The History of RV’s, A/C ‘Shop Notes’

This time of the year, millions of Americans take some time off.  One of the most popular ways to do this is by taking a ‘recreational vehicle’ and going somewhere.  But few people realize that to a large extent, RV’s had theirs roots in the original build-out of America.

The February 1905 editions of Popular Mechanics featured pictures of ‘Construction Wagons’ and gave a few examples of companies, like Tri-State Telephone using such wagons to house workers instead of tents.

See if their description doesn’t sound a hell of a lot like the modern RV:

Sounds to us like the major upgrades to RV’ing has been  the addition of slides, air conditioning, and the teamsters driving mules to the big Detroit-Allison combos of big pushers today…

(You can get incredible insights into how crazy we are by getting any old set of hundred-year (or older) magazines.  We have all be ‘solving the same problems’ repeatedly.  Doesn’t say much for us, does it?)

Speaking of A/C

This time of the year if idea to make two important investments in extending the life of your air conditioning systems.

For one, our outside unit gets a good hosing-off this time of the year.

Elaine usually remembers before I do.  The approach on the outdoor unit is very simple:  Kill the adjacent breaker, pop the top, and get a hose inside for a good reverse flushing.

Don’t know about yours, but my wife as an “Auto-Remind” setting in case I forget to turn the breaker back on.

Take care not to use excessive hose pressure so you don’t bend any of the soft fins (or Swedes).  Occasionally, you can get lucky and find a very fine-tooth comb to straighten many at once, but rarely.  Going a bit slower and using due caution is the more time-efficient attack.

Then go indoors and take a turn through the window mounted units if you have any.

This is the window-mounted unit in our palatial offices.  You didn’t think we were going to put a big unit in the shop, did you?

The front grill on this model pops off easily and can be given a half-strength dose of Krud Kutter Kitchen Degreaser All-Purpose Cleaner that you can procure locally or at Amazon.

No special technique.  If you don’t have a few spray bottles for solution-mixing, use full strength and spray on.  Soak for as long as it take to consume one beer and rinse thoroughly.

If you are fortunate enough to cut it in half and spray, give it a good coating but lengthen the soaking time to two-beers duration.

If it doesn’t come clean upon rinsing yet, another good soaking for a period of one to two beers.

If it STILL isn’t getting clean, install the screen cleaned as well as you can (dried with paper towels) and put a check-mark on this project.

We won’t tell.

New Cabinets?

As long as we’re measuring projects “by the beer” we should mention that although it is still too hot to begin big projects like the new kitchen cabinets because of the heat, we’ve been wiling-away the summer reading books on cabinet making and sorting out the cost-benefit of several approaches.

We employ one of our economic “social status indicators” based on how you approach an ‘UrbanRenewal’ project like this.

Upper 5%.  These people have deeper pockets that you and me. They are too busy being too successful to actually do physical work since they likely make so much dough in virtual work that anything “outside the OS” isn’t worth their trifling.

They will simply call their designer, tell them to fix it, and trust the designer to get the job done in a way that will impress other 5%’ers.  Cost be damned.

The upper 20%:  These people, too, can afford to buy completed kitchens.  Sure, there may be a HELOC (home equity line of credit) but the wife will be happy with the speed and look – if you get a good contractor.  Both will be in debt forever, but then again, ain’t we all?

The 30-80%’ers:  The kitchen makeover calculations are most vexing here in this middleground since we’re in this group.  The Choices?

  • Step up and write the big check and have what you want done by someone else.
  • Buy pre-assembled units of an acceptable style from the local Big Box Hardware Stores (Low’ed and Home Despots)
  • Buy pre-assembled units online and hope the freight doesn’t eat the savings.
  • Buy “RTA” – ready to assemble:  And hope you can follow the ‘simple directions’
  • Buy More Power Tools:  And make a run at building your own.  Save enough to buy uppers and the drawer units if you over estimate your skill set.
  • Use a Hybrid Approach:  You can find outfits online that will sell you custom dovetail drawers and custom door facings, too. This way, if you can build the big casework, the rest should be plug & play, but only if you know how to measure.  (There’s some question about my skills in this area, lol.  Eye surgeries didn’t help.)

Lower 5-30%:  These people have to roll low-ball.  Their best option may be to ‘go fishing’ on Craigslist and  Look for homes being torn down and really focus on daily checks of ‘material’ and ‘free’ sections.  All kinds of interesting goodies, but you need to be patient.

Shy away from pressed wood if it’s old.  If you’re broke, though, you can get new plastic-faced MDF (medium-density fiberboard) ordered-in by a good lumber yard.  My MDF-topped workbench has stood up to all kinds of terrible abuse.  No question it’s not the ideal counter top.  Not as good as Formica or Wilson Art, but here again, lots of good stuff pops up on C/L if you’re patient.

The Bottom 5%.  These people don’t own cabinets, homes, cars, or much anything else.  Their idea of success is finding a way to live and eat for another day.

When you take out an existing kitchen, see if there isn’t some way to recycle the old cabinets.  Use ’em in the shop, or clean up and repaint and use them in the garden shed or in the garage, or downcycle to others not so fortunate as you.

A call to a couple of kitchen remodeler’s might score some salvageable cabinets that could be cleaned up, repainted and resold.  Or, there’s that dream shop you’ve been trying to afford.

Green Lawn Secret

Our yard has looked like August National (at least after mowing and a beer, or three) in part because I actually read-up on how to take care of mowing.

Previous to this year, I had been a “one-setting” kind of guy.  I’d been setting the mower deck for 1-1/2 inches.

But, it turns out, especially if you live in the South, that a 2 or even 2-1/2: length will be best.  Texas A&M has a good four-pager on best practices for lawn with Bermuda grass.

Until reading that, it hadn’t occurred to me that we could overseed with a cool weather grass so I could mow more often and well into winter….

Hell no.

The applicable Ure family staying is:  “What kind of damn fool would fertilizer a lawn so he could mow it more often?”

Most important rule of all:  Don’t cut more than 1/3rd of the grass length at any time, super-especially in hot, dry conditions.

New Tool of the Week

Don’t tell Elaine about this one, but here it is:  A one-handed soldering iron with a pull trigger to feed solder!

This makes it possible to burn my left fingers on wires only, not wires and solder.  Progress at any price!

It was under $22 on Amazon when I spied it.  If they catch on, I expect the price to go up.  That’s the American Way, right?  (Even if the tool comes from China!)

Next Time the Wife is Shopping

Here are some great electronics and computer workbench tips that may involve liberation and extraction from Her sewing and decorating stores…:

(Shop Tip: I dip Zeus the Cat’s front paws into yellow paint to insert these finely crafted letters…He may still be inside your computer for all I know.  haven’t seen him since..)

Left to write….er…right

A.  A small curtain rod or dowel over an inconvenient window can be used effectively as a wire hanging center for test leads, clips, and so forth.  Also works for bungees, short bits of chain, ties, and what-not.  “No, what curtain rod, dear?”

B.  When “She who must be obeyed” is shopping, long0term borrow a dressmaker’s tape from her sewing kit.  Makes a much neater job of many projects like wiring to have everything the same length.  If caught, vigorously deny any knowledge.

The “obey part” is commonly assumed to apply ONLY when She is present…

C.  A Dixie cup dispenser is a nifty way to hold the screws for small projects.  Line them up as you take something apart  The top screws, the bottom screws, and so forth.  Theory is to reassemble in reverse order.

When you spill them and it become an incomprehensible pile of trash, simply over-engineer holders for them.  Another way of saying In your cups…

D.  Waxed lacing twine for electronics is cheap and has a thousand uses.

Back in the day, seemed like everyone used string for almost every project.  Now, we have progressed to Super Glue and lawsuits.  But you can still cut your fingers on waxed lacing twine – its about two dental-flosses worth in thickness.

I have never established that it has any measurable breaking strength.   It’s the undiscovered “Space Elevator” tether. It’s like steel thread for most homely things, too.

Today’s Course Credit:  1/2 a BS (Basic Survival) Unit.  We will soon be offering both free shop wall certificates and wallet cards for the UrbanSurvival Home HandyBastard’s Club which operates our Tool Slut Shelter Program.  Sit by for details.

Write when you…hand me that hammer, would you?

author avatar
George Ure
Amazon Author Page: UrbanSurvival Bio:

15 thoughts on “The History of RV’s, A/C ‘Shop Notes’”

  1. Saw your use of the term ‘Tool Slut’ and thought, “I’ve never heard that one before, it sounds kinda cool – think I’ll search on the net for references” – Google sent to a site for ‘Cable Strippers’. Is AI great or what?

      • It’s amazing how a seemingly benign yet cheeky comment and reply like this exchange can set the human hetero male mind ablaze with possibilities. Nicely done, FlaNuke and George!

  2. My one bucket list item is to buy a RV & head west to the Grand Canyon & then head North. Unfortunately the grandkids are 6, 8, & 11, so I am hoping to still be functional when they turn 18 & can take care of themselves. Hopefully 16 or younger.

    • We bought a used RV with another family. Each of us was out $6k. We share in all of the repairs/insurance/registration, etc. Not once have we both wanted it at the same time, so it works for us. The RV has been to Wyoming, Colorado and places in between all the way to Florida, and Texas. So nice to not have to pack/unpack each night. Meet lots of new people everywhere we go; and extended family loves it. Start looking now, and learning all about the different types of RV’s and what you want; then, the one you want will come to you, in your price range. WE LOVE getting out on the wide-open road headed to our next Grand Adventure!

  3. George

    “But you can still cut your fingers on waxed lacing twine – its about two dental-flosses worth in thickness.”

    In my engineering career I was involved with the fabrication of cable harnesses for an aerospace vehicle. We used lacing tape to bundle the wires into groups. What we used was not waxed but a very fine cotton material of about 100 fibers made into a flat tape about 5/32″ wide by 1/32″ thick. It would lay flat, rarely kink and could be knotted and stay knotted. We used it by the mile. It came on a roll about the size of a #10 can. Great stuff! Beats anything you can use today including plastic tie wraps. And nobody every got cut by it!

    Have you ever considered using geo-cooling for you air conditioner? Well water is usually about 50 degrees year round. Some people use that water as a medium of heat exchange instead of freon. I intend to do that when I can afford to put a system together.

  4. The “Construction Trailer” reads like a modified rail car. A good idea from the time.

    I sometimes watch game show reruns. On one late 60’s’/early 70’s show the prize was a pop-camper made in Lapeer, Michigan. Interesting watching those shows for the prizes and where the prizes were made.

    I bought a M18 FUEL™ Hackzall® the other day ($149.00). It’s a cordless, handheld reciprocating saw. Smaller than a Sawzall® ($199.00). There’s also a Super Sawzall® ($249.00).

    This Hackzall® is great. Cuts though anything, just buy the correct blade and watch I don’t catch my ankle. :)

    I’m debating on paying to get the tile floor installed. I once installed a tile floor and it did not turn out excellent. The tile wasn’t completely flat, yada, yada…..

    I want the tile to be flat and last 20+ years. The tile dealer estimates the cost to be around $3,500. I haven’t got an official quote yet. Sometimes one has to pay for craftsmanship.

    $3,500 for three areas – 14’x12′ kitchen, 5’x5′-8″ front door entrance area and a 6′-9″x7′-10″ bathroom. 250 Sq Ft +/-. This price would include all materials and labor. Since I don’t have an official quote, not sure if that would include the molding, which would be tile cut from the floor time. You guys know.

    Initially I had my eye on two different colors of slate. The 12″x24″ black and white. I was going to put paths in the rooms with the black tile, and accent with the sides of the path with the white. The sales rep said it’ll look great but a bad idea for resale. After some thought I had to agree.

    If interested, the floor tile I currently have my eye on is:

    Statuario Matte 12 x 24 in.

    • I put that type of porceline tile in my hallway back in 1995. It has held up incredibly well, cleans easily, doesn’t show anything except when the dogs shed the hair clumps up, but that is not a big deal. It is a clean, clean look, and very classy, and cool to the feet all year round, which is nice. Save a box back in case one gets cracked. Our foundation shifted slightly, and so a few over 24 years did crack, but can be cut out and a new one put in its place. We used a white/grey grout, and get the grout sealed, although, supposedly the sealant is in the grout used these days.

  5. Black for flooring is awful. Moved into a house with black linoleum and I foolish thought it would be great because the floor wouldn’t show dirt. Hah! Every shoe print showed up as a dusty footprint trail.

    My SIL’s dark purple carpet was also a mess because every piece of lint and string showed. Nasty me thought she was a bad housekeeper until I was there while she vacuumed and within minutes the carpet was again showing light colored debris.

    Best floors have multi-colored designs, spots, or colors to camouflage the dirt.

  6. Meanwhile, here’s an AC you can make with PVC, Calcium Chloride and Water that uses less energy. Let us know how it works for you, George!

    It’s also possible to use solar energy directly to make ice cubes. This is a variation on the ammoniac refrigeration techniques that were developed in the 1870’s–And still used by many RV refrigerators today;

    Finally, there’s a guy in Nebraska who has been growing Oranges and Lemons year-round in a greenhouse that’s heated by passing air thru pipes ten feet underground. Apparently 54 deg F is warm enough to keep lemon trees going. He’s been doing it for 20 years.
    I think, George, that you probably have the tools and know-how to dig a few 10 foot trenches in the yard and lay pipe in them– Maybe adding fins to the outside of the pipes would make the heat exchange even more efficient. I bet you could use a bunch of 54 degree air in your shop this Summer, eh what?

    It might seem a bit wacky to some to go to all this trouble for cool air and ice, but when you are the only guy in East Texas who can make as much ice as he wants when the grid goes down, that’ll be a cottage industry for sure. And it can be done with no electricity too– Augustin Mouchot won a prize at the 1879 World’s Fair in Paris for making several hundred pounds of ice a day, using only sunlight–no electricity. If he could do it, so can we…

    • A few years ago now I built my solar beer chiller. I used the lithium mix.. it really was not hard at all.. the trough solar heater with a desiccant in it.. a cooling coil dow to the expansion chamber.. the hardest part was keeping it from freezing th he beer so the closer was packed with ice..
      To power such a unit like what’s in the video isn’t that much..but considering where George lives it’s close to hell in the summer.
      The easiest route for cooling is a geo cooling coil and a thermal chimney..if you wanted heat and cooling then create an envelope. Simple and affective..
      Or buy a coolerado

  7. Cabinets…

    They aren’t as complicated as it looks..
    Wall cabinets 12 inch depth.. but you can make the depth what you want.. faceframe .. use the kreg
    Pocket hole jig..
    Depending on your drawer slides depends on how wide. Some it’s a quarter inch each side..height half inch to an inch lower.
    Standard drawers 4 inches then six, nine and eleven.
    I have a spacer made for when I set up my face frames clamps you never have enough clamps .. do you want European or American doors east to..
    Base kitchen 24 bathroom 18
    Daddo your panel grove on your 1by2 3/8 inch deep 14 inch in on your frame styles…the side panels route your bottom and top dado for your top and bottom a dado at the back for the back panel. Theres a jig for shelf pins to.
    Instead of finger joints or dovetail I like spline can really get decorative.

    Toe kicks same thing four inch or six inch

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