Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cool it and Backup!

Back to the original subject.

With Spring busting out early this year, I'm coming to terms with the possibilities (and limits) for 2011 improvement projects on the Sunrader. At the top of the agenda is a replacement cooling unit for the Dometic 2401 fridge that expired down in Big Sur last fall. That means a trip up to Sacramento and a visit to RV Doctor George. While I could probably figure out how to replace the cooling system myself, I've read enough stories online about the challenges of fitting them properly that I'd rather leave it up to someone with experience.

Interestingly, many of the cooling units themselves are re-manufactured by the Amish, providing a sort of ambiguous sense of craftsmanship and quality. I'm just thankful they continue to work on these older units. A replacement refrigerator would be about the same cost as the installed cooling unit, but newer refrigerators in this size range are two-way (120v/gas) rather than the three-way (120v/12v/gas) of the old Dometic. So, even though the unit has a little age to it, it will retain some more flexibility with the new cooler.

Tail Lights

Since we originally drove the Sunrader home about a year ago, the tail lights have been an ongoing issue. They've been dim and flaky, and even with some sanding and resurfacing of the contacts and cleaning all the lenses, they're still sub-optimal. Did i mention that they aren't anything close to watertight?

The lights on the Sunrader are the old Reflect-O-Lite 1400 triples. While pervasive, I don't think they ever qualified as state of the art. More like state of the cheap. Single bulbs are dedicated to stop, turn and reverse and the reflectors are just aluminum sheet, which also provides the conductive mounts for the bulbs. The aluminum looks nice and shiny in this picture, but in reality it has a thick layer of oxidation.

I've thought about carefully taking the whole thing apart, carefully polishing all the metal, etc. And there are new lenses available in a few dark corners of the Web. Even still, the tail lights would still have that lazy incandescent tempo of an old beater on I-5. Maybe I over state it a little, but after all I'm building a case for a project. So.

I'm thinking it is time for a bit of fabrication and customization. I just ordered three-each of the amber, red and white versions of this tail lamp from the Superbright Leds online store. At 5.3"/3.4" they are slightly smaller than each of the lamps in the 1400s, which should work just right. I will probably have to replace the flasher unit on the Toyota with a solid state version, since the LEDs consume much less power than the old bulbs, but I think that is pretty much plug-and-play (assuming I can find one).

The new LED lights fit into place with rubber grommets, so I think they'll look sharp and a little more contemporary than the old units, without being ridiculously out of place.

Once the lights arrive, the plan is to head over to our local TAP Plastic's outlet. I'm thinking some Ivory acrylic will do the trick, cut to the original outline of the 1400s to fit the opening and with laser cut-outs for each of the new lights. Not cheap -- the new lights were about 150 bucks all-in and the custom cut acrylic won't be free either -- but the new tail lights should shine nice and bright as we go down the road.

And give me an excuse to change out all the clearance lights too. Gotta have a project in the wings.

Friday, February 11, 2011

You Are My Sunshine

Yesterday our youngest, Callie, joined her classmates for a field trip to a local assisted living center. The kids had spent class time this week preparing some songs, as well as Valentines to bring along for the residents. Callie's maestra, Mrs. Carnahan, is one of those rare teachers that goes beyond the classroom to make a lasting imprint on her students, instilling them both with a love of learning and, today, a love of giving back.

This was the first trip the kids have made to the center, and they filed in dutifully as First-Graders will, their willingness to stay in line overcoming the tinges of fear that come with strange places and new faces. Their first performance was for the main community of residents, many of whom were running behind (Yoga class apparently ran long) so they got a bit of a late start.

The kids handed out the Valentines and sang their songs, to the delight of the audience. Callie's class is conducted entirely in Spanish, so their two songs were Cuatro Vezes al Dia and You Are My Sunshine. They were, put simply, a hit.

It turns out, in fact, that this is the first time a group of youngsters has visited the assisted living center. So this was a real treat for the group, as beyond the occasional grandchild there just aren't too many kids coming to visit.

The class then walked over to the "memory ward," where folks who are struggling with Alzheimer's get special care and attention to ease some of the big challenges that come with fading memory. For the kids, it was clear that the feeling in the room was that much more intense, as the outward signs of decline were vivid and the engagement from the prospective audience remote.

And perhaps that's why First-Graders are uniquely equipped to bring smiles to people who need them the most.

One resident, concerned and disoriented at the influx of children, protested to a caretaker that someone should call the police. Another sat quietly on the couch in the lounge area, her head leaning forward in a pink hat, stoically staring into her lap as the kids came in. And she stayed almost motionless as they lined up and began the program.

Happily, some of the residents from the prior performance had enjoyed it so much they made a point of coming along and filling out the room, adding some now familiar faces to the mix.

The children continued into another round of songs, belting them out with just a little more confidence given their experience down the hall.

And as they sang, it became clear that other voices in the room had joined in.

One of those voices, hidden beneath a pink hat and rounded shoulders, rang out clear as a bell.

"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine..."