Dutch Star Entertainment Cabinet

From that to this:

If there was one area of our coach that was a constant source of frustration, it was our entertainment cabinet in the Newmar Dutch Star.

It was a mess. Once I added a few additional components, like a satellite receiver, Apple TV, a Logitech Harmony Hub and a couple of cooling fans, I had an equipment stack that was literally one piece of equipment heaped one on top of another stuffed into the cabinet.

Every time we hit a bump in the road, clang! Equipment jumped up and down.

Although the two cooling fans were relatively large, they could not keep up with the heat as the fans had no room to operate.

And why all of this trouble?

No shelves.

I’m not sure why Newmar made the cabinet so useless for audio visual equipment. The cable routing was inordinately complex, solely to allow the option of having two independent programming feeds to the two TV sets in the front of the coach. And yet, only one sound source for the AV receiver.

I finally got around to changing all of that this past weekend.

The first task was to empty the cabinet of all the equipment. That included the Winegard Satellite Antenna Controller, Sony Blu-Ray Player, Logitech Harmony Remote Hub, Bell Expressvu Satellite TV Receiver, two 1×4 HDMI splitters, an Apple TV, a Sony AV Receiver and two cooling fans.

What was left behind was a huge mess of cabling.

I simplified the wiring dramatically by opting for one HDMI source coming from the receiver and splitting that source to the two TV sets. Each TV set playing back the same content. All I needed to put back into the cabinet was one 1 input, 4 output HDMI splitter, not two.

There were 6 HDMI cables in the cabinet. All I needed were 2 — one to feed each TV set — and the other 4 were pushed back behind the wall. I can always pull them back if I ever need them (2 of them were to send output to the exterior TV set in the basement bay which we did not install on our coach).

The rest of the wiring was to feed the AV receiver. I replaced the Sony that came with the coach. In its place is a Pioneer slimline receiver. Not as powerful in terms of pure wattage but a better sounding unit with vastly better setup protocols for doing the on-screen programming to tune speakers and subwoofer.

I had replaced the stock subwoofer that came with the coach. It was stuck inside a kitchen cabinet and sounded awful. I picked up a small but mighty sub that fits nicely behind one of our recliners. Sounds awesome in the coach.

I had a friend build two nice shelves for the coach. I was able to place all of the equipment neatly in place with a vastly simplified cable plant.

The two cooling fans are now mounted on the outside of the cabinet grill. They pull the hot air out of the cabinet far more effectively than before. So much so that I will add a temperature probe as the fans no longer need to run continuously except, obviously, when heat conditions warrant the cooling.

All of the gear is velcro’d to the shelves so no more flying equipment when driving the coach.

And, everything is neat and tidy in the cabinet.  The Pioneer receiver and Apple TV are both wired via ethernet to the back entertainment cabinet in the bedroom which is where I have a router and a NAS installed.

Very pleased with how it all turned out.

Clearance Check

Space. Room to spare.

Unfortunately, many of the sites we have visited with our coach have very little space. Sites are small and tightly packed.

We first learned about checking for clearance when we visited the 1,000 Islands/Ivy Lea KOA in Ontario, Canada. It was our first trip out with the coach. We made a point of telling the KOA folks that we had a 40-foot coach and we would need a site where we could fit. “No problem”, they told us, “we have big rigs in here all the time.”

Looking at the site below, everything looks great. Getting to the site was a real adventure. Everything was very tight for space. And once we got in to this site? Well, what you do not see clearly from the angle of the photograph are the branches of the evergreen tree on the driver’s side resting directly on the roof of the coach.

Lorraine was very focused on the lower clearance of the coach when she guided me into the site that she did not look up. The coach lifted the branches over the top of the roofline and once the airbags had deflated, the branches remained propped up by the roof itself. Fortunately the branches did not damage the coach.

The only way we were able to exit that site was to have the KOA staff come and cut several branches from the tree.

Lesson learned. Or so we thought.

About a year later, we went to Milton Heights Campground to attend a Newmar Kountry Klub chapter rally. Our chapter rally was held last week. We quite enjoyed our time there.

Milton Heights is an old park with narrow roads and very narrow sites. For our stay, things were quiet and the surroundings pleasant.

Our entry into our site did not go as smoothly as planned.

Lorraine guided me into the narrow site. It was paved and, quite rightly, she wanted to ensure that the coach was positioned more or less centred on the narrow strip of pavement.

Unfortunately, the post for the water and electric service was tight to the narrow strip of pavement. Less than two feet. I hadn’t put the slides out as I had recently changed my routine when setting up at a site. Park, leave coach at ride height, turn engine off, exit coach, connect services, re-enter coach, slides out then jacks down. Thank heavens I followed that protocol.

I went to connect the services and, sure enough, there was no way that we would be able to put our full wall slide out without hitting the water and electric service pedestal.

Not enough space.

If I had followed our old protocol, we would have experienced damage to our full wall slide.

So, back into the coach. We repositioned the coach as far right on the paved strip as possible.

Just enough room to get the slides out.

A good reminder for us to really think about the space requirements for our coach. Many of the sites we visit were designed for a different class of motorhome. What I have learned is that if a campground looks tight, it is tight and it is best to walk out to the site first and check all clearances including clearances for the slides before making our way.

Battery Maintenance

Power

Power.

It kept going through my mind. Did we check everything related to power when we put the coach into storage for the winter?

And, specifically, did I check the house batteries for water level?

We went out to the storage facility and had an opportunity to look at all of the house batteries. the levels looked okay but I think I will need to go back and make sure that I add distilled water up to the level of the protrusion of the valve well. There is water covering the plates of the batteries themselves so they should be okay for another few weeks.

Trojan has a good video that provided me with a lot of information about deep cycle batteries. Looking back, I think I should have ordered AGM batteries for the coach. They do not require any maintenance.

Energy

energy

With our coach in a climate controlled storage facility for the winter, I found myself a tad anxious. Did I remember to look after everything before the coach went into storage?

One area of concern: batteries.

We happen to have a lot of batteries on our coach. Two of them for the automotive system. Eight for the house.

When I did some research on how to maintain batteries, this was what I found:

WATERING – MONTHLY CHECK THE LEVEL IN EVERY CELL AND FILL THE BATTERIES TO THE CORRECT LEVELS AS REQUIRED. The use of a battery-watering gun will assist in accurately completing this task. Water should be added, if needed, after the charging has been completed unless the tops of the internal plates are exposed. In that case, water should be added before charging. Be sure that a water suitable for watering batteries (colorless, odorless, tasteless, and suitable for drinking), preferably distilled water, is utilized. If you have any doubt as to the suitability of the water, have it tested and add an appropriate water line filter, if required. It is most important that all battery cells be filled to the correct level in order to obtain good battery life and minimize corrosion to the electrical system and vehicle.

CLEANING – MONTHLY WASH THE BATTERY TOPS WITH A SOLUTION OF 1/4 CUP (60ML) BAKING SODA TO 1 1/2 GALLONS (6 TO 1) OF CLEAR WATER. After watering spray the tops and sides of the batteries, the battery wiring and the battery racks with baking soda solution; let the solution stand for at least five minutes to allow the neutralization to take place. Rinse the entire area with a low- pressure spray of clean water. Do not wash electrical components with direct stream of high pressure water. If any evidence of corrosion is evident (green powered foam), spray again with baking soda and let the solution stand for at least 5 minutes before rinsing; repeat if required. Never wash batteries without first neutralizing the entire battery area with a baking soda solution.

Well. That seems really involved.

In all my years owning and driving cars, I have never once added water or cleaned the battery.

That obviously changes with a coach.

We will be making a visit to the storage facility to see how the Castaway is doing. And I will bring some distilled water with me.

I will check the water levels and make sure that they are topped up.

Cleaning will have to wait until the spring.

Hopefully it won’t be as major a job as this one.

Storing a Coach

storedcoach

This is where we have left our coach until April of 2017.

Gan 401 Storage offers roughly 160,000 square feet of climate controlled storage. Errol, the owner, and Mike, the building superintendent, helped guide me in to this sprawling building, the site of a former manufacturing company that used to make dashboards for cars. This former plant now holds roughly 150 cars, 150 boats and a handful of Class A coaches, keeping them warm and dry over the harsh Canadian winter.

Getting the coach into our assigned spot proved to be a challenging test of navigating backwards, not once but twice.

Both times were successful however when Errol and Mike learned that we would need to pull the coach out in April, they decided that it was best to move us to another location in the building.

Although the space is quite large inside, there are support columns everywhere and most of the turns are very tight. Easy to maneuver forward, much more demanding to maneuver backwards especially in a dimly lit building. Very hard to see clearly through the mirrors.

That was probably the most difficult part of getting the coach stored.

We had cleaned out the coach before heading to the storage facility. I then completed one final circle check of the coach and everything looked fine.

Once we arrived to the storage facility and parked the coach into our assigned spot, I lowered the jacks and I made a few changes to the onboard systems of the coach.

We are plugged into a 15-amp service for the winter. This will keep our batteries charged. However, I did not want any of the 120 AC service to be available and that meant turning off the inverter but making sure that the charger was still active. I then set the power management system to read a 15-amp service.

I went back to the fuse system and turned off most of the fuses in the coach. I wanted to make sure that most of the 120 AC services were turned off at the breaker panel.

The final change was to the hot water heater. I had been using the diesel burner for most of the season and, since the coach would not need hot water during storage, I made sure to set the source of heat to off. No diesel, no AC.

Climate systems had been turned off. Ice had been cleared from the fridge — I left the fridge doors slightly open to allow the moisture to dissipate. Black and grey tanks had been emptied. Half a tank of diesel fuel left in the fuel tank.

That was pretty much it. We are in Florida this week and once we return home we will drop by to make sure that everything is working okay with the coach.