DIY Teardrop Trailer Tour

by Ben N on October 9, 2019

About 15 years ago, I built a teardrop trailer. At the time, I never dreamed I would tow it with an electric car! But here we are, living in the future!

A teardrop is a retro style of camping trailer with a shape, you guessed it, like a teardrop. These were popular after World War II, as there was plenty of aluminum sheeting left over from the war effort. These trailers have made a come-back recently. They are light, simple, and easy to tow.

What’s unique about THIS teardrop is that it was my first real DIY project. This was before the electric bicycle, electric motorcycle, and electric car. I had really never done ANY significant DIY project. So, I needed a helping hand. I ordered a set of “How-To” plans and followed them to build it. (Those original plans are still available for sale online.)

I bought a 4’x8′ bolt-together trailer from Harbor Freight, of course, using my 20% off coupon. I assembled the trailer and went from there. The walls are built from 1/2″ plywood, 1.5″ foam, and a 1/8″ interior panel. The exterior had a thin oak veneer, coated with spar varnish. The curved roof was covered with aluminum. I bought the aluminum from a business that repairs semi-truck trailers. The aluminum is literally what those trailers are made from. It’s beefy stuff and thicker than other aluminum more commonly available.

Hatch open.

One of the trickiest parts of the trailer is designing and building the hatch. It needs to be waterproof. DIYers typically use a “Hurricane Hinge” – a special pair of aluminum extrusions which act as a hinge, while still being waterproof. Even then, it’s a bit of a trick to make sure the hatch is completely weatherproof. I just used typical weather-stripping. Were I to do this project again, I think I’d try the style of weather-proofing used by hatchback cars.

The interior of the teardrop is warm and comfortable. For the mattress, I found a sale on a memory foam. All sizes were the same price, so I bought a King and then cut it down to fit the trailer. The cut-offs were used to make pillows and other projects. I also found that blue gymnastics mats work well in a teardrop. They are usually designed as 4’x8′, and fold into four 2′ sections. For a 4×6 sleeping area, the mat fits perfect with just one section folded up the wall. Gym mats are durable and damp-proof. Perfect for camping.

I wired the trailer for 12V electricity. It’s a simple system, with a 12V battery on the tongue and dome lights in the cabin, the exterior, and under the galley hatch. Each light has it’s own switch built in. We didn’t usually camp where we would have electricity. I did put a hole through the side of the camper, into the galley, and covered it with an outdoor-rated electrical cover. If we were at an electric site, we could bring an extension cord and simple pass it through the hole.

Simple galley in the rear.

The galley also has a simple layout. The plans called for building cabinets and even a sink and icebox! We already had plenty of camping gear and a removable cooler seemed like a more convenient idea than a built-in ice-box. So, I just designed the galley with an upper and a lower shelf. The upper shelf has the camp stove, food, and utensils. The lower shelf holds the cooler, water container, and a compact LP tank. I bought an adapter hose which allows me to use a standard LP tank instead of those wasteful (and expensive!) disposable 1lb. tanks.

The trailer tows extremely well. Weighing in at only 800 lbs, you can barely tell it’s there. Since it’s only 4 feet wide, you barely see it in the side-view mirrors either! It’s a perfect camping trailer for a hybrid or electric car.

I love this trailer. It was my first real project and I learned so much from working on it. It was perfect for my wife and I, but we are starting to outgrow it as our daughter is getting bigger. (We used to be able to have her sleep on the shelf in the cabin!) It’s probably time to sell the trailer and build something else.

There’s not that many things I would have done differently, knowing what I know now. One thing I would have was to use a different exterior finish on the walls. The Oak veneer has NOT held up. It did look FABULOUS when I first built it, but to do it right really requires a lot of maintenance with the spar varnish.

On a new trailer, I would build 5 feet wide. That extra space is really noticeable. But at the time, I didn’t know a thing about trailers, the plans called for the 4×8, and they were affordable and easily available. Had I NOT gone with the 4×8, I probably never would have built the project at all.

FanTastic Vent. Multi-speed plus reverse. Well worth it!

The one thing I would absolutely NOT skimp on is the roof vent! The Fan-Tastic Vent brand fan is great! It has three speeds and it very quiet. The reverse feature is nice to exhaust air from the cabin on a hot night and draw in cool air through the window screens. The “smoke” colored cover keeps the heat out during the day, while the clear blades means that the vent doubles as a skylight!

Teardrops are great trailers. They give you a nice place to sleep off the ground and a good level kitchen. They are small enough that they can be towed with a 4-cylinder, hybrid, or electric car. What a great blend of everything you need and nothing more.

If you want to build your own teardrop, I suggest checking out the Teardrops and Tiny Travel Trailer forums. (TNTTT.com)
If you want to simply BUY a trailer, some of the best out there are built by Camp-Inn. (TinyCamper.com)

Our teardrop was a great project that lead to so many others! If you love camping and are a DIY’er, I highly suggest you build your own!

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson

Solar-powered electric car is the current tow vehicle.

PS: Here are some links to parts I used in the project. In some cases, the old part is no longer available. In others, such as LED lighting, I posted what I WOULD use now that wasn’t as easily available or affordable when I built the teardrop.

Interior LED Dome Lights:
https://amzn.to/2M29QRf

Exterior LED Dome Lights:
https://amzn.to/2Vs0ql3

Coleman camp stove:
https://amzn.to/2LYKgg2

Camp Stove to big LP Tank Adapter Hose:
https://amzn.to/2p36Ue6

7 Gallon Water Jug:
https://amzn.to/320bKqV

Queen Size Memory Foam Mattress Topper:
https://amzn.to/2p9rtp2

FanTastic Vent – 3 speed & Reverse, Model 1250:
https://amzn.to/2Vp7mQ0

Spar Varnish – Looks beautiful, but be prepared for multiple coats and regular maintenance!:
https://amzn.to/2VBEIvf

Stainless Magnetic Door Catch:
https://amzn.to/2M0Iyup

Stainless Steel Piano Hinge:
https://amzn.to/2OyBG9e

Small Sliding Window for the door:
https://amzn.to/2OuR0E1

Hurricane Hinge:
https://amzn.to/2OExjJM

Door and Hatch Handles:
https://amzn.to/30WViXq

Marine Fuse Panel with Switches:
https://amzn.to/33cBosI

Adorable small refillable Propane Tank (5 lb.)
https://amzn.to/2LYWiWK

Teardrop Trailer Plans:
http://www.kuffelcreek.com/cubbyplans.htm

Teardrop Trailer Design book:
https://amzn.to/2VzhFRG

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Tesla Implant!

by Ben N on October 1, 2019

Watch the video here.

I recently met up with John Olson. He implanted himself with an RFID chip which would allow him to unlock and drive his Tesla Model 3 just by holding his hand up to his car!

I met him at the Milwaukee Makerspace for a video interview. One of the reasons we met there was that John has a second implant, which can unlock the doors and tools at the Makerspace.

Before we even started, he was already telling me the how and why about the implant. I said to “save it for the interview!”. We grabbed a quiet corner and set up the camera.

Tesla key-card RF chip sealed in sterile vial.

The Tesla implant is in John’s right hand, near the base of the thumb. He explained that the skin there is thin, which is important because of the limited transmitting range of the chip. It’s also unlikely to be damaged there and would flex less than somewhere near the knuckles, for example. Being in the hand (instead of the arm or other location) also allows for better flexibility in positioning the chip to a reader.

John showed me a video clip he shot on his phone of the actual implantation.

A DIY JOB?
This WAS a Do-It-Yourself project! He did plenty of research getting started and reached out to his brother, who has worked in the body modification industry. Together, they set up a sterile environment, decided on the best approach for the implantation, and placed the two devices under John’s skin. The Tesla chip is in his right hand and the other chip is in his left. He ordered parts from Dangerous Things.

WHY?
When I asked John about the WHY he did it, he told me how he’s always been interested in technology and how it can improve us. While I personally wouldn’t have a magnet implanted under MY skin, John used the example of LASIK eye surgery, which he had done as soon as it was available.

Unlocking a Tesla Model 3 WITHOUT keys, phone, or wallet.

The implants certainly provide a level of convenience. A person doesn’t have to carry any keys, a phone, a wallet, or anything else. John said that there’s often times where he just needs to run out and grab something from his car, but his phone is charging or downloading an update. The implant is always with him. Likewise, it’s about a 35 minute drive for him to the Milwaukee Makerspace. If he forgot his keys, he would be stuck pounding on the door, hoping for somebody to let him in. Even with keys, it can be challenging getting them out of a pocket when a person’s hands are full and trying to open a door! Even while holding something, John can unlock the door with his implant.

John Olson really explains all this better in his interview than I can in writing. If you haven’t already, please watch the video!

I also edited a LONG-FORMAT video of the entire extended interview. John said so many interesting things, but I was afraid that a half-hour video would turn off many viewers. So, I made one short version and another as the full-length video. For those who are really interested in implants, Teslas, and the future of this type of technology, check out that video. We talk about a range of topics, even thinking about how this technology could be applied to homes, firearms, and security in the future.

Implant unlocks tool crib at the Milwaukee Makerspace.

While I might not be ready to have a piece of technology stuck under my skin, how many of us wear glasses, have a hearing aid, or always ask Siri or Alexa for help? The way we use smart-phones, we may as well have them surgically attached!

Technology is interesting and new technologies have always received mixed feelings. What about you? Are you ready to become one with your car? A cyborg for the convenience? What about for security? Let us know!

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson
300MPG

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Solar Savings – August 2019

by Ben N on September 9, 2019

Watch the video here.

I just got my electric bill for this past month. Let’s open it up and see what it comes to!

August was relatively cool, so we didn’t use the air-conditioning much. That’s important, as what I PAY for electricity is simply the difference between how much I make with the solar and how much I use in the house.

Keeping out energy use low means we can earn a CREDIT with the power company. On opening the bill this month, we earned a $5.96 credit. That brings our total credits for the summer to $37.57.

We did have our meter fee go up recently by five dollars. I guess we can’t complain too much, as our meter fee with our local public power company is STILL less than it would be with the large for-profit power company we would otherwise have!

Our net EXPORT (overproduction) back out to our neighbors this month was 160 kWh. Last year, we overproduced 212 kWh. I think it was sunnier this same month last year.

We’ve had the solar now for just over two years. In that time, we’ve produced over 16 MEGA-WATT-HOURS of energy. At 13 cents per kWh, that’s over $2,000 worth of electricity. We paid about $6,500 for the entire system (after taxes and incentives.)

Overall, I’m very pleased with our solar.
If you are interested in solar, give a call to a professional solar installer in your area. If you’d like to install your own, it can certainly save you money and might not be as hard as you think. Start with this video of what I did to install solar at my place! Or watch the entire video playlist of what it took to build this garage! https://bit.ly/2KgQpS5

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson

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Wheelie Poppin’ Tractor for Junk Parade!

by Ben N on September 2, 2019

This year, I made it. I got my overpowered piece of junk electric tractor into The World’s Greatest Junk Parade!

Last year, I took this old GE Elec-Trak frame and added a forklift motor and 6 Nissan Leaf Cell Modules. The driveline was a little complicated, and I didn’t get it working in time for the parade.

Here’s the video playlist of when I built the tractor:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLmHss3DBZUinqLnG4PfwmPNDahBeFLu1t

A few days ago, I pulled the tarp off this tractor in my backyard and looked it over to see if I could get it in the parade. I had some issues with the Open Revolt 500A motor controller. It kept giving an error code, so I swapped it out for my 300A motor controller. That one worked a little better, but I tracked the issue down to some corrosion on the DC Forklift motor. The commutator itself wasn’t in good condition, and two brushes were stuck. I freed them up and ran a commutator stone to clean up the copper. After that, it worked great! (So the issue probably WASN’T the Open Revolt at all, but I had already swapped it out!

The work we put into rebuilding Sophie’s electric ATV.

My daughter, Sophie, and I planned to exhibit in the parade. I’d drive the tractor, and she would ride her rebuilt electric ATV. The parade route is about four miles. I doubled the size of the batteries in her ATV, so I figured it would last the length of the parade route, but I had no idea for sure!

We hitched the utility trailer to the back of the 2012 Mitsubishi iMiEV electric car and loaded up the tractor and ATV. Then, we drove to Rome, Wisconsin, where the event would start.

Our tow vehicle.

When we made it to the Fireman’s park, we checked in with registration and unloaded. It was fun watching all the other floats come in. One of the best was a full-size pirate ship. (Junk for Sail!) Another was the Zombie Apocalypse Now, featuring a full-scale helicopter and the undead.

Once the parade started, we were now rolling down the streets in front of crowds of cheering beer-drinkers. The parade is basically one big excuse for a party.

When people recognized that it was a Wheelie Bar on the back of the tractor, they would holler for me to pop a wheelie. As long as there was enough space in front of me to safely do so, I could comply, and the crowds would cheer!

Sophie did a great job of staying with the flow of the parade on her ATV. Unfortunately, she was also in front of me, so when my tractor broke down, she just kept going!

My daughter during the parade.

Popping wheelies was fine, but it was actually doing a burn-out on a turn in a gravel driveway that one of the sprocket keys gave way and shut me down. (Of course, I couldn’t see what the exact problem was at the moment, just that there was a lot of chain and sprocket noise and the tractor wouldn’t move!)

I had to push the tractor to the side of the road. I caught a ride in a utility vehicle with one of the volunteers who got me up close to Sophie. After that, I was walking for the rest of the parade!

I did grab the “trunk” off the back of the tractor. It was a cardboard beer case which I was using to hold my drinks, snacks, multimeter, and tow rope – items I did’t want to leave behind. It also made an excellent prop while walking in the parade. I could mime as though I was going to hand out beers or crack jokes about how I was “out on a beer run”!

Junk Pirates

At the end of the parade, we stopped and watched some of the other floats come in, including a great family-themed Jurassic Park cart, complete with dinosaurs and the little kids in Park Ranger uniforms. Sophie had a great time, even while my legs were killing me. We grabbed lunch and a snow-cone, as all great summer events need some good festival food to go with them.

I was a little disappointed that the tractor broke down, but it sure was a blast up to that point!

We’ll be back next year, and will probably try to plan something a little bigger and more interesting, possibly a float with some friends.

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson

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Lithium Battery Communications

by Ben N on August 26, 2019

I just got my laptop to communicate with the Valence lithium batteries in the Ford Ranger EV pickup truck!

The truck’s instrumentation is pretty basic – just a “Miles to Go” and “Percent Charged” meter, which were designed to work with lead-acid batteries. I wanted to be able to communicate directly with the lithium batteries to make sure they were balanced and that I was getting the full state-of-charge and other information from them.

Data Connections of the Valence lithium batteries

These Valence U27-12XP batteries (specs here) contain an internal BMS and communications system. Each battery has a male and female 5-pin Tyco Amp connector on it. Those cables are daisy-chained together and connected to a BMS interface device. Normally, that device would communicate to the batteries and then connect to the vehicle to do things such as sending a CAN signal to the battery charger to turn it off when the batteries are charged.

Home-made RS-485 to USB adapter

By instead plugging in my laptop, I should be able to read data from the batteries. To do so, I got a generic RS-485 to USB adapter (https://amzn.to/2zn3S6s)
and ordered a kit of Amp SuperSeal connectors.
(https://amzn.to/2Hr3zM8)
I simply cut four short sections of 18 gauge wire and connected them between the plug and the UBS adapter. The 5V power is on the outside two pins (pin 2 & 5 on the Amp connector) and the communication signal is on the inside two pins. Pin 1 on the Amp connector is for shield and I left it unused.

The battery communication string had a terminator on the far end (from the original Smith truck battery pack.) I pulled it off and measured it. It read as a 120Ω resistor. However, I found out later that it didn’t seem to make a difference whether or not the resistor terminated the string. Here’s an article on why that it.

The software for the Valence batteries is Windows only. I have a Mac laptop, so I had to do a little work to get Windows running on it. I used Virtual Box to run a trial version of Windows 10. There are other ways to run Windows on a Mac as well, but this was free and pretty straight-forward to use. Of course, if you have a PC laptop, you can just skip this.

The main challenge was just to make sure the correct drivers were installed and permissions were granted. I had an issue at first with the USB adapter. A friend gave it to me (thanks, Eric!) but I didn’t have any documentation and Windows 7 didn’t recognize it. It ran fine on Windows 10 and identified using an FTDI chip driver. To prevent errors when the Valence software is running, permissions must be manually changed on the root folder of the software to full Administrator permissions.

At this point, I was finally able to use the software! My adapter was plugged in to the computer with RS-485 cable going to the most positive end of the battery pack, with the rest of the batteries daisy-chained together. In the Valence software, one last quirk was that there were NO COM PORTS listed in the drop-down box for which communications port to connect to. In my settings and drivers, it looked like the USB adapter associated with COM3. I had to manually type “COM3” into the drop-down and hit enter. NOW it connected! After closing and reopening the software, COM3 would stay as the selected port.

The Valence software lets the user view information about each individual battery, such as cell block voltages, state of charge, current in or out of the battery, and temperature. Users can also rename the IDs of each battery.

When I first connected, the software only connected to 24 instead of the full 26 batteries. The reason why is that two of the batteries had repeated ID numbers. I located a battery, renamed it from ID3 to ID25, and then got 25 of the 26 batteries to show up. I did the same thing for the last battery, (#4 to #26) but then the original #4 wouldn’t show up. Why? I have no idea. I did the exact same thing as the first battery with an ID change. Oh well, I’m sure I’ll figure it out…

While it’s very interesting to be able to get the data from the batteries, it’s NOT terribly useful while they are just sitting there. What WOULD be useful is seeing the detailed battery data while CHARGING and DISCHARGING. In other words, WHILE DRIVING! I have an extension cable that should reach from the back of the truck up to the passenger seat. I can put the laptop in the cab and connect to the batteries while driving. I’ll have to keep my eyes on the road, so I really won’t be able to watch the battery data as I do it. Fortunately, the software also includes a logging feature. I should be able to log the data as I go. I’ll just want to shoot some video so I can sync the data to what’s going on in the real world – accelerating, braking, going up or down that really big hill.

That’s it for now. I’ll need to play with the software a little more and get set up for doing a test drive while logging data.

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben

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Electric ATV Repair and Upgrade

August 11, 2019

Not long ago, a neighbor was cleaning out his garage. Among the things he was getting rid of was an old kids electric ATV. It was in poor condition, but looked like a fun “fixer-upper”! My daughter is also now eight-years old and has outgrown her Solar-Powered PowerWheels. So, a Razor brand ATV looked like […]

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Electric Truck Lithium Battery Upgrade

August 10, 2019

I upgraded the Electric Ford Ranger to Lithium Batteries!The truck had Group 24 Lead-Acid batteries in the bed. The batteries pulled from the Smith electric truck are Valence brand Group 27 batteries designed as 12V replacements. So, the logical thing to do was simply pull out the lead and put in the lithium in it’s […]

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July 2019 Electric Bill

August 8, 2019

I just got my July electric bill. Time to open it on camera so that you and I get to see what it is at the same time! In July, we finally started getting some nice summer days! (June was surprisingly rainy and cloudy!) But along with the sun was HEAT. We used our central […]

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Battery Pack Disassembly

April 18, 2019

Once we finally made it back from North Carolina, we needed to unload the batteries. While we had a forklift to LOAD the batteries, we didn’t have one at my place and had to resort to an engine hoist, furniture dollies, and finally, steel pipes. Getting 2,000 pounds of batteries off the trailer was no […]

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Removing the Batteries from the Smith Electric Truck

April 15, 2019

Well, it’s been an adventure so far…I was originally asked by my friend, Seth, to accompany him on a road trip to buy a commercial electric truck. The Copart auction had already taken place. He just had to drive 900 miles to get the truck and drag it back home. In the highlight of the […]

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June 2019 Electric Bill

July 8, 2019

I actually got my electric bill in the mail a few days ago, but wanted to save opening it on camera. Today, I broke out the camera and opened the electric bill. Here’s what I found… In June, we produced 243 kWh of energy MORE than we used! This was pretty comparable to the same […]

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Future of Transportation in Wisconsin

April 27, 2019

Yesterday, I attended a conference about the future of transportation in Wisconsin. The Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership hosted the event at “The Garage” space at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, the trip from my house, to the event and BACK, is just a little further than the available range per charge […]

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