Category Archives: Evangola

A Trip to Presque Isle State Park, PA

So, on the 13th of July we set out for Presque Isle State Park in/by Erie, PA.  Our son had a day’s worth of homeschool classes on aquaculture, swamp & beach biomes, the geology of the park, and preservation and maintenance of the park.  While it was only two and a quarter hours away from Buffalo, as the classes started at 9 am, we decided to camp overnight.

Our trip was uneventful, except for the fact that I made the mistake of topping up the coolant level in the bus before we left.  Why was this a problem?  Because there was a small leak at the coolant reservoir that dripped down onto the alternator, frying the voltage regulator.  By the time we had hit the Angola Rest Area on the NYS Thruway/I-90, we were running on battery power.  But as on our Evangola trip, I knew that the engine would keep running fine, but unlike that previous trip I had the house batteries fully charged, and chargers for both the house and bus batteries that would work when we got to shore power.  But now I knew the reason WHY the alternator was failing.  Unfortunately, the fluctuations in voltage damaged the board in the fridge, though I got it to work for part of the time we were plugged in.

We stayed at Sara’s Campground, whose lands abut right up to both the Presque Isle State Park and the Tom Ridge Environmental Center.  Their grounds also have sites on both sides of Peninsula Drive/Route 832, the east side has sites for actual beach camping (in tents), and the west side is in the more forested area.

Sara's Campground Site Map
Sara’s Campground Site Map

So, we ended up getting Site 21 in the Forest Section.  It was our first stay in a private campground, and I was frankly surprised at the density of sites! The dashcam recorded our trip into our site, including the trepidation and worries I had of getting the bus in a place I’d have to back out of.

Sara’s Campground, Site 21, with the bus all settled.

But the site was fine.  The electric/water pole had a streetlight on it, so we had to put a blanket up over the windows on that side (thankfully magnets hold to bus steel wonderfully).  But there were no sites to our starboard side (where the firepit was), so it was a nice open site (next to a parking lot). And the concrete pad was very nicely level, so everything was comfortable.

Saras Campground, Site 21, with the bus settled and the fire burning down for Toastites.
Saras Campground, Site 21, with the bus settled and the fire burning down for Toastites.

But right across the street (via a crosswalk with speedbumps and a pushbutton controlled set of flashing lights to cross) was the start of Presque Isle’s beaches, and we walked all the way up past the first couple of breakwaters.  We did a little beachcombing, then returned and we made a fire and some lovely toastites for dinner.  We had some people stop by, interested in the bus, and we gave them the tour, and some skoolie info, as they had expressed interest in working up their own.

The sunset over lake Erie, shining right through the back window of the bus.
The sunset over lake Erie, shining right through the back window of the bus.

A little while later, as the sun was setting, we found that the sun was setting directly behind the bus, through the path to the beach.  It was, however, it was basically 9pm, so we were forced to get to bed before we felt we were ready.

Our next morning was fine, coffee and bowls of cereal for breakfast, and as the engine was running and I was doing our pre-trip, folks came over, interested in the bus. Alas, we didn’t have time for a tour, and weren’t returning, but they thought the concept was cool and were absolutely fine with us being there.

Unfortunately, given the short timing of us getting to the Tom Ridge Center for the aquaponics class, and then us getting from that class to our pontoon boat tour, I forgot to turn the dashcam on for those trips. But after the boat tour, I remembered to turn the cam on, so we have a video tour of Presque Isle, sped up 4x.  You miss out on a whole bunch of the cottonwood tree seeds floating about at that speed, but I recorded us getting from the tour to Barracks Beach, and then down the beach road to the Tom Ridge Center again, and then around the whole park once more.


Our trip back was uneventful, except for the one tractor-trailer driver who LOVED the train horn.  He paced us while we were still in PA, blew his horn and motioned for me to blow ours and gave a thumbs-up when I did, and hung out in front of us to break air for us until he got to the Angola, NY exit where he sounded his horn again and waved, and I sounded ours again.

A July Bus Trip to Evangola

  So skip forward to now, and we just took the bus to Evangola State Park to stay for a weekend.  As of the writing of this post, the bus has some of the electrical system in and the three-way-fridge working on both the AC & DC settings (but all that’s another couple of posts).

  The trip was somewhat marred by the fact that the alternator had lost its regulator.  While the alternator had never put out really high voltage levels, they’d always been sufficient to charge the batteries and run the electrical needs of the bus systems.  With the regulator problem, the alternator would put out 13+ volts for the first few minutes of the engine running, then only put out between 5 and 9 volts.

   A couple of days before we set out on Friday, I had made my way up to the Tonawanda Res to fuel up the bus, and due to some poor weather, I had the lights and wipers on for that run, and these, then, ran off the battery, and the ammeter was showing that there was 12-13 volts over that time which seemed low, but okay for the way the alternator had been since we got the bus.

  Now you might be thinking, ‘Hey, wouldn’t you have realized this sooner?  I mean, on my car, if the alternator goes, it’s really dramatic.’  However, you have to realize that the bus is a diesel, so it doesn’t have spark plugs or anything consuming the electricity as the engine runs (well, excepting the ‘electronic brain’ that sucks down some 10 milliamps), and the battery bank is two big 8D batteries, which hold a whole lot of amp-hours (~950 cold-cranking each).

  So on Friday, we set out from our house to pick up our son from camp downtown and head the additional 26 miles to Evangola.  Unfortunately, two blocks away from our son’s camp, I was making a tight turn and shifted into fourth instead of second and stalled the engine.  Which then wouldn’t start.  I boggled for a minute, as my pre-trip had shown 13 volts, but the battery now was down below 10.

  I  quickly grabbed the jumper cables and used the house batteries to jump-start the bus.  Given that the AC/DC converter (used to) have a charging circuit, we headed on, picking up our son, and running another errand in the city before heading off to the campground.  It was a nice, uneventful drive, and our site was wonderful.

  Our site was maybe 60 feet from a cliff right on Lake Erie and had wonderful sounds of the surf the whole time we were there. There was a nice, flat, grassy area (perfect for playing bocce), and very light woods off toward the cliff.   It was a twelve minute walk to the beach along the cliff-side trail, and we had cool people in the campsites near us.  A couple people stopped by to see the bus, and seemed suitably impressed.  And, on our last day/night we even had a friend come out to stay over, so we could be hosts!

  Even without a functional kitchen, we were fine.  I had the refrigerator working, so we were able to keep stuff cool (including the ice-cream bars in the freezer!) and most of our cooking was done over the fire (except for one breakfast that was cooked over a propane camp-stove). I brought a keg of cider and the little CO2 cartridge pressurizer worked well (and since there was no driving going on, it was all safe!).

  We had a massive thunderstorm, and had a couple of leaks from the hatches’ vents, providing with another thing to check, although they hold up fine to regular rains.  On the other hand, the auxiliary air tank (coming up in another post) held enough pressure long enough for my wife to blow the four-chime whistle (same post as the air tank) at the parading pirates, much to everyone’s enjoyment.

 Now, the whole time we were there, I had disconnected the house batteries from the converter and used my jumper cables to hook the bus batteries up to the ‘charger’ part of the converter.  Unfortunately, the charger part wasn’t working so the bus batteries had no charge, and the house batteries didn’t have enough charge, so we couldn’t get the bus running when we set out to leave.

  Luckily, we have AAA with the RV upgrade, so I called and in 20 minutes or so Matt from Tick Tock Towing & Recovery showed up and spent the better part of an hour trying to jump the bus form his truck, pull-start it (since it’s a manual), then finally calling for the big shop-charger to be brought out.  In less than five minutes on that the bus was started.

  And so we were off, on our way home.  But it had started to rain again, so I needed the wipers on, and the lights.  And of course, that meant that these drained the already low batteries further.  To the point where the electronic tachometer and speedometer kept resetting.  So, again the house batteries came to the rescue.  I ran the jumper cables up to the power bus bar and everything electric perked up.

  We made it home safely, and the consensus was that we all couldn’t wait to go camping with the bus again.


A life lesson learned …

   Last weekend we took the bus out to camp at one of the nicest campgrounds we’ve been to (not that we’ve been to a lot, but it will be getting a post all it’s own soon …).  As of right now, the bus is not finished.

No plumbing.

None of the 12 VDC lighting.

No solid walls.

Exposed outer skin, insulation, and wiring.

No levelers.

And yet, our boy loved it.  He can’t wait to go out again.

And it was a great lesson.  He told us that “things don’t have to be perfect in order to be fun.”

We talked about it and it seems like he’s less likely to get upset over a long-range goal taking time to achieve if he can see the progress and enjoy it along the way.

Huzzah for the bus being a teaching tool!