RV lighting update!

My co-camp-host neighbors at Tongue River State Park have a 2009 Tiffin Phaeton Class A motor-home which had eight florescent fixtures lined up on the centerline of their coach. The old fixtures were failing due to age and the light they gave off was murky and well, florescent. The old bulbs allegedly produced 800 lumens each for a fixture total of 1600 lumens (x 7 = 11,200 for all of them).


Jim and David, owners of the coach, had seen other Phaeton owners replace their dated fixtures with LEDs mounted on oak trim which matches the cabinets in the coach. These light assemblies may be available on the internet – I didn’t really look because I could make them better!

We started by finding some Falcon LED lights with push-button switches sourced by Genesis Lighting on Amazon. We choose the 3 1/2” 210 lumens 12v light (links at the bottom). Don’t worry that 210 x 3 is not equal to 1600 lumens cause those old buzz-lamps were not getting anywhere near 1600 lumens.


The old lamps were 19” x 4.5” and they left a mark in the fabric covering the ceiling so we made some oak trims which measured 20: x 5.5” (Oak 1×6) to cover the footprint of the lights we took down. We cut the oak (14 feet of it procured at a local big-box store) into seven 20” boards and one 15” board (The shorty went in the entry way). After routering a 3/8” radius round-over on the face of each board, to match the round-over on the cabinets, we stained them to match the color (In our case golden oak) and poly-ed them with three coats of semi-gloss (plus one coat on the back to seal it).


We drilled each board in three places to run the wires from the back of the light through to the back of the trim board where we connected them with line-splices. We then drilled four holes through the board which lined up with the light-mounting holes so we could send a screw through the light mounting hole all the way into the ceiling of the coach. Once the light covers were installed they covered the screws holding the trims to the coach. I love hidden fasteners! We also put four dabs of clear silicone on the back of each trim before we screwed it up which will adhere to the ceiling fabric and help keep the lights from coming loose.


The end result was a set of lights that put out about three times as much light as the old tube-lights. Because there are switches on each LED they can be turned off individually to reduce the overall lighting scheme. The lamps we choose are also dimmable so with a switch replacement they could all be dimmed in unison. Now, I can do the math and figure out that 4,830 lumens is not 11,200, but the apparent light available in the coach is far greater than the old fixtures. Maybe it’s the higher K temperature of the LED’s or the murky covers over the old lights – don’t know for sure – but it is far better now than before.


We puttered at this for about 5 days, but if you got after it you could likely get it done in two. If you want to take the short-cut start with some 20” x 5.5” drawer fronts and all you need to do is drill and mount the lights to the drawer fronts then attach the assembly to the coach. FYI LED lights are polarity sensitive – if you hook them up backwards they don’t work.


LED light sources:













Tongue River State Park

Volunteering Week II
When I got here there were thunderstorms coming through the Park every night cooling things down and stirring things up. Wind gust-fronts coming from the northwest pick up black coal-dust from the mine and whip it into the air. It creates a black shadow along the horizon as the gust-front gets close. Very ominous looking.


The dark dust is coal dust swept out of the mine by the wind


Same view without the thunder-coal storm

I’ve settled into the park volunteer routine of trash pickup and bathroom cleaning assistant. I usually get all my work done in the morning so I can take the afternoon off and enjoy the 100*-plus heat wave we’re having these days.

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I’m not having any luck hiding from the heat this summer


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It’s 105* AND on fire.  Sweet!

I’ve been letting the boiz out each morning for an hour or so in the cool, crisp air. They have adopted the area behind the RV as their own and patrol it looking for edibles. The park is very quiet on weekdays so they can prowl at their leisure.


The boiz play-space




Homestake to Tongue River Reservoir State Park

Back-tracking on I-90 eastbound across Montana toward Decker, MT. We stopped over-night in Billings to get groceries and run a few errands. The high temps are back up into the upper 90’s which makes paved big cities seem overly hot. We swung by the Walmart in Billing’s Heights and the living-in-your-car population seemed high. There were also a half dozen campers in the parking lot, one with it’s slide out, so I opted for a parking spot on a side-street near a vacant-lot-becoming-luxury-condos construction area.

When I lived in Denver I saw a lot of homeless RV and car dwellers living on the streets, but I though it was a local issue because of legal weed and a great economy with attendant sky-high rents. On this trip I’ve seen a lot of people living in RV’s in every town I pass through. Missoula had them, the forest east of Butte has tons of permanent residents, (and from the posted rules that say you have to move 5 miles every two weeks dated in 2012 they’ve had that issue for awhile now).

Billings has an RV and car dwelling homeless population and from stories I gathered from fellow travelers San Jose, CA has a huge issue with stupid-high rents putting employed people out on the street. What I hear from Montana locals is that work is hard to scrape together and pay is low. The State has budget constraints too. Frankly this situation is making me sad and more than a little worried (so I’m changing the subject).

I’ve come to the Tongue River State Park to try volunteering as a way of keeping busy and engaging with my fellow humans. This Park needs some help with the sorts of things I’m good at: mowing, painting, fixing. The park is near the WY border in eastern MT. Nearby are a few coal mines (so close in fact that the blasting can be felt in the park!), cattle ranches, and it’s only 30 miles to Sheridan WY. The low rolling hills are dotted with scrubby-looking trees which is a far cry from the steep heavily wooded mountains that blocked the solar panel near Lolo Pass. Here the panel gets direct sun all day. The only thing in the way is smoke from the fires burning in OR.


When I arrived Jim said to me, “Don’t leave the awning out, the wind will crush it.” Good advice anywhere in the west, but super accurate prediction of the wind which arrived that evening. It looked like we might get a thunderstorm, but when we saw the black dust-cloud at the base of the storm it was time to reel-in the awning and duck for cover. After the dust-bowl blew out we got enough rain to drop the temperature about 20*F. Love the 70’s man! (Found out later that black dust is the wind sweeping the open-pit coal mine and carrying it to the lake).

Next night the wind kicked it up a notch and I thought we were going to roll over the wheel-chocks and head off downwind. The wind knocked the power out in the area for 11-hours. Might be a MT address but we got WY wind!

Volunteering! YaY!
My first day of volunteering I went up to the Rosebud Battlefield section of the Park and helped clear some branches away and haul them to the burn-pile. My part consisted of dragging the downed branches to where a tractor could get to them. They call the job “Branch Manager”

Next big project was dragging some trees off the beach then cleaning up some big logs and hauling them away. We got to use the tractor for that and ya’ll know how I love tractors! On the weekend I spent a fair amount of time emptying trash cans and hauling it to the dumpster. In Colo Parks they just have big dumpsters in every loop so the campers haul it to the place where the big trash truck can get it. Not so at Tongue River SP. Reminds me of my old job at DIA.







Lee Creek Campground to Homestake Pass, MT


The sky is not cloudy – that’s smoke blotting out the sun

The heat (90* days) finally reached up to the heavens of the Bitterroot Mtns today. After enjoying a week of cool nights and pleasant days near Lolo Pass we are off on another adventure! I got a camp-host position at a Montana State Park so we’re heading east and south to Tongue River State Park. We stopped for the night at the top of Homestake Pass, near Homestake Lake, and enjoyed a cool summer’s eve.

The trip over was under a hazy, smoke-filled sky. The fires in Oregon must be very bad for this much smoke to be blotting out the sun in MT.

Missoula to Lee Creek Campground near Lolo Pass, MT & ID

We got an early start out of Missoula and headed up into the mountains for some cooler air. Trying to find a place where the air is naturally cool so I don’t have to run the A/C all the time. Basically that’s not happening. Global Climate change has been setting high-temperature records in Oregon again this week (someone hit 107*F) and it’s cooler in New Mexico than it is on the plains of Oregon and Washington.


I’ve found myself once again on the trail of Lewis and Clark. I followed the Corps of Discovery (discovered a corpse?) on a trip from west to east way back in the early 1990’s (when you could still see their footprints in the mud). Now I’m on the route they took over the mountains in the fall of 1805 and back again in the summer of 1806. I was reading about how they nearly lost some toes to frostbite in September and I’m wishing it still got that cold. If they did that trip now it would be heat-stroke they had to worry about!


Lolo Pass visitor enter – Wifi here. Free plus a donation 🙂

I took the tour at the Smokejumpers Visitor Center in Missoula. Very interesting. When I was in Alaska I spent some time picking smokejumpers up and taking them back to a firebase. Not much has changed in their profession since then except there are more Ram-Air parachutes now than there were then. Still get to jump out of a perfectly good airplane into a burning forest (or tundra if they are in way-north Alaska). The day after my Smokejumper tour a fire broke out on a ridge not far from camp. A couple helicopters drained a nearby pond and dumped it on the fire.


Packer Meadows


Above the camp site

There are some hiking trails and logging roads near our campsite so we hiked the hikes and biked the roads to see the sights


Near by creek

Sandpoint, ID to Missoula, MT

Google says 3.5 hours between Sandpoint and Missoula on I-90. Mother Earth says 6 hours. There is a lot of work being done on I-90 so slowing down and dealing with two-way traffic is a regular thing. Also I have a new entry in my worst roads list. I-90 east-bound from the state-line to Superior, MT is a rough-ass ribbon of concrete slabs stitched together by pot-holes. It’s good that they are fixing it, but they are fixing it by pouring new concrete slabs which will be rough just like the old stuff in a few weeks. Stupid concrete! Asphalt is the smooth ride!

If I had that trip to do over I’d take MT 200 up the Clark Fork River to where it meets I-90

Nelson, BC to Sandpoint, ID

We left Nelson about mid-day and headed south on hwy 6 toward the USA border crossing at Nelway. It was a lovely drive through the mountains to the border and the check-in to the US was quick. From the border south on Washington 31 was winding and hilly until we hooked up with the Pend Oreille river. From then on it was a slight grade with rolling hills through hay fields and past high-end waterfront properties. Quite a few small towns dot the landscape and we slowed to 45 then 25 for each one. After two weeks of thinking about speeds and distances in Km it’s strange to now see signs in Mph. Diesel fuel is $3.40-ish in Idaho which is about $2 cheaper than BC so we got that going for us again.

On the down-side we got trains. Lots of trains – 4 per hour, night and day, whistling the nearby crossing. I hate trains. I had planned to check out the local riding scene but trains drove me away.