We took our time preparing to leave Erie, Pennsylvania. At the Elks Lodge, we only had an electrical hook-up, so I didn’t have much to deal with – just stow the power cord and Progressive Industries Electrical Management System box. We pulled out around 10:30am for a short run to Salamanca where we planned to spend the night at the Seneca Allegany Resort and Casino.
It was a fairly easy and uneventful drive east on I-86. This stretch of Interstate isn’t heavily traveled and traffic was very light. It was windy, but we mostly had a tail wind, so it wasn’t too hard to manage. The name of the town we were going to made me think of Breaking Bad – wasn’t Salamanca the name of Tuco’s uncle who communicated with a bell in the series?
We crossed into New York where I-86 is referred to as the Southern Tier Expressway. The Seneca Allegany Casino is on the south side of the Interstate at exit 20 near the Allegheny River. Notice the difference in the spelling – the Seneca Tribe uses Allegany while the settlers spelled it Allegheny. New York State breaks convention with the numbering of the exits on the Interstates here. In most states – every one I can think of actually – the number for the exits corresponds with the nearest mile marker. Not in New York. The exits are in numerical order regardless of mileage between the exits. For example, exit 20 on I-86 in New York is 62 miles from the Pennsylvania border where the mile markers begin.
About halfway there, we crossed a bridge over Chatauqua Lake. This made me think of Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He used that word when he described his foray into the metaphysics of quality. Donna and I have both read this bizarre fictionalized autobiography written in 1974.
The road was being re-paved at the entrance to the casino. There were traffic cones and a detour sign with an arrow that seemed to be randomly pointing to the right shoulder. I stopped and tried to decipher where I was supposed to enter the casino – I was afraid of being directed to the parking garage which we wouldn’t be able to enter. I saw a way out if we needed it, so I proceeded. The tour bus behind us followed me. I was a little concerned about cutting across the freshly laid asphalt at the entrance, but a worker there waved me through when he saw me hesitate.
We found bus and RV parking at the far east end of the lot. There are long parking stalls marked there, well away from the casino. The pavement had a slope to it, but it wasn’t too bad. We put the slides out and settled in quickly.
We didn’t want to visit the casino – just wanted to break up the drive to Watkins Glen and average our overnight costs down by staying for free. But free parking isn’t really free. For us, there is always some generator run time to factor in. Our Onan 7.5kW generator burns about half a gallon of diesel fuel per hour, so it’s not too expensive. When boondocking I usually run it in the morning and in the evening to charge our battery bank – the rest of the time we run on the inverter for our electrical needs.
When I put the slides out, I had a low voltage warning. This was odd, because the batteries should have been charging the whole time we were driving. I cranked up the generator to charge the batteries.
The wind continued to blow all afternoon and we had gusts at times that would rock the coach. Donna made what she calls a pantry meal for dinner. She had prepped it before we left Erie. It was a salmon casserole she made with canned salmon, whole wheat penne and a cheese sauce. It wasn’t our favorite meal ever, but it was nutritious.
Salmon casserole on a paper plate
After dinner, I shut down the generator. It wasn’t long before I had low voltage again. The overhead lights would dim whenever an electrical consumer was turned on. I suspected a poor connection at the battery bank. I checked all of the connections and didn’t find a problem. I turned off the inverter and we only used the 12-volt lighting before we went to bed.
In the morning, I ran the generator again. I checked the charging voltage at the battery bank and looked everything over again without finding any issues. After breakfast, we prepared to leave. When I tried to bring the slides in, I had a low voltage error and the HWH hydraulic pump wouldn’t run. I took my Fluke multimeter out to the battery bank again and found it was only delivering 10.2 volts. Oh no! My batteries were toast.
I fired up the generator again and tried to bring the bedroom slide in. As soon as I hit the rocker switch to activate the pump, the generator shut down! I tried it a couple of times with the same result. I thought there might be a dead short at the hydraulic pump causing the issues. I checked everything over and didn’t find anything wrong with the HWH system. After checking everything over – again – I tried to operate the slide mechanism with the generator running. It immediately shut itself off. The generator was shutting down due to a fault it detected.
I was getting concerned. We can’t drive without pulling the slides in. I tried to think of what was causing the generator to detect a fatal fault in the system. I finally came to the conclusion that the fault is in the battery bank. One or more cells in our 6-volt batteries was faulty and I had no way of replacing them where we were.
Most coaches have a battery boost switch. This switch is usually a momentary rocker type switch that connects the chassis battery, which is used to start the engine with the house batteries that run the inverter, lights and other coach accessories. Momentarily connecting the two battery banks together is an emergency system to be able to start the engine if the chassis batteries are too weak.
I reasoned that this should work in the other direction as well. If I activated the battery boost switch when I ran the slide system, the chassis batteries would boost the house batteries. I gave that a try. It worked! I got the slides in without any problems. We were on our way.
Before we hit I-86, I made a fuel stop. Salamanca is on an Indian reservation. They have low prices on fuel – I topped up the tank at $3.01/gallon. I knew that down the road fuel was $3.58/gallon. I only took on 23 gallons, but hey, I saved about 12 bucks.
As we cruised down the Interstate, I thought about the battery issue. I won’t know for sure until I can disconnect the batteries and check the open circuit voltage of each one, but I think they are badly sulfated. I may have caused the problem. I used to run the generator for about three hours in the morning and again for three hours in the evening when we were boondocking. We’ve spent quite a lot of time boondocking this year and my thrifty ways may have caught me. I reduced my generator run time to one and half hours in the morning and evening.
I thought the Xantrex three-stage battery charger built into our inverter was fully charging the batteries in that amount of time. It would go through the bulk charging stage, then the acceptance charge and finally reach a float charge before I shut down the generator. In hindsight, I should have tested the batteries without any load to determine if they were being fully charged. Undercharging will damage the batteries over time – a hard lead sulfate coating forms on the plates and the batteries will lose efficiency and finally fail. I’ve always been diligent about the electrolyte levels, but I think I made a mistake by trying to save generator run time. The other possibility is a shorted cell or an internal mechanical problem like a broken cell connector.
The trip along the southern tier of western New York is very scenic. We drove through forests and crossed rivers along the way. I was absorbed in thinking abut the battery issue and didn’t realize how hilly the terrain was. I had the cruise control set at 61 mph and let it do its thing. Then I noticed the coolant temperature was over 190 degrees – we usually run in the low 180s unless we’re climbing a steep grade. Then I noticed we were cruising with 23-25 psi of boost pressure from the turbo. The engine was pulling hard! I switched the cruise control off and slowed to 55 mph. I realized we were climbing a long grade – not real steep, but with the cruise control set and the transmission in an overdrive gear – sixth gear – it was putting a load on the engine. At 55 mph in fifth gear, the coolant temperature dropped back into the low 180s.
It was overcast and somewhat dreary all day. The wind kept up, but again was mostly a tail wind. Our GPS took us on a roundabout way to Watkins Glen. Our Rand McNally RV specific GPS has our vehicle weight programmed and won’t route us where we’re over the weight limit. Sure enough, as we rejoined a road that would have been a more direct route and looked back, we saw a sign that limited weight to 10 tons, probably due to old bridges over creeks.
We found the Clute Memorial Park and Campground in Watkins Glen. The campground is run by the village of Watkins Glen and sits right on the southern tip of Seneca Lake. We’re in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. Seneca Lake is about 40 miles long north to south and only about two miles wide. There are a series of lakes in the regions with similar aspect ratios – long north-south and narrow. Thus the reason for naming them “finger lakes.”
We checked in and were assign to site C23. This site is ideally situated for us – it faces a road in the campground extending from the entrance to the site. This made backing in and dropping the trailer a breeze.
Our site at Clute Memorial Park and Campground
It’s not the prettiest park – or the cheapest! – but the location is good for exploring the area. And it’s right on a canal that flows into the lake, so we can put the kayak in the water.
I went online and looked for replacement batteries. I could get flooded wet-cell batteries like the ones we have. These were installed when we bought the coach four and a half years ago. They’re relatively inexpensive – I could get four of them for about $700. I decided to step up and ordered Lifeline AGM batteries. These are truly maintenance-free and have higher capacity than our current batteries. They are well-constructed and are used in aircraft and marine installations. The downside is that they are heavy – at 66 pounds each, they weigh about twice as much as the wet cell batteries. Then there’s the cost – I paid $1300 for four of these. In the long run, I think I’ll be happier with them. They’ll be delivered here at the park and I’ll change out our battery bank.
Last night, Donna made a favorite meal – pork loin medallions with a lemon-dijon pan sauce. She served it with mashed sweet potato and roasted brussel sprouts.
Pork loin medallions
A light mist – not really rain – was falling before bedtime. We have more of the same this morning. I’d like to get out and explore, but the weather is forecast to improve in the coming days, so we may put off sightseeing for a day.
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