Destination: The Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia

Another of the locations that we want to take the bus to is in New Brunswick, namely, the Bay of Fundy (around Irving Nature Park, near St. John).  And if we’re going that far, Halifax, Nova Scotia isn’t far away.

The Bay of Fundy has some of the greatest tidal change in the world!
The Bay of Fundy has some of the greatest tidal change in the world!

The Bay of Fundy is a cool place for people who can appreciate geology.  One of the awesome things about it is that it has some of the greatest tidal range in the world, spanning about 56 feet of change between high and low tides, which happen twice each every day.   (Which hit a difference of 71 feet in 1869 in a perfect storm of a tropical cyclone, low barometric pressure, and a spring tide.)  In addition to this, the bay area is also seated in a rift valley where most of Nova Scotia could have peeled away from North America if that pesky mid-Atlantic Ridge hadn’t meddled in the tectonic action.

Just like in school.  I'm talking about the Cobequid-Chedabucto fault at the top of the illustration (from
Just like in school. I’m talking about the Cobequid-Chedabucto fault at the top of the illustration (from

If you’re not big into geology, what you could take away from this is that a bunch of the rock layers in this area are igneous (volcanic), so they’re different from other areas of nearby Canada.  These rocks (and their differential rates of erosion) are one of the things that create the ‘flower pot’ rock formations people are walking and kayaking around in my first picture of the post.

Some of the cliffs around the Bay of Fundy.
Some of the cliffs around the Bay of Fundy.

It also created some really cool cliffs in the area.  The formation of the Bay and it’s high tides also creates ‘bores’ in some of the rivers that can actually reverse the direction of their flows as the tide comes in.  These ‘bores’ are places where a wave front makes it’s way up the river against the flow as the tide comes in.

The area just seems to beg for a canoe and some strong paddling arms.

But beyond (farther east) is Halifax, Nova Scotia.  It’s not quite as far east as we could reasonably take the bus on the continent (out near Sydney would be about it, unless we wanted to take the ferry out to Newfoundland and drive about there!).   But Halifax has some neat stuff, like the Alexander Keith’s brewery, which is one of the oldest breweries in Canada,

Citidel Hill (Fort George) in Halifax
Citidel Hill (Fort George) in Halifax

the Halifax Citadel (Fort George), a seven-pointed earthworked fort atop the hill that overlooks Halifax, and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which seems to have a wealth of  information on Halifax and Nova Scotia’s nautical contributions and history and is also the oldest and largest Maritime Museum in Canada.

There’s a nice-looking campsite about 20 km away, the Woodhaven RV Park.  It looks to be about a 90 minute bike ride to the southern area of Halifax, but the Citadel has parking for buses and RVs, so it might be a reasonable thing to just park the bus there and sight-see.

Part of the other fun of this trip is the driving! The trip to St. John should take us about 13 hours (847 mi) at Google speeds, and probably about 14.25 or so bus speeds – if we go via the Thruway and other highways.  According to Google, if we skirted just south of the Adirondacks through Ticonderoga, NY and up to Burlington, VT and through Lancaster, NH and Augusta and Bangor, ME, it would only take us 15 hours (827 mi), and probably 16-17 hours at bus speed.

From St. John to Halifax is only about 4.5 hours, though it seems a circuitous and scenic route as it curves around the Bay of Fundy, the Minas Bay, and Cobequid Bay.  And just off the path, of course, is Prince Edward Island for just that many more tempting sights.

As you can see, this trip could turn into something long, and would need some careful planning for overnights of travel, parking, and fuel stops.  But this gives some nice bones to flesh out!







Cold Weather Care and Feeding of Batteries

A recent discussion and some questions on the subject of batteries gave me the idea to sum up what I have on the subject in hopes that it will help other folks’ batteries to last longer.  For the RVer who wants to stay quiet, a good, reliable battery bank is the way to keep so many of those systems that make camping life so comfortable going, and most of us can’t afford and don’t want to buy those expensive new batteries often.

There are a number of strategies when choosing batteries for your RV/Camper.  Some people choose one single large battery, like this ‘universal replacement’: 

12v 200ah Solar Power Battery – Deep Cycle (Electronics)

List Price: $359.99 USD
New From: $347.50 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

This one has a rating of 200 Amp-hours (It would last for 200 hours under a constant 1 amp draw, or 1 hour at a 200 amp draw) at 12 volts DC, which is the usual power system for your regular vehicle and most RVs.

Some folks like to use golf cart batteries, as they can be obtained used, and even as 6 volt batteries, can be hooked up in series to make a 12 volt output and are often fairly cheap, like these (new):

Sealed AGM Gel Golf Cart Battery 12 Volt 35 Amp Hour – 4 Pack (Misc.)

List Price: Price Not Listed
New From: 0 Out of Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

These, hooked up as two sets of series connections by a parallel connection would yield 140 Amp-hours at 12 Volts DC.

Now, the ones above are AGM (Absorbant Glass Mat) batteries. This technology became popular in the early 1980s as a sealed lead acid battery where the acid is absorbed by a very fine fiberglass mat, making the battery spill-proof, and means that it can be mounted in any direction. These batteries have very low internal resistance, are capable of delivering high currents on demand and offer a relatively long service life, even when deep-cycled.

AGM batteries are maintenance free, provide good electrical reliability, and are lighter than the flooded lead acid type (which I’ll mention in a moment). They stand up well to low temperatures and have a low self-discharge, but the major advantages are a charge that is up to five times faster than the flooded version, and the ability to deep cycle without ruining the battery. AGM batteries offers a depth-of-discharge (DoD) of 80 percent, while flooded batteries are specified at 50 percent DoD to attain the same cycle life.  The downsides are that they tend to be heavier/bigger per Amp-hour and higher costs than flooded batteries.

A flooded battery might be a cost- and weight-effective choice, looking something like this one: 

Trojan T-1275 12V 150Ah Flooded Lead Acid Golf Cart Battery FAST USA SHIP

List Price: $279.00 USD
New From: $279.00 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

This battery would give 150 Amp-hours at 12 Volts DC, but with a smaller, lighter battery.  The downside of this battery is that you have to make sure the battery is topped up with distilled water, as it will off-gas explosive hydrogen gas and other corrosive gases (so it has to be placed in a vented compartment). You can get around some of the work of topping your battery(ies) up with an automatic system like this one

RV Trailer Camper Electrical Battery Watering System Single MP-2010

List Price: $43.69 USD
New From: $43.69 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

which makes it a simple job with a a hand pump to fill once you install the hose to each of the cells of the battery(ies).

Another problem with flooded batteries is that a full discharge (50%) causes strain on the battery, and each discharge/charge cycle permanently robs the battery of a small amount of capacity (Unnoticable at first, but each subsequent discharge takes more capacity from the battery). Most of the flooded types will have a life of about 200-300 cycles, while the Lifeline batteries that we got are rated for 1000 cycles.

When it comes to cold weather, AGM batteries have another couple of advantages over flooded batteries in that they are much more likely to survive a freeze intact, and loose less of their charge over the same length of time.  This last is probably the most important of the two, as the trick to keeping a battery healthy over cold weather is keeping it charged.

As the weather gets colder, the effective Amp-hours in a battery drops, while at the same time, its voltage capacity rises.  This means that your charger has to be able to cope with this.  There are a number of ‘Smart Chargers’ out there, like these: 

NOCO Genius G3500 6V/12V 3.5A UltraSafe Smart Battery Charger (Automotive)

List Price: $74.95 USD
New From: $55.17 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

BLACK+DECKER BM3B 6V and 12V Automatic Battery Charger / Maintainer (Automotive)

List Price: $25.99 USD
New From: $17.99 USD In Stock
Used from: $14.39 USD In Stock

NOCO Genius GENM2 8 Amp 2-Bank Waterproof Smart On-Board Battery Charger (Automotive)

List Price: $99.95 USD
New From: $97.78 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

or as units built into converters like this

PowerMax PM3-55 110 V to 12 V DC Power Supply Converter Charger for Rv Pm3-55, 55Amp (Wireless Phone Accessory)

List Price: $109.00 USD
New From: $104.34 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

The thing about these ‘smart’ chargers is that they will automatically detect the charge that your battery has and adjust their output to give your battery what it needs, from ‘bulk charging’ (up to almost 90% charge) through the ‘absorption charge’ (to charge the last 10-15% of the battery) to ‘float charging’ (which keeps the battery full at a constant lower voltage) and even the maintenance cycle of ‘equalizing’ charging (which highly charges the battery to prolong the battery life by removing sulfur from the plates).  A regular charger like you might have in the garage for your  car generally has settings for either a ‘starting charge’ (lots of amps you use to try and get the car started with a dead battery), a ‘bulk charge’ (To bring the battery to a full or near full charge), and a ‘float charge’ (to keep the battery full), though it doesn’t pay any attention to the battery that it’s connected to and continues to do what the switch is selected to, which can easily over-charge a battery and leave you with sulfur corroded plates.

Some people winterize their system by removing the batteries from their RV/campers, and keeping them warm. This is a perfectly acceptable way to winterize, but for batteries with larger Amp-hour capacities (and especially those that are heavier AGM batteries or built into specialized compartments) this can be a lot of work. You still have to remember to keep the batteries charged, or you might lose a cycle of life through discharge as they sit.  Also, if you have the flooded batteries, taking them out is a great time to top them up, and pay more attention to keeping them charged, as they’ll discharge faster than the AGMs.

Also, if you’ve heard that you can’t store your batteries on concrete over winter, as long as your batteries are in a plastic case, you can disregard it.  This adage comes from the time when batteries were produced in wooden cases, and the wet wood sitting on the porous concrete meant that the concrete would slowly leach away the water from your battery.  The only concern with modern batteries is if you can get your fingers underneath to lift them back into their places so you can get going again in the warmer times of the year.




At the Terminal – The Frozen Bus

It’s been really cold here over the last couple of weeks, and last Tuesday I hit my first real mechanical trouble with my regular school bus run.

I had previously dealt with a bus that had mechanical problems, after I had finished my run, I went to exchange my bus with a driver whose bus had broken down (though I had thought I was going to just pick up the kids and take them a couple of blocks to their drop-off location).  In that instance, a mechanic had already been at work on the downed bus, and got it back to running, so I got to drive it back to the terminal, and have it cut out on me on the trip.  All in all, this was a good thing, since it helped the mechanic to pin-point the problem to an electrical connection, and the whole thing was reasonably fast and simple.

My run is one single school in the mornings, and it’s fairly long.  I leave my terminal at about 6:30 and start picking up kids at around 5 minutes to seven.  And then I drive across the city to get to the school to drop off at 8:00.  Then I get to drive back to the terminal (if I don’t help out with another run) and get there around 8:30 if all goes well.  There are, of course, issues – those kids who wait in the house until the bus comes and aren’t ready when it does, the ones who are running late and have to run down the street to get to the stop while I wait, the cars who get stuck and block the small streets who I have to wait for, and the other buses who need to pick up along the same route who I can get stuck behind, not to mention simple traffic and regular accidents that throw wrenches into the finely tuned route that the school board’s program spits out.

At any rate, Tuesday had a fine start.  It was cold (temps in the negative single digits), but my regular bus started up fine.  Traffic was moving slowly, so I was a couple of minutes behind in picking up kids, but they were out and things moved right along.  We don’t have cold-weather ‘bibs’ to cover our radiators, and my coolant temperature never got above 155 degrees (this is significant on the one hand because it means that the bus never really warmed up inside, and on the other it indicates how cold it was for the bus’ systems.  The ‘bibs’ limit the airflow over the radiator and allow the bus engine to warm up more).

After picking up all my kids and driving the long way to the school, the engine seemed to lose some power when accelerating.  Not a lot, and not steadily.  In driving stand-by and when my regular bus was in the shop I had driven other buses, and some were full of vim and vigor and others were rather sloppy and lethargic, so I knew there was a range, but this was my bus, and it didn’t do stuff like that, so I was careful with it.

By keeping a slow acceleration and a light foot on the pedal, I could get the bus up to 30 mph (city speed limit), and ride along fine, so I kept on to school, though it seemed to be getting a bit worse.  I called in when I was five minutes from school, to make sure our dispatchers knew, and if it was serious, they’d advise, though I said that I was continuing on to school, and they were okay with that.

I made school and unloaded safely, and called in to the terminal that the engine was getting a bit worse and that I was headed back.  I would usually have taken an expressway back to the terminal, but decided that I wouldn’t today, since the bus was acting strangely.  The temperature of the coolant was hitting a max of 150 degrees, and I was wondering if it was just being too cold for the engine to fire on all cylinders, especially since I was now noting a cloud behind the bus (as I could give more attention to the bus without paying attention to the kids).

And the bus was getting worse.

My route back along the city streets took me over a raised bridge over some train tracks, and I could barely hold 5 mph on the incline.  I was ready to call it in, but on the downside of the bridge, the engine seemed to pick up some power, and I got the bus up to 25 mph and decided not to call.  But a few blocks later, I was coming up to an intersection (behind an already stopped truck), and as I stopped the bus and the engine idled, it died.  I tried to start it a couple of times, and while the engine would turn over, it wouldn’t catch.

The air brake went on, the flashers went on, and I called in that the bus had died.  I verified that I had no kids on the bus, and our dispatchers called to the mechanics to have them send someone out to me.  I dug out the reflective triangles and pulled on my coat, and watched for traffic before stepping off the bus to put a triangle in place.  Now, that might strike you as odd; why would I have to check?  Wasn’t I already at the curb?

Well, no.  The street that I was traveling along had not had it’s sidewalk cleared, and so there was a person walking in the street, and one of the understandings of the bus drivers is that ‘the other guy always has right of way’, so I was far enough from the curb that small cars (and even a small van-based bus that didn’t mind taking limbs off of the curbside trees) could pass my bus on the right, as long as they were willing to brave the snowbank and an angled car.

I ended up waiting almost 30 minutes. Finally, a mechanic showed up with a ‘tool bus’ (a little van bus with a massive battery pack for jumping buses and tools and such), and got to work on the engine.  A quick diagnosis was “water in the fuel line”.  As he got to work on opening the hood and then a filter atop the engine, I boggled for a moment about how, if it was so cold, I could have even started the engine and had the bus run fine for so long on the run with water in the fuel?

Then I remembered about one of the things that’s different about a diesel fuel system than a gas system that I had to pay attention to for a WVO conversion:  the diesel engine doesn’t use all the fuel that the pump brings up to the fuel rail.  The excess is returned to the fuel tank, so there’s a constant flow of fuel round the system and for WVO, it’s important because running the fuel by the engine heats it and when switching between WVO and diesel, you need a delay to clear the line of the other fuel so you don’t mix them in the same tank.  For my bus that morning, it was only the heating aspect that was important.

Aha! Over my run, the fuel in the tank was slowly being heated, despite the mass it had and the non-insulated tank, to the point where it could melt the water that had obviously been turned to ice in the cold.  Thus, it was a delayed problem.

At any rate, despite the two bottles of additive he put in the filter holder and the time spent cranking the engine (about 40 minutes time in total) we ended up having to leave the bus to have it towed.  It felt bad leaving it like that, but there was nothing to do for it.  The mechanic said that there were two filters and the second one was under the engine and the water had probably hit it and refrozen there since it was so cold.  The only real remedy at that point was to bring the bus into the shop and thaw it, then add more additive to the fuel to the system to absorb the water.


After having my own bus, and working on it myself, the policy that drivers can’t open the hoods of their buses (not even to add more wiper fluid or open/close coolant flow to the heaters) is so frustrating.  I can’t say what engine I have in the bus, and my view from the windshield while the mechanic was working on it was pretty poor.

At any rate, it was a new and different experience.