that super cool butchery we found in Toronto. We just knew that it would come in handy on a camping trip. We made up a few sliders, a side of crunchy slaw, and a cold beer made for an effortless dinner. Later in the evening I got to test out a tiny mod I recently installed, which will be detailed in a separate post.

It was pretty cool both nights, but the Propex furnace kept the camper nice and toasty. I am still very impressed with the efficiency of the Propex for a furnace the size of a shoebox. It seems to only just sip both the propane and the amp/hrs, which is a huge bonus.  It was a perfect site for solar, lots of time for the panels to get some full sun, yet the site still had areas which were always in the shade for us. Between the furnace keeping us warm and watching a really crappy movie, the battery never dropped below 92%, the Trimetric solar controller and monitor just doing their thing to keep that battery in good shape.

Sunday morning was very overcast, and a huge band of black clouds were peeking over the horizon. We decided to slowly start to pack up, and were on the road home by 10am. A nice relaxing weekend, and a welcome discovery of a new favourite site. Our addiction to waterfront sites clearly continues!


Have you seen that somewhere? Ring a bell in your mind perhaps, and you just cannot place where. Well the answer is right at your fingertips...quite literally. It is, in all probability, stamped on a key hanging from your Alto keyring.

Seems that the CH751 key is ubiquitous in the RV world. Virtually every storage door, water hatch or utility door use the same locks...and one key can open all of them. Why you ask? Because it is cheap. Think of how many of these little doors are out there. If a manufacturer can stock just one lock to use on the assembly line, think of the savings and convenience. What about the RV dealer as well, having one key open most any door would sure be handy when wandering around the trailer lot. No real benefits for the owner though, and certainly some negative side effects.

I had no idea about this until at one of the Alto Rallys, a mischievious Steve P wandered over with his CH751 in hand, looking for electrical tape for a little mod he had on the go. I mentioned I might have some in the trunk, and he proceeded to open the trunk door for me, much to my surprise. He then explained the story behind how this was possible. Naturally, my research for a solution started soon after.

Google presented a few options to the issue. One site, seemed to have the solution well in hand. They had a number of options available in cam locks, so I went with a tubular key design. It offers 9000 possible key combinations, which is probably minimal in the lock world, but it is far better than what is offered in the RV world. Their site is quite organized, and offers templates to help figure out the proper size of the cylinder, the cams, as well as the cam offsets. I changed all the locks, and went with a keyed alike version, as well as a few accessories. It will be great to have one key for all the little doors we have, which in reality, there are only four of them, but it will get rid of some other keys.

The installs were super easy. Out comes the old lock, in goes the new cylinder and cam. I put a little cover on the trunk lock, just to fancy it up a bit.

This is a simple, relatively economical mod, and although it in no way beefs up the physical access to these doors, it might one day slow down an opportunistic individual with their own CH751.