Two Great Days At Cedar Key in Florida

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We left Tampa with our new (to us) RV on Sunday (will post the new RV soon) and headed for Cedar Key. I’m not even sure where Jim heard about Cedar Key or why he wanted us to go there, but I’m glad he found this cute little gem of a town! Eclectic doesn’t even begin to describe this town – it’s part history and the other part hippie. We only had one full day there, but we made the most of it and saw a lot of the area. We will definitely be back there to spend more time some day – it’s quickly become a favorite spot. We stayed at Sunset Isle RV Resort and Motel. Unfortunately we were unable to get a beachfront spot, as we booked the place Sunday morning (we were happy to get any spot!) I highly recommend a beach spot if you can get one – the sunsets are spectacular overlooking the Gulf Of Mexico and out onto the tiny islands that dot the Gulf there. The sun sets over the Gulf of Mexico as we vacation in our RV on Cedar Key in Florida

We also walked down the road a bit to Low Key Hideaway RV Park. There are only a few RV spots there – all are beachfront with a small deck for sitting on and all were reserved when we called there. However, we did walk around the resort a bit and it looks like a very colorful and fun place to stay as well.

The bar at Low Key Hideaway RV Resort on Cedar Key in Florida

 

The colorful motel and sign at Low Key Hideaway RV Resort on Cedar Key in Florida

We spent the day either walking around or driving around pretty much the whole town (it’s pretty small). There are several old falling down docks with nothing left but the pilings, that the local birds like to hang out on. A pelican enjoys the sunshine on Cedar Key in FloridaThere are old wood buildings that look like they’ve been there forever, housing restaurants and stores right downtown. Old restaurant and pier on Cedar Key in FloridaWe stopped and had lunch and a Margarita at 83 West, a kitschy, fun restaurant with seats at windows with no glass right on the water, with the birds enjoying the afternoon sunshine on the old dock just outside our window. We even got to watch a trio of dolphins playing in the waters outside our window. The food was great (we had crab dip and shrimp and fries basket). Margarita while dining at 83 West Restaurant on Cedar Key in Florida

All in all, the food was great, the people were nice, and the sunsets were spectacular. We can’t wait to go back soon!

 

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A Very Personal Post

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Hi guys! This post is going to be very personal. And maybe a little heartbreaking. Grab a cup of coffee and read…

Tomorrow is February 1. February is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Month. I guess it goes along with it being Valentine’s Day in February as well (hearts and all). Now honestly, Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Month was never anything that I paid a whole lot of attention to. Until it happened to us. 1 in 110 kids are born with some sort of congenital heart defect. My Grandson is one of them. Kaison was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. The simple explanation is that Kaison was born with only 1/2 of a functioning heart. Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome

As you can see in the photograph, the left ventricle is very very small. This is a VERY serious heart defect. Many children born with HLHS don’t live. In fact, any children born more than about 25 or 30 years ago did pass away – there was no treatment options available for babies born with HLHS. Sometimes people ask me what Kaison’s prognosis is and I honestly cannot answer that question. There are no people older than about 30 that have HLHS to know.

The treatment for HLHS includes a series of THREE open heart surgeries. I’m no cardiologist so I really don’t know what each surgery entails – I just know that it’s completely heartbreaking to see your 2-day old Grandson look like this:

Kaison's open heart surgery for HLHS

I want to bawl my eyes out just looking at this picture again. Anyways, Kaison is now 11 months old and has had the first 2 surgeries and now looks like this:

Kaison with HLHS at 11 months old

Seriously, do they come any cuter??? On February 18, he will be 1 year old. We are so incredibly blessed. Just this week, 2 babies that I have been following with HLHS passed away. One was 2 years old and the other was only 7 months. I can’t even imagine…

So the point of my post here is two-fold. My first question is this: How the hell do I get in my RV and leave this cute face for any length of time??? Right now we are in Tampa (by the way, we bought a new RV!!! I’ll post about it later!) and I’m dying to squeeze that little face that’s now 600 miles away from me. I miss him and my granddaughter so much it aches. So how can I ever drive away for months at a time? It seems impossible!

The second point of my post is this: To increase awareness of congenital heart disease. This beautiful video was shown recently on The Today Show. Each year, 40,000 children are born with some form of congenital heart disease. In a world of tubes and oxygen, surgeries and beeping monitors, parents and medical teams battle to keep their tiny hearts beating against the odds – but it’s the children themselves who are the true heroes. Please take 4 minutes and watch:

Congenital Heart Disease Video

Also, if you can find it in your heart (pun intended) to donate to Addy’s CHD Research Fund HERE. This money will be used to fund further research into congenital heart defects and to raise awareness of this terrible birth defect. In fact, when our Kaison was born, we had his cord blood banked. Mayo Clinic is now starting research on using this cord blood to help these children regrow the missing part of their hearts – how awesome would that be??? You can follow our Facebook page here at Kaison’s Journey With Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. Please feel free to give our page a “Like” and join our group of supporters!!

From the bottom of my family’s heart, thank you for reading this post. Thank you for taking the time to learn more about congenital heart defects. Thank you for your donation to Addy’s Fund if you did so. God bless you all.

Carol & Jim
Jake, Samantha, Kaison and Willow Mellema

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Slide Ends

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Did you ever notice how you can tell the expensive Motorhome because the ends of the slideouts are striped to match the rest of the body?
Look at this gorgeous Monaco Windsor. The striped slide ends add a big touch of class.

Here's our lowly Knight as built by Monaco in 2008. The ends of the slideouts are simply painted the base silver body color. Kinda plain, doncha think?

You can see this in many motorhome brands. Tiffin paints the slide ends on Allegro Bus, but not on Allegro RED or Phaeton.
Fleetwoods' don't have paint on their slide ends, but their upscale cousin American Coach does.

As I like "fancy", I started checking into what it would take to paint the ends of our slideouts. Nobody anywhere near me had a paint booth big enough. I could get it partially into my warehouse, but couldn't extend the slides once it was in there. And paint and prep and masking an area that big is a huge project.

Someone suggested vinyl. As in find a company that does car and truck wraps and such, and see if they could do it. Phat Brothers Graphics was right around the corner from me in Oswego, Illinois, so one day I stopped by and talked to them. They came over to my shop to take a look, got some measurements, and my color codes. They would get rolls of material in each of the three colors, then cut strips and install each stripe individually.

It took about a week to get the material, and then 2 days to do the job. It's been over 3 years now, and the stuff is still stuck tight and looks like new. Cost was under $1000. I'm real happy with this mod to our coach!

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Disaster!!!

Well kinda. We were heading out for niece Sara’s wedding back in Chicago. Only an hour or so gone, still in Tennessee. The Alt Fail light came on, and the dash started going ding ding ding… ding ding ding…

This happens sometimes on a sunny day since I put the solar on, I ignored it.

A few miles later, dash lights up like a Christmas tree. “Overheat” and “Stop Engine NOW” and lots of dinging. We’re just passing an overpass with on and off ramps, and I head right, coming to rest on the shoulder of the on ramp. Carol’s confused and wondering why I just pulled off the highway so quickly. I just said “something’s broke.”

About that time it started raining.

Rain or not we couldn’t just sit there. I suspected we lost the serpentine belt, and went out in the rain and crawled under the back of the bus to confirm. Yup, lots of empty pulleys. At least it was fairly dry under there.

Back inside, I get on the phone with Coachnet. I tell them its the belt and we’ll need a mobile mechanic and they tell me they’ll get someone out. With time to kill, I got on the net and started doing some research. To identify the proper belt, I needed (and didn’t have) the engine serial number. Cummins could tell me from the vin, but that call went to voicemail. I called a shop that had worked on her some years ago, and they were able to look up the serial number. With that, google knew the belt part number!

I called coachnet back with the good news, only to find out they have yet to find a mobile mechanic!
Not at all happy with this, I got back on the computer, and in less than 30 minutes found a shop in Knoxville that could send someone out right away. They verified the belt part # from my info and said they would bring it. Called Coachnet back, and they called the shop and arranged to pay for the service call.

While waiting, I pulled out the closet doors and got the trapdoor off so we could access the deisel engine through the bedroom floor.

The techs got there, and with one on each side under the coach and me on top, we got the new belt around the pulleys in about 15 minutes. If ever there was a reason to get a side radiator DP, this is it. Settling up was somewhat painful. Coachnet or no coachnet, me knowing what part I needed or not, this ended up costing me four hours and FOUR HUNDRED BUCKS.
I guess it’s way better than getting towed on a friday afternoon and having to boondock in a shop parking lot until Monday. Oddly, we got no pictures of the bus on the shoulder of the highway with cars and trucks screaming by. No pictures of that big red Cummins diesel through the bedroom floor. Not even a pic of my legs sticking out from under the bus in the rain. I guess we were too busy dealing with actual reality?

Back on the road again.


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The Location Independent Lifestyle Series: Stock Photography As A Location Independent Job

 

 

I have been a photographer pretty much all my life it seems. I remember loving photography and always having a camera in my hand throughout my high school years, and then after that too – once I got married and had my own kids, I photographed them A LOT! I have albums and albums and albums of photos of the little cuties all stored away while we travel in our RV.

    These are all images that I have taken that are up for sale on the five stock websites that I participate on.

 

My love of photography turned into a career in portrait photography about 14 years ago when we lived in Illinois. I photographed babies, families and high school seniors in my own studio that I had purchased and run myself. The studio was part of everything we sold off when we decided to change our lifestyle and go full time RV-ing. However, I could NEVER put my camera down, and I love being able to earn some extra money doing what I love to do best! So I turned to Stock Photography! Now I can travel wherever I want, take photos while I’m there, and upload them to my stock agencies to make some extra money! I also take photos of food and upload those to my stock agencies, as they seem to sell very well!

You can get a peek at my Shutterstock portfolio HERE for a great example of what I do. I also upload photos to Getty, Dreamstime, 123RF and Adobe Stock! Between these 5 agencies, I make a fairly decent little side income (and I continue to grow my portfolio more and more and earn even more money!)

If this is something that you might be interested in, my friend Teri – who is a stock photographer from Denver, CO and myself wrote an Ebook called Earn Extra Income Selling Your Photos On Stock Photography Agencies. It’s all about how to get started in this business! Here’s a peek at our Table Of Contents so you can get an idea of all that this Ebook covers!

 

This Ebook will give you all the information you need to get started making an income from your photographs! And, many of these stock agencies now accept IPhone/Smartphone photos, so you don’t even need a ton of fancy equipment to get started!! Just the camera that’s always in your hand anyways!

Right now, through April 30th, our Ebook is on sale for ONLY $14.99! Our regular price on it is $20.00, so you can save a few bucks by purchasing it now! Just use the code 1499Ebook1 when you check out! You can find our Ebook HERE ON OUR WEBSITE!

While Stock Photography is by no means a get-rich-quick type of job (it takes time, effort and perseverance!), it sure has been a FUN job! I really enjoy taking photographs and to be able to make a little money off of them is even better! Happy Shooting!!

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Monaco Door Swing Arm

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Today I’m going to replace the front door swing arm on our Monaco Coach. Monaco used these things on all but their top of the line DP’s, They work like a locking scissors, they keep the door under control, and lock it in the open position such that a simple pull will unlock it and let you close the door.

At least they are supposed to. This thing is 5 pieces of stainless steel held together by 3 rivets. When they are brand new they are very tight, I think I may hear about how hard it is to close the door now. As they wear, they get loose, and don’t hold the door open, a mild freeze will slam the door. When completely worn out, they lock firm, and require one to reach up and push it before the door will move.

Ours has been in this terminal mode for a few months. It’s a pain because it’s high on top of the door, and you have to remember to reach up and pop it before you get to the bottom step and can’t reach it.

Luckily, this part is still available. I found one place, an old Monaco Dealer who seems to have stocked up before the bankruptcy. They have lots of uncommon or hard to find Monaco specific parts. If you have a Monaco made RV, I highly recommend Veurinks RV for those hard to find parts.

Anyway, Sunday I bit the big one on this, and $155 later including shipping the new swing arm is here.

First to get the old one off. I get out my trusty extend-o-ladder and climb on up. The coach side is 6 square head screws, easy peasy. The door side uses 4 3/16” short rivets. These have to be drilled out.

The new one is very tight, and somewhat of a pain to get into exactly the right place. Then run the screws back in (I replaced 2 because the heads were kinda worn.) and get out the old pop rivet tool and pop in some 3/16” short rivets. Use steel rivets, aluminum won’t last.

 

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LED Lighting – converting fluorescent fixtures to LED

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We’ve been in the process of converting our motorhome to LED lighting for a long time. To save money I bought most of the LED’s direct from China on ebay. This has been a bit of a learning experience. Buying from Camping World and such, you get Chinese made bulbs, but hopefully “better quality” ones, for $10 a bulb. On ebay, there are thousands of vendors, American and foreign, all selling the same stuff at a variety of different prices. Direct from China, you’re talking fifty cents to a dollar per bulb, rather than $5 to $15 for exactly the same Chinese bulb from an American vendor such as Camping World or Home Depot.

What I learned the hard way is that the cheapest ones aren’t very good. The first ones I bought, strictly on price, burned up within months. I went back to ebay, bought some slightly more expensive LED’s, and have been very satisfied. I converted all the “hockey puck” light with plugin LED bulbs, they run cool, make good light, and so far have lasted 4 years.

Today, I’m going to continue to work on converting fluorescent fixtures.

RV’s use a ton of these that run on 12 volts and take T-8 or T-12 bulbs. These are a little more complicated than just changing a plugin bulb. They do make “sorta plugin” conversions, but I went my own way and bought RV LED lighting products10 meter strips. Twice actually. The first time I got really cheap ones that were “waterproof.” And they burned up quick. I don’t know if it was the “cheap” or the combination of the waterproof covering and being in an enclosure that caused the overheating, but the next purchase brought strips of bare LED’s, 10 meters each, self adhesive, with 3050 cool white LED’s. The “Number” in these things refers specifically to the size of the LED in millimeters, and along with the density ( # of LED’s per foot or meter) directly relates to how bright they are. The ones I got are very very bright.

After removing the fixture (4 screws and a plug) the next step is to remove the parts
required for the fluorescent lights. Drill out the 6 rivets from the back with a 1/8” bit, pop out the reflector, and the lamp holders and ballast will fall out. Mine had 2 wires, neg is white, pos is red. There was a switch in the housing that I chose to keep, and I cut both wires as close to the ballast as possible.
Prewiring is next. I’m going to use 6 LED strips, I like bright light. I made up 6, 6 inch lengths of small gauge white stranded wire, stripped, wrapped, and soldered to the white wire entering the fixture, and covered the connection with heat shrink tubing. For the hot side, I’m going to setup 2 light levels. I removed ½” of insulation from the red wire going to the switch and attached 2 lengths of green wire as above.

On the red wire coming off the switch I attached 4 lengths of red wire. The fixture will burn 2 or 6 strips of LED’s, switchable by the switch on the housing, with the fixture remaining controlled by the coach’s wall switch.

Now time to peel and stick the LED’s to the reflector.I put  lengths of electrical tape on the end where the connections will be to help insure against short circuits. I used a 12 volt battery and a couple jumper connections to verify that the roll of LED’s work, and to determine where Neg and Pos is. LED’s are polarized, cross the wires, they won’t light up. (It won’t hurt anything, they just don’t light up.) If you look carefully at the LED strip, there are a pair of copper dots between each pair of LED’s. I’m going to solder to those to minimize waste. If you’re less confident in your soldering, there is a pair of solder pads every couple feet, those are easier to solder to, but will produce mucho waste. It’s best just to peel stick cut and go when sticking the LED’s. That way you don’t set anything down and don’t lose track. If they all go on the same direction the Pos and Neg sides will all be aligned. Now go back to your battery and test the first strip, making darned sure you remember which is Pos and which is Neg.
Now carefully solder tin the copper dots where you will attach your wires
(skip if you’re using the big solder pads.) Cut your wires to length, strip a small amount of insulation, tin each wire, then cut the tinned end short, just enough exposed wire to use.
Lay the reflector into the housing and start soldering the wires. A tiny amount of heat on the tinned wire, touch it to the tinned pad and get your iron off, it will stick. White wires to all 6 Neg pads, and I put the green ones one the center 2 and reds on the remaining 4. Be really careful here. I used a small 20 watt soldering iron, very well tinned, and just a touch of heat. With both the pads and the wire tinned, you won’t need any additional solder.
Now snap the reflector down and you’re done. Go back to your battery and test your work. Make sure you get 2 or 6 LED strips depending on flipping the switch. If any strips don’t light, go back to your bench and swap the wires on that strip. Time to plug it in, screw it on, and pop the cover on.
Before I started I hooked up my ammeter. The fluorescent lights need 1.6 amps each. Equipped with 6 strips of LED’s, they are 4 times brighter and only use 1.36 amps. Best of all, with only 2 LED strips on only .45 amps. While of course all the lights (11 in our coach!) are rarely on all together or on all the time, if they were I’ve dropped from 17.6 amps (140 amp/hrs in 8 hours!) to 4.9 amps (39 amp/hrs) and we’re putting way less heat in the air.

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Tips For Taking Better Travel Pictures

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When you decided to go on this grand adventure of full-time RV-ing, you had dreams of seeing and doing so many awesome sights and places. And of course, you want to document these great times. These days, everyone carries this tiny computer with a killer camera (it kinda looks like a telephone – LOL) and we’re all just snapping away as we wander. But what do these pictures look like? And what happens to them once you click the button? Can your phone take a really good picture? What, exactly, is a really good picture? And what to do with it once you’ve taken it?

Yes, your modern phone has a really good camera. And yes, you can take really good, interesting, properly composed and exposed pictures with it. Follow along, we have some professional tips you can use with your phone to take better pictures! All of the photos in this article were taken with my IPhone.

Rule Of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is a guideline in photography that involves mentally dividing your viewfinder into thirds, by using a grid (either in your mind or on your camera). You then want to place your subject in the image on or near one of the intersecting lines in order to get a pleasing composition. Clear as mud right? Look at our example – I’ve placed the log cabin (the main subject) in the lower right intersection of this photo. It makes for a pleasing composition of the gorgeous scenery. On the IPhone, you can turn on gridlines so they’re visible on your screen as you take a photo. To do this, go to “Settings”, then “Photos and Camera”, then simply toggle the “Grid” to “On”. Easy!

Use A Unique Perspective

Most people see a scene, pick up their phone and just shoot what’s in front of them. But what if you use a different perspective? Try walking all the way around your subject while looking for interesting angles, or try shooting straight up or straight down on your subject. Get down on the ground and shoot low, or climb up on something and shoot down on your subject from up high. The possibilities are endless!

Leading Lines

Another great composition tip is to use leading lines in your photos. Leading lines are a great way to draw your viewer’s eye into the photo. In my example photo, not only is the path a leading line, but the trees also form a strong line which draws your eyes up into the photo and through it.

Patterns

Using patterns in your photographs doesn’t only have to mean repeating shapes. You can find patterns in lines, forms or colors as well. In our example photo, we have a pattern of shape and color in the purple cactus plant, making for an interesting scene to keep our viewers engaged.

Tell The Story

Use elements around you in order to tell a story. I named this sample photograph “Sunday Morning” because it’s a great representation of what I was doing that Sunday morning. I had the fireplace on, my cup of tea, blanket and my favorite magazine to relax with.

Candids

There’s nothing better than grabbing in-the-moment, real life candids that capture pure emotion. So sometimes you just have to throw all these rules out the window and take some non-posed photos of your family having a great time! After all, these are the best kinds of photographs there are!

Turn Off Your Flash

For the love of all things holy, turn off your camera’s flash! It makes your photos look overexposed and washed out, and it looks like you smacked your family member in the face with a light. Instead, find natural light! Your phone camera can and will compensate for the lower light and make a much nicer photograph. Take a look at our two sample photos here: The flash photo is altogether too obvious, while the natural light image is much nicer, with natural catchlights in the eyes and a much more pleasing skin tone. These two images were shot in the same room, on the same day, within seconds of one another (my granddaughter is pretty cute, isn’t she???)

Use a Tripod

The very best way to steady your camera and make sure your photos are super sharp is to use a tripod. It’s also great for setting up a shot so you can jump into the frame too. This cute little tripod has flexible legs so you can stand it up on a table, or wrap it around a tree or whatever works best for your situation at the time. It also comes with a handy wireless bluetooth remote for those times when you want to get in the shot too. This is the phone tripod I have and use and I do love it! (affiliate link)

Photo Editing Apps

There are so many apps out there that you can edit your photos with, and I’m sure you might already have a favorite. I have a couple that I use all the time. By far my favorite one is SnapSeed. It’s free, which makes it even better, and I just love the editing capabilities that it has. It’s HDR feature is stellar and I use it all the time. I also use the Tune Image feature at the top of the menu to tweek my image’s brightness, contrast and saturation. Another favorite of mine is Pic Stitch. Pic Stitch is a program that allows you to make collages out of a series of photographs. They have lots of different layouts to choose from, and for 99 cents you can buy a border pack if you want to make colorful borders on your collages. Fun!!

As you can see, there is a lot that your smartphone is capable of as far as taking great travel photos. What tips do you have for taking great photos with your phone? Please share in the comments!

 

 

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Full-Time RVer’s Again!

posted in: Just For Fun | 0

When we left you, way back in August, we had bought a fixer-upper house on Douglas Lake, near the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee. Sorry we’ve been away so long, it’s been a very busy time. We cleaned and cleaned and painted and painted inside that old house. We ripped up nasty old carpeting to find savable hardwood underneath, and refinished the floors. We bought furniture.

After 2 months boondocking in the driveway, we moved into our house. We liked it so much we (Carol) convinced our adult children to join us! Our 3 boys, Samantha (Jake’s wife), and their daughter Willow. It’s just great having family so close (underfoot? And certainly within “earshot”!)
Six or so weeks ago, Samantha gave birth to Kaison. Kaison was born with a heart defect, and required some extra attention. He’s doing great now! Read Kaison’s Story here.

So now, including the dog’s, we’re up to 11 in the house, it’s kind of loud and kind of crowded.
So Carol and I, and the dogs, moved back into the bus in the driveway.

And we’re just itching to get back on the road again!

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Tank Cleaners And Poop Sensors.

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Lets talk poop! Keeping tanks clean and sensors working is always a popular RV discussion. It’s been a problem for all of us. Why does my black tank sensor always read 1/3? Why won’t my tank drain? These are daily questions on RV forums and Facebook.

And for good reason. The sensor systems installed on most RV’s don’t work very well…
And when the tanks get a little scummy, they don’t work at all.

Ours quit reading less than a season in. My response (6 years ago) was to purchase and install a SeeLevel 709 sensor system (affiliate link)

And guess what?
After a couple years, the SeeLevel gray tank sensor stuck on 100%!
The black tank sensor was kinda flaky, but mostly read OK. Interestingly, our rig had a factory installed black tank sprayer, which I used most of the time.
The SeeLevel system is highly recommended and will be a subject of a future blog post (once I find the pictures!) but for now…
Calls to SeeLevel indicated that our gray tank had enough of a coating on the inside to kill the signal from SeeLevel’s external signals.

After some searching, I came across the “Tornado” sprayers by Camco. The part number is 40126, and they are available at Amazon (affiliate link).

These spayers ROTATE! poop sprayer test
The photo above shows the sprayer attached to a garden hose. It creates quite the spray!

The kit comes with everything needed to install it, except for a tube of silicone sealer. I decided to use 2 sprayers in each tank, as ours are long and flatish. I purchased a couple of Tee fittings, so I ended up with an inlet for the black tank and an inlet for the gray tank, each with 2 sprayers.

To get access in our Monaco, I had to remove the white cover that made the wet bay look nice. Under the cover, it looked like this!
poop tanks

Installation was simple, drill a hole, gob around it with silicone, insert the sprayer, and run in 4 (included) self-tapping screws
install
and attached the hose.
poop installed

I used the existing black tank sprayer inlet for one inlet (I sealed off the original black tank sprayer, it didn’t work well anyway) and used a Valterra RV water inlet fitting to add the second sprayer connection (affiliate link).
poop inlets

And then I put the original white cover back on over that mess of pipes and hoses.

For a future blog post, at the same time I replaced the original useless “outdoor shower” with a narrow base chrome bar faucet, and put an adapter on it so I can attach a hose. That lets me wash my car with hot water, and connect a short hose and use hot water to run my tank sprayers.

It took about 6 weeks of weekly dumps, spraying everytime, to get my gray tank sensor to work again. I continue to run the sprayers every time I dump, and the sensors on my tanks work perfectly.


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