Tag Archives: Airstream

Downhill Braking, Brake Fluid and a Disclaimer

Great Brakes!

These are brakes!

The drive from my home in Minden, Nevada to Convict Lake in California is due south all the way on U.S. 395. The old highway has been the north-south conduit through the eastern Sierra Nevada and Cascade Range since forever and still serves well. I navigated slowly through Gardnerville, Nevada and then on to Topaz Lake at the California border. Continuing south, I went through Coleville, Walker and then Bridgeport where the scenery was beautiful and all went smoothly.

I drove past the road to Bodie then climbed up Conway pass to 8,143’ with a little effort, then did the steep 1,100’ downgrade to Mono Lake which required some attentive use of brakes and transmission. Though this grade is challenging for anyone, there were no problems on this trip. There could have been which is why I’m sending off this article (please read the disclaimer at the bottom).

Going down steep hills with a load (e.g. a trailer) is a skill I acquired while driving semi trucks up and down the Sierra Nevada many years ago. I’ve gone up and down Donner Summit, Echo Summit, Sherwin Summit, and Conway Summit during night time snow storms and during clear days. They’re always dangerous when you are pulling a trailer.

I thought I should share some pointers with those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to be a professional driver of really big and very heavy trailers and  equipment.

#1: The first and main rule is to read the road ahead – well ahead. Look a ½ mile out all the time

#2: The second rule is to brake early, gently and steadily.

#3: Maintain the speed you’re comfortable with while going down the hill. Do not let the 15,000+ pounds of tow vehicle and trailer build up speed, to say 65 MPH, and then try to slow it down to 55 MPH while fighting gravity. That’s how the brakes overheat. First, before heading downhill, get to 55 MPH (if that’s what your comfort speed is for that hill) and stay there.

#4: Use the transmission and engine by selecting a lower gear or maybe two lower gears while going downhill. The brakes are like a credit card – use when needed, but don’t splurge as hitting the limit can be quite dangerous.

#5: Read the yellow diamond signs; this is part of Rule #1. The signs you ignored when you weren’t puling a trailer are the ones you need to read now. When it shows a truck swerving and says 35 MPH, you’d better slow to 35 or less. If a sign says 6% down grade ahead, you absolutely need to prepare to gear down and slow to your comfortable downhill speed – now, not when you’re doing 70 MPH on a 6% downhill grade!

On vacant roads, practice applying your trailer brakes to feel how they work. Reach down and gradually move the trailer brake lever until you begin feeling the trailer brakes work. Repeat this process once every trip to 1) ensure the trailer brakes are working, and 2) to create muscle memory in case your vehicle brakes fail and you have to use the trailer to stop you. Training is your key to safety.

Speaking of brakes, get yours checked more often than usual when you’re doing a lot of towing. Ask the mechanic to flush your brake fluid at least once per year as hydraulic brake fluid gets very, very hot when towing and begins to lose its ability to transfer pressure after repeated heat cycles.

The brake fluid heats up as do all the brake parts when the brake pads are doing their job of generating friction. The heat isn’t bad as long as it’s not excessive or maintained for too long of a time. That’s when the pads begin to stop generating friction and the brake fluid heats up beyond specifications and begins to boil.

The way you can tell if your brake fluid boils is pretty frightening – you push the brake peddle down and it just keeps going down… very scary! In extreme cases, if your brake fluid boils, and it will if you’re not careful about braking with heavy loads, get it flushed out of the tow vehicle’s brake system right away and fill with fresh DOT 4 fluid.

Brake fluid comes on four grades or specifications based on U.S. Department of Transportation minimum boiling point requirements, ergo the “DOT” level assigned.

DOT 3 is the lowest grade permitted and is most common in all cars and trucks built before 2006. It has a minimum dry boiling point (0% water) of 401 degrees Fahrenheit. It has a minimum wet boiling point (3.7% water) of 284 degrees.  Notice how little water needs to be absorbed for the boiling point to drop substantially.

DOT 4 fluid has a higher minimum dry boiling point requirement at 441 degrees as well as a higher wet boiling point of 311 degrees.  Most cars and truck built after 2006 use this type fluid.  It is frequently used as racing brake fluid with boiling points up to 600 degrees and beyond.  Due to its chemical makeup, DOT 4 absorbs water more readily and should be changed more frequently.

DOT 5 fluid is silicone based and is highly resistant to moisture, but its compressibility is lagging well below the DOT 3 and DOT 4 fluids which makes it unsuitable for street use.

DOT 5.1 is the final fluid specification which has a higher minimum dry (500 degrees) and wet boiling point (356 degrees), provides strong system pressure with minimal compression, and is more lubricating which makes this grade excellent for vehicles with ABS. It enjoys success in the racing arena as well so look for higher boiling point temperatures. DOT 5.1 is not compatible with DOT 4 due to their chemical composition, so if you want to use 5.1, have your technician flush the brake system and refill with 5.1 – don’t just top it off over DOT 4 fluid.

Flushing the entire brake hydraulic system is a regular service item and doesn’t cost much. Spending $35 to $50 for fresh ultra high quality DOT 5.1 racing brake fluid is cheap and your braking system will be way more protected against heat degradation than it is now.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer: Thank you for reading this article. Do not take these references, tips or suggestions as fact. They are my opinion which I’m sharing publically. It is your responsibility to drive safely and ensure the vehicle you are using is maintained safely. This article is not to be considered training or guidance. I am not a certified driving instructor nor mechanic and am not responsible for your actions. Sorry, it had to be said.

Being a Baked Potato

Feel like a baked potato?

Feel like a baked potato?

Our Airstreams are beautiful. They are also wrapped in aluminum just like a fine baked Yukon Gold potato would be. Why do chefs wrap potatoes in aluminum foil? I asked.

Aluminum conducts heat quite well. That means it moves heat from one place to another efficiently, such as from the outside of an Airstream to the inside. Be thankful Wally B didn’t use copper to skin his Airstreams as it’s an even better heat conductor than aluminum.

By wrapping a potato in foil, heat is transferred/conducted from the oven into the foil sphere where the potato is and the potato cooks. The foil keeps moisture in, heat in, and it heats more evenly. It also keeps the potato warmer longer after it is removed from the heat source. So, when inside an aluminum trailer, if you sometimes feel like a baked potato it’s for a good reason. You are.

Heated air rises and cooled air sinks. And to support that fact, the cat likes to lay on the floor when it’s hot rather than lay on the top of the lounge pad to gaze out the window. Makes sense. The air conditioner unit, being mounted high, generates refrigerated cool air which naturally sinks to the floor and displaces any warm air because cool air is heavy and dense. Warm air molecules rise (think of a hot air balloon) because they are expanding and lighter than the cooler air molecules around them. This high pressure (cool and dense) and low pressure (warm and light) exchange is something we need to manage inside the trailer to stay comfortable.

The Problem

As the warm air inside the trailer rises to the ceiling where does it go? If you use a pressure cooker  to heat liquid on the stove the liquid’s temperature can increase beyond normal. Why? Because by keeping the pressure up (high pressure = cool), the temperature where boiling occurs goes up and the liquid does not readily boil. Maybe the same holds true for the inside of the hot trailer.

If you turn the A/C on and close all the windows you have kind of created a pressure cooker. Heat from the sun bakes down on the cool trailer and the cool air inside wants to leave. Because the trailer is sealed up tight, the temperature inside rises just like a pressure cooker. The increased temperature will get to a certain level and sort of stay there. From then on, you’re mixing the cool dense air made from the A/C with the naturally occurring heated air from the sun via the aluminum siding and the temperature just creeps up. Sadly, due to the superior heat conductivity of the Airstream, and its lack of an efficient insulation system, the temperature rises rather high and it becomes uncomfortable.

The Answer

If the hot air is something we don’t want, we should figure out a way to get it to go away. If you want to prevent hot air from entering, you create barriers such as insulation to keep the cold and hot separated. If you want heat to go, make some cold air and create a path for hot air to rise. It’s hot air and natural law says it must expand. If it has nowhere to expand to, it creates higher and higher pressure and raises the boiling point. That’s NOT what we want. In an Airstream, during a heat wave, we want cool – not hot. So, what do we do?

Let it go. Let the hot air escape to the outside. The tricky part comes when we want to keep the nice heavy cold air. If we picture the cool air laying along the floor and the hot air moving around up at the ceiling, we might get the idea to let the hot air out one of the vents and let the cold air fill up the Tin Can! Brilliant!

And that’s just what I’ve started to do. I’ve noticed my A/C is doing a better job at keeping the temperatures livable inside my baked potato since leaving small openings in the two Fantastic Fans. The fans have covers made of Reflectix as heat barriers, but there’s enough gap for hot air to escape out the openings I’ve left in the vents.

You mileage may vary, but it is working for me. It’s the little things that count. Happy touring!

Tuolumne Meadows – Yosemite


Tuolumne Meadows - 8,900'

Tuolumne Meadows

The natural magic and sheer immensity of Yosemite National Park goes far beyond gazing up at Yosemite Falls and El Capitan from the valley floor. That part of the park is about 11 square miles in size – 11 miles long and an average of about a mile wide. Of course, that’s the area of the park that draws the crowds and rightfully so. It is breathtaking.

However, the entire park makes up a vast 1,169 square miles making the magnificent valley floor seem, well, like 1% of the park.

As a comparison in size, Rhode Island, according to Rhode Island, is 1,045 square miles, and Washington D.C. is about 69, so Yosemite is larger than United State’s 13th state and all of D.C., combined. Lots of hiking to do.

Yosemite has several sections which include the famous valley floor, the Mariposa grove of sequoias, Badger Pass ski area, and the north half, Tuolumne Meadows, where John Muir herded sheep in 1869 as a recent immigrant from Scotland looking for work. That’s the half of the park I visited.

Getting There

I live in Minden, Nevada which is on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range about 100 miles north of Yosemite. These’s a back entrance to Yosemite from the east on Highway 120. The highway begins at the little town of Lee Vining, California on Highway 395. That’s right at Mono Lake for those who like landmarks.

8% Grade

8% Grade

The trip up Highway 120 to the Yosemite entrance gate is beautiful, but not for the faint of heart. Lee Vining is at 6,780′ and the Tioga Pass entrance of the park is 9,945′.

The road  climbs 3,200 feet in just 12 miles. That’s an average grade of 5%. A 6-mile stretch of the road is inclined at 8% which is way steep if you’re in search of a technical term. The Jeep with its Mercedes-Benz diesel engine pulled the 25′ Flying Cloud with all my belongings and a load of water up that grade at about 35 miles per hour. I was impressed.

Going back down that grade required some old truck driving skills and great brakes which is exactly why I use Hawk HPS brake pads and racing brake fluid to prevent fluid boiling (and thus no brakes).


The horror stories of getting camping reservations at Yosemite are generally true, at least if you’re trying to get a spot on the valley floor at Upper Pines, Lower Pines, or North Pines campgrounds. There are other campgrounds around the park, but due to their locations on the valley floor, these campgrounds are usually booked within seconds, yes SECONDS, of being offered for the spring and summer months.

Tuolumne Meadows campground where I stayed is different. Reservations are reasonably available though there are no site-specific accommodations. You can sign up for a certain size of trailer or RV or tent and the rangers will assign a site when you arrive. Not sure I liked that part as I like to find my own piece of heaven rather than let someone else choose it for me. A minor detail.

Tuolumne Meadows campground hasn’t seen a Federal dollar spent on it since 1963. Or so it seemed. The road to the little check-in shack was rutted, dirty, and poorly marked. The rangers were friendly, as most rangers are, and I checked in with no problem. They decided I would stay in site number B-35. This site was heavily wooded with Tamarack pines and backed up to the staff canvas cabins behind the gas station. The two roof-mounted Zamp solar panels were able to gather enough sun to keep the batteries charged.

The sites was not as bad as it sounds, but the road to get there was fierce. Potholes galore; the road appeared to have been washed out repeatedly over the years and never repaired. It was maybe one-lane wide and sporadically lined with occasional orange cones.

The campsites have never seen a tractor or grader and no one had a level place to pitch a tent or park a trailer. The campground was old, neglected, and poorly managed. This was at the second most visited National Park in the country.

For the price of just one U.S. Education Department conference, one General Services Administration conference, and one IRS conference, the whole campground could be rebuilt and made amazingly beautiful for you and me – U.S. taxpayers. A rebuild would have lasting value for Americans for years, quite unlike these government morale parties the bureaucrats like to throw.

A sternly-worded letter to the Department of the Interior and my U.S. Senators will ensue.


Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center built in 1933

Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center – 1933

On Friday morning, I loaded my daypack with a bunch of water, camera gear and all the usual emergency stuff one might need if they get hurt or stranded in the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada. My destination was a high mountain camp called Glen Aulin.

Part of the trail was the Pacific Crest Trail which felt kind of good for no other reason than to know I was on the PCT. The trail started near the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center and crossed the Tuolumne River heading north. A little log hut marked the location of Soda Springs where animals and years of visitors stop for the mineral water’s medicinal properties. I didn’t stop.


To Glen Aulin June 2013


Tuolumne River

The trail follows the Tuolumne River and is an excellent path. It’s all wild in this part of the park and is essentially undisturbed since forever. Yeah, but I expected more from the non-wild campground; I’ll save all that for my letters to D.C..

The river’s channel crossed amazingly beautiful territory and then started falling. The falls roared like continuous thunder. There were falls for what seemed like miles – one after another. The sensation was just “riveting” (a little AS humor…).

Tuolumne River

Tuolumne River


At the first bridge

The trail dropped in elevation along with the river and around each bend the sights were worthy of a photo. I did take pictures with the hog camera (Nikon D7000) and they will be posted in the Gallery section as soon as I get that part figured out.


All photos were taken with an iPhone 4s.


Glen Aulin Falls


As I approached Glen Aulin, the falls seemed to have extra power. The picture here is of those falls though it just doesn’t do them justice.


Pack mules

Glen Aulin is a high mountain camp where folks can stay in some comfortable surroundings. The camp is supplied by pack train which travels back and froth on the same trail I hiked. It was exciting to see a pack train going up and down the trail, but dodging the “mule exhaust” was never pleasant.

Lunch Falls

Lunch Falls

I hiked past the camp for about a mile and found a beautiful hideaway on the river. You cannot seethis from the trail, though the falls can be heard. I was getting tired by this point and knew I had 7 miles to go to return to the Jeep. I stopped for a lunch break and named it Lunch Falls.

On the way back, I found more beauty and kept taking pictures. I hope you’ve enjoyed this trail as I did. Please try to go to Tuolumne Meadows. If the campground is in good condition you’ll know the letter writing campaign helped.




Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks for stopping by!

Before the Beginning

  TinyHouse2 Smaller

The trail began with a friend prodding me to live more efficiently – more economically – maybe in a mobile home.  Well, it really had to do with me complaining about the cost of taking college courses and the solution offered was to live a more frugal life which would include living small, as in a mobile home or trailer.  Initially, that idea kinda stunk.  As time went along, the thought of living in a trailer, not a mobile home, started to gain some traction with me.  My friend’s idea had indeed planted a seed!

At the time, I was renting a nice condominium in Reno, Nevada.  It was less than 30 minutes from work and just a few miles away from the many community events held in Reno and Sparks year-round.  The condo was 15 minutes from beautiful hiking trails, which led anywhere I wanted to go in the forests surrounding Lake Tahoe.  I really had no use for all the living space it offered as it was only me, so paring my life down wasn’t all that bad of an idea.  I wanted a smaller place, cozier, and less sterile.  Oh, and I wanted it to be something I was buying as I’m not crazy about paying for someone else’s long term investment.  A trailer started to make still more sense, but maybe what I needed was a full-blown RV…

RV Research

Using my friend’s suggestion as a springboard, I started looking at RVs as a possibility for becoming my daily living quarters.  A couple I knew had sold all their worldly belongings and ventured off in a motorhome to see the U.S.  At the time of hearing of this, I was surprised and also thought they were nuts.  Of course at the time, the thought of me having a triple-digit percentage loss of value in my home was nuts, too.


The search for a suitable RV began in mid 2011 on the internet.  The more RVs I looked at the more I was convinced buying something like a six or seven-year old diesel pusher coach for somewhere around $150,000 was the ticket to my dream.  Just a few short years ago, these behemoths had sold for up to $400,000 new, and had washers and dryers, microwaves, automatic diesel generators, lots of room and could tow anything.  Compared to a fifth-wheel trailer or a travel trailer, the motor coach had it all.  Not only that, but it was fantastically convenient – no setting up besides pressing a few buttons.  The diesels were that much better than the gasoline models as they would last forever and have decent operating costs.  I was sold on the platform, but then needed to weed through the many manufacturers and used models to settle on my perfect retirement villa.

After exhaustive research, I decided either Country Coach or Alpine were the only brands to go with. There were good features with many of the other brands, but they all seemed to lack the premium touches found in those two premium coaches. Unfortunately, both manufacturers had gone out of business during the recession, leaving a fair concern for availability of OEM parts. Other than that, they were truly the best upper-middle range coaches, especially the Country Coach.

The availability of parts worried me a little, but that was nothing like what I discovered when I called the Nevada DMV and my insurance agent. Ouch! What stopped me cold in my tracks was learning how much the insurance, sales tax and annual license fees would be in Nevada.  It was to the tune of thousands of dollars per year. Yeah, I know how full-timer RVists license their rigs in South Dakota or Florida, but I’m not planning on leaving Nevada for the Great Plains anytime soon.

Nevada has a confiscatory vehicle registration plan which indirectly and rather quietly funnels enormous sums of money through a backdoor into public schools. It is called a Government Services Fee and is added to the minimal $33.00 annual DMV registration fee. The Government Services Fee is formula based using the original MSRP to determine the annual charge. For a 6-year old RV with an MSRP of $400,000, the registration fee is about $2,400 per year. Insurance was about the same through Allstate; all that together was an extra $400 per month for registration and insurance making the motorhome out of the question. Those peripheral recurring costs were just too much for me so a Plan B had to be developed.

Stay tuned, folks!

Airstreamin’ it

Hi travelers and welcome to Tincanz, a place to talk about our passions!

Sunset Bay, Oregon August 2012

Sunset Bay, Oregon
August 2012

After suffering a rocky road during the recession, my life changed and the trail ahead became much more important than ever before. This is that story.

As the days go by and I learn how to make a wonderfully useful and interesting blog site, I hope you’ll come back often. Right now, I’m teaching myself how to build a web site and maintain a blog. I’m up to my neck in SEOs, social media widgets, plugins and mail chimps, and I barely can use an iPhone.  I have some of the best teachers in the world from across the Word Press world and have excellent examples of how to make a fabulous blog from the many Airstream and RV blogs I follow.

Yes, I’m learning to tweet, retweet and direct tweet (or something very close to that), so we’ll be in touch.

Thank you for stopping by ~ Russ