Upgrading the Casa for Karen

For the first seven months, actually eight months including Canada, of our trip, the Casa has never been plugged into an electrical outlet. When we designed / specified the camper, we added extra batteries – we have four – and solar panels, such that we could camp for extended periods of time without needing to either plug into an outlet, or drive the truck. We run our fridge, lights, computers, fan for the heater, and water pump off electricity. Excepting two days in Paraguay when the temps were at or above 112F, and the fridge was running all the time and depleting the batteries faster than the sun could recharge them, our setup has worked very nicely. For some reason we associate being plugged in with being an RVer, whereas cool overlanders don’t need no stinking outlets.

At our campground in Mendoza, where Karen was going to stay by herself for a week while I was in the US, our scheme was not going to work.

The campground in Mendoza.

The campground was heavily shaded, so limited battery charging from our solar panels, and we weren’t going to be driving anywhere, so no battery charging from the truck’s alternator.

The camper is made such that it can plug into a 110V outlet, and includes a battery charger powered from the 110V, not anything we had used up until now. As some of you know, I am an electronics / computer science engineer by education, but a manager by trade. Which means that in my previous job, I would have just asked someone to upgrade the camper with a 220 – 110 V transformer, and magically this would have happened. Given that my set of direct reports is limited to Karen, and she has a rather poor electrical background, plus may not agree that she reports to anyone, I had to take on the task myself.

And in reality it was kind of fun. We have said from the beginning that we didn’t have a specific goal in mind – the cliche of the journey being the goal does hold true for us. – and we wanted to travel slow enough that we got a feel for the people and culture as we traveled along. I can recommend a electrical rebuild of a truck camper as a good way to get to know people, and get a feel for the electrical hardware store culture. At least in Mendoza.

I put together the list of what I thought I needed, and headed down to Ferreteria street (hardware store street); actually even more specific it was electrical hardware store street. Along a five block stretch there are roughly ten electrical hardware store, ranging from very small – room enough for two guys behind the counter – to large, well-equipped industrial looking electrical parts stores.

My formal Spanish education consists of 20 hours of lessons in Buenos Aires. In addition, I have picked up a smattering here and there during our travels. But trust me, nowhere have I learned the Spanish that I needed too be able to say “tie wrap anchor”. And no, tieo wrapo anchoro doesn’t work.

Here is where the old school guy-behind-the-counter setup of most of the stores works very well. I had to go to four stores to eventually find everything I needed, but at each store there was a very friendly guy behind the counter. Using sign language, tie wrapping noises, Spanglish, and cartoon drawings, we managed to communicate. At the first store, I spent 45 minutes with the counter guy and purchased a whopping 35 pesos worth of parts (US $7.50). The whole time the counter guy was very friendly, not rushed at all, even though there was a line of waiting customers in the store, and for every part that he couldn’t provide, he would give me directions to a store that probably had it. Great fun.

Eventually, a transformer, wires of different colors, terminals, spade lugs, tie wraps, anchors, and Argentinian and US power plugs and outlets, were all purchased. And with minimal swearing, were installed and tested.

The dinette section in the Casa undergoing surgery: batteries on the right, new transformer o the left, and tools all over the place.

I left Karen smiling inside our camper that was plugged into the 220V outlet. She had all the lights on, the inverter (to power our computers) running, the heater going, the fridge running, and the batteries were still charging. When you live in 80 square feet, it’s the small things in life that bring you joy.

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4 thoughts on “Upgrading the Casa for Karen

  1. It was good to see you at BC2, and better to learn that you succeeded with the electronic surgery. I trust you celebrated with some good Mendoza wine!

    –Rex

      • There will always be room for the two of you! Think of Steve and Jennifer as replacing Paul and Mary. Karen – I remember some of our joint electrical repairs – I believe we were successful and also obtained some new home improvement books in the process. Maybe you could work on a similar book for the Casa?

  2. Pingback: US vs S America Vehicle Design Requirements « lifes2shortnot2

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